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Archive for the ‘Family’ 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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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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Nin x Nin Ninja Hattori-Kun The Movie dvd

Kanzo Hattori with his trademark red swirls on his cheeks is a ninja in training who is given a final challenge of a solo trip to Tokyo where he must find and protect his master. He doesn’t know who he is or what he looks like but he will know when he sees him. Hattori travels to the city and is soon on top of Tokyo Tower looking around for his master when he spots a little boy called Kinichi in his bedroom. Hattori thinks that Kenichi is his master and so he makes his acquaintance with him. Nobody else is allowed to see Hattori except Kenichi or he will fail to become a fully-fledged ninja so whenever his parents come into his bedroom Hattori uses his special powers to hide himself. Hattori amuses himself around Kenichi’s house when he is at school. They make friends with a blind female painter Midori and also have to stop an evil Koga ninja – a rival clan of Hattori’s kind.

Based on a manga and an old anime series, this goofy and fun ninja parody movie centres on the relationship between the blue costumed ninja Hattori who says “nin nin” and a lonely young lad Kinichi who is bullied by his peers. It is mostly thanks to a manic performance by SMAP member Shingo Katori that the movie works so well with his silly faces and a fish out of water scenario as he adapts to the modern world (something that is so alien to him). Shingo’s unique sense of humour as seen in various Japanese TV shows over the past decade is ideally suited for kids who will have a great time laughing at Hattori’s antics such as disguising himself so as to blend in with his surroundings or bouncing around the screen like a loony! The scenes where he attacks the rice cooker whenever it starts beeping is mildly amusing. Even the scenes showing the former Koga ninjas using their old skills in their new lives manage to raise a chuckle.

Nin x Nin Ninja screenshot

Whilst I enjoyed the comedy, I felt the movie lost a lot of steam in the 2nd half as it turned darker and shifted to concentrate on the rogue Koga ninja Kurokage who is creating havoc and attacking retired ninjas by making them comatose. If you expect to see tons of ninja action during this time you’ll be disappointed as there’s hardly any. Even the so-called showdown at the end is a big let-down. There’s a message in the movie for kids as well of believing in one self. Kinichi is low on confidence but thanks to Hattori who instils a much needed boost thanks to him teaching the young boy some ninja skills he soon gets the respect of his classmates who once tormented him. The 1st half of the movie devotes itself to turning Kenichi’s life around. Hattori also gets to renew an old rivalry with Kenichi’s new teacher called Kemumaki (who happens to be a retired ninja).

This movie is a perfect vehicle for the main star of the show – Shingo Katori. I don’t think many adults will be too enamoured with his performance as he acts like a young child but seeing as the movie is targeted for kids they shouldn’t really complain. I also have to question why Rena Tanaka’s blind painter Midori was in the movie at all as she doesn’t serve any kind of purpose except to be in mild peril. On saying that though, Rena does look beautiful throughout the movie and makes for some nice eye candy. She does well with what little material she is given.

As a drama this movie more or less fails but as a comedy it does pretty well. This is lightweight stuff we’re talking about most of the time and as a movie for kids it succeeds. As long as you realise this isn’t about a movie about a ninja that goes around slicing and dicing people with a sword you should enjoy it.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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school-days-with-a-pig-posterMr Hoshi is a bright and relatively new teacher at an elementary Japanese school who is given a grade 6 class as his charges. He wants to make his mark at the school so he proposes an experiment to teach his students about the food they eat. He wants to bring a small piglet to school, let his pupils look after it for a whole year and then at the end of that period the pig will be taken to the slaughterhouse to be eaten by them. Despite opposition by some staff and parents, the female Principal decides to let the experiment go ahead and soon the pupils are building a pen for the little piglet which they dub ‘P-Chan’. The class take their pig husbandry duties seriously and begin to become quite attached to ‘P-Chan’. He soon grows into a large pig. As the class will graduate at the end of the year, the inevitable question about slaughtering  the pig comes round. Even though it was decided at the beginning of the school year what would happen to the pig, some of the class aren’t happy about killing it and want another class to take over looking after it after they’ve all gone. The final decision rests though with Mr Hoshi. What will he and the class decide to do?

Based on a real-life experiment that took place in Osaka during 1990 which was the basis of a TV documentary, this award winning movie is a moving and educational story about the circle of life and asks the question if we have a god given right to end animals’ lives. How close the script was to what actually took place in Osaka I’m not too sure. I liked the concept of the movie about taking our food for granted and giving a class the responsibility of raising an animal before eating it – basically making them appreciate the food on their plate. The problem the class did was giving the pig a personality and a name. As soon as that happens, you’re giving it a human trait which makes it even more difficult to kill it. It was great to see the youngsters dilingently looking after their pig so well – building a colourful pig pen in their schoolyard, bringing their own food, cleaning the pen etc. They don’t slouch in their duties one bit, taking the challenge they’ve been given very seriously. This was a class that loved the pig they looked after but in doing that became too attached to it. I was expecting some kind of drama to take place with maybe a rival class perhaps becoming jealous of all the attention given to a pig and sabotaging the work the class had done but nothing of the sort happens.

schooldayswithapig screenshot
Even after their teacher had told them right at the start of the experiment what would happen at the end of the year, when it comes to the crunch there is disagreement between the pupils of the class and the teacher decides that a debate is to take place with everybody voicing their opinion about whether to kill P-Chan or keep it alive. The young cast were given a brief outline by the director of what to discuss in this segment so what you see taking place is unscripted and off-the-cuff. I loved this segment and it was very interesting to hear what they had to say and also realistic – very much coming from their heart. All angles are covered by the class. It was very much like watching a politicial debate in Parliament with some heated and passionate opinions taking place between them. On one hand you have some pupils saying they have a responsibility to go ahead with the vow they promised at the start of the yearand others saying what right do they have to send the pig to be killed and that P-Chan should be passed along to another class to adopt so that they take over their duties. Mr Hoshi hardly ever intervenes during this spirited discussion apart from when things get a bit shouty. The viewer is made to choose a side. Mr Hoshi decides to finally settle the argument that a vote should take place and whatever the decision of the vote is to be final. Even when the final tally is counted, the class is split 50/50 so the person making the final decision regarding P-Chan’s fate is Mr Hoshi himself. I think you can tell which way he decides to vote. It was the best thing to happen – that the kids see the fruits of their labour through to the end. Yes, it was sad for the kids but the right decision I thought. Viewers might think it becomes maybe too sentimental near the climax as there are many tears shed by the cast. It shows how much all of them no matter on which side of the fence they were in the debate, they cared very deeply for the pig they called their friend. As this movie was targeted for kids, the actual slaughter never takes place in the movie. It ends with the class running after the slaughter van in slow motion as it gather speed and moving away from them before fading to black. I’m not sure if showing all of them eating the pig afterwards as the final scene would have been a good idea or not to show the class appreciating the sacrifice of P-Chan.

The young cast (all 26 of them) are fantastic with their acting which looks natural and their ability to showcase their emotions. Even though perhaps kids’ opinions are somewhat tossed aside by adults who think they they’re too young to fully understand what’s going on, the pupils here show much intelligence and maturityand it’s good to see a teacher that values their differing views too. They’re all a very likeable bunch of kids as well. Tsumabuki Satoshi who plays Mr Hoshi gives a good and convincing performance as their teacher and yes, the 11 pigs that were used to portray P-Chan are cute!!

Overall, School Days With A Pig is a very good movie to show to children about the food chain and what we eat on our plates which is what the whole point of the story was about at the end of the day. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Here we go with last month’s movies that I checked out. Those that I’ve reviewed will not be in this list:

Kamen_Rider_W_Forever_A_to_Z_The_Gaia_Memories_of_Fate

Kamen Rider W Forever: A To Z/The Gaia Memories of Fate
3 stars out of 5

The Isle 2000
The Isle
3.5 stars out of 5

Satan Returns 1996
Satan Returns
2.5 stars out of 5

Ah My Goddess movie
Ah! My Goddess! The Movie
3.5 stars out of 5

BladeOfFuryCover
Blade Of Fury
2.5 stars out of 5

Riding Bean
Riding Bean
3 stars out of 5

Utsushimi
Utsushimi
3 stars out of 5

Boukenger vs Super Sentai
GoGo Sentai Boukenger Vs Super Sentai
3 stars out of 5

CopsVsThugs_DVD
Cops vs Thugs
3 stars out of 5

kamen_rider_agito_project_g4
Kamen Rider Agito: Project G4
3 stars out of 5

hunter-x-hunter-phantom-rouge
Hunter x Hunter: Phantom Rouge
3 stars out of 5

Sailor Moon S The Movie
Sailor Moon S The Movie: Hearts In Ice
3.5 stars out of 5

Stone Age Warriors
Stone Age Warriors
3 stars out of 5

intoadream
Into A Dream
3 stars out of 5

Hot For Teacher
Hot For Teacher
4 stars out of 5

Street Mobster
Street Mobster
4 stars out of 5

Wolf Children
Wolf Children
4 stars out of 5

Megalopolis Expressway Trial
Megalopolis Expressway Trial
3.5 stars out of 5

pleasure-kill-poster
Pleasure Kill
3 stars out of 5

Labyrinth of Dreams
Labyrinth Of Dreams
3 stars out of 5

Sixty-Million-Dollar-Man
Sixty Million Dollar Man
4 stars out of 5

redpeonygambler
Red Peony Gambler
3 stars out of 5

About Her Brother
About Her Brother
3.5 stars out of 5

Eros High School
Eros High School: Feels So Good
2.5 stars out of 5

samuraisentaishinkenger
Samurai Sentai Shinkenger vs. Go-onger: GinmakuBang!!
3 stars out of 5

Charisma
Charisma
3.5 stars out of 5

girl-boss-crazy-ball-game
Girl Boss: Crazy Ball Game
3.5 stars out of 5

origin_-_spirits_of_the_past
Origin: Spirits Of The Past
2.5 stars out of 5

Girl-Boss-Blues-Queen-Bee_s-Counterattack
Girl Boss Blues: Queen Bee’s Counterattack
3.5 stars out of 5

mardock-scramble-the-first-compression
Mardock Scramble: The First Compression
3.5 stars out of 5

Mardock Scramble Second Combustion
Mardock Scramble: The Second Combustion
2.5 stars out of 5

alone_across_the_pacific_masters_of_cinema_series_uk_dvd
Alone Across The Pacific
3.5 stars out of 5

late-chrysanthemums-movie-poster-1954-1020233480
Late Chrysanthemums
2.5 stars out of 5

Planzet
Planzet
3 stars out of 5

Guzoo
Guzoo: The Thing Forsaken by God – Part I
3 stars out of 5

angel-s-egg-mystical-egg-of-the-angels-1985
Angel’s Egg
2 stars out of 5

Raise The Red Lantern
Raise The Red Lantern
4.5 stars out of 5

red-spell
Red Spell Spells Red
3 stars out of 5

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Ultraman Saga (2012)

Ultraman Saga opens with a powerful apocalyptic vision of Tokyo, buildings destroyed and the city seemingly devoid of life. We are soon introduced to the Earth Defense Force (EDF), Team U. They and a group of young children and the last survivors on planet Earth after the world was invaded by the evil Alien Bat, the rest of the human population having been abducted. In an alternate universe in which he defeated Ultraman Belial in the previous movie (Ultraman Zero: The Revenge of Belial), Ultraman Zero receives a distress call and proceeds into the multiverse and finds our universe. He goes towards the Earth in aid, and from yet another universe, that from which Ultraman Dyna disappeared through a black hole 15 years ago, a young defense team pilot named Taiga is trapped in the ship of an invading alien force, who quickly disappear to another dimension. Taiga soon finds himself in another world, in the apocalyptic version of Tokyo, as Ultraman Zero battles a huge fleet of alien spaceships. As Taiga notices a crashing ship heading straight towards a young boy, he pilots his ship directly into its path in an act of self-sacrifice. Witnessing his brave actions, Ultraman Zero rescues Taiga and joins with him. Taiga soon encounters Ultraman Cosmos and his human host Musashi, along with Team U and the children. He and Musashi learn that Ultraman Dyna and his human host Asuka had once stayed with the team and protected them, but that was lost in battle with the alien Zetton. It is now up to Taiga and Musashi to protect the survivors. However, Taiga is not so happy to be joined with Ultraman Zero, and has no intention of fighting…

Despite the Ultraman movies being targeted primarily for kids, part of the strength of Ultraman has always been the way it also manages to appeal for adults as well. I’ve watched several of the movies they’ve made since 2000 and they’ve been very good but it seems that something has gone wrong with this one as I just didn’t enjoy it that much. It’s like they’ve tinkered with the formula that made the previous movies so good and what you get here leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. The plot I thought was going to be fairly interesting due to the sombre beginning with Tokyo in ruins but this didn’t go anywhere in the end. A bonus for me in initially watching this movie was the addition of several members of my favourite idol group AKB48 in the cast. There are 7 of them in total which includes my oshimen Ayaka Umeda as Misato. Apart from Sayako Akimoto who plays Team U leader Anna, the others don’t get to do that much. The studio obviously thought that they could cash in on the popularity of the group and attract their fans to watch the movie. One of the biggest problems I found was there’s far too many comedic moments which I didn’t find funny at all and were poorly executed. Kids might find it amusing but anybody else will just roll their eyes. I felt that some of the comedy was so embarassing. I didn’t feel any suspense or excitement in the action scenes, I was like “is that it?’. The movie came across as dull and just going through the motions. I wasn’t too keen on the overuse of CG effects either.

Daigo in the role of Taiga/Ultraman Zero is one of the biggest disappointments acting wise in the movie. His performance is cringeworthingly bad and OTT. It’s hard at times to know if the character of Taiga is being serious or funny. Adult fans will find it hard to connect to the character and consequently will not really give a toss about him – I didn’t anyway! Thankfully Takeshi Tsurno as Ultraman Dyna even though he doesn’t appear for nearly 2/3 of the movie gives probably the best performance out of everybody involved which says a lot about the bad acting you’ll encounter. There’s too many kids who are just there in the background of the movie – I’m not sure if their purpose is just to be seen to look happy or sad in some scenes. Makes you wonder why they’re in the movie at all. Only one of them is given a substantial role and I wouldn’t say he’s that great either. I would have liked to have seen more of Ayaka Umeda but alas she’s only seen fleetingly in some scenes.

All in all, not a great movie for Ultraman fans though I’m sure kids will enjoy it. It was lackluster with terrible acting from some members of the cast. I do hope they’ll be an improvement with the next Ultraman movie.

Sadako’s Rating: 2 stars out of 5

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