Archive for May, 2012

Medical trainee doctor Noboru Yasumoto thinks he’s only visiting an impoverished public clinic where the poor are served but finds out that the magistrate has assigned him to work there and he he as no choice but to stay. Out of spite he refuses to help the good doctor Kyojio Niide known to everyone as Red Beard who runs the place. Yasumoto even refuses to even wear his clinic uniform but eventually becomes interested in the patients particularly an old man dying and a mad woman who’s kept isolated in a special ward. When Red Beard rescues an abused girl Otoya who has been kept by the owner of a brothel, Yasumoto is given the task of coaxing her out of her shell and helping her on the slow road to recovery.

This is the final collaboration between Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune and what a belter it is with it’s main theme being compassion. The story is beautiful, touching and shows the redemption of an arrogant young man who thinks he is above working in Red Beard’s clinic but gradually learns what it means to become a human being whilst learning important and worthwhile lessons in life. I enjoyed watching Yasumoto growing from a person who didn’t really give a toss for any of Red Beard’s patients to a man who cares and decides that instead of wanting to become the Shogunate’s doctor he would like to stay on at the clinic. It’s such a memorable movie which is emotionally devastating yet also lifts your spirits at the same time. The patients we meet at Red Beard’s clinic are interesting and each of them has a story to tell which are moving. There are so many moments which stand out but for myself the one which involves the character of ‘The Mantis’ trying to seduce and kill Yasumoto with a hairpin is chilling.

Toshiro Mifune commands a huge onscreen presence as he always does. His portrayal of the grizzled veteran doctor Red Beard is magnificent. Although his character is restrained most of the time, he does get a chance to kick ass when he takes on a gang of thugs and breaks their arms and legs after they try and stop him from taking a girl to his clinic! Yuzo Kayama is fantastic as Yasumoto and I did like Terumi Niki as the mentally scarred Otoya. Kayama and Niki’s scenes together are wonderful.

Akira Kurosawa’s testament to the goodness of mankind is one of his best. It’s such a shame that Kurosawa and Mifune would never work together again after this movie as they brought the best out of each other. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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Yuriko’s Aroma (2010)

30 year old Yuriko works as an aromatherapist at a salon where she uses oils and her hands to soothe her client’s aches, pains and worries. One day the nephew of the salon owner where Yuriko is working comes by. 17 year old high school pupil Tetsuya is stinking of sweat having been practicing kendo as an after school activity. Yuriko finds herself turned on by his smell and even steals Tetsuya’s kendo glove so that she can smell it at home!! One day she follows Tetsuya from school to a secluded run down shack where he sleeps after his kendo practice. She cannot help herself but start sniffing his sweaty head and even licking it! Tetsuya wakes up and cannot believe what’s going on but decides that he wants more out of it so they come to an arrangement. She can smell and lick his sweat if he can get his own pleasure out of it (I’ll say no more about it!!). And so their rather odd relationship begins. As time goes on, Tetsuya wants more out of their relationship but Yuriko doesn’t. He storms off in a huff. Another person to add to this already bizarre relationship is Ayama, a client of Yuriko who wants to practice aromatherapy skills on her but in reality is more interested in pressing her large breasts against Yuriko! What will become of Yuriko and Tetsuya’s relationship?

In case you’re thinking this is a somewhat kinky and perverted movie you’d be wrong as it isn’t at all. A little bit strange perhaps and slightly erotic. It just tells the story of an unusual relationship between 2 lonely people. An original and unconventional movie that is done extremely well by director Yoshida Kota. One has to congratulate him for taking on such a subject matter that the majority of directors wouldn’t touch with a barge pole. It’s a great movie that explores people’s personal desires which might be different to what we perceive as normal. An exploration of something that most would consider it taboo. However the relationship between Yuriko and Tetsuya is done in such a mature way that no sexual material (apart from one scene that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the movie) is needed to be shown onscreen. It could have been easy for the director to have gone down the soft porn route but he didn’t. As for the 2 leading characters – Noriko Eguchi is really good as Yuriko. Kudos to her for not being afraid of taking on such a difficult and challenging role whilst Shota Sometani as Tetsuya whose performance also shines gives us a display of teenage awkwardness and uncertainty that many men might remember their own experiences with nostalgia!

Yuriko’s Aroma might not be for everyone’s tastes but at least it gives us something that we haven’t seen before. Another reason why I love Japanese movies so much. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Gondo is a wealthy man who has risen through the ranks from being a humble shoe maker inside the National Shoe company to becoming an executive and share holder in the company. Having been on the shop floor, Gondo knows what it takes to make good quality shoes but his fellow executive wants to save money and make cheaper shoes instead that will fall apart quickly. He refuses to go along with their scheme to oust their boss and has a plan of his own to take over the company. To do this, Gondo has mortgaged everything in his possession including the fancy house that his family have on top of a hill. During this time, somebody kidnaps the son of Gondo’s chaffeur having made a mistake as the kidnapper really wanted Gondo’s son. A ransom is given as being 30 million yen to release the boy and the kidnapper wants Gondo to pay it quickly or the boy will be killed. But if he pays the ransom, Gondo’s plan to take over National Shoe will be in ruins. He would lose everything – his house and most likely his job. At first Gondo is reluctant to pay off the ransom. For his own son he would pay in a heartbeat but for a son of his worker he hesitates. A moral dilemma poses itself for Gondo – does he pay off the ransom or not? Will he do the honourable thing?

Possibly one of the most enthralling police thrillers to emerge from Japan and who else but Akira Kurosawa could weave us a gripping tale that keeps us glued to our seats for 2 hours and 25 mins. From the first scene to the ending, Kurosawa shows us exactly why he is a master of cinema. Most people associate him with great samurai dramas but he could do a contemporary thriller as good as any Western movie. The first part of the movie is dedicated solely to Gondo’s situation as he wrestles with his conscience as to what to do with the kidnapping. He doesn’t want to lose everything that he has worked so hard over the years to achieve if he pays the ransom but he cannot let a little boy be killed by the kidnapper. It culminates in a tense and exciting sequence onboard a bullet train. The second half deals with the police search for the kidnapper and his accomplices as they follow up every lead and clue in order to catch their suspects from using the kidnapped kid’s drawings of where he was taken to background sounds from the telephone calls made to Gondo by the kidnapper. It’s all very interesting and keeps us in suspense. The script is fantastic and the cinematography is outstanding. The pacing is perfect and quite quick. I loved the final scene between Gondo and the kidnapper who’s about to have the death sentence carried out on him. He tells Gondo his reasons for carrying out what he did with his chilling words “your house looked like heaven, high up there. That’s how I began to hate you”. The meaning of the movie’s title I would imagine is this – the “high” is obviously Gendo’s house and his wealthy position in society looking down on the “low” where the everyday common people live. It’s almost as if the kidnapper despised the idea that the wealthy Gendo and his house was almost like a castle lording it over the rest of the town.

Excellent acting from Kurosawa regulars Toshiro Mifune as Gondo and Tatsuya Nakadai as the police detective Tokura. The rest of the ensemble cast (familiar faces from other Kurosawa movies) also do a sterling job in their roles.

A masterpiece on every level. A complex and fascinating crime thriller and whilst different to many of Kurosawa’s other movies, it certainly ranks up there as being one of his best. A must-see.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Kwaidan is a classic Japanese horror anthology movie that consists of 4 seperate ghost stories:

Black Hair: An impoverished samurai dumps his loyal wife in order to marry the daughter of a wealthy lord and improve his position in life. Years later and with his feelings towards his 2nd wife becoming stale, he realises just how much in love with his first wife he’s in and sets off to Kyoto to find her. He’s surprised when he finds her still alive in their old decayed house and ready to forgive him but something is amiss….

The Woman In The Snow: I’ve covered this story in another movie entry (The Snow Witch). It’s basically the same except The Snow Witch expanded on the original story here.

Hoichi The Earless: A blind biwa player named Hoichi (a biwa is a stringed instrument resembling a guitar) who is renowned for his moving rendition of the tragic tale of the battle between the Genji and Heiki clans is summoned one night by a samurai ghost to play his famous piece to the spirits of the Heiki clan. He does this on several occasions. Hoichi thinks he goes to a house of a famous lord to perform but finds out that it’s in a creepy graveyard he’s been playing. Two priests cover Hoichi from head to toe with Buddhist talisman symbols that should protect him from the ghost summoning him to perform again but they forget to cover one place: his ears!! When Hoichi refuses to play for the ghosts, one of them extracts a terrible bloody revenge on him!

In A Cup Of Tea: A samurai sees an image of a former samurai when he tries to drink a cup of tea. During the evening, the samurai is visited by the ghost of the image he saw in the cup. He tries to kill the ghost but it disappears though it seems he managed to injure it in the arm. The following evening, three more spirits appear and tell the samurai that he has injured their master. He intends to visit the samurai very soon for revenge.

This is the 3rd work by Masaki Kobayashi that I’ve had a chance to see after The Human Condition I and Seppuku. It’s a brilliant Japanese supernatural movie. All of the 4 stories are very good – traditional Japanese folk legends about ghosts that you might hear around a campfire. Are the 4 tales frightening? A little bit maybe but what you get is an incredible visual feast by the director who uses vivid colour, dream-like surreal landscapes and superb cinematography. The background sets are like paintings you might see in an art exhibition. Truly stunning. My favourite story has to be Hoichi The Earless. The running time of the movie might be long at nearly 2 hours and 45 mins but because the stories are never boring, before you know it the movie has ended. That’s the mark of a really great movie when you don’t notice how much time has passed by. It’s engrossed you so much that time doesn’t matter.

Kwaidan is beautiful, moody, creepy, poetic and very atmospheric. A remarkable movie which should be on the list of every Asian movie fan. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.

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Still Walking (2008)

A middle-aged brother and sister and their families visit their aging parents in Yokohama on the twelfth anniversary of their brother Junpei’s death from drowning while saving another boy who was trying to commit suicide. Relationships between generations are strained, however, and patriarch Kyohei, a former doctor, does not hide his resentment for his surviving son Ryoto, an out of work art restorer. The movie which is set over a course of 1 day is spent with routine activities such as preparing meals and playing with the small children. Kyohei remains detached and hides in his office, pretending to be occupied with medical business. He only emerges to bicker with his wife and play with his grandson. Ryoto, who did not look forward to the reunion, is put off by his father’s disdain for his profession of art restoration and his coolness toward his new wife Yukari. She craves acceptance for herself and her son Atsushi from a previous marriage in which her husband died. A picture of the deceased Junpei is placed in the center of the Yokoyama family house reminding Ryoto that whatever he does, he cannot measure up to Junpei, who was to be his father’s heir.

A movie which is simply made and deeply constructed. Movie directors from certain countries can capture the beauty of family drama with such subtlety and grace. Japanese directors are masters of this and Hirokazu Koreeda has made a stunning movie which many have said reminds them of legendary director Yasujiro Ozu. Had this movie been directed by him, it might stand quite comfortably alongside his masterpieces.The last movie by Koreeda that I watched was the magnificent Air Doll and before that Nobody Knows so I knew beforehand that I would be watching something special in Still Walking. For such a simple plotline, Koreeda brilliantly captures a family trying to pass 1 day without conflict as old wounds start to resurface. There are no big arguments between family members but you can feel the building resentment and guilt that is kept in check (a typical Japanese trait). If you know anything about Japanese society, you will know that if you save the life of someone who wishes to commit suicide, you effectively are responsible for their life going forward. In this case, the person doing the saving, the eldest son, had died in the process. So we see the person who he saved return year after year to be reminded in an indebted but somewhat cruel manner that he is alive whilst their son is dead. Ryota’s mother’s admission on why she invites the person over every year might seen like being cruel but at least she’s being honest about it. She needs someone to hate. Grief is a hard thing to get over for some people and for Junpei’s parents moving on with their lives is hard. The devastation of the tragic events that took their son’s life hangs heavily in the air of their home. Koreeda has shot this movie in a beautiful manner: he has an eye for family meals and rituals in particular, and these scenes are handled perfectly. The ending with time having gone forward 3 years in the future is profound and moving with Kyota’s parents now dead. Things which had been idly discussed between parent and child weren’t fulfilled and now it’s too late.

The cast is excellent all round with Kiki Kirin giving a fantastic turn as Ryota’s mother Toshiko. She is mischievous, catty, petty, prejudiced, funny, generous and cruel at the same time. She’s the star of the movie. Abe Hiroshi is one of my favourite Japanese actors and he is great as Ryota who has lived in the shadow of his dead brother for so long. The rest of the cast also excel and give touching performances.

Still Walking is yet another wonderful movie by Hirokazu Koreeda that is handled with such astounding tenderness and compassion. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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The movie takes place over the course of 12 months in the early 20th century in a quiet rural mountainous part of Northern Japan. The matriach of a small village named Orin is nearing the age of 70. When she reaches that age, the eldest son has to carry her off up into the mountains and leave here to die of starvation or exposure to the elements in a ravine so that the younger generations have a better chance to survive with the lack of food and harsh winters. Newborn sons are thrown out and left to die and daughters are left to grow up before being sold to slavery. Even though Orin is in very good health she knows that her time is coming to an end and she is resigned to her fate. She tries to speed up her oncoming death by bashing her teeth on a piece of rock to show the others that as her teeth are falling out it’s a sign by the gods. The journey up the mountains is a very religious experience and past generations in the village have done the same. It’s a chance for Orin to meet the Mountain God and be reunited with loved ones. But Odin’s son Tatsuhei isn’t very happy at the eagerness of his mother to die. Before Orin leaves on her final journey she has a lot to prepare so that her family can survive without her. She sets up Tatsuhei with a woman, asks her elderly friend to have sex with her adopted son Risuke as his sexual frustration grows to boiling point and even has time to set up a witch hunt on her 2nd son’s pregnant wife so that she can be killed in order to lessen the burden on the family.

The first thing that struck me about this movie was the beautiful cinematography with breathtaking aerial shots of the terrain where the story takes place. The question I got from this movie and I’m not sure if this was what director Shohei Imamura was trying to give the viewer was are we no different to the animal kingdom in our ways? Judging from the characters in this movie the answer is probably not. The characters in my opinion are all inbred savages who are only slightly more intelligent than cavemen. They’re certainly not likeable – not one of them and I didn’t care for them either. This is also a movie about survival and the people in the village have taken their choices to the extreme in order to prosper in harsh conditions. They have no choice basically. If they don’t carry out the brutal things they do, there’s a chance for the food to run out and everybody will starve and die. The movie is difficult at times to watch with scenes such as a corpse of a newborn boy which is bloated being found in a paddy field with the snow having melted and being dismissed as fertiliser, a farmhand having sex with a dog and a group of people with a pregnant lady being thrown in a pit and buried alive for stealing food. All the while the director gives us images of animals doing the same thing as the villagers – either shagging, eating or killing each other. But even though I dislike all the characters, this movie is certainly spellbinding. The final 40 mins which traces Orin and Tatsuhei’s journey up the mountain to her final resting place is mesmerising and when we finally come to the location where Tatsuhei has to leave Orin to die, the place is like an elephant’s graveyard. Thousands of human skeletons are strewn across the place which makes it quite an unforgettable scene and on the cliffs above and circling in the sky are crows who are impatiently waiting for Orin to die so that they can feast on her body. It’s quite a depressing movie to watch but there are snippets of humour as well.

The acting is excellent all around and talking about taking your acting to the extreme – Sumiko Sakamoto who plays Orin surgically removed her teeth so that she could realistically look like a 70 year old. At the time of filming she was in her 40’s. Now that’s dedication for you! Ken Ogata who plays Tatsuhei is another that shines in this movie.

This isn’t a movie that everybody will find easy to watch but this tale of people put under extreme conditions and turning into beasts is recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Mushishi (2006)

At the turn of the last century, a young boy and his mother are travelling to a nearby town. It is raining heavily and unfortunately a landslide occurs which comes crashing down on the boy’s mother. The boy is discovered looking for the body of his mother by a female Mushi master Nui. The Mushi are mystical insect-like creatures that causes illness to human beings and a Mushi master can usually cure a person of an affliction. Moving ahead in time, we follow another Mushi master called Ginko who is looking for a place to stay out of a snowstorm. He finds an inn and discovers several people in the area have gone deaf in one ear. Ginko suspects the Mushi are behind the ailment. After curing them, he is asked by the innkeeper to look at her granddaughter who is hearing voices and sprouting some horns on her forehead. After piecing together some facts from her, he manages to cure the little girl and the horns drop off her head. Another more serious case occurs when Ginko is summoned to visit an old friend Tanyo (a fellow mushi master) where a more deadly Mushi is threatening her life. To cure his friend, Ginko will have to go up against a familiar face from his past and start to remember some repressed memories from his childhood.

This is based on a long running manga that started in 1999. Mushishi is an interesting movie that tends to become too complex for it’s own good and drags a lot at times. Visually it is really beautiful to watch and sets the scene for it’s mystical storyline perfectly with mist covered mountains and lush colourful forests. The production values are high. The biggest problem is the plot itself. It starts out being intriguing but then it just sort of dies out and goes nowhere. The story is fragmented – half of it is Ginko’s backstory told in flashback and the rest is Ginko dealing with the mushi. The deliberate slow methodical pace also hinders the movie. I’m not saying the movie is completely bad because there are some positive aspects to it. The back story to Ginko and how he became a Mushi master is captivating and engaging but I fear some viewers being put off by the long dialogue about dark mushi and one eyed fish that rears it’s head from time to time. They could have cut a good half hour from the running time and it would have quickened the pace of the movie considerably. The cast is pretty good from Joe Odagiri as the mellow Ginko to Makiko Esumi as Nui, the Mushi Master who cares for Ginko as a boy. Aoi has an excellent role as Ginko’s friend Tanyo. There’s a tiny element of gore to the proceedings as Tanyo’s grandmother tries to cut the mushi infection out of her body by cutting her arm with a knife. As the bad black mushi infection clears, there’s a huge fountain of red blood that sprays from Tanyo’s arm everywhere on the walls. It just seems out of place to the rest of the movie.

If you’ve got the patience for a slow paced movie, you might enjoy the movie. I think this will appeal more to Mushishi manga fans more than the casual viewer. Average.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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After managing to get out of the Liar Game, Nao Kanzaki is once again persuaded to enter the Final Stage of the game when it appears that Akiyama needs her help. The game is held on an empty island and it is titled The Garden Of Eden. Along with Kanzaki and Akiyama are 9 other players. One of them is very familiar to Liar Game fans – Fukunaga aka Mushroom Head. The game is simple and all the players need to do is vote by apples into a voting box. There are 3 kinds of apples: gold, silver and a normal red one. Depending on how many players vote with certain apples determines how many millions of yen they win but in certain scenarios a wrong vote could land a player deep into debt of 5 billion and out of the game permanently. If everybody helps each other out, it’s a game in which everybody could win and leave with plenty of money but this is the Liar Game after all. So will Akiyama and Kanzaki be able to overcome their latest challenge or will a mysterious player known as Person X scupper their chances of victory?

I was a big fan of The Liar Game drama over the course of it’s 2 seasons and this movie is a fitting send off for Akiyama and Kanzaki’s journey together. All the traits that we associate with the series is here – backstabbings, red herrings and brilliant twists and turns. Sides are drawn, flimsy alliances are formed and the fun for the viewer is trying to guess who the traitor(s) with a hidden agenda is. Nao Kanzaki is as stupidly honest as she has been in the past. You would think that by now she would have learnt her lesson not to trust anybody but the girl has a heart of gold who sees the good in everybody. Thankfully over the course of the movie we see Kanzaki finally beginning to play the game just like the rest of them. There’s only so much of seeing Kanzaki screwed over that it’s becomes tiresome and repetitive. What I like most about The Liar Game is it’s like a game of chess. You cannot stay on your laurels and you need to be several steps ahead of your fellow players and use various means to find out who is lying and use that information to your advantage. It also highlights a person’s tendency for greed and putting their self-interests first before everybody else.

Shota Matsuda exudes the same cool exterior as Akiyama just like he did in the series. This is a person who knows his character inside out having played him for several years. Even after a 2 years gap between the 2nd season and the movie, he slipped into character easily and so did Erika Toda as Nao Kanzaki. She showed maturity in her portrayal of Kanzaki and we can see how much she has grown into being her character. The two characters complement each other nicely and don’t overact like the rest of the players even though I liked the OTT maniacal laughing of the devious and sly Fukunaga. He’s such a great character. He just can’t help but betray Akiyama and Kanzaki and then when things go wrong begs for their forgiveness!

A brilliant closure to the series or is it? In March, the movie Liar Game Reborn was released in Japanese cinemas. Gone was Erika Toda as Nao Kanzaki but Shota Matsuda as Akiyama returned along with other familiar characters to ensure some continuity. Little Mana Ashida had a role in the movie and also in a one-off drama called Alice in Liar Game. Something tells me we haven’t seen the end of Liar Game and that it’ll be back in the future. I for one can’t wait.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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The Crucified Lovers (1954)

Mohei is a loyal apprentice printer for Ishun, a wealthy scroll maker who has married Osan, a woman 30 years his junior. She only married him for his money as her family was impoverished. When Osan’s brother asks for a loan and is refused, Osan goes to Mohei for help. He tells her to leave it up to him as he will find a way to get the loan. Mohei asks Ishun for his seal and puts it on a blank receipt in order to get the loan. When his co-worker tells him that what he’s doing is wrong, Mohei confesses his crime to Ishun. Ishun threatens to tell the police but a maid that Ishun is pestering constantly tells him that the loan was for her. Ishun assumes that the two are lovers and locks Mohei up in the attic. Osan thanks the maid for trying to help Mohei but she admits that Ishun has been trying to woo her. Hopng that night to catch her husband in the act, Osan decides to stay the night in the maid’s room but in comes Mohei who has escaped through the roof of the attic. He wanted to say goodbye to the maid before leaving. Osan tries to persuade Mohei into staying but both are interrupted by a shop clerk. He now thinks that both of them are having an affair! Mohei immediately escapes into the grounds of the house to hide and Ishun is angry when he hears that Osan might be having an affair. As Osan goes outside, she sees Mohei and both decide to escape and commit suicide as Ishun has alerted the police. Both change their minds however when Mohei admits that he loves Osan. They decide to go on the run but with the police looking for them all over the country, how much longer can they manage to hide before they are eventually caught?

Kenji Mizoguchi is a master storyteller and The Crucified Lovers is yet another superb movie directed by him. I’ve yet to be disappointed in any of his movies I’ve seen so far. This is a doomed romance tale about a couple that crosses 2 class boundaries – the wife of a rich husband falling for a lowly apprentice printer. It’s an evocative and haunting portrait on the tragedy of love, duty, honour, and conformity in a repressive society. A near flawless movie with an excellent storyline, beautiful sets, great acting and some exquisite camera work especially the image of a boat moored alongside a cabin on the misty shores of Lake Biwa. The characters and what happens to them have a familiar ring that’s well associated with Mizoguchi, with good-hearted people falling victim to ill fortune and the self-centred whims of those in positions of authority, and in the feeling that from even the early scenes that the story is unlikely to end well for anyone. The potential fate that hangs over the fleeing Mohei and Osan is shown early on when the wife of a samurai and her lover are paraded through the streets and publicly crucified, and even Ishun is far from safe as scheming business rival Isan works to use the news of Osan’s supposed adultery to unseat his position of local power and influence. Mizoguchi adeptly starts to mount the tension as the net begins to close in on Mohei and Osan. Kazuo Hasegawa and Kyoko Kagawa are brilliant as their characters and we do feel some sympathy for them as their fate is sealed by their growing feelings towards each other.

The Crucified Lovers is a gripping tale. It might not be Mizoguchi’s best but it does come very close. Highly recommended and a must-see.

No trailer but I did find this clip.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Peppermint Candy (2000)

Set in the year 1999, a man in a agitated state named Yong-ho kills himself in front of his old classmates at a reunion party in a place where they went on a trip 20 years previously by standing in front of a train on a bridge and shouting “I want to go back”. The movie goes back in time to various stages in his life from the immediate past to the earlier stages of his young adult life. Just before his death, Yong-ho’s life was a mess and was living in a run-down shack. He’d been ripped off by his business partner, lost money on the stock market and his wife had divorced him. With his last bit of cash, he buys a gun and expresses the wish to die and to take those people along with him who have made his life a torment. A man comes looking for him asking to visit his wife who is dying in hospital. It turns out she was his first love many years ago and used to send peppermint candies to Yong-ho when he was in the army. As we go back further in time, Yong-ho is seen as a successful businessman whose wife is cheating on him and before that as a brutal police officer who isn’t very nice to his heavily pregnant wife. As a young adult, Yong-ho is a useless soldier who accidentally kills a schoolgirl and then the story comes full circle to the trip and the location where the movie opens and he meets his true love for the first time.

A very interesting movie that tracks the life path of how a man who goes from youthful innocence, beauty and love to being a nasty, cruel and hateful man, and most especially self-hate, and this is all depicted in 7 flashback sequences. The movie unfolds in reverse chronology over a 20 year period as we witness the crucial events in the man’s life that have led him to his present state. Each of the seven flashback periods is separated by an image of a train running backwards. A very nice touch by the director. The movie progressively drags you into its increasingly tragic storyline but never torturing you enough that you’ll stop looking but not pulling any punches either. It’s not a movie that makes for fun watching. At the end there are no loose ends or contradictions and it seemed that all the jigsaw pieces that we’ve seen over the course of the movie fits perfectly. This movie from what I’ve been reading also mirrors a very tumultuous period in the history of South Korea. However, even if you do not have a passing knowledge of South Korean politics because I certainly didn’t this is still a compelling film with its stirring portrayal of a man’s disintegration. The movie is slow-paced but it never gets boring. Sol Kyung-gu is excellent as Yong-ho who easily captures the wide range of emotions in his dynamic character from a tortured soul to an ambitious youth with dreams like any other.

Overall, this is a poignant tale of innocence lost which is worth watching. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Usagi Drop (2011)

27-year-old Daikichi is an unmarried office worker with no girlfriend. When his grandfather dies he attends his funeral and sees a strange little girl there. He finds out that the quiet and sad little girl is his grandfather’s illegitimate daughter and the mother is unknown. The little girl is called Rin and she’s 6 years old. The family debate about who will take over responsibilities to look after her. With nobody willing to do it, Daikichi takes it upon himself to be her guardian. His family are surprised as they believe he has no idea on how it is to become a parent. Even his mother warns him that she made many sacrifices for her 2 children. He soon learns the difficulties in raising a child as a single parent with the usual childhood problems: wetting the bed, not making friends, then making friends, becoming sick, experiencing feelings of abandonment and posing tricky questions about death. As time passes by, little Rin begins feeling more and more comfortable being around him, but still must face the loss of her father.

Based on the manga of the same name, this is a lovely heartwarming tale about a young man taking up the responsibilities of parenthood and finding out that it’s not as easy as it looks but even through the hardship he encounters in raising young Rin he wouldn’t have it any other way. We witness the likeable Daikichi change from being a work intensive person and even changing job so that he can focus his attention solely on raising Rin. It shows the human condition and our ability to nurture in the absolute best and worst of scenarios. It also shows the emotional and physical toll in raising a child especially in a work-heavy society such as Japan. With this kind of movie you might expect sentimentality or maybe some saccharine sweet moments but director Hiroyuki Tanaka keeps them to a minimum. Even when there’s a little bit of drama near the climax as Rin and her nursery school friend Koki run away to visit Koki’s fathers grave in a cemetery and come across a creepy looking young man, it is handled competently and any thoughts that the situation is going to become dark is soon forgotten. There’s hardly any conflict in the movie and the romance that seems to be building between Daikichi and a female single parent seems to be snuffed out before the end credits. There’s not a lot of character development either but that didn’t really bother me. Ultimately this movie is about the cute and warm relationship that grows between Daikichi and Rin

I quite like Kenichi Matsuyama as an actor. He has established himself as one of Japan’s brightest actors and he doesn’t fail to impress as Daikichi. He has the knack of being able to tackle a variety of diverse roles. The main star of the movie has to be Mana Ashida who is simply too adorable for words. She’s THE most popular child actress in Japan right now which has seen her star power rocket over the past year. Already a veteran of several movies and dramas, she is fantastic as Rin. Even though she may be a child, Mana’s acting especially in her dramatic scenes is superb. She compliments Kenichi Matsuyama’s acting very well and they make a very believable parent and child. With everybody wanting to have a piece of Mana Ashida at the moment, I just hope she won’t burn out soon.

Usagi Drop is a sweet feel-good movie that will leave you smiling afterwards. It was an absolute delight to watch.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5.

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Conduct Zero (2002)

Joong Pil is the toughest guy at his high school. Vain, slovenly and a bit stupid, he and his small gang steal lunch money and tries to peddle some erotic manga drawings to younger students. His reputation has made him a legend (built on exaggerating rumours rather than hard fact) and trying to keep up with his studies is something that Joong Pil finds increasingly hard. All that changes when he starts falling in love with a geeky bespectacled girl named Min-Hee. His image starts to soften and even his closest friends notice a difference in him. His ex-girlfriend warns him that he’s in danger of losing his reputation and no.1 position if he continues down this path. A serious rival rears up in the shape of Sung-Mahn who starts to move in on Joong Pil’s territory with nobody to stop him. Joong Pil now has a dilemma on his hands – does he walk away from his previous life as a tough guy and happily continue his relationship with Ming-Hee or does he realise that he cannot let anybody take his crown and issues a direct challenge for a fight with Sung-Mahn?

Conduct Zero is a very funny Korean teen comedy and viewers that are familiar with other similar movies from the country will know what to expect. It uses a tried and tested formula. The formula being we get comedy for 2/3 of the plot before it changes direction to a more dramatic and serious story. Usually this switch spoils the fun mood that’s already been built up but thankfully the drama element introduced in this movie balances nicely with the comedy. The humour is at times so ridiculous and OTT when we see Joong Pil beating up members of a karate school where their bodies are seen flying through the air that it reminds you of a scene out of Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle. Somehow I didn’t find the relationship between Joong-Pil and Ming-Hee that realistic. Yes, I know the phrase ‘opposites attract’ and you can see why Joong Pil would be drawn to such a girl but he seems more suitable and better off with his ex-girlfriend Na-young as they come from a similar background and she also leads her own small gang.

Although the script for the movie is well written, it’s not a perfect comedy by any means and there’s hardly any character development (but perhaps that’s what the director wanted in order to concentrate on the gags instead?). Joong Pil’s teacher who begins a relationship with his mother is largely brushed to the side and could have been expanded. It would have been interesting to see what Joong Pil felt about the situation. The ending also wasn’t what I was expecting and I’m not sure if it was the right way to go. The performances in this movie are excellent in particular Seung-beom Ryu as Joong Pil. His transition from tough guy to a softie is convincing and belieavable. Eun-kyeong Lim is also good as the cute and geeky Ming-Hee. The supporting cast also get a chance to shine in certain scenes.

Apart from some minor gripes, Conduct Zero was a very enjoyable and entertaining teen comedy with plenty of laughs to be had from watching it. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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The Youth Killer (1976)

Jun is a young man in his early 20’s who works in a small bar given to him by his father to run close to Narita Airport. He manages the place with his young, playful and free-spirited girlfriend Keiko who is deaf in one ear. Jun’s parents are not happy that he’s gotten involved with her as they believe she’s seduced him. When he visits his parents who run a tire shop in the town of Narita itself, he is given another earful from them about Keiko. His father is adamant that she’s a liar and bad for him as he’s hired a private detective to look into her past and found out that she seduced her mother’s lover. She’s nothing more than a temptress. He urges Jun to dump her. He’s not happy at all with his parents interfering with his love life. When his mother goes outside to the tire shop yard and his father still going on about Keiko, Jun’s anger soon comes to the boil and he stabs his father to death. His mother comes in and finds his bloodied corpse on the floor. As Jun insists of turning himself in to the police, his mother opens up that she has been harbouring feelings of murdering him as well. She tries to persuade Jun that they can run away and go somewhere else as long as he finishes with Keiko. When he doesn’t say anything, his mother goes nuts and tries to kill Jun with the same kitchen knife that he killed his father. Jun overpowers his mother and she urges him to kill her swiftly which he does. He dumps the bodies into the bath tub and decides that the following day he’ll get rid of the bodies by dumping them into the sea . He goes back to the bar to see his girlfriend with the intention of firing her from her job so that she’ll go away but she cannot as she has nowhere else to go. As Jun’s behaviour becomes more erratic due to what he’s done, it seems he’s set on a path to self-destruction.

You might think that by reading the plot that this movie might go on to be like the Japanese version of Badlands (also made in the 70’s) with a young couple on the run from some cops but this movie doesn’t follow the same path. This rebellious youth movie apparently based on a real-life incident was directed by Kazuhiko Hasegawa who made the surreal but brilliant black comedy The Man Who Stole The Sun so I was expecting this to be a cracking movie but alas it turned out to be a bit lacklustre. It started out well enough but after the murders, the plot doesn’t really go anywhere. The couple go to the beach where they have some fantasy induced reconstruction of their past played out, there’s plenty of angst from Jun before a fiery finale where he tries to torch the bar he runs with himself still inside. The director takes the familiar problems of youth apathy, generation conflict, and domestic violence to a shocking new level and he doesn’t flinch with the realistic, emotionally brutal scenes of murder in all their bloody glory.

I did like Yutaka Mizutani’s portryal of Jun – a young man slowly losing his grip on reality who turns suicidal but there’s only so much you can see of a person trying to kill himself until it starts to get tiresome. You understand why he wants to commit suicide when he realises that what his father had told him about Keiko was true so he feels guilty. Nothing seems to have resolved itself for him by the time the end credits comes round – he hasn’t managed to kill himself, the cops won’t listen to him when he confesses to the murder of his parents (they think he’s crazy) so he runs away on his own in the back of a truck to an uncertain future. There seems to be no salvation in sight for him. Mieko Harada gives a competent performance as the teenage temptress Keiko though I would say that some viewers will find her character rather annoying.

Overall, this movie wasn’t particularly special and although it’s a bit of a favourite with Japanese audiences it didn’t do anything for me.

There seems to be some scenes in the trailer that I don’t remember seeing in the actual movie.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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A Hong Kong fast food restaurant acts as the link between two unusual stories of police officers in love in this eccentric, stylish comedy-drama which has been split into two segments. The first centers on a depressed cop struggling to come to terms with a recent break-up. He starts getting obsessed with eating tinned pineapples with the expiry date of May 1st as his girlfriend was called May and his birthday is on May 1st. He thinks she’ll get back with him on his birthday. His sad isolation is transformed when he encounters a beautiful, mysterious femme fatale, whose involvement with the criminal underworld proves troublesome for both. The second story explores the odd relationship between a female restaurant worker and another recently jilted police officer. When his ex-girlfriend leaves a letter with a key to his apartment at the restaurant, the strange woman takes the key and decides to regularly clean and redecorate the man’s apartment whilst he’s working until one day she’s caught in the act……..

I’ve had mixed experiences with Wong Kar Wai’s movies so far. I wasn’t impressed with Ashes of Time Redux but 2046 was slightly better so I came into watching Chunking Express thinking it might be a good movie but nothing special. How wrong I was! If you think this is a typical HK movie then you’re going to be in for a treat as this movie is so much better than a lot of action/comedy movies that I’ve seen from the territory. I was very surprised but how much I enjoyed it – in fact I watched it twice in 2 days! This is a masterpiece make no mistake about it and even giving it the maximum 5 star rating isn’t enough – yes, it really is that good! It’s one of those movies that will leave feeling exhilirated after watching it. Director Wong Kar-Wai takes us on an emotional journey of love, loss, and chance encounters. It is a story of human despair and loneliness told with a good measure of comedy. The cinematography alone keeps your eyes glued to the screen with the brilliant use of colour, fast and slow-motion shots and other visual treats. Well done to Christopher Doyle for his stellar work. The direction of the movie is excellent and it is easily Wong Kar Wai’s most accessible movie. The soundtrack is very memorable and California Dreamin’ by the Mamas & The Papas will be indelibly printed on your mind afterwards. Whenever you’ll hear the song in the future it will guarantee to have you thinking about this movie.

The acting is superb. Brigitte Lin is wonderful as the mysterious enigmatic blonde. On the other hand, Faye Wong’s charismatic and bouncy personality is so infectious and definitely made her my favourite character in the movie. It all comes out through her facial expressions, her dancing, her bright eyed look and smile! Her Cantonese version of the Cranberries song Dreams is outstanding. Takeshiro Kaneshiro and Tony Leung are also fantastic as the 2 cops struggling through their love troubles.

What more can I say about this extraordinary story other than it’s an absolute gem. A perfect movie if ever there was one. If you plan on watching this classic movie in the near future I truly hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

PS – I just had to add this clip from the movie of Faye Wong singing her version of Dreams as it is just as good as the original.

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Control Tower (2011)

In a remote area of Hokkaido, two lonely high school students meet and connect through a shared love of music. Takeru, a bit of a loner lives an alienated and directionless life, drifting through school. He doesn’t mix with anybody and spends his lunch time alone in the school hall. That all changes when he meets serial school-transferee Mizuho who immediately takes a shine to him. She is of a similar nature and in her Takeru finds someone with whom he can connect through a shared love of music. They quickly become friends. Discovering a guitar belonging to his father in storage at his house and borrowing an electric keyboard from a friend of his father for Mizuho to play they decide to form a band and try and enter a national radio competition by writing an original song. But as their friendship becomes stronger, something happens to tear the two apart.

Sometimes a movie comes along that you don’t know anything much about it. You’ve heard on the grapevine it’s really good but that’s all you know. You have no idea what to expect out of it but when you watch it, it turns out to be an incredible experience that lingers long in your mind afterwards. Such was the feeling I got after seeing this superb movie. It is so amazing. This movie by director Miki Takahiro who usually does music PV’s was inspired by the song Kanseitou (Control Tower) by Japanese band Galileo Galilei. The song struck a note so much for the director he had to make a movie from it. He’s even set the movie in the band’s hometown of Wakkanai, Hokkaido.

The movie which is all about loneliness, friendship, music and feelings of first time love is carried by two excellent actors in teenagers Kento Yamazaki and Ai Hashimoto who are perfectly cast in their roles. Hashimoto is really cute and endearing! The chemistry between both is brilliant. You only have to see the glances between them to know the love between them is strong. Takeru longs to make a confession of love to her but hasn’t got the guts to do so and Mizuko knows only too well that her time in the town is short. When the inevitable split occurs between them when Mizuko has move once more, Takeru conveys his heartbreak by singing a song he has composed to a small group of local people in a bar. You can hear the raw emotion in his voice and see the tears starting to well up in his eyes. You really feel for him as the only person to truly understand him has gone from his life perhaps forever and he’s all alone again.

Not only is the storyline wonderful and well written but so is the cinematography and soundtrack. The landscape of Wakkanai is breathtaking to see especially from the top of the town’s hill during a snow shower. The director understands the use of colour in enhancing certain scenes such as having an orange hue in one to make it more atmospheric. The beautiful photography on show just adds another level of greatness to this movie. The music used is a perfect compliment to this tale.

Control Tower might not be a well known movie outside of Japan but it is certainly worth checking out if you have a chance to do so. It’s one of those movies which touches your soul on many levels.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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