At the end of the seventies Teruo Ishii, who had a remarkable twenty years of directing, involuntarily bowed out of the film making scene. A few projects came his way throughout the eighties, but it seemed as if his hey days were long behind him. At the beginning of the nineties he resurfaced and ventured into new territories with V-Cinema; it was here that he could give himself more freedom, working on smaller budgets, while trying out new things. Screwed - based upon Yoshiharu Tsuge’s short manga Wind-up Type - was released in 1998, where it’s since earned something of a cult following. Tsuge’s works are often personal tales that deal with mental anguish and face inner fears, and they also share another thing in common, that being the protagonist who - like himself - is a manga-ka.
For a couple of years now Tsube (Tadanobu Asano) has been living with girlfriend Kuniko (Miki Fujitani). He’s a struggling cartoonist, while she goes off to work and comes home to a fruitless relationship. Money is tight, they can’t afford to pay for their apartment and frustrations are set high, which soon forces Kuniko to find another job and accommodation. Tsube eventually stays at his friend Kimoto’s (Kazuhiko Kanayama), which soon proves to be an uncomfortable situation. When Kuniko pays visit to Tsube he becomes suspicious of her having an affair and he begins to withdraw into himself; wondering about her infidelity, their time spent together and what it all amounted to. He attempts to commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills, but he’s soon saved and taken to a hospital. With uncertainty in his head he’s soon discharged and he decides to take a trip into the mountains, which sparks off a series of weird and wonderful transitions as he embarks on a journey of self discovery.
When comparing Screwed to its manga counterpart we find an adaptation that’s very faithful to its source material, but as to be expected director Ishii throws into the mix a few oddball moments, which in turn makes for an interesting and sombre study on the human psyche. While Yoshiharu Tsuge’s original story kept to a fairly straight dramatic portrayal, culminating with a slightly off kilter resolution, Tsuge infuses the work with dark, but more often quirky comical moments which are juxtaposed against a backdrop of psycho sexual underpinnings. After opening with a sleazy and surreal orgy, drowned in red and orange hues, which takes place on a beach Ishii picks up the main story, which for the most part sees Tsube confront a depressing period in his life. Not only is he struggling as an artist, but so to is he having difficulties in holding down a relationship with the only person who seems to be able to bring him any comfort. Soon enough Kuniko’s actions against him throw him into a state of self-realisation as the film then examines a range of emotions that stem from a single relationship, subsequently forcing those to evaluate their situation. Infidelity, angst, despair and promiscuity all contribute to Ishii’s explorations, as does the more personal character traits, which sees Tsube take kindly to the fact that he’s fulfilled by others’ failure in life as he journeys onward toward a path of enlightenment.
Screwed can most certainly be labelled as being mad; Ishii brings to the fold some bizarre and surreal ideas, of which the purpose is to naturally create a dreamscape of imagery. His sexual oriented segments are rather tastefully handled and prove to be beneficial in highlighting some of the absurdities that surround Tsube. Elsewhere, as touched upon earlier, he uses humour to great effect. In fact Screwed is a very funny film, which is spurred on by Tadanobu’s effortless portrayal of the troubled cartoonist; a mixture of laugh out situational comedy and subtle quirkiness ensues, and despite some of its outlandishness it’s played out in a subtle manner. As Screwed progresses Ishii continually develops his ideas, coming up with new challenges and even experimenting by using toy models toward the end of the final act. Surprisingly it all works very well; there’s a strange charm to the little toy train being driven by some mysterious conductor wearing a cat mask as it struggles up the hill, and quite clearly it’s a flash of genius that wouldn’t translate half as well had Ishii gone with the real thing. Trying to explain Ishii’s choices and serving them enough justice is somewhat difficult, but here’s a director who just makes things work, and that’s a very special gift.
Screwed has been released simultaneously, along with Teruo Ishii’s final film Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf. Panik House presents a decent disc for those wishing to check out this cult item. As with most of the recent releases there is an option to have menus in English or Spanish. Included in the amaray case is a sticker of the DVD cover.
Screwed isn’t the best looking film when it comes to DVD. Being the experimentalist that he was Ishii manipulates as much as he can possibly get away with. The results are mixed. While the film benefits from a dream-like quality, being heavily processed with diffusion filters, it tends to fall back on its lack of solid detail. As such the image is predominantly soft and in terms of colour it’s incredibly warm, with Autumnal hues and very little in the way of natural tones. Being shot on video back in 1998 the film displays inherent problems which brings some unsightly effects. There is extensive colour bleeding across the board, which I suspect is down to the master material and if there was any restoration going on here - as Panik House state - then you sure as hell can’t see it. There is also a lot of haloing going on, but I don’t suspect it’s down to edge enhancement; it’s likely down to a poor video source. To be honest it’s a tough one to call. Panik House has presented this as best as they possibly could I imagine and as such I’ll give it higher marks than it might deserve had it been shot under normal circumstances. I give the benefit of the doubt and assume that the film will never likely look as good.
Japanese Dolby Digital Surround 2.0 is our main language track and it’s more than adequate. In the main bulk of my review I neglected to mention Kenichi Segawa’s fascinating score, which is an eclectic mixture of bass lines, drum beats and whatever he dug out from under his kitchen sink. A nice, quirky score envelops the entire story and the overall quality is pretty solid. Music is punchy and dialogue is clear; some of the more sexual performances are louder than anything else that the track has to offer and this appears to be a deliberate move on Ishii’s part.
Optional English subtitles are included and this time around Panik House has done something a little different with them. The subs are white, with blue halos, bringing to mind the light-sabre effect. For some this may prove to be distracting; they are indeed strange and there’s never anything wrong with normal, white fonts. But we get what we get and they’re soon adjusted to.
The bonus features are a little light this time around. Trailers for Screwed, Blind Beast vs. Killer Dwarf and Tokyo Psycho precedes a small collection of poster and still shots. As for Production Notes, Panik House still isn’t quite grasping what constitutes as being production notes. Again we have the usual press blurb which offers nothing of value. What’s the point of including an advertisement for a DVD which you would have just bought? Next we have Bios, which are very good, being of a nice length and well researched, featuring Teruo Ishii, Tadanobu Asano and Yoshiharu Tsuge. Finally, and most interestingly, we have Yoshiharu Tsuge’s original manga included as a PDF file which can be accessed from a PC. It’s nice to be able to see the original work, most of it anyway. Curiously Panik House have inserted panels in places, which are taken from the film. I’m not quite certain why this is. Are they to show extra scenes in the film that don’t appear in the book?
Screwed was amongst the last of Teruo Ishii’s films and for a small video effort it’s had a lot of care put into it. Staying faithful to the original manga while injecting some new life into it, the film can easily be considered a success. It’s not a simple trip by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s certainly a rewarding experience and proved that even very late in his career and despite a massive break, Teruo Ishii could still deliver the goods and contribute toward giving independent cinema that extra little boost.