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Friday, March 10, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Reel

Japanese `Wings' Cartoon Starting On Varsity Screen

While other countries continue to submit live-action films, Japan entered a feature-length cartoon ("The Raccoon War") in this year's Oscar race for best foreign-language film. It didn't make it into the finals, but the fact that it got that far suggests how important animation is to the Japanese.

In Seattle, the chief big-screen outlet for these movies is the Varsity, which is showing "The Wings of Honneamise" (aka "Star Quest"), tonight through Monday. Produced in 1987, finally released here now in a 120-minute English-dubbed version, it's about a lunkheaded boy who wants to be a Royal Space Force astronaut and gets his inspiration from an earnest young religious fanatic. In one jawdropping episode, he tries to rape her, she knocks him out, then she apologizes the next morning.

The fictional backdrop to all this is a kind of what-if version of "The Right Stuff," in which the Japanese are first to send a man into space. The space program is secretly being readied for conversion into a military program against the enemy, which attempts to shoot down a rocket that's carrying the first human payload.

The launch sequence, not the simplistic characters, is the movie's raison d'etre. The young director, Hiroyuki Yamaga, appears to have spared no expense in copying the visual details of a real rocket launch, which is painstakingly rendered in animated slow motion. The aerial scenes achieve a three-dimensional depth reminiscent of the flying episodes in Disney's "Peter Pan" and "Aladdin."

The music is by Ryuichi Sakamato, who did the offbeat score for "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence" and won an Oscar for "The Last Emperor." He contributes mightily to the oceanic finale, a flat-out attempt at creating a religious experience on film - but not unexpected in an industry that is now working on a feature-length animated version of the life of Buddha.

Also at the Varsity, Ringo Lam's 1987 police thriller, "City on Fire," plays at midnight tonight and tomorrow. The Hong Kong movie is the acknowledged inspiration for Quentin Tarantino's first picture, "Reservoir Dogs," which will be shown at midnight tonight and tomorrow on another of the Varsity's screens.

More Hong Kong movies are scheduled Thursday night: a double bill of Jackie Chan's 1988 action comedy, "Dragons Forever," and John Woo's 1992 tale of a cop teamed up with a mob assassin, "Hard-Boiled."

Filling out the Varsity's week: a Tuesday-night double bill of Ken Russell's "The Devils" and last year's tale of medieval France, "The Advocate"; and a racy Wednesday-night collection of cartoons (Betty Boop, Flip the Frog) that were produced before the Production Code went into effect in 1934. Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Mamma Roma" opens next Friday for a week-long run.

`Terror Has a Name'

Lon Chaney Sr. is the main attraction in Shining Moment Productions' latest Archetypes of Horror series, "Terror Has a Name."

It starts at 7 and 9 p.m. Thursday at the Pike St. Cinema with a 1920 film about a vengeful, deformed criminal, "The Penalty." Still to come: "He Who Gets Slapped" (March 23), "The Blackbird" (March 30), "The Unholy Three" (April 6) and "Where East is East" (April 13). Live music will be provided by Lori Goldston. Tickets are $6.

Tonight through Sunday at the same hours, the theater is showing Herschell Gordon Lewis' gruesome 1968 biker movie, "She Devils on Wheels," about the adventures of a female gang called "Maneaters on Motorbikes."

At 8 p.m. Monday, "8mm Films Saved From Extinction" will be screened, followed at 8 p.m. Tuesday by "Stories For Short Attention Spans," an 8mm feature film in the making. "Short Films From the San Francisco Underground" will play at 7 and 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Midnight shows this weekend include tonight's "History of Smut," a collection of stag films from 1915 to the 1950s, and tomorrow's "Bukowski," accompanied by live readings of Charles Bukowski's poems. Tickets are $5.

Dennis Nyback, the theater's manager, claims this is the last showing of "Bukowski," which has been selling out midnight shows. Next week, he's off to Europe for a seven-week tour of rare films he's dubbed "Twentieth Century Nihilism."

Around town

Zola Mumford's "Dear Little Sweet Thang `Nita" gets another screening at 8 p.m. next Friday at 911 Media Arts Center, 117 Yale Ave. N. Tickets are $3 for members, $5 for others . . . Ford Thaxton's Soundtrack Cinema, at 9 p.m. tomorrow on KING-FM, 98.1, features music from "Laura," "The Man With the Golden Arm" and the 1941 version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde". . . The restored version of Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" will open next Friday at the Neptune. . . "The Sum of Us," an Australian comedy about the close bound between an aging father (Jack Thompson) and his gay son (Russell Crowe), will be screened as a benefit for Alice B. Theater and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Harvard Exit. Tickets are $15 for the movie, $25 for the movie and a reception that starts at 6:30 p.m. Information: 32-ALICE.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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