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Archive for December, 2012

Castle Under Fiery Skies

The year is 1575 in feudal Japan. Lord Oda Nobunaga’s forces defeat Takeda Katsuyori, when Nagashino Castle was besieged during the Battle of Nagashino. The next year Lord Nobunaga decides to build a lavish new castle symbolizing his unification of various factions. The castle named Azuchi Castle will be built near water and high enough to be seen from the capital city of Kyoto. A blue print contest is decided between 3 builders and master carpenter Okabe Mataemon is one of those tasked with coming up with a design. Although his design makes Lord Nobunaga angry as he specifically asked for a large atrium within the castle, Mataemon highlights a flaw in the other 2 builders’ designs should it catch fire. Satisfied at the explanation, Mataemon is assigned the task of building the castle. He has 3 years to build it. Failure will end in Mataemon’s beheading. Will he be able to finish the castle on time?

If the title of this movie makes you think this is going to be story about a castle under siege and there’s going to be major battle scenes involving samurai warriors then you’re going to be sorely disappointed as it’s not that type of movie. This is a story about a construction of an impressive castle and the lengths the man who designed it will go to make sure it ends up being a perfect building for his Lord. Moraemon is such a dedicated task master he even goes to enemy territory to seek out a large certain tree (a hinoki cypress) as a base pillar for the castle keep. Although the enemy Lord tells one of his lumberjacks to help him out with finding a tree, he really wants him to send Moraemon home empty handed. Moraemon finds the perfect tree he requires and although initially turned down, the kindness that Moraemon has showed to the lumberjack is enough for him to strike a deal for the tree although going against his Lord’s orders will surely end with his beheading. Although the main plot deals with the construction of the castle we see some minor squabbles between the workers, Moraemon’s annoyance at seeing some of his workers being dragged off to war by Lord Nobunaga, a romance between a young carpenter and Moraemon’s daughter and finally Moraemon’s wife suffering from an illness which she hides from him. I suppose those aspects of the movie make it seem unoriginal and predictable. There’s a rather strange sequence which sees a martial arts fight break out with flying ninjas who have come to assassinate Lord Nobunaga. The scene comes from nowhere and it looks strangely out of place in the movie. The climax which sees the castle threatening to collapse during a wild storm due to the base pillar sinking into the ground sees all the workers and their spouses coming together to lift part of the castle using ropes so that Moraemon can cut 12 cms off the pillar is quite inspiring and typically Japanese. In the West we’ve been instilled with the ‘look after number one’ attitude but in Japan it’s not the individual’s needs that matters but that of the group. Seeing the bloodied hands of the people as they strive to help Moraemon in his task is a testament to the spirit of the workers that work under him. They want to give it their all to him as he’s looked after them. Toshiyuki Nishida is brilliant as Moraemon. Here we have a character who you will root for from the start and despite the trials and tribulations he encounters during the construction when you see the completed castle at the end it is both breathtaking and beautiful.

Castle Under Fiery Skies screenshot

Some viewers will think this movie is rather dull and uninteresting but I was fascinated by it. Having been to Nagoya Castle recently and seen a monumental task to restore one of the buildings there to it’s original glory which is taking 12 years to complete as there’s a shortage of craftsmen who are used to working with old tools, I admired the dedication of the small team of 15 men on the project. Using hinoki wood just like in this movie for the building, the project is supposed to be completed by 2018. It’s a painfully slow process and the workers want to make sure it is perfect when it is complete. I will definitely be going back to see the finished article in 6 years time because I’m sure it’ll be worth seeing.

At 2 hrs and 20 mins this movie is quite a long slog to watch it all but never once was I bored by any of it. The movie does have a rather slow pace to it and I’m sure even if 40 mins had been cut it would not have hindered the story at all.

Overall, Castle Under Fiery Skies is an engaging movie from start to finish and with the great acting of Nishida Toshiyuki, it’s a great story about a community of workers building one of Japan’s greatest castles. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Detective-Story

The opening scene sees an artist painting a large picture but this is no ordinary artist. This artist’ fingers is caked in blood and is using blended body parts to use on his canvas to create a masterpiece. Raita Takashima is a salaryman who works for an IT company. He moves next door to a man that’s also called Raita which both men find amusing. Raita Kazama is a slovenly private detective with his own small company which employs 2 people. Kazama tries to get to know his neighbour a little better one night when he invites himself to Takashima’s apartment for some drinks. In the early hours of the morning there’s a knock on Kazama’s apartment. It’s a young woman named Manami Inoue who’s in need of some help from Kazama. As it’s late he tells Manami to drop by his office later on in the day but Manami never turns up as she’s murdered on her way home. It’s discovered that one of her livers is missing. The police find it a bit too coincidental that Kazami has a liver in his apartment that he says he bought at a butcher’s shop. Soon after a second victim is found hanging from a tree with her kidneys missing. The police find a pen near the crime scene and the fingerprints on the pen belong to Kazama. He is immediately made the prime suspect so Kazama has to go into hiding and stays at his friends studio whilst making some investigations on his own. Meanwhile his next door neighbour Takashima has struck up a friendship with Kazama’s female assistant Mika. A date to a gallery of her favourite artist Yuki Aoyoma turns sour when Mika discovers another victim in one of the toilet cubicles at the place. The woman in question has had her lungs removed and her mouth is full of soil. A cigarette lighter is discovered in the toilet which is traced to belong to Raita Kazama. The police place Kazama on the wanted list for murder. Kazama asks Takashima to help him out as he knows he hasn’t killed the victims but who is setting him up? As Kazama delves deeper into the mystery, will he be able to find the killer before the police arrest him?

It’s hard to know what Takashi Miike was trying to do with this movie as it’s a mishmash of genres – gory horror, comedy and a whodunnit drama. I didn’t know whether to take it serious or not because there are some very funny scenes throughout the movie. Whilst the plotline might sound like your typical crime drama, you should know by now that with Takashi Miike at the helm of a movie it’s never going to be as straightforward as it seems. It’s a wild ride from the start. The movie has a good plot and there’s plenty of gore to satisfy horror fans but strangely enough some of the scenes in which the bloody victims’ corpses are shown there’s a blurring effect on the part of the bodies in which their organs is missing which I thought was odd. No idea if Miike did this on purpose as he hasn’t shied away from showing the viewer some disgusting horror shots in the past? He nabs an idea from The Silence Of The Lambs when Kazama visits a psycho killer who he helped to arrest 15 years earlier when he was a cop. The psycho who is strapped to a chair in a straight jacket with a mask on his face tells Kazama to place himself in the mind of the killer. Only then will he able to join the pieces of the puzzle together and solve the crime. There’s also some random weird stuff going on in this movie such as Takashima spacing himself out when he stares at Kazama’s assistant Mika’s legs constantly or Mika wetting herself in Aoyoma’s gallery as she can’t hold it in who then proceeds to build a make-shift clothes line in the toilet in which she can hang her underwear to dry after washing! What’s even more odd is a scene at an onsen in which a nude young boy is seem coming into frame twice for no reason whatsoever. But even that is nothing to what happens near the climax which is so surreal and bizarre you just have to laugh at the absurdness of it all. The final scene will either have you be scratching your head and saying ‘WTF was that all about?’ or laughing at the ingenious talent of Takashi Miike and the crazy ideas he comes up with. This movie has got a little bit of everything in it even a child murderer. That’s why I like Miike. He is never predictable like other directors which is why he stands out so much and you’ll always be entertained by his movies even when some of his work is rather uncomfortable to watch.

detective story screenshot

The cast are excellent in their roles from the leading characters to the supporting ones. Kazuya Nakayama is fantastic as the detective Kazama. He is played mostly for laughs. For some reason Kazama puts on a wig sometimes when he’s out on duty (perhaps as a kind of disguise?) which he only takes off when he’s back at his apartment. I guess that’s a part of the eccentricity associated with the character. What happens to Kazama as he confronts the killer at the end is hilarious although many will see it as being gross.

Detective Story might not be up there with Miike’s greatest works but with it’s warped sense of humour and high gore content it’ll no doubt please his fans. I really enjoyed it.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Thermae Romae (2012)

Thermae Romae

Lucius Modestus is a Roman architect living in 135 AD. One day he loses his job to another architect who has more elaborate ideas for improving things than him. Deciding to go to a bathhouse to get over his disappointment, Lucius goes underwater as he thinks that’s the only place he’ll get some peace and quiet. Finding a tunnel in the bath wall at the bottom of the pool, Lucius is sucked through the tunnel by a whirlpool and emerges in a bathhouse in present-day Japan. At first unsure where he has landed, he marvels at the wonders in this bathhouse and thinks he could implement some of the things he has seen into his own designs. It is here he meets struggling female part-time manga artist Mami Yamakoshi. Her ideas for a manga has been turned down and she is looking for inspiration. Lucius is thrown back to his own time where his ideas from the future is met with universal praise and gets some attention from Emperor Hadrian who is also quite an architect in his own right. Flirting back and forth through time, Lucius bring back more improvements for Roman bathhouses and unfortunately Mami, her father and some of his friends is also brought back to Rome where they help Lucius out. Emperor Hadrian is facing defeat in his battle against a rebellion due to tired soldiers. Can he create something using geothermal rocks which can help injured soldiers to recuperate and turn the tide of the battle to Rome’s favour……..

Based on the successful manga by Mari Yamazaki, this fish out of water tale is both funny and entertaining. The story might seem to be silly but it works really well. Both the Roman and Japanese people share a similar bathing culture. Even with a gap of 2000 years between the two nations, modern day Japan has carried on with something that was first created in Roman times. The first half of the movie concerns Lucius’ travels to present day Japan where he initially emerges butt naked like a Roman God in front of a group of old men (who Lucius calls flat-faced slaves!). He is amazed at what he sees in the place – a large mural of Mt Fuji on a wall which he mistakenly thinks is Mt Vesuvius, fruit flavoured milk and wicker clothes baskets. Walking around with no clothes on he barges unannounced into the women’s changing area who are shocked by him. An object thrown by one woman which hits him on the top of his head is all that’s needed for Lucius to wake up back in his own time. Several other trips to the future sees Lucius end up in a bath-tub in someone’s home, a shop where they sell showers and innovative Japanese toilets which are all implemented by Lucius in the past. It seems that whenever Lucius turns up in the future, Mami seems to be nearby which is all fine with her as she likes to sketch his chiselled body. The premise of a Roman man time travelling underwater to the future, finding a world so alien to his own and stealing ideas to use in the past gives the movie an interesting slant. Where else have we seen something like that? It may seem repetitive to some viewers these trips to the future but just when the plot is beginning to go stale things change in the second half where the plot moves into Roman politicial intrigue between Emperor Hadrian’s adopted son Ceionius and another man who also had a lot of clout with the Emperor named Antoninus. Even when the story starts to get a little serious there is still plenty of decent laughs to be had such as every time Lucius time travels we get a shot of a male opera singer in a meadow bellowing out a tune. There are some gripes I found with this movie especially with a badly staged battle near the climax which doesn’t look good onscreen at all but perhaps that was due to the budget. If you’re wondering how the Japanese film crew managed to recreate ancient Rome so well, the cast and crew flew over to make the movie at the famous Cinecitta Studio in Rome where they used a couple of thousand Italian people as extras to play Roman citizens.

THERMAE ROMAE pic 1

Wisely the filmmakers decided not to have a foreigner to play the leading role and so they cast Abe Hiroshi as Lucius. Abe Hiroshi doesn’t look like your typical Japanese man so it was good move on their behalf. He provides good comic timing in several scenes and portrays a credible Roman man. The ladies will certainly enjoy the views of his arse and muscular body which can be seen in many scenes! Aya Ueto is her usual cute self and the chemistry between her character Mami and Lucius is believable. There’s a tiny hint of romance between the two but it’s never developed as Lucius is more interested in casting her aside. Mami is a person that struggles to make sense of Lucius’ unexpected appearances in the present day which gets her into trouble and eventually has her fired from her place of work as a saleswoman in a bathroom shop when Lucius drops into a bath when she’s working and her superiors think she’s brought a man into her workplace to bathe and wash himself! There’s something about Aya Ueto that’s just so charming, maybe it’s her smile that does it for me. Could it be that the character of Mami is based on the manga author Mari Yamazaki?

Overall, Thermae Romae is a fantastic movie which I really enjoyed. The great cast, storyline and comedy make for a fun two hours viewing experience. It’s a movie which you won’t regret watching.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Enter The Fat Dragon

Ah Lung is a country bumpkin who works on a farm feeding the pigs. An opportunity arises for him to go to the big city (Hong Kong) and help out in his uncle’s noodle shop. Just as he is settling down to working there, a gang of thugs who is making a nuisance of themselves in the area starts some trouble. Being a devoted Bruce Lee fan who can fight like his idol and imitate the great man, Ah Lung sends them all packing. However whilst Ah Lung is out on an errand the gang return and demolish his uncle’s restaurant. As a result he is out of work but with the help of two friends he gets a job cleaning dishes. It’s not long however that Ah Lung is embroiled in a plot by a gang who kidnap a woman he likes and wants to sell her to a billionaire named Pai. Ah Lung sets out to rescue his girl but first he must defeat 3 of Pai’s deadly bodyguards…..

After the death of Bruce Lee in 1973, a slew of Bruceploitation movies were released in Hong Kong that tried to cash in on his name and featured many actors trying to copy his style. Sammo Hung who was a very good friend of Bruce and worked with with him on Enter The Dragon wasn’t very impressed with these johnny come lately’s shamelessly cashing in on his friend’s name so he made this comedy tribute movie to him. Sammo might not look like Bruce Lee but my word he can imitate him superbly. Probably the best person to do it. He even strokes his nose exactly the same way that Bruce did, delivers his noises and is pretty much a master of nunchuks like his friend. Sammo even uses Jeet Kune Do with some kung-fu in the fights. The storyline is mostly episodic in nature and is about how Ah Lung’s fighting keeps getting him into trouble. The fight scenes on display is exciting, fun and fast and get better as the movie wears on. You’ll never see a more agile fat guy than Sammo Hung. It’s hard to believe how good a martial artist he really is. I’m not sure if the climatic showdown in which Ah Lung faces 3 foreign fighters was Sammo’s homage to Game of Death but it features a funny scene of a Chinese man who is blacked up with an afro wig (obviously a parody of Jim Kelly) going one on one with Ah Lung. You can’t help but laugh at the scene. There’s a telling scene in the movie in which Sammo delivers a scathing criticism of the copycat Bruce Lee movies produced at the time when he visits a film set and gets into a fight with a second rate Bruce Lee impersonator and promptly beats his ass and the film crew as well! His put-down comment of “amateurs” after the fight is brilliant. The slapstick comedy is a little bit hit and miss but when it works well it makes you smile. Sammo even has time to poke fun at Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master! His character of Ah Lung comes across as lovable and charming and you can’t help but like him.

Enter the fat dragon clip

Animal lovers might get a little offended in the opening scene as Sammo’s character practices his kung fu on some pigs. It’s hard to say whether the pigs were hurt by Sammo’s kicks. From a lot of HK movies I’ve seen from the 70’s and 80’s, animal welfare wasn’t a high priority on any film set!

All in all, a fantastic early Sammo Hung production considering it was done on a very low budget and a must see for fans of martial arts.

No trailer but here’s a clip where Sammo fights a Bruce Lee impersonator

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Children Of Hiroshima (1952)

Children Of Hiroshima DVD

It is 1952, six years after the atomic bombing on the 6th August 1945 and kindergarten school teacher Takako Ishikawa returns to her home city of Hiroshima during the holidays to visit friends and pay her respects to her parents and brother who died during the blast. Takako has been raised by her auntie and uncle in their fishing village on an island. She stays with her friend Natsu Morikawa in Hiroshima who has become infertile due to the side effects of the bomb. Whilst walking around in the still devastated city, she comes across a nearly blind beggar that she recognises as Iwakichi who worked years ago with her father. Half of his face has been burnt. Going along to the shanty where he lives, she discovers that Iwakichi’s grandson Taro has been put in an orphanage as he hasn’t got the means to look after him. Takako asks Iwakichi if she can become Taro’s guardian and take him back to the island where she lives where the young boy can have a good life but Iwakichi remains defiant that he would not be able to live should Taro be seperated from him. Takako is also told that 3 of her former pupils have survived the atomic blast and pays all of them a visit. She finds out how the radiation from the bomb has affected each of them…..

A deeply touching and powerful anti-nuclear war movie about the survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb and how it destroyed many families – not only by the blast itself but by the silent killer radiation. It’s a relatively unknown movie to a lot of people in the West. Director Shindo Kaneto briefly takes us back to that clear August day in 1945 with the people of the city going about their everyday lives while a clock on a wall ticks down to the fateful moment in time at 8.15am when the bomb struck. We are shown some images of bodies, people dying, burning sunflowers, burning bird cages and finally of the mushroom cloud which was filmed by the Enola Gay. I’m sure with the memories of the bomb still fresh in the Japanese people’s mind when the movie was released in 1952 it was wise of the director to not show too many grisly shots. Instead of focusing on the adults, the children in this movie represent that life goes on in the city. Although many are orphans, they still try and lead as carefree a life as they can. There’s a scene of a large group of children jumping into a river to play. Although there is plenty of bleakness around her, Takako also sees some hope and recovery taking hold. There are some striking images in the movie such as a shadow of a thinking man who was sitting on the doorstep of his home when the bomb struck and he was instantly vaporised. Through Takako’s travels around the city we find out the fortunes of each of her 3 former pupils. One boy is losing members of his family to radiation sickness, a girl is dying from radiation exposure and another boy is in relatively good health. But it is the story of Taro that will tug the most at the heartstrings of the viewer. The young boy doesn’t want to leave his grandfather as they have a strong bond but a neighbour of Iwakichi manages to persuade him to let Taro go. Iwakichi takes matters into his own hands to make sure that Taro goes with Takako. He puts his own shanty on fire with him still inside. Although he is recued from the inferno, his injuries are too severe and he dies.

Children of Hiroshima screenshot

Nobuko Otowa does a great job in her role as Takako. She was the director’s wife and featured in several of his movies. Although Kaneto rams home the message that nuclear bombs destroys lives, he also shows that even in a tragic event there is good in people with a community spirit shining through and in Taro’s story that some of the older generation is willing to sacrifice their lives in order for the future generation to have a better life.

Today Hiroshima is a beautiful thriving city which I can testify having visited several years ago but the shell of the Prefecture Industrial Hall is a reminder of what happened all those years ago. You would have to be a heartless person to not shed a tear or two whilst taking a tour around the Peace Memorial Museum (which is shown being built in the movie) and the sorrowful music that echoes around the place just adds to the sad atmosphere. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the photos and scorched items such as a child’s bicycle that are on display there. It was a very moving and difficult experience and I just had to sit down after coming outside to reflect on what I saw. If you ever visit Japan, please do pay a visit to the city.

Children of Hiroshima is a heartbreaking movie in many ways which portrays the struggle of the Japanese people in dealing with the aftermath of the atomic bomb and although there are other movies such as Barefoot Gen which I dare say is better in telling the story of the atomic bomb dropping, I would still recommend this movie. It can teach us all a lesson that something like this should never happen again.

There’s no trailer but here’s a clip from the movie when the bomb is dropped on the city:

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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movie wars ultimatum

Split into 3 segments as per usual for the Movie Wars series.

Set 5 years on after the end of the series, the movie follows the KR Fourze characters after they’ve left high school and begun their careers. Gentaro Kisaragi is now part of the teaching staff at Amanogawa High School and his sidekick Kengo is a researcher at Kyoto University where he is studying the cosmic energy that powered most of KR Fourze’s gadgets and that of the Zodiarts who were the bad guys in the series. A foursome group of Amanogawa students form the ‘Monster Alliance”. Led by Saburo Kazeta and possessing psychic powers, they threaten the peace of the school. The group doesn’t realise they are being manipulated by a man called Kagehito Banba who holds a Zodiart Switch. It’s up to Gentaro as KR Fourze to sort them out. In the KR Wizard portion of the movie, Haruto enters the Underworld through an unknown gate after many sightings of monsters in the real world. He runs into a young woman named Yu Kamimura who can transform into¬†Bishoujo Kamen Poitrine and use magic like him. Although they have a duel they eventually team up to become allies and investigate where the monsters are coming from. Finally in the last section of the movie, the three Akumaizer from the Underworld plan to invade the land of the living by using a Monster Army. Kamen Riders Wizard and Fourze must join forces with their allies and fight to stop the Akumaizer and their Monster Army.

This is the 4th in the annual Movie Wars series and this time there are 3 other Japanese tokusatsu superheroes added to the story in the form of Inazuman, Poitrine and Akumaizer-3. I wasn’t familiar with any of them but it was nice to have a crossover with 3 unfamiliar shows. Inazuman was a superhero who had his own TV show in 1973 and was similar in look to Kamen Rider in that Goro Watari the human transformed into a blue moth-like hero who attacked the villains with his long yellow scarf! When I first saw him come on screen I thought it was Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen. Bishoujo Kamen Poitrine on the other hand was an attractive female magical superhero that was specifically targeted towards younger viewers during the early 1990’s. For the final segment of the movie a trio of characters from the 1975 show Azumaizer-3 make an appearance. The trio in the TV show were demons that chose to help out the human race though in this movie they seemed to have turned to the dark side. All 3 shows didn’t have the longevity of Kamen Rider and only lasted for 1 season but that’s not to say they weren’t popular. There has been many crossover movies in the past between various Kamen Riders and Super Sentai shows but not with other tokusatsu shows. It seems these tokusatsu crossovers won’t end with this movie either as during the Spring of 2013 we’ll have KR Wizard, the super sentai heroes of the upcoming new series Kyoryuger and Space Sheriff Gavan coming together to face off against The Space Ironmen Kyodain (the villains from the KR Fourze feature) in the movie Super Hero Taisen 2.

Movie wars ultimatum screenshot 2

I’ve made my feelings on KR Fourze well known in some of my reviews and that hasn’t changed after watching this movie. I found the Fourze segment tedious, boring and full of cringeworthy comedy. Thankfully the action more than made up for the awful acting that was on display plus there was an appearance in the opening scene by the beautiful mysterious female agent in black called Inga Blink who can handle herself pretty well in combat. She made her debut in the KR Fourze movie that came out in August. I wonder if that is why there was so many men in the audience for the screening I went to as she does show quite a lot of cleavage in her tight costume!! The first female Kamen Rider in KR Nadeshiko also makes a return to help out Fourze. Thankfully things pick up for the better in the KR Wizard segment. KR Wizard has been doing very well in the ratings in Japan. The characters are interesting and it seems like the people behind the show have gone back to the core principle of what made the KR series so popular. Out goes the OTT slapstick comedy which blighted Fourze so much. I did like the character of Poitrine who has quite a flirtatious personality. It was great to see a couple of past KR Riders such as OOO, Decade and W amongst others turning up to help Wizard and Fourze in the big battle at the end against the evil Azumaizer-3 trio in their armoured truck. The usual quota of pyrotechnics is on display in this movie, no KR movie is complete without an array of explosions going off at some point!

It’s probably not the best KR movie I’ve seen over the past couple of years but there is plenty on offer to entertain the kids with a lot of action and excitement to make sure after watching they’ll have a smile on their faces.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Play At Tug Of War! (2012)

Play_at_Tug_Of_War!

Chiaki Nishikawa is a beautiful young woman who works for the PR department at the public office in the city of Oita. The mayor of the city puts her in charge of trying to put together a female tug of war team and bring back some much needed glory to the city like the ‘Cosmo Ladies’ did who won the World Indoor Tug-Of-War Championships 3 times in the past. Chiaki does her best to recruit but finds many women are turned off by the idea. Eventually she does find some women willing to enter the team but they are still a couple of members short so she has to ask her mother to join. Chiaki herself also has to join and becomes the team’s captain! Their first contest as a team ends with them being humiliated by a bunch of kids but with their coach who wants them to change their carefree attitude and take this challenge seriously they begin to make steady progress. With the World Indoor Tug-of-War Championships coming up, will the team be able to turn themselves around and have a shot at winning the title?

I was hoping that this movie was going to be full of laughs judging from the trailer I saw in October but I was surprised by the lack of comedy I saw and it failed to even make the audience laugh at the screening I went to. No wonder it didn’t do as well as expected at the Japanese box office. The story about a female tug of war team might be original but the situations that happen in the movie is something I’ve seen many times before in other Japanese comedies. Trouble and strife in members’ lives which need to be sorted out and Chiaki quitting the team due to the lack of enthusiasm by the members who prefer to party and drink too much. The signs weren’t good during the opening skydiving sequence which sees the main character Chiaki landing in a field and being chased by a load of cows. I didn’t find it particularly funny. I should have known that it wouldn’t get any better after that. The plot showcases all the struggles, fun, friendship, teamwork, bonds and love that Chiaki experiences while forming a team. Another problem I had with this movie is it drags during the middle section and the story has been stretched out way too much. At just 5 mins short of 2 hours there isn’t that much of a story to justify the long running time of the movie. It’s unusual for myself to start yawning during a movie at the cinema but that’s what happened during this movie and I nearly drifted off to sleep! There’s a ridiculous scene which you’ll see in the trailer of the team being able to stop a moving car. I don’t know if that’s even possible in reality but considering there was a show on Japanese TV that had 20 strong men pitting their wits against a shire horse and being beaten soundly in a tug of war contest says it all! A sub-plot involves Chiaki and her fat teammate competing against each other for the heart of their coach though he only has eyes for Chiaki and the Mayor’s office threatening to stop the tug-of-war project. It’s not all that dismal on the comedy front in this movie. There are some scenes which brought a smile to my face but they were few and far between.

Plat_at_Tug_Of_War screenshot

Mao Inoue does her best with the script that she’s been given and I only went to watch this as I’ve always liked her acting since seeing her in the drama Hana Yori Dango in 2005. The rest of the cast aren’t too bad in their roles I suppose.

This is a strictly by the numbers zeroes to heroes sports movie which doesn’t add anything new to the genre. You’ve seen it all before in other sports comedies. You’re not gonna miss out on anything special if you decide to skip this movie. Average at best.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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Fly With The Gold (2012)

fly with the gold new

Koda is a supplier for radical extremists and criminals who’s approached by an old university friend Kitagawa with a plan to steal 1.5 billion yen in gold bars from a vault under the main branch of Sumida Bank. Kitagawa puts together a team which consists of a banking system engineer named Noda, a North Korean spy Momo who is posing as an engineering exchange student, Kitagawa’s younger brother Haruki and a former elevator technician called Jiichan. After some careful planning, the six men carry out their audacious task but will they able to pull it off?

When I first read the plot summary for this movie I was expecting to see an Ocean’s 11 type of caper but what I saw was nothing of the sort. This is a gripping heist movie set in Osaka which has some exciting action sequences and a suspensful climax as the bank job naturally goes wrong. The first half of the movie sets about introducing us to the characters with a lot of the focus on Momo, the deadly North Korean spy who when he is not posing as a student is working at a food stall. Kitagawa has been keeping tabs on his apartment by spying on him through binoculars. He suspects that he is not all that he seems to be. Kitagawa’s hunches come true when one night after Momo has returned to his apartment, his enemies armed with guns come looking for him. Kitagawa along with Koda rush headlong to help Momo out and the three manage to escape but the consequences of helping the young North Korean out will come back to haunt Kitagawa later in the movie. Once the team has been assembled they set about carefully poring through the floor plans to the bank they’ve managed to get hold of and how they think they’re going to successfully steal the gold bars. There’s a major problem before they even manage to set the ball rolling as Momo’s enemies track him down. Even Kitagawa’s family isn’t spared by them as his pregnant wife and child are victims of a hit and run incident in a busy shopping street. It doesn’t distract Kitagawa to cancel the heist though. Tensions start to emerge between the team as Noda starts to become nervous. The plan is for Kitagawa, Koda and Jiichan to pose as elevator technicians and say to the bank security guards there’s a problem with one of the elevators whilst a series of explosions underground in another part of the city which will simultaneously go off with a bomb below the bank will distract the police long enough for the criminals to get inside the bank vault, steal the gold, make their way to the roof of the bank, haul the gold down by rope to the waiting getaway van below driven by Noda before they themselves use the rope to clamber down the side of the building and drive away. The best laid plans usually never come off smoothly and this is what happens for the gang.

Fly with the gold screenshot

There’s a strong cast for the movie which includes the main role for Tadanobu Asano along with Satoshi Tsumabaki. Normally young female Japanese adults wouldn’t give a second look at this type of movie but with the addition of Korean idol Changmin from the duo TVXQ as Momo and another young hearthrob in Junpei Mizobata I saw quite a few women in the audience in the cinema the day I went to Shibuya to see it. It’s more of a movie for men than anybody else but the moviemakers saw some sense and perhaps knew that if they added some young attractive men it would appeal to the ladies and bolster the takings for the movie as well.

I enjoyed the movie even though it does take some time for it to get going. It’s probably only around half way through the movie that the main plot of planning the bank job gets under way. I also think a good 30 mins should have been cut to quicken the pace of the plot. It’s a solid enough movie with enough thrills and spills to keep your interest and whilst it doesn’t contain the fun element that made the Oceans trilogy so popular it’s a worthy watch for Asian movie fans.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Bayside Shakedown The Final (2012)

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An international environmental energy summit is being held at Odaiba’s Tokyo Big Sight and the officers of Wangan Police Station are mobilised to handle security for the event. During the event a man is kidnapped and his body is found hours later having been shot dead. The weapon used in the killing is a gun that the police had seized. A special investigation unit is flown into Wangan to handle the murder inquiry. In the meantime another murder takes place and pressure begins to mount to arrest the culprit. Aoshima is put under suspicion by the investigation team and forced to hand over his badge and gun. Even Aoshima’s friend and one of the top dogs in Tokyo’s police force Muroi Shinji is put under heavy pressure. During all of this chaos, a third incident occurs in which Wangan’s Police Chief Masayoshi’s daughter is kidnapped. Aoshima even though he is suspended from duty feels obliged to find the child. Will this be his final case for the police? Meanwhile Aoshima’s trusted partner Sumire has handed in her resignation to her superiors. An injury flaring from an incident whilst on-duty (she was shot in the shoulder) has meant she cannot fulfill her duties properly and she feels she is letting the side down. She has not told any of her colleagues in her department yet but is quietly packing her stuff from her desk and is waiting for the right opportunity to leave before anybody realises she is gone. How will Aoshima react when he realises that Sumire is gone?

Watching this movie down at Odaiba’s Cinema Mediage on Friday 7th December had a very special significance for me as just as I was settling down in my seat a powerful 7.3 earthquake occurred during Tokyo’s evening rush hour which made my seat rock quite a lot. No evacuation took place at the cinema and in fact none of the cinema staff even came to see if we were OK. Even one of the cinema punters behind me when he said there was an earthquake happening didn’t have a hint of panic in his voice. Tokyoites have become so used to the earth moving beneath their feet. It did come to my mind as the quake intensified whether it could be the big one that the city have been expecting for some time. After a minute the shaking stopped but I did feel 2 strong aftershocks during the movie. But enough about that, let’s get on with the review.

Bayside Shakedown screenshot

The final ever Bayside Shakedown pulls out all the stops to make sure the franchise finishes on a high. The beginning of the movie blurs the boundary of whether we are seeing the Wangan police officers in the future and having retired from the force as we witness Aoshima, Sumire and their close team running a food stall but we are soon shown the whole picture and that it’s all a part of an operation to capture a suspect. I know many fans like myself would have liked to see Aoshima and Sumire start a relationship and settle down together and this scenario gives the illusion that they’re married. A shame it wasn’t real. The main plot makes it seem like there’s a grand conspiracy to disgrace Aoshima and make him resign from his job. Yes, it’s the superiors high up in the police interfering once more in matters that doesn’t really concern them. Instead of letting the local officers deal with things, they have to fly in a specialist team to take over the Wangan precinct and bellow orders out to everybody. There’s also a hint that somebody with links to the specialist team is trying to frame Aoshima. On one hand the plot has Aoshima trying to solve 2 cases of murder and a kidnapping of a child and on the other there’s the small matter of Sumire quitting her job due to injury. Sumire isn’t involved that much in the movie, she appears here and there throughout quietly packing away her belongings, not giving an inkling away to Aoshima that she’s leaving and buying a boxful of noodles for the team as a goodbye present. I’m glad to say she does have a big part in the climax though it is ridiculously far fetched and it involves a bus! There’s a great deal of good humoured comedy in the movie. The biggest being that a rather large crate of beer that has been ordered by mistake has landed at the precinct and Aoshima’s team do their best to make the consigment not look quite so conspicious. They tape it up with whatever they find close by including bits of white tarp but the pallet on which the beer cans have been placed are near some stairs that the bosses use regularly and they are constantly asking what’s underneath the tarp. The team start making up an elaborate excuse to cover their backs but the ruse is finally discovered when some of the beer cans explode! The mix of drama and comedy is one of the things that have made Bayside Shakedown such a joy to watch over the years. You’ve got plenty of suspense to keep you on the edge of your seat but also humour to make you chuckle.

Yuji Oda in my eyes is Shunsaku Aoshima. Even when he’ll be old and looking back at his career, it is probably the role of Aoshima as an actor he’ll be best remembered for. He and Eri Fukatsu as Sumire have got some great chemistry together and the will they won’t they relationship probably have had some fans screaming at the fact that they haven’t taken up the courage to ask each other out. They obviously like each other very much but it’s like neither is willing to take the relationship up to another level. I really did think that because this was the final movie that we would see the two of them together but it was not to be.

I do feel a bit sad in knowing that this could well be the final ever Bayside Shakedown movie. For 15 years it has captured the imagination of the Japanese public who have grown up with the characters and obviously care a lot for them. I take it the people behind the drama has decided it’s time for Detective Shunsaku Aoshima to hang up his trusted green jacket. It’s certainly a great movie to finish everything off with a dramatic story, funny comedy and some wonderful acting from the entire cast. The middle section of the movie tended to sag a little bit but overall it was excellent. There’s even a montage of still photos from the drama series up to this movie over the end credits to bring some nostalgia for the viewers. I will miss Bayside Shakedown but I’ll be able to watch the drama series, specials and the movies to remind myself over the years just how good it was. Thank you Aoshima, Sumire and the Wangan police officers, it’s been a pleasure watching you.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Lesson of the Evil

High school teacher Seiji Hasumi is the most popular teacher at his school who has earned the respect of his colleagues and the affection of his pupils. When rumours of exam cheating using mobile phones rears up one day in the staff room, Hasumi suggests using body searches and signal jammers but that idea is swiftly put down. However there are other numerous problems in the school that Hasumi uncovers such as bullying and secretive student teacher relationships. When one of his pretty female students comes on strongly to him, Hasumi responds back in a very unteacherlike manner! The mask that Hasumi is putting on that he’s a kindly saviour to his pupils and a model teacher to his colleagues begins to slip. He blackmails 2 colleagues who are having affairs with students but soon turns to murder to cover his tracks. Then Hasumi explodes into an orgy of violence against his class during a festival they are preparing at their school one evening. Trapped with the doors to the outside locked, will any of Hasumi’s students manage to survive the carnage that ensues?

With Takashi Miike at the helm, viewers should know by now to expect the unexpected with the movies he directs and this one certainly managed to shock me with the brutal and relentless violence that takes place during the 2nd half. It doesn’t start out that way although we are given a taster that Hasumi may not be quite the nice guy we think he is by showing a flashback sequence to when he was a teenager when he grabbed a large knife and quietly crept upstairs to confront his parents in their bedroom who were thinking of turning him in to the cops after discovering he’s responsible for a string of murders. The first half of the movie is relatively sedate introducing us to the teachers and students but showing us that life at the school that Hasumi is employed isn’t so cosy and there are impending signs of Hasumi’s dark side coming to the fore by showing us that he lives in a ramshackle house out in the wilds listening to the song Mack The Knife. Two crows (linked somehow to Norse mythology) seem to be watching the teacher’s every move at his house and we can clearly see that Hasumi is a sick man when one of the crows is fried as he has electrified a contraption he has rigged up outside. Gradually we are shown some of Hasumi’s past when he went to study abroad in New York where his violent impulses came to the surface once more and he murdered one of his so-called friends. The urge to kill is never far from his mind but the way he manages to surpress his evil thoughts from the pupils that adore him is quite sinister. In a way Takashi Miike lulls the viewer into a false sense of security because what happens next after the first hour is a tour-de-force in excessive bloodshed as Hasumi turns psycho, grabs and loads his trusted shotgun and begins a systematic slaughter of his entire class. No one is spared and the way he goes about blasting his charges at point blank range may be repetitive but it is ever so shocking. Seeing Hasumi’s twisted and bloodied face as he loads his shotgun over and over before firing into the helpless and defenceless bodies of his class with some begging for mercy is something I won’t forget in a hurry. Perhaps it was the cinematic experience that made the shotgun blasts ring out loudly because at times it made me jump in my seat. From taking a quick peek at the rest of the audience in the cinema it seemed everybody was numbed by the horror that unfolded on the screen, one or two people had their mouths gaping open not believing what they were seeing. I’m sure the excessive shooting that takes place in this movie will make it unwatchable for some viewers. Miike shows us during the orgy of violence that Hasumi is so mentally ill that he believes the shotgun is seen to have a human face of sorts on it and it talks back to him!

Lesson of the Evil screenshot

Hideaki Ito turns in a fine performance as Hasumi and the way he charms his way into his pupils’ lives by not being just their teacher but also their friend just makes his turn to the dark side all that more disturbing to watch. A couple of the teenage cast are given fairly substantial roles but for the majority we are not given any background to them at all. That would have taken too long to establish in the movie so don’t expect any kind of character development apart from that of Hasumi.

It looks likely that Miike will be making a sequel to this movie judging by the ‘to be continued’ sign that came up before the end credits. With Hasumi arrested by the cops and two of his class miraculously surviving, my guess is that the story will perhaps take place a couple of years later with the two survivors at university and Hasumi somehow escaping from prison and wanting to finish off the job he couldn’t do before but that’s just my idea of what the sequel could be. We will just have to wait and see what Miike will come up with. Takashi Miike’s movies don’t usually make me wince at the violence but this one did. Maybe it was because the victims were all young? Despite the carnage of blood I still enjoyed this movie but it definitely won’t be for those easily offended or the squeamish so be aware of that before you decide to see it in the future.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Evangelion 3.0

Set 14 years after the events of the last Evangelion movie in which Third Impact was accidentally started by Shinji whilst trying to save Rei but was aborted half-way by Kaworu piercing Eva 01 with the Lance of Longinus, we begin with Asuka and Mari teaming up to defeat an Angel before retrieving Shinji who has been frozen in Earth’s orbit for all that time inside the impaled Eva 01. Shinji wakes up in an intensive care ward to find the world he knew before has gone. The people he had grown to like have aged. Tokyo 3 and the Geofront have been totally abandoned and Misato has formed a splinter group called the Wille with some key NERV personnel in their giant ark-like ship The Wunder. Their goal is not only to fight against the Angels but also NERV’s Evangelions as well. Shinji’s father Gendo Ikari is still in charge of NERV with SEELE pulling the strings in the background. He is still trying to complete the Human Instrumentality Project. Shinji is confused as to why Asuka and Misato are so cold towards him and why he has been fitted with a device attached to his neck which will explode should he even contemplate trying to destroy the world again. He finds some of the answers he requires from the mysterious Kaworu who tells him he could fix everything if he were to create Fourth Impact. What will Shinji do? Is the words he hears from his friend Kaworu enough to persuade him to destroy everything once more?

This was the first movie that I watched whilst I was in Tokyo and a movie that I was so excited to see on the big screen. The third in the Rebuild of Evangelion franchise ventures into uncharted territory with this movie and bravely (or foolishly depending on your opinion) changing character dynamics which will certainly split fans’ opinion. The viewer was given a brief showing of the world post-Third Impact in The End of Evengelion and in this movie it is developed even further. The opening battle which sees Mari (in her pink eva) and Asuka pitting their wits against a deadly Angel is fast and exciting and contains some brilliant action sequences which made me a fan of the series in the first place. However, if you think that this excellent start is just a taster for some more wonderful Angel/Eva action you are going to be sorely disappointed. Eva 3.0 is quite a slow movie and is more of a character based drama which focuses quite a lot of the friendship of Shinji and Kaworu though the final action set piece will make up for the lack of excitement that occurs through the middle part of the story. Furthermore director Hideaki Anno it seems is up to his old tricks again with this movie fairly confusing in what it’s trying to say with many fans scratching their heads and not having a clue what’s going on. More questions than answers are given and many things are left unexplained. Maybe this was his way of saying f**k you to the fans once more? He doesn’t want to give us a simple explanation and prefers us to try and work things out on our own. Who knows? The Evangelion TV anime was always tagged as being a little bit difficult to follow with it’s concept and symbolism so there’s nothing new in that respect with the Rebuild movies. Some fans might not agree with what Anno has done with this movie but I liked what I saw.

Evangelion 3.0 screenshot

By leaving Shinji stuck in Eva 01 for 14 years, some of the characters we knew and loved from the TV series have changed. The biggest change of all is with Misato who is no longer the lovable beer swilling woman who cared for Shinji. In this movie she comes across as a bitter battle hardened veteran who is aggressively trying to stop Fourth Impact from occurring by trying to subvert Shinji and Kaworu and making sure that NERV doesn’t get their grubby hands on the pair. Quite a risky move to change a character who was a big fan favourite and I must admit to not really liking what Anno has done with her. Thankfully my favourite character in Asuka even though she is now an adult remains the hot headed person from before and her appearance shows she has not aged externally at all (the explanation given that she’s been exposed too much to LCL). She is still frustrated with Shinji but as for the will they won’t they romantic undertones that previously happened between the two – with time having moved on, that aspect of the two’s relationship has been thrown out of the window. I’m still unsure as to the purpose of the new character in Mari Makinami Illustrious who was introduced in the 2nd Evangelion movie. She doesn’t add anything to the plot at all and in this movie she’s just a person that has some friendly banter with Asuka which begs the question why Anno created her at all. It can’t be to provide some fan-service can it? Perhaps she’ll be getting a fairly substantial role in the final Evangelion movie? Shinji it seems is slightly different from before – no longer a whiny individual, he is simply a bewildered, lost and frustrated person as to what is going on all around him. He’s all alone, his former friends in Misato and Asuka are no longer the people he recognises from the past and when he demands an explanation to what’s going on they don’t tell him so he turns to Kaworu instead. As for the last of the main characters in Rei Ayanami she doesn’t have that big of a role in this movie but remains the quiet softly spoken enigma we’ve all come to love.

I haven’t mentioned anything so far on how the movie looks overall. The mix of traditional and CG animation for the movie is incredible – crisp and sharp and it looks gorgeous on the big screen. The designs for the Angels and mechas on show are great to see. The soundtrack contains some stirring and rousing music that’s been a staple of the series and singer Hikaru Utada returns from her brief hiatus to give us a memorable and melancholic end song which was appropriate for the mood of the movie.

To sum it all up, I think this movie sets things up very nicely for the final Evangelion movie which will probably see a large conflict between Wille and NERV. You can see that this clash is on the cards pitting Eva against Eva.¬† I enjoyed watching this movie very much. As for the grumblings from the fans after watching this movie perhaps some were just expecting way too much – maybe they wanted more all out action with Anno giving us a nice, clear and concise explanation as to the overall arc of the story. This is Anno after all we’re talking about here and that was never going to happen. The slight changes to the major characters was somewhat surprising and daring because Anno must have known that some fans would not take too kindly to seeing their favourite characters become unfamiliar to them but apart from not liking at all to what they’ve done to Misato, the overall traits of the main characters remain the same.

I look forward very much to seeing the conclusion to the storyline and I hope I won’t have to wait too long for it.

Sadako’s Rating – 4 stars out of 5

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