Category Archives: Asian Cinema

The Snake Girl and The Silver Haired Witch | This 1968 tokusatsu terror tale is a terrific delight

Japanese director Noriaki Yuasa is best-know for Daiei Studios’ iconic Gamera series which he helmed from 1965 to 1980. In 1968, in between Gamera films, he turned his eye to adapting Kazuo Umezu’s classic 1966 horror manga Hebi shōjo (AKA Reptilia), about a shape-shifting snake woman, for the big screen. The result was The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch (Hebi musume to hakuhatsuma) – a tokusatsu terror tale that’s rarely been seen outside Japan since its release but gets a new life on Blu-ray from Arrow Video. And it’s a doozy.

A young girl called Sayuri (Yachie Matsui) is reunited with her scientist father and amnesiac mother after a long stay at a children’s home and is surprised to discover that she has an older sister, Tamami (Mayumi Takahashi).

With her father away on business, and her mother lost in her thoughts, Sayuri tries to befriend Tamami, who treats her with scorn, and is doted on by the family maid. Finding reptile scales on Tamami’s bed, Sayuri suspects her sister is a snake.

Moving to the attic, Sayuri begins having terrifying visions of a fanged creature and a witch that wishes to do her harm. But who is she? and why is she targeting her?

Yuasa’s 1968 horror is a revelation. I had never heard of the film before, and it doesn’t appear in any of my go-to reference books. But it’s got all the right ingredients to be a bona fide genre classic: a big house with shadow-lit passageways, a lab full of snakes and an attic draped in cobwebs, two genuinely scary monsters and a little girl heroine caught up in a nightmarish mystery.

Boasting haunting visuals, atmospheric production design and photography (that evoke Hammer’s psychological thrillers of the same period), a nerve-jangling score, and effective performances (especially Matsui, whose androgynous appearance serve to make this a Boys’ Own Adventure, too), The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch is one to watch time and again.

Oh, and it doesn’t lack in shocks either: I had to turn away when poor Sayuri ends up having her hands repeatedly bashed while hanging for dear life from some scaffolding. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

● High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation, with original uncompressed mono audio
● Optional English subtitles
● Audio commentary by film historian David Kalat
This Charming Woman: Interview with manga and folklore scholar Zack Davisson
● Theatrical trailer
● Image gallery
● Reversible sleeve featuring new and original artwork by Mike Lee-Graham
● Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Raffael Coronelli

Blind Beast | Yasuzo Masumura’s 1969 Japanese arthouse erotic horror shines again on Blu-ray

From the pen of Japan’s foremost master of the macabre, Edogawa Rampo, comes Blind Beast – a grotesque portrait about obsession, art and sensuality.

Waking up inside a dark warehouse studio whose walls are decorated with outsized women’s body parts, artist’s model Aki (Mako Midori) discovers she has been abducted by Michio (Eiji Funakoshi), a blind sculptor who desires to create the perfect female form. Defiant at first, Aki soon finds herself drawn into his warped sightless world in which touch is everything.

This 1969 arthouse erotic horror from director Yasuzo Masumura, adapted from Rampo’s 1931 novel Mojo: The Blind Beast, is a trippy, stylish, fetishistic affair, boasting lashings of dark humour, fantastical set design and way out performances from the two leads. It now gets a Blu-ray release from Arrow, alongside some entertaining extras. Check out the trailer and special contents below.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed Japanese mono audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Brand new audio commentary by Asian cinema scholar Earl Jackson
• Newly filmed introduction by Japanese cinema expert Tony Rayns
Blind Beast: Masumura the Supersensualist, a brand new visual essay by Japanese literature and visual studies scholar Seth Jacobowitz
• Original Trailer
• Image Gallery
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Tony Stella
• Illustrated booklet featuring new writing by Virginie Sélavy (first pressing only).

A Tale of Two Sisters | Kim Jee-woon’s stylish and scary 2003 chiller on Blu-ray

Director Kim Jee-woon’s stylish and scary 2003 thriller, A Tale of Two Sisters, is one of the key films of the Korean New Wave. Now it’s getting a Blu-ray release from Arrow that comes with a host of extras that you should only view once you have watched the gripping chiller.

Inspired by the popular Korean folktale, Janghwa Hongryeon jeon, the twisted mystery centres on young Su-mi (Im Soo-jung), who returns home with her father (Kim Kap-soo) and her younger sister, Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young), after a stay in a mental facility. But the reason for her hospitalisation only becomes clear when she encounters the ghost of her dead mother, and engages in a battle of wills with her cold-hearted, self-medicating, stepmother (Yum Jung-ah).

Exquisitely photographed, with wonderful performances all around (especially the glacial Yum Jung-ah as the wicked step mum), A Tale of Two Sisters, is a slow burner but it’s never boring as every scene counts. It also deserves multiple viewings, so you can fully appreciate Jee-woon’s assured direction, visuals and storytelling.

Here’s what you also get…

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS

• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original DTS-HD MA 5.1 and uncompressed stereo audio
• Optional English subtitles
• Brand-new Audio commentary by Korean Cinema historian Pierce Conran & critic James Marsh
• Audio commentary by writer/director Kim Jee-woon, lighting cameraman Oh Seung-chul and cinematographer Lee Mo-gae
• Audio commentary by writer/director Kim Jee-woon and cast members Im Soo-jung and Moon Geun-young
• Always on the Move: The Dynamic Camera and Spaces of Master Stylist Kim Jee-woon, a brand-new visual essay by Korean Cinema historian Pierce Conran
• Spirits of the Peninsula: Folklore in Korean Cinema, a brand-new visual essay by cultural historian Shawn Morrisey
• Imaginary Beasts: Memory, Trauma & the Uncanny in A Tale of Two Sisters, a brand-new visual essay by genre historian and critic Kat Ellinger
• Behind the Scenes, an archival featurette shot during filming
– Outtakes, archival footage from the set
• Production Design, an archival featurette about the intricate look of the sets
• Music Score, an archival featurette
• CGI, an archival featurette
• Creating the Poster, an archival featurette about the iconic original poster
• Cast Interviews, archival interviews with Kim Kab-su (Father), Yeom Jung-a (Stepmother), Im Soo-jung (Su-mi), and Moon Geun-young (Su-yeon)
• Deleted scenes with director’s commentary
• Director’s analysis, an archival featurette in which Kim Jee-woon discusses the complexity and ambiguities contained within the film and why they were important to him.
• Director’s thoughts on horror, an archival featurette in which Kim Jee-woon discusses his feelings about the horror genre.
• Psychiatrist’s Perspective, an archival featurette exploring the psychological reality behind the story of the film
• Theatrical Trailer
• Stills galleries
• Reversible sleeve with original and newly commissioned artwork by Sister Hyde
• Illustrated booklet featuring new writing by critics Stacie Ponder and Anya Stanley, plus a new translation of the original Korean folktale that inspired the film.

Mothra | The heroic kaiju favourite saves the day in glorious Blu-ray

One of the most iconic Japanese kaiju, Mothra has appeared in several Toho features since its first appearance in Ishirō Honda’s 1961 monster fantasy adventure, which heads to Blu-ray in the UK for the first time, as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.

When the tiny twin Shobijin (singing duo The Peanuts AKA Yumi and Emi Ito) are abducted by a ruthless Rolisican capitalist, Clark Nelson (Jerry Ito), Mothra hatches from her egg on Infant Island and swims to Tokyo where she cocoons herself around the Tokyo Tower. Reaching adult form, Mothra then flies to Rolisica’s capital and causes widespread destruction in a bid to force Clark to release the Shobijin.

Featuring fantastic special effects from the legendary Eiji Tsuburaya, thrilling set-pieces orchestrated by director Honda and a terrifically catchy theme tune (sung by The Peanuts), Mothra is one of my all-time favourite Toho kaiju and one I have returned to time and again. But this new Blu-ray is a welcome sight as the gorgeous presentation here serves to highlight the film’s excellent production values; particularly so the elaborate sets and miniatures.

Although I would have loved to see the film’s entire soundtrack presented amongst the extras, the collector’s booklet featuring pieces from Japanese cinema experts such as Jasper Sharp make this Eureka release a must-have. It’s also the perfect companion piece to Criterion’s Showa-era Godzilla box-set – which I’m currently enjoying.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Includes original Japanese (101min) and international English dubbed versions (90min), with original mono audio presentations (LPCM) and English subtitles (Japanese version) and English SDH (English version
  • NEW interview with film critic Kim Newman on Mothra 
  • Two galleries featuring rare production stills, ephemera and concept art
  • Teaser and theatrical trailers
  • Collector’s booklet featuring essays by Christopher Stewardson and Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp; a new interview with production designer Scott Chambliss; an extract from Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski’s Ishirō Honda biography; and archival reviews and stills.

Mr Vampire | The 1980s Hong Kong horror comedy gets the 2K treatment

From Eureka Entertainment comes Mr Vampire, presented from a brand new 2K restoration and making its worldwide debut on Blu-ray as part of the Eureka Classics range.

A huge hit in its native Hong Kong in the 1980s, this horror-comedy from producer Sammo Hung and director Ricky Lau spawned at least four sequels and countless spin-offs and triggered a wave of jiangshi (‘hopping vampire’) imitations.

Lam Ching-ying stars as supernatural expert Master Kau. When he and his two bumbling students, Man Choi (Ricky Hui) and Chou (Chin Siu-ho), exhume a corpse for reburial, things go hilariously awry when the cadaver is revealed to be a vampire. Blamed for the chaos that ensures, Kau must put the spirits to rest before the vampire’s own granddaughter (Moon Lee) gets bitten. Fighting the undead with everything from sticky rice to filing down the bloodsucker’s fangs, the trio must defeat an increasing number of ghoulish dangers…

SPECIAL FEATURES
• 1080p presentation from a brand new 2K restoration
• Original Cantonese audio (original mono presentations)
• English dub track produced for the film’s original European home video release
• English dub track produced for the film’s original American home video release
• Newly translated English subtitles
• New audio commentary by Asian film expert Frank Djeng
• Alternate end credits
• Archival interview with Chin Siu-hou [40 mins]
• Archival interview with Moon Lee [15 mins]
• Archival interview with Ricky Lau [12 mins]
• Original Hong Kong Trailer
• Limited Edition O-CARD Slipcase with new artwork by Darren Wheeling
• Collector’s Booklet featuring new writing on the film

The Witch | The last 30-minutes of this South Korean sci-fi blockbuster is a blood-drenched assault on the senses

10 years ago, Koo Ja-yoon (Kim Da-mi) escaped from a medical facility during an incident and her memory. Now an unusually bright high school student, the farmer’s daughter enters a TV talent show which makes her a target to those who want her back. But she responds with a terrifying transformation from innocent girl into cold-blooded super killer!

Like Stranger Things, Orphan Black and its like, this South Korean sci-fi (aka Manyeo) deals with an amnesiac with latent genetically-engineered/mutant powers. Yep, we’ve seen it all before, and this one – from writer/director Park Hoon-jung – is a bit of a mixed bag. It starts off pretty slow, with some family domestics, but then comes the jaw-dropping finale – a blood-drenched assault on your senses that’s best experienced on the biggest screen possible and with a really good sound system (just to hear those bones cracking).

Kim Da-mi shines in the title role, but my favourite was Jo Min-soo as Ja-yoon’s ‘creator/mother’, Dr Baek. Channelling Joan Crawford’s mothering skills, her Dr Frankenstein-like brain surgeon is one crazy bitch indeed! One mystery I’d like solved, however, is why her superhuman children are referred to as ‘witches’. There’s no obvious explanation. Or did I miss it?

The Witch did soaring business in its native South Korea, while its full title (Part 1 – The Subversion) hints at more adventures to come. I’d be up for that – if only to get an answer to my question!

The Witch is out now on Digital HD from Signature Entertainment

 

Terra Formars (2016) | Takashi Miike’s mutant killer cockroach sci-fi adventure

TERRA FORMARS

The ever-prolific Japanese film-maker Takashi Miike (Audition, Blade of the Immortal) returns with this intergalactic epic in which a team of space explorers find themselves pitched against a horde of oversized anthropomorphic cockroaches.

In the mid-21st century, humankind has been forced to look to colonising other planets as a means of combating overcrowding on Earth – their first stop, Mars. With a population of cockroaches having been introduced on Mars some 500 years prior to help prepare the way for human colonization, a manned mission sets out to the red planet with the aim of clearing away the bugs. Upon arrival, however, they discover that the roaches have evolved to huge, vicious creatures capable of wielding weapons…

TERRA FORMARS

Based on the popular Manga series of the same name, Terra Formars is an action-packed space adventure brought to life by one of Japan’s most celebrated contemporary filmmakers.

The Arrow Video Blu-ray release is out now with the following special features…

• High-Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
• Original uncompressed Stereo and 5.1 DTS-HD MA options
• Newly-translated English subtitles
The Making of Terra Formars: feature-length documentary
• Extended cast interviews
• Footage from the 2016 Japanese premiere
• Outtakes
• Image Gallery
• Theatrical and teaser trailers
• Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options
• Illustrated collector’s booklet (first pressing only)

 

Retaliation (1968) | Yasuharu Hasebe’s Japanese gangster thriller is a knockout

Retaliation

In 1968, Japanese director Yasuharu Hasebe teamed up with the inimitable Jô Shishido (Branded to Kill, Youth of the Beast) for a follow up to their 1967 yakuza hit, Massacre Gun.

Retaliation is a tale of gang warfare that features a raft of the period’s most iconic stars, Akira Kobayashi is a yakuza lieutenant who emerges from jail to find his gang dispersed and his aging boss in his sickbed. Shishido is the rival waiting to kill him and a young Meiko Kaji is the girl caught in the crossfire. Gritty and cynical, Retaliation is a hardboiled precursor to Kinji Fukasaku’s revisionist yakuza pictures of the 1970s.

Retaliation

In May 2015 Arrow Films put out the Blu-ray world premiere release of the Japanese thriller (limited to 3000 copies). The special features include new interviews with star Jô Shishido and a retrospective look at the careers of Hasebe and Shishido, plus trailer and gallery, new artwork by Ian MacEwan, and a booklet featuring an article by Japanese cinema expert Jasper Sharp. If you haven’t added this to your cult film collection, then maybe it’s time.

 

Dream Home (2010) | This stomach churning Hong Kong horror makes gazumping the deadliest game to play

Dream Home (2010)

Set in a city where property development is the economy’s driving force, this 2010 Hong Kong horror satire is chillingly realistic. Canto pop singer and one of Asia’s hottest stars Josie Ho takes the title role of thirty something Cheng Li-sheung who is pushing herself to the limit working a number of jobs in a bid to save up for her ideal home. But this is not your average apartment – it’s a swanky pad in a waterfront tower complex built on property that Cheng’s family were forced to leave a decade earlier. When Cheng finds herself gazumped by the current owners, the obsessed woman goes on a bloody, brutal killing spree in the tower block slaughtering anyone who gets in her way…

Dream Home (2010)

Ho is totally believable as the hard-working Cheng driven over the edge trying to honour a promise to her late mother while looking after her invalid father. On the night of her murderous rampage, Cheng’s story is told in flashback. It’s a technique that takes time to get used to, but it’s worth the effort.

Dream Home (2010)

Dream Home (aka Wai dor lei ah yut ho) is certainly not for the faint-hearted. The orgy of violence really does test you: a pregnant woman is suffocated in plastic (too extreme for me); her adulterous husband gets an iron in the head; while a group of party kids get hammered, slashed and impaled. It’s unflinching and downright stomach churning, but there’s method in all this madness that’s played out in the film’s wry climax. The mixture of satire and extreme violence may not be too everyone’s taste, but Dream Home is certainly a cut above your average slasher and that’s down to the film’s ripe subject, so perfect for this credit crunch age.

Dream Home is available on Blu-ray from Network Distributing and includes an interview with Josie Ho, gallery, trailer and a booklet written by Billy Chainsaw as extras. Network’s 2010 DVD release featured the same extras.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNmWzGFRfH0&feature=player_embedded%5D

Branded to Kill (1967) | This über-cool Japanese hitman spoof is a deliriously offbeat chinmi

Branded to Kill (1967)

Laconic yakuza Gorô Hanada (Jô Shishido) is the Tokyo underworld’s third-ranked hitman until a bungled hit makes him a marked man, setting him on a bullet-ridden, alcohol soaked journey involving a death-obsessed femme fatale (Anne Mari), a trecherous wife (Mariko Ogawa) and the legendary Number One Killer (Kôji Nanbara).

Branded to Kill (1967)

KONICHIWA SUZUKI FANS!
Shot in cool monochrome with hyper visuals akin to a 1960s Pop Art collage and a jazzy score, the Japanese hitman spoof Branded to Kill (aka Koroshi no rakuin) caused its director Seijun Suzuki to be fired by the studio’s executives, but is now highly recognised as his masterpiece – drawing comparisons with contemporaries Le Samouraï and Point Blank and influencing directors such as John Woo, Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino. It might not to be for all tastes, but if you fancy something searingly surreal and utterly out-there, then this deliriously offbeat chinmi is just for you.

Branded to Kill (1967)

THE UK RELEASE
The Arrow Video dual-format Blu-ray and DVD edition (out 18 August) features a restored digital transfer and new English subtitles, interviews with both director Seijun Suzuki and star Jo Shishido (both in Japanese), two trailers, plus the 1973 porno re-imagining Trapped in Lust (Aiyoku no wana) by screenwriter Atsushi Yamatoya. The collector’s booklet features illuminating essays on the film and its director by Japanese cinema specialist Jasper Sharp, plus there’s a reversible sleeve featuring some stunning new artwork by Ian MacEwan.

 

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