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Archive for July 18th, 2013

prophecies-of-nostradamus-poster

In feudal Japan, a man is persecuted for possessing Nostradamus’ writings and saying the world will come to an end in the future. Fast forward to the present day and Dr Nishiyama is now the owner of these writings (as they’ve been passed down family generations) and is trying to warn the Japanese government that something is about to happen because of overpopulation and pollution. The signs are there for people to see when giant slugs start appearing and large plants take over the Tokyo subway system. But that is only the beginning as bigger problems take effect. Planes start falling from the skies, snow appears in Egypt, the polar ice caps melt and Japanese children get some super powers such as jumping great heights!! An expedition by a UN discovery team to Papua New Guinea ends in chaos with an attack by radioactive cannibals and giant bats. Then all hell breaks loose as food is rationed and the population starts rioting, the O-Zone layer is destroyed leading to people being burnt to a crisp and nuclear missiles start raining down on major cities around the globe. Is there any way that the human race can survive?

Believe it or not, this disaster movie is banned in Japan with Toho Studios basically disowning the title. It has never been given an official video or DVD release in the country and probably never will be. So why is this then?  The reason is that there are several scenes showing the after-effects of radiation which greatly offended the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic blasts. The scenes in question will seem rather tame to Western viewers but you can understand and sympathise with the survivors why they would not like to see something that felt a bit too close to home for them. After only 80 days, the movie was pulled from cinemas. Even though the movie is banned in Japan, an international version of the movie which cut 30 mins from the original 115 min running time was shown and renamed as The Last Days Of Planet Earth/Catastrophe 1999. Many movie fans are not happy with this cut as some important scenes which included the Japanese Prime Minister giving a passionate and heartfelt speech have been left out. Thankfully there are unofficial sources which have managed to find a print of the original uncut version of the movie and put it on a bootleg DVD and it is this version that I saw. I really do hope that one day there will be a proper DVD release of this movie even if it will only be available outside Japan.

Prophecies of nostradamus screenshot

I’m sure at the time of its release this movie was terrifying and frightening to Japanese viewers but we now know that the end of the world as predicted by Nostradamus never happened in 1999. Although the movie may seem to be a bit preachy in constantly saying that a huge catastrophe will befall the Earth, there is some hope and optimism by the end only if mankind changes its ways. Even though it was made in 1974, the environmental message of the movie is still relevant in today’s society.  This movie doesn’t hold back in showing what would happen if ever there was a big disaster on the planet, it goes straight to the jugular. The story takes its time in setting up the doom laden mood with each apocalyptic event becoming more frightening in nature. The final scenario in which nuclear missiles are launched with those responsible for having their fingers on the trigger dead at the control centre is probably the scariest of all the scenes. It even shows the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant being destroyed. I found it chilling watching this part knowing how close it came to going into total meltdown in March 2011. The special effects in this movie by Teruyoshi Nakano is fantastic from showing a reflective image of the Tokyo skyline in the sky to a devastating set-piece of seeing many cars exploding on a highway in a massive pileup.  Some of Nakano’s effects though don’t work out quite so well such as the giant bats which is frankly embarrassing. However, it is the scene of two mutated deformed children fighting over a worm to eat in a post-nuclear wasteland that upset most people in Japan and gave this movie the controversial tag it now has. There are some other scenes which are strange and look out of place in this movie. One shows a group of young hippies dressed up in kimonos with painted faces going on a suicide sailing ride. Another is supposed to show that people are starting to go mad – a group of motorcyclists (even though it is only 2 people doing the same stunt over and over again) is seen deliberately riding over the edge of a cliff into the sea. If you watch this part closely you’ll see that one stuntman gets his timing all wrong during 1 take and crashes his bike into some rocks at the bottom of the cliff. No idea if the stuntman managed to escape injury or not?

Overall, Toho did a magnificent job with this movie. The intelligent story of a man tirelessly working to try and stop an apocalypse of epic proportions is fantastic. If you ever have the urge to get this movie, do yourself a favour and skip buying the international version as the story has been butchered to bits and instead go for the uncut original version. It may be difficult to obtain the DVD but it’s well worth watching.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Attack the gas station

4 young Korean men in their early 20’s who are bored and disillusioned decide to rob and trash a gas station. They spend all the money on buying new clothes etc. A few evenings later the 4 are back to do the same again at the same location but the gas station manager has taken precautions this time and hidden the money away. He manages to bluff the four by saying his wife has taken the day’s takings away and he cannot reach her.  They decide to hold the staff of the gas station hostage and take on their jobs for one night. Whatever money comes in from the customers for refuelling their vehicles, they’ll take it for themselves.  They soon find they are making enemies of the customers due to their abrupt manner. As the night wears on, a scuffle they have with a couple of punk schoolboys grows into something bigger until they have to defend their new territory against a bigger gang.

Attack The Gas Station has been on my radar for many years as I’ve heard good things about it. I managed to finally watch it early this week and I’m glad to say the acclaim given to it by many critics is justified.  It’s a very good black comedy with a great cast. Some have even said this movie is a social commentary on South Korea during the late 90’s when the economy of the country was in the doldrums due to the car industry and unemployment amongst young people was high.  Watching the events of the night at the petrol station unfold makes this movie even more funny as the 4 face angry delivery guys, gangs, police officers after a wild driver and customers with attitude.  The viewer also finds out why the 4 have resorted to robbing the gas station through some flashbacks. Each of them has had a knockback in life either being bullied by figures of authority or cast aside and are taking their frustrations out on society. Even though the 4 are robbers, the viewer will find themselves slowly warming up and rooting for them. Their quirky and slightly eccentric behaviour makes them endearing even though they are breaking the law and by the end credits you won’t feel any animosity for them at all. From the opening scene right through to the end when there’s a massive rumble on the station forecourt the story never dips and it is always entertaining with numerous memorable moments littered throughout e.g one of the robbers breaks open a drinks vending machine to grab some money for him to use in another machine!  It’s also quite refreshing and original in its way. This was director Kim Sang-Jin’s breakout movie (his 3rd behind the camera) and it surprised many people as nobody expected it to be as big a hit as it was. He employs some cool visual shots to enhance the movie.  I’m not sure if the director is pointing out in the storyline that the behaviour of the robbers is the fault of society for ignoring them? The movie also unfortunately inspired some young Korean people to copycat the antics of the robbers in real-life! I’m sure the police weren’t impressed with that at all!!

Attack the gas station screenshot

The cast are absolutely fantastic in their roles and the filmmakers could not have picked better actors for the robbers. Lee Sung-Jae plays the gang’s tough leader No Mark and is probably the best out of the four as whenever he appears he totally dominates any scene he’s in. No Mark particularly likes to torment the manager by wrecking the station’s phone and asking him to fix it but as soon as he does it is smashed again! I also liked Yu Oh-Seong as the character Bulldozer who is in charge of looking after the hostages in a backroom at the gas station. He comes across as menacing as he swaggers around with a kendo stick but his heart is in the right place. How he manages to control the swelling ranks of hostages is funny. This he does by making them stand on their heads with their hands clasped behind their backs or having some of them fight each other for kicks. Kang Seong-jin  plays a wannabe musician with Yu Ji-tae rounding off the leads as a failed artist whose way of painting is bizarre to say the least. These 2 are rather overshadowed by No Mark and Bulldozer though they are still important characters.  The supporting players which includes the gas station workers are also very good in the movie. The way the director allows so many bit characters to enter the movie without losing focus on the core leads is excellent. He could easily have given more screentime to many of the other characters but thankfully he doesn’t.

Attack The Gas Station has to be one of the funniest tongue in cheek Korean comedies I’ve seen in a while and is well worth seeking out if you fancy seeing something amusing. It did its job of making me laugh and it was so enjoyable. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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