[For the month of July, Japanator's sister site Flixist will be covering the Japan Cuts film festival, which is running in New York City from the 12th until the 28th. For your convenience, we will be posting review roundups here, but you can find all of Flixist's coverage here, and their coverage of the New York Asian Film Festival here.]
So we skipped Day -1 because of some technical problems and there's no such thing as a day 0, so here we are at Day 1. The Japan Cuts film festival has officially kicked off, Asura has already ended, and I am probably still sitting in a theater watching (and hopefully enjoying) Smuggler. Maybe you're there too, although if I see you reading this while in the theater watching Smuggler, I will first say, "Hey! Thanks for reading my stuff!" and then I'll throw things at you.
Anyways, we continue our quest to be two days ahead of the curve, and we've got a couple of opinions for you to look at and hopefully help inform your purchasing decision. Also, we're going to be at a whole bunch of screenings this weekend, so look out for a tall-ish skinny blonde kid and/or a short, bald asian man who will probably wearing a straw-colored panama hat. Maybe they'll be us.
Scabbard Samurai (Saya Zamurai | さや侍)
Synopsis: Set in the Edo era, Scabbard Samurai is about Kanjuro, a broken-down "scabbard samurai" who wishes to fight no more after the death of his wife. The local lord has branded him a deserter and ordered him to avenge his honor by committing seppuku--or, he can choose what's behind Door Number Two. The lord's young son has not cracked so much as a smile since the death of his mother, and the family is looking to lift his spirits. Kanjuro's mission, should he choose to accept it, is to make the prince smile again--and he has 30 days to do it. If he succeeds before the month is out, his life will be spared. Otherwise, he'll die trying.Scabbard Samurai is Hitoshi Matsumoto's most grounded film to date. Featuring his trademark deadpan humor, it's a side-splitting tearjerker that never takes the easy way out.
Thoughts: Scabbard Samurai sets up a pattern story whose motto might as well be "Make 'em laugh, or die trying." Like the best pattern stories, the interest comes from how Matsumoto is able to play with the constraints of the pattern and make it seem fresh rather than repetitive. One of Kanjuro's stunts is described as "flamboyant and refreshingly stupid," which is also a fitting description for a good portion of the film. Rather than just a collection of slapstick set ups and punchlines, Scabbard Samurai becomes this surprisingly touching look at the difficulties and dignity of making other people happy -- it can be something worth doing; it might even be something that's worth dying for.
Verdict: See it. [Read the full review]
Love Strikes! (Moteki | モテキ)
Synopsis: Hitoshi One's romantic comedy, based on a hugely popular manga and TV series, became a massive hit in Japan and was selected for the Top Films of 2011 by The Japan Times, Kinema Jumpo and Eiga Geijutsu. Love Strikes! is the hopelessly endearing tale of Yukiyo Fujimoto (Mirai Moriyama), a diffident, nowhere guy who suddenly becomes the ultimate hot chick magnet. Yukiyo lands a job at a webzine devoted to pop culture, but his forced celibacy is the butt of all his colleagues' jokes. Yukiyo gives full vent to his self-pity via Twitter feed, and hooks up with a fellow user who seems to share his tastes in pop subculture. They arrange to meet but instead, shockingly cute Miyuki (Masami Nagasawa, who took home the 2012 Japanese Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her part) shows up. Then, as Yukiyo's "moteki"--a Japanese slang term referring to a period of unexplained romantic popularity with the opposite sex--begins to hit full swing, Miyuki might not be as unattainable as he thought.
Thoughts: Love Strikes! should be an amazing movie. It's got an absolutely amazing start (helped along by a wonderful music video/dance number/something featuring the talents of electropop group Perfume), but it quickly ruins itself by focusing on one of the worst characters in cinema history. Everything he does is terrible and selfish, and the total lack of retribution for his actions made me want to kick something cute and then stamp it to death. When the credits rolled, I realized that literally nothing had been resolved, and that made me even angrier. Even so, Love Strikes! is a really funny movie, and the first thirty minutes alone probably make it worth watching.
Verdict: Consider it. [Read the full review]
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