Archive for November, 2012

Site Update

Just a quick message to say there will be no updating of this site from today until Friday 14th December as I’m going away to Japan for a couple of weeks.

I will be checking out some movies whilst I’m out there at my 2 favourite cinemas in Shinjuku and Shibuya. The movies will be:

Lesson Of The Evil (Takashi Miike)
Evangelion 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo
Outrage Beyond (Takeshi Kitano)
Bayside Shakedown 4 Final (if it’s still running next week that is?)
Fly With The Gold
Tug Of War

I’m hoping I’ll be able to grab some movie DVD bargains at a couple of Book Off stores I usually go to.

There will be a ton of reviews to do when I come back so see you all then.

PS – Update 27/11/12

Just another quick update that I’ve already managed to catch Evangelion 3.0 and Lesson Of The Evil.

I liked Evangelion 3.0. It’s set 14 years after Third Impact so some of the characters such as Misato are totally different from what we’ve come to expect from them so that was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t quite as action packed as I wanted it to be. Expect a full review when I’m back home. I was more impressed by Hideaki Anno’s short live action/CG movie in collaboration with Studio Ghibli which was shown before the main feature. ‘A Giant God Warrior Appears In Tokyo’ was fantastic and although it only runs for 10 mins the carnage that takes place in the short is amazing. Tokyo is totally obliterated by this gigantic creature. My mouth was gaping at what I saw.

Going from one extreme to another – Lesson Of The Evil by Takashi Miike is a brutal and horrific movie. I completely understand why AKB48’s Yuko Oshima disliked this movie after a private screening for the idol group recently and swiftly left at it’s conclusion bawling her eyes out. The way the teacher goes around systematically slaughtering his class with a shotgun is intense and bloody. Again a full review in mid December.

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Byung-Gu is an ordinary young man living in Korea. He believes that all of the earth’s social ills are the evil doings of aliens. That’s why he knows that unless he can meet the prince from Andromeda before the total lunar eclipse, Planet Earth will be in grave danger. In order to meet the prince, he must find an extraterrestrial living on earth. So Byung-Gu kidnaps the most logical suspect, Kang Man-shik, the president and CEO of Yoojae Chemical Company. Thus starts the battle between Byung-Gu who’s trying to uncover a secret alien plot to destroy the earth and CEO Kang Man-Shik, who thinks Byung-Gu’s nuts and is trying desperately to escape. Only four hours until the total lunar eclipse. When the eclipse is over, the time will run out for Planet Earth. Can Byung-Gu singlehandedly save the planet?

This is a very interesting Korean movie which combines many genres into a potent mix all of it’s own. It’s one of those movies that only comes along every once in a while which is so unusual and unique that it just impresses you. The blend of comedy, psychological thriller, horror, police drama and satire works brilliantly. It never fails to surprise you and the movie easily switches from comedy in one scene to a nasty torture moment in a dank basement with a lot of blood in the next. The first 15 mins will give you an idea whether this movie is something you like or not. It might seem a little strange but once you get into the plot and the characters you’ll immerse yourself into this fantastic movie. Don’t let the DVD cover lull you into thinking this is some kind of wacky comedy because it is far from being that. The thrill in watching this movie lies in where it’s going to take you. It’s best to come in with an open mind, sit back and just enjoy the wild ride that unfolds. There are many surprises, some twists and original ideas thrown in. It isn’t a movie for everyone though and it’s certainly not to be seen by families. Some people will be turned off by the graphic violence and situations that take place but if you’re used to watching anything by Takashi Miike or Park Chan-wook then you should be fine with this movie. Director Jang Jun-Hwan paces this movie perfectly and the ‘is he or isn’t he an alien’ question is finally resolved at the conclusion. You’ll never be able to hear the song ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ in the same way again after watching this movie.

The acting is incredible with an amazing performance by Ha-kyun Shin as Byung-Gu. Here we have an individual who is convinced that aliens have infiltrated this planet and have changed their genetics to resemble a human being that it consumes him. The aliens can apparently communicate back to their home planet telepathically by their hair strands! He sees it as his quest to thwart and overpower these aliens as he believes they were responsible for making his mother ill who is lying comatose in a hospital. He has kidnapped many individuals before because he believed they were aliens (13 before targeting Kang Man-shik) and taken them back to his mountain top lair where he straps them into a chair and begins torturing them for information on their true origins. Byung-Gu thinks the aliens will be able to withstand the punishment he gives them. It will be easy for the viewer to tag Byung-Gu as being mentally unstable. Given his violent behaviour towards Kang Man-Shik, you will still gradually begin to like and sympathise with Byung-Gu.

Funny, tense, horrifying and inevitably tragic,  Save The Green Planet is a thought provoking, challenging, disturbing but ultimately a very special and outstanding movie that shouldn’t be missed out by Asian movie fans. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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aka The Emperor’s Sword

Orichalcum is a mystical metal material that gives great powers to the life form that possesses it. Many aeons ago, the Orichalcum split into three and landed on Earth. The metal then took the form of three relics: Skanda’s Vajra, the Jew’s Cross, and the Sword of Alexander. Anyone able to re-unite these three Orichalcum relics would then obtain the powers of a God. Now two rival alien factions are in a heated race to reunite the Orichalcum. They land in Edo-era Tokyo where the relics are thought to exist. A tall devil-may-care warrior by the name of Genkuro now possesses the legendary Sword of Alexander. He’s unaware of the sword’s importance as it was a gift from his dying grandfather. Genkuro then encounters Princess Mai and her bodyguard Sasuke who are escaping from the Tokunaga army. It just so happens that Princess Mai has been possessed by one of the rival aliens named Ran. Genkuro, Princess Mai, and Sasuke join forces to find the other two Orichalcum relics before the evil alien Dakusha does so. The fate of the universe is at stake.

This is a fast paced sci-fiction fantasy comedy set in the past involving aliens, zombies, ninjas and a man with a huge sword. You don’t usually see aliens and zombies turning up in samurai period movies at all. Surprisingly the mix of genres that director Yukihiko Tsutsumi brings to this movie works well for most of the time which is all done very tongue in cheek. It’s hard not to like this movie when you’ve got ample doses of camp comedy (one unfortunate joke right at the end shows a mountain in the shape of a penis!!) and good action sequences with quite a hefty dollop of gore thrown in. The storyline is simple and straight forward. It just follows the adventures of 3 people on a quest to find 3 mystical items whilst dealing with alien liquid beings who jump from host to host who are also after the same items. There are no great twists being offered in the movie. I thought at first this movie had the mark of Takashi Miike over it given the liberal amount of blood involved but he doesn’t have a hand at all in this production. It’s hard at times to know just for who this movie was targeted for – certainly not for kids with all the red stuff, decapitations and bodies cut in half so probably it was for teenage and adult tokusatsu fans. The storyline is suitably OTT (when you’ve got a dead bear coming to life and attacking a person you know it’s over the top!) and the hero of the movie is a first I believe in Japanese cinema in that he’s a son of an African man and a Japanese woman. The movie starts to fall into children’s super sentai territory when the main villain wth his green face appears to challenge Genkuro. Think of a far uglier version of Jim Carrey’s The Mask character! You’ve also got 2 demon like characters appearing too – one tends to vomit a load of bugs to attack. I’ve mentioned many times before that I cannot stand CG blood and there’s far too much of it again in this movie. The story tends to flag a bit during the 2nd half and becomes rather predictable. The movie builds up to the inevitable fight to the death between Genkuro and Dakusha.

I like Abe Hiroshi as an actor, he’s been one of my favourite Japanese actors for many years and he is quite effective in this movie as the hero Genkuro. Hiroshi isn’t usually associated with action hero roles but he does a credible job in playing a tall strong character who can wield a huge blade of a sword. He plays the character with a fine line of taking the plot seriously and just for laughs. He’s very good at doing comedy especially with deadpan characters such as the one he portrayed in the Trick TV series and movies. Princess Mai is played by Kyoko Hasegawa who’s possessed by an alien force which enters her through a cut on her hand. Hasegawa does her best to play 2 characters – the sweet Princess on the run and the tough alien inside her. It’s distracting at times to see the digital distortion on Mai’s face as she alternates between the 2 characters. The supporting characters perform admirably in their roles – the best being the beautiful Meisa Kuroki as a male samurai warrior although after taking one look at her and you’d know straight away that she’s far too glamorous to be a male. She doesn’t have much of an impact in the storyline as she tends to be in the background watching proceedings for most of the time.

Overall, this movie is a lot of fun and I enjoyed it. It’s got all the ingredients that will make it a cult movie in the future. If you like action and crazy comedy be sure to check it out.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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This movie follows the lives of 5 highschooler friends who are in their final year. They live in the Yashio housing area of Shinagawa, Tokyo. One day they decide to have a trip to Harajuku but each one encounters a different situation which will make them think hard about their future. The group are: Chu – a yankee highschool dropout who is also a part of a small biker gang, Haru – who delivers newspapers to earn money but has a tendency to get easily ripped off by people, Takuma – a skateboarder and leader of the group, Bon – the rich crepe-loving guy who doesn’t look down on anybody because of his wealth and he tends to smile a lot. And finally there’s Shun who narrates the story. He considers himself just an average guy who just wants to have a good time and pick up girls. His father runs a small radio station from his apartment. How will their future map out after their trip to the big city?

Arashi are a very popular male idol group in Japan and have been since 1999 and this was their movie debut. The story is about teenage life and all the things that come with it – friendship, pursuing your dreams, romance and heartbreak. It is mostly a comedy with the 5 friends doing silly stuff and playing pranks – you know the stuff that many teenagers do. The things that happen to the 5 might seem ridiculous and the acting is not the best you’ll see but the comedy more than makes up for that shortfall. You’ll laugh a lot whilst watching this movie. The story also focuses on the fact that in order to create a better life for yourself you have to break away from your comfort zone and strike out in the world. You can’t hang out with your friends forever and have fun all the time. Before you know it, life will have passed you by. I think this movie tells that tale quite well. There’s a hint of American Pie to the proceedings – a good example being when Haru is seduced by the mother of a girl he likes. I wouldn’t say this movie is quite as outrageous as American Pie but there are a couple of hilarious moments such as when the boys drop their pants by the river and expose their asses to a boat load of drunken businessmen!

Whilst the acting by Arashi is just OK, I did like the characters and their quirky characteristics will grow on you. Jun Matsumoto’s character Bon is probably the funniest of the lot. He’s quite odd in the fact that he calls ugly girls cute and gets turned on at the sight of a nude man in a porn video coupled with the fact that he always seem to have a cheesy grin on his face even after being beaten up by 2 small time yakuza guys who don’t like he’s set up a crepe stall on their territory.

This movie will no doubt be a big hit with Arashi fangirls but even for non-fans there is plenty of entertainment about youthful madness and friendship to make sure it won’t be a waste of time.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Into The White Night (2011)

A pawn shop owner in Osaka is murdered, but due to a lack of conclusive evidence the police lists the man’s death as a suicide. Detective Sasagaki, who investigated the case, can’t forget the dark eyes of the main suspect’s daughter Yukiho and the pawn shop owner’s son Ryouji. As time goes by, more mysterious deaths surround Yukiho & Ryouji. Detective Sasagaki still unable to let go of the pawn shop owner case discovers startling details about Yukiho and Ryouji …

This is a slow-burning mystery which centres on the death of a pawn shop owner back in the 80’s and how one police detective will not let go of the case even for nearly 20 years until he has solved it even after his retirement from the force. The story must be popular as 3 adaptations have been made in the last 6 years. First as a drama in 2006 then as a 2009 Korean movie before this one came along. It’s a detective story with a difference and quite a hard-hitting emotional journey into the darkest recess of humanity in which 2 people have to live with an event that happened whilst they were kids and the repercussions that follow. The movie takes it’s time to unravel itself and whilst 2 and a half hours for some people is rather long I never found the story boring and each new clue to the murder keeps your attention. Some of the subject matter of the movie is disturbing and involves child sex abuse. Considering the UK has been shocked in the past 2 months by the allegations that a popular dead TV celebrity regularly abused children for nearly 40 years, some scenes may prove hard to watch for some British viewers. I know I found them difficult and it makes you wonder how some adults can do such things to children. The final third of the movie brings all the loose ends we have been introduced over the course of the movie together and neatly ties them up to give a satisfying conclusion.

The two leads in the movie are excellent. Maki Horikita is usually associated with roles that cast her with a pure image but in this one she plays Yukiko Karasawa – an intimidating, scheming and manipulative character who will trample over anybody to get what she wants. She uses her charm and beauty to her advantage. It was great to see her in something like this and which shows a different side to her acting. Equally as good is Kengo Nora as the brooding Ryouji Kirihara. We get to learn how these 2 lost souls with a lot of pain inside them found comfort with each other when they were children at school and whose lives are bound together by a murder. The story follows them through to adulthood where they are still living with the trauma of what happened all that time ago. Plunged into the centre of this story is Detective Sasagaki who has been keeping tabs on the two since the murder took place but needs proof of who committed the crime. He sort of knows who did it but without conclusive evidence he can’t prove anything. Sasagaki is played with a dogged determination by Eiichiro Funakoshi.

Director Yoshihiro Fukagawa manages to weave a very dark, depressing and compelling storyline which is complemented nicely by the brilliant acting of Maki Horikita, Kengo Nora and Eiichiri Funakoshi. Well worth watching if you can stand the long running time.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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A traffic accident changes several people’s lives forever. In capturing wanted criminal Cheung Yat-Tung, Sergeant Tang Fei is involved in a shootout and car accident that puts the criminal in a coma. But in the process he also cripples a fellow officer, and accidentally kills the elder daughter of public prosecutor and single mother Ann. The car in which the girl was travelling is hijacked by the criminals and she is shoved into the boot. Unable to handle the guilt, Tang Fei succumbs to a fog of pain. Ann, meanwhile, pours all her love and attention to her younger daughter Ling. Three months later, the criminal Cheung Yat-Tung awakens from his coma. Ann, who had been working hard on bringing him to justice, insists he stand trial immediately. Then Ling is kidnapped by one of Cheung Yat-Tung’s thugs Hung and Tang Fei is determined to redeem himself and set things right after past mistakes. Will he able to rescue the little girl before she is harmed?

This movie starts with a bang and for the most part delivers throughout with its mix of human drama and tragedy with excellent taut action sequences. Hong Kong police movies have always been popular in the territory and whilst the majority look slick and have enough entertainment to satisfy the average cinema fan, there’s usually no real depth to the stories. Beast Stalker though is different as it has some emotion in the plot. It doesn’t win any prizes on originality and some will even see it as being perhaps a little bit predictable but as a tense thriller there is much to like here. It’s a movie which shows that actions has consequences and this movie shows it very well indeed. The car crash near the beginning of the movie is handled impressively. The scene is shot so well and the slow motion images of the passengers inside one vehicle as it tumbles around is effective and is easily one of highlights of the movie. The structure of the story with it’s twists and turns is intelligent and compelling.

The two main male characters are fantastic in their roles. Nicholas Tse does a great job as the tortured cop who ruins not just Ann’s life with the death of her daughter but several others as well. It’s harrowing to see Tang Fei’s realisation that he’s killed a child as he opens the boot of the criminal’s car and finds her body inside. Ultimately it’s not Tse thats the stand out actor in the movie but Nick Cheung as the one-eyed kindapper Hung. He doesn’t play the role as an OTT villain but comes across as a real person. The reason why he’s kidnapped the little girl Ling is revealed as the plot unfolds and again it links to the car crash. He comes across as quite a menacing person even though some viewers will have some sympathy for his plight. Suet-Yin Wong is absolutely adorable as Ling who proves to be a bit of a smart kid even when in danger.

Director Dante Lam excels with this movie and provides plenty of excitement alongside the drama to keep the viewer interested. There’s a car crash, some fist fights, gunplay and foot chases so action fans should be satisfied with what they see. The way that Lam manages to combine the emotional turmoil of the plot with the action has to be commended.

Overall, The Beast Stalker is a well written and hard-hitting tale about a man seeking redemption and whilst it isn’t perfect and has some flaws it’s certainly worth your time and effort.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Sabu (2002)

Sabu and Eiji have been best friends since they were small. They work as poor trainees in a traditional umbrella store by the time they become adults. Eiji is falsely accused as a thief when a gold embroidery cloth is found in his tool box and he is shipped off to the prison island of Ishikawa where he is made to work as a labour worker. The seething anger inside of him and his attitude to work there makes him have many enemies and he takes his anger out on those people. He keeps on thinking of ways to take revenge on the person who falsely incriminated him. During this period, Sabu hasn’t forgotten about his best friend and regularly visits him but Eiji doesn’t want to know. He thinks it’s best if Sabu forgets about him. As time goes by, Eiji starts changing and gradually becomes friends with some of his co-prisoners. He even tries to contain his anger and present a cool and calm demeanor. After many years of being a prisoner, Eiji is released from prison and the person that put him into prison is finally revealed.

Think you know everything about Takashi Miike and what kind of movies he makes? It’s time for you to think again as Miike reveals yet another layer to his directing skills in this made-for-TV movie set in the Samurai era. When you think of TV movies in the West you usually think of cheap low budget features but not so in Japan. Sabu is more or less a high quality feature length movie which could have easily been given a cinematic release there. This isn’t a samurai movie at all, instead it focuses on 2 of the common people who both come from impoverished backgrounds. It’s a tale about 2 best friends maturing and confronting challenges that life thrusts upon them. Those expecting a movie full of Miike’s usual mix of extreme violence and sex are going to be very disappointed. There is some violence but it doesn’t come close to the level normally associated with Miike. Don’t let the opening shot of a woman’s corpse hanging from a tree lull you into thinking this is going to be a typical Miike feature either. In this movie he proves that he can deliver on character driven stories as well. Violent yakuza movies may be his forte but as I’ve seen time after time he can turn his hand to any genre he wants and make a genuinely good movie out of it.

Unfortunately this movie which runs for 2 hours is a good 30 mins too long for my liking. The plot unfolds at a sedate pace which may bore some people. This movie is very pleasing on the eye and some of the atmospheric scenes come close to looking like landscape paintings. Why Miike has called this movie Sabu is a bit of a strange one as the story is more about Eiji and the injustice against him. He’s the more dynamic and interesting character of the two. Satoshi Tsumabuki and Tatsuya Fujiwara play their roles well.

I wouldn’t class Sabu as being one of Miike’s best by a long shot. This is Miike being more sober and patient rather than relying on his excessive tendencies. As a competent and finely crafted period movie it has plenty on offer to satisfy his fans.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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