Turning Goth in Japan – John Skeleton Presents at Strawberry Hill!

Strawberry Hill HouseWho would have thought? This week on March 8th and 9th, 2013, I have been honored with the opportunity to not only attend, but also present at an academic conference hosted by St. Mary’s University and Strawberry Hill House in London! Amidst the Gothic splendor of the home built by Horace Walpole (1717-1797), the author of what is considered the first true Gothic novel, I will be sharing the fruits of my nascent research on Japan’s Goth subculture in a presentation titled, Turning Goth in Japan: Behind the Scenes of Goth Subculture’s Japanese Localization. In my presentation, I hope to explore the ways in which the “aesthetics of rebellion,” i.e. fashions, performances, and body modifications, are used as subcultural capital within the unique context of Japan’s localized Goth scene. The two-day conference looks to be a splendid opportunity for learning, and of course I will take the time to sample some of the local dark culture while I am in the city of fog.I hope to report soon on the results of the conference. Farewell for now!

Gothic: Culture, Subculture, Counterculture – A Two-Day Conference 

Strawberry Hill House

John Skeleton – Now Live from Hong Kong!

The scent of autumn is in the air, and the end of October is drawing near…you know what that means! It’s time to jam-pack your homes with jack-o’-lanterns and break out your besoms for the spookiest night of the year, All Hallow’s Eve! But before that, some of you may just be wondering where I have been for these past few months…

Photo by National Geographic

For those who haven’t heard, let’s just say that the pursuit of my studies of Japan, Asia, and the Gothic have led me from my castle deep in the mountains of Japan to a much more metropolitan environment – the legendary Pearl of the Orient, Hong Kong! From among his colorful cataclysm of cosmopolitanism and East-meets-West sensibilities, I will attempt to give my insight into Goth from an Asian perspective through this blog. Shifting from a focus on horror films, from now on I will extend to the Gothic in film, literature, games, music, events, and anything else that I find interesting. Changes to my site may be slow in coming, so for now I will attempt to give you some highlights of what I’ve been up to.

My history with the Japanese body modification scene goes way back, but it was only this April that, thanks to my dear friend and Tokyo subcultures author/blogger/journalist La Carmina, I was able to experience something complete different: becoming a bagel head!

Maybe you missed the memo, but the bagel head trend has gone viral after being featured on National Geographic’s hit show Taboo (the bagel head episode originally aired on Sept. 24, 2012). The process involves injecting the body with a sterile saline solution to create a large protrusion that, while completely disappearing after 24 hours, looks mysteriously like something that might go well with cream cheese.

John Skeleton as a Bagel Head!

The bagel head trend went viral after being covered in La Carmina’s blog countless media outlets, including The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed to name a few. A few reports got the story wrong though, claiming the unique body mod phenomena as a hot new fashion trend sweeping Japan and having permanent or negative effects. La Carmina and I were interviewed by The Japan Times and set the record straight there and in her popular blog.

The bagel head filming took place in April while I was still in Japan, but since then I’ve been keeping busy here in Hong Kong as well. Although it’s not Goth-related in anyway, for those interested Japanese anime and popular culture, you may be interested to know that the earless cat robot Doraemon is quite popular here in HK! I reported on an exhibit celebrating 100 years before the fictional birth of manga duo Fujiko Fujio’s futuristic creation. You can read my full report and see more photos here in La Carmina’s post.

John Skeleton & Doraemon

La Carmina, who also works as a TV presenter and production arranger, also recently visited Hong Kong, and many adventures were had. And these stories shall also be told…in a later post! For now, you can find a sneak peak here while I get a severed-head-start on the horrifying Halloween events yet to come…until next time, happy hauntings!

Haiyore! Nyaruko-san – H.P. Lovecraft Meets Akiba!

H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)

It seems that the Old Gent is appearing just about everywhere these days, with the deities and grimoires of the Cthulhu Mythos being summoned from their blasphemous, non-Euclidean outer dimensions to make appearances in episodes of such standard television fare as South Park (where Cartman befriends the cosmic entity and trains him to, among other things, destroy Justin Bieber) and Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated (notable for Jeffrey “Herbert West” Combs voicing the character “H.P. Hatecraft”). Of course, Lovecraftian inventions cropping up in unexpected places is nothing new, as famous fiction and comic writers like Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, and Mike Mignola have been borrowing from H.P.’s lore for years, and metal bands such as Metallica and Black Sabbath have paid tribute to the Mythos as well. Of course, the Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred is practically an essential text in the library of anyone dabbling in the dark arts these days.  Not only that, but an entire book could be written on the subject of Lovecraft’s influence on the world of film, and in fact, one already has: Andrew Migliore and John Strysik’s excellent The Lurker in the Lobby: The Guide to Lovecraftian Cinema.

While the Providence writer’s influence has long been felt in the West, more recently his works seem to be cropping up in more unexpected places, more specifically, Japanese anime. The aforementioned Lurker in the Lobby covers some little-known works of J-horror like Marebito (Takashi “Ju-on: The Grudge” Shimizu, 2004) and Uzumaki (Higuchinsky, 2000, based on the manga by self-professed Lovecraft fan Junji Itō), and even an adult animated OVA entitled Mystery of the Necronomicon. While the former two films successfully draw more on the atmosphere and general themes of Lovecraft’s work, the latter merely uses names, characters, and the infamous Necronomicon as little more than glorified props to support an otherwise lifeless story. However, one thing is certain: Lovecraft’s scope of influence is certainly not limited to the English-speaking world.

Cover of the first light novel volume

In fact, Lovecraft’s works have been available in Japanese for decades, introducing to a whole new audience the works of an author who was woefully underappreciated during his own lifetime. A major factor behind the permeation of the Mythos into Japan’s geek culture was surely the seminal tabletop RPG Call of Cthulhu, first published by Chaosium in 1981. Despite the infiltration of Lovecraft literature and spin-off materials generated by the game, it seems that, like the followers of Cthulhu, Japanese Mythos fans have been lurking in hiding in the secret places of the Earth, waiting until the moment when the stars are in their proper alignment so that from its accursed place in the sunken abyss will rise…Cthulhu Co., Ltd. R’lyeh Land, the most popular theme park for Mythos deities this side of Fomalhaut??!?!

Yes, I could only be talking about the latest and one of the most delightfully bizarre incarnations of H.P. Lovecraft’s beloved universe of cosmic horror: Haiyore! Nyaruko-san (Crawling Up! Nyaruko-san)! Originally a light novel series written by Manta Aisora with illustrations by Koin, the series has spawned no less than two manga adaptations, two animated OVAs, and an animated television series currently airing in Japan, directed by Tsuyoshi Nagasawa.

It’s your typical story of boy meets alien or otherwise non-human girl, girl falls in love, numerous other beings get involved resulting in inevitable chaos, rinse, repeat.  This formula has been seen before…a LOT.  In fact, ever since Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura, there have been numerous adaptations of the “magical girlfriend” theme involving sexy non-humans (who still always look very human, for some reason) with a penchant for dull, everyday-Joe high school student in Japan (who may or may not have a heretofore unknown past involving other worlds).  Urusei Yatsura worked, as did other later shows that borrowed a similar formula, such as Tenchi Muyo!  However, it also fell flat on several occasions, as any superficially grafted formula is wont to do when lacking the strong characters to back it up.

So what does Nyaruko-san bring to the table?  Well, the basic alien girlfriend formula is in place as Nyaruko (voiced by Kana Asumi), a Nyarlathotepan (yes, the deities of Lovecraft are apparently races of alien beings now) working for the Space Defense Agency, rescues high school student Yasaka Mahiro from a Night Gaunt attack, revealing that Mahiro is the target of a galactic criminal organization and she has been assigned to protect him.  Of course, Nyaruko falls head over heels for Mahiro and ends up living in his home, a matter which is complicated by the later arrival of Kūko (voiced by Miyu Matsuki), a female Cthughan who is madly in love with Nyaruko, and Hasuta (voiced by Rie Kugimiya), a “loli trap” and member of the Hastur race who is completely smitten by Mahiro as well.  The love triangle between Nyaruko, Kūko, and Mahiro forms the core romantic thread of the story as Hasuta tags along for the ride, but what really carries the show from mediocre to highly enjoyable is the frenetic pacing and humorous references that sometimes fly by so fast that you might miss them if you blink.

Not as reliant on the typical situational humor drawn from the awkward scenes that are bound to occur when a boy and several girls/boys infatuated with him live under the same roof, the show is more heavily focused on (self-) referential humor and various parodies, consistently breaking the fourth wall as well.  The Mythos references are obviously there, with the predictable Lovecraftian vocabulary (unspeakable, blasphemous, unnamable, etc.) being used for laughs, along with puns that may seem somewhat esoteric to English-speakers, such as Nyaruko’s amphibious vehicle the Nephren-car, and the Cola of Cthulhu from R’lyeh Land, as well as that theme park’s Innsmouth mascot.  (The latter pun is only detectable when Innsmouth is spoken in Japanese pronunciation, as “mouth” is the same as “mouse” = Mickey Mouse.) Sanity points are also frequently mentioned in reference to the RPG. Nyaruko-san doesn’t limit itself to Mythos humor, however, with everything from Pokémon and Mobile Suit Gundam, to Back to the Future showing up in rapid succession.

Otaku culture is also a major theme in the show, as Nyaruko informs Mahiro that Earth’s entertainment, including Japanese anime, manga, and games, are highly valued commodities on the galactic market. BL (Boys’ Love), gaming console wars, and other Akiba-related topics often form the key plot points of episodes, with hilarious results.  Almost always managing to maintain a playful tongue-in-cheek approach without falling victim to its own stereotypes, Nyaruko-san is an enjoyable romp through a unique and entertaining world.

So is it in any way true to Lovecraft? Perhaps not, but one thing is clear: the creators certainly knew a thing or two about H.P. and his universe, and weren’t afraid to take some (extreme) creative liberties and have some fun with the gods and monsters of the Cthulhu Mythos.  While there has been no announcement of an English release for the novels or manga, the animated TV series and OVAs are being streamed by Crunchyroll.  So if you like your Lovecraft light, fun, and sprinkled with a liberal dose of chaotic humor, you might just be able to wrap your tentacles around Haiyore! Nyaruko-san and what are certainly some of the cutest Cthulhu characters yet to be seen!

Put Some Pants On That Zombie! A Review Of “LUST OF THE DEAD”

Some of you may recall my recent post about Naoyuki Tomomatsu‘s latest foray into the zombie genre, the appropriately entitled Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead.  Well, the premiere has come and gone, and while I was sadly unable to attend, I did manage to purchase the DVD (actually released the day before the theatrical showing) and give the film a proper viewing.  How good can a film about undead creatures bent on violating the womenfolk of the world possibly be?  I probably shouldn’t answer that, but I will give you my thoughts and impressions of the latest attempt to send George A. Romero to an early grave.  Let’s get started, shall we?

The Story

Jumping right into the action, we see Kanae (Asami) going about her daily housework when she is suddenly assaulted by her abusive husband. While being raped, the television begins to broadcast news of mass rape incidents taking place across the city by unidentified assailants who seem to be no more than living corpses.  The incidents prompt Kanae to fight back and kill her husband, and we are treated to a crazily edited sequence of news broadcasts as various authorities attempt to make sense of the chaos.  It seems that radiation from space has somehow turned non-virgin men into zombified rape demons, whose only weakness is a certain part of their anatomy between their legs.  What’s worse, the women who are taken by these sex-crazed ghouls are killed almost instantly by the poisonous seed of their attackers.  We soon meet up with former office lady Momoko (Saya Kobayashi) and nurse Nozomi (Arisu Ozawa) as they seek shelter in a Shinto shrine not far from Tokyo.  In the shrine they meet up with Kanae and schoolgirl Tomoe (Yui Aikawa), who have decided to make a stand with a cache of assault rifles and explosives pilfered from an abandoned military jeep.  The two pairs are initially leery of each other, but it isn’t long before they come to an agreement and decide that mutual aid is in order.  A romance blooms between wrist-cutting Momoko and the older-sister-type Nozomi, both of whom had traumatic experiences at the hands of men.  Their sapphic interlude is punctuate by a new surprise: the head of the shrine has been there the whole time, but it seems that his otaku lifestyle and unbroken virginity have somehow protected him from the zombie plague, and he soon proves (somewhat dubiously) useful by providing changes of clothing for Momoko and Kanae, who take on the costumes of a maid and a shrine maiden, respectively.  All is not well, however, as North Korea blames Japan for the disaster and declares war, and it isn’t long though before the hordes of decaying deviants are knocking at the door.  Everything ends in an explosively confusing yet original conclusion that you’ll have to see for yourself!

The Good(?)

Something that keeps this film from being completely unwatchable is the enthusiasm of the four main actresses, and also the surprisingly well-thought-out televised commentaries that appear interspersed throughout as the four women watch the unfolding situation via PC.  The speakers are delightfully ridiculous and over the top (including an outspoken pundit with an eyepatch as a nod to Dawn of the Dead), and the twisted yet strangely convincing explanation of the rape zombie phenomenon as a natural step in the evolution of mankind and the Earth itself is certainly proof that some effort was made to create a unique contribution to the zombie genre.  The whole premise is also tied in (albeit shakily) with the Japanese mythology of the sun goddess Amaterasu, and together with the satire of Japan’s modern culture make this a uniquely Japanese take on the undead.  One of the funniest moments may be when a group of women are watching a North Korean missile soar through the skies toward Tokyo.  Rather than screaming or running for cover, they all pull out their cell phones and begin taking photos.  As a person living in Japan, I can honestly say that this also may have been one of the most realistic moments in the entire film.

The Bad

As low-budget zombie flicks go, this one certainly suffers a bit.  A lot of handheld cameras and uninteresting angles are to be expected from a director who is known for his adult videos, but when it comes to those sequences Tomomatsu certainly does shine, and he even manages to get some decent action scenes with Asami fighting off the zombies as well.  However, while the CG is used sparingly and to relatively good effect, the prosthetics and practical effects are sub-par at best, and sometimes just downright painful.  That said, the effects aren’t really distracting as the characters really drive the story forward, and the film is paced well enough to keep up the audience’s interest in what is happening.

The Undead

Trading in their traditional shambling gait in favor of the undignified waddle of a man with his pants around his ankles, Tomomatsu’s ghouls have about as much realism as they do regard for mutual consent during intercourse.  The general makeup effects look like something from a cheap Halloween store, while the poorly fitted latex masks appear to be leftovers from Helldriver‘s scrap bin.  Again, one can also choose to look at these shortcomings as a part of the film’s charm and, as mentioned above, the effects aren’t significantly distracting, especially since the camera is less concerned with showcasing the zombies than it is in getting as many breast shots as possible.  Is this something to complain about?  I’ll leave you to decide.  But the answer is no.

And so, in conclusion I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead.  While I expected a one-trick zombie, I found a unique little film that actually has a fair amount going for it in terms of social satire and comedy.  It’s a fun little romp through a perverted post-apocalypse world that only Japan could bring us, and so if you have the chance, grab your libation of choice and sit back for what might just be the guilty pleasure of the year!

Hang on to your ZOMBIE ASS! It’s Noboru Iguchi’s “TOILET OF THE DEAD!”

Night of the Living Dead began in a graveyard.

Resident Evil began with a virus.

And now, Zombie Ass begins from a toilet…

Noboru Iguchi, the mad genius responsible for The Machine Girl and bête noire of rectophobes around the globe, is forcing audiences to roll up their sleeves, take out their plungers, and dive down to where zombies have rarely gone before: the sh***er.

Yes, this is a real film, as if we could doubt anything to come from Japan after my recent report on the upcoming Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead.  Offering ass-loads of toilet humor garnished with liberal amounts lots of flesh-ripping and feces-flinging action, Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead was shown at the Texas Fantastic Fest in September 2011, and just saw its Japanese premiere in Tokyo this past weekend on February 25th.

Zombie Ass stars Arisa Nakamura, Mayu Sugano, Asana Mamoru, as well as Iguchi regulars AsamiKentaro Kishi, and Kentaro Shimazu and tells the tale of Megumi, a young karate student and her friends as they find themselves confronted with the menace of a parasitic breed of intestinal worm that turns its victims into horrifying ghouls!  And what’s more, it seems that only the power of flatulence can possibly save humanity from these undying terrors of the toilet!  Remember, this is coming from a man who proudly proclaims himself as a “legendary ass-fetishist.”  I would attempt to make more toilet/anus-related jokes, but I have a feeling that I might just be beating a dead ass – er, horse, so I’ll leave you with the trailer.  Just don’t watch the film after eating.

RAPE ZOMBIE?!? Naoyuki Tomomatsu’s “LUST OF THE DEAD”

Well, the zombie boom continues around the world, and leave it to a Japanese director to come up with something so outrageous, so gauche, and so tasteless, that one can only wonder why someone hasn’t thought of it before.  The title says it all.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is Rape Zombie: Lust of the Dead.

Brought to us by Naoyuki Tomomatsu, the co-director of Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl and director of another Japanese zombie schlock film, Zombie Self-Defense Force, this horror/comedy film takes audiences to new levels of undead indecency and reverse necrophilia, featuring a cast of notable AV (adult video) actresses such as Asami (The Machine Girl, RoboGeisha), Arisu Ozawa, Yui Aikawa, and Saya Kobayashi (currently one of Japan’s hottest AV stars).  According to the Japanese description

Undying rape spirits that have taken the form of human men descend upon helpless women in this sexy/horror/action film. Incidents of rampaging men raping women break out across Tokyo.  Refusing to die even after their heads are lopped off and their hearts shot out, it seems that the only way to defeat these creatures is to sever the ****s from between their legs…

Well, if that doesn’t sound like a fun-filled romp for the whole family, then I don’t know what does!  An official selection of the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival 2012 (February 23 – February 27), the Japanese DVD will be released on March 2, followed by a late-night theatrical event with several other films at Theatre Shinjuku on March 3, with some of the cast and crew in attendance.  More info (in Japanese) can be found on director/writer Tomomatsu’s blog.  You can also Like the film on Facebook here.

Sushi Is Hungry! Noboru Iguchi’s “DEAD SUSHI”!

Time flies by on leathery, bat-like wings here at Castle Skeleton, and a look at the cobweb-ridden calendar on the wall tells me that Candlemas has already come and gone without a single post here at my horror blog!  Well, to rectify the situation I decided to highlight one of the latest slices of cinematic WTFery to be spawned from the mind of delightfully demented director Noboru Iguchi: Dead Sushi.  Responsible for films that have gained loyal cult followings such as The Machine Girl, RoboGeisha, and Karate-Robo Zaborgar, Iguchi is sure to please once again as martial artist and actress Rina Takeda (High Kick Girl!, Dogoon V) takes on an army of killer sushi!  Shigeru Matsuzaki will also appear, along with Iguchi regulars Asami and Demo Tanaka.   This visual and gastronomical(?) delight will hit theaters soon, but for now check out the trailer and flyer, with English text supplied by my good friend Norman England.  Itadakimasu!