Posts Tagged ‘Drama’

Samurai Rebellion dvd

In 1725, aging henpecked samurai Isaburo Sasahara is living a miserable life in an arranged loveless marriage to his wife Suga. An order comes from Lord Matsudaira basically forcing Isaburo’s son Yogoro to marry his mistress Ichi as she slapped the Lord in the face and ripped his clothes. Although Isaburo and his family are against this, Yogoro agrees for the good of the family. Isaburo expects Ichi to be a bit of a brat but instead finds her to be a quiet and humble woman who becomes a good obedient wife to Yogoro. They fall in love and produce a daughter Tomo. Just as things seem to be settling down, news comes on the grapevine that Lord Matsudaira’s young son has died and he wants Ichi to return to his castle so that he can produce an heir with her. This does not go down well with Yogoro and Isaburo. Although Ichi also refuses to go back to Lord Matsudaira she is tricked and kidnapped. Isaburo and his son decide to stand up to their Lord who wants both of them to commit harakiri for not following his orders. They refuse and a confrontation is inevitable so Lord Matsudaira sends out assassins to wipe them out. Will Isaburo’s family survive the onslaught of people sent out to kill them?

Samurai Rebellion is probably not that well known to Western viewers but it certainly deserves to be. It’s a brilliant movie which is filled with well-developed characters, is beautifully shot and superbly directed by Masaki Kobayashi. It has a great storyline about a patriarch who is forced to choose between following orders and the social injustice placed upon his close family by Lord Matsudaira. It highlights the disgraceful treatment placed upon women during that time period in that it doesn’t matter about Ichi’s feelings in the whole situation just as long as Lord Matsudaira is happy that’s all that matters. This is not your typical straight forward samurai movie with a ton of action involved (although there is plenty near the end), there’s a lot more emotion in this story revolving around love, duty and honour. The plot and the tension builds up slowly and it’s only during the final third that violence is introduced to the plot and it gets rather exciting for the viewer culminating in a rather tragic but satisfying conclusion. Even with the rather downbeat ending, Kobayashi still gives up hope in the very final scene. Once you start watching this movie you’ll find it hard not to get yourself immersed in the wonderful plot.


The cast are superb in their roles and Toshiro Mifune is on top of his game here as Isaburo and this movie shows that he could give an excellent performance even whilst not under the direction of Akira Kurosawa. He’s not as intense as he normally is and rather reserved for a change until the last 30 mins of the movie when all hell breaks loose and there’s some fantastic swordfighting action as Isaburo takes on all comers when he tries to escape to Edo with his tiny granddaughter in tow and the net is closing in on him by Matsurdaira’s assassins. There’s a touching scene in which he kisses little Tomo on her forehead before hiding her carefully and taking his final stand against the gunmen hidden in long grass which is choreographed extremely well. Yoko Tsukasa is perhaps the next to stand out in the cast and the viewer will feel a lot of sympathy towards her character of Ichi. She’s a graceful, intelligent and beautiful person. Ichi is such a likeable character who is tossed around like a toy between people.

This movie is as close to perfection as you can get with Toshiro Mifune giving one of his best ever performance. Samurai Rebellion is quite underrated but I would urge any Asian movie fan not to pass it up. It comes highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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big-bang-love-juvenile dvd

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

big bang love screenshot

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

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

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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Sway (2006)

Sway 2006

Takeru returns to his small hometown to attend a Buddhist ceremony honouring his deceased mother. His older brother, Minoru is the one that got Takeru to return to his roots for his mother’s ceremony as he considers himself to be the black sheep of the family. He left his hometown and family many years ago to live in Tokyo. Since that time, he became a successful photographer, while his brother Mineru, was left behind to run their family’s modest gas station business and his ex-girlfriend Chie is one of his employees. Takeru watches his timid older brother work and talk with Chie and instantly feels jealousy. That evening he asks Mineru if he can take Chie home, which Mineru agrees to good-naturedly. He even gives Takeru money to buy dinner. Takeru and Chie soon end up back at her apartment and the intimacy that they shared years ago are quickly rekindled. The next day, at the insistence of Mineru, they all go together to the area known as “Hasumi Gorge”, a beautiful mountainous area with a river and an old suspension bridge. On that fateful day, Chie tries to cross the swaying suspension bridge with Mineru closely behind her, but falls to her death. Mineru is now on trial for the murder of Chie and it’s only Takeru that can sway the outcome of the verdict as he watched what happened on the bridge from the woods nearby.

An intriguing and compelling drama which revolves around the relationship of two brothers who are so different to each other. The first half of the movie sets things up nicely for the second half which concerns Minoru’s courtroom trial in which he’s accused of the murder of Chie. It’s not made clear whether Chie’s death is an accident or murder as the viewer is not shown what happens and even Takeru isn’t sure what took place. He was downstream taking photographs of some flowers in the woods with a clear view of the bridge. During an argument betwen Minoru and Chie on the bridge was she pushed off or did she simply fall? There are various perspectives and possibilities of what actually took place but which one is the truth? Resentment and old grudges between the two brothers come to the surface once more when Minoru is arrested. The movie charts the gap between the old and the new Japan – Minoru representing the old as the dutiful brother staying behind to run his family’s business and Takeru as the new who wanted more than staying in a dead-end town and ended escaping over the bridge expressing his individualism to lead a freer lifestyle in Tokyo.

Sway screenshot

The acting is very good with Joe Odagiri as the younger brother Takeru who contributes somewhat to Chie’s death by sleeping with her. Although this was only a diversion for him to waste some time before going back home to Tokyo the following day, it made Chie to want to go with him but he brushes her off. Takeru isn’t a character who you can warm up to at all despite his looking all cool in his clothes. Thankfully after 7 years has passed by in which he condemned his brother to being in jail, his guilty conscience comes back to haunt him and he feels he has to set things right. Teruyuki Kagawa is also brilliant as the long suffering older brother Minoru. Whilst we still don’t really know 100% by the end of the movie what really happened to Chie, the viewer is shown marks on Minoru’s arm which suggests that perhaps he did not murder her after all and in fact he tried to save her.

Sway is an interesting tense movie to say the least and it contains several unexpected turns with solid performances from the 2 leading males and great directing by Miwa Nishikawa. I wouldn’t bother if you expect a fast paced story as it is quite slow at times but as a drama which looks at aspects of the old and new colliding it is very good.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Woman In The Dunes (1964)

womaninthedunes dvd

An amateur entomologist is on a 3 day break from his work as a high school teacher. He arrives on the coast looking for a unique sand beetle that lives amongst the dunes close to the sea. Falling asleep on a boat, he is woken up by a couple of men who tell him that he’s missed the last bus back to Tokyo but he can stay overnight in a shack owned by a young widow. Accepting the kind offer, the man climbs down to the shack by rope ladder into a huge sandpit. After having a meal by her, he finds out that each night she shovels sand which encroaches onto her shack and threatens to engulf it into some crates which are then hoisted up to sell to a construction company. Waking up the next morning, the man prepares to leave but as he ventures outside he finds the rope ladder is gone. He is trapped with no exit. He tries several times to climb up the sand dunes but he fails each time. He turns on the woman hoping she can provide some answers on how he can escape. How will the man manage to escape his imprisonment?

Having watched director Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Pitfall recently, I turned my attention to probably his most famous piece of work which has quite rightly been hailed a masterpiece by critics and Asian movie fans alike. It’s certainly a unique and surreal movie which you won’t forget in a hurry. It’s a fascinating study about human nature, survival and the primitive animal that’s lurking inside all of us. The viewer is witness to the transformation of the man over the course of the movie. At first all he wants to do is escape and he tries several times to do so but every chance ends in failure but as the story comes to it’s climax an opportunity arises for him to finally have freedom and he doesn’t take it even though by now he’s been a prisoner in the shack for several months. It’s like all the trappings of modern society has been stripped away from him and he’s enjoying the simple life in the shack, being confined and living on bare essentials. I found it a very hypnotic story and maybe that’s due to the fantastic cinematography on show which gives the movie at times a very dreamlike quality to it especially the scenes showing us the bleak shifting sand dunes. You’ll come to see the sand itself as a character in the movie – an unstoppable force which is alive and unpredictable. It’s also quite an erotic and sensual movie as the man develops a bond with the young widow and finally succumbs to her charms as they wash each other’s bodies of sand in a very intimate scene before having sex. I’ve read that some people have commented that you could call this movie something akin to an episode of The Twilight Zone and I guess I’d agree with them on that note. There’s an air of mystery to it all and it is quite an eerie and gripping story. The minimalistic soundtrack is so fantastic.

WomanInTheDunes screenshot

The movie relies on the superb performances of it’s two leading performers to carry the story on their shoulders. Kyoko Koshida is brilliant as the woman that’s resigned to her fate in the shack. It’s not like she’s down in the dumps about this at all as she comes across as a very calm person. It makes you think why doesn’t she want to escape especially since the sand has consumed her husband and daughter and by shovelling it into crates every night she might very well come across their bodies in the future. She obviously doesn’t want to change her life and is content where she is. This is in complete contrast to Eiji Okada’s magnificent portrayal of the man who thinks her attitude to the situation she finds herself in rather ridiculous and his reaction to all of this is to try and escape. But as the days turns to weeks for him in the sandpit he becomes accustomed to it eventually becoming just like the woman. The chemistry between the two characters is excellent.

Woman In The Dunes is a visual feast for the eyes with a story that you’ll be drawn into. It’s long running time demands viewers’ patience but stick with it. It really is well worth watching. Highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Five prostitutes work at Dreamland, in Tokyo’s Yoshiwara district. As the Diet considers a ban on prostitution, the women’s daily dramas play out. Each has dreams and motivations. Hanae is married, her husband unemployed; they have a young child. Yumeko, a widow, uses her earnings to raise and support her son, who’s now old enough to work and care for her. The aging Yorie has a man who wants to marry her. Yasumi saves money diligently to pay her debt and get out; she also has a suitor who wants to marry her, but she has other plans for him. Mickey seems the most devil-may-care, until her father comes from Kobe to bring her news of her family and ask her to come home.

This would prove to be Kenji Mizoguchi’s last movie before his death from leukaemia in 1956 but what a great movie to bow out with about a small group of women having to work as prostitutes in order to survive and support their families post World-War II. It’s also a bit of a propoganda movie in that Mizoguchi is constantly seen as trying to go against the politicians in Japan who were debating about outlawing prostitution at the time when brothels were a legitimate business. The movie on numerous occasions has the cast listening to some radio announcements that the motion has failed. Whatever Mizoguchi was trying to do it didn’t work as shortly after the movie was released the Diet passed a bill to ban prostitution. Unlike Western countries, prostitution has a different stigma attached to it in Japan. Mizoguchi’s directing is as good as it ever was and the world he creates suggests he may have had some experience of visiting brothels.

street of shame promo

The 5 women who we meet in the movie have not been forced into selling their bodies but don’t feel they have no other way of making money. Most have some debts to settle and with one or two even having been sold to the brothel’s owner by their families as they were so poor. Some dream of one day escaping from their work with one women even hoping the prostitution bill will be passed so she can leave the brothel. Each of the characters we are introduced that work in the brothel has an interesting story to tell and are well written. Rather than focus on their profession, the viewer comes to see them as human beings with their flaws, weaknesses, warts and all. Their stories are convincingly told in such a short space of time. A particular favourite of mine is Yumeko’s story which is compelling as we see that her young son does not agree with what she’s doing. She’s wracked with guilt but at the same time what else can she do? The money that she has earned has gone back to her parents in the country who are raising her son. Her plight is made all that sadder when her son who is so ashamed of her job turns his back and rejects her. The movie is heartbreaking as we realise that the women are unhappy with what they’re doing and have dreams that will likely never come true. Mizoguchi manages to make the viewer sympathetic to their cause. Here we have 5 women who are waiting for a brighter and better future but until that happens they are stuck in a job peddling their bodies. The brothel’s owner likens himself as a social worker who is looking after these poor women and giving them a job. The final scene of the movie is powerful as the viewer sees a new girl on the job, a young virgin on her first night who looks on from behind a corner slightly frightened as she watches her co-workers trying to pull in the punters.

The ensemble cast especially the actresses playing the prostitutes are fantastic in their roles and pull in strong performances. Machiko Kyo is probably the standout actress as the tough, cocky loudmouth Mickey who wears westernised clothing and there’s a brilliant scene when her father turns up at the brothel where she works. The viewer is shocked when she even propositions him for money but her world is quickly turned upside down when he says that her mother has died the previous year and she knew nothing about it.

Street of Shame is an excellent movie from Kenji Mizoguchi. Who knows what other masterpieces he would have directed had he not died at the young age of 58? It’s a movie one should not miss and is definitely worth checking out if you like classic Japanese movies. It’s a gritty and honest study of prostitution in Japan in the mid 50’s. Highly recommended.

No trailer but here’s a clip when Yumeko meets her son and she is shattered by what he says to her.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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A Snake Of June (2002)

A Snake Of June DVD

Rinko Tatsumi works as a telephone counselor for a Tokyo-area suicide hotline. Her husband is Shigehiko, an older, workaholic businessman, that has a obsessive compulsive order for cleanliness. Their marriage is a sexless relationship, that seems to be more cordial than intimate. Rinko soon receives a packaged in the mail that contains photographs of herself sitting by her window and masturbating in a semi open public view. Another package arrives with a cell phone. The photographer calls and identifies himself as one of Rinko’s past clients that is not interested in money. Instead, the caller wants Rinko to confront her unfulfillled desires and sexual fantasies. From there a relationship between the stalker, Rinko, and Shigehiko occurs in a tense game of hidden desires.

From the twisted mind of Shinya Tsukamoto comes this tale of a repressed woman’s sexual awakening. The first half of the movie is straight forward and easy to follow but in the second half when the story switches to focus on Rinko’s husband it goes a little bit weird with all kinds of strange and surreal sequences. It’s not something I enjoyed watching to be honest. Actually I thought I was beginning to understand this story in that I believed Tsukamoto was telling the viewer to live their life to the full and they should free themselves from their inhibitions. As the movie goes into full-on bizarre territory I gave up trying to make sense of what Tsukamoto’s intent was and just let everything fly over my head. I also began to lose interest in the movie. It’s one of those movies which you’ll either love or hate depending on whether you like some of Tsukamoto’s other movies. There’s no doubt of the man’s creative talent as a director but some of his work I’m not really keen on. Take for example Tetsuo which nearly everybody harps on about being brilliant but I can’t say I was a fan of that movie at all.

A Snake of June screenshot

I do like how the movie has been shot in blue-tinted monochrome which gives it a unique look and it compliments the many scenes with rain in the background. Rain features a lot in this movie which fits in with the title of the movie as June is when the rainy season hits Japan. There’s a lack of warmth in the movie due to the way the director has chosen to film the story the way he has. I’m quite impressed with Tsukamoto’s visual style in the movie, it’s got his stamp all over it. It’s just a shame that the story about desire and voyeurism which I was beginning to really get into just turned into what I would call a mind-bender during the second half. Despite what you’ve read about the plot above it’s not as exploitative as you think it is.

The performances by the 3 lead characters especially by Asuka Kurosawa is fantastic. Kurosawa made a brave decision to take on such a daring role and she excels as Rinko oozing sexiness as she parades in a micro-skirt around the streets of Tokyo prompting looks by everybody that passes her. You can see how she has become so repressed as her much older husband Shigehiko prefers to spend his time scrubbing the bath rather than pleasing his wife sexually. Is it any wonder that Rinko resolves to buy herself a vibrator! A lot of male fans will like the scene when she decides to strip off naked outside in the pouring rain. Iguchi, the blackmailer who is dying from cancer that is telephoning Rinko to follow his instructions is played by none other than the director himself. We don’t know what his intentions are at first other than trying to make Rinko fulfil her innermost desires.

A Snake Of June will probably be enjoyed more by surreal art-house lovers and those that like to be intellectually challenged rather than casual Asian movie fans who will most likely be left baffled.

Sadako’s Rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

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Osaka Elegy DVD

Ayako Murai is a young woman working as a telephone operator in 1930’s Osaka. In order to pay the debts of her father, unemployed and threatened with arrest after embezzling ¥300, she agrees to become the mistress of her employer Mr. Asai. After paying her father’s debts she then continues working as a mistress, this time for another workplace admirer, Mr Fujino, in an attempt to help pay her brother Hiroshi’s university tuition fees. When she attempts to fool Mr Fujino into giving her extra money, so she can marry her boyfriend Nishimura, he calls the police and she is arrested for soliciting. Upon her return home she is ostracised by her family and her boyfriend and forced to leave home.

This is one of Kenji Mizoguchi’s earliest masterpieces about Japanese women and their struggles in a male dominated society although the best of his works was yet to come. The story that unfolds is made even more sad due to the fact that the main character Ayako is only trying to protect her father and family in what she does but they turn their back on her in the end and she is left all alone. She is basically pushed by family pressure into becoming a mistress to pay back the money that her pathetic and cowardly father has taken. Ayako gets no support from her self-centred brother and her naive little sister. She throws away her dignity and is made to pay the price for it in the end by being publicly shamed with her name splashed over the newspapers. It’s embarassing in Japanese society for a family when their name becomes tarnished. A black name against a family can stay with them for a long time sometimes even for a generation in some cases making life somewhat difficult for them. I was surprised when I found out that Mizoguchi had based this story on his own sister. She was sold into being a prostitute for a rich man by her own father as they were quite a poor family. Thanks to the money coming in from his sister, young Kenji was able to go through school and be educated which would lead him on the path to becoming a movie director.

Osaka Elegy screenshot

The movie has a compelling story with some great acting from the cast especially Isuzu Yamada who is excellent as Ayaka. The viewer sympathises with her situation and can see the dark road she is leading herself down throughout the movie. The script is written well and the camera techniques used by Mizoguchi such as long takes, light and shadows and outdoor night shots of Osaka only enhances the movie. Certain scenes such as the bunraku puppet play in the theatre or when Ayako’s boyfriend discovers her double life are memorable moments but it’s the final scene of the movie which usually gets picked as being the best by critics as Ayako walks towards the camera, stares into it before walking off. It makes us think what will ultimately happen to her – will she have a bleak future or will she find happiness? As it’s only a 71 minute movie, the plot zips along at a quick pace.

Osaka Elegy was the first Kenji Mizoguchi movie to show how brilliant a director he really was. It gave him a lot of acclaim in Japan and would provide the springboard for the success he would so rightfully get in the future. Recommended if you enjoy early Japanese cinema.

There’s no trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Kanzashi dvd

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

Kanzashi screenshot

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

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

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

There’s no trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Rurouni Kenshin (2012)

Rurouni Kenshin

It is the year 1868 in the dying days of the Bakumatsu era and the movie plunges us straight into the Battle of Toba-Fushima where Imperial forces triumph over the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate ushering in the Meiji era. Himura Kenshin is the most feared assassin in Japan, his skills in combat having earned him the title of “Hitokiri Battousai.” Fast forward 10 years on and Kenshin Himura has now become a wanderer who offers aid and protection to those in need as atonement for his past deeds. During this time he comes across and helps a headstrong young woman named Kaoru Kamiya when a warrior who is also calling himself Battousai nearly kills her. It seems this man has assumed Kenshin’s former identity in order to carry out some murders and he is working for a ruthless businessman named Kanryu Takeda who is lining up his pockets by dealing in opium. Kenshin is invited to stay at Kaoru’s dojo which was previously run by her father. A young woman also turns up at Kaoru’s place. Megumi is a pharmacist on the run from Kanryu who she works for. His goons soon arrive creating trouble when they ask Kaoru to sell the dojo as Kanryu wants the place for his opium operation. Kenshin with his inverted blade cleans house with the lot of them but Kanryu isn’t a man to give up easily. With a couple of ex-samurai warriors at his disposal, Kanryu hatches a plan to poison the local kids through the water in a well, kidnap Megumi and hold her as a hostage. Kenshin and his new friend, a street brawler named Sagora Sanosuke decide to take the fight to Kanryu and make their way to his mansion to settle things once and for all. Kanryu though is ready for them with his own secret weapon. Things get even worse for Kenshin when the fake Battousai kidnaps Kaoru in order to goad Kenshin into reverting back to his old murderous self. It boils down to a showdown between the two but will Kenshin who has vowed not to kill again go against his own wishes in order to defeat his more powerful opponent.

I came into watching Rurouni Kenshin with zero knowledge about the manga and the anime on which this movie has been based on. I knew it was very popular in Japan but that’s all I was aware of so I wasn’t really sure what kind of movie to expect. I kept thinking to myself should I watch some of the anime and get acquainted with the characters first before checking out the movie just in case I get completely lost in the story. I was also aware that there had been some grumblings from long-time fans. Making an adaptation of a popular manga was always going to be difficult for anybody as you’ve got to create a movie that will not only satisfy the fans whose expectations will demand that it be faithful to the source material but also cater to those that know nothing about the manga. It’s impossible to make everybody happy but fans should be open to some changes as no director can ever make a movie that is 100% faithful to the manga. Then there’s the additional problem of trying to cram everything into the movie. Where do you stop and what do you leave out?

Rurouni Kenshin screenshot

I thought this was a rather enjoyable movie and there’s nothing to worry about for newbies with no previous knowledge either. You’re not plunged into a story where it is assumed the characters are known to the audience. The beginning of the movie plus the addition of a flashback scene to the origins of Kenshin’s X mark scar on his face gives the viewer some background knowledge on the main character. The plot is a bit predictable in that you can see where the story is heading. There’s nothing new or original in that aspect. The fight choreography though is spectacular with some intricate wirework added to the proceedings at times. It’s fast and exciting with an intense swordfight at the climax (probably the highlight of the entire movie). I wouldn’t say this movie is suitable for young kids as there is some blood being shed during the fight scenes. There’s a very good balance of drama and action in the movie. The characters in the movie are appealing enough. There’s a hint of a love triangle going on between Kenshin, Kaoru and Megumi but it’s never developed properly. The movie rattles along at a good pace and it builds up to the inevitable final showdown between Kenshin and the fake Battousai (a person he knows very well from the past). The running time was sufficient enough (2hrs and 15 mins) though I did think the middle section started to sag a bit. The cinematography helped to enhance the mood and atmosphere of the movie.

Takeru Sato is fantastic as Kenshin Himura. When I first saw him onscreen I thought I recognised him from somewhere and that’s when it dawned on me that he was Kamen Rider Den-O. He is believable as the mannerly young man with a dark past and he portrays the two sides of Kenshin extremely well. I’m not sure if Emi Takei’s character Kaoru was supposed to be the leading female in this movie but it felt like she was overshadowed somewhat by the alluring Yu Aoi as Megumi. Megumi it has to be said is the more interesting character of the two due to her involvement with the villain Kanryu in creating a new type of opium. Both Emi Takei and Yu Aoi are very easy on the eye. I liked the character of the swaggering brawler Sagora Sanosuke and the incredibly large sword he wields. Teruyuki Kagawa is suitably OTT as Kanryu Takeda. I’m not in a position to say whether they stayed true to the characters that appeared on the pages of the manga or not. I’ll leave that up to the fans to argue over.

Rurouni Kenshin is a big-budget action-packed blockbuster which should appeal to long-time and non-fans alike. I found it very entertaining. This movie did extremely well at the Japanese box office because there’s already news that a sequel is on it’s way.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Helter Skelter (2012)

Helter Skelter

LiLiCo is the most popular idol in Japan where her face is on the cover of every fashion magazine and she’s adored by thousands of young girls who want to be like her. Despite her beauty, LiLiCo is quite a vain, arrogant person in reality and a demanding diva. She leads a decadent lifestyle, her house is full of garish things and even with a rich boyfriend she frequently has sex with various other men in order to secure modelling contracts for herself. Her manager is treated with disdain by her attitude. LiLiCo panics when she discovers a rather ugly black blemish on her perfect face and races over to her plastic surgeon doctor to fix the problem by having additional surgery. Over the years LiLiCo has been completely transformed by plastic surgery in order to become the stunning person that she is now. She is a shadow of her former self. What LiLiCo doesn’t know is that Dr Wachi, the plastic surgeon is under investigation for using illegal procedures. Many of her clients have killed themselves after discovering similar blemishes on their face and body. To make matters worse for LiLiCo, she faces competition from a young rising star named Kozue Yoshikawa who starts becoming popular. LiLiCo descends into a drug fuelled nightmare which leads into madness……….

I’d been looking forward to seeing this movie for a while thanks to it’s leading actress in Erika Sawajiri. This movie is a dark satire about the evils of plastic surgery and the lengths some women will take to keep their beauty intact and improve themselves. There is a lot of pressure these days on young women to try and become perfect. Director Mika Ninagawa also looks at the trappings of the showbiz game and the fall from grace of LiLiCo. She’s a person that loves the glamour and adoration from the general public. It’s like a drug for LiLiCo in that she wants more but when that attention is drawn away from her by a young model who has natural beauty and hasn’t resorted to plastic surgery it enrages LiLiCo who wants all the glory to herself and she isn’t willing to share it with anybody. Ninagawa could have focused the plot on the investigation into the suicidal deaths of young girls but she chose to spotlight the story solely on LiLiCo. There will naturally be comparisons to the movie Black Swan as they both share a similar storyline. Some people might be offended by the nudity and sexual imagery on display. Something the viewer will notice from watching this movie is just how beautiful it looks. It’s full of bright sharp colours and there’s frequent use of red in various scenes. The cinematography at times is outstanding such as a scene in which LiLiCo meets her chubby little sister in a field full of yellow flowers during a fashion shoot. Ninagawa was a fashion photographer before turning her hand to movies so she probably knows how to maximise the use of colour in her work. I also loved the clothes that LiLiCo gets to wear throughout the movie. Unfortunately the movie goes on for far too long. At 2hrs and 7 mins I felt Ninagawa was stretching the storyline longer than necessary. A good 20-30 mins should have been cut.

Helter Skelter screenshot

This movie marked the return to the big screen of Erika Sawajiri and I’m not going to retread on things that I’ve mentioned before but the majority of people will know about what happened in 2007 during a press conference for a movie she starred in but she was basically blackballed by the Japanese showbiz industry. It’s been 5 years since her exile and she comes back with a bang in this movie. Sawajiri’s performance is nothing short of sensational. I don’t think anybody else could have played the role of LiLiCo. It’s like the part was made for Sawajiri. It could even be said that she’s even playing herself! This is also the first movie for her to be completely nude. LiLiCo is a malicious and shallow bitch who is driven by greed and success. It’s difficult for the viewer to warm to the character because of how she is and the way she plays with the feelings of her meek manager who is devoted to LiLiCo. When she does fall from grace you won’t feel any sympathy towards her at all. It would have been nice had the story shown LiLiCo when she was younger in order to show her vulnerable side before her transformation by surgery. As LiLiCo goes deeper into her drugs hell, she’s finally exposed on live TV when she starts hallucinating that she is seeing colourful butterflies and various other things are happening all around her. Her downfall is complete when she plunges a knife into her right eye during a press conference. Although Sawajiri is main star of this movie, there’s a very strong cast of acting veterans supporting her in the movie such as Sho Aikawa, Susumu Terajima and Anne Suzuki amongst many others although their screentime is limited.

Helter Skelter is a nice movie to look at with the exquisite visuals employed by the director but the story is rather flawed. Thankfully the brilliant acting by Erika Sawajiri makes sure that you never get bored watching it.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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The movie begins with a wedding ceremony between Koichi Nishi (the secretary for the vice president of a company called Public Corp) and Yoshiko, the VP’s daughter who’s lame after an accident that happened when she was a child thanks in part to her brother. Soon after at the wedding reception, a gaggle of newspaper reporters are hanging around the place like vultures waiting for a scoop of some sort. There are rumours of dodgy dealings going on between Public Corp and Dairyu Construction that the newspapers are keen to exploit on. They also think that Nishi is marrying Yoshiko to only climb up the ladder in the company. The wedding reception takes a turn for the worse for some members of Public Corp when the wedding cake arrives. The large cake in the shape of the Public Corp office building has a red rose sticking out of one of the upstairs window. The rose is pointing to a spot in which one of the company’s employees jumped from a window and committed suicide 5 years previously. Two police detectives arrive on the scene and Wada, one of the people involved with contracts is taken away by them for questioning about fraud and embezzlement. He is only one of many people that are questioned. With nobody saying anything out of loyalty to their company, the police have nothing to charge Public Corp. However, there are a couple of suicides and in each case they have been goaded into doing so by Public Corp’s VP president Iwabuchi and his sidekick Miyamoto. Wada is one such man that is about to obey his boss’ orders by throwing himself off a smouldering mountain (looks very much like Owakudani – the volcanic valley near Hakone) when he is stopped by none other than Koichi Nishi, Iwabuchi’s secretary. Wada is confused as to why Nishi is saving him. Nishi though is not the man he has told everybody he claims to be. He has taken another man’s identity, managed to get a great job and married the VP’s daughter to get inside the corrupt company as a tool for his revenge. It was his father Furuya that killed himself 5 years ago and Nishi is fuelled by rage to set things right. His plan is put into motion when Wada is announced to be dead (even though he isn’t) and he is taken to his own funeral where Nishi explains to him how bad to the core his superiors have been over the years. He wants to use Wada as a ghost to scare those who were involved in his father’s death and bring them to justice. Nishi doesn’t really care if his actions will land him in jail. How far is he willing to go with his revenge?

In this underrated masterpiece by Akira Kurosawa , the director goes for the jugular with this story in attacking corporate corruption that was rife in Japan during the late 50’s. It’s quite a brilliant and compelling tale and although it runs for 2 hrs and 30 mins, once you get sucked into the plot it’s hard to turn away from the screen. This movie which has some film noir elements to it has been compared to Shakespeare’s Hamlet by many people. From the beginning with the wedding of Nishi and Yoshiki, Kurosawa directs the movie extraordinary well from the way he ramps up the tension and the feelings of unease amongst some of the Public Corp’s management at the wedding reception. The journalists that are waiting patiently for a story to make the headlines of their newspapers talk about the scandal around Public Corp and give sarcastic comments as they listen to the speeches that some of the guests make to the bride and groom whilst giving the viewer some background information about them. Naturally there are some gasps from everybody when the bride’s brother says he will kill Nishi if he makes her unhappy. It culminates with the wedding cake scene before Kurosawa shows us a montage of newspaper headlines about the scandal. It is only after this that the main revenge plot is unveiled. I enjoyed seeing how Nishi went about in trying to bring down his boss and his cronies. It contains many great set-pieces and he might have succeeded had he not been so soft. As the suspense grows during the movie I was left on the edge of my seat in wondering whether there could actually be a chance in Nishi succeeding in his mission. It is such a gripping and exciting movie which is so well-written and it culminates in a dramatic conclusion. The cinematography is first rate with one such example being when the character of Shirai is walking along a road at night and sees the ‘ghost’ of Wada. The use of lighting and shadows by Kurosawa in these scenes is fantastic.

The Bad Sleep Well screenshot

Toshiro Mifune excels as Nishi who hides behind thick rimmed glasses with quite a reserved personality when the viewer first sees him. He is unrelenting in his quest to take down those responsible for his father’s death even though their relationship before his death was a bit complex. He comes across as being cold and at times a merciless person in order to achieve his aims but the viewer never loses their sympathy for him. Even when he is at his most brutal, there is some good inside him and the fact that he slowly starts to really fall in love with Yoshiko even though he was only using her for his plans shows his tender side. His true character is only revealed when he’s in the company of a childhood friend that’s helping him out with his plans as he smiles and reminisces about the past. Nishi’s masterplan goes smoothly at first but then as Iwabuchi and Miyamoto discover his real identity Nishi is unaware of the power that the company wields in trying to destroy him. It makes his fate at the end all the more bleak and depressing. It would be rather difficult for one man to bring a large company down. One should not forget the stellar acting by the rest of the cast. The standout actor is Masayuki Mori as the chief manipulator Iwabuchi. One of the final scenes of the movie which has Iwabuchi shedding crocodile tears as he explains to the press his sincere sorrow about Nishi’s death shows the depths of his villainry and makes him even more despicable. Ko Nishimura as Shirai who eventually goes insane and is thrown into a mental asylum also gives a terrific performance.

Though The Bad Sleep Well has been overshadowed by other Kurosawa classics, this movie about revenge on a grand scale which ends in tragedy should not be ignored. It really is an amazing movie which comes highly recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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A small group of radical extremists break into a US military base and steal a cache of weapons from their compound but just as they are about to get away they are fired upon by 2 soldiers. Several members are killed but the survivors including their leader who has been blinded during the raid manage to escape with some of the weapons. The group which are called The Fall Army belong to a larger organisation of terrorists named The Four Seasons Society. The overall leader is a man codenamed Year with 4 armies within the society each named after one of the 4 seasons. The leader of each group has been codenamed after a specific month of the year and the soldiers under them are named after a day of the week. Soon after 2 members of The Fall Army are visited by The Winter Army who have been mobilised due to the failure of the group’s attack with an order from Year that the group has now been dismantled. Tortured by February, the leader of The Winter Army and his girlfriend are forced to confess where they have hidden the weapons they stole. Angry by the betrayal from Year, the blinded Fall Army leader October decides to splinter from The Four Seasons Society and form his own faction with the survivors of the military base attack. With little money they have left and with some of the bombs they kept hidden from The Winter Army, October and his group start their own little guerilla war on authority in Tokyo.

Koji Wakamatsu was a director who was interested and involved with Japanese terrorist groups having made several movies about them in his lifetime. During the late 60’s he become involved in the underground student movement in Japan and a year before this movie was made, Wakamatsu took a trip to Palestine to make the bold “Red Army/PFLP: Declaration Of World War” movie about the struggles of the Palestinians in regaining the land they lost to the Israelis. Years later in 2007 he would revisit the genre again with “United Red Army”. This movie is an intriguing tale about a group of revolutionaries so consumed by their politicial beliefs that by rebelling against authority and waging an urban guerilla war they think it’s for the greater good. It soon dawns on the viewer that these confused and no doubt misguided people haven’t got a clue what they’re doing. You only have to witness the Fall Army’s bombing missions near the end to see that they haven’t got any specific targets in mind, just as long as their activities causes maximum carnage in Tokyo that’s all that matters to them. Whatever sympathetic views you may initially have for the group is quickly thrown out when their bombing campaign injures innocent people. Due to several members of the group having died in their mission to steal weapons there is turmoil within the group afterwards. Some are questioning one another whether it is wise for them to carry on with their leader blind. It’s obvious that a spy from one of the other armies in the Four Seasons Society has been placed in the Winter Army to report back to Year on what they’re doing. In the end the small ragtag band of rebels decide to take matters into their own hands and bring their own brand of chaos to the streets of Tokyo which sees them setting off bombs all over the city. It is unsure whether these become suicide attacks or not but there are these little hints in the dialogue between the members that they intend to bow out in a blaze of glory. Wakamatsu shoots these bombing attacks in quite a frenzied style to highlight the mayhem that is taking place.

Ecstasy of the Angels screenshot

This is a well put together and somewhat arty movie by Wakamatsu which has it’s fair share of sex and violence. It’s no surprise given his tag as being one of the pioneers in the pink-eiga genre that there are numerous gratitious sex scenes in the movie which may offend some people. They’re hardly erotic and most of the scenes has the couple partaking in sex spouting some revolutionary claptrap to each other. The problem with these sex scenes as well is they interrupt the flow of the movie just as something interesting is happening and the momentum of the previous scene is lost by it. The viewer will also notice a rather apparent spelling mistake during the group’s mission to steal the weapons. As they come to the bunker where the weapons are stored there a sign above the door that says ‘Weapons Wearhouse’! Who knows whether it was a deliberate mistake or not?

Many critics have pointed out this movie is similar in style to the early works of French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard. Having only seen one movie of his (À bout de souffle) I’m not in a position to agree with them or not. The movie is mostly shot in B&W but ocassionally it switches quite unexpectedly to colour. I did like this technique by Wakamatsu. The acting by the cast is decent enough but nobody in my mind really stands out.

Ecstasy Of The Angels isn’t one of Koji Wakamatsu’s best movies. It has it’s moments but too much of this movie is interrupted by the frequent sex scenes which doesn’t serve any purpose to the plot.

No trailer but here’s the opening scene for the movie:

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Warm Water Under A Red Bridge

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

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

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

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

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

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Castle Under Fiery Skies

The year is 1575 in feudal Japan. Lord Oda Nobunaga’s forces defeat Takeda Katsuyori, when Nagashino Castle was besieged during the Battle of Nagashino. The next year Lord Nobunaga decides to build a lavish new castle symbolizing his unification of various factions. The castle named Azuchi Castle will be built near water and high enough to be seen from the capital city of Kyoto. A blue print contest is decided between 3 builders and master carpenter Okabe Mataemon is one of those tasked with coming up with a design. Although his design makes Lord Nobunaga angry as he specifically asked for a large atrium within the castle, Mataemon highlights a flaw in the other 2 builders’ designs should it catch fire. Satisfied at the explanation, Mataemon is assigned the task of building the castle. He has 3 years to build it. Failure will end in Mataemon’s beheading. Will he be able to finish the castle on time?

If the title of this movie makes you think this is going to be story about a castle under siege and there’s going to be major battle scenes involving samurai warriors then you’re going to be sorely disappointed as it’s not that type of movie. This is a story about a construction of an impressive castle and the lengths the man who designed it will go to make sure it ends up being a perfect building for his Lord. Moraemon is such a dedicated task master he even goes to enemy territory to seek out a large certain tree (a hinoki cypress) as a base pillar for the castle keep. Although the enemy Lord tells one of his lumberjacks to help him out with finding a tree, he really wants him to send Moraemon home empty handed. Moraemon finds the perfect tree he requires and although initially turned down, the kindness that Moraemon has showed to the lumberjack is enough for him to strike a deal for the tree although going against his Lord’s orders will surely end with his beheading. Although the main plot deals with the construction of the castle we see some minor squabbles between the workers, Moraemon’s annoyance at seeing some of his workers being dragged off to war by Lord Nobunaga, a romance between a young carpenter and Moraemon’s daughter and finally Moraemon’s wife suffering from an illness which she hides from him. I suppose those aspects of the movie make it seem unoriginal and predictable. There’s a rather strange sequence which sees a martial arts fight break out with flying ninjas who have come to assassinate Lord Nobunaga. The scene comes from nowhere and it looks strangely out of place in the movie. The climax which sees the castle threatening to collapse during a wild storm due to the base pillar sinking into the ground sees all the workers and their spouses coming together to lift part of the castle using ropes so that Moraemon can cut 12 cms off the pillar is quite inspiring and typically Japanese. In the West we’ve been instilled with the ‘look after number one’ attitude but in Japan it’s not the individual’s needs that matters but that of the group. Seeing the bloodied hands of the people as they strive to help Moraemon in his task is a testament to the spirit of the workers that work under him. They want to give it their all to him as he’s looked after them. Toshiyuki Nishida is brilliant as Moraemon. Here we have a character who you will root for from the start and despite the trials and tribulations he encounters during the construction when you see the completed castle at the end it is both breathtaking and beautiful.

Castle Under Fiery Skies screenshot

Some viewers will think this movie is rather dull and uninteresting but I was fascinated by it. Having been to Nagoya Castle recently and seen a monumental task to restore one of the buildings there to it’s original glory which is taking 12 years to complete as there’s a shortage of craftsmen who are used to working with old tools, I admired the dedication of the small team of 15 men on the project. Using hinoki wood just like in this movie for the building, the project is supposed to be completed by 2018. It’s a painfully slow process and the workers want to make sure it is perfect when it is complete. I will definitely be going back to see the finished article in 6 years time because I’m sure it’ll be worth seeing.

At 2 hrs and 20 mins this movie is quite a long slog to watch it all but never once was I bored by any of it. The movie does have a rather slow pace to it and I’m sure even if 40 mins had been cut it would not have hindered the story at all.

Overall, Castle Under Fiery Skies is an engaging movie from start to finish and with the great acting of Nishida Toshiyuki, it’s a great story about a community of workers building one of Japan’s greatest castles. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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

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

detective story screenshot

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

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

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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