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Archive for June, 2012

The Funeral (1984)

Shokichi Amamiya is a difficult 69-year-old man, married to Kikue. He dies suddenly of a heart complaint, and it falls to his daughter Chizuko and son-in-law Wabisuke Inoue to organise the funeral at their house. Among other things, the family have to choose a coffin, hire a priest, hold a wake, learn formal funeral etiquette from a video and hold the service itself. During the three days of preparation, various tensions within the family are hinted at, such as resentment of a rich but stingy uncle, Inoue’s affair with a younger woman, and possibly an affair the dead man himself had with a female croquet player.

This movie shows the preparations for a traditional Japanese funeral. It mixes grief at the loss of a husband and father with wry observations of the various characters as they interact during the three days of preparation. It’s a wonderful comedy full of subtle humour. At times you’ll laugh at the characters such as the older brother who gets all confused which way his dead brother’s head is facing in his coffin at home and then there are emotionally poignant moments which may or may not bring the viewer to tears. Naturally because I’m not completely up to speed on Japanese culture there are probably some jokes which has gone over my head. I did chuckle though at the scene when the phone goes off in the middle of the important part of a prayer service. A man tries to get up to pick up the phone but collapses on the floor due to his legs having gone dead from kneeling on the floor too much. The rest of the family try their best not to laugh out loud and disrupt the service. There are other fabulous moments that stand out in this dark comedy.

The Funeral was the writing and directing debut of Itami Juzo, and was an enormous success in Japan winning several awards. I’ve seen Tampopo by the same director a long long time ago. He does a fantastic job in showing us the ridiculous, selfish but also loving and emotional behaviour of the family. From the acting viewpoint, the pick of the bunch from the entire cast has to be the woman who plays the dead man’s wife. She gives such a moving performance.

Overall I found this movie to be dramatic and touching and it’s a great look at how the Japanese people deal with death with a humourous twist. Recommended.

I can’t seem to find a trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Kyoung-su Kim is a newly transferred student to Volcano High. He’s a gifted teenager with special telekinesis abilities but these powers have done nothing for him except get him expelled from a succession of schools. This latest transfer is basically his last chance. His transfer to the school comes at a turbulent time with the vice principal who conspires with a student Jang Ryang managing to overpower the principal by a poison and framing another student in the process for the incident as he wants to acquire the Great Manuscript – an ancient document which gives it’s owner the ultimate power. However the location of the manuscript eludes even the vice principal so in order to get any information out of the school’s students as they might know its location, he recruits a 5 strong group of teachers who will stop at nothing to bring discipline even if it costs a student’s life. But they didn’t count on the resilience of Kyoung-su Kim………

Although Volcano High looks great with it’s special effects, I wasn’t that impressed overall with the movie at all. The storyline just wasn’t good enough and I felt like it was just written to show off the SFX effects. It’s nothing new either as we’ve seen these kind of effects before in The Matrix and I’ve never been a fan of wire-fu which is used a lot here. To be perfectly honest I thought the filmmakers at times were trying too hard to top The Matrix with the effects. Perhaps if this kind of movie hadn’t been done before it might have been groundbreaking. On saying that it is fairly entertaining if you like this sort of thing. You don’t get bored watching it at all as the pace is fairly brisk with some fairly decent action sequences but they could have been improved. There is some kind of comedy element in this movie which I didn’t find funny. Whatever you do, don’t try and make any sense of the plot or your brain might fry. It’s probably best to just sit back and park your brain by the door before watching it. Director Tae-gyun Kim has obviously tried his best to make this movie exactly like an anime as the story is based on a manga.

Jang Hyuk is likeable enough as the goofy Kyoung-su Kim with his silly faces and I’m not sure how the character of Yoo Chae-I is the most beautiful girl at the school as I think her best friend So Yo-seon is far better looking than her. The performances of the cast are exagerrated deliberately to enhance the anime-like feel of the movie.

If you’re going to watch this movie with the notion that this is just mindless entertainment you’re sure to get something out of it otherwise those expecting a coherent plot with some great fight sequences are likely to be found wanting. Volcano High was just average to me.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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Ai Hoshino is an ordinary high school student who one day while riding home from school is kidnapped by two strange men in suits. She wakes up chained to a strange glowing table and is approached by an evil woman named Black Maria, leader of a criminal organization called “Joker”. Before Black Maria can fully explain her diabolical plan, an intruder alert sounds and she runs out of the room. Just then, Ai’s gym teacher Aoyama shows up and helps her escape. When the two of them are cornered by Maria and her minions, Aoyama grabs a hold of Ai and tells her to jump through the skylight in the roof. To her amazement, she’s able to leap 50ft into the air, burst through the ceiling, and land safely outside with her teacher in tow. The next day he informs her that she has been genetically altered by Joker. Ai is stunned at first, but eventually accepts her situation. Ai’s best friend Yumi is then kidnapped by Joker and brainwash her to fight against Ai. The two genetically-altered teens square off and use all their new abilities against each other. Eventually Ai frees Yumi from the mind control, but it isn’t long before the two of them are confronted by an enemy more powerful than both of them put together.

This is a tokusatsu parody movie so the story is pretty straight forward and silly. Fans of light-hearted action-comedy certainly will like it, just so long as expectations are kept in check because the acting isn’t that good and the action sequences are atrocious. Then again this is a very low budget movie which was shot completely in 12 days. Even the title is misleading as Ai only dons a mask and battle suit for the last 8 mins of the movie. The plot which concerns the Joker Organisation kidnapping sports athletes so that they can turn them into mindless zombies to do their bidding and take control of the world is absurd to say the least.

2 ex-members of the defunct Japanese idol group Bishoujo 31 Club – Yuki Shimizu and Shizuka Nakamura play the main leads and even though their acting prowess might not be very good they’re quite charming in their roles. They do their best with the material they’ve been given. I shouldn’t really question their martial arts skills (or lack of it) but it hurts the movie that there wasn’t anybody proficient on set to at least make the fight sequences better. It looks amateurish.

Whilst this may appeal to some people looking for a fun little movie, I was left frustrated. I didn’t know that this was a parody so I expected something far more serious. Thankfully it only lasts for 45 mins. Disappointed.

Sadako’s Rating: 2 stars out of 5

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A meteorite crashes into Tokyo Bay enveloping the city in a strange fog. The fallout from the meteor makes the dead come back to life as flesh eating zombies and chaos reigns supreme. A state of martial law is declared and punk gangs roam the streets. A young girl K-ko is given a mission by her father, Colonel Kirihara to find a Human Hunter Unit which is going around killing both zombies and humans. The HHU is disrupting rescue operations and must be destroyed. K-ko is given a special modified “battle suit” left by her father with special weapons and an Uzi machine gun to aid her. She finds out that the HHU led by a sadistic military general is conducting human experiments using a chemical to create an army of half human half zombies for his world domination plans. It’s up to K-ko to stop him but he has a specialist team of 4 mutant girls ready to thwart her plans.

Created by the man who directed the gore splatter movies Entrails Of A Virgin/Beautiful Woman, this is quite a disappointing zombie movie. You’d think the premise of having a young beautiful girl put in an special body armour suit with an uzi and going around blasting the hell out of a load of zombies would be a sure-fire winner for fans of the genre but unfortunately it isn’t. The biggest problem is not a lot of zombies are featured in the movie. There isn’t even that much gore shown. There’s a couple of decapitations and some zombies attacks but you’re lucky to count those scenes on one hand. I did expect this movie to be very violent and graphic with a lot of blood and guts. The zombies themselves when they do show up are rather Romero-esque in appearance so the make-up effects is pretty good. The movie concentrates too much on the mad general and his 4 female mutant henchmen  – cast offs from the group KISS I imagine judging by their looks (one of them is a rip-off of Richard Keel’s Jaws from the Bond movies with her steel teeth and a matching steel clawed hand!). The apocalyptic look and feel of the movie is fairly good – it’s just a shame that everything else is so poor. I will give credit for the director in that with little budget he had he did try to be creative with some things.

The acting isn’t up to scratch at all but then again this is a low budget movie and I didn’t expect anything that good. Female pro wrestler (now retired but active at the time the movie was released) Cutie Suzuki lives up to her name as she is cute but her acting leaves a lot to be desired. It seems the director recruited a couple of her wrestling colleagues as the villains in the movie. Some wrestling moves are even incorporated into the action scenes – they are executed rather poorly I might add (a back breaker and a tombstone piledriver).

This short 74 min zombie movie is far from being the best in the genre but it’s not the worst either. If you don’t take it seriously you might enjoy it. I wouldn’t really go out of your way to buy this movie, rent it instead. This could have been such an awesome story had the filmmakers done it properly.

No trailer but here’s a clip from the movie:

Sadako’s Rating: 2 stars out of 5

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Crime Or Punishment?!? (2009)

Ayame Enjoji is an unsuccessful gravure idol living in the shadow of her former best friend and cover girl Momo, who reluctantly takes on the PR role of “police chief for a day” to pay for her crime of stealing a magazine from a convenience store. The job of a campaign girl is to smile and act as a police chief for one day. It should be a simple job, but the police station staff treat her like the real police chief and look to her for instructions. In addition, her ex-boyfriend, Haruki, is now a detective at the station, and her subordinate for the day. Haruki is not just a detective though; he is also a somewhat blasé serial killer and when he was in a relationship with Ayame he tried to kill her on several occasions! Can Ayame make it as a police chief and solve the many inter-connected crimes that happen in this 24-hour period, and what will become of Haruki?

Tagged somewhat as a Japanese version of a Monty Python comedy (which I think is highly inaccurate) because of it’s surrealism and craziness. It’s one of those comedies which will have viewers split down the middle – you’ll either love it or hate it depending on what you might interpret as good humour and if you like Japanese comedies which are different from Western ones. Some people might get confused as the plot isn’t linear either – several small stories are mixed up and woven together and time is flipped backwards and forwards. I’m a fan of wacky dark comedies so I enjoyed this movie. The various stories include a salaryman in love with a girl at a convenience store who is knocked over by a truck, the truck driver and his girlfriend who fight over who gets control of the radio in the cabin (he wants normal music, she wants trippy hippy music), a trio of inept villains who plan to rob the convenience store with a taser gun but constantly argue with each other and of course Haruki, the police detective/serial killer who wants to turn himself in but is prevented from doing so by various colleagues. I found myself laughing on more than one occasion whilst watching this movie such as a sequence in which we see Haruki attempting to strangle Ayame in the background whilst his mother and Sigmund Freud are discussing his behaviour to the camera. I could mention some other bits but I don’t want to spoil the silly stuff you’ll be able to see.

Riko Narumi as Ayama Enjoji who is given the task of being the police chief for the day is wonderful in her role but it’s not just Riko who makes this movie work so well. All of the supporting characters we come across contribute in their own way to provide the storyline with plenty of humour.

Crime or Punishment is a very enjoyable and entertaining insane comedy with many out of the ordinary happenings occuring in this movie which makes it so funny. If you’re in the mood for a good laugh then you could do no worse than see this. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Crying Fist (2005)

Kang Take-Shik is an aging boxer with his glory days behind him. Although a silver medallist in the 1990 Asian Games he’s now up to his neck in debt and has little to offer his wife and son. He resorts to becoming a human punching bag on the streets to unhappy shoppers/salarymen in order to make ends meet. Meanwhile, young hothead Yoo Sang-Hwan’s delinquent ways land him behind bars after trying to rob a person and killing him. Both men look to boxing to turn around their lives which has gone astray, aiming for the amateur title which ultimately pits them against each other.

What an amazing boxing drama movie but not in the Rocky mould that some viewers might expect. It’s not about finding fame or fortune in the ring. This is more of a story about 2 people that have reached rock bottom in their lives and by channeling their energies into something useful such as boxing they have a chance to regain their dignity as a human being and a second chance in life. Each man’s tale is shown separately and the characters only meet in the inevitable boxing match at the climax. You could argue that both stories deserve a movie of their own but director Ryoo Seung-Wan (the brother of one of the main leads) skillfully combines the two together. There’s very little boxing action in the first half of the movie as it concentrates on the woeful existence of the two men until they make the decision that they want to take back their lives.

Choi Min-Sik and Ryoo Seung-Num deliver stunning performances and their fight scenes look very realistic. The punches look hard and do connect. Usually in boxing movies we have a good and a bad guy but not in this one as we root for both characters although at first it is hard to like either men due to their behaviour. It is only on the road to redemption that we begin to warm up to them. They might not be the best boxers skillswise but it’s their determination and sheer hard graft to succeed as underdogs that makes it’s hard for the viewer to pick sides in their climatic bout. Although we want both to win their fight, we know that one of them has to lose.

I was disappointed that the director chose to go down the melodramatic route in the movie as we enter the final third with the two boxer’s families. We’ve seen these kind of boxing movie cliches before in other movies and it does make your eyes roll. Yes, there’s even a training montage sequence that reminds you too much of Rocky IV which I thought would have been avoided. Apart from those mistakes, I thought the rest of the movie was top notch. It has excellent direction, a gritty storyline, brilliant acting and high production values.

Crying Fist is a powerful movie that grabs you from the first scene and is well worth watching. You won’t be disappointed. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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This is a story of an old man Tamao, being rowed along a river, who sees a field of daisies (or wild chrysanthemums, as they are described in the title), and thinks back to when he was fifteen. He recalls his time with, and away from, the girl cousin Tamiko he grew up with and would have married, except his family and other pressures got in the way.

Told in flashback through an iris filter, this is a heartbreaking story about 2 young people who love each other dearly but are forced apart by interference from family members. Tamao and Tamiko become very close to each other whilst working together in the fields although at first they are only friends but this doesn’t go unnoticed where they are mercilessly teased about being lovers. Feelings of first love does develop between the two over time and petty jealousy from the family combine to break the relationship. Tamao’s mother sends him to high school while Tamiko’s parents eventually arranges a marriage to a rich family to somebody she’s never even met. The sadness on her face on her way to the wedding is plain for all to see. It angered me to see the injustice and unfairness placed on these two young people. Tamao’s mother wanted the romance to be sacrificed for his education and the fact that Tamiko is 2 years older than Tamao didn’t help things either. When we see Tamao receive a telegram at his school to immediately come home, you can guess somehow that the news isn’t going to be good. Tamiko has died from a miscarriage and on her death bed had lost the will to live. Even being apart from Tamao and married didn’t diminish her love for him – her hands clutching the letter he wrote for her that they should be together in the future and a bellflower at the time of her death. You can understand and feel the pain that Tamao has inside his heart when he hears this news.

I did find this story to be very moving and the sad conclusion to this tale will certainly bring a tear to one’s eye. The poignant final scene finds Tamao in his old age visiting his beloved Tamiko’s grave. Even 60 years on, the regret about a relationship that was never allowed to develop naturally is etched deeply on his face. I liked the setting of the movie – in a small village in the middle of the Japanese countryside where the director Keisuke Kinoshita shows us the simple daily life of the villagers. During the day they are outside harvesting the crop in the fields and once the working day is over they are sat together inside idly gossiping over food and drink. Excellent cinematography showing the countryside surrounding the village. The performances of the 2 leads is wonderful and you long for the 2 of them to be together. Some people will find this movie to be too sentimental at times but I didn’t think it was.

This movie is equally as good as the director’s other work I’ve seen (Twenty Four Eyes). It’s a beautiful movie about remembering the past and a nostalgic vision of a world that is long gone. Highly recommended.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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