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Archive for the ‘Takashi Miike’ Category

As_the_Gods_Will-p1

A number of students are forced to play a number of deadly games at their school in which their lives are put on the line. The first challenge involves them playing ‘statues’ against a talking Daruma doll. Somebody has to hit the button on the doll’s back to stop a clock which is counting down to zero but it isn’t easy to do because if the doll catches a pupil moving when it turns around to face them their heads explode in a burst of blood and red marbles spill out of every orifice they have. A lone survivor, a teenage boy named Shun Takahata survives the massacre but his nightmare is only beginning. Out in the hallway, he meets a girl he likes called Ichika. Both make their way to the school gymnasium where they see many pupils have dressed up in mouse costumes. All of a sudden, the wooden floor opens up to reveal a giant mechanical talking beckoning cat (maneki-neko) with a spring attached head. The cat attacks and devours those dressed in mouse costumes. Again there is a countdown clock going down to zero and this time the only way to stop the clock is to shoot a basketball shaped bell through a hoop on the cat’s neck. Other challenges include singing kakeshi dolls and Shun facing off against an evil classmate. Will anybody be able to survive the ordeal and why have the students been chosen to play these games?

This was the first movie I watched after coming to Japan in November. With director Takashi Miike you’ve come to expect the unexpected from him and this movie is probably the craziest one he’s ever done. With a bigger budget at his disposal and loads of CG effects, Miike lets his creative juices flow and he doesn’t disappoint. The movie has been adapted from a popular manga. From the get go of the movie, viewers are immersed into a bloodbath situation inside a classroom in which heads explode in a fountain of crimson and it really does hook you in. The violence on show might be gory as hell but it is done in such a cartoonish way that you can’t really take any of it seriously and Miike is certainly having fun with this story. What’s interesting about the surreal childhood playground games that take place is all of them involve something associated with Japanese culture. It’s amusing to see these traditional cultural icons become instruments of death. The maneki-neko has to be the most insane creation I’ve seen in a Japanese movie for a while. The story moves from one lethal game to the next with plenty of long talking sequences inbetween and part of the fun in watching the movie is seeing what Miike will come up with in the next game. A subplot has a massive floating white cube hovering above Tokyo Tower with the games being broadcasted on screens for the general public to see. The school pupils have been chosen as God’s Children to test their survival skills in order to prove that God exists which sparks off street riots and unrest. Do they eventually find that there is a God out there? Well a large wooden evil polar bear and a talking fish are represented as Japanese Gods in the movie.

As the gods will screenshot

The story’s protagonist Shun is your typical good looking Japanese teen hero. He may be responsible for putting his classmates through their ordeal due to becoming bored and wishing for the uninteresting world he lives in to be destroyed. The game masters are quick to give Shun a polar opposite of himself in a classmate Takeru that likes to inflict pain on his peers and during the climax both clash in a fight to the death. Although it might look on the surface that an alien force could be behind everything at the school, there’s a hint that human hands could be the mastermind of it all as it shows a reclusive computer geek in a room controlling things. At two hours long, it’s inevitable that the movie begins to run out of steam during the 2nd hour and although the movie on the whole is interesting, nothing can top the opening spectacle in my opinion. If there’s a social commentary about religion by Miike in the movie, it’s been lost on me due to not understanding Japanese properly. That’s the problem with watching a foreign movie RAW with no subtitles. In order to fully enjoy this movie, I will just have to wait until a subtitled DVD version comes out.

Overall, even though this movie is great to watch, it’s certainly not one of Miike’s best. I enjoyed it up to a point. There was just too much talking going on in some sections for my liking. I did find the set-pieces very inventive and unique but the story did become tiresome as the movie wore on. I felt Miike was trying to lengthen the movie too much. A good 20-25 mins needed to be cut for the pacing to be better. It’s definitely worth a watch though for Miike fans.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Shinjuku Outlaw dvd

Yomi is a yakuza henchman in Hiroshima. His boss is dying from cancer in hospital and the clan members are worried that his impending death will make their rivals move in on their territory. Yomi volunteers to kill the boss of a rival clan so that any idea they’ve got of trying to moving into their turf will be quashed. A plan is arranged that once the job is over Yomi will be picked up by the police should he survive. He tracks the rival boss to a bowling alley where he is having fun with his family which includes his young granddaughter. He manages to kill the boss but he isn’t so lucky in escaping and he is mown down in a hail of bullets by the boss’ bodyguards. He survives the ordeal but only just. He falls into a coma as he arrives at the prison hospital and wakes up 10 years later where many things have changed. His trusted friend Eto has moved to Tokyo and taken Yomi’s girlfriend Ayumi with him to run a Filipino prostitution ring. Eto has run himself into some debts and when Yomi comes to visit him he is kidnapped by those he owes money for. To the surprise of many people, Yomi decides he’d like to help Eto out. Everybody thought he’d kill Eto for stealing his girl. The Shinjuku yakuza hear about Yomi’s arrival in Tokyo and make him an offer that he simply can’t refuse by forcing him to work for them. In doing so, Yomi gets himself entangled in a situation which involves a corrupt cop and the Taiwanese mafia.

This is one of Takashi Miike’s earliest yakuza works and although this movie isn’t quite as extreme as what he would release later in his career, the viewer will quite clearly be able to see that some elements are beginning to come through (a yakuza is beaten up in the street by a Taiwanese mafia member who then urinates on his prone body before shooting his brains out!). If there’s one thing you can say about Miike’s yakuza movies they are entertaining as hell and so different to anybody else. Even a low budget yakuza movie such as this one by Miike is better than what many established directors can come up with in the genre. The plot is interesting about the Japanese yakuza having some issues with the Taiwanese mafia who are hoping to take over their rackets. The movie also has some quirky characters – a staple feature of Miike’s movies. The pairing of Yomi with a streetwise Filipino prostitute working for the Taiwanese mafia is a good one although there’s a twist in their relationship right near the end of the movie. You can see it coming a mile off that something is bound to happen between them.

Shinjuku Outlaw screenshot

If there’s one thing Miike doesn’t shy away from in his movies is in his depiction of violence against women. One scene features a young woman being battered in her apartment by a yakuza member. It’s a vicious prolonged assault which has the unfortunate woman being thrown down some stairs, getting her head smashed into a wooden door before it ends with her collapsing into a heap in her bathroom. It’s an uncomfortable scene to watch so be warned if you don’t like seeing violence against women. Was it necessary to have such a scene in the movie? Probably not as it doesn’t serve any purpose whatsoever but that’s Takashi Miike for you. He also ups the violence factor in the final third as the battle between the Japanese yakuza and the Taiwanese mafia spills out into the streets. The brutality of the Taiwanese gang members is there for all to see as the viewer witnesses a montage showing one member shooting one of the yakuza whilst dancing. You could only see something as bizarre as this in a Miike movie!

Hiroyuki Watanabe is great as the lead character Yomi. I don’t think I’ve seen him in anything before. He carries the role really well although all he has to do if I’m being honest is try to act tough but the same thing can be said about all of the cast members playing yakuza members. They’re not going to win any awards for their acting that’s for sure. Ruby Moreno is also solid as the Filipino actress playing the character of the prostitute that Yomi strikes up a relationship with.

Shinjuku Outlaws will never be one of Takashi Miike’s best movies but if you want to see the great man at the start of his career where he honed his skills as a storyteller and director, I’m sure this movie will more than satisfy anybody.

I’m sorry but there’s no trailer for this movie.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Like A Dragon posterKiryu Kazuma is a former member of the Tojo yakuza clan who has just been released from jail after serving a 10 year sentence and has vowed to go straight. Kazuma decides to help a young girl called Haruka out who is looking for her mother. All they have as a clue as to her whereabouts is she is working in a seedy club. Meanwhile Majima Goro, another member of the Tojo clan hears of Kazuma’s release and has a score to settle with him. A report in the news claims that a bank has been robbed of 10 million yen and that Kazuma is the prime suspect. Along with a couple of henchmen, he sets out to find Kazuma and finish off something they started before Kazuma was thrown in jail. Inside the bank that has been robbed, a couple of stupid masked thieves hold all of the staff hostage with guns asking for money not realising that the bank’s safe is empty! With a room full of police next door to the bank, the pair decide to sit it out.  A pair of young adults (a male and a  female) decide to start robbing shops for fun…….

When I reviewed Takashi Miike’s adaptation of Phoenix Wright a little while ago I thought that was the only movie based on a video game he’d made. Well how wrong I was because last week I saw this movie which is Miike’s take on the popular Sega PS2 “Yakuza” Part 1 game.  As I’m not a gamer I haven’t played it at all. This is a movie that Miike has done with a wink in his eye so it’s not to be taken seriously at all. The trailer doesn’t give you an indication though of the amount of humour in the movie because I was expecting it to be a serious movie. It took me a bit to realise that the comedy in the movie was intentional so after that I forgot about any preconception I had about the movie and just sat back and enjoyed it for what it was. In the hands of a director who hasn’t the experience of making a yakuza movie, perhaps mixing cartoon violence with humour would not work but with Miike (who is a master of the yakuza genre) it works very well. As I’m not familiar with “Yakuza”, I cannot say whether the characters, story or the locations used in it is faithful or not. How difficult was it for Miike to whittle the 15 hour game plot into a 100 min movie I don’t know but I liked what I saw.  Some viewers might say there’s just too many sub-plots going on in the movie and not all of them are given enough screentime. It’s a valid enough point. One such example of this is the two robbers inside the bank. I felt their story was relegated to the background and didn’t really serve a purpose to the overall plot.  A problem arising from being thrown straight into the plot is there’s no background on why Kazuma has been sent to jail for 10 years and what’s the relationship between him and Haruka’s mother. Maybe for those that has played the game all that is explained?  The hero of the movie Kazuma is a charming character despite being an ex-yakuza member and I liked how much he was determined to help the cute young girl Haruka in seeking out her mother. His nemesis Majima is an amusing and insane character who regularly uses a baseball bat and ball on his enemies. Perhaps if Miike had focused the story solely on what was going on between Kazuma and Majima it would have been better but it looks like he’s tried to cram as many things from the game as possible.  Nevertheless I did find all of the characters in the movie to be interesting. Nobody will be able to say that the action sequences aren’t anything less than brilliant, exciting and typically OTT though it’s been toned down a bit by Miike standards. Some of the fights are a bit unrealistic but seeing as this is a movie based on a game that’s understandable. Some of the characters are covered in an dazzling aura when they’re powering up their energy i.e Kazuma is on the verge of being defeated in a fight when he guzzles down an energy drink to regain his strength. I’m taking it that’s a feature inside the game.

Like A Dragon screenshot

The movie is set in the seedy red light district of Kabukicho, which is close to the east exit of Shinjuku train station. This area is familiar to myself because it’s quite close to my ‘local cinema’ whenever I’m in Tokyo – Shinjuku Piccadilly. Although I’ve only walked around the area during the daytime when it’s safe, it is at night that the place comes alive with its bars and host/hostess clubs brimming with customers mostly salarymen. I’m sure I’ve seen a couple of real-life yakuza people in their dark suits hanging around buildings there. There are some horror stories of foreigners having gone into some bars there thanks to the yakuza’s tactics of having a beautiful young girl outside to encourage patrons inside and ended up with a massive bill to pay at the end of the night. If you do visit Tokyo one day don’t be put off from visiting Kabukicho (once called the most dangerous area in the city). As I have said it’s fine during the day but have your wits about you at night especially if you’ve been drinking otherwise it could turn out to be a very expensive experience for you. Lecture over!

The acting is fine from the cast for the movie but I have to say that Goro Nishitani is head and shoulders above the rest and is just a delight to watch as the insane Majima. Just take a look as how he kills a man by smashing a home run ball to his head with a baseball bat! He lights up the screen and overshadows Kazuki Kitamura as the hero Kazuma. The only characters I found a little bit annoying were the male/female couple  who go on a stealing spree. Whilst Saeko who plays Yui does look cute, I found her whiny attitude grating. Miike regular Sho Aikawa is wasted in a role here as a police detective.

Overall, I really enjoyed this movie. The humour, visual style, the action and of course the character of Majima made this a winner in my eyes.  The majority of Miike fans will love it although I’m not too sure about those that have played the actual game itself.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Phoenix Wright dvd

The story takes place in a somewhat slightly changed modern day Japan where the legal system has been altered because of the high level of crime committed and prosecutors/attorneys now have only 3 days for each case before the judge gives a verdict. Phoenix Wright is a rookie attorney who goes up against his childhood friend and now prosecutor Miles Edgeworth in court and somehow manages to win his first case. However, an even bigger case comes up when his female boss, a spiritual medium named  Misty Fey is murdered in her office.  At first her sister Maya is made prime suspect but soon she is free and by investigating the case with her and Detective Gumshoe, Phoenix opens up a can of worms which results in Miles Edgeworth being implicated for murder.  With Miles in jail and nobody willing to help him, Phoenix decides he will defend him in court but the prosecutor he is going to face is none other than Von Karma who has never lost a case in 40 years. Can Phoenix with the help of Maya and his friend Larry Butz successfully defend Miles or will Von Karma who is not averse to using dirty tricks to win his cases manage to throw Miles in jail permanently?

Based on several popular video games from Capcom that has sold 4 million copies to date, Takashi Miike adapts the first game of Phoenix Wright and somehow manages to compress everything into a 135 min movie. I have to confess to not having heard about Phoenix Wright before but then again I’ve never been a big gamer and I find playing games to be a very frustrating experience as I had the tendency to cheat at nearly all games I played because I was never any good at them!  I felt I had to do a bit of research on the original game so that I could understand the movie a bit better after watching it. Video game movie adaptations have a bit of a mixed history in the cinema – some when done competently come out very good, others not so but in Miike’s capable hands he has created a unique and original looking movie.  It’s always hard for a director to try and create something that will not only please hardcore fans but also attract those that know nothing about Phoenix Wright. I think overall he did a great job and he has captured the element of the games very well especially with the characters. The games were also well known for their offbeat humour and Miike has kept them in the movie. Even the catchphrases ‘Objection!’ and ‘Take That’ which has become synonymous with the game is included. What I liked most about the movie is each court case is like a gladiatorial contest between the prosecutor and attorney. Evidence shown on holographic images in the courtroom are literally thrown towards the other and verbal blows are struck to get the upper hand. What could have been boring courtroom scenes are spiced up because of this. The use of a spiritual medium in helping the defence out at times was a neat idea. These are very unique concepts that I’ve never seen before and the visual flair employed by Miike in the movie is a big plus. Perhaps in the hands of another director the movie might not have been as good as it was?

Phoenix Wright still

For those that have played Phoenix Wright’s first game you will find the plot of the movie very familiar. Naturally some aspects have been changed but overall Miike has more or less stuck to the game’ story and hasn’t deviated that much. It’s quite an easy movie to follow until the plot delves further into an incident that happened 15 years previously and saw Phoenix’s mentor die tragically – it then goes a bit too complex for it’s own liking. The generous running time of the movie might jar with some viewers but as the movie was so entertaining it didn’t bother me for one bit that it ran over two hours. Haruki Nariyama brings Phoenix Wright to life extremely well. The eccentricity of the character and his overall look from the hairstyle to his finger gesticulation is fantastic.  Takumi Saito as Miles Edgeworth seems to have nailed the character down to a tee with his aloof attitude and cold stares. I probably liked the loud and colourful character of Larry Butz the most in the movie. The role is played superbly by Akiyoshi Nakao. Mirei Kiritani is so beautiful as Maya Fey who channels the spirit of her dead sister to aid Phoenix out when he needs help the most in court. All of the other supporting characters have a part to play in moving the storyline along.

When it’s all said and done, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney is one of the best video game adaptations to date and the reason for that is probably because Takashi Miike stayed true to the source material. It’s a fun movie with an great cast of characters and an interesting plot that pretty much makes sure you’re never bored. As such it’s a movie that can be enjoyed by fans and newcomers alike. Well worth checking out.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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big-bang-love-juvenile dvd

Two young men arrive in a prison on the same day for different crimes. Jun who’s a quiet meek person has killed a man who had raped him and then mutilated his body. Shiro is an angry person who has been to jail on many occasions and this time he’s beaten a man to death in an alleyway. Though the two are completely different to each other they share a common bond between them with Shiro acting as a protector to Jun. Then one day Jun is found by the prison guards bending over Shiro’s lifeless body with his hands wrapped around Shiro’s throat. Although he confesses to Shiro’s murder the investigators think otherwise as there are rope marks around Shiro’s neck but who was the guilty party?

big bang love screenshot

Set in the future, this is probably one of the strangest Takashi Miike movies I’ve seen. Visually it looks great with the simplistic stunning images on display (the scene where a ray of sunlight pierces through the gloom of a prison cell to hit a prisoner’s body exactly where his heart is located is one example) but the story itself is rather confusing and multi-layered with its use of symbols and metaphors and on that point I wouldn’t really say it’s one of his most accessible works especially if you’re new to Miike’s works. What you would normally associate as a typical Miike movie is thrown out of the window here as he experiments with a new style of directing. The opening scene depicting a father and son doing a sort of primitive dance made me realise that this was going to be unlike anything Miike had done before. Miike himself has classed this movie as being his masterpiece! The storyline is hardly conventional which makes it hard to understand at times although at the heart of the plot is a tale about how the relationship between two young men develop over time in a prison and the criminal investigation into Shiro’s death. I would say that this is Miike’s trying his best at doing an art-house movie although elements from what he’s famous for such as violence is present in this movie. I expect the majority of Miike’s fans to become frustrated and bored with this movie and whilst it was nice to see him try something different I wouldn’t say this movie was that good. Yes, it’s unique and you won’t see anything else like it but it only barely managed to keep my attention to the end. I cannot fault the excellent performances from Ryuhei Matsuda and Masanobu Ando as the two young prisoners who form a bond and an attraction with each other. There is a strong homoerotic theme running throughout the movie although you never see any sex or affection going on between the two leads.

Viewers who like to be intellectually stimulated and want to work out the meaning behind the various symbolic images such as a large rocket or a temple will revel in this story by Takashi Miike but I’m afraid this isn’t one of his better works in my opinion and is far from being a masterpiece that Miike himself has stated.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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Detective-Story

The opening scene sees an artist painting a large picture but this is no ordinary artist. This artist’ fingers is caked in blood and is using blended body parts to use on his canvas to create a masterpiece. Raita Takashima is a salaryman who works for an IT company. He moves next door to a man that’s also called Raita which both men find amusing. Raita Kazama is a slovenly private detective with his own small company which employs 2 people. Kazama tries to get to know his neighbour a little better one night when he invites himself to Takashima’s apartment for some drinks. In the early hours of the morning there’s a knock on Kazama’s apartment. It’s a young woman named Manami Inoue who’s in need of some help from Kazama. As it’s late he tells Manami to drop by his office later on in the day but Manami never turns up as she’s murdered on her way home. It’s discovered that one of her livers is missing. The police find it a bit too coincidental that Kazami has a liver in his apartment that he says he bought at a butcher’s shop. Soon after a second victim is found hanging from a tree with her kidneys missing. The police find a pen near the crime scene and the fingerprints on the pen belong to Kazama. He is immediately made the prime suspect so Kazama has to go into hiding and stays at his friends studio whilst making some investigations on his own. Meanwhile his next door neighbour Takashima has struck up a friendship with Kazama’s female assistant Mika. A date to a gallery of her favourite artist Yuki Aoyoma turns sour when Mika discovers another victim in one of the toilet cubicles at the place. The woman in question has had her lungs removed and her mouth is full of soil. A cigarette lighter is discovered in the toilet which is traced to belong to Raita Kazama. The police place Kazama on the wanted list for murder. Kazama asks Takashima to help him out as he knows he hasn’t killed the victims but who is setting him up? As Kazama delves deeper into the mystery, will he be able to find the killer before the police arrest him?

It’s hard to know what Takashi Miike was trying to do with this movie as it’s a mishmash of genres – gory horror, comedy and a whodunnit drama. I didn’t know whether to take it serious or not because there are some very funny scenes throughout the movie. Whilst the plotline might sound like your typical crime drama, you should know by now that with Takashi Miike at the helm of a movie it’s never going to be as straightforward as it seems. It’s a wild ride from the start. The movie has a good plot and there’s plenty of gore to satisfy horror fans but strangely enough some of the scenes in which the bloody victims’ corpses are shown there’s a blurring effect on the part of the bodies in which their organs is missing which I thought was odd. No idea if Miike did this on purpose as he hasn’t shied away from showing the viewer some disgusting horror shots in the past? He nabs an idea from The Silence Of The Lambs when Kazama visits a psycho killer who he helped to arrest 15 years earlier when he was a cop. The psycho who is strapped to a chair in a straight jacket with a mask on his face tells Kazama to place himself in the mind of the killer. Only then will he able to join the pieces of the puzzle together and solve the crime. There’s also some random weird stuff going on in this movie such as Takashima spacing himself out when he stares at Kazama’s assistant Mika’s legs constantly or Mika wetting herself in Aoyoma’s gallery as she can’t hold it in who then proceeds to build a make-shift clothes line in the toilet in which she can hang her underwear to dry after washing! What’s even more odd is a scene at an onsen in which a nude young boy is seem coming into frame twice for no reason whatsoever. But even that is nothing to what happens near the climax which is so surreal and bizarre you just have to laugh at the absurdness of it all. The final scene will either have you be scratching your head and saying ‘WTF was that all about?’ or laughing at the ingenious talent of Takashi Miike and the crazy ideas he comes up with. This movie has got a little bit of everything in it even a child murderer. That’s why I like Miike. He is never predictable like other directors which is why he stands out so much and you’ll always be entertained by his movies even when some of his work is rather uncomfortable to watch.

detective story screenshot

The cast are excellent in their roles from the leading characters to the supporting ones. Kazuya Nakayama is fantastic as the detective Kazama. He is played mostly for laughs. For some reason Kazama puts on a wig sometimes when he’s out on duty (perhaps as a kind of disguise?) which he only takes off when he’s back at his apartment. I guess that’s a part of the eccentricity associated with the character. What happens to Kazama as he confronts the killer at the end is hilarious although many will see it as being gross.

Detective Story might not be up there with Miike’s greatest works but with it’s warped sense of humour and high gore content it’ll no doubt please his fans. I really enjoyed it.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Lesson of the Evil

High school teacher Seiji Hasumi is the most popular teacher at his school who has earned the respect of his colleagues and the affection of his pupils. When rumours of exam cheating using mobile phones rears up one day in the staff room, Hasumi suggests using body searches and signal jammers but that idea is swiftly put down. However there are other numerous problems in the school that Hasumi uncovers such as bullying and secretive student teacher relationships. When one of his pretty female students comes on strongly to him, Hasumi responds back in a very unteacherlike manner! The mask that Hasumi is putting on that he’s a kindly saviour to his pupils and a model teacher to his colleagues begins to slip. He blackmails 2 colleagues who are having affairs with students but soon turns to murder to cover his tracks. Then Hasumi explodes into an orgy of violence against his class during a festival they are preparing at their school one evening. Trapped with the doors to the outside locked, will any of Hasumi’s students manage to survive the carnage that ensues?

With Takashi Miike at the helm, viewers should know by now to expect the unexpected with the movies he directs and this one certainly managed to shock me with the brutal and relentless violence that takes place during the 2nd half. It doesn’t start out that way although we are given a taster that Hasumi may not be quite the nice guy we think he is by showing a flashback sequence to when he was a teenager when he grabbed a large knife and quietly crept upstairs to confront his parents in their bedroom who were thinking of turning him in to the cops after discovering he’s responsible for a string of murders. The first half of the movie is relatively sedate introducing us to the teachers and students but showing us that life at the school that Hasumi is employed isn’t so cosy and there are impending signs of Hasumi’s dark side coming to the fore by showing us that he lives in a ramshackle house out in the wilds listening to the song Mack The Knife. Two crows (linked somehow to Norse mythology) seem to be watching the teacher’s every move at his house and we can clearly see that Hasumi is a sick man when one of the crows is fried as he has electrified a contraption he has rigged up outside. Gradually we are shown some of Hasumi’s past when he went to study abroad in New York where his violent impulses came to the surface once more and he murdered one of his so-called friends. The urge to kill is never far from his mind but the way he manages to surpress his evil thoughts from the pupils that adore him is quite sinister. In a way Takashi Miike lulls the viewer into a false sense of security because what happens next after the first hour is a tour-de-force in excessive bloodshed as Hasumi turns psycho, grabs and loads his trusted shotgun and begins a systematic slaughter of his entire class. No one is spared and the way he goes about blasting his charges at point blank range may be repetitive but it is ever so shocking. Seeing Hasumi’s twisted and bloodied face as he loads his shotgun over and over before firing into the helpless and defenceless bodies of his class with some begging for mercy is something I won’t forget in a hurry. Perhaps it was the cinematic experience that made the shotgun blasts ring out loudly because at times it made me jump in my seat. From taking a quick peek at the rest of the audience in the cinema it seemed everybody was numbed by the horror that unfolded on the screen, one or two people had their mouths gaping open not believing what they were seeing. I’m sure the excessive shooting that takes place in this movie will make it unwatchable for some viewers. Miike shows us during the orgy of violence that Hasumi is so mentally ill that he believes the shotgun is seen to have a human face of sorts on it and it talks back to him!

Lesson of the Evil screenshot

Hideaki Ito turns in a fine performance as Hasumi and the way he charms his way into his pupils’ lives by not being just their teacher but also their friend just makes his turn to the dark side all that more disturbing to watch. A couple of the teenage cast are given fairly substantial roles but for the majority we are not given any background to them at all. That would have taken too long to establish in the movie so don’t expect any kind of character development apart from that of Hasumi.

It looks likely that Miike will be making a sequel to this movie judging by the ‘to be continued’ sign that came up before the end credits. With Hasumi arrested by the cops and two of his class miraculously surviving, my guess is that the story will perhaps take place a couple of years later with the two survivors at university and Hasumi somehow escaping from prison and wanting to finish off the job he couldn’t do before but that’s just my idea of what the sequel could be. We will just have to wait and see what Miike will come up with. Takashi Miike’s movies don’t usually make me wince at the violence but this one did. Maybe it was because the victims were all young? Despite the carnage of blood I still enjoyed this movie but it definitely won’t be for those easily offended or the squeamish so be aware of that before you decide to see it in the future.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Sabu (2002)

Sabu and Eiji have been best friends since they were small. They work as poor trainees in a traditional umbrella store by the time they become adults. Eiji is falsely accused as a thief when a gold embroidery cloth is found in his tool box and he is shipped off to the prison island of Ishikawa where he is made to work as a labour worker. The seething anger inside of him and his attitude to work there makes him have many enemies and he takes his anger out on those people. He keeps on thinking of ways to take revenge on the person who falsely incriminated him. During this period, Sabu hasn’t forgotten about his best friend and regularly visits him but Eiji doesn’t want to know. He thinks it’s best if Sabu forgets about him. As time goes by, Eiji starts changing and gradually becomes friends with some of his co-prisoners. He even tries to contain his anger and present a cool and calm demeanor. After many years of being a prisoner, Eiji is released from prison and the person that put him into prison is finally revealed.

Think you know everything about Takashi Miike and what kind of movies he makes? It’s time for you to think again as Miike reveals yet another layer to his directing skills in this made-for-TV movie set in the Samurai era. When you think of TV movies in the West you usually think of cheap low budget features but not so in Japan. Sabu is more or less a high quality feature length movie which could have easily been given a cinematic release there. This isn’t a samurai movie at all, instead it focuses on 2 of the common people who both come from impoverished backgrounds. It’s a tale about 2 best friends maturing and confronting challenges that life thrusts upon them. Those expecting a movie full of Miike’s usual mix of extreme violence and sex are going to be very disappointed. There is some violence but it doesn’t come close to the level normally associated with Miike. Don’t let the opening shot of a woman’s corpse hanging from a tree lull you into thinking this is going to be a typical Miike feature either. In this movie he proves that he can deliver on character driven stories as well. Violent yakuza movies may be his forte but as I’ve seen time after time he can turn his hand to any genre he wants and make a genuinely good movie out of it.

Unfortunately this movie which runs for 2 hours is a good 30 mins too long for my liking. The plot unfolds at a sedate pace which may bore some people. This movie is very pleasing on the eye and some of the atmospheric scenes come close to looking like landscape paintings. Why Miike has called this movie Sabu is a bit of a strange one as the story is more about Eiji and the injustice against him. He’s the more dynamic and interesting character of the two. Satoshi Tsumabuki and Tatsuya Fujiwara play their roles well.

I wouldn’t class Sabu as being one of Miike’s best by a long shot. This is Miike being more sober and patient rather than relying on his excessive tendencies. As a competent and finely crafted period movie it has plenty on offer to satisfy his fans.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Chuji is a young Okinawan man who works behind the bar at a live lounge club but also deals in drugs for a gang. He is a gifted harmonica player but only plays in his own private time. One day Chuji helps an ambitious yakuza member named Kenji who’s being chased by some people and also bumps into a bubbly woman Tokiko who becomes his girlfriend. Chuji is encouraged by one of the owners of the bar who leads a band and his girlfriend to perform on stage. After just one performance with the band, Chuji is a big hit and soon a record producer is knocking on his door willing to sign him up. Meanwhile Kenji rewards Chuji for the help he had by giving him some money. They soon become friends despite their loyalties to opposite gangs but what Chuji doesn’t know is that Kenji has more than friendly feelings towards him. Chuji can’t believe his luck when Tokiko announces that she’s pregnant with his child. It seems his life is on the up and he can perhaps soon give up his drug dealing ways. But Kenji’s close friend in the yakuza who harbours feelings for him and is aware of Kenji’s love for Chuji strikes a deal with a rival gang that unwillingly puts Chuji right in the middle of a yakuza battle that goes way over his head with tragic results.

It doesn’t matter how many movies I see from Takashi Miike, all of them apart from Ninja Kids which I didn’t like have been so enjoyable and Blues Harp isn’t any different. It’s an amazing movie. The story is about a man trying to move on from his troubled youth as he didn’t have much of a life growing up on Okinawa. His mother was a prostitute so he was left out on the streets for most of the time. Years later and working in Tokyo behind a bar, he expresses himself through music in playing the harmonica. He may be a part-time drug dealer but he’s always hoping that one day he can stop doing that. Even though you wouldn’t normally associate blues music with Japan or it’s culture, this uniqueness to the storyline only adds to the greatness of the movie. The other half of the story involves a yakuza man who hatches a plan to be the top man in his group by killing his boss. Chuji and Kenji’s fateful first encounter when Chuji discovers Kenji lying on the floor outside his bar in an alley as he’s being chased by a rival gang sets up a chain of events that ends in tragedy for the two men. This could have been a gritty yakuza movie but it’s not and instead we have a compelling character driven storyline with an emotional depth to it which is perfectly paced by Miike. He adds a sweet and simple love story to the proceedings and in the character of Tokiko who’s an overtly bubbly sort of person, she’s provides a great foil to Chuji. They are completely opposite in personalities to each other but somehow they have a connection and their relationship works. The movie has 2 memorable leading characters with the actors in their roles giving it everything. Hiroyuki Ikeuchi stands out more as Chuji and he’s a character you grow to care for. When you see Chuji take to the stage in the bar and wow the audience with his harmonica it’s enough to get you tapping your toes. The movie is peppered with a couple of scenes that shows off some great blues numbers and they’re a treat to listen to. Although not as outrageous and shocking as some of Miike’s other movies, it still has some flashes of gore and violence to jolt you.

Blues Harp is an excellent movie with two plotlines that link together and combine seamlessly to make for an unforgettable experience. Another winner for me from the maverick director. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Starting out sometime during the 1990’s during a hotly anticipated match between boxing champion Tamai Kazuyoshi and wrestling champion Takeshi Hamada, the story goes back in time to 1970’s Osaka where the seeds of their rivalry began. Back then Kazuyoshi was the champion of Naniwa West High School and he took everybody on without ever being defeated in between working with his best friend Toshio at a rat infested restaurant. Then he hears of a new kid from another high school who is also good with his fists and a fight between the two is inevitable…….that is until Hamada makes the mistake of taking on a 14 year old karate teacher and has his arse whupped big time! Humiliated by the experience, Hamada gives up fighting and asks his conqueror to be his teacher. Kazuyoshi tries to taunt him to fight but he refuses. Other punks come and go to annoy Kazuyoshi but who he really wants to fight is Hamada and then the day comes when Hamada fresh from his training challenges Kazuyoshi. Excitement mounts amongst the pupils of both schools but who will win the fight?

Similar in style to the Young Thugs movies, this story by Takashi Miike is yet another that takes us back to Osaka in the 70’s. A time that Miike obviously loved so much as this is him getting all sentimental about his youth. From the summary above you’re probably thinking that this is just a story that builds up to a climatic fight between the Kazuyoshi and Hamada at the end but you’d be wrong about that. The two never clash onscreen at all. It’s true that there are plenty of violent and bloody fights in the movie but the fighting is not what is driving the story forward at all. It’s more about friendship forged during hardship, growing up in a rough neighbourhood, finding oneself and capturing the energy of youth. It’s how all of these factors shape the characters we meet in this movie and how they turn out in the future. This isn’t one of Miike’s well known stories but that’s not to say it should be ignored. It’s got drama, violence, humour and tragedy wrapped up neatly together in a fantastic tale. I found this movie to be a lot of fun. The comedy in this movie is hilarious and provide plenty of laughs along with the drama. There’s a love triangle aspect to the story between Kazuyoshi, Toshio and their childhood friend Ritsuko. She likes Kazuyoshi but he’s only interesting in fighting whilst Toshio wants to be more than friends with her. The boys also don’t have a proper family as such and rely on their own instinct to survive. Toshio’s father is the local weirdo who pushes a cart on the streets and gives out toy windmills out to people. Toshio is rather embarassed about his father’s mental illness whilst Kazuyoshi stays with his batty grandmother (who’s one of the best characters in the movie). Even Ritsuko and Hamada are having problems with their families so the 4 of them share more in common than they think. For myself even though I liked the drama part of the story, it was the superb humour that made this such an enjoyable movie from the comedy of errors that made Kazuyoshi and Hamada miss each other in their first attempt at having a fight, the secret ingredient that goes into a bowl of ramen at a restaurant to the massive melee that occurs at the end of the movie with everybody laughing as they’re punching each other’s lights out!!

Even though the movie was shot on a low budget as it was a straight to video release, Miike directs it with his usual panache we’ve come to expect. You could argue that it’s perhaps a little rough around the edges but I thought it was really well done. The acting by the cast is brilliant and Miike himself even cameos as a person who’s stabbed in the chest.

The Way To Fight is another Miike gem that fans of his movies should try and check out. Recommended.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Set in 1969, Riichi is a 10 year old tough youngster who lives in a rough part of Osaka with his ever suffering mother, grandfather and his good for nothing father who abuses his mother constantly. When he comes home all day covered in bruises after clashing with his arch-enemy Sada and his gang, his grandfather throws a party to celebrate as he thinks Riichi has beaten Sada to a pulp. At school, his pretty teacher Miss Ito becomes concerned and decides to visit Riichi’s family to find out what’s going on. Although his grandfather is smitten with Miss Ito, his father starts hitting his wife and Miss Ito in his drunken state. Miss Ito and Riichi becomes good friends and he even begins to fall for her. He’s obviously jealous when he finds out that she has a boyfriend. With the imminent landing on the Moon by Apollo 11, Riichi and his friends start building a replica model of the Lunar Module to win a prize. All seems to be going well until Sada and his gang destroy his pride and joy. Riichi’s seething anger at this destruction will see Sada being punished to within an inch of his life….

This is apparently Takashi Miike’s favourite movie. I’ve no idea why? It could be that it reminds him of his own childhood perhaps? This is the prequel to Young Thugs: Innocent Blood and it sees the characters in that movie as children rather than adults. If you’re primarily looking for some of Miike’s hyper-violent, ultra-cool, and beyond-bizarre happenings in this movie you’ll only get them in very minor and subdued doses. It’s a great coming-of-age story full of the joys, heartbreak and wonder of childhood with some dollops of humour (witness Riichi’s grandfather punishing his own son for hitting Miss Ito by ramming a brush handle up his arse or Richii throwing up into his recorder during music class!!) interspersed with lightweight violent scenes. It’s certainly not as violent as Innocent Blood though we do see various scrapes between Riichi and his nemesis Sada. The storyline is very episodic with many different plots in which the movie jumps from one to the other but it all comes together nicely with a brilliant ending that sees Riichi becoming a man and kicking his dad’s arse (which is deserved by the way!) This isn’t the only change happening in his life by the end as his own neighbourhood is also changing rapidly and being industrialised. Miike’s directing is wonderful and he delivers this story without it being too overly sentimental. He seems to have captured the era at the back end of the 60’s pretty well.

Excellent acting by the child actors and they do a perfect job in trying to match the personality of the characters that we see in Innocent Blood. In fact the youngsters perform better than the adults! We see Riichi develop throughout the movie from an innocent and dare I saw weak character and transforming gradually into the tough leader that he’d become as an adult. I usually enjoy Naoto Takenaka’s acting but I really dislike his character so much in this movie. He’s just a loud and idiotic drunk who goes around shouting at people and treating his wife like dirt. No wonder she leaves home when he brings a stripper home with him one night. A revolting character indeed.

With a well written and compelling script, believable performances from the young cast and an awesome soundtrack, Takashi Miike hits the jackpot once more with this cool movie about childhood. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Ozaki is a senior yakuza member who is going slightly mad and the big boss decides that the only option he has left is to get rid of him. He asks Ozaki’s closest ally Minami to drive him to the yakuza disposal dump in Nagoya and to report back when the job has been completed. However, on the way there during an incident Ozaki is accidentally killed. Minami stops at a cafe where he tries to phone his boss but on looking through the window at his car Ozaki’s body has gone. Where could a dead body go? Minami decides to ask around to see if anybody has seen Ozaki and that’s the start of a weird journey for him……..

Just when I thought Takashi Miike couldn’t surprise me anymore, I get to see this movie and it left me with my mouth gaping open at the end. I don’t want to reveal too much as it would spoil the viewer’s enjoyment but what you’ll get to see is a surreal and bizarre movie with one of the most incredible endings you’ll ever see committed to celluloid. It’s an outrageously funny movie right from the beginning as Ozaki sees what he believes is a dog that’s been trained to attack yakuza personnel. The dog is a small chihuahua by the way! What Ozaki does next to the dog will likely make you laugh and horrify you at the same time! Many fans have commented that this is what David Lynch would do if he ever made a hallucinogenic yakuza movie! The main character Minami comes across some weird and wonderful characters as he tries to track down his ‘brother’ Ozaki such as an older woman who is lactating constantly and selling her milk to customers in bottles and his own boss who has to insert a ladle up his arse in order to get an erection! Fans of Miike will be amazed at the style of this movie – it’s so unlike the majority of his other works. The storyline is basically about Minami’s sexual feelings for Ozaki which has been hidden and there are clues throughout the movie about his homosexuality.The tongue-in-cheek story whilst a little bit confusing at times is nevertheless compelling and well written. Miike’s directing as usual is fantastic and the cinematography, sets and visual effects are top notch. And then we come to the coup de grace of the movie – the ending which will no doubt shock a lot of viewers but it is so incredible. I’ve never witnessed anything like that in a movie before and I doubt anybody else will either! Miike is not likely to ever top the ending in this movie.

Excellent performances from all the cast. Sho Aikawa is brilliant, he never fails to entertain me but it’s Yuta Sone as Minami who excels and moves the story forward. It’s through his eyes we get to see the odd events that happen to him. It was nice to see Kimiko Yoshino again. Those who have seen the Eko Eko Azarak movies will remember her as the lead character Misa. She’s been mostly quiet in the entertainment world since 2007.

This is a must-see for Miike fans or those that like strange movies. Others might see this as being too f***ed up for their liking but at least it’s unique. Miike really delivers with Gozu and proves what an innovative, genius and creative director he is. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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A yakuza family starts to fall apart after its leader is killed. In a bid to consolidate his position in the vast Tenseikai syndicate, Kaito plans to absorb the rival Yokomizo and Shirane families by replacing their implacably opposed leaders with puppets who will be willing to merge the families and bring them into his control. Yet when Kaito sends assassins to murder the elderly Yokomizo, he does not reckon on Higuchi, an unruly gangleader who will never ally himself to his godfather’s killers – nor on Kenzaki,  a young maverick squadleader whose willingness to take extreme action is outweighed only by his absolute loyalty to Higuchi, and whose remaining followers will readily give up their own lives in his service. An all out war is on the cards between the various families.

For a Takashi Miike yakuza movie, this is quite a restrained piece of work by him as it does not contain the usual ultra violent content you normally associate with his yakuza classics. It’s also a long 2 and a half hour epic (there’s apparently a 200 min cut floating around as well) which takes it’s time to get going – slow and conventional this movie may be but it’s never boring. Is there such a thing as a boring Takashi Miike movie? The closest we come to see Miike’s insanity is at a nightclub where a yakuza member repeateadly sticks a microphone up a woman’s ass and funnily enough the character doing this is Miike himself who has a cameo role in his own movie. This was one of 4 movies he directed in 2001 and this is probably the weakest of them. That’s not to say that Agitator isn’t any good because I enjoyed it immensely. Miike sticks to what he knows best in his gangster movies – honour, loyalty, betrayal and power struggles in the yakuza families and because this is different from his other yakuza movies he concentrates more on the plot and character development rather than the ultra violence (even though we do get to see some violence in the movie). As we come to the climax, the usual yakuza theme of revenge and retribution rears it’s head. Agitator is a solid movie from Takashi Miike. It’s well made, it had me hooked, the storyline is interesting and engaging and the cast deliver fine performances especially Masaya Kato as the character of Kanzaki.

If you want to see Miike at his imaginative best then Agitator will not be for you but if you’re like myself and want to try and see all of his movies then you won’t be disappointed. It’s a good example of his diversity and range as a director. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Riki Fudoh is the son of a powerful Yakuza gangster who one night sees his father kill his older brother as part of a yakuza punishment. The father has to sacrifice something for the crimes Riki’s brother made against another yakuza clan. The Yakuza says that he can get away with the case by chopping his own arm off, but instead he wants to kill his son and bring his head to satisfy the Yakuza. From that day on, Riki seeks revenge for his father without showing it. He becomes the most intelligent student in his school and he forms his own criminal society to fight the old generation Yakuza with the help of some school friends. They include a huge long haired caricature of high school student who crushes everything under him, two cute Japanese girls, which both have some very nasty habits and “tools” and two 6-7 year old boys who commit the assassinations for Riki. When Riki’s father finds out from the rival Yasha clan that Riki is behind some of the assassinations taking place, he is ordered to kill him. Riki’s half-brother Gendo, a strong and highly skilled Korean agent is told to carry out the task. As Riki’s small army start to get eliminated one by one, will Riki be able to survive to fulfill his mission of taking over his father’s empire.

Fudoh: The New Generation was Takashi Miike’s first critically acclaimed movie over in the West which made people open their eyes to the creative genius that he is. You can see why this movie turned heads – it has drama, sex, OTT violence, gore and comedy. It’s a fast paced and ferociously violent movie with very imaginative set pieces. Miike’s direction is superb in his handling of the movie. He directs the action scenes in a manic and weird style. The visuals are outstanding. The characters in Fudoh are very memorable. Riki’s partners in crime are crazy from the schoolgirl assassin who can shoot darts from her private parts to the hermaphrodite and the 2 child killers. Some of the violent scenes are very bloody, like the poisoning of one yakuza, which really is effective and grotesque to say the least but typical Miike! The assassinations are brutal and gory. None of the violence is exploitative, but some viewers may consider it too graphic and off-putting, but that is always the case with personal, unlimited and symbolic cinema. Everything about Fudoh is so OTT and insanely exaggerated that you seem not to notice that the likelihood of a group of children being at war with the Yakuza is highly improbable. Midway through the movie we are shown the children’s training camp where we see the kids merrily playing football with their English teacher’s head, this serves again to reinforce the sense of unreality that’s at play here. I loved how Miike just abruptly finished the movie.

Definitely one of Takashi Miike’s finest movies and such a pleasure to watch. Truly unforgettable. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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Mario is a reckless drug dealer who after blasting his fellow cons in a bar in Sao Paolo returns to Japan from Brazil 1 year later to rescue his gorgeous girlfriend Kei who is in the process of being deported. In an audacious plan, Mario steals a helicopter to stop the bus that is transporting Kei. The two escape only to be harassed by Ko, a merciless Chinese Triad who also happens to be Kei’s ex-lover. Mario and Kei purchase fake passports and plan an escape to a far away land. After an unorthodox wedding and a visit to Mario’s ex-lover Lucia and his blind love-child Carla, the two are almost on their way. To help fund their escape Kei and Mario interfere with a yakuza drug transaction, but instead of winding up with the money, they’re left with a suitcase of cocaine and even more yakuza on their trail. When the ship they were meant to stowaway on sinks before they ever get on it, the two are left with a new challenge to face. How are they going to get out of the country? With the triads and the yakuza on their tail and now with a bargaining tool thanks to them kidnapping Carla, Mario is not going to have an easy time in rescuing her.

Whilst not possessing quite the same intensity or shock value of other Miike masterpieces like Dead or Alive for example, this is still nevertheless a fast moving slick production which oozes with style and balances it’s manga tall tale surrealism expertly with plenty of violence, sick humour as well as a doomed love story – what more could you ask? It is not a run of the mill generic, mediocre, forgettable action movie that most film directors are churning out these days. The action is fast and frenetic and all the while Miike manages to inject a cruel wink of black humour such as a midget who keeps going to a toilet! The movie is also a sly dig at the many different cultures that live in Japan these days. You have to witness the incredible CG animated cock fighting sequence which replicates a scene from The Matrix. It was completely unexpected and I just couldn’t believe when I saw it – but what else do we expect from the vivid imagination of Miike! I wonder if the Wachowsky brothers have seen it and what do they make of it? I think the biggest draw in this movie is in it’s tongue in cheek presentation – that what makes it work so well. There’s also a very unique take by Miike on how Kei receives a spider tattoo on her shoulder.

The great multi-culture cast was an inspired choice by Miike. Teah is awesome as the Brazilian gangster Mario who speaks through actions rather than words and what can I say about the stunningly beautiful Michelle Reis as Mario’s girlfriend Kei. I loved the scene where she grabs a bottle of vodka, take a big swig, spits it out on the face of a Russian male collaborator and then lights the vodka so that it burns the man’s face. The rest of the supporting characters do a good job in their roles too. The little girl who plays Carla is very cute.

City Of Lost Souls is one wild ride to experience and even though it’s not one of Miike’s best, it’s still a very interesting movie which you should check out.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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