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DVD SAVANT

The Facets Parody Pack
Mike Yokohama:
A Forest with No Name

&
Who Wants to Kill Jessie?


The Facets Parody Pack
Street Date July 28, 2009 / 39.95

Mike Yokohama: A Forest with No Name
2002 / Color / 1:66 flat letterbox / 71 min. / Shiritsu tantei Hama Maiku: Namae no nai mori
Starring Masatoshi Nagase, Kyoka Suzuki, Nene Otsuka, Yoshio Harada, Masashi Yamamoto.
Film Editor Yuji Oshige
Original Music Yoko Kumagai, Hidehiko Urayama
Written by Shinji Aoyama, Kaizo Hayashi
Directed by Shinji Aoyama


Who Wants to Kill Jessie?
1966 / B&W / 2:35 anamorphic widescreen / 80 min. / Kdo chce zabít Jessii?
Starring Jirí Sovák, Dana Medrická, Olga Schoberová, Karel Effa, Juraj Visny
Cinematography Jan Nemecek
Original Music Svatopluk Havelka
Written by Milos Macourek, Václav Vorlícek
Directed by Václav Vorlícek

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Facets Video has reissued two of their international titles in a combo called The Parody Pack, an odd pairing of an eccentric Japanese detective story from 2002 and a Czech "Prague Spring" pulp Sci-Fi classic from 1966. The Japanese film really isn't a comedy and the Czech picture is far too original to be classified as a parody.

Mike Yokohama: A Forest with No Name is a strange picture that uses the private detective genre as only a starting point, despite evoking the name Mike Hammer (Hama Maiku) in its very title. Hipster Mike Yokohama wears colorful "youth rebel" threads as he takes a straightforward assignment from a wealthy businessman. The man's daughter is involved in some kind of self-realization retreat; Mike's job is to infiltrate the place and get her out.

Mike half begs, half steals a friend's car to get to the mountainous lodge, a clean and lavish establishment run by the "doctor" (Kyoka Suzuki), a serene guru who reflects Mike's questions back at him. Mike pretends to be one of many visitors seeking isolation to find out who they are again; contact with the outside is forbidden. We have no idea how the lodge supports itself financially.

Mike encounters a "guest" who is finally checking out; not much later we discover that the young man has murdered three people in a senseless killing. The target girl refuses to run away with Mike, but he makes contact with another resident who reveals that she wants to kill herself. They plan to escape together but the Doctor takes Mike on a long hike into the forest to see a "tree with his likeness". Ever since she mentioned the tree, Mike has had dreams about it: and his hardboiled attitude cracks when she leaves him alone on a hilltop. Mike apparently has identity issues of his own -- even his rich client had difficulty calling him "Mike".

The elliptical ending resolves the detective mission but leaves Mike in a strange state of mind. He returns to the lodge to retrieve his cell phone and car keys ...

Shinji Aoyama's film begins on a humorous note and quickly changes into something else. Instead of debunking the encounter lodge the filmmaker seems to embrace its values, at least on some levels. The story has a vague similarity to Robert Louis Stevenson's oft- adapted The Suicide Club, what with the murderous rampage of the "cured" resident and the mysterious fate of the unhappy girl that Mike spends the night with. Her peers encourage her to "do what she wants to do", with sinister results. Many compositions arrange the Doctor and her "patients" in disturbing groupings, like the children from Village of the Damned. Besides that, there's not much more to the film to figure out, unless one wants to ponder the mysterious ending or the odd images of a "Mike" tree in the forest, a vision from The Gardener, or, less generously, From Hell It Came.


Facets' disc isn't much to look at, being an indifferent letterboxed transfer with poor definition and weak color -- it looks like a temp transfer made for legal review. No extras are provided, which is a shame because director Aoyama has built up a following as an intellectual director, and I'd like to learn more about him. His 2000 film Eureka performed well at the Cannes Film Festival.


The delightful, gentle Czech fantasy Who Wants to Kill Jessie? captures a wonderful spirit of comic-book innocence. It made the rounds of the repertory theaters a few years back after a long life as an obscure title in science fiction reference books. Director Václav Vorlícek finds just the right note of droll foolishness to develop a one-joke idea into a satisfying screwball comedy. Peeking through the constant visual gags are some worthwhile ideas about the relationship of fantasy to human ingenuity. As its key invention is a device that can display a person's dreams on a television screen, Who Wants to Kill Jessie? predates the computerized mind-tap concept of Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World.

Synopsis:

Prague. Industrial designer Henry (Jindrich, played by Jirí Sovák) seeks a way to lift heavy objects and is inspired by a pair of anti-gravity gloves he sees in a superhero cartoon called "Who Wants to Kill Jessie?" Henry's demanding scientist wife Rose (Ruzenka, played by Dana Medrická) demonstrates a drug that eliminates bad dreams, which she can view on a special television set. Discovering that Henry is dreaming about the sexy adventuress Jessie, the jealous Rose slips Henry the needle. Unfortunately, when Rose 'gets rid' of a dream it materializes in the real world. The sexy Jessie (Olga Schoberová) and her two enemies, a Cowboy (Karel Effa) and a caped Superman (Juraj Visny) appear in the apartment, demolish the furniture and start spreading havoc all over the city!

Who Wants to Kill Jessie? is not easy to describe. It starts as a low key comedy about an absent-minded husband and his possessive wife. Her brilliant work has a disastrous side effect, while his intellectual daydreaming leads to the discovery of a marvelous new invention. The unflappable Czech characters react to crazy new situations and ridiculous fantasy as if they are all an inconvenience best ignored. For her first experiment Rose chooses a cow, which lies on an operating table like a surreal fugitive from a Buñuel movie. Sexy young research assistants surround Henry and can't understand why he ignores them. But he falls head over heels for the provocatively dressed Jessie, a cartoon character somewhere between Barbarella and Daisy Mae Scragg of the Li'l Abner strip.

The clever plot consists almost entirely of unexpected twists and surprises. Chase scenes crisscross the city. Acrobats must play Jessie's American-themed Cowboy and Superman enemies because they constantly climb tall structures, blast through brick walls and swing into rooms on ropes. They retain their two-dimensional motivation from the comic strip: Kill Jessie and steal her secret for the anti-gravity gloves. The adorable and innocent Jessie loves Henry (she's his literal dream girl, after all) and rushes to his side wherever he goes.

The film's most amusing gag is that all three of the 'dream creations' speak by means of word balloons that materialize over their heads. Henry talks to Jessie but must read her responses -- which are of course in the Czech language.

As in a classic screwball comedy everyone ends up before a confused judge. The court reporter asks that Jessie's response balloon be turned in his direction so he can record her testimony. The judge decides that the 'dream creatures' are not human, giving Rose legal permission to destroy them in an incinerator. But dreams are not that easily suppressed, and Rose eventually forms a powerful crush on the Superman character. Who Wants to Kill Jessie? has four or five comic moments that prompt instant laughter.

Hidden amid the fun is an undercurrent of social criticism. Czech civil servants are characterized as passive and unimaginative. A policeman instructed to watch a sewer opening used by Jessie and Co., stares at it for hours waiting for someone to tell him to stop. A friendly prison guard takes bribes. Rose's research institute is run by martinets, one of whom instantly seizes upon the idea of using her invention to intrude on the privacy of the human mind. That identical threat is at the core of the 1991 Until the End of the World, in which the C.I.A. seeks Max Von Sydow's brain-visualization machine as an interrogation/torture device. The whimsical Who Wants to Kill Jessie? is also a brilliant Science Fiction film.

Director Václav Vorlícek made several reportedly hilarious 60s and 70s comedies with odd titles like You Are a Widow, Sir! and A Nice Plate of Spinach. Star Olga Schoberová appeared on the cover of Playboy magazine. Under the name Olinka Berova, she became the star of Hammer's The Vengeance of She. If crazy associations count for anything, Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale's Who Killed Roger Rabbit? is an odd parallel film to this Czech fantasy. Both movies are about cartoon characters living in the "real" world. The sexy leading lady in each is named Jessie (well, Jessica). The villain of each show wants to obliterate the offending 'toon' characters, out of a prejudice against an "unreal" minority. Who Wants to Kill Jessie? does have a rabbit in it, an ordinary bunny. The original Czech title reads as Kdo chce zabít Jessii?, which in English resembles "Rabbit Jessie." Well, it does to me ...


Facets Video's DVD of Who Wants to Kill Jessie? is an adequate enhanced transfer of this widescreen (2.35:1) thriller that reproduces its gray-on-gray European look. The solitary extra is an insert booklet with an essay by film historian Susan Doll.


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Mike Yokohama: A Forest with No Name rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Fair
Sound: Good
Who Wants to Kill Jessie? rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: none
Packaging: 2 discs in 2 keep case in 'Parody Pack' seal
Reviewed: August 1, 2009

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.



DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2009 Glenn Erickson

See more exclusive reviews on the Savant Main Page.
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are often updated and annotated with reader input and graphics. Also, don't forget the
2009 Savant Wish List. T'was Ever Thus.

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