Japan and Cult

Jim Harper jimharper666 at yahoo.co.uk
Thu Feb 18 17:52:35 EST 2010

Hi Sten
The company you're thinking of is Fever Dreams. Tokyo Gore Police, Machine Girl, Death Trance etc were mainly financed by Fever Dreams, an offshoot of the DVD label Tokyo Shock/Media Blasters, and were obviously released on their label later on. The same company were also responsible for the extended version of Versus, which was also released on their label. Since then they've been heavily supporting the Kitamura and associates creative group.
Another DVD label, Unearthed Films- who released the US versions of the Guinea Pig series, Junk, Evil Dead Trap 2 (plus others)- also announced several years ago that they intended to move into production, with their stated aim to fund Japanese films in the same vein as Junk.
You might also like to look at Ataru Oikawa's Room 1303, a standard Juon-inspired haunted house story mainly financed by American companies.
It's taken a while to catch up, but in the same way that Manga Entertainment have moved from being a distributor of anime to a producer, in five years time I suspect that western producers will be a prominent part of at leats the Japanese horror industry.
Sorry for the ramble!
Jim Harper.

--- On Thu, 18/2/10, Sten-Kristian Saluveer (Niijanaa) <sten at niijanaa.net> wrote:

and greetings from Tallinn, Estonia. I think it is worth mentioning that I'm currently developing a similar research project as Nathan's as a part of my graduation thesis in in the Department of Asian Studies and Tallinn University and hopefully during a year of guest researcher work at Waseda this autumn.

Just as a quick background note, the idea for my research project came out my 9 years programming experience of Asian films, particularly Japanese films for the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (www.poff.ee) - a relatively acknowledged art house film festival taking place each December with around 250 feature films in the main program.
At some point I realized that the festival audience, and to be honest some of the members of the programming team, had developed an almost subconscious perception of "Japanese cinema" -  almost resembling genre having an odd or twisted plot, exaggerated sexuality and violence, combined with notions of traditional elements of Japanese culture (samurais, geishas etc). 

At the same time and interesting dynamic that is part of the "Japanese film genre" is the absence of a midpoint between two extremes - for the audience a  film can be "a little Japanese" (having just an odd plot) or "exaggeratedly Japanese" (take any of old Miike films for example), but a relatively ordinary Japanese cinema is considered somehow "too Japanese" and hence not suitable or understandable for the audience and hence is excluded from program.

I experienced the previously described last year when Air Doll was generously accepted by both the programmers and the audience selling out all screenings, but Fish Story was rejected ,because it was "too ordinarily Japanese" hence not suitable for the  festival (with the argument that nobody will understand it except hard core fans of Japanese culture).

Now in relation to the discussion and based on the previous one shouldn't definitely underestimate the power of the programming/festival distribution of Japanese genre cinema and I have a gut feeling (and there's definitely room for some fan group studies) that Western fans perceptions on Japan are influenced not only by proper films of mainstream/arthouse cinema, but also a great extent by genre flicks such as Machine Girl or Tokyo Gore Police.

So that's the backstory for my research idea. However, in difference to Nathan's project and based on the success story of Machine Girl I'm particularly interested in how international co-production and financing of Japanese (genre) films influences what gets produced and what is  depicted in the actual co-productions.  According to my knowledge Machine Girl was co-financed by a US production company (sorry can't remember the name at the very late hour) and hence I'd like to investigate to which degree the co-production and financing influenced what and how was presented in the film.

Particularly I feel that the film is full of and of course partially playing on the Western stereotypes and cliches of Japanese culture (taking the kawaii schoolgirl and mixing it up with a ninja yakuza family:) which combined with the gore makes it particularly appealing for the Western "exotic" hungry audience. My hypothesis is that perhaps behind the massive reliance on cultural cliches might be co-production interests with the aim of making the film deliberately "cult" for Western markets to satisfy its' need for the exotic that the distribution system has created itself.
 Oliver Dew tackles this process where violence and sexuality (of Asian/Japanese films) gets associated with art house and cult in quite a good article on Tartan ('Asia Extreme': Japanese cinema and British hype) which I'm sure many are familiar with and which could be applicable to the case of Machine Girl as well.

For me the whole process got particularly interesting with Nikkatsu and Sushi Typhoon (Jasper got it first to spell it out) where it seems that Japanese producers are now g a sort of reverse orientalism as a goal to create a new success formula. So if Machine Girl was a successful cult accident then it's interesting to see what would come out the the formula's replication and what kinds of creative and business strategies will be applied in maintaining the hype.

Of course another overlapping issue really is the role and position of the researcher as it is easy to claim the presence of orientalism from Western perspective, but that might not be true at all from the perspective of Japanese industry.  To tackle this I'm hoping to base a substantial part of the work on actual interviews with affiliated people during my year at Waseda.

I hope that any of the ideas spelled out made some sense and apologies for some spelling and clarity mistakes.
Having just spent a week in Berlin watching new Japanese films has been quite exhausting.
With best wishes,

PS. I recommend seeing Wakamatsu's new feature "Caterpillar". Though it has some limitations (of being shot only in 12 days) I think the leads do an excellent job of the portrayal of the ridiculousness of war.

Sten-Kristian Saluveer

Tallinn Black Nights FF Program Consultant
Haapsalu Horror & Fantasy FF (HÕFF) Director
sten.saluveer at poff.ee
Office: +3726314640
GSM: +3725165242
Skype: stenskype


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