17 September 2014

Go, Go Second Time Virgin (Japan, 1969)

After being raped in an unknown rooftop, nineteen year-old girl Poppo meets a mysterious boy, and both share their sexual traumas and fears, with fatal consequences.

Go, Go Second Time Virgin I think is the first pink (or Pinku eiga) film on this blog, and it's one of the more well-known in the genre. Pink films are Japanese films with adult content basically, and it's a term that can be applied to many different genres such as drama or action as long they contain the pink film aspects.

Go, Go Second Time Virgin is a particular dark pink film, with an abundance of rape. That sounds very brutal, and it really is. It's not very long either, just barely over an hour, but still encompasses a lot of of hardships and twisted youth.

Genre: Drama

14 September 2014

Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (Japan, 1969)

Shinjuku Thief is the story of a bookstore thief named Birdey who is led through various adventures in Tokyo's Shinjuku district by salesgirl Umeko.

Shinjuku Thief is a juvenile tale of youth and young love. It's part of the Japanese New Wave that started in the late 50's and one of the directors that got some of the spotlight in this era was Nagisa Oshima. He would sooner direct the film In the Realm of Senses (1976), which is a film that became highly controversial due to its sexual content, but I digress.

It helps if you have an interest in old, Japanese classics, because otherwise it may not be not be your type of film. Look up a trailer for it and decide if it floats your boat. 

Genre: Comedy/Drama

10 September 2014

The Road Home (China, 1999)

City businessman Luo Yusheng returns to his home village in North China for the funeral of his father, the village teacher. He finds his elderly mother insisting that all the traditional burial customs be observed, despite the fact that times have changed so much, and that it involves many people carrying his father's body back to the village - the road home. As Yusheng debates the complications involved in organizing such a big feat, he remembers the magical story of how his father and mother first met and got together.

The Road Home features a very simple but yet effective story of love at first sight. In the main role we have Ziyi Zhang, who's had prominent roles in great films such as Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers (2004) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). She's  all kinds of amazing and carries this film on her back with a superb performance as an innocent, shy but also curious young girl who just can't stop thinking about a boy.

It's a film that's not just your average run-of-the-mill love story, but a warm and delightful little movie. 

Genre: Drama/Romance

9 September 2014

Someone Special (South Korea, 2004)

A struggling for love, Baseball players discovers he has terminal illness and meets a girl who has had a crush on him since times immemorial. The twists and turns of events bring them together.

Well, lookie lookie. A film that belongs in South Korea's favorite genre: melodrama. Someone Special takes care of all the need you possibly could have for tear-jerking, sugar sweet and really sappy romance story. If you're somewhat tired of the genre you may want to pass this one up, but if not, Someone Special is a cute contribution to the love stories in cinema. 

Genre: Comedy/Romance

7 September 2014

Marebito (Japan, 2004)

In Tokyo, the freelance cameraman Takuyoshi Masuoka is obsessed investigating the fear sensation near death. When he photographs a man stabbing himself in the eye in the access to the subway, he seeks what the suicidal man might have seen to experiment the same sense of horror the man felt when he died. He finds a passage to the Tokyo underground where he meets a mysterious naked woman that does not speak, who he calls her F. He brings F to his place and he tries to feed her, until he discovers that she drinks blood.

I have a confession to make. Marebito was actually the first entry in this blog for quite some time, as some of you maybe remember, but I deleted the post after some debating with myself. I thought it wasn't really up to par, in comparison to the other films. I recently re-watched it and can happily say that I made a mistake when I deleted it.   

It was directed by Takashi Shimizu, who is best known as the creator of the fantastic horror film series Ju-on. Unfortunately he's not the same great filmmaker he once was, Marebito was one of the last good movies he made. If you crave some Japanese craziness and Lovecraftian horror, this one is for you. The main role is played by Shinya Tsukamoto, the director of some seriously amazing films such as Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989) and Tokyo Fist (1995). Here he does a great job at playing a man who encounters a bloodsucking woman in a land deep underground. It's a strange vampire's tale set in Tokyo.

Genre: Drama/Fantasy/Horror

6 September 2014

Killers (Japan/Indonesia, 2014)

In Tokyo, a serial killer is murdering women and posting his violent crimes on-line. In Jakarta, a rogue vigilante uploads his murdering spree for the world to see. A psychotic game of cat and mouse ensues as the two men battle for notoriety. Soon it becomes clear that it's only a matter of time until the two killers square off face to face.

Killers is a violent crime drama that has somewhat of a misguiding reputation. It has been said that its a really tough film to watch and that the violence can be too much for many. I say it's nicer than that, and that you won't have a problem with it as long as you've seen maybe only a handful of other bloody serial killer films. Instead it's more like a really good crime drama with some nasty killings and intense scenes. The two main characters are very well-played, especially one of them who has a disturbing lack of empathy and other human emotions. A captivating story about how two men has that raw, brutal need of taking lives.

Genre: Action/Crime/Drama

4 September 2014

A Brighter Summer Day (Taiwan, 1991)

Set in Taiwan during the year 1960, a talented but self-centered student refuses to compromise his moral standards with anyone -- teachers, friends, parents or girlfriend.

A four hour long movie, directed by Edward Yang who also made my favorite movie of all time, Yi Yi (2000). A Brighter Summer Day is based on a real incident that happened in the 60's when Edward was only 13 years old, an event that later got the name "The Murder Incident of the boy on Guling Street". 

Edward isn't afraid of working with a huge cast, in Yi Yi there were many, many characters and minor parts played by amateur actors. A Brighter Summer Day though, uses no less than 100 amateur actors in different roles. A hundred. That's quite impressive. 

But on the other hand, it's such a huge film with a running time that requires your dedication. If you are willing to give it that, A Brighter Summer Day proves to be one of the more powerful and unforgettable drama movies ever. 

Genre: Drama/Crime/Romance

3 September 2014

Sonatine (Japan, 1993)

A world-weary yakuza in Tokyo is assigned to take his clan to Okinawa to help settle a dispute between two factions. He's suspicious of the assignment, but he goes, and within a couple days, his role remains unclear and several of men are dead. He retreats to a house on a remote beach to wait. The first night there , he rescues a young woman from an assault, and they develop a playful relationship. Over time, it becomes clear he's been set up, sent to Okinawa so that others can take over his lucrative territory. As his clan dwindles, he plans a revenge.

It's hard to believe, but Sonatine actually was a commercial failure in Japan, and when foreign directors wanted to buy the movie and release it abroad, the movie company said no with the reasoning that it was "too Japanese" and that western audiences wouldn't understand it. Eventually, Sonatine found its way to foreign cinemas and the director, Takeshi Kitano (Hana-bi), was praised by critics all over the world. 

It's not a traditional Yakuza flick in my opinion, Sonatine has a deep emotional curve and Kitano (who also plays the main character) takes his time to develop his characters. So you could say the the film has more heart and soul than firepower. The shootout scenes are short, but very effective, sudden and graphic. If you want to see Yakuza films that's done with care and has personality, check out Kitano's stuff. 

Genre: Action/Crime&Drama

2 September 2014

Takeshis' (Japan, 2005)

Beat Takeshi, a prominent actor, meets a lookalike named Kitano, who is a struggling actor, and after that, Kitano's dreams take a violent, surreal turn.

Here's a very surreal and unique film. Directed, written, edited and starring Takeshi Kitano, one of Japans best directors. Takeshis' can be hard to figure out at times, but that's deliberate. We literally get inside this mans head and it's completely bonkers. Dreams and reality seems to collapse into each other, and in the middle of it all we have two Kitano's. So wonderfully strange and puzzling. It also was the first one in an autobiographical trilogy all done by Kitano, the second one was called Glory to the Filmmaker! (2007) and the third one Achilles and the Tortoise (2008). Achilles played out more like a traditional drama and was considerably more serious in tone, and Glory to the Filmmaker! kind of went the same direction as Takeshis', but the first one is by far the best one in my opinion. 

See it with an open mind and let yourself become lost inside the skull of Takeshi Kitano.

Genre: Comedy/Drama

31 August 2014

Sympathy for the Underdog (Japan, 1971)

A yakuza gang gets driven out of Yokohama by a big gang from Tokyo. They relocate to Okinawa to violently start over.

Director Kinji Fukasaku is one of the biggest names in the Yakuza-genre, he made Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1973), Graveyard of Honor (1975) and Yakuza Graveyard (1976) to name a few (he also directed Battle Royale). So he's a man that knows the subject like few others. Sympathy for the Underdog (a.k.a. Gamblers in Okinawa) features some superb Yakuza warfare between two gangs, and they all fight for the right to rule over the sunny island of Okinawa. 

Stylish Yakuza with elegant, expensive and perfectly cut costumes can be incredibly cool, especially when Kinji Fukasaku makes them fight to the death.  

Genre: Crime/Drama

29 August 2014

What Time is it There? (Taiwan, 2001)

When a young street vendor with a grim home life meets a woman on her way to Paris, they forge an instant connection. He changes all the clocks in Taipei to French time; as he watches Fran├žois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows", she has a strange encounter with its now aging star, Jean-Pierre Leaud.

Tsai Ming-liang has done some really memorable and beautiful films, two of my favorites are Vive l'Amour (1994) and Goodbye, Dragon Inn (2003). What Time is it There? continues with the same unique film style, It has that certain something like it's adapted from a really good book, almost. The female actress in the lead makes a genuinely amazing performance and I found myself unconsciously holding my breath in the scene where she's in the bed and looks into the eyes of another woman. The tension and presence was so thick you could cut it with a knife. That's how movies should be.  

A stunning and mesmerizing story about two individuals who seem a little lost in life, and their way of finding a way back. Even if it means changing the time on every clock in the city.

Genre: Drama/Romance

28 August 2014

Dead or Alive (Japan, 1999)

Without a home and feeling no obligation to Japanese society or Yakuza, Ryuichi and his small group decide to make their own place by trying to take over the Shinjuku underworld and the drug trade from Taiwan. As they plan an all-out-assault on the remaining Chinese and Japanese mafia kings, only Detective Jojima stands between them and complete domination.

In 1999, Takashi Miike started working on a trilogy of films, Dead or Alive. They have no connection to each other except for the same director, two actors and same title. The first one is a nice Yakuza flick that just breaths Takashi Miike style with every scene. It doesn't take itself so seriously so expect crazy shootouts that demolish everything and mad Japanese perversity. The first one is the one I would watch again, the second one is a bit slower and the third one just tips insanity-scale so much with a post-apocalyptic setting. 

So, you may or may not know what to expect of a Takashi Miike film where he's in a playful mood, but Dead or Alive is a good example of what could be the result of his madness. Fun stuff, and the ending will surprise everyone.

Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller

Boiling Point (Japan, 1990)

Two disquieted junior baseball players seek revenge on the local yakuza for attacking their coach.

What happens if you mix Takeshi Kitano, black comedy, a story of retaliation and some small time Yakuza thugs that stirs up some problems. You get Boiling Point, of course, one of Kitano's earliest films. It's not his best film by a long shot, but a valiant effort from one of the kings of Yakuza movies. 

Genre: Action/Comedy/Crime

27 August 2014

Metro Manila (UK/Philippines, 2013)

Seeking a brighter future in megacity Manila, Oscar Ramirez and his family flee their impoverished life in the rice fields of the northern Philippines. But the sweltering capital's bustling intensity quickly overwhelms them, and they fall prey to the rampant manipulations of its hardened locals. Oscar catches a lucky break when he's offered steady work for an armored truck company and gregarious senior officer Ong takes him under his wing. Soon, though, the reality of his work's mortality rate and the murky motives of his new partner force Oscar to confront the perils he faces in his new job and life.

Metro Manila had an English director, but with a Filipino cast in the capital of the Philippines. So it's debatable if the film is Asian or not, but what I do know is that you can not miss this film. It's so well-acted and it looks incredible, the cinematography is nothing short of amazing. Manila is portrayed through filters of purple neon and warm, orange colored sunlight. It exposes the often horrible nature of a modern society, a mix of tears and alcohol. The musical aspect is also of high quality, with slow, melancholy and atmospheric post-rock to accompany the tragic and desperate situations. 
A truly powerful experience that leaves you breathless.

Genre: Drama/Crime

26 August 2014

Red Sorghum (China, 1987)

In 1930s China a young woman is sent by her father to marry the leprous owner of a winery. In the nearby red sorghum fields she falls for one of his servants. When the master dies she finds herself inheriting the isolated business. 

Red Sorghum is based on a novel by Chinese Nobel prize winner Mo Yan, and was directed by Zhang Yimou, whom you might recognize as the man behind incredible films such as Raise the Red Lantern (1991) and Hero (2002). With Red Sorghum he portrays a woman's struggle to run a winery, but encounters hardships around every corner. I like how the color red is dominant throughout the film; the liquor, the  cloths, the paintings, the blood

Genre: Drama

Dodes'ka-den (Japan, 1970)

Episodes from the lives of a group of Tokyo slum-dwellers: Rokkuchan, a retarded boy who brings meaning and routine to his life by driving an imaginary streetcar; children who support their parents by scrounging or by tedious and ill-paying endeavors; schemers who plot or dream of escaping the shackles of poverty.

Dodes'ka-den was directed by a man I think we all know, Akira Kurosawa. The master of Japanese cinema, the man who gave us so many classics and amazing movies that it's nearly mind-blowing. But, if you think that Kurosawa simply lived an easy life directing masterpiece after masterpiece, you'd be wrong. In the 70's, Kurosawa went through some of his toughest times ever, and the biggest reason for his declining mental state was the movie Tora! Tora! Tora!, a Hollywood film he had been involved in and it had been such a nightmarish experience that he had to leave the production. After this, Kurosawa had few chances left of making another film, the first project was Dodes'ka-den, his first film in color. Yet, things went wrong again, and the film became a commercial failure. Kurosawa tried to commit suicide the following year, and sailed into a depression

So, that's some backstory. How does the film hold up today? It's very different from the directors other works, but still, I liked it very much. It portrays a bunch of interesting characters that lives in a scrapyard, but instead of acting like a sad bunch of homeless people, these folks have dreams, hopes and they laugh just as if they had lived anywhere else. So despite being made in a turbulent and difficult time in Kurosawa's life, Dodes'ka-den contains a lot of heart, and I wish that it had gotten the praise that it deserves.  

Genre: Drama

25 August 2014

Oasis (South Korea, 2002)

Jong-du, a young man just out of prison for manslaughter, is a social misfit. When released, he calls on the family of the victim; they send him away, but not before he has seen Gong-ju, a young woman disabled severely by cerebral palsy. Both are abused by their families, and both are used by them as well. Although their relationship begins with Jong-du's criminal behavior, a friendship develops. They talk of favorite things; they go out; in late night phone calls, he helps her past her fears of the dark. Is there a place in the world for these two inarticulate people?

Oasis features so strong performances that it can make you very uncomfortable watching it, and it has a bunch of scenes where the atmosphere is incredibly awkward. It's far from being a feelgood-movie, with its dark story and broken characters. It tackles subjects such as prejudice and selfishness, but also romance between those who stand outside the normal society. 

A tough watch from time to time, but a film that feels very genuine and real in its way of portraying love in a reality that's far from perfect.

Genre: Drama

24 August 2014

The Attorney (South Korea, 2013)

An ambitious tax attorney decides to represent an old friend in court.
I've been wanting to see The Attorney for a long time, now. A movie where Song Kang-ho (The Host, Thirst) plays a carefree attorney that takes on a case that will challenge the legal system itself? Yes, please. In the first half of the film Song is trying to get his practice together, and he's a pretty carefree guy who loves his family. In the second half, we have a full-scale court drama. 
It didn't have as much humor in it as I first would have thought when I heard who was going to play the main character, but nonetheless, it was still a great film and Song Kang-ho remains a big favorite.     
Genre: Drama

23 August 2014

Fudoh: The New Generation (Japan, 1996)

Set on the island of Kyushu, it tells the story of successful high school student Riki Fudoh, who leads a double life in organized crime. With his gang of underage assassins, including five-year-olds with hand guns and a teenage stripper, he not only controls the goings-on at his school, but aspires to take over criminal affairs on the entire island. Fudoh's true motivations however, are not just a lust for power, but for something far more personal.

Something tells me that there's only a handful of people who have directed as many Yakuza films as Takashi Miike (13 Assassins). His filmography is a mountain of Yakuza flicks, including some of my favorites such as Gozu (2003) and Graveyard of Honor (2002). Even with an early film like Fudoh, Miike showcases what his vision is all about: over the top-violence and buckets of blood. 

Fudoh isn't a masterpiece, but it's definitely a fun and intense Yakuza story about vengeance, honor, and of course, a woman who assassinates Yakuzas by shooting darts out of her vagina. Yes, it's a Miike film, alright.   

Genre: Action/Comedy/Crime

22 August 2014

The Bow (South Korea, 2005)

On a fishing boat at sea, a 60-year old man has been raising a girl since she was a baby. It is agreed that they will get married on her 17th birthday, and she is 16 now. They live a quiet and secluded life, renting the boat to day fishermen and practicing strange divination rites. Their life changes when a teenage student comes aboard...

Kim Ki-duk is a director that often has been praised on this blog before, and be it for Moebius (2013) or Samaria (2004), the man deserves it. For The Bow, it shouldn't be any less of that, as it retains some of Kim's trademark film styles such as very little dialogue, a small cast and minimalistic shots. Those trademarks of course go hand in hand with a slower pace, but it's not too slow by any means. One thing I found funny was how the old man shoots arrows at everyone he dislikes, I would never turn my back against him. The soundtrack also stand out, it fits the movie really well with peaceful, melodious violins that dance alongside the calm waves. 

If I only could choose a few of my favorite directors, Kim Ki-duk would without a doubt be on my list. He can convey so much emotion and atmosphere without a single line of dialogue, and films that can survive on other things than dialogue are films I embrace wholeheartedly.   

Genre: Drama/Romance

21 August 2014

Metropolis (Japan, 2001)

Metropolis follows a young boy and his uncle (a private investigator). The story is set in the far future where humans and robots live together, unfortunately not in harmony. Many robots are forced underground and are terminated for entering unauthorized areas. They are more or less servants to humankind. The plot starts to unfold when the boy meets a robot named Tima and they get in all kinds of trouble.

Madhouse is the animation studio that made this incredibly good-looking and sweet robot story. They always deliver when it comes to quality, just look at Redline (2009) or Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000). Metropolis also had a legendary script writer, Katsuhiro Otomo, who's responsible for works such as Akira (1988) and Steamboy (2004). So, already we have amazing talents working on this film, and they all helped creating this fantastic film. Metropolis is based on an old manga from 1949, which itself was inspired by the 1927 German silent film of the same name. 

The robot design are often funny and peculiar, and as the art style is very cartonish it somehow feels like a R-rated kids movie when the poor, helpless robots are getting shot to bits. With a jazzy soundtrack and such a lovable look to it, Metropolis should not be missed by fans of both animation and science fiction.  

Genre: Animation/Adventure/Sci-Fi

20 August 2014

Barefoot Gen (Japan, 1983)

Gen and his family are living in Hiroshima as Japan nears the end of World War II. Gen's father has come to believe that the war is unwinnable, thus earning the wrath of the town officials and, in turn, discrimination from the rest of their neighbors. Shunned by the local merchants and tradesmen, food becomes scarce for Gen and his family. All these concerns soon pale, however, as the American military begins its final assault on Japan with the unleashing of its terrible new weapon.

Barefoot Gen is, sadly so, based on the real stories of Keiji Nakazawa, a man who as a boy experienced the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Don't be fooled by it's cartonish exterior, Barefoot Gen is a nightmarish flashback to one of the most horrible events in history, seen through the eyes of a small boy. You'd think that a animated film would spare us from the worst parts of the tragedy, but no, all the gruesome details of both the bombing itself and its aftermath are portrayed. 

The amount of hardships and heartbreak Gen goes through is soul crushingly tough, and I can't understand how anyone could have managed to get through it all. A truly powerful film that everyone should watch, as it is one of the most important films that tells the story of that fateful day in 1945.

Genre: Animation/Biography/Drama

19 August 2014

The Bird People in China (Japan, 1998)

A young Japanese salaryman is sent by his company to a remote Chinese village to evaluate precious Jade that is found there, but before he arrives meets the yakuza who was sent to tail him to protect his bosses interest in the company. When the men finally arrive their mission become sidetracked by their interest in a mysterious young village girl, her haunting English language song and the secret that makes men fly like birds.

You have to admit, that it's easy to get curious with a synopsis like that. Surprising as it may sound, the film was actually directed by one of Japans craziest directors, Takashi Miike (Ichi the KillerAudition). Here he uses a far more laid-back approach to the film than most of his other works, and it can be described as the most mature or serious film in the directors filmography. It's interesting to see a man that is responsible for some of the most gory and brutal scenes in Japanese film history, now takes the time to show the clouds rolling in over the hilltops, and the children who play on the grassy fields with towering mountains in the background. 

With a good story and beautiful settings, The Bird People in China should be one of Miike's most respected works.

Genre: Drama/Comedy