Unforgiven (2014)

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In the good ol’ vagabond days of yesteryear, the Power House was the best place in Hollywood to throw darts and get drunk on the cheap while enjoying the company of a cross section of LA society. Here I could drink until 2 AM before crawling into the back of my van/home where I’d then either pass out or write until daybreak, whichever urge struck me first.

Most nights during this 2-year period have blurred into a single memory, indistinguishable from one another, but one stands out. It was a cold November evening, midweek, not long before midnight, when an attractive young couple emerged from the crowd. Japanese, recently married and just arrived in Los Angeles for their honeymoon, the groom wore a black cowboy hat, black leather waistcoat, black Levi jeans, black cowboy boots, black leather belt with a giant silver eagle buckle. On either side of his skinny hips was a gun holster, black, of course, and fastened shut. He couldn’t have been a day older than 22. Standing in near silhouette, cloaked in the low-hanging fog of cigarette smoke, he wordlessly snapped open the holsters to reveal three shiny, stainless steel darts. Amid laughter and friendly goading, we bought a congratulatory round of PBR for the couple, dropped a few quarters into the machine and, with Bob Dylan blaring from the jukebox, we went toe-to-toe in a game of Cricket… where he promptly bombed me like I was Pearl Harbor. It was a monumental beatdown, polished off with a polite tip of his cap before this silent stranger in black and his missus disappeared into the crowd and into legend. It was some of the craziest shit I’d ever seen, but it got me thinking – what’s the deal with Japanese cowboys?

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It’s early 2014 and I’m loitering in a small, warm room in London’s ICA for the premiere of the Japanese remake of Clint Eastwood’s classic western Unforgiven. This is the Pan-Asia Film Festival 2014 launch, and the turnout is good and the room is packed with journalists and businesspeople. There is a palpable enthusiasm that I had not yet experienced at a screening in London, and the drinks and hors d’oeuvres were free and bountiful so the night was off to a good start. I’d been informed that Unforgiven’s director, Sang-il Lee, would be available to field a few questions beforehand which got me thinking about that night in the Power House, about the curious connection between the Hollywood westerns and Japanese culture, about Seven Samuari and The Magnificient Seven, about Cowboy Bebop, about Sukiyaki Western Django, about Kill Bill. But mostly I was curious about what, exactly, might influence that nice, quiet young couple to dress up in their finest cowboy attire and fly to LA just to thoroughly embarrass me in front of my countrymen. I’m not above admitting that I still want revenge. But I hadn’t had a chance to organise this mess of thoughts when we were informed that director Lee would no longer be taking individual questions. That’s probably for the best, really.

So now the film. We’re in Japan, on the northern island of Hokkaido, the year is 1880 or thereabouts, just a few short years since Japan had seen the Meiji Revolution change the empire from a feudal state to an imperialist power. The last remaining samurai warriors have gone into hiding. The new government, run by the privileged Wa tribe, wants to open up the land for development but the indigenous Ainu people aren’t so keen on that idea. The times, they are a-changin’.

Played by Koichi Sato, who does an admirable job stepping into the muddy boots originally worn by the masterful Gene Hackman, Ichizo Oishi is the new sheriff of a small border town. He’s charismatic and well liked but vicious and cunning. When a couple of settlers go ape-shit with a knife on the face of beautiful young prostitute Natsume (Shiori Kutsuna), he gives the men a slap on the wrist and sends them on their merry way.

Naturally, the whores don’t take kindly to this lack of justice and they put a bounty on the settlers. This forces the sheriff and his men into high-alert mode and soon enough ex-samurai warriors emerge from the woodwork to collect some heads and a quick bit of cash. Little do they know that this is a really stupid idea, as sheriff Ichizo is one psychopathic fucker who doesn’t take much of a shinin’ to their kind. One of these bounty hunters, Masaharu (Jun Kunimura) saunters into the whorehouse with his biographer Yasaburo (Kenichi Takito) in tow. The sheriff takes note and levels an asswhoopin’ on the older man and, with his foe dying in the street, Ichizo convinces the writer to stick around town for a bit.

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Meanwhile, on the other side of the island, there is a dilapidated shack on a hill near the coast. In it lives Clint East—uh, Ken Watanabe – and his two young daughters. Ken plays ex-samurai Jubee Kamata, who was once a fierce warrior with a reputation for being a wee bit crazy. But that was a lifetime ago. Now he is just a humble farmer, father, and widower. His hut isn’t much to sneeze at – if you did, you’d probably knock it down – but it’s his nonetheless, and it’s peaceful and it’s where he wants to raise his daughters.

All that is fine and dandy but you know it’s not going to last, and soon enough in rides ol’ samurai pal Kingo Baba (Akira Emoto) with rumour that a gaggle of whores is offering a hefty fee for the two knife-happy idiots. Not particularly keen on the idea of returning to a life of violence, Jubee informs Kingo that he’d vowed to his dead wife that he’d never kill again. So on Kingo moves without him, but realizing that half the bounty would go a long way towards a better future for his daughters, Jubee strikes out to find his friend. Jubee’s kids are, like, 5 and 7, so leaving them alone for an extended period of time was a bit of a risky move, but I suppose those were simpler times.

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Jubee and Kingo ride together and on their way they’re met by a young Ainu freedom fighter named Goro (Yuya Yagira) who provides both the wholly unnecessary wacky comic relief and the over the top melodramatic tears. Goro is out for some kind of revenge and claims to have killed several men. He’s a liar and a coward, but still the three team up and agree to share the bounty.

For the next half hour or so there’s a bit of a lull in the action as we delve into some character development stuff, which is all fine and good but doesn’t make for an entertaining review. It is probably also worth noting that, due to my day job as a rockstar, I was a bit exhausted and closed my eyes for a minute or two. Anyway, somewhere along the line there was a strange sequence where Jubee is suddenly taken violently ill when confronting the sheriff for the first time. Ichizo tosses Jubee out on his ass and demands he stay away. Yasaburo, the biographer, is intrigued as the sheriff reveals that Jubee was once the most vicious motherfucker in the land, who’d even slaughtered a group of women and children without batting an eye, but who is now, sadly, just an empty shell of his former bad-ass self.

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Jubee survives his bout of sickness and our heroes catch up to, and ambush, the settlers in a vicious little scene involving dead horses and broken, protruding femurs. Jubee acknowledges that he’s done bad things but claims the rumour of the women- and children-slaughtering isn’t true. Our trio breaks apart as Kingo, ashamed by his own diminished killing skills, wanders off into the sunset. As Jubee and Goro return to town to collect their bounty they discover Kingo’s body hanging from a post – a fair enough warning for all bounty hunters to stay the hell away. But instead, this angers Jubee, which is not a good idea if you like staying alive.

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Ashamed that he broke his vow, Jubee sends scarred whore Natsume and manic-depressive Goro away with the cash and leave him to his fate. The new couple head for Jubee’s hut where they presumably will adopt his daughters and live rich and happily ever after away from all this violence and bloodshed and dishonour.

Alone now, as was always his destiny, samurai killer turned humble farmer turned bounty hunter Jubee squares off against sheriff Ichizo and, oh, a dozen or 15 gun- and katana-wielding lawmen. With the biographer and prostitutes watching from the rafters, this battle results in a lot of bloodshed and the whorehouse burning to the ground. As the last man standing, Jubee strikes off into the night. The end.

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This version of Unforgiven was at its best when playing it straight. The hijinks (particularly those provided by Goro) and a dozen or so overly self-aware moments spoiled the serious tone. For example, the camera movement and the score during the fight in the street between sheriff Ichizo and ex-samurai warrior Masaharu was done in a way that one couldn’t help but think about The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. A great reference, sure, but if not for these moments constantly taking me out of the movie, I’d’ve really enjoyed it.

Ken Watanabe doesn’t have the gravitas of Clint Eastwood, but you can’t fault him for trying. His scowl and sneer are good enough to get by, and as with the rest of the movie he’s at his best when he’s not trying to emulate the source material. That said, the acting across the board was solid – even Goro, as annoying as his character could be, had many good moments. The production design was immaculate – the grit under the nails and the attention to detail in the costumes was fantastic. Sato as the sadistic sheriff was a treat, and oh my god the cinematography was beautiful – where’d they find all this space to film these beautiful vista shots?! The final shot of the whorehouse on fire was incredible. So there’s a lot to like about this movie, but the constant tonal shifting was a bad choice. Also, I found it interesting and slightly disappointing that a movie based on the premise that violence begets violence would reserve the harshest gore for the baddies when the whores and the heroes receive mostly superficial wounds, or their injuries were hidden from plain sight. (The slicing of Natsume’s face, for example, as horrible as it was, paled in comparison to the broken leg of the fleeing settler, despite being much more significant to the movie.)

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I didn’t rewatch the original as I wanted to go into this version with a clean slate but there were several sequences that stood out to me as memorable so I’m guessing they kept it pretty close. However I think this film might have benefitted from a more ambiguous ending – say, once Jubee has killed the sheriff, he turns to take on the lawmen but instead of killing them one by one in a cool-but-wholly-unrealistic way, we instead simply fade to black. Violence begets violence, it really doesn’t matter who wins.

There was one directorial choice that I loved. That was that throughout the first half of the movie Jubee is slightly hidden from view, whether in shadows or in profile, until at one point he is questioned by his companions about killing the women and children. They need to know if he’s a sadistic killer or if this is just a rumour to scare his enemies. Seeing him clearly for the first time – and remaining clearly visible for the remainder of the movie – says to me that Jubee has stepped out of the lie he’d constructed around him, the lie of family, of being a farmer, of dying peacefully. This could never be who he is, no matter how much he’d like it to be true. By revealing himself, Jubee embraces the fact that he is a born killer and he’ll remain that regardless of any vow. Jubee tells his friends that the rumours are lies, and the audience is meant to believe he is telling us the truth, but in the final scene when he spares the life of the biographer, Jubee orders him to write what he saw happen but to leave out any mention of the whore and the Ainu warrior – and in his eyes I saw a man who could, once upon a time, kill innocent women and children if ordered to do so. A man who has tried to deny his true self, and who has come to forgive himself by shouldering the blame of this deadly fiasco. He can’t undo his terrible past but he can allow his friends and his children to live a better future with him.

Alex Cassun

EEFF: Burn It Up Djassa

Alex Cassun is a US film maker living in London. He’s poured over the East End Film Festival‘s programme in hopes of finding some gems. You can follow him on the twitter machine here

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Directed by the wonderfully named Lonesome Solo*, “Burn It Up Djassa” is a Scarfacian tragedy of a poor and disgruntled youth who rapidly gains power, even more rapidly blows it all, and then rapidly dies violently. Recounting the story is the poetry slamming Narrator (Mohamed Bamba) who witnessed the relatively epic rise and fall of the titular character (although we never do see him in the action). Played effectively by Abdoul Karim Konate (and referred to at various points as “Dabagou”, “Tony”, “the Cigarette Hawker”, and “The King”), Djassa lives in a small house in the ghettos of Abidjan ** with his sister Ange. They are looked after by older brother Mike, a Lieutenant for the local police crime squad. Adults now, Mike still checks in on his siblings who he has helped raise since childhood.

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The ghetto is a rough place — as it is — but life seems generally ok if you can put up with the heat, the horseflies, and the constant background noise. Mike makes a decent living, Tony scrapes by selling cigarettes, and Ange works at a hairdresser. The community seem happy enough — friends get together to play cards and to drink and to sleep with prostitutes. There are a few song and dance interludes, which despite not really being importance to the story were the highlights of the first hour. Enter 25-year-old Tony, bored and angsty. He has a chip on his shoulder and wants people to remember his name. One night while fag-mongering in the back alleys he barges onto a card game and a run of luck nets him some quick cash and new friends. According to The Narrator, this begins Tony’s run up the criminal ladder.

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Trouble kicks in when Tony’s luck runs out and he resorts to gambling away his wares. His new friends don’t seem so friendly now. Worse still, Ange trades in her boring hairdresser gig for a lucrative spot in the local prostitution circuit. After a particularly good night she pops into the corner shop where she is recognised by a john who accuses her of stealing his watch earlier that week. As the tension calms a bit, hotheaded Tony arrives, the situation boils over, and he shanks the john and races off into the night with sister in tow. The following morning, upon hearing that the stabbee has died, Tony freaks out and is seemingly devastated. But inexplicably the next thing he does is go for a joyride in a cab with a couple of friends and the trio proceed to hold him up at gun point. One thing leads to another and older brother Mike leads an investigation that ends in a shootout with Tony dead, fulfilling the Narrator’s earlier warning about people coming and going but the ghetto remaining the same.


Where the story fails is… well, the story. There isn’t enough to propel it forward, and the long stretches of what should be quiet, reflective moments don’t fill the space as intended. If ‘Djassa‘ was a 20-minute short I’d heap praise on it for the layered Shakespearean elements, the fun musical interludes, and the heart and ambition despite crippling lack of budget and resources. At 70 minutes, the ambition part is still there, obviously, but until the final act arrived there was a constant queasy feeling that it was going to collapse in on itself at any moment. The Narrator infuses it with a much needed vibrancy but he’s essentially redundant — whatever info he throws our way, we’ve either already just seen or we’re just about to. Visually there are enough pretty images but whether it was a stylistic choice or a logistical necessity, the entire movie is composed of invasive close up shots of one of our three principles, rarely straying off to see anything beyond, giving us little context to their surroundings, to the people who inhabit their world, or the reasons behind any of their actions. The subtitling added confusion as long passages went without translation. The cast seemed to be mostly amateurs or non-actors who did a fair job and who had fun with the experience. Konate played the Angry Young Man very well, and showed a lot of range. Adelaide Ouattara as Ange was hit and miss — in the quieter moments where she wasn’t reaching for high drama she was the best thing on screen. The real standout here, though, was Mamadou Diomande as elder brother Lt. Mike, who carried the emotional brunt of the story and who made the best of a few unfortunately, unintentionally goofy scenes. When it’s revealed that his brother is the killer he’s been searching for, the anguish on his face is heart-wrenching. It was a powerful performance, and I’m hoping Mamadou finds his way onto the big screen again before too long.

Despite all this, the filmmakers should be proud of what they put together and I’d be interested to see what Mr. Solo comes up with next.

* (I’m hoping that is his real name, not a pseudonym.)
** (The largest city in the Ivory Coast — thanks wikipedia!)

Eastbound and proud – East End Film Festival Cult round up.


In addition to our own little contribution to The East End Film Festival’s Cine-East fringe, the EEFF has gone and programmed a slew of other interesting genre films including the must see TETSUO Double Bill. 
Without doubt, London’s cinematic landscape is becoming more and more exciting, relevant and challenging with every day that passes. Get on board, go outside the confines of whatever you think film is, and support those that work to bring you cinemagic. 
THE CINEMA OF TSUKAMOTO AT EEFF 2012

EEFF 2012 is delighted to present restorations of Shin’ya Tsuakamoto’s twisted cyberpunk classics
Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Tetsuo II:Body Hammer, as well his latest film: the stunning, disturbing
Kotoko. The work of a singular filmmaker often compared to David Cronenberg, not to be missed on
the big screen.

TETSUO DOUBLE BILL 

TETSUO: IRON MAN (Shin’ya Tsukamoto, 1989, London Premiere)
A strange man known only as the ‘metal fetishist’ is hit and seemingly killed by a Japanese ‘salaryman’, who then begins to be slowly overtaken by a strange disease that transforms his body into scrap metal, a process guided by his own rage and frustration. Shin’ya Tsuakamoto’s cyberpunk classic is presented here in a brand new restoration.
Screening from 6pm, Saturday 4th July, Hackney Picturehouse.
Details Here

TETSUO II: BODY HAMMER (Shin’ya Tsukamoto, 1992, London Premiere)
Tsukamoto’s sequel to Tetsuo sees his Iron Man transforming into a cyberkinetic gun after a gang of vicious skinheads kidnap his son. Eventually captured himself, they begin experimenting on him only to speed up the mutative process. As powerful, twisted and singular as the first instalment, ‘Tetsuo: The Body Hammer’ is again introduced in a brand new restoration, with Tsukamoto in attendance, in an unmissable double bill.
Screening from 6pm, Saturday 4th July, Hackney Picturehouse.
Details Here

KOTOKO (Shin’ya Tsukamoto, 2011, London Premiere)
A single mother, played by Japanese singer Cocco, suffers from double vision that speaks of wider instability, and as she slowly loses grip on reality, struggles to protect both her child and herself. Or perhaps they really are out to get her. Legendary provocateur Shin’ya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: The Iron Man, see page 20) returns to his best with another tale of dizzying psychological descent.
Screening 8.30pm, Sunday 5th July, Rich Mix.
Details Here

THE LEGEND OF KASPAR HAUSER(Davide Manuli, 2012, UK Premiere)
Kaspar Hauser is reimagined as an androgynous woman washing up on a Mediterranean island,
kicking off a war between the Sheriff and the Pusher, both played by Vincent Gallo. Davide Manuli’s
barmy Techno Western is a tale of faith, suspicion and flying saucers set to the thudding beats of
techno behemoth Vitalic; the sort of astonishing experience modern cinema rarely manages anymore.
Screening 9pm, Friday 6th July, Hackney Picturehouse. 
Details Here

CARRE BLANC (Jean-Baptiste Leonetti, 2011, UK Premiere)
Jean-Baptiste Leonetti’s debut is a gravely stylish vision of a dystopian future France; a society
run by a mysterious caste system that turns those who fail in an arbitrary, Kafkaesque “game” into
hamburgers. Phillipe, a man on his way up, is ultimately forced to choose between his meteoric rise
and his marriage in this cult classic in the making.
Screening 11.30pm, Friday 6th July, Rio Cinema. 

PARANORMAL ACTIVITIES (Various)
Welcome the the EEFF’s very own X-Files – an unsettling selection of 8 shorts about all things supernatural and uncanny. We’ll be opening our secret vault to unleash invisible demons, abductive aliens, cursed children, zombie mums, possessed walls, haunted submarines, Canadian goat people and a lady who swears she sees dead people. Join us – the truth is out there.
Screening 11.30pm, Saturday 7th July, Rio Cinema. 
Details Here

See you folks East. 

East End Film Festival starts smoking.


As you may have heard, we’ve been invited to host a screening at the East End Film Festival. Quite flattering if I’m honest and pretty damn exciting.
The EEFF are hosting a series of horror screenings, which we are just a small part of.
Check this out:

Julia’s Eyes (Los Ojos de Julia) Dir. Guillem Morales Spain, 2010, 114min RIO Cinema Monday 2 May 23.30 From producer Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), this Orphanage-esque chiller sees Julia travel with her husband to visit her sister, who is near blind because of a degenerative illness. Discovering that her sibling has taken her own life, she begins to investigate while going blind herself, only for things to become even more dark and mysterious, as nothing is what it seems. Starring Lluís Homar (Broken Embraces) and Belén Rueda (The Orphanage), this is a superior mystery that was a huge hit in its native Spain, seen by more than a million people.


Agnosia Dir. Eugenio Miro Spain, 2010, 97min RIO Cinema Friday 29 April 23:30 A young woman suffering from a rare neuropsychological disorder that impairs her senses is manipulated by two dangerous men in pursuit of a strange secret. A ravishing mystery with a dark, atmospheric early twentieth century setting.


Then on the 2nd, we’ll be pitching our screen up at the Old Blue Last in Shoreditch for a Movie Mayday.
Electric Sheep Magazine will be screening shorts from midday, followed by the classic Jodoworsky mindfuck Holy Mountain, followed by Argento classic and CB favourite Suspiria.
Complete with intros and conversation from Kim Newman and Cine Excess’s Xavier Mendik.
The EEFF is working on a theme of Secret Societies and asked if we had anything in mind that might work with the aforementioned… and by fuckery have we!!!
But, in keeping with the secret theme… we ain’t telling you.
We promise it’s strong enough, engaging enough, weird enough and visually striking enough to hold it’s own beside these giants.
So take a punt and a pint and join us at the Old Blue Last as we screen our Super Secret Special Screening at 6pm on Monday the 2nd.


We have had to skip our normal Mucky Pup evening this month in order to do the EEFF, but we’ll be back there on the 6th June.