BOOK REVIEW : Venus in the Blind Spot by Junji Ito

Venus in the Blind Spot by Junji Ito

Whilst I have been a fan of comics for as long as I can remember, other than a few dalliances with Shonen Jump, arguably the biggest source of Japanese comics (or manga, if you prefer) I’ve never really read much except for a few reprints that companies like Dark Horse Comics did in the nineties, and the entire Akira series by Katsuhiro Ôtomo that Epic Comics, an adult line of Marvel set to emulate the more Euro Heavy Metal, released during the eighties.

I’ve always liked the style of Japanese art seen on anime like Battle of the Planets, Kum Kum, Kimba, Marine Boy, Astro Boy and the stunning space saga that is Macross aka Robotech, and I admire the fact that with manga, in general, one creator works on a title until they decide to give it up… I wonder how long Marvel would have survived if creators like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko just stopped Fantastic Four or Spiderman! I don’t know why I didn’t jump onto manga more, especially when on considers how much I loved a comic by Guinea Pig film conceptualist and mangaka (comic creator) Hideshi Hino, whose manga Panorama of Hell sat me firmly down and taught me that there was more to horror comics than the sexualised fantasies of Vampirella, or the sub-superhero is exploits of western horror characters like Werewolf by Night and Morbius.

This brings me to my more recent discovery of the work of Junji Ito. Ito was a dental technician who submitted work to a magazine called Gekkan Halloween (translation: Monthly Halloween… who wouldn’t love a monthly Halloween?) which was well received and became his series Tomie, about an immortal girl who curses the men she comes across. Ito has sited Hino and H. P. Lovecraft amongst his influences so how could I not immediately fall for his work?

This volume of his work, Venus in the Blind Spot, is a collection of 10 short stories, mostly in his exquisite tight black lines, but occasionally with colour pages or splashes of colour for effect, and a few mini-posters taken from covers of other comics like No Longer Human. This is all wrapped in a beautiful hardcover volume which has a double sided dust jacket: a similar image is on both sides (that of a beautiful blonde woman seen in the reflection of an eye) but the interior cover is clean (and the woman is smiling instead of staring blankly) with none of the titles obscuring it. This dust cover hides, on the actual cover, a terrifying image of the remains of a man being crushed by the foundations of a house, taken from one of the tales on the inside.

In this collection, there are several tales which are amazing: Billions Alone, which tells of a killer who is sewing people together, The Human Chair, based on a story by Edogawa Ranpo, a tale about a mythical chair that has a person living within it, An Unearthly Love, also based on a Ranpa story, which sees a woman married to a man with an unusual affection for a manikin, the very Lovecraftian The Licking Woman about a woman who attacks people and licks them, leaving a deadly rash where her tongue has touched, Keepsake, about the child born of a dead woman and finally, the masterfully bizarre story of The Enigma of Amigara Fault, a story of an earthquake that reveals a crevice covered in human shaped holes that seemingly echo actual people’s body shapes, causing them to have a compulsive need to enter them.

Unfortunately the other stories didn’t resonate too much with me, though I do think the art of Venus in the Blind Spot, the story of a girl who mysteriously disappears when you get close to her, is possibly some of Ito’s finest. I had a particular dislike for the fanboy-ish Master Umezz and Me, in which Ito explains his own obsession with mangaka Kazuo Umezu, who created the manga The Drifting Classroom, which Ito respectfully parodies/ pays homage to with his own manga The Dissolving Classroom.

The first thing anyone will notice about Ito’s work is how beautiful it is. His characters are all exquisitely beautiful in the execution, with delicate features and calm stature, which is juxtapositions fantastically by the grotesque monstrosities that they become when angered, or due to unfortunate circumstance, which is the key to great horror.

Of course, thematically one would expect there are occasional ideas that seem unusual which are due to culture and tradition, but when the actual stories themes kick off, they are quickly overlooked. His ideas of compulsion and obsession are prevalent and perhaps reveal that doom comes to those who are unable to control them.

This volume has some good stories in it, but it’s probably for completists of Ito only, and a starting reader might do better with Tomie, Gyo or Uzumaki instead.

This volume is published by Viz Media.

***

Steam Boy aka Suchîmubôi (2004)

One from the to watch pile…

Steamboy aka Suchîmubôi (2004)

Film: It’s an interesting position that I am in where I find myself having to review an anime. As a rule, I am no fan of anime, but their are always exceptions to those rules.

In my case those exceptions are Kum Kum, the Macross Saga, Akira and Memories, and maybe I watched more recent things like Prison School, Keijo and Wanna Be The Strongest In The World. I’m not a Studio Ghibli guy (they are soooo slow and boring), I have little interest in Pokèmon (it’s dogfighting! You’re teaching your kids to like dogfighting!) and both Dragonball and One Piece have such a long history that I’ll NEVER catch up so why bother starting (i did recently attempt to watch Dragonball but by the 8th episode the enemies were STILL just TALKING about fighting… just fight, godammit!)?

Anyway, enough about that: Steam Boy is a Japanese animated film directed by Akira’s Katsuhiro Ôtomo based on a story by him and Millennium Actress writer Sadayuki Murai and tells the story of young James Ray Steam (voiced by Anna Paquin), a young inventor in an alternate steampunk-ish 1866, who has received a parcel from his grandfather, Dr. Lloyd Steam (Patrick Stewart) which is to be passed into the hands of civil engineer Robert Stevenson (Oliver Cotton) as it contains the secret of a powerful new source of steam power.

The problem for young Ray though, is that there is a nefarious group who wish to nab the invention for themselves.. and so begins a story that, except for the source of power, is still politically and industrially relevant today.

There is no doubt that Ôtomo’s hands are all over this film. The entire design of the characters is very similar to his previous works, though the pacing of the film is that of Akira.

Those who are fans of the aesthetic of steampunk should have a blast with this. The entire film is a feast for the eyes and somehow, no matter how fantastic, every machine looks as thoigh it could actually work. I imagine the research that went into the industrial revolution must have been long and arduous.

However, as pretty as the film is, it is quite slow. Some may say carefully paced, but I just found it to be a trial at times. Thankfully it is visually thrilling, so it’s not a complete loss.

Score: **

Format: This Umbrella Entertainment release of Steamboy runs for approximately 126 minutes me is presented is an immaculate 1.85:1 image with a matching DTS-HD 5.1 audio track.

Score: *****

Extras: There’s a decent bunch of extras on this disc:

Interview with Katsuhiro Ôtomo is, as the name suggests, an interview with the writer/ director of Akira, Memories and, of course, this film. The interview is in Japanese with an English dub over the top and is a fascinating look into his creative process.

Multi-screen Landscape Study is a triple-split-screen 20 minute piece of mixed media and interviews which was used at a ‘Steamboy’ exhibition. It’s slightly confusing at first but if you persevere you’ll see some interesting interviews with the creators.

Re-voicing Steamboy looks at the process involved with the casting and recording of the American dub of the film and features interviews with Anna Paquin, Alfred Molina, Patrick Stewart and vocal director Rick Zieff.

Voyage of Steamboy looks at the making of the film, in Japanese with English subtitles.

The Adventure Continues shows the end title sequence without the credit roll over it, which is pretty cool, actually.

Production Gallery is a slideshow of production paintings from the film with a portion of the soundtrack played over the top.

Animation Onion Skins shows 5 scenes in various stages of production, from storyboards to the final product.

Score: *****

WISIA: Probably not, but I enjoyed the amazing animation.

Cutey Honey (2004) Review

One from the re watch pile…
Cutey Honey (2004)


Film: I was too old to like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers when it first hit Australian televisions, and yet somehow I did. When it first appeared on television I was working in a job where I was home early enough to watch it, and I guess I loved it as it tapped into my love of ‘uniformed hero teams’ like Fantastic Four and the Thunderbirds, and started a love of Sentai that remains to this day. 

With the new Power Rangers film out, I’ve been hit again by Sentai fever and have been watching the original MMPR on Netflix, and due to a bad influence who love anime and manga at work, have started getting back into Japanese movies, comics and cartoons again.

One thing I decided I needed to revisit was this film, Cutey Honey, a live action film based on the manga (and subsequent anime) of artist Go Nagai directed by another anime director, Hideaki Anno, best known for Neon Genesis Evangelion, and who created a new type of special effects for this film, ‘Honeymation’ which combined single photos of the cast which is then turned into ‘live’ anime sequences for effect, giving birth to another term created for this film, Digital Comic Cinema.


This movie tells the tale of Cutey Honey (Eriko Sato), an android copy of a human who has special powers which she uses in her fight against the forces of Sister Jill (Eisuke Sakai) and his (her?) villainous gang of thugs Panther Claw. Cutey Honey gets some help, though, from a cute young police officer, desperate to prove herself, Nat-chan (Mikako Ichihawa) and a reporter, Seiji Hayami (Jun Murakami), but will their combined skill be enough to thwart the baddies?


It’s a bizarre film, even by Japanese standards, with completely over the top villains and crazy events that only make sense within the confines of the film. If you tried to describe the events, I imagine people who watch ‘normal’ films either wouldn’t believe you or would suggest you accidentally ingested horse tranquillisers.

Japanese model Erika Sato is no doubt an exquisite beauty, but in this her acting range extends all the way from sad faced covergirl to squealing excitable sexpot. Actually, the squealing in this film is so frequent, sometimes I felt like I was at a 14 year old girl’s birthday party at a bowling alley, but she is something special, and the camera loves her! Unfortunately, unlike the anime, there are no flashes of nudity with Cutey Honey activates her powers, though she is frequently seen in her underwear, miniskirts or a garbage bag… yep: a garbage bag.

I should point out that Sato is not the ONLY beauty in this film, Mikako Ichihawa is lovely too, though I wish she smiled more, even though it’s not in her characters range.

The film is a load of fun, and it’s funny too. In an age when most superhero films are dark and depressing, this one has a distinct joy in its story, and the bad guys seem to only exist to be evil, though typically, there seems to be an element of Honey’s origin that’s tied into them. Their costumes are bonkers too, looking like rejects from that old MMPR show.

It is overacted, dumb and fun and you’ll perhaps doubt your sanity for watching it, but it is definitely a spectacle worth trying.

Score: ****


Format: This film was reviewed with the Australian Madman DVD release which is present in an OK 1.78:1 image with a good Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track presented in Japanese with English subtitles. The film runs for approximately 89 minutes.

Score: ***1/2

Extras: There is a decent amount of extras on this disc.

The Making of Cutey Honey is a 20 minute subtitled extra highlighting the cast and production of the film. It’s actually quite funny as it’s like a 60s styled, school aged aimed doco, with a whole pile of dialogue like ‘now Cutey Honey is a police officer… I wouldn’t mind being arrested by her’… I’m actually reading the subtitles in a Troy MacClure styled voice! The subtitles on this are occasionally annoying though as the feature itself has a fair bit of Japanese text on it so finding WHERE to see the subtitles seems to be a chore!

There is a bunch of trailers, from the sneak peak, to the actual trailer and a bunch of TV spots.

My most hated of extras, a stills gallery!

There’s also trailers for other Madman releases: Godzilla, Mothra, Mecha-Godzilla: Tokyo SOS, Please Teacher! and Seven Samurai.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: It’s cute and dumb fun: yeah I’ll watch it again.