How can a film adaptation be completely faithful to its source and yet still do it a disservice?
I know nothing about Teruo Ishii, I know a little about Yoshiharu Tsuge and I definitely know that their 1996 film collaboration NEJI-SHIKI should never ever ever been retitled SCREWED for its U.S. release [also, that nothing is more unseemly than larding your opener with sell quotes from John Woo and Quentin Tarantino]. Anyway, that new title really jumps out as something you want to watch, doesn't it? All it did was vaguely remind me of a Norm McDonald non-starter that I had preview tickets to see, but didn't. It seems no one has noticed the movie was released on DVD a few years ago except for some Asian film/culture nerdsites. I only accidentally stumbled over the news of its release last year, while Googling for information about Kazuo Umezo's KAZUO UMEZZ'S HORROR THEATRE series, and bought a copy right away -- admittedly, as much to see if the DVD-ROM "Virtual Comic Book" was a straight copy of the translation that Bill Randall, Kosei Ono, Alan Gleason and I did for TCJ #250 as the movie itself. I have no excuse to be outraged; the comic is a literal mash of stills from the movie and Tsuge's original drawings presenting the movie in thumbnail.
Obviously, a straight adaptation of the short story wouldn't be long enough so Ishii & Tsuge pan through the artist's oeuvre for more material, sort of like what Zwigoff and Clowes did for GHOST WORLD. This condensing of Tsuge's work comes through in the first post-credits shot -- by the way, I like that the opening credits [topless women writhing on all fours while a handful of male grotesqueries ungulate] is filmed in the same pantone orange that the first few pages of "Neji-Shiki" was printed in -- which is of a page of comics art containing many of Tsuge's characters. The movie is woefully pedestrian in execution, more interested in typical dramatic shorthand; the cartoonist protagonist, a Tsuge stand-in played by Tadanabu Asano [ICHI THE KILLER], tears the page up in frustration. He's an arteest, see? He's wearing a turtleneck sweater and he's all unkempt, sullen and anti-social. It relies a lot on character types, which Tsuge used in his manga but with a specific personal and/or metatextural intent that this movie's Greatest-Hits cramming never seriously considers.
Ishii is "long considered the primary force in the cinema of transgression" -- I guess his TOTALLY FUCKING CRAZYSEXYREGGAECOOL idea for that here was to shoehorn in as many listless copies of classic Tsuge-comic moments as possible; between those moments are a few clots of uninspired gristle stitching them together. You can't say that the individual pieces of the original manga aren't presented as verbatim as film allows, but the whole adds up to something far less brilliant and subtle than its original pieces. It's odd to think of an adaptation in terms of a forgery, but: Forging art is incredibly difficult because an almost-perfect copy is more painful for even laymen to behold than one that betrays more of the copycat's hand than his victim's. Doing its best to unify the parts of this Frankenstein's monster is the same orange as the credits sequence. I've never encountered a convincing interpretation for why "Neji-Shiki's" first eight pages have an orange two-tone, so I'm afraid the film's embrace of the hue is lost on me. This is the orangest fucking movie I've ever seen.
The ultimate problem with the movie is that it retains none of Tsuge's mastery of symmetry; his short stories are near perfect clockworks, the narrative/graphic/metatextual equivalents of perpetual-motion machines, all cleanly coupled to the master's passions and obsessions. "Neji-Shiki" itself is a great example of this -- it mirrors itself in almost every way, balancing plot, iconography, language, almost everything -- leaving its hero radically transformed but literally right where we met him. Ishii makes a game effort to lay in Tsuge-style echoes, foreshadowing and inversions throughout the movie, but the filmmakers' game attempt just underlines how far from the master they stand. I did like the bits of business like Tsuge getting up from his drawing table, where he's drawing what looks to be a "Neji-Shiki" page, and leaving his apartment after Kojiro insults him, winding up on a bridge where the frame's composition places the cartoonist between a river and a passing train for just a moment. But for every brief grace note like that, there seems to be two triple-underlined clunkers like Tsuge looking at his shadow after being thrown out of the hospital, taken straight from "Neji-Shiki." The director seems to perk up a bit when it's time to present the title story but, most forgivable of all, he lops the vital concluding page off his film, instead jumping to one lameass credit sequence that looks like it was shot as a stag reel for a salaryman's 1978 bachelor party. I did enjoy the Jew's harp on the groovy soundtrack, though: dundundun BOWN dun dun, dundundun BOWN dun dun, dundundun BOWN dun dun.
Having known for nearly a decade that a film version of "Neji-Shiki" exists, I'm glad I had the opportunity to see it. That said, I don't know what the hell I was thinking, expecting it to not be a letdown. This was more of a letdown than I could have expected, and I can't imagine wanting to watch this film again. Should I ever want to reexperience it, I'll read the "virtual" comic again; it provides the same unsatisfying experience but doesn't demand an hour and a half. [I'm still interested in seeing MANGA HOUSE, the other movie I know of that includes Tsuge as a character. I'm a Tsucker.]
think, considering how wide open their congregation is, that the
people would be, um, friendly and open; nothing like feeling like a
narc in church -- and then a few from The Tuesday. My voting place had
only one old-style ballot machine [for the last school-budget vote,
they had three set up] and there seemed to be more interest in the
table of cookies and cake for sale than the actual voting. Then again,
my district is controlled by the NY democratic machine except for the
most local of offices, which they leave to retired GOP mafioso to run
for unopposed [aside from the occasional independent crank], so the
people probably have more of a clue than I do. I liked that the
flippers for the school-bond issues didn't reset with the other levers
-- since it's way to the side of the booth, I bet a lot of people
never even saw them and voted YES without knowing it. Fuck the
children, I set the levers to NO and left. At 11am EST, I was voter
#271; turnout seemed about the same as 2006, which it was.
Today was the girl's first big day. I was mad at myself for running so shitfully late that I wasn't going to have time to make a celebratory dinner tonight. Then she called to say that she was running late too, so that we're all rocking the leftovers at different times tonight. The snow/snap-pea crisps are one of her favorite junk foods.
(sent, yet again, from the hallway-floor of an old high school.)