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Archive for October 31st, 2014

ESPY

The International Psychic Power Group are a secret society of people with special mind powers (called ESPY) which is funded by the United Nations. Their aim is to stop evil doers from threatening the peace on this planet. One evil group (Anti-ESPY) has already killed 4 delegates on a train in Switzerland who were on their way to broker a deal between the East and West as tensions are already high which could spill over into a war. The Baltonian (a fictional country) Prime Minister who is over in Japan for a conference with the Japanese PM is next to be killed by this group which is led by a super villain named Ulrov. The good guys recruit a racing driver named Miki who is showing extraordinary psychic abilities and his pet alsatian dog Caesar. These abilities helped Miki from having a crash in his racing car on the circuit track. Miki’s first assignment with his new colleagues Maria and Tamura is to help protect the Baltonian Prime Minister. Will the ESPY group manage to defeat their enemy and prevent WWIII from starting?

This is a cool Japanese cult movie which is part action, part espionage and part sci-fi movie all rolled in one with a teensy bit of exploitation thrown in as well. You could say that this movie is a precursor to the 80’s movie Scanners as it shares similar plot threads. There’s a James Bond movie feel to it as well as the plot goes jet setting over Europe and Japan and features a larger than life super villain who wants to rule the world. The main focus of this movie is not on the newcomer Miki (though it is for a little while) but on the lovers Maria and Tamura who can read each other’s minds perfectly. The psychics in this movie know when danger lurks and can warn one another. They can also use the power of their minds to hurl heavy objects against each other and even stop somebody from pulling the trigger on a gun. Some of the psychics can even use hypnosis and teleportation to their advantage. I’m not sure why director Jun Fukuda wanted to add some sleaze to proceedings when Maria is kidnapped by the bad guys. They lure her lover Tamura to their strip club somewhere in Istanbul, Turkey where he is locked into his seat and forced to watch Maria who is under hypnosis doing a sexy dance in her underwear. If that’s not enough a token foreign black bad guy comes in, rips off Maria’s top exposing her breasts and just when he’s about to kiss her Tamura uses his psychic abilities to tear the black guy’s tongue off!! The violence on display is quite strong as you see people exploding (quite literally!!!).

espy screenshot

The head of the Anti-ESPY group named Ulrov definitely comes from the Bond school of villainry as he hides in a large mansion full of traps for the unwary and has a grudge against mankind. He doesn’t care if WWIII breaks out. Miki’s past comes back to haunt him in the final third after he spends the middle section of the movie moping about after having to kill one of the bad guys and he feels guilty about it. His old childhood friend Julie has sided with the bad guys and wants him dead. She sets a trap for Tamura in his car with a bomb about to explode if he doesn’t get out in 10 mins. Any chance of escape for him looks doomed with the doors and windows locked. Even bullets don’t seem to work but just when you think Tamura is going to die he finds his mojo again (having lost some of his powers after being viciously beaten up earlier in the movie) and he teleports himself out of the vehicle seconds before it’s destroyed. The action scenes are handled pretty well especially the shootouts but I thought the destruction sequences using small models were probably the highlight for myself.

Fans of the Lone Wolf movies can look forward to seeing Tomisaburo Wakayama as Ulrov. He doesn’t cut down anybody with a sword in this movie and his final showdown with the ESPY team is rather short lived. For a character that was portrayed as being a very strong psychic, he’s taken down quite quickly. A far better and more interesting villain is Katsumusa Uchida as a ruthless assassin named Goro. He shows off his skills with a gun in the opening scene of the movie in which he murders 4 UN delegates on the fast moving train from a car by using his psychic abilities. On the good guys side Masao Kusakiri is rather wet as the new recruit Miki who prefers to be in the company of his dog Caesar. The role of the lead ass-kicker in the ESPY team tends to be Hiroshi Fujioka as Tamura. He’s the one that is seen dishing out punches to the bad guys and taking a licking at times as well. The eye candy of the movie is Kaoru Yumi as Maria. There’s something about Yumi that reminds me of Keiko Kitagawa. I did check in case she was a relation of some sort but apparently she isn’t. There are one or two other supporting characters such as the head of the ESPY team and an old Buddhist monk (an advisor to the team) who dies after using up the remainder of his psychic energy to save the team from being killed in an airplane crash after the pilots are hypnotised by Miki’s friend Julie. The trigger of the hypnosis is seeing the aurora borealis.

Overall, this was a fun spy movie with a difference. It has a good pace about it which never lets up so that the viewer won’t get bored. It’s a shame this movie isn’t easily available to Japanese movie fans in the West. I really enjoyed it. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Haunted School

At an elementary school, there is a wing that has been closed off to the staff and pupils with the reason being that it is haunted according to rumours. One day a school girl called Mika follows a beach ball that has a mind of its own into the wing. Hearing the sound of laughter she follows it to an old bathroom and the 3rd toilet stall where she is attacked. Mika’s older brother and her friends decide to go looking for her and enter the wing but find themselves trapped inside when the doors lock behind them. The only option left for them is to venture further in the building and hope they can find a way out and also find Mika. Their school teacher manages to get trapped inside the wing as well and together they must avoid the ghosts that lurk there.

This is the first of a series of movies which was targeted towards Japanese kids/teenagers during the mid to late 90’s and they became very popular at the time. The movie is based on a series of ghost story novels by author Toru Tsunemitsu. It’s a fun and creative adventure romp which reminds the viewer of similar movies that appealed to Western teenagers during the 80’s. I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly scary movie except for perhaps small children.

Haunted School screenshot

It’s more or less a chase movie with the children and their teacher trying to escape from the ghosts they encounter in the school wing. There are some interesting designs for the ghosts/demons from a flying glowing mischievous ghost that sneaks up behind somebody and sticks his tongue out to those that can see him, a 40 foot person whose large feet stomps down the buildings’ hallways and a biology lab specimen in a jar that comes alive. The best one though happens to belong to the school janitor who morphs into a terrifying half human/half demon spider that kidnaps Mika and cocoons her into his web before stuffing her inside a glass cupboard. A reference to the famous Hanako-san legend is made when Mika is kidnapped from a toilet stall although the spirit of Hanako never appears in the movie. There’s a small twist at the end revolving around a schoolgirl that just mysteriously turns up inside the locked old building and joins the gang on their adventure. I sort of had an inkling of what the outcome of this twist was going to be so when it did happen it didn’t surprise me at all.

The young cast members in general perform well in their roles, in fact they do better than the majority of the adults. Hirayama Hideyuki directs this movie competently enough making sure that the ghosts in the story are a little bit scary but not too frightening enough as to give the young audience any nightmares. The story has been written well and the reason for the manifestation of the ghosts is because an old small clay statue has been broken outside the wing. The production values of the movie is quite high so the old fashioned special effects for the spooks aren’t cheaply done. The effects for the upside down room that the gang come across is really good.

Haunted School is a fun movie. It will definitely appeal more to children than adults. I thought it was an enjoyable and entertaining movie and well worth checking out.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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