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

4 August 2015

The World of Kanako (Japan, 2014)

Kanako, a beautiful girl and one of the best students at school, goes missing with all the belongings left behind in her room. Her father Akikazu is now asked by his ex-wife to look for their daughter. He starts a desperate search of Kanako using any means, in the hope of getting his "ideal" family back in place despite the fact that the very reason of the family breakup was because of his problematic personality and behaviors. Following tracks of her past and present and talking to her friends, he starts to get to know his daughter whom he never knew.

Kanako is one hell of a fast-paced, LSD-trippy, bleak portrayal on human beings. It's all done in one long breath and the exhalation is a bloody, depressing conclusion, and I love it. The desperate searching father is played by a personal favorite of mine, Koji Yakusho (Shall We Dance?), and the rest of the cast is played by a whole lot of recognizable actors, Joe Odagiri (The Great Passage) e.g. As I said, Kanako doesn't exactly glow with optimism and hope, but you could also say that it shows life as it is for many people: a nightmarish existence which you'd rather just be done with. Director Tetsuya Nakashima, who've previously directed great films such as Confessions (2010) and Memories of Matsuko (2006), certainly doesn't pull any punches when it comes to expose the cruelties humans are capable of. 

Genre: Crime/Drama/Mystery

2 August 2015

Natural City (South Korea, 2003)

Two cops, R and Noma, hunt down renegade cyborgs. The cyborgs serve a number of duties, ranging from military commandos to "dolls", engineered for companionship. They have a limited 3-year lifespan, although black market technology has been developed to transfer a cyborg's artificial intelligence into the brain of a human host.

It's not hard to see that the director of Natural City is a huge fan of the setting in Blade Runner (1982) and the action of The Matrix (1999), and I would easily go as far as to say that without those films Natural City wouldn't even exist. But hey, those are some excellent films to take cues from when making a sci-fi film.

The film failed to please the majority of the crowd, but sci-f movie buffs should check it out. A tale of cyborgs and cyborg hunters, with a splash of spectacular violence.

Genre: Action/Drama/Sci-Fi

30 July 2015

Tropical Malady (Thailand, 2004)

Tropical Malady explores the passionate relationship between two men with unusual consequences. The film is divided in two parts. The first half charts the modest attraction between two men in the sunny, relaxing countryside and the second half charts the confusion and terror of an unknown menace lurking deep within the jungle shadows.

When Tropical Malady screened at the Cannes Film Festival, some of the audience members left in the middle of it, and those who stayed until the end booed it. Now, I know that doesn't exactly makes one terribly excited to see it, but I'm highly surprised at the negative response to this film. I guess some of it could be due to the fact that the film completely changes setting halfway through to a story line which isn't as interesting as the first one, but that isn't enough reason to bash it in my opinion. I recommend giving it a fair chance, especially if you're interested in Thai cinema.

Genre: Drama/Romance

29 July 2015

Blind Beast (Japan, 1969)

A blind sculpter kidnaps a beautiful young model and takes her back to his home. He and his mother live in a warehouse that he has turned into a surreal tribute to the senses. It is filled with huge sculptures of body parts and the female form. He is obsessed with exploring the senses to the fullest. At first, the model only wants to escape from this bizarre scene, but eventually she succumbs to his strange vision and even surpasses his obsession.

Wow, Blind Beast. What a cool 60's, kinky and great film. The plot is so deliciously perverse and the sets are like the landscapes of a deranged and lonely mind. The script is nothing short of amazing, with lines like "People pity the blind, what a big mistake. I pity those who have sight. They can never know the tactile ecstasy of our caresses", or "The world of touch. The world of insects. The lower orders such as the jellyfish. Those who venture to the edge of such worlds, can expect only a dark, dank death to envelop them".  

Genre: Drama/Horror

1 July 2015

Ocean Waves (Japan, 1993)

Taku travels to his hometown for his high school reunion. During the trip, he recalls the memories of the days in high school. Friendship, subtle love, a trip to Tokyo and so on, all came back to him as the film evolves.

Ocean Waves was made by Studio Ghibli (Spirited Away) and also was the first film directed by someone other than Hayao Miyazaki. Instead, Ghibli wanted only the youngest staff members to make a film with a smaller budget than before (though it ended up going over both budget and schedule). Still, what we got was a more mature film involving a love triangle, and reminiscing about old friends.

In the same way Taku remembers his school days, maybe you will too think back at people you've met, and friends you'll never meet again.

Genre: Animation/Drama/Romance

29 June 2015

Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise (Japan, 1987)

On a far-off planet, a Kingdom tries to launch the planet's first manned spacecraft. This ten year old project not only faces funding and technical problem, but also is subject to political conspiracy and the neighboring Republic's aggression. It's all up to Shiro, the first spaceman to be, his friends and their faith to make the space program a success.

It's almost always fun to watch Japanese animated movies which had enormous budgets. Every scene in The Wings of Honneamise sparkles with incredible quality and everything is drawn to perfection. It's no wonder that Honneamise, during its production, held the record for largest budget ($8 million), until Akira (1988) was produced at a budget of $10 million. 

Despite being such an advanced and huge film, Honneamise failed to impress the everyday anime viewer. Maybe because it focuses heavily on dialogue rather than action, and not a whole lot is actually happening for the better half of the movie. Much like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), it's a film you either fall completely in love with or sleep through. 

Genre: Animation/Drama/Sci-Fi