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It’s been a quiet month for watching Asian movies for myself (too busy seeing documentaries on TV!). We’ll see if I get a chance to see more this month. So this is what I saw last month:

Death-Kappa

Death Kappa
1.5 stars out of 5

Ghost_Punting_(1992)_HK_poster

Ghost Punting
3 stars out of 5

Akira Kurosawa Dreams

Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams
3.5 stars out of 5

15film

15: The Movie
1.5 stars out of 5

armitage_iii_poly_matrix

Armitage III: Poly Matrix
3 stars out of 5

super-lady-cop-poster

Super Lady Cop
3 stars out of 5

evildeadtrap3visuel

Evil Dead Trap 3: The Brutal Insanity Of Love
3 stars out of 5

153491-danger-stalks-near-0-230-0-341-crop

Danger Stalks Near
1.5 stars out of 5

RedDust+1990-3-b

Red Dust
2 stars out of 5

Mobile_Boyfriend-915845887-large

Mobile Boyfriend
3 stars out of 5

magic crystal

The Magic Crystal
3 stars out of 5

kung-fu-cult-master

Kung Fu Cult Master
4 stars out of 5

37 ninja kids

37 Shaolin Kids
1.5 stars out of 5

angel-s-project-moon-lee

Angel’s Project
2.5 stars out of 5

MissionofJustice+1992-64-b

Mission Of Justice
2 stars out of 5

doomsday book

Doomsday Book
3 stars out of 5

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

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

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

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

Documentary of akb48 time has come screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

Professorandhisbelovedequation

A young maths teacher nicknamed Root (due to his square looking head!) starts his new post at a high school. In order to introduce himself to his new charges, he starts to tell them a story about how he fell in love with maths. His mother Kyoko, a single parent began to work as a housekeeper for a maths Professor by his sister-in-law. The Professor though had a unique health problem – he could only remember things for about 80 mins due to a car accident that happened to him. Everything after 80 mins he forgets so Root’s mother has to introduce himself to the Professor each and every day. Despite this problem, the Professor still managed to excel at maths. Gradually, Kyoko brings her son Root to see the Professor and the 2 develop a friendship through their love of baseball and Root soon begins to understand maths by his new friend.

I’ve got to admit that I hated maths as a subject at school but watching this movie you begin to understand that there’s a certain magic about numbers. I wish I had a teacher at high school like Root who makes the subject not only easier to understand but also makes topics such as prime and perfect numbers rather interesting and accessible. You don’t have to be good at maths to enjoy this movie though – it’s more or less a gentle drama told via flashbacks about a close and genuine friendship between three people, forming a bond like a family and showing the viewer how the Professor applies maths in everyday situations to live his life. Director Takashi Koizumi who honed his art serving as an A.D on Akira Kurosawa’s last 5 movies is famous for his slow burning stories and this one is no exception. The nice slow pace is perfect for this kind of story. Don’t expect any gripping drama to take place in the story although the friendship between the trio is temporarily broken during the final third of the movie by the Professor’s sister-in-law who becomes jealous of their close ties and fires Kyoko. Thankfully though the trio is reunited in a moving finale to leave the viewers at the end credits with a feel good factor without the use of melodrama.

The subject of the Professor’s mental illness is treated with respect throughout the movie. In order to remember important things, he pins notes on his jacket and stuff on his blackboard to remind himself. The core trio are all very likeable characters. The Professor has had many different housekeepers looking after him before but they all left having found it difficult to cope with his illness and having to re-introduce themselves to him each and every day. Kyoko though is different to the rest. She is kind, understanding and most of all has the patience to deal with the Professor and his moods. Root and the Professor bond over baseball and it’s the Professor that gives Root his life-long love of maths and treats the young boy like his own. It’s clear to see that the Professor has been living a lonely life since the accident and this new family unit he’s been given reinvigorates his zest for life.

professor2

Eri Fukatsu is one of my favourite Japanese actresses and she is fabulous in this movie as the Professor’s housekeeper Kyoko. I don’t think the casting people could have picked anybody better than Eri for this role. I also really loved Akira Terao as the Professor who manages to capture not only the friendly nature of the character but also the sadness he has due to his mental illness. Rounding up the trio is Ryusei Saito as young Root who is such a good child actor. The interaction between Root and the Professor is sure to bring a smile to one’s face.

Overall, this is an entertaining movie that you can’t help but like. Don’t be put off by the fact that the subject of maths is prominent in the story – you may even learn something from this movie!! It’s a superb movie to watch with beautiful cinematography, a great minimalistic story with a meandering pace to it and lovely characters you’d like to meet in real life, I would say it was one of my favourite Japanese movies I watched in 2014. A must-see.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

The-After-Dinner-Mysteries-

Reiko Hosho is the daughter of a wealthy industrialist and a rookie police detective who is assisted from the shadows by her butler Kageyama who is the picture of being a model servant in front of people but quite sharp in his tongue towards Reiko in private. Reiko and Kageyama board a cruise ship which is en- route to Singapore. It isn’t long before a body is seen falling into the sea and it’s discovered that the man in question has been murdered and had many enemies. Reiko’s boss Detective Kazamatsuri decides to solve the case as he is on the ship guarding a priceless artefact to it’s new home in Singapore. Reiko and Kageyama also decide to find out who the murderer is. Soon more bodies turn up but with 3000 people onboard the ship how can she narrow the suspects down. Are the murders linked to a master criminal named Phantom Soros? Reiko and Kageyama must capture the murderer before the ship lands at its destination.

This is the spinoff movie from the popular 2011 drama series by Fuji Television. It isn’t essential that you’ve seen the series to enjoy this movie as it’s a standalone story and there’s a handy introduction to the main players right at the start. It’s easy to see that the budget has been increased from the series for this movie with part of the filming taking place in Singapore and also on a real luxury cruise liner. All the regulars from the series return to reprise their roles.

After Dinner Mysteries screenshot

The movie mixes comedy, drama and suspense but it’s the comedic aspect that stands out the most. It tends to feel at times like an Agatha Christie mystery played out like a spoof and instead of concentrating on just Reiko and Kageyama trying to solve the murders, there are other sub-plots with other characters introduced such as a pair of bumbling thieves who plan to steal the artefact guarded by Detective Kazamatsuri. These subplots all come together in the thrilling climax. I can also see some aspects of Detective Conan in the movie too – Kageyama with his glasses looks like Conan and is superior in his sleuthing skills than anybody else, Reiko plays the Ran role while the arrogant Kazamatsuri who thinks he’s brilliant at being a detective is similar to Ran’s father Mouri. The gelling of slapstick comedy and detective drama works surprisingly well. As there are so many sub-plots taking place, there is a lot of information to take in for the viewer but not too much for anybody to become lost with the story. As with many Japanese mystery movies, there are several twists and red herrings to keep the viewer on their toes and the unveiling of the murderer will keep you guessing until the end which unfortunately is rather cliché ridden.

Keiko Kitagawa plays the wealthy heiress Reiko in a goofy kind of way. She’s taken on a similar type of role before such as the dorama Mop Girl so if you like seeing her pull funny faces and be a damsel in distress then you’ll enjoy her in this movie though I suspect some might find her character a bit annoying. Arashi member Sho Sakurai is Reiko’s foil as her faithful but sharp-tongued butler Kageyama who is never afraid to put Reiko in her place in private but in public has to put on his diligent servant persona. It makes for amusing viewing seeing the bickering that goes on between Reiko and Kageyama and it’s obvious that Keiko and Sho are enjoying themselves in their roles. Both of their characters are even taken out from the ship for a while as the murderer makes sure they are put in a lifeboat and sent overboard. They eventually land on a small island before they are rescued rather conveniently by the authorities. Of course it’s all rather far-fetched but do remember that the movie is never meant to be taken seriously. One of the most notable guest stars taking part in this movie is Naoto Takenaka as a thief. I didn’t really recognise him at first, it’s his voice that gave the game away.

All in all, this is a hugely entertaining murder mystery movie. It’s got drama, moments of danger, good comedy, a fine cast and an exciting story. Fans of the drama series will have a fun time reuniting with characters they love but even those not familiar with the drama like myself can still enjoy this movie. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Kirei

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

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

kirei_07

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

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

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

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

Journey to the west

In a small village by a river, a mysterious large demon creature attacks the father of a young child which is then killed by a fake Taoist priest. The creature is revealed to be a manta ray and is proclaimed dead by the priest. A demon hunter named Sanzang appears on the scene warning that it is not the real demon that attacked. His pleas are ignored and he is captured and tied up in ropes high above the river. The demon creature comes back and kills a number of villagers but thankfully Sanzang who is able to release himself manages to beach the creature which turns into a man. Sanzang begins a ritual by using a book of nursery rhymes and singing to the man. The man becomes agitated and attacks Sanzang. Another demon hunter, a female warrior named Duan enters, capturing the man inside a blanket and turning him into a puppet. Sanzang isn’t happy at being upstaged by Duan and complains to his master who tells him that his way of trying to pacify the demon and reforming them is good. He is ordered to try and tame the Monkey King demon who has been trapped by Buddha. During his travels he becomes entangled again with Duan after battling a pig demon in a restaurant. After days of travelling he finally finds the Monkey King but not before being captured by Duan’s gang, rejecting her advances and battling the injured pig demon again. Will Sanzang be able to tame the Monkey King or does the demon have a trick or two up his sleeve?

Those of a certain age in the UK will remember a TV programme during the late 70’s/early 80’s called Monkey. It was a dubbed version of a Japanese programme based on the Chinese novel Journey To The West. This movie isn’t a new version of that story but rather a prequel of how the main characters got together. It’s directed by Hong Kong comedy legend Stephen Chow who it seems now is content to be behind the cameras rather than in front of them. Perhaps with his movie CJ7 not being as successful as he thought it might be maybe he doesn’t want to act again? Then again I’ve heard that he has some politicial ambitions so that could be the reason for his scaling down of movie activities? Chow has covered Journey To The West before in the 2-part comedy movie A Chinese Odyssey. His trademark OTT action, romance and humour is prevalent throughout this movie – he might not appear on screen but everything from the comedy to the great action scenes is quintessentially Stephen Chow. The lead character of Sanzang would have been ideal role for him. The Journey To The West story has been done many times over the years but Chow somehow manages to make it feel fresh even though it does get bogged down in the middle section when it focuses more on Duan trying to seduce Sanzang which gets incredibly ridiculous and boring too.

journey-to-the-west-conquering-the-demons

There’s a memorable start to the movie with a fantastic and imaginative choreographed attack on a small village by a water demon which is really exciting to watch as Sanzang tries to rescue a young girl from being devoured by the demon. It does go on for a little bit too long but it doesn’t half hook you into the story. The scene leads you to believe that the danger has been eliminated by a fake priest when a manta ray is killed so when the real demon does appear it’s more of a surprise to the viewer. The same technique of showing red herrings to the viewer is used again in the instance of the pig demon and the Monkey King. A lot of symbolism is used in the movie which is lost on myself as I don’t know a lot about Chinese mythology. It probably makes a lot of sense to Chinese people but to Westerners they won’t have a clue what they’re on about. There are a couple of excellently staged action scenes which culminates with a battle between The Monkey King and Buddha after the Monkey King tricks Sanzang into freeing him from the cave in which he’s been imprisoned for 500 years and he’s not too happy about it. Production values for the movie is quite high with plenty of money having been thrown at it as the CGI effects is very good. It matches what you might see in a Hollywood movie. It’s only right at the very end the viewer sees characters they recognise as Sanzang becomes Tripitaka the monk and he along with Monkey, Piggsy and Sandy (3 ex-demons seeking enlightenment) begin their journey to the West to recover some sacred texts for Buddha. Perhaps Stephen Chow will continue the story in a future movie?

It’s up to Wen Zhang to carry the movie as it’s leading character Sanzang and he does extremely well. Sanzang makes for an instantly likeable character with his vulnerabilities. Zhang is able to do comedy and action effortlessly, exactly like Chow used to do. I wonder if Chow showed Zhang how to play Sanzang as he would have done it? For Sanzang’s female foil, Chow employed the beautiful Shu Qi as the aggressive demon hunter Duan. Both Zhang and Qi bounce off each other so they’re a good combination together. It’s very easy to believe that Duan is an effective demon hunter with the way she dispatches them violently. She tries to get Sanzang to love her but he’s so devoted to being a monk he cannot reciprocate her feelings which leads to all kinds of troubles in their relationship. Huang Bo is superb and makes for an engaging villain as the sly Monkey King.

Overall, this was an excellent action comedy with a lot to enjoy for Stephen Chow fans. He can still churn out a good movie even though he might not be acting in it and the mix of action, drama and comedy is perfect. I only hope Chow fans like myself won’t have to wait so long for his next project and that he can be coaxed to actually appear on screen next time. We wait with baited breath! Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Haru’s Journey (2011)

haru's journey poster

In a small fishing village somewhere in Hokkaido, 19 year old Haru has lived with her grumpy grandfather Nakai Tadao, a fisherman before his retirement since the death of her mother five years ago. However Haru decides to leave Hokkaido and head to Tokyo to look for work after the school in which she does the catering will close down. Tadao isn’t very happy about this at all but agrees that he and Haru should take a journey to see if his siblings will take him in as he cannot look after himself. The first stop is to visit Tadao’s elder brother but tension soon rears its ugly head between the pair and besides he’s about to be carted off to a retirement home so the visit ends in failure. His next port of call is to see his younger brother but gets only to see his wife who has no idea of his whereabouts since he was released from jail. Tadao’s elder sister is the next destination for the pair. She runs a small hotel. While she’s only too happy to give Haru a job, she refuses to give Tadao a room for him to stay as she believes him to be too lazy and selfish. Haru refuses to abandon Tadao so off they go to see another of Tadao’s younger brother. Haru also decides that before they head back home to Hokkaido she would like to see her long-lost father who suddenly left Haru’s mother (and contributed to her suicide).

This movie starts with a scene showing Tadao storming off from his ramshackle hut in Hokkaido with his granddaughter in tow. The viewer has no idea what has gone off between them but we know that Tadao is very pissed off. Thus begins a road trip down South to Honshu by train going from place to place between the two. The story is about family dynamics but there’s also a social commentary here about the growing problem that faces Japan with the elderly population on the rise. At first the viewer might think of Tadao as a cantankerous and unpleasant character who has temper tantrums but over the course of the movie we see him mellowing a bit and his relationship with Haru develops further to the point that by the end we can see that it would be foolish for the pair to split up. They depend on one another and also understand each other a bit better by the end credits. It is obvious that Tadao doesn’t have a good relationship with any of his siblings – a combination of being selfish and stubborn over the years hasn’t endeared himself to them at all. If he thought he was going to get welcomed back with open arms by them – well that doesn’t happen at all and none of them are willing to let him stay with them! In fact it would be right to say Tadao’s siblings seem a little pleased that he’s now forced to beg for their charity.

HarusJourney2

If what I’ve said so far makes you think this movie is all about Tadao then you’d be wrong. The story also delves into Haru’s sad background and how the absence of having a father figure in her life has affected her mentally. There’s a powerful heartbreaking scene in which Haru confronts her father at his home about why he left her mother those years ago. This brings some closure about the circumstances of her mother’s death but it doesn’t as some might assume bring father and daughter any closer together at all. Tadao is given the opportunity by his son-in-law’s kind wife to stay at their place but he and Haru decide to run off quietly from the place. What’s wonderful about this movie is the interaction between Tadao and Haru. They may argue a bit but deep down they care for each other a lot.

Japanese cinema legend Tatsuya Nakadai gives one of his best performances as the stubborn Tadao who refuses to swallow his pride and has no regrets about what he’s done over the years. Even in his advanced years Nakadai still commands the screen with his presence. His co-star Eri Fukunaga is equally as good though she has to play down her usual beautiful self to look more plain looking as Haru. She isn’t relegated to being a bit-part player on screen by her co-star Nakadai. It’s funny seeing the way the pair of them walk around the streets of Japan – Tadao with his limp and Haru with her unnatural gait. The strong supporting cast complement the 2 main characters very well such as Chikage Awashima who plays Tadao’s no-nonsense elder sister who can see through his bluster and is very kind to Haru. Teruyuki Kagawa is also brilliant in his short role as Haru’s father who deep down feels guilty since her mother’s death, knowing full well that his leaving made her commit suicide.

All in all, I thought this movie was a masterpiece with a moving story, the characterisation is marvelous, lovely cinematography and a fantastic cast. Never once does the story drag even though it is slightly over 2 hours long. I highly recommend this movie.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5