Archive for May 6th, 2012

Kamome Diner (2006)

Sachie is a Japanese woman living in Helsinki, who has single-handedly established a new cafe serving Japanese-style food. However, it has no customers. Eventually a young Finnish anime enthusiast comes for coffee and becomes the cafe’s first regular. Midori is a Japanese woman who has just arrived in Finland for an indefinite time and without any definite plans. She and Sachie happen to meet in a bookstore and she starts to help out in the cafe. Later, Masako, another Japanese woman on her own, turns up. Her baggage has been lost by an airplane company, and before long she too starts to work in the cafe. We follow the three as they try out new ideas for trying to attract new customers to the diner.

Another outstanding and simple Japanese slice of life drama following a woman trying to build a customer base for her diner and the people she meets along the way. There’s no big dramatics, no villains and nothing earth-shattering happens in this movie (except for carrying a depressed and drunk Finn woman back to her home) and that’s why it works so well in my opinion. You care for the characters and want Sachie to succeed in her business and you are glad when at the end we see the diner full of customers which brings a smile on your face. It’s a good natured movie about inter-human relations and about being nice towards each other. Though it’s a slow movie, it radiates a true sense of positive human interaction. Each new customer coming to the diner bring an opportunity for Sachie and her helpers to form and nurture new friendships. Watching the food they serve up for their customers will be enough to salivate most viewers! The movie is visually pleasing with beautiful cinematography.

Satomi Kobayashi is incredible as the main character Sachie whose warmth and kindness makes you instantly like her. The rest of the cast is a mix of Japanese and Finnish, and the dialogue too a mix of languages. The only blip in the cast is the young Finnish actor Jarkko Niemi playing the anime otaku who is simply awful and tries too hard to be Japanese for his own good. He gets rather annoying by the end.

Kamome Diner is a very charming feel-good movie in which you can’t help but get involved in the lives and problems of Sachie, her helpers and her customers. If it was a real place there’s no doubt I’d want to visit there for an onigiri or two. A pleasant experience from start to finish. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Gonin (1995)

The movie follows 5 men who join up to steal some money from the yakuza. Bandai – the owner of a once popular nightclub who’s up to his neck in debt to the yakuza; a gay extortionist who loves him; Ogiwara – a downsized salaryman on the brink of mental collapse; a drug addict ex-police detective and a failed prize-fighter turned pimp. Each has a reason why they hate the yakuza, most particularly Bandai, who is taunted daily and threatened by the unruly thugs. He organizes the motley crew and raids a yakuza office, and not only manages to make off with almost a hundred million yen but humiliates the thugs in front of their syndicate boss. In retaliation, the mob hires a homosexual hitman who sports an eyepatch and works with ruthless efficiency along with his partner to track down and kill them all.

This is a really impressive doomed heist movie, very dark, little bit strange and violent. The complex storytelling mix with extreme stylized direction by Takashi Ishii make this an unforgettable experience. I was fascinated from beginning to end. The world of Gonin is a dark, cruel and gloomy world inhabited by sadistic gangsters, cold blooded killers and suffering opportunists. The violence is intense and at some point graphic but never gratuitous. The story may have been told many times before, but the great cinematography and the excellent performances by the entire cast make it seem fresh and exciting. Some people though might be put off by the homoeroticism on show here. It is in-your-face at times but don’t let that stop you from watching this brilliant movie.

The ensemble cast are all excellent, but the most memorable performances are by Naoto Takenaka who plays the unhinged salaryman Ogiwara and Takeshi Kitano who plays Kyoya, the ruthless eyepatched hitman. Kitano steals every scene he is in, and plays one of the nastiest and most memorable characters of his career. Be aware though that Kitano only starts appearing in this movie during the 2nd half.

Brilliantly filmed, edited, scored, acted, scripted and directed – Gonin is one movie that is definitely worth checking out. If you’re a fan of Takeshi Kitano, extreme Japanese cinema and very well crafted movies this should be on your shopping list of movies to see.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Toshiko, a high school girl and her brother find a camera in their late grandfather’s bedroom. Later on, she receives a message to her new cell phone from her brother; in this message there is a mysterious picture of a dark forest where an unknown woman is standing. From that moment on, strange things begin to happen to Toshiko, including visions of a strange looking girl and odd photos appearing on her mobile phone. She decides to talk to one of her best friends Megumi about it and she tells Toshiko that there is an urban legend about a girl lost in a forest. She asks her teacher to find out about the location of where the photo was taken. Soon, Toshiko discovers that there is more about the legend than she actually knows, and it is closer to her than she can imagine.

Sharing many characteristics with other J-horrors which would be fine it this was any good but unfortunately this short and snappy 72-min movie teases us aplenty but delivers very little in any good scares or suspense. I did think this was going to be a rather interesting supernatural movie at first but I saw quite quickly that this was not going to give us anything new. The movie is rather slow in getting going with a good 40 minutes having passed before anything of any significance happening and by that time you don’t really care what’s going on or you’ve switched off. Nothing is ever properly explained by the end and the story doesn’t really go anywhere. The abrupt climax could have been done better. The red herring placed in the movie about a child serial killer at large doesn’t help matters one bit.

Seira Yaguchi doesn’t do that well in her role as Toshiko who’s trying to unravel the mystery. It’s like she’s sleepwalking her way through the role and she just can’t seem to express emotions on her face all that well.

If you’ve got 72 mins to spare by all means give this a whirl but you’re more than likely going to get disappointed by this story which falls flat on it’s face.

Sadako’s Rating: 2 stars out of 5

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