9 March 2017

A Tale of Samurai Cooking - A True Love Story (Japan, 2013)

Set within the Kaga Domain in the Edo Period. Oharu is an excellent cook and recognized for her skills. Due to her cooking talents, she marries Yasunobu, who is an heir in the Funaki family. The Funaki family serves as the cook for the Kaga Domain. Nevertheless, Yasunobu himself is a terrible cook. With the help of Oharu's mother-in-law Mitsuru, she begins to teach Yasunobu how to cook.

Here's a samurai film where the samurai are not wielding swords, but chopsticks. An easygoing and charming film about trying to cook the perfect meal. It goes without saying that there's not a lot of drama or action, but I still commend it for telling a story other than clans who are at war with each other. Consciously silly and borderline sappy, A Tale of Samurai Cooking is not for everyone but will please those looking for something that's not too serious.

Genre: Drama/History

4 March 2017

The Handmaiden (South Korea, 2016)

1930s Korea, in the period of Japanese occupation, a new girl is hired as a handmaiden to a Japanese heiress who lives a secluded life on a large countryside estate with her domineering Uncle. But the maid has a secret. She is a pickpocket recruited by a swindler posing as a Japanese Count to help him seduce the Lady to elope with him, rob her of her fortune, and lock her up in a madhouse. The plan seems to proceed according to plan, until both girls discover some unexpected emotions.

I'm very late to the party with this one, and everyone has basically praised it enough, but one more recommendation can't hurt. Extremely well shot, full of memorable scenes (keep and eye out for the giant octopus), and a superb direction by Park Chan-wook all makes it one of those films you just need to watch. Beautiful visuals and cinematography, which is to expect when watching a film by Chan-wook. Not his best film in my opinion, but every bit worth your time as his other films.

Genre: Drama/Mystery/Romance

31 January 2017

Creepy (Japan, 2016)

Takakura is a former detective. He receives a request from his ex-colleague, Nogami, to examine a missing family case that occurred 6 years earlier. Takakura follows Saki's memory. She is the only surviving family member from the case. Meanwhile, Takakura and his wife Yasuko recently moved into a new home. Their neighbor, Nishino, has a sick wife and a young teen daughter. One day, the daughter, Mio, tells him that the man is not her father and she doesn't know him at all.

Finally a new film from one of my favorite directors, Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Tokyo Sonata), and he's back in the genre that started my fascination for him: horror. Though! As its title quickly tells you, Creepy is more of a slow-burning, very uncomfortable portrayal of a growing suspicion between two neighbors. It's basically void of jump scares and cheap methods to frighten you. Not one of Kurosawa's best, but still an effective and dark experience.   

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

25 January 2017

Terra Formars (Japan, 2016)

In an attempt to colonize Mars, 21st century scientists seed the planet with algae to absorb sun light and purify the atmosphere, and cockroaches who in turn spread the algae as they feed. 500 years later, the first manned mission to Mars loses contact with Earth, and a second ship is sent to investigate.

Terra Formars is one of those films you need to see to believe. It's so bad it's good. Directed by Takashi Miike, Terra Formars lets us follow a group of super soldiers to fight cockroaches who're all built like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Every protagonist can morph into a personal insect and gain its individual power to fight the aliens. But be ready, the costumes often look so bad that it's hard to believe the film is not fan-made. I've seen cosplay that looks way, way better but this is all part of the fun. If you see it together with someone it's so easy to have a blast and wonder what crazy sh*t gonna happen next. 

Genre: Action/Horror/Sci-Fi

1 January 2017

Godzilla: Resurgence (Japan, 2016)

An unknown accident occurs in Tokyo Bay's Aqua Line, which causes an emergency cabinet to assemble. All of the sudden, a giant creature immediately appears, destroying town after town with its landing reaching the capital. This mysterious giant monster is named "Godzilla".

The King of Monsters is officially back. There hasn't been a Japanese Godzilla movie since 2004, but now, everyones favorite nuclear powered 380ft tall lizard is here to be a huge pain for the people of Japan once again. In the directorial seat we have Hideaki Anno, known for his Evangelion-franchise, and his love for practical effects shine through every city demolishing scene in this film. Unlike the American entry from 2014, directed by Gareth Edwards, Resurgence (a.k.a. Shin Godzilla) very rarely cuts away from the action and often just basically gives the viewers what they want. Halfway into the film it loses some steam, but picks up really well towards the climax.

A promising new beginning, and I'm looking forward to the the upcoming sequels.

Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama

3 December 2016

The Wailing (South Korea, 2016)

A stranger arrives in a little village and soon after a mysterious sickness starts spreading. A policeman is drawn into the incident and is forced to solve the mystery in order to save his daughter. 

From Hong-jin Na, director of the intense thriller The Chaser (2008), comes this wildly disturbing tale of exorcism and spirits hell-bent on vengeance. The characters immediately reminded me of Memories of Murder (2004), and other South Korean crime films where they often use clumsy and sort of slow protagonists. I could easily see actor Song Kang-ho be the main lead for this film. 

The movie builds up really well, and from what started as a mysterious murder case, the story don't pull any punches when evolving into the most nail-biting and gruesome piece of cinema I've seen in a long time. I caught myself sitting with my eyes wide open on several occasions. This is a jaw-dropping and visually stunning thriller about a rural village dark descent into evil. 

Genre: Drama/Fantasy/Horror

25 October 2016

Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV (Japan, 2016)

The magical kingdom of Lucis is home to the hallowed Crystal, but the menacing empire of Niflheim will stop at nothing to make it theirs. War has raged between the two for as long as most can remember. King Regis of Lucis commands an elite force of soldiers dubbed the Kingsglaive. Wielding their king's magic, Nyx Ulric and his fellow glaives stand before the crown city of Insomnia, fighting to stay the inexorable advance of Niflheim's imperial army.

Kingsglaive is the latest in the CG fests that's been rolled out by game developer giant Square Enix, preceded by The Spirits Within (2001) and Advent Children (2005). It's basically an introduction to an upcoming game, but it's so completely crazy that fans of computer animated films can enjoy the spectacular end overly epic fights taking place all over Kingsglaive's running time. You're thrown into a storm of names and political intrigues, and it can certainly be hard to follow everything that's going on, but the animation is beyond beautiful and seeing it a second time can help with getting a grip on the story rather than just drool over the visuals. Sure, it can be regarded as mere guilty pleasure, but it's way better and more developed than  the often dreadful Advent Children. Kingsglaive takes every amazing fight in that movie and cranks it up to 11. A bit cheesy and melodramatic, but entertaining nontheless if you're in the mood for explosive eye candy.

Genre: Animation/Action

5 May 2016

Bakuman (Japan, 2015)

Moritaka, a junior high student, forgets his notebook in class. His classmate Akito notes Mashiro's drawings in it and asks him to become a manga artist to his stories. Mashiro declines. Takagi incites Mashiro to meet with Miho Azuki, Mashiro's crush, and tells her the two plan to become mangakas (manga artists). In response, Azuki reveals her plans to be a voice actress. Mashiro proposes to her that they should both marry when Azuki becomes a voice actress for the anime adaptation of their manga. The two then start creating their manga, under the pen name Muto Ashirogi, in hopes of getting serialized in Weekly Shounen Jump.

If you have any sort of interest in manga, Bakuman is definitely a movie you should check out. It started out as a manga series of its own, created by the same team behind Death Note, another amazing manga and later animated series. Bakuman follows two students behind the stressful scenes of drawing manga for a big publication, and have a lot of fun with it too. It was super interesting to learn exactly how a series is developed and finalized, and while there's also a story of rivalry and friendship going on was great. 

Genre: Comedy

4 May 2016

Hana and Alice (Japan, 2004) & The Case of Hana and Alice (2015)

Upon entering high school, two best friends named Hana and Alice notice a boy a year older them while waiting for the train, and they both develop a pretty strong crush on him. One day while secretly following him home, Hana witnesses the boy walk right into a wall and pass out. When he wakes up, she lies and convinces him that he must have amnesia, because he doesn't remember the fact that she was his girlfriend. After this, hilarity ensues as the two girls attempt to run with the lie. Of course, complications soon arise.

Hana and Alice is directed by the wildly talented Shunji Iwai, who's given us fantastic films such as Love Letter (1995), April Story (1997 and All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001). With Hana and Alice, he perfectly captures the big and small events happening in Japanese school culture, and puts two teenage schoolgirls in the middle of love dramas and murder mysteries. In 2015 it was followed up by an animated prequel which had a bit more engaging story and an animation style which looked a little unusual. Two slice-of-life kind of films with two likeable main characters to befriend. 

Genre: Drama

29 April 2016

The Boy and the Beast (Japan, 2015)

When Kyuta, a young orphan living on the streets of Shibuya, stumbles into a fantastic world of beasts, he's taken in by Kumatetsu, a gruff, rough-around-the-edges warrior beast who's been searching for the perfect apprentice. Despite their constant bickering, Kyuta and Kumatetsu begin training together and slowly form a bond as surrogate father and son. But when a deep darkness threatens to throw the human and beast worlds into chaos, the strong bond between this unlikely family will be put to ultimate test-a final showdown that will only be won if the two can finally work together using all of their combined strength and courage.

The Boy and the Beast tells a fantastic coming-of-age story in a world of monsters. It was written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda, the animation master behind films such as Wolf Children (2012) and Summer Wars (2009), so it's a huge step up compared to your everyday anime series/film. The action is fast as lightning and flawlessly animated, and it all builds up to a spectacular, satisfying climax.

While showering you with drool-worthy animation, Hosoda also writes an emotional story about growing up and realizing who you are. The plot has a lot of sad undertones, but that makes it more effective. To me it felt like The Jungle Book meets Kill Bill, which of course is all kinds of awesome.

Genre: Animation/Action/Adventure

28 April 2016

Over Your Dead Body (Japan, 2014)

A star, Miyuki, plays Oiwa, the protagonist in a new play based on the ghost story Yotsuya Kaidan. She pulls some strings to get her lover, Kosuke cast in the play, even though he's a relatively unknown actor. Other performers Rio and Jun lust after Miyuki. Off stage the cast's possessive love and obsessions exist as reality. Trapped between the play and reality, the cast's feelings for each other are amplified. When it becomes clear that love is not meant to be both on and off stage, love turns into a grudge and crosses the blurred line between reality and fantasy.

Movies that play with the concept of blending reality and fiction are always a treat. Here, director Takashi Miike (Audition) orchestrates a horror theatre where the macabre is seeping out into the real world. Great looking film with atmospheric, beautifully shot sets and all those splashes of blood we all expect when watching a film by Miike. 

Genre: Drama/Horror