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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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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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Umizaru (2004)

14 men who are the best Coastguard Officers in their region decide to become search and rescue divers – one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs in the world. The training facility has the task to weed out those not deemed good enough for the job as the training is tough and unforgiving. Each of the men has a reason to want to become a diver – if it’s not because its a prestigious position then it’s for other shallow goals such as the divers always gets the nice women! Training Supervisor Taro Minamoto who is battling his own personal demons after losing his diving partner whilst on assignment during his younger days is the man who will sort out the men from the boys. Daisuke Senzaki is a confident man who already holds a diving licence and the training people think he is likely to be a candidate who will pass the training without a problem. Each diver is assigned a “buddy” and in Senzaki’s case he is given a rather weak person in Kudo. Their initial diving training tasks together are fraught with failure as Kudo makes countless mistakes. His peers don’t think he’ll be able to complete the training. This leads to Senzaki and Kudo being humiliated by Minamoto and they have to do pressups etc for failing. It also irks another one of the 14 men – a rather cold guy named Mishima who thinks that Kudo is holding up all of them. However with Senzaki pushing and encouraging Kudo he begins to improve. But tragedy is about to strike the team and Senzaki’s spirit is going to be shaken to the core. Will he carry on with his training or will he quit?

Based on the manga of the same name, Umizaru (Sea Monkeys – a derogotary name for the trainees by people) is what some critics have called the Japanese Coastguard version of Top Gun and with good reason as well. A lot of the plot does mirror that of Tom Cruise’ movie. It’s a good though predictable story behind the training routine of search and rescue divers who have the unenviable task of mostly retrieving dead bodies from capsized ships. It’s also a passage of rite movie and about overcoming the odds both physically and mentally to claim the right to become a rescue diver. The training scenes are pretty interesting to watch and I had no idea before this movie what this entailed. It’s no surprise that it involves a lot of hard work and the failure rate amongst recruits is very high. According to the story, only 1% of all men who apply pass the training to successfully become a rescue diver. The first half of the movie is a mixture of drama and comedy as we follow the recruits who are all a bunch of likeable characters at work and at play but after the tragic event that happens around halfway through the story the mood changes as the men realise what the harsh reality of being a diver is all about especially during the final task they have as trainees when an accident occurs at sea which threatens Senzaki and Mishima’s life. With air running low for the duo and a rescue helicopter arriving too late, it’s up to Minamoto and the recruits to seize the initiative to save their teammates. The movie has a little bit of everything from comedy to drama and some romance. Maybe it’s just me but the whole romance aspect of the movie was unnecessary and only distracted you from the main plot. The whole cast performed admirably and in Hideaki Ito you have a hero you want to succeed and someone for the ladies to swoon over. The bond between the trainees and the ‘team building’ you witness was great. A cheesy tune you’ll hear a couple of times during the movie is Journey’s Open Arms. Why the filmmakers put this cringeworthy song in this movie I’ll never know but it’s inclusion is a mistake.

Umizaru was a huge success on it’s release and to date a TV drama series and 3 movie sequels (the latest one came out in July 2012) means the franchise has become very popular in Japan. It wouldn’t surprise me to see other movies coming out in the years ahead. Having already seen Umizaru 2:Limit of Love many years ago I look forward to watching the third movie soon. Despite some corny scenes which will make you either groan or laugh, it is still a very enjoyable ‘feel good’ movie to watch. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Shiro has graduated from high school, but he’s still not sure what he wants to do with his life. He doesn’t want to go to college so Shiro makes the unusual decision to work at a gas station until he can figure out what he wants to do in life. Shiro’s parents are firmly against his decision to work at the gas station, but Shiro has a secret weapon: his free-spirited grandmother. At the gas station, Shiro meets Noriko (Erika Sawajiri) who is a newcomer to the workforce. Shiro has seen Noriko before as when he was cycling home he chanced upon Noriko giving her ex-boyfriend a hard slap in the face. Shiro didn’t expect to see her again at his workplace. As they become closer, Shiro realizes that he is in love for the first time in his life and the two move in together to share a flat. All seems fine and the two are extremely happy but problems soon occur when Noriko’s ex-boyfriend enters the picture and tries to woo her back. Will Shiro manage to win Noriko’s heart in this battle or is her wealthy ex-boyfriend destined to take her back?

Based on the novel by Eimi Yamada, this isn’t your typical romantic drama although it does have the usual boy-meets-girl who then loses girl and tries to win her back. The reason this is slightly different is because it takes a look at somebody on the receiving end of a rebound and to some viewers it might hit a raw nerve especially if you have been through the same unfortunate situation as Shiro in this movie. The first half of the movie plays out just like any romantic movie – it’s all smiles and we witness how happy the couple are around each other. It is in the 2nd half that things get interesting as Shiro goes through the joy and pain of first love and the agony that Shiro is experiencing is heartbreaking to witness. It is his cool grandmother who dispenses some timely advice to him on how to move on with his life. Basically the message by her simply says that nice guys finish last and although its perfectly OK to be a gentleman, Shiro has to learn to become tough at certain times as well.

At the time this movie came out in Japan, Erika Sawajiri was still one of the country’s beloved teen actresses. Her sulking scandal at a press conference for the movie Closed Note would curtail her career for a good couple of years. The Japanese people which had made it clear through polls in various magazines that Sawajiri was public enemy number one are at last willing to accept her back from the wilderness and her latest movie Helter Skelter has garnered plenty of positive reviews. Erika looks so young and pretty in her role in this movie but she doesn’t have a lot to do though. Unlike Shiro where we get some background to his character, there’s none to Erika’s role. Noriko is a likeable character at first but it’s easy for the viewer to turn against her once she breaks Shiro’s heart. You wonder if she only latched on to Shiro just because he was conveniently available after coming from quite a rocky relationship. Yuya Yagira is fine as Shiro. He displays an innocent and boyish charm about him – then again his character is quite naive in love. I wouldn’t say his performance is special or anything but he does more than enough to make us care for him during his troubled times. Perhaps the best character in the movie is Shiro’s grandmother. A 70 year old free-loving, eccentric hippy who runs a bar and has a young toy boy as her lover. Mari Natsuki is brilliant and steals nearly every scene she’s in.

Although the movie runs just a touch over 2 hours, it’s never boring and the story is actually quite good. It kept me glued to the screen. The awesome soundtrack which features Oasis was fantastic and made me smile.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Set in Hong Kong, 1962, Chow Mo-Wan is a newspaper editor who moves into a new building with his wife. At the same time, Su Li-zhen, a beautiful secretary and her executive husband also move in to the crowded building. With their spouses often away, Chow and Li-zhen spend most of their time together as friends. They have everything in common from noodle shops to martial arts. Soon, they are shocked to discover that their spouses are having an affair. Hurt and angry, they find comfort in their growing friendship even as they resolve not to be like their unfaithful partners.

After watching the excellent ‘Chungking Express’ from Wong Kar-Wai, I bought this movie with high hopes as a lot of people have said this is his best movie. After watching the movie I did end up liking it……sort of. Every frame of this movie is a picture, well thought out and beautifully constructed. From the production design, to the costumes and cinematography it is gorgeous for the eye to behold along with the slow motion photography. There is a shot in which we see the room number 2046, foreshadowing one of Wong Kar-Wai’s future movies. The visuals make up for the plot which is rather thin. The two main characters are each married, and around the beginning of the movie realize that their spouses are having an affair. The two then decide to embark on a path leading definitely to friendship as they are lonely, and quite possibly to a physical relationship. Most of the plot concerns the two attempting to not “be like them”, as to say they will not betray their oaths of marriage as their spouses had. They go on like this for a number of years until finally parting ways because the strain of the relationship had become to much for either to bare. The acting in all its subtlety is superb. Maggie Cheung, who plays the main female role, delivers an unforgettable performance of lust and restraint. It is a very artistic and challenging movie to watch because it wants the viewer to be patient and allow the love story to unfold before your eyes. The soundtrack which uses 2 pieces of music throughout (Nat King Cole singing in Spanish and a violin piece) is nice although many will find them rather annoying by the end credits as both are repeated endlessly.

In The Mood For Love is good for what it is – a very slow, beautiful, melancholic love story with wonderful photography but I just didn’t find it to be an amazing experience.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Told in flashback, Tsuneo is a young college student who works at a mahjong parlour. The people there talk a lot about an old woman who pushes around a mysterious baby carriage. The punters are curious as to who or what could be inside this carriage as she’s been doing this now for 10 years. A chance for Tsuneo to find out arrives by chance as one morning he sees the carriage freewheeling down the street until it crashes with the old woman unable to keep up with it. Tsuneo opens the carriage and finds a woman his age sitting inside. So the mystery has finally been unveiled! He gets to know the two women and even goes back to their house that same morning and eats an amazing breakfast cooked by the woman inside the carriage. The woman is called Kumiko although she prefers to be called Josee after a character from a book she’s read and her elderly grandmother looks after her. Josee has been unable to use her legs since an early age because of cerebal palsy. Having been taken care of by her grandmother since childhood, Josee has spent a sheltered life, reading books that her grandmother has picked up when their neighbours have chucked out their trash. Led by his fascination of Josee, Tsuneo soon begins to regularly visit her run-down house. Josee slowly takes down her guard, and the two mutually begin to care for each other. But Tsuneo is at the same time dating a girl from college called Kanae and her grandmother will not allow Josee to be hurt so she bans Tsuneo from visiting again. Later, he hears that Josee’s grandmother has died so he decides to visit Josee to see how she is. Their relationship quickly becomes close and they start dating but will the path of true love run smooth for this pair?

An excellent unlikely romance movie between a college student and a captivating girl paralyzed from the waist down. It’s got everything you’ve come to expect from modern Japanese cinema with a quirky storyline, subtle comedy, a pair of engaging and extremely likeable leads and above all a movie that draws you in from the first scene. Clocking in at nearly 2 hours, I did expect the movie to lag a bit but it never did…..probably because I was so engrossed in the storyline. It never gets boring or outstays it’s welcome. There’s a message in the movie that you can find true love in the least likely of places. I did like the love triangle aspect between Josee, Tsuneo and Kanae. The slow pace of the movie gives us plenty of time for some crucial character development.

Chizuru Ikewaki’s performance as Josee is truly fantastic. Strong-willed, sarcastic and frank she may be on the outside but we sense that underneath that bravado there’s a very sweet, shy and vulnerable girl hiding inside. Satoshi Tsumabuki also does his job quite well as the easygoing Tsuneo – showing a great deal of charisma but not to the extent when he could come off to the viewer as being smarmy. The chemistry and intimacy between the two characters as they grow closer to each feels quite real and convincing, and it is entertaining to just watch them interact casually at the same time. Juri Ueno gets a chance to leave her usual comedy characters behind to take up a serious role as Tsuneo’s girlfriend Kanae who feels humiliated that a disabled woman has stolen him from her. Watch their slapping encounter on the top of a hill as she confronts Josee when she’s been taken around in her carriage by a young neighbour. The other supporting roles are good as well.

If you are interested in an off-beat romantic drama full of fascinating characters which has an intelligent and insightful story then you will love it. I know I did.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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As the movie begins, we see a depressed Japanese man called Kenji attempting to hang himself but being thwarted by the doorbell of his apartment going off. Kenji lives in Bangkok, Thailand and works in a library there. He doesn’t have a girlfriend and he seems to be an impeccably clean person judging by the rigid state of his apartment where all sorts of books have been stacked around in alphabetical order and the place looks spotless. A person with an OCD disorder perhaps? His brother arrives to see him because he’s in trouble which starts chain of events in Kenji’s life. Kenji murders two people in his apartment and is about to throw himself from a bridge when he sees a young Thai girl Nid in a Japanese school uniform who’s having an argument with her sister Noi. He had noticed her earlier at his workplace and was transfixed by her. When Nid is distracted by Kenji, a passing car slams into her instantly killing the young girl. This tragic incident brings Nid and Kenji together when he asks if he can crash out at her dirty apartment for a couple of days. Thus starts a peculiar romance between the two where they gradually become to depend on each other. When Nid’s gangster ex-boyfriend sticks his nose in her business once more and 3 yakuza arrive from Osaka to see Kenji, the stage is set for a collision.

What an impressive movie this was and so interesting to watch. It’s a surreal romance of sorts (not of the ordinary sort) and also a clash of two differing cultures in more ways than one. Nid being a Thai girl and such a slob, not really giving a toss about cleaning up her place in comparison to Kenji a Japanese man who’s too much of a neat freak for his own good. However the two of them together seems to work, bonded by tragedy. I guess the term ‘opposites attract’ is perfect for the situation. They find solace in each other as both are lonely. The movie is touching, entertaining, and even hilarious at times especially when the 3 yakuza characters come to Bangkok. One of them with a plaster underneath his eye goes around asking every man he comes across if he’s Kenji. The stupidity of his action usually follows with a swift slap across the head. It really is funny to see. Takashi Miike plays the head yakuza gangster by the way so that kind of explains why we see a movie poster of Ichi The Killer shown in the library where Kenji works.

The two leads are excellent. We know what Tadanobu Asano can do as he is such a remarkable actor and he excels again in this movie as Kenji. I’d never seen Sinitta Boomyasak before but she is equally as good in her role as Nid. Seeing Kenji and Nid try and communicate through broken English, a little bit of Japanese and Thai was so good as you can see the chemistry between them. Their mis-understandings of language are juxtaposed with their understandings of each other. There is nothing so clear as body language and this movie relies heavily on the physicality of the two leads. You know that both like each other but have difficulty in expressing their feelings. Their quirky relationship is a joy to watch.

Last Life In The Universe is a fantastic Thai movie which deserves to be seen more by Asian movie fans. Director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang has to be congratulated for weaving such a beautiful tale. The pacing may be too slow for some and the action (if I can call it that) is sporadic so be aware of that. Highly recommended and unmissable.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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