Archive for April 23rd, 2012

The nation’s idols are in danger so who you gonna call? Mei, Kai and Yumi are high school students but are also secret police detectives. A threat has been made against the idol group Morning Musume through a letter sent to the police so Mei and her detective sisters are given the task of guarding them. After their concert, the group are driven to their hotel in a minibus with 2 cars (one in front, one at the rear) shadowing the vehicle. Mei has gone along with the idol group to guard them on the minibus but when they arrive at their destination the driver of the minibus stumbles out! Morning Musume and Mei have mysteriously vanished and have been replaced by balloons. Yumi retraces the bus’ route in order to find some clues. What she finds in the woods along the way is the dead body of the minibus driver. During daylight more clues are found including a badge close to where the body was found. Yumi is convinced that there’s a link between the wooden bird nests that have been placed on the trees, a climbing hook and some wire that’s been found dangling nearby. A call is made to the police saying that Morning Musume and Mei have been taken hostage and the kidnapper wants some ransom money. An image of an unconscious Mei is shown tied to a chair in the kidnappers lair. Instructions are given to the police on where to take the money and Kai along with her adult colleague go to Odaiba to the rendevous point as stated in the telephone message. A toolbox from the minibus is found with a cryptic note telling the two where to go next with the money. This leads them to the Kuko River next to a pumping station where another cryptic message awaits. Will the two remaining sisters manage to find Morning Musume and Mei before anything happens to them?

The Keitai Deka (Mobile Detective) franchise has been ongoing since 2002 with 8 TV series so far and 3 spin-off movies. The original first 2 series even had such stars as Aoi Miyazaki and Maki Horikita in the leading roles. The first movie appeared in 2006 with the follow-up released in 2007. This, the 3rd movie came out 4 years later. I had low expectations before watching this movie and I was in fact expecting a silly teenage girl comedy movie but it turned out to be quite a serious detective thriller. It does have it’s silliness at times but mostly it’s played dead straight. What I liked most about the movie was it shows the girls using their reasoning and intelligence to solve clues and piece things together, even showing up their superiors at times. Even with this happening, it is never shown or implied that the adult police officers look down on the girls even if they are only teenage school girls. They are treated with respect and valued for their intelligence.

The 3 leading girls (Aya Omasa/Azuka and Anri Okamoto) are very cute and easy on the eye. They excel in their roles and are backed up by a great cast of supporting characters. This isn’t an idol movie at all and Morning Musume only have around 15 minutes screen time and 7 minutes of that is shown of them performing onstage. They only have a smattering of dialogue given to them. What’s funny is that some of the Morning Musume members (specifically the Chinese duo LinLin and JunJun) had graduated from the group in December 2010 so when the movie was released in February 2011 the lineup had changed!

The plot is lightweight fare but even so it’s still an enjoyable movie. I was surprised how much I liked it. I thought it was great fun. I’d like to see the other two movies someday. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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The Secret World Of Arrietty (2010)

A teenage boy called Sho is staying at his grandmother’s house in the outskirts of Tokyo to rest and gather his strength before undergoing a heart operation. Since the time of his great-grandfather, Sho’s family has spoken of the “little people” who live in the house. Though they have not been seen for many years, they are still there, building their home using things they “borrow” that Sho’s family won’t notice are missing. Sho catches a glimpse of one of the little people when he arrives at the house – a young girl called Arrietty who lives under the floorboards of the house with her mother and father. One night during her first expedition to borrow a lump of sugar and a tissue part with her father, Arrietty is discovered by Sho. He doesn’t do anything but lets them leave peacefully. Though her expedition ended in failure, Arrietty is shocked when Sho leaves a lump of sugar outside the house with a note saying “You forgot something”. Fearing it might be a trap, Arrietty leaves the sugar well alone. Later though she takes the sugarlump which has been half taken by ants and dumps it into Sho’s bedroom who is astonished to see this. He saves her life from a marauding crow. Arrietty and Sho become friends though she doesn’t reveal herself to him at first. But things are about to get complicated when Sho’s grandmothers’ maid Haru is aware that the “little people” are back in the house and is determined to find their hiding place. After Sho stupidly switches the kitchen of the borrowers house with one from a dolls house, Haru discovers what’s going on and captures Arrietty’s mother. Can Sho and Arrietty manage to rescue her mother?

I’ve always adored watching Ghibli movies and whilst I’m rather late in watching this movie as it came out in 2010 it was definitely worth the wait. An anime that appeals to everybody across the board from children to adults. Ghibli always make special movies and I’ve yet to see a bad one from them. Hayao Miyazaki didn’t direct this movie though he had a hand in the screenplay. The honour went to long time Ghibli animator Hiromasa Yonebashi and this was his directorial debut. It’s a beautiful movie and the high standards of what we’ve come to expect of Ghibli continues. I would think that most people know about the story of The Borrowers by Mary Norton, there’s been many TV adaptations (one shown as recently as last Christmas) and yet this movie manages to make the story seem fresh and new. The story is wonderfully written and executed. The animation is superb as you’d expect from Ghibli with every little detail drawn beautifully. The plot works well to keep you entertained containing some excitement to keep you on the edge of your seat – kids won’t be bored by watching this movie I guarantee you that.

What makes this movie work more than anything apart from the animation and the excellent soundtrack is the characters themselves. Arrietty has enough spirit and charm to carry the movie on her own, although she doesn’t have to worry about that. Her anxious yet loving mother Homily and her strong but kindhearted father Pod play out far beyond the caricatures that they usually would be. Sho is a quiet, thoughtful young teenager facing a harrowing heart surgery with a subtle grace and preparation- a nice counter to a lot of characters his age. Even the main antagonist, Haru, is definitely not evil; at worst she is only incredibly overeager and maybe a bit crazy. All the characters are incredibly real.

So on the whole Arrietty is a winner all round and another masterpiece from the studio that can do no wrong. I have no hesitation in highly recommending this movie. I can’t wait to see the next Ghibli project From Up On Poppy Hill by Miyazaki’s son Goro.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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