Party 7 (US - DVD R1)
Gabe Powers assumes his invitation must have been lost in the mail...
Yakuza punk Miki checks into the remote New Mexico hotel to hide out after stealing a case of gang loot. Not long after, Miki's old flame Kana and her new, geeky boyfriend Todohira show up to collect on a debt, and are soon followed by Miki's elder gang brother Sonoda, who's looking for the stolen money. Meanwhile, shy peeping tom Okita hides out in a secret room built by the mysterious Captain Banana, where both watch the entire proceedings
Tailor made Japanese cult features can burn like napalm when you believe the hype. Too often the back of the box and first ten minutes of film are the only morsels of effectively quirky entertainment, leaving the viewer to languish in listless, culture-shocked weirdness for the other eighty or so minutes. Party 7 opens with a guy urinating endlessly, then cuts into a semi-Jarmusch inspired argument between two bell hops, followed by an utterly insane animated credit sequence from director Peter Chung ( Animatrix: Matriculated, Aeon Flux). What seems like a good start can often become tragic.
Writer/Director Katsuhito Ishii has the pedigree, but with movies like Shark Skin Man and Peach Hip Girl he’s also proven guilty of not closing the deal. SSM&PHG is downright fabulous in parts, but really sags in the middle, and the dialogue can be obnoxiously overstated. Party 7, too, slows to a crawl at points in the centre, but mostly redeems itself during the open and closing minutes. Ishii’s consistency is a bit more even this time around, and though the film’s about ten or fifteen minutes too long, the overall feel is rather brisk.
The Jim Jarmusch comparisons run thick through both films, but are especially gelatinous here. Besides the hiring of a Jarmusch alumni (Masatoshi Nagase), and the hotel setting, both recalling Mystery Train, Party 7 also shares structural similarities to Jarmusch’s work. The ensemble approach is one that Ishii handles pretty well, though the character’s relationships to one another are easy to confuse and forget (this is perhaps as Ishii intended). The film’s overall apathetic nature is another Jarmusch analogue, though impassive behaviour is a common trait in this brand of Japanese humour, which juxtaposes the dry with the bawdy.
There are some genuine attempts at drama, but most of these fall short in favour of Ishii’s lunatic sense of style. The subtle humour is amusing, but it’s usually the big physical gags and long set-ups that gain the biggest laughs. Ishii’s no Miike, Tsukomoto, Kitano, or even Kitamura when it comes to over-the-top overload, but his whimsical use of crank speeds and skewed angles can be a blast if you’re in the right mood.
Party 7’s meagre budget is made clear in its generally clean visuals, and eight years isn’t a very long time for a film to earn a lot of dirt and artefacts, but this transfer is still reasonably remarkable. Ishii’s lighting is often purposefully understated, and during the bulk of these darker scenes details can be lost, and colour noise is more obvious. The grimy hotel room is the common offender on this level. Captain Banana’s ‘lair’ is water themed, and thus mostly made up of blues and whites, which can be a little smoky. Though blacks are nice and deep, and whites full and bright, the film’s overall contrast is lacking, making for a slightly flat look, but this can likely be blamed on the original material, not Synapse films.
Really all you’ll need to hear from this incredibly aggressive Dolby Digital 5.1 track is the opening title animation, which is one of the more impressive music and effect only tracks I’ve heard in a very long time. Every channel is effectively utilized, engulfing and destroying the listener. The throbbing music and cartoony effects let up a bit when the live action kicks back in, but even during the film’s quietest, dialogue driven moments the stereo and surround channels crackle with strange ambiance and impossibly exaggerated foley. The track’s spatial representation and the discretion of the channels are both very impressive.
The special features start with an interview with writer/director Ishii (who looks like he’s about fifteen years old), which is a fast paced affair, with a wriggling camera, unnecessary edits, and music and clips from the film. Ishii is thoughtful and warm, and only takes a few pauses when thinking about the softball questions. He praises his actors, describes the film’s genesis (which started as a short film shot in New Mexico), his philosophy on filmmaking (entertainment is king), among other things for about seventeen minutes.
‘The Making of Party 7’ runs about twenty minutes. It features raw behind the scenes footage, brief on set interviews (taken between set-ups apparently), and snippets of film footage. The whole thing has almost no editing order, and the featurette appears to be a glorified EPK, but it’s a mostly effective peek into the process of low-budget filmmaking, and it doesn’t linger too long.
The disc also features an alternate ending, which doesn’t change the film’s plot or anything (it’s just a different note to go out on), and a storyboarded version of the film. I’d prefer an alternate angle option, because though the storyboards are fun, it takes a special kind of fan to sit through an hour of them. Things round up with a teaser, two trailers and two TV Spots.
Though it never lives up to its inspired Peter Chung credits, Party 7 is a fun indie, with colourful characters and visuals. I don’t recommend it without some reservations, and don’t see it converting anyone intimidated by humorous culture shocks. The extras are a bit middling, but the Dolby Digital surround is an awesome blast.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 29th April 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Japanese
Extras: Making of, Director Interview, Alternate Ending, Trailers, TV Spots, Storyboard Version
Easter Egg: No
Director: Katsuhito Ishii
Cast: Yoshio Harada, Masatoshi Nagase, Tadanobu Asano, Yoshinori Okada, Tatsuya Gasyuin
Genre: Comedy and Crime
Length: 104 minutes
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