Posts Tagged ‘Thriller’


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.

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

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

memories-of-murder screenshot

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

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

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

Sadako’s Rating: 5 stars out of 5

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

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

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

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

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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

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

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

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

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

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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

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

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

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

I can’t find a trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Monday (2000)

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

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

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

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

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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

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

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

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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G@me (2003)

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

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

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

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

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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Kaiji Ito is nearing 30 years of age and he has never achieved anything in his life. He’s stuck in a dead end job at a convenience store and he likes to gamble his money away. When a mysterious debt collector woman named Endo and her cronies turn up at Kaiji’s house, he finds out that because his friend has fled and hasn’t kept up with his payments for a loan plus the fact that Kaiji acted as his guarantor, he has now been lumbered with the loan. What was once an initial loan of 300,000 yen has now ballooned to a whopping 2 million yen due to interest . He doesn’t have that money to pay back the loan so he is given an option where he can erase all of his debts in one single night. He has to take part in a special gambling event for a company named Teiai on a cruise ship along with other losers of society who have large debts. The game he has to play on the ship is simple – rock, paper, scissors using a set of 12 cards. Each participant is given 3 special stars to wear on their shirts (each star is worth 1 million yen). Each game they lose they also lose a star. If a participant manages to keep hold of all 3 stars and get rid of the 12 cards then they win. If you lose then you’re branded permanently for life on your shoulder with the company’s logo and have to work for them as a slave with a crappy wage in building a massive underground bunker. That’s exactly the scenario which happens to Kaiji when his gambling night on the ship ends up with him losing. Not willing to do backbreaking work for Teiai for the rest of his life, Kaiji and some of his fellow participants are given another challenge which is called Brave Men Road in which they can win back their freedom but can Kaiji defeat the odds especially when the slimy company man Tonegawa has a few tricks up his sleeve…..

Based on a popular manga, Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler is ultimately a movie about the classes – rich vs poor where it is seen that the rich is ruthlessly exploiting people without much money for their own perverse pleasures: in this case the elite are seen taking bets on who will survive or die during the challenges. It’s quite a unique look at how an unscrupulous company is seen to manipulate and control the poor and needy. They like to dangle a golden carrot in front of a person with the premise of untold riches just to give them a small ray of hope before slamming the door shut in their faces when they lose and taking great satisfaction in their failure. This isn’t a proper gambling movie per se, it’s more of a series of challenges which gets even more fiendish as the movie progresses. The 2nd challenge which sees participants having to walk across a girder at night from one high rise building to another in the middle of a storm with the added bonus of not being able to touch the girder with their hands as it’s been electrified is gripping to watch. The other challenges that Kaiji has to face are quite exciting to see too. At times this movie reminded me a little bit of the devious games seen in the Liar Game drama although the games in this movie are easier to understand. Toya Sato’s directing is great and I like the way he notches up the tension in certain scenes.

Tatsuya Fujiwara is OK as Kaiji Ito when he’s not overacting. An example of this is when he’s drinking beer or yelling at the top of his voice when something goes against him. Somehow I can see his acting will grate on some viewers although you do root for him as he’s the underdog taking on the big fish of the company. Perhaps the OTT acting is meant to copy the way the manga was written? Ken’ichi Matsuyama has a small part to give us a Death Note reunion with Fujiwara. Teruyuki Kagawa’s role as the over confident villain Tonegawa adds to the solid cast for the movie.

An entertaining and enjoyable thriller despite the over-acting.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Nami is a woman who walks into the office of a small company one night that touts that it will “do anything” and asks its harried owner Tetsuro Muraki to give her a tour of Tokyo. After visiting numerous places, she checks into a top class hotel, hides a knife under her pillow, and dresses to kill in a red miniskirt. Previously, her yakuza lover stripped and raped her as his cohort watched. She’s enslaved by him financially and sexually. He will not release her so that she can get married so the only option left for Nami is to kill him. As she waits for him in the hotel room, she quietly plots her revenge. Unfortunately, he discovers her plan and ravages her again. While her erstwhile boyfriend is taking a post-rape shower, she takes knife in hand and stabs him to death. As Muraki had an appointment the next day at her hotel room, he turns up and finds she’s checked out but not before he sees the body in the shower! With panic setting in, Muraki grabs a suitcase from his place, stuffs the body inside and packs it with dry ice. He then impersonates a police detective to find some information on where Nami is living so that he can return the suitcase and it’s contents to her. Unfortunately for him, this journey will include a lot of pain for him as the yakuza boss’ brother bursts into the hotel room demanding to know where he and Nami is. As he knows absolutely nothing he gets a severe beating for his troubles. When he does find Nami, he leaves the body inside the suitcase in her apartment. He is therefore surprised when another call comes from her asking him to do another job – she wants him to bury the body. He refuses to do it. She tries to do it herself by digging a hole in some woods but hasn’t the strength to finish the job properly. When yet another call comes saying that Nami is being held by the yakuza boss’ brother at her apartment with him demanding that the truth behind his brother’s murder be explained, Muraki enters the Tokyo underworld to find a gun so that he can rescue her.

This is an interesting neo-noir crime thriller by director Takashi Ishii. Ishii delves into the seedier side of Tokyo with it’s sleazy characters and sadistic beatdowns in back-alleys. It’s a side of Tokyo you don’t see often enough in movies. The directing and cinematography is top notch especially the bleak dirty landscape of Tokyo’s underworld at night. It’s not a place you’d want to get lost if you were visiting the city! There’s a very cool dream sequence of a gun being slowly pushed inside Muraki’s head accompanied by some appropriate squishy sound effects. I’ve never seen anything like that before! Ishii always brings something new and unexpected to his movies. He may not be a hugely popular director to many Asian movie fans but I quite like his work.

Excellent acting by Naoto Takenaka as Muraki, a man who finds himself getting deeper and deeper into trouble as he gets implicated in a plot in which he didn’t really do anything wrong and has to endure several nasty beatings at the hands of the yakuza. The only thing he was guilty of was taking the job of accompanying Nami around town in the first place. There’s a good mix of characters in the movie from a man desperate to get his money back from the yakuza boss to Muraki’s transvestite gay friend. Takashi Ishii even gives a small tribute to Psycho when Nami stabs her lover in the shower. The make up effects is fantastic as we see close up shots of Muraki’s beaten up face. If you’re at all offended by nudity, some gore and rape scenes (though never explicit) then it would be best if you stayed away from this movie.

If you find yourself wanting to watch something a little bit different from the norm, give this little gem of a movie a whirl. It’s well worth checking out.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5.

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Gondo is a wealthy man who has risen through the ranks from being a humble shoe maker inside the National Shoe company to becoming an executive and share holder in the company. Having been on the shop floor, Gondo knows what it takes to make good quality shoes but his fellow executive wants to save money and make cheaper shoes instead that will fall apart quickly. He refuses to go along with their scheme to oust their boss and has a plan of his own to take over the company. To do this, Gondo has mortgaged everything in his possession including the fancy house that his family have on top of a hill. During this time, somebody kidnaps the son of Gondo’s chaffeur having made a mistake as the kidnapper really wanted Gondo’s son. A ransom is given as being 30 million yen to release the boy and the kidnapper wants Gondo to pay it quickly or the boy will be killed. But if he pays the ransom, Gondo’s plan to take over National Shoe will be in ruins. He would lose everything – his house and most likely his job. At first Gondo is reluctant to pay off the ransom. For his own son he would pay in a heartbeat but for a son of his worker he hesitates. A moral dilemma poses itself for Gondo – does he pay off the ransom or not? Will he do the honourable thing?

Possibly one of the most enthralling police thrillers to emerge from Japan and who else but Akira Kurosawa could weave us a gripping tale that keeps us glued to our seats for 2 hours and 25 mins. From the first scene to the ending, Kurosawa shows us exactly why he is a master of cinema. Most people associate him with great samurai dramas but he could do a contemporary thriller as good as any Western movie. The first part of the movie is dedicated solely to Gondo’s situation as he wrestles with his conscience as to what to do with the kidnapping. He doesn’t want to lose everything that he has worked so hard over the years to achieve if he pays the ransom but he cannot let a little boy be killed by the kidnapper. It culminates in a tense and exciting sequence onboard a bullet train. The second half deals with the police search for the kidnapper and his accomplices as they follow up every lead and clue in order to catch their suspects from using the kidnapped kid’s drawings of where he was taken to background sounds from the telephone calls made to Gondo by the kidnapper. It’s all very interesting and keeps us in suspense. The script is fantastic and the cinematography is outstanding. The pacing is perfect and quite quick. I loved the final scene between Gondo and the kidnapper who’s about to have the death sentence carried out on him. He tells Gondo his reasons for carrying out what he did with his chilling words “your house looked like heaven, high up there. That’s how I began to hate you”. The meaning of the movie’s title I would imagine is this – the “high” is obviously Gendo’s house and his wealthy position in society looking down on the “low” where the everyday common people live. It’s almost as if the kidnapper despised the idea that the wealthy Gendo and his house was almost like a castle lording it over the rest of the town.

Excellent acting from Kurosawa regulars Toshiro Mifune as Gondo and Tatsuya Nakadai as the police detective Tokura. The rest of the ensemble cast (familiar faces from other Kurosawa movies) also do a sterling job in their roles.

A masterpiece on every level. A complex and fascinating crime thriller and whilst different to many of Kurosawa’s other movies, it certainly ranks up there as being one of his best. A must-see.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5

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In the sweltering Summer heat of post war Tokyo, a young rookie homocide detective Murakami finds that his gun has been stolen on a crowded bus which is then used in a robbery. Murakami feels responsible for the crime and will do anything in capturing the killer. His initial search around the seedy underworld streets of Tokyo only manages to find a woman who may have information on where he can find the perpetrator. Teaming up with veteran detective Sato and with some new leads to help them, the duo are soon back out on the trail of the killer. But as another murder is carried out using Murakami’s colt gun once more, the search becomes even more desperate. A female dancer might have some vital information on the killer but she’s refusing to say anything. Will Murakami and Sato manage to capture the killer before anyone else is murdered?

Possibly Akira Kurosawa’s first real masterpiece and it’s not hard to see why this is the case. This classy and stylish film noir is a riveting tale racked with real tension amidst the sweaty Summer heat. The opening scene grabs your attention straight away – a panting dog suffering in the heat. It’s full of dazzling sequences with highly imaginative and technically adept editing and camera work such as the famous 8 minute sequence with no dialogue of Murakami wandering through a black market looking for his gun. Stray Dog could also be tagged as being the first ‘buddy movie’ ever made. The plot is extremely well crafted and ranks up there with the best film noir. But the movie is uneven at parts and some scenes drag a little too long. Kurosawa wasn’t interested in your typical good guy/bad guy storyline. Instead he went deeper into what was happening in post war Japan. The social and economic conditions in the country led many to crime which is the case with the killer in this movie Yuso. There are many memorable scenes in this movie but I suppose the final chase and subsequent fight out in the countryside between Murakami and Yuso is what really stands out. The last twenty minutes of the movie slowly builds to an incredible climax.

A young Toshiro Mifune is quite marvellous as Murakami and what would be the start of a long and fruitful collaboration between himself and Kurosawa. What makes the story so captivating is Murakami’s feeling of guilt throughout, and his learning about crime, criminals, and that what is important is even though a person might make a mistake you can make some good come out of it. Matching Mifune’s performance is the superb Takashi Shumura as Sato the savvy veteran. The bond and the chemistry that grows between these two men is the heart and soul of the movie

All being said and done, Stray Dog is a terrific multi-layered movie that’s well worth watching.

No trailer I’m afraid.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Bored bar girl Hijiriko steals some cash from her workplace and a car. Across town, gangster minion Jiro is helping his boss and his cronies kill somebody when they turn on him. He manages to take off in his boss’ car along with 5 million yen. Both Hijiriko and Jiro crash into one another but instead of arguing about whose fault it was, they take off together in another stolen car. As they start blazing a trail of crime across the country and succeeding in pissing off every person they meet, they mistakenly get locked inside a steel container. After being released when the container arrives at it’s destination, Jiro and Hijiriko nab a pump action shotgun from a hunter after killing him. They begin a murderous spree which not only attracts the local police but also the gangsters that have been after Jiro from the start of the movie. Realising that Jiro is heading to his sisters place in the town of Tango near Kyoto, the gangsters set up a trap in a lonely wooden cabin up in the mountains. Will Hijiriko and Jiro manage to evade the trap by the gangtsters and escape from the police?

This isn’t a well known movie for Western viewers even though it’s got 70’s exploitation queen Meiko Kaji in one of the leading roles. Don’t make the mistake of thinking because of that it’s not any good because you’ll be missing out on a brilliant movie. With it’s Bonnie & Clyde storyline, this is a fantastic action thriller which motors along at a cracking pace. It has a hint of dark humour running throughout even though the story is serious and has quite a bit of excessive violence. We’ve all become used to seeing Meiko Kaji in roles as a cold, emotionless woman so it’s quite a change to see her display a little bit of emotion in this movie even though she is certainly her usual frosty self for the first half. As the storyline moves into the second half we see that Hijiriko has developed some feelings for Jiro and they start a relationship. It’s not often we see Kaji in a movie showing a romantic side to her. Hijiriko and Jiro make an interesting combination.

Director Sadao Nakajima manages to keep the movie interesting and entertaining with hardly any let up in the action right through to it’s bloody climax. As a big fan of Meiko Kaji, I can thoroughly recommend this to anybody that may have only seen her in the Female Prisoner series and wants to expand their viewing experience of her. It’s well worth seeking out.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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Han Jeong-hoon has an argument with one of his classmates Tae-gyu who is soon found dead in a classroom by him. A shy female classmate nicknamed “Curtain” who’s a fan of detective novels believes Jeong-hoon didn’t commit the crime and soon the pair are on the case as to who’s behind the murder before 4th period comes to a close. It doesn’t help that there’s a school inspection taking place at the same time.  A suspect is found soon, but as time goes by, more and more evidence appears and the case is soon turned on it’s head.

However far fetched this movie might seem about 2 school pupils trying to solve a murder case at their school, it does have an interesting mixture of being a thriller and a high school drama. It’s tense and captivating at times with some great adrenaline moments peppering the movie. Running at a tight 90 mins, this might not be one of the best Korean movies of 2009 but it’s so entertaining and it does have an edgy style which does make it stand out a little bit from other thrillers. Give it a go and see what you think.

Sadako’s Rating: 3 stars out of 5

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Mother (2009)

A superb and enthralling Korean movie. A simple young man Do-joon (he’s not retarded) gets drunk and, as he goes back home to his worrying mother, he follows a young girl down a seedy path looking to have sex with her. She ignores him and he returns home, as planned…but on the following morning, the girl is found dead on a rooftop and an object placed at the scene of the crime leads to Do-joon. The police guesses he’s guilty, they present him with a document where he pleads guilty which the silly Do-joon signs in his naïveté. Having accepted the guilt for the crime, he’s imprisoned, much to the rage of his affable mother. She knows him better than anyone and is sure he’s not guilty, but the police won’t hear otherwise, and she has no money for a lawyer to thoroughly investigate the case. So, like any concerned mother, she starts playing detective around town trying to solve the mystery behind the girl’s death so she can acquit her son. But as truth after disturbing truth is uncovered, the mother will stop at nothing to save her son’s freedom.

Nominated for an Oscar last year, this is a story about a mother who does anything to make sure her son is released free from prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Played to perfection by Kim Hye-ja, she’s an over-protective, extremely affectionate woman who sells a variety of herbs and medicinal plants and who performs acupuncture to her rich customers in a South Korean city of no name. A good plot will have you guessing right until the very end. A great plot takes it one step further by taking you to the edge. I can’t say enough of how much I was blown away by the story. That’s not to say there aren’t some borrowed elements but they are not so cliché as to make this movie unoriginal. What’s also great is the near absence of music to create suspense and mood in this movie as you will find that it relies almost solely on the characters and events to set the tone of story. It has very simple camera work and doesn’t use fancy techniques or other distracting technical magic to make it work, it just does. This movie comes highly recommended. It won’t disappoint you.

Sadako’s Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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