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Archive for the ‘Drama’ Category

The_Witch_of_the_West_is_Dead_poster

Young teenage girl Mai decides to drops out of high school due to being an outcast. Her overworked parents send her down to her foreign grandmothers house in the countryside for a month so that she can reflect on her decision. Once there, the grandmother tells Mai that she’s a witch and that she can teach her the ways of being a witch. Thus begins a tale in which Mai learns about love and life…….

Contrary to the title of this movie, this story isn’t about Margaret Thatcher, the former UK Prime Minister who was called by some people The Witch Of The West! This is a lovely coming of age movie with stunning cinematography about a troubled teenager who gets an education on life from her wise old foreign grandmother. The reason behind Mai quitting school is pretty weak to be honest – she doesn’t like the clique culture at her school. Whilst it may seem to Western viewers to be a poor excuse, from what I’ve read and seen the bullying culture in Japanese schools by cliques seem to be quite intense leading to depression and in some cases suicide. I’ve gone over this in other reviews so I won’t repeat myself again. In Mai’s case she wasn’t bullied though she was an outcast because she hadn’t joined a clique. There’s a passing reference to racism in that Mai’s mother as she was a halfie had difficulties at school but this is quickly skimmed over and nothing else is mentioned of it probably because it’s a family movie. The movie’s message seems to be more about not passing judgement on people and enjoying life. Mai’s witches training isn’t what you might think it to be – no spell casting here ala Hogwarts. Her grandmother instead asks her to help around the house especially in making wild jam and tending to her herb garden. She also insists on Mai to create her own little sanctuary inside the woods – somewhere where she can relax and mull over things.

Drama and tension is kept at a minimum. Mai doesn’t get on with one of her grandmother’s neighbour – the gruff son of a jolly postman who makes catty remarks about her. This ill feeling is made worse by the fact that the grandmother’s hens are slaughtered one night in their coop and Mai discovers that the neighbour’s dogs are responsible. Mai seems to think that by telling all about this crime to her grandmother she will go round to sort them out but the grandmother doesn’t bat an eyelid and says that even if the accusation is true, storming round to point fingers at the neighbours won’t solve anything. The pair’s relationship is delightful to watch but storm clouds gather on the horizon and due to a misunderstanding they fall out and Mai is even given a slap across the face by her grandmother! The grandmother quite happily sits down in a rocking chair, puffs away on a cigar afterwards with not a care in the world about what’s happened which I found quite amusing! Even though they are still on speaking terms, the warm feeling between them is broken.

Witch of West screenshot

During this period Mai’s father comes round with news saying the family is moving away. Mai goes back with her father and says she will try and attend the new school there. There is no hug or pleasant goodbye between Mai and her grandmother. Things are left unresolved between them. 2 years pass by and Mai has settled down nicely at her new school but then comes dreadful news that her grandmother has passed away. Now Mai feels guilty at having not patched up their relationship and returns to the house to see her body. There is however, a message from beyond the grave for Mai from her grandmother. Even the gruff son of the postman who disliked Mai is nice to her by coming round and paying his respect for the gaijin woman who never said anything bad about him even though he never amounted to anything much.

Mai’s role is played by the pretty young actress Mayu Takahashi and it is Shirley Maclaine’s daughter Sachi Parker (who was raised in Japan from the age of 2 by her father) that portrays the grandmother under a lot of makeup to make her appear older than what she really is. The interaction between the pair which makes up a lot of the movie is great to watch and feels natural. Parker is probably the better out of the two. Her Japanese language skills is excellent but if you’ve grown up in Japan I wouldn’t expect her to be less than fluent.

I really liked this movie with it’s gorgeous cinematography of the woods in which Mai’s grandmother lives. It’s a shame the storyline didn’t elaborate more on the racial problems encountered by Mai’s mother when she was still at school and the underlying tension that existed between mother and daughter but otherwise this was a fine family movie with good performances from all the cast.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Akira Kurosawa Dreams

This isn’t what you would call your typical Akira Kurosawa movie, it’s a trip into his own dreams which is presented as 8 short stories. The stories are:

SUNSHINE THROUGH THE RAIN – a young boy wanders off into the woods despite the pleas of his mother. There he sees a group of magical foxes in a wedding procession of some sort. When he returns home, his mother tells him that the foxes want him to either kill himself or ask for their forgiveness. The boy then goes off in search of the foxes’ lair under a rainbow.

THE PEACH ORCHARD – A boy follows a mysterious girl into some woods where the spirits there curse his family for destroying their peach trees. When the spirits see how sorry the boy is, they perform a ceremony which allows him to see the peach trees one last time.

THE BLIZZARD – Two men walk bravely through a blizzard. As the cold threatens to overcome them with death, a snow witch turns up to torment one of the men.

THE TUNNEL – A former army commander is confronted by dead members of his old platoon after he walks through a tunnel.

CROWS – A man is thinking about the life of the artist Vincent Van Gogh. He enters a world inside one of the artists’ paintings and meets up with Van Gogh himself before walking around a colourful landscape.

MOUNT FUJI IN RED – A nuclear apocalypse takes place in Japan. Panic spreads amongst the survivors who contemplate whether to commit suicide or not?

THE WEEPING DEMON – Linked to the previous dream, a wandering man comes across a mutant. They talk to each other near some giant mutated dandelions about nature taking its revenge on mankind.

VILLAGE OF THE WATERMILLS – The wandering man comes across a Utopian place in a peaceful and beautiful village. After witnessing a ritual, he asks one of the village elders what is going on. He explains that the inhabitants of the village is living in harmony with nature.

akira kurosawa mt-fuji-in-red

It is hard to really know what Kurosawa is trying to tell the viewer in this movie. People can give their own interpretation about each of the dreams but it is only Kurosawa himself that can answer that question and he is no longer alive. It’s his most personal movie – perhaps it is about his journey through life or something else (some say it is all about mankind’s relationship with nature)? Whatever it is, some might see him as being a little bit too preachy in this movie. It isn’t the great man’s most accessible work either to movie fans – it’s a bit arty, too long and with some unanswered questions and symbolism in each story that may leave people frustrated. Each of the dream segments are interesting in their own way but if there was two that really stand out in my mind it would have to be the CROWS and VILLAGE OF THE WATERMILLS. Some critics have said that this movie is more style over story and I have to agree on that. The cinematography in some of the stories is outstanding. CROWS is a visual masterpiece awash with bright and vivid colours as the viewer is taken on a journey around Van Gogh’s art. The story left me awestruck. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful. Every frame in this story is like a painting. The part of Van Gogh was played by none other than Martin Scorscese. VILLAGE OF THE WATERMILLS has a good message to it about harmonising with nature instead of trying to destroy it. Some anti-nuclear rhetoric is quite easy to be seen in the 2 stories MOUNT FUJI IN RED and THE DEMON. The Mount Fuji story is depicted like a disaster movie and very effective it is as well. The acting in each of the stories is great though there’s never enough time for the main characters to be fleshed out.

Whether you like this movie or not, it is definitely one to experience if only for the technical brilliance of it all thanks to the help from George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic. It is probably the most imaginative movie that Kurosawa ever made. Well worth taking a look but I realise it might not be to everyone’s taste.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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home the house imp

The Takahashi family consisting of mother, father, 2 kids and their elderly grandmother move to an idyllic thatched house in the country in Iwate prefecture. The father who is working for a food company has been shipped out there as his ideas for trying to sell something new didn’t work out in Tokyo. None of the family are happy at being there especially the mother and elder daughter though the father tries his best by saying it’ll be cheaper for them to live there. All have trouble adapting to their new way of life and it gets worse when strange things begin to happen for some family members. The grandmother keeps staring into the roof void of the house and then the children begin to see a young face appearing through the window. As things begin to get worse and the family are close to packing up and leaving, they discover the source of the problem………

Some viewers might say that this movie is like a live-action version of Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbour Totoro as the plot is
quite similar to it and some scenes in fact are uncannily familiar. Whereas that movie dealt with other worldy spirits of the forest, this one has a cute young imp as the troublesome spirit that bothers the family. The young imp is supposed to be a male character (but played by a little girl) who is lonely and plays mischevious tricks on the family like looking in through the window and making noises in the night but he eventually befriends the young boy of the house who sees him sitting on a small shrine in the house’s grounds. The spirit made the last owner of the house who was a foreigner to sell up in less than a year.

home the house imp screenshot

The movie doesn’t necessary focus just on the young imp. The viewer sees how each family member tries to integrate themselves into the local community (the young boy trying to join a local football team and the daughter being invited to the school’s swimming team). The father is also vindicated of his past failures when he persuades a local catering firm in trying out his latest food fads and finds they’ve gone down well with the workers. Just as the family feel like they’ve settled down in their new home and things have turned a corner for each of them, the father is asked to go back to Tokyo and work once more in the company’s head office. I really did think the movie was going to have an ending where the father turns down the offer and wants to stay at their new place but that doesn’t happen. The one thing that confused me about the movie was the young imp itself. It is thought to be the spirit of the grandmother’s brother who died when he was young – bit of a coincidence that he should turn up at the house when the family has no previous connection to the area. Nothing is really explained why he is there.

This is unashamedly a feel-good family movie with hardly any real drama as such. The cinematography showing the stunning Iwate countryside (forests/lush green fields) is fantastic and the house the family share is in such a beautiful location I wouldn’t mind living in the place myself. Director Seiji Izumi isn’t that well known outside of his home country (and I’ve never seen any of his other movies) but I really did like what he achieved with this movie. Apart from the lovely Ai Hashimoto who plays the daughter of the family, I didn’t really recognise anybody else of the main cast though they all perform very well in their roles.

Overall, this is a charming movie to watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon which leaves you with a smile at the end. Definitely worth a look.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Professorandhisbelovedequation

A young maths teacher nicknamed Root (due to his square looking head!) starts his new post at a high school. In order to introduce himself to his new charges, he starts to tell them a story about how he fell in love with maths. His mother Kyoko, a single parent began to work as a housekeeper for a maths Professor by his sister-in-law. The Professor though had a unique health problem – he could only remember things for about 80 mins due to a car accident that happened to him. Everything after 80 mins he forgets so Root’s mother has to introduce himself to the Professor each and every day. Despite this problem, the Professor still managed to excel at maths. Gradually, Kyoko brings her son Root to see the Professor and the 2 develop a friendship through their love of baseball and Root soon begins to understand maths by his new friend.

I’ve got to admit that I hated maths as a subject at school but watching this movie you begin to understand that there’s a certain magic about numbers. I wish I had a teacher at high school like Root who makes the subject not only easier to understand but also makes topics such as prime and perfect numbers rather interesting and accessible. You don’t have to be good at maths to enjoy this movie though – it’s more or less a gentle drama told via flashbacks about a close and genuine friendship between three people, forming a bond like a family and showing the viewer how the Professor applies maths in everyday situations to live his life. Director Takashi Koizumi who honed his art serving as an A.D on Akira Kurosawa’s last 5 movies is famous for his slow burning stories and this one is no exception. The nice slow pace is perfect for this kind of story. Don’t expect any gripping drama to take place in the story although the friendship between the trio is temporarily broken during the final third of the movie by the Professor’s sister-in-law who becomes jealous of their close ties and fires Kyoko. Thankfully though the trio is reunited in a moving finale to leave the viewers at the end credits with a feel good factor without the use of melodrama.

The subject of the Professor’s mental illness is treated with respect throughout the movie. In order to remember important things, he pins notes on his jacket and stuff on his blackboard to remind himself. The core trio are all very likeable characters. The Professor has had many different housekeepers looking after him before but they all left having found it difficult to cope with his illness and having to re-introduce themselves to him each and every day. Kyoko though is different to the rest. She is kind, understanding and most of all has the patience to deal with the Professor and his moods. Root and the Professor bond over baseball and it’s the Professor that gives Root his life-long love of maths and treats the young boy like his own. It’s clear to see that the Professor has been living a lonely life since the accident and this new family unit he’s been given reinvigorates his zest for life.

professor2

Eri Fukatsu is one of my favourite Japanese actresses and she is fabulous in this movie as the Professor’s housekeeper Kyoko. I don’t think the casting people could have picked anybody better than Eri for this role. I also really loved Akira Terao as the Professor who manages to capture not only the friendly nature of the character but also the sadness he has due to his mental illness. Rounding up the trio is Ryusei Saito as young Root who is such a good child actor. The interaction between Root and the Professor is sure to bring a smile to one’s face.

Overall, this is an entertaining movie that you can’t help but like. Don’t be put off by the fact that the subject of maths is prominent in the story – you may even learn something from this movie!! It’s a superb movie to watch with beautiful cinematography, a great minimalistic story with a meandering pace to it and lovely characters you’d like to meet in real life, I would say it was one of my favourite Japanese movies I watched in 2014. A must-see.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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The-After-Dinner-Mysteries-

Reiko Hosho is the daughter of a wealthy industrialist and a rookie police detective who is assisted from the shadows by her butler Kageyama who is the picture of being a model servant in front of people but quite sharp in his tongue towards Reiko in private. Reiko and Kageyama board a cruise ship which is en- route to Singapore. It isn’t long before a body is seen falling into the sea and it’s discovered that the man in question has been murdered and had many enemies. Reiko’s boss Detective Kazamatsuri decides to solve the case as he is on the ship guarding a priceless artefact to it’s new home in Singapore. Reiko and Kageyama also decide to find out who the murderer is. Soon more bodies turn up but with 3000 people onboard the ship how can she narrow the suspects down. Are the murders linked to a master criminal named Phantom Soros? Reiko and Kageyama must capture the murderer before the ship lands at its destination.

This is the spinoff movie from the popular 2011 drama series by Fuji Television. It isn’t essential that you’ve seen the series to enjoy this movie as it’s a standalone story and there’s a handy introduction to the main players right at the start. It’s easy to see that the budget has been increased from the series for this movie with part of the filming taking place in Singapore and also on a real luxury cruise liner. All the regulars from the series return to reprise their roles.

After Dinner Mysteries screenshot

The movie mixes comedy, drama and suspense but it’s the comedic aspect that stands out the most. It tends to feel at times like an Agatha Christie mystery played out like a spoof and instead of concentrating on just Reiko and Kageyama trying to solve the murders, there are other sub-plots with other characters introduced such as a pair of bumbling thieves who plan to steal the artefact guarded by Detective Kazamatsuri. These subplots all come together in the thrilling climax. I can also see some aspects of Detective Conan in the movie too – Kageyama with his glasses looks like Conan and is superior in his sleuthing skills than anybody else, Reiko plays the Ran role while the arrogant Kazamatsuri who thinks he’s brilliant at being a detective is similar to Ran’s father Mouri. The gelling of slapstick comedy and detective drama works surprisingly well. As there are so many sub-plots taking place, there is a lot of information to take in for the viewer but not too much for anybody to become lost with the story. As with many Japanese mystery movies, there are several twists and red herrings to keep the viewer on their toes and the unveiling of the murderer will keep you guessing until the end which unfortunately is rather cliché ridden.

Keiko Kitagawa plays the wealthy heiress Reiko in a goofy kind of way. She’s taken on a similar type of role before such as the dorama Mop Girl so if you like seeing her pull funny faces and be a damsel in distress then you’ll enjoy her in this movie though I suspect some might find her character a bit annoying. Arashi member Sho Sakurai is Reiko’s foil as her faithful but sharp-tongued butler Kageyama who is never afraid to put Reiko in her place in private but in public has to put on his diligent servant persona. It makes for amusing viewing seeing the bickering that goes on between Reiko and Kageyama and it’s obvious that Keiko and Sho are enjoying themselves in their roles. Both of their characters are even taken out from the ship for a while as the murderer makes sure they are put in a lifeboat and sent overboard. They eventually land on a small island before they are rescued rather conveniently by the authorities. Of course it’s all rather far-fetched but do remember that the movie is never meant to be taken seriously. One of the most notable guest stars taking part in this movie is Naoto Takenaka as a thief. I didn’t really recognise him at first, it’s his voice that gave the game away.

All in all, this is a hugely entertaining murder mystery movie. It’s got drama, moments of danger, good comedy, a fine cast and an exciting story. Fans of the drama series will have a fun time reuniting with characters they love but even those not familiar with the drama like myself can still enjoy this movie. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Journey to the west

In a small village by a river, a mysterious large demon creature attacks the father of a young child which is then killed by a fake Taoist priest. The creature is revealed to be a manta ray and is proclaimed dead by the priest. A demon hunter named Sanzang appears on the scene warning that it is not the real demon that attacked. His pleas are ignored and he is captured and tied up in ropes high above the river. The demon creature comes back and kills a number of villagers but thankfully Sanzang who is able to release himself manages to beach the creature which turns into a man. Sanzang begins a ritual by using a book of nursery rhymes and singing to the man. The man becomes agitated and attacks Sanzang. Another demon hunter, a female warrior named Duan enters, capturing the man inside a blanket and turning him into a puppet. Sanzang isn’t happy at being upstaged by Duan and complains to his master who tells him that his way of trying to pacify the demon and reforming them is good. He is ordered to try and tame the Monkey King demon who has been trapped by Buddha. During his travels he becomes entangled again with Duan after battling a pig demon in a restaurant. After days of travelling he finally finds the Monkey King but not before being captured by Duan’s gang, rejecting her advances and battling the injured pig demon again. Will Sanzang be able to tame the Monkey King or does the demon have a trick or two up his sleeve?

Those of a certain age in the UK will remember a TV programme during the late 70’s/early 80’s called Monkey. It was a dubbed version of a Japanese programme based on the Chinese novel Journey To The West. This movie isn’t a new version of that story but rather a prequel of how the main characters got together. It’s directed by Hong Kong comedy legend Stephen Chow who it seems now is content to be behind the cameras rather than in front of them. Perhaps with his movie CJ7 not being as successful as he thought it might be maybe he doesn’t want to act again? Then again I’ve heard that he has some politicial ambitions so that could be the reason for his scaling down of movie activities? Chow has covered Journey To The West before in the 2-part comedy movie A Chinese Odyssey. His trademark OTT action, romance and humour is prevalent throughout this movie – he might not appear on screen but everything from the comedy to the great action scenes is quintessentially Stephen Chow. The lead character of Sanzang would have been ideal role for him. The Journey To The West story has been done many times over the years but Chow somehow manages to make it feel fresh even though it does get bogged down in the middle section when it focuses more on Duan trying to seduce Sanzang which gets incredibly ridiculous and boring too.

journey-to-the-west-conquering-the-demons

There’s a memorable start to the movie with a fantastic and imaginative choreographed attack on a small village by a water demon which is really exciting to watch as Sanzang tries to rescue a young girl from being devoured by the demon. It does go on for a little bit too long but it doesn’t half hook you into the story. The scene leads you to believe that the danger has been eliminated by a fake priest when a manta ray is killed so when the real demon does appear it’s more of a surprise to the viewer. The same technique of showing red herrings to the viewer is used again in the instance of the pig demon and the Monkey King. A lot of symbolism is used in the movie which is lost on myself as I don’t know a lot about Chinese mythology. It probably makes a lot of sense to Chinese people but to Westerners they won’t have a clue what they’re on about. There are a couple of excellently staged action scenes which culminates with a battle between The Monkey King and Buddha after the Monkey King tricks Sanzang into freeing him from the cave in which he’s been imprisoned for 500 years and he’s not too happy about it. Production values for the movie is quite high with plenty of money having been thrown at it as the CGI effects is very good. It matches what you might see in a Hollywood movie. It’s only right at the very end the viewer sees characters they recognise as Sanzang becomes Tripitaka the monk and he along with Monkey, Piggsy and Sandy (3 ex-demons seeking enlightenment) begin their journey to the West to recover some sacred texts for Buddha. Perhaps Stephen Chow will continue the story in a future movie?

It’s up to Wen Zhang to carry the movie as it’s leading character Sanzang and he does extremely well. Sanzang makes for an instantly likeable character with his vulnerabilities. Zhang is able to do comedy and action effortlessly, exactly like Chow used to do. I wonder if Chow showed Zhang how to play Sanzang as he would have done it? For Sanzang’s female foil, Chow employed the beautiful Shu Qi as the aggressive demon hunter Duan. Both Zhang and Qi bounce off each other so they’re a good combination together. It’s very easy to believe that Duan is an effective demon hunter with the way she dispatches them violently. She tries to get Sanzang to love her but he’s so devoted to being a monk he cannot reciprocate her feelings which leads to all kinds of troubles in their relationship. Huang Bo is superb and makes for an engaging villain as the sly Monkey King.

Overall, this was an excellent action comedy with a lot to enjoy for Stephen Chow fans. He can still churn out a good movie even though he might not be acting in it and the mix of action, drama and comedy is perfect. I only hope Chow fans like myself won’t have to wait so long for his next project and that he can be coaxed to actually appear on screen next time. We wait with baited breath! Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Haru’s Journey (2011)

haru's journey poster

In a small fishing village somewhere in Hokkaido, 19 year old Haru has lived with her grumpy grandfather Nakai Tadao, a fisherman before his retirement since the death of her mother five years ago. However Haru decides to leave Hokkaido and head to Tokyo to look for work after the school in which she does the catering will close down. Tadao isn’t very happy about this at all but agrees that he and Haru should take a journey to see if his siblings will take him in as he cannot look after himself. The first stop is to visit Tadao’s elder brother but tension soon rears its ugly head between the pair and besides he’s about to be carted off to a retirement home so the visit ends in failure. His next port of call is to see his younger brother but gets only to see his wife who has no idea of his whereabouts since he was released from jail. Tadao’s elder sister is the next destination for the pair. She runs a small hotel. While she’s only too happy to give Haru a job, she refuses to give Tadao a room for him to stay as she believes him to be too lazy and selfish. Haru refuses to abandon Tadao so off they go to see another of Tadao’s younger brother. Haru also decides that before they head back home to Hokkaido she would like to see her long-lost father who suddenly left Haru’s mother (and contributed to her suicide).

This movie starts with a scene showing Tadao storming off from his ramshackle hut in Hokkaido with his granddaughter in tow. The viewer has no idea what has gone off between them but we know that Tadao is very pissed off. Thus begins a road trip down South to Honshu by train going from place to place between the two. The story is about family dynamics but there’s also a social commentary here about the growing problem that faces Japan with the elderly population on the rise. At first the viewer might think of Tadao as a cantankerous and unpleasant character who has temper tantrums but over the course of the movie we see him mellowing a bit and his relationship with Haru develops further to the point that by the end we can see that it would be foolish for the pair to split up. They depend on one another and also understand each other a bit better by the end credits. It is obvious that Tadao doesn’t have a good relationship with any of his siblings – a combination of being selfish and stubborn over the years hasn’t endeared himself to them at all. If he thought he was going to get welcomed back with open arms by them – well that doesn’t happen at all and none of them are willing to let him stay with them! In fact it would be right to say Tadao’s siblings seem a little pleased that he’s now forced to beg for their charity.

HarusJourney2

If what I’ve said so far makes you think this movie is all about Tadao then you’d be wrong. The story also delves into Haru’s sad background and how the absence of having a father figure in her life has affected her mentally. There’s a powerful heartbreaking scene in which Haru confronts her father at his home about why he left her mother those years ago. This brings some closure about the circumstances of her mother’s death but it doesn’t as some might assume bring father and daughter any closer together at all. Tadao is given the opportunity by his son-in-law’s kind wife to stay at their place but he and Haru decide to run off quietly from the place. What’s wonderful about this movie is the interaction between Tadao and Haru. They may argue a bit but deep down they care for each other a lot.

Japanese cinema legend Tatsuya Nakadai gives one of his best performances as the stubborn Tadao who refuses to swallow his pride and has no regrets about what he’s done over the years. Even in his advanced years Nakadai still commands the screen with his presence. His co-star Eri Fukunaga is equally as good though she has to play down her usual beautiful self to look more plain looking as Haru. She isn’t relegated to being a bit-part player on screen by her co-star Nakadai. It’s funny seeing the way the pair of them walk around the streets of Japan – Tadao with his limp and Haru with her unnatural gait. The strong supporting cast complement the 2 main characters very well such as Chikage Awashima who plays Tadao’s no-nonsense elder sister who can see through his bluster and is very kind to Haru. Teruyuki Kagawa is also brilliant in his short role as Haru’s father who deep down feels guilty since her mother’s death, knowing full well that his leaving made her commit suicide.

All in all, I thought this movie was a masterpiece with a moving story, the characterisation is marvelous, lovely cinematography and a fantastic cast. Never once does the story drag even though it is slightly over 2 hours long. I highly recommend this movie.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Fuku-chan_of_FukuFuku_Flats-poster

32 year old Tatsuo Fukuda otherwise known as Fuku-chan to his friends is a painter by day. He is also a kind soul who tries to help out in solving arguments between his neighbours and those in need. Fuku-chan lives alone in his apartment and his friends don’t understand why he is so shy and timid around women. What they don’t know is there’s a very good reason for that. The truth comes out when a female photographer named Chiho Sugiura enters the scene. Chiho wins a contest to meet an art photographer she’s always admired but it turns out to be a disaster as the man only has one thing on his mind and that’s to take advantage of her. This incident leaves Chiho shaken up a bit. Chiho is known to Fuku-chan as they used to go to the same school. Fuku-chan liked Chiho at the time and she knew and even encouraged his affection. However, she had no intention of being his girlfriend and as she was a part of a small gang they totally humiliated Fuku-chan. This shattered his confidence with the opposite sex so much that he has carried it into adulthood. Chiho is trying to atone for her past actions as she’s been told she’s got bad karma so she’s goes about in trying to win back his friendship but will this in turn make Fuku-chan even more unhappy or can they mend the bridge that were broken all those years ago?

Depending on your sense of humour, the opening scene of the movie will determine whether you enjoy this comedy drama movie or not but it made me laugh. It’s got one of Fuku-chan’s cheeky co-workers farting on the face of someone who’s taking a nap during a break! Despite this scene, this isn’t one of those low brow comedies full of toilet humour and it does actually got a good plot to it abut how something cruel perpetrated on an individual in the past can have a long term effect on the victim years later. In Fuku-chan’s case, his friends know he’s a nice enough person and they try and set him up with a woman but he can’t deal with any notion of romance and his friends have no idea why but it is all linked to one incident during his teen years. The movie is also a story of redemption, of a person regretting an action that may have seemed like fun at the time but now wants to correct that sin.

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Chiho and Fuku-chan’s attempt at reconciliation with each other is the heart of the story. Seeing Chiho coming back into his life brings back bad memories for Fuku-chan and with good reason but slowly and surely the barrier between them comes gradually down with Fuku-chan becoming Chiho’s muse in a series of photographs shot by her. Even though she might not see Fuku-chan as a very attractive man, he does have a sort of unusual face that shows emotion very well and Chiho capitilises on this – capturing Fuku-chan’s natural expressions on camera. Whilst the story does have some seriousness to it, there are some quite wonderful comedy scenes in the movie and for myself the highlight of the entire movie is at a curry house in a scene that is so hilariously ridiculous and absurd. If you only have to see this movie to watch this scene it’s well worth the money but I do have to say that this isn’t a movie in which jokes fly at you every 5 mins or so.

At first I thought that Fuku-chan was played by YoshiYoshi Arakawa. I know from watching movies such as Fine, Totally Fine and Survive Style 5+ how funny the guy is and he’s on form in this movie as well but the person who got the leading role of Fuku-chan might raise a few eyebrows. When I first saw Fuku-chan I did notice there was something a little bit….how can I say….out of place about the character but I couldn’t put my finger on it until I went online and found out that Fuku-chan is played by none other than a woman. Comedienne Miyuki Oshima is apparently well known in Japan for impersonating men (not that I knew anything about that). She is fantastic as Fuku-chan who is an instantly likeable, warm character and has a child-like view on life at times. Everybody can relate to Fuku-chan’s hurt that he’s been carrying around since his teenage years. I’m sure it was the scriptwriter’s joke on Miyuki that there are several references to Fuku-chan’s well endowed penis! Asami Mizukawa is also very good as Chiho and it’s nice to see how prepared she is to make amends to Fuku-chan after a long time. The supporting cast is brilliant as there are numerous oddball characters in the movie such as Fuku-chan’s neighbours who are very funny in their own right . I felt that the only ‘normal’ people in the story was Fuku-chan and Chiho.

All in all, I was delighted by this movie because you might think it could be a formulaic romantic comedy on the surface but it’s far more than that. There are plenty of laughs to be had but ultimately it’s the drama aspect that really sets this apart. It’s a solid movie filled with great characters and a sweet story to boot. I really enjoyed this movie and I hope you do too. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Pale Moon (2014)

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It is 1994 and Rika Umezawa is a bored housewife in a loveless marriage who works part time as a bank teller. She also gets to go out on house visits to advise wealthy clients on investments or collect deposits for their accounts. During one such visit to an elderly gentleman, his grandson Kota sees Rika and can’t take his eyes away from her. Although she ignores the way he stares at her, eventually they begin to have an affair after Kota takes her to a cheap love hotel. Kota lays on a sob story that he is short of money to pay for his college fees and his miserly grandfather won’t help him out. To help her young lover out, she decides to scam his grandfather for money, a lot of money by doling out fake cheques from the bank. Soon the lovers are living a lavish lifestyle as Kota seems to have awakened something in Rika that had been lying dormant for many years. Now she feels alive and with a young lover at her side life is looking good for her. Suspicions are soon raised by Rika’s supervisor at the bank that something is amiss but will Rika get away with her actions?

Out of all the movies I watched in Tokyo during my recent holiday, this was the movie that had the most viewers watching it. A mid-morning 9am screening at Shinjuku Piccadilly was packed to the rafters with people of all ages coming in to see it. I was really surprised at how popular the movie was considering it had been released a week previous to my arrival. I expected most of those that had really wanted to see the movie would have done so in the first week of release. This compelling movie shows us what money can do to an individual but the story is quick not to place judgement on Rika and her actions. Sure, she’s done something bad and immoral but the viewer can sort of sympathise as her life has become dull, boring and Kota’s attention makes her feel alive again. However, this is not the first time for Rika to steal money. Through flashbacks to her days at a Catholic school, the viewer sees she’s done it before but not for her own needs. The nuns at her school started a charity drive and they asked the girls to donate half of their allowance to help children that really needed it. Rika goes even further than that and steals a load of money from her father’s wallet to give to the charity. She is of course caught but her explanation is that it’s for a good cause. She isn’t stealing for herself but giving it to needy children.

kami-no-tsuki screenshot

In order to please her young lover, they embark on a lavish lifestyle where she hires an expensive apartment for him, they dine in expensive restaurants and she buys gifts. Rika tries to cover her tracks as best as she can. Her criminal activities goes up a notch after her husband is transferred to China because then she starts counterfeiting money in her own home. She probably knows that if she doesn’t do this, Kota will no doubt look elsewhere for a younger woman his own age to latch onto. It is inevitable that she is going to get caught out but initially she fobs off the bank’s enquiries but Rika’s supervisor who is growing more and more suspicious of her will not give up. She knows that Rika is involved in something dodgy and eventually she finds the evidence that Rika has been siphoning off the bank’s money. She is pulled over one day into the bank’s board room where her supervisor and the bank manager confront her. I won’t spoil what happens next but Rika’s world comes crashing down all around her. You’re probably expecting that it’s curtains for her now and she’ll be arrested by the police but there’s one final twist in the movie for the viewer to enjoy.

Rie Miyazawa gives a mesmerising performance as Rika. She doesn’t portray your stereotypical villain that robs a bank. She uses her knowledge and experience of working at the bank to steal money and the way she does this is cleverly filmed in the movie. The whirlwind affair gives Rika a chance to become liberated from her marriage – something she’s probably wanted for years. I should think with this movie that Rika’s stature in Japan will no doubt have risen and I expect her to be given more dramatic leading roles in the future. Sosuke Ikematsu performs well as Rika’s lover Kota. Yuko Oshima plays a mischevious colleague of Rika’s at the bank who teases her about embezzeling money from her workplace. I’m not really sure if Yuko’s character is fired or not from the bank but she suddenly disappears from the movie. Apparently Yuko won the Best Supporting Actress for her role in this movie in this year’s Yokohama Film Festival. I can’t really fault any of the cast, they all have a part to play in this intriguing movie.

All in all, this was a brilliant drama with excellent performances from the cast. Director Yoshida Daihachi who previously helmed The Kirishima Thing has come up with another winner. All of the punters at Shinjuku Piccadilly left the screening satisfied that they had just witnessed a great movie. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Climbing To Spring (2014)

Climbing to spring poster

Toru, a young boy is climbing a snow covered mountain with his father. Toru is struggling to climb in certain areas and slips down the ice a little bit. Instead of consoling the poor lad, the father slaps him across the face and tells him to tough it out. Eventually they reach their destination – a mountain hut that’s completely covered by snow. It is owned by Toru’s father and they have to get the place ready before Spring when the climbing season begins. Fast forward 20 years later and Toru is now a financial broker in the city. Upon hearing that his father has died after an accident in which he tried to save the life of an inexperienced climber, he comes back home for the funeral. His mother is planning to sell the mountain hut but Toru decides that he’s had enough of the city job he’s doing so he quits and takes up the ownership of the mountain hut business instead. As Toru hasn’t been up to the hut for so long and he has no idea how to run it properly he is grateful for the help and support from the 2 staff members there who learn the ropes to him. Can Toru make a success of the business like his father?

This gentle drama might not sound like an exciting movie to watch and I didn’t know what to expect from it. I saw it on my flight over to Tokyo Narita airport. I was thinking it was going to be one of those mountain dramas where there are people in peril and these mountain hut people come out to rescue them. Although you do see some rescues, that is not what drives the plot of the movie. The story is basically about the relationship between Toru and his co-workers and how they become like a small family of sorts – always ready to help each other out and the blossoming love relationship between Toru and Ai Takazawa, one of his fellow co-workers. Things don’t always go right for Toru who takes a hands-on role as the new owner of the hut such as messing up serving meals for a mountain hut visitor but he learns from his mistakes.

Climbing-to-Spring screenshot

The movie is also about Toru stepping out from the shadow of his father and becoming his own man. As Toru couldn’t really connect with his father, he develops what could be construed as a father/son bond with Goro, a mysterious drifter who worked with Toru’s father in the past and has vast experience of being up in the mountains. The trio of main characters in Toru, Goro and Ai are instantly likeable people and one can’t help but warm to their friendly personalities. It makes you want to visit the hut for yourself just so you can be in their company and at the end of the movie you feel as if their your own friends.

If there’s one thing that stands out in this movie is the stunning cinematography – it will blow you away. I think the mountain range that’s featured here is the Tateyama one (though I’m not 100% sure) which is commonly known as the Japan Alps. Despite the lack of anything major happening throughout most of the movie, things do take a dramatic turn in the final third as Goro is taken ill at the mountain hut (I believe he gets a stroke) and Toru makes a decision that he has to get him down the mountain as quickly as possible. The mountain rescue people agree to meet Toru half way down. There is a 5 hour time limit on getting Goro to the hospital or his condition will deteriorate. This is where Toru comes to his own and shows the determination and mettle to help his friend out. It’s backbreaking work carrying a person and very tiring for him but he will not give up on Goro.

Kenichi Matsuyama is fantastic as Toru, the former city broker who initially thinks he’s made a mistake on taking on the mountain hut business but over time he becomes more confident as the owner. Aoi Yu is charming and sweet as Toru’s love interest and co-worker Ai Takazawa who makes all the visitors to the hut very much welcome with her delicious hot food. It’s nice to see that Toru and Ai do get close over the course of the movie which gives the viewers the happy ending it deserves. Etsushi Toyokawa is also great as the kind fatherly figure Goro who dispenses his wisdom to his 2 younger colleagues.

Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. Even though the movie will feel slow to many viewers, it kept my attention and the great ending was the icing on the cake for myself. It’s such a shame this movie is unlikely to make it’s way onto DVD in the West as it deserves to be seen by more. If you do get a chance to check it out, please do. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Parasyte Part 1 (2014)

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One night, parasitic alien organisms come to Earth and begin taking over human beings by entering their bodies through the ears and then controlling their brains. Teenager Shinichi Izumi lives at home with his single mother. One of the parasites make their way to Shinichi’s home but find their usual entrance to the human body blocked as Shinichi has fallen asleep listening to music with earphones. On Shinichi waking up unexpectedly, the alien burrows it’s way inside his right hand instead. He prevents the alien from reaching his brain by applying a tourniquet to his arm. The next day at his room desk a pair of eyes starts appearing on Shinichi’s hand. He tries to extract it but it only angers the alien which totally emerges from the hand to give Shinichi the fright of his life. The alien which is given the name ‘Righty’ by Shinichi appears to the teenager as a small entity embedded in his hand with a single and a mouth that talks. Unlike his fellow aliens which have begun devouring humans for food, ‘Righty’ is content in having a peaceful relationship with his host. Shinichi is content not to interfere with the other aliens until his own mother is taken over and then things become personal for him. The alien threat has even infiltrated his high school with his science teacher now an alien host. But what can one individual do against a hoard of ferocious alien hosts?

This is the big screen adaptation of the manga ‘Kiseiju’. There has literally been dozens of alien invasion movies done over the years but this one even though the plot may sound unoriginal is still unique in its own little way. You may be tempted to think when you see the trailer that this could be a comedy or a children’s movie of some sort but believe me, this is no family friendly tale of a symbiotic relationship between a teenage boy and his alien controlled hand. At times the movie gets extremely dark and there’s plenty of gory scenes throughout. After the initial stealth takeover by the parasites, the first hour of the movie concentrates on Shinichi’s relationship with his new alien host, his would-be girlfriend Satomi and his mother. Shinichi’s right hand can contort and twist at will which shocks the teenager, it almost reminds me of the Stretch Armstrong toy. The alien’s intentions are not made clear to the viewer in this movie though you may have guessed what it is. It’s obvious from the start they’re hostile but for now they are quietly taking over key personnel such as a slimy politician and when the time is right their invasion plans will come to fruition (the filmmakers have made sure this scenario takes place in Part 2). Not all of the aliens though are focused on killing/eating humans. Shinichi’s female biology teacher Ryoko Tamiya, herself an alien host is fascinated by the relationship between the pair and rather than wanting them killed she wants them observed instead although her fellow aliens are not quite so keen on the idea. Ryoko is seen to be pregnant but I’m not entirely sure if it’s one of the aliens that has impregnated her or not?

Parasyte part 1 screenshot

You might think this movie is full of action and gore. Yes, there are some gruesome attacks by the aliens throughout the movie which includes a bloodbath near the end at Shinichi’s school when the corridors are littered with bodies but it does slow down considerably until the last 30 mins. The emotional strand of the story comes down to Shinichi’s decision to kill somebody very close to him. Shinichi is quite happy to be passive about the invasion until his caring mother unfortunately gets taken over when she comes to inspect a wounded alien creature. He realises that the mother he knew no longer exists and it’s heartbreaking to see him going on the offensive and fighting her until he manages to eventually kill the alien host. This act places a heavy burden on Shinichi’s mind and make him even more determined to destroy the aliens. The CG effects showing the true face of the alien hosts emerging is incredible – the head splits open into 4 and what comes out is something with a large mouth filled with eyes and teeth which can consume human beings in one bite. They can also produce various sharp bladed weapons when their heads open wide as well. It is said that some fans of the manga are not best pleased with the changes made as Shinichi’s father is alive and well in the manga but in the movie he’s dead. I think fans have to realise that movie adaptations of a manga, novel, game or anime will always have some minor changes made by the studios.

Shota Sometani excels in his role as Shinichi and it’s nice to see the filmmakers bypassing the usual good looking male idol actors for such a blockbuster movie and casting somebody ‘normal’ instead. So far he has only acted in indie productions so this is probably his biggest movie yet. He gives a very good account of himself in this movie even though he is seen mainly talking to his alien hand and manages to make his character endearing to the viewer. Shota is apparently even learning English quickly in the hope that if Hollywood will eventually film the English version they might cast him for the lead role. That looks highly unlikely but fair play to him for making the effort. His co-star in the reliable Ai Hashimoto is as good as ever as Shinichi’s friend Satomi. I also liked Eri Fukatsu as Ryoko in the movie too. Kazuki Kitamura and Tadanobu Asano are only seen briefly though I guess their parts will be expanded more in the next movie.

It’s plain to see that this movie is more or less a setup to what takes place in Part 2 when the fate of the planet will be up for grabs. The trailer for Part 2 right at the very end of the credits looks amazing and it features Shinichi and Satomi becoming very close together plus the teacher Ryoko gives birth to her child. I’m sad that I will not be in Tokyo to see this movie when it is set to be released in May 2015

Overall, I really enjoyed this movie despite a couple of scenes dragging. It’s got an interesting alien invasion story with a fair few scenes of bloodshed which are rather frightening. The alien CG effects are fantastic. Coupled with great performances from a solid cast, this is one movie you don’t want to miss out on. I can’t wait to see Part 2. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Library Wars (2013)

Library Wars

During the 80’s in an alternate version of Japan, the government creates a task force called the MBC (Media Betterment Committee) which is a military unit that confiscates any books from libraries that contain offensive material. An opposition movement (Library Defense Force) is formed to protect such books and move them to their own libraries. It is now the year 2019 and rookie recruit Ika Kasahara has joined the LDF. She made the decision to join them as when she was younger the MBC tried to roughly take a book she was reading from inside a library but she was rescued by an officer of the LDF. Kasahara wants to meet the ‘Prince’ that rescued her. Tensions reach fever pitch between the MBC and the LDF when the MBC declare that they intend to storm the LDF headquarters to retrieve more books that need to be destroyed. A battle between the two groups is imminent but who will come out on top?

Based on a novel, this is a movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be – an action movie or a romantic comedy. This indecision by the director really hurts this movie. It opens very dramatically with the MBC troops entering a library and massacring the people there. I did think at this point it was going to be an all-action epic but sadly it isn’t although the final 30 mins is a big shootout between the MBC and the LDF. There are shades of Orwell’s 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 in the plotline. You’ve got two military groups with opposing views on censorship laws butting heads against each other. It tries to give a warning about civil liberties being threatened in the future if we’re not careful. Although the action scenes are well done although slow in showing up onscreen, the same cannot be said about the embarrassing comedy and the dire romantic aspect of the movie. The director Shinsuke Sato has said that the censorship aspect of the story is not the main theme for the movie. It’s the romantic will they won’t they tale between Kasahara and Dojo that’s given the honour. Fair enough if you enjoy this kind of thing and I know this movie did very well in Japan with teenagers when it was released but I felt it was too cheesy for my liking and not enough action. The characters are your usual cliched stereotypes. Besides the censorship story doesn’t really go into that much depth anyway although the viewer is given some background knowledge right at the start of the movie of the gradual changes that transformed Japan into a Big Brother society. As for the action scenes which are rather scant until the last 30 mins it’s a case of too little too late. The running time of the movie is over 2 hours long which is a tad too generous for my liking as things tend to drag until the big battle between the MBC and the LDF.

Library Wars screenshot

The first half of the movie revolves around Kasahara’s recruitment to the LDF and the hard physical training she has to endure. Kasahara shows her judo fighting skills in the gym when she manages to pin her fellow recruits until her superior officer Atsushi Dojo (who unbeknown to her is actually the man that saved her all those years ago) puts her in her place. Dojo doesn’t want Kasahara in the team as her reason for joining isn’t good enough (looking for her hero) and she tends to not listen to orders. A subplot involving Kasahara’s female colleague and a man too shy to ask her out felt to me like it was just wasting time. Thankfully things pick up during the second half as a truce agreed between both groups is broken and a full scale assault on the LDF headquarters by the MBC takes place.

Nana Eikura does OK as the lead female Kasahara. I haven’t seen her in anything since 2007 so she looks very grown up (facially and physically) from when I last saw her in the drama Operation Love when she was still a teenager. Junichi Okada plays Dojo, the commanding officer that doesn’t like Kasahara at all and tries to make her quit the LDF. Chiaki Kuriyama has only a small role as Kasahara’s colleague so if you’re one of her fans you’ll be disappointed with the amount of screentime she has. It’s like Chiaki is somewhat moving away from roles that have defined her career so far and taking up comedy roles instead. I don’t have any complaints about that as given the right script she does comedy very well.

Overall, this movie didn’t turn out as I expected it to be. I was hoping for a darker, grittier storyline BUT despite my grumbles I still enjoyed it to a certain degree. Don’t expect any deeper meaning to the plot, after all this is just a popcorn movie.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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The Demon (1978)

The Demon

A woman with 3 children who is struggling to make ends meet dumps the children with their father who partly owns a printing business with his wife before disappearing. The couple are close to the poverty line as they are and having 3 more mouths to feed doesn’t help the situation. The wife despises the children as it reminds her of the infidelity that her husband has committed over the years behind her back. The father tries to take them back to the woman’s home but she has cleared out of her apartment and there is no chance of tracing her. With his wife constantly nagging at him to get rid of the kids, the father’s thoughts soon turns to murdering them.

This harrowing movie about child abuse makes for some difficult viewing and what makes it even worse is the main offender is the children’s father in what is the ultimate betrayal of trust between a child and parent. The father isn’t what you might call a strong character – he’s harassed and bullied by his domineering wife Oume and she is the one that plants the seeds of murder in his mind. The title of the movie may point to a number of persons in the movie – it doesn’t refer to what people might normally perceive as a demon (no horns or tail on this demon). I thought at first it was directed at the evil stepmother who wants the kids dead but it’s probably more appropriate for the father. He may not have been an evil person when the viewer first meet him but there was something inside him that changed when the children were dumped with him. You would think he would sympathise with the children’s situation given that he was abandoned as a child as well. Some people are saying that the eldest child could be the demon of the movie but we’ll get to his story later on.

The first of the three children to suffer is the youngest (a toddler) who can’t defend himself. Due to neglect in care, he becomes painfully malnourished and is left in the hands of Oume while the two other children are out playing and the father is doing some errands. He comes back to find the child face down and lying prone underneath a sheet upstairs with his wife sorting something out on some shelving. It’s implied that she may have murdered him possibly by asphyxiation but it’s never really explained. Seeing her carrying on with her work whilst the child lies dead at her feet is diabolical but that’s the type of woman she is. There’s hardly any grief shown by the father. I did find my blood beginning to boil during this scene.

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The middle child (a cute little girl of around 4 to 5 years old) is the next to go. The father takes her on a trip to Tokyo with the intention of leaving her there when she’s not looking. His first attempt at doing this in a toy store fails miserably but he succeeds at the observation deck of Tokyo Tower. While she’s looking through the coin operated binoculars, he slyfully walks away and into the lift to take him down to ground level. Just as the doors of the lift close, the girl turns around and spots him but it’s too late. As she has no idea where her father lives, another problem is sorted for him and his wife. That’s the last the viewer sees of the girl though you hope that she’s been adopted by a nice family and looked after properly.

And finally we come to the eldest son Riichi who’s not as stupid as his father thinks he is. He sort of knows what’s been going on and that both his father and stepmother are out to get him. Again, the father takes him on a bus trip to the coast with the intention of abandoning him but he knows his son will know his address so he comes up with a drastic and dastardly plan of throwing him over a cliff in a beautiful location. But before all that, he tries to poison the boy in Ueno Park, Tokyo by putting cyanide inside his sandwiches but the boy finds the taste of the sandwiches a bit weird so he spits out what he’s eaten out. The fury of the father is trying to force the food down his throat. It is only stopped when a walking couple comes across what’s taking place and the father stops what he’s doing. The father’s nefarious plan to kill his son takes place when the last bus to go back home has gone and it leaves both of them on top of a cliff facing the sea. He waits for his son to become sleepy, lifts his body up and lets it go over the cliff. Naturally the viewer thinks it’s curtains for the boy but there’s a twist to this tale which I will not spoil. Eventually the cops cotton on what’s been taking place and well I think I better leave at what happens next. One thing becomes obvious in that despite everything the kids go through they never once lose faith in their father.

Ken Ogata is outstanding in this movie as the father and he goes through a range of emotions which are perfectly expressed. He won an award (the Japanese equivalent of an Oscar) for his portrayal of a desperate man who commits acts of cruelty towards his own children.

The Demon is a gut-wrenching movie and one of the best I’ve seen on the matter of child abuse. It isn’t an easy movie to watch but the plot is gripping and you’ll be on the edge of your seat with the horrific events that take place. Recommended.

No trailer I’m afraid

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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SPEC Close Reincarnation

The concluding part to the SPEC movie double bill finds Toma and Sebumi discovering that the Simple Plan virus is nothing more than flu. Whilst it may not be harmful to normal humans, it is deadly to SPEC holders due the difference in their DNA. Professor J, a watery creature who can possess people by merging himself inside his victim goes on a rampage by killing a group of adult SPEC holders being held inside a police hospital and infecting SPEC children with the Simple Plan virus. Toma vows to hunt Professor J down for doing such a thing to innocent children. She plans to use her SPEC abilities not caring that a demon could take full control of her. However, in doing this, she fulfills Fatima’s 3rd prophecy with a plague of black crows being released and a nuclear holocaust starting. Various disasters take place with fiery planes falling from the skies and bullet trains exploding for no reason. The evil council (from the previous movie) is presumed perished from a nuclear bomb that goes off close to Tokyo. Jun and Sekai (the godly duo) reveal that Toma has been designated as Solomon’s Key (this is allegedly a 14th century grimoire which had incantations to revive the spirits of the dead) which will bring about the apocalypse and that Gaia wants mankind to end for being too greedy and materialistic. The Earth will be reset with the world being contaminated with radiation for 2 million years before being reborn once more. However, Toma vows that she will fight the duo’s plan even if it means sacrificing her own life.

A bit of a mixed bag is what I would call this movie with a very strange finish – a typical Japanese ambiguous ending you might say. The first part of the movie starts well enough with Toma bringing about the end of the world with several impressive sequences of various disasters being shown but then the story goes way off course. I found the movie to be a pale imitation of what made the SPEC series so enjoyable with the plot jumping all over the place – there’s talk about Avici Hell (one of the lowest depths of hell in Buddhist beliefs) and of crows appearing that are the souls of previous SPEC holders. Many fans have also complained about the cop-out ending. I’ve no idea what the hell goes on in the final third as Toma is left alone to fight off Jun and Sekai on the rooftop of a skyscraper but when that doesn’t work she asks Sebumi to do what he’s dreading to do – shoot Toma dead as that is the only solution to stop the apocalypse. Seeing Toma’s body being overwhelmed by demons and regurgitating a live crow several times was odd to say the least. She uses whatever energy she has left to try and defeat the demons but she has no choice but to beg Sebumi to kill her. The anguished look on his face says it all. Several dead SPEC holders from the series reappear to help Toma out but they are wiped out by Sekai. Toma eventually absorbs their souls into her body. It was great to see Satori (played by ex-idol Mano Erina) come back to do her quirky routine even though she probably only returned in a move by the filmmakers to please the fan boys. I completely lost the plot when it’s revealed that there is no apocalypse and that it’s all an illusion to confuse Jun and Sekai. I knew after that that any semblance of trying to figure things out was well and truly beyond me.

SPEC Close Reincarnation screenshot

There’s a scene right near the end which has angered many fans and that is after the world has returned back to normal a group of plain clothes policemen enter the rooftop, take one look at Toma’s prone corpse and Sebumi holding a gun and proceed to beat the crap out of him. I find it odd that they don’t ask any questions to him, they just dive right in and shower him with kicks and punches. It just makes no sense whatsoever for these officers to forget protocol and behave like common thugs. Who are they by the way? It is never revealed what happens to Sebumi afterwards – is he beaten to death? Arrested and thrown into jail for killing a fellow officer? Who knows? I really disliked the ending. There’s a hint that perhaps time has been reversed by Toma to the point just before the apocalypse begins. I can only assume that Toma has transcended herself into a god? Another thing which annoyed me is Sebumi is thrown off the skyscraper by Sekai with a wave of his hand. He eventually finds himself being put head first into a children’s sandpit miles away with only his legs sticking out. Any normal human being would never survive but as the viewer has seen before Sebumi seems to be indestructible because back he comes to help Toma out. Why did he have to scale the outside of the skyscraper to make his grand dramatic return instead of taking the stairs inside? There is talk by fans that the final scene shows both Toma and Sebumi alive in an alternate reality.

The two leads do what they can with the mess of a storyline. I can’t fault their acting. There are some wonderful cameos from comedian Dandy Sakano (of the finger pointing GETS game fame) who uses his famous catchphrase to try and stop Professor J early on in the movie in the police hospital. Dandy plays a SPEC holder but he and other adults are soon killed by the Professor in an amusing scene in which he uses Dandy’s catchphrase to wipe them out. Death by GETS!!! For a one trick pony comedian, I’m still surprised that Dandy is getting away with using his famous catchphrase even though the height of the GETS popularity has passed since 7 years ago. He even managed to grab a small slot on Adam & Joe Go Tokyo TV show in 2006 to explain the GETS game to bemused British audiences. Maki Horikita gets a blink or you’ll miss it scene in what is a direct link to the Ataru movie which I recently reviewed. Chiaki Kuriyama also appears for about 5 mins in which she tries to stop Sebumi from shooting Jun. Even though Chiaki’s character gave birth to Jun, it’s obvious she’s not human at all but a mother’s love is strong and she places her body between Jun and Sebumi so that he will not shoot. It doesn’t matter as Sekai grows tired of Jun and accuses her of being a traitor so he gets disposes of Jun and her mother.

It’s such a shame that things fell apart in this movie and I was so looking forward to seeing how things would come together to finish off the storyline. I love the series and the Heaven movie but these 2 movies spoiled everything for me. I’m sure SPEC fans will want to see this movie but be prepared to be disappointed.

I can’t find a trailer for this movie I’m afraid so the trailer from the previous movie will have to make do.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Black Butler (2014)

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After seeing the murder of her parents, Shiori Genpo sells her soul to a demon named Sebastian Michaelis who will help her to avenge their deaths. Shiori is a part of a secret force serving the Queen Of The West named The Queen’s Watchdog. They are responsible for stubbing out any criminal elements which are a threat to the Queen. As Shiori’s father ran his own toy company and only males are allowed to inherit his fortune, Shiori has disguised herself as her father’s illegitimate son, taken up the title of Earl and goes by the name of Kiyoharu. Both Kiyoharu and Sebastian have moved into the family’s sprawling estate and mansion which comes complete with a clumsy young maid and other personnel. Kiyoharu and Sebastian are investigating the mysterious mummification of several ambassadors. They narrow their search down to a night club which has organised a special event for certain people. Kiyoharu manages to wrangle herself an invitation to the event but finds her life may be in danger when she discovers what’s really going on.

This live-action adaptation of the popular manga/anime has had a mixed reception amongst fans. Most aren’t happy that the filmmakers haven’t stayed true to the original material. The manga and anime was set in Victorian England but in this movie the timeline has been moved forward to the year 2020 but the biggest gripe of all has been with the character of 12 year old boy Ciel Phantomhive who has been dropped in favour of a 17 year old girl (a descendant of the original Phantomhive family). There’s also a sort of a romantic angle going on between Kiyoharu and Sebastian. I’m guessing the reason for all the changes is to keep the story fresh instead of treading over old ground. Apart from hearing about the anime series, that’s about all I was aware about Black Butler until I watched this movie so I wasn’t sure what to expect. The movie kicks off with a good action sequence which sees Sebastian rescuing Kiyoharu from a human trafficking ring and dispatching all of the bad guys with a butter knife. The movie is fairly dark and involves a plot by an evil organisation to produce a new drug in the shape of a small marble. When the marble is broken and the vapour inside the bottle is inhaled by the person it makes blood comes out of every orifice before the body shrivels up and is mummified. There is an antidote by the evil organization which is only available to them. The movie is a bit of a stop start affair as there are far too many talkie bits just when you think that the movie is about to hit top gear. It hurts the flow of the movie but I guess the filmmakers were trying to drag the running time up to 2 hours. The pace of the movie does quicken near the end which sees Kiyoharu sacrifice herself when a case load of the deadly drug explodes and Sebastian rescues her with the antidote.

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This movie marked the return of actor Hiro Mizushima (best known for being Kamen Rider Kabuto) who had been on hiatus since 2010. He takes the role of Sebastian and performs pretty well in the part of the demon butler especially during his action scenes which are exciting and imaginative. Ayame Goriki does better in this movie than the last one I saw her in (Gatchaman). The verdict is still out whether I consider her to be a good actress or not but I thought she did OK in Black Butler. There’s a weird fascination for Japanese women who enjoy seeing other females dressing up as men (the Takarazaka group for instance) so seeing Goriki disguising herself as a man with an eyepatch will no doubt excite some women even though I don’t think she makes for a convincing man (still looks like a girl to me even with the short hairstyle). That being said, Goriki has a certain charm about her and makes for nice eye candy. The character of Jin the clumsy maid had an unexpected twist to her story though you sorta knew that something was up with her. Near the climax it’s revealed that Jin’s clumsiness is all an act and she reveals her true purpose in the Genpo household. She’s been tasked with protecting the heir of the Genpo empire.  There’s another character whose true intention is hidden throughout most of the movie. Kiyoharu’s Aunt Hanae is supposed to be an ally for her and Sebastian until she betrays Kiyoharu and sides herself with the bad guys. It was quite predictable that was going to happen.

Overall, Black Butler was a decent movie though I wouldn’t say it’s anything special at all. I think it will suit those who have no knowledge of the franchise than hardcore fans. There’s a hint that a sequel might be on the cards seeing that the big boss of the evil organisation is still out there and probably plotting revenge on Kiyoharu and Sebastian.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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