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Archive for October, 2011

A hitman Kamimura takes a job to kill a yakuza boss who’s gotten greedy. The rival yakuza boss who hires Kamimura and his driver Shun pays them and sets them up in a hotel for a night while arranging safe passage on a ship but the son of the dead yakuza boss and his cronies are on the hunt for them. He goes to his rival and offers a partnership and cash in exchange for Kamimura’s death. The boss considers his choice: morals or money? As the net begins to close on the two fleeing men, a beautiful maid at the hotel where they are holed up gets involved and tries to help them out but can they escape with their lives intact?

A quite brilliant Japanese film noir classic with some overtones of the Italian spaghetti western genre thrown in. Even though this is a Japanese movie, it seems the director tried to give it a European vibe. It’s also very stylish and well made throughout. Jo Shishido gives an excellent performance as the maverick hitman Kamimura and his appearance with his puffed up cheeks certainly make him stand out and looking like a chipmunk!! Apparently he had implants inserted in his cheeks for that effect. The action is exciting and gripping especially the explosive finale. At only 85 mins long, the plot rifles along at a rocket’s pace. Once you start watching it you will not want to look away from the screen as the storyline sucks you in. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and I heartily recommend it.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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In this unofficial sequel to Yojimbo, a lone crafty samurai helps a young man and his fellow clansmen save his uncle, who has been framed and imprisoned by a corrupt superintendent.

This movie is one of Kurosawa’s lighter efforts – being played mostly for laughs. Even though Toshiro Mifune plays the same character as he did in Yojimbo the mood could not be any different. There’s plenty of gags which will make you smile – Kurosawa is basically taking apart the samurai genre with tongue firmly in cheek and a running joke sees a prisoner kept inside a cupboard who pops out every so often to give his opinion. Even though this is a comedy don’t think for a second there’s no action involved in this movie as there is with Mifune’s nameless character showing us what he’s made of by taking on 7 or more people in a swordfight but the best is saved for last with a very bloody ending that nobody sees coming. I think I’ve said in my other reviews what I think of Toshiro Mifune and I certainly won’t repeat them again but the man is pure class when it comes to acting. Another awesome performance from him in this movie – as his character runs rings around everybody such as the young men in the story. Mifune’s samurai can clearly see they are incompetent fools and feels compelled to help them out to seek justice.

All in all, a very enjoyable and well-crafted movie.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Twenty Four Eyes (1954)

Twenty Four Eyes tells the story of a bright young teacher, Hisaki Oishi and the ongoing and dedicated relationship she has with her first class of twelve children over a period of 18 years on a remote island with a poor community. Hisaki is mistrusted by their parents at first as she is too flashy and modern for their liking, however, soon both children and adults fall under the spell of this headstrong, city-girl only to see the impending war irretrievably change their lives for good.

What an amazing movie this is and is guaranteed to get you crying before the end credits roll. It is heartbreaking to say the least. The director expertly presses all the emotional buttons of the audience. There are some people who detest this sort of thing, but I’m a sucker for it. In the hands of an expert director, and for the purposes of entertainment, there’s nothing wrong with being taken on a emotional roller-coaster ride. There are some high points and many sad events in the story, which moves along at a pace which is sometimes leisurely but never dull. Hideko Takamine is outstanding as the smiling and caring teacher who loves her students very much. It made me wish that I had somebody like her as a teacher when I was growing up. We get to know all twelve children (“24 eyes”) in the movie, and eventually learn about their fates as adults – not all of it is happy.

The fact that “Auld Lang Syne” and “There’s No Place Like Home” are used at times for background music heightens the feelings of loss & sadness, which does make up some of the story. This is somewhat of an anti-war movie, but only as it affects the children and the teacher. Some might say it’s at times too sentimental and melodramatic especially during the 2nd half of the movie as tragedy after tragedy occurs but I didn’t think it was.

This is one of Japan’s favorite movies of all time and it’s easy to see why. Wonderful acting by all the cast but especially from the teacher and her students plus a poignant storyline makes this a must-see for any Asian movie fan.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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William Shakespeare’s Macbeth tale is transferred into the feudal era of Japan as brave and loyal samurai warrior Washizu encounters a ghostly female spirit deep inside a spooky forest who foretells his future by telling him that he is destined to become ruler of a great fortress. Egged on by his wife, Washizu kills the current ruler of the fortress so that his prophecy can come true. However, his guilt soon starts to get the better of him and other people get suspicious of how the previous ruler was murdered. Soon a great army headed by his former friend starts to advance on his great fortress and Washizu once more seeks another prophecy by the female spirit who says that when the trees of the forest rise up against him then his reign will come to an end. He mocks this prophecy as trees cannot move but tragedy is about to befall Washizu.

Kurosawa’s take on Macbeth is nothing short of sensational and this might be the best movie of any of Shakespeare’s works. It’s THAT good. The visuals employed by him is brilliant such as the use of swirling fog, black volcanic sand on bleak landscapes and huge fortresses. Toshiro Mifune who is definitely my favorite Japanese actor of all time gives us yet another awesome performance as the guilt stricken Washizu but somehow he is also given a good run for his money in acting by Isuzu Yamada who plays his power hungry wife Asaji. There are many highlights when you watch this movie such as the encounter with the spirit in the forest for example but for me the climax tops it all when Washizu’s treachery is discovered by his men and they start to shoot a load of arrows on him in his fortress.

Even though a lot of people will no doubt point you towards The Seven Samurai as a good first movie if you want to start watching Akira Kurosawa’s back catalogue, I would nevertheless tell you to watch this one instead. It’s atmospheric, gripping and just fantastic. I can’t praise this movie enough. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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The 3rd in the Battles Without Honor movie series find our protagonist Shozo Hirono in Hiroshima during 1960 (with the story having moved on from 1945 in the first movie) and he’s done very well for himself – he is now head of his own little yakuza clan and friends with 3 more bosses of small clans. However it doesn’t take long for suspicion and betrayal to rear it’s ugly head when Hirono’s previous boss Yamamori comes back on the scene after the head of Hiroshima’s biggest yakuza family is bumped off and Yamamori takes over. Naturally his resentment of Hirono comes to the fore and he would be more than happy for somebody to take him out. Alliances are formed and broken as the streets of Hiroshima explode into all out wars with Hirono in the middle of it all.

Another very enjoyable entry and probably an improvement on the first movie (I will watch the 2nd movie in the series when I get a chance). The plot of this movie is  very much like a chess game – bosses trying to make other bosses into  making a mistake so they can take over Hiroshima’s biggest clan. Trying to keep out of the situation at first but inevitably being forced to take sides is Hirono in the hope of deposing his hated enemy Yamamori. Bunta Sugawara is fantastic once more as the bad ass Hirono. You’ve got to feel sorry for his character. People he calls friends betrays him time after time. Director Kinji Fukasaku keeps us interested in the storyline with plenty of backstabbing, suspense and heavy violence. Fukasaku’s vision of yakuza life is there’s no such thing as loyalty – you can be friends with a rival clan one minute and the next you’re plotting their downfall. The movie chugs along at a nice energetic pace so you’re never bored watching it. The only problem with watching this movie is you want to know what happens next – nothing is resolved in the plot so I guess I’ll have to watch the final 2 installments to find out the conclusion to the whole saga.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Sonatine (1993)

Takeshi Kitano is Murakawa, a successful yakuza officer who has grown weary of the violent life, so much so that he has even considered retirement. Thus, he is not pleased when he is asked to lead a team to help defuse a gang war in Okinawa but agrees when he is assured it will be an easy job. It proves anything but, however, and he soon finds himself in the middle of a complex, bloody conflict. Fearing that he has been set up, Murakawa withdraws to a remote beach house where he and his gang hope to lie low for a little while by relaxing and having fun. This sunny idyll cannot last forever, however, and soon the realities of the criminal life catch up with them.

Kitano’s 4th movie is a masterpiece. Sonatine gives an insight into not just his Murakawa character, but also Japanese culture and behaviour. Kitano is clearly a “less is more” type of actor, but more is shown in his gaze than any other actor. His stand up history also comes across in Sonatine’s several humorous moments, such as the William Tell/Sumo Wrestling sequence on the beach. The cinematography is also absolutely beautiful, nice and simple static shots plus some pretty locations, such as the beach. Sonatine is recommended for its mixture of violent action, humour and fantastic performances from the cast.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Cruel Story Of Youth (1960)

Kiyoshi is a brooding young man who treats women solely as objects. Makoto is a young woman who is just reaching her sexual awakening. She and her friends accept car rides from middle aged men, although they state it is nothing more than fun with no intention of leading those men on. Kiyoshi and Makoto meet when he saves her from one of those middle aged men who tries to take advantage of her. Despite treating each other abusively, they start a relationship with each other which leads to what they call love, but feels more like an emotional dependence on each other to rebel against traditional society. Each with no money, they start to extort money from these middle aged men who she leads on. This act is only one demonstration of the only power they feel they have, namely sex, which they use against others as well as against each other in their doomed relationship.

This movie tells the story of two youths who suffer from the social malaise typical of their generation and how self destructive young people can be. They express their frustration in violent and poetic ways, which makes up the substance of the movie’s narrative. But putting all that aside, by it’s end it’s also completely heartwrenching. Besides following a good storyline, it is also well-shot. The cinematography is crisp. The overall nature of the photography gives the movie a fantastic quality. It’s gritty, and obviously seeks to be realistic, but it has the feel of a fable or a morality tale. At times it has the sensibility of a yakuza movie – violence abounds and the director gives it a very cool, retro feel. At it’s core it’s a love story, but of a sort that modern audiences will probably never see in a contemporary movie. It shows love as the cruelest thing imaginable, making it difficult to watch at times, but in the end, impossible to forget.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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