As you may have noticed from some earlier posts such as TWISTED ANIME OF DECADES PAST, CRAP I WATCHED IN 2020 or even HALLOWEEN 2020, I occasionally watch some pretty weird stuff. The thing is, this already existing tendency has grown considerably more prevalent during the Covid pandemic. Like, by a lot.
I still do my time reading the classic novels and watching the slowly paced, difficult foreign film once in a while. But it is soooooooo much harder right now than it used to be.
Everything has started to feel the same. Every mainstream TV show, every Netflix doc, every 1930s melodrama on the Criterion Channel….they are the same.
Same pacing. Same format. Same, Same…..Same! All the Fcking Same!
It’s mostly caused by boredom and having way too many hours to fill watching things. But I think it’s even bigger than that. There is a yearning to find comfort and short-term bursts of joy in an otherwise tedious day. A void to be filled. A void that pre-Covid movies and television choices just can’t fill right now.
It’s kind of like my eating habits. It’s now all about the fried food and the cheap take-out. The occasional snack has been replaced by regular trips to the corner store for more beer and more chips. They have become staples in my pandemic-era diet.
Damn you Covid! If the actual disease doesn’t kill me, my coping mechanisms will!
Those unhealthy yearnings have driven me to new heights to seek out almost anything different to watch. And I mean anything. As long as it’s easy and doesn’t bore me, I’m happy.
I have spent hours on YouTube watching shows on building your own house, Pathe newsreels from the 50s and 60s, cooking shows and shows about rental apartments in New York even though I have no plans to move back to New York or to rent an apartment ever again.
Other viewing habits have gone from fairly balanced to out of control. For instance, my interest in Asian movies and TV shows was once pretty reasonable. I usually sought out truly high quality movies. These were things made by great filmmakers that I was proud to talk about. Later, this got mixed with the occasional TERRACE HOUSE binge but that was about it.
It was a fairly healthy viewing diet. A proper balance of intellectually nutritious content mixed with the occasional treat.
Now? There’s not much healthy about it.
Now, I actually spend money to get streaming channels dedicated to old, sometimes very fcked-up, anime. Now, I will watch live-action series I never would have touched just a few years ago. Things that I know are going to be high on the sex, violence and weirdness but possibly very low on the traditional quality spectrum. But I just don’t care.
It’s what I need right now.
It just so happens, if you need something weird, Korea and (especially) Japan are really, really good at such things. They have been for decades. I’m not talking too extreme here. No tentacle porn or stuff like that. But different. Sometimes very different.
And, being the generous sort of spirit that I am, I have decided to share a few of my discoveries.
A few of these movies and shows turned out to be surprisingly good. Others, not so much. Some were far less strange and disturbing than I thought they would be. Some far more so. Most importantly, none of them bored me.
Twisted. Warped. Disturbing. Different.
I want more!
It’s like the potato chips. You know it’s not good for you and you should stop. But you just can’t help yourself.
THE FOREST OF LOVE: DEEP CUT
There is a feature version of this just called THE FOREST OF LOVE. This post is about the seven hour version of the same story. What’s strange about that is I actually watched the feature version when it was released on Netflix back in 2019. I was so unimpressed with it, I didn’t even make the connection when DEEP CUT came out. I just saw the trailer and was like “sure why not?”
Man, was I in for something. DEEP CUT starts off like a bizarre soft-core porn movie featuring high school girls putting on an all female version of ROMEO AND JULIET. It also turns out that two of the young ladies are in love with the same girl.
Without ruining it too much, I’ll just say that one of them dies. The remaining two are so crushed, it screws them up forever.
Then it cuts to a later period when the women are adults. And royally messed up. At which point it starts to go from soft-core porn to stylized and highly self-aware serial killer story. Which is where I should have made the connection to the earlier film but somehow still didn’t for a while.
Both the feature and the seven hour mini-series are inspired by the true life crime story of a charismatic serial killer in the 90s. The fictional version of him is one odd guy. He is supremely confident and direct. Something which allows him to lie and impress his way into the hearts of many, particularly (but not exclusively) young women.
The series follows him as he builds a cult around himself that attracts many others, including the two surviving girls from the earlier high school tragedy. There’s also a film crew that decides they want to make a movie about him. Something he’s totally for, as long he completely controls the project. And them.
It gets really, really twisted. There is some very nasty physical and sexual abuse of the women who follow him. As disturbing, is what he does to the mental and emotional states of everyone, male and female, no matter what age, of those who fall under his spell.
Oh, and some people are killed.
But honestly, this is not a normal serial killer movie in any way. Nor is it torture porn, even though it has some elements of that in it.
What it is, primarily, is the portrait of a cult leader who is all powerful and absolutely insane. People do things willingly and knowingly that are just appalling in the name of pleasing him.
It all feels like a very off-kilter nightmare. Not just in the events which take place but the way that it is shot. Not quite real. Not quite just a fantasy. Some horrible marriage of the two which leads to very bad things.
Unfortunately, it is let down by the ending. I found it completely unsatisfying. One of those enigmatic endings that really isn’t an ending.
However, I was definitely engaged during the journey getting there. And that’s saying something.
One other thing I should mention, I had seen several of the filmmakers other films but hadn’t realized it when I started watching. His name is Sion Sono and he has been making similarly strange and dark movies for decades.
His most famous films are probably SUICIDE CLUB from 2001 and TOKYO GORE POLICE from 2008. I think those and NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE from 2004 are probably his most memorable.
Sono is a director who is great at creating movies with a different sensibility to them and some highly memorable individual scenes. However, none of his movies seems to quite hold together and often leave you with a feeling of slight dissatisfaction when they end. FOREST OF LOVE: DEEP CUT is no exception to that.
All the same, it’s still quite a ride.
So, this was not what I thought it was gonna be. It’s a Korean limited series on Netflix. It’s about a high school prostitution ring. Sounds like total trash right there, doesn’t it?
Nobody was more shocked than I when EXTRACURRICULAR turned out to be a really interesting, well-told story with some very good characters in it. I was expecting, you know, a show about a high school prostitution ring.
I guess technically, it still was. No, it definitely still was. But it was told so sincerely and without gratuitous nudity, sex and violence that it almost doesn’t qualify for that description. In fact, when I recommend it to people I, very specifically, say “it’s about a high school crime ring that gets in over its head.”
In any case, I was happily surprised it was as good as it was. The basic plot is about a nerdy, lonely, high school kid who works in partnership with several freelance prostitutes. He ends up getting himself, and some of the girls, into a very ugly situation.
Not only is the main character interesting, the two supporting female characters are as well. One of them is one of the prostitutes, one is another high school student who becomes his partner and (maybe) romantic interest. There’s also a few supporting roles for adult males but those are not nearly as successful.
The events are laid out in a very even-keeled, straightforward way. There’s nothing particularly unique or different about the way the story is told. In fact, it’s surprisingly normal.
So, in the end, this is what you get: It’s not very trashy or weird in any way. Which is kind of a bummer if that’s what you were looking for. But it’s surprisingly good.
How’s that for a warning?
Sometimes when you want truly twisted, trashy and weird, you have to turn to the classics. I’m almost ashamed to admit that I had not seen 1987’s WICKED CITY until last year. It’s everything this sort of anime should aspire to be: Sexual, visual, violent, warped and incredibly entertaining.
It’s also a pretty cool story, if you care about such things.
The plot is about a human cop and a demon (the long-legged spider lady in the photo above). They have to team up together to protect someone who evil-doers want to kidnap in order to provoke a war between humans and demons.
Some of the story takes place on earth. Some of it takes place in the “Dark World,” the hellish quarters of the demons. And Man, does it get weird in the best of ways.
For example, the opening scene features a guy who finally convinces the shy, pretty girl he’s been after to go out with him. She’s surprisingly aggressive with him and insists they go to his place to have sex. Being a man, he knows something is wrong but still can’t resist. Things happen. Interesting things.
Let’s just say the girl is a “real demon” in the sack (wink, wink).
Anyway, it’s a visually impressive film with a ton of imagination to it. It’s certainly not for everyone. As much as I said this post wasn’t about tentacle porn, sometimes WICKED CITY gets damn close. There’s one notable scene were a certain female demon that helped the humans is tied up, raped and probed by a mass of shadowy figures from the Dark World. And then there’s this thing with her….
I don’t want to give any more away. The thing is, WICKED CITY isn’t just about being sexual and violent. The story is good. The characters are good. It looks good. It’s actually a pretty good movie, all the way around.
It truly is a classic.
If there was ever a guilty pleasure streaming series I should probably actually feel guilty about, it’s this one.
TRIAGE X came out in 2015 based on a hit manga series from 2009. It is not a “classic” in the way WICKED CITY is.
It is, basically, a soft-core, action anime.
The plot centers around a group of people, all but two female, who are highly trained assassins. They work for a top-secret agency sanctioned to kill the most evil of bad guys in Japanese society.
The women also have ridiculously huge breasts.
Several of the female characters of TRIAGE X have such large breasts that they would not be able to walk in real life. They almost look deformed. No matter. The show takes every opportunity to highlight them, including the end title sequence.
The same is true of their panties, legs and any other body part that can be shown in a sexual manner. Such things seem to be the main driver of the show.
There’s even an entire episode of the female characters discussing things while completely naked and taking a bath together. Subtly is clearly not the name of the game with this show.
Don’t get me wrong. Every episode is also quickly paced and usually has some great scenes of combat, killing, or other violence in it. But it’s the T/A version of an action film. A throwback to those late night cable offerings of the eighties featuring former porn stars wearing leather and holding big guns.
It’s fun stuff if you’re in the mood for that sort of thing.
But I can’t defend it as “good” in any way. Trashy? Big Time. Weird? Yeah, maybe it’s a little weird. Good? Not so much.
But I had a good time watching it, all the same.
So, there you have it. What I really did with my Covid Vacation. Not all of it. But more than I ever would have guessed. And I am sure there will be even more on the horizon.
The craving for different hasn’t left me yet.
Eventually, I’m sure these sorts of tv shows and movies will start to feel very similar to one another. They will no longer feel weird, unique and unexpected but become just another genre with familiar and easily recognizable patterns.
At that point, I will move on. Maybe back to films by master filmmaker who have changed the nature of cinema. Maybe deep into obscure, slow-plodding art films from Eastern Europe. Maybe just back to good, clean, old-fashioned story-telling.
But I’m not there yet.
For now, these Asian shows and movies are a breath of twisted air in a world of sameness. They still shock. They still jar. They still hold my attention for hours on end and make me want more.
Given the state of things, that’s pretty damn good.