It's been a little while since my last one of these, and I'm sorry about that. But I haven't actually died or anything, and there's still more to come! With just three days left in the festival (tonight included), some of the...
Japan Cuts has officially begun. Last night, the festival kicked off with the latest Takashi Miike film to hit our shores, The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji, and then Sion Sono's Why Don't You Play in Hell, which I've alr...
Jul 09 //
Alec Kubas-Meyer [embed]32822:4044:0[/embed]
Why Don't You Play in Hell? (地獄でなぜ悪い Why don’t you play in hell？)Director: Sion Sono
Official Synopsis: A tribute to old-school yakuza cinema and shoe-string amateur filmmaking based on a screenplay Sion Sono wrote 17 years ago. The Fuck Bombers, a group of film geeks led by Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa), try to turn brawler Sasaki (Tak Sakaguchi) into their new Bruce Lee but are nowhere near making their action masterpiece. An ambush set up by a yakuza clan comes to a gory end in the home of boss Muto (Jun Kunimura) with only one man, Ikegami (Shinichi Tsutsumi), surviving. When Mitsuko, the Mutos' young daughter, makes an unexpected entrance, Ikegami is instantly smitten. Ten years later, she has become one sultry mean mess of a girl (Fumi Nikaido). Determined to make Mitsuko a star, her father gives Hirata a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make his movie, with the yakuza as film production crew and the Bombers joining the "real" action--the ultimate sword battle between the Muto and Ikegami clans.
Thoughts: I have trouble believing that there will be another film at Japan Cuts as amazing as Why Don't You Play in Hell?. Sion Sono's latest is also his best, and it's a wild and crazy celebration of life, the universe, and filmmaking.
Verdict: Marry it. [Read the full review here!]
The Eternal Zero (Eien no Zero | 永遠の0)Director: Takashi Yamazaki
Official Synopsis: As infuriating in its ideological and political black holes as it is exhilarating in visual artistry, The Eternal Zero follows a young man who, as he investigates the life and times of his grandfather, a reluctant kamikaze pilot during the Pacific War, goes from troubling revelations to shocking truths about heroism, history and his own family. Adapted from a hugely popular novel by Naoki Hyakuta, the film tells the tale of tokkotai ("special section," or kamikaze) pilot Kyuzo Miyabe in flashbacks that progressively reveal his alleged cowardice in battle actually concealed a specific moral philosophy of survival. From the cruelties of war to breathtaking airborne battles, this kinetic, emotionally intense, but also politically ambivalent film will leave no one indifferent.
Thoughts: I wouldn't expect a Japanese person to like an American film about the atomic bomb. By the same token, if you're an American you shouldn't expect to like this film about a kamikaze pilot. I'm not that patriotic, but I still found it intensely disturbing to watch a film's protagonist participate in Pearl Harbor and then complain that it didn't go far enough. But even if you aren't an American, The Eternal Zero has nothing for you. It's emotionally manipulative (although it doesn't actually succeed in eliciting emotion), visually unimpressive, and about an hour too long. One of the only films that has ever bored me to tears.
Verdict: Skip it. [Read the full review here!]
R100 Director: Hitoshi Matsumoto
Official Synopsis: R100 starts as one of those humdrum, realistic, slice-of-life Japanese dramas about a lonely, single father. But this boring furniture salesman hires an exclusive gentleman’s bondage club to torment him. They dispatch dangerous dominatrixes at random to torture him as he goes about his everyday routine, and he soon realizes that life doesn’t come with a safeword. Dominatrixes are beating the tar out of him at work, at home, on the street, and in his dying wife’s hospital room. He tries to stop the contract, but is informed that the more he begs for mercy, the more they can tell he’s actually turned on. And that’s when the movie’s genre gets tortured out of shape, and by the time the end credits roll it’s become a deadpan parody of square Japanese action movies of the 1960s. You’ll have no clue as to how it got from point A to point B, but the journey is so insane that you won’t mind. This is one of the funniest movies of the year, with something profound to say about the pursuit of pleasure, girl gangs, dominatrix armies, and total bondage warfare.
Thoughts: R100 made a man eat his shirt because it was so crazy, and I can understand why.
Verdict: See it. [Read the full review here!]
Fuku-chan of FukuFuku Flats (Fukubuku no Bukuchan | 福福荘の福ちゃん)Director: Yosuke Fujita
Official Synopsis: Tatsuo Fukuda—or Fuku-chan, as his many buddies have affectionately nicknamed him—lives a modest happy-go-lucky existence running a team of painters/decorators. Walking through life with an all-around positive attitude, he is surrounded by friends during and after work hours. Despite this charmed existence and his kind-hearted nature, Fuku-chan has no luck with women, in whose company he feels almost pathologically awkward. One day, aspiring photographer Chiho Sugiura (Asami Mizukawa) comes back into his life and accursed memories of a nasty high-school prank flood back, reminding him of the trauma that forever destroyed his male mojo and ambitions to get cozy with the fairer sex. Although many things have changed, can they still be friends? Is it possible that they could be more? A film with a heart as big as its lead actress’ smile, it’s not to be missed.
Thoughts: Fuku-chan is just a wonderful story. The main characters are all really interesting, which is good because the entirety of the film is just watching them interact. The actual narrative is generic romantic comedy fare, but the leads have excellent chemistry and make the whole thing a joy to watch. It's brilliantly funny, though it's not a laugh-a-second sort of story. There's a lot of pleasant quiet moments that blend with the over-the-top comedy that make the film feel a lot less bizarre than it actually is.
Verdict: See it. [Read the full review here!]
Plus NYAFF stragglers R100 and Fuku-chan of FukuFuku Flats Tomorrow marks the official start of the 2014 Japan Cuts film festival, which means today starts our official roundup series. We're kicking things off with two of the biggest films to play at the festival, Sion Sono's brillia...
Welcome to the third annual announcement of the Japan Cuts film festival by a Flixist writer. For those who don't know, Japan Cuts is the biggest Japan-focused festival in North America, and it has returned wi...
Automatic contest entries, discounts, responsive mobile site, and new video shows We here at ModernMethod are rolling out a membership program across all four sites called HUGE. The program is meant to be a game-changer for the entire network, allowing us to bring you better content than you've ever seen b...
Jul 26 //
Sometimes while running errands, something will make me think of someone I knew in college that I haven't thought of in a long while. In a sense, that's what A Story of Yonosuke is all about. People start remembering the title character and how he made little positive impressions on their lives simply by being himself (i.e., a well-meaning goofball). We only get to meet characters during their college years and roughly 20 years later, so what director Shuichi Okita provides is a sketch of lives but sketches well-rendered. There's an undeniable brightness to the film, and while its 160-minute run time initially seemed daunting, I never felt bored. Instead, I was unexpectedly moved. — Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!)
I'm usually nervous about adaptations of my favorite properties, but for some reason I knew I would enjoy Rurouni Kenshin, even before the glowing recommendations from those who were at the first NYAFF screening. And oh how right I was. Creating a sort of parallel timeline that deviates from the source material in key ways, the film does what it needs to make a film worth everybody's time rather than just something for the fans. Also, the action is awesome. I do wish there had been some more characterization of some of the major manga characters that were cut down for time, but with two sequels in production, there's plenty of time for them to grow. I can’t wait. — Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read his full review here!)
Thermae Romae’s greatest strength is the way it plays its insanity totally straight. Nothing defines this more than Hiroshi Abe’s turn as the film’s protagonist, Lucius Modestus. His wide-eyed fascination at the conveniences of modern life is both convincing and hilarious. The way he battles the internal struggle between being Rome’s greatest bathhouse creator and a talentless hack stealing from the “flat-faced tribe” plays out perfectly in both his voiceover and his facial expressions, and everything is made better just because he’s there. I truly believed that a bidet made that grown man weep. A performance for the ages. — Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read Hubert's full review here!)
During It's Me It's Me, Kazuya Kamenashi plays about 33 roles. Many of these roles are brief, but I think what's fascinating is that each character is given their own personality. Given, a lot of this is accomplished through the wardrobe, but I think more of it comes from Kazuya Kamenashi's body language and line delivery, which is what helps sell the bizarre conceit of the film. One of the best scenes in It's Me It's Me features dinner with two of doubles. Even if they were wearing the same clothes, you could tell which character is which without much trouble. The performance—or, maybe, performances—is pretty great in that regard. — Hubert Vigilla (Read his full review here!)
As a film that should not exist, Bad Film fits nicely into the cult classic canon. Shot in 1995 on Hi-8 but not finished until last year, Sion Sono's masterpiece is 161 minutes of terrible perfection. The atrocious video quality mixed with the ridiculous storyline and a cast of hundreds make for something that could never be made again. Its strangeness could have been its downfall, but it all just works, against all odds and logic. Anyone who gets the chance to experience it on a big screen must do so. Must. Because if you have the chance and lose it, the regret will haunt you until the day you die, and possibly even longer. — Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read his full non-review here!)
I mean, how much do I really need to say about this? The Warped Forest a totally insane pseudo-sequel to a film that's already a cult hit, and there's no way this one won't follow in its footsteps. I mean, that gun up there has a penis in it. If that's not cult classic material, I don't know what is. — Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read his full review here!)
My hatred for A Woman and War is well documented, and I hope that this is the last time I ever have to write about it. It which attempts to portray the horrors of war, a noble goal, but does so by being comprised of nothing but sex (mostly non-consensual) and painfully-blunt monologues. When I say it's the second worst thing ever, I'm probably being facetious, but it truly is one of the worst "films" (if you want to call it that, I don't) I have ever seen. If that makes you want to see it, you seriously need to reconsider your priorities. Luckily, there was nothing else in the festival that could even be considered bad, so A Woman and War gets to take this dubious honor all on its own. — Alec Kubas-Meyer (Read his full review here!)
Fly with the Golden Castle of Goodbye
It's Me, Bad Forest!
A Woman and War is disgusting
Thermae Kirishima Romae
A Story of Dreams for Helter Skelter
Lesson of FLASH and Evil
The Floating Castle - 74 (Good)
The Ravine of Goodbye - 79 (Good)
Fly with the Gold - 75 (Good)
A Woman and War - 9 (Repulsive)
It's Me It's Me - 77 (Good)
I'M FLASH! - 78 (Good)
The Warped Forest - 80 (Great) -
Rurouni Kenshin - 86 (Exceptional) -
Hentai Kamen: Forbidden Superhero - 69 (Decent)
Lesson of the Evil - 70 (Good)
Thermae Romae - 80 (Great) -
A Story of Yonosuke - 86 (Exceptional) -
Helter Skelter - 63 (Decent)
We've reached the end of the road. Above is a video of Hubert and me on the final day of the festival talking about what we saw, what we thought, and whatever else. The actually conversation was about nine minutes longer, bu...
And here we are, folks: the last roundup of the 2013 Japan Cuts film festival. There are three more films we wanted to tell you about before tomorrow comes. What's tomorrow? Well, our final recap/awards post, of course!
So Japan Cuts has officially ended, but that doesn't mean we're done writing about it. We've still got a few more reviews to do and our massive roundup coming this Friday (a scaled down version of which will be posted here).
Jul 17 //
Alec Kubas-Meyer [embed]29143:2638:0[/embed]
Rurouni Kenshin (るろうに剣心)Director: Keishi Ōtomo
Synopsis: Japan's number one box office hit of the year, this live action adaptation of a manga about a Meiji era assassin who leaves his life behind to become a protector of the common man has sold 55 million copies as a manga, and spawned several wildly popular animated adaptations. And it's one hell of a sword fighting movie.
Thoughts: Rurouni Kenshin both is and isn't the story that we all know and love. It's been condensed, shifted, cut, and remade in a way that works for a 135 minute film. The action is stellar, and the character stuff is pretty damn good as well. I'm very excited to see where the team goes for the sequels.
Verdict: See it. [Read the full review!]
Hentai Kamen: Forbidden Super Hero (HK Hentai Kamen | HK 変態仮面)Director: Yuichi Fukuda
Synopsis: Kyosuke (Ryuhei Suzuki) is the best member of his high school martial arts club, but when he indulges in his passion for wearing women's underwear he becomes the panty-masked superhero Hentai Kamen. Based on a wildly popular manga series, Hentai Kamen may not be the hero we deserve, but he's the hero we need.
Thoughts: Watching Hentai Kamen in a group is probably the best way to see it. Watching it alone would make me feel oddly ashamed, but in a large crowd, everyone gets to participate in the enjoyable bewilderment of the film. There are two surprising things about Hentai Kamen. One, it's actually a pretty competent superhero story in the mold of the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies. That automatically makes it twice as good as Green Lantern. Two, it's about 10 to 15 minutes too long, and when I watched it with a crowd, I could feel the energy getting sucked out of the room and never quite recovering. When it works, though, it really works, and the sound of the film was drowned out by laughter. (The subtitles were doubly essential.) It's just too bad that part of the film toward the end was about as pleasant as having a pair of testicles pressed against your cheek.
Verdict: Consider It (You Pervert) [Read the full review here!]
A Woman and War (Senso to Hitori no Onna | 戦争と一人の女)Director: Junichi Inoue
Synopsis: The dignified [ha!] heir to Koji Wakamatsu's glorious renegade film works, A Woman and War is a darker-than-hell moral shocker set towards the end of WWII. Nomura (Masatoshi Nagase) is a writer in despair. His companion is a former prostitute (Noriko Eguchi), who works in a bar. Many years ago, her father sold her to a brothel due to the family's severe financial hardships. The writer and the woman agree to live as husband and wife until the war ends. Meanwhile, Ohira (Jun Murakami) fought for Japan in China, and participated in unconscionable acts against civilians in the name of war. Returning to Japan with only one arm and a broken soul, he begins to prey on innocent women.
Thoughts: This thing doesn't deserve to be called a "film," so I won't call it one. It's trash made by people who decided that rape would take the place of plot and character development. On every level, it is fundamentally disgusting. Undoubtedly the second worst thing masquerading as a piece of cinema I've seen in my entire life (Birdemic is first). This shouldn't exist, and the entire world is worse off because it does.
Verdict: Avoid it like the plague. [Read the full, very angry review!]
But Rurouni Kenshin is sooo good A Woman and War is one of the worst things I have ever seen in my entire life. It is unfathomably bad and has the dubious honor of being the first thing to get a score below 10/100 on Flixist. It's sickening, truly repul...
The first weekend of Japan Cuts continues with a long day of movies that run the gamut from adaptations of beloved manga/anime to the aforementioned Citizen Kane of time travel Roman bath house movies. It's certainly going to...
Unlike the New York Asian Film Festival, Japan Cuts is relatively quiet during the week. There are never more than two films in a day, and oftentimes there's only one. On the weekends, though, they make up for it with three o...
Heya, remember me? Probably not, but that's okay. I write for Japanator's film-obsessed sister site Flixist, and for the second year running, we will be bringing our coverage of the Japan Cuts film festival over here so can g...
Just in case you didn't know, we've got a great sister site over at Flixist, blogging up all your movies. And guess what, Studio Ghibli makes a lot of movies! To celebrate that and the US release of Arrietty, they've been wri...
Nov 08 //
The Quiet Don - A New Chapter: Vol. 1 [Stream]Director: Hideo JojoRelease Date: June 1, 2009Country: Japan
Let's get this out of the way first: the acting in this film overall is terrible. Phenomenally terrible. The dialogue is typical fare for what you would expect in the most cheesiest of J-drama's, and only rarely do the actors hit their mark well enough that I don't roll my eyes in embarrassment. The first antagonist the viewer sees, a drug-addled yakuza holding a female hostage, is so comically over-acted that I couldn't help but laugh, and everything else that follows pales in comparison to the acting portrayed by a man casually getting a shave by a barber in the same scene.
It's funny to note that that man actually plays a large role in the premise of the film, as he is known as the leader of the toughest yakuza clan in their region, the Shinsen-gumi, and father to main character and lonely womans underwear designer, Shizuya. What follows is a man who must subsequently lead a notorious yakuza gang by night, and become a lowly salaryman by day, bordering this film on the brink of being a parody and a love story as soon as a female co-worker is kidnapped.
The idea of a fun, off-beat comedy is there, but the problems start when I find it difficult to know when and when not to laugh. There surely are serious moments in this film, and there surely are moments where it wants you to laugh, but I've been torn on taking neither of those moments seriously, laughing at anything that isn't intended to be funny, and pondering whether or not this poor writing was intended under the parody aspect of The Quiet Don.
You've got goofy sound effects, stiff choreography and acting so forced that you'd swear that the only acting lessons these yakuza have had is replaying clips of Bulk and Skull from Mighty Morphing Power Rangers, and a main character who, when playing his cowardly businessman persona, sounds like the Japanese Napoleon Dynamite. Over-reaction is as much a common comedic element in Japan as fart jokes are in the US and non-sequiturs in the UK. Though while I found myself laughing a lot throughout the course of The Quiet Don, a lot of it was at the expense of the film itself.
Now, do I wish I never watched this movie? Absolutely not. For what it is, pound-by-pound, it's entertaining enough to warrant a play-through of its sequel, and fun enough to enjoy with a group of other Japanese cinema fanatics. If you're a stickler for cinematography and the technicalities of a film, however, then best thing I can say about The Quiet Don is that its heart is in the right place. Some cool sequences are set up, and the ideas of awesome angles and kinetic movement are apparent, but with such an unsteady camera and a lack of still shots, the films strongest moments are towards the end, where the camera doesn't accidentally bump into the actors face, or where it's too slow panning up to catch a reaction.
But, like with the cinematography, the ideas and heart are there with this film. I'm not here to review a film that could have been, so sadly The Quiet Don will have to settle for being just a fun parody of yakuza life that is well worth the viewers time, and nothing more. But because of this, for many who don't take films as seriously, it could be just what was needed for a fun, relaxing night out. Okay - 63(60s are just okay. These movies usually have many flaws, didn’t try to do anything special, or were poorly executed. Some will still love 60s, but most prefer to just rent them. Watch more trailers and read more reviews before you decide.)
"Tom Fronczak – Director Hideo Jojo decides to sacrifice every ounce of potential and make a silly movie that doesn’t take itself seriously at all; this is far from highbrow Japanese cinema. Whereas the bizarre suits and terrible soundtrack add to comedic value, the lame fights do not. There's fun to be had with The Quiet Don on a boring night with friends, but there's still no denying that it's a terrible film. You can read his full review here on Flixist! Terrible - 46"
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