Archive for July 24th, 2013

Bicycle Sighs (1991)


Shiro and Keita are two friends living in the city of Toyokawa . Both are in their early 20’s and should be like the rest of their peers in university. However, they don’t feel like entering the adult world at all and don’t even bother to apply for entrance exams into university. Instead they earn their living by delivering newspapers on their bikes. Shiro comes across an old cinefilm that the duo along with a female friend did in the past that they never completed and he feels the urge to finish the project off. Keita though doesn’t like the idea as it makes him think about Kyoko, his ex-girlfriend who is planning on visiting him from Tokyo.

This was the breakout movie from Sion Sono and his first 16mm feature (the ones he made before were all 8mm) which made the Japanese movie establishment stand up and take notice of him. He made this movie from the prize money he won at the 1987 Pia Film Festival for his entry Otoko no Hanamichi. This is a very stylish movie from a young filmmaker that was still experimenting and using freedom of expression with his work. The story can be seen as the fears and uncertainties of two young men at the time of when the bubble was about to burst in Japan after many years of economic growth.  It can also be taken as the duo rebelling in not wanting to conform to what society expects from them. They want to break free from the rigid structure and regime that most young Japanese men take after leaving school.


Sono filmed this movie in his hometown of Toyokawa as he did in several of his early works. His image of Japan is different from what other filmmakers might have shown during this period in time. No wealth, glittering lights or fast cars are shown – instead a decadent old park is one favoured location in this movie giving a complete opposite view of the ridiculous amount of money that was being thrown around by the country before it all fell apart.  Sono uses a variety of different filming techniques such as switching to sepia colour for some shots and black &white for certain scenes showing baseball being played.  Surrealism is also something that he inserts into this movie. One such scene shows 2 bears talking in a room. They represent Keita and his father. The father’s bear voice is provided by none other than gore master Noburu Iguchi. This was years before he went on to make comedy horror classics such as The Machine Girl and Killer Sushi. I had no idea that Sono and Iguchi had worked together. The movie project that the 2 lead roles are filming consists of a character with a Godzilla mask on his face. I have no idea of the hidden meaning behind these scenes.  Another scene shows Keita’s young sister following a white line which ends at a seafront with a bicycle on fire. I’m sure the more intelligent of viewers will be able to work out what Sono is trying to say.

Overall, Bicycle Sighs is an interesting movie by a young director on his way up in the world. I am sure many will not even be interested in Sono’s early stuff, preferring instead to see his movies post Suicide Circle. It does give a glimpse of the greatness that was to come from him and I enjoyed this movie. Looking forward to watching more of what he created at the start of his career as a filmmaker.

No trailer but here’s the first couple of mins from the movie:

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Set at Kobe International School, an arrogant young boy by the name of Sho goes to school one morning after a major falling out with his parents unaware that a major catastrophe is about to happen. From out of the blue a tornado appears from the sky which teleports the entire school from it’s location and dumps it in a barren desert alien wasteland leaving a massive hole in the ground where the school should be. The pupils of the school which consists of native Japanese kids and Westerners surmise that a timeslip has occurred and they try and figure out a way of going back home.  Problems soon occur when food and water become scarce. With no solution anytime soon and with the days ticking by, some of the kids start becoming mad and monsters attack the school. Will the school ever return back to Earth?

Based on a manga, this cult 1987 movie is yet another that has never been officially released on DVD although there have been various rumours over the years. To be perfectly honest it’s a good thing it hasn’t because this movie isn’t very good and it is very strange to boot. It suffers from a lot of problems such as the story itself, the international cast, the special effects and the dialogue. The biggest problem of all is the bad miscasting of the Westerners. The majority were not actors but real pupils from the actual Kobe International School so I don’t blame them for their non-existent acting skills having being thrown into their roles with no training. There’s a famous American actor from the 60’s called Troy Donahue in this movie. No idea who he is but his character named ‘My Teacher’ by one female Japanese pupil is mostly redundant and bland. The Japanese cast fare little better as they speak dialogue in stilted English. It makes for some unintentional comedy at times! None of the cast stand out at all and I found a lot of the characters to be annoying, obnoxious or both. I’m not exaggerating when I say the acting is bad, it REALLY is bad! Most of the movie’s dialogue is in English. I’m not sure if the filmmakers did this in order to reach out to a wider audience or not? I found the story to be a bit odd and the kids must be really clever as they assume straight away when they land that they’ve been involved in a timeslip as if it’s a common occurrence in their lives! Certain scenes are so strange that I haven’t got a clue why it’s in the movie such as a bunch of the kids singing a musical medley so horrible it nearly made me throw up!! Another instance sees a small alien that the kids have come across giving some of its piss for them to wash their faces! I know that director Nobuhiko Obayashi made the great movie House and whilst there were scenes in that which were bizarre this one goes off the scale completely. The various genres (horror, comedy, musical, drama) don’t gel well with each other at all.

The Drifting Classroom screenshot

It’s difficult to know if the story was targeted towards kids or teenagers due to various death scenes in the movie. One scene shows some of the pupils coming across a female teacher that has drowned in some sand and we see it pouring out of her mouth. The viewer gets to see some giant cockroaches lay siege to the school and eat some of the kids. There’s also some rather inappropriate sexual behaviour right at the start of the movie which sees Sho grope his mother from behind whilst naked. It continues near the end where it is seen that there’s no hope for the school in returning back to Earth so the kids contemplate copulating with each other which results in the line “I want to have your baby”!!

The special effects have to be one of the worst I’ve seen in a Japanese movie. The matte paintings for the background look cheap, nasty and very unconvincing. The camera work for the movie comes across as amateurish at times. The shaky shot for when the school is teleported away goes on for far too long and is enough to make viewers rather seasick. It’s hard to really know what’s going on in the scene as its dark. All I could see was some sand filling up a room and some characters screaming.

The premise of The Drifting Classroom had some potential with it’s fight for survival on an alien world scenario but the filmmakers looked like they weren’t sure how to go about adapting the classic manga into a movie and which target audience to go for so what we have here is one almighty mess instead. Granted it must have been difficult with a 13 volume manga what to put in and what to leave out. There’s absolutely nothing to recommend about this movie apart from Joe Hisaishi’s musical score. It’s really is terrible. If you’re after a unique cinematic experience and if you can get hold of a bootleg DVD of the movie by all means give it a watch. Just be prepared for some major weirdness!

No trailer but here’s a clip of the small alien pissing into the faces of some kids!!

Sadako’s Rating: 1.5 star out of 5


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