Saturday, December 23, 2006

ASIA SHOCK—The Evening Class Interview With Patrick Galloway

Following his Codys book store reading I invited Patrick Galloway and his wife Shirley up to The Fifth Floor for drinks and discussion. Patrick cozied up to his Bombay Gibson and me to my aged Macallan.

* * *

Michael Guillén: Patrick, earlier this year San Francisco had its Hole in the Head festival, which is our fright or extreme festival, and Todd Brown—my editor at Twitch—encouraged me to cover it for his site. It was probably one of the most difficult writing assignments I've ever had. I didn't really know how to write about these films. You, on the other hand, obviously enjoy these films so much and—as I was reading Asia Shock—I was reminded that enjoyment is the obvious prerequisite to writing about dark cinema.

Patrick Galloway: Yeah, and channel that into writing. If you intellectualize it too much, you get locked up.

Guillén: Exactly. That's what I appreciate about your book Asia Shock. It has a conversational feel, as if you're sitting down with a film buddy and just discussing the film. Further, the films aren't sacrosanct to you. They can be made fun of. You don't have be too serious about how you approach them and yet you have some keen insights.

Galloway: I try to do a stealth film scholar maneuver where I'm writing in a conversational tone but I'm trying to give the reader some information that they didn't have before. I try to do it in a way that doesn't feel academic and dry. At least that's what I try to do.

Guillén: You've succeeded in that. Your basic description of the Asian mastery of dark cinema reminded me of a conversation I'd had with Holehead's director Bruce Fletcher regarding why Japan, for example, heads the pack in extreme visions. Why do you think Asia has their finger on the pulse of this, as you call it, "meta-genre" of dark, extreme cinema?

Galloway: I actually address that more in my first book, the Samurai film book, when I discuss Japanese culture and the fact that it's always been a very repressive culture in certain ways. People are constrained to follow the class systems, but there have always been pressure valves built into Japanese culture. Such as drinking sake. There's an ancient expression in Japanese culture: "No rank over sake." Once you sit down with a man and start drinking sake—he could be a samurai, he could be a farmer, it doesn't matter—and they still do that to this day. The salary man in Japan will go out after work, they all get blotto, it's almost like an obligation. In fact, in many cases in Japanese business if you're a teetotaler it could actually hurt your career because it's so important to let their hair down at the end of the day. Manga and film, theater and books, are other areas that have always been sacrosanct in Japanese cultures as areas to explore the furthest reaches of your imagination without being hindered or censored, which is very different from this culture, which is based on a Puritanical model where you are actively prohibited from thinking certain thoughts and feeling certain feelings. That's why you get such extreme films coming out of Japan, because it's one of those pressure valves. Okay, I may have to kowtow to my boss to an extreme degree or may have to almost kill myself to get through my exams, but when it comes down to just seeing a movie, I want to blow my mind. It's an understood social convention.

Guillén: In the grouping of national cinemas represented in Asia Shock, I noticed Malaysia was absent. Are you familiar with the horror that's coming out of Malaysia?

Galloway: Not so much. Where I live I'm kind of isolated. I'm in a small town in Oregon and I have to rely to a certain degree—and this is in the book—upon movies I can obtain. I'm not really plugged into the festivals because there's not any festivals near where I live. I realize I need to start making more efforts to get up to Portland or Seattle or get down to San Francisco.

Guillén: At the same time there's something to be said for admitting your situation and how you've circumvented that problem of exposure, i.e. online dvd rentals through outlets like Greencine. That's probably, truthfully, how most people are accessing this material. One of the most helpful facets of Asia Shock are your recommendations on how people can find these movies.

Galloway: That's what's important for me. From the beginning I wanted to write about films that people could see. That's one thing that gets remedied. If I can get a hold of this film, someone else can, and that's a plus to my mind. [Rather than] writing only [about] films that are only going to exist on the festival circuit and then go away, I write about those that may be valuable to a certain degree but if the person that's reading can't see that film, that could be frustrating as well.

Guillén: Absolutely. And you inspire your readers to make the effort to find these films. As I mentioned on the way here, I've seen maybe 15 of the 61 films you profile in Asia Shock and Twitch has undoubtedly reviewed most of those, and offered the trailers, and offered the production stills; they're kind of manic about all that. Branching away from Asian, are you as interested in the genre elsewhere? For example, do you like Dario Argento's Italian horror?

Galloway: Oh absolutely, yeah. I'm a big Argento fan. I haven't seen as much Italian horror as I'd like to. I guess I'm just drawn more to Asian cinema as a national or as a regional cinema than I am to [others]. Actually, I have to qualify that because I'm very interested in Italian cinema of the '50s and '60s. I'm interested in French cinema of the '50s, '60s, '70s. So it depends on what I'm looking for. If I'm looking for horror or samurai films, of course that's only going to be Japanese. It's a very locked-in genre.

Guillén: You've done the Samurai book. You followed up with Asia Shock. Is there something in the pipeline that's coming up next?

Galloway: I have two book projects that I'm pursuing. One is going to be Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves 2, because I only just scratched the surface of samurai films with the first book, which I consider kind of a primer and which I've actually gotten some flak for with hardcore fans as it being merely a primer. So I want to write the second book to offer the intermediate course. The second book will be Stray Dogs & Lone Wolves 2: Deeper Into Samurai Films. We're going to pick up where we left off in the first book and start going into some films that maybe you haven't seen or heard of. A lot of people have heard of Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, or a lot of films that are in there, but we're going to go a little deeper now. Maybe make you work a little harder to get these films; but, again, all the films I review will be obtainable so that people can see them.

Guillén: Would you ever cover wuxia?

Galloway: I'm not as drawn to that particular genre personally and, again, we discussed about how you write about what you love and the voice will come through in the work. I've seen a few of those films and they were kind of fun but they don't really hit me here at a gut level. I've told people that, frankly, I think I'm reincarnated from a Japanese person in another lifetime. Especially in that period of the samurai. Something just resonates so deeply for me when I see these films. I feel like I'm coming home. It's a strange thing because ... I didn't know anything about Japan [when] I started watching these films. So I don't know where this feeling is coming from but it's very deep, it's very real, and that's what you also pick up on [reading the books].

Guillén: Yes, it's quite engaging. Your enthusiasm comes across in the original meaning of the word—entheos, the god within—in your case, a dark god within. Obviously to write this book, you had to watch a lot of movies, more than what you've included?

Galloway: Oh yes. I'd say I've watched at least twice as many films as are in the book.

Guillén: Are there, let's say, five that you didn't include that you wished you had?

Galloway: No, no. The thing is I developed a criteria that [the film] had to be shocking to a certain degree just on general principles in a unique way. But it also had to be really well-made and have something to say. Finding films that meet both of those criteria is a lot harder than you might imagine. I saw a lot of films that were very shocking and gross but really weren't very well-done and I didn't really have anything to say. I saw some films that were excellent films and great movies but just weren't terribly shocking. My mandate was Asia shock and I think I say it in the beginning of the book, it's more of the grotesque rather than the merely gross.

Guillén: You mentioned Herschell a little earlier in your lecture. In terms of a contrast—American Shock—is there any American film that grabs you?

Galloway: So much of American Shock cinema is—how shall I say it?—when I think of something like Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, it's kind of cartooney. Whereas there's a certain measure of reality—I guess I would say—in a lot of these extreme Asian films. It's like there's a seriousness and an earnestness that's there that kind of gets jettisoned in American shock cinema. Simply because, again, I think it's the puritanical underpinnings of our culture. Somehow we can't fully give ourselves to that kind of material to the degree that I see in Asian film.

Guillén: Another point you articulate so well in Asia Shock is how Asian ambiguities—what you termed aimai—are explained away in American remakes.

Galloway: Absolutely.

Guillén: Which remains one of my main complaints against American remakes of Asian film. I've seen maybe one remake—The Grudge—that I thought came anywhere near its Asian predecessor.

Galloway: It's funny you should mention that because—when I was practicing my speech earlier—I was going to mention when I was discussing The Ring and its remake that most of the American remakes I've seen of Asian horror films have been rather poor. The one exception is The Grudge, which was adapted from the Japanese film Ju-on: The Grudge. The reason [the remake is] superior is because they hired Takashi Shimizu—who was the director of the original—to direct the remake and it was shot in Japan. So you have those two very vital elements there. All they did was bring in American actors, pull out the Japanese actors and pop in the American actors, and that's why that continuity makes that remake so much better; but, that's not the norm.

Guillén: No! For example, one of my favorites in this whole genre is Kiyoshi Kurosawa. I adore him. You chose Pulse as the example of his work, which is probably my least favorite of his pieces.

Galloway: But he is multi-genre. He doesn't just do horror or supernatural.

Guillén: So it was the haunted technology in Pulse that you were going for?

Galloway: That and also—of the films I'd seen of his; I've seen several other of his films too—for me that was just the most effective in that genre. I liked Cure as well; but, I was going for the supernatural. Have you seen any other films he's done that are purely supernatural?

Guillén: Séance.

Galloway: Okay. I haven't seen that one.

Guillén: Séance freaked me out!

Galloway: Really? Is that an earlier one?

Guillén: It's an earlier one, yeah. How about animation? Would you ever study Japanese animation?

Galloway: Well, to be completely honest I'm not as drawn to that as many other of my contemporary writers on Asian film. I've seen a lot of anime and I have some anime in my film collection; but, it's not something I would particularly pursue. Just live action film is where it's at for me. With the samurai thing, taiga dramas which are like t.v. dramas in Japan are very popular with a lot of samurai film fans; but, I'm not drawn to that as the pure samurai film. Probably because the golden age was during the '60s and all the taiga dramas are being put out now so they're very contemporary, shot on DV and things like that, which ruin it for me.

Guillén: Well I, for one, am grateful that you have a genuine passion for the samurai films and Asia shock. I congratulate you on the publication of both volumes. Right now, I'm going to let you enjoy your Gibson.

Galloway: Well, join me with yours!

Cross-posted at Twitch.


Brian Darr said...

Pulse is your least favorite Kurosawa, Michael? I'm surprised to hear it. But then I haven't seen Seance yet either, so maybe that's the crucial factor.

Michael Guillen said...

When I wrote about Pulse on The WELL, I qualified that one of the problems I had was that the movie wasn't released in the States until years after its intended distribution and by then the idea of haunted technology via computers and cellphones had already been picked up and run with by other knockoffs. So, unfairly, though Kurosawa may have been one of the first to play with the trope, because of the late distribution and the fickleness of audience appetites (I'm speaking only for myself) Pulse came off derivative.

I'm much more fond of Seance and Cure for creeps, Bright Future for whimsy, and Doppelganger for comedy.