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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Man Hunting (2010)

A teenage schoolgirl is kidnapped by a mysterious figure, and then taken to a cabin in the forest. The kidnapper, his face hidden under a hood, then pushes the girl to escape as he plays a sadistic game with her. He stalks her like prey with a crossbow. After being cornered and shot in the shoulder, the girl is patched up by her attacker and the game is replayed the following day. However, the injuries she sustains in this game is far worse than the previous day – she puts her foot straight through a tree stump as she attempts to escape. She still manages to elude capture but only for a short time. Patched up once more, she escapes for a 3rd time and manages to get to a road but is hit by a car. The couple in the car decide to take the girl to a nearby hospital but there’s only one problem – one of the tyres has a flat. As day turns to night, the couple are still trying to fix the tyre with the injured girl safely inside the car. However, the kidnapper manages to find her and kill the couple. The girl is forced to flee the kidnapper once more. Will she eventually manage to escape once and for all?

I must have been stupid to have expected this to be a good horror movie from the trailer I saw months ago because it isn’t that good. It rips off several movies such as SAW in an attempt to justify torture scenes on the young schoolgirl. I don’t mind other movies being copied if it’s done correctly but the movie suffers from poor execution with a half-baked plot. The story is linked to the opening scene with the girl getting pregnant by her boyfriend and she has to go to the hospital to get an abortion. The twist in the final scene relates back to this but it still doesn’t make any damn sense. Some parts of the movie defy logic such as the couple in the car with the flat tyre sequence which is ridiculous. Who in their right mind can believe that it takes a couple of hours to change just one tyre!!! The viewer can easily see that it’s early afternoon when they discover the flat tyre and by the time the kidnapper strikes at them it’s pitch black. Are they that incompetent at changing a tyre? It’s things like this that annoy me about this movie. There is a also distinct lack of tension or suspense when the girl is on the run from her captor. Thankfully it only runs for 65 mins and considering the horrible acting from the cast that was more than enough for me.

I felt the filmmakers got round to having a discussion around a table and decided ‘well if we copy this scene from this movie, we take this from another and we throw together a flimsy plot I don’t think anybody will notice how bad it is’. An example of a scene being copied from SAW is that of the key in the stomach. The girl’s brother and boyfriend are introduced to the plot. The kidnapper has chained them up and they have to find the key in each other’s stomach if they want to be released. The only choice they have is to kill each other to do that. To be honest the only feature about this movie which is OK is the horror effects. Plenty of blood is spilt, the kills are somewhat brutal and there is one nasty scene right at the end as the girl is slashed relentlessly across her chest and abdomen by the kidnapper whilst she’s tied up to a tree. I’m sure the director is maybe a fan of American 80’s slasher movies as this movie has that distinct feel to it.

I’ve seen worse low budget horror movies from Japan over the years I suppose. I wouldn’t really recommend this to any Asian horror fan. I was surprised to read that this movie was given a sequel – Man Hunting: Redemption and judging by how useless this movie is I don’t think I’ll be watching it. Avoid.

Sadako’s Rating: 2 stars out of 5

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Shigeru is a deaf garbage collector who happens upon a broken and discarded surfboard whilst on his job. He repairs the surfboard and tries his hand at surfing with encouragement from his also deaf girlfriend Takako. Though ridiculed at first by the surfing clique down at the beach, he soon wins their admiration for trying his best and actually improving his surfing technique. The local surf shop owner Nakajima then realises that Shigeru is good enough to take part in a regional surfing competition but does he actually have a chance to win?

A quiet serene movie isn’t something you’d normally associate with Takeshi Kitano given he’s more famous for his violent yakuza and comedy movies. Yet here he is directing a movie which will surprise many of his fans as it is nothing like any of his other works. Credit where it’s due that Kitano can direct a simple minimalistic movie on the back of having made 2 violent yakuza thrillers. It shows how versatile he can be. This movie has a heartwarming story with no action and no dialogue whatsoever from the leading characters. A recipe for disaster some might say but not when you’ve got Kitano at the helm. This is an excellent movie which draws the viewer into the silent world that Shigeru and Takako inhabit. It captures the beauty of the sea which Kitano would revisit in a couple of later movies he would make. Shigeru is a character the viewer will root for – an underdog who doesn’t give up for lack of trying. Though extremely bad at surfing at first, he skips work so that he can practice and improve. This isn’t one of those movies which sees Shigeru triumph against all odds in a surfing competition, in fact there no glorification of his exploits. It avoids the cliches you might expect in a typical American surf movie. This is more of a profound slice of life story and you gradually grow to care about the deaf couple. The dialogue you hear in this movie is delivered by the supporting cast. The ending is rather tragic and also a bit perplexing.

The movie has a slow measured pace about it which some might call boring but Kitano does this deliberately so that the viewer can feel and relate to the story that unfolds. It’s not just about a man’s desire to become a surfer, it also deals about love and determination. Kuroudo Miki and Hiroko Oshima are perfect in their roles and you can see the love they have through their expressions using their eyes and smiles. You don’t need to hear them speak to realise the deep bond the two have for one another. This movie was also the start of Kitano’s long running relationship with composer Joe Hisaishi. The soundtrack compliments the melancholic mood and atmosphere that hangs in the air for this story very well.

A Scene At The Sea is a sad, quiet, haunting and beautiful masterpiece from Takeshi Kitano which established his skills as a storyteller and director. It’s a movie that is all too easily skipped in favour of his yakuza stories but to do that is to miss out on a extraordinary tale. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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It’s the year leading up to the Tokyo Olympics and the yakuza gangs jostling for supremacy in Hiroshima who have been fighting amongst each other shows no sign of abating. The public though have had enough of the violence and bloodshed on their streets and pressure the police to crackdown on the yakuza gangs. The leader of the Hirono gang Shozo continues to harbour a grudge against his old boss Yamamori and he has bought in reinforcements in order to try and kill him once and for all. Other elder yakuza leaders wants a peaceful solution to end all the aggro but the younger members eager for a war on the streets makes the situation worse with tit-for-tat murders taking place. Eventually an all out war starts between the gangs but the police are ready and start arresting all the leaders. Will this lead to peace on the streets of Hiroshima?

The 4th in the Battles Without Honor and Humanity saga brings about a conclusion of sorts to the Hiroshima yakuza gangs story which the previous 3 movies have been chronicling during an 18 year period. There is an air of change in the plot for this movie. The police haven’t had much of a presence before, only glimpses of them have been shown. In this movie, they have more of a presence and thanks to massive pressure from the public who wants them to smash the yakuza rings they unleash the full force of the law as they begin to dismantle the gangs. Naturally the leaders in charge think they are above the law and send out their underlings to do their dirty deeds even if it means they’ll be arrested. As long as they remain in their comfortable position at the top of the chain it doesn’t matter. Shozo Hirono though is different from the rest and insists on carrying out his own business. His men though insist on taking care of his problems in order to protect him. Hirono probably seems to be the only boss who still tries to live by the old yakuza code of honour. The other leaders such as Yamamori are seen to be weak and whiny, avoiding decisions but are the first to take credit from others. As with the theme from the previous movies – short alliances are swiftly broken, double crossings happen and blood continues to be shed.

Director Kinji Fukusaku gives us a fast paced story with plenty of street fights with guns, knives and political maneouvering between the various gangs. He carries on with the style associated so far with the saga – freeze frames with the deaths of important gang members and a voice over explaining a situation that’s going on. As there’s so many characters in the storyline, some of the more interesting ones get lost in the shuffle and only get some brief screentime. There’s certainly more violence involved in this story and I’d say this is the bloodiest movie in the franchise. Examples of this include a man getting his nose cut off by a knife, a gang member stabbed in his hand and other nasty incidents such as a rifle being used as a bayonet to kill a man. As the violence escalates, the main protaganist Hirono is taken out of the equation and arrested by the police for a minor offence. By the time the movie comes to it’s conclusion, the days of the yakuza gangs running wild and free in Hiroshima has come to an end and the final voice over brings us the total number of deaths, wounded and arrests that have taken place over the years.

This is another worthy entry in the Battles Without Honor franchise and I’m eager to watch the last episode. Hirono and the other leaders maybe in jail by the climax of this movie but you can bet that their story isn’t over yet.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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The Queen’s brother Pan Bao is killed in a tournament by one of Yang Ye’s sons. Furious at this, she orders her father Pan Mei to destroy the Yang clan at the battle of Jinsha. All goes according to plan but for the fact that the 5th and 6th sons manage to escape from the trap that had been laid for them. Pan Mei must track down the remaining sons or he won’t be able to continue with his bigger scheme which is to overthrow the Emperor. The 5th son returns home but the stress of what has happened has turned him insane. Meanwhile the 6th son vows to become a monk at a temple but has a lot of anger inside of him. The temple refuses to take him in but he insists on being a monk. He takes a razor and shaves his hair off. Reluctantly the lead buddhist monk takes him in but he does not train with any of the other trainee monks. Back at the Yang clan residence, the mother hears that the 6th son is alive and sends her 9th daughter off to seek him out but Pan Mei’s spies are everywhere and follows her. She is captured at an inn below the temple that the 6th son is training. When the 6th son hears that his sister is a prisoner of Pan Mei, he vows revenge on Pan Mei once and for all.

This is a classic HK Shaw Brothers movie starring Gordon Liu. It’s a period piece set during the Sung Dynasty packed full of action and incredible swordplay fights. I would say this is probably the finest showcase for pole fighting you’ll ever see. It was a troubled production at the time of filming and it took 2 years to complete the movie as one of it’s stars Alexander Fu-Sheng had a serious injury which resulted in both his legs being broken. When filming resumed, Fu-Sheng was involved in a terrible high-speed car accident which claimed his life. It was Fu-Sheng’s character that was supposed to be the main focus in this movie but due to the tragic circumstances that happened, the plot shifted onto Gordon Liu’s character. The compelling storyline has no humour at all which considering that a lot of 70’s HK martial arts movies had at the time may be more to the fact that it would have been inappropriate due to Fu-Sheng’s death. If it’s action you’ve come to watch in this movie then you’ll have plenty to enjoy here. Each fight that follows just gets better and better and the final melee involving Gordon Liu’s character taking on Pan Mei’s forces at the temple with his pole is impressive. A visual spectacle in athleticism containing fantastic choreography with swords and poles. Just watch as the 6th son has his sister strapped to his back whilst fighting off the hordes of Pan Mei’s army. There’s some gore involved as Pan Mei’s army is decimated and a lot of the blood comes from seeing them lose their teeth!! This is to do with the training at the buddhist temple which rather than kill their enemies outright, their beliefs is to defang them instead. The weaponry on show is great and I loved the poles that Pan Mei’s army have which have a twisty grappling device on the end which is supposed to counter the threat of the Yang family’s poles.

It’s sad to see Fu-Sheng in this movie knowing it would be his final role. It is said he had a bright future ahead of him as a movie martial artist. A hell of a shame his career was cut short like it did. His character for the majority of the movie acts like a man whose mind has been irreparably damaged by witnessing his brothers and father being killed. He shouts a lot and even attacks his own mother and sisters thinking they’re Pan Mei’s troops. What can I say about Gordon Liu in this movie that hasn’t been said about him elsehwhere. He is just amazing. It’s painful to watch as he shaves his hair off with a sharp razor which results in his head being bloodied and then uses several temple candles to burn 6 dots on his head signifying how serious he is about being a buddhist monk.

This isn’t called one of the best martial arts movies for nothing. Everything you’ve ever wanted in a classic Shaw Brothers movie is in this movie. Do not miss out on watching this if you’re a serious martial arts fan. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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How To Become Myself (2007)

Juri on the surface looks to be a happy girl – both at home and at junior high. But this facade is only a front to show the outside world and her classmates that everything is OK with her family life. The truth of the matter is Juri’s family is crumbling apart. She hates hearing her parents constantly argue and a divorce is on the cards. She’s got a wide circle of friends at school who think she’s a cool person. Juri secretly admires her classmate Kanako as she is popular in their class. Juri would love to become just like her. Suddenly though, due to a disagreement in a student meeting, Kanako finds her position in class plummeting from that of the popular girl to that of one everybody ignores. Juri notices this and becomes concerned but she can’t be seen to talk with her openly or she would be criticised by her friends. Just before both girls graduate from junior high they share a poignant conversation together in the school library. A bond is sealed between them. 2 years later and Juri is now in high school and she hears on the grapevine that Kanako has moved out of the area due to the bullying she was receiving. She manages to get her mobile phone email address and sends her a message. Juri is surprised when Kanako doesn’t seem to remember Juri or the conversation they had at the school library. Thus begins a series of messages that is sent back and forth between the pair with Juri telling a story about a girl called Hina who becomes popular through some advice. Kanako adopts the persona of Hina and finds her life turning for the better. But is Kanako really happy about adopting a fake persona again?

What a great movie about what it means to understand yourself as a person and becoming comfortable with it. All of us plays different roles in different situations depending on the people we encounter. We put on masks in which we adopt perhaps a different persona. Maybe a person who is seen to be very outgoing and happy in public but in reality they could be so unhappy. In playing these various roles, how often do you stop and think who is the real you? Who is this person that you are portraying to other people. Should you stop acting and be honest to these people about who you really are? This movie tackles these issues in such a brilliant way through the 2 main characters. It’s worse when you’re a teenager at school as you either fit in and play the role expected of you or be cast out. Juri doesn’t want to be cast out, in fact she fears her true uncool self coming out so she tries to hide her real persona as best as she can. It’s not at school where she has to play a role either as she tries to hold her family together and be the perfect daughter in front of her parents. In her mind she thinks that by doing this it will stop her parents ever worsening relationship from dissolving completely.

Director Jun Ichikawa isn’t a candidate you would feel that would be best suited to handling a movie about teenage high school girls. Released a year before his death in 2008, he was in his late 50’s when he directed this movie yet somehow he understands the problems that Juri and Kanako are going through and creates a very sensitive and realistic story about them. It’s a skillfully crafted movie which immerses you in the captivating storyline. There’s a slow and deliberate pace about the movie and I really liked the split screen effect and onscreen graphics of the mobile phone messages that both girls are sending to each other showing the distance between them. Ichikawa also loves showing shots of cityscapes and clouds in the sky between transition scenes which I thought was unique.

The characters of Juri and Kanako are well acted by 2 fledgling actresses at the time. Riko Narumi whom I have seen before in Crime And Punishment and also in Yamagata Scream is excellent as Juri. She’s a character who has her own set of problems to sort out with her family yet she feels compelled to help her friend out in order she can re-establish her life again. Former AKB48 member Atsuko Maeda was very surprising as Kanako. This was her movie debut. Maeda is a bit hit and miss with her acting but in this movie she hits all the right spots and gives a fantastic performance as the unhappy and bullied Kanako. Some of her former AKB48 teammates are given blink and you’ll miss cameos.

Even though the movie was targeted towards teenage girls, I think the story’s message about finding your true self and your place in society when you’re young can be enjoyed by everybody. It’s a very good movie all round. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Tree Without Leaves (1986)

Aging novelist Haru lives alone, deep in some woods in Nagano prefecture where he is isolated from society. As he is the last of his family he is writing a book about his childhood life especially about the deep bond he shared with his mother.

This is a very good drama about a man who was damaged by his parents when he was a child especially by his mother who was so dedicated to him in every way that as an adult he is emotionally stunted and incapable of holding a proper relationship with another female as they cannot hold a torch to the dear mother he worshipped so much. Many critics have commented that the movie is based on the director’s own life although he has never said whether this is true or not. The story is a simple one. It alternates between Haru’s childhood and the present time. The viewer follows the life of Haru’s family as is it torn apart by rising debts after the war. Haru is born when his mother is 41 years old. The youngest of 6 kids, he is still suckling his mother’s breasts which she offers to him when he is 10 years old which is disturbing in itself. Their relationship whilst very loving could even be construed as being slightly incestuous. In his spare time he is out playing in the fields near his home with his sister closest to his age where they imagine by throwing sandals in the air that bats will swoop down from the sky to try and catch the sandal. He is seen to be enjoying life with his family. The father though is a very strange man. Cold, emotionless and distant who always has a blank expression on his face, he doesn’t seem to have any proper relationship with his wife and kids. It is left to his wife to keep the family together when things suddenly go bad for them as debts start to mount up. He either can’t (it’s possible he is mentally ill) or is unwilling to help the family in their crisis even when bailiffs turn up at the house. I found him to be a very selfish and arrogant bastard. The siblings all go their seperate ways in order to try and stave off the debtors but it’s a futile gesture. Eventually Haru, his mother and father move into a small outbuilding and we witness their house being torn down piece by piece. It’s heartbreaking to see the family ancestral home being ripped apart which could have been avoided had the father let his eldest son settle the debt. When Haru is 11 years old, his mother dies and he is left alone and penniless with his father. The father as always shows no hint of emotion when his wife dies. Obviously his father’s odd behaviour has rubbed off on Haru as we witness the same kind of strange behaviour when he’s an adult. Reminiscing on his daily walks, an attractive female jogger passes him by. Any normal man would probably acknowledge or even look at the woman but Haru carries on walking as if he’s lost in his own world. He keeps hearing his mother calling for him to return home as she did when he was a child.

There are one or two moments in this movie which shocked me. Maybe the scenes in question didn’t make anybody bat an eyelid in Japan as their culture is different from mine. The first scene revolves around Haru and his mother sharing a tub to have a bath. He is standing up whilst she is sitting down. She leans over and gives Haru a kiss on his penis! He seems to think this is normal affection. I must stress there is no hint of sexual intent in the scene whatsoever. It’s one of those moments in which you keep thinking to yourself ‘did I really just see that?’ but there’s no doubt that it does happen when the scene is repeated later on in slow motion. Another scene which surprised me was seeing Haru’s sister who’s probably not much older than 11 or 12 years old completely topless whilst she and Haru are fishing in a river.

The acting is universally good from all the cast and there’s even a small 10 min cameo from the wonderful Meiko Kaji. Her role is that of a hiker who brings some goods from Tokyo over to Haru at his isolated house in the woods and stays over for a night at his place. You would think he would be a jovial host to his guest but all he can do is talk about his mother. When she wakes up the following morning she finds Haru sitting up in his bedroom staring into the distance. It sums up how we see Haru throughout the movie in his adult life.

Director Kaneto Shindo does a very good job on this production. The movie is beautifully shot in black and white and the cinematography is excellent.

I found Tree Without Leaves to be a fascinating movie about a psychologically damaged man who is contemplating his own mortality and longs for his mother who placed him as the centre of her life when she was still alive. For those that want to see something a little different from the norm, it’s definitely a movie worth seeing.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Kyoji Fujisaki is a doctor who makes the mistake of taking off his surgical gloves during an operation. His finger is cut open on a scalpel and in the process contracts syphillis from the patient. He hides the fact he has the disease from his girlfriend Misao and his family and injects himself with medicine in order to be cured. Kyoji even breaks off his engagement to Misao as he does not want to give her the disease. He doesn’t tell her what’s wrong with him but he pushes her away and tell her to find another man. A nurse who works with Kyoji discovers him injecting himself with Salvarsan to treat his syphillis and becomes Kyoji’s confidante to his inner feelings. Kyoji accidentally meets with the man Nakada who has given him syphillis at a police station and is horrified when he says that as he’s now cured his wife is pregnant. The fact is the man still has syphillis and Kyoji rages about his lack of responsibility to his wife and baby who may be born with a disability or even be deformed.

The Quiet Duel isn’t an Akira Kurosawa movie you hear many people talking about. It certainly doesn’t get the attention of his most famous movies. Perhaps it’s because this movie was made early in his career when he was still learning his trade. After watching the movie I can safely say that whilst it may not be a masterpiece it is still a very good well-acted melodrama. At this time in his career, Kurosawa had moved from temporarily from Toho studios because of strike action and was now working for Daiei and the people under him there were inexperienced. This was only his 2nd collaboration with Toshiro Mifune and their working relationship was yet to hit it’s peak. The has got all the style and techniques you’d associate with a Kurosawa movie but he would just use it for greater effect in his later works. The story is adapted from a stage play which means the plot doesn’t really take us anywhere. There are only a handful of locations used in the movie. Even though the storyline about how deadly syphillis is would appear to be outdated now because of the advances in medicine, you can substitute it for a modern day disease such as AIDS. The plot is about a man making a choice about his life and struggling to live with his decision. Kyoji chooses to shut off his feelings from anybody and tries to carry on as normal in his professional career, no matter how painful it might be. He feels it is better for Misao, his girlfriend to not to waste her youth in waiting for him to be cured which might take 10 years and find another suitor. He doesn’t want her to get the disease off him. The story trundles along to a dramatic climax which sees Nakada, the man who gave Kyoji his disease in a drunken syphillis frenzy return to the hospital where his wife has given birth. He demands to see his child and well…….I won’t spoil what happens when he sees the results of his recklessness.

Toshiro Mifune is on his A-game as Kyoji which culminates in an emotional scene as he breaks down in front of the nurse who works with him and pours out his feelings to her about seeing off his former girlfriend who is about to get married. It’s quite heartbreaking to watch. Kurosawa knew how to get the best from Mifune. A regular from Kurosawa’s movies Takashi Shimura who plays Kyoji’s father also turns in a brilliant and underrated performance. The same could also be said about Noriko Sengoku who plays the tough as nails nurse Rui Minegishi.

If you compare this to another Kurosawa medical drama movie Red Beard, it doesn’t quite hit the same heights as it but this is still a solid piece of storytelling by the master which is well worth your time.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Demon City Shinjuku (1988)

An evil demon named Rebi Rah makes a pact with a demon lord that gives him power to defeat a man that’s come to stop him. After overcoming the man (who looks like Wolverine!), the Tokyo suburb of Shinjuku is decimated by a massive earthquake which becomes known as the Devil’s Shake with the area breaking off from the rest of the city and becoming a place only inhabited by demons, monsters and criminals. It’s an area that’s avoided by all sane human beings. Shinjuku is renamed Monster City. The rest of Tokyo is unaffected by the chaos. 10 years later and Rebi Rah plans to open the gate that will allow the demon world to cross over into our world and take it over. Master Rai, a keeper of the mystical art of Nempo chooses a young man Kyoya Izayoi whose father was the one that got killed by Rebi Rah all those years ago to stop him from plunging the world into darkness forever. At first he refuses to help but after meeting a beautiful young woman Sayaka he changes his mind. Sayaka’s father is the President of Japan and he’s slowly dying at the hands of the evil demon. She goes alone at first to Monster City to face Rebi Rah but she runs into trouble. To her rescue comes Kyoya. Kyoya must master the art of Nempo very quickly before he has a chance to kill Rebi Rah but first he must defeat his 3 trusted henchmen and defeating them won’t be easy. Will Kyoya triumph against the forces of evil?

I haven’t reviewed an anime movie in a while so I thought it was high time I did that. This is a short but highly imaginative adult horror anime from the late 80’s by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, the director behind the excellent Ninja Scroll and Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust. Even though it may be an adult anime, it doesn’t come close to being as graphic as Kawajiri’s other works or even Overfiend in that there’s no frequent sex scenes/nudity and extreme violence. This movie does have it’s gory moments but it’s never ultra graphic in nature. The story is engaging but not original (some say it mirrors Star Wars a little), the pace motors along quickly and the creature designs are top notch – one such example is that of an arachnid/humanoid demon. The demon creatures are terrifying and very cool looking. It’s the characters that provides the main failings of the movie. I wouldn’t say the villain Rebi Rah is a memorable antagonist at all. He doesn’t come across as frightening or threatening. I do like the magic sword he weaves which reminded me of Lion-O’s Sword Of Omens from Thundercats. Kyoya and Sayaka are rather flat characters as well. Kyoya is just your usual young hero who swears, moans constantly and thinks about sex! Sayaka is a stereotypical damsel in distress who is seen as being rather naive. It’s one of the supporting characters in Mephisto who comes across best in the movie. A rather mysterious person, the viewer doesn’t know whether he’s on the side of good or evil. As the movie is short there’s no time for any character development at all. The version I saw was the English dubbed one and the accents given to some of the characters is ridiculous. The character of Chibi who is supposed to be a young Japanese kid is given a stupid Mexican accent and swears like a trooper! Even Sayaka is given an awful British accent. The animation is well done and I especially liked the look for the ruined suburb of Shinjuku. It feels sinister and oppressive – you expect something dangerous lurking around every corner. There’s a great scene in a park where Sayaka and Kyoya confront the souls of the people that died there during the devastating earthquake that happened 10 years previously. It ends rather touchingly with the dead souls able to move on to the afterlife and coming down as drops of rain. I was hoping for a thrilling confrontation at the end between Rebi Rah and Kyoya but it ends all too quickly. What an anti-climax and such a disappointment. It feels a bit rushed like the filmmakers wanted to get this project over and done with and move on to something else.

I wouldn’t call this an essential anime movie to watch. It’s an interesting 78 min feature, has soon good action scenes and it’s never boring but if you want to see director Kawajiri at his best check out the two titles I’ve mentioned above. This could have been a lot better.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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