Tag Archives: japan

Fantastic Fest – K-20: The Fiend With Twenty Faces

Aka “K-20: The Legend of the Mask,” this pulp movie is set in the 1949 of an alternate history where WWII never happened and so Japan is still riven by strong class distinctions and the poor have it pretty bad.  A notorious masked burglar, “K-20”, strikes fear into the hearts of the rich.  A poor circus performer, Heikishi Endo, is framed by K-20 and has to resort to daring thievery of his own to reclaim his good name and thwart the fiend, who is trying to get a big Tesla coil to use as a weapon.  It evokes Batman, The Shadow, Black Mask, Spiderman, and Darkman as inspirations.

I’m going to get this out of the way first thing – this movie was not nearly as good as I’d hoped it would be.  It had some promising bits, but they were all mostly squandered.

The set design was nice – in the first scene, the alt-history city looks nice and steampunkey, with police gyrocopters labelled in Japanese and German both (Polizei!).  You never see any Germans, however, and except for the Tesla coil as a McGuffin the steampunk elements are never utilized either.

Furthermore, I couldn’t figure out what Takeshi Kaneshiro was trying to do with his character, the piece’s hero, Heikichi Endo.  He allegedly starts out as a master acrobat and illusionist in the circus and after being framed takes up thievery to get back at K-20 – but some of the time, he really seems to achieve nearly Sling Blade-like levels of mild retardation.  “I just want to go back the the circus and pet my doves!” he mumbles, clutching himself, in several scenes.  To quote the much better movie Zombieland from yesterday, “Nut up or shut up!”

This could be forgivable if the action was good.  It is not.  His “training” (in what tries to be a nod to genre tropes, he basically reads a book of thieving lore and becomes able to do pretty much supernatural tricks of disguise) is basically free running (parkour).  Free running is fun and all but it’s already being overexposed in movies and needs a little something (like a decent fight) to spice it up.  But the martial arts action is very few and far between, and when showdowns happen between K-20 and Endo they are nothing to write home about – a lot of jumping but that’s about it.  They finally have to resort to a gun to try to kill each other, as they realize that even beating on a helpless opponent with their sissy punches isn’t going to result in more than light bruising.

The identity of K-20 is supposed to be a big secret and shocking reveal – and I hoped it would be one of the less obvious characters – but no, if you have ever watched movies you’ll know who K-20 is very early on.  The love interest is one-dimensional and annoying; you’re supposed to be impressed by her being so game to leap into daring plots and pilot gyrocopter rescues, but then she opens her mouth and talks and it’s ruined.

The old inventor-thief and his ex-swindler wife are the only bright spots in the film; they are interesting and play their parts well.

I am pre-sold when you tell me “it’s a steampunk pulp hero martial arts movie,” and you have to work pretty hard to un-sell me, but K-20 managed to do that.  Why the hell do they call him K-20?  Why do all of the group of thieves he loudly despises immediately pledge to do everything in their life’s power to help him?  Why is every plot point so brutally and hamhandedly obvious?  I don’t know, but I can’t recommend K-20.

Fantastic Fest – Vampire Girl Vs. Frankenstein Girl

I knew I was in trouble when a bunch of pantsless Japanese men took the stage to introduce this film.  Director Yoshihiro Nishimura of Tokyo Gore Police and other splatter comedies introduced this film as being “along the lines of his previous work, but with more high school girls.”  If you are delicate of constitution you don’t want to keep reading this review.

Then came a short called “61 minutes” that is like a missing chapter from Tokyo Gore Police – “it happens 61 minutes into Tokyo Gore Police, between the fight with the girl with an alligator vagina and when the guy shows up with a big penis gun!”  We open on a woman with a big cock on her nose, and cocks like Medusa’s snakes all over her head, who fights police in metal Samurai armor by shooting cocks at them to explode their heads as blood sprays and rains down for minutes at a time and then a wizened old Indian (feathers, not dots) hit man shows up to fight her and her nose cock gets chopped off but then it becomes a flamethrower but when she flames the Indian he gets a stripper body and then I started crying and flashing back to when a friend and I rented “Tetsuo: The Iron Man” and ran out of booze and were forced to drink Amaretto and cooking brandy to dull the pain.

It had already been a long day and that short really took the starch out of me.  Luckily, Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl (though full of five minute long blood-spray sequences) wasn’t quite as bizarre as the short.  It’s a basic love triangle between hapless high school boy, a vampire, and a normal high school girl whose dad is a witch doctor/Dr. Frankenstein guy who turns her into a cobbled-together monster.  Filling out the film with unsubtle and tasteless humor (in the vein of the Scary Movie franchise)  is the “wrist cutting club” and the girls who color themselves to look like black people (“ganguro“, an actual Japanese fad).  Besides normal vampire powers, Vampire Girl makes things like sword-arms out of clotted blood.  Mainly, it’s full of caricatures capering around and fighting among spraying globules of blood and severed body parts recombining into more and more bizarre creatures.

It was definitely different.  Not high art, but trying to achieve a shlock high and bring the gore and bizarrity of the Troma films to a new apex.   It’s certainly entertaining from an “experience crazy Japanese people wallowing in blood” point of view – for me, a once-a-year kind of thing.  I can’t say it’s a “good” movie but it’s certainly – unusual.  Just make sure you  have enough booze on hand.  I have to say, even though I still had tickets to Doghouse at midnight, this movie drained me for the day and I headed home.