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Archive for June, 2014

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A family of four (mother, father, 2  young sons) live on a harsh and arid small island off the south western coast of Japan. Their daily routine involves the mother and father going to the mainland by boat with two large buckets to fill them with water and then returning to the island to irrigate the crops they are growing on the steep slopes. The two boys tend to everyday chores whilst they are away but still have time to attend school and have fun. It’s a tough life for the family but they have no choice if they want to survive.

Simplistic and no frills are just two of the words used to describe this excellent movie which portrays the endless struggle of a family on a small inhospitable island. Every day they perform the same meaningful tasks day in day out in order to make a living and survive. Director Kaneto Shindo (better known for his other works Kuroneko and Onibaba) takes us on a journey with the family through the four seasons. It’s also a personal movie for Shindo as he went through a similar experience as a child with his parents so this is like a tribute of sorts to them. He even funded the movie out of his own pocket as nobody wanted to finance it and apart from the 4 cast members, Shindo employed just 13 people to make the movie. What’s surprising about this movie is there’s no dialogue being spoken between the main cast. Instead he lets the expressions on the faces of the family to let the viewer know their emotions. Many viewers will find this movie to be tedious and repetitive as we are shown the same scenes of the mother or father going off in their boat to the mainland, filling 2 buckets with water, returning back to the island to carry them up the steep steps on the hillsides before using the water to use on the crops. Nothing really happens except for two incidents. The mother is seen to struggle with the weight of carrying these buckets of water and on one occasion she stumbles and the contents of one bucket is spilled. This infuriates the father who gives her a hard slap across the face. This serves to show how the family cannot afford to make any mistakes. They’re a poor family after all and it is only through sheer hard work and effort they are able to survive. In one scene, the family are enjoying a trip to the mainland for pleasure but also for business where they are desperately shown trying to sell a medium sized fish that one of the sons caught on the island to the restaurants there. This is a family that doesn’t really enjoy life. It’s just a battle every day to make ends meet. To be honest it feels like the family are stuck in the past – it’s like everybody else has moved on with the times. One only has to look at their amazement when they see a TV set in the window of a shop.

Naked Island screenshot

The story takes a dark turn during the second half of the movie when the older son falls ill when the parents are off once again on their jaunt to the mainland for fresh water. The youngest son cannot do much apart from wait for his parents to return. The father heads off back out in his boat to look for a doctor but unfortunately it’s too late to save him. The family however have little time to grieve. Time waits for no-one and the crops have to be tended. As the days go by after his death, the mother eventually cracks upon the strain and she is seen ripping up some of the crop in anger at what has happened. The father only looks on and does nothing about it. Once she’s got that out of her system, everything returns back to normal – a reflection that even though they may have lost their son, they simply must carry on regardless. There are all kinds of interpretations the viewer can take from watching this movie. What I got out of it was the country meaning Japan’s will to continue to work even after tragedies (Hiroshima/Nagasaki).

What I loved most of all about this movie was the beautiful compositions the director takes of the island and its surroundings. Recurring shots of the bay with other islands in the background is simply stunning to behold. Apparently the island that this movie was filmed is somewhere off the coast of Hiroshima. It is these scenes that made me wish that this movie was in colour. I’m sure it would have looked incredible in full technicolor.

All in all, I was amazed at this movie. It’s the simplicity of it all that makes it so special and the superb acting by the cast. Look at it, appreciate the life that you have and be glad that you don’t have to struggle like the family in this story. If you’re a fan of classic Japanese cinema, you must watch this movie. Highly recommended.

This isn’t the proper trailer but a fan made one for an event:

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Kotsutsubo (2012)

Kotsutsubo

Eri is a quiet unassuming schoolgirl who stumbles upon her friend Mitsuko being attacked in a classroom by a perverted male teacher. She decides that in order to stop this behaviour she will gather some powdered ashes from a cursed grave hidden deep in some woods and put it in the teacher’s drink. However her plans go awry when another girl Katou who knows about what she’s going to do gives the poisoned drink to a female schoolteacher who promptly goes mad and throws herself from a window at the school. The perverted teacher discovers what is going on, snatches the ashes and decides to take revenge on those who have tried to kill him. Two of Eri’s friends are killed in mysterious circumstances with several limbs missing from their corpses. It seems that in disturbing the cursed grave and retrieving the ashes, the spirit of the dead person is angry. With the police investigating the murders, can anybody stop the vengeful spirit from killing more people?

Boasting 4 members from 4 different female idol groups in the cast, this is just your bog standard J-horror which never tries to do anything different than resorting to cheap and poor scares featuring a long haired female vengeful ghost and throwing in some gore. Don’t expect to see anything new in this movie. If this movie will scare any of you out there I can’t really say but it failed to do so with myself. I’m not sure if the director wanted this movie to be a vehicle to showcase some members of various idol groups or not but fair play to the 4 girls they all act reasonably well. Even though the plot may be unoriginal, it still manages to build a good amount of tension and suspense. It also explores themes of friendship and betrayal which is common in Japanese high school horror movies. The storyline does keep you guessing at times and there is a hint that the ‘bad teacher’ might have murdered a schoolgirl many years ago. The case remains unsolved to the cops investigating the current crop of murders.

Kotsutsubo screenshot

Ex-AKB48 Team A member (although she was still in the group at the time of filming) Natsumi Matsubara takes on the prominent role of Eri. She gives a good account of herself as the schoolgirl who thinks that by stealing the cursed urn and its contents for revenge against her teacher it will make everything alright without thinking of the consequences that happens afterwards. I was happy to see Idoling!!! member Rurika Yokoyama as Mitsuko in this movie. Back in 2009 when I was over in Tokyo during a hot and sticky August, Idoling!!! were performing right outside the Fuji TV HQ on a stage during the annual FNS Summer festival. I was the only foreigner in a sizeable crowd of people and wearing an orange t-shirt. I must have stood out as Rurika kept constantly staring at me during her performance. When the group left the stage, Ruriko glanced once again before smiling and waving at me which was nice of her. So since that time Rurika has been my favourite member of Idoling!!! Rounding off the 4 leading roles are Rina Miyazaki from SUPER☆GiRLS and AeLL member Ai Shinozaki. I can’t say I’ve heard of the idol group AeLL.

Depending on whether you’ve got nothing better to watch, you might want to give this a whirl. It’s not too bad a movie (I’ve seen a hell of a lot worse) but it doesn’t help itself by copying various elements from other J-horrors. Just average for me I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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Pet Peeve (2013)

Pet_Peeve

A student moves into a new town to start university. Finding work at a restaurant and meeting a woman named Yoko, he notices a strange customer (a man with a hat that hides his face) who sits down in a corner. He is warned not to go near him by Yoko but his curiosity prevails and he goes over to ask him if he needs anything. When the man says nothing, the student goes back to serving more customer but when he turns around the strange man has disappeared. This is only the beginning of mysterious happenings that takes place in the town.

This is a bizarre if not an imaginative J-horror based on the manga Fuan no Tane. I have no idea who chose the English title for the movie as I believe the proper translation for the manga is Seeds Of Anxiety which sounds much better than Pet Peeve (I actually think that’s quite a poor title and it doesn’t fit in with the movie’s plot). There are many bizarre images in the movie such as a man who has been cut in half after a motorbike accident and is still alive. How a person can be cut in half after falling into a bush I don’t know but that’s just one of the odd things which you’ll see in the movie. Other strange happenings on show here is two men seeing a woman walking in front of them. They think she looks hot from behind with her short skirt and are desperate to see her face but when they go to have a look they are confronted by nothing but straw! Yes, you’ve read it correctly – a straw face!!! There’s also a sticker which looks like an alien face that marks people for death whenever it sticks on that person’s property, some weird like eyeball worms which seep out from under a road and get crushed by cars and trucks and ghosts with twisted faces.

Pet Peeve screenshot

There are several plots taking place in the movie and everything is out of sequence so you’re constantly going back and forth between the past and the present. This may confuse some viewers and nothing is really explained why all these odd occurrences are taking place. I suggest you do exactly what I did – forget trying to work things out and just prepare yourself to be scared by what transpires onscreen. The movie makes for a refreshing change from the usual J-horrors and there’s not a hint of a long-haired female antagonist around either! It’s also unpredictable as you’re never really sure what’s going to happen next. There’s an ominous atmosphere of fear and dread pervading throughout the movie. The female student Yoko knows more than what she’s letting on which may be due to the fact that she went through a very traumatic experience as a child when her family was murdered by an unknown assailant in a very gruesome sequence and the student is haunted by the mysterious man with the hat who stands outside his apartment all the time. As the movie had a small budget, the CGI effects look uneven at times (the man sliced in half looks particularly bad). The acting is adequate though nobody really stands out. I suppose it’s Anna Ishibashi that I thought was the best as Yoko who is quite a complex character and goes through many mood swings during the movie. She flies off in a temper all of a sudden in certain scenes for no apparent reason – don’t know if that was because she was frustrated by her boyfriend’s (the new student) actions or not. The movie is directed well enough by Toshikazu Nagae and credit to him for coming up with something a little bit different from the norm.

Provided that you don’t really care about the jumbled up plot, you should have a fun time watching this movie. There are some really disturbing images which gives you the creeps and a couple of scares to be had. All I can say is just give it a whirl and see what you think. Some might like the bizarreness of it all and others might dislike it because of the unclear plot. I enjoyed it anyway.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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In the line of duty 6

Two cops Chen and Hua (one from Mainland China and the other from Taiwan) go to Hong Kong on the trail of smugglers who are using the city as a temporary base to hide 600 guns before it is shipped on to Taiwan to sell. Their confrontation with the smugglers on the streets raises the ire of the HK Police who are furious with the two for bringing their fight to the city. They assign a tough female detective Madam Yeung to assist them with the hope of bringing the criminals to justice. The only problem with trying to catch the smugglers is they have better firepower than the cops which brings danger to everybody concerned.

Viewers who have been following the ITLOD franchise from the beginning will have seen the standards have slightly dropped since no.4 and this one unfortunately whilst having a couple of nice set pieces never really hits the heights that were achieved in the first 4 movies. It starts out really well with Cynthia Khan’s character having a great one-on-one fight on top of a 16 wheeler truck which continues with a running gun battle on the streets before it ends on a high in the last 15 mins with a brilliant gunfight battle at the smugglers lair. Sadly it all falls apart during the middle section where things slow down and the dialogue between the two male cops and the HK police is more about the differences between the law in the colony and that of the pair’s respective countries. The Chinese cop falls for the sister of the chief smuggler which complicates matters. It also has some comedy that isn’t funny at all – an example of this is the Chinese cop not knowing how to work a microwave oven and he promptly blows it up in Cynthia’s apartment. Some of the lame brained comedy on offer may even upset some viewers (the talk about homosexuals in a bar is particularly cringe-worthy and rather offensive).

In the line of duty 6 screenshot

There’s a lot more focus on the two leading male characters in this movie which means that Cynthia’s screentime is less than the pair which I thought was a mistake. The fact that the pair squabble all the time is rather annoying as well. Naturally all of this is resolved as they realise that only by teaming up with each other can they take down the bad guys. The movie only comes alive when Cynthia gets to do what she does best – kicking ass and taking no prisoners. It’s particularly memorable in this movie as she fights in a rather tight short skirt which will please many male viewers!! I’m not sure how she was able to perform certain kicks with that skirt – one guy goes flying with tremendous speed from one kick (it’s like he’s attached to a large rubber band that snaps back). She even gets to smooch with the Taiwanese cop right at the end of the movie before she comes to her senses and gives him a good right hook in the mouth which ends the movie.

This is certainly not one of the best entries of the ITLOD franchise. The action scenes are too sporadic throughout the movie and isn’t that exciting apart from Cynthia’s initial fight. It just about managed to maintain my interest. Just one more movie (Sea Wolves) to go before I’m done with watching all 7 in the franchise. I only hope it’s a bit better than this one!

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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The Flu (2013)

The Flu movie poster

A container which is full of Hong Kong illegal immigrants arrive at a port in South Korea. When the smugglers open the container the people inside are all dead except for one survivor who flees from the scene. The man is infected with a deadly variant of the bird flu virus and soon the virus starts spreading all over the city of Bondang, a rich suburb of Seoul.  As thousands become infected with the disease, the government orders the army to lock down the city in order to contain the virus. Extreme measures are put into place which angers the citizens of the city. Anarchy and chaos soon takes over. Dr Kim In Hae is a part of the scientific taskforce charged with trying to find a cure but first they must find the survivor and hope his blood contain antibodies.

This is a cracking South Korean apocalyptic blockbuster disaster/thriller. It shows the terrifying consequences of what happens when a variant of the bird flu virus is released and it spreads like wildfire amongst the population. There is no cure and the fatality rate is 100% within 36 hours. The plot contains a lot of edge-of-your-seat drama and it has a good pace about it. It’s true that comparisons to Outbreak and Contagion will happen but I thought that this movie was much better and more enjoyable than either one. The story concentrates on 3 individuals – a rescue worker, a female doctor and her cute young daughter. The rescue worker falls for the female doctor after saving her from a car accident. The female doctor has a personal reason than most to find a cure for the flu as her daughter has been infected. What the movie also does well is show how the government tries to contain the epidemic with many difficult decisions having to be made. You can feel their helplessness as the disease threatens to get completely out of control and perhaps engulf the world. The sense of magnitude of what is taking place is shown in all of it’s gory detail with dead bodies scattered around and sick people coughing up vast amounts of blood. There’s a horrifying scene as the viewer is shown the eventual fate of anybody who’s got the flu virus. They are to be thrown into a mass grave where they’ll be incinerated by flame throwing military personnel. Ji-Goo bravely rescues Mi-reu before she’s about to be torched. There’s a bit of a sly dig at South Korea’s ally in the US as the villainous advisor to the Korean Government who orders a missile strike at the climax to wipe out Bondang by fighter jets is American.

The Flu screenshot

The emotional side to the story is mostly carried by the young daughter Mi-reu who is separated from her mother and she finds a friend in the noble hero Ji-Goo who becomes sort of like a surrogate father to her. The rapport between the two characters is touching. I’m sure there’ll be some tears from some viewers during the climax when Mi-reu reunites with her mother in a zone where anybody crossing from the quarantine district into the non-infected area is shot on sight if they go over an orange line. There is more than a fair share of melodrama introduced during the second half as Asian fans are known to like this sort of thing in their movies. It’s not all doom and gloom in the story as the comedy relief is provided by Ji-Goo’s co-worker.

Soo-ae and Hyuk Jang give convincing performances in their roles but it’s the plucky little actress Min-ah Park that stands out. She is incredible as Kim Mi-reu. She’s definitely one of the best child actresses I’ve seen. I may not be a parent myself but I so wanted to protect that little girl from all the horrors she was exposed to during the movie. You start to care for the 3 main leads as to what will happen to them.

This is a fantastic disaster movie which joins numerous others that Korea has produced over the last couple of years. It’s well written with just the right amount of tension and suspense, it has a terrific pace about it and has superb acting from all the cast. This is a great comeback movie from director Kim Sung-su whose last movie came out 10 years ago. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Puella-Magi-Madoka-Magica-Movie-Posters

Madoka Kaname is a pretty high school girl who along with her friend Sayaka come across a strange white creature named Kyubei after it is attacked by some evil witches and is saved by a magical girl. Kyubei tells the girls they can make a difference in the world by becoming magical girls themselves. At the same time, a new girl Homura Akemi transfers to Madoka’s class. She is a magical girl herself and warns Madoka not to take up Kyubei’s offer. Madoka and Sayaka meet yet another magical girl in Mami and seeing Mami in action finally persuades Sayaka to become a magical girl. However, in her next encounter against some witches Mami is killed in action. The reason that Sayaka has become a magical girl is to help heal her childhood friend (and secret crush) hand. Soon after Sayaka is led into a confrontation with a cocky magical girl named Kyoko Sakura. Each magical girl has a small egg shaped amulet called a soul gem (which contains their powers) and the awful truth about them is revealed to Madoka.

Based on the hugely popular late night anime series which aired in 2012, this is unlike any magical girl anime series/movie you may have seen before. This movie is basically a recap of the first 8 episodes of the anime series with some slight tinkering  to make it look better.  All conventional aspects of the magical girl genre is turned upside down in this movie into something darker which makes it all the more interesting although you’d never think that in the first 20 or so mins. This is nothing like the cutesy Sailor Moon or the Pretty Cure magical series – most of the girls in this story don’t get on with each other. It’s every magical girl for themselves as they battle each other for the energy that comes with fighting witches. The witches that the magical girls battle isn’t what you would think of as a traditional image for a witch. These witches come in all shapes and sizes and make for formidable opponents for the magical girls. Most don’t even appear in human form.

The characters the viewer is introduced to are all interesting. The most interesting of all is the floppy eared cat-like Kyubei who rather than coming across as cute is very manipulative in trying to persuade Madoka and Sayaka to become magical girls. Think of him as the anti-Luna (Luna is Sailor Moon’s guardian cat). He gives the girls plenty of promises about granting the girls a single wish if they accept his offer but fails to inform them what the offer really entails. The reality is having to sell their souls which gets transferred into the soul gem and their life as they once knew is over. Pain and suffering is the order of the day in fighting the threat of the witches and bringing balance to the world. In Sayaka’s tragic case, Madoka sees what happens to her friend once her transformation is complete – there’s a price to be paid for having her wish come true. In trying to make Sayaka change her mind into becoming human once more, she throws away Sayaka’s soul gem but this only makes Sayaka collapse and die. This is because the soul of the person is inside the gem, the body is more or less a husk and once the soul leaves the close proximity of the wearer the person dies. The tone of the storyline becomes incredibly dark by the time the end credits appear. If a magical girl’s soul becomes corrupt with hate or sadness the soul gem they possess darkens, turns into a grief seed transforming its wearer into a witch such is the case with Sayaka.

puella_magi_madoka_magica movie screenshot

Each of the other characters such as Mami and Homura are fascinating in their own right. Homura is like a thorn in Madoka and Sayaka’s side, constantly urging them not to become magical girls and you’re thinking to yourself why this is the case. There’s a revelation should Madoka become a magical girl she would be the most powerful one of the lot and Homura doesn’t like this idea. Mami is more of a nicer person than Homura and becomes friends with both girls but even she perishes during a fight with a witch. No magical girl is truly safe from the power of the witches. Add to that mix, the last out of the 5 major characters in Kyoko and you have a storyline that hooks you in and never lets go.

This is just the first out of a trilogy of movies. The next movie Eternal covers the last 4 episodes of the anime whilst the final movie ventures into new territory with the story. I really enjoyed this movie. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting but I’m so glad I made the decision to give this movie a bash.  The new slant on the magical girl genre was refreshing and I can’t wait to see the next instalment soon. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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police story 2013

Captain Zhong Wen is a decorated police veteran who is trying to recover from the death of his wife. He agrees to meet up with his estranged daughter Miao Miao at a nightclub which is holding a special event. As Zhong, his daughter and all the guests arrive there, the nightclub is locked down by the owner Wu Jiang where he intends to hold everybody hostage. Making things even more complicated for Zhong is the fact that Wu is Miao Miao’s boyfriend.  This isn’t just a random hostage situation. Wu has invited the guests to his nightclub for a purpose. The hostages all know each other and it boils down to a tragic incident involving Wu’s little sister. The nightclub has also been primed with a bomb. Will Captain Zhong be able to save the day?

This, the 6th Police Story movie in the franchise is unrelated to the first 4 movies and is completely different in tone. What’s really annoying by associating it with Police Story is action fans will expect this to be a high-octane fast paced movie filled with stunts and martial arts fights. I’m sorry to disappoint you all but this movie has none of that. This is more of a serious police drama rather than a thrilling ride – something like New Police Story which came out in 2004. The days of Jackie Chan doing incredible stunts I believe are well and truly over. As I’ve said before when reviewing other recent Jackie movies, time has caught up with him. He can’t be expected to do that kind of work anymore. The guy is still nimble enough and I’m sure if he really wanted to do an all-action movie he could but he’s gone on record in saying he wants to slow down and concentrate on more dramatic roles. Maybe it’s a case of ‘been there, done that’. Fair enough I say.

police-story-2013 screenshot

This is a character driven and tense drama which works fine for the most part. Jackie plays a policeman seeking redemption as he tries to patch up his relationship with his daughter who admits he was a bad father in the past as he took more interest in his work than family matters. I have to admit that the plot was a little bit lacklustre and the fact that the movie doesn’t have a good enough villain didn’t help things either. The first half is dull and plodding but things pick up slightly in the second half as the viewer is shown flashbacks on why Wu Jiang has taken these people hostage. It seems all of the people had a hand in the death of Wu Jiang’s little sister who had her throat slashed in a tense stand-off between Captain Zhong and a man who had taken her hostage. Wu Jiang wants to know the truth as to what happened to her. There are a couple of decent action scenes which include a brutal cage fight between Jackie and a Thai fighter. Jackie is banged up pretty well in this movie – not content with being beaten up, he’s also shot in the chest as well. It’s just a shame that the action scenes are full of CGI effects and fairly short.

Jackie is OK in this movie and he proves that he can take a dramatic role by the scruff of the neck and make it look believable for the viewer. Zhong is quite a serious character so there’s none of the trademark JC humour in the story. Tian Jang is the eye candy of the movie as Jackie’s rebellious daughter. She sadly doesn’t get to do that much except look beautiful. Lie Yu performs well as Wu Jiang but he doesn’t make for a good villain at all.

Overall, this is just an average police drama and is worthy of only being watched once. There’s nothing memorable that sticks out in my mind about this movie and IMO it’s completely forgettable. Let’s hope Jackie can pull off one more brilliant action movie like he did in the past just to remind his fans that he’s still got it. Even though Western fans might be disappointed here, the same cannot be said about people in Mainland China who loved this movie. It proved to be a massive success there.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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