Carved: The Slit Mouthed Woman

When I first came across Carved: The Slit Mouthed Woman I genuinely thought it would be scary.  Just before watching it I felt that it’s either going to be really scary or really stupid.  It turned out I was wrong on all counts.

But let me back up a moment.  Carved is about a mysterious woman who appears and abducts children.  She is dressed in a long coat, caries a long pair of scissors, and wears a surgical mask over her face.  She has these weird pale blue eyes and her face is, well, slit.  She’s an urban legend all over Japan, but the disappearance of a boy in the park incites a man hunt.

It’s a pretty simple premise and I thought it was pretty cool when I first heard of it.  And the movie is actually pretty good if formulaic.   I wasn’t exceptionally creeped out by it though.  The fact that the woman preyed on kids was creepy.  But overall the movie didn’t grab my attention as much as I thought it would.  It wasn’t boring, but it wasn’t incredibly entertaining either.

Carved dwells somewhere in the middle ground I’d say.  Not really good, but not really bad either.  It’s a decent little movie.  Maybe if I had kids of my own I would find it scarier.

The only thing that bothered me a lot about this movie was the depictions of child abuse.  It was weird because I couldn’t decide if the movie was implying that every mom shown in the movie was an abuser or not.  At least three were for certain…the rest might have been merely sick (Spoiler: the ghost possesses women to take its human form. Possession is signified by coughing fits.)  The focus on abuse was sort of interesting to me in that it was exclusively mothers shown as abusive.  In America we tend to associate any sort of physical abuse with father’s, but that wasn’t the case in this movie at least.  Is this sort of thing a problem in Japan?  I have no idea.  It could be the writer just didn’t like his mom, or was abused himself.  I don’t really know but I did find that interesting.

That being said, the other part that got to me involved the origin sequence for the slit-mouthed woman.  It’s creepy and screwed up on a lot of levels.  Other than those bits and a scene were a guy gets his Achilles tendons severed I wasn’t overly bothered by this movie.

I’ll call it an entry level horror…not as genuinely creepy and mind screwing as Ringu or Audition, but not as awful as Grotesque.  Somewhere in the middle and you know what?  There’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s an all around decent flick.

But then I’ll leave that up to you.  Let me know what you think!

Oh, and if a tall lady in a surgical mask asks you if she’s pretty…I’d advise running away as fast as possible.  Or maybe just tell her she’s pretty…maybe she’ll let you off.  Or not.  Least you won’t die tired right?


Grotesque

Grotesque.  Well, I can say at least two good things about this movie.  Three things actually. The title is not misleading at all.  You are told you will see something grotesque and it certainly delivers.  On more than one level actually but more on that later.  The second thing I can say is that it does something new or something at least that I’ve never seen before.  The third?  It’s short. A quick disclaimer: this movie is not for kids.  Gotta be eighteen or older to see this one: it’s very graphic, showing explicit scenes of sexuality and torture.  Viewer discretion is advised.

Grotesque is the “story” (I use the word loosely) of an unnamed doctor who gets his jollies by torturing folks, in this case a couple who  are out on their first date.  The movie begins promisingly enough.  A creepy dude in a van hops out and whacks our happy couple upside the head.  He drives off while oddly upbeat music plays.  The camera is fixed staring out the windshield while in the back we hear the girl groaning.  The Doctor stops and whacks her over the head again (because being knocked unconscious twice never hurt anyone.)  They wake up in a dungeon like basement and the torturing begins.

And that’s the plot.  People get tortured.  This is torture-porn like Hostel or Saw.  I don’t really consider this sort of thing horror, at least in my mind.  Horror as a genre (be it movies, books, or whatever) has a distinct formula.  Terror, the Revelation, then Horror.  Terror is the build up or anxiety, the Revelation is when you reveal what you’ve been hinting at for the whole movie, and then horror is the fear and revulsion in the aftermath of the Revelation.  This is a gross oversimplification of how the genre works, but it’s a nice way to analyze it.  Watch Ju-On, Ringu, and Audition to see what I mean.

None of that happens in Grotesque.  There is no plot, no build up, and really no fear.  It goes for the visceral shock response, which certainly is part of horror, but is not the whole thing.  I would liken this more to a porn flick (hence the torture porn moniker.)  Porn has a thin plot that’s little more than an excuse for the visceral (in this case sexual) and explicit material to follow.  Grotesque definitely falls in this category, just replace sex with torture.

I said the movie is grotesque in more way than one.  And that’s true.  It’s a bad movie.  It’s a terrible film in general and a terrible horror film in particular.  It’s grotesque in the horrific tortures it portrays.  Fingers are lopped off, the man is castrated, and the girl has her arm cut off.  That’s just a brief survey of the atrocities committed in this movie.  It’s grotesque in the sexual content too.  How to put this nicely…the Doctor “pleasures” his victims while forcing the other to watch.  You don’t actually see genitalia at this point, but the sound effects are more than enough to let you know what is going on.

At least the movie is honest in its intent.  It says its grotesque and it certainly is.

As for the new thing, this movie shows an honest to God sadist.  A sadist is one who enjoys inflicting suffering on others.  They are sexually stimulated by it.  And the Doctor in this movie is quite up front about his intentions: he tells the couple that if they satisfy him sexually with their will to survive he will let them go.  I’ve never seen that in a horror flick that I remember anyway.  Usually the killer is a cackling madman or he’s doing it to prove a point about how evil people are.  Nope…this guy just wants to get his jollies.  Weird way to go about it.

Anyway…yeah this movie is bad.  If you’re a gore hound though you will enjoy this flick.  I’m really not into that sort of thing, but if you are hey whatever.  It’s your business.

Oh and if you make it to the end…the climactic confrontation between the Doctor and the girl actually made me laugh out loud.  It was so stupid that I couldn’t help myself.  You’ll see what I mean if you can sit through this dog.

However, unless you really like gore flicks or you’re just morbidly curious, I would avoid this movie.  If you do find yourself watching it, well, don’t say I didn’t warn you…


Okami

Okami is currently my favorite video game. I don’t mean to sound fickle, I’m not. Okami has been at the top of my list for almost two years, for a few reasons.

#1. I am a graphic oriented person. I like pretty pictures and Okami happens to have stunning graphics. The world is artistically rendered like a Sumi-e painting on a wall scroll. Sure Final Fantasy is gorgeous, but Okami invokes the essence of mythological Japan by imitating a classic art style.

#2. The game play keeps you interested. Unlike many RPG’s- like Final fantasy franchise- it doesn’t require mind numbing grinding or thoughtless attacking. If you happen to like repetatively killing things you have that option. Don’t get me wrong there is plenty of butt kicking to be done. On the upside you also get to use your brain. If your into treasure hunting in clever out of the reach places you will have plenty of opportunities. in this game. There are treasure boxes everywhere. Many of them require the use of the Celestial Brush Techniques to reach them. Throughout the game you collect Celestial Brush Techniques by restoring constellations. These techniques are necessary to defeat many of the monsters in the game. These techniques can also be used outside of battle for some interesting effects.

#3. The best part of Okamis is the storyline. Okami is so rich in detail and plot that I thought the game would never end. If you’ve played Okami you understand. I was about 1/3 of the way through the game when I thought I had reached the climax, the “Ulimate End!”. It was a satisfying ending too. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I will just tell you that I had defeated the Ultimate Boss and then the narrator tells me, “It is only the beginning”. Okami had already met all of my expectation and this was just the beginning?! Finally the game did end, after I got faked out 3 times. In total there were 5 amazing battles that could have left me totally satisfied as an ending for the game, but Okami goes above and beyond the call of duty and left me wanting more. I wanted to continue the adventure to the Celestial Plain and the home of the Moon Tribe. Unfortunately Clover Studios, the company that developed Okami, doesn’t exist anymore. I can only hope that another company will pick up where they left off.

I highly recommend this game for its amazing story, delightful gameplay, and stunning graphics…. plus there are all sorts of extras like mini goals and games.


Kigeki

Kigeki (Comedy) is a short anime film produced in 2002 by Studio 4°C, and directed by Kazuto Nakazawa. It features two Schubert pieces, “Ave Maria” and “Erlkönig.”

In this dark fairy tale, a young girl, desperate to save her village from invading English soldiers, sets out in search of the legendary Black Swordsman, who accepts only rare books of a specific genre as payment.

The film is dark and atmospheric. The backgrounds are full of detail, and the composition of each scene is excellently done. The characters themselves lack any sort of detail, but the contrast of the simple characters and detailed background works well. The selection of Schubert’s pieces as the background music gives the anime a haunting feel. As a short film, the characters remain completely undeveloped, but they still have a sense of personality.  The story is narrated from the perspective of a young girl who witnessed the most secret aspects of the mysterious swordsman. She is fearless around the swordsman and even heckles him like he is an older brother.The English army’s design looks more at home in a science fiction film than a fairy tale, but they are certainly menacing! The short film captures the feel of a fairy tale on the order of Grimm’s fairy tales.

[flv]http://media.japanpowered.com/videos/kigeki.flv[/flv]


Anime’s Visual Language

Anime and manga have a unique visual language that conveys character emotions and thoughts. Many of us “regular” anime watchers are so familiar with these symbols that we don’t give them a second thought. These symbols (like the vein popping out, as shown to the left) can make anime confusing for people new to anime. I found my first experience with chibi swaps jarring and uncomfortable. Some symbols are easier to understand than others. We will cover the most common and incomprehensible symbols in this article.

Easily Understandable

  1. Speed lines
  2. Abstract Background Patterns
  3. Eye symbols
  4. Crying large tear drops
  5. Sparking a rivalry

What happened?

  1. Popping vein
  2. Sweat Drop
  3. Cat Mouth/Fangs
  4. Nose balloon
  5. Ghost coming out of mouth

What the….?

  1. Bleeding nose
  2. Falling flat
  3. Colored lines dropping over character
  4. Chibi deformation

These and other symbols appear in various degrees in anime and manga. Some genres, such as comedies and “slice of life” stories, show them more often than others . Action and drama occasionally use these symbols for comic relief, for example Bleach or Death Note.

Speed Lines

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Speed lines are lines that appear in the background or over a character to denote speed. Speed lines are more common in older anime than in modern anime. Speed lines are used to keep the feel of reading a manga or simply keep the animation budget down. In modern anime, where action is expected to be crisply animated, speed lines are used for comedic effect or to accent an intense action sequence.Speed lines are common in American comics as well. They are simply a good way to convey motion in a motionless media.

Abstract Background Patterns
Sometimes in scenes the background abruptly switches to an abstract background. This swap is used to emphasize what the character is feeling. Often the background is composed of symbols from our list above. Swirls are used when a character is confused or overwhelmed. Speed lines are used to show the character’s energetic mood. Backgrounds vary based on context. Most of the time, they are easily understandable.

Sometimes these backgrounds are animated to further show what the characters are thinking or feeling. Fast animations or twirling spirals show how quickly the character’s mind is working, much like gears in a clock. Wavy lines show irritation or upset emotions. Colors such as bright red are used for anger. Darker colors like purples or blues are used to show the characters are feeling sick, upset, or depressed. Background swaps are usually abrupt.

Eye Symbols
The eyes in manga and anime are used to convey a wide range of thoughts and emotions. Eyes have gotten larger since the 80’s and allow artists to show emotions clearly…if you know the icongraphy. Most tend to be obvious from reality. People’s eyes lift up into arcs when they are happy and fall downward when sad. Pupils constrict and eyes widen when we are scared. In anime these subtle queues are exaggerated. The slight upward or downward arc becomes a complete arc. Constricted pupils and widened eyes become enormous eyes with tiny dots for pupils. Some symbols are not so obvious, however. X’ed eyes or spiral eyes are used to show dread, illness, and confusion. Sometimes the eyes completely disappear when a character bows their head in sadness or depression. The eyes are replaced with vertical lines and blue or purple colors to show depression or sadness. Eyes with sparkles and white dots are cute. Often they are flashed to help a character get their way. Think Puss-in-Boots from Shrek.

Many of the eye symbols in anime have made it online as emoticons:

  • ^_^   very happy.
  • -_-    apathetic or irritated
  • O_O  afraid. very awake, surprised
  • O_o   confused and mildly disturbed by something
  • @_@ confused, dizzy or overwhelmed  – in anime these are spirals
  • X_X   dead figuratively or literally

Crying Large Teardrops
This one is pretty self explanatory. Waterfalls of tears shows how upset a character is. Most of the time it is used for comedy. Normal sized tears are more common in dramas and more serious scenes.

Sparking a rivalry

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This one is pretty easy to understand as well. Anime and manga just takes the phrase literally. Two characters glare at each other and a spark passes between then. Soon after they fight. This is usually used when 2 characters first start their rivalry. This is common in shows like Pokemon and Yugioh.

The Strange

The next set of symbols are a little stranger for people new to anime and manga. They are not as easy to understand as speed lines and eye symbols. Like eye symbols, these symbols are iconic to anime. Anime’s icongraphy ( as it is called) nicely conveys emotion and thoughts… but only if it is well understood. To those of us used to them, they seem natural. It is easy to forget that anime is extremely exaggerated compared to most other art styles.. Most symbols are visually showing phrases we say such as “wound up” or “forked tongue.”

Popping vein

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Technically speaking this symbol is called a cruciform popping vein. Like other symbols it is exaggerating reality. When some people are irritated or angry veins tend to pop out as their blood pressure increases. Often on their forehead and hands. As more popping veins…pop out… on a character, they are growing more and more irritated or angry. Most often these symbols show up on the heads of characters ( over their hair  etc) and on clenched fists. Rocking cruciform veins show winding irritation or anger. These characters are “wound up” as we like to say in America.

Sweat Drop

This is another iconic symbol. It means the character is  anxious or confused. The number and size of the sweat drops shows the degree of the emotion. Sometimes these are used with a blush across the character’s face to show embarrassment. Blush colors determine what type of embarrassment is being experienced. Blue blushes are severe embarrassment mixed with anger or depression. Red blushes are romantic embarrassment. Both blushes and sweat drops can be occupied with a popping vein if the character is feeling angry embarrassment. When combined with shocked eyes, like the example image, it shows how the character feels stunned and/or confused about the situation. Perhaps its best described as an “What is this?” moment.  Sweat drops appear in the same locations as popping veins.

Cat Mouth/Fangs

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This is one of the odder ones. Abruptly characters (usually female) swap in a cat mouth or grow fangs. This swap doesn’t mean the character is a cat demon or a vampire. Rather, she is feeling “catty.” This is yet another literal visual interpretation of a common phrase. Cat fangs or mouths just show the character is feeling mischievous.

Nose Balloon
Nose balloons are the Japanese ZZzzzzZZz symbol. The character is sleeping. When the balloon pops, the character wakes up. I am not exactly sure where they got this symbol, other than a snot bubble.

Ghost coming out of mouth

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This is a play on the saying “scared to death.” This symbol often looks sort of like the character it belongs to. The ghost usually appears when someone is extremely shocked or horrified. The character isn’t usually actually scared. More like shocked to death. These scenes can involve someone trying to stuff the soul back into the body for further comedy.

Finally, these symbols are the most jarring and difficult to understand at first. They involve drastic (very drastic) changes to the look and feel of the anime or manga before jarring the viewer back to the more “normal” style. These abrupt switches can leave new viewers lost, but each has specific purposes in conveying situations and emotions.

Bleeding nose

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Anime characters seem to just spout blood from their noses at random times to have the blood disappear like it never existed. These nose bleeds can easily kill a normal mortal. Nose bleeds are one of the more obscure symbols. They represent perverseness. As to why anime and manga artists selected nose bleeds is a matter of opinion. Censorship may play a role. Or their mothers always told them, “if you have dirty thoughts you will get a bloody nose.” Just like your mother told you that “if you don’t behave you will get nothing but a lump of coal for Christmas.”

Falling Flat
Japan is known for having earthquakes, but that isn’t what is happening when characters randomly fall on their face. Falling flat is a way to show irony or a reaction to a (bad) pun. I have felt that way about some jokes and puns I have heard.

Colored Lines dropping over character/Color Face
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This symbol is very situational. Similar to backgrounds these lines and color fills represent the thoughts and emotions the character is feeling. Red vertical lines typically mean anger or embarrassment. Blue wavy lines shows awkwardness, depression, or sadness. Purple shows shock and feeling sick in the stomach. Horizontal lines can mean the character’s attention is grabbed by something. These lines are accompanied by sweat drops, popping veins, and other symbols. They are rarely used alone. Their main purpose is to emphasize the other symbols.

Chibi deformation

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This is the most troubling of symbols for new viewers. The style change is so drastic it makes you wonder if you accidentally sat on the tv remote! These short, round and cute versions of characters are called chibis. They are used to convey a comedy break in an otherwise serious story, a very ironic situations, and just generally lighthearted scenes. Some comedy anime are done entirely in the chibi style. They are meant to look like dolls or children to lend silliness to a scene or storyline. Chibis are just fun.

There are other symbols in anime such as people sneezing when they are being talked about by others. In America we say our “ears are burning.” A small white mushroom shaped cloud is exhaled when a character is relieved about something, and there are many more. Anime’s visual language is what sets it apart from other animation styles. The symbols give anime its charm. At first they come off as just plain weird, but over time and repeated exposure the symbols feel natural. They clearly show what characters are feeling and thinking. A single sweat drop is better than a verbal explanation. Anime is already (in) famous for characters explaining their actions and shouting the names of their attacks. “Wind SCAR!” “Over NINE-THOUSAND !” Like they’ll never see that attack coming…


Ergo Proxy

Earth is a wasteland. Ravaged by consumption, humans avoid the environment in domed utopian cities. In one such city, called Romdo, a series of murders committed by AutoReivs, androids, disrupts the delicate utopian balance. Re-I Mayer and her AutoReiv Iggy is assigned to investigate. A young immigrant named Vincent Law and a mysterious virus called Cogito seem to be behind the events. Re-I soon discovers something far more sinister than a simple virus driven murder linked to an immigrant without a memory: something called a Proxy.

Ergo Proxy is a gothic cyber-punk story laced with questions about the role of humanity. In the domed cities, every human has their place. Each is a gear in the grand machine of civilization. Ergo Proxy recalls works such as Orwell’s 1984. Re-I quickly finds the difficulties that result when the gear refuses to turn. Ergo Proxy follows Vincent Law’s efforts to return to his birth city in order to recover the memories he lost. Re-I leaves the safety of the dome to pursue him and the truth about Proxy that tugs at her.

The series also examines our relationship with machines and consumption. Every human in a city is assigned their own AutoReiv, which serves to keep them in their place within the grand system. Everyone is grown in artificial wombs to serve just a singular purpose in society. Consumption is encouraged to distract from any thoughts that may lead a person from their purpose. Over the course of the series, Re-I finds the webs behind the structure of civilization.

Characters

Re-l Mayer

Inspector Re-l Mayer of the Citizen Intelligence Bureau is in charge of investigating a series of brutal murders apparently committed by AutoReivs infected with the Cogito virus. She is also the granddaughter of Donov Mayer, the Regent of Romdo. Given her privileged status, she expects respect from people around her, and speaks as such. Re-l accompanies Vincent on his journey in order to learn more about the mysterious Proxies.

Vincent Law

An immigrant from Mosk working for Romdo’s AutoReiv Control Division within the Temporary Immigrant Sector FG , set up to hunt and dispose infected AutoReivs. Vincent appears driven to become a Model Citizen, but ultimately fails to suppress the burden of his traumatic past and flees from Romdo. He seems to have a deep connection to the second Proxy, having left his necklace at the scene of the first Proxy site.

Pino

An infected Companion type AutoReiv owned by Raul Creed and Samantha Ross, Pino served as a surrogate child to the couple. She was scheduled for decommissioning after the Creeds were granted a real baby son by the government, but the untimely deaths of Samantha and her new son prompted Pino to flee Romdo. She accompanies Vincent on his journey.

Ergo Proxy is darkly beautiful. It is futuristic goth with its feel. The creepy atmosphere and suspenseful story keeps the viewer enthralled. The story becomes a little confused at times. The animation is fluid and alive despite the washed out colors and dark atmosphere. The series is claustrophobic and intimate, adding to the suspense. The opening theme is hauntingly beautiful.The characters are likable and complex. It is gothic like a cathedral: darkly beautiful but also vibrantly lit by the sunlight of its characters. If you can ignore the garbled storyline.