MAKE YOUR MOVE opened in New York theaters yesterday (April 18, 2014), after circulating in other countries around the world last year. It’s an American-South Korean co-production (shot mostly in Canada) starring Derek Hough, from the TV show “Dancing with the Stars,” and BoA, a Korean pop star who’s had her most significant success in Japan over the past ten years or so. The film is a musical centering on dance (making it a “dancical,” to use a term my daughter introduced to me), and is set primarily in Brooklyn among a subculture of underground dance clubs and assorted acts employing a wide range of dance styles. It was written and directed by Duane Adler, who’s credited with the screenplays for two notable teen dance movies, SAVE THE LAST DANCE (2001) and STEP UP (2006) and two additional dance-themed movies, THE WAY SHE MOVES (2001, TV) and MAKE IT HAPPEN (2008). I went to see this without having seen much in the way of this genre (other than the Disney Channel HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL and CHEETAH GIRLS franchises), so I don’t know how closely it hews to the teen dance formula. I came to this film as a onetime fan of BoA and happen to have a couple of her albums containing song CDs and music video DVDs in my collection. I’ve dabbled a little bit in K-pop (Korean pop music), although my main interest is in J-pop (Japanese pop music). (The BoA albums I have are sung in Japanese.) In any event, MAKE YOUR MOVE is the first American movie with an Asian female pop star in the lead. (NINJA ASSASSIN, 2009, had a male Korean pop star, Rain, in the lead but it wasn’t a musical.)
My first exposure to English-dubbed Italian genre films was when I saw TV commercials for “sword ‘n’ sandal” movies when I was a child, including HERCULES, HERCULES UNCHAINED, THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII and THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES. I didn’t get to see any of these in theaters at the time but would eventually see all of them on TV. The first film of this type I would see on the big screen was GOLIATH AND THE BARBARIANS, starring “Hercules” himself, Steve Reeves, and it played on a double bill with JET OVER THE ATLANTIC, a low-budget black-and-white American thriller set on an airplane, in January 1960, when I was six years old. Two years later, I saw several more Italian mini-spectacles when I began patronizing the Tremont Theater, which offered triple features of movies that had already played every other theater. Among the films I saw there were THE TROJAN HORSE, also starring Reeves; THE MONGOLS, starring Jack Palance and Anita Ekberg; LAST OF THE VIKINGS, starring Cameron Mitchell; and THE MINOTAUR, starring American Olympic athlete Bob Mathias. On March 10, 1963, I saw my first all-Italian double feature, SAMSON AND THE SEVEN MIRACLES OF THE WORLD and WARRIORS FIVE, chronicled here on March 10, 2013 in my blog entry entitled, “March 10, 1963: The Making of a Film Buff.”
(Steve Reeves as Aeneas in THE TROJAN HORSE)
Two of my last three entries were devoted to classic American TV shows, which means I’ve been neglecting one of my main interests—classic Japanese TV shows! There has been so much good stuff coming out on DVD in the last few years, both animated and live-action, that I’ve been building up an impossible backlog of shows. The big difference between my interests in classic American TV and Japanese TV is that the Japanese continue to turn out shows that engage me, so that the backlog includes shows from the 1960s to the 2010s! (My most recent American TV box set is probably “Police Story” Season One, from 1973!) The earliest Japanese TV show I have is the animated “Astro Boy,” which began its run in 1963, and the earliest live-action Japanese TV show I have is “Ultra Q,” which began its run in 1966. The latest in my collection is Volume 1 of “Ressha Sentai ToQger,” the latest sentai show in Japan, which began its run on Feb. 16 of this year, a month ago today! (More on sentai in a moment.) In between, I have dozens of shows, some complete and some in only a single volume of episodes, some on VHS, many on DVD, mostly animated, but many live-action as well. Most of the live-action shows in my collection fall into the tokusatsu category, a term for live-action special effects shows in the vein of “Ultraman” and “Kamen Rider.”
In every film by Hayao Miyazaki up to THE WIND RISES, there was something at stake. The hero (or, more often, the heroine) was involved in a life-or-death struggle (NAUSICAA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND, CASTLE IN THE SKY, PRINCESS MONONOKE) or faced some coming-of-age challenge that was of immense importance to their maturation (MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO, KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE, SPIRITED AWAY). There were hints of love stories in some of these films, but romance was never a priority.
In THE WIND RISES, Miyazaki’s latest film and his purported final directorial effort, the protagonist is Jiro Horikoshi, a young engineer who lives, breathes, and sleeps airplanes and, after college graduation, goes to work for Mitsubishi Industries and, not surprisingly, gets the opportunity to design a plane of his own. Since it’s the 1930s and Japan is already waging war on China (something barely hinted at in the film), it’s no surprise that Jiro’s plane will be a weapon of war. So, what’s the challenge in THE WIND RISES? What’s at stake for Mr. Horikoshi? He’s given the assignment and he follows through on it. Does the fact that it’s going to be used as a weapon of war represent a moral dilemma for him? Not much of one, it turns out. There is some tentative questioning, but he still plunges into the assignment with relentless zeal even though he knows full well what the end result will be. Which begs the question of why we, the audience, should care. Or why viewers in America, a country that lost men to those planes, shouldn’t be outraged.
I’ve been researching TV shows filmed in color in the 1950s and determining how many examples of such shows I have in my collection and how many are available on DVD and it’s basically amounted to the discovery of a whole new world. For a long time, the only 1950s shows I’d actually seen in color had been what I’d finally seen after I got a color TV set for the first time in 1978. These were “Adventures of Superman,” with George Reeves, and “Bonanza.” Of the Bonanza episodes I saw back then, I’m really only sure of one that was from the first season (1959-60), “Enter Mark Twain,” which guest-starred Howard Duff as a reporter named Samuel Clemens recently arrived in Virginia City and which aired in 1959. It’s quite possible that I saw some color episodes of “The Lone Ranger” back then, although I may be confusing that memory with the color “Lone Ranger” spin-off movies that were produced in the 1950s that used to run on local TV from time to time.
There are shows I watched on TV as a child and have seen repeatedly in the years since, through reruns and/or home video (e.g. “The Twilight Zone,” “Adventures of Superman”). There are shows I watched on TV as a child but haven’t seen since and don’t know how well they hold up (“Peter Gunn,” “Sea Hunt,” “Yancy Derringer”). There are shows that were on when I was a child but didn’t see at all until I was an adult and now consider among my favorites (“Bonanza,” “The Untouchables”). There are shows I saw as a child and have only recently rewatched for the first time in over five decades that have held up very well (“The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Wanted: Dead or Alive”). Finally, there are shows that were on in my childhood that I never saw at all, some I’ve heard of (“Adventures in Paradise,” “Richard Diamond, Private Detective”) and some I’ve discovered only by poring through the IMDB credits of actors I’m interested in. For instance, when I did the piece on Lisa Lu in the “Day of the Dragon” episode of “Bonanza” (January 8, 2013), I discovered among her TV credits in the 1950s and early ’60s such unfamiliar shows as “Tightrope,” “Dante,” “Cimarron City,” “Hong Kong,” “Checkmate,” and “Coronado 9.” I’m curious to see them all.
Steve McQueen, Lee Van Cleef in “Wanted: Dead or Alive”