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

17 April 2015

Fatal Frame (Japan, 2014)

Michi, a student in a conservative all-girls school, must resolve the mysterious disappearances and deaths of her fellow classmates after they found an intriguing but haunting photo of Aya, the best singer of her class, who apparently is being held locked in her room, physically but not spiritually. A death curse is placed to anyone who sees Aya's photo, which seems to be taken with a "Camera Obscura". Michi, with the help of her photography skills, might stop it before the spirit of Aya takes her life too and the curse continues to spread in- and outside the school.
Here's an interesting one. Fatal Frame is a movie which I've been looking forward to seeing for quite a while now. Mostly because it's based on a very creepy series of horror video games also titled Fatal Frame. Here's the thing, I was never expecting anything more than some cheap thrills and constant jump-scares. Films based on video games seldom amount to anything amazing, but what I got was something completely different.
Fatal Frame is completely void of jump-scares and lame attempts at trying to make the viewer have a heart attack. Instead, it's a much more ambitious film which goes all-in on atmosphere and story. One of the films best aspects are the visuals. The cinematography and photo are just a wonder to behold, and more than once I was taken back at how skillfully shot this film is. One of the reasons for this could be that the director, Mari Asato, studied under two famous horror film makers: scriptwriter Hiroshi Takahashi ("Ring"), and Kiyoshi Kurosawa ("Cure"). Seem like that could only lead to great things.
One review I read for Fatal Frame complained that it wasn't scary, and while that is somewhat true, it's a very minor complaint when seeing how this film pretty much nails everything else. It actually reminds me of Kiyoshi Kurosawa in some ways, where the horror rarely gets in your face but always is present. And to succeed with that is a much harder thing to do than just have a screaming ghost pop out. So, all in all, Fatal Frame is a film done with extreme care and an unexpectedly more serious take on the source material, and a beautiful horror story that doesn't insult your intellect. 
Genre: Horror

3 April 2015

When Marnie Was There (Japan, 2014)

A young girl is sent to the country for health reasons, where she meets an unlikely friend in the form of Marnie, a young girl with flowing blonde hair. As the friendship unravels it is possible that Marnie has closer ties to the protagonist than we might expect.

When Marnie Was There is a sad movie for a lot of reasons. First, it's a sweet story about two young girls who become each others best friends, but underneath the innocent relationship lies a far deeper and tragic bond between them. Secondly, it is animation house Studio Ghibli's (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke) last film before taking a very long hiatus, or even stop making films altogether. Very sad indeed. It's all very emotional, basically. A great film from some of the best minds in the animation industry.

Genre: Animation/Drama

20 March 2015

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (Japan, 2001)

In the year 2065, the next great assault against an invading race of phantom-like aliens is about to be launched. Dr. Aki Ross, a brilliant young scientist, races to find the invaders' secrets, not only to save the planet, but herself as well after her body is infected by alien particles. She teams up with the prestigious Deep Eyes military squadron, led by her old friend Grey Edwards. But as Aki, her mentor Dr. Sid, and Grey work toward a peaceful end, the scheming General Hein devises a plot to eradicate the aliens in one swift, destructive blow...even if it destroys the Earth right along with them.

At the release back in 2001, The Spirits Within failed miserably at the box office. It made game developer Squaresoft (who made the film) to give up on making any more films and cost them tons and tons of money. So why did it fail to impress the viewers? One reason is that Squaresoft is famous for making amazing games with great stories and people had high expectations on the movie. The story in The Spirits Within isn't amazing in any way, but it's entertaining and gives good excuses for showing us some lovely sci-fi imagery and alien action. The animation is also very good for its time, and never did I wish that it looked better. 

Genre: Animation/Action/Adventure

11 March 2015

Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris (Japan, 1999)

This final installment of the recent Gamera trilogy begins with schoolgirl Ayana discovering a large egg in a cave that, according to legend, houses demons. The egg hatches into a small monster, which Ayana decides to raise and quickly develops as psychic bond with. As Ayana's monster, named Iris, grows to adulthood, the flying turtle Gamera begins to take an interest in this new potential threat. Who will be the victor in the final battle, and how much of Japan will be left standing at the end? 

I've already written about the second Gamera reboot film, Attack of Legion (1996), so now we're at the last film of the trilogy. Just like the previous one, Revenge of Iris gives us some mighty impressive city destruction and chaos, and the best thing is that it's mostly practical effects. Amazing practical effects. The story isn't exactly as incredible as the effects, but it does its job and works well, I think. Watch it if you want to see giant monsters battle it out in the streets of Tokyo.

Genre: Action

3 March 2015

Uzumasa Limelight (Japan, 2014)

Seiichi works at Nichiei Studios in Uzumasa, Kyoto, Japan. He only plays characters who get slashed by the sword. Due to the popularity of other types of dramas, his workload has been steadily declining. Seiichi then meets a young girl, Satsuki. She is a fan of his work and wants to learn from him. Thanks to Seiichi's instructions, Satsuki becomes a star in Tokyo. She is cast as the lead female character in a big budget historical film. She hopes to work with Seiichi who is already retired.

Uzumasa Limelight is a heartfelt story where we meet an aging actor who specializes in being killed on screen, finds himself becoming obsolete when young new actors are becoming the next big thing in samurai movies. The idea feels original and entertaining, and not at all without its fair share of melancholy.

Genre: Drama

20 February 2015

On the Occasion of Remembering the Turning Gate (South Korea, 2002)

Actor Kyung Soo leaves Seoul to visit an old classmate. The reunion with his friend does not amount to much, but the trip does lead to some romantic encounters. He gets involved with two women, first a young college student whom he leaves without a moment's thought and then a woman whom he deems his fated partner. As Kyung Soo becomes increasingly invested in this second relationship, he begins to notice certain coincidences and similarities that recall past pairings, blurring his conception of exactly which woman, which relationship, he is so desperately holding on to.

Turning Gate feels like a romantic drama, but without all the usual sweet romance. Instead it's a more realistic take on what can happen when you fall head first for someone and it doesn't always go your way. 

Genre: Drama

18 February 2015

A Girl at My Door (South Korea, 2014)

Young-nam was a promising graduate of the police academy before she was transferred to the small seaside village, which was caused by her misconduct. On her first day to the village, she encounters with Dohee who is the girl living in the town, seeming to have somewhat gloomy looking face. As Young-nam tries to accommodate with her new surroundings, an accident of Dohee's grandma getting killed by falling in the seashore cliff happens. As to protect the girl from her stepfather's abuse, Young-nam let Dohee stay at her place but things turn out to be more mysterious as she gets to know her.

A Girl at My Door features Doona Bae (Air Doll, The Host) in the main role as a cop who don't really know what to do when a young girl is constantly being beaten by her dad and shows up at her house afterwards. As most often, she gives a great performance. Not a movie that breaks any sort of formula or does anything new, but still a good film.

Genre: Drama

9 February 2015

Doppelganger (Japan, 2003)

Hayasaki is an inventor working on an Artificial Body. It is not going well and he is stressed out and on the verge of being fired from the research division of his company. His doppelganger appears to help him out of the rut he has created for himself.

I saw Doppelganger a couple of years ago and it didn't impress me as much as when I recently re-watched. I think it's because I had soaring expectations due to the fact that it's directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Cure), who's somewhat of a personal favorite. The concept of Doppelganger is fascinating and interesting, and Koji Yakusho (Shall We Dance?) gives a smashing performance as two completely different individuals.

Genre: Comedy/Thriller

1 February 2015

Han Gong-ju (South Korea, 2013)

Han Gong-Ju is taken to a home in an unfamiliar area. The home belongs to her former high school teacher's mother. The mother wants to know why her son is leaving Han Gong-Ju there, even if he promises she will be there for only a week. An investigation is ongoing back in Han Gong-Ju's hometown. Can Han Gong-Ju escape from her past?

If you want to watch something cheerful and uplifting, look away now. Han Gong-ju is one hell of a tragic and bleak story which follows a girl who've experienced something awful and is trying to move on, but it's also very powerful and features some great performances. I strongly recommend it, but I hope you don't feel too horrible after watching it.

Genre: Drama

31 January 2015

Real Fiction (South Korea, 2000)

The film follows a South Korean artist as he systematically seeks out, and then guns down his real or imagined enemies.

The cool thing about Real Fiction is the fact that it was shot entirely in real-time. You won't see any retakes here. The film also plays around with the concept of what is real and what's not. If you're a fan of Kim Ki-duk (3-Iron, The Isle) you should take the time to see this little film of his, because it has his name written all over it.

Genre: Crime/Drama