Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Pop Offensiv är fantastisk!

I think last week's survey of Scandinavian pop was one of the best episodes of Pop Offensive yet -- and certainly the best one since I took over the show a few months ago. And now it's available for streaming from the Pop Offensive Archives. Why wouldn't you want to listen to it? Is it because you don't have the complete playlist to read along with it? Well, here's that, too, just posted over on Pop Offensive's Facebook page.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss (Japan, 1970)

Nikkatsu's Stray Cat Rock films established a couple of precedents in Japanese exploitation cinema. For one, they contained the seeds of the Pinky Violence films that Toei would produce throughout the 70s. Second, they mark a first step in the ascent of actress Meiko Kaji, who was just on the cusp of achieving Tarantino-certified cult icon status with her titular roles in the Lady Snowblood and Female Convict Scorpion series.

However, those coming to the first film in the series, Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss, with hopes of seeing a nascent version of the cold-eyed badassery Kaji would evince in those later films will be at least a little disappointed. Because here Kaji is little more than a supporting player, leaving the spotlight to star Akiko Wada, a Japanese pop singer here making her screen debut. And that is as it should be.

Wada makes her first appearance in the film under it’s opening credits, playing surly loner Ako, who comes roaring into town on her motorcycle like a distaff Brando, her face—and gender—obscured by her helmet. Soon she runs into Mei (Kaji), a waifish street kid who demands she give her a ride. Ako drops Mei at a mucky unused reservoir, where she joins in a fight against a rival gang with her fellow cadre of bad girls. Mei and her friends quickly lose their advantage, and are saved by Ako, who chases the other gang away while doing sick jumps on her hog.

Now having made fast friends with the gang, Ako retires with them to a noisy psychedelic nightspot, where she finally removes her helmet to reveal her long hair and arguably feminine features (by which I mean that the permanent cocky smirk on her face is somewhat on the far side of demure.) Mei is undeterred by this revelation and asks Ako to dance, which she does. This is as far into Sapphic territory as the film goes, though there are other vague intimations of Mei’s attraction for Ako.

Mei is saddled with a boyfriend, Michio (Koji Wada), who, by all appearances, is a cowardly loser. Michio is intent on gaining entrance to a neo-fascist criminal gang called the Seiyu Group, and endeavors to do so by convincing the gang to bet heavily on his boxer friend in an upcoming match, with the understanding that he will convince his friend to throw the fight. He fails in this, and ends up a prisoner of the Seiyus, who beat him mercilessly. A real “stand by your man” type, Mei convinces the other girls to join her in rescuing him--and, in the ensuing brawl, Ako comes very close to blinding Hanada, the gang’s boss. This is enough to make the elimination of the gang, and Ako especially, a top priority for Hanada and his giggling top enforcer Katsuya (Tatsuya Fuji).

In classic Pinky Violence tradition, the battle-hardened young women of Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss (not to be confused with just plain Delinquent Girl Boss, a later Toei film) find themselves in a world populated only by the most grotesque examples of the male species. This is true from the sickeningly weak-willed Michio all the way to the leering Katsuya, who, at one point, leads his men in violently raping Mari, a member of the gang portrayed by Yuka Kumari, the sister of  Branded to Kill's Annu Mari.

These portrayals are given a sharper edge by the fact that the movie has a bit more grit than later PV films, which had a tendency to go over the top into lurid absurdity (surprising, given its director Yasuharu Hasebe is famous for directing the modish fever dream Black Tight Killers.) Unlike some of Toei's later PV films, which seem targeted at dirty old men, you get the sense with this picture that the filmmakers are actually trying to speak to the disaffected youth they are portraying. To this end, there are a lot of moody location sequences that, while celebrating Tokyo nightlife, also seem to hint at its emptiness and isolation. The nightclub scenes are harshly chaotic, and gain an added sense of verisimilitude from the appearance within them of actual bands of the time, like long-haired psych rockers The Mopps and OX.

All of this is not to say that the film is without stylization, as the occasional appearance of blinding, primary colored wipes and overlays clamorously attests. Also, it being a Japanese studio film of its era, it almost goes without saying that many of the shots are beautifully composed--especially when Hasebe chooses to forefront his young actors, dwarfed by the indifferent urban landscape looming above them. As an added concession to pop consciousness, we also get a couple of songs from Akiko Wada, including her hit “Boy and Girl”, (which was featured on Volume 2 of Big Beat’s Nippon Girls series if you want to hear it.) To these the husky voiced, sleepy-eyed Wada brings the same confident swagger that she does to her acting.

I have to say that Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss seems pioneering for how it so matter-of-factly presents an androgynous female protagonist in the typically male role of the laconic outsider hero. Contrary to expectations, none of the exploitative tropes concerning same sex attraction (the shower scenes, the leather clad bdsm, etc.) are in evidence.

All of this allows Wada to emerge as a female action hero of rare charisma and gravity. Though Kaji would eventually take over the lead in the Stray Cat Rock films, in Delinquent Girl Boss it is Wada who provides the film with exactly the kind of compelling central presence that Kaji did to her more well-known films. Check it out.


Now that our country is being overrun by Norwegians in response to Mr. Trumps golden-tongued proclamation, it may be time to look at what our friends from the frigid north of Europe have to offer us.

Of course, that is not the reason that I programmed an entire evening of tunes from Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland (though mostly Sweden, if we're being honest) for tonight's Pop Offensive. The set was, in fact, programmed a couple of months ago, then I got sick and was unable to broadcast it last month.

And the reason I programmed it that way is because I host a show about pop music and the Scandinavians are a people with pop music in their blood. If Scandinavian pop has one flaw, it may be that it is sometimes too pop: too catchy, too slick, and too upbeat. But even its most dedicated detractors have to admit that even its most cloying musical products are stunningly well crafted--all the while proclaiming that there's no way in hell that they would listen to this show. If that's you, consider yourself forewarned.

Pop Offensive goes Scando rando tonight (Wednesday, January 17th) at 7pm PT and can be streamed live from kgpc969.0rg. So why not grab yourself a plate of lutfisk, pour yourself a glass of potato vodka, and tune in.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Podcast on Fire's Taiwan Noir Episode #26: Nine Demons and Shanghai Thirteen

Overseeing our respective media empires takes up a lot of time in the lives of Kenny B and myself--so much that we allowed six whole months to pass between episodes of Taiwan Noir. I would say that this was inexcusable if I did not so desperately want you to excuse it. Because, if you didn't, you would miss out on this latest episode, which I think is one of our finest.

Under discussion is famed martial arts director Chang Cheh. Now, as I say in the show, I am no great fan of Chang's, but I am willing to give him props when he gets it right. And I think he pretty much gets it right with the two film we're talking about in this episode: Nine Demons (right, the one with Gary and Joey) and Shanghai Thirteen. To my mind these are two of Chang's most enjoyable films. Check it out, won't you?

And if, by the time you finish the episode, you find that you have not had quite enough of Ken and I, check out Podcast on Fire's jumbotronic Christmas episode, in which fellow co-hosts Tom K-W, East Screen West Screen's Paul Fox, and myself compete for Ken's approval in an Asian cinema-themed pub quiz. (I don't want to spoil it for you, but, if you're the gambling type, I wouldn't lay money down on yours truly, who came in a respectable fourth out of four.)

That should satisfy you until next time, which I promise will not be that far off. We're already planning episode #27 as I write, and it's going to be super boss. Believe it!

Friday's best pop song ever

Monday, January 1, 2018

Looking toward the future

It’s no understatement to say that 2017 was a year that few of us will ever forget—and whose forgetting will be welcome for those of us who can achieve it. Fortunately, among all the stuff that the year contained, there were those rare distractions that buffered our descent into, in some cases, denial and, in others, a sort of tense, provisional resignation.

In my case, I found succor in the usual dusty corners of obscurity while at the same time making occasional, paradoxical appeals for public acclaim. The most momentous of these latter endeavors was the release of my second book, and first novel, Please Don’t Be Waiting For Me, which came out in June and continues to elicit kind words from every corner of the internet—as well as in the world of actual humans in all their nauseating tactility. If you enjoyed my first book, Funky Bollywood, I think it’s safe to say that you might enjoy the new one, even though, rather than describing crazy old Bollywood movies, I am instead describing the early days of the San Francisco punk scene as seen through the eyes of a picaresque group of fictionalized teenaged ne’er do wells. Also, there are murders.

In addition to this, there was the departure of my co-host Jeff Heyman from Pop Offensive, which made me the sole host and producer of the program. While I have struggled to master the couple of extra buttons I have to push, I think that I am settling into my new role pretty well and hope—in the show’s fourth year—to continue bringing you the best in overlooked world pop. Somewhat augmenting the good work I am doing at PopOff, is my brand new podcast Friday’s Best Pop Song Ever, which, while taking it’s name from one of 4DK’s recurring features, is in no way intended to replace that feature. I see FBPSE as being somewhat pioneering within the context of podcasts that I am involved in, in that it’s episodes are only 10-15 minutes long, rather than lasting as long as its hosts’ overstrained voices can yammer on before giving out.

As for my consumption of culture, I have spent the past two weeks trying to check off the remaining entries on my “must see” list for the year, which means that, in a very short period, I have watched Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri¸ Lady Bird, I, Tonya, and The Disaster Artist. Given this was one of the most exceptional runs of my moviegoing career, I feel compelled to say that 2017, while being a shitty year for so much else, was a very good year for movies—and considering other favorites of mine like Kong: Skull Island, Atomic Blonde, Get Out, and Baby Driver, genre movies in particular. Meanwhile, the fact that I was somewhat less thrilled by Wonder Woman than literally everyone else is more an indication of my being burnt out by superhero movies—especially those of the DC/Zack Snyder variety—than it is the fault of the movie itself. Of all the costumed hero capers on offer this year, only Dr. Strange awakened within me some sense of why I continue to dutifully attend these movies like some kind of bitch slave of Stan Lee.

Ah, but don’t think the scant gratification I have achieved as a member of the moviegoing public means that I have turned my back on the thrills to be found in the cobweb enshrouded archives of world pop cinema. To wit, this year has seen me cover everything from an all-black cast horror film from the 1940s to an East German beach party movie, in addition to revisiting such reliable founts of filmic ecstasy as 1960s Lebanese pop films, the Punjabi punch ups of Sultan Rahi, and Soviet space opera. You see, like that wad of gum you stick under the couch, I see those films that fell through the cracks in official film scholarship as simply being there for later enjoyment. Thinking now about all the odd movies that are currently passing below our notice as we fret about the future of the world and try not to touch each other inappropriately, I get the spine-tingling sense that comes with anticipating pleasures delayed. It’s enough to make me want to muddle through this current mess with both my humanity and capacity for joy intact.

Hey, man. Whatever it takes.