Note: Asian Movie Month began on July 19, the 30th anniversary of Bruce Lee’s death, and will end on August 23, the U.S. release date of the new movie The Grandmaster (aka Yi dai Zong Shi), the mytholized story of the Ip Man (for which there are already two Hong Kong produced movies- Ip Man (2008) and Ip Man 2: Legend of the Grandmaster (2010)) about the man who taught Bruce Lee how to fight. Yes I know that’s a little longer than a month, but Asian Movie Month (and 4 days) doesn’t sound as catchy.
I realized that I haven’t done any Asian animation for Asian Movie Month, which is insane since that’s what whole slews of people are into about Asian culture- the anime! I’ve been into anime since I was a kid, but really got into it back in the early ’90s, when you had to trade video tapes through the mail with people to get much of anything. It was mostly ultra-violent stuff and hentai that was traded, stuff such as Demon City Shinjuku, Urotsukidoji, Violence Jack, Fist of the North Star, Devil Man,, etc. (and you quite often received the same movie under several different titles. I have Wicked City under about 4 different names, but when you see a movie called Supernatural Beastie City on someone’s trade list, you just have to take the chance that it’s one you haven’t seen).
In most of the other Asian Movie Month movies, I’ve done ones that were not very obscure- most of them are pretty easily found and have been seen by most any Asian movie aficionados, but are good entry level movies for casual viewers.
With the anime I’m going a little different and more obscure, to a Japanese telling of Jack and the Beanstalk that tried incredibly hard to be charming and Disney-like, but is actually pretty creepy and offputting.
Jakku To Mame No Ki is the Japanese title, and starts off with young Jack and his dog Crosby being awakened by his mildly emotionally abusive Mother to get up and do the chores on their farm. After some high spirited morning choring and adventures, he encounters a creepy looking obese bearded man with an eyepatch that most people would immediately identify as a sexual predator, but who Jack happily talks to because he is playing a weird, upbeat little new waveish ditty on an organ that looks like a giant typewriter. He talks Jack into trading his horrified cow for a bag of magic beans, and howls out a terrifying laugh after Jack walks off. Luckily the scene fades before we can see what he does with poor Bessie.
Back home his mother verbally abuses him some more while beating the crap out of him and throws the beans out the window.
Overnight they sprout into giant Cthulhu-like tendrils that explode into the sky while a shrill voiced siren shrieks out a song on the soundtrack. Down the beanstalk comes a mouse dressed like a princess who is attacked and almost eaten by a vicious owl, but makes it to Jack, who decides to climb up the beanstalk to see where the mouse princess came from.
At the top he finds a castle inhabited by a spaced out (obviously over medicated) young lady named Princess Margret, who tells him her parents were killed by an evil witch. She then sings an incredibly bright and cheerful song called “No One’s Happier Than I” while floating around on clouds, her drugged out looking serene face and monotone singing voice capturing the perfect feel of someone slowly o.d.ing on Prozac and horse tranquilizers. She is so happy because she will soon be married to her beautiful Prince Tulip. It’s worth mentioning at this point that all of the scenes and people from the Earth in this are animated in a more Western style, while all of the people who live in the clouds are more Japanese anime looking.
Princess Margret takes Jack into the castle to meet Madame Hecuba, Prince Tulip’s “sweet and beautiful” mother, who turns out to be a creepy evil ice crone who force feeds him drugged soup and tries to eat him. She is interrupted by her son, Prince Tulip, who turns out to be a giant who looks like a cross between 1980s Bruce Dickinson and an ogre. He smells Jack and wants to eat him as well, but the mice had teamed up with Crosby to help him escape, where he finds the castle’s treasure room, including a hen that lays golden eggs and a talking harp. He brings a bunch of the treasure home to his grouchy mother, and sings a happy song. But Crosby sings a mournful, Sinatra-esque song about the moon in a bizarre scene interspaced with Jack’s happy song (Crosby hasn’t said a word up to this point, and can’t talk after the song is over). Jack decides he should go back up to help the Princess and the mice.
As the movie moves closer to it’s denouement, it becomes more crazed and dark, including a weird wedding scene featuring paper cut out attendees given life with black magic and not one but two creepy wedding songs, an almost Looney Tunes like chase scene (with a punk rock (for 1974) song that I think is sung by the same shrieky voiced woman who sang the beanstalk growing song), and at least one disturbing death scene (for a cartoon).
The music in this is very eclectic, ranging from Lynch-eaque jazzy bits to ’70s disco-tinged funky rhythms and psychedellic scenes and noises. The whole thing plays out like a fever dream, and I wouldn’t doubt if Jack was actually abducted and sexually violated and murdered by the bean guy and the whole thing from the point they met on is his mind’s way of dealing with it (to create an alternate reality). The movie’s bittersweet and charming but creepy feel will haunt you long after you’ve seen it, and you might wake up in the middle of the night with “No One Is Happier Than I” stuck in your head. It’s truly the most depressing sounding song about happiness you’ll hear. Sometimes, when I’m at my lowest points of depression and hopelessness, the song crawls up out of my subconscious and begins repeating in my head.
Click if you dare
The funny thing is that I get the feeling that the people making it were trying to make a charming, funny, happy Disney-esque children’s fantasy movie and made a haunting, offbeat hodgepodge of different styles of music, mood, and animation instead. If you’re looking for something different than the usual anime, this might just do the trick.
You can find it for big bucks on Amazon, and I think you can find it in parts on youtube (a quick look found part 1 and 5, so the rest are probably on there).