1 October 2014

Tetsuo II: Body Hammer (Japan, 1992)

Sequel to Tetsuo: The Iron Man, this time has the Iron Man transforming into cyber-kinetic gun when a gang of vicious skinheads kidnap his son. When the skinheads capture him, they begin to experiment on him... speeding up the mutative process.

The first time I saw Tetsuo II, my expectations were far too high. As I've said before, the first Tetsuo is one of my favorite films so I wasn't expecting anything less than amazing. So of course it came as a huge let down when it didn't even was nearly as good as the original. Since then I've gone back to the sequel with an open mind to see if I made some bad calls, and of course I did. Sure, it's still miles away from being as great as the first one but Tetsuo II is by all means a worthy sequel. The plot is less chaotic and it takes more time to develop a story, and Shinya Tsukamoto is still a cyberpunk wizard behind the camera. Just like the first one there's some really cool use of stop-motion and practical effects. So if you're a fan of the first one, give this one a chance because it really deserves it.

Genre: Horror/Sci-Fi

30 September 2014

All Around Us (Japan, 2008)

In 1993 Kanao and Shoko are a Tokyo couple awaiting the arrival of their first child. Although both have studied art, Kanao works as a shoe repairman which doesn't stretch his rather laid-back style and Shoko works in a small publishing firm. Their home life is marked by some clashes between her attempts at regimentation, including scheduling their sex life on a calendar, and his flirting with other women. Kanao is offered work as a courtroom sketch artist and becomes a witness to the most sensational murder trials of Japan through the next 8 years.

All Around Us is a film I didn't even knew existed until just a while ago, and for being such a good movie it's strange that it had passed by my radar undetected. It's a film with a very steep emotional curve. In other words, the low points are very dark and thick with depression and anxiety, while it as easily can entertain you and have its happy moments. Nonetheless, the characters goes through some very tough times and the performances are effective and convincing. 

Genre: Drama

29 September 2014

Rubber's Lover (Japan, 1996)

A powerful and secretive corporation is conducting underground psychic experiments utilizing Digital Direct Drive, otherwise known as DDD. While under the influence of the drug ether, the human subjects are outfitted in rubber suits and bombarded with DDD with extremely intense sound. Though the experiments are successful in unleashing psychic powers in the test subjects, the results are usually fatal. As a result, the corporation attempts to shut down the experiments against the wishes of Motomiya and Hitotsubashi who are in charge of the research.
Rubber's Lover goes in the same vein as Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), which is an amazing movie. This doesn't have the same level of quality, but still is a recommended watch for people who like bloody body horror and gritty cyberpunk. 

Genre: Horror/Sci-Fi

28 September 2014

Pornostar (Japan, 1998)

Arano knows no fear. When questioned or threatened, his first response is to lash out with a knife. Before long, his natural viciousness is harnessed by some callow pimps against their Yakuza bosses, but Arano (who dreams of knives raining down from the sky) is more of a psychopath than any of them imagined.

Pornostar (a.k.a. Tokyo Rampage) is the directorial debut of Toshiaki Toyoda, who later would make the absolutely brilliant Blue Spring (2001) and also 9 Souls (2003). While not as good as those, Pornostar still is a cool film about a guy who really hates the yakuza and is looking for trouble everywhere he goes.

Genre: Crime

27 September 2014

A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn (Japan, 2003)

A young widow, Noriko, lives with her senile father-in-law, Shukichi, on a farm. He believes his favorite cow, long gone, is still alive. Noriko pretends to be the cow and lets him milk her - a satisfying arrangement for them both.

Probably about 8 out of 10 people will dismiss this film as a very weird soft porn film or perhaps a pink film with a cow fetish (I can't believe I wrote that). All I can say is, sometimes you got to be careful with what you wish for. I wanted to see something  strange and utterly bizarre, and I certainly got just that. Is it too weird? For some, yes it is. But when you been living in the world of the mainstream movies for too long you crave something completely different, but Jesus F. Christ you'd think there'd be a limit to how weird a film can get. 

On the other hand, I love the fact that there's movies such as this one. I mean, in what other film could you find a woman having sex with her father while impersonating a cow. Whait, what?
There's also a lot of explicit content, so mature audiences only.

Genre: Drama/Romance

20 September 2014

The Human Condition (Japan, 1959-1961)

A Japanese pacifist, unable to face the dire consequences of conscientious objection, is transformed by his attempts to compromise with the demands of war-time Japan.

The Human Condition is an epic movie trilogy based on a six-volume novel. Yes, six novels. Every film in the trilogy is around three hours long so it's a mammoth of a story. Unfortunately, I don't think that many people will find the patience to sit through a well over nine hour long trilogy, and that of course is a shame. Those who will though, are going to experience an unforgettable tale of pain, suffering and humiliation. All the horrors that war causes, and also how war changes people.  

Genre: Drama/History/War

Tokyo Twilight (Japan, 1957)

Two sisters find out the existence of their long-lost mother, but the younger cannot take the truth of being abandoned as a child.

Tokyo Twilight is a film by the master Yasujiro Ozu, the director of classics such as Tokyo Story (1953) and Floating Weeds (1959). Tokyo Twilight feels like a relatively dark Ozu film, and I won't spoil anything but let's just say there's not much room for happy faces. 

I've talked about Ozu's film style before, so let's just say it's beautiful. The angles, the placement and the overall stillness of his camera are just perfect.

A fantastic, low-key story about confronting the past.

Genre: Drama

19 September 2014

The Naked Island (Japan, 1960)

Deals with the intolerably hard life of a family of four, the only inhabitants of a very small Japanese island in the Setonaikai archipelago. Several times a day they row over to the neighboring island to fetch water for their miserable fields.

The Naked Island is known for having no dialogue, and I am all for movies with little or no dialogue when it's done well. People who follow this blog may have noticed that I praise South Korean director Kim Ki-duk a lot for making movies with barely any spoken words. There's just something about that I find very interesting and different from most other films.

Other than that, I should say that I hope you brought your patience with you because The Naked Island has a slow tempo. It depicts a tough life where there's lots of carrying water and lots of harvesting crops. It may sound boring but you just have to be in the right mood, because it's a good film with great cinematography.

Genre: Drama

18 September 2014

Crazed Fruit (Japan, 1956)

Spending their summer on an exotic beach, two brothers fall for the same beautiful girl, whose charm and looks may hide more than they they bargained for.

Love can truly be the most thing in the world. It can also be the worst. As much as it can make you walk on clouds and feel such a deep happiness, it can bring out the very worst in you and make you taste horrible feelings like jealousy and hate. Without spoiling too much, Crazed Fruit shows the full spectrum of romance and not just the good parts. 

Not too long, so it doesn't drag on. An oldie but goodie, for sure.

Genre: Drama

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 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