Archive for June 1st, 2012

The 2nd documentary movie to follow popular Japanese idol group AKB48 starts after the devastating Tohoku earthquake and covers the activities of the group for the rest of 2011. It covers the major incidents that happened during the year – the 22nd single election, the infamous Seibu Dome concerts, the janken tournament, the Mina Oba scandal, formation of Team 4 and the various visits many members made to the disaster areas.

I make no qualms about it – I love AKB48 dearly having been a fan for 6 years and watching this excellent documentary has made me love the group even more. 2011 was the year that solidified their position as Japan’s favourite idol group which saw each of their singles break the million barrier in sales. They were like an unstoppable juggernaut and this documentary cut down from over 1,000 hours of footage that was shot into 2 hours captures the hectic punishing schedule and the hard work and effort the girls put into entertaining their fans. Unlike the first documentary, this is all about the suffering and hardship they endured during 2011. It delves intimately into their world and shows that it’s not easy being a national idol when there’s so much pressure on their young shoulders. Although I’ve read all about the Seibu Dome concerts during the Summer of 2011 on forums and how many of the members suffered during them, you’re still unprepared for the shocking images that you witness. The group were totally ill-prepared for the conditions during the 3 day event which pushed them right to the very limit (physically and mentally). Summer days in Japan is energy sapping with the high humidity. Heatstroke and exhaustion took their toll on a lot of the girls. Seeing the ‘face’ and center of the group Atsuko Maeda hyperventilating and eventually collapsing backstage was distressing to watch. This happened not just once but several times. Pampered Western pop stars would have pulled out and not carried on in similar circumstances but Atsuko Maeda didn’t do that. Even though she was still ill, she came back to fulfill her duties with the group as she didn’t want to let her colleagues down and for that my respect went up for her. AKB48 is all about togetherness, the members all support each other through good times and bad. Everybody is focused on giving their loyal fans their money’s worth. Even though this documentary is all about showing the tough life of an idol, it was nice to see them visit and bring joy to the earthquake/tsunami victims. AKB48 was at the forefront of Japanese celebrities that made a huge effort to generously donate millions of yen to help those affected by the disaster of March 11th. One member, Karen Iwata was directly affected by this with her family basically became homeless and having to stay at a refuge center. Seeing her come back to the disaster area with AKB48 was very moving. There are various mini interviews with many of the members sharing their dreams, fears and even thoughts of jealously. I was more than happy that my AKB48 oshimen (the member I support the most) Ayaka Umeda even got some screentime.

I could go on about other segments in this documentary but I won’t because this review would then be too long!! Naturally there will be many that think AKB48 are nothing more than a talentless manufactured pop group but many of those are people that know nothing about them and just base their fact without seeing them in action. They are a dedicated hard working group who shed blood, sweat and tears. I’m sure AKB48 fans like myself will enjoy watching the trials and tribulations in this documentary.

I hope that another documentary covering 2012 is in the works because so much has happened so far and we’re not even halfway through the year yet!

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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Set during the start of the Korean War, US Captain Neil Smith crash lands his plane in a remote part of Korea after being caught up in a mysterious butterfly storm. He is found by people from the small village of Dongmakgol where time has stood still. They have no idea their country is at war and they have no knowledge of modern technology and weapons. Not far from the village, a platoon of North Korean soldiers are massacred with a few barely escaping through a mountain pass. In a beautiful glade, they are found by a strange girl Yeo-il who they think is a little bit crazy. She leads them to Dongmakgol but find that their enemy is already there – 2 South Korean deserters who have found their way to the village. A stand-off ensues which lasts for a while. The villagers have no idea what both sets of soldiers are fighting about. The stand-off finishes when a grenade is dropped accidentally by a fatigued North Korean soldier but it does not explode. Thinking that it’s a dud, it is thrown away only for it to explode and destroy the village’s food store. Realising that their intrusion has caused the villagers to lose their food, both sets of soldiers plus Neil Smith start to help in the village and the tension between them begins to lessen. But there is trouble when Allied Commanders are about to launch a rescue mission for Captain Smith. Thinking he is in enemy hands and held at a secret base, they begin preparations to bomb the village placing the villagers in imminent danger. The soldiers devise a plan to create a decoy enemy base so that the bombs will be dropped far away from the village thus saving everybody but will their audacious plan work?

This is such a wonderful anti-war movie which is quite touching. I loved how a village full of innocent people could make 2 sets of soldiers forget about the war, set aside their differences and come together as human beings. The bonding between them and the villagers is delightful to watch and Yeo-il is quite an endearing character – she’s probably the main symbol of innocence in the movie and the way she acts reminds you of a child that hasn’t grown up. The harsh realities of war are forgotten and to see the soldiers do their best to protect what the village represents – a small utopia in a war zone is moving. It’s such an engaging movie that will make you laugh and cry. The blend of drama and comedy is perfect. The wild boar chase and the ‘popcorn’ falling from the sky after the village food store is destroyed will certainly make you smile.

Outstanding performances from the entire cast right from the main leads to the supporting roles. The characters especially the villagers are easy to identify with. As the soldiers begin to ‘shed’ their war-like identities to became a part of Dongmakgol you begin to like all of them. You cheer for them as they seek to protect the village from the bombing disaster that’s about to happen and shed some tears for the sacrifice they make for their village friends in a fitting and poignant climax. Excellent cinematography and a quite brilliant debut for director Park Kwang-Hyun. Hayao Miyazaki’s composer for his Ghibli movies – Joe Hisashi created a beuatiful and evocative soundtrack.

Welcome To Dongmakgol is one of the best Korean movies I’ve seen this year with a charming feel-good story that’s very heartwarming. You just cannot miss out on this if you’re an Asian movie fan. I enjoyed it immensely. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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