Words By Khalid Strickland
My DVD collection is a conversation piece when folks visit my crib. Not just because it’s deeper than the Gangster Disciples, but more because it consists mostly of flicks from overseas, mainly Asia. After witnessing the climactic 30-minute shootout in John Woo’s masterpiece, Hard Boiled, I was done with Hollywood action movies; even the ones Woo directed (Face Off was tight, though). Fresh out of new ideas, Hollywood has been re-making Asian movies for some time. The Departed, The Ring and The Grudge are just a few, with more on the way. Most of these clones are inferior but if they keep another Beverly Hills Chihuahua from being green-lit, it’s all good. I’ve been to Japan three times; droppin’ stacks of yen on anime and Yakuza flicks (hope the American dollar is worth more than Confederate money by the next trip). So, imagine my glee when I was invited to the 2008 New York-Tokyo Film Grand Prix.
Finally the thankless, low-paying task of journalism bore some fruit. The Japanese have the animation game on lock and the first flick I caught was Genius Party, a collection of seven short anime flicks. Studio 4.C, the company behind The Animatrix (a medley of short films inspired by The Matrix trilogy), produced this eye-popping assemblage. Genius Party is aptly-titled; the diverse shorts were created by a variety of directors who have worked on notable films such as Steamboy, Cowboy Bebop and the gold-standard of anime, Akira. The short films of Genius Party range from the typical giant-robot slugfest to bizarre, Twilight Zone-ish mind-fucks. Visually they’re all stunning and a spliff of Sour Diesel enhances the viewing experience like 3-D glasses.
There were some good flicks screened during the week-long Grand Prix, including 77Boadrum, a documentary about a now-famous Brooklyn concert organized by a popular Japanese band, The Boredoms. On July 7th, 2007 at 7:07pm, The Boredoms performed with a whopping 77 drummers at Empire-Ferry State Park, the same place where Brooklyn Bodega’s Hip-Hop Festival takes place. The final night of the Grand Prix featured a live-action comedy/drama called Kamachop, which was made on a modest budget of $6,000. Cheaply-produced indies can still be tight if the filmmaker is imaginative; Sin City director Robert Rodriguez spent $7000 on his classic debut, El Mariachi. The director of Kamachop, Anji Matsumoto, shows a lot of promise with his first feature. The film is well-written with twists and turns throughout; two ghosts have taken up residence in a Tokyo hotel room, stuck in limbo until they earn a spot behind The Pearly Gates. The Grim Reaper, a shady thug with shades and a black leather jacket, gives the duo a task to complete in order for them to gain entry to Heaven. The two chain-smoking, unseen spirits must re-unite a mother with her son, a lazy bum with heavy debts to a few gangsters. Nao Omori, who played the titular role in the notorious, ultraviolent Ichi The Killer, plays the role of Grim Reaper in Kamachop with cool poise.
After the flick got its ovation, the audience enjoyed free drinks at the after-party, which took place in the basement bar of Tribeca Cinemas. Being an international freeloader, I helped myself to Japan’s finest green tea liquor and talked with the director and cast of Kamachop. They’re making a sequel to the movie and if there’s a role for a token Black guy, I want in. Matsumoto told me that Nao Omori is one of his drinking buddies back home and starred in the film on GP. Kamachi and Chop, the two comedic actors who play the ghosts, are also drinking buds as well. In fact, bars are where a lot of movie biz deals happen in Tokyo, according to the young director. I explained that in the rap business, strip clubs serve as board rooms; chicks on poles beat the hell out of pie charts and wack slide-shows. The New York-Tokyo Film Grand Prix rolled to a great finish and it’s a safe bet that Hollywood spies were in attendance, doing their scouting reports.
WATCH — Genius Party Beyond (Trailer)