Kanazawa Film Festival 2013

The third Monday in September is Respect for the Aged Day in Japan which gives us a nice long weekend soon after school has started back. This is one of my favourite weekends in Kanazawa because not only is the Kanazawa Film Festival held then, there is a Jazz Festival and a Curry Festival on at the same time – a feast for the senses. Usually the weather is lovely, although this year we caught the tail-end of a typhoon so there was a lot of rain, but that doesn’t matter when you’re going to be indoors.

Last year, the theme of the festival was sex, and this year the theme seemed to be sci-fi horror, and it focused on films that played up the cinematic experience, through the use of gimmicks. The most famous is probably The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when the event itself is more important than the film. I hadn’t heard of most of the films on show and even though many of them seemed to be the kind of unsuccessful film that the distributor let the copyright lapse on and are now up on youtube, I wanted to see them in the cinema, because I haven’t seen very many B-movies and bad movies are better when they’re old.

My only must-see film was Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis. I have never seen the original but I remember when the most complete version was restored in 2010, it was screened in the National Concert Hall in Dublin with the original score performed live by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.  Unfortunately it was sold out before I even knew it was happening. Since then, I have always wanted to make an event out of it. I wasn’t sure what Moroder’s version would be like. What would the the king of disco do to the expressionist classic of cinema?

By the 1980s, much of the original version of the film had been lost, because it had been cut when it was brought to America, and not many reels survived WWII in Germany. Moroder hunted down old copies of the film in New York and Australia and made the most complete re-edit of it until the 2000s. Changes he made were to quicken the frame rate, colour tint the scenes, replace the intertitles with subtitles, and of course, add a pop soundtrack. Despite the fact that it was very strange to be listening to Pat Benatar, Bonnie Tyler and Freddie Mercury belting it out in a film where the actors can’t make a sound, I really liked his soundtrack. I can imagine that when it was released it would have been jarring, but now I think the combination of the 20s’ expressionist visuals with 80s’ electronic music create a complementary twentieth-century futurism. At the screening in Kanazawa, the music was played at a ridiculously high volume so after two hours, my ears were ready to bleed. As my friend said, that was the loudest silent film I’ve ever seen.

I went to see Phantasm in order to see a 70s scary movie, which no horror festival can be without. It was pretty ridiculous but it did have a good creepy soundtrack and moments to make you jump. I wouldn’t really recommend watching the whole film, but the clip below was probably the best scene in it. I won’t bother giving a plot summary.  For this showing the festival used gimmicks, like when the silver ball from the scene below appeared on screen, plastic balls were thrown into the audience, and when the characters were getting chased by hooded dwarves, people dressed in robes would run across the stage and through the audience. The gimmicks weren’t great, but they did make us laugh at the ridiculousness of the film. Watching a bad film on your own is no fun, but watching one with a group of people is a lot of fun.

Island of Lost Souls is based on the H.G. Wells novel The Island of Dr Moreau (though Wells was not happy with the adaptation). A shipwrecked sailor ends up stranded on Dr Moreau’s island which is populated by very strange-looking ‘natives’. The sailor discovers that Dr Moreau has been experimenting on animals to make them human-like. Even the woman who he was attracted to turns out to be a panther. This film was made in 1932, pre-Hays Code, which was why it was able to have such risqué features as a vivisection, the implication of bestiality, a man comparing himself to god and a woman taking off her stockings. It was banned in the UK three times. The film has a dark exotic atmosphere and the special effects are very good. Bela Lugosi is unrecognizable as one of the half man/half beasts.

The Tingler was not meant to be seen outside of a cinema. As you can see from the intro below, the director William Castle directly addresses the viewers in the context of a movie theatre. He is encouraging the audience to respond to and participate in the film. Castle used gimmicks which he called percepto to make his audience feel what the actors were feeling. This film was very popular at the festival and we were lucky to get seats as many people had to sit on the stairs. My seat was at the side so I missed out on some of the gimmicks, but the seats were rigged to vibrate when people on screen screamed, a model of the tingler was pulled across the stage, and when at one point in the film the tingler escapes into a cinema, the screen went black and the audience was encouraged to scream for their lives! It was great – a huge dark room full of screaming people. The film itself was hilariously bad. Vincent Price plays a coroner and scientist who believes that fear causes a physical entity to appear in the spine of the scared person, which will crush it until the person is dead unless they release their fear by screaming. The name comes from the tingling sensation felt in the spine when a person is frightened. Price manages to capture a tingler (an over-sized version of a velvet worm), but it escapes and causes mild mayhem. The best scenes are Vincent Price on an LSD trip, a deaf/mute woman being terrorized by visions including a bath of red blood (the only colour in this black and white film), and the Tingler being made to crawl by clearly visible wires. It’s worth a watch if it’s being screened with percepto and an audience that’s willing to scream.

I had high hopes for Altered States, a film by Ken Russell. In the late 1960s a scientist (William Hurt) is researching various states of consciousness, believing that they can be as real as the one we live our day to day lives in, and that through these altered states we can discover truth and our true selves. It started well too, with experiments involving hallucinations in isolation tanks and examining schizophrenics. But Hurt wants to move beyond these hallucinations so he goes to Mexico to get hold of a psychotropic drug used by an indigenous tribe. This drug, combined with the isolation chamber, allows him to break through the last barrier. This is where the film could have examined philosophically how we perceive the world, but instead *spoiler alert* he turns into a monkey. His hallucinations have caused his genes to regress so he becomes a Primitive Man. Further devolution experiences that bring him to the brink if existence cause him to appreciate his humanity with all its doubt and confusion as preferable over nothingness (which is what his wife had tried to explain to him from the beginning). I thought it was unfortunate that it went the same way as The Tingler, turning a psychological (or at most a neurological) sensation into a physical manifestation, taking away the fear of the unknown and representing it as something that can be laughed at. However, I really liked the special effects of the hallucinations, and I liked the characters, despite their flaws, and their attempts to live normal lives despite their existential dilemmas. I would recommend it.

The last film I went to see was Midori (地下幻燈劇画 少女椿 Chika Gentō Gekiga: Shōjo Tsubaki). I went despite the fact it was in Japanese and that I knew many horrible things happened in it. The Camellia Girl was a character from picture stories that would be told by travelling storytellers in the 1920s in Japan. She was a girl who goes from selling camellias on the street to becoming a slave in a freak show. The story was written as a manga in 1984 by Suehiro Maruo and then as an anime in 1992 by Hiroshi Harada. It took the director his life savings and five years of drawing and painting the cels by himself. The result was a rough, unpolished anime in the style of the kamishibai tradition of picture storytelling. The film was banned on its release because of Japanese censorship rules, but it gained a cult following because Harada would only allow it to be screened if it was presented as if the viewer were visiting a freak show. The film festival did the gimmicks well for their screening. We were let into the barely lit theatre that was strewn with red string and toilet roll. As we walked down the stairs we had to step over the masked people lying there and clear our way through the paper and string to sit (this would be a total health and safety hazard in Ireland). When a particularly gruesome scene took place the seats vibrated and the masked attendants rang bells and hit drums. At the end, when cherry blossoms are floating across the screen, they blew pink confetti over the audience. A lot of horrible things do happen in this film, but I really liked the animation. The beginning of the film shows pictures of traditional Japanese monsters which points out that Japanese art has a long history of the grotesque. The following clip is not one of those scenes, it’s the most beautiful and happy scene in the film.

I enjoyed the opportunity to experience these films as performances rather than just watching them.  While gimmicks can disrupt your attention, they are fun for films where it’s impossible to suspend disbelief because they are just too ridiculous (The Tingler).

Korean War Memorial Museum

I had really wanted to take a tour of the DMZ when I was in Korea, but there weren’t any tours on the days I could go.  This was around the time of renewed international tension when North Korea shut down communication with the South and reneged on the 1953 Armistice agreement, after the UN sanctions on its nuclear program. However, life in Korea seemed to carry on as normal, and I think if North Korea were to take direct military action, the DMZ isn’t necessarily the first place it would attack, considering it now has long-range missiles.


I went to the Korean War Memorial Museum, and even before I arrived there, I got the feeling that I was living in a country that’s still technically in a state of war. I had exited the subway station on the far side of the museum and as I walked by an exit on the street level I saw three soldiers wearing gas masks, rifles at the ready, crouched and facing the street. I crossed the road and saw another exit that had even more gas-masked, armed soldiers and one in full body armour. The photo opportunity was tempting I thought it would be best to just keep walking. Needless to say that was pretty scary, but I never heard anything about it afterward.


Outside the museum, dozens of vintage tanks, ships and aeroplanes are parked for people to look at and even enter. There is a noticeable military presence in Seoul and there were a few US marines visiting the museum. I spoke briefly to them and they said they had a day’s leave from their post at Camp Bonifas near the DMZ. I asked them what it was like up there and they said it was very quiet. One of them was a nineteen-year-old from Nebraska who looked far from home and far too young to have to serve in a potential war zone. But then I thought of all the other armed conflicts around the world that the US military has been engaged in with a much higher risk of death, so the DMZ probably is as safe as anywhere.




The museum is part shrine to dead Korean soldiers, and part history of wars on the Korean peninsula. It’s a great museum, and while of course it has a political agenda, it is sobering to contemplate the ravages of war and the exhibits of artefacts are both informative and interesting. The picture below is of the main memorial space to the dead. It’s a very calm space, with a black dome that has a small opening to allow a ray of light to hit the top of the overflowing water basin.


The War History exhibition has items from prehistoric wars to colonial times, such as these military uniforms and weapons from France, the USA, Japan and China. Of course there was a large exhibition on the Korean War that was very interactive and had set pieces for people to understand what it was like fighting in the cold of winter in North Korea. The other exhibits showed the Korean presence in the Vietnam war, present day ROK army activities around the world, and examples of contemporary defense weaponry that are quite terrifying. It’s a huge museum and would take a full day to look around, but it’s definitely worth it.




chinese-uniformsBut of course this is the perfect place for Korea to publicize its claim to the Liancourt Rocks, known as Dokdo in Korean and Takeshima in Japanese. Both countries claim sovereignty over this group of rocks that is situated in an area of rich fishing supplies and gas deposits. Historical records and maps are vague as to which country first claimed them, but when the US didn’t require Japan to renounce sovereignty over them in the 1954 Treaty of San Francisco, South Korea sent its coast guard to administer the island and there have been Korean residents on the island since then. At present there are two permanent residents and daily ferry tours from South Korea. Korea vigorously publicizes its claim over the rocks, but it has refused Japan’s offer to refer the matter to the International Court of Justice. I think it would have a better chance at claiming sovereignty over the rocks than it would at changing the name of the Sea of Japan to the East Sea, which it is also trying to do.