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Archive for May, 2013

no flowers without rain poster

This is the 3rd AKB48 documentary to be released. 2012 was a turbulent year for AKB48 fans as the group said goodbye to its cherished ace Atsuko Maeda (Acchan), a major shuffle happened between teams which would see friends and colleagues being separated, Team 4 was axed, the annual senbatsu election took place in June 2012 and scandals broke out which would see 3 girls resigning in shame and another being moved to another group. For some fans, Acchan’s graduation signalled the end of an era and a time of change for the group. It seems to have started a chain reaction ever since with several members graduating. Even sales are starting to decline a little yet they still managed to maintain their record of selling over a million copies in each of the singles they released in 2012. It’s quite an achievement. The documentary follows the group over a period of 9 months (March – December 2012). It’s maybe not as dramatic as last year’s documentary which saw the members suffering in their work.

Acchan’s graduation is the main focal point of the documentary and her announcement at the end of a 3 day concert tour at Saitama Super Arena in March 2012 was a massive shock to the fans (myself included). Although some of her closest friends in the group had an inkling that she was going to quit, for the majority of her colleagues it was a big surprise that leaves them all in tears. The mood of everybody is sombre backstage afterwards as they contemplate life in the group without their ace. What better time for Acchan to leave than the day after the end of a 2 day concert in August at a location that AKB48 had been aiming to hold a concert for years – the Tokyo Dome.  A culmination of 6 years and 7 months of toil, graft and hard work for the group to reach their pinnacle. It was a dream for many members to perform at the iconic location. The Tokyo Dome concerts marked the end of chapter 1 for the group. It’s just a shame for myself that I never had an opportunity to see the group perform before Acchan left. Tickets to see AKB48 are difficult at best for their theatre shows in Akihabara. As so many people want tickets for their shows, an email lottery system has been in place for many years.

no flowers without rain screenshot
Last year also saw some casualties to the group after 3 members had to resign after being caught by a tabloid magazine fraternising with members of the opposite sex and the viewer sees the aftermath of what happens after their activities are exposed. I was very surprised to see the AKB48 Theater Manager Togosaki take 2 of the resignations so personally and breaking down backstage at a handshake event. It’s well known that Japanese idols cannot date. They sign a contract which specifically states they cannot have a relationship. Breaking this contract usually has severe consequences. Many Western fans are saying this rule is stupid. The majority of the hardcore Japanese AKB48 fans want their idol to be pure and untouched. If only they knew that a lot of them aren’t quite as pure as they think but this virginal image has to be maintained as these fans generate a lot of revenue. You’d be staggered as to how much Japanese fans spend on their idols each year. This rule is unlikely to be changed in the future.

I don’t think this movie will really appeal to everybody but AKB48 fans or those curious to know about a Japanese idol singer’s life. It’s a rollercoaster ride being a fan of the group but AKB48 has bought a lot of enjoyment for me over the past 6 years. I particularly liked seeing my oshimen (the member I support the most) Ayaka Umeda get more screentime than what she had in last year’s documentary. There’s plenty of tears and laughter shed throughout the 2 hours running time. Don’t bet against another documentary coming out early next year to cover 2013’s events.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5 (yes I’m biased but hell I’m a fan after all!)

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Aka Chinese Super Ninjas

Two rival kung fu schools engage in a sparring contest to find out which one is the best.  One school thinks they have the upper hand as they have a Japanese samurai with them but they are defeated. As is the case with a samurai losing, he commits ritual suicide but not before summoning his ninja pals. The ninjas then challenge the school and the master sends out his best students out to fight them. Staying behind at the school is cocky young pupil Shao and Chi Shang. The students are massacred by the ninjas with each group representing the 5 elements – blue water ninjas, red fire ninjas, brown earth ninjas, wood ninjas and golden ninjas armed with gold umbrella shields. Not content with wiping out the school’s best students the ninja leader decides to send a femme-fatale to get inside the school and send out detailed information on the layout of the place. The ninja woman Senshi manages to befriend Shao after he ‘rescues’ her from being assaulted outside the school. Having played the damsel in distress role so well, she is accepted inside the school and after getting the information she requires it is sent on a piece of paper by an arrow where it is intercepted by a member of the ninja school. The ninjas attack the school in a night-time raid and kill everybody apart from Shao who is captured. Due to an old trick he learnt he is able to escape and seek out his old master who he hopes can teach him the art of ninjitsu. Armed with his new knowledge and with help from 3 students from his old master, Shao decides it’s time to settle the score and destroy the ninjas once and for all.

This is one of the most imaginative Shaw Brother movies I’ve ever seen containing incredible action and gory battles. The director Cheng Cheh who helmed the excellent 5 Venoms movie pulls out all the stops and throws in the kitchen sink with this fast pacy story which doesn’t relent from the first scene.  You may have seen other ninja movies but this is probably the standard by which you can judge the rest as these ninjas are the baddest bunch of men you’ll ever see with their colourful costumes and their nasty weapons such as the golden ninjas and their shields which can blind an opponent and also fire projectiles to the red ninjas who use smoke and fire to their advantage. Then we have the wood ninjas who disguise themselves as trees and use claws to kill with the water ninjas dragging their prey underwater before despatching them. The brown ninjas are also cool as they hide underground and thrust spears up to the surface to maim their enemies. The confrontation with the ninjas is quite a violent bloody affair with the red stuff sprayed liberally around and one of the good guys literally tripping over his own intestines which are hanging down from his body. Naturally the heroes get their own back eventually with the ninja leader having his arms and legs ripped off from his body! The story and acting isn’t too bad but I don’t think the majority of viewers will be too bothered about that. It’s the fantastic martial arts choreography and blood soaked deaths most people will be interested in seeing……………and perhaps the beautiful femme fatale ninja Senshi who dresses in a revealing fishnet stockings type costume!! I liked how original this story is in using elemental ninjas – never heard of a movie using these kind of ninjas before.

5 Element Ninjas
Five Element Ninjas is perhaps the ultimate ninja movie. It’s got everything you’ll ever want in a cool ninja movie with loads of great action scenes, gore, superb martial arts choreography and there’s not a dull moment in it. Forget your arty farty Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon fighting up trees on wire rubbish, this is what it’s all about!! Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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detectiveconan6 baker street

Conan and the Detective Boys attend the launch of a new VR game called The Cocoon in which players are put into individual pods and a special helmet put on their heads where their avatars play the game. Luckily for Conan and his friends they are one of the 50 players selected to try the game out in front of a packed audience. Conan has a vested interest in the game as one of the computer engineers who worked on The Cocoon has killed himself by jumping off a building. There are 4 scenarios for the game and Conan selects the one in which the players are transported to London in the 19th century where they have to find and identify the mysterious Jack The Ripper. However a rogue AI named Noah’s Ark hijacks the game and threatens to kill all 50 players if nobody can win the game. As the players start dropping out of the game like flies can Conan’s skills win the day? Meanwhile Conan’s dad is on the trail of a killer in the real world as several people associated with the game are murdered.

This is my 3rd Detective Conan movie and it was every bit as enjoyable as the other two I’ve watched though perhaps not as gripping. The story which involves Conan and the Detective Boys running around a virtual London was exciting and there’s a short cameo appearance near the end of a certain famous detective as well. I thought perhaps Conan and Holmes might be joining forces in the movie but it doesn’t happen. The problem that faces Conan in this movie is simple enough – identify Jack The Ripper to win the game and free the rest of the players. It’s in the real world where the proper mystery is happening with trying to find the killer and it’s up to Conan’s dad and the police to track him down but it requires Conan’s intelligence to link things together as well to aid those on the outside. Jack The Ripper and the city of London in the late 19th century is a time period I have a lot of interest in so I enjoyed the locations in the movie. I probably liked that aspect a bit more than what was happening in the real world. I did find something about the plot a bit confusing in that I thought that once a player had lost inside the game they would die in real life as well. After thinking about it I then assumed that the players would only die after the last player had failed to win the game. It’s quite a suspenseful movie with some excellent action sequences and plenty of clues to unravel before the case is wrapped leaving the viewer satisfied at the outcome.

Detectiveconan6 screenshot

Even if you’re a complete newbie to the adventures of Conan Edogawa there’s no need to feel like you’re going to be thrown into an on-going arc that’s been playing in the TV series anime. This is a stand-alone story as most anime movies are and there’s even an introduction to Conan and how his body got shrunk to that of a kid by the villainous Black Organisation. Don’t be misled by how young the main character is in thinking that this is a kid’s anime because it is not. Detective Conan is aimed towards the teenage and adult market.

The Phantom Of Baker Street is another worthwhile instalment in the Detective Conan franchise and a fun case for Conan to solve. I’m looking forward to checking out more of the movies (up to 17 so far) soon.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Takeshi Kitano is a director that’s best known for his gangster movies and he makes a statement saying he wants to ditch making those kind of movies and try something new. We see him attempting a variety of different genres but everything turns out to be a failure before he decides on the setting for his latest venture – a sci-fi comedy drama called The Promised Day. The plot of this movie involves an asteroid which is scheduled to slam into the Earth in a week’s time. Scientists discover that this asteroid has 2 faces on it resembling a mother and daughter which the movie cuts back to on Earth. Kumiko and Kimiko are two eccentric characters who are in debt and are on the lookout for the latest scam to make money. Their latest money-making scheme involves a president of a company and his consort Kichijoji who they mistake to be his son because he dresses like a school kid. The movie charts the women’s madcap adventures with a plan to get Kimiko to marry Kichijoji .

I’m sure some people have no idea that Takeshi Kitano was a full-time comedian before he turned his hand to being a director in the 90’s and started making yakuza movies. Even though those movies have been successful, he always wanted to make a comedy movie. His first attempt at a comedy ‘Getting Any’ wasn’t that well received (I thought it was quite funny!) so he went back to the yakuza genre. He tried again at making a dark comedy movie with ‘Takeshis’ which audiences liked so then he came round to doing this movie. In this part mockumentary, part sci-fi comedy, Kitano is making fun of himself once more. Whilst ‘Takeshis’ poked fun at the work he’s done so far, this movie makes fun at genres that Kitano hasn’t tried out in his movies yet. The first half which sees Kitano attempting various genres such as a period drama and a j-horror movie is funny but it’s during the second half when The Promised Day is played that the movie really comes into its own. It’s wacky, insane, totally off-the-wall and some of the stuff that went on in this movie did go over my head although I’m sure that Japanese audiences understood everything very well. The mother and daughter combination (Kumiko and Kimiko) are the main characters in this movie and are very eccentric with one carrying a giraffe doll on her back and the other has a goose puppet on her arm. There are some genuinely funny sequences in the movie. One such scene takes place at a restaurant where Kumiko and Kimiko are trying another scam in which hope to get a free meal by placing a cockroach in their meal and complaining about it. Unfortunately a couple of wrestlers are eating in the restaurant at the same time and find a cockroach in their meal. When they start to complain a couple of burly muscular waiters emerge from the back. What follows is a wild wrestling fight inside the restaurant which spills out outside in which the wrestlers are destroyed by the waiters. The expression on the faces of Kumiko and Kimiko with all this chaos going on all around them is priceless and they decide to drop their plan! Another scene at a karate dojo is also very funny. If the scenes above sounds like something you might find humorous then you will enjoy the movie. Not everything works in this movie mind you but the majority of the jokes do hit their mark. Unfortunately the movie does run out of steam by the end.

GLORY TO dl 3

Takeshi Kitano plays himself in the movie or should I say the Beat Takeshi character when he was a manzai comedian and he carries around a lifesize doll of himself which takes his place in certain situations when he feels under pressure, uncomfortable or in a tight squeeze (i.e the doll gets beaten up by some thugs or thrown over the side of a bridge)! Kayoko Kishimoto and Ann Suzuki are fantastic as the mother and daughter Kumiko and Kimiko. The rest of the supporting cast are actors that Kitano regularly employs in his movies.

Glory To The Filmmaker is sure to divide opinion but then again I don’t think this movie is for everybody. He’s made this for his fans and only they will appreciate this movie. It all depends if you like his style of comedy whether you’ll enjoy this movie or not. The viewer gets an idea of what type of humour Kitano likes and how his imagination works. I love how he makes fun of himself in such a self-deprecating manner. I found the movie to be surreal, rather unique and very funny.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Kamikaze Taxi DVD

Tatsuo is a young yakuza footsoldier who is given the task by his boss of finding young attractive prostitutes for an elderly corrupt Japanese senator by the name of Domon. Domon is rather a violent man though with these women and the majority are returned bleeding or battered black and blue. When Tatsuo’s girlfriend protests to his boss about the rough treatment the women are getting she is unceremoniously beaten to death by him in front of Tatsuo’s eyes and he cannot do a thing about it. He swears revenge on Domon and together with 5 of his fellow yakuza lackeys plan a heist to steal 2 million yen from Domon’s house in a daring night-time raid. Whilst the raid comes off as planned and the group escape to a small retreat in the country, it doesn’t take long before Tatsuo’s boss and his associates find the group. Only Tatsuo manages to escape with the loot, the others are murdered. Tatsuo decides with the money to go back home to Izo to buy a new gravestone for his mother and he hires a taxi from Tokyo to take him there. It would be easy for Tatsuo who has a gun to force the quietly spoken taxi driver named Kantake, a Peruvian-Japanese who has come back to the country to look for work to take him to his destination but he decides not to do that. Tatsuo’s boss has eyes and ears everywhere and soon he is tracked down. Following a violent confrontation in which he escapes once more and with the taxi driver finding out about Tatsuo’s links to the yakuza, he teams up with him in his quest to destroy Domon. Will Tatsuo be successful in even getting close to Domon in order to murder him or will his boss’ cronies find him first?

At first glance Kamikaze Taxi might seem like any other yakuza movie you may have seen before but it’s not as embedded into the storyline is a commentary about Japanese xenophobia, the delicate subject about kamikaze pilots used during WWII and also comfort women. Director Masato Harada is openly critical of the discrimination that lies hidden within Japanese society and of the country’s aggressive stance during WWII. The entertaining action scenes and interesting characters combined with tackling the social issues stated make for a very good movie so don’t come to watch this expecting a straight-forward crime drama. The issue of Japanese-born immigrants who are treated as outsiders when they return back home is something the movie spends a lot of time focusing on and this is because of one of the main characters Kantake, the taxi driver who’s been made an outcast not by choice. His developing relationship with Tatsuo is made all the more fascinating during the various conversations the viewer witnesses between the two during the movie. Both characters have a connection with kamikaze pilots. I won’t reveal Kantake’s revelation in a pivotal scene near the end but Tatsuo who could keep running for the rest of his life decides to stop hiding, return to Tokyo and fight back against his employers. To him it feels like a suicide mission the kamikaze undertook that will end with his death. To many viewers of this movie it might come as a bit of a surprise how many cultural issues are hidden under the surface in Japanese society. The thorny subject of comfort women (women who were basically used as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers in occupied countries) is something the Japanese government has tried to sweep under the carpet for many years, even going so far to deny there ever were such women. This has angered Japan’s neighbours in China and South Korea who have asked for an apology on many occasions but have yet to receive one. It is rare for such a controversial issue to be discussed in a movie which is why I like this one very much with a director not afraid to criticise his own country for past crimes. I also like the way he takes his time to develop and explore the various characters in the story and adding some depth to them plus how he has managed to create a part yakuza part road trip movie.

Koji Yakusho is excellent as the quietly spoken Kantake who speaks with broken Japanese. On the surface he looks like a gentle person who enjoys talking about Peruvian culture with Tatsuo but towards the climax we see a different side to him. A person who is not afraid of using violence. Kazuya Takahashi is also brilliant as the young yakuza Tatsuo. Reiko Kataoka is also added to the mix as the prostitute Tama, another woman who has been on the receiving end of Domon’s violence. She joins Kantake and Tatsuo on their journey in the second half of the movie. An unlikely trio as ever you’ll see to take on the might of a yakuza family.

Despite the long running time (2 and half hours) which might put off some people, never once did I feel this movie drag. It kept my interest from start to finish. It’s an exceptional and engaging movie from a talented director. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Mika is a flight attendant on board an airplane from Sydney which is scheduled to land at Haneda Airport.  On the flight an explosion in one of the airplane’s engines starts a fire. To make matters worse another engine explodes and wrenches itself off the airplane. The Captain and his co-pilot struggle valiantly to control the plane and desperately try to make a safe landing at Haneda but there’s another problem with the landing gear not working properly. The airport authorities scratch their heads in thinking how they’ll be able to land without major casualties onboard. In order to save the 346 people on the airplane, sea marshall Daisuke Senzaki and his team are called into action. Senzaki proposes a belly flop landing in Tokyo Bay to the Captain using lights with buoys attached to them in order to make a makeshift runway at sea. The Captain agrees but the Japanese Coastguard only have a 20 minute window to save everybody onboard before the plane sinks. Will the rescue go according to plan?

The 4th Umizaru movie is a welcome return back to form after the lackluster 3rd movie which was set on-board an oil rig. It has a dramatic exciting storyline and it grips the viewer from the get go which includes the spectacular landing on water by the aircraft and the heart-stopping rescue of the passengers. It’s in line with the previous installments in that the plot is all about the heroism of one individual, the team spirit amongst the rescue divers and never giving up even when the odds are stacked up against you. Some viewers might argue that apart from a different setting the plot has basically been rehashed in all 4 movies. That might be true but the punters aren’t complaining about it.

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Hideaki Ito gives another solid performance as Daisuke Senzaki and 8 years down the road  from first playing him in 2002 he knows the character inside out by now. He’s ideally suited to playing the determined Daisuke. He does have that leading man look about him and it doesn’t surprise you that he is a popular actor with women. The numerous shots showing his muscular body probably goes down well with them! Daisuke is a likeable character who appeals across the board to both men and women. An avid family man and loyal husband when he’s not working combined with his courage and bravery makes him endearing to his colleagues and to the viewers. Of course there has to be some tension in the movie for Daisuke and that comes in the form of his immediate superior who doesn’t like that he has a tendency to not follow orders and his recklessness puts his colleagues in danger. He lets Daisuke know in no uncertain terms what he thinks of him. When one of Daisuke’s closest friend and colleague goes down with the stricken aircraft having managed to rescue his stewardess girlfriend and become trapped in the process, Daisuke has no hesitation in diving into the murky depths of Tokyo Bay to see if he can somehow get his friend out even though he has been underwater for sometime. What follows is rather unbelievable and the viewer has to suspend belief but it does give the movie a triumphant ending and a feel good factor. It is during the rescue of their diving colleague that the bad blood brewing between Daisuke and his superior is forgotten and there is a new found respect between them after their success. Ai Kato returns again to play Daisuke’s wife who has to suffer through watching the live news of the rescue if her husband is OK or not. It makes you wonder having gone through so much how she hasn’t had a breakdown of some sort!!

Brave Hearts Umizaru was a massive hit during the Summer of 2012 in Japan. One has to wonder due to the popularity that the franchise continues to hold over the general public whether they’ll be a fifth movie or will they end it on a high? As a blockbuster movie it ticks all the right boxes and I really enjoyed it.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Outrage_Beyond

The story is set a couple of years after the events of Outrage. Otomo is in prison for his actions and his enemy Kato sits nicely on top of the Sanno yakuza empire after betraying his former boss.  Helping Kato out as his no.2 is Ishihara, a traitor who betrayed Otomo. Dissension starts to occur within the Sanno family with some members unhappy that Ishihara is leading them on a path that they aren’t familiar with (politics) and all the while pushing the old guard out of the picture. Into the mix comes a police inspector Kataoka who hears of the troubles inside Sanno and due to the non-cooperation from Kato he plans to destroy them. His first action is to release Otomo early from his prison sentence to stir things up as he has a score to settle with Kato and  Ishihara and then have him form an alliance with the Hanibishi family.  Otomo’s release from prison makes the upper echelons of the Sanno family very nervous and they make plans to eliminate him. The conniving inspector Kataoko also encourages the disgruntled Sanno members to ask for help from the Hanibishi as well. Otomo also reunites with his old gun man Kimura who has a nasty knife scar running across his face. Although they had a violent altercation in Outrage, Otomo forgives him. With the battle lines drawn between the Sanno and Hanibashi families and with Otomo in the middle of all the chaos, it all boils down to an explosive confrontation!

This was another movie that I had hoped to have watched in the cinema when I visited Japan during November/December 2012 but as this movie was released in early October it had come to the end of its theatrical run by early December. As a sequel I did think it had a stronger storyline than the first. Kitano has confirmed that studio bosses have asked him to make a third movie so you can bet your bottom dollar that another sequel to wrap up all the loose ends will be made.  Expect an announcement from Kitano in the future.

Outrage-Beyond-Screenshot
Kitano is an expert on how to weave a well thought out yakuza movie although I did have my reservations at first with this movie. It starts out slow and it’s only until Kitano’s character Otomo appears that the storyline really gets into high gear. You can understand why Otomo wants revenge for all the misfortune that has befallen him. It’s surprising that Otomo is even alive because I thought he had perished at the end of Outrage. I liked the fact that in this movie we have a third party in the police inspector Karaoka who is playing the puppet master in the background and setting things in motion for a showdown between the two yakuza families. As for the violence aspect of the movie I would say it’s a little bit tamer than the first. There’s some stabbings and certainly more gun violence involved and a scene which may put viewers off is one in which Kimura bites one of his fingers off to appease the Hanibishi clan who really wanted Otomo to cut off one of his fingers. Another brutal scene finds a yakuza member strapped to a chair at a baseball bat cage facility with the balls being fired point blank at his face. Kitano is adept at showing some stylish violence. The only problem I found with many yakuza movies such as this is there’s too many characters. It is to be expected from this kind of movie that some of them will not make it to the end credits. The pace of the movie is perfect with the storyline building up very nicely to its conclusion. I did not expect the twist in the final scene. Takeshi Kitano gives a very assured performance as Otomo backed up by a great cast who play the other yakuza members.

Overall, Outrage Beyond is a worthy sequel which carries on the storyline from the first movie. It should satisfy those that love modern yakuza movies and fans of Kitano’s previous works. Now all we can do is wait for the final part of the trilogy to arrive.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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