Let the Corpses Tan (2018)

Let the Corpses Tan is a fascinating convergence of things I love to see on the screen and things I could not care less about. Directed by the married duo behind the psychedelic giallo freakout The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, the film is a highly stylized, hyperviolent indulgence in over-the-top depictions of sex, violence, and outsider art. It’s also a loving pastiche of the Spaghetti Western, one that details a never-ending shootout between cops & robbers fighting to the death over stolen gold. Westerns aren’t my usual genre of choice and although Let the Corpses Tan largely avoids the gruff, macho posturing and ruminations over codes of Honor that typically bore me in the Western pic, I couldn’t help but be exhausted by it all the same. This is a film that deliberately survives on the virtues of its aesthetics, so I don’t feel too bad in admitting that its choice of genre & locale was largely the only elements at play preventing me from falling in love. If these same tones & tactics were set in a haunted graveyard or a spaceship instead of the desert I would have been a lot more enraged with the gorgeous display on the screen; it’s petty but it’s true.

A small crew of boneheaded brutes take refuge at a remote artists’ retreat in the desert after stealing a truckload of solid gold bars. When a young woman kidnaps her child against a custody order and arrives at the retreat unannounced, unconnected to the robbery, she brings police scrutiny that explodes the already tense situation into a day-long shootout. The story behind the gun violence is treated like a necessary evil so that directors Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani can get to the detail-obsessive filmmaking indulgences that really excite them: biker cops in fetish gear reaching for their holstered guns; kinky fantasies involving outdoor piss play & bondage; jolts of desert-set psychedelia reminiscent of titles like Phase IV, The Velvet Vampire, and Altered States, etc. The hour by hour detailing of the cops & robbers shootout (as told & retold from various angles) can be a bit of a chore, making Let the Corpses Tan feel twice its 90min runtime. However, the detailed aesthetic Cattet & Forzani evoke between the film’s creaky black leather & gold glitter-smeared nude bodies is undeniable in its in-the-moment effect. Its blasé attitude shared between artists & thieves who think nothing of “killing all the cops on Earth” is also infectiously punk, especially considering that this is a genre I typically associate with Conservative grumps.

When Let the Corpses Tan sings it’s a gorgeous, badass free-for-all of detail-obsessed filmmaking. When it drags it plays a little like a dime-a-dozen Tarantino knockoff the world has already seen far too much of in the last two decades, Thankfully, it sings more than it drags, and the strength of its imagery – whether a highway robbery disguised by Frankenstein masks, a stream of glittery gold piss snaking through the desert sand, or the simple lighting of a cigarette – is what sticks with you longer than its overly familiar gene beats. Even beyond its debt to the Western template in general — Spaghetti or otherwise — Let the Corpses Tan has to contend with plenty of other recent highly-stylized, desert-set gore fests that threaten to dampen its novelty. It’s like Revenge, but less political; it’s like The Bad Batch, but not as boring; it’s like Bone Tomahawk, but not latently racist. The modern genre film landscape is overflowing with so many riches, both in new releases and in Blu-Ray reissues of long-lost classics, that it’s extremely difficult for any isolated title to stand out as a one-of-a-kind-novelty. Between Let the Corpses Tan, The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, and their debut Amer (which I also found a little patience-testing, to be honest), Cattet & Forzani have proven that they can do so with ease, as long as their chosen genre is something that sparks your interest on its own merits. I enjoyed this one immensely at times and fought off the approach of boredom at others. Here’s to hoping they make their next one about something more my speed, like a pro wrestling tournament or a witch’s coven; I’ll be watching either way.

-Brandon Ledet

Tampopo (1985)

Hailed as the first “ramen western” (a play on the term “spaghetti Western”), Tampopo takes that designation to it’s most extremely literal end, focusing on the title character’s ramen shop as the location of metaphorical quick-draws and high noon showdowns, as well incorporating a variety of loosely connected comedy sketches about food.

The main narrative concerns the arrival of truck driver Gorō (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and his sidekick Gun (a young Ken Watanabe) at the barely-afloat ramen shop, Lai Lai, that widowed single mother Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto) inherited from her husband. Under Gorō’s tutelage, Tampopo resurrects her shop along with help from a motley crew of unlikely allies: Shōhei (Kinzō Sakura), a chauffeur who has a way with noodles; “The Old Master” (Yoshi Katō), a former surgeon reduced to vagrancy, but possessing a nearly-magical skill with noodle making; and Pisuken (Rikiya Yasuoka), a formerly antagonistic contractor who redesigns the interior of the shop, now renamed “Tampopo” in honor of its proprietress.

Interspersed throughout is the story of a white-clad gangster (frequent Kiyoshi Kurosawa collaborator Kōji Yakusho) and his mistress, who explore the erotic aspects of food. Other shorter one-off scenes include a salaryman upstaging his superiors at a fancy restaurant with his extensive knowledge of haute cuisine, a class of women being taught the Western way of eating spaghetti while a Western patron at a nearby table does the opposite of what their etiquette teacher instructs, a grocer pursuing a food-squeezing woman through the aisles of his market, a man dealing with an abscessed tooth, and a derelict making Tampopo’s son a rice omelette while evading detection by a security guard, among others.

Using tropes that one would normally find in Western genre films, Tampopo paints Gorō as the high plains drifter who wanders into town and saves a local homesteader, except that he does so with his cooking skills and not his guns (although his fists come in handy more than once). There are recurring Western-like themes, like the defeated enemy who becomes a friend (which plays out not just between Gorō and Pisuken but also between Tampopo’s son and the bullies who frequently harass him), the training montage straight out of the original Magnificent Seven, and even an ending scene that plays out as a virtual recreation of the end of Shane. This juxtaposition of Western archetypes and Eastern social rules and concepts make for a delightful and refreshing movie that’s sure to make you laugh and hunger.

Tampopo is available in several DVD releases, but, as always, the Criterion version is most highly recommended.

-Mark “Boomer” Redmond