TL;DR: More than just (but also plenty of) giant monster battling
Big Man Japan (大日本人) is a film directed by and starring Hitoshi Matsumoto (松本 人志) who many people might know as part of the comedy duo Downtown along with Masatoshi Hamada (浜田 雅功). Downtown are the guys that every year organise and participate in 'zettai ni waratte ha ikenai' (絶対に笑ってはいけない）which is a highly entertaining and sometimes troubling New Years special which every year the majority of my Japanese friends watch. It deserves it's own post so I won't go into it too much except to say that 'Big Man Japan' has a vastly different style of humor than what you might expect if you are a fan of Downtown.
One of the things that I like about the Japanese entertainment and film industry is that somehow (I'm not sure if it's due to the way audiences react or something within the industry itself) it is more acceptable for entertainers to cross over and do a variety of things. Whilst Matsumoto is seen mainly as one of Japan's most popular comedians and show hosts he is also respected as a writer/ Director of films which have quirky story lines that aren't based soley on humour but provide interesting social commentary as well.
I started watching Big Man Japan thinking that, as a film about a man who can grow giant in order to battle weird giant monsters Godzilla style, it was gong to be full of slapstick Downtown style humour. However whilst there was some of that in places there was also a lot of more restrained and very dry humour going throughout the film, particularly in the mock vox pops which can be seen in the trailer below and in the plight of Daisatô, the 'Big Man Japan' as he struggles to save the Japanese public that have lost interest in him.
Pretty early on in the film it becomes very clear that Daisato is being used as a metaphor for modern Japan and once you see that comparison everything else in the film fits into place as an compelling yet slow paced social commentary. Although I did find the film a little slow in the middle, I think this was partly due to my misconceptions of what kind of film it would be and partly because the CGI is a little cringe worthy. I understand that the film wasn't made on the same kind of budget as a hollywood film however I think that the monster fights might have been achieved in a different, possibly more creative way. I would have loved to see some more of the power ranger/ Ultraman-esc costumes that can be seen at the end.
To be honest though the ending really made up for all of that. It remains one of my favourite moments in Japanese cinema and keeps in line with the bleak social commentary on modern Japan and how it interacts with the international community as well as just being extremely random and off beat.
I do think that much of the film's humour and subject matter is quite uniquely Japanese and might be difficult to get across in translation however the ending scene at the very least was something I was able to show my brother (who speaks no Japanese and has never been to Japan) and have him really appreciate (he was in stitches). Matsumoto himself said in a radio interview that he never intended this film for international audiences and it is easy to see that. This is why when I heard that there were plans for Columbia Pictures to do an American Remake I was baffled, and then nauseous and then baffled again. If it ever does get made I know that it's going to go the way of the US version of Kath and Kim.
All in all, I have a lot of love for this film and would highly recommend it, though the humour may not be what you would expect given the story line and the social commentary hard for non-Japanese audiences to follow.
TL;DR: There is a forest in it... but it's about so much more than a forest.
Heavenly Forest the best example of where the title has been changed to something horrible and cheesy sounding rather than having a literal translation from the Japanese title which would be 'I only love you' or 'I just love you' (ただ、君を愛してる).
This film was one of the first that I ever rented from a Tsutaya (the most common dvd rental chain in Japan, which also rents out a huge selection of CDs) when I was on exchange in Japan in 2007. It had just been released on dvd and I was really excited about suddenly having access to all these Japanese films which previously I had had to download all the time (back then not even JBHiFi had a very large selection of foreign films and certainly no recent ones). It was actually my older host brother who chose it though and from that I got the impression that it wasn't just considered to be a chick flick but had a little bit more to it.
Heavenly Forest follows a few typical trends in Japanese romances- it’s about unrequited love which spans over a lifetime, it’s named after a song which features in the film and the ‘twist’ ending isn’t anything you won’t have seen before. So whilst in that sense it is your typical Japanese romance film, I found it to be really well done and not have the same sickly taste of bitter sweetness that many others leave behind (I’m thinking of films like ‘Nada sou sou’ 涙そうそう and pretty much every one with Aragaki Yui in it…). Not that it isn’t bitter sweet (or 切ない / Setsunai as it would be referred to in Japanese). It most definitely is. It’s just that the plot makes it feel justifiable, where in many films it is played up a lot.
Another reason is that Miyazaki Aoi’s (宮崎あおい) character is so likeable. She is sweet and cute in a genuinely quirky way and at the same time totally believable as an oddball. It’s also nice to see the main female character in a Japanese romance being the one to make advances on the guy for once (although I suppose this happens in Nodame Cantable too, maybe it’s something to do with Hiroshi Tamaki?). This film also sticks out in my mind because of how naturally graceful and beautiful Miyazaki is. The huge photo of her hanging on the gallery wall in one of the final scenes is an image that stuck with me.
So whilst it isn't totally original, I would recommend this film because of it’s genuine tugs at your heartstrings and likeable characters.
TL;DR: a very campy and confusing affair but worth it for Tarantino fans
After watching the recently released 'DJANGO' at the cinemas, I decided to go back and have a look at one of Quentin Tarantino's greatest influences outside of the original Django film, Miike Takashi's 'Sukiyaki Western Django' (スキヤキ ウェスタン ジャンゴ).
I guess I must have gone into this with too high expectations because I was really disappointed. Although I knew it was a gimmicky film, I still thought it would be an enjoyable ride and be highly original. I suppose the initial idea must have been to dress up the usual western tale of a mysterious gunslinger coming in to save a troubled town from corruption. Apparently the storyline follows very closely with the plot of the original Django film. I was hoping however that the eclectic mesh of Japanese Samurai with Spaghetti Western styles would follow into the story to make the visuals and the plot tie together better. Whilst it did have it’s moments (the odd scene with Tarantino eating Sukiyaki with an edo style mount fuji print in the background of the desert was probably the highlight), overall there seemed to be very little coherence to the world and hardly any reason for the stylistic choices. Even in terms of art direction some things were just too glaringly stylized (the half Heike and half Genji boy having one white and one red hair extension) and the some of the gang members looked like they’d fit in better in a boy band than a vicious mob.
The thing is, I really wanted to like this film. After the opening scene with Tarantino and Katori Shingo (香取 慎吾) I was in love with the idea and excited for more. I hate to say this, because I’m sure the actors put a lot of effort into learning their lines and by no means did a bad job, but one of the main problems I had with it stemmed from the fact it was all in English.
I don’t want to draw away from the fact that this is an achievement by the scriptwriters and actors (many of which are really prominent actors and actresses in Japan). I found it a problem in Memoirs of a Geisha because there was no need to have it in English and it drew away from the atmosphere of the story (not to mention the fact that Memoirs had a higher budget and could have easily had the script translated). But here, where it might have been appropriate, due to the odd mesh of worlds created, the problem was simply that it was really distracting.
Not because the English was necessarily bad (each line made sense on it’s own) or because the pronunciation was too hard to understand, but because the lines didn’t fit in with each other. When the characters spoke it didn’t sound like they were having a conversation with each other, rather it sounded like they were just saying things out loud to no one in particular. I don’t think this was a problem with the acting but rather a prime example of the difference between fluency and memorized language and between English and Japanese.
On top of that there were several lines which would have sounded really badass had they been in Japanese such as Kiyomori’s ‘I won’t die until I’ve killed you’ (お前を殺すまで死なねえ). Probably because Japanese can portray a lot more aggression due to its different levels of politeness (and subsequently rudeness) whereas in English ‘I won’t die until I’ve killed you’ just sounds a bit lame. Kiyomori’s rough voice would probably have sounded really domineering had it been in Japanese but in English he just sounded like the cookie monster.
Having said all that, there were a few moments which really picked things up. Kiyomori telling his gang to call him Henry was one of them, the grandma turning out to be a kickass gunfighter was another. Not to mention the final fight scene in the snow (and all the fight scenes that involved guns and samurai swords clashing together for that matter) where the moral of the story seemed to be ‘Don’t throw your gun away just so you can look cool with a sword’.
If you’re a fan of Tarantino style violence then that may just make this movie worth it for you, because they do think of some pretty creative ways to have people killed. I didn’t mind the violence so much because it was over the top in a humorous way. However I found it hard to sit through the sexual assault parts (any scene with Shizuka, played by Yoshino Kimura, in it), partly because it felt like that was all her character was (someone to be assaulted) and partly because it seemed like it was being used to show how ‘tough’ the gang leaders were in a glorifying kind of way. Even the supposed hero of the story earns his right to sleep with her by winning a fight against Yoichi, a Genji clan member.
I’d recommend it as a movie buffs kind of film just because of the Art direction and the numerous familiar faces. As far as coherence and continuity go however it just didn’t cut it. If you are after something to put on in the background at a house party with friends with quirky visuals and no requirement to listen to then this could be perfect though.
Also, the theme song from Django (which Tarantino also used in Django unchained) is pretty awesome in general and just as much so in Japanese. Maybe I should add it to my Karaoke repertoire….
TL;DR: It's really better not to know what this is about. Just watch it.
I think I may as well start this post by letting you know straight off that this is one of my favourite Japanese films, possibly even number one. As much as I love Japanese movies, it can be hard to find really original ones. That may be surprising to many people who often think of Japanese films as quirky and out there. They are in many ways and certainly in comparison to many Hollywood films, but when you’ve watched quite a few you begin to see a lot of re-occurring tropes and themes.
The film is based on a Japanese novel that I read a chapter or two of in Japanese class a few years ago. I like the film better, probably because it takes me so long to read in Japanese that it’s not as enjoyable an experience as it could be but also I think because the writing seems quite restrained in terms of characterization where as in the film of course the characters come to life.
‘The foreign duck, the native duck and God’ which in Japanese is actually titled ‘The foreign duck and the native duck’s coin locker’ (アヒルと鴨のコインロッカー) deals with the often untouched theme of racism in Japan. I’m not talking about overt racism used as a tool to show which characters are mean and nasty either. The racism that ‘the foreign duck’ deals with is the everyday kind committed often unconsciously by ordinary people. In particular there is a scene where a non-Japanese woman tries to get on a bus which I think is something I have seen happen in Australia and is the kind of thing which you could see happening in many countries where racism is a pervading problem.
The characters who are mean and nasty, a group of young people who are torturing animals for fun, seem believable and not just that way for the sake of plot. The twist at the end is also very unpredictable and ties all the themes in the film together in a coherent mind blowing kind of way. Your perception of Eita's character Kawasaki (as seen through the character of Shiina, played by Gaku Hamada) will be completely changed through the course of the film which just helps to reaffirm the ideas in the film about stereotypes and first impressions.
The other thing about ‘the foreign duck’ is that the acting is really good. You can tell that there is a director behind this film who has chosen to care about it rather than just casting well-known faces and having the camera linger on their expressions longer than necessary. Not that there are no well-known faces. There is Eita (瑛太) for one and although I’ve always thought of him as an actor with a lot of potential, it’s only in this film (I assume because of the nature of the film’s plot and the director) that he proves that potential.
Maybe it’s also because I was able to identify with the problems that many foreigners may face in Japan. I think overall though it was because this topic was dealt with so delicately, recognizing it as something complex.
In conclusion, I love this film. You should watch it. The end.
TL;DR: a hilarious and moving film about a group of lifelong female friends
I saw SUNNY at the Korean Film Festival in Sydney in 2012 and, because it was the closing night, the writer-director, Kang Hyeong-cheol, and producer, Ha-anna Lee, were both there to do a Q&A after the film screening. They also came out to chat with people at the end but because I can’t speak Korean (Nothing further than ‘hello, how are you? I love you’) and they are awesome movie people who don’t have time to learn perfect English, I couldn’t really ask them any questions.
After watching the film and hearing the interview I have to say I became a huge Kang Hyeong-Cheol fan! He has only made two feature films, one of which was 'Sunny' which became the second highest grossing film in Korea of 2011 selling over 5 million tickets. This makes it a little hard to be a huge fan, I'll admit, but I did rush off to watch his other film 'Speedy Scandal' (which was the highest grossing korean film of 2008) straight away which I also really enjoyed (although not as much as Sunny). It's pretty amazing to me that a new director could make such fantastic films. He ended up winning the Best Director award at the Daejong Film Awards for Sunny and it's easy to see why. Whilst it is the direction and writing that which shines the most, everything else in the film comes together beautifully including fantastic cinematography, production design and editing.
Sunny is a story about a group of high school girls who form a clique, or rather, a gang (they refer to themselves as 'Sunny') during the 1980s when the Gwangju Democratization Movement rose up to protest the dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan and there was a lot of political unrest. The girls grow up and apart and we see through the eyes of protagonist Im Na-Mi how their lives have changed since their school days.
I hate to use the words 'feel good film' but that is the best way to describe this adventure through the girls lives past, present and future. It makes you want to cherish life, friendship and enemies whilst not skimming over the awful parts like sickness, unrequited love, rejection, violence, bullying, lost dreams and poverty. I guess what really sets this film apart is that whilst in one scene there are a bunch of young, vibrant friends dancing their hearts out, in another they will be bashing someone with an iron pole. In other words, the film shows all these different sides to friendship and conversely enmity in a really fun, humorous way.
One of the things that made me love director Kang so much was his answer to this question which was posed to him at the Q&A session: How did you manage to write so convincingly about the lives and friendships of so many female characters? Director Kang seem confused at first and skimmed around the question before stating that he felt that he wasn't writing about women in particular but things in human relationships which were universal and not-gender based. In other words, he said, he just saw his female characters as having human needs and wants rather than as characterised by their womanhood particularly. Which in my opinion answers the question of how he managed to write such realistic female characters perfectly.
There are so many parts that I loved in this film. It's hard to pick and chose but my top three would include a scene where two of the girls dress up seriously unconvincingly as women and get drunk at a restaurant, the parts where the protagonist Im Na-Mi swoons over an older music obsessed boy and suddenly (the most suitable music ever) starts playing in her head and most of all the scene where the girls fight against their rival clique during a protest. The way the shot angles and choreography work together is brilliant not to mention the idea itself of having them against the backdrop of riot police was an awesome idea story-wise and stylistically.
The only slightly negative reaction I had to the film was with the ending. It sort of ties things up a little too neatly (although the dancing part was great) with a lot of character's problems all solved in one swift move. But by that time I'd already fallen in love with all the characters so I was just hoping for the best for them and it ended up not bothering me too much.
I would highly, highly recommend this film. If you've never seen a korean film before this would be the best place to start as it gives the audience a little tast of Korean history (without requiring you to know much about it) and has an array of loveable, passionate characters that are easy to identify with.
It's valentines day today! What an apt day to review two Korean rom-com films!
I'm going to pretend this was planned but actually I just happened to watch them last night and had completely forgotten today was valentines. I watched 'Petty Romance' written and directed by Kim Jung-hoon and then 'Love Fiction' directed by Jeon Gyesoo. The reason I ended up watching them both in one night was because I had been looking at the film list for this month's screenings at the Korean cultural office in Sydney. They have free screenings which is pretty cool but I can't go to any at the moment as I'm in Canberra. So instead I decided to watch them by myself online and be sad and make a lasagne for one.
They both had quite similar story arcs actually: 'Petty Romance' was about a sex columnist and a manga artist teaming up and using each other for their art (before falling in love) and 'Love fiction' was about a writer and a photographer who begin dating and subsequently use each other for their art. Both used the imaginary world of the written work by the characters to create conflicts within and reflect the story going on in their relationships in the real world. Both had two characters with very different personalities fall in love and subseqently go through many conflicts.
Of the two, I enjoyed 'Petty Romance' better, simply because the characters were a little more likeable. Although the female lead, Hee-jin, in 'Love Fiction' is awesome (she's a fairly new age feminist-y, laid back woman the likes of which I haven't seen before in Korean cinema) the male lead was often hard to like (maybe because of how great Hee-jin was, it was hard to take his side in their conflicts). Petty Romance dealt really frankly with sex in a way I haven't really seen much before in other rom-coms (korean or otherwise).
What I loved about both films and most korean romance films in general is that they really build up the conflict between the characters in a believable way so that for most of the film, you aren't actually sure they would make such a good couple. In most American, English and Australian romances I've seen it is often really easy to see where the story will lead to two characters becoming a couple. I find that in Korean films though, it's not just a case of miscommunication which leads to the two leads falling out ('Pride and Prejudice' is the classic example of this in western romances) but real anger and dislike for one another. The most obvious example of this is a scene in 'Petty Romance' where the male lead actually spits into the cup of coffee he is making for the female lead. I really can't imagine this happening in hollywood rom-coms that's for sure.
Whilst, 'Petty Romance' was the more entertaining, I felt that 'Love Fiction' had a more original take on the love story. It is one of the only romance films I've seen which really accurately depicts the progression of a love story beyond the honey moon stage to the period when a couple stops finding each other mysterious or charming.
I'd recommend both but if you're looking for a lighter film see 'Petty Romance' and if you're looking for a deeper one then 'Love Fiction' is the way to go.
After reviewing a few romance films for valentines, I thought I should look at more action films and watched 'The Twilight Samurai'. It turned out to be a very different kind of samurai film however, depicting the grim reality of the samurai class at the end of the Tokugawa reign. Rather than glorify the samurai way, the film criticises it.
The Twilight samurai (たそがれ清兵衛) is a 2002 film directed by Yoji Yamada (山田 洋次) which was nominated for an academy award for best foreign language film. Yamada is a very respected director in Japan and spent some time as the president of the Japanese Director's Guild. After seeing this film, it's easy to see why. I'm really excited to watch the two other films ('The Hidden Blade' and 'Love and Honor') which form part of a samurai trilogy (though all are separate stories) with 'The Twilight Samurai', because I haven't seen many samurai films which have made me think so critically about the lives of samurai and the system they worked under before.
I guess most people go into samurai films expecting blood and gore and unwavering honor. They probably wouldn't expect to find a film about a sensitive single father living in poverty who would rather sacrifice his honor than kill a man and who believes in educating his daughters more than the way of the warrior. The film is actually called 'Twilight Seibei' in Japanese (Seibei being the name of the main character) but for some reason it seems to have been to changed to samurai in translation, probably because of the hype surrounding samurai in the west. This film certainly puts a dampener on that hype though and I love that about it.
The film's gentle pace sucks you into what may not at first seem like a very compelling story. The film establishes a cohesive world with it's own particular atmosphere and is beautifully, yet subtly shot. At some points in the film it seems like the plot is heading in a predictable manner towards a happy outcome for the characters but every time that happens there is an element of darkness which creeps in giving you a sense of the reality of the period in which it is set.
Seibei is not your usual samurai hero. He is poor and let's his appearance grow shabby, caring little for how others perceive him. Over the course of the film however he shows his own particular kind of honor in other more concrete ways, like sticking up for his friend and treating the female lead Tomoe (played by the stunning Rie Miyazawa/ 宮沢 りえ) with kindness and respect. At the same time he is a clever and skilled opponent in battle.
The dialogue in the film is restrained in most parts but there are a few notable scenes where Seibei's lines are as beautiful as well crafted poetry. The love between Tomoe and Seibei is shown to the audience (more than it is told) through beautiful, subtle movements; she pauses when combing his hair and looks forlornly at the cup he drank from.
I loved 'The Twilight Samurai' and will definitely be seeking out any other Yoji Yamada films I can get my hands on.
I've been watching 'The Story of Film: An Odyssey' lately, which is a fascinating 15 episode documentary series on the history of film narrated by the Irish film critic Mark Cousins. In it the Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu (小津 安二郎) is mentioned several times (Episodes 1, 2, 3 and 13) for many of his films including I Was Born, But... (1932), Tokyo Story (1953), The Record of a Tenement Gentleman (1947), I Flunked, But... (1930) and Late Spring (1949). An Autumn Afternoon (秋刀魚の味/ Sanma no aji, meaning 'The taste of mackerel'), was Ozu's last film made one year before he died.
Yasujiru Ozu is widely recognised as one of the world's greatest directors and as it states in 'The Story of Film' he had a very original style of shooting scenes from below the actors eye level, often showing the floor (which most films would cut out). He also shot from between actors who were speaking giving the viewer a sense that the character was talking straight to them (looking right into the camera). His shots were always static and in 'An Autumn Afternoon' it is apparent how Ozu prioritised showing the space around the characters as an essential part of the story. In one scene it opens with a view down the hallway at the entrance to a house and we see the sliding door being pushed to the side and shut again before we see the character appear. Every shot in 'An Autumn Afternoon' is level with something straight within that shot such as the floor or a telegraph poll or table.
'An Autumn Afternoon' is the story of how a father comes to the decision to marry his daughter off rather than keeping her at home to look after him. Rather than being about a set of events that make him send his daughter to be married, it is very much about the small things in his daily life which contribute to him coming to an emotional decision. This makes it a slow paced but interesting watch as you try to understand how he is perceiving the actions of those around him and what isn't being said. Ozu is said to have focused on the relationships between parents and children a lot in his films but I found that there was also a lot of questions being raised about the different roles of males and females and the solitary nature of the human conditon.
At first I was surprised by the acting style as I've never encountered anything quite like it. For the most part the actors seemed to be trying not to let their faces express any emotion. After a while though it grew on me as I found myself paying more attention to the dialogue and their voices as they delivered it. When I finished watching the film I watched a documentary on Ozu which came with it and in it the actress's and actors mentioned how he used to ask them to act like they were wearing a Noh mask. I suppose that's why Ozu is referred to as 'the most Japanese of Japanese directors'. His consistent theme of parent and children is also a very strong part of Japanese culture and the very considered, neat way in which he shoots seems reflective of many kinds of Japanese art forms such as tea ceremony and simplicity within design.
I would recommend 'An Autumn Afternoon' as a great starting point for those who would like to look into Ozu's style of work and the uniquely Japanese themes he dealt with.
A short while ago I reviewed 'The Twilight Samurai' by Yoji Yamada and really enjoyed it. I went to the video store to look for the two other films in his 'Samurai trilogy' and found 'The Hidden Blade' (隠し剣 鬼の爪/ kakushi ken oni no tume) but had no luck in finding the more recent 'Love and Honour'. I was surprised by how similar the plot was to 'The Twilight Samurai' and even more surprised that I enjoyed it just as much anyway.
In 'The Hidden Blade' the story revolves around a samurai, Munezo (played by Nagase Masatoshi/ 永瀬正敏) and Kie (played by the beautiful and talented Matsu Takao/松たか子), a farm girl who served in his family home before being married off. Once again, as in 'The Twilight Samurai', Japan is in a period of change which holds many consequences for the samurai. Munezo and the other samurai in the area are being trained to use western styles of warfare. As in 'The Twilight Samura', Munezo is a middle aged bachelor who resists pressure from around him to marry and similarily demands a divorce for the woman he cares for when he finds out that Kie is being abused in her husband's home. The climax of the story also follows a similar path with Munezo being ordered to kill his friend who is charged with treason. However the story progresses further from there than in 'The Twilight Samurai' with Munezo taking revenge for his friend's wife who is treated horrifically by the higher up who ordered he husbands death.
Once again Yamada seems to criticise the shallow honour of those higher up on the samurai chain by presenting us with a character who cares more about the 'lower' members of society (specifically the poor and female) than he does his own name. I would love to learn more about Yamada's life and his views as from watching his films it seems apparent that he was somewhat of a feminist and held interesting ideas about modernity. Although perhaps not in the same sense as Miyazaki Hayao of Ghibli fame who in the majority of his films depicts strong female protagonists- Yamada seems to show the unfairness of how women are treated but still from a male perspective.
After watching 'The Hidden Blade' and 'An Autumn Afternoon' in one week, I've realised that there are a lot more Japanese films which deal with the roles that women and men are given in society than I first thought. While it is similar to 'The Twilight Samurai' the characters define themselves and Kie in particular is irresistibly loveable.
'm taking a class at Kanazawa University at the moment called 'Understanding American Law through Cinema' (映画で読み解くアメリカ法） and in the very first lesson (after the orientation lesson) we watched Akira Kurosawa's 'Rashomon' (黒澤 明の『羅生門』). One might question why in a class about American Law we watched a Japanese film but the teacher explained that it was to show the difference in the way that Japanese people and American people think about truth.
One of the big differences in the way that Japan and America approach truth can be seen in how the Jury system works in each country. Whilst in America (and Australia too actually as far as I know) anyone can be called on for jury duty and the jury can be made up of just those everyday people who were called in, in Japan it is only recently (in 2009) that a jury system was implemented and in that system qualified judges and jurors together decide upon a verdict. My teacher rationalised that this was because in Japan it is generally considered that there is one truth whilst in America the understanding is that there are multiple semi-truths and as such the truth is never fully known so whether or not a person knows anything about law or not, they are qualified to give their perspective on the truth and that perspective is recognised as worthy enough to decide a trial. That was my teachers explanation, but in fact as far as I could tell the main theme of the 1950 Japanese film Rashomon is exactly about the idea that there is never one whole truth to be told but rather multiple viewpoints on the truth.
In the film, a samurai and his wife are traveling when they encounter the bandit Tajomaru who makes a plot to take the woman from her husband and rape her. The Samurai ends up dead and so a trial is called. How Tajomar's plot uncovers in reality is told in the trail by Tajomaru himself, the wife and even the dead samurai (through a medium). Each of the stories conflict with each other on the points of whether or not it was rape or consensual and how the samurai was killed. Each character tells the tale putting themselves in the position of hero or victim. The case ends with everyone believing the samurai's version of events to be true, as no one can comprehend why a dead man would lie. However then the woodcutter who witnessed the events tells his tale and it turns out to be far less glorious than what had previously been told. The audience however is left wondering at the end whether the woodcutters story can also be trusted or not as he left out an important detail incriminating himself.
It's always completely different when you watch a film in a class through the lens of a particular theme, in this case law and truth, than if you were to just watch it yourself. I did notice that the cinematography was the most beautiful I have seen from films of that era. I went home and watched the film again and found that whilst the questions about truth where still fascinating, I was more interested in how it dealt with the topics of honour and rape. Quite a few Japanese films seem to be quite harsh on the old Japanese code of honour and that's always interesting to see. In this case, considering recent events around the globe (what with rape in India becoming a topic of protest and the Steubenville rape case causing heated arguments in the US), I find it hard not to look at the way in which the case in Rashomon was almost exclusively aimed at finding the murderer, rather than defining whether what had taken place between Tajomaru and the samurai's wife was raped or not.
In every story the reaction and criticism of the wife that the rape inspired in the husband and ironically in Tajomaru himself is horrifying. In my opinion, whether or not she succumbed to it in the last moment is not all that important in defining whether or not it was rape, considering the life threatening circumstances she was under. It also seemed pretty apparent that her husband, who it is likely she was forced to marry, did not treat her very well. It was all quite awful and messy just hearing how each character tried to justify it- there wasn't much need to change the rape part of the story in order to save the male's reputations.
Anyway, that aside, it's a masterpiece. The tale is based on a novel called "In a Grove" (藪の中 Yabu no Naka) and Kurosawa's handling of it is incredible. The film's depiction of truth has become so widely known that a phrase 'The Rashomon effect' was born to refer to the subjectivity of perception on recollection of a singular event.
Eventful almost to the point of disbelief in parts, always unpredictable, 'Dreams for Sale' or 'Yume uru futari/ 夢売るふたり' is a roller-coster of a film in which a desperate husband and wife slowly turn against each other and yet always remain connected. It raises questions about what it means to be 'together' as husband and wife, how people gain self satisfaction in life and above all the difference between what you think you want and what will actually bring you self contentment.
'Dreams for sale' (2012) is directed by Miwa Nishikawa (西川美和) who also directed the films 'Sway' (yureru/ ゆれる) and 'Dear Doctor' (Dia dokuta-/ディア・ドクター). It tells the story of Satako and Kanya (Matsu Takako and Abe Sadao), husband and wife, who run a small izakaya (pub restaurant) which catches fire and is lost to them forever. The couple struggle financially as Kanya's pride will not allow him to work anywhere but the best of restaurants even whilst Satako struggles through working at a fast food chain. The film really begins when the Kanya casually sleeps with an acquaintance and is lent money by her in order that he can open up a new izakaya. Satako is furious when she catches on to what he has done, but soon after sees merit in the idea of taking money from women her husband wo's. From there the film gets more complicated as numerous side characters in unusual circumstances make their way into the story as the target of Satako and Kanya's scam to sell them the dream of marriage with Kanya and take their money.
At first it may be a little hard to understand Satako's motivation but as the film progresses it becomes clear that her aim is not to build a new izakaya as good as the last but to punish Kanya by using him as a pimp would a prostitute in part because he betrayed her and in part because she has spent her life with him as the central character, following his dreams rather than her own. This becomes clear as she talks to Minagawa Hitomi (Ebara Yuka), a large weightlifter who's appearance is as far from the Japanese idea of femininity and cuteness as can be and who struggles to find a partner due to this. Through tears Satako tells Hitomi that she should be content with the fact that she has carved out her own path as a champion weightlifter whilst she herself has done little to make her own path and too much for her husband's.
In many respects it is the women who are partnerless (husbandless in fact) which are shown to be more resilient and content within themselves. Whilst Satako is never able to get over her husbands betrayal of her, the other women eventually find peace in who they are and what is important to them in life at the time. The societal expectation that these women need male partners in their lives (which the women themselves feel keenly) in the end is shown to be far from the reality- a prostitute Kanya tries to protect fights off her abusive ex boyfriend on her own and when Kanya tries to get him to back off by saying that they are a couple, the prostitute announces that it isn't the case and that she doesn't need either of them. Kanya states that a woman who has lost her husband to a car accident and is now a single mother needs his help to get back on her feel and raise her son but in the end we see that this isn't the case as mother and son gain fulfilment from each others company. Even one of the first women who Kanya and Satako scam and who sends a detective after him is shown to recover from her entanglement with him. It is only Satako, who even when her husband is taken to jail, still feels entwined with his fate as though it was hers.
For it's layered themes, cinematography and acting I found 'Dreams for Sale' to be a deep and detailed piece of fine film-making. However areas of the plot did seem quite contrived. The contrast of light, happy moments between the main couple (which continue throughout the film despite their troubles) with their very dark underlying feelings of begrudgment towards one another was acted and depicted pitch perfectly to give you the sense of a realistically complicated relationship. The side characters recovery after the couples disruption in their lives helped to lighten what is otherwise a very dark film, giving it a variety of textures.
'The Kirishima thing' or "桐島、部活やめるってよ" (directly translated it would be 'Kirishima says he's going to quit his club!') deals with the power hierarchy among students in Japanese high schools which is manifested most clearly through club activities.
Though the theme of power relations in high schools seems to be a very common one in American films (particularly from the 80s and 90s) it is a theme I have only seen in recent years in Japanese films, most of which deal with the more overt topic of bullying/ いじめ (for example the drama series 'Life'). 'The Kirishima thing' (Directed by Daihachi Yoshida/ 吉田大八) however isn't about bullying so much as it is about the more subtle and seemingly arbitrary hierarchy among students from different clubs- rather than vilify the top students over the 'lower' ones (as bullying films often do), it depicts the negatives and positives of being on either end of the spectrum. Thus in the end it leaves you with the feeling that even those on the top end of the hierarchy aren't necessarily in control of it and don't necessarily benefit most from it.
From the very opening shot of the film it is obvious that it has been influenced strongly by the 2003 American film 'Elephant' directed by Gus Van Sant (which itself was influences stylistically by an 1989 BBC short film of the same name, directed by Alan Clarke). Both Elephant (1989), Elephant (2013) and 'The Kirishima thing' use slow tracking shots from behind to create a sense of suspense and tension. 'The Kirishima Thing' also draws on Van Sant's idea to show the same timeline multiple times from multiple viewpoints.
At first I was sceptical that 'The Kirishima Thing' would be just a Japanese version of a similar high school story to Van Sant's 'Elephant' but the film manages to carve it's own original path through a far less dramatic story (The final massacre in 'Kirishima' is played out in one of the characters imagination rather than in reality, thereby making a point without having to lose the subtlety and grim reality created in the first half of the film). It also cleverly shows how each student is effected by each other by having 'Kirishima' himself never actually appear in the film. Rather Kirishima's actions are just spoken about, giving you the sense that the structure of this high school hierarchy, the top of which is represented by Kirishima, which each student allows themselves to be effected by is just an imagined reality, one which could easily fade away if each student decided not to believe in it.
The film successfully creates the same suspense as Elephant without dealing with subject matter as shocking. I found that more so than in Elephant, I had to really pay attention to the subtleties in the characters to really understand the story. Even then the ending left me pondering for quite a while over whether I had missed something entirely.
I'd definitely watch it again to pick up on a few more subtleties It's a wonderfully shot film and one of the best Japanese ones I have seen in a while. It certainly shows that the Japanese can make just as good remakes of US films (actually better in my opinion) as the US can of Japanese films. If you are unfamiliar with the system of Japanese club activities and how they relate to the social hierarchy within high school you might be a little lost at first but other than that I think it's a film most will appreciate.
'Closed Note' is the story of Kae, a first year university student who moves into an apartment where she finds the diary of the woman who lived there before her. This discovery sets off a number of changes in Kae's outlook on life and she finds inspiration from it as her life begins to mirror that of the woman's who wrote the diary.
My good friend Racheal who I've known since kindergarten and who has been living in Japan for the last 5 years sent me this book, 'Closed Note/クローズドノート' (Note meaning Notebook). She sent it ages ago and whilst I've read the first chapter about 5 times by now, I hadn't ever been able to continue on reading the whole thing because I would get sick of looking up words I didn't know and give up. However somehow knowing I was going to Japan gave me a bit more motivation and last friday I finally finished it!
I must admit that a lot of the 'twists' in the story you can see coming from a mile away (I don't know why it takes Kae so long to see them!) but I think that's part of the enjoyment of it. You can see where Kae is heading even though she can't and so you read on to see her reaction. Kae herself is a really relatable character, she doesn't seem to have a lot of confidence in the beginning but as the story goes on you see how she starts to take control of different situations on her own and lets herself be... well more herself. Though the ending felt a little sudden it did allow me the room to consider for myself how things might have continued on from there and overall I really enjoyed this book.
I decided that once I finished the book I would watch the movie (which I have avoided watching until now) of the same title starring Erika Sawajiri (沢尻 エリカ) as Kae and directed by Isao Yukisada (行定 勲) who also directed 'Crying out love at the centre of the world' (世界の中心で愛を叫ぶ).
I don't know if it's just because I've seen Erika Sawajiri in interviews on television and she seems like a bit of a diva, or if it's because her acting really does stink, but I just couldn't see her as Kae. The opening scene with her and her friend from the book Hana was really hard to watch because of all the odd gaps between lines and the awkward delivery of them. I did enjoy seeing Yuko Takeuchi (竹内 結子) in the role of Ibuki Sensei. She's so beautiful it's hard not to like her although she does seem to play a lot of the same roles.
The story changed quite a bit from the book, although still kept similar themes, ideas and feelings and so in that respect the screenplay seemed to be well adapted. Apart from the fact that they never resolved what happened with Hana's boyfriend, that seemed very odd. They didn't exactly resolve it completely in the book either but as he was only in one scene in the film it was almost as if they were going to cut him out and then decided not to and so shoved him in one spot. The only problem I did have with the screenplay was that it centred around Kae confessing her love to the male protagonist Takeshi which made the whole story seem a lot less compelling. In the book she doesn't even really, directly confess to Takeshi and it certainly isn't the climax. So whilst in the book you got a sense that the story revolved around her personal growth after being inspired by the notebook, the film ended up seeming like a half-baked romance gone wrong.
I know that most of the time when you read a book and watch the movie, you are going to be disappointed. But I really didn't have high hopes to begin with for this film and even then I was really disappointed. I actually felt like I was wasting my time watching it, which doesn't really happened often with me cause I love watching movies and when they are in Japanese I get to make the excuse that it's 'studying'. The only reason I watched until the end was to be able to write this review and tell you all to read the book (especially if you are studying Japanese, it's a pretty easy read) if you are going to do one or the other and if not, I wouldn't bother with the film anyway.
One of the most beautiful films I have ever seen. My mum, who I dragged along with me to the movie theatre and was not looking forward to it at all, walked out of the theatre saying it was ‘perfect’.
Directed by Takashi Miike (三池 崇史), ‘Harakiri: Death of a Samurai’ (一命/ Ichimei), had none of the over the top art direction that I have seen in previous Miike films (although admittedly I have only seen a few). It was a very patient film and made me realize how rare it is to see modern films which accomplish a sense of true drama and tragedy without seeming contrived, predictable or over dramatic. The role of Hanshiro Tsugumo, the protagonist, is played by Ebizo Ichikawa (市川海老蔵) who is probably the most famous Kabuki actor in Japan at the moment. He comes from a long line of famous Kabuki actors and does a wonderful job in this film. He is supported by Eita (瑛 太) who successfully crafts his character into the most lovable husband I have ever seen in Japanese film. Hikari Mitsushima (満島ひかり) plays his wife Miho with incredible grace and charm.
She does an incredible job in what I found to be the most startling and emotional scene in the film wherein she finds a sweet wrapped up for her in her husband’s pocket.
I was a little bit worried about how to write this review because I know there are a lot of people who are ready to dismiss it based on the fact that the 1961 version by Masaki Kobayashi (小林 正樹), ‘Harakiri’ (切腹/ Seppuku) is widely considered a masterpiece (by me too!). So it follows in the footsteps of something great and therefore will always carry the stigma of ‘but it’s not as good as the original’.
I think that letting this stigma ruin your viewing experience of Miike’s version is a real shame. Firstly because it isn’t actually a remake of the 60’s film but another interpretation of the novel, ‘Ibun rônin-ki’ by Yasuhiko Takiguchi upon which both scripts were based. Secondly, because there is over 50 years between Kobayashi’s version and Miike’s, which in my opinion is a justifiable amount of time in between versions. It’s not like that time two Hollywood snow white films came out in the same year. Miike utilizes the technology available to him now to create an entirely different viewing experience of this tale. I’m not saying it’s better, just that both the original film version and the digital 3D version create completely different senses of place and textures for the story.
Lastly, I also think that the story that both films present is a timeless and worthy to be told time and time again in various different ways. I’ve heard it referred to as a Japanese tale of human tragedy of Shakespearean proportions and I think this describes it perfectly. Just as Shakespeare is remade time and time again I think this tale that puts forward ideas of true honor and humility should be told over and over.
This is the first time I have ever seen a film in 3D and thought that it was a good move for it to be in 3D. Usually, I feel like making things 3D is just distracting, detracting from both the telling of the narrative and the audience’s appreciation for the cinematographers framing of each shot. However, in ‘Harakiri’ where every shot was so simply framed and sparse of detail (in a beautiful, simplistic way reminiscent of Japanese art and crafts), it wasn’t distracting at all. Rather, it just did what I assume it is usually meant to do- made you feel like the characters and settings were a little more real and textured. In particular it worked really well for the opening credits which where calligraphy- style kanji over a slow track across the samurai’s fortress and courtyard where the suicides took place.
Even if you love the original and think that nothing could add to it, I’d encourage you to see this film because it is one of the best that I have seen at the cinema’s lately and if nothing else, brings a beautifully conceived epic tragedy to modern audiences with beautiful cinematography that can hardly be complained about even when held up against a masterpiece.
Generally, whilst I really enjoy Japanese romance and melodrama films, I find that there are a number of cliches that recur in many of them and so I don't usually have high expectations. I'd heard really good things about 'Crying out love' though and for the most part it didn't disappoint.
'Crying out love at the centre of the world' or '世界の中心で愛を叫ぶ’ ('Sekai no chuushin de ai wo sakebu' from which the english title has been literally translated), is a Japanese melodrama film based on a novel by Kyoichi Katayama (片山 恭一) which sold over 3 million copies in Japan. It is directed by Isao Yukisada (行定 勲). I think it's usually better not to know too many plot details before seeing a film, but I will say that the theme of love and nostalgia is what it primarily deals with. Can love survive after you've lost the person you loved? How are you supposed to deal with those feelings and was it better to never have loved at all? Plot aside, these questions are what the film is really about.
I think nostalgia is a pretty big theme in Japanese culture in general actually. We don't often use the word nostalgia in English but the Japanese word for it 'natsukashii/ 懐かしい' is used often in conversation in Japan. When I was in Japan I remember getting a lot of letters from people who were actually still close by at different points, either good bye letters, or thank you letters or happy new year post cards (年賀状). Whilst part of this I'm sure is to do with Japanese customs in showing gratitude, I think it also has something to do with commemorating different times you've had together. Many Australians I know have the impression that Japanese people tend to take a lot of photos and of things (like food) which they wouldn't necessarily think of taking a photo of. Although this is probably largely to do with the fact that most Japanese people Australians meet are tourists in Australia, I think that in general the Japanese people I know still do take a lot more photos within Japan during their daily lives than the Australians I know. Again, my theory on this is that it has something to do with the Japanese culture of commemorating and remember past events.
With that in mind, I liked that this film dealt with those kinds of themes. I felt like because of that it explored an element of human experience which Japanese people seem to have a strong connection with and was therefore a very worthwhile piece of story telling. Maybe I'm just thinking too hard about it though.
For english speaking and particularly Australian audiences, the ending of the film might be a little cringe worthy unfortunately. I'd really like to know why, in the last scene, they didn't end up actually going to Uluru (they'd already flown all the way to Australia, you'd think they could just wait for the car to be fixed!). I have a sneaking suspicion it had more to do with not being able to film there for some reason, rather than a conscious decision in how the plot would go.
I kind of wish the film hadn't gone on for as long as it did, because there was this really well-done climactic scene in the middle with beautiful shadows of raindrops going down a curtain of a school gym as the protagonist, Sakutaro, literally faces his past (I mean literally there, you'll have to watch it to see what I mean). I did also really enjoy the next climax where an old photographer played by Tsutomu Yamazaki/ 山崎 努 (who is also in 'Departures', 'Kurosagi' and a number of other good films), basically (without giving too much away) tells Sakutaro where it's at in terms of life and death and love in the most gruff manner possible. So it would have been great if it had ended somewhere around there as it did drag a little.
Overall though, excellent performances (in particular I was impressed by Masami Nagasawa/ 長澤 まさみ who I used to not like so much but I've completely changed my mind after seeing her talent as a young actress in this film), well shot, engaging characters (especially Aki, she is an awesome female lead) and it's nice to see a romance from the guys perspective (guys fall in love too, right?).
I've been wanting to see 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi' for ages, ever since I saw it advertised at the Japanese film festival in Sydney. It's an American documentary, directed by David Gelb who also did the cinematography, about a supremely talented sushi chef who is notorious for his attention to detail and strict work ethic. Whilst Jiro's story was engrossing and his techniques incredible to watch, the craftsmanship of Jiro's story into this beautiful documentary is what impressed me the most.
It's a very rare thing to watch a documentary on Japan by a foreign filmmaker and feel like the documenter has gotten to the heart of something within Japanese culture in an accurate manner. I've seen a lot of documentaries which either hype an element of Japanase culture up a lot to seem 'quirky' or 'exotic' or use a negative phenomena within Japanese society to demonise the culture as a whole without really addressing the universal human causes behind it. 'Jiro dreams of sushi' however is successful in sympathetically depicting one man's lifestyle and views on work, family, success and legacy without hyping them up to be something related to wider Japanese culture. In my opnion, this conversely enables them to touch at something deeper within the Japanese way of thinking more accurately and honestly.
Apparently Gelb was originally going to make a film about various sushi chefs all over Japan in general but upon meeting Jiro and his two sons (who were taught the art of sushi making form their father) decided that the story of Jiro's pursuit of perfection and his son Yoshikazu who lives in his shadow was enough to grab audiences' attention. I'm so glad that he did and I think he was absolutely right, becuase the story of Jiro and his sons is an incredible yet easily overlook-able tale of success, perseverance and legacy.
What really pulls this story together however, isn't just the mouthwatering sushi but the way that this tale has been crafted by the filmmakers. There is no narration in this film, it is all told from the mouths of the chefs and foodies who eat there and moreover shown through the camera lens. I think a great documentary lets you know the right information at the right time, not all at once and not anything that isn't necessary tot he overall arc of the tale. In that sense this documentary feels as perfected as the tamagoyaki (omelette) served at Jiro's restaurant which is made by apprentices who must first train there in omelete making for at least ten years. One vital piece of unheard information about Jiro's three michelin stars which is revealed only at the end struck me just at the right place at the right time and subsequently stuck with me for days after my viewing.
My personal favourite pieces of beautiful documentary cinematography and editing include the slowmotion seafood preparation scenes, the montage fading between different pieces of sushi being placed down with a symphony playing in the background as a food critic describes how Jiro's set menu is conducted like an orchestra and the last shot of Jiro smiling- as if to show that he is both simply an old man sitting on a train and a legend.
I've read quite a lot of negative things surrounding Jiro's restaurant since watching the film, however after watching it, it would be hard to deny that he is a man who has dedicated his life to the art of sushi. Whatever you think of Jiro this film is definitely worth a watch for it's beautiful simplicity which accurately mirrors a Japanese way of thought, both in style and through it's delicate portrayal of Jiro's views on life.
I was getting worried that all my reviews lately were too positive. Then I saw 'Daisy/데이지' a 2006 korean film set in Amsterdam directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Andrew Lau of 'Infernal Affairs' fame (which is the film Scorsese remade as 'The Departed'). And now I have something to rag on.
'Daisy' is about a young painter, Hye-young (played by Jun Ji-hyun) who after an incident in the countryside in which she found a bridge built for her by a mysterious admirer, has been receiving anonymous pots of daisies in the post every day. When she is painting in the town square she is approached by Jeong Woo (Lee Sung-jae) who asks for his portrait to be painted. Little does she know but Jeong Woo is a detective who is using Hye-young as a cover so that he can keep an eye on the activities of some drug dealers (why the drug dealers decide to hang out in the middle of the town square, I don't know).
Things get increasingly more convoluted and unbelievable from there but I won't ruin any of the 'twists' before the characters have a chance to explain everything in detail to you themselves- which is what happens for the majority of the film. The three main characters, Hye-young, Jeong Woo and Park Yi, the admirer, (played by Jung Woo-sung) take it in turns to narrate throughout the film to the effect that everything that happens is explained away as it is happening. Probably the first thing that I remember being told in my film production course was the importance of (wherever possible) showing the audience a story rather than 'telling' it. This film is a prime example for why that is the golden rule.
It's not that I'm anti-narration either (I know many people who are) and I can see where it is really useful for giving insight into a characters thoughts and feelings. However with a story as convoluted as this it just gave me the feeling that I was being read a script proposal rather than seeing the story take place. I think I would have enjoyed this film a lot more if more of it had been shown without underestimating the audiences ability to read into different situations. Especially for a script where there are so many different twists, it was rather dull to have them all reveled by a character explaining what had happened.
plot-wise there were also a lot of holes. For example, every time someone got shot it was never really clear who had shot them and from where and which side they were on and why. All important questions when main characters are killed off I would think.
Whilst the acting was quite good, especially from Jun-ji Hyun and Lee-Sung Jae (Jung Woo-sung just acted quite creepy most of the time and I'm not sure if that was intentional or not), my other major problem was with the editing. Some of the cuts, especially in the action scenes, just jarred and there was a ridiculous amount of unnecessary, seemingly meaningless colour grading going on. Does one flashback scene really need to contain like 10 different colour grades?
The posters made it look really dark and action packed but this film is far from that. I've seen a lot of dark asian cinema especially from Japan and Korea but this was just a melodrama dressed up as a crime thriller. It was almost to the point of being funny when it would cut from over-graded fast cut action scenes to sweeping shots of daisy fields with a romantic song in the air. I actually think that if this film hadn't tried to be so serious it might have pulled off the eclectic nature of the script and editing styles. Especially in the scene where Park Yi walks over to Jeong-Woo who is a stranger at this point, and tells him a text book fact about Van Gogh before walking off again (that could have been comedy).
It's not necessarily a bad story, just badly told, leaving you with the feeling that you are watching high budget film written by a an over-dramatic, inexperienced, pubescent high school student.
I figured it's about time for a film review of a nice sappy-wappy romantic Japanese film. Nawwwww.Nawwww....naw.
'We were there/ 僕等がいた' part two came out in the cinemas last year and seems to have been quite popular (at least when I went to the international students dorm at Kanazawa university for a party, everyone was watching it...).So I figured I'd watch both part one and two in the same week. It's such a typically Japanese romance, with the couple getting together in high school, moving apart from each other and then failing at long distance relationship-ing through a number of ridiculously difficult circumstances that tear them apart outside of their own control.
I have a feeling that in American films there is a theme of couples being able to stay together even in extreme circumstance due to them putting in a crazy amount of effort to get back together (love is like a superpower!), I'm thinking like in 'Cold Mountain' and to a lesser extent '10 things I hate about you' where the guy has to overcome different obstacles (in Cold mountain he has to walk till he's pretty much dead and in 10 things I guess he has to overcome social stigma) to prove his love. In Japanese films though it's more likely that the guy (or sometimes the girl) will have something horrible happen which tears them apart and the girl (or sometimes the guy) will wait for ages until fate manages to bring them together. I guess what I assume the difference is, is that it actually seems more romantic to have the leads not 'try' to get back together but because of fate they eventually do. I'm thinking Hanamizuki, Koizora, Heavenly forest and yes also 'we were there'. That's just my interpretation though, I'm sure there are Japanese romance films that aren't like that and American ones that don't fit that category either.
I watched the two films (part one and two) with my friend who lives in my dorm who is from China and she said that in China as well as Japan there is the idea that men and women who are meant to be together are tied together with an invisible red string so that even without trying they are bound to end up together.
Anyway although this film is more for escapism and entertainment than for teaching us good lessons about life (apart from don't go out with someone you don't like and don't leave your cancer stricken crazy mother alone in the house), I found the two lead characters to be a lot more charming than usual. Takashi, the female lead was so cheerful and strong and Yanou was so... good looking. And he said silly stuff like 'your my compass' and other lovey dovey things that are only said in films.
Photography, ghosts, an everyday mystery which consumes the protagonist, jazz and brother/ sister love: a whole array of particularly Japanese interests seem to come together in Tokyo Park.
Tokyo Park (Tokyo koen/ 東京公園), 2011, is probably the most recent film I've reviewed so far, although I'm hoping to review a lot more recent ones once I actually get to Japan and can get to a Tsutaya. I actually saw this first at the Japanese film festival last year in Sydney and was quite glad that it was the one film I chose to see out of the entire lineup (it was during the end of uni semester so I didn't have time to see more than one). The film is directed by Shinji Aoyama (青山 真治) who is most famous for the darker film 'Eureka' which he both wrote and directed. Tokyo Koen on the other hand is based on a novel of the same name by Yukiya Shoji (小路 幸也).
The story surrounds a university student, Koji, depicting the different changes in his life after a strange occurrence when a man he has only met once asks him to secretly take photos of a women who goes to a different park within Tokyo everyday in return for money. Koji, played by Haruma Miura (三浦 春馬), struggles to understand the feelings of the women around him (his elder sister, his best friend's girlfriend and his dead mother) and this is reflected in his search to uncover the mystery behind the woman he photographs (and why the man asked him to follow her).
Though this film is sure to attract many fans of Haruma Miura, it's Nana Eikura (榮倉 奈々) who really shines as the qurky, forward and yet suffering Miyu (Koji's best friend's girlfriend). Manami Konishi (小西 真奈美) also does a very good job as Koji's elder sister, portraying her inner struggle against her romantic feelings toward her step-brother with a lot more authenticity than I have seen before by actors on the same theme in various Japanese films. Brother/sister romantic love is a theme in Japanese cinema which usually makes my eyes roll but this time around I was convinced (possibly due to them being step-siblings) because of the maturity she brought to it.
The film at times seems like it is trying to do too many things at once, however once you understand where it is going in terms of the main threads of Koji understanding the different women in his life, it all seems more connected and comprehensive than it was at first glance. Koji's struggle is mirrored in the end scene where the man who hired him finally reveals why he asked him to do this strange job. It's not a masterpiece, but it's a good story with wonderful characters which are depicted in detail throughout. It does everything it sets out to do well, and audiences are bound to remember Miyu's charming character long after their viewing.
'Sandcastle' (沙城) is one of those films that makes you think 'What is life?!' in some kind of magical, subtle way.
'Sandcastle' is the debut 2010 feature film by Singaporean filmmaker Boo Junfeng. Junfeng has received various awards for his short films and 'Sandcastle' was selected for both the Cannes Film Festival and the Toronto international Film Festival as well as a variety of other festivals worldwide. It tells the story of the everyday life of a teenage boy whose ageing family are hiding their past.
I think it is the first Singaporean film I have seen (that I can remember anyway) and I must admit that I don't know much about the culture or political history of Singapore, both of which seem to feature prominently in this film. Despite that, I wasn't left feeling confused or unengaged as the realistic style and tone of the film drew me in- it felt like I was being let in to spy on the every day lives of this Singaporean family and their secretive past. The characters felt so real, they were flawed without being nasty and during the film you saw their motives through their actions rather than in their speech. The acting was incredible. It didn't feel like you were watching actors at all and the protagonist En (played by Joshua Tan) had a particularly strong on screen presence.
I can tell that this film will not be for everyone as it is very slow and features some all too realistic embarrassing and uncomfortable moments between family members. However it is a film which aims to be slow, in order to create a sense of realism and to invite the audience to contemplate rather than just be fed the story.
I found it to be one of those films that leaves you thinking about it for days afterwards. It's depiction of relationships between grandparents and grandchild as well as mother and child was both depressingly realistic and tender. For a film which features so many cultural elements (the Singaporean choir songs En sings, the traditional Singaporean funeral he attends and the whole dark political history of his family) to be able to communicate so deeply about universal human troubles, relationships and emotions is a real achievement.
Last time- well in fact, pretty much every time- I've reviewed a romance film it's been about high school or university students. However, as it says in the trailer (’おとなのためのラブストーリー’）'Otonari'/ ‘おとな り’ is a film about adults falling in love and it is a love story for adults. Those kinds of films seem quite rare in Japan but I've got to say that just that difference made it a lot more intriguing and gave it a sense of reality lost in many other romances.
What's even more unconventional about 'otona ri' is that the two leads don't actually meet until the end of the film and so the story doesn't just revolve around them being together. Rather it shows the ups and downs of their daily lives and puts more emphasis on the other relationships they have; with their friends, coworkers and other love interests. The male lead is Nojima Satoshi who works as a fashion photographer, but who really wants to take landscape photos. His good friend and the male model who helped kickstart his career, Shingo, suddenly disappears one day leaving him and Shingo's pregnant girlfriend wondering whether Nojima's desire to take photos of places rather than Shingo hurt his feelings.