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A New Post (Sort of…)

Yes, it’s been a long long time since I posted on here and I’m not about to start writing stuff on here again I’m afraid.

I’m basically here just to tell you that doesn’t mean I haven’t been watching a lot of movies as I have but sadly I just haven’t had the chance to watch as much Asian stuff as I’d like. I am still writing mini reviews on all movies I’ve watched over the last 7 or so years on this site: https://umechan.listal.com/

So head on over to that site if you want to check out the latest movies I’ve watched and for all those people that still coming here to check out my old reviews thank you very much.

gamera_super_monster_front

Gamera: Super Monster
Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

The-X-from-Outer-Space

The X From Outer Space
Sadako’s Rating: 1.5 stars out of 5

Rurouni Kenshin Kyoto Inferno

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno
Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

AngelonFires

Angel On Fire
Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Beautiful-Teacher-In-Torture-Hell

Beautiful Teacher In Torture Hell
Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Rhapsody in august

Rhapsody In August
Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

juon_the_beginning_of_the_end

Ju-On: The Beginning Of The End
Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

Silver Miike

Silver
Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

Darkside Blues

Darkside Blues
Sadako’s Rating: 1.5 stars out of 5

gamera_vs_barugon_front

Gamera vs Barugon
Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

Travelers Dimension Police

Travelers: Dimension Police
Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

ninja-kids-summer-mission-impossible

Ninja Kids!!!: Summer Mission Impossible
Sadako’s Rating: 1.5 stars out of 5

Diamond-Fight-Norman-Chu-Bo-sha-Norman-Chu

Diamond Fight
Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

TheRebel-2007

The Rebel
Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Executionersonny

The Executioner
Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

RPG3 Hanafuda Game

Red Peony Gambler 3: Hanafuda Game
Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

The-Stormriders

The Storm Riders
3.5 stars out of 5

Wet Dreams

Wet Dreams
3.5 stars out of 5

super-powerful-man-poster

Super Powerful Man
1 star out of 5

peoples hero

People’s Hero
3.5 stars out of 5

in-a-corner-of-this-world-0-230-0-341-crop

In A Corner Of This World
2.5 stars out of 5

godfathers-of-hong-kong-poster

Godfathers Of Hong Kong
3 stars out of 5

Spellbound-cp3

Spellbound
3.5 stars out of 5

The_Climber's_High_(2005-Japan-NHK)

Climber’s High
3 stars out of 5

w is war

W Is War
1 star out of 5

lovers-tear-1991-1

Lover’s Tear
2.5 stars out of 5

wild-search-(1989)-large-picture

Wild Search
2.5 stars out of 5

WushuDVD

Wushu
3 stars out of 5

nuigulumar-z-poster2

Nuigulumar Z
3 stars out of 5

Afro-Tanaka-2011-Movie-Poster

Afro Tanaka
3 stars out of 5

The_Witch_of_the_West_is_Dead_poster

Young teenage girl Mai decides to drops out of high school due to being an outcast. Her overworked parents send her down to her foreign grandmothers house in the countryside for a month so that she can reflect on her decision. Once there, the grandmother tells Mai that she’s a witch and that she can teach her the ways of being a witch. Thus begins a tale in which Mai learns about love and life…….

Contrary to the title of this movie, this story isn’t about Margaret Thatcher, the former UK Prime Minister who was called by some people The Witch Of The West! This is a lovely coming of age movie with stunning cinematography about a troubled teenager who gets an education on life from her wise old foreign grandmother. The reason behind Mai quitting school is pretty weak to be honest – she doesn’t like the clique culture at her school. Whilst it may seem to Western viewers to be a poor excuse, from what I’ve read and seen the bullying culture in Japanese schools by cliques seem to be quite intense leading to depression and in some cases suicide. I’ve gone over this in other reviews so I won’t repeat myself again. In Mai’s case she wasn’t bullied though she was an outcast because she hadn’t joined a clique. There’s a passing reference to racism in that Mai’s mother as she was a halfie had difficulties at school but this is quickly skimmed over and nothing else is mentioned of it probably because it’s a family movie. The movie’s message seems to be more about not passing judgement on people and enjoying life. Mai’s witches training isn’t what you might think it to be – no spell casting here ala Hogwarts. Her grandmother instead asks her to help around the house especially in making wild jam and tending to her herb garden. She also insists on Mai to create her own little sanctuary inside the woods – somewhere where she can relax and mull over things.

Drama and tension is kept at a minimum. Mai doesn’t get on with one of her grandmother’s neighbour – the gruff son of a jolly postman who makes catty remarks about her. This ill feeling is made worse by the fact that the grandmother’s hens are slaughtered one night in their coop and Mai discovers that the neighbour’s dogs are responsible. Mai seems to think that by telling all about this crime to her grandmother she will go round to sort them out but the grandmother doesn’t bat an eyelid and says that even if the accusation is true, storming round to point fingers at the neighbours won’t solve anything. The pair’s relationship is delightful to watch but storm clouds gather on the horizon and due to a misunderstanding they fall out and Mai is even given a slap across the face by her grandmother! The grandmother quite happily sits down in a rocking chair, puffs away on a cigar afterwards with not a care in the world about what’s happened which I found quite amusing! Even though they are still on speaking terms, the warm feeling between them is broken.

Witch of West screenshot

During this period Mai’s father comes round with news saying the family is moving away. Mai goes back with her father and says she will try and attend the new school there. There is no hug or pleasant goodbye between Mai and her grandmother. Things are left unresolved between them. 2 years pass by and Mai has settled down nicely at her new school but then comes dreadful news that her grandmother has passed away. Now Mai feels guilty at having not patched up their relationship and returns to the house to see her body. There is however, a message from beyond the grave for Mai from her grandmother. Even the gruff son of the postman who disliked Mai is nice to her by coming round and paying his respect for the gaijin woman who never said anything bad about him even though he never amounted to anything much.

Mai’s role is played by the pretty young actress Mayu Takahashi and it is Shirley Maclaine’s daughter Sachi Parker (who was raised in Japan from the age of 2 by her father) that portrays the grandmother under a lot of makeup to make her appear older than what she really is. The interaction between the pair which makes up a lot of the movie is great to watch and feels natural. Parker is probably the better out of the two. Her Japanese language skills is excellent but if you’ve grown up in Japan I wouldn’t expect her to be less than fluent.

I really liked this movie with it’s gorgeous cinematography of the woods in which Mai’s grandmother lives. It’s a shame the storyline didn’t elaborate more on the racial problems encountered by Mai’s mother when she was still at school and the underlying tension that existed between mother and daughter but otherwise this was a fine family movie with good performances from all the cast.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Akira Kurosawa Dreams

This isn’t what you would call your typical Akira Kurosawa movie, it’s a trip into his own dreams which is presented as 8 short stories. The stories are:

SUNSHINE THROUGH THE RAIN – a young boy wanders off into the woods despite the pleas of his mother. There he sees a group of magical foxes in a wedding procession of some sort. When he returns home, his mother tells him that the foxes want him to either kill himself or ask for their forgiveness. The boy then goes off in search of the foxes’ lair under a rainbow.

THE PEACH ORCHARD – A boy follows a mysterious girl into some woods where the spirits there curse his family for destroying their peach trees. When the spirits see how sorry the boy is, they perform a ceremony which allows him to see the peach trees one last time.

THE BLIZZARD – Two men walk bravely through a blizzard. As the cold threatens to overcome them with death, a snow witch turns up to torment one of the men.

THE TUNNEL – A former army commander is confronted by dead members of his old platoon after he walks through a tunnel.

CROWS – A man is thinking about the life of the artist Vincent Van Gogh. He enters a world inside one of the artists’ paintings and meets up with Van Gogh himself before walking around a colourful landscape.

MOUNT FUJI IN RED – A nuclear apocalypse takes place in Japan. Panic spreads amongst the survivors who contemplate whether to commit suicide or not?

THE WEEPING DEMON – Linked to the previous dream, a wandering man comes across a mutant. They talk to each other near some giant mutated dandelions about nature taking its revenge on mankind.

VILLAGE OF THE WATERMILLS – The wandering man comes across a Utopian place in a peaceful and beautiful village. After witnessing a ritual, he asks one of the village elders what is going on. He explains that the inhabitants of the village is living in harmony with nature.

akira kurosawa mt-fuji-in-red

It is hard to really know what Kurosawa is trying to tell the viewer in this movie. People can give their own interpretation about each of the dreams but it is only Kurosawa himself that can answer that question and he is no longer alive. It’s his most personal movie – perhaps it is about his journey through life or something else (some say it is all about mankind’s relationship with nature)? Whatever it is, some might see him as being a little bit too preachy in this movie. It isn’t the great man’s most accessible work either to movie fans – it’s a bit arty, too long and with some unanswered questions and symbolism in each story that may leave people frustrated. Each of the dream segments are interesting in their own way but if there was two that really stand out in my mind it would have to be the CROWS and VILLAGE OF THE WATERMILLS. Some critics have said that this movie is more style over story and I have to agree on that. The cinematography in some of the stories is outstanding. CROWS is a visual masterpiece awash with bright and vivid colours as the viewer is taken on a journey around Van Gogh’s art. The story left me awestruck. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. Every frame in this story is like a painting. The part of Van Gogh was played by none other than Martin Scorscese. VILLAGE OF THE WATERMILLS has a good message to it about harmonising with nature instead of trying to destroy it. Some anti-nuclear rhetoric is quite easy to be seen in the 2 stories MOUNT FUJI IN RED and THE DEMON. The Mount Fuji story is depicted like a disaster movie and very effective it is as well. The acting in each of the stories is great though there’s never enough time for the main characters to be fleshed out.

Whether you like this movie or not, it is definitely one to experience if only for the technical brilliance of it all thanks to the help from George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic. It is probably the most imaginative movie that Kurosawa ever made. Well worth taking a look but I realise it might not be to everyone’s taste.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

home the house imp

The Takahashi family consisting of mother, father, 2 kids and their elderly grandmother move to an idyllic thatched house in the country in Iwate prefecture. The father who is working for a food company has been shipped out there as his ideas for trying to sell something new didn’t work out in Tokyo. None of the family are happy at being there especially the mother and elder daughter though the father tries his best by saying it’ll be cheaper for them to live there. All have trouble adapting to their new way of life and it gets worse when strange things begin to happen for some family members. The grandmother keeps staring into the roof void of the house and then the children begin to see a young face appearing through the window. As things begin to get worse and the family are close to packing up and leaving, they discover the source of the problem………

Some viewers might say that this movie is like a live-action version of Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro as the plot is
quite similar to it and some scenes in fact are uncannily familiar. Whereas that movie dealt with other worldy spirits of the forest, this one has a cute young imp as the troublesome spirit that bothers the family. The young imp is supposed to be a male character (but played by a little girl) who is lonely and plays mischevious tricks on the family like looking in through the window and making noises in the night but he eventually befriends the young boy of the house who sees him sitting on a small shrine in the house’s grounds. The spirit made the last owner of the house who was a foreigner to sell up in less than a year.

home the house imp screenshot

The movie doesn’t necessary focus just on the young imp. The viewer sees how each family member tries to integrate themselves into the local community (the young boy trying to join a local football team and the daughter being invited to the school’s swimming team). The father is also vindicated of his past failures when he persuades a local catering firm in trying out his latest food fads and finds they’ve gone down well with the workers. Just as the family feel like they’ve settled down in their new home and things have turned a corner for each of them, the father is asked to go back to Tokyo and work once more in the company’s head office. I really did think the movie was going to have an ending where the father turns down the offer and wants to stay at their new place but that doesn’t happen. The one thing that confused me about the movie was the young imp itself. It is thought to be the spirit of the grandmother’s brother who died when he was young – bit of a coincidence that he should turn up at the house when the family has no previous connection to the area. Nothing is really explained why he is there.

This is unashamedly a feel-good family movie with hardly any real drama as such. The cinematography showing the stunning Iwate countryside (forests/lush green fields) is fantastic and the house the family share is in such a beautiful location I wouldn’t mind living in the place myself. Director Seiji Izumi isn’t that well known outside of his home country (and I’ve never seen any of his other movies) but I really did like what he achieved with this movie. Apart from the lovely Ai Hashimoto who plays the daughter of the family, I didn’t really recognise anybody else of the main cast though they all perform very well in their roles.

Overall, this is a charming movie to watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon which leaves you with a smile at the end. Definitely worth a look.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

Blind_Beast_vs._Killer_Dwarf_

Detective Akemi teams up with his friend, a novelist called Monzo after the disappearance of two women. Although reluctant at first to accept one of the cases, Akemi decides to help Monzo out in trying to locate the missing daughter of his female acquaintance. The other case has the two trying to solve the disappearance of a dancer Ranko Mizuki who vanishes suddenly after a show. Ranko has been kidnapped by a blind masseur who has imprisoned her in his art studio which has walls lined up with plaster cast impressions of body parts. Ranko fails to escape from the madman’s lair and actually starts to enjoy his sexual perversion. Monzo also sees a dwarf carrying what appears to be a human arm in a park at night. Soon after other female body parts begin to appear in some public art displays, one of which is attached to the famous statue of Saigo Takamori in Ueno Park, Tokyo. Will Akemi and Monzo be able to find Ranko and also capture the dwarf who is murdering people for all the abuse he has endured over the years?

This was maverick Japanese director Teruo Ishii’s final movie before his death in 2005. Whilst he directed many exploitation classics during the 60’s and 70’s, this movie unfortunately is terrible. The story is a combination of 2 novels by Edogawa Rampo. Everything about this movie is awful. Ishii in the past had been able to use of the limited budget at his disposal to his advantage and make his movies look good and professional. I hate to say this but this movie looks very amateurish and to make things worse the directing is inept and I’m sure a university film student could have done better.

BBvsKD screenshot

Ishii sticks to his favourite genre of violence and sex (ero-guro) for the story. The movie title makes you think that both the antagonists fight each other but the truth is there is never a confrontation between the blind masseur and the killer dwarf. The storyline is confusing and doesn’t make sense even though the premise could have been interesting. I felt they were making the plot up as they were filming. Whilst I can understand why the dwarf was going around killing people as the world has been mocking him for his size, the same cannot be said for the blind masseur. There is some nudity and a tiny amount of gore involved…….well this is an Ishii movie after all so it’s to be expected from him. You’d think in his twilight years he might have toned down the content of his movies but no, he didn’t do that at all!!

The acting by nearly all involved is horrible and it’s a shame to see a star such as Tetsuro Tamba having to perform in such an abysmal movie. The majority of the cast were complete unknowns. Only a couple of positives can be said about the whole production. Hisayoshi Hirayama is repugnant as the blind masseur who is looking for the perfect female model for his work. His whole look is disgusting. One critic has said he looks like a naked mole-rat and I have to agree that the description is spot on. Some of the bizarre things on display include a human hand being attached to a balloon which is seen floating about in the sky after a female victim is dismembered! I did like the imagery inside the blind masseur’s studio which is like a cave decorated with plaster casts of female body parts.

I cannot recommend this for anybody except for Ishii completists. It’s not a great swansong for such a talented director. One to avoid I’m afraid and certainly not a movie to watch with the family!!

Sadako’s Rating: 1.5 star out of 5

the-kung-fu-cult-master-cover

Chang Mo-kei’s parents are the owners of a pair of magical swords and some clans are desperate to get their hands on them. In the process of this struggle, they are forced to commit suicide by rival clan leaders and young Chang Mo-kei is given the Jinx Palm curse which prevents him from being able to practice martial arts. He is taken in by the Wu-Tang clan leader but a young rival manages to cast him out. He is released of his curse by a crazed monk he comes across who is strapped into a rock and teaches him the Great Solar Stance. Chang Mo-kei vows to take revenge on the clan leaders responsible for the death of his parents. Two rival clan sects are also fighting each other for ownership of the 2 magic swords and Chang Mo-kei also sets out to sort this feud out not realizing that it is a ruse by the government led by a woman who looks very much like his dead mother. The government wants to reduce the amount of power that the martial arts clans have. Will Chang Mo-kei be able to deal with everything on his own?

This martial arts fantasy epic which is packed full of spectacular action sequences was supposed to be the first of a 2-part movie series but unfortunately due to it being a flop the 2nd movie was cancelled which is a big shame as I really enjoyed it. You’d think with such a distinguished cast which included Jet Li, Sammo Hung, Chingmy Yau, Richard Ng and Sharla Cheung, this movie should have been a runaway success so I’m not really sure why that wasn’t the case? It leaves the story dangling on a bit of a cliffhanger at the climax of the movie. The story has been adapted from a long running TV series called Dragon Sword & Heaven Sabre and trying to cram around 60 hours of the TV series plot into 90 mins was always going to be a struggle for the scriptwriter. There are apparently 2 Shaw Brothers movies from the 60’s (not sure of the movie’s titles) that more or less follows the plot of this movie and continues with what would taken place in the proposed sequel.

kung fu cult master screenshot

I think part of the reason why this movie divides so many martial arts fans and didn’t do too well is because of it’s overly complicated plot but thankfully this is balanced out by the wildly choreographed fight sequences which was directed by Sammo Hung. Don’t expect any standard kung-fu antics here as there is a lot of wire involved. It’s fast and frenetic stuff but always great as expected by Sammo. It will take a viewer with a lot of concentration to understand the plot completely from start to finish. I’m sure to many it will make no sense at all but don’t worry because the numerous action sequences that litter the movie will take your mind off the baffling plot. You never have enough time to digest what is going on before another fight or skirmish happens. All the famous martial arts schools you may have heard about is featured in this movie plus some fictional ones thrown in such as the Ming Sect which is depicted as being evil and led by magical people with OTT names as Green Bat (a vampire) and Gold Lion. I’m quite amazed at the rather offensive dialogue that I come across in some Asian movies. In this movie you have 2 cowardly comic characters who disguise themselves as Red Cross workers and jokingly say they are going to rape a woman. I’m not sure how joking about a serious offence as rape can be considered funny.

Jet Li is rather good in the leading role and he is given the very gorgeous Chingmy Yau as his partner in crime and love interest. Always pleasing on the eye, she looks fabulous in her costume but so does Sharla Cheung who pops up in 2 roles in this movie. First as the mother of Jet Li’s character when he’s a child and then as the government official behind the clans fighting each other. Sammo and Richard Ng don’t have that big of a part in this movie.

Despite the convoluted plot, I loved this fantasy movie and thought it was a lot of fun. If you’re into a movie with fast and furious action set-pieces and not that bothered if the plot goes above your head then you may perhaps enjoy this movie. Give it a go and see what you think.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

It’s been a quiet month for watching Asian movies for myself (too busy seeing documentaries on TV!). We’ll see if I get a chance to see more this month. So this is what I saw last month:

Death-Kappa

Death Kappa
1.5 stars out of 5

Ghost_Punting_(1992)_HK_poster

Ghost Punting
3 stars out of 5

Akira Kurosawa Dreams

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams
3.5 stars out of 5

15film

15: The Movie
1.5 stars out of 5

armitage_iii_poly_matrix

Armitage III: Poly Matrix
3 stars out of 5

super-lady-cop-poster

Super Lady Cop
3 stars out of 5

evildeadtrap3visuel

Evil Dead Trap 3: The Brutal Insanity Of Love
3 stars out of 5

153491-danger-stalks-near-0-230-0-341-crop

Danger Stalks Near
1.5 stars out of 5

RedDust+1990-3-b

Red Dust
2 stars out of 5

Mobile_Boyfriend-915845887-large

Mobile Boyfriend
3 stars out of 5

magic crystal

The Magic Crystal
3 stars out of 5

kung-fu-cult-master

Kung Fu Cult Master
4 stars out of 5

37 ninja kids

37 Shaolin Kids
1.5 stars out of 5

angel-s-project-moon-lee

Angel’s Project
2.5 stars out of 5

MissionofJustice+1992-64-b

Mission Of Justice
2 stars out of 5

doomsday book

Doomsday Book
3 stars out of 5

Documentary-of-AKB48-The-time-has-come-poster

This is the 4th AKB48 documentary to be released. Usually the documentary chronicles major events that have taken place for the group over a 12 month period but this one is different. I expected it to record everything that happened in 2013 but it only starts in December 2013 and covers things until June 2014. The same style as the other 3 documentaries occurs with behind the scenes footage at concerts and interviews with various members.

It is only fitting that a lot of the movie focuses on one member – Yuko Oshima whose graduation announcement on the annual New Year’s Eve Kouhaku TV programme shocked fans and AKB48 members alike. Only a few of her close friends in the group knew about this and for the rest it was an earth shattering announcement that leaves a lot of the girls in tears. Yuko has been one of the most popular members in the group and one of the few remaining veterans since AKB48 was formed. She is a well-respected sempai within the group by fellow members and staff and loved by the fans. Her leaving would leave a big hole to fill. Initially Yuko was due to graduate at a big outdoor concert at the National Stadium during a 2-day concert in late March but as viewers soon discover her plans for a grand farewell to rival Atsuko Maeda are scuppered by bad weather which leaves her devastated as the chance for her to move on with the next step in her life is delayed by a couple of months. She was also upset at letting everybody down even though it wasn’t her fault. It would have been dangerous for AKB48 to perform in the high winds and rain. The concert would be rescheduled for June instead. The Gods thankfully bless her with favourable weather this time round and she is given the sending off she deserved.

The documentary also concentrates on the future of the group. With so many of the veterans having left, it is up to the younger members to step up and show what they’re made of. It isn’t easy though for the youngsters as many are worried that they’re not good enough to replace their elders. One such member is Nana Okada who like many members of the same age has high expectations of herself. Whether she takes the bull by the horns and progresses to be a major player in the group is yet to be seen.

Documentary of akb48 time has come screenshot

Another big event that took place in early 2014 was the major reshuffling of all the 48 groups with friends being separated and moving away to other parts of the country. Viewers might not understand why some members get too emotional about it as they should know it’s a part of their job. For some members though it’s too much as we see some collapsing and hyperventilating upon the news that they are to be moved to another group. For others like Ayaka Kikuchi who is seen to be very unhappy at her transfer it’s the signal for them to quit and in April she indeed graduated from AKB48.

Then there was the terrible stabbing incident that took place in May 2014 at a hand shake event which left 2 members lucky to escape with their lives as a knife wielding maniac slashed wildly at them. Both girls were fortunate not to have anything more than minor injuries but I’m sure the mental scars of such a traumatic ordeal will live with them for a while. I’m surprised the filmmakers only touched on this briefly as it was a major incident which had consequences for all future hand shake events and prompted management to employ security measures for AKB48 Theater performances.

This leads to the final subject of the documentary which is the annual Senbatsu Election (this is done to determine who gets to be the centre of an upcoming single). In 2013 Rino Sashihara shocked everybody by winning the election which nobody saw coming. Some thought that with Yuko not in the election, it might have been a foregone conclusion that Sasshi would have won again given she was way ahead on votes in the first preliminary count but there’s a twist to the tale with Mayu Watanabe pipping Sasshi to be no.1. It’s been Mayu’s dream for years to win this election so it was nice to see her finally do it and with a hefty 17k majority on her nearest rival. Sasshi mentions that she’s frustrated at losing but before the voting results she says she wouldn’t mind losing to her close friend but if a junior member beats her that would bug her.

The documentary ends with a simple 1 second shot of Yuko having graduated on a surfboard in the sea somewhere I assume in Hawaii.

Obviously if you’re not a fan of AKB48 and it’s sister groups then this documentary will not interest you one bit but it’s must-see for the hardcore fans. Even though my interest in the group has waned a lot over the past 18 months, I have still rated this as 5 stars.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Professorandhisbelovedequation

A young maths teacher nicknamed Root (due to his square looking head!) starts his new post at a high school. In order to introduce himself to his new charges, he starts to tell them a story about how he fell in love with maths. His mother Kyoko, a single parent began to work as a housekeeper for a maths Professor by his sister-in-law. The Professor though had a unique health problem – he could only remember things for about 80 mins due to a car accident that happened to him. Everything after 80 mins he forgets so Root’s mother has to introduce himself to the Professor each and every day. Despite this problem, the Professor still managed to excel at maths. Gradually, Kyoko brings her son Root to see the Professor and the 2 develop a friendship through their love of baseball and Root soon begins to understand maths by his new friend.

I’ve got to admit that I hated maths as a subject at school but watching this movie you begin to understand that there’s a certain magic about numbers. I wish I had a teacher at high school like Root who makes the subject not only easier to understand but also makes topics such as prime and perfect numbers rather interesting and accessible. You don’t have to be good at maths to enjoy this movie though – it’s more or less a gentle drama told via flashbacks about a close and genuine friendship between three people, forming a bond like a family and showing the viewer how the Professor applies maths in everyday situations to live his life. Director Takashi Koizumi who honed his art serving as an A.D on Akira Kurosawa’s last 5 movies is famous for his slow burning stories and this one is no exception. The nice slow pace is perfect for this kind of story. Don’t expect any gripping drama to take place in the story although the friendship between the trio is temporarily broken during the final third of the movie by the Professor’s sister-in-law who becomes jealous of their close ties and fires Kyoko. Thankfully though the trio is reunited in a moving finale to leave the viewers at the end credits with a feel good factor without the use of melodrama.

The subject of the Professor’s mental illness is treated with respect throughout the movie. In order to remember important things, he pins notes on his jacket and stuff on his blackboard to remind himself. The core trio are all very likeable characters. The Professor has had many different housekeepers looking after him before but they all left having found it difficult to cope with his illness and having to re-introduce themselves to him each and every day. Kyoko though is different to the rest. She is kind, understanding and most of all has the patience to deal with the Professor and his moods. Root and the Professor bond over baseball and it’s the Professor that gives Root his life-long love of maths and treats the young boy like his own. It’s clear to see that the Professor has been living a lonely life since the accident and this new family unit he’s been given reinvigorates his zest for life.

professor2

Eri Fukatsu is one of my favourite Japanese actresses and she is fabulous in this movie as the Professor’s housekeeper Kyoko. I don’t think the casting people could have picked anybody better than Eri for this role. I also really loved Akira Terao as the Professor who manages to capture not only the friendly nature of the character but also the sadness he has due to his mental illness. Rounding up the trio is Ryusei Saito as young Root who is such a good child actor. The interaction between Root and the Professor is sure to bring a smile to one’s face.

Overall, this is an entertaining movie that you can’t help but like. Don’t be put off by the fact that the subject of maths is prominent in the story – you may even learn something from this movie!! It’s a superb movie to watch with beautiful cinematography, a great minimalistic story with a meandering pace to it and lovely characters you’d like to meet in real life, I would say it was one of my favourite Japanese movies I watched in 2014. A must-see.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

The-After-Dinner-Mysteries-

Reiko Hosho is the daughter of a wealthy industrialist and a rookie police detective who is assisted from the shadows by her butler Kageyama who is the picture of being a model servant in front of people but quite sharp in his tongue towards Reiko in private. Reiko and Kageyama board a cruise ship which is en- route to Singapore. It isn’t long before a body is seen falling into the sea and it’s discovered that the man in question has been murdered and had many enemies. Reiko’s boss Detective Kazamatsuri decides to solve the case as he is on the ship guarding a priceless artefact to it’s new home in Singapore. Reiko and Kageyama also decide to find out who the murderer is. Soon more bodies turn up but with 3000 people onboard the ship how can she narrow the suspects down. Are the murders linked to a master criminal named Phantom Soros? Reiko and Kageyama must capture the murderer before the ship lands at its destination.

This is the spinoff movie from the popular 2011 drama series by Fuji Television. It isn’t essential that you’ve seen the series to enjoy this movie as it’s a standalone story and there’s a handy introduction to the main players right at the start. It’s easy to see that the budget has been increased from the series for this movie with part of the filming taking place in Singapore and also on a real luxury cruise liner. All the regulars from the series return to reprise their roles.

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The movie mixes comedy, drama and suspense but it’s the comedic aspect that stands out the most. It tends to feel at times like an Agatha Christie mystery played out like a spoof and instead of concentrating on just Reiko and Kageyama trying to solve the murders, there are other sub-plots with other characters introduced such as a pair of bumbling thieves who plan to steal the artefact guarded by Detective Kazamatsuri. These subplots all come together in the thrilling climax. I can also see some aspects of Detective Conan in the movie too – Kageyama with his glasses looks like Conan and is superior in his sleuthing skills than anybody else, Reiko plays the Ran role while the arrogant Kazamatsuri who thinks he’s brilliant at being a detective is similar to Ran’s father Mouri. The gelling of slapstick comedy and detective drama works surprisingly well. As there are so many sub-plots taking place, there is a lot of information to take in for the viewer but not too much for anybody to become lost with the story. As with many Japanese mystery movies, there are several twists and red herrings to keep the viewer on their toes and the unveiling of the murderer will keep you guessing until the end which unfortunately is rather cliché ridden.

Keiko Kitagawa plays the wealthy heiress Reiko in a goofy kind of way. She’s taken on a similar type of role before such as the dorama Mop Girl so if you like seeing her pull funny faces and be a damsel in distress then you’ll enjoy her in this movie though I suspect some might find her character a bit annoying. Arashi member Sho Sakurai is Reiko’s foil as her faithful but sharp-tongued butler Kageyama who is never afraid to put Reiko in her place in private but in public has to put on his diligent servant persona. It makes for amusing viewing seeing the bickering that goes on between Reiko and Kageyama and it’s obvious that Keiko and Sho are enjoying themselves in their roles. Both of their characters are even taken out from the ship for a while as the murderer makes sure they are put in a lifeboat and sent overboard. They eventually land on a small island before they are rescued rather conveniently by the authorities. Of course it’s all rather far-fetched but do remember that the movie is never meant to be taken seriously. One of the most notable guest stars taking part in this movie is Naoto Takenaka as a thief. I didn’t really recognise him at first, it’s his voice that gave the game away.

All in all, this is a hugely entertaining murder mystery movie. It’s got drama, moments of danger, good comedy, a fine cast and an exciting story. Fans of the drama series will have a fun time reuniting with characters they love but even those not familiar with the drama like myself can still enjoy this movie. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Kirei

Yoko is a young and beautiful plastic surgeon who charges her patients whatever she feels like. She can get away with doing that as her patients will spend vast amount of money to make themselves beautiful and besides she hates being around “ugly people”. One night a disfigured young woman by the name of Yoshie turns up at her surgery practice begging for Yoko to make her beautiful. She doesn’t want the work to be done in the day but rather at night. Yoko at first refuses but when she sees the vast amount of wealth that Yoshi has at her disposal she agrees very quickly. At first it is only her face that Yoshie wants to be changed but gradually she wants more and more surgery done on her body including her private parts. It seems that Yoko has awakened a monster in Yoshie who demands constant surgery and when Yoko refuses she makes life hell for her.

J-horror fans who are bored with the tired formula of long haired antagonists will probably like this original movie which looks at how far some people will go in order to achieve being beautiful. Young women in particular feel under pressure these days to look good in particular when images of thin stick celebrities and models are constantly thrown at them on TV. In Japan it is the same with some music idols having to stick below a certain weight or they will be deemed as having broken their contact. This movie has a twisted psychological plot in which you might think that Yoko deserves all that she has coming to her due to her personality and greed for money. The first half of the movie builds up the plot in the sense that you have an inkling that you’re expecting something to happen. It’s more concerned with showing the viewer what an unpleasant and self centred character Yoko is before descending into disgusting body horror during the second half. Whilst there are some unpleasant imagery and blood on display, it’s still a rather tame effort from director Katsuya Matsumura who has helmed many entries in the very gory All Night Long series.

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It’s obvious that this is a low-budget movie given that there is no outside location used and the majority of the story is based in Yoko’s surgery. If I’m being honest the movie only picks up during the 2nd half as Yoko refuses to do any more surgery on Yoshie until her scars have healed but this just won’t do for her. Yoshie disappears for a couple of months until Yoko is called out to a bogus restaurant date and when she comes back to her surgery she finds her lover is having sex with Yoshie (now a beautiful woman). Yoshie kills Yoko’s lover and laughs maniacally about it. Yoko had previously told Yoshie not to use the muscles in her face too much as the work she’s done could come apart and this is what happens as Yoshie’s nose splits with a small white horn of some sort breaking out through her skin. This is only the start of Yoshie’s personal revenge on Yoko as she replaces some water that Yoko’s receptionist uses to wash her face with acid! Even when Yoshie has achieved what she set out to do to Yoko, it becomes clear that she has gone completely insane.

I wouldn’t say the acting by the cast is amazing. I’m sure male viewers will enjoy seeing Yukiko Okamoto who plays Yoko naked in her sex scenes (of which there are a few). Asuka Kurosawa’s face as Yoshie is mostly hidden under some prosthetics to make her features look disfigured. The script could have been written better as it never explains how Yoshie has unlimited amounts of wealth for her surgery. There is basically no character development whatsoever.

All in all, this is a watchable movie. Good to watch once but no more. It had a chance to provide something different to J-horror fans but thanks to the lazy script it fails on every count. A missed opportunity.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

Journey to the west

In a small village by a river, a mysterious large demon creature attacks the father of a young child which is then killed by a fake Taoist priest. The creature is revealed to be a manta ray and is proclaimed dead by the priest. A demon hunter named Sanzang appears on the scene warning that it is not the real demon that attacked. His pleas are ignored and he is captured and tied up in ropes high above the river. The demon creature comes back and kills a number of villagers but thankfully Sanzang who is able to release himself manages to beach the creature which turns into a man. Sanzang begins a ritual by using a book of nursery rhymes and singing to the man. The man becomes agitated and attacks Sanzang. Another demon hunter, a female warrior named Duan enters, capturing the man inside a blanket and turning him into a puppet. Sanzang isn’t happy at being upstaged by Duan and complains to his master who tells him that his way of trying to pacify the demon and reforming them is good. He is ordered to try and tame the Monkey King demon who has been trapped by Buddha. During his travels he becomes entangled again with Duan after battling a pig demon in a restaurant. After days of travelling he finally finds the Monkey King but not before being captured by Duan’s gang, rejecting her advances and battling the injured pig demon again. Will Sanzang be able to tame the Monkey King or does the demon have a trick or two up his sleeve?

Those of a certain age in the UK will remember a TV programme during the late 70’s/early 80’s called Monkey. It was a dubbed version of a Japanese programme based on the Chinese novel Journey To The West. This movie isn’t a new version of that story but rather a prequel of how the main characters got together. It’s directed by Hong Kong comedy legend Stephen Chow who it seems now is content to be behind the cameras rather than in front of them. Perhaps with his movie CJ7 not being as successful as he thought it might be maybe he doesn’t want to act again? Then again I’ve heard that he has some politicial ambitions so that could be the reason for his scaling down of movie activities? Chow has covered Journey To The West before in the 2-part comedy movie A Chinese Odyssey. His trademark OTT action, romance and humour is prevalent throughout this movie – he might not appear on screen but everything from the comedy to the great action scenes is quintessentially Stephen Chow. The lead character of Sanzang would have been ideal role for him. The Journey To The West story has been done many times over the years but Chow somehow manages to make it feel fresh even though it does get bogged down in the middle section when it focuses more on Duan trying to seduce Sanzang which gets incredibly ridiculous and boring too.

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There’s a memorable start to the movie with a fantastic and imaginative choreographed attack on a small village by a water demon which is really exciting to watch as Sanzang tries to rescue a young girl from being devoured by the demon. It does go on for a little bit too long but it doesn’t half hook you into the story. The scene leads you to believe that the danger has been eliminated by a fake priest when a manta ray is killed so when the real demon does appear it’s more of a surprise to the viewer. The same technique of showing red herrings to the viewer is used again in the instance of the pig demon and the Monkey King. A lot of symbolism is used in the movie which is lost on myself as I don’t know a lot about Chinese mythology. It probably makes a lot of sense to Chinese people but to Westerners they won’t have a clue what they’re on about. There are a couple of excellently staged action scenes which culminates with a battle between The Monkey King and Buddha after the Monkey King tricks Sanzang into freeing him from the cave in which he’s been imprisoned for 500 years and he’s not too happy about it. Production values for the movie is quite high with plenty of money having been thrown at it as the CGI effects is very good. It matches what you might see in a Hollywood movie. It’s only right at the very end the viewer sees characters they recognise as Sanzang becomes Tripitaka the monk and he along with Monkey, Piggsy and Sandy (3 ex-demons seeking enlightenment) begin their journey to the West to recover some sacred texts for Buddha. Perhaps Stephen Chow will continue the story in a future movie?

It’s up to Wen Zhang to carry the movie as it’s leading character Sanzang and he does extremely well. Sanzang makes for an instantly likeable character with his vulnerabilities. Zhang is able to do comedy and action effortlessly, exactly like Chow used to do. I wonder if Chow showed Zhang how to play Sanzang as he would have done it? For Sanzang’s female foil, Chow employed the beautiful Shu Qi as the aggressive demon hunter Duan. Both Zhang and Qi bounce off each other so they’re a good combination together. It’s very easy to believe that Duan is an effective demon hunter with the way she dispatches them violently. She tries to get Sanzang to love her but he’s so devoted to being a monk he cannot reciprocate her feelings which leads to all kinds of troubles in their relationship. Huang Bo is superb and makes for an engaging villain as the sly Monkey King.

Overall, this was an excellent action comedy with a lot to enjoy for Stephen Chow fans. He can still churn out a good movie even though he might not be acting in it and the mix of action, drama and comedy is perfect. I only hope Chow fans like myself won’t have to wait so long for his next project and that he can be coaxed to actually appear on screen next time. We wait with baited breath! Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Haru’s Journey (2011)

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In a small fishing village somewhere in Hokkaido, 19 year old Haru has lived with her grumpy grandfather Nakai Tadao, a fisherman before his retirement since the death of her mother five years ago. However Haru decides to leave Hokkaido and head to Tokyo to look for work after the school in which she does the catering will close down. Tadao isn’t very happy about this at all but agrees that he and Haru should take a journey to see if his siblings will take him in as he cannot look after himself. The first stop is to visit Tadao’s elder brother but tension soon rears its ugly head between the pair and besides he’s about to be carted off to a retirement home so the visit ends in failure. His next port of call is to see his younger brother but gets only to see his wife who has no idea of his whereabouts since he was released from jail. Tadao’s elder sister is the next destination for the pair. She runs a small hotel. While she’s only too happy to give Haru a job, she refuses to give Tadao a room for him to stay as she believes him to be too lazy and selfish. Haru refuses to abandon Tadao so off they go to see another of Tadao’s younger brother. Haru also decides that before they head back home to Hokkaido she would like to see her long-lost father who suddenly left Haru’s mother (and contributed to her suicide).

This movie starts with a scene showing Tadao storming off from his ramshackle hut in Hokkaido with his granddaughter in tow. The viewer has no idea what has gone off between them but we know that Tadao is very pissed off. Thus begins a road trip down South to Honshu by train going from place to place between the two. The story is about family dynamics but there’s also a social commentary here about the growing problem that faces Japan with the elderly population on the rise. At first the viewer might think of Tadao as a cantankerous and unpleasant character who has temper tantrums but over the course of the movie we see him mellowing a bit and his relationship with Haru develops further to the point that by the end we can see that it would be foolish for the pair to split up. They depend on one another and also understand each other a bit better by the end credits. It is obvious that Tadao doesn’t have a good relationship with any of his siblings – a combination of being selfish and stubborn over the years hasn’t endeared himself to them at all. If he thought he was going to get welcomed back with open arms by them – well that doesn’t happen at all and none of them are willing to let him stay with them! In fact it would be right to say Tadao’s siblings seem a little pleased that he’s now forced to beg for their charity.

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If what I’ve said so far makes you think this movie is all about Tadao then you’d be wrong. The story also delves into Haru’s sad background and how the absence of having a father figure in her life has affected her mentally. There’s a powerful heartbreaking scene in which Haru confronts her father at his home about why he left her mother those years ago. This brings some closure about the circumstances of her mother’s death but it doesn’t as some might assume bring father and daughter any closer together at all. Tadao is given the opportunity by his son-in-law’s kind wife to stay at their place but he and Haru decide to run off quietly from the place. What’s wonderful about this movie is the interaction between Tadao and Haru. They may argue a bit but deep down they care for each other a lot.

Japanese cinema legend Tatsuya Nakadai gives one of his best performances as the stubborn Tadao who refuses to swallow his pride and has no regrets about what he’s done over the years. Even in his advanced years Nakadai still commands the screen with his presence. His co-star Eri Fukunaga is equally as good though she has to play down her usual beautiful self to look more plain looking as Haru. She isn’t relegated to being a bit-part player on screen by her co-star Nakadai. It’s funny seeing the way the pair of them walk around the streets of Japan – Tadao with his limp and Haru with her unnatural gait. The strong supporting cast complement the 2 main characters very well such as Chikage Awashima who plays Tadao’s no-nonsense elder sister who can see through his bluster and is very kind to Haru. Teruyuki Kagawa is also brilliant in his short role as Haru’s father who deep down feels guilty since her mother’s death, knowing full well that his leaving made her commit suicide.

All in all, I thought this movie was a masterpiece with a moving story, the characterisation is marvelous, lovely cinematography and a fantastic cast. Never once does the story drag even though it is slightly over 2 hours long. I highly recommend this movie.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5