MMC! Double Feature #39: Budget Christopher Nolan at Fantasia

We all love Christopher Nolan, right? With his high concept structures, embedded narratives, elliptical storytelling, and problematized causalities and memory projects, what’s not to love? If your answer is massive budgets and less than mind-blowing executions, then the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival has you covered with a pair of highly inventive, totally mind-bending, and decidedly handcrafted gems!

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (Junta Yamaguchi, 2020)

You would be hard pressed to find anything at Fantasia 2021 as simple and clever as Junta Yamaguchi’s Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes. Cafe owner Kato (Kazunori Tosa) returns to his upstairs apartment one evening and finds himself unexpectedly visited on his computer screen by himself two minutes into the future and speaking from a computer screen in the coffee shop. As Kato tries to make sense this micro-time loop, employees and friends arrive and begin playing with the phenomena, managing to modestly extend the loop by placing the screens in front of each other and creating repeating images of the screen each two minutes farther away than the last. Options for fun and profit remain limited in their DIY time tunnel but shenanigans naturally ensue through the interventions of a potential love interest, a couple of gangsters, and pair of mysterious men.

Strawberry Mansion (Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney, 2021)

Set in a future world where dreams are taxed by the federal government, co-writer/co-director Kentucker Audley plays James Preble, a dream auditor sent to the remote home of Arabella Isadora (Penny Fuller) to assess the elderly eccentric’s vast collection of VHS-recorded dreams. In her dreams, James meets her younger self (Grace Glowicki), traverses a vast dreamscape, and uncovers the sinister truth behind dreams and his love of Cap’n Kelly fried chicken. Time between dreams and reality pass differently and James’ existence is tested as he searches for his dream-Arabella while also negotiating the intrusion of her family in real life.

Strolling Through Dream/Time

Both Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and Strawberry Mansion explore the stretch and squash of time on causality and reality in deceptively lo-fi terms. Junta Yamaguchi’s film was born from an acting workshop of the popular theatre group Europe Kikaku and was shot on an iPhone, recalling recent Japanese puzzle box films like One Cut of the Dead and Special Actors. Audley and Birney’s film was shot digitally, then transferred to 16mm to give it a home movie haziness, and its thrift store costumes and craft store props give it a Gondry-esque playfulness that is archly twee but still sufficiently foreboding. Buttressed by their own limitations, these films are dreamier, loopier, and more intriguing than any of Christopher Nolan’s massive science fiction epics. And to demonstrate that brevity is the soul of wit, it should be noted that you can watch Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and Strawberry Mansion in less time than it takes to see InceptionInterstellar, or Tenet.

Both Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes and Strawberry Mansion are on-demand titles at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival waiting to be watched whenever it is convenient to you, but be warned — less than a week of Fantasia remains and Festival deadlines are far less forgiving that the temporal rules of either of these films.

13 Steps of Maki: The Young Aristocrats (Makoto Naito, 1975)

KARATE LADY RETURNS!

Amid the success of The Street Fighter and Sister Street Fighter series, Toei Company had found a new star in Etsuko Shihomi and had created its first female martial arts hero, one that was tough, virtuous, and courageous. In 1975, Shihomi found herself in possibly her sleaziest film: 13 Steps of Maki: The Young Aristocrats, a pinky violence genre mash-up that mixed girl gangs, women in prison, yakuza, and martial arts action into a single sensational movie. As Maki Hyuga, Shihomi is the leader of the Stray Cats girl gang, fighting for justice against evil gangsters and stuck up rich girls. Though her karate skills are unsurpassed, Maki is framed and thrown into a sadistic women’s prison. Will she escape and take her revenge?

Making its worldwide Blu-ray debut, 13 Steps of Maki: The Young Aristocrats is paired here with Norifumi Suzuki’s The Great Chase, an oddball action flick released the same year and starring Etsuko Shihomi as a race car driver moonlighting as a secret agent. Filled with unceasing action, outlandish situations, and plenty of female resistance to male domination, 13 Steps to Maki and The Great Chase reveal new shades to Etsuko Shihomi’s stardom and stand as spectacular examples of Japanese exploitation in the 1970s.

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of 13 Steps of Maki: The Young Aristocrats and The Great Chase
  • Original uncompressed Japanese mono audio on both films
  • Optional newly translated English subtitles on both films
  • New video interviews with actor Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba and director Makoto Naito
  • Theatrical trailers for both films
  • Stills and poster galleries for both films
  • Reversible sleeve featuring newly commissioned artwork by Kungfubob O’Brien

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MMC! Double Feature #37: Tough Times in Japanese Supermarkets

MMC! loves a clever double bill and the Criterion Channel makes them a regular part of its programming. With this in mind, MMC! will be offering some suggested double features of its own and what better way to start than with a pair of great Japanese titles currently available on the Channel!

Yearning (Mikio Naruse, 1964)

One of the best films by one of Japan’s true masters of tragic melodrama, Mikio Naruse’s Yearning features Hideko Takamine as Reiko, a young widow devoted to the family of her husband who died during the Second World War. In his memory, she has rebuilt his family’s grocery store which was virtually destroyed in bombing raids, however a large grocery chain has moved in nearby and business prospects are looking dim. In this knot of traditional values and modern capitalism, Reiko must negotiate the unwanted attention of her young brother-in-law Koji (Yuzo Kayama), his plan to save the business and her place in their family, and her mother- and sisters-in-law who would prefer to disentangle themselves from her and move onto commercial fortune.

Supermarket Woman (Juzo Itami, 1996)

Juzo Itami frequently used his films to cast a critical eye on fragile Japanese masculinity and his 1996 romantic comedy Supermarket Woman is no exception, although he does swap out gangsters for the next worse thing: grocery store businessmen. In this vibrant and quirky story, Goro (Masahiko Tsugawa) is the manager of the struggling grocery store Honest Mart. His business is disorganized and uninspired, and it is under siege by Discount Demon, a rival supermarket undercutting Honest Mart with underhanded tactics. When Goro runs into old classmate Hanako (Itami’s wife and muse Nobuko Miyamoto), he hires the housewife to help him whip Honest Mart into shape and perhaps win this retail war!

Tissues on Aisle !

Both Naruse and Itami are looking to elicit some tears with their respective films, although one aims for sadness and the other hopes for laughs. Looking gorgeous in black and white widescreen thanks to the cinematography of Jun Yasumoto, Yearning pits traditional Japanese values and customs against the spreading ethics of capitalist ruthlessness and the film crushes its protagonist, Reiko, between them. In contrast, Itami’s colourfully comic Supermarket Woman supposes that old ideas of loyalty, honesty, and ingenuity can succeed in business and in life, making it a complimentary palette refresher following Naruse’s impressively wrought tragedy.

Enjoy these two films (and many more) for the low, low price of a Criterion Channel subscription! Just make sure to return your cart to designated collection area when you’re done!

Fly Me to the Saitama (Hideki Takeuchi, 2019) – Fantasia International Film Festival

SAITAMA IS WACK!

Municipal rivalries, bedroom community resentments, and capital city snobbery are made fantastically farcical in Hideki Takeuchi’s adaptation of Mineo Maya’s cult manga. In this alternate Japan, Tokyo is a luxurious metropolis surrounded by impoverished prefectures living in near feudal-era conditions. Momomi Dannoura (Fumi Nikaido), son of Tokyo’s governor and possessor of striking feminine beauty, rules a baroquely decorated academy and disdains the presence of any non-Tokyoites, particularly those from the Saitama prefecture. The arrival of the mysterious transfer student Rei Asami (GACKT) sparks an undeniable attraction in Momomi and starts a war of liberation between the disrespected prefectures and the opulent megacity. Can love and regional pride overcome big city corruption?

Fly Me to the Saitama is Japanese lunatic satire at its finest, balancing a storm of local inside jokes with universal tensions between slick urbanites and commuter belt wastelands. In between, the film stuffs wacky battles, gender-bending characters, outlandish wigs and costumes, and plenty of historical anachronisms all delivered with disarmingly earnest performances from a stellar cast. Book your ticket to this award-winning, box office smash and accept your Saitamafication!

Special Edition Contents:

  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Uncompressed Stereo PCM
  • Newly translated English subtitles
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • Audio commentary with director Hideki Takeuchi, creator Mineo Maya, and crew
  • Audio commentary by Japanese film scholar Mark Shilling
  • Interviews with cast and crew
  • Reverse Country Boasting Japan’s No. 1 Final Battle, a special promotional program for the film
  • Behind-the-scenes footage
  • Deleted scenes
  • Trailers
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by manga and cosplay scholar Emerald L. King and a new printing of Mineo Maya’s original 188-page manga

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The Man Who Stole the Sun (Kazuhiko Hasegawa, 1979)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents The Man Who Stole the Sun.

Junior high school teacher Makoto Kido attacks a nuclear power plant to steal a plutonium capsule and then succeeds in building an atomic bomb by himself in his apartment. Calling himself “Number 9” and claiming to be a new nuclear power of his own, Kido extorts the government with demands for uninterrupted baseball games and a concert by the then-banned Rolling Stones, even going so far as to appoint his own negotiating partner, hardened police inspector Yamashita. Pitting rock icon Kenji Sawada with legendary tough guy Bunta Sugawara, Kazuhiko Hasegawa’s celebrated Japanese cult film explores the nation’s growing generation gap and the proliferation of nuclear power with black comedy, stylistic invention, and a heavy, controversial premise.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • New high-definition digital restoration with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • The Legend is Lebon Video Testimony, an 84-minute documentary on the making of the film, with interviews and on-set footage
  • Walking With the Movie, a tour of the film’s locations with Japanese singer Masaki Ueda
  • Enthusiasm, Talk, Talk, My “Man Who Stole the Sun,” a 35-minute interview of director Kazuhiko Hasegawa by actor Masatoshi Nagase and special effects director Shinji Higuchi
  • 11 p.m. “Wonderful!! Is Julie a Strong Guy Like Genbaku?!,” a 20-minute edited version shown prior to the film’s theatrical released on September 20, 1979
  • Trailer
  • English subtitle translation supervised by screenwriter Leonard Schrader
  • PLUS: A new essay by Japanese film scholar Tony Rayns

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Godzilla vs. Mito Komon (Shinya Takeshita, 1991)

A cult classic to knowing G-fans everywhere, Godzilla vs. Mito Kōmon was made by Shinya Takeshita around 1991 while a student at Osaka Art University. The short is loaded with DIY charm and cheeky ingenuity thanks to Takeshita playing a one-man show as a news reporter (with pop bottle microphone), various classic kaiju and tokusatsu characters (with cardboard fins and helmets), and even multiple utility poles. Takeshita also plays various roles from the iconic Japanese television series Mito Kōmon, including the title character and his various followers. The short is memorable in part for bringing two together two Japanese icons: Godzilla and his giant monster ilk and the characters of Japan’s longest-running period drama, Mito Kōmon (1,227 episodes from 1969 to 2011), which featured a feudal lord traveling in disguise with his samurai retainers and redressing some local injustice in each episode. In these socially distanced days where scores of people are taking their creativity to webcams and video-sharing in even greater abundance, Takeshita’s film is a reminder that wacky, enthusiastic, brilliant entertainment was always just one person and one camera away.