20 May 2018

In this Corner of the World (Japan, 2016)

Set in Hiroshima during World War II, an eighteen-year-old girl gets married and now has to prepare food for her family despite the rationing and lack of supplies. As she struggles with the daily loss of life's amenities she still has to maintain the will to live.

If you want to take a trip to one of Japan's toughest times in history, here's your chance. At first glance the film might look like a children's movie but that would be dead wrong, though it's definitely a story that resonates with your emotions and should be seen by both young and old. You feel so much for the main character and at the same time know what awaits at the end of the war. It could easily have gone overboard with melodrama and tearjerker-scenes but instead focuses on a precocious teen who's just trying to get by in the turmoil. Tons of cute moments and scenes that for the time being makes you forget there's a war out there, but In this Corner doesn't shy from being gritty and dark either. 

Genre: Animation/Drama/Family

9 February 2018

Antiporno (Japan, 2016)

Japan's oldest major movie studio asks a batch of venerable filmmakers to revive its high-brow soft-core Roman Porno series.

Antiporno is Sion Sono's (Suicide Club) colorful venture into the erotic, wildly artistic and slightly soft-core pornographic. The film company Nikkatsu commissioned five films for the "Roman Porno Reboot Project" to mark the 45th anniversary of Nikkatsu's pink films produced from the 70's well into the 80's. The story revolves around a novel writer who shuts herself in a room painted in bright colors, and has a  temperamental relationship with her manager Noriko. 

Antiporno is of course nothing like sleazy pink film with unmotivated nudity. Sion Sono paints with one of his most mature palettes yet, and creates a picture which looks gorgeous and throws a cool surprise at the viewer. You have to have the "right mindset" for the film, for it's unconventional narrative and isolated story, but once you get swept away it's a wild ride.

Genre: Drama

25 December 2017

Cleopatra (Japan, 1970)

Three people from the future are spiritually sent back in time to relive the era of Caesar, Marc Anthony and Cleopatra. As close companions to these key historical figures, they seek to understand the nature of an enemy's plan in their own time.

From Osamu Tezuka, creator of one of the most well-known series ever made; Astro Boy (1952-68), comes a far lesser known film about.. well, aliens and naked ladies? Okay, that's not all it has to offer of course but it's extremely hard to put into words what it tried to convey, but somehow it manages be such a weird and mental experience that it needs to be seen. The official translated version of the film is said to be lost, and at release it was a huge commercial failure. It's definitely worth seeing, if not for anything else but a fun piece of cinema history. It ranges from hilarious to incomprehensibly odd and strange. The animation isn't exactly high quality, but at times very abstract and with a great sense of art. 

Genre: Animation/Adult/Comedy

23 December 2017

Haze (Japan, 2005)

A man wakes up to find himself locked in a very tiny, cramped concrete corridor, in which he can barely move. He doesn't remember why he is there or how he got there. He has a terrible stomach injury and is slowly bleeding to death. He begins to edge his way along the narrow maze-like corridors, only to see other people undergoing their own horrible tests though holes in the walls.

Watching Haze is like tumbling down into one of Shinya Tsukamoto's nightmares, and together with him, we're trying to find our way out while also figuring out how we got here and why there's mutilated bodies everywhere. It's a quite short journey (49 min), but it takes you through a cesspool which flows from one of Japans most daring and interesting directors.

Genre: Horror/Mystery

15 December 2017

Hana (Japan, 2006)

In 1702, set against the backdrop of a long-delayed and insatiable revenge, a reserved samurai, Aoki Sozaemon, leaves his hometown in Matsumoto to come to bustling Edo in search of his father's killer. Unaccomplished as a swordsman, with his funds quickly drying up, Sozaemon must honour his clan's demand to avenge a disgraceful death, however, when he finally finds his target, he will have to make a difficult decision before a crushing dilemma. Is the way of the samurai stronger than the way of the heart?

Turns out one of my favorite directors, Hirokazu Kore-eda (Nobody Knows, Air Doll), has also made a jidaigeki film, full of samurai and plots of revenge. What Kore-eda does though, is removing the action and replacing it with what he does the best, drama with emotional impact. Sozaemon meets a bunch of people who all effects his life in one way or another. Quite a bit of humor also sneaks its way in here, with quirky characters and funny events. Not one of Kore-eda's best films, but it was great to see him do a kind of low-key samurai film. 

Genre: Comedy/Drama

14 December 2017

Tokyo Decadence (Japan, 1992)

A submissive hooker goes about her trade, suffering abuse at the hands of Japanese salarymen and Yakuza types. She's unhappy about her work, and is apparently trying to find some sort of appeasement for the fact that her lover has married.

I get the feeling that Tokyo Decadence (a.k.a. Topaz) is like an adult version of 50 Shades of Grey (2015), a little more dark and disturbing and a little less aimed at horny teens. It's a tad long, and has lengthy erotic scenes, but in my opinion it never ventures into sleazy softcore porn (which it has been classified as at some other websites). The underlying sadness and morally twisted characters elevates it to something else, and the melancholy score covers the whole film in a bleak veil. Not a whole lot of enjoyment for our precious characters, but I often like these sort of dark films. Worth mentioning is that the film is based on a book written by Ryu Murakami who also wrote Audition, which also got a film adaptation by Takashi Miike. 

Genre: Drama

7 December 2017

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (Japan/UK, 1983)

In 1942 British soldier Jack Celliers comes to a Japanese prison camp. The camp is run by Yonoi, who has a firm belief in discipline, honor and glory. In his view, the allied prisoners are cowards when they chose to surrender instead of committing suicide. One of the prisoners, interpreter John Lawrence, tries to explain the Japanese way of thinking, but is considered a traitor.

I'm a bit ashamed to admit I had no idea that it existed a movie where Takeshi Kitano plays against David Bowie. In another big role we have Ryuichi Sakamoto, a huge rockstar/composer who also wrote the soundtrack, so there's two big name musicians in the lead roles. Directed by Nagisa Oshima, who's behind fantastic films such as In the Realm of the Senses (1976) and Gohatto (1999), he uses his actors to the fullest. Bowie has an incredible presence, and Kitano shines as always, I could never get tired of that man. The actor who played Mr. Lawrence speaks a lot of Japanese in the film, but didn't understand a word of it, instead learning it all phonetically. That's a very fun bit of trivia to know beforehand. Anyhow, Mr. Lawrence is a great film dealing with POW's  without it being just another prison escape rehash. 

Genre: Drama/War

5 December 2017

Digital Devil Story (Japan, 1987)

A programming student utilizes occult magic and computer technology to summon a demon into the physical world.

In the mood for some cheesy/awesome anime? Digital Devil Story should satisfy your need for that morning cartoon-show, cool and stylish but also Sailor Moon-silliness. I read somewhere that the makers were inspired by how computers were getting more and more popular and they feared a time when technology would more or less topple mankind. I guess you could say they had legit reasons to be afraid, though it seems slightly excessive to have the Norse God Loki stepping out of your computer screen wanting to slaughter everyone.

As I've stated, the film almost has the feel of a cheesy morning cartoon with an M-rating, but sometimes that's exactly how I like my 80's anime.

Genre: Animation/Action/Fantasy

30 November 2017

Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald (Japan, 1997)

A radio play is going to go on air at a Tokyo radio station. It is a weepy melodrama written by housewife Miyako, who is the winner of the competition run by the station. Suddenly, the hot-tempered lead actress Nokko decides she wants the name of her character to be Mary Jane and not Ritsuko. That leads to the chain of events which changes the play completely.

Here's a film with a very simple and concentrated story; a group of voice actors are trying to put together a radio drama. Though, not much goes according to plan as one could guess. So many laugh-out-loud moments in this film, the characters are all very funny and likeable, even the "mean" ones. I haven't seen this film being mentioned at all on a lot of film sites and that's no less than a gigantic mistake. It's an excellent film that leaves you in a great mood and should be considered an hidden classic. 

Genre: Comedy

28 November 2017

A Letter to Momo(Japan, 2011)

Clinging to an unfinished letter written by her recently deceased father, young Momo moves with her mother from bustling Tokyo to the remote Japanese island of Shio. However, it's not long before several bizarre occurrences crop up around the previously tranquil island. Momo hears strange mumblings coming from the attic of their home. Annoyed by these creepy goings-on and her mother's refusal to believe them, Momo embarks on a strange and supernatural adventure to discover the source of the mischief, which leads her to a trio of troublesome imps.

I'm so glad I don't have a gang of yokai hanging around, they can be quite something to deal with it turns out. A Letter to Momo uses a very realistic animation style, not unlike the works of Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), and it looks amazing throughout the film. It's full of Japanese culture and customs, not to mention all the folklore coming to life. The three yokai really is what steals the show with all their antics and outbursts. Momo does a great job of balancing a very mature, sad story with quirky and fun characters, and it's a wonderful film that exceeds were many live-action movies only has tried to tell a similar story of loss and finding happiness again afterwards. 

Genre: Animation/Drama

27 November 2017

Sakuran (Japan, 2006)

A young girl is sold into a red-light district brothel and tries to adapt to life as an oiran (courtesan).

Sakuran isn't your typical stale geisha drama, but more like the rebellious sister of period films. A modern, rock-influenced soundtrack go hand in hand with a story that's usually accompanied by lonely koto melodies. The beautiful set designs makes me think of huge theatre productions, and there's a ton of gorgeous shots with cherry trees by moonlight and the colorful environment we're spending our time with. 

Being the directorial debut by Mika Ninagawa, who's famous for her extremely colorful and vivid photography, we're really being treated to her skillful ways of making the picture look like a dazzling, fascinating world. The film is adapted from a manga, so there's plenty of source material to take in. The perfect film to see if you want a stylish geisha film that's not littered with historical inaccuracies like Memoirs of a Geisha (2005). 

Genre: Drama/History