Since the late 1990s, an insatiable home video market has egged on a generation of Japanese genre-smearers—some of whom began via film criticism or in the prodigious sex film industry—to delirious heights, inevitably resulting in stutters about a “new new wave.” The Walter Reade’s Japanese showcase includes two graceful, classical sifts through WWII’s ashes: Makoto Shinozaki’s exemplary veterans’ elegy, Not Forgotten, and Nobuhiro Suwa’s Hiroshima Mon Amour remix, H-Story. But the two most aesthetically arresting movies in the series are technological-terror flicks: Hideo Nakata’s mega-popular Ring and its art-film answer song, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s shudderfest Pulse. Both are clad in eerie video images (abstracted, shrouded figures or empty, haunted rooms) that vault the viewer into a queasy, pixelated ocean. Eschewing blood for a sinuous tone of Videodromic dread, Ring forces fear into every cut as a psychic telejournalist counts down the hours till a fatal visitation, while making a gung ho attempt to save her brood. (Gore Verbinski has just completed shooting the remake starring Naomi Watts.)
Pulse coolly refracts Ring‘s pop points. Beginning with a computer programmer’s disappearance, the film follows his associates through virtuosically (under)lit rooms, trying to figure out where all the helpless souls are going. Kurosawa traces an eerie megalopolis that’s emptying itself out from sheer loneliness. It’s doubtful that anyone alive could make a mouse’s right-click or a modem gargle more unsettling.
Just as gripped by computers (in this case CGI), the lusty Ichi the Killer is just one bright fix in wildman Takashi Miike’s eight-film-a-year habit. Ostensibly a twisted tale to suss out a yakuza boss’s killer, the movie soon pivots into a kicky duet/chase between a crybaby-turned-razor-booted assassin and a quizzically cruel, spectacularly pierced masochist. Characters are broadly drawn and, eventually, gruesomely quartered. The effects alternate from digital cheese (an oversized mouth chewing up a fist) to pungent makeup (an oil-and-multiple-meat-hook torture odyssey), making one wonder if Miike isn’t the greatest deli worker in movies.