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Archive for the ‘Romance’ Category

Tales of the unusual

Tales of the Unusual is a 4 story anthology movie which are linked by a group of people stuck together at a train station during a heavy rainstorm. A creepy man in a black suit and sun glasses played by Japanese TV legend Tamori recounts stories to the group. The stories are:

ONE SNOWY NIGHT – a plane crashes in terrible weather on a snowy mountain. Only 5 manage to survive the ordeal with one female Mari having broken her leg. They decide to leave the confines of the plane as it is likely to fall off the mountain but having to carry Mari proves to be a hindrance to them. The best course of action is to make a bivouac and cover her with snow before the rest try and find shelter. They find a hut nearby and make a fire in order to keep warm. When the survivors go back to Mari they find she has tried to dig herself out with her head popping out of the snow. In trying to get her body out of the snow with a shovel they accidentally kill her. Back at the hut, the survivors are picked off one by one until only Mari’s friend is left alive. Has Mari’s vengeful spirit come back to get revenge?

SAMURAI CELLULAR – Oishi is a samurai chief clan in 18th century Japan who is a bit of a coward. Instead of leading his clan against his enemy Kira who killed his master, he prefers to fool about in bed with his mistress. One day whilst walking down a path he hears a mysterious ringing from a small silver box. Poking it with his sword, he hears a voice coming from it. He begins to talk to the voice who tells Oishi that he is from 300 years in the future and he wants confirmation from him if certain historical events are true. The voice tells Oishi that he is a famous Japanese person and that he will lead his clan into battle and become victorious even though he is a coward. Will Oishi do as history says he will do?

CHESS – Chess champion Akira Kato loses his crown to the computer Super Blue. This loss forces Akira to disappear from the chess competing circuit for a number of years. A rich businessman seeks out Akira and forces him to play a game of chess against him but this is a game with a difference. All the moves he makes on the chess board are real and involve real people who will be sacrificed which includes Akira’s wife. Can Akira win the game?

MARRIAGE SIMULATOR – Yuichi and Haru are a couple that met outside a cinema under a year ago and now they are planning the next step in their relationship by getting married. A wedding company has an offer in which the couple can try out a wedding VR simulator in which they are hooked up to a machine that can show them how their marriage pans out in the future. The simulator does not turn out as planned for the couple and it shows the two eventually getting divorced. After seeing this, they decide to cancel the wedding and break up. Sometime later they find out that they still love each other and become a couple once more…..until they wake up and discover they were still playing the wedding simulator.

Tales of the unusual screenshot

This is a spin-off movie from a TV series of the same name that was shown on Japanese TV – it is similar in tone to The Twilight Zone. It’s very rare for an anthology movie to have all stories that are strong and there’s usually got to be a weak one involved and this one is no different. The stories are really diverse encompassing 4 genres (horror, comedy, psychological drama and romance) so if you’re somebody expecting to see just horror stories then you will be disappointed. It makes for great viewing because of that as it should appeal to people across the board. Each creative tale directed by 4 different directors lasts 30 mins and they are completely unrelated.

The ones that I enjoyed the most was stories 1 and 2 with 3 being the one that didn’t do a lot for me. Story 1 is a brilliant horror tale of 4 people trapped in a hut during a blizzard after a plane crash. It’s effective in being really creepy and it even parodies The Blair Witch Project in one scene. There’s not a lot of blood involved but it does deliver in scares. The second story is more of a comedy tale than anything else. I did find it rather amusing with the character of Oishi being coerced by the person from the future on the mobile phone in carrying out certain actions that follow historical events and that his character does actually change because of this interaction. It is through this interaction that Oishi becomes the man that people in the future will remember him. There’s a bit of a twist right at the end of the story which I really found interesting. I’m not going to say what it is as I don’t want to spoil it for anybody but it was really clever. I don’t want to say a lot about story 3 as I found it to be a bit dull and uninteresting although I am sure some people will like it. The only thing I did like about it was the life sized recreation of a chess board. The last story about the couple has a good concept behind it. It’s rather sweet and touching. I was glad that things worked out for the pair by the time the story finished. As far as the Storyteller that links the stories is concerned, there’s no explanation where he comes from. He just appears all of a sudden with a creepy smile on his face. I’m not sure if he’s an employee of the train station whose job it is to entertain people with his stories if they find themselves having to stay there for a while? I thought there might have been a twist involving the Storyteller at the end but nothing happened.

Overall, I found this movie to be a bit of a pleasant surprise as I was really expecting this to be something akin to Creepshow (i.e horror stories). Those wishing to see a slick Japanese slant on The Twilight Zone will enjoy it. Definitely worth your while in checking out.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Laundry (2002)

Laundry 2002

Teru is a 20-something young man who works for his grandmother at a coin laundry. His job is basically sitting right outside the place and looking out for anybody that tries to steal people’s underwear. Teru is rather simple but there’s a reason for that. When he was a child, Teru fell down a manhole and sustained a brain injury. One day a beautiful woman by the name of Mizue comes into the coin laundry and forgets one item of clothing in a washing dryer. Teru rushes after her to return the clothing and a friendship starts between them. Mizue is going through some problems of her own having been dumped by her postman boyfriend on her 25th birthday. Since that time she’s been doing some petty thieving but she doesn’t keep the items. She usually puts them in postboxes. In time the pair begin to depend on each other and an unlikely love story begins…….

It’s refreshing to see a love story which doesn’t dispense any of the saccharine aspect of a relationship between two people. Basically this is a portrait of two lonely people with problems finding happiness in each other and living a simple life. The pacing of the movie is rather slow but as I was so absorbed in the wonderful story that unfolds it didn’t bother me one bit and the 2 hour running time flew by. Apart from the two leads, the movie features some quirky characters that appear every now and then such as a boxer who is confident of winning his next fight but when he doesn’t he oddly climbs inside one of the washing dryers at the coin laundry and looks out through the window!! The supporting character who has the most screentime though is a kind hearted and sometimes angry man named Sally who gives Teru a ride to find Mizue in her hometown somewhere in rural Japan. Sally takes a shine to Teru and promises him that should he ever want any help in the future to come and look for him. That opportunity comes round when Teru is made an orphan after his grandmother passes away suddenly after losing her laundry business to a swindler. Sally makes Teru a helper in his business in which he raises white doves that are then used in weddings. He also gives Teru and Mizue a place to stay in his pad. Suddenly Sally makes an announcement that he is leaving everything to Teru and Mizue (his house, car and his business) as he has a desire to find a foreign wife abroad as he hasn’t had any luck with a woman in Japan. I liked his farewell scene when he stops a car full of young people outside his house and forces himself inside it before it drives off. Teru and Mizue are left to just get on with it and for a while things look good for the young couple until Mizue’s sticky fingers habit comes back to haunt her and shatter their lives.

Laundry screenshot

The two leads are brilliant in their roles. Yosuke Kubozuka in particular delivers a wonderful performance as the sweet and innocent Teru. Even though Teru is mentally handicapped it’s nice to see that he is never tagged as being that. He doesn’t seem to have a bad bone in his body and he has this slight smile on his face all the time whilst wearing a beanie hat on his head (presumably to hide the childhood wound). The only time the viewer sees any outpouring of emotion from him is surprisingly not when his grandmother dies but when Mizue is arrested after trying to steal one too many a time from a shop and she is given a jail sentence of 12 months. To be fair on Teru, he doesn’t abandon Mizue at all and he uses an ingenius way of capturing her attention when she is finally released from jail 12 months on and uses the bus to come back home. Koyuki is also very good as the brooding Mizue. Even though she has a problem with thieving you sympathise with what she’s going through and can sense that the acrimonious breakup with her former boyfriend has affected her badly. She is really hurting inside but thanks to her interaction with Teru the viewer feels that being with him has a healing effect on her. You’ll grow to like the pair as the story wears on and hope for a happy ending for them. I thought that Kubozuka and Koyuki had great chemistry together and were suited to their roles.

I really liked this touching and uplifting romance movie. It’s got a sweet storyline about two vulnerable people which I really got into. It’s directed extremely well by Junichi Mori. The acting, cinematography and soundtrack combine nicely to give the viewer an amazing experience. If you ever have an opportunity to watch this movie, I’m sure you’ll grow to love it as well as I have. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Oasis (2002)

Oasis movie dvd

Jong –du Hong is a man that could be tagged as a simpleton. He’s released from jail for killing a man in a car accident and his family are none too happy that he’s going to be a burden on their lives again. He decides that he wants to say sorry to the dead man’s family even though he has been forbidden from contacting them. Turning up at the family’s apartment, they are furious at him and send him packing but before leaving he sees someone there that pricks his interest. Gong-Ju Han is the family’s disabled member who has serious cerebal palsy. He sees the family leaving her alone at the apartment for most of the day before they come back in the evening. He also watches where they hide the key to the place in the flower vase outside. One day after the family has left, he grabs the key and goes inside.  Although surprised by Jong-du’s intrusion in her apartment, Gong-Ju Han develops a friendship which turns to romance with him. Their happy relationship though is destroyed when Gong-Ju’s family come back early one night and finds the pair of them having sex…….

This is an outstanding romance story with a difference, one that breaks down boundaries and makes for uncomfortable viewing at times but you have to admire director Chang-dong Lee for having the balls to put together a brutally honest story about two outcasts of society who find solace in each other. It’s a thought provoking piece of Korean cinema about how love comes in all shapes and forms and is not just between physically abled people. It can also be seen as a social commentary on how disabled people are viewed by society.

oasis screenshot

The pair are badly treated and ostracised by their respective families. Jong-du gets nothing but contempt whilst Gong-Ju is more or less abandoned by her family.  Even though Jong-du is a man that doesn’t know right from wrong and has a mental illness, he is the only person that treats Gong-Ju Han as a normal human being despite her disabilities. He can look beyond her physical handicap and give her the respect and closeness she desperately needs. The discrimination that the pair endure from society is shocking – none more so than a scene in a restaurant in which the pair are asked kindly to leave. This prejudice culminates in a big misunderstanding when the pair are caught ‘at it’ in Gong-Ju’s bed by her next-door neighbour and her family who think Jong –du is raping her. The viewer knows this isn’t so but as Gong-Ju cannot communicate properly with them it’s an open and shut case for all involved including the police. They cannot comprehend that their love is quite innocent. In their eyes it is sick and twisted. Their blinkered views will make you angry.

The poignant performance of the two leads is nothing short of brilliant. Kyung-gu Sol and So-ri Moon carry the entire movie and deserve nothing but praise for portraying two difficult characters. So-ri Moon’s acting in particular is exceptional. I really did think she was a real disabled actress with cerebal palsy until the viewer is shown a dream-like sequence showing what Gong-Ju would be doing if she wasn’t disabled. The way So-ri Moon is able to show Gong-Ju’s emotions through her facial spasms is nothing short of amazing.

This is yet another excellent Korean movie I’ve seen recently that has blown me away. It’s a classic movie with a compelling storyline and is unlike any romance you’ve seen before.  The movie might make some people feel uneasy (and believe me there are certain scenes which are disturbing) but if you’re a true movie fan this is something you should see and experience. The story will leave an impression in your heart and mind long after the end credits has finished. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Failan (2001)

failanposter

Kang-Jae is a lowly member of a gangster organisation who has seen his best days gone by. He and the boss of the organisation who is Kang’s best friend built up the company but has seen his status change over the years. He is seen as a washed out member of the gang by his young peers. One night Kang’s boss murders a person in a parking lot and rather than going to prison, Kang volunteers to go to jail instead as a favour for his boss. Some months previously, a young woman from China named Failan comes to Korea after the death of her parents to look for work. Her aunt whom she was supposed to be staying with has moved away to Canada. However, because she has no family there now, it will be difficult for her to get a working visa……although there is one way of getting around this. She would have to get married. Kang-Jae who is after some money agrees to marry Failan without having seen her properly apart from a quick glimpse. Failan is sent to work to a small coastal village as a laundry assistant where despite the language barriers at first she is seen to be a valuable worker to her boss. Fast forward to the present day and just as Kang-Jae is about to turn himself in to the police, they come knocking on his door to tell him that Failan has died. In order to go through all the paperwork following her death, Kang has to go on a trip to where she lived and worked. After being handed some letters that Failan had written to him, Kang learns more about her and realises just how grateful she was to him for marrying her. Even though Kang never met his late wife, he begins to develop some feelings for her………

There may be some of you out there that really like romantic dramas and seen plenty of them in your time but I guarantee you won’t have seen an original romantic drama such as this one in which the 2 leading roles share a love for one another but never meet or even speak to each other. All the usual clichés you’d expect in a drama such as this is thrown out of the window to create a unique heartbreaking story which will make a lot of viewers cry. It’s hard for anybody not to be moved by the end credits. It’s a romantic tragedy about two lost souls which really hits you hard in a way that can’t be easily shaken off but I should tell you that it’s not a tearjerker in a normal traditional way.

Failan screenshot

The story is told in a series of flashbacks relating to Failan’s life in Korea and Kang-Jae’s journey to identify her body after her death in the present. The first part of the movie introduces the viewer to Kang-Jae’s seedy world after he’s released from jail for selling porn videos from his shop and the 5 members of the gang he is associated with. Kang-Jae’s life has been in free-fall for some time which is why he’s now just a lowly gangster. He is looked down by fellow gangmembers and even his boss abuses him. He’s what you might call a born loser who thinks by swaggering around acting all tough and being loud that people will respect him. A change occurs in Kang-Jae when he learns of his wife’s death – a person he’d forgotten that he married (he only did it for money after all). He doesn’t seem to care at first but by visiting where she worked, talking to people that knew her and reading the letter she wrote to him, Kang-Jae gets a picture of who Failan was. By learning how she appreciated being given the chance to work in South Korea by Kang-Jae, we see him beginning to develop some feelings for her. His transformation is complete though when a second letter is given to him after Failan’s cremation. It is this letter that finally hits home to him just how much he liked her. But by this time it’s too late and the person he never even met, who gave him the dignity he wanted is dead and he realises the opportunity he’s missed. The term “two ships passing in the night” comes to mind.

If Kang-Jae represents the dark side of life, Failan is the pure and good side. Her shy, quiet and innocent charm will endear you to her and the tragic plight that befalls her will have you in tears. She is probably one of the sweetest female characters you’ll ever see in an Asian movie. It is shown early on that Failan is quite ill but it isn’t explained until much later on in the movie just how seriously ill she is. Her experiences as she tries to fit into her new surroundings with only a very basic grasp of the Korean language will captivate and make you care for her. Failan has no comprehension what kind of a man Kang-Jae is so based on a small photo she has of him smiling and thinking he was so kind for marrying her she assumes he’s a good man. If only she knew the truth about him! It’s because of her beautiful personality and the undying gratitude to the husband she never met that makes her death even harder for viewers to comprehend. I’m not ashamed to say I had tears in my end right at the end of the movie.

The acting by the leading pair is superb. I’m not going to praise Choi Min-sik again because I’ve done it before from other movies I’ve watched him in but I have to say he really is superb here. He gives a faultless performance in this movie and seeing him break down after reading Failan’s 2nd letter it’s difficult not to become emotional yourself. It is Cecilia Cheung though that will surprise many people. I know she’s a good actress and has starred in many HK productions but this role is probably the best thing she’s done over the years. She shows another side to her acting here. Her portrayal of a sad and lonely young woman trying to find her place in a foreign land is stunning. I was astonished just how good she could be given the right role.

All in all, Failan is a remarkable, touching and extraordinary movie with a wonderful plot and excellent acting from everybody involved. Despite the long running time, this is absolutely necessary to develop things in the plot for the big impact near the climax. Don’t miss out on watching this classic movie. It’s as close to perfection as you’ll ever get. Very highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Closed Note (2007)

closed-note movieKae is a college student who is training to become an elementary school teacher. Moving into a new apartment she discovers a notebook that belonged to the previous owner Mano Ibuki. She starts reading from the notebook and discovers what kind of life Ibuki had – how she loved her job teaching kids and how perfect her boyfriend was. Looking out from her apartment window, Kae sees a strange looking young man Ryu Ishitobi staring up at her place. During the spare time she has when she’s not playing the mandolin in an orchestra, Kae works at a fountain pen shop. Ryu pops into the shop one day looking for a very specific pen for his exhibition as he’s an illustrator. By reading more of the notebook, Kae decides to employ some of the tactics used in Ibuki’s lovelife in the hope that Ryu will start noticing her……

This movie is better known for the infamous press conference before the premiere by Erika Sawajiri more than anything else. I’m sure those with an interest in Japanese modern culture will have heard about it. Her moody sullen attitude on that day and the monosyllabic answers she gave to the media did not endear her to the Japanese people who made her public enemy number one. She was rather unprofessional in doing what she did. When a proper apology was not forthcoming from Erika, she was black-balled from the showbiz industry for a good 3 years during which time she moved to London to learn English, got married (and subsequently divorced), went to Spain to do something before coming back home to Japan where she finally made a tearful apology for her past actions. I’m sure the Closed Note press conference is up on Youtube somewhere if you fancy checking it out.

closed-note screenshot

Director Isao Yukisada tried to pull off a hat-trick of commercial weepy success with this movie. Having tugged at the heartstrings of the Japanese public with Crying Out Love From The Center Of The World and Spring Snow, he hoped that this one would also appeal to the same type of people that had flocked to the cinemas before. It did reasonably well at the box office but it never hit the heights of the other two movies due to the fact that the storyline is all over the place, plenty of plotholes, it lacks originality and is predictable. The main problem is with the romance between Kae and Ryo. Ryo makes these overtures towards Kae that he likes her and even buys her some flowers for a mandolin performance but then Kae finds out that he only has feelings for another woman and that the relationship had a tragic ending. Why do all of this if he wasn’t interested in Kae in the first place? There is no surprise for the viewer when they find out the identity of this mystery woman. There’s also no chemistry between Kae and Ryo – I just couldn’t feel anything between them. It just felt like two actors saying their lines and going through the motions. The running time is way too generous for the movie. At 2 hours and 20 mins it outstays it’s welcome by a good 30 – 40 mins. I couldn’t argue though with the beautiful cinematography on show and the transition from the present time with Kae to the past showing Takeuchi’s life was good as well.

If you like to see a movie with some good looking people in the cast then you’ll love this one. For the ladies there’s Yuseke Iseya to swoon over as Ryo. He’s not too bad in the role. Then for the men you’ve got Erika-sama and Yuuko Takeuchi. Erika Sawajiri in my eyes is a gorgeous woman and I’ve always liked her acting over the years in dramas such as 1 Litre Of Tears, Taiyou no Uta and her recent movie Helter Skelter. Yuuko Takeuchi gives a heartfelt performance as the sincere school teacher who goes over the boundaries of her duties to help some of her pupils. I would say it’s Takeuchi that gives the best performance out of the 3 leading stars.

Overall, there’s nothing that really stands out in this standard romance movie. It’s engaging enough and it does keep your interest but it’s not a movie that’s memorable and is rather underwhelming if I’m being honest.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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IGiveMyFirstLove

Takuma and Mayu first met when they were 8 years old at a hospital. Takuma was diagnosed with a serious heart condition which prevents him from doing any physical activity and as such if he does not get a transplant he will not live to 20 years old. Mayu hangs around the hospital as her father is Takuma’s doctor. They begin to become friends and soon even closer than that with Takuma giving Mayu her first kiss. He makes a wish when he finds a four leaf clover in a field that he will survive and they will get married before they both reach 20. As they enter their teenage years, they become a couple and support each other. Takuma though is aware that his time is short and he decides maybe it should be time that he splits from Mayu in order to spare her any more pain. Mayu though is adamant  that they should remain together.  As they are graduating from middle school it seems they will split up regardless with Takuma applying to be enrolled at Shido High School but what he doesn’t know is Mayu has been secretly studying to be enrolled there as well. Takuma’s face is a peach when the student representative to give a speech on the opening day to all the other freshmen is none other than Mayu who embarrasses him before being dragged off by some of the teachers! A freshman by the name of Kou sets his sights on capturing Mayu knowing full well that she is dating Takuma.  Although she brushes him off, he persists in his pursuit of her. Takuma challenges Kou to a 100m sprint knowing full well that ding such a challenge is dangerous to his health. The winner will get Mayu and the loser never has to look at her again. Takuma wins and Kou isn’t happy but he sticks by the rules of the challenge. As Takuma’s condition begins to deteriorate, fate is about to give him a helping hand when Kou is involved in a nasty train accident. He is pronounced brain dead at the hospital and he has filled in a donor card meaning that his heart can be given to Takuma who has no idea that it is Kou’s heart that is to be given to him. But there’s a twist to this tale again………………..

The Japanese love their romantic weepy tales. This movie sticks to the same tried and tested formula but that’s not to say this story isn’t any good because it is.  If you like your movies which have plenty of opportunities for you to cry a river then you’ll get it in spades here. I’m not one to usually watch these types of movies but with Mao Inoue as one of the leads I just had to take a look. This is one of those movies in which they tease a happy ending only for the filmmakers to snatch that happiness and demand that you bawl your eyes out at the climax. It’s a sweet love story with the usual trials and tribulations that couples usually entail though there’s a sentence of death hanging under one of the people involved. It’s obvious from the start even when they were kids how much the couple care for each other. Mayu might seem to some as being too clingy whilst others might see Takuma as not taking full advantage  of the time he has left with Mayu instead of trying to push her away. Despite the problems they encounter along the way (Takuma is distracted by a girl named Ryoko, an old classmate of his who has the same heart problem as he has), the deep bond the couple have is never fully broken.

I give my first love screenshot

The movie does veer into melodramatic territory during the 2nd half as Ryoko passes away in hospital (Ryoko’s death makes Takuma realise the value of being alive and what Mayu means to him) and Kou has his accident. When the viewer first meets Kou, he is seen as being too cocky. Whilst he is very popular at the school especially with the girls, he has his heart set on Mayu whom he calls ‘Princess’. I just didn’t like the fact that he was trying to drive a wedge between Takuma and Mayu but there’s a reason behind this. He had gone through the heartache of losing somebody close with an illness so maybe he was doing Takuma a favour by taking Mayu away from him and sparing her the pain of when he eventually dies. It is shocking though when he has his accident as he runs across a railtrack as the barriers come down and momentarily distracted by a cyclist fails to see the rushing oncoming train which hits him. Mayu and her father do their best to hide the fact from Takuma that it is Kou’s heart which is to be given to him. Takuma’s joy at being given a second opportunity at life though changes when he eventually finds out what has happened and that Kou is in a coma at the same hospital with no hope of ever waking up. Even though both were once rivals for Mayu, he refuses to take Kou’s heart. However, even the transplant opportunity is taken away from him when Kou’s parents reverses Kou’s donor card request when they think that he might have a chance of recovering when he moves his hand even though the doctor says it is only a reflex move. It’s heartbreaking to watch a sobbing Mayu beg and plead for them to change their minds once more but they refuse. Viewers might think the parents as being a bit selfish not to allow their son’s organ to help another person live but one must realise what they are going through and that they are just clinging on to a tiny bit of hope. You can’t blame them at all for that. The ending has a rather cheesy scene which made me groan but I don’t want to spoil it for everyone so I’m not going to say anything more about it. You’ll either think it’s a sweet gesture on Mayu’s part to fulfil a promise she made to Takuma or take it as a strange scene.

Overall the cast are great in their roles. Masaki Okada is good as Takuma who displays a positive attitude to life even when he knows it is going to be cut short but it’s Mao Inoue who shines the brightest in this movie as Mayu, a selfless, headstrong and playful character who is willing to do anything she can to make sure her boyfriend life is extended. They share some good chemistry together.

Have a box of tissues on standby when you’re watching this movie, it does get very sad as we near the climax. It might remind some viewers of their own first love experience. There are one or two humorous moments to lighten up the mood but overall it’s a movie that tugs at your heartstrings.

Unfortunately this is a muted trailer as the audio has been blocked not just in this video but on several other trailers for the movie as well. Sorry.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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a-taste-of-killing-and-romance-1994-1

Judge is the most charismatic assassin in Hong Kong and also the best. During one afternoon whilst driving around in his new Audi car (a gift from his employer for completing his latest hit), he gives a lift to a beautiful woman Yu-Fen who pulls a gun on him. She has just done a hit of her own and thanks to Judge she manages to escape successfully. Judge begins to like this woman but she is unaware that the man she carjacked is a legendary assassin. Both of the assassins are employed by the same person, a woman nicknamed Ice. The two fall in love with each other which does not go down well with Ice who is slightly jealous. Despite this, they continue to work and complete more missions until Ice gives a job to Yu-Fen to kill Judge for not doing a hit properly. Ice’s vicious henchman Shooter turns against his boss and kills her at a gym before turning his attention to Judge and Yu-Fei. Will the two assassins survive the onslaught against them as Shooter targets the pair who are on a luxury boat trip? In addition, a HK police detective is also on their tail and determined to bring them to justice.

Whilst this story is just your standard run of the mill actioner, it is still a very entertaining movie between a pair of doomed lovers which moves at a fair pace and only slows down in the middle during an awful montage sequence which sees the assassin couple mucking about together on the streets of Hong Kong holding hands all to a song which is sung by Andy Lau. With a tag line of “even killers need love”, this should give you enough information what kind of movie this is with a love triangle going on as the couple’s boss Ice becomes jealous of Judge and Yu-Fen’s relationship.

A taste of killing and romance screenshot

The story is hardly original with so many clichés and you sort of know before the end what’s going to happen. I’m happy to say though that the action takes more precedence over the romance aspect. The gun battle sequences are choreographed well enough and prove to be exciting. The shootout on the beach near the climax is a particular highlight. The stylish direction by Veronica Chan keeps things ticking over very nicely. The story gets even better during the second half of the movie when Ice’s henchman Shooter takes matters into his own hands and decides to eliminate the assassin couple. Shooter played by Mark Cheng is probably one of the most vicious bastards I’ve ever seen in an Asian action movie. Not content with killing an old woman by suffocating her in plastic wrap, he even kills an innocent cute little girl by shoving bleach down her throat and putting her dog into the washing dryer. It’s enough to make the viewer really hate his guts and hope he gets his comeuppance.

I wasn’t convinced by the relationship between Judge and Yu-Fen and I felt the chemistry between them just wasn’t there. Anita Yuen looks very nice in her designer garb when the viewer is first introduced to her during a hit job she does and Andy Lau is at his charming best here. This is probably not the best work that either of them has done.

If you’re in the mood for a movie which delivers on the action front but comes with a cheesy romantic sub-plot, this should fill your boots. It’s an adequate but not an essential movie to watch.

No trailer but here’s a clip from the movie

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Love For Beginners (2012)

love for beginners dvd

Hibino Tsubaki a teenage girl starting her first day in high school but she stands out like a sore thumb due to dressing and looking rather old fashioned. She is teased mercilessly by her classmates because of this. Despite this she is rather good at styling people’s hair but for some reason she never does her own.  One of the most popular male students in her class Kyota Tsubaki who is considered quite a playboy starts developing an interest in Hibino much to the disgust of her female classmates.  Although she doesn’t think much about him at first, she does develop some feelings for him and soon they are embarking on a relationship. Things progress well for the couple but then something happens on Kyota’s birthday as Hibino tells him that she loves him. He goes cold on her and even starts ignoring her in class. It is only when his best friend explains to her the circumstances (his mother left him to run away with another man) that make his birthday so difficult that she finally understands but can she make things right again? It doesn’t help when Kyota’s first girlfriend comes back on the scene from the US and tries to win back his heart.

This movie based on a manga proved to be very popular with the female teenage market during my last trip to Tokyo in December 2012 but as this type of movie isn’t really my cup of tea I didn’t go and see it. I thought I’d better take a look at it sometime and see what the fuss was all about which is why I watched it this week! This isn’t a story that strays much from the path taken in similar movies – 2 young teenagers pretty much the opposite poles of each other fall unexpectedly in love and what follows is the usual bumps along the road to happiness that happens to them. There have been loads of these movies done in Japan over the years so anybody expecting an original plot will be left wanting. It’s all too familiar yet there’s something about this movie thanks to the 2 leads that made it enjoyable. According to what I’ve read about the manga, the story has been toned down a bit as there were some strong sexual themes in it. The first hour leads up to the 2 teens becoming a happy couple so you know more or less that an obstacle of some sort is going to drive a wedge between them in the following hour. However, the circumstances with Kyota’s mother which sees her in hospital and leads to a touching reunion I thought was just another excuse to extend the running time. The pace of the movie does drag at times, at nearly 2 hours it was a good 15-20 mins too long. It would have been nice for the plot to tackle something a little bit different between the couple. I also found it to be a little ridiculous that Kyota goes out running in the streets of Tokyo to find Hibino. In such a huge city to find one person couldn’t he have taken the train or subway instead!!

love-for-beginners screenshot

Emi Takei and Tori Matsuzaka play the 2 lovers and this isn’t the first time for them to link up together as they also starred in a 2011 drama series.  They are convincing enough in their roles but I just couldn’t feel that much chemistry between them. The other problem I had with Matsuzaka is he looks older than the rest of his peers in the movie! Given that he’s in his early 20’s and the rest of his co-stars are still in their late teens that’s quite understandable. Emi Takei is perhaps the better out of the 2 leads in the acting stakes. Her character Hibino isn’t what you might call a typical Japanese teenager – she has a rather unique personality! What I found quite amusing is whilst Yua Shinkawa has a role as Hibino’s little sister and she does look younger than Emi in the movie, the truth is Yua is older than Emi by 3 days!!  The rest of the supporting cast are adequate enough in their parts. It was a surprise to see a Western looking girl get a few lines and speak fluent Japanese until I discovered that the actress Erina Dawkins is a Japanese citizen who was born and bred in Gifu City.

There’s no doubt that teenage girls will love this movie but as for everybody else I’m not too sure. It doesn’t cover any new ground and it doesn’t stand out from any of the other Japanese teen romance movies either. The movie doesn’t cover everything in the manga as apparently the couple eventually get married. As predictable as this movie is, I still found it enjoyable especially since the soundtrack has the song Hatsukoi by Mika Nakashima that I fell in love with when I saw the trailer last December.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Kanzashi dvd

A young soldier named Nanmura is on holiday at a beautiful mountain resort with a group of neighbourhood friends from Tokyo which includes a grumpy professor who’s fed up of the constant noise from the various groups that arrive, a married couple and a grandfather with his 2 bored granchildren. As Nanmura is bathing in one of the onsens, he accidentally steps on something which turns out to be an ornamental hairpin. He has to delay returning to his army unit until he has recovered sufficently as he is hobbling badly on crutches. He doesn’t make a big deal of the accident and graciously accepts the management’s apologies. Somehow the owner of the hairpin named Emi is found and a letter sent to her in Tokyo. Sending a letter back with an apology she states she is coming to the resort to personally say sorry to the soldier. Nanmura says to his friends that the accident was “poetic” which makes the Professor wonder if the young soldier wishes for the woman when she arrives to be beautiful. When she does finally turn up and is attractive, the Professor and the rest try to see if Emi and Nanmura will become romantically involved. Emi does her best to help Nanmura with his rehabilitation and seems reluctant to return to Tokyo. Why does she not want to go back there and what will she do once Nanmura is well again and ready to leave?

Kanzashi screenshot

This is the first time for me to see one of director Hiroshi Shimizu’s movies. I don’t think he’s that well known outside of Japan. When you usually talk about classic Japanese directors you sort of know the usual suspects that are going to be mentioned will be Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Naruse and Ozu but not Hiroshi Shimizu. It was nice to be exposed to a movie by a director that I knew very little about and one that I enjoyed very much. Many have said his movies bear a similarity to that of Ozu in his slice of life dramas but also the way he shot his movies as well which is no surprise as they were both friends. Sadly though it seems they only remember Ozu’s movies and not his. The plot is a relatively simple romantic drama with a touch of sadness about it. I’m actually wrong to call it a drama as there isn’t any drama of sorts. The majority of the story focuses on Nanmura and the daily exercises that he does to strengthen his foot. Two boys Taro and Jiro are constantly encouraging him to beat his previous days’ effort out in a small wood with Emi also quietly urging him on from the sidelines. Whilst the supporting characters are trying in their own little way to get Emi and Nanmura to become a couple, we see that neither one of them is bold enough to ask each other out. You can see there’s a spark of some sort between the two of them. She shows how much she likes Nanmura by carrying him on her back when he falls over whilst trying to cross a precarious bridge across a river. There are numerous other small episodes in the movie such as Professor Katae getting increasingly agitated by the various groups of people that are visiting the resort and making a lot of noise coupled with the fact that each time he wants a masseur to relieve his stress there isn’t any available as the other groups have taken them which makes him even more annoyed! There is some comedy in this movie – one such scene has the two boys rooting for their grandfather to beat Professor Katae in a snoring contest which is fairly amusing. The cinematography of the movie is excellent. I have no idea where in the Izu Peninsula they filmed this movie but the location is so idyllic and beautiful near a river. There’s a hint of what was going on in Japan at the time of the movie’s release being addressed by the Professor when he mentions about food shortages although no mention of the war is uttered by any of the characters. Maybe Shimizu made this movie for the Japanese people to forget about what was going on in the real world and transport them to a garden of eden paradise just for a short amount of time.

The performances from the cast are great and look very natural. Kinuyo Tanaka who I’ve seen in several Kenji Mizoguchi movies is brilliant in her role as Emi. The viewer is made to wonder at first just why would she come all of the way from Tokyo to say sorry to Nanmura but gradually as the movie wears on and her friend visits her to try and persuade her to return we are made aware of her background and that she isn’t happy with her life in the big city as a geisha. In the countryside surroundings she seems to have found her place and vows never to return to her old life but at the end when everbody including Nanmura has left the resort to go back to their normal lives she is left all alone, looking lost and forlorn whilst walking around. It is not known as the movie ends what her future holds. I also felt that the character of Nanmura played by Chisu Ryu was a very undeveloped character. He doesn’t have to do much in the movie and Tatsuo Saitô as Professor Katae had a bigger role than him. He comes across as such a grumpy man but his heart is in the right place. The effort he makes to change everybody’s sleeping arrangements so that Emi and Nanmura can be closer to each other rooms’ shows how much he wants the two to have a proper romantic relationship.

Ornamental Hairpin only runs for 70 mins but in that short time there is much to enjoy in this movie. It has made me now want to take a look at Shimizu’s other works which I’m sure to do in the coming months ahead. Recommended.

There’s no trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Warm Water Under A Red Bridge

Yosuke Sasono is a man in his forties who loses his job when his company goes bankrupt. Unsuccessful in job interviews and with his wife and child having left him and constantly nagging for money on the phone, he travels to a small village near the sea in search of a gold Buddha statue that was stolen 40 years ago by a vagrant friend that has just died. His instructions say the statue is under a flower pot in a house next to a red bridge. When he finds the house, he meets the woman Saeko that lives there and follows her to a supermarket. There he spots her shoplifting and leaking fluids from her body. As the woman in question has dropped an earring in the supermarket, he goes back to her place where he discovers that the woman has an unusual secret that requires him to have sex with her! Beginning to fall for the woman, he decides to hang around the village and gets a job as a fisherman. Some of the villagers warn him that the woman will sap all of his vitality away if he continues to see her but will he take on board their advice or carry on with his strange relationship with her……

warm-water-under-a-red-bridge screenshot

This was the last full movie from director Shohei Imamura before he passed away in 2006. Imamura has never been one to shy away from sex in his movies especially those in the lower rungs of society and he continues with that theme in this movie. Here he tackles the subject of loneliness and acceptance in an unusual way in that the character of Saeko’s body fills up with water and the only way of releasing it properly is by having sex. At the height of climax the water inside her gushes out like a water hydrant spraying all over the windows, ceiling and floor of her house! The amount of water released result in a steady stream flowing from her house into the nearby river hence the movie’s title. The water seems to do something to the fish in the river which jump about excitedly! The story might sound like it’s some kind of sex comedy but it’s not. Whilst it does have a couple of raunchy scenes of the couple having sex, they are rather tongue-in-cheek, filmed tastefully and they do make you laugh thanks to a background soundtrack that reminds me of a Carry On movie. These scenes are something which won’t be forgotten in a hurry!! The movie is like a kind of fairy tale and it has a gentle pace about it. It takes it’s time to get going but once you’re fully immersed in the plot you just get carried along with the flow of the movie. The explanation for Saeko’s condition is sort of explained halfway through the movie. The cinematography is excellent with breathtaking views of a mountain range and that of the sea from Saeko’s house. A very idyllic peaceful place to live with beautiful surroundings. Imamura populates the movie with quirky characters such as an African marathon runner training for a race with aspirations to become Prime Minister in his home country in the future, Saeko’s senile grandmother and a couple of old fishermen who are amazed by the large fish they manage to catch in the river after Saeko has released her water. Excellent acting from all the cast but especially from the two leads (Koji Yakusho and Misa Shimizu). The story starts to veer a little bit from the humourous side to the dramatic towards the end as tensions begin to appear between the couple as a face from Saeko’s past suddenly turns up and she seems to think that Sasano only wants to be with her to satisfy his kinkiness with her condition. Is that the case? Is Sasano only with Saeko for her odd ability or does he look past this strangeness and love her for the person that she really is? Imamura also casts his eye on the mid-life crisis faced by Sasano. Drained by what’s happened to him with losing his job, it’s like with his move from the big city and having to adapt to a new way of living in the seaside village, Sasano’s shackles have been casted off and he’s enjoying life with renewed vigour again.

Warm Water Under A Red Bridge is a fun, memorable and imaginative movie with a slightly surreal look on life and love. The quirky characters and the strange plot makes it instantly enjoyable and unique. I found it be quite a charming tale and well worth checking out. Recommended.

I can’t find a trailer for this movie I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Umizaru (2004)

14 men who are the best Coastguard Officers in their region decide to become search and rescue divers – one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs in the world. The training facility has the task to weed out those not deemed good enough for the job as the training is tough and unforgiving. Each of the men has a reason to want to become a diver – if it’s not because its a prestigious position then it’s for other shallow goals such as the divers always gets the nice women! Training Supervisor Taro Minamoto who is battling his own personal demons after losing his diving partner whilst on assignment during his younger days is the man who will sort out the men from the boys. Daisuke Senzaki is a confident man who already holds a diving licence and the training people think he is likely to be a candidate who will pass the training without a problem. Each diver is assigned a “buddy” and in Senzaki’s case he is given a rather weak person in Kudo. Their initial diving training tasks together are fraught with failure as Kudo makes countless mistakes. His peers don’t think he’ll be able to complete the training. This leads to Senzaki and Kudo being humiliated by Minamoto and they have to do pressups etc for failing. It also irks another one of the 14 men – a rather cold guy named Mishima who thinks that Kudo is holding up all of them. However with Senzaki pushing and encouraging Kudo he begins to improve. But tragedy is about to strike the team and Senzaki’s spirit is going to be shaken to the core. Will he carry on with his training or will he quit?

Based on the manga of the same name, Umizaru (Sea Monkeys – a derogotary name for the trainees by people) is what some critics have called the Japanese Coastguard version of Top Gun and with good reason as well. A lot of the plot does mirror that of Tom Cruise’ movie. It’s a good though predictable story behind the training routine of search and rescue divers who have the unenviable task of mostly retrieving dead bodies from capsized ships. It’s also a passage of rite movie and about overcoming the odds both physically and mentally to claim the right to become a rescue diver. The training scenes are pretty interesting to watch and I had no idea before this movie what this entailed. It’s no surprise that it involves a lot of hard work and the failure rate amongst recruits is very high. According to the story, only 1% of all men who apply pass the training to successfully become a rescue diver. The first half of the movie is a mixture of drama and comedy as we follow the recruits who are all a bunch of likeable characters at work and at play but after the tragic event that happens around halfway through the story the mood changes as the men realise what the harsh reality of being a diver is all about especially during the final task they have as trainees when an accident occurs at sea which threatens Senzaki and Mishima’s life. With air running low for the duo and a rescue helicopter arriving too late, it’s up to Minamoto and the recruits to seize the initiative to save their teammates. The movie has a little bit of everything from comedy to drama and some romance. Maybe it’s just me but the whole romance aspect of the movie was unnecessary and only distracted you from the main plot. The whole cast performed admirably and in Hideaki Ito you have a hero you want to succeed and someone for the ladies to swoon over. The bond between the trainees and the ‘team building’ you witness was great. A cheesy tune you’ll hear a couple of times during the movie is Journey’s Open Arms. Why the filmmakers put this cringeworthy song in this movie I’ll never know but it’s inclusion is a mistake.

Umizaru was a huge success on it’s release and to date a TV drama series and 3 movie sequels (the latest one came out in July 2012) means the franchise has become very popular in Japan. It wouldn’t surprise me to see other movies coming out in the years ahead. Having already seen Umizaru 2:Limit of Love many years ago I look forward to watching the third movie soon. Despite some corny scenes which will make you either groan or laugh, it is still a very enjoyable ‘feel good’ movie to watch. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Shiro has graduated from high school, but he’s still not sure what he wants to do with his life. He doesn’t want to go to college so Shiro makes the unusual decision to work at a gas station until he can figure out what he wants to do in life. Shiro’s parents are firmly against his decision to work at the gas station, but Shiro has a secret weapon: his free-spirited grandmother. At the gas station, Shiro meets Noriko (Erika Sawajiri) who is a newcomer to the workforce. Shiro has seen Noriko before as when he was cycling home he chanced upon Noriko giving her ex-boyfriend a hard slap in the face. Shiro didn’t expect to see her again at his workplace. As they become closer, Shiro realizes that he is in love for the first time in his life and the two move in together to share a flat. All seems fine and the two are extremely happy but problems soon occur when Noriko’s ex-boyfriend enters the picture and tries to woo her back. Will Shiro manage to win Noriko’s heart in this battle or is her wealthy ex-boyfriend destined to take her back?

Based on the novel by Eimi Yamada, this isn’t your typical romantic drama although it does have the usual boy-meets-girl who then loses girl and tries to win her back. The reason this is slightly different is because it takes a look at somebody on the receiving end of a rebound and to some viewers it might hit a raw nerve especially if you have been through the same unfortunate situation as Shiro in this movie. The first half of the movie plays out just like any romantic movie – it’s all smiles and we witness how happy the couple are around each other. It is in the 2nd half that things get interesting as Shiro goes through the joy and pain of first love and the agony that Shiro is experiencing is heartbreaking to witness. It is his cool grandmother who dispenses some timely advice to him on how to move on with his life. Basically the message by her simply says that nice guys finish last and although its perfectly OK to be a gentleman, Shiro has to learn to become tough at certain times as well.

At the time this movie came out in Japan, Erika Sawajiri was still one of the country’s beloved teen actresses. Her sulking scandal at a press conference for the movie Closed Note would curtail her career for a good couple of years. The Japanese people which had made it clear through polls in various magazines that Sawajiri was public enemy number one are at last willing to accept her back from the wilderness and her latest movie Helter Skelter has garnered plenty of positive reviews. Erika looks so young and pretty in her role in this movie but she doesn’t have a lot to do though. Unlike Shiro where we get some background to his character, there’s none to Erika’s role. Noriko is a likeable character at first but it’s easy for the viewer to turn against her once she breaks Shiro’s heart. You wonder if she only latched on to Shiro just because he was conveniently available after coming from quite a rocky relationship. Yuya Yagira is fine as Shiro. He displays an innocent and boyish charm about him – then again his character is quite naive in love. I wouldn’t say his performance is special or anything but he does more than enough to make us care for him during his troubled times. Perhaps the best character in the movie is Shiro’s grandmother. A 70 year old free-loving, eccentric hippy who runs a bar and has a young toy boy as her lover. Mari Natsuki is brilliant and steals nearly every scene she’s in.

Although the movie runs just a touch over 2 hours, it’s never boring and the story is actually quite good. It kept me glued to the screen. The awesome soundtrack which features Oasis was fantastic and made me smile.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Set in Hong Kong, 1962, Chow Mo-Wan is a newspaper editor who moves into a new building with his wife. At the same time, Su Li-zhen, a beautiful secretary and her executive husband also move in to the crowded building. With their spouses often away, Chow and Li-zhen spend most of their time together as friends. They have everything in common from noodle shops to martial arts. Soon, they are shocked to discover that their spouses are having an affair. Hurt and angry, they find comfort in their growing friendship even as they resolve not to be like their unfaithful partners.

After watching the excellent ‘Chungking Express’ from Wong Kar-Wai, I bought this movie with high hopes as a lot of people have said this is his best movie. After watching the movie I did end up liking it……sort of. Every frame of this movie is a picture, well thought out and beautifully constructed. From the production design, to the costumes and cinematography it is gorgeous for the eye to behold along with the slow motion photography. There is a shot in which we see the room number 2046, foreshadowing one of Wong Kar-Wai’s future movies. The visuals make up for the plot which is rather thin. The two main characters are each married, and around the beginning of the movie realize that their spouses are having an affair. The two then decide to embark on a path leading definitely to friendship as they are lonely, and quite possibly to a physical relationship. Most of the plot concerns the two attempting to not “be like them”, as to say they will not betray their oaths of marriage as their spouses had. They go on like this for a number of years until finally parting ways because the strain of the relationship had become to much for either to bare. The acting in all its subtlety is superb. Maggie Cheung, who plays the main female role, delivers an unforgettable performance of lust and restraint. It is a very artistic and challenging movie to watch because it wants the viewer to be patient and allow the love story to unfold before your eyes. The soundtrack which uses 2 pieces of music throughout (Nat King Cole singing in Spanish and a violin piece) is nice although many will find them rather annoying by the end credits as both are repeated endlessly.

In The Mood For Love is good for what it is – a very slow, beautiful, melancholic love story with wonderful photography but I just didn’t find it to be an amazing experience.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Told in flashback, Tsuneo is a young college student who works at a mahjong parlour. The people there talk a lot about an old woman who pushes around a mysterious baby carriage. The punters are curious as to who or what could be inside this carriage as she’s been doing this now for 10 years. A chance for Tsuneo to find out arrives by chance as one morning he sees the carriage freewheeling down the street until it crashes with the old woman unable to keep up with it. Tsuneo opens the carriage and finds a woman his age sitting inside. So the mystery has finally been unveiled! He gets to know the two women and even goes back to their house that same morning and eats an amazing breakfast cooked by the woman inside the carriage. The woman is called Kumiko although she prefers to be called Josee after a character from a book she’s read and her elderly grandmother looks after her. Josee has been unable to use her legs since an early age because of cerebal palsy. Having been taken care of by her grandmother since childhood, Josee has spent a sheltered life, reading books that her grandmother has picked up when their neighbours have chucked out their trash. Led by his fascination of Josee, Tsuneo soon begins to regularly visit her run-down house. Josee slowly takes down her guard, and the two mutually begin to care for each other. But Tsuneo is at the same time dating a girl from college called Kanae and her grandmother will not allow Josee to be hurt so she bans Tsuneo from visiting again. Later, he hears that Josee’s grandmother has died so he decides to visit Josee to see how she is. Their relationship quickly becomes close and they start dating but will the path of true love run smooth for this pair?

An excellent unlikely romance movie between a college student and a captivating girl paralyzed from the waist down. It’s got everything you’ve come to expect from modern Japanese cinema with a quirky storyline, subtle comedy, a pair of engaging and extremely likeable leads and above all a movie that draws you in from the first scene. Clocking in at nearly 2 hours, I did expect the movie to lag a bit but it never did…..probably because I was so engrossed in the storyline. It never gets boring or outstays it’s welcome. There’s a message in the movie that you can find true love in the least likely of places. I did like the love triangle aspect between Josee, Tsuneo and Kanae. The slow pace of the movie gives us plenty of time for some crucial character development.

Chizuru Ikewaki’s performance as Josee is truly fantastic. Strong-willed, sarcastic and frank she may be on the outside but we sense that underneath that bravado there’s a very sweet, shy and vulnerable girl hiding inside. Satoshi Tsumabuki also does his job quite well as the easygoing Tsuneo – showing a great deal of charisma but not to the extent when he could come off to the viewer as being smarmy. The chemistry and intimacy between the two characters as they grow closer to each feels quite real and convincing, and it is entertaining to just watch them interact casually at the same time. Juri Ueno gets a chance to leave her usual comedy characters behind to take up a serious role as Tsuneo’s girlfriend Kanae who feels humiliated that a disabled woman has stolen him from her. Watch their slapping encounter on the top of a hill as she confronts Josee when she’s been taken around in her carriage by a young neighbour. The other supporting roles are good as well.

If you are interested in an off-beat romantic drama full of fascinating characters which has an intelligent and insightful story then you will love it. I know I did.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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As the movie begins, we see a depressed Japanese man called Kenji attempting to hang himself but being thwarted by the doorbell of his apartment going off. Kenji lives in Bangkok, Thailand and works in a library there. He doesn’t have a girlfriend and he seems to be an impeccably clean person judging by the rigid state of his apartment where all sorts of books have been stacked around in alphabetical order and the place looks spotless. A person with an OCD disorder perhaps? His brother arrives to see him because he’s in trouble which starts chain of events in Kenji’s life. Kenji murders two people in his apartment and is about to throw himself from a bridge when he sees a young Thai girl Nid in a Japanese school uniform who’s having an argument with her sister Noi. He had noticed her earlier at his workplace and was transfixed by her. When Nid is distracted by Kenji, a passing car slams into her instantly killing the young girl. This tragic incident brings Nid and Kenji together when he asks if he can crash out at her dirty apartment for a couple of days. Thus starts a peculiar romance between the two where they gradually become to depend on each other. When Nid’s gangster ex-boyfriend sticks his nose in her business once more and 3 yakuza arrive from Osaka to see Kenji, the stage is set for a collision.

What an impressive movie this was and so interesting to watch. It’s a surreal romance of sorts (not of the ordinary sort) and also a clash of two differing cultures in more ways than one. Nid being a Thai girl and such a slob, not really giving a toss about cleaning up her place in comparison to Kenji a Japanese man who’s too much of a neat freak for his own good. However the two of them together seems to work, bonded by tragedy. I guess the term ‘opposites attract’ is perfect for the situation. They find solace in each other as both are lonely. The movie is touching, entertaining, and even hilarious at times especially when the 3 yakuza characters come to Bangkok. One of them with a plaster underneath his eye goes around asking every man he comes across if he’s Kenji. The stupidity of his action usually follows with a swift slap across the head. It really is funny to see. Takashi Miike plays the head yakuza gangster by the way so that kind of explains why we see a movie poster of Ichi The Killer shown in the library where Kenji works.

The two leads are excellent. We know what Tadanobu Asano can do as he is such a remarkable actor and he excels again in this movie as Kenji. I’d never seen Sinitta Boomyasak before but she is equally as good in her role as Nid. Seeing Kenji and Nid try and communicate through broken English, a little bit of Japanese and Thai was so good as you can see the chemistry between them. Their mis-understandings of language are juxtaposed with their understandings of each other. There is nothing so clear as body language and this movie relies heavily on the physicality of the two leads. You know that both like each other but have difficulty in expressing their feelings. Their quirky relationship is a joy to watch.

Last Life In The Universe is a fantastic Thai movie which deserves to be seen more by Asian movie fans. Director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang has to be congratulated for weaving such a beautiful tale. The pacing may be too slow for some and the action (if I can call it that) is sporadic so be aware of that. Highly recommended and unmissable.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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