4 October 2015

100 Yen Love (Japan, 2014)

Ichiko lives the life of a hikikomori (shut-in) at her parents' home. However, when her sister gets a divorce and moves back home, Ichiko decides to move out and live on her own because they don't get along. The only minor happiness in Ichiko's dreary life is working at the 100-yen store where she can catch glimpses of an aging boxer named Yuuji practicing at a nearby gym. One day, the two move in together after getting to know each other better and Ichiko's life begins to change drastically as she takes up boxing herself.

100 Yen Love tells the emotional story of someone who discovers a passion that has the potential to change her life. She goes from someone you want to throw out of your house to a woman you root for completely. You'll cross your fingers and pray for her to make it all the way because that one single win would mean everything. Towards the ends, I was actually almost tearing up, and it's been a long time since a movie did that to me.

Genre: Drama

2 September 2015

Nightmare Detective (Japan, 2006)

Three people in Tokyo take a surreal voyage of self-discovery through memory and nightmares. "O" intends suicide while talking on a cell-phone with a stranger he meets on line who plans a simultaneous suicide. Events take a horrifying turn. Keiko Kirishima is a cool, seemingly emotionless police detective, brilliant but off-putting. She's faced with two mutilated corpses who appear to have killed themselves, but she's not sure. A cell-phone number links the deaths. She calls on Akumu Tantei, a poor and suicidal young man who has the ability to enter people's dreams. 

So, I have finally seen the first Nightmare Detective (I wrote about the second one a long time ago) and can conclude that it's a pretty damn good duo of films. I really, really liked the sequel and since then I've had a hard time getting hold of this one. Here, Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: The Iron Man) is just as amazing without his usually overly shaky camera and unconventional film style and uses a more traditional narrative format, a mystery thriller with his own  cool fantasy twist. In other words, even if you couldn't get into his more crazy stuff such as Bullet Ballet (1998) or Tokyo Fist (1995), you should still definitely check out both Nightmare Detective films.

Genre: Fantasy/Horror/Thriller

31 August 2015

Shaolin Soccer (Hong Kong, 2011)

After a fateful mistake costing his career, an ex-soccer player bum meets a shaolin kung fu student trying to spread the word of kung fu. The ex-soccer player helps reconcile with his five brothers, and teaches them soccer, adding shaolin kung fu as a twist.

If there's one thing that could get me interested in soccer, it's apparently the addition of martial arts. Shaolin Soccer is directed by Stephen Chow, the man behind Kung Fu Hustle (2004), and just like that one he also plays the main lead. Here, we basically get an answer to the question; what would you get if you mix Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with soccer? The result is an hilarious comedy with goofy characters with some serious skills in shaolin kung fu. Just like Kung Fu Hustle it has a lot of slapstick action with bodies flying around and people kicking the ball so hard it acts as a fiery rocket across the field. Good fun.

Genre: Action/Comedy/Sport

29 August 2015

The Eternal Zero (Japan, 2013)

A young woman and her brother explore the history of their grandfather, who died in the WW2. They start contacting his colleges who knew him, asking them about his personality, and slowly starts to understand what kind of man he was and how he influenced those around him.

The Eternal Zero has an epic storyline and spans many years of turmoil in Japans bloody history. We befriend a group of kamikaze pilots (it's a lot nicer than it sounds) and follow them through WW2. I never expect much from Japans CG-effects but some of the scenes in The Eternal Zero are quite spectacular and did make me raise my eyebrows. Sadly some overacting is present, but we still got a good war drama following a young pilot who steers his fighter plane towards the most dangerous spot in the battle.

Genre: Action/Drama

26 August 2015

Arang (South Korea, 2006)

A salt storehouse near the sea may be haunted. A penniless ex-con dies a gristly death in a house he can ill afford. The detectives assigned the case are Min, newly reinstated after a suspension, and Lee, a new transfer from forensics. Min has nightmares: a sexual assault that haunts her. She and Lee work well together, but soon two more deaths occur - each mysteriously poisoned, both friends of the ex-con. A fourth friend, a newly married doctor, is a suspect. But what has all this to do with the salt storehouse, a death ten years ago, and a missing girl? 

Arang is a film which can be found on many lists of great horror films. I didn't see it back in 2006 so I couldn't tell you how original it felt back then, but nowadays the story of Arang is at least decent, though it uses the girl-with-long-black-hair-formula for a lot of the scares. Nevertheless, Arang is a good, scary experience and manages to be involving despite the use of some horror tropes.

Genre: Crime/Horror

21 August 2015

Eros + Massacre (Japan, 1969)

In the 1920s, the anarchist revolutionary Sakae Osugi is financially supported by his wife, journalist Itsuko Masaoka. He spends his time doing nothing but philosophizing about political systems and free love and visiting with his lovers Yasuko and the earlier feminist Noe Ito. In 1969, twenty-year-old student, Eiko Sokuta is sexually active with various men. Her friend, Wada, is obsessed with fire and they usually play odd games using a camera while they read about Osugi and Ito.

To begin with, Eros is three and a half hours long. No wait, don't go! I promise it's worth it...  Still here? Okay, good. I know it's a long stretch but Eros is visually spellbinding and features heavenly cinematography and composition. The narrative is sometimes confusing and feels very surreal, characters who're supposed to be living in a different time are showing up in present day. So, it's a bit hard to wrap your head around it, but it's one of the most important films from the Japanese New Wave movement which lasted from the late 1950s through the early 1970s. Not a film that everyone can get into, but a fine piece of cinema nonetheless.

Genre: Biography/Drama

19 August 2015

Breath (South Korea, 2007)

A relationship between a condemned prisoner and a married female artist. Jin is a convicted killer awaiting execution on Death Row; Yeon is a lonely artist locked in a loveless marriage. When Jin's repeated attempts at suicide make the nightly news, Yeon finds her emotions stirred, and her curiosity peaked. Eventually, Yeon decides to pay a visit to Jin, and in the course of their many conversations the two lost souls forge an intimate bond. Upon catching wind of his wife's unconventional relationship, Yeon's husband grows increasingly jealous, and attempts to cease communications between her and the convicted killer.

An unusual romance with more anxiety than love is what we're treated to with Breath. Directed by one of my favorites, Kim Ki-duk (3-Iron), Breath is right up the alley of his style of making movies, but those who aren't fans of his minimalistic approach might have a hard time keeping up interest. Not his best film but still another one of his portrayal of a destructive relationship. 

Genre: Drama

16 August 2015

A Chinese Ghost Story (Hong Kong, 1987)

Ning Tsai-Shen, a humble tax collector, arrives in a small town to carry out his work. Unsurprisingly, no-one is willing to give him shelter for the night, so he ends up spending the night in the haunted Lan Ro temple. There, he meets Taoist Swordsman Yen Che-Hsia, who warns him to stay out of trouble, and the beautiful Nieh Hsiao-Tsing, with whom he falls in love. Unfortunately, Hsiao-Tsing is a ghost, bound for all eternity by a hideous tree spirit.

Welcome to Lan Ro temple, don't mind the ghosts and demons, we have comfortable beds!

Or something. A Chinese Ghost Story is a haunted mansion comedy with Hong Kong action and some almost Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon like fights. Maybe that's not so weird due to the fact that the director also made Hero (2002), a huge favorite of mine. All in all, a fun and action heavy ghost flick with some cool monsters done with practical effects. Good stuff.

Genre: Action/Comedy/Fantasy

13 August 2015

Parasite Eve (Japan, 1997)

Toshiaki Nagashima is a biologist who is doing major research on mitochondria. When his beautiful young wife is tragically involved in a car accident which leaves her brain dead, in desperation he steals her liver from her body in order to receive the mitochondria from it to resurrect his wife from the dead. The killer mitochondria takes the form of his assistant who then uses the biologist for the host of a terrifying new species that is threatening to take over the world.

Parasite Eve has a plot that make it sound like an amazing alien invasion film, though, it's a lot more personal and intimate than that and with a lot of scientific setup. Based on a novel, which later was adapted into a video game series, Parasite Eve is like an alien movie with barely any aliens, but the story is good enough to satisfy and a film where spontaneous human combustion is a thing always gets my vote.

Genre: Drama/Horror/Romance

10 August 2015

Kotoko (Japan, 2011)

The story of a single mother who suffers from double vision; caring for her baby is a nerve-wrecking task that eventually leads her to a nervous breakdown. She is suspected of being a child abuser when things get out of control and her baby is taken away.

Let me just start by saying how glad I am that we finally have another Shinya Tsukamoto film on the site, it's certainly been too long since the last time. Tsukamoto has previously made films such as Tokyo Fist (2005), A Snake of June (2002), and above all, Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1988). Kotoko is a chaotic story about a mother whose mind is starting to collapse in on itself. If you're not a fan of shaky camera work, you'll need a barf bag before seeing this movie because sometimes it's like being stuck in a tumble dryer. Crazy camera aside, Kotoko is a phenomenal movie and quite a dark one at that, featuring one of the most shocking deaths I've ever seen, I think. 

Genre: Drama/Horror

8 August 2015

My Man (Japan, 2014)

After losing everything in a tsunami, 10-year-old Hana is taken in by 26-year-old distant relative Jungo Kusarino. They live as father and daughter but share a profound sense of loss. Jungo works as a cook for the coast guard, leaving young Hana alone for days at a time. In wintry Hokkaido, Jungo and Hana both desire to fill their empty, love-starved hearts as they set foot into a forbidden world. Eventually, an elder benefactor in their small town learns of their illicit relationship.

Tadanobu Asano (Last Life in the Universe) stars in this dark and twisted romance story, and it'll get much more darker before the curtain falls. More than once I was amazed at some of the shots, and really liked how it was filmed. The movie is never in any hurry, and the plot grows in a natural pace so you can kick back and loose yourself in the Hokkaido winter. It also contains one of the better sex scenes I've ever seen (if I were to rate them all, for some reason).

Genre: Crime/Drama/Romance