30 Days of Wakeful Nights, by Ric Meyers
Any regular reader will no doubt have noticed something by now. I think I may have mentioned it once before, early on, but there should be no harm in repeating it: this column isn’t really for the big-time releases any DVD fan already know exist. Naturally, by all rights, I, like everyone else, should review I Am Legend and maybe even The Mist, but hey, you’re going to watch, or not watch, those without any input from me – no matter how good or bad the special features are.
Instead, I most like to consider the DVDs that may have slipped under your radar, like Wakeful Nights, which is really an amazing movie for several reasons. Japan in general, and Tokyo specifically, is two different places. It’s an amazingly exciting, beautiful, cultured, exotic place for people who don’t speak or understand Japanese, and it’s an incredibly perverted, sex-soaked, practically demented place for those who do. Wakeful Nights is a DVD that both reveals the lusty fun just under the well-designed, well-dressed surface, as well as revels in the classic art of filmmaking and the ancient delights of Rakugo (Traditional Comic Storytelling).
Director Masahiko Makino was inspired by his grandfather, who was credited with initiating a “100 Years of Japanese Filmmaking” celebration, so he brought together generations of actors, writers, and singers to create a lewd, crude, but loving tale of a family gathering for a master comic storyteller’s funeral. Deciding to release this iconoclastic comedy in America, the good folk at AnimEigo had their translating and subtitling work cut out for them. But, for the most part, little is lost in translation … which is really saying something, considering the content and subject matter of the romp. Much of the time they have to put everything in context for American eyes, while still maintaining the momentum of the warped, culturally-punny jokes.
That’s where the extras help. They include some deleted scenes that contain some of the least effective diversions, but the real fun is to be had with the additional songs and their karaoke companions. First you get to watch two characters have a “Geisha Idol” contest to see who best can deliver the jolly performance and raunchy lyrics of classic sexy songs usually performed by pretty hostesses at mens-only parties, then you get to try your luck at the same songs, with the help of phonetic lyric subtitles, and the occasional actor pop-up. It’s fun to watch and hilarious to try.
Then comes AnimEigo’s vaunted program notes, which are exhaustive to a fault, and much welcome in this multi-layered anniversary effort. Despite their attempt to answer every query the film might elicit, they are also a great starting point for further research – a fact the company seems well aware of, because the final program note is a long list of websites where more material can be found. By the last frame, I felt indoctrinated into a special place in Japanese entertainment, rarely experienced by any outsider. But even if you don’t share that feeling, it’s hard not to appreciate a DVD that comes with the warning: “Contains adult situations and language, disgusting puns, sick jokes, filthy karaoke, and a traumatized Manta Ray.”
Speaking of The Mist, a like-minded effort which slipped under my own radar for awhile was 30 Days of Night – a circle-jerky, overlong, stylistic exercise, adapted from a graphic novel, which starts with a sharp premise then plays it out in classic slasher film rhythm until an abrupt, contrived, perfunctory sunrise. Happily, however, I can report the nicely packaged DVD seems aware of its shortcomings, and surprisingly, even admits them (rare for a major studio release, where ebullient self-congratulation seems to be the mindwash of the moment).
The DVD comes complete with the premiere episode of the anime series Blood+ (reviewed here three weeks ago), followed by an excellent eight-part examination of 30 Days’ production – which entails pre-production, set construction, visual design, special effects, stunt work, the cast, and the arduous night shoot. This should be of special interest to any novice filmmaker.
But the biggest surprise comes in the audio commentary, recorded sans director David Slade (who also made the cult fave Hard Candy). Stars Josh Hartnett and Melissa George prettily deliver their thespian points of view, but it’s the observations of producer Rob Tapert (Sam Raimi’s partner in such efforts as Xena Warrior Princess and the Evil Dead series) that surprise. Usually producers are the worst offenders in the “overblown blind praise” department, but Tapert is not of that ilk. Instead, refreshingly, he calmly mourns the film’s plot holes (although, admittedly, not all of them), which, somehow, almost made me forgive them.
But not quite. Instead, the 30 Days of Night DVD will have an honored place in my disc library while the film itself will remain outside my heart. Even so, it sure was a heck of a lot better than The miserable, mean-spirited Mist (or even the self-aggrandizing I Am Legend).
Ric Meyers is the author of Murder On The Air, Doomstar, The Great Science-Fiction Films, Murder in Halruua, For One Week Only: The World of Exploitation Films, Fear Itself, and numerous other books and has (and sometimes still is) on the editorial staff of such publications as Famous Monsters of Filmland, Starlog, Fangoria, Inside Kung-Fu, The Armchair Detective and Asian Cult Cinema. He’s also a television and motion picture consultant whose credits include The Twilight Zone, Columbo, A&E’s Biography and The Incredibly Strange Film Show.