5 May 2016

Bakuman (Japan, 2015)

Moritaka, a junior high student, forgets his notebook in class. His classmate Akito notes Mashiro's drawings in it and asks him to become a manga artist to his stories. Mashiro declines. Takagi incites Mashiro to meet with Miho Azuki, Mashiro's crush, and tells her the two plan to become mangakas (manga artists). In response, Azuki reveals her plans to be a voice actress. Mashiro proposes to her that they should both marry when Azuki becomes a voice actress for the anime adaptation of their manga. The two then start creating their manga, under the pen name Muto Ashirogi, in hopes of getting serialized in Weekly Shounen Jump.

If you have any sort of interest in manga, Bakuman is definitely a movie you should check out. It started out as a manga series of its own, created by the same team behind Death Note, another amazing manga and later animated series. Bakuman follows two students behind the stressful scenes of drawing manga for a big publication, and have a lot of fun with it too. It was super interesting to learn exactly how a series is developed and finalized, and while there's also a story of rivalry and friendship going on was great. 

Genre: Comedy

4 May 2016

Hana and Alice (Japan, 2004) & The Case of Hana and Alice (2015)

Upon entering high school, two best friends named Hana and Alice notice a boy a year older them while waiting for the train, and they both develop a pretty strong crush on him. One day while secretly following him home, Hana witnesses the boy walk right into a wall and pass out. When he wakes up, she lies and convinces him that he must have amnesia, because he doesn't remember the fact that she was his girlfriend. After this, hilarity ensues as the two girls attempt to run with the lie. Of course, complications soon arise.

Hana and Alice is directed by the wildly talented Shunji Iwai, who's given us fantastic films such as Love Letter (1995), April Story (1997 and All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001). With Hana and Alice, he perfectly captures the big and small events happening in Japanese school culture, and puts two teenage schoolgirls in the middle of love dramas and murder mysteries. In 2015 it was followed up by an animated prequel which had a bit more engaging story and an animation style which looked a little unusual. Two slice-of-life kind of films with two likeable main characters to befriend. 

Genre: Drama

29 April 2016

The Boy and the Beast (Japan, 2015)

When Kyuta, a young orphan living on the streets of Shibuya, stumbles into a fantastic world of beasts, he's taken in by Kumatetsu, a gruff, rough-around-the-edges warrior beast who's been searching for the perfect apprentice. Despite their constant bickering, Kyuta and Kumatetsu begin training together and slowly form a bond as surrogate father and son. But when a deep darkness threatens to throw the human and beast worlds into chaos, the strong bond between this unlikely family will be put to ultimate test-a final showdown that will only be won if the two can finally work together using all of their combined strength and courage.

The Boy and the Beast tells a fantastic coming-of-age story in a world of monsters. It was written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda, the animation master behind films such as Wolf Children (2012) and Summer Wars (2009), so it's a huge step up compared to your everyday anime series/film. The action is fast as lightning and flawlessly animated, and it all builds up to a spectacular, satisfying climax.

While showering you with drool-worthy animation, Hosoda also writes an emotional story about growing up and realizing who you are. The plot has a lot of sad undertones, but that makes it more effective. To me it felt like The Jungle Book meets Kill Bill, which of course is all kinds of awesome.

Genre: Animation/Action/Adventure

28 April 2016

Over Your Dead Body (Japan, 2014)

A star, Miyuki, plays Oiwa, the protagonist in a new play based on the ghost story Yotsuya Kaidan. She pulls some strings to get her lover, Kosuke cast in the play, even though he's a relatively unknown actor. Other performers Rio and Jun lust after Miyuki. Off stage the cast's possessive love and obsessions exist as reality. Trapped between the play and reality, the cast's feelings for each other are amplified. When it becomes clear that love is not meant to be both on and off stage, love turns into a grudge and crosses the blurred line between reality and fantasy.

Movies that play with the concept of blending reality and fiction are always a treat. Here, director Takashi Miike (Audition) orchestrates a horror theatre where the macabre is seeping out into the real world. Great looking film with atmospheric, beautifully shot sets and all those splashes of blood we all expect when watching a film by Miike. 

Genre: Drama/Horror

25 January 2016

Bounce Ko Gals (Japan, 1997)

Lisa is 16. She is leaving for New York tomorrow at 11 a.m. She saved some money but she would like to get some more - just in case. As she tries to make money by shooting a video for girls-in-school-uniforms-demanding men she loses everything except her ticket. She meets two highschool girls, Raku and Jonko, professional call-girls, and spends the last night with them trying to make up the money that was stolen from her.

Admittedly, there's no shortage of films dealing with messy teenage life, but spending a night in Tokyo's more perverted societies is quite a trip. Bounce Ko Gals dishes out a healthy dose of social criticism, portraying an underworld where schoolgirls are the merchandise of the everyday Japanese "salaryman".  

Genre: Drama

24 January 2016

Kamikaze Taxi (Japan, 1995)

A young foot soldier in the yakuza seeks revenge when his prostitute girlfriend dies after a session with a high-ranking Japanese politician with a taste for torture. He sets out on a 'kamikaze' mission to kill his bosses and the politician; along the way, he acquires the aid of a taxi driver who has recently returned to Japan after living in South America for several decades and is struggling to cope with poverty and the prejudices of native-born Japanese.

I'm a broken record about this but Koji Yakusho makes every film so much better. Here, he lends his hand to a second-rate thug who's trying to tear down a whole crime syndicate. It's a bit on the long side, clocking in at 134 minutes, and yet it manages to never get stale. So grab a beer (or some other beverage of choice) and experience a crazy taxi ride from the wonderful age of 90's Japanese action.

Genre: Action/Crime

23 January 2016

Wood Job! (Japan, 2014)

After failing his university entrance examinations and being left by his girlfriend, Yuki Hirano decides to join a forestry training program only to discover that the job is much harder than he expected working under his high demanding boss.

Wood Job! is your typical feel-good story about a young man who tries to gain the interest of a girl, only set in the Japanese wilderness. I've seen a lot of films lately that constantly tried to be funny but fell flat, Wood Job! manages to be both cute and funny by just naturally letting the story play out. Nothing new really, but nonetheless an entertaining trip into the lives of lumberjacks.

Genre: Drama/Comedy

19 January 2016

The Ravine of Goodbye (Japan, 2013)

A child's horrific murder brings to light the haunted truth of an affair between her mother and a neighbor. As a magazine reporter investigates the case, he finds that nothing is as it seems.

The Ravine is based on a novel written by Shuichi Yoshida who also wrote A Story of Yonosuke (2013) and Villain (2010), two films I like so much that it basically becomes a principal thing for me to watch this film also. The Ravine deals with characters with secrets, dark secrets which become uprooted in a murder case that takes place in a deep, idyllic valley. It would have benefited from being an half hour shorter, but still, it's a somber drama with a dark portrayal of romance.   

Genre: Drama

18 January 2016

Men Behind the Sun (Japan, 1988)

Story of a Japanese terror camp in the end of WW2, where the Japanese are using the Chinese as guinea pigs in terrible experiments to develop deadly bacterial-plagues.

This is a film I easily can imagine being passed around as a bootleg in the 90's between gore and horror film aficionados. Men Behind the Sun (a.k.a. Camp 731) doesn't impress too much in terms of special effect quality but it's the thought of how accurate the events are depicted that's most sickening. The director did years of research and wanted to show exactly what kind of cruelties went on inside of Camp 731. Due to the fact that a special effect industry didn't exist when this film was made a lot of the gore had to be improvised in other ways, for example using real corpses (yes, seriously) and real body parts from recently deceased people. A certain controversial "cat scene" was also a primitive way of making it look like a cat is being eaten by hundreds of rats when it in fact was perfectly safe for the cat. 

So, a lot of disturbing scenes that shows the inhumane experiments the Japanese carried out, and not a happy moment in sight. Though it's an impressive retelling of what happened in one of WW2's darkest moments.

Genre: Drama/History/Horror

17 January 2016

R100 (Japan, 2013)

An ordinary man with an ordinary life joins a mysterious club. The membership lasts for one year only and there is one rule: no cancellation under any circumstance. The man enters into a whole new exciting world he never before experienced where crazy love goes wilder and crazier. Is it an illusion or is it real? Welcome to the world no one has dared to explore until now.

Here's a film that easily can make you wonder what the heck you're watching. Directed by Hitoshi Matsumoto, who's previously made films such as Big Man Japan (2007) and Symbol (2009), there's no doubt he's a man who knows how to capture the essence of all that's strange in Japanese culture. R100 unleashes a whole troop of kinky S&M performers and let them have their way with a worn down businessman. The women all have their own special ability: Whip Queen, Saliva Queen, Voice Queen, etc, and when you first get a look at Gobble Queen... oh my God. A hilariously weird and captivating film. 

Genre: Comedy/Drama

10 January 2016

Tag (Japan, 2015)

A girl's life cascades into chaos as everyone around her suffers a gruesome fate while she herself becomes less and less certain of who she is and what kind of a world she lives in.

Tag (a.k.a. Riaru onigokko) is either one of the most exciting films I've seen lately, or one of the worst. Hard to tell. I mean, tons of schoolgirls getting chopped in half by a mysterious force, teachers mowing down students with machine guns and suddenly, traveling between alternate realities? Okay, sure. It was directed by Shion Sono, a director I have talked about before so I don't wan't to repeat myself but let's just say I often struggle to watch his films to the end. Tag, I could at least watch the whole way through and still be entertained by the madness of it. The soundtrack was one of the highlights due to the addition of some song from Japanese post-rock band Mono, which for some reason fit the film really well with their beautiful yet melancholy sound.

Gory, trippy and hopelessly Japanese, Tag should appeal to everyone who's a fan of the bizarre.  

Genre: Horror