Stephen reviews: Vampire Princess Miyu (1988/1989)

737187003622Vampire Princess Miyu [Kyuuketsuti Miyu 吸血姫 美夕, Vampire Miyu] (1988/1989)

Starring Mami Koyama, Naoko Watanabe, Mayumi Shou, Katsumi Toruiumi, Ryo Horikawa, Yuji Mitsuya, Masako Ikeda, Kiyonobu Suzuki, Tesshō Genda, Kaneto Shiozawa

Directed by Toshihiro Hirano


Another series rather than film, Vampire Princess Miyu is one of my old favorites from my high school years. It was refreshing coming back to this series and finding that it still holds up pretty well. This is not the late ’90s TV series, but the decade older direct-to-video mini-series. At only four episodes the entire series is no longer than a feature film, making it easy to watch in one sitting although each episode stands on its own fairly well. They are all interconnected and combine to tell a broader story, but each episode is also a single adventure in itself.

The franchise has a rather oddly translated title. “Princess” is nowhere in the Japanese title. Miyu herself is not, and never was, a princess of anything. One can only wonder what made the translators insert that word. I guess it just sounds better than the more basic Vampire Miyu (though I do wonder if the original title might be a reference to Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat). In any event, the erroneous title is the one by which the franchise is most commonly known in English (the original manga used the literal translation Vampire Miyu when it first came out in the US, but later releases apparently added in the “princess” bit).

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Stephen reviews: Garaga (1989)

garaga_1Garaga [ギャラガ] (1989)
AKA Hyper Psychic Geo Garaga

Starring Toshio Furukawa, Akira Kamiya, Keiko Han, Megumi Hayashibara, Michie Tomizawa, Eiko Yamada. Eiji Maruyama

Directed by Hidemi Kubo


Garaga tries to deliver an action-packed sci-fi epic, and to its credit it is filled to the brim with tons of robots, aliens, and spaceships that are all in a massive tangle of conflict. Honestly, all the parts are there for a great adventure. Unfortunately, they aren’t put together well enough to make it work. It’s too jumbled to make a good story, and the action scenes come off too bland to be viscerally entertaining. Add in a few plot holes and you have a thoroughly lackluster film. A lack of any quality animation doesn’t help matters either.

It starts with the crew of the spaceship XeBeC making a special delivery. They’ve got a general’s daughter in cold sleep, and they need to take her… somewhere. It obviously isn’t all that important since the film never mentions where they are taking her or why. But the ship has been sabotaged, and they crash-land on an unknown planet (OK, not really, it’s actually the planet Garaga) filled with violent ape monsters that want to kill everyone. And this is where the original destination ceases to mean anything, especially since it seems like everyone on the ship was headed to Garaga anyway. I almost thought they were stranded at their destination.

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Stephen reviews: Riding Bean (1989)

ridingbean_1Riding Bean [ライディング・ビーン] (1989)

Starring Hideyuki Tanaka, Naoko Matsui, Mami Koyama, Kei Tomiyama, Megumi Hayashibara, Chieko Honda

Directed by Yasuo Hasegawa


Another relic from my high school days, Riding Bean is about as action packed as you can make a movie without becoming a simple montage of action scenes. It’s short, but full of shootouts and car chases and shootouts during car chases leavened with plenty of lighthearted humor. It’s all about Bean Bandit, the Roadbuster, the best and craziest getaway driver in Chicago with a scar on his face and a jawline to make Jay Leno jealous. He’s a lot like a ’90s anti-hero, and his badassery oozes off the screen. His partner is a sexy gun expert named Rally Vincent, who knowledgeable anime fans might recognize as the main character of Gunsmith Cats, though here she is blonde instead of brunette.

Bean will take on any job as long as he gets paid, and while Rally is more of a good guy, she is still pretty much in it for the money and has no qualms about the illegal nature of their jobs. As with any rebel car chase story, there are plenty of car crashes and incompetent police for Bean to make fools out of. And trust me, these are some flat-out ridiculous car chases that could only have been brought to life in an anime. His car may not be as tricked out as James Bond’s, but has Bond ever had a car that can drive sideways? And of course it has the requisite “driving off an unfinished overpass” scene as well; you can’t have a car chase film without one of those.

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Stephen reviews: Wrath of the Ninja: The Yotoden Movie (1989)

wrathoftheninja_1Wrath of the Ninja: The Yotoden Movie [戦国奇譚妖刀伝 Sengoku Kidan Yōtōden] (1989)
AKA Legend of the Enchanted Swords; Yotoden: Chronicle of the Warlord Period; Wrath of the Ninja – The Yotoden Chronicles; Blade of the Ninja

Starring Keiko Toda, Kazuhiko Inoue, Takeshi Watabe, Tomomichi Nishimura, Masami Kikuchi, Kazuki Yao, Kaneto Shiozawa, Norio Wakamoto, Reizo Nomoto, Shōzō Iizuka, Ritsuo Sawa, Eken Mine

Directed by Osamu Yamasaki


Ninja action is awesome, right? Especially when there are lots of demons and illusions, and martial arts showdowns scattered around, right? The more the better, right? Well, sadly that’s not the case for Wrath of the Ninja which proves that you can indeed have too much ninja action in a movie, as hard as that is to believe. I think (hope) that this is the result of compressing down the longer original story into oblivion. The film version of Wrath of the Ninja is a compilation of the series, and it’s got all the usual problems of such a film cranked up to eleven.

The plot, what’s left of it anyway, revolves around three ninjas from different clans who each own a special weapon with a legend attached to it. They’re up against the commonly used historical figure of Oda Nobunaga, who was also the villain of Black Lion as well as other anime. Here, as is common in stories set in feudal Japan, Nobunaga is a demon bent on conquering the world. I think. I’m actually not sure what he’s after. The story doesn’t have enough time to bother with something as trivial as the objectives of the main villain. But whatever he’s trying to do, it involves the massacre of the protagonists’ hometowns, which obviously unites them in an unstoppable ninja team-up out for revenge.

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Dead Dudes in the House (1989)

DEAD_DUDES_IN_THE_HOUSE_COVERDead Dudes in the House (1989)
AKA The Dead Come Home, Hexenhaus, The House on Tombstone Hill

Starring Mark Zobian, Victor Verhaeghe, Sarah Newhouse, Douglas Gibson, J.D. Cerna, Naomi Kooker, Eugene Sautner, Rob Moretti, James Griffin

Directed by James Riffel

Expectations: Moderate.

On the general scale:
twohalfstar

On the B-movie scale:
threehalfstar


Dead Dudes in the House was the title given to this film for its Troma release, and while it’s not the most fitting title for the actual film, its blunt force encapsulates the quickly escalating horror of the film very well. There is little time spent here for anything other than straight horror thrills and killers stalking dudes. As long as you’re OK with that, this is an outstanding film that will entertain B-Movie fans completely. Troma isn’t known for their quality films, but this one is great. And not “great for a Troma movie,” it’s just plain ol’ great.

The basic storyline is one horror fans will have seen hundreds of times: a bunch of friends venture out to a remote house that unbeknownst to them is home to evil spirits and their doom! In Dead Dudes in the House, the house has recently been purchased by one of the dudes, so he has brought a bunch of dudes to help him fix the place up. There is a clear delineation amongst the dudes, though. On one side we have the white-collar dudes (the new owner of the house, his sweater-wearin’ friends and their girlfriends) and on the other the blue-collar dudes who seem like hired help to do most of the dirty work. That’s what it seems like anyway, but there’s also moments where it seems like they’re all friends, so I don’t know.

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Tell Me Sam (1989)

tellmesam_1Starring Samuel Fuller

Directed by Emil Weiss

Expectations: Moderate.


As its title suggests, Tell Me Sam is a film where Sam Fuller tells stories. You can imagine the director Emil Weiss, just off camera, asking Fuller things like, “Tell me about your days in journalism, Sam,” or “Tell me about I Shot Jesse James.” Fuller doesn’t seem the type that needs such provocation to tell these stories — I can only imagine the kinds of things he discussed over the dinner table — but the idea that the questions are in the air informs a lot of the experience in Tell Me Sam. Frankly, I’d have preferred these questions to be heard, so that the film was a document of a conversation instead of a 75-minute monologue from the aging director.

Tell Me Sam is a companion piece to Weiss’s 1988 documentary about Sam Fuller, Falkenau, the Impossible. Where Falkenau focuses specifically on Fuller’s experiences at the end of World War II when his unit helped to liberate a Nazi concentration camp, Tell Me Sam broadens out its focus to the entirety of Sam Fuller’s working life. One of the most interesting tales comes from before he was in the film industry, and it’s one that helped shape the way he made films and looked at the world. During his days in journalism, Fuller worked the homicide beat and was only allowed to write the facts without the use of any adjectives. Fuller relates that this specifically made him well up with unspent emotion, as he felt all kinds of intense feelings about the cases he saw and wrote about, but was unable to express them.

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Street of No Return (1989)

streetofnoreturn_8Starring Keith Carradine, Valentina Vargas, Bill Duke, Andréa Ferréol, Bernard Fresson, Marc de Jonge, Rebecca Potok, Jacques Martial, Sérgio Godinho, António Rosário, Dominique Hulin, Gordon Heath, Joe Abdo

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: Low.

twostar


Street of No Return is Sam Fuller’s final theatrical film, but unfortunately, in terms of quality, it’s closer to Thieves After Dark than his previous work. But where Thieves After Dark is just plain bad, there are shreds of potential throughout Street of No Return. The story itself isn’t half bad, but what sinks the film from being the exciting, pulpy revenge story that it’s trying to be is that it’s edited like an arthouse film. In A Third Face, Sam Fuller relates that after he turned in the finished film to his producer, Jacques Bral, Bral then spent the next year completely re-editing the film however he saw fit. Who’s to say how Fuller’s cut would’ve differed, but in its released state it’s fair to say that Street of No Return is something of a shambles. Perhaps this has something to do with there being 13 credited people for editing, along with Sam Fuller as “Editing Supervisor.” Sheesh!

I don’t mind a film that obscures its story, allowing it to slowly unfold over the course of the film, but for a film like this with such a straightforward story it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The film opens with an incredibly striking shot of a man getting struck in the face with a hammer, the first hit in a massive race riot on the city streets. Across the way, a wild-haired homeless drunk (Keith Carradine) stares at the liquor store on the other side of the riot. His desire for hooch is strong, but he’s not stupid. He waits until everyone’s cleared out.

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