Showing posts with label Japanese. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Japanese. Show all posts

Monday, 22 April 2013

Grave of the Fireflies

I’ve only seen a couple of Studio Ghibli films in the past but each has had an interesting and often unique story. Grave of the Fireflies is the least fantastical and most hard hitting film I’ve seen from the studio and it’s probably also the best. Set at the closing stages of the Second World War it details the struggle for survival of two orphaned children called Seita and Setsuko. The movie has an anti war message at its centre but its main themes are of survival and of sibling love. With their father away at war and their mother killed by falling bombs, the young pair are forced to fend for themselves in a Japan which has no use for them. After initially finding a home with a distant aunt, they soon discover that they aren’t wanted and strike out on their own, finding refuge in an abandoned air raid shelter, scavenging and stealing what food they can lay their hands on.

Grave of the Fireflies is a depressing film both for its overarching themes and also for its individual character arcs. Although I’d heard it wasn’t all fun and games, I was still a little shocked by the brutal honesty with which it depicts war and the ending which is far from what you’d expect for what is essentially a young person’s cartoon. Despite the harrowing themes and images, personally I’d be happy to show the film to a bright child of about ten. If it could hold their attention I think that the movie would both interest and educate them and perhaps open their eyes to their species past, informing their decisions in the future.

Thursday, 28 February 2013


A few years ago I saw a film called Love Exposure by Japanese Director Sion Sono. I’ve seen that film three times now and even though it is over four hours long it has become one of my all time favourites. I’d been on the look out for other films from the Director and came across Himizu, a film set in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake that caused the Tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster.

A fourteen year old boy runs a boat renting business. He is surrounded by an unusual bunch of adult friends who live vagrant lives near his house having been made homeless by the earthquake. With an absent mother and mostly absent and violent father, the boy has constant thoughts of suicide. A girl from his school becomes infatuated with him and attempts to bring his life into focus but struggles against the boy’s violence and depression.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Spirited Away

Often regarded as one of the greatest animated films of all time and Japan’s highest grossing film in history at the time of its release, Spirited Away is an animated adventure, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Ten year old Chihiro is travelling with her parents to their new house when her father takes a wrong turn that leads to what looks like an abandoned Amusement Park. Though scared, Chihiro follows her parents who find the Park deserted but discover food has been left out. As the parents begin to tuck in Chihiro looks around and discovers a Bath House where she meets Haku, a boy who tells her to get back across the river before sunset. As she returns to her parents she discovers they have been turned into pigs and she is stuck in a strange world of spirits where her kind is not welcome.

Spirited Away reminded me of some of the great children’s adventures such as The Goonies or Labyrinth but also features the kind of animation that reminded me of my childhood. The hand drawn style is reminiscent of classic Disney but also of the cartoons that I was bought up on in the late 80s and early 90s. It doesn’t appear to be pushing any boundaries but is deceptively deep and beautiful.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Chunking Express

Set deep inside the sprawling and sweaty mega city that is Hong Kong, Chunking Express tells the story of two love sick policemen who have lost love. The first story stars Takeshi Kaneshiro as Cop 223 who was dumped by his girlfriend on April 1st and decides to wait for her to change her mind until his birthday a month later before moving on. At this time he meets a mysterious woman in a blonde wig (Brigitte Lin) who has connections to the underworld. The second story features Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as Cop 663, a man who has recently been dumped by his air hostess girlfriend. He frequents a small food stall called Midnight Express where the quirky and attractive Faye (Faye Wong) works.

At times I struggled to follow the storyline of the film which was a huge problem for me but there is enough to like besides that, that the film was really enjoyable and it features some great cinematography and quirky ideas. I loved the shots of central characters in slow motion with the rest of the world sped up. They looked fantastic and also worked as a metaphor to show the disconnection and loneliness that you can feel in a big city. The locations were also really interesting as I haven’t seen much Hong Kong cinema before; most of the places were new and exciting to watch.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Love Exposure

One of the longest, strangest and best films I’ve ever seen, Love Exposure is a four hour long Japanese epic written and directed by acclaimed director Shion Sono which tackles themes such as love, lust, religion, the family unit, loss and…um… up skirt photography.

Rather than a plot summery, here is a brief outline of the five main characters. Hopefully it will put across the magnificent uniqueness of this fantastic film.

Yu Honda (Takahiro Nishijima) is a seventeen year old Priest’s son. Following sorrow in his father’s life, the Priest only allows Yu to see him during confession. Yu ends up desperately searching for Sins to commit so that he can tell his father and drifts into the world of up skirt photography which he becomes a master of due to his martial arts skills. After loosing a bet regarding who has the best photo, his friends dare him to dress up as a woman and find a girl to kiss. He comes across a young woman called Yoko who he instantly knows is his ‘Mary’. The only problem is that when they meet, he is in drag as ‘Miss Scorpion’…
Yoko (Hikari Mitsushima) is the same age as Yu and lives with her father’s ex lover Kaori. Her father abused her as a child and as a result she hates all men. One day she is confronted and attacked by a group of men but saved when a strange woman called Miss Scorpion comes to her rescue. She falls instantly in love but at the same time is forced to move in with Kaori’s new lover and his son, Yu who she hates with a passion.
Kaori (Makiko Watanabe) is an early middle aged woman who has spent her life going from one man to another. Along the way she has picked up the daughter of one of these men, Yoko. The two of them bonded as friends and now wherever Kaori goes, Yoko follows. Depressed one day, Kaori finds herself in a Church where she forces herself on the Priest.
Tetsu Honda (Atsuro Watabe) is a Priest, widower and father to Yu. Conflicted between his faith and love of a new woman he starts putting pressure on his son to Sin before eventually disowning him altogether when it becomes clear that his Sins have got out of hand. Along with Kaori and Yoko, he is indoctrinated into a cult called the Zero Church by…
Aya Koike (Sakura Ando) is a member of the Zero Church Cult who indoctrinate families into their circle. Like Yoko she too was abused by her father but instead of escaping, chopped off his penis when he was asleep. Aya turns her attention to Yu and his family when she sees an opportunity to indoctrinate them.

Sunday, 26 August 2012


2008 Oscar winning Japanese film Departures is a deeply moving but sometimes darkly comic look at Japanese funeral ceremonies. Daigo Kobayashi (Masahiro Motoki) is a cellist, playing with an Orchestra in Tokyo until it is shut down due to poor ticket sales. Short of money he is forced to move back to his remote mountain hometown and live in the house that his mother left him when she died. Spotting an advert in the paper for ‘assisting departures’, a job requiring no experience, Daigo goes for an interview. He is immediately hired but soon finds out that the advert had a typo and the job is in fact to prepare the dead for cremation. Daigo keeps his new job secret from his wife Mika (Ryoko Hirosue) for fear that she will disprove and slowly learns the art of the job from his quiet but dedicated boss Shoei (Tsutomo Yamazaki). Despite being initially repulsed by the job, Daigo soon learns to respect the delicate work carried out by himself and his boss but still has to convince his wife and friend Yamashita (Tetta Sugimoto).

Departures is a film that really messed with my emotions. I went from laughing out loud to being close to tears before an emotional but satisfying ending. It is not surprising that the film won so many awards upon its release and continues to be held in such high regard.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Seven Samurai

"I've got nothing out of fighting; I'm alone in the world"

During the late sixteenth century a poor farming village hires seven masterless Samurai to help to combat a group of forty bandits who return each year after harvest to steal their crop. After much searching the farmers eventually discover a wise and experienced Samurai called Kambei (Takashi Shimura) who agrees to not only help them but also find six more Samurai to protect the village.

Along with Kambei the villagers recruit a band of warriors which includes the young and untested Katsushiro (Iaso Kimura), a skilled archer called Gorobei (Yoshio Inaba), Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi) – a solemn and stone faced master swordsman and my favourite, the drunk and unpredictable Kikuchiyo (Toshirō Mifune). Along with Heihachi and Shichirōji they become the Seven Samurai. I hadn’t seen this film before now but had always been aware that it was considered one of the best films of all time. While I’ve definitely seen a lot of films that I prefer, I can understand why it is held in such high regard.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Norwegian Wood

"What if I can't get wet ever again?"

Set in 1960s Japan, Norwegian Wood (Noruwei no mori) is a film about depression, loss and sexuality. After his best friend Kizuki commits suicide aged 17, Watanabe (Ken-ichi Matsuyama) moves to Tokyo and enrols at University in an attempt to escape the depressing nature of his home town. By chance one day he meets his dead friend’s ex-girlfriend Naoko (Rinko Kikuchi) and the two begin a loving but strained relationship. Naoko has never truly got over the death of Kizuki and one day disappears, eventually turning up in a sanatorium deep in the forest. Watanabe tries to maintain both a friendly and sexual relationship with the depressed Naoko but this is made difficult by her mental state and the introduction of the outgoing and self confident Midori (Kiko Mizuhara) who vies for Watanabe’s affections.

Thursday, 5 April 2012


Zatoichi is a 2003 Samurai action/comedy/drama written, starring and directed by Takeshi Kitano. Kitano, probably best known in the west for his game show Takeshi’s Castle and appearance in Battle Royale plays the title role of Zatoichi, a blind Samurai who comes to the aid of a town being ravaged by gang war. In the town, Zatoichi befriends a local farmer and helps two Geisha to enact revenge on the gang leaders who killed their family.   

The opening scene, which is darkly comic and features copious amounts of blood letting, sets the tone for the rest of the film. The film contains the kind of cartoon like yet realistic blood splattering that Quentin Tarantino used to such great effect in Kill Bill. It is always over the top and unnecessary but very entertaining. The film also features some quite surreal comic moments which includes the occasional appearance of a local fat man running around a house in his underwear, holding a spear and screaming as though he is going into battle. The fight scenes, as well as being wonderfully well choreographed are also often humorous.

So far, so good. For me the film falls down when the comedy and violence are left behind in favour of the rival gangs’ story. I couldn’t get into it and found it overlong and tedious. I wasn’t invested enough in any of the characters outside of Zatoichi and the film suffers when he isn’t on screen. I thought that parts of the plot were overly complex and the twist about who was really in charge was obvious.

Overall I’d say that I enjoyed the film but only up to a point. I’d watch a sequel but I’d like more Zatoichi and less of the faltering side story. The fights look great and the film is very funny but it was too long and often boring.   


Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Three Extremes

WARNING - Adult Content. Do not read this post if you are easily offended.

Three Extremes is a trilogy of short horror films from three of East Asia’s most celebrated directors and whose films are at the more extreme end of Asian cinema.

The first segment Dumplings from Hong Kong director Fruit Chan is a disturbing and gruesome tale about a middle aged actress whose husband is having an affair with a younger woman. She visits seedy back street ‘doctors’ who prescribes her something that she is told will rejuvenate her and make her more attractive to her wayward husband. The prescription is, wait for it and get ready to double take, to eat chopped up human foetuses that have been prepared as dumplings. This is probably the most sick and disgusting idea I’ve ever seen in a film and didn’t blink for about a minute after it was revealed. And if you think that is bad, the ending is worse! What adds to the already horrific nature of the film is that the music used is more reminiscent of a French romantic comedy that a sick Asian horror. The film is well acted and directed and has a grimy and seedy look to it which works well. It is a shocking and deeply disturbing film that I shall not forget in a hurry. The slurping, crunching noise alone is enough to put me off dumplings for life.

With Dumplings setting the tone, the second segment is Cut from visionary Korean director Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Thirst). The story revolves around a film director and his wife who are kidnapped by a psychopathic extra from his films and forced to play his sadistic games. While not as upsetting as Dumplings, Cut is a deeply unsettling psychological horror with darkly comic undertones. Park is the master of suspense and uses is to great effect here. His use of light in early scenes is also superb. The film additionally features immaculate cinematography and a wonderful tracking shot in its opening scene. The story is twisted and features great acting from Lee Byung-hun (I Saw the Devil) and Lim Won-hie who brings an air of farce to his psychopathic, ogre character. The film looks beautiful and despite an ending which confused me is my favourite of the three.

The final segment is Box from acclaimed Japanese director Takashi Miike (Audition, 13 Assassins). His film is more subdued and sombre than the first two and much less frantic. Its pace is slower and feels more like a feature than a short, despite being only around 40 minutes long. The story is of an ex circus performer who is haunted by the ghost of her sister who she was accidentally responsible for killing as a child. As a child she was jealous of her father’s incestuous relationship with her twin and that caused her to lock her sister in box before a fire. That’s as far as I can go with the plot because I’m not totally sure what is real, a dream or imagined but it gets pretty weird! I was a bit too confused to enjoy it as much as the other two but it is beautifully shot and has an interesting idea behind it.

All three films are worth watching if you can stomach the more extreme end of modern cinema. All three are made by film makers who are masters of their craft and in the case of Park and Miike whose films I am familiar with give you a sneak peek at the sort of films they are making every year.     


Monday, 5 March 2012


Confessions is a Japanese psychological thriller about a teacher who seeks revenge after two of her pupils kill her young daughter. The film is told mostly through a series of written confessions in the shape of diary entries, letters and blogs, each being narrated by the character doing the writing. These intertwine and converge to complete a thrilling and uneasy film, full of twists and suspense.

The film opens with an impressive thirty minute monologue delivered by Takako Matsu who plays the principle character and teacher of a class of unruly thirteen year olds. The monologue, set in a classroom, is interspersed with flashbacks to her daughter’s death as she announces calmly to the class that her daughter has been killed by two of their number. She then goes on to let the class in on whom the culprits are and explain that she has laced the milk that they just drank with the HIV virus. The whole scene is performed magnificently by Matsu who delivers the monologue in an ominous yet calm and distant monotone. After this, the teacher warns the class that if anyone tells their parents then she will infect them too, and leaves the school for good. The rest of the film follows the lives of the two murderous school children over the next few months of their lives as they and their class deal with what has happened.

The film features some of the cornerstones of Asian cinematic themes. The story is one of vengeance which features prominently in the likes of Takashi Miike’s harrowing Audition and Park-Chan wook’s superb Oldboy, not to mention Quentin Tarantino’s Japanese inspired Kill Bill. Another theme of the film is juvenile delinquency, something that features significantly in Japanese horror due to Japanese children’s world renowned respect for their elders and good behaviour. This fear of aberrant children has been used to greatest effect in Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale but is taken to new heights in Confessions. Without giving too much away, some of the younger characters in the film are beastly and could give We Need to Talk About Kevin’s title character a run for his money. Other themes include loneliness and abandonment and as we learn more about the back story we begin to understand more about the motives for each of the central characters. This is never straight forward however and is released in a series of bluffs and counter bluffs which unbalance the audience.

I was slightly put off by the over-stylised directing, art direction and cinematography and was sometimes left wishing that Tetsuya Nakashima would just let the film play out without the slow motion, oddly placed shots of inanimate objects and cut scenes of clouds as the story is strong enough and powerful enough not to need it. I get the metaphor of the gathering storm but the film reminded me far too much of Zach Snyder and that’s never a good thing. I also found the choice of music slightly odd. It was a mixture of western pop songs and classical music interspersed with white noise from a guitar. Sometimes the white noise added to the tension but the story created enough tension without it while I thought the western pop music was misplaced.

The acting from the main cast was excellent. Takako Matsu conveys the heartbreak at losing her daughter while also she also maintains a creepy and calculating air to her. The three main child actors are also fantastic and deserve special mention. All three perform excellently and don’t have easy roles to play. It is rare to see acting of this standard from such a young cast. The rest of the cast are a bit hit and miss but don’t feature too much anyway.

The film’s suspense and mystery build to a horrifying yet strangely satisfying end in the third act and it completes a wonderfully thrilling and well told film that features some astonishing acting and a compelling and gripping story.