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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Jackie is a thief named Thongs who has an unfortunate habit of gambling away his ill-gotten earnings and who is deep in debt as a result. Along with his partner Octopus, Thongs accepts a job from their desperate landlord after his retirement stash is stolen to kidnap a young baby, lured by the prospect of a massive reward. The duo don’t like the idea of stealing a baby but before they know it, the baby boy has been taken and is kept in a bag and the duo along with their landlord get away in their van. However, the landlord crashes the van whilst trying to escape from the cops and Thongs, Octopus and the unhurt baby manage to slip away from the scene. The landlord however is arrested but phones the duo from jail. He informs the duo that they have to look after the baby for 1-2 weeks until he’s released from jail. The two have to learn fast on how to cope with looking after the baby. As time marches on, the trio have bonded very well with Thongs and Octopus reluctant to hand the baby over to a crime boss who wants to prove that the kid is of his own blood.

A great little action comedy from Jackie Chan. I’ve said it before that whilst JC may have become famous in the US, his work there has been far from good. Disappointing is a word that comes up often to describe his US movies but that’s myself just being nice. I could say something far worse! When Jackie comes back to Hong Kong, it seems the shackles come off and he appears in far more entertaining stuff like this movie for instance. This is like a more action packed version of Three Men And A Baby. The set pieces in this movie are what we’ve come to expect from Jackie and his stunt team. They’re exciting, intricate and inventive. The action might be a little toned down for JC with him now in his 50’s but he can still entertain viewers. The comedy is very well done with plenty of slapstick involving soiled baby diapers etc and also a couple of gay jokes (one even mentions Brokeback Mountain) is thrown in as well. There are many endearing scenes with the real star of the show, baby Matthew Medvedev, who will melt any viewer’s heart. He is put in many perilous situations such as dangling and falling from a building, put in a washing machine and nearly being hit by oncoming cars in a busy HK street! Jackie and his co-stars’ characters are very sympathetic and the acting for the most part is spot on. The pairing of Jackie and Louis Koo is wonderful and they make a good amusing team playing mother and father to the baby. Benny Chan does an excellent job directing his stars and shows that he is not only able to direct a serious action crime drama like Chan’s previous New Police Story but is also adept at the family action comedy as well. There are many cameos from well known HK stars such as Yuen Biao, Charlene Choi, Daniel Wu so be sure to watch out for them. Even at 2 hours long, the movie never overstays it’s welcome and there’s plenty to keep the viewers from becoming bored.

All in all, Rob-B-Hood with it’s mix of comedy and action was fantastic. A very enjoyable and fun movie to watch. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Boy (1969)

A lazy and bitter war veteran who is also a criminal forces his wife to feign being hit by cars in order to extort some money from the drivers who do not want the police to get involved. When the wife refuses to continue doing the scam, they enlist their son, Toshio to do it instead. The wife doesn’t really want to carry on involving the young boy but the husband is violent with her and cannot work due to injuries sustained in the war. With the marriage between his father and his stepmother hitting the rocks, Toshio tries to run away and even creates a sci-fi fantasy world he can retreat into in which aliens from Andromeda visit the Earth. The family doesn’t stay in the same place for long for fear of getting caught by the police. With each fake accident they create, they move on and travel around the country landing in a new city and playing the same old tricks on drivers time after time. When they land in snowy Hokkaido, they cause a real car accident which results in a young female driver being fatally wounded. It’s only a matter of time before the law catches up with them…….

Based on real events reported in Japanese newspapers in 1966, Boy follows the title character across Japan, as he is forced to participate in a dangerous scam to support his dysfunctional family. It’s an absolute disgrace what some people will do to get money and to use a child to commit a crime who doesn’t know any better is the worst of all. Toshio is more than willing to have these “accidents” as he seeks approval from his abusive father. The couple bribe him with offers of money or by buying a present for him. The father even injecting a substance into his son’s arm to make it look like it’s bruised. He manipulates his son by stating that his grandmother and his friends are glad that he’s gone in order to make him carry on faking accidents. It’s no surprise that Toshio is mentally scarred – the upheaval of moving around all the time and missing his friends in Osaka has made him create a fantasy world to escape into and he talks to himself a lot. You do feel a lot of sympathy for him. Due to his treatment at the hands of his father the innocence inside him has gone. He doesn’t know what’s right or wrong anymore.

The director Nagisa Oshima employs a number of experimental styles for Boy – sometimes changing the colour of certain scenes into black and white or even blue sepia. He even distorts one scene in which we can see what Toshio is looking at through some glasses he is wearing. Quite innovative for the time. The performance of Tetsuo Abe (who was an orphan himself) as Toshio is superb. He conveys the emotional burden of Toshio so well.

Overall, Boy is an outstanding movie which makes you wonder just how low some human beings will become in order to survive in the world. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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A yakuza family starts to fall apart after its leader is killed. In a bid to consolidate his position in the vast Tenseikai syndicate, Kaito plans to absorb the rival Yokomizo and Shirane families by replacing their implacably opposed leaders with puppets who will be willing to merge the families and bring them into his control. Yet when Kaito sends assassins to murder the elderly Yokomizo, he does not reckon on Higuchi, an unruly gangleader who will never ally himself to his godfather’s killers – nor on Kenzaki,  a young maverick squadleader whose willingness to take extreme action is outweighed only by his absolute loyalty to Higuchi, and whose remaining followers will readily give up their own lives in his service. An all out war is on the cards between the various families.

For a Takashi Miike yakuza movie, this is quite a restrained piece of work by him as it does not contain the usual ultra violent content you normally associate with his yakuza classics. It’s also a long 2 and a half hour epic (there’s apparently a 200 min cut floating around as well) which takes it’s time to get going – slow and conventional this movie may be but it’s never boring. Is there such a thing as a boring Takashi Miike movie? The closest we come to see Miike’s insanity is at a nightclub where a yakuza member repeateadly sticks a microphone up a woman’s ass and funnily enough the character doing this is Miike himself who has a cameo role in his own movie. This was one of 4 movies he directed in 2001 and this is probably the weakest of them. That’s not to say that Agitator isn’t any good because I enjoyed it immensely. Miike sticks to what he knows best in his gangster movies – honour, loyalty, betrayal and power struggles in the yakuza families and because this is different from his other yakuza movies he concentrates more on the plot and character development rather than the ultra violence (even though we do get to see some violence in the movie). As we come to the climax, the usual yakuza theme of revenge and retribution rears it’s head. Agitator is a solid movie from Takashi Miike. It’s well made, it had me hooked, the storyline is interesting and engaging and the cast deliver fine performances especially Masaya Kato as the character of Kanzaki.

If you want to see Miike at his imaginative best then Agitator will not be for you but if you’re like myself and want to try and see all of his movies then you won’t be disappointed. It’s a good example of his diversity and range as a director. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Carmen Comes Home (1951)

A young woman named Okin who ran away from home to go to Tokyo returns back to her small village in Gunma prefecture near the base of Mount Asama much to the chagrin of her father. Okin has found fame and fortune in the big city as a dancer with the stagename Lily Carmen and along with her friend and co-worker Maja shakes things up in the quiet area. Her father is ashamed of the way Okin now dresses in revealing gowns that shows off too much of her legs. The village people are excited at having a celebrity until they find out exactly how she has made her fortune in Tokyo. She isn’t a normal dancer per se but a stripper and this not only embarasses her father but the local school principal who thinks her antics of prancing around the hillside in her underwear will corrupt the local children. Carmen and Maja disrupt the school athletics meeting when Maja’s skirt falls off revealing her underwear in front of the entire village. The principal orders them to leave. With Carmen and Maja deciding they want to head back to Tokyo they plot with the help of a scheming businessman Maruju to give the men of the village a surprise nude show on the evening before they depart in the morning.

This movie was a very important landmark in Japanese cinema as it was the first ever colour movie to be shot in the country. Ordered by the head of the Shochiku Studio to showcase the new technique and to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the studio, director Keisuke Kinoshita went ahead in creating a movie that would be mostly filmed outdoors. Only 2 scenes are shot indoors. A lot of the Japanese countryside is shown with an active volcano Mount Asama always in the background of scenes. Smoke can be seen often billowing from the summit. The scenes are shot beautifully and the sun is always seen to be shining. The story is a whimsical comedy though it’s never a laugh-out-loud movie but there are plenty of amusing moments to make you smile. The scene of both dancers practicing their routine in their underwear on the hillside attracting the local wildlife (horses and cows) is one such example.

The characters of Carmen and Maja in my opinion are nothing more than immature women. They behave almost like children who crave attention all the time especially in the clothes they wear designed to get the maximum impact and when they don’t get that attention they become bored. Obviously in Tokyo their routine turns a lot of heads but in the country where life is simple things are slightly different. It seems as well that there’s a clash between modern and traditional art forms in the storyline. Lily Carmen represents the new modern art with her risque strip dancing and adopting a Western stagename and clothes (Lily often calls her dancing “art”) whilst the local blind harmonium player represents the traditional Japanese art.

Hideko Takamine, a fine actress who I’ve seen in several movies gives a fantastic performance as Carmen.

Even though it looks dated, Carmen Comes Home is still a funny movie and is worth watching for historical reasons more than anything and the gorgeous scenery of the Japanese countryside.

No trailer as such but here’s the scene when Maja’s skirt falls off at the school athletics meeting:

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Sakuran (2006)

Sold by her mother to the owner of a brothel as a child, rebellious Kiyoha stands out even as a young girl, repeatedly talking back, challenging authority, and running away. Her brazen streak stays with her as she grows up to be a sassy straight-talking courtesan with a quick temper and a natural knack for her job. Taking her first patron at the age of 17, she hurls forward without looking back, as she fends off rivalries and rises to the top status of oiran (high class prostitute). From the men who come in and out of her life – first love Sojiro, brothel clerk Seiji, wealthy samurai Kuranosuke – Kiyoha tastes hope, heartbreak, and that relentless quest for freedom. But like a goldfish, she is beautiful and prized only as long as she remains in the fishbowl.

I was very disappointed in Sakuran. It has a dull, bland and boring story and the acting by the female cast isn’t up to scratch especially by wild child single mother Anna Tsuchiya who talks like she’s a member of a female motorcycle gang even though the story is set in the 18th century. Maybe she thought she was still in Kamikaze Girls? Her acting is very unconvincing but I will give her this – she does look good as an Oiran. To be perfectly honest, all the female cast were miscast badly and the director should have found a more appropriate and better actress for the lead. The male cast is bearable but I can’t say that any of them stood out. There’s hardly any character development. The story didn’t grab me at all and maybe some people will think this is another Memoirs Of A Geisha type movie. Trust me it isn’t by a long shot. There’s a lot of goldfish featured in the movie to highlight the fact that these girls are trapped like a fish in a bowl. The only thing I can say that was good about the movie is the cinematography where the director employs beautiful vibrant colours especially vivid red which she uses a lot in her photography work – it seems she likes to use goldfish as well. It’s like Miki Ninagawa concentrated too much on the visual aspect of the movie and completely forgot about making an interesting story for the viewer to get involved in. The clothes and hairstyles of cast are very extravagant but probably way off the mark to what the Oiran really wore in the 18th century.

I’m sure Sakuran will have it’s fans but unfortunately I’m not one of them. This movie is more of a case of style over substance.

Sadako’s Rating: 2 stars out of 5

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A little boy abandoned by his father in postwar Japan is discovered by a man who, in a gesture of kindness, decides to bring the boy back home with him to a house which he shares with several residents. His kindness stops short of adopting the boy, however, and his housemate refuses to let the boy live in their apartment. Not wanting to forsake the child again, the man gathers the residents together and they draw using a piece of wood to determine who will take care of him. The straw with an X mark belongs to a very unwilling middle-aged woman who lives alone and has little desire to take in an orphan. Nevertheless, her housemates prevail upon her and the boy becomes her responsibility. After a series of misadventures, mostly involving the boy’s bedwetting and the woman trying unsuccessfully to get rid of him by leaving him at a beach, a close relationship develops between the two and the woman comes to love him. Just as their bond solidifies, the boy’s father returns and the
unlikely adoptive pair are forced to part.

A wonderful simple and moving drama by Yasujiro Ozu and this was his first movie after the end of World War II. It’s quite short at only 72 mins but the length of the movie is perfect in my opinion. It’s about a small boy who’s not shown as being particularly loveable having to share a house with a bad tempered widow. She’s not happy about being lumbered with him and his bed-wetting doesn’t help things either but slowly over the space of a week she begins to show affection for him. However, the way Ozu goes around this change of heart from the woman is different from what you might see in other movies. There’s no sentimentality or any sugary sweet scenes at all, it’s filmed as being very straight. What I didn’t like and this is only a small gripe is the movie gets a little bit preachy at the end about being nice to people in need. Due to Japan’s struggles in the postwar period I guess what Ozu was trying to say made sense but he didn’t have to ram home the message the way he did. He shows us the devastated landscape of Tokyo – most of the land is only sparsely populated by buildings with a lot of empty spaces. The acting is natural and endearing by all the cast and while at first we think the characters are cold hearted in rejecting the boy they are revealed to be warm and caring by the time the movie ends. There’s one fantastic scene in which the neighbours gather together to have an impromptu sing-song with the rhythm created using chopsticks being tapped.

I thought Record Of A Tenement Gentleman was an amazingly poignant and heartwarming movie by Ozu. It is definitely well worth watching.

There’s no trailer but here’s a clip featuring the impromptu sing-song.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Onibaba (1964)

During Japan’s cival wars, two peasant women (a middle aged woman and her daughter in law) make their living by ambushing and murdering war-weary samurai soldiers who are trying to hide in the long reed grass. They strip the soldiers of armour and weaponry before selling them for sacks of millet. The bodies are dumped down a very large hole. One night a male neighbour of the two women returns from the war but minus his companion (the middle aged woman’s son and wife of the younger one). He insists that the son was killed by vengeful farmers but he escaped. He helps the two woman in killing 2 samurai soldiers one day and doesn’t hide the fact that he has his eye on the widowed daughter. She is more than happy to have the attention and is soon sneaking out after night when the old woman is asleep to the man’s hut to have sex with him. The mother soon catches wind of this situation and isn’t very pleased that the daughter in law has forgotten about her dead husband so quickly. She decides to try and break the relationship up by telling the younger woman that the man is like a dog in heat. She even asks the man if he’ll take her instead but he refuses. Her tale of eternal pain for those in hell if a person sins isn’t enough to make the younger woman stop her nightly trysts. Luck comes her way one evening when she comes across a samurai soldier who is wearing a demon mask. She kills him and rips the mask off the samurai’s face as she is going to use it to scare her daughter in law away from the man. The next night whilst the younger woman runs off for her nightly sex session, she is confronted in the reed grass by a terrifying vision of a female demon in a long flowing white dress. She runs back home scared stiff. The same thing happens the next night but on the 3rd night whilst it is raining something unexpected happens…….

Onibaba is a supernatural movie based on a Buddhist fable, it isn’t like some people say a genuine horror flick at all. It’s a movie that aims at portraying the darker and animalistic side of human nature. From start to finish it draws you in with fantastic imagery and scenery of Japan’s rural areas and even though there are very few characters in the movie, through it’s minimalism it effectively tells it’s story. It taps into our primal and sexual nature. The story is told with rising tension set in a sea of swaying long grass reeds and loud wind. None of the characters are that sympathetic but you still find yourself wanting to know what happens to them in the movie. The black and white photography is superb along with the ominous beat of drums that adds to the mood of the movie. The wind howling through the reed beds and the isolated position of the women’s hut also make it very atmospheric. The reeds take on a menacing character and with the pit full of dead samurai soldiers, the director has managed to create a movie that is unique and extremely eerie. The movie is frightening not because of any scares you see but for the fact that it serves as a warning for what human beings are capable of. The performances are excellent from the three main characters. This movie is a very haunting, erotic, mesmerising and simply brilliant masterpiece.

If you’re a fan of Japanese cinema, Onibaba should be on your list of movie to see. It has the power to hold the viewer completely in it’s spell. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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The Eel (1997)

White-collar worker Takuro Yamashita finds out that his wife has a lover visiting her when he’s away fishing at night. He returns home early from a fishing trip one evening and discovers his wife and her lover in bed. In his rage he stabs her to death with a butcher’s knife. Yamashita turns himself in to the police. After eight years in prison, he returns to live in a small village on parole, opens a barber shop (he was trained as a barber in prison) and talks almost to no-one except for the eel he “befriended” in prison. He feels the eel listens to him when he talks. One day he finds the unconscious body of Keiko, who attempted suicide and reminds him of his wife. She starts to work at his shop, but he doesn’t let her become close to him. She starts to fall in love with him but the shame and bitterness of his crime means he cannot return her love. A former prison inmate of Yamashita who starts works as a garbage man begins to play mind games with him, trying to make him feel guilty about his wife’s death and not to get involved with Keiko. Yamashita does his best to keep cool and not do anything as if he gets into trouble with the police he could get thrown in prison once more. How long can he keep his anger under control before he explodes?

A wonderful engaging and captivating movie about a person who is so afraid of falling in love with somebody because he feels he could kill once more so he distances himself from people and only confides to his pet eel. Granted we should not feel sympathy for a murderer as what Yamashita did was a terrible thing even if he was pushed. However, we can see that he’s a decent man so we want him to get together with Keiko but as anybody who knows about Japanese culture, the people in the country are notorious about shielding their feelings from each other. This movie is a great character study of a man trying to turn his life around. He obviously likes his co-worker although he doesn’t show it but because of the deep guilt and shame he carries he chooses to keep himself to himself. Keiko tries her best to make him like her by waiting on a bridge with a lunch box during the evening when the fishing boat passes underneath but Yamashita ignores her good intentions. Faultless acting from the two main leads. There’s a varied cast of supporting characters who visit Yamashita’s barber shop such as a wannabe gangster with his flash sportscar who tries to get some protection money to a young man who is trying to contact aliens by using fairy lights to lure passing UFO’s. The movie is carried by it’s character interactions. When Keiko and Yamashita’s fishing buddy Jiro do find out about his murderous past, they accept what he’s done is wrong but don’t play the guilt trip on him. As Jiro says to Yamashita “all men carry sins”.

Even though this movie is a mix of drama and light comedy, be prepared for a small dose of gore at the beginning when Yamashita kills his wife with a knife. The blood spurts like a hose and it sprays directly onto the camera. It doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie though. The story is well thought out, the cinematography is beautiful and the directing by Shohei Imamura is excellent. The plot is slow and does take time to unfold but that’s due to Yamashita’s stubborn refusal to forgive himself and the wife who betrayed him. Thankfully, redemption does come for him as we near the climax as Keiko’s former boyfriend and his cronies come looking for her and starts being violent. Yamashita who has been the picture of restraint for most of the movie snaps once again but this time it’s to defend the honour of his co-worker even though carrying out his actions means he faces another stint in jail.

I really liked The Eel and it is definitely worth seeing. It’s got an complex and interesting storyline. Yet another brilliant movie by talented director Shohei Imamura. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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