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

28 June 2015

Voices of a Distant Star (Japan, 2003)

The story of the high school students Mikako Nagamine and Noboru Terao. When the alien Tarsians attack, Mikako volunteers to be a pilot in the space force that will protect mankind. The lovers try to remain in contact using cellular telephone text messages, but as each battle takes Mikako further from the Earth, each message takes longer to arrive. Will their love stand the tests of time and distance?

Being only 25 minutes long, Voices of a Distant Star manages to tell a story which easily could have been stretched to a feature length film. You know that story right; boy meets girl, boy falls in love, girl enlists in Space Force and pilots a 70 foot tall robot to shoot aliens on the surface of Mars. It's impressive to think that the creator, Makoto Shinkai (5 Centimeters Per Second), animated the film entirely by himself. A beautiful story of interplanetary love between a boy who gradually becomes a man, and a young girl who ages much, much slower out there in deep space but still never forgets the boy who awaits her at home.

Genre: Animation/Sci-Fi/Short

19 June 2015

Parasyte: Part 1 (Japan, 2014)

The humanity is suffering from murders all over the globe, called "Mincemeat murders". High school student, Izumi Shinichi has a parasite living off him, having replaced his right hand, and he might be the discoverer of truth.

Parasyte is based on a manga which I've never read, and an anime which I've never seen, so I'm coming into this story fresh. It features aliens with razor-sharp transforming heads, a trusty sidekick in the form of a chatty alien hand and poor people who get sliced in half like it's nothing. Japan's special effects has improved over the few latest years, though still miles away from what you see in Hollywood blockbusters. They do their job pretty well in Parasyte with faces that opens up like the peel of an orange and hands that instantly transforms into giant knifes.

A gory, fun spin on the Invasion of the Body Snatchers formula and some awesome alien action, Parasyte is an entertaining alien adventure. Do keep in mind that this Part 1 of the story, Part 2 will be out shortly.

Genre: Horror/Sci-Fi

17 June 2015

Tomie (Japan, 1999)

A traumatized young woman is trying to recover her memories with the help of a psychiatrist. During her hypnosis sessions, she repeats the name "Tomie" but is unable to recall where she knows it from.

Tomie is the first film in the longest Japanese horror series to date, with eight other films in the franchise. Based on the manga by Junji Ito, Tomie is a very creepy and disturbing film, though never as horrifying as its manga counterpart. Even though the series consists of nine movies, this first film is one of the better ones and definitely worthy of your attention. A good J-horror experience.

So what about all the other Tomie-movies? Well, here's my personal recap of the rest of the series:

Tomie: Another Face (1999) - Another Face features horrible acting and atrocious production values, and for some reason I got very annoyed at the girl playing Tomie. Not recommended.
Tomie: Replay (2000) - A huge improvement over Another Face, Replay digs deeper into the story but unfortunately isn't particularly scary. It was based on one of the more interesting chapters from the manga; "Basement".
Tomie - Re-birth (2001) - This one just didn't do it for me. Failed to scare me, failed to make me feel anything for the characters, and this film is really repetitive when Tomie comes back over and over again. Tomie dies in every film and is resurrected, but for some reason Re-birth just went to town with that idea and it's just not scary. It's pretty cool that it was directed by Takashi Shimizu (Ju-on), though he hasn't made anything good in a long, long time (so I guess it's not cool).
Tomie: Forbidden Fruit (2002) - I'm kind of torn on this one. It starts off almost as a J-drama about friendship? Then it turns into a very bizarre creature horror film with Tomie depicted as a huge meat potato and must be driven around in a baby stroller. So it's actually fun from time to time, and I also like the music (the soundtrack is always important to me).
Tomie: Beginning (2005) - This Tomie-film felt a bit too uneventful, and it almost had the feel of a student's film project. This series should be filled with horror gems, but instead we get something as mediocre as this. Where did the horror go?
Tomie: Revenge (2005) - I haven't seen all of it but it seemed fairly promising, actually.
Tomie vs Tomie (2007)  - Unfortunately I haven't found any working subtitles for this one.
Tomie: Unlimited (2011) - If you just can't get enough Tomie, here's another one for you. Better effects, but still not as scary as it should be. A fun B-horror flick that could work if you're in the mood for it.

Genre: Horror

13 June 2015

Glasses (Japan, 2007)

Taeko an stressed out career woman leaves her stressed out life in the city for an island vacation. The vacation does not become what expected, as everyone on the island are rather strange.

Glasses (a.k.a. Megane) is a pretty slow but good film about trying to appreciate life. During her trip, Taeko meets people who has far less need of material things than herself, and learns that life is more than just owning a lot of stuff. There's not an awful lot of dialogue and the tempo, as I've said, requires a viewer with bit of patience, but it's a soothing and very calm film where not a lot of stuff must happen all the time and that's quite nice, I think. 

Genre: Drama

10 June 2015

Junji Ito: Master of Japanese Horror

It turns out I can't resist the urge to write something about one of my all time favorite contributors to the world of ultra bizarre Japanese horror. He comes up with the most freakish and nastiest stories I've ever seen, and yet I got nothing but love for this guy. Junji Ito is a manga artist and some of his most notable works include Gyo, Tomie and my personal favorite: Uzumaki. Those have all been adapted to the big screen, but Ito has been writing stories for many, many years so there's literally a ton of amazing stories left to read. How about Glyceride, where a whole house has been swallowed by grease and turns its inhabitants faces into disgusting pimple nightmares? Or about when people steps into human-shaped holes in the side of a mountain, only to emerge on the other side as something else in The Enigma of Amigara Fault.

Ito's stories are very easy to get into because for one, they're often pretty short, and secondly, almost all of them are so uncomfortably interesting and scary that you just have to see what happens next. Nearly all of his stories can easily be found online, so if you just read through some of them I won't blame you if you get completely hooked and MUST READ EVERYTHING (trust me, I've been there). I recommend the short story Fashion Model, where a group of film making students hires the wrong kind of lead for their movie. So many of Ito's stories are perfect nightmare fuel and if you, just like I have, been wondering what's happened to the once almighty Japanese horror scene, Ito will be the saving grace.
As I've said, some of the stories have been adapted into movies (this is AwesomeAsianMovies, after all). Gyo, a story where the fishes starts to walk and invades Tokyo, became an animated project in 2012. Uzumaki and Long Dream both got the movie treatment in 2000, and Tomie was released in 1999 as the start of a long-running film series. Uzumaki, which has appeared on this blog before, tells the story of a small town where spirals are becoming the obsession of more and more people, and in Long Dream we meet a young man who's begun to have longer and longer dreams without being able to wake up. Ito always manages to win the readers with utterly gross imagery and really captivating, original stories. You'll wish more of the stories had been adapted into movies, because some of this stuff is just beautifully horrific and deserves to be shown to more people than just manga readers.

Junji Ito is still drawing manga today, so be sure to check his new stuff out when you're done with his previous work. Hopefully we'll see another movie adaptation in the future (fingers extremely frikkin' crossed) but until that day comes, let's just enjoy all the slugs and ghosts, all the tall scary women with dark eyes and other stories that makes the majority of all new horror films look like kindergarten stuff.

Genre: Horror

6 June 2015

Legend of the Millennium Dragon (Japan, 2011)

A 15-year-old boy goes 1200 years back in time to find his unlikely destiny as the savior to end the war between humans and demons.

Legend of the Millennium Dragon has got a bad rep in the review business from what I can gather. Some of the cons I agree with, but I don't think they make it a bad film at all. Some characters are underdeveloped, sure, and the plot isn't as original as you want it to be, but it's still an entertaining samurai and monster adventure with good visuals. It felt like it tried a bit hard to be like a Studio Ghibli film, like Princess Mononoke (1997) and Spirited Away (2001), and when you compared it to those of course it falls flat. See it for what it is and you'll appreciate it much more, I think. 

Genre: Animation/Adventure

5 June 2015

A Better Tomorrow (Hong Kong, 1986)

This story is the tale of two brothers: one a successful counterfeiter and the younger a fledgling graduate of the HK police academy. The plot revolves around the split when the younger brother learns the other is a criminal and the efforts of the criminal brother to reform.

John Woo is one of the masters of old Hong Kong action. His resumé includes gems like Hard Boiled (1992) and The Killer (1989), and A Better Tomorrow is an instant adrenaline shot for action fans. Chow Yun-fat, who's now almost known as an action hero, was given one of the main parts due to the fact that he didn't look like one at all. Thank God for that because he's excellent, and the style of his character Mark (trench coat, match in mouth and sunglasses) was copied all over Hong Kong after the films premiere. 

Some seriously well-shot shootouts are sprinkled all over this tale of brother versus brother, and I urge you to see it if you haven't already. A sequel was made the following year, and it also delivered some brutal shootouts and has one of the highest body counts ever.

Genre: Action/Crime/Drama

7 May 2015

301/302 (South Korea, 1995)

Two obsessive-compulsives, a chef and an anorexic writer, are neighbors in an apartment building. The chef (301) tries to entice her neighbor to eat with fabulous meals. The writer (302) refuses to eat, and this refusal begins a turbulent relationship that forces both women to delve into their pasts of torment.

Here's a weird little film. 301/302 blends sex, cooking, murder and strange personalities in one large, unhealthy and gross mix. Definitely a film I never hear people talk about or find on any lists, which is a shame because it's absolutely worth watching. Nice to see that it's not only Japan that makes these kind of strange films.  

Genre: Horror/Mystery/Thriller

6 May 2015

The Uninvited (South Korea, 2003)

Jeong-won is a man with no memory of his childhood and his real family. At the beginning of the film he witnesses the deaths of two young girls. He begins seeing the girls dead bodies sitting at his kitchen table. He meets Yeon, a narcoleptic who is a witness in a infant murder case. She can also see the "ghosts" and he soon finds out she is psychic and can also help him recover his lost memories. 

I saw The Uninvited a couple of years ago but wasn't wildly impressed. After having gone back to it I think it must have been due to the fact that I expected something extremely terrifying. Horror fans won't be screaming their eyes out, but at the very least it's a creepy, involving ghost story with some very disturbing scenes. 

Genre: Horror

23 April 2015

Berserk Manga/Anime series (Japan, 1997-1998)

Guts was brought up by a mercenary group since birth. After killing his guardian in self-defense, he runs away. Years later, he encounters Griffith and The Band of the Hawk. The Hawks fight for the King of Midland, and after winning the 100-year war against the neighboring Tudor, they become the King's personal guard. However, once they reach the top, things take a turn for the worse.

Here's an unusual recommendation, coming from this site. A series, instead of a film is what's up today. Now, don't worry, this will most likely be a one-time thing only but I feel I just can't ignore such a huge chunk of a Japanese gemstone. 

Berserk started as a manga series in 1989, and is still running today, (if you can believe that). It's set in a medieval high fantasy world which gradually becomes a more nightmarish place and focuses on Guts, a mercenary with a sword twice the size of the soldiers he's chopping down with it. A 25-episode anime series was adapted in 1997, and covered most of the series first story arc. That's where you'll most likely get hooked, and then get your hands on the manga and the three animated films: The Egg of the King (2012), The Battle for Doldrey (2012) and Descent (2013), which I've covered here before.
The characters are one of Berserk's biggest strengths. After multiple viewings of the anime and readings of the manga, The Band of the Hawk starts to feel like your own comrades. The leader Griffith, a beautiful young man who's just as smart and cunning as he is loyal to his friends. Casca, a petite woman but one of the best fighters The Hawk's ever had, and Judeau, a master of knives and wits. The list goes on, but the point is that these are amazing characters you'll fall in love with. 

Also one of my favorite aspects of the series is how Guts is just a human being who's up against seemingly unbeatable odds. While the towering tentacle demons and colossal monstrosities are all coming down on him, Guts only have his trademark sword to fight them with. Berserk has also inspired other high fantasy work, the hardcore and now hugely popular 2011 video game Dark Souls for example have tons in common with the series. What it all comes down to is that it's a tour de force of raw violence and emotions, disgusting monster slaying and a powerful struggle for the fate of mankind, which starts with just a small band of ambitious mercenaries but grows infinitely larger until it reaches beings residing in an existence far from our own. 

Genre: Animation/Action/Fantasy

21 April 2015

Bilocation (Japan, 2013)

Shinobu Takamura is an aspiring painter. One day, she is accused of using counterfeit money. Shinobu is confused by the allegation, because she never did such a thing and was at home when the crime occurred. Police Officer Kanou then appears and takes her to a place. When they get there, a group of people are already gathered. All of the people there are concerned over a doppelganger like existence that looks just like them and acts like them. They call that existence "bilocation".

Bilocation is a film with an interesting concept: what if there could exist an exact clone of yourself? What would you do if you met this person? Bilocation is about individuals who all have a mirrored self walking around. It reminds me a great lot of the 2014 film Enemy, starring Jake Gyllenhaal (though Bilocation came out first). It has been labeled as a true horror film, though I can't really stand behind that, but it is disturbing from time to time. A film worth seeing, no doubt.

Genre: Thriller

19 April 2015

Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (Japan, 2001)

Taro, an old man who dies homeless in Tokyo has told Yosuke, a weak-willed out-of-work salaryman about a golden statue that he left years ago in a house by the sea in Noto. Yosuke goes and he's captivated by Saeko, a young women who lives in the house where Taro left the statue. She has a strange affliction: water builds up in her and she can only vent it by wicked acts, such as shoplifting, or, more powerfully, through orgasm. Yosuke obliges, the water gives him life, as well as the plants and fish it reaches. Saeko feels shame, and she has a past. Taro's ghost urges Yosuke to fulfill his desires, but can the relationship survive?

I know I'm kinda late to the party with this one, but my first viewing actually predates this blog. So, yeah. Warm Water... has a sort of unusual plot. It's nasty erotic but also comical. Famous actor Koji Yakusho (Shall We Dance?, Pulse) plays the lead role with ease and his usual charisma. You may know the director, Shohei Imamura, as the man behind great films such as Black Rain (1989) and The Eel (1997). Great film. A little weird, but great.

Genre: Drama