Daniel is back with reviews and ramblings about the latest weird, violent and spooky Blu-ray releases….
I know it may come as surprise to some of you fine fiends who are long time readers of my reviews, but Ichi The Killer was the first Takashi Miike flick your’s cruelly laid his putrid peepers on waaaay back in the early ‘oughts. I know, an astounding revelation that has left you reeling for sure…wait, what was that you said? ‘Who gives a rat’s ass?’ well, let’s see if I ever give you a bit of background before I review a film ever again…hey, stop that applause you bastards!
Anyway, Ichi The Killer…or as I like to call it ‘Kakihara The Killer’, because that dude is definitely the stand out character in the film…hell it’s his mug they use to promote the damn picture…and after you are introduced to Ichi himself, you’ll know why…goes a lil’ something like this: Yakuza Boss Anjo “disappears” with a shit-ton of cash so sadomasochistic maniac Kakihara (a tour de force performance by Tadanobu Asano) and some other criminal lowlifes go searching for him. The trail of torture eventually leads to a sexually repressed, rather annoying man-child cum killing machine named Ichi (Nao Ohmori) and his handler Jijii (played by genius film maker Shin’ya Tsukamoto of Tetsuo fame). The whirlwind of sadism continues to unimaginable levels and soon the pain junkie Kakihara and the murderously insane Ichi collide!
Drenched in bodily fluids, packed with over-the-top violence, torture, and outlandish characters, and operating under it’s own surreal comic book logic (appropriate seeing as how the film was adapted from the manga of the same name), Ichi The Killer deserves it’s status as an undeniably inventive and unique cult classic motion picture. The gore is mesmerizing, the humor (yup it’s a violent nightmare ride, but it’s got a streak of humor underneath all that flowing crimson) is pitch black, and the colorful, mind melting visuals conjured up by veteran cinematic mad genius Miike (director of over 100 features to date) make the whole thing (much like a large portion of Miike’s oeuvre) like nothing you have ever experienced before…and that leads me to…
This film will absolutely, positively not be for the unadventurous viewer. The sheer amount of disturbing torture and gore, coupled with a disjointed narrative (also a Miike hallmark), and a “hero” that is a cry-baby basket case…it can all be a bit much to take for those not used to the more manic side of Japanese genre film making…but man o’ man once you get a taste for the stuff you become like Depeche fuckin’ Mode…you just can’t get enough (no, I have zero shame, why do you ask?)
So the film is dynamite, but what of this new Blu-ray from our pals at Well Go USA? Well, it isn’t packed fat with features, but what you get is definitely good gravy, starting with a fantastic looking, digitally remastered 4k presentation of the film approved by Miike himself! Speaking of Big M, also included is a a commentary by Miike and mangaka Hideo Yamamoto, along with those hoary ol’ chestnuts; a still gallery, and a trailer.
To put a bow on it; Ichi The Killer is one hell of a yakuza flick…it’s hyper-violent, hyper-real…fuck it; it’s just plain hyper, and this release from Well Go USA captures all of it’s surreal beauty…it’s a must own for lovers of both Miike, and gonzo cinema in general!
After an F-111 aircraft carrying a fancy-ass laser tracking devices does a nose dive into the ocean near Malta the CIA calls in the only man that can handle the retrieval…of course I am speaking of the one and only Ken Tani…wait, who in the fuck is Ken Tani?!! Well, it turns out he’s some sort of cross between a martial artist and James Bond, and has a pimp-ass codename, Black Eagle (and he’s played by ’80’s Ninja film icon Sho Kosugi)…and he’s the kind of guy that just jumps 40,000 feet from the stratosphere to land on a boat with pinpoint accuracy to start his work day, the type of guy that gets mission details while clad in only a jet-black banana hammock, and the type of guy that can only perform dangerous, life or death missions if he gets to simultaneously spend time with his two kids…again, whaaaaaa?!! Anyway, ol’ K-man isn’t the only one on the case, as those pesky Russians want that laser jibber-jabber and have deployed Colonel Vladimir Klimenko and his (all too) frequently shirtless and sweaty sidekick Andrei (Jean-Claude Van Damme) to make that happen. All manner of action set pieces ensue as our power-packed titans square off in a race against time to acquire the black ops technology!
Black Eagle is a bit of an enigma. I can’t for the life of me figure out why you would make a pseudo-Bond style picture, and then cast two of the (at that time) greatest martial arts film actors and barely have them fight (for real, this could have featured anyone in the roles of Tani and Andrei). Why on Earth wasn’t this re-tooled to be a straight up martial arts spectacular with the espionage angle as a B story? Beats me…but that being said the film itself is entertaining enough, if a bit slow going at times, and contains all of the adventure elements that the aforementioned Bond series has (but on a smaller scale) like underwater sequences, sky diving, hang gliding, rooftop battles, and exotic locales (or ‘locale’ in Black Eagle’s case as the lion’s share of the film takes place in Malta).
While Black Eagle is a fun lil’ espionage romp, the extras those sexy cats at MVD have included are even more fun! First up, you get two cuts of the film; the theatrical version (running just over 90 minutes), and an extended version (clocking in at almost an hour and forty five minutes)…both have their merits, but I would go with the theatrical as the best as it hums along nicely, whereas the extended drags a bit more (but contains more story points). Next up is an interview with Sho Kosugi (covering his career in brief)…this is a great conversation, and also includes segments with Kosugi’s son Shane (who appeared in Black Eagle along with his brother Kane). Following that is a “making of” feature that includes chats with Director Eric Karson, Both Sho and Shane Kosugi, Screenwriter Michael Gonzales, and Actresses Doran Clark and Dorota Puzio. This segment is full of anecdotes, and illustrates how Sho’s desire to be near his family changed the direction of the film. Also included are the cast and crew’s recollections of working with Van Damme, and a separate interview with Gonzales and Karson about the screenplay. Finally we have a selection of deleted scenes and the film’s trailer.
Black Eagle might not be the film you expect, but it’s a fun high adventure espionage romp that doesn’t fail to entertain.
New from those rascally rascals at Arrow Video and MVD comes this hear two film collection containing the pasta and prairie adventures of a dude named Ringo!
To kick things off, let’s feast out putrid peepers on the plot for each picture starting with A Pistol for Ringo!
Poor Ringo (Giuliano Gemma); why does gunning down four dudes always raise the ire of local authorities? While our hero rots in the clink, a group of bank robbing banditos decide to take Major Clyde and his daughter Ruby (and their houseguests) hostage, threatening to kill them all if they are not allowed to escape town without any law enforcement hassles. Well, as fate would have it, our man Ringo is enlisted to infiltrate the gang and take them out in exchange for freedom and cash. Can he do so before all of the captives lose their lives?
Following that film comes it’s sequel, The Return of Ringo!
After putting it all on the line fighting for the Union Army in the Civil War, Ringo returns home to find his land overtaken by a band of banditos, and his wife forcefully betrothed to their leader. Finding this whole scenario a bit of a bitch, our hero goes undercover within the gang (again) to put things right…and test his wife’s fidelity.
The first thing that comes to mind when watching the Ringo flicks is the word “fun”…a word not often associated with he grim world of Spaghetti Westerns and their greatest hero The Man With No Name (portrayed by Clint Eastwood in a trilogy of films from Italian maestro Sergio Leone). Ringo stands in defiance of the trend as he is well dressed, articulate, cleanly shaven and a milk drinker. Along with that unlikely hero comes an over all comedic tone to the pictures that at times devolves into outright slapstick. This was all unexpected and refreshing and helps these films stand apart from their cinematic peers.
While the Ringo films are fun and fantastic, the extras presented on this Blu-ray release are none too shabby either. Included are: audio commentaries for both films by Spaghetti Western experts C. Courtney Joyner and Henry C. Parke (which are engaging, fact-filled listens), a video appreciation of the series from critic Tony Rayns, archival interviews with stars Gemma and Lorella De Luca, an archival featurette with De Luca and camera operator Sergio D’Offizi, trailers and an image gallery.
If you are looking for a more breezy, light-hearted take on the typical Spaghetti Western, the two films presented here are perfect; full of fun and infinitely watchable. In other words, give ol; Ringo a go-go baby!