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 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

30 January 2015

Roaring Currents (South Korea, 2014)

Roaring Currents mainly follows the famous 1597 Battle of Myeongryang during the Japanese invasion of Korea (1592-1598), where the iconic Joseon admiral Yi Sun-sin managed to destroy a total of 133 Japanese warships with only 13 ships remaining in his command. The battle, which took place in the Myeongryang Strait off the southwest coast of the Korean Peninsula, is considered one of the greatest victories of Yi.

Roaring Currents (a.k.a. The Admiral) became the biggest film of all time at the South Korean box office, and the first local film to gross more than US$100 million. That is insane considering the small amount of hype the film has gotten. The thing that got me interested was that Choi Min-sik (Oldboy) plays the titular admiral, and he's an actor I never will stop keeping an eye on. 

Roaring Currents is, as one would have guessed, a huge and epic war movie. The second half is basically an enormous naval battle with bloody fights sprinkled in-between. Recommended for those who like action packed period films which are based on true events. 

Genre: Adventure/Biography/History/War

28 January 2015

The Wig (South Korea, 2005)

In Seoul, Su-Hyeon is terminal with leukemia, and bald due the treatment of chemotherapy. Her sister Ji-Hyeon buys a long-haired wig, but she does not disclose the truth about Su-Hyeon's health condition to her beloved sister. While wearing the wig, Su-Hyeon recovers her health and hits Ji-Hyeon's former boyfriend Ki-Seok, changing her behavior and relationship with her sister. When Ji-Hyeon discovers that the wig is possessed by a fiend, she finds that it was manufactured using hair of a cadaver and a dark secret about Ki-Seok's sentimental life.

Exte: Hair Extensions (2007), which has been featured on this blog, is somehow not the only film to have murderous hair as the antagonist. Though, The Wig (a.k.a. Scary Hair) is a tad more serious and the plot has a few more layers than Exte. A couple of nasty scenes (one in particular is really gross) and a spooky atmosphere makes The Wig a decent film for the horror fans. Even though it's still kinda silly with killer hair.

Genre: Horror

25 January 2015

Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (Japan, 2014)

Shishio has set sail in his ironclad ship to bring down the Meiji government and return Japan to chaos, carrying Kaoru with him. In order to stop him in time, Kenshin trains with his old master to learn his final technique.

The final installment in the Rurouni Kenshin-trilogy is here at last. The stakes are higher, and the samurai are all gathering for the final battle. The Legend Ends blow our minds once again with flawless sword fighting and insanely stylish fight choreography, just like the two previous films. The fight with Sojiro Seta is a personal favorite of mine, as it also was in the previous film Kyoto Inferno (2014). Apparently there were some changes made to the original story, so manga and anime purists may not appreciate it as much as those who've never delved into the series before. That aside, it's still a genuinely awesome and well crafted movie that should impress anyone who wants good action, cool characters and an entertaining story.

Genre: Action/Adventure/Drama

24 January 2015

Exte: Hair Extensions (Japan, 2007)

Customs agents discover a huge amount of human hair used as materials for 'hair extensions' along with the dead body of a young girl with a shaved head. With the corpse being soon transported by the police, the results of the autopsy determine that the woman's internal organs have been harvested. The possibility is pointed out that she was kidnapped in some foreign country and was a victim of black market human organ racketeering ring. A sinister, fearless smirk comes over Yamazaki, the morgue night watchman.

As I've said before, I'm rarely impressed by the works of director Shion Sono. Only on rare occasions has he made a film I can tolerate (Suicide Club, Cold Fish), and Exte is one of those. The premise is kind of silly and it's important not to take it too seriously, so if you can do that it's a fun horror flick with creepy ghost hair spilling out of peoples bodies. 

Genre: Comedy/Horror