Edinburgh International Film Festival – Tokyo Pop

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2023 – Tokyo Pop,
Directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui,
Starring Carrie Hamilton, Diamond Yukai (aka Yutaka Tadokoro), Hiroshi Kobayashi, Hiroshi Sugita, Satoshi Kanai, Rome Kanda

The Edinburgh film fest usually includes some retrospectives of older films, as well as showcasing new work, and even with the very slimmed down festival we’re having this August (after us almost losing the festival last autumn, as we covered, I’m just grateful we have it at all, frankly) there was still room for some older gems, including this 1980s piece, which somehow I had never come across before.

Tokyo Pop, created in 1988, was the first directing gig for Fran Rubel Kuzui, who I am sure many of you will know for her association with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, and Fran was at the festival, talking with the audience after the screening, explaining at one point how damned hard it was for a woman to become a Hollywood director back in the 80s, even on a small budget, Indy film (the gender ratio is still bad today, but back then, even worse).

It’s a deceptively simple story – an American woman, Wendy Reed (the late Carrie Hamilton) is fed up with being relegated to backing singer duties by useless rock and roll boyfriends in 80s New York. When a postcard from Japan arrives from her friend who is staying there, saying “wish you were here”, and adding that the Japanese youth love American rock culture, she decides to take her friend at her word and go there, with no plan, no skill in Japanese, not even a map of Tokyo, just a vague plan of becoming a music star there.

The cultural fish out of water scenario is compounded when she arrives to find her friend has already moved on and is now in Bangkok, leaving her trying desperately to find somewhere to stay and to get a job so she can get some money. Her “exotic” gaijin (foreigner) looks help her get a job in a hostess bar – it helps pay the bills, but it’s not exactly the rock and roll fame she was seeking. Meanwhile Hiro (actor and rock star Diamond Yukai) and his band is struggling to get noticed by the local big producer or land paying gigs.

Their first encounter with Wendy goes badly when Hiro’s less than expert grasp at English leads him to misunderstand the situation when she tells him she needs a hotel for the night, and he thinks she means one of the city’s many “love hotels”. Such comic misunderstandings are part and parcel of this kind of tale, and we all know that sooner or later they are going to become close, and that she will be the thing that makes their band stand out, especially in an 80s Japan that was always hungry for new fads.

 

In some ways Tokyo Pop is of its time – this was the 1980s, and this would fit nicely into an evening of 80s viewing with some John Hughes flicks, and of course the styles and music mark the era. And yet at the same time it feels very fresh – it’s that cultural misunderstanding Schick which is still funny (and goes both way, not just her ignorance of Japan, but the Japanese characters attempting Western rock without really understanding it). It’s a bit drama, it’s a bit romantic-comedy, it’s a bit musical, but mostly it is just a charming delight of a film, the two main leads radiating that youthful, naïve confidence, lighting the screen up with huge smiles and a tremendous sense of fun and pure charm. A total delight, now restored into 4k.

This review was originally penned for Live For Films

Edinburgh International Film Festival - Fran Rubel Kuzui 03
(Co-writer and director Fran Rubel Kuzui talking to the Edinburgh film fest audience – pic from my Flickr)

Reviews: 80s style fun in She Came From the Woods

She Came From the Woods,
Directed by Erik Bloomquist,
Starring Cara Buono, Clare Foley, Spencer List, Michael Park and William Sadler

It’s the 1980s, and young camp counsellors in very 80s tight shorts and T-shirts are making the most of the last night of summer camp, when the seasonal frolicking and hi-jinks suddenly take a sinister and bloody turn, leading to multiple mutilations and deaths. If that sounds like a very familiar scenario then yes, it is – quite deliberately. Erik Bloomquist and writing partner Carson Bloomquist clearly loved those now-classic 1980s camp-set slasher movies, of which there seemed to be an endless wave of in the local video stores (although, of course, Friday the 13th remains the standard-bearer).

I grew up with those films, the bastard video sons of Carpenter’s Halloween, and I still have a lot of love for them, but they did run their course until the tank was well-dry (and in some cases beyond), eventually playing themselves out, leaving themselves more as memories and markers in horror film history, and, frequently (and sometimes deservedly) ammunition for parodies and spoofs. And yes, there is a reason that sub-genre became played out and parodied, but by the same token, there’s also a reason why those early films in that genre were fun and made an impact, and I get the impression the Bloomquists are thinking along the same lines, and thus comes She Came From the Woods, which isn’t really a parody, or that dreaded thing, the Reboot, but rather a film made by people who loved those kinds of genre flicks, realised they don’t really get made any longer and thought, surely we can do something in that line that would still work.

The camp counsellors – the usual mix of the Responsible One, the Sexy One, the Dorky One, the Asshat One – have a bit of a tradition of holding a ceremony on the final night of camp, out in the woods, meant to call the spirit of a mad, murdering camp nurse who legend has it went berserk decades before, killing many kids and counsellors. It’s a joke, a bit of fun as their summer working together comes to an end and a return to the regular world calls.

Except this time it looks like the ritual has actually summoned something back, and soon people are being picked off in a variety of gruesome ways.

I’m not going to go deep in the nuts and bolts of it here – anyone interested in this love-letter to the camp slasher film surely knows the standard format of the story by now! But suffice to say, the Bloomquists do this with a lot of love for those iconic 80s slashers – there is a nod and a wink to fans, well-versed in the tropes and norms of those movies and characters, but it is laughing with us and the genre, not at it. We’re really having our cake and eating it here, because we get an 80s style camp Slasherthon, but we also get to enjoy it in a very self-aware manner, so we can enjoy it as a return to that style of decades ago and lose ourselves in that as we munch the popcorn, but we are also aware of all they are doing, and the references they are making.

If you were never a slasher movie fan, it’s unlikely to convert you, but for those of us who grabbed all those films off the local video store shelves at weekends to watch with friends, this is a a hugely enjoyable trip back to that style of horror, made by creators and actors who obviously know those films and have a lot of love for them.

She Came From the Woods is out now on Digital via Blue Finch Film Releasing

This review was originally penned for Live For Films

Current listening: Hollywood, Mon Amour

Currently listening to a very cool album, Hollywood Mon Amour (two or three film references in one, which appeals to a film fiend like me), although when I tell you it consists of songs from popular 80s movies you’ll probably be thinking, hold on, Joe, how the hell can that be cool? Well, I admit it has more than a couple of tracks which I loathed in their original forms, like the theme song from Arthur (“When you get caught between the moon and New York City, I know its crazy, but its true..”) or the bloody awful Eye of the Tiger from Rocky. But here I like them. Here they are very different. They have been reworked by Marc Collin, producer for the ultra cool Nouvelle Vague (another movie reference) using a number of artists and like the covers Nouvelle Vague perform they are very, very different from the originals, hip, and cool. Check the site out where you can hear some samples from the album.