NYAFF 2016: A BRIDE FOR RIP VAN WINKLE/ HENTAI KAMEN 2: THE ABNORMAL CRISIS

 

NYAFF 2016
The New York Asian Film Festival took place between June and July 9. For more information, click here and next time, don’t settle for just reading about it… live the dream, people!!!

Today: the ridiculous and the sublime… though not necessarily in that order.

A BRIDE FOR RIP VAN WINKLE

Shunji Iwai’s A Bride For Rip Van Winkle casts a very peculiar, very delicate spell, almost like hypnosis. It rather sneaks up on you.

Honestly speaking, I am not the sort of person who is in the general market for a movie with a logline like Bride. A simple story of a shy teacher who makes a new friend and starts to open up to the world, but that lasts for three hours, seems scientifically designed to earn my avoidance. But something about the title piqued my curiosity, and I decided to give it a shot.

And here we are.

Which is, of course, the trick of the matter: to describe what actually happens in A Bride For Rip Van Winkle is to do a disservice to what it actually accomplishes: it makes you care very, very deeply for a character who has chosen to barely even exist in the first place.

Nanami (Haru Kuroki) is an overwhelmingly meek and passive young woman. Barely able to bring herself to speak above a whisper in the classroom where she teaches (and is subject to much mockery from her students, which she takes with heartbreaking resignedness), and the sort of woman who apologizes for absolutely everything she does, good or bad, she manages what seems like a turn of fortune when she meets a man through online dating and quickly finds herself engaged. But what seems like a happy ending winds up just being another source of humiliation, and the first step on a wildly unpredictable journey towards self-acceptance.

The husband winds up being a nonentity; he is in and out of the movie inside of 20 minutes. The real story is the bizarre, inexplicable pas de trois that unfolds between Nanami, the genial yet manipulative Mr. Amuro (Go Ayano), and Mashiro (Cocco), a mysterious woman who quickly becomes Nanami’s best (well, only) friend, but has some dark secrets of her own to be revealed, including the reason she refers to herself as Rip Van Winkle.

Spoiler: it’s not for funsies…

A Bride For Rip Van Winkle is a three hour film, but passes with a fleetness that belies that length. Not because of a fast pace, or frequent twists in the story, but because it’s a film that pulses with the rhythms of life. It’s a film of behaviors, that studies its characters with restless curiosity and endless empathy.

It’s telling that a film with such outre elements as a Power Rangers-style fake fight at a wedding, an adultery scam involving hidden webcams and an aquarium full of poisonous sea creatures, the moments that stuck with me most are the tiny, achingly human moments, such as the way Nanami tries to keep her face from falling in front of her students when their going away present is revealed to be a cruel joke, or the moment when Mashiro and Nanami rhapsodically listen to the sound of vodka sloshing around in a glass, or when Nanami nervously gets the hiccups while having an argument with her husband, the sort of thing that happens all the time in real life, but never seems to find its way into the movies.

So while there is a story to be told, and a mystery to be solved (who are Amuro and Mashiro, really, and what is the true nature of their friendship with Nanami?), the movie works mainly because of the excellent performances (Kuroki in particular is remarkable), and its sense of restraint: this is a very quiet film, which makes it all the more powerful when the ending explodes into full-blown hysteria. Without going into too much detail, it’s a cathartic primal scream at all the suffering and injustice and painful truths and ugly realities, a trio of wounded people begging for a forgiveness that will never come, and an accompanying epiphany of acceptance that only ever could have come from within.

A Bride For Rip Van Winkle is a very special movie, and one well worth seeking out.

HENTAI KAMEN 2: THE ABNORMAL CRISIS

If A Bride For Rip Van Winkle falls under the category of “a risk that pays off in an unexpected surprise, then Hentai Kamen 2: The Abnormal Crisis is very much the definition of the desired midnight movie experience: an insane concept executed insanely.

It’s safe to say that Hentai Kamen 2 is a one joke movie. If you’re being generous, maybe one and a half. Which is why it’s all the more impressive to realize that that one joke works way, WAY better than it should…

Ryohei Suzuki is our titular hero, otherwise known as Kyosuke when he’s not fighting crime. In this latest adventure, he has just entered college, and his girlfriend Aiko (Fumika Shimizu) is pressuring him to give up being Hentai Kamen. But he may not have the option, as his old enemy, Ogane (Tsuyoshi Muro) turns out to be less dead than previously expected, and has sinister plans for world domination.

It is at this point that I should explain what the one joke of the film is: Hentai Kamen, which, roughly translated, means Pervert Mask, gains his powers from wearing his girlfriends used panties as a facemask, and defeats his enemies by sticking their faces in his super powered crotch. The main threat of the film is an evil plot to steal all the used panties in the world. Which certainly counts as an abnormal crisis, I think.

Just a reminder: This is a movie.

I watched it. With other humans!

Again, this is a thing that should get old very, VERY quickly. But, somehow it never does. And if I had to venture a guess, I would say that it might have something to do with the other half gag I mentioned earlier:

This film is an almost direct parody of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2.

The opening credits give the game away immediately, as they’re a note perfect piss-take of the Alex Ross drawn opening for SM2, recapping the first movie in short order. His new enemy, a student who has a crush on Aiko and gets manipulated by Ogone, is transformed into a creature strikingly similar to Doctor Octopus. They have fights high above the city, but where Spider-Man swings on his famous webs, Hentai Kamen streaks through the air on elaborate kinbaku ropes, fighting a half vacuum/half octopus mutant that wants to bang his girlfriend.

(The special effects aren’t good, as such; but they’re full of kinetic cartoon energy, which is way better than realism in my book anyway)

And if you don’t think there’s a scene where a crowd of strangers raise a defeated Hentai Kamen off the ground and crowd surf him to safety, think again, because of course they do that.

I can’t stress enough how much this shouldn’t work. But since Spider-Man 2 was an extremely well-constructed film, the trickle down result is that Hentai Kamen 2 has a very strong spine on which to hang its succession of gonzo gags and goofy action sequences.

And it’s equally helpful that all the performers are as good as they are. Suzuki is absolutely wonderful as Kyosuke/Hentai Kamen. He’s got the earnest, hapless nature of a Peter Parker-type, but with a genuine sweetness that grounds the whole production. It’s such a contrast between the shy, decent Kyosuke, and the absurdly ripped, mincing crime fighting weirdo that is Hentai Kamen that initially I thought they were two different actors.

Tsuyoshi Muro is outright hilarious as Ogane, smartly underplaying the absurdity to hilarious effect. Admittedly, the ladies have less to do, but Shimizu is winning as the concerned Aiko, and Ayame Misaki hits just the right note of camp as a seductive teacher who falls for Kyosuke hard and is far more accepting of his panty-masked lifestyle choices.

It is, of course, not a perfect film. Once could argue that leaning into the whole “Japanese dudes love used panties” trope is kind of an overused gag at this point. Your mielage may vary on that one, but there is one flaw that’s pretty much inarguable: Like a regular super hero movie, Hentai Kamen 2 goes on just a little bit too long.

There’s a sequence where Kyosuke loses his powers and must go on a vision quest to get them back. It’s hilarious that they posit the idea of perversion being a universal power, akin to the Force from Star Wars; but the whole digression stops the movie cold. It recovers in time for the ridiculous finale, but a little editing could have made a great film even greater.

Having not seen the first one, it’s tough to say how this plays with die hards, but as my first experience in the world of Hentai Kamen, it was a pleasant surprise; I mean, I knew it was going to be insane, but you’re never guaranteed that insanity will translate to a film you want other people to watch, instead of having to do that thing where you explain the movie, and then have to convince people the description is the best part. Here, my hopes were fulfilled, and then some.

Hentai Kamen 2:The Abnormal Crisis.

You will believe a man can teabag a small army of criminals…

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"V.N. Pryor is the patron saint of the impossible. You could drop the guy off at the Arctic Circle wearing a pair of bikini underwear without his toothbrush and tomorrow afternoon he's gonna show up at your poolside with a million dollar smile and a fistful of pesos..."