Mickey Spillane just recently died. He epitomizes one of my secret loves, authors who look the part of their writing. Hell, Spillane so embodied a chiseled tough guy, on film, he actually played his titular character Mike Hammer. Likewise, despite not being a huge fan, I've always thought Stephen King was appropriately creepy looking, befitting his writing. The same goes for manga writer/artist Kazuo Umezu. Umezu who is slight, short, gangly, corpselike pale, with puffy eyelids that frame bright and lively, dark pooled eyes. He is the case where to look at the author, you instantly get an impression of the work, and in Umezu's case, it is work of the dark and disturbing side of storytelling.
Umezu has been around the manga scene since the 50's and he specializes in the horror mix of the psychological and the grotesque, usually leaning towards the latter. This release contains two episodes from the anthology series based on his work and featuring his phantom floating head in the credits.
First up is ‟House of Bugs‟: This segment is notable because it was directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who has gained fame as one of the new wave Japanese horror figureheads through his films Kairo, The Cure, Bright Future, and Dopplganger. ‟Bugs‟ playful, fragmented narrative is typical of K. Kurosawa, whose style leans away from the conventional. A husband has lunch with an old flame who is threatening to tell his wife about their rekindled affair. He says his wife is mentally ill, and flashbacks show her slow unraveling into a very Kafka-inspired madness.
Finally is ‟Diet‟: Tomoko is a young teen with a schoolgirl crush on a popular boy named Akira, a boy who is kind to her face but cattily talks badly about her any other time. Her body and ego issues take a frightening turn one night when she spies herself in the mirror as a fat, homely girl. After she goes into the bathroom and throws up, she looks like herself again. But, it gets even worse as she sees herself metamorphosize into this other girl not only when she is insecure but also jealous or angry.
Despite being a fan and looking forward to Kiyoshi Kurosawa's segment, I think ‟House of Bugs‟ is a very lackluster piece. The ‟buggy‟ concept probably worked better on the printed page but within the confines of the limited production budget (which you could replicate by going to a post-Halloween sale at Party City), the imagery comes across as far too cheap and hokey. ‟Diet‟ is much better and has a far more relatable concept, that of adolescent angst and body issues. It is from start to finish very creepy and off-putting, has a fantastic and gruesome finale, and survives an unneeded twist in the plotting.
The DVD: Media Blasters.
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Well, anyone familiar with Japanese televison will know that most of their live action series still frequently rely on lower budget standards. As such, the video image is not very impressive, definitely more on par with US 80's syndicated horror series like Monsters rather than say Showtimes Masters of Horror. Media Blaster does a decent job given the mediums limitations and the trasnfer appears free from any severe technical bugs.
Sound: 2.0 Stereo, Japanese language with optional English subtitles. Likewise to the above, it is a pretty straightforward track, nothing impressive about the mix. Good subtitle translation.
Extras: ‟Making Of‟ Featurette (60:34). --- Premiere Footage (20:03). --- Original Trailers (16:12). --- Kazuo Umezz Interview (9:05).
I really enjoyed all of the extras. The ‟making of‟ is a little bland, but it was nice to watch a director I enjoy going through the process of helming his segment. The Kazuo Imezz interview is pretty good. Though his discussion is basic in relating the readily obvious intention behind the stories, his delivery is very animated and endearing.
Conclusion: As far as recommending this disc, I'm a bit divided. The content is hit and miss. The transfer and extras are fine. Probably best reserved as a rental. After watching the preview trailers, I do hope Media Blasters continue to release more of this series because it has a lot of promise.