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Archive for the ‘Japan’ 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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Blind_Beast_vs._Killer_Dwarf_

Detective Akemi teams up with his friend, a novelist called Monzo after the disappearance of two women. Although reluctant at first to accept one of the cases, Akemi decides to help Monzo out in trying to locate the missing daughter of his female acquaintance. The other case has the two trying to solve the disappearance of a dancer Ranko Mizuki who vanishes suddenly after a show. Ranko has been kidnapped by a blind masseur who has imprisoned her in his art studio which has walls lined up with plaster cast impressions of body parts. Ranko fails to escape from the madman’s lair and actually starts to enjoy his sexual perversion. Monzo also sees a dwarf carrying what appears to be a human arm in a park at night. Soon after other female body parts begin to appear in some public art displays, one of which is attached to the famous statue of Saigo Takamori in Ueno Park, Tokyo. Will Akemi and Monzo be able to find Ranko and also capture the dwarf who is murdering people for all the abuse he has endured over the years?

This was maverick Japanese director Teruo Ishii’s final movie before his death in 2005. Whilst he directed many exploitation classics during the 60’s and 70’s, this movie unfortunately is terrible. The story is a combination of 2 novels by Edogawa Rampo. Everything about this movie is awful. Ishii in the past had been able to use of the limited budget at his disposal to his advantage and make his movies look good and professional. I hate to say this but this movie looks very amateurish and to make things worse the directing is inept and I’m sure a university film student could have done better.

BBvsKD screenshot

Ishii sticks to his favourite genre of violence and sex (ero-guro) for the story. The movie title makes you think that both the antagonists fight each other but the truth is there is never a confrontation between the blind masseur and the killer dwarf. The storyline is confusing and doesn’t make sense even though the premise could have been interesting. I felt they were making the plot up as they were filming. Whilst I can understand why the dwarf was going around killing people as the world has been mocking him for his size, the same cannot be said for the blind masseur. There is some nudity and a tiny amount of gore involved…….well this is an Ishii movie after all so it’s to be expected from him. You’d think in his twilight years he might have toned down the content of his movies but no, he didn’t do that at all!!

The acting by nearly all involved is horrible and it’s a shame to see a star such as Tetsuro Tamba having to perform in such an abysmal movie. The majority of the cast were complete unknowns. Only a couple of positives can be said about the whole production. Hisayoshi Hirayama is repugnant as the blind masseur who is looking for the perfect female model for his work. His whole look is disgusting. One critic has said he looks like a naked mole-rat and I have to agree that the description is spot on. Some of the bizarre things on display include a human hand being attached to a balloon which is seen floating about in the sky after a female victim is dismembered! I did like the imagery inside the blind masseur’s studio which is like a cave decorated with plaster casts of female body parts.

I cannot recommend this for anybody except for Ishii completists. It’s not a great swansong for such a talented director. One to avoid I’m afraid and certainly not a movie to watch with the family!!

Sadako’s Rating: 1.5 star out of 5

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Documentary-of-AKB48-The-time-has-come-poster

This is the 4th AKB48 documentary to be released. Usually the documentary chronicles major events that have taken place for the group over a 12 month period but this one is different. I expected it to record everything that happened in 2013 but it only starts in December 2013 and covers things until June 2014. The same style as the other 3 documentaries occurs with behind the scenes footage at concerts and interviews with various members.

It is only fitting that a lot of the movie focuses on one member – Yuko Oshima whose graduation announcement on the annual New Year’s Eve Kouhaku TV programme shocked fans and AKB48 members alike. Only a few of her close friends in the group knew about this and for the rest it was an earth shattering announcement that leaves a lot of the girls in tears. Yuko has been one of the most popular members in the group and one of the few remaining veterans since AKB48 was formed. She is a well-respected sempai within the group by fellow members and staff and loved by the fans. Her leaving would leave a big hole to fill. Initially Yuko was due to graduate at a big outdoor concert at the National Stadium during a 2-day concert in late March but as viewers soon discover her plans for a grand farewell to rival Atsuko Maeda are scuppered by bad weather which leaves her devastated as the chance for her to move on with the next step in her life is delayed by a couple of months. She was also upset at letting everybody down even though it wasn’t her fault. It would have been dangerous for AKB48 to perform in the high winds and rain. The concert would be rescheduled for June instead. The Gods thankfully bless her with favourable weather this time round and she is given the sending off she deserved.

The documentary also concentrates on the future of the group. With so many of the veterans having left, it is up to the younger members to step up and show what they’re made of. It isn’t easy though for the youngsters as many are worried that they’re not good enough to replace their elders. One such member is Nana Okada who like many members of the same age has high expectations of herself. Whether she takes the bull by the horns and progresses to be a major player in the group is yet to be seen.

Documentary of akb48 time has come screenshot

Another big event that took place in early 2014 was the major reshuffling of all the 48 groups with friends being separated and moving away to other parts of the country. Viewers might not understand why some members get too emotional about it as they should know it’s a part of their job. For some members though it’s too much as we see some collapsing and hyperventilating upon the news that they are to be moved to another group. For others like Ayaka Kikuchi who is seen to be very unhappy at her transfer it’s the signal for them to quit and in April she indeed graduated from AKB48.

Then there was the terrible stabbing incident that took place in May 2014 at a hand shake event which left 2 members lucky to escape with their lives as a knife wielding maniac slashed wildly at them. Both girls were fortunate not to have anything more than minor injuries but I’m sure the mental scars of such a traumatic ordeal will live with them for a while. I’m surprised the filmmakers only touched on this briefly as it was a major incident which had consequences for all future hand shake events and prompted management to employ security measures for AKB48 Theater performances.

This leads to the final subject of the documentary which is the annual Senbatsu Election (this is done to determine who gets to be the centre of an upcoming single). In 2013 Rino Sashihara shocked everybody by winning the election which nobody saw coming. Some thought that with Yuko not in the election, it might have been a foregone conclusion that Sasshi would have won again given she was way ahead on votes in the first preliminary count but there’s a twist to the tale with Mayu Watanabe pipping Sasshi to be no.1. It’s been Mayu’s dream for years to win this election so it was nice to see her finally do it and with a hefty 17k majority on her nearest rival. Sasshi mentions that she’s frustrated at losing but before the voting results she says she wouldn’t mind losing to her close friend but if a junior member beats her that would bug her.

The documentary ends with a simple 1 second shot of Yuko having graduated on a surfboard in the sea somewhere I assume in Hawaii.

Obviously if you’re not a fan of AKB48 and it’s sister groups then this documentary will not interest you one bit but it’s must-see for the hardcore fans. Even though my interest in the group has waned a lot over the past 18 months, I have still rated this as 5 stars.

Sadako’s Rating: 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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Kirei

Yoko is a young and beautiful plastic surgeon who charges her patients whatever she feels like. She can get away with doing that as her patients will spend vast amount of money to make themselves beautiful and besides she hates being around “ugly people”. One night a disfigured young woman by the name of Yoshie turns up at her surgery practice begging for Yoko to make her beautiful. She doesn’t want the work to be done in the day but rather at night. Yoko at first refuses but when she sees the vast amount of wealth that Yoshi has at her disposal she agrees very quickly. At first it is only her face that Yoshie wants to be changed but gradually she wants more and more surgery done on her body including her private parts. It seems that Yoko has awakened a monster in Yoshie who demands constant surgery and when Yoko refuses she makes life hell for her.

J-horror fans who are bored with the tired formula of long haired antagonists will probably like this original movie which looks at how far some people will go in order to achieve being beautiful. Young women in particular feel under pressure these days to look good in particular when images of thin stick celebrities and models are constantly thrown at them on TV. In Japan it is the same with some music idols having to stick below a certain weight or they will be deemed as having broken their contact. This movie has a twisted psychological plot in which you might think that Yoko deserves all that she has coming to her due to her personality and greed for money. The first half of the movie builds up the plot in the sense that you have an inkling that you’re expecting something to happen. It’s more concerned with showing the viewer what an unpleasant and self centred character Yoko is before descending into disgusting body horror during the second half. Whilst there are some unpleasant imagery and blood on display, it’s still a rather tame effort from director Katsuya Matsumura who has helmed many entries in the very gory All Night Long series.

kirei_07

It’s obvious that this is a low-budget movie given that there is no outside location used and the majority of the story is based in Yoko’s surgery. If I’m being honest the movie only picks up during the 2nd half as Yoko refuses to do any more surgery on Yoshie until her scars have healed but this just won’t do for her. Yoshie disappears for a couple of months until Yoko is called out to a bogus restaurant date and when she comes back to her surgery she finds her lover is having sex with Yoshie (now a beautiful woman). Yoshie kills Yoko’s lover and laughs maniacally about it. Yoko had previously told Yoshie not to use the muscles in her face too much as the work she’s done could come apart and this is what happens as Yoshie’s nose splits with a small white horn of some sort breaking out through her skin. This is only the start of Yoshie’s personal revenge on Yoko as she replaces some water that Yoko’s receptionist uses to wash her face with acid! Even when Yoshie has achieved what she set out to do to Yoko, it becomes clear that she has gone completely insane.

I wouldn’t say the acting by the cast is amazing. I’m sure male viewers will enjoy seeing Yukiko Okamoto who plays Yoko naked in her sex scenes (of which there are a few). Asuka Kurosawa’s face as Yoshie is mostly hidden under some prosthetics to make her features look disfigured. The script could have been written better as it never explains how Yoshie has unlimited amounts of wealth for her surgery. There is basically no character development whatsoever.

All in all, this is a watchable movie. Good to watch once but no more. It had a chance to provide something different to J-horror fans but thanks to the lazy script it fails on every count. A missed opportunity.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 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.

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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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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.

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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)

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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?

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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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Stand By Me Doraemon (2014)

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10 year old bespectacled boy Nobita is visited by Sewashi, one of his great great grandchildren from the 22nd century who emerges from a drawer in Nobita’s desk with a warning that his future will bring him misery if he continues down this path which will ultimately have him marrying Jaiko, the sister of the class bully Gian. Sewashi brings along a robot cat with him, Doraemon whose mission is to change Nobita’s timeline so that his future will be brighter, happier and that he marries the classmate he likes Shizuka instead. Unless Doreaemon can do that, he won’t be able to go back to the 22nd century. Doraemon secretly lives in Nobita’s closet in his bedroom and with plenty of gadgets at his disposal sets about changing Nobita’s life for the better. Will Doraemon succeed in altering Nobita’s timeline?

Doraemon is a Japanese institution and one of the country’s well known manga/anime character. Nobita and Doraemon’s adventures have captured the hearts of the Japanese people for well over 40 years. The blue robot cat from the 22nd century first appeared in a manga in 1969 before getting his own anime series during the 70’s. The latest anime series which is still running on Japanese TV has been on air since 2005. Not only is Doraemon popular in Japan, he also has a huge fanbase in Indonesia. I’m ashamed to say I had no exposure to Doraemon at all until I saw this movie. I’d heard about him and read some titbits about the character but I’ve never seen the manga or the anime. This movie goes back to Doraemon’s origins in visiting Nobita for the first time as well as reliving some of his famous adventures over the years. There were some rumours that this was going to be Doraemon’s final movie but I’m happy to say that it is all hogwash as he will be back on the big screen in 2015. This movie was also released to celebrate Doraemon’s creator Fujiko Fujio’s 80th birthday (even though he passed away back in 1996). The movie first appeared in Japanese cinemas during early August and it is still running even now (well it was in early December when I was in Tokyo anyway). It’s probably the biggest money spinner in Japanese cinemas this year and it wouldn’t surprise me if a third of Japan’s population has seen this movie.

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For those that have been following Doraemon’s recent anime adventures, they will notice a big difference between this movie and his previous adventures. This one has been made into a full CGI 3D movie and it looks stunning. The attention to detail and the vivid colours used make this movie a fantastic visual experience. It may take a little bit of time for his fans to adjust seeing him look differently from his 2D self but it’s well worth it in my opinion! It makes a huge difference in how fans see all the characters they love and I really hope that all of Doraemon’s future movies will be made the same way. The movie is basically about Nobita and Doraemon’s strong friendship, how they help each other out and how the young lad begins to grow as a stronger person thanks to his new friend. He’s initially a bit of a wimp and even though Doraemon’s gadgets which he can produce from a pouch near his stomach such as an invisibility cloak gets him out of trouble they have their limitations as well. Nobita’s plans don’t always work out so he has to overcome those challenges himself. There is confusion for some fans who assume that Doraemon is not allowed to go to the future because of his programming but that isn’t the case. He may not be allowed to go back to the 22nd century but there’s nothing to say he can’t go into the near future which he does with Nobita through the aid of a magic door. The movie has got a straight forward and easy story that everybody can follow. For parents of young children and adults going to see this movie, they can wallow in nostalgia and identify with Nobita’s plight because they themselves will have gone through the same passage of growing up. You do care for the characters and want Nobita and Shizuka to fall in love with each other even though there are some obstacles in the way such as a young male classmate of Nobita’s that seems to make Shizuka’s heart all a flutter. You begin to wonder if Nobita will ever get together with her. Doraemon himself is such an adorable and mischievous character. The 3D effects capture his expressions so well especially the big wide grin on his face. I can understand why the Japanese people love him so much. There are plenty of laughs to be had but also some tears near the end when Nobita has to say goodbye to Doraemon or does he…………….

This is a fun, entertaining but also a touching family movie. It’s a brilliant introduction for those that have yet to see any of Doraemon’s adventures so far. The animation is amazing and there’s a very nice soundtrack accompanying the movie too. The wonderful story has it all from drama, humour, tears and happiness. Be sure to watch the end credits as there are outtakes of the movie which are amusing (it was a novel way by the animators of making sure that punters stayed in their seats till the very end of the movie!) Well worth checking out and it comes highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Library Wars (2013)

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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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