Enter The Void: follows the final hours, afterlife, and reincarnation of a low-level drug pusher in neon-drenched Tokyo. If you’re unfamiliar with Gaspar Noe, you’ll learn pretty quickly that his film’s aren’t merely ‘movies’ or ‘stories’, but full-on immersive experiences – unique, ambitious, and experimental. The first, and second, minutes feel like 12-rounds with Tyson – click to see for yourself. if you can’t handle that, don’t go anywhere near Enter The Void. Everything ‘Noe’ is in here – long takes, disorienting audio and visuals, brutal and challenging scenes & stories, non-linear storytelling; not to mention explicit / sensational / controversial subject matter. Halfway through the runtime we get a recap of the beginning, and from then on the film seems to lose its way – filling the time with elongated CGI trips and floaty filler, overstaying its welcome, and pushing the viewers further and further from the story, until the final ten minutes, which is just gratuitous shagging, blowjobs, and cunni for no real reason (it did explain why I could only get this as a German import – classic Germany), topping out with a POV (Point-of-Vagina!) money shot. I don’t say this often, but there were waaaaay more nudity than required in this!! Technically it’s jaw-dropping and mind-boggling: the camera glides in / through / over any objects so fluidly – yet these astonishing feats are countered by overlong sequences of trippy, psychedelic, CGI visuals – one thing’s for sure, there’s no faulting Noe’s commitment to his vision. At just under three hours, this is simply far too long – there’s a stunning 80-100 minute film in here. Enter The Void is both immersive and repulsive: a well-realised idea, centred around an average story, with a divisive final hour, and trainwreck final 10 minutes… all told through an exciting, cinematic, and truly unique out-of-body experience that no other director would even dare to take on. I’m split right down the middle.
If you know any metalheads you’ve probably seen a few links spreading through social media about “The best band you’ve never heard of”. Here’s a brief rundown of the band, and their best songs for you to enjoy.
TL;DR – If you even remotely love Metal, and are open to other genres sneaking in this is absolutely a band you must try.
Listening to Maximum the Hormone is an experience that no other band comes close to. While you’d probably have to class them as a ‘Metal’ / ‘JMetal’ outfit, playing one of their discs is like sprinting through a music store, listening to as many genre sections as you can cram in to four minutes; everything’s covered, from funk and thrash through to pop and ska.
Most other genre-crossing bands usually stick to one combo – the burgeoning Dance / Metal genre being a popular one (Nine Inch Nails, Rammstein, Mindless Self Indulgence, Enter Shakari etc) – but where MTH stand out is that they do a whole raft of styles, yet they never come across as gimmicky or ridiculous; the switches between styles are all seamless, and ultimately it makes them impressive and admirable to listen to – it also helps that singing duties are split over three vocalists (One screamer, one rapper and a pop singer) and backing vocals done from the fourth.
Their ‘sound’ is massive; huge, broad and accomplished production that’s evenly split over all frequencies. Whereas most rock bands dial guitar and vocals to 11, the MTH bassist is their main producer, which helps to emphasise the lower range and rhythm tracks. It’s amazing what your ears can pull out of a well-mixed song!
The true beauty of their music is that their songs are packed full of great riffs (from a rock/metal perspective), yet they do justice to all of the genres mentioned above, and many more. Below is a whistle-stop tour of one of the best (Metal) bands in the world, and one that are criminally under-rated – alongside Hot Action Cop, Phil X and The Drills and Danko Jones.
Koi No Mega Lover – I’d happily put this down as THE best Metal song of the 00s. This has everything that makes the band great: pop-hook vocals, crunching metal riffs, super-tight bass/drum rhythms, and a genre-bending structure. You just can’t help but be uplifted by the greatness of this track – and that’s without even understanding a single lyric. It’s way over five minutes long, but always seems to finish too quickly. (Bonus: Fake subtitle version)
Uehara~Futoshi~ (Apologies for the terrible Anime video) Named after the bassist, this song is raw, fast, angry and bassey, and with one of the most stand-out bass licks since Rancid’s Maxwell Murder. At 2:36 long, it’s one of the band’s shorter tracks, but it doesn’t half pack a punch. Sounds like RHCP in parts (if they were actually good). Signature pop/slap funk bass playing.
Buiikikaesu – a great album-into track that tries its best to prepare you for the rest of the album. It lulls you in with a soft – unassuming – guitar riff, then clobbers you over the head with a wall of Nu-metal riffage, rap rock, slap bass, and pop chorus. This is primal MTH, going from 1-100mph in 5 seconds.
Bikini. Sports. Ponchin’– Split in to several contrasting parts; starting at Emo/Metal with some screaming, an angry rock pre-chorus, which bursts into a disco-inflected funk chorus and middle-eight. On paper a song like this should be terrible; but as MTH prove over and over, any genre can be combined with metal.
A L I E N: sitting at the more extreme end of the spectrum. This one begins with thrash, nosedives into death/grind metal before pulling off one of the most powerful jumps into some bass showboating and short-lived rock riffs that most bands would regurgitate for a full five-minute entire song. Unfortunately, the end of this one digresses to a simple, repetitive power-pop chant for 2 minutes. Still, worth watching for the bizarre video alone.
Rokkinpo Goroshi: another absolute knockout of an opening track. This uses an Asian scale (and some old gongs) to let you know for sure that this is a metal band from the Far East. Twisting between rock, metal
Louisiana Bob: (another poor anime vid) If you ever wanted to here how some crunchingly good, full-bodied, rock production, then this is your track. Metal vocals, rock riffs, rhythmic breakdowns and pop chorus – you know the drill by now.
Chu Chu Lovely Muni Muni Mura Mura Purin Purin Boron Nururu Rero Rero: (again, rubbish video). Classic retro, almost ‘heavy surf rock’ bubblegum chorus hook. But being MTH it’s followed up with some coarse vocals and crushing riffs.
[Remotely decent video unavailable]
My Girl: no, not that one, although it is slipped in right at the end. One of the more steady and straightforward metal tracks in the band’s canon. A good sound mix, catchy vocals and the ‘headbangability’ make this one an instant classic.
Konichiwa! Brief interruption from regular film reviewing schedule here. As mentioned earlier in the year, the ongoing JAPAN-O-RAMA feature I’ve been running – in conjunction with some of my favourite movie bloggers – was brought around after I booked a trip from Scotland to Japan. It’s been and gone, and I’m not even going to …
The Wolverine: In a way, Wolverine epitomises everything about Japan that you see through Hollywood films: there’s ninjas everywhere, and everyone knows Katrate; crazy districts full of neon lights and big billboards (Shinjuku and Akihabara); old-fashioned houses with sliding shoji walls and tatami floors; technology and Robots everywhere (in this case a 10ft tall mecha-Samurai!!); temples, on every corner; Yakuza interference – obviously; love hotels, The Bullet Train (Shinkansen); and the Tokyo Tower is in the back of every city shot. Yet, whilst it’s using and abusing all of the lazy ‘This is Japan’ stuff we know, it doesn’t feel like it’s exploiting the culture – there’s a lot of nice touches, from the undestractable pachinko players, salarymen in Osaka looking for hostesses, and things like upright chopsticks in food.
As for the film itself, it feels like three completely separate movies. The first third is a rock solid, well-executed set-up starting in WWII, and laying the ground for the rest of the film. The middle feels like a dip into a tired and clichéd mystery/conspiracy storyline, and the finale – well that just feels like something from a spazzy sci-fi movie, with bald snake-women, giant robots with flaming swords and a whole lot of gratuitous OTT action. I’m surprised at the 12A rating in the UK, as it feels slanted towards a more mature audience than most comic adaptations – including a nice thread of Logan’s dry humour. The Jean Gray plot device is a little hammy, although never going to turn down FamkeYansen in a silky nightgown! Jackman’s on fire, he is the embodiment of Wolverine – down to his permanently-exposed torso – wouldn’t want to be the guy that will inevitably have to re-boot the franchise in 5-10 years as the new Logan. The Japanese cast are also all on form. Overall, The Wolverine is a pretty satisfying comic book movie, but the ever-changing story and tone prevent you from becoming fully immersed in the movie.
Tokyo Story: two pensioners from the country visit their children in the big smoke of Tokyo. The plot is almost non non-existent; as the plodding inconsequential family ‘drama’ (and I use that term very lightly) highlights the difference in values between the older – pre-WWII – generation and that of their children and grandchildren. To make matters even less exciting, the camerawork is dull, and for the most part, completely static – paired with plain & flat editing and direction. After the first hour it begins to feel more like an endurance test, and it definitely feels longer than its 136 minute runtime. In fairness, from an historic point of view, the film works best as a snapshot of Japanese life, and a turning point in the culture. There’s also a few touching scenes like the old guys talking about losing kids in the war, and how they all feel let down by their surviving children. As a period drama, this one is passable, but you just sit yearning for some plot or drama – 0% escapist and 0% cinematic. I don’t think it’s a completely terrible film, but that it relates to older generations – I feel like I’ll watch this in 30 years time and be devastated; but for now, it’s more like Tokyo BOREY!
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (時をかける少女, Toki o Kakeru Shōjo): is a time travel movie set at a Japanese high school. It is the story of Makoto Konno, who discovers she is able to travel through time. She initially uses her power to travel back and set some things straight, but quickly finds out that even though her life might be better, the lives of others have been impacted by her choices. Like in Back to the Future she finds out that there are consequences to time travel and she has to see how she can make it all alright again. Teenage love is also a subject that’s explored. Visually the movie might not blow your mind, but the concept is very entertaining. A movie which is well worth watching.
Tokyo Decadence (トパーズ, Topāzu): a specialist prostitute with a very particular set of skills is doing some very strange things with salarymen in the hotel rooms of Tokyo. The opening scene has a girl strapped to a chair, gagged, blindfolded then injected with heroin – if that makes you uncomfortable, this film’s probably not for you. It starts of feeling like an exploration piece/eye-opener focusing on an extreme (sub)culture. The film portrays some extremely ‘out-there’ acts, without appearing to be overly leery or vulgar. It keeps upping the ante scene by scene until there’s nowhere else left to go; then it implodes during an ending which, out of nowhere moves the film from a risqué/explicit/shock melodrama into plain old existential pompousity. It’s packed with rough cutting and hard editing; difficult to know if it’s intentional/stylistic or just budgetary constraints. If you like a bit of smut dressed as art or ‘world cinema’ then this is about as wild as you’ll probably get; and if you dig S&M, Bondage, BDSM, Dominatrices etc etc then it’s probably a must own. As a film however, Tokyo Decadence is fairly unremarkable, and if you took away the controversial/notorious S&M scenes it would be a completely unremarkable 2-hour instantly forgettable snooze-fest.
Jiro dreams of Sushi: documentary exploring the life of 85-year-old sushi master and his modest, Michelin 3-star restaurant. Being the titular character, it is mostly centered around Jiro, who is an intriguing person with an admirable lifelong passion & pursuit to continually improve and create sushi dishes that get as close to perfection as possible. It’s interesting that his suppliers also had an emphasis on mastering their craft and techniques. We see Jiro as a worker, businessman and parent – although you couldn’t help but feel for the elder son, having such a great legacy towering over him, and such large geta shoes to fill! Some of the shots are absolutely sushi-porn, if you have a taste for the stuff there’s no way you’ll survive this without an appetite by the end – more generally, the whole film’s well shot with some nice use of tilt-shift/time-lapse etc to break up the indoor interviews. What’s more interesting than the sushi aspect is the insight into Japanese traditions (like eldest son stepping up to father’s job) and general work ethic and wisdom of someone with a lifetime of experience. We see a lot of scaling, peeling, slicing, gutting, massaging, pasting… for something that simple, it’s intriguing to see how much work, thought and preparation goes in to it. Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a really good documentary, but it never really goes anywhere due to he micro nature of the subject – he opens talking about striving for perfection, and closes in a similar manner.