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Archive for the ‘Thriller’ Category

ATARUTheFirstLoveampTheLastKill-

Ataru is a man with ‘savant syndrome’ – something similar to autism/aspergers. Through this illness, Ataru has heightened abilities to see through and deduct things that nobody else can. Due to this ability, the FBI recruited and trained him to solve difficult cases under the guidance of a Japanese man named Larry. However, Ataru missed Japan after staying in New York and came back home where he was found wandering the streets by Ebina Maiko, a police woman who becomes his friend. In this movie, a young woman named Madoka who has the same abilities as Ataru and was also recruited by the FBI before she was put in prison for a series of murders returns to Tokyo and sets about killing a number of people. She sets up Ataru to be the main suspect by the police and he is sent to jail. Can Ebina and Detective Sawa find and capture Madoka whilst also trying to free Ataru from jail?

Ataru was a popular drama series that aired on Japanese TV during 2012. It’s popularity spun off 2 TV specials and a movie. Unless you’ve seen the series and especially the 2nd TV special it would be unwise to see this movie as it carries on from the conclusion of the special where the character of Madoka is introduced and to the crimes she committed in the US which involved stabbing various people to death in the same style as crucifixion (a knife stuck to the wrist, side of the body and foot). There is no introduction to the characters so a person with no knowledge of the show is likely to be confused as to what is going on. This movie really doesn’t feel like one to myself, it’s more like an extended episode. The storyline is rather long-winded and drags for a good 20-25 mins too long. With a bigger budget, some of the scenes are shot in Las Vegas (outside the Belagio Hotel) and on Route 66 where the climax takes place. All of the regulars in the series come back with the addition of one new character in Detective Sawa’s ex-wife (or that’s who I think she is though it is never specifically mentioned) who is in charge of the police investigation for several murders around Tokyo. She has lost her legs due to an accident so she is mostly seen in a wheelchair.

I really enjoyed this quirky series as it featured a new slant on the usual police dramas by using a man who rather than have supernatural abilities had other means to help the police solve crimes. There are various funny references dotted throughout the movie to SPEC (another Japanese drama) and AKB48. You might be wondering why AKB48 is mentioned? The reason being is that one member of the group (Haruka Shimazaki aka Paruru) has a minor role as a beautiful policewoman. Part of the plot sees Madoka trying to bring Ataru over to her side and it seems she does have some kind of mind control over him. It’s also revealed that she’s in love with Ataru and was really sad when she was separated from him many years ago. In a clever plot twist, the viewer is made to think that Ataru may have switched sides to align himself with Madoka. Even Sawa and Larry start believing that Ataru is guilty of crimes which infuriates Ebina. She even goes as far as slapping Sawa and Larry in the face. I laughed as Ebina tells Sawa to f**k off in English the morning after their argument.

Ataru screenshot

A big part of why this drama series worked so well was due to the interactions between the characters especially the three main leads in Nakai Masahiro, Chiaki Kuriyama and Kazuki Kitamura. SMAP member Nakai is excellent as Ataru (nicknamed Chokozai by Ebina) who tends to swig tomato ketchup and mayonnaise and likes to watch a TV show about a Western female synchronised swimming detective. The series reveals more about his background and his parents. For some reason the English translation for Chokozai comes up as Mr Bugger which is a stupid nickname for the character (I’m sure something has gone wrong in the translation somewhere!). Ataru sees bubbles appearing in front of his eyes (part of his condition) whenever he gets a lead on a case. The biggest surprise in this movie and indeed the series is Chiaki Kuriyama. I’m sure the majority of Western viewers including myself have never seen Chiaki doing any kind of comedy before as she usually plays violent or weird characters. The viewer gets to see an entirely different aspect of her acting here. She’s quite good in playing the goofy Ebina who was recruited not for her policing skills but rather as a poster girl to recruit more officers. She quits the force in the series to set up her own detective agency to handle cases the police don’t want to deal with. Her chemistry with actor Kazuki Kitamura is an integral part of the show/movie as they bounce off each other extremely well. Kitamura’s role is that of Detective Sawa (Ebina’s boss) who is rather vain and likes to play about with his hair until it is just right. At first he doesn’t believe in Ataru’s skills but over the course of the series he comes round to the fact that he’s a valuable asset to solving cases. Maki Horikita is Madoka, the villainess of the movie. All dressed in black, Madoka’s appearance is like Jaws from the James Bond movies in that she has metal teeth. She knocked out her real teeth in jail by repeatedly smashing her mouth on the bars of her cell. Madoka’s motivation for killing is fuelled by the treatment she had as a child at the FBI and Detective Sawa even attacks Larry for making Madoka the person she is today. I don’t think it helped that Madoka was abandoned at a church when she was a child and raised by the nuns. It’s plain to see that Madoka loves Ataru very much and thus being separated from him made her turn to the dark side. The climax sees Ebina and Sawa rushing to save Ataru after he and Madoka head to a place on Route 66 in which they solved their first case together. They make a promise to be together forever as they are the same with Madoka aiming for the pair to commit suicide with a gun. Maki Horikita who at the beginning her career mostly played nice characters in dramas has done very well in portraying several evil people over the last couple of years. I actually think she performs better when she takes on a darker persona in a drama/movie.

Overall, this was a satisfying conclusion to the whole drama series although I felt the ending was a bit of an anti-climax. Given that Ataru was popular with Japanese viewers, I’m wondering whether a second season or even another movie might be commissioned. I’ll guess we’ll find out in the future. For fans of the drama, this is a must-see.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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One nite in mongkok

A gang member is killed by a rival during a high speed chase in a car near Mongkok, an area of Hong Kong. A gang war is threatening to break out as the two brothers in charge of the gangs retaliate against each other. One of them hires an assassin to take out his brother. The assassin is an inexperienced young man named Lai Fu. Detective Milo and his team set out to capture Lai Fu before he does the hit by arresting the go-between Liu and his wife in order to get some information about the assassin. In order to save his own skin, Liu gives the location where Lai Fu is staying. However, Lai Fu is cleverer than that and manages to escape before the cops turn up. After saving Dan Dan, a prostitute from being beaten up by her pimp, she offers to be his tour guide in Mongkok for money. Lai Fu isn’t in Mongkok just to do a job as an assassin, he also wants to find his girlfriend Sue. Milo orders the police to tear down every bar, club and massage parlour in order to capture Lai Fu but he and Dan Dan once again are successful in evading them. However, the net is closing on the pair. Will the police eventually manage to arrest Lai Fu or will he be able to escape yet again?

This fantastic award-winning crime drama directed by the great Derek Yee is set in Mongkok, the most densely populated area on the planet. It’s a vibrant place full of shops and bars but a couple of unsavoury incidents did take place there between 2008-10 when plastic bottles full of corrosive liquid were hurled on shoppers from tall buildings. The story does not take place during one night but over several days and deals with people working in the seedier side of life such as pimps, assassins, prostitutes and triad gang members. It’s not your typical assassin movie. The main characters in the movie are Lai Fu and Dan Dan whose meeting starts off a chain of events that will end in tragedy. All of the characters that the viewer is introduced have their fates intertwined with each other. There’s a grittiness attached to the plot which director Yee exploits to the full. He also shows the viewer how beautiful Mongkok looks at night with all its neon lights. It succeeds in displaying a part of Hong Kong you might not be familiar with and the dark underbelly that exists there. The camerawork used by Yee is fantastic. As well as our two main characters, a lot of focus is on the police team under Detective Milo who are pissed off at having to work during Christmas Eve when the majority want to go home to their families.  A naïve rookie joins their ranks and unexpectedly manages to get himself into a lot of trouble during a raid on an apartment to capture Lai Fu in which he kills an unarmed man. Milo went through a similar experience when he was younger and it has haunted him since. However, lady luck is on the police’s side and the team manage to come away with their noses clean after finding some drugs in the dead man’s place. It’s interesting to see the prickly relationship between the veteran Milo and the eager and cocky new recruit. During the second half of the movie things get really tense as the net closes on Lai Fu with Milo relentlessly pursuing all avenues to get his man. Don’t expect to see a happy ending (not that I thought that was going to happen anyway) as the plot goes dark and events get bloody and brutal.

one nite in mongkok 2004

Daniel Wu and Cecilia Cheung are excellent in their roles as Lai Fu and Dan Dan and have great chemistry together. It’s good that Yee doesn’t go down the route of having the pair fall in love. There are hints that perhaps they do like each other but it never goes any further than that. Both characters share a common bond having come from the same area of China and being from poor families. I’ve never been a fan of Daniel Wu in the past. I think his acting skills are rather limited but he does a good job here as the shy and inexperienced assassin. It might be the best performance I’ve seen from him. Lai Fu is not what you would call a typical cold-hearted killer either and the viewer will feel some sympathy towards him. It’s heartbreaking to watch when he finds out that his girlfriend Sue may be a prostitute even though he is adamant she isn’t and when he discovers her face in a local paper and that she’s been involved in a car accident (she was a passenger in the car during the high speed chase at the beginning of the movie and has been badly burned after the car caught fire). Lai Fu might look weedy to some but he can take care of himself and proves to be handy with his fists even though he does get beaten up very badly near the climax. Lai Fu’s face is a mask of crimson after Dan Dan’s boss extracts revenge on him by smashing his head repeatedly on a brass door handle. I really liked how Yee linked the tragic events at the climax involving Lai Fu with the life ebbing away from the badly burned Sue at hospital.

A big part of why I wanted to watch this movie was because of the lovely Cecilia Cheung. She was amazing in the movie Failan and she pulls off another great performance here. Although her character of Dan Dan might seem on the surface to be a likeable woman, she is not averse to stealing money from Lai Fu’s rucksack after he takes off after a man who steals her bag. Lai Fu does find his money in her bag but does nothing about it and lets her keep it. Some people might say that Cheung’s prostitute is just too beautiful but I’m not complaining. I’ve read that her voice has been dubbed over as she couldn’t speak Mandarin properly. Alex Fong is also superb as Milo who’s a worthwhile adversary for Lai Fu with the rest of the supporting cast performing well.

One Nite In Mongkok is a very well made movie with an engaging and thrilling plot, well drawn out characters and it has tons of atmosphere. I found it to be extremely entertaining and would recommend it to HK movie fans.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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the-secret-of-the-telegian

A former army officer Tsudo is seeking revenge on his former greedy comrades who tried to kill him during the war. He targets them one by one by murdering with a bayonet, the same method they tried to kill him. The first of his victims is stabbed to death at an amusement park ‘Cave Of Horrors’ attraction with the killer leaving a dog-tag behind as his calling card. Tsudo has been working as an assistant to a scientist who has created a brilliant machine called the Cryotron. This is a machine that allows a person to teleport themselves anywhere and Tsudo has been using the machine without his boss’ permission to help him in his revenge. He can appear and disappear at will. A reporter, his friend who’s a police detective and many officers start investigating the mysterious murders. Clues lead them to a military themed cabaret club run by a man who is trying to hide something that took place many years previously which involved stolen gold bars. Will the police be able to capture Tsudo?

This is an interesting movie by Toho Studios which can be lumped in the same category as The H-Man and The Human Vapor which was released around the same time. It is played out like a police murder mystery/thriller which was directed by Jun Fukuda in only his 2nd feature and his first special effects movie. He would later go on to direct several Godzilla movies. It’s an exciting and suspenseful movie with an intriguing premise about a man who uses secret technology to gain revenge. You could argue that there’s a bit of a film noir feel to the movie as well. I just wished the movie would have focused more on Tsudo rather than the police investigation. Whilst the method of how Tsudo appears isn’t as cool as the criminal in The Human Vapor (a misty cloud), there is something very creepy about Tsudo’s form when he teleports. His body is enveloped by electricity and he appears almost like a holographic image.  The viewer is shown via a flashback sequence why Tsudo has taken to carrying out his mission of vengeance in which he was nearly killed inside a cave and left for dead.

Secret of the Telegian screenshot

The special effects are done brilliantly by Eiji Tsuburaya (a veteran of creating special effects for Toho kaiju movies) and it still looks decent even 50 years on. Add to that a really effective and eerie score by Sei Ikeno and you have the ingredients of a good movie. It is well paced and the story never lags. Fukuda builds up plenty of tension and delivers a couple of good shocks. You can sense the frustration by the police as they have no idea at first how the killer manages to escape from the crime scenes. Tadao Nakamura is menacing as Tsudo, a bitter person who is itching on gaining revenge on his former war colleagues.

Despite the claim by many kaiju movie fans that this is one of Toho Studios’ weakest efforts (even though it isn’t technically a kaiju movie), I enjoyed it. Those that have watched Toho’s other 2 titles that I’ve mentioned above might want to check this one out too so that you can compare between the three which is the best.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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The Yellow Sea (2010)

The Yellow Sea (2010)

Gu-nam is an immigrant living in China with a job as a taxi driver but he spends all of his wages at a gambling den in order to pay off his debts that have built up since his pretty wife fled to South Korea. With his debt growing and with some hoodlums after him for not paying them back, a local crime boss Myun-ga offers Gu-nam a chance to settle everything but to do so he must travel to Seoul in South Korea to kill somebody on his behalf. He’s reluctant at first but seeing as this is an opportunity to track down his errant wife he takes up the offer. He has a number of days to carry out his task, find his wife and he must cut the person’s finger off as proof that he’s successfully completed the murder. Gu-nam once in Seoul checks out where his target is living and what time he goes off to bed before planning the murder carefully. On the night he hopes to kill the man, he finds a rival gang has already beaten him to it but still he goes ahead and cuts the man’s finger off before fleeing. The police after seeing some CCTV footage name him their prime suspect and hope to capture him but Gu-nam has another problem as well as the rival gang also want to track him down. With so many obstacles in his path, will Gu-nam be able to find his wife and manage to get back home to China safely?

Coming from Na Hong-jin who directed the brilliant The Chaser movie is this awesome and expertly crafted thriller. It’s good to see that he’s managed to maintain the high standards in that movie and woven another gripping storyline which is full of brutal hardcore violence involving knives. The movie is broken down into two parts: the first deals with the grimy and depressing background of Gu-nam and why he’s forced to take Myun-ga’s job. Gu-nam is a man you’re not sure which side of the fence he’s sitting on – is he a decent man or a nasty person? But even if the viewer questions his dodgy beliefs he’s still someone you root for in the movie especially when he is betrayed. Whilst the first part is important for us to know what kind of a man Gu-nam is and the circumstances for taking on the killing job, it’s after he travels to Seoul and sets on working out his plan to assassinate the man that the excitement and suspense for the viewer begins. It’s a movie that starts out slow enough but builds up very nicely to an incredible finale. The pacing is perfect and you will be left on the edge of your seat when Gu-nam’s well laid plans go awry through no fault of his own. It’s just that other people also have their eye on Gu-nam’s target and beat him to the punch.

the yellow sea screenshot
There’s no shortage of exciting and nail-biting chase sequences to keep the viewer on the edge of their seats. The director uses hand-held camcorders to put you right into the heart of the action. I don’t really mind this method if it works incredibly well and the results in this movie speak for themselves but I’ve read from other movie fans that hate this technique. I’ve mentioned above that there’s some violence in this movie and I suppose I’d better warn those who hate the sight of blood should be prepared to some major bloodletting. The knife/hatchet fights that take place is incredibly violent and it doesn’t shirk from showing it in all its visceral glory. This is a very long movie. The running time is just over 2 and a half hours but because the storyline is totally engrossing and hooks you in, I doubt you’ll even notice that so much time has passed from the start of the movie to the end credits. It’s credit to the fantastic script that’s been written and the first rate directing ability of Na Hong-jin for giving the viewer such an unforgettable and rewarding experience. There’s a bit of history to this story too as Gu-nam is a Joseonjok. They’re people of Korean descent who live in China and they suffer all kinds of abuse due to their feeling of not belonging and unwanted by Korean people. This ill feeling against the Joseonjok people by the Koreans is allegedly on the rise. And for those wishing to know about the title of the movie – it describes the stretch of ocean between Eastern China and the Western Korean peninsula that Gu-nam travels on to his mission.

The cast for the movie is excellent. If you’ve seen The Chaser you’ll see that two of its stars have reunited with the director for this movie although they’ve switched good guy/bad guy roles this time round. Ha Jung-woo is superb as Gu-nam who is rather a tragic figure. A man out of his depth as things go pear-shaped with the authorities and the villains out to get him so he has to use his ingenuity in order to survive. Kim Yun-seok also gives a wonderful performance as the larger than life crime boss Myun-ga who also knows how to survive against overwhelming odds.

The Yellow Sea is a masterpiece and close to being a perfect movie and it really does give the viewer a great example of the movies that have been coming out of South Korea during the past couple of years. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and I would recommend it to anybody who likes gritty engaging thrillers. It’s well written and well acted. I look forward to seeing the next movie from Na Hong-jin. Don’t miss it.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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RuleNumber1-2008

Officer Lee is a dedicated cop who one night in a parking lot decides to stop a man in his car who seems to be trying to leave in a hurry and who hasn’t put his seatbelt on. After being issued a ticket, Lee is about to send the man away when he notices that one of the car’s taillights isn’t working.  Lee offers to repair the broken light so the driver goes looking for a screwdriver inside his car. It is then that Lee spots some blood coming from the car’s boot. A woman’s body is discovered in the boot and the driver whips out his gun and shoots Lee several times. Just as the fatal shot is about to be delivered the corpse in the boot sits up and this is enough for the driver to be distracted and for Lee to shoot him in the head.  After his recovery, Lee is transferred to the Miscellaneous Affairs Department for not changing his statement that he saw a dead corpse sitting up. This rather obscure department investigates paranormal activities and is headed by Inspector Wong and his wheelchair bound assistant. The department’s job is track and hunt down ghosts using conventional weapons. Wong has one rule for his department and that is “there is no such things as ghosts”. This irks Lee as he can see plenty of ghosts but the rule is there for a reason and it’s more for the general public than anybody else. They have to convince them that no such things exist. There is one particularly vicious ghost that seems to have an interest in Lee and Wong. Jumping from one body to another by possessing a human, the ghost makes their victims do things such as commit suicide or killing innocent people. Why is the ghost taunting the two cops with a trail of deaths and is it linked to a set of numbers which has been carved into Lee’s right arm when he was sent to hospital after being shot and put into a plaster cast?

This movie opens with a shocking scene showing Officer Lee gunning down a woman on a bus for no apparent reason before it steps back in time and shows the incredible turn of events of how he became a member of the Miscellaneous Affairs Department team.  If that isn’t enough to get your interest in the movie then nothing else will!! The premise of malevolent ghosts transferring from one body to another simply by touching a person just like a virus is an interesting one. The frightening thing about this aspect is the person is effectively dead once they’re infected and when the ghost has moved onto another body all that’s left is an empty shell. I can’t say I’ve seen a movie with anything like this before so I liked the fact that the director tried something different. That’s not to say he doesn’t spoil the movie by inserting some cheap scares but on the whole it’s not your usual ghost story. The creepy atmosphere adds to the mood of the movie. One such scene showing a group of schoolgirls on top of a roof holding hands with braids of their hair tied together before jumping off has obviously been inspired by Sion Sono’s Suicide Club. Once the identity of the ghost has been made known it turns into a thriller as Lee races against time to protect his pregnant wife and there’s still enough time to shove another twist to the tale which I found to be rather unexpected (I won’t spoil what that is). It definitely keeps you guessing right to the end. The majority of the movie is rather dark and serious with only a little bit of humour in it. There is one major plothole in the story and that is if these ghosts can move between hosts what can a bullet do to them? Probably nothing apart from making them look for a new body.

rule-number-one-screenshot

The director of this movie, a young Singaporean by the name of Kelvin Tong came with a bit of a chequered reputation before helming this movie. Some of his previous works weren’t universally loved as they were either bad comedies or art-house flicks (I can’t comment as I’ve never seen any of his stuff) so many movie fans weren’t expecting much out of this story. However, I think the dramatic first 20 mins was enough to hook people into the movie and make them want to discover where the storyline would take them. Both leading actors give solid performances. Ekin Cheng is particularly good as Wong, the hard drinking man in charge of the M.A.D who has seen it all over the years. You just have an inkling that something bad is going to happen when he plans to retire and go away with his ex-wife who he is still on good terms.

Overall, Rule Number One is an entertaining ride which provides a new slant on the ghost story genre. It has an interesting and exciting story and it’s directed well enough by Kelvin Tong.  Well worth taking a look.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Wangan Midnight The Movie

High school student Akio Asakura is more interested in fast cars than schoolwork. During a trip to a junkyard with his friend who runs a car workshop, he comes across a rusting old blue Nissan 240Z car. He finds himself being attracted to this particular car and decides to buy it. Strangely enough the previous car owner had the same name as Akio. The car has the misfortune of being called ‘The Devil Z’ for the fact that it killed it’s previous owner and caused accidents. Consequently there are rumours that the car is cursed and will kill it’s owner eventually. Akio though isn’t frightened off by this information and puts his heart and soul into restoring the car to it’s original pristine condition.  After the car has been restored he goes for a test run on the road that runs along Tokyo Bay in a district called ‘The Wangan’ where many car racers go head to head against each other. It is on this road that he meets a young doctor called Tatsuya Shima who drives a black Porsche 911 Turbo nicknamed ‘The Blackbird’. It seems that Tatsuya was friends with the Devil Z’s previous owner and he is also now dating the dead man’s beautiful sister.  Tatsuya isn’t exactly happy to see the car back on the road knowing that it’s caused so much pain and heartbreak and he is determined to see the car destroyed. He challenges Akio to a race in the hope if the car is involved in an accident it will put Akio off from driving the car ever again. However, Tatsuya is surprised by how determined Akio is in proving that the Devil Z can beat his Blackbird. Will the curse of the Devil Z come back to haunt Akio if he pushes the car too much?

I have a bit of a guilty pleasure in watching car racing movies even though I’m not really interested in cars as such. A car is just something that takes me from A to B and that’s all. I know a lot of my friends and colleagues like to discuss sometimes about cars and engines etc but that kind of thing just bores me! Apart from The Fast & The Furious franchise, the only other Asian racing movie I’ve seen was Initial D and that was a number of years ago. The same team that made Initial D is behind this movie too. This movie is akin to that more than F&F in that it deals with the characters and the relationship with their cars rather than the racing itself. There’s a hint of a supernatural theme to the movie whether the Devil Z is actually cursed or not. Most of the movie focuses on the duel between Akio and Tatsuya. It’s like the Devil Z has a hypnotic effect on Akio. No matter how much anybody persuades him not to ride the car he feels compelled to do so and in doing that Tatsuya who thinks that nobody can control the car properly and watched his friend perish in an accident whilst driving it thinks it should be himself that should take the car out once and for all to prevent further tragedies and to bring closure. The fact that he’s dating the dead man’s sister Eriko makes the situation even more personal for him. Despite how shocked Eriko is to see the Devil Z that killed her brother back on the road, she is pulled towards Akio and the car. Akio himself asks Eriko to go on a drive with him in order that she might understand why the car held such an attraction to her brother. At several points in the story the viewer is made to think that the Devil Z actually might have a mind of it’s own as it doesn’t respond to Akio’s control during one race with Tatsuya causing an accident to occur. His reasoning is that the car might be rejecting him. Another is during one scene when Akio and Tatsuya are talking outside near their cars whilst Eriko is sitting inside the Devil Z. The next thing we see is the Devil Z taking off and the look on Akio’s face says it all as he has the car’s keys in his hands! However, Akio is told by Tatsuya that Eriko has a set of the car’s keys that her brother possessed and that it is her driving the car.

wangan-midnight-the-movie-still02

There are a couple of pointless sub-plots in the movie that doesn’t really move the story forward at all. One of which involves a popular gravure model Reina who loves to go out car racing at Wangan during the night but is warned by her pushy manager to not say anything to the press or fans as it could jeopardise her career in getting some acting roles. Another is about Akio and his decision to forfeit a term at school so that he can concentrate on his racing. His female teacher keeps on trying to persuade him to turn up at school and it is not until she reveals  something about her past that he promises to come into class.  One of the most striking things about this movie is the cinematography. Tokyo at night is an amazing sight and none more so than around the Tokyo Bay/Odaiba district where the colours on Rainbow Bridge and the ferris wheel on the Venus Fort complex stand out.  It’s one thing seeing these sights onscreen but to actually see them in real life is even better. I regularly visit the Odaiba area during the evening on my trips just to see these wonderful sights and the twinkling lights of the rest of Tokyo across the Bay. The cars used in the movie are sleek and beautiful although please don’t ask me what make/model they are as I’m no expert on such things! The races that take place between Akio and Tatsuya are exciting and exhilirating but on saying that I’ve seen better in other movies.  The acting from the cast is great and I was particularly pleased to see Sata from the manzai comedy duo BAD BOYS appear as Akio’s mechanic friend. It’s hard not to miss him with his Mohican styled hairstyle!!

Although you could say that this is a movie for petrol heads, Wangan Midnight is more than just a racing movie as it has an intelligent and touching storyline with interesting characters that you can relate to. There’s a teaser right after the end credits that a sequel could be made in the future as Tatsuya on duty at the hospital hears an all too familiar engine sound and a caption comes up onscreen saying ‘The Z Will Be Back’. If a sequel will be made is debatable as I’m not sure how well this movie did in Japan.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Kamikaze Taxi DVD

Tatsuo is a young yakuza footsoldier who is given the task by his boss of finding young attractive prostitutes for an elderly corrupt Japanese senator by the name of Domon. Domon is rather a violent man though with these women and the majority are returned bleeding or battered black and blue. When Tatsuo’s girlfriend protests to his boss about the rough treatment the women are getting she is unceremoniously beaten to death by him in front of Tatsuo’s eyes and he cannot do a thing about it. He swears revenge on Domon and together with 5 of his fellow yakuza lackeys plan a heist to steal 2 million yen from Domon’s house in a daring night-time raid. Whilst the raid comes off as planned and the group escape to a small retreat in the country, it doesn’t take long before Tatsuo’s boss and his associates find the group. Only Tatsuo manages to escape with the loot, the others are murdered. Tatsuo decides with the money to go back home to Izo to buy a new gravestone for his mother and he hires a taxi from Tokyo to take him there. It would be easy for Tatsuo who has a gun to force the quietly spoken taxi driver named Kantake, a Peruvian-Japanese who has come back to the country to look for work to take him to his destination but he decides not to do that. Tatsuo’s boss has eyes and ears everywhere and soon he is tracked down. Following a violent confrontation in which he escapes once more and with the taxi driver finding out about Tatsuo’s links to the yakuza, he teams up with him in his quest to destroy Domon. Will Tatsuo be successful in even getting close to Domon in order to murder him or will his boss’ cronies find him first?

At first glance Kamikaze Taxi might seem like any other yakuza movie you may have seen before but it’s not as embedded into the storyline is a commentary about Japanese xenophobia, the delicate subject about kamikaze pilots used during WWII and also comfort women. Director Masato Harada is openly critical of the discrimination that lies hidden within Japanese society and of the country’s aggressive stance during WWII. The entertaining action scenes and interesting characters combined with tackling the social issues stated make for a very good movie so don’t come to watch this expecting a straight-forward crime drama. The issue of Japanese-born immigrants who are treated as outsiders when they return back home is something the movie spends a lot of time focusing on and this is because of one of the main characters Kantake, the taxi driver who’s been made an outcast not by choice. His developing relationship with Tatsuo is made all the more fascinating during the various conversations the viewer witnesses between the two during the movie. Both characters have a connection with kamikaze pilots. I won’t reveal Kantake’s revelation in a pivotal scene near the end but Tatsuo who could keep running for the rest of his life decides to stop hiding, return to Tokyo and fight back against his employers. To him it feels like a suicide mission the kamikaze undertook that will end with his death. To many viewers of this movie it might come as a bit of a surprise how many cultural issues are hidden under the surface in Japanese society. The thorny subject of comfort women (women who were basically used as sex slaves for Japanese soldiers in occupied countries) is something the Japanese government has tried to sweep under the carpet for many years, even going so far to deny there ever were such women. This has angered Japan’s neighbours in China and South Korea who have asked for an apology on many occasions but have yet to receive one. It is rare for such a controversial issue to be discussed in a movie which is why I like this one very much with a director not afraid to criticise his own country for past crimes. I also like the way he takes his time to develop and explore the various characters in the story and adding some depth to them plus how he has managed to create a part yakuza part road trip movie.

Koji Yakusho is excellent as the quietly spoken Kantake who speaks with broken Japanese. On the surface he looks like a gentle person who enjoys talking about Peruvian culture with Tatsuo but towards the climax we see a different side to him. A person who is not afraid of using violence. Kazuya Takahashi is also brilliant as the young yakuza Tatsuo. Reiko Kataoka is also added to the mix as the prostitute Tama, another woman who has been on the receiving end of Domon’s violence. She joins Kantake and Tatsuo on their journey in the second half of the movie. An unlikely trio as ever you’ll see to take on the might of a yakuza family.

Despite the long running time (2 and half hours) which might put off some people, never once did I feel this movie drag. It kept my interest from start to finish. It’s an exceptional and engaging movie from a talented director. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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A_Night_in_Nude_Salvation

Jiro is a man who can do anything for you for a price. A handyman and part private eye he takes on tasks as simple as clearing out storage lockers to tracking down lost items. That’s what he’s asked to do by a beautiful young woman who shows up at his warehouse living space one afternoon. This young woman asks Jiro to help her track down a lost Rolex watch that she says was accidentally thrown out of a helicopter while she was scattering the ashes of her late father. Jiro knows the story isn’t true, but he needs the money so he and the young woman begin poking around miles of woodland in the proverbial search for a needle in a haystack. Miraculously Jiro finds the wrist watch, but it looks to be caked in rotting meat. Needy but not stupid Jiro hands the watch over to a sympathetic police woman he knows for analysis. Little does Jiro know that the discovery of this Rolex will lead to another case, one filled with violence, sex and danger, one that will lead him directly into the heart of darkness.

The first Night In Nude movie was a bit of a guilty pleasure for myself. It’s gritty noir storyline which took the viewer into the seedier side of Tokyo made for an interesting viewing experience so when I had a chance to take a look at the 2010 sequel (made 17 years after the original) I wondered if this one would be quite as good or not. I’m delighted to say it was and in director Takashi Ishii’s capable hands once more it provides an even darker mystery/thriller storyline which involves child abuse and is disturbing to say the least. This isn’t a direct continuation of the plot from the original movie at all. Naoto Takenaga is back as Jiro who is still taking on jobs that no-one else wants to lay their fingers on. In this story he helps a young femme fatale prostitute named Ren who plays the damsel in distress and who needs Jiro to find a rolex watch. He is given a bullshit story about having ashes containing the watch from a relative of Ren’s dropped in the sea of trees around Mount Fuji by helicopter without knowing the full story of how she, her sister and mother murdered a drunken client of theirs in cold blood and dismembered the corpse by grinding it before disposing the lot. This isn’t the first murder Ren has committed with her sister and mother in which they cash in on the deceased’s life insurance policy. After Jiro is successful in finding the watch he’s given another case by Ren to find a missing prostitute named Tae not aware how close he really is to the person he’s after. Thus begins a dangerous path for Jiro which takes him on a journey involving 3 murderous prostitutes where he makes the mistake of falling for Ren. He gets in too deep when the trio plan on killing Ren’s abusive father in order again to cash in on his life insurance policy and the viewer begins to wonder how the hell he can get out of this conundrum he’s put himself into. To say he’s a little naive is a bit of an understatement but is in keeping with his character from the first movie. Whilst the story doesn’t break any new ground, it’s in the way that director Isshi has crafted the movie using his trademark techniques that really stands out. I do like how lighting and darkness is used very effectively in some scenes and the visual effects is quite impressive. Isshi is well known for his movies which involve a lot of sex and violence and he doesn’t shy away from showing plenty of full frontal nudity in the shapely form of former gravure idol Hiroko Sato as Ren with some graphic gore thrown in the opening 30 mins and a couple of explicit sex scenes as well.

a-night-in-nude-salvation screenshot

Naoto Takenaga turns in a solid performance as Jiro. It’s nice to see him not going OTT as he has done in a lot of the roles he’s been given. I thought given the amount of time that had passed since he played Jiro that he would have played him slightly different this time round but Takenaga slips easily back in character. It’s probably Hiroko Sato that stands out more than anybody in a difficult role as Ren who reveals her true intentions in the final third as she plans on killing her entire family and Jiro in a hidden cave system in the woods near Mount Fuji. Yep, Jiro has been suckered and manipulated by a woman just like before. Ren goes a little bit loopy near the climax with her weapon of choice – a taser gun which she goes around zapping her family and the viewer is shown a long drawn out sequence in which Ren imagines she’s naked in the caves and whipping herself to try and forget the pain she endured at the hands of her father who sexually abused her as a little girl and which has made her hate all men. Her psyche has been damaged by what she’s gone through. The rest of the cast aren’t used all that well which includes a female police officer who is tracking Jiro by his mobile phone and suspects that he’s involved with something but she’s not sure what. I hardly recognised legendary Japanese actor Joe Shishido who plays the most sleaziest character in the entire movie as Ren’s father.

If you enjoy watching movies that takes a look into the dark side of humanity and the underbelly of Tokyo that the majority of people won’t be familiar with then you will enjoy A Night In Nude: Salvation.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Memories-of-Murder-dvd

1986 Gyunggi Province. The body of a young woman is found brutally raped and murdered. Two months later, a series of rapes and murders commences under similar circumstances. And in a country that had never known such crimes, the dark whispers about a serial murderer grow louder. A special task force is set up in the area, with two local detectives Park Doo-Man and Jo Young-Goo joined by a detective from Seoul who requested to be assigned to the case, Seo Tae-Yoon. Park personifies the policeman who goes with his instincts and his fists, bloodily challenging every small-time crook in the area to confess. In contrast, Seo pores over evidentiary documents related to the case and inevitably the clash of styles leads to tense rivalry. From the fact that not a single hair is ever found at the scene, Park takes off to search the area’s temples and public baths for men with pubic hair disease, while Seo finds a pattern in the evidence of women wearing red on a rainy day as the victim’s profile. On a rainy day, the detectives set up a trap in order to forestall another murder. The next day however, yet another woman is found murdered. The solution to the murders grows fainter and drives the detectives to ever greater despair.

I will go on record here to say this is probably the finest Korean movie I’ve ever seen. It’s a masterpiece. Powerful, gutwrenching, even humorous at times with a taut script, this movie about South Korea’s first ever serial killer is one that nobody will ever forget after watching it. It’s also based on a true story in which 3000 suspects were questioned and 1.8 million cops were involved according to the prologue. Despite the police’s best efforts, the killer was never found and is still at large in South Korea. It seemed the killer was calculated, meticulous and always one step ahead of the police in everything he did. The story begins in 1986 with the discovery of a woman’s body with her hands tied in a drainage culvert, this sets off a chain of events in which more victims turn up. Each victim has been strangled by their own stockings. The two local detectives on the case including their chief are clearly seen to be completely out of their depth. They also don’t seem to have a clue as to how to keep a crime scene clean until the forensic team arrive with kids and even tractors trampling over vital evidence. Enter Detective Seo Tae-Yun from Seoul who provides a different approach to the case. Instead of using brutality to coerce a confession out of suspects, he uses a more rational way of trying to find the killer. It’s inevitable that he and the local detectives clash. But even with Seo Tae-Yun on board with some clues being found, it becomes apparent that the police force is becoming desperate to nail this sadistic killer. Pinning their hopes on a man with smooth hands after a confession from a female victim who wasn’t killed and the fact that he sent a request for a song ‘Sad Letter’ to be played on the radio on every night a woman is killed, the 3 detectives begin to investigate him. With some evidence sent to the US for verification because South Korea didn’t have DNA testing at the time, they hope that it will prove without a shadow of a doubt that this is their man.

memories-of-murder screenshot

The story is so engrossing and compelling. It sucks you right into the investigation and you definitely feel the frustration of the detectives building up as more bodies turn up. It might not have the Hollywood theatrics of Se7en or The Silence Of The Lambs but don’t believe for a second that this movie is inferior to them in any way shape or form. The movie also gives a good history lesson about the state of South Korea during the mid 80’s when it was still under a military dictatorship with martial law being declared at night with an air-raid siren going off, social unrest happening on the streets and schools participating in an emergency rehearsal in case of an attack by the North. Director Bong Joon-ho has crafted a fantastic suspensful thriller with beautiful haunting cinematography and an amazing soundtrackwhich keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout the 2 hours or so running time. If I had to pick out highlights from the movie it would come down to the fantastic chase scene during the night and a brilliant free-for-all brawl at a restaurant as tensions boil over from one of the detectives who has been suspended due to overuse of violence on a suspect. Don’t expect to find a happy ending to the story though there is an intriguing final scene at the location of the first murder.

The acting from Song Kang-ho, Kim Roe-ha and Kim Sang-kyung as the detectives on the case is excellent and it’s sad to see them fail in their task to being the killer to task despite giving their all to the case day after day. It’s interesting to see how the relationship between the 2 country detectives and the city detective develop as the story progresses. Initially there is a rivalry between them due to their differing styles of investigating – the country pair are either lazy or plain stupid as they blatantly frame suspects and play the good cop/bad cop routine in order to get a confession but all three men become bound together by frustration as each clue they find brings them no closer to catching the real suspect.

Memories Of Murder is an unmissable movie. It’s an exceptional movie in all aspects and I have no hesitation in highly recommending it.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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Byung-Gu is an ordinary young man living in Korea. He believes that all of the earth’s social ills are the evil doings of aliens. That’s why he knows that unless he can meet the prince from Andromeda before the total lunar eclipse, Planet Earth will be in grave danger. In order to meet the prince, he must find an extraterrestrial living on earth. So Byung-Gu kidnaps the most logical suspect, Kang Man-shik, the president and CEO of Yoojae Chemical Company. Thus starts the battle between Byung-Gu who’s trying to uncover a secret alien plot to destroy the earth and CEO Kang Man-Shik, who thinks Byung-Gu’s nuts and is trying desperately to escape. Only four hours until the total lunar eclipse. When the eclipse is over, the time will run out for Planet Earth. Can Byung-Gu singlehandedly save the planet?

This is a very interesting Korean movie which combines many genres into a potent mix all of it’s own. It’s one of those movies that only comes along every once in a while which is so unusual and unique that it just impresses you. The blend of comedy, psychological thriller, horror, police drama and satire works brilliantly. It never fails to surprise you and the movie easily switches from comedy in one scene to a nasty torture moment in a dank basement with a lot of blood in the next. The first 15 mins will give you an idea whether this movie is something you like or not. It might seem a little strange but once you get into the plot and the characters you’ll immerse yourself into this fantastic movie. Don’t let the DVD cover lull you into thinking this is some kind of wacky comedy because it is far from being that. The thrill in watching this movie lies in where it’s going to take you. It’s best to come in with an open mind, sit back and just enjoy the wild ride that unfolds. There are many surprises, some twists and original ideas thrown in. It isn’t a movie for everyone though and it’s certainly not to be seen by families. Some people will be turned off by the graphic violence and situations that take place but if you’re used to watching anything by Takashi Miike or Park Chan-wook then you should be fine with this movie. Director Jang Jun-Hwan paces this movie perfectly and the ‘is he or isn’t he an alien’ question is finally resolved at the conclusion. You’ll never be able to hear the song ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow’ in the same way again after watching this movie.

The acting is incredible with an amazing performance by Ha-kyun Shin as Byung-Gu. Here we have an individual who is convinced that aliens have infiltrated this planet and have changed their genetics to resemble a human being that it consumes him. The aliens can apparently communicate back to their home planet telepathically by their hair strands! He sees it as his quest to thwart and overpower these aliens as he believes they were responsible for making his mother ill who is lying comatose in a hospital. He has kidnapped many individuals before because he believed they were aliens (13 before targeting Kang Man-shik) and taken them back to his mountain top lair where he straps them into a chair and begins torturing them for information on their true origins. Byung-Gu thinks the aliens will be able to withstand the punishment he gives them. It will be easy for the viewer to tag Byung-Gu as being mentally unstable. Given his violent behaviour towards Kang Man-Shik, you will still gradually begin to like and sympathise with Byung-Gu.

Funny, tense, horrifying and inevitably tragic,  Save The Green Planet is a thought provoking, challenging, disturbing but ultimately a very special and outstanding movie that shouldn’t be missed out by Asian movie fans. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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A traffic accident changes several people’s lives forever. In capturing wanted criminal Cheung Yat-Tung, Sergeant Tang Fei is involved in a shootout and car accident that puts the criminal in a coma. But in the process he also cripples a fellow officer, and accidentally kills the elder daughter of public prosecutor and single mother Ann. The car in which the girl was travelling is hijacked by the criminals and she is shoved into the boot. Unable to handle the guilt, Tang Fei succumbs to a fog of pain. Ann, meanwhile, pours all her love and attention to her younger daughter Ling. Three months later, the criminal Cheung Yat-Tung awakens from his coma. Ann, who had been working hard on bringing him to justice, insists he stand trial immediately. Then Ling is kidnapped by one of Cheung Yat-Tung’s thugs Hung and Tang Fei is determined to redeem himself and set things right after past mistakes. Will he able to rescue the little girl before she is harmed?

This movie starts with a bang and for the most part delivers throughout with its mix of human drama and tragedy with excellent taut action sequences. Hong Kong police movies have always been popular in the territory and whilst the majority look slick and have enough entertainment to satisfy the average cinema fan, there’s usually no real depth to the stories. Beast Stalker though is different as it has some emotion in the plot. It doesn’t win any prizes on originality and some will even see it as being perhaps a little bit predictable but as a tense thriller there is much to like here. It’s a movie which shows that actions has consequences and this movie shows it very well indeed. The car crash near the beginning of the movie is handled impressively. The scene is shot so well and the slow motion images of the passengers inside one vehicle as it tumbles around is effective and is easily one of highlights of the movie. The structure of the story with it’s twists and turns is intelligent and compelling.

The two main male characters are fantastic in their roles. Nicholas Tse does a great job as the tortured cop who ruins not just Ann’s life with the death of her daughter but several others as well. It’s harrowing to see Tang Fei’s realisation that he’s killed a child as he opens the boot of the criminal’s car and finds her body inside. Ultimately it’s not Tse thats the stand out actor in the movie but Nick Cheung as the one-eyed kindapper Hung. He doesn’t play the role as an OTT villain but comes across as a real person. The reason why he’s kidnapped the little girl Ling is revealed as the plot unfolds and again it links to the car crash. He comes across as quite a menacing person even though some viewers will have some sympathy for his plight. Suet-Yin Wong is absolutely adorable as Ling who proves to be a bit of a smart kid even when in danger.

Director Dante Lam excels with this movie and provides plenty of excitement alongside the drama to keep the viewer interested. There’s a car crash, some fist fights, gunplay and foot chases so action fans should be satisfied with what they see. The way that Lam manages to combine the emotional turmoil of the plot with the action has to be commended.

Overall, The Beast Stalker is a well written and hard-hitting tale about a man seeking redemption and whilst it isn’t perfect and has some flaws it’s certainly worth your time and effort.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Togawa is a man sprung from jail 2 years earlier than expected by a man called Ito. Ito along with a yakuza boss has paid big money to have Togawa released from prison (he was serving a sentence for killing a trucker who had crippled his young sister). Ito wants Togawa to lead a team of 4 men to rob an armoured car which is carrying 120 million yen in money earnings from the Japanese Derby horse race. Togawa has been chosen for his reputation and skills. Even with the big pay off Ito is offering him he hesitates but he soon accepts when he finds out his trusted friend Shirai is a part of the team. The other 2 members is a boxer who was going to be a champion until he took a bung for a fight and a greedy gambler. The plan for the heist looks to be foolproof on paper and it all has to be done in 7 mins. But of course the best laid plans never go according to what they should be………..

This is a hard edged heist movie with all the standard elements in place here from a criminal asked to do one last job, the audacious plan to commit the perfect crime against a difficult target, the heist which goes wrong, the subsequent falling out between the team and the moral at the end that crime doesn’t pay. It’s a taut and thrilling movie thanks to a good plot, fast pace and the leading character played by chipmunk faced Jo Shishido. He plays Togawa with his usual aura of looking cool, some grittiness and machismo. The draw of the movie isn’t about the heist itself but of how it’ll inevitably go wrong. You can sympathise with Togawa in why he’s taking part in the heist. He might want to go straight but he feels responsible for the accident that hospitalised his sister. The money from the heist would go a long way to pay for an operation that could make her walk again. When Togawa explains the plan to his fellow cohorts, the viewer is shown what should happen in real time and it’s obvious that there are unforeseen circumstances that could easily derail the plan. In the duration of 7 short minutes the criminals have to divert the armoured truck down an alternative route, block that route so that other traffic doesn’t follow, shoot the motorcycle police escorts dead, hope the guards inside the truck come out so that they get killed as well as the truck’s glass is bullet proof and then finally load the truck onto a bigger truck before it is disposed of in a quiet location with all the bodies inside. Even when the heist doesn’t go according to plan, Togawa never expects to be betrayed by his employers and two of his team members who become greedy. Togawa is a man who believes in the futile notion of honor among thieves so this betrayal is very unexpected. It then becomes a battle of survival as he and his friend Shirai get involved in a number of gunfight skirmishes and try to escape with the money. It ends in something that could almost be described as a Greek tragedy.

This is an excellent example of a Japanese noir movie with brilliant acting by Jo Shishido and loads of exciting violent action. It’s directed well, the story is interesting and it looks great.

Cruel Gun Story might not be a classic movie in the Japanese noir genre but it has plenty of thrills and spills to keep any viewer entertained. Well worth seeing.

I can’t find a trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Monday (2000)

Takagi is a salaryman who suddenly wakes up on a Monday morning with no idea how he came to ending up in a hotel room. The last thing he remembers judging by the purification salt he has on him is attending a wake on Saturday. Things didn’t go too well at the wake as Takagi was involved in making the corpse explode in his coffin!! Sunday is a complete blank to him. Then some flashbacks come back which involves him getting drunk in a bar, a yakuza gang and a shotgun. As the fogginess from his brain starts to dissipate, the grim truth of what Takagi has done in his missing day becomes crystal clear!!

I’m not too familiar with any of director Sabu’s movies except Usagi Drop (he isn’t Indian BTW, he just chose an exotic career name – his real name is Hiroyuki Tanaka) but apparently the work he’s done over the years are fan favorites around movie festival circles and apparently he’s well known for his fantastic chase scenes though I wouldn’t be able to tell you having not seen any of his movies. This movie, a dark comedy thriller, was the 4th movie he directed (he was previously an actor). It starts out being very funny but as the movie progresses it gets very dark indeed. Think of Michael Douglas in Falling Down and you’ll get an idea of what Takagi gets up to. If you’re a fan of Takeshi Kitano’s movies I would think you would like this one as well. It’s got the same surreal comedy streak running through it. You’ll know after the joke involving a corpse and a pacemaker in the first 15 mins whether this is the kind of movie you’ll enjoy or not although it has nothing to do with the main plot. I thought it was comedy gold myself but others may not see it like that. I guess it depends on your sense of humour. The situations that the lead character gets himself involved in over the course of 1 day is hilarious such as the drunken sensual dance with the yakuza boss’ moll, his palm getting read by a gay fortune teller at a bar and the no hands urinating scene. The entire premise of the movie by Sabu is basically that people whilst drunk get up to many silly things. In Takagi’s case it’s your average salaryman empowering himself with a gun he managed to find at a yakuza den and taking out the trash of society. The movie falters a little bit near the climax as Sabu goes all preachy on us and delivers a serious message about guns.

I enjoyed Shinichi Tsutsumi’s portrayal of Takagi. I found his giggling demeanour whilst drunk a little bit annoying but his dark turn from being a cowardly salaryman to full on vigilante was great. There seems to be a lot of characters in this movie giggling and laughing. The supporting characters also give strong performances such as Yasuko Matsuyuki as the yakuza moll who enjoys the attention from Takagi.

Open-minded movie fans who can appreciate satire for what it is will get a kick out of this movie. The surreal nature of the plot might be a bit hard to swallow for a lot of people. On the basis of this movie alone I expect to be checking out more of Sabu’s movies in the future. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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A police van carrying prisoners is targeted by a sniper one night. Several prison guards and prisoners die as a result of the attack. The one remaining prison guard Tamon who survived is made a scapegoat and suspended for 6 months but he merely shrugs this off as a long holiday. Tamon isn’t going to let the incident pass by as certain things that occurred during the attack has bothered him such as a name of a person one of the prisoners Goro wrote on the police van windows and an appearance before the attack of a mysterious woman. With these little clues to aid him, Tamon sets out to investigate what went on that night but he may have bitten off more than he can chew as the criminal underworld is determined not to let him interfere in their plans.

With it’s roots set firmly in the Hollywood film noir genre of the 50’s, this fast paced mystery movie which only runs for 79 mins packs in a lot with an engaging but slightly confusing plot (probably deliberately made this way by director Seijun Suzuki), great action sequences, shootouts and some cool characters. It doesn’t waste any time in putting the viewer straight into the heart of the action with the attack on the police van. The story is one that will keep you guessing right until the climax at the train station as to who is behind the attack. All the ingredients you’d associate with a film noir movie is in this movie although I’d say this is perhaps just a tad more gritty because the plot involves prostitution and there’s even a shot of a woman’s breasts. The hero Tamon has to endure several attempts on his life by those that are trying to put him off their scent and it includes a fantastic scene in which he and a woman are tied up inside a tanker truck which is freewheeling on a road with the fuel in the back having been released by the bad guys and set alight. The tension mounts as both try to escape before the flames behind them catches up and makes the tanker explode. This is only one of several fantastic action scenes which takes place. The cinematography is top notch with great use of light and shadow to create the dark mood of the movie and there are some nice visual effects such as looking from the sniper’s point of view of some road signs before the initial attack. Michitaro Mizushima is excellent as Tamon – a hero to root for and who can use his fists to good effect against some seedy characters when he needs to. He goes against the usual characteristics of a film noir protaganist at one point when he explains to a female character that there is good in everybody and that the villains just haven’t awakened that side yet. It just seemed a little out of place in a film noir.

Seijun Suzuki would go on to direct bigger and better movies in the years to come (Branded To Kill and Fighting Elegy for instance) and whilst Take Aim At The Police Van is certainly no masterpiece, it is still an entertaining and exciting movie which is well worth seeing. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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G@me (2003)

Sakuma is a succesful employee for an advertising firm. He is given the task of creating a promotion plan for a new variety of beer produced by the company Mikado which is run by the boss Katsuragi. Sakuma’s plan involves around a theme park and a huge music event featuring bands from around the world. However his idea is shot down by Katsuragi in front of his peers and he is humiliated. Katsuragi is after a more greener environmental theme. Sakuma is rather miffed about his idea being blown out of the water and plans of taking revenge on Katsuragi. Whilst staking out Katsuragi’s house during the a midnight walk, he sees his daughter Juri sneaking out of the house, over the wall and into the street below. He follows her into a hotel where she is trying to get a room for a night and she’s refused. He is told that she is running away from home. He takes her back to his place where they come up with a grand plan to swindle 300 million yen from Juri’s father by saying that she’s been kidnapped. All appears to go as planned with messages being sent back and forth by both parties on a BBS on the internet and despite some minor hitches, Katsuragi agrees as planned to hand over the money for the safe return of his daughter. The money is delivered and Juri is blindfolded willingly and returned safely back. But it’s not the end of the story quite yet as Sakuma is shocked when a TV news report states that Juri has been found murdered but the photo of her is different from the person he’s been plotting the swindle so who is the woman he’s been falling in love and plotting with recently and what is Katsuragi’s involvement in the grand scheme of things?

This movie starring the duo of Yukie Nakama and Naohito Fujiki is a thriller which is not at all what it seems though at first you might think it’s just your usual kidnapping/swindle movie. It’s a little slow starting off but it soon finds its feet. There are many twists and turns in the final third which makes this movie so unpredictable. I never saw the plot change coming so I was pleasantly surprised. OK, so it’s nothing new but the way it’s been executed is very good. The story is made out that the two main leads is playing a game with Katsuragi hence the movie’s title but what Sakuma doesn’t know is that there’s another player in the game who reveals himself to him later on. It’s an intelligent plot with a lot of thought gone into it and there’s plenty of suspense to generate excitement for the viewer though the ending was a little bit useless. I guess it’s still better than the Hollywood ending the viewer could have expected with everybody happy and all smiles. The love angle between the two leads was to be expected but it doesn’t hamper the movie at all.

It was nice to see Yukie Nakama in such a serious role. I’ve only seen her in comedy roles over the years be it Yankumi in Gokusen or Naoko Yamada in Trick so I did enjoy seeing her flex her acting skills. Naohito Fujiko who won an award for his performance as Sakuma is cool, calm and reassured. Seeing him deal with the curveball that happens to him in the final third of the movie is enjoyable. If you regularly watch Japanese TV dramas you know that both leads are capable performers in whatever role they play. They share great chemistry on screen so I enjoyed watching them. They bounce off each other extremely well.

I found G@me to be a very entertaining movie and the plot twists certainly made it all the more better for it. Coupled with two wonderful performances from Yukie Nakama and Naohito Fujiko, this movie is definitely worthy of your attention. It might not win any awards but you won’t go wrong with passing nearly 2 hours of your time watching this movie.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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