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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.

samurai-rebellion-screenshot

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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Battles Without Honor 5 Final

Before I start I must apologise for not putting that many reviews up this month, the reason being is that I’m trying to watch all of the IMDB Top 250 movies which has meant that I haven’t really watched that many Asian movies. Anyway onto the review:

It’s the beginning of the 70’s and Shozo Hirono is in prison after the events of the last movie (Police Tactics) and the yakuza groups have changed tactics since the police were putting a lot of pressure on them. The yakuza in Hiroshima reinvent themselves as a politicial organisation such as the Tensei Organisation. Despite trying to put up a front to the public that they’re all respectable people now, behind the scenes there is turmoil brewing. The chairman Takeda tries to stop his underlings from being violent but it’s hard for some of them to change their ways and as a result of various actions Takeda finds himself in prison for several years. The substitute chairman Matsumura finds the Tensei Organisation collapsing all around him as various factions start bickering amongst themselves with the leader of the Otomo group allying himself with other factions to try and take over from Matsumoto. Hirono’s sworn brother Ichioka is also stirring up trouble in order that once Hirono is out of prison he can walk back into Hiroshima and take control. With Hirono’s imminent release, the Tensei Organisation is nervous about what to do with him. Do they persuade him to retire or take him out?

Battles Without Honor Final Episode screenshot

The final movie in the 5-part Battles Withour Honor series whilst intriguing is not as good as some of the other entries I’ve seen. It’s more of a talky movie and although there are several violent skirmishes throughout it’s not as bloodthirsty as previous installments. The usual fragile alliances and backstabbings which formed the backbone of the movies continues in this one. The main protaganist in the other 4 movies – Shozo Hirono is barely seen for the majority of this movie and only takes a main part in the storyline during the last 30 mins. The plot this time round is more or less showing us the changing of the guard in the yakuza. Old timers such as Takeda and Shirono who may have wielded great power 25 years ago just after the end of the World War II are now coming to the end of their reign and the young pretenders are beginning to take over. I expected seeing as this was the final episode in the series to see an epic conclusion but I was disappointed more than anything. It ends with a whimper instead of a bang. I thought the story might build up to a big yakuza battle at the climax but there’s nothing of the sort taking place. I was expecting an ending to Hirono’s grudge against his enemy Yamamori but it stays unresolved. The main problem is that with Hirono out of the picture the movie is just not as interesting when he’s not around and when he finally does take a major part to play his mindset is different. The time he’s spent in prison and writing his memoirs has made him realise that the bloodshed that’s been spilt over the years just isn’t worth it anymore. Even with the old guard stepping down, the violence in Hiroshima continues with the younger members vying for control of the various gangs. Director Kinji Fukasaku has to be congratulated for managing to weave such a complicated plot throughout the 5 movies which takes place over a course of 25 years. It is so easy to find yourself lost with all the characters that the viewer is introduced to with many perishing in the violence that takes place. One wonders how the yakuza recruit so many inept members as they cannot seem to kill properly with several scenes in this movies showing how useless they are. They manage to miss their targets regularly when firing off their guns and even then it seems to take them a round of bullets to finish somebody off!

Although he’s not in the story for long, Bunta Sugawara delivers another great performance as Hirono who has wisened up considerably whilst in prison. He can see how futile it is to continue being a gangster. He’s not that young anymore and if he continued in the game he’d more than likely end up with a bullet in his head. The rest of the cast are effective in their roles with the standout being chipmunk faced Jo Shishido who goes OTT as Otomo, a yakuza boss who flies off easily in a rage.

Barring the disappointing final entry, the Battles Without Honor & Humanity franchise has been an incredible set of movies and their popularity would see Kinji Fukasaku unveil another yakuza trilogy called New Battles Without Honor & Humanity from 1974-76 with Bunta Sugawara but playing an entirely different character. I’m looking forward one day to checking them out.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

 

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A_Night_in_Nude_Salvation

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

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

a-night-in-nude-salvation screenshot

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

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

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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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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super hero taisen

Captain Marvellous, the leader of the pirate themed Gokaiger sentai team has seemingly gone bad and teamed up with the Dai Zangyak organisation which consists of the most memorable villains to ever face the sentai teams in order to wage war on the Kamen Riders. His fellow teammates doesn’t seem to understand this term of events. KR Decade meanwhile has also teamed up with the Dai Shocker group as it’s leader to destroy the Super Sentai teams. Past and present Riders and Super Sentai teams are caught up in the conflict amidst some confusion as to why this war has been started. Each leader insists that in order for their respective teams (super sentai/rider) to survive the other must be destroyed. Is there a hidden agenda used by both Marvelous and Decade which would explain why they’ve turned bad and could it be that they are being manipulated by Dai Shocker and Dai Zangyak for their own nefarious needs?

super hero taisen screenshot

If you didn’t already know this, there are basically 2 superhero franchises over in Japan which has been entertaining kids for well over a quarter of a century – Super Sentai (better known in the West as the various Power Ranger teams) and Kamen Rider. There have been various crossover movies in the past featuring 2 super sentai or 2 riders teaming up to defeat evil but never before has there been a movie where both franchises come together in one movie to duke it out. Depending on whether you’re a serious fanboy/fangirl or just a person that occasionally dips in to both franchises there’s much to enjoy in this movie. It’s a lot of fun and I thought it was even better than the All Riders vs DaiShocker movie. You’d think that both sets of fans would lap this movie up and although it did extremely well at the Japanese box office there’s been a mixed reaction from them. A lot seem to be confused as to why Captain Marvellous (Red Gokai) would team up with his sworn enemies to take on the Riders. I completely understand with Tsukasa aka KR Decade as he’s a total badass and it’s something he’s done before. There’s also the fact that because there’s over 200 heroes filling the screen that it was hard to give the majority of them any decent screen time. Another complaint is why doesn’t any of the Super Sentai teams apart from the GoBusters use their mechas to take on the Big Machine at the movie’s climax. That’s a fair enough comment I thought. As I’m unfamiliar with what happens at the end of both Gokaiger and KR Decade series I can’t say anything on the plotholes that came with the story which made it a real mess in the fans’ eyes. It’s quite a simple story as such with 4 characters from various series trying to figure out why Marvellous and Decade have gone rogue. It didn’t really matter to me that apparently some roles were totally out-of-character from who they usually are. All I saw was an epic movie that delivered on cool cameos, some time travelling courtesy of the Den Liner and plenty of action/fight scenes. The acting by everybody including the camp villains was good. The big rumble which sees the heroes squaring off against the villains was a bit too short for my liking but I still came away feeling very satisfied and happy after the movie finished. Hell, I even thought KR Fourze was less annoying than usual in this movie!

If you’re prepared to ignore the so-called apparent flaws in the storyline as pointed out by hardcore fans and take the movie on face value alone there’s plenty of fanservice here to really entertain you. I loved it and thought it was one of the best tokusatsu movies I’ve seen in a while. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 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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