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[ARTISTS] Takashi Miike, Michael Lau and J Church

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  • madchinaman
    ASIAN POP: Cult filmmaker Takashi Miike s yakuza horror theater to hit U.S. screens; Hong Kong s Michael Lau is still the king of urban vinyl ; and J Church
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 2, 2005
      ASIAN POP: Cult filmmaker Takashi Miike's 'yakuza horror theater' to
      hit U.S. screens; Hong Kong's Michael Lau is still the king
      of 'urban vinyl'; and J Church rocks.
      by Martin Wong, special to SF Gate

      Here come the summer movies -- the usual formulaic action flicks,
      dumb comedies and weak sequels. But there's at least one movie
      you're guaranteed to remember. Also, plan a pilgrimage to the King
      of Urban Vinyl's new store/gallery in Hong Kong and listen to the
      latest songs by one of San Francisco's underground stars.

      Be Like Miike

      Filmmaker Takashi Miike enjoys cult status in his native Japan and
      made Time magazine's Top 10 list of non-Hollywood directors in 1998,
      but outside of the underground-film world, the director is still
      relatively unknown in the United States. That situation is going to
      change, however, when Pathfinder Pictures brings Miike's surreal
      yakuza ("gangster") movie "Gozu" to American screens this June.

      I attended an advance screening of "Gozu," (the word means "cow-
      headed demon") as part of the Visual Communications Los Angeles
      Asian Pacific Film and Video Festival. It attracted a colorful mix
      of art-film aficionados, gangster-movie buffs and gorehounds who
      knew the director's reputation for horrific romance ("Audition"),
      ultraviolence ("Ichi the Killer"), hyper action ("Dead or Alive")
      and taboo subject matter ("Visitor Q"). Since 1991, the prolific
      Miike has directed 60 films, but in an e-mailed message to the
      audience he said "Gozu" is the closest to his heart, adding that he
      hoped we wouldn't hate him after seeing it.

      "Gozu" begins like a typical yakuza film, with stock characters that
      include a big boss and his sleazy underlings. However, the mood
      quickly turns horrific when senior gangster Ozaki is revealed to be
      psychotic. Declaring that a chihuahua is in actuality a "yakuza
      attack dog," he smashes the tiny pet into a restaurant window before
      stomping on it for good measure. When Ozaki's underling, Minami, is
      charged with killing his demented boss and then loses the corpse,
      the film takes a surreal, David Lynch-esque turn. Cross-dressing
      waiters, dysfunctional siblings who operate a motel and the titular
      horror are introduced, as is a beautiful woman who claims to be the
      supposedly dead man. The lower-level gangster is torn between his
      loyalty to the gang, his relationship with the boss and his
      attraction to Ozaki's curvy new body. The scenario is mind-boggling,
      and Miike handles it with a dry and sick sense of humor.

      You will probably either love "Gozu" or hate it (or, as the director
      fears, hate him), but you will not forget it. More polished and less
      uneven than many of his other works -- some of which are made
      specifically for video distribution -- it's a great introduction to
      the twisted world of Miike. Film fans who miss the raw energy of
      early David Cronenberg, John Waters and Sam Raimi should get a kick
      out of it. Also worth checking out is a 400-page, heavily
      illustrated book out from Fab Press by Japanese film buff Tom Mes,
      Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike.

      High and Lau

      Before Hong Kong artist Michael Lau came on the scene, the market
      for collectors of Asian toys was centered on vintage die-cast, vinyl
      and tin pieces from Japan. Collectibles were generally based on
      animated and live-action Japanese TV shows starring costumed heroes
      and robots. Generally, the toys were cool; the collectors were not.

      But Lau changed everything when he introduced his series
      of "Gardener" figures. Based on his comic strip of the same name,
      which East Touch magazine began running in 1998, the 10-inch pieces
      were like one-of-a-kind, ultra-detailed action figures influenced by
      street art, skateboarding and modern design. Lau's work appealed to
      an entirely new audience -- people more likely to pay top dollar for
      limited-edition Nikes than collect plastic dolls.

      Lau's next step was to create the "Crazychildren" series. More
      stylized than the G.I. Joe-like Gardeners, the vinyl figurines with
      moveable limbs combined the geometry of modernist sculptures with
      the flowing lines and energy of graffiti. Twelve 8-inch figures,
      each made in a limited edition of 200 pieces, were sold by small toy
      boutiques for about $100 each. On eBay, they went for twice that.

      The crossover success of Lau's toys has triggered nothing less than
      a toy revolution. Other Hong Kong-based figure designers such as
      Eric So, Brothers Free and Jason Ching have helped grow the "urban
      vinyl" scene, and Japanese toy giant Medicom has expanded from
      specializing in detailed action figures to making smaller, more
      stylized plastic pieces such as Kubricks and BE@ARBRICKS. In
      America, there are brands such as Mini-Mates, and the Sprite
      commercials, starring LeBron James and a small toy figure with an
      Afro, can also be traced to Lau's work. Such figures are sold in
      cool toy shops, hipster boutiques and all over the Web, including in
      the Giant Robot stores in San Francisco and L.A.

      In March, Lau opened Sixs, a Hong Kong toy shop that's set up like a
      high-end gallery, with a high ceiling and minimalist fixtures. Many
      of his figures, such as the "Science Fiction Crazy Children" series,
      are now showcased and sold exclusively at Hong Kong's Causeway Bay
      location (6/F Grand View Commercial Centre, 29-31 Sugar Street).
      Lau's current project is to remake the 110 "Gardener" figures in
      the "Crazychildren" format. What's next is a secret, but a new
      exhibition is slated to open at Sixs in August.

      J Church Is a Band

      During its heyday in the early '90s, J Church was one of the pillars
      of the Bay Area punk-rock world, playing with bands like Green Day
      and Jawbreaker. Since then, leader Lance Hahn has survived the
      implosion of the scene, heart surgery, an apartment fire and an
      indefinite move to Austin, Texas, and still writes intensely
      personal, politically charged, highly literate and intensely melodic

      The music of J Church is not the kind identified with pierced and
      spiked youngsters seen on Mountain Dew commercials. "We are an
      underground band," says Hahn. "We're not interested in aboveground
      music in general, whether that means MTV or Spin or whatever. We're
      not interested in that kind of audience coming to see us play. It
      would defeat the purpose, which for us is making music -- or art, if
      you will. That means I'm doing this to try to express something with
      no regard to the financial aspect."

      Listen to any J Church album and you'll hear about Lance's
      neighborhood ("A Bomb on Mission Street"), his politics ("Panama")
      and his obsessions ("Faye Wong"). The CD booklets give further
      insight into his world by providing reading suggestions that range
      from Noam Chomsky to Julie Christie to Giant Robot magazine.

      "I probably wouldn't be doing this if I weren't Asian American,"
      says Hahn. "I feel like I'm constantly at war with the stereotypes.
      I used to wish I had gotten married when I was young and finished
      college. I've had to destroy that image of myself again and again.
      Fighting the impositions is a lot of why I do what I do."

      Society Is a Carnivorous Flower (coming June 15 from No Idea
      Records) is J Church's first album as a four-piece, and the extra
      guitar adds power and dynamics. The first side of the LP has six
      catchy and clever cuts, including "Keep Smiling America," and the
      new Austinite band members definitely add a harsher "screamo"
      element to the mix, adding new layers of angst to the melodic punk.

      The entire flip side is filled by the 15-minute title song -- a huge
      departure for a group that has built a reputation on short and sweet
      7-inch singles. Built up of many small movements, not unlike the
      Who's "A Quick One" (or, perhaps more aptly, the Subhumans' "Cradle
      to the Grave"), it's epic and exhilarating. I've heard it live, and
      it's proof that the established band has learned new tricks.

      Hahn hates touring during the summer, but the June release
      of "Carnivorous Flower might change that. Keep an eye on calendars
      for local all-ages clubs; the band is bound to play a few homecoming
      shows in support of the album.
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