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Archive for January, 2013

Woman In The Dunes (1964)

womaninthedunes dvd

An amateur entomologist is on a 3 day break from his work as a high school teacher. He arrives on the coast looking for a unique sand beetle that lives amongst the dunes close to the sea. Falling asleep on a boat, he is woken up by a couple of men who tell him that he’s missed the last bus back to Tokyo but he can stay overnight in a shack owned by a young widow. Accepting the kind offer, the man climbs down to the shack by rope ladder into a huge sandpit. After having a meal by her, he finds out that each night she shovels sand which encroaches onto her shack and threatens to engulf it into some crates which are then hoisted up to sell to a construction company. Waking up the next morning, the man prepares to leave but as he ventures outside he finds the rope ladder is gone. He is trapped with no exit. He tries several times to climb up the sand dunes but he fails each time. He turns on the woman hoping she can provide some answers on how he can escape. How will the man manage to escape his imprisonment?

Having watched director Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Pitfall recently, I turned my attention to probably his most famous piece of work which has quite rightly been hailed a masterpiece by critics and Asian movie fans alike. It’s certainly a unique and surreal movie which you won’t forget in a hurry. It’s a fascinating study about human nature, survival and the primitive animal that’s lurking inside all of us. The viewer is witness to the transformation of the man over the course of the movie. At first all he wants to do is escape and he tries several times to do so but every chance ends in failure but as the story comes to it’s climax an opportunity arises for him to finally have freedom and he doesn’t take it even though by now he’s been a prisoner in the shack for several months. It’s like all the trappings of modern society has been stripped away from him and he’s enjoying the simple life in the shack, being confined and living on bare essentials. I found it a very hypnotic story and maybe that’s due to the fantastic cinematography on show which gives the movie at times a very dreamlike quality to it especially the scenes showing us the bleak shifting sand dunes. You’ll come to see the sand itself as a character in the movie – an unstoppable force which is alive and unpredictable. It’s also quite an erotic and sensual movie as the man develops a bond with the young widow and finally succumbs to her charms as they wash each other’s bodies of sand in a very intimate scene before having sex. I’ve read that some people have commented that you could call this movie something akin to an episode of The Twilight Zone and I guess I’d agree with them on that note. There’s an air of mystery to it all and it is quite an eerie and gripping story. The minimalistic soundtrack is so fantastic.

WomanInTheDunes screenshot

The movie relies on the superb performances of it’s two leading performers to carry the story on their shoulders. Kyoko Koshida is brilliant as the woman that’s resigned to her fate in the shack. It’s not like she’s down in the dumps about this at all as she comes across as a very calm person. It makes you think why doesn’t she want to escape especially since the sand has consumed her husband and daughter and by shovelling it into crates every night she might very well come across their bodies in the future. She obviously doesn’t want to change her life and is content where she is. This is in complete contrast to Eiji Okada’s magnificent portrayal of the man who thinks her attitude to the situation she finds herself in rather ridiculous and his reaction to all of this is to try and escape. But as the days turns to weeks for him in the sandpit he becomes accustomed to it eventually becoming just like the woman. The chemistry between the two characters is excellent.

Woman In The Dunes is a visual feast for the eyes with a story that you’ll be drawn into. It’s long running time demands viewers’ patience but stick with it. It really is well worth watching. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Dead Sushi (2012)

dead sushi

Keiko is the daughter of a sushi chef who runs away from home when her father’s demands to combine martial arts and sushi making proves a bit too much for her. Landing at a remote resort hotel, she finds a job as a waitress where one of her first customers is serving for a president of a pharmaceutical company and his colleagues. Unknown to all of them, Yamada, a former researcher at the company who was framed and thrown into jail thanks to the president is also in the area and living as a vagrant. He’s angry at what happened to him and thanks to his research has found a way of creating killer sushi. Soon a horde of flying killer sushi is let loose in the hotel and the only people who can fight back is Keiko and former sushi chef Mr Sawada plus an unlikely little ally named Eggy!!

To be perfectly honest, when I first saw the trailer for Dead Sushi many months ago I immediately dismissed it as a load of crap and I didn’t have any intention of watching it. However, when the opportunity arose to buy the DVD I did hesitate at first whether I was doing the right thing but seeing as Noboru Iguchi has entertained me in the past I thought what the hell and went ahead in purchasing it. I wasn’t really expecting much with this movie but I have to eat my words as this is such a fun nonsensical movie which had me laughing a lot. It’s completely insane and I didn’t expect to be entertained quite so much. Iguchi pulls out all the stops in this low budget movie to create a hilarious OTT camp gory comedy horror movie which has to be seen to be believed. So inventive with a lot of incredibly bizarre sights and great gags! If you’ve seen his other works you know by now what to expect. We get to see flying sushi with sharp teeth which have squeaky voices and start attacking staff and guests at the hotel, two sushi having sex and producing offspring, sushi rice zombies, a sushi armed with a flame thrower, a sushi battleship and even Yamada being reborn as a human sized tuna after eating sushi which has been injected with a serum. Then there’s the added pleasure of hearing an egg omelette sushi singing!!!!! As expected with this kind of movie the cheesy CG blood is spurted around like there’s no tomorrow with some eye popping, exploding facial skin, a chef hacking off his own nose and half his face with a kitchen knife, a decapitation and a woman being eaten alive by mini sushi until only her bloody bones are left!

deadsushi screenshot

I really don’t know how the cast managed to keep a straight face on whilst filming this movie but one can imagine there was much merriment going on during the production. A lot of why this movie is so good is down to the wonderful Rina Takeda as Keiko who is fantastic. She’s such a likeable, cute and endearing actress. Rina has said in the past that she’s a big fan of Jackie Chan and his movies. Here she gets a chance to demonstrate his style of comedy with her acting in this movie. I’m not sure if Rina didn’t want to be typecasted in just serious martial arts roles so that’s why she’s shifted recently to comedy? I do hope that she’ll go back to doing a serious martial arts/action movie in the future. She does have some fight scenes in this movie and even gets a chance to making fun of Bruce Lee in one scene with the climax seeing her square off against Yamada the mad axe tuna man and his secret weapon. She even gets to use sushi nunchakus!! The rest of the cast are obviously well up for the silliness of the plot with the women walking around in various stages of undress and one couple parodying a moment from the classic movie Tampopo specifically the egg kiss scene.

Those that love these kind of Japanese splatter comedy movies will find this movie very enjoyable and director Iguchi really delivers on gore and laughs. I thought Dead Sushi was hilarious. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Memories-of-Murder-dvd

1986 Gyunggi Province. The body of a young woman is found brutally raped and murdered. Two months later, a series of rapes and murders commences under similar circumstances. And in a country that had never known such crimes, the dark whispers about a serial murderer grow louder. A special task force is set up in the area, with two local detectives Park Doo-Man and Jo Young-Goo joined by a detective from Seoul who requested to be assigned to the case, Seo Tae-Yoon. Park personifies the policeman who goes with his instincts and his fists, bloodily challenging every small-time crook in the area to confess. In contrast, Seo pores over evidentiary documents related to the case and inevitably the clash of styles leads to tense rivalry. From the fact that not a single hair is ever found at the scene, Park takes off to search the area’s temples and public baths for men with pubic hair disease, while Seo finds a pattern in the evidence of women wearing red on a rainy day as the victim’s profile. On a rainy day, the detectives set up a trap in order to forestall another murder. The next day however, yet another woman is found murdered. The solution to the murders grows fainter and drives the detectives to ever greater despair.

I will go on record here to say this is probably the finest Korean movie I’ve ever seen. It’s a masterpiece. Powerful, gutwrenching, even humorous at times with a taut script, this movie about South Korea’s first ever serial killer is one that nobody will ever forget after watching it. It’s also based on a true story in which 3000 suspects were questioned and 1.8 million cops were involved according to the prologue. Despite the police’s best efforts, the killer was never found and is still at large in South Korea. It seemed the killer was calculated, meticulous and always one step ahead of the police in everything he did. The story begins in 1986 with the discovery of a woman’s body with her hands tied in a drainage culvert, this sets off a chain of events in which more victims turn up. Each victim has been strangled by their own stockings. The two local detectives on the case including their chief are clearly seen to be completely out of their depth. They also don’t seem to have a clue as to how to keep a crime scene clean until the forensic team arrive with kids and even tractors trampling over vital evidence. Enter Detective Seo Tae-Yun from Seoul who provides a different approach to the case. Instead of using brutality to coerce a confession out of suspects, he uses a more rational way of trying to find the killer. It’s inevitable that he and the local detectives clash. But even with Seo Tae-Yun on board with some clues being found, it becomes apparent that the police force is becoming desperate to nail this sadistic killer. Pinning their hopes on a man with smooth hands after a confession from a female victim who wasn’t killed and the fact that he sent a request for a song ‘Sad Letter’ to be played on the radio on every night a woman is killed, the 3 detectives begin to investigate him. With some evidence sent to the US for verification because South Korea didn’t have DNA testing at the time, they hope that it will prove without a shadow of a doubt that this is their man.

memories-of-murder screenshot

The story is so engrossing and compelling. It sucks you right into the investigation and you definitely feel the frustration of the detectives building up as more bodies turn up. It might not have the Hollywood theatrics of Se7en or The Silence Of The Lambs but don’t believe for a second that this movie is inferior to them in any way shape or form. The movie also gives a good history lesson about the state of South Korea during the mid 80’s when it was still under a military dictatorship with martial law being declared at night with an air-raid siren going off, social unrest happening on the streets and schools participating in an emergency rehearsal in case of an attack by the North. Director Bong Joon-ho has crafted a fantastic suspensful thriller with beautiful haunting cinematography and an amazing soundtrackwhich keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the 2 hours or so running time. If I had to pick out highlights from the movie it would come down to the fantastic chase scene during the night and a brilliant free-for-all brawl at a restaurant as tensions boil over from one of the detectives who has been suspended due to overuse of violence on a suspect. Don’t expect to find a happy ending to the story though there is an intriguing final scene at the location of the first murder.

The acting from Song Kang-ho, Kim Roe-ha and Kim Sang-kyung as the detectives on the case is excellent and it’s sad to see them fail in their task to being the killer to task despite giving their all to the case day after day. It’s interesting to see how the relationship between the 2 country detectives and the city detective develop as the story progresses. Initially there is a rivalry between them due to their differing styles of investigating – the country pair are either lazy or plain stupid as they blatantly frame suspects and play the good cop/bad cop routine in order to get a confession but all three men become bound together by frustration as each clue they find brings them no closer to catching the real suspect.

Memories Of Murder is an unmissable movie. It’s an exceptional movie in all aspects and I have no hesitation in highly recommending it.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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Sex Is Zero 2 (2007)

Sex Is Zero 2

Law student Eun-sik and swimming champ Kyung-ah are a couple in a university whose relationship has been solid for three years, Eun-sik struggles to proceed to the ‘next step’ with Kyung-ah, and despite the help and support of his friends, does not manage to get her into bed. Making things worse is Gi-joo, a current prosecuting attorney and Kyung-ah’s old boyfriend, who keeps interfering with the couple. Eun-sik fears that Kyung-ah will turn her back on him and is determined to get her back…

The Korean equivalent to American Pie returns with a sequel due to the popularity of the first movie and reuniting the majority of the cast. Even though the story and some of the jokes have been recycled, it is still a very funny movie and IMO better than the first. With director Yoon Je Kyun coming back to helm this movie, he made the point of making sure the bar was raised from the first movie. This means there are more gross out gags to enjoy such as when 2 of Eun-sik’s friends stick a lollipop up the arse of a person who is drunk and sleeping in his room. When they pull it out it falls on the floor and who should come in to the room at the time to pick it up and put it in his mouth is Eun-sik himself or when he is caught dry-humping a statue whilst completely drunk on the campus grounds with an erection which shocks several women! If that’s the kind of humour you like then you’ll find this movie a lot of fun to watch. It outdoes American Pie with it’s grossness. There’s a lot of risque content as well with nudity and sex. The plot which focuses on the bumps in the road that Eun-sik and Kyung-ah encounter in their relationship is great and they come across as a sweet and likeable couple. Eun-sik belongs to the K-1 MMA university team whilst Kyung-ah is the star player in the swimming team and we get to see plenty of humorous antics between both teams. It’s an excuse basically to see plenty of girls in skimpy bathing costumes which will no doubt please many male viewers! Naturally it’s Eun-sik that gets into trouble a lot with Kyung-ah due to various things that happen over the course of the movie – most of it due to his habit of getting drunk. The fun does disappear in the final 30 mins as the movie turns more to drama as we get to see just how the couple met in hospital for the first time, why Kyung-ah has been reluctant in having sex with Eun-sik and it looks like he has to give up on Kyung-ah due to her interfering mother who insists that she go to America with Gi-joo to have a better life with him. I was glad it didn’t go down the dark road of the first movie but there are plenty of tears shed. It’s heartbreaking as Eun-sik tells Kyung-ah that he wants to break up with her in a bar. As he doesn’t tell her a valid enough reason for why he wants to finish, Kyung-ah desperately tries to cling on to the relationship. It is only after a nasty riposte from Eun-sik about Kyung-ah’s past that makes her walk out saying she doesn’t want to see him ever again. The realisation dawns on him on what he’s done and the viewer sees Eun-sik with his head in his arms, slumped down and crying hard. You will feel for him. Thankfully the story gives us a heartwarming ending that leaves everybody satisfied and happy. The cast look like they had a ball making this movie which can be seen in the out-takes during the end credits. Comedian Lim Chang Jung and Song Ji Hyo are excellent as Eun-sik and Kyung-ah.

Sex Is Zero 2 screenshot

If you’re a person that’s not offended by gross out comedy and loved the first Sex Is Zero movie then you’re bound to find this movie rather entertaining and hilarious.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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street-of-shame

Five prostitutes work at Dreamland, in Tokyo’s Yoshiwara district. As the Diet considers a ban on prostitution, the women’s daily dramas play out. Each has dreams and motivations. Hanae is married, her husband unemployed; they have a young child. Yumeko, a widow, uses her earnings to raise and support her son, who’s now old enough to work and care for her. The aging Yorie has a man who wants to marry her. Yasumi saves money diligently to pay her debt and get out; she also has a suitor who wants to marry her, but she has other plans for him. Mickey seems the most devil-may-care, until her father comes from Kobe to bring her news of her family and ask her to come home.

This would prove to be Kenji Mizoguchi’s last movie before his death from leukaemia in 1956 but what a great movie to bow out with about a small group of women having to work as prostitutes in order to survive and support their families post World-War II. It’s also a bit of a propoganda movie in that Mizoguchi is constantly seen as trying to go against the politicians in Japan who were debating about outlawing prostitution at the time when brothels were a legitimate business. The movie on numerous occasions has the cast listening to some radio announcements that the motion has failed. Whatever Mizoguchi was trying to do it didn’t work as shortly after the movie was released the Diet passed a bill to ban prostitution. Unlike Western countries, prostitution has a different stigma attached to it in Japan. Mizoguchi’s directing is as good as it ever was and the world he creates suggests he may have had some experience of visiting brothels.

street of shame promo

The 5 women who we meet in the movie have not been forced into selling their bodies but don’t feel they have no other way of making money. Most have some debts to settle and with one or two even having been sold to the brothel’s owner by their families as they were so poor. Some dream of one day escaping from their work with one women even hoping the prostitution bill will be passed so she can leave the brothel. Each of the characters we are introduced that work in the brothel has an interesting story to tell and are well written. Rather than focus on their profession, the viewer comes to see them as human beings with their flaws, weaknesses, warts and all. Their stories are convincingly told in such a short space of time. A particular favourite of mine is Yumeko’s story which is compelling as we see that her young son does not agree with what she’s doing. She’s wracked with guilt but at the same time what else can she do? The money that she has earned has gone back to her parents in the country who are raising her son. Her plight is made all that sadder when her son who is so ashamed of her job turns his back and rejects her. The movie is heartbreaking as we realise that the women are unhappy with what they’re doing and have dreams that will likely never come true. Mizoguchi manages to make the viewer sympathetic to their cause. Here we have 5 women who are waiting for a brighter and better future but until that happens they are stuck in a job peddling their bodies. The brothel’s owner likens himself as a social worker who is looking after these poor women and giving them a job. The final scene of the movie is powerful as the viewer sees a new girl on the job, a young virgin on her first night who looks on from behind a corner slightly frightened as she watches her co-workers trying to pull in the punters.

The ensemble cast especially the actresses playing the prostitutes are fantastic in their roles and pull in strong performances. Machiko Kyo is probably the standout actress as the tough, cocky loudmouth Mickey who wears westernised clothing and there’s a brilliant scene when her father turns up at the brothel where she works. The viewer is shocked when she even propositions him for money but her world is quickly turned upside down when he says that her mother has died the previous year and she knew nothing about it.

Street of Shame is an excellent movie from Kenji Mizoguchi. Who knows what other masterpieces he would have directed had he not died at the young age of 58? It’s a movie one should not miss and is definitely worth checking out if you like classic Japanese movies. It’s a gritty and honest study of prostitution in Japan in the mid 50’s. Highly recommended.

No trailer but here’s a clip when Yumeko meets her son and she is shattered by what he says to her.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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A Snake Of June (2002)

A Snake Of June DVD

Rinko Tatsumi works as a telephone counselor for a Tokyo-area suicide hotline. Her husband is Shigehiko, an older, workaholic businessman, that has a obsessive compulsive order for cleanliness. Their marriage is a sexless relationship, that seems to be more cordial than intimate. Rinko soon receives a packaged in the mail that contains photographs of herself sitting by her window and masturbating in a semi open public view. Another package arrives with a cell phone. The photographer calls and identifies himself as one of Rinko’s past clients that is not interested in money. Instead, the caller wants Rinko to confront her unfulfillled desires and sexual fantasies. From there a relationship between the stalker, Rinko, and Shigehiko occurs in a tense game of hidden desires.

From the twisted mind of Shinya Tsukamoto comes this tale of a repressed woman’s sexual awakening. The first half of the movie is straight forward and easy to follow but in the second half when the story switches to focus on Rinko’s husband it goes a little bit weird with all kinds of strange and surreal sequences. It’s not something I enjoyed watching to be honest. Actually I thought I was beginning to understand this story in that I believed Tsukamoto was telling the viewer to live their life to the full and they should free themselves from their inhibitions. As the movie goes into full-on bizarre territory I gave up trying to make sense of what Tsukamoto’s intent was and just let everything fly over my head. I also began to lose interest in the movie. It’s one of those movies which you’ll either love or hate depending on whether you like some of Tsukamoto’s other movies. There’s no doubt of the man’s creative talent as a director but some of his work I’m not really keen on. Take for example Tetsuo which nearly everybody harps on about being brilliant but I can’t say I was a fan of that movie at all.

A Snake of June screenshot

I do like how the movie has been shot in blue-tinted monochrome which gives it a unique look and it compliments the many scenes with rain in the background. Rain features a lot in this movie which fits in with the title of the movie as June is when the rainy season hits Japan. There’s a lack of warmth in the movie due to the way the director has chosen to film the story the way he has. I’m quite impressed with Tsukamoto’s visual style in the movie, it’s got his stamp all over it. It’s just a shame that the story about desire and voyeurism which I was beginning to really get into just turned into what I would call a mind-bender during the second half. Despite what you’ve read about the plot above it’s not as exploitative as you think it is.

The performances by the 3 lead characters especially by Asuka Kurosawa is fantastic. Kurosawa made a brave decision to take on such a daring role and she excels as Rinko oozing sexiness as she parades in a micro-skirt around the streets of Tokyo prompting looks by everybody that passes her. You can see how she has become so repressed as her much older husband Shigehiko prefers to spend his time scrubbing the bath rather than pleasing his wife sexually. Is it any wonder that Rinko resolves to buy herself a vibrator! A lot of male fans will like the scene when she decides to strip off naked outside in the pouring rain. Iguchi, the blackmailer who is dying from cancer that is telephoning Rinko to follow his instructions is played by none other than the director himself. We don’t know what his intentions are at first other than trying to make Rinko fulfil her innermost desires.

A Snake Of June will probably be enjoyed more by surreal art-house lovers and those that like to be intellectually challenged rather than casual Asian movie fans who will most likely be left baffled.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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Osaka Elegy DVD

Ayako Murai is a young woman working as a telephone operator in 1930’s Osaka. In order to pay the debts of her father, unemployed and threatened with arrest after embezzling ¥300, she agrees to become the mistress of her employer Mr. Asai. After paying her father’s debts she then continues working as a mistress, this time for another workplace admirer, Mr Fujino, in an attempt to help pay her brother Hiroshi’s university tuition fees. When she attempts to fool Mr Fujino into giving her extra money, so she can marry her boyfriend Nishimura, he calls the police and she is arrested for soliciting. Upon her return home she is ostracised by her family and her boyfriend and forced to leave home.

This is one of Kenji Mizoguchi’s earliest masterpieces about Japanese women and their struggles in a male dominated society although the best of his works was yet to come. The story that unfolds is made even more sad due to the fact that the main character Ayako is only trying to protect her father and family in what she does but they turn their back on her in the end and she is left all alone. She is basically pushed by family pressure into becoming a mistress to pay back the money that her pathetic and cowardly father has taken. Ayako gets no support from her self-centred brother and her naive little sister. She throws away her dignity and is made to pay the price for it in the end by being publicly shamed with her name splashed over the newspapers. It’s embarassing in Japanese society for a family when their name becomes tarnished. A black name against a family can stay with them for a long time sometimes even for a generation in some cases making life somewhat difficult for them. I was surprised when I found out that Mizoguchi had based this story on his own sister. She was sold into being a prostitute for a rich man by her own father as they were quite a poor family. Thanks to the money coming in from his sister, young Kenji was able to go through school and be educated which would lead him on the path to becoming a movie director.

Osaka Elegy screenshot

The movie has a compelling story with some great acting from the cast especially Isuzu Yamada who is excellent as Ayaka. The viewer sympathises with her situation and can see the dark road she is leading herself down throughout the movie. The script is written well and the camera techniques used by Mizoguchi such as long takes, light and shadows and outdoor night shots of Osaka only enhances the movie. Certain scenes such as the bunraku puppet play in the theatre or when Ayako’s boyfriend discovers her double life are memorable moments but it’s the final scene of the movie which usually gets picked as being the best by critics as Ayako walks towards the camera, stares into it before walking off. It makes us think what will ultimately happen to her – will she have a bleak future or will she find happiness? As it’s only a 71 minute movie, the plot zips along at a quick pace.

Osaka Elegy was the first Kenji Mizoguchi movie to show how brilliant a director he really was. It gave him a lot of acclaim in Japan and would provide the springboard for the success he would so rightfully get in the future. Recommended if you enjoy early Japanese cinema.

There’s no trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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