11 October 2017

Tokyo Idols (UK, 2017)

Girl bands and their pop music permeate every moment of Japanese life. Following an aspiring pop singer and her fans, Tokyo Idols explores a cultural phenomenon driven by an obsession with young female sexuality, and the growing disconnect between men and women in hyper-modern societies.

Here's a documentary that shows us the world behind the stage of a pop idol in contemporary Japan, and what happens when the curtain falls. It's a testament to how different Japan is to the rest of the world. Older men are lining up to watch young girls perform and basically want nothing else than to adore the hell out of them, get autographs and have their photo taken together with them. There's also a darker side to it, when men are talking about how they given up on other social relationships just to devote themselves to their idol-worshipping full-time. Very insightful interesting, Tokyo Idols is bound to spark a few culture shocks.

Genre: Documentary

2 October 2017

The Red Turtle (Japan/France/Belgium, 2016)

A man is shipwrecked on a deserted island and encounters a red turtle, which changes his life.

The Red Turtle isn't entirely a Japanese production, but you'll thank me big time for giving it a pass. Directed and written by Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit, and with help from Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli, we are treated to some of the most gorgeous and heartfelt animation I've seen in a long time. Being completely free of dialogue, the film relies on stunning visuals and a hauntingly beautiful soundtrack to express its narrative. Watching it, feels like taking part of another's life, another's amazing experiences and their sorrow and happiness.

It's one of those films that stays with you for days after having seen it.

Genre: Animation/Fantasy

28 September 2017

The Long Excuse (Japan, 2016)

A recently widowed writer whose wife died in a bus crash comes to terms with his grief, or lack of it, in caring for the children of a working man who also lost his wife in the same accident.

The Long Excuse doesn't specifically do anything that's been done before, but it still manages to feel very gripping and bittersweet. Masahiro Motoki from the fantastic Departures (2008) plays the main role, and I got a serious urge to watch all his films because he feels like a very charismatic and engaging actor. 

The film starts off pretty basic and feels like your standard melodrama, but it gets more and more interesting and really delivers, and towards the end you've worked up a genuine care for the characters. A sort of quiet, sorrowful but yet carefully optimistic, well-acted drama.

Genre: Drama

27 September 2017

I Am a Hero (Japan, 2015)

One day, after returning from work late in the evening, Hideo witnesses a traffic accident in which a car crashes into a nearby pedestrian, killing the victim instantly. However, despite severe injuries including a broken neck, the victim's body stands up and walks away. Hideo questions whether this is another one of his hallucinations, but strange events begin happening around him.

I Am a Hero delivers exactly what I want from this type of film: large amounts of gore (well-done gore!), a simple story but still enjoyable and interesting, and lastly a main character that's easy to root for. This is an immensely fun film for zombie lovers, and a great action flick for everyone who just wants a good time. I liked this a lot more than Train to Busan (2016), another zombie film from South Korea, which was dragged down by endless scenes of crying and sentimental reunions and whatnot. I Am a Hero skips all but is all the wiser for it. 

It's based on a popular manga but no prior knowledge is needed to enjoy the film, and me who hasn't read it wasn't yelling at everything they perhaps got wrong in the transition from page to movie. 

Genre: Action/Horror

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