30 January 2015

Roaring Currents (South Korea, 2014)

Roaring Currents mainly follows the famous 1597 Battle of Myeongryang during the Japanese invasion of Korea (1592-1598), where the iconic Joseon admiral Yi Sun-sin managed to destroy a total of 133 Japanese warships with only 13 ships remaining in his command. The battle, which took place in the Myeongryang Strait off the southwest coast of the Korean Peninsula, is considered one of the greatest victories of Yi.

Roaring Currents (a.k.a. The Admiral) became the biggest film of all time at the South Korean box office, and the first local film to gross more than US$100 million. That is insane considering the small amount of hype the film has gotten. The thing that got me interested was that Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) plays the titular admiral, and he's an actor I never will stop keeping an eye on. 

Roaring Currents is, as one would have guessed, a huge and epic war movie. The second half is basically an enormous naval battle with bloody fights sprinkled in-between. Recommended for those who like action packed period films which are based on true events. 

Genre: Adventure/Biography/History/War

28 January 2015

The Wig (South Korea, 2005)

In Seoul, Su-Hyeon is terminal with leukemia, and bald due the treatment of chemotherapy. Her sister Ji-Hyeon buys a long-haired wig, but she does not disclose the truth about Su-Hyeon's health condition to her beloved sister. While wearing the wig, Su-Hyeon recovers her health and hits Ji-Hyeon's former boyfriend Ki-Seok, changing her behavior and relationship with her sister. When Ji-Hyeon discovers that the wig is possessed by a fiend, she finds that it was manufactured using hair of a cadaver and a dark secret about Ki-Seok's sentimental life.

Exte: Hair Extensions (2007), which has been featured on this blog, is somehow not the only film to have murderous hair as the antagonist. Though, The Wig (a.k.a. Scary Hair) is a tad more serious and the plot has a few more layers than Exte. A couple of nasty scenes (one in particular is really gross) and a spooky atmosphere makes The Wig a decent film for the horror fans. Even though it's still kinda silly with killer hair.

Genre: Horror

25 January 2015

Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (Japan, 2014)

Shishio has set sail in his ironclad ship to bring down the Meiji government and return Japan to chaos, carrying Kaoru with him. In order to stop him in time, Kenshin trains with his old master to learn his final technique.

The final installment in the Rurouni Kenshin-trilogy is here at last. The stakes are higher, and the samurai are all gathering for the final battle. The Legend Ends blow our minds once again with flawless sword fighting and insanely stylish fight choreography, just like the two previous films. The fight with Sojiro Seta is a personal favorite of mine, as it also was in the previous film Kyoto Inferno (2014). Apparently there were some changes made to the original story, so manga and anime purists may not appreciate it as much as those who've never delved into the series before. That aside, it's still a genuinely awesome and well crafted movie that should impress anyone who wants good action, cool characters and an entertaining story.

Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama

24 January 2015

Exte: Hair Extensions (Japan, 2007)

Customs agents discover a huge amount of human hair used as materials for 'hair extensions' along with the dead body of a young girl with a shaved head. With the corpse being soon transported by the police, the results of the autopsy determine that the woman's internal organs have been harvested. The possibility is pointed out that she was kidnapped in some foreign country and was a victim of black market human organ racketeering ring. A sinister, fearless smirk comes over Yamazaki, the morgue night watchman.

As I've said before, I'm rarely impressed by the works of director Shion Sono. Only on rare occasions has he made a film I can tolerate (Suicide Club, Cold Fish), and Exte is one of those. The premise is kind of silly and it's important not to take it too seriously, so if you can do that it's a fun horror flick with creepy ghost hair spilling out of peoples bodies. 

Genre: Comedy/Horror

19 January 2015

Patema Inverted (Japan, 2013)

A world, forever beyond your expectations. In a dark, cramped, underground world of endless tunnels and shafts, people wear protective suits and live out their modest hard and yet happy lives.

Patema Inverted introduces a wildly interesting concept of two different gravity zones next to each other. Above ground, people can walk around normally without any problem, but deep underground there's a group of people who's used to the gravity being inverted. It's kind of hard to explain and it gets even crazier towards the end. With good animation and a very original story, Patema Inverted is a recommended watch for anime fans.  

Genre: Animation/Adventure

14 January 2015

Barren Illusions (Japan, 1999)

Many years from now, a dangerous pollen will fall all over Tokyo. In this age, two people decides to become guinea pigs for a new drug that may prove to be the cure for this new epidemic.

Barren Illusions is a fairly unknown film, and has probably been seen mostly by those who are willing to dig in the filmography of the fantastic director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure, Pulse). This movie was made by Kurosawa with help from many of his film student. The plot rarely shows its face, and we're left with a man and a woman who must face the consequences of trying to help others. It's very minimalistic and mysterious. Not for everyone but interesting for those who wish to see some early work by one of Japan's most interesting contemporary directors.

Genre: Drama/Romance

10 January 2015

Like Grains of Sand (Japan, 1995)

The movie is built around the very complex relationships between Yoshida, leaving Shimizu for Aihara (or at least he tries to), and his friend Ito, whose love for Yoshida seems to have little chance for success. In the end we have a coalition of Ito and Aihara - who may or may not be in love with Ito - teaching Yoshida a lesson.

How this film has passed me by through the years is beyond me. Maybe it fell under the radar when it didn't became a box office hit, making it so that most people didn't hear about it. Which is incredibly unfortunate because it's an amazing little film that faces the controversy of homosexuality in the Japanese society head-on.

It also has a killer soundtrack, beautiful and atmospheric. When the ending theme "SAYONARA" kicks in, you'll almost close your own eyes together with Yoshida.

Genre: Drama

8 January 2015

Aberdeen (Hong Kong, 2014)

The extended Cheng family, which, like Aberdeen harbor's Chinese namesake, represents today's "Little Hong Kong" and its myriad of contradictions between traditions and modernity; superstitions and materialism; family and individuality.

Aberdeen, named after a part of Hong Kong, explores the relationships and personal struggles of a typical Hong Kong family. It does an amazing job of showing off the towering metropolis its set in, and the use of colors makes me absolutely drool. Gorgeous stuff. A good film for those who like drama's that focuses on a group of people rather than just one main character. 

Genre: Drama

6 January 2015

The Snow White Murder Case (Japan, 2014)

A young woman who work at cosmetic company become a prime suspect,after her beautiful co-worker was murderer.
The Snow White Murder Case is a mystery which unfolds in an unusual fashion. After the murder has taken place we get a huge amount of back story, leading up to the killing. We get important plot points during news coverage and interviews with everyone involved. Social media also plays a big part in helping the viewer seeing the whole picture, because we have access to everyone's updates. Kind of hard to explain but you'll know what I'm talking about, it feels very original.

The story is based on a novel by Kanae Minato who previously wrote Confessions, which also got a fantastic movie adaption.
Genre: Drama/Mystery

5 January 2015

The Light Shines Only There (Japan, 2014)

In a Japanese port town, Tatsuo, a traumatized man, spends his days drifting aimlessly and his nights drinking himself to oblivion. Whiling his hours away at a pachinko parlor, he meets Takuji, a young man on parole who impulsively invites him to a shabby house on the outskirts of town. There, Tatsuo glimpses Takuji's bedridden father and callous mother, and meets his world-weary older sister Chinatsu. While immediately drawn to each other, romance is an unaffordable luxury for the emotionally closed-off Tatsuo and the disillusioned Chinatsu, who sells herself to provide for her family and keep her brother out of jail. 

The Light Shines Only There is Japan's official submission for the Oscars, and it's a well-acted and grim youth drama. The cinematography is also fantastic. 

Genre: Drama

4 January 2015

The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji (Japan, 2013)

Reiji Kikukawa, who has a strong sense of justice, graduated from the police academy with the lowest score ever. He becomes a police constable, but is suddenly fired by the Police Chief due to "disciplinary" issues. In actuality, the firing is part of a carefully orchestrated plan. Reiji is ordered to become a "mole," an undercover cop. His target is Shuho Todoroki, the boss of the Sukiyakai gang. The group is the largest crime group in the Kanto area. Masaya Hiura, who works as a young boss of a Sukiyakai affiliated gang likes Reiji. While going through various hardships, Reiji works his way towards Shuho Todoroki.

It's been a while since a Takashi Miike (Audition) film was featured on this blog, but here he is again with one of his latest movies, The Mole Song. Though by now he's probably directed a couple of more films since this one hit theaters, the man is productive, I'll give him that. In The Mole Song we see his usual mix of insane violence, quirky humor, colorful characters and of course, the Yakuza. Agent Reiji is a hilarious guy and easy to like, and to see him try to become a part of a powerful Yakuza family is a blast. Some scenes really had me laughing, like when Reiji is about to lose his virginity for example. Simply hilarious. A highly amusing and wacky Yakuza film in true Miike fashion. 

Genre: Action/Comedy

2 January 2015

Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva (Japan, 2009)

Archeologist and avid puzzle solver Professor Layton and his assistant Luke think back to one of their earliest cases together... Famed singer Janice Quatlane requests Layton's help after a strange meeting with a little girl. The girl claims to posses eternal life and to be the reincarnation of Janice's friend Melina. Layton and Luke attend Janice's new opera. At the end of the performance, the guests are startled to find that the entire opera house has been converted into a ship and a mystery man now holds them all captive. The man forces them to solve a series of riddles. The winner will receive the secret to eternal life, but it could mean death for the losers....

The Eternal Diva is based on a popular Japanese puzzle adventure video game series, starring the titular Professor Layton and his young apprentice Luke. The games are full of brainteasers and puzzles that the players has to solve to progress the story. In this movie though, you can shamelessly leave the thinking to Professor Layton. It's not really a big deal if you haven't played the games before watching this film, though it's definitely a plus. It has both the charm and wonderful music that enrich the games, and the character design is spot on. Movies based on video games are seldom any good, they're pretty much horrible every time, but The Eternal Diva is a fun and mystical adventure worthy of its title, and I hope there'll be more Professor Layton films in the future.

Genre: Animation/Adventure

31 December 2014

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno (Japan, 2014)

Makoto, an assassin who once was contracted by the government, has since become obsessed with tearing it down. Formerly, Kenshin was mainly concerned with protecting Kaoru, but the stakes are now higher as he struggles to protect the nation itself.

The first Rurouni Kenshin movie was a superb samurai action fest with interesting characters. It's sequel, Kyoto Inferno, multiplies all that with ten. After watching it, my jaw is somewhere on the floor and I'm in some kind of euphoria. The fights in this film are some of the best ones I've ever seen put to film, and I can't help but smile like an idiot when they fly towards each other and their swords smashes against one another with such speed. It get's your heart pumping. 

Being that it's all based on a manga and anime, the antagonists are all very out of the ordinary with crazy outfits and fighting styles. I've seen some amazing samurai films before, so I'm glad that I still can be so impressed by the genre as I am with Rurouni Kenshin. One of the most epic and best films of this year.

Genre: Action

30 December 2014

The Little House (Japan, 2014)

A woman looks back on her family's life in Tokyo before and during WWII. A maid arrives from the countryside to work for an upper middle class family. She fits in well, but everyone's emotions are stirred up with the arrival of a student.

Wow. I was not prepared for how sad this film would be. Jesus H. Christ. Kind of a downer actually but really good. The sets and backdrops looks sort of like a theater stage at times, but it fits the story which almost entirely takes place at a certain little house. It's a slice of life kind of film, and the viewers almost becomes the main character in the sense that she doesn't involve herself in the business of her employers, but still is present and observing of the eventful years she spends there. 

If you're anything like me, this film will linger in your mind a good while after you've seen it and make you become a bit nostalgic. 

Genre: Drama

29 December 2014

Crows Explode (Japan, 2014)

A month later. Genji Takiya has graduated. New fights begin to see who will climb to the top at Suzuran High School. Meanwhile, a battle against nearby Kurosaki Industrial High School begins.

It's time to go back to Suzuran High School. It's been a couple of years since Crows Zero 2 was released in 2009, but the crows are back and stronger than ever. Takashi Miike, who directed the last two films, has now handed over the director roll over to Toshiaki Toyoda. When I first heard about that my expectations went through the roof due to the fact that Toyoda was the man behind the fantastic Blue Spring (2001), a film which shares many themes with Crows Zero

So, was Crows Explode worth the long wait? Of course it was! Toyoda has made a film that actually looks kind of pretty, with sakura leaves that blow through the air and shiny costumes with even shinier bloodstains. You can hardly take a breath before another three students has gotten their teeth smashed in and been thrown into some concrete wall, and that's what Crows Zero always was. A type of ultra-violent King of the Hill game between rival gangs and boys with stylish hairdos. It features an almost entirely new cast, making it feel fresh but retains the same general ideas of which the series is built upon. A strong third entry in the Crows-series.

Genre: Action/Drama