Archive

Japan-O-Rama

JAPANORAMA - Gang of 3 BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpg

Yakuza Apocalypse, frogman, 極道大戦争, Gokudō Daisensō, Takashi Miike, Yayan Ruhian, Rirî Furankî, Hayato Ichihara, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Riko Narumi, Pierre Taki, Ryushin Tei,

Yakuza Apocalypse: a virus that turns everyone into a yakuza mobster is sweeping through a sleepy Japanese town; along with some vampires, goths, and a ninja frogman. There are two fairly major signs that you’ll either love or hate this film: firstly, the ‘Mangalogo guarantees some mental Japanese stuff; secondly, Takashi Miike directing is another indicator of mental Japanese stuff. Suffice to say that there’s so much silly, random, and mental Japanese stuff (like a bird goblin man, kung fu frogman in a frog suit – mostly for no obvious reason) that it becomes a chore to keep up with. You get the feeling that Miike was going for a ‘Happiness of the Katakuris’ vibe, but got bogged down in the randomness and forgot about the plot. It opens with an ultra-violent bloodbath, but stalls immediately after and never really hits the top gear again: even the anti-fight at the end is a disappointing reductive idiom gag (massive build up / deliberately rubbish fight). A disappointing non-film from one of the most hit-or-miss directors on the planet. One for the Manga / Japanese / Miike fanboys only.

Score: 3.5/10

Yakuza Apocalypse, Boss Fight, Finale, 極道大戦争, Gokudō Daisensō, Takashi Miike, Yayan Ruhian, Rirî Furankî, Hayato Ichihara, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Riko Narumi, Pierre Taki, Ryushin Tei,

Yakuza Apocalypse, Poster, 極道大戦争, Gokudō Daisensō, Takashi Miike, Yayan Ruhian, Rirî Furankî, Hayato Ichihara, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Riko Narumi, Pierre Taki, Ryushin Tei,

JAPANORAMA - Seven Monkey BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpg

47 Ronin, Big Ninja Boss, Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi, Ko Shibasaki, Min Tanaka, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Jin Akanishi, Masayoshi Haneda, Masayuki Deai, Togo Igawa, Gedde Watanabe,

47 Ronin [mild spoilers]: follows a group of disgraced samurai as they set out to avenge their murdered master. As it’s a Hollywood film it obviously contains every single ‘western portrayal of Asia’ pitfall imaginable – everyone speaking ‘Engrish’, exotic mystique, ninjas/samurai everywhere, forbidden gaijin romance, cherry blossom, western warrior, kanji writing, tradition, tradition, tradition… Because of this – and given the foul reviews this received – I was expecting something woeful, but this is pleasantly surprising. The visuals are fantastic: it is a touch over-styalised – some parts feel like Sucker Punch set in feudal Japan – but the costumes, textures, sets, CGI backgrounds are all eye-poppingly sumptuous: it’s up there with The Fall’s immaculate design. Story-wise, other than a few swashbuckling & sword fighting action set pieces, this is definitely more of a drama than you expect: the story arcs are all fairly standard until the ‘happy’ ending – a mass samurai suicide instead of a mass criminal hanging – yay! The biggest complaint you hear about this is that it’s nothing like the original story: WTF?! This is a blockbuster movie… and there are so many fictionalized accounts of this tale that there’s a specific entire genre term for it – Chūshingura! The weirdest thing about 47 Ronin is that it plays to two wildly different audiences – it’s half respectful and traditional samurai movie; and half Game of Thrones style middle-earth mayhem (battles, questing, magic & mythology). Overall, it’s an interesting, and beautiful, oddity that could have been great, but is by no means a terrible movie.

Score: 6/10

47 Ronin, Silhouette Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi, Ko Shibasaki, Min Tanaka, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Jin Akanishi, Masayoshi Haneda, Masayuki Deai, Togo Igawa, Gedde Watanabe,

47 Ronin, Set Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tadanobu Asano, Rinko Kikuchi, Ko Shibasaki, Min Tanaka, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Jin Akanishi, Masayoshi Haneda, Masayuki Deai, Togo Igawa, Gedde Watanabe,

JAPANORAMA - Feast BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA

Tokyo Tribe Buppa Nana Seino, Ryōta Satō, Junsuke Daitō, Takuya Ishida, Yui Ichikawa, Mika Kano, Shoko Nakagawa, Shōta Someta, Denden, Yōsuke Kubozuka, Riki Takeuchi, Bernard Ackah, Yoshihiro Takayama, Arata Matsuura, Panda UnitedTokyo Tribe (AKA Tokyo Tribe2, トウキョウ トライブ トゥー, Tōkyō Toraibu Tū): near future Tokyo is divided into sections ruled by street gangs; but war is about to breakout when one gang tries to take over. Just when you think you’ve seen everything from Japan they throw out a West Side Story style film, acted out almost entirely though musical rap battles – a Hip-HOpera! It’s a sweet idea to begin with, but at two hours long it’s stretched to the limit; the continually repeated drum breaks become grating, and forcing the lines to rhyme means the dialogue feels clunky in parts – although it could be lost in translation. Also, because modern music videos have massive production, parts of this look a bit cheap in comparison. The set and character designs are impressive, epic sprawls of graffiti’d urban decay, futuristic nightclubs, and a grand dining room. Not that this needed it, but the manga origins give this licence to be crazy with some hammy acting (Buppa), big haircuts, robo-mecha babes… classic Japan! The action is well executed, and the large-scale finale battle is particularly impressive. It feels like the director knew that the rap-battles would only be novel for so long (it doesn’t help that the narrator / central character is uncharismatic) so he throws up something risqué every 5 mins or so to perk you up; gratuitous nudity and fondling, or provocative and controversial dialogue. From the director of Love Exposure and Cold Fish, this couldn’t be more different – but it’s an even more ambitious, unique, and admirable feat than those.

Score: 5/10

Tokyo Tribe Gang Leaders Nana Seino, Ryōta Satō, Junsuke Daitō, Takuya Ishida, Yui Ichikawa, Mika Kano, Shoko Nakagawa, Shōta Someta, Denden, Yōsuke Kubozuka, Riki Takeuchi, Bernard Ackah, Yoshihiro Takayama, Arata Matsuura, PandaTokyo Tribe Mika Kano Nana Seino, Ryōta Satō, Junsuke Daitō, Takuya Ishida, Yui Ichikawa, Mika Kano, Shoko Nakagawa, Shōta Someta, Denden, Yōsuke Kubozuka, Riki Takeuchi, Bernard Ackah, Yoshihiro Takayama, Arata Matsuura,Tokyo Tribe Gira Gira Prostitutes Dominatrix Whip Nana Seino, Ryōta Satō, Junsuke Daitō, Takuya Ishida, Yui Ichikawa, Mika Kano, Shoko Nakagawa, Shōta Someta, Denden, Yōsuke Kubozuka, Riki Takeuchi, Bernard Ackah, Yoshihiro Takaya
Tokyo Tribe Poster Nana Seino, Ryōta Satō, Junsuke Daitō, Takuya Ishida, Yui Ichikawa, Mika Kano, Shoko Nakagawa, Shōta Someta, Denden, Yōsuke Kubozuka, Riki Takeuchi, Bernard Ackah, Yoshihiro Takayama, Arata Matsuura, Panda Unite

JAPANORAMA - Metal Lord BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpg

If you know any metalheads you’ve probably seen a few links spreading through social media about “The best band you’ve never heard of”. Here’s a brief rundown of the band, and their best songs for you to enjoy.

TL;DR – If you even remotely love Metal, and are open to other genres sneaking in this is absolutely a band you must try.

Listening to Maximum the Hormone is an experience that no other band comes close to. While you’d probably have to class them as a ‘Metal’ / ‘JMetal’ outfit, playing one of their discs is like sprinting through a music store, listening to as many genre sections as you can cram in to four minutes; everything’s covered, from funk and thrash through to pop and ska.

Maximum The Hormone

Maximum The Hormone MTH Rokkinpo GoroshiMost other genre-crossing bands usually stick to one combo – the burgeoning Dance / Metal genre being a popular one (Nine Inch Nails, Rammstein, Mindless Self Indulgence, Enter Shakari etc) – but where MTH stand out is that they do a whole raft of styles, yet they never come across as gimmicky or ridiculous; the switches between styles are all seamless, and ultimately it makes them impressive and admirable to listen to – it also helps that singing duties are split over three vocalists (One screamer, one rapper and a pop singer) and backing vocals done from the fourth.

 

Maximum The Hormone MTH buiikikaesuTheir ‘sound’ is massive; huge, broad and accomplished production that’s evenly split over all frequencies. Whereas most rock bands dial guitar and vocals to 11, the MTH bassist is their main producer, which helps to emphasise the lower range and rhythm tracks. It’s amazing what your ears can pull out of a well-mixed song!

 

Maximum The Hormone MTH Yoshu FukushuThe true beauty of their music is that their songs are packed full of great riffs (from a rock/metal perspective), yet they do justice to all of the genres mentioned above, and many more. Below is a whistle-stop tour of one of the best (Metal) bands in the world, and one that are criminally under-rated – alongside Hot Action Cop, Phil X and The Drills and Danko Jones.

 

Koi No Mega Lover I’d happily put this down as THE best Metal song of the 00s. This has everything that makes the band great: pop-hook vocals, crunching metal riffs, super-tight bass/drum rhythms, and a genre-bending structure. You just can’t help but be uplifted by the greatness of this track – and that’s without even understanding a single lyric. It’s way over five minutes long, but always seems to finish too quickly. (Bonus: Fake subtitle version)

Uehara~Futoshi~ (Apologies for the terrible Anime video) Named after the bassist, this song is raw, fast, angry and bassey, and with one of the most stand-out bass licks since Rancid’s Maxwell Murder. At 2:36 long, it’s one of the band’s shorter tracks, but it doesn’t half pack a punch. Sounds like RHCP in parts (if they were actually good). Signature pop/slap funk bass playing.

Buiikikaesu – a great album-into track that tries its best to prepare you for the rest of the album. It lulls you in with a soft – unassuming – guitar riff, then clobbers you over the head with a wall of Nu-metal riffage, rap rock, slap bass, and pop chorus. This is primal MTH, going from 1-100mph in 5 seconds.

Bikini. Sports. Ponchin’ Split in to several contrasting parts; starting at Emo/Metal with some screaming, an angry rock pre-chorus, which bursts into a disco-inflected funk chorus and middle-eight. On paper a song like this should be terrible; but as MTH prove over and over, any genre can be combined with metal.

A L I E N: sitting at the more extreme end of the spectrum. This one begins with thrash, nosedives into death/grind metal before pulling off one of the most powerful jumps into some bass showboating and short-lived rock riffs that most bands would regurgitate for a full five-minute entire song. Unfortunately, the end of this one digresses to a simple, repetitive power-pop chant for 2 minutes. Still, worth watching for the bizarre video alone.

Rokkinpo Goroshi: another absolute knockout of an opening track. This uses an Asian scale (and some old gongs) to let you know for sure that this is a metal band from the Far East. Twisting between rock, metal

Louisiana Bob: (another poor anime vid) If you ever wanted to here how some crunchingly good, full-bodied, rock production, then this is your track. Metal vocals, rock riffs, rhythmic breakdowns and pop chorus – you know the drill by now.

Chu Chu Lovely Muni Muni Mura Mura Purin Purin Boron Nururu Rero Rero: (again, rubbish video). Classic retro, almost ‘heavy surf rock’ bubblegum chorus hook. But being MTH it’s followed up with some coarse vocals and crushing riffs.

[Remotely decent video unavailable]

My Girl: no, not that one, although it is slipped in right at the end. One of the more steady and straightforward metal tracks in the band’s canon. A good sound mix, catchy vocals and the ‘headbangability’ make this one an instant classic.

JAPANORAMA - Seven Monkey BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpgR100 Review Movie Film Nao Ōmori, Shinobu Terajima, Hitoshi Matsumoto, Ai Tominaga, Eriko Sato, Naomi Watanabe, You, Suzuki Matsuo, Atsuro Watabe, Gin Maeda R100: A quiet salaryman in Japan signs up for a year-long mysterious bondage contract with only one rule – you cannot cancel it. First thing you’ll notice is that this looks weird; the colours aren’t far off black and white and there’s a full-on noir aesthetic (clothes, props, etc). The next strange aspect is the editing: for no reason whatsoever the film keeps ‘stopping’ and cutting to some test viewers trying to figure bits out; and for no reason it dips in to ‘interview’ / ‘documentary’ formats – both tactics demolish the flow of the story. For a whacky, kinky S&M / Bondage comedy… there’s simply not enough laughs, one or two at most, which is unforgivable as a story like this has so, so, so much potential. Overall, R100 is far, FAR too eclectic and random for its own good; but instead of being cult, it’s TRYING to be cult, and falls short, landing up as more ‘rubbish’ than weird, even by Japanese standards.

Score: 2.5/10

JAPANORAMA - Kinkie BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMAAir Doll 01 Bae Doona, Arata, Itsuji Itao, Joe Odagiri, Sumiko Fuji, Masaya Takahashi, Susumu Terajima, Kimiko Yo

Air Doll (空気人形): a lonely singleton falls in love with the blow-up doll that has replaced his girlfriend; and one day she comes to life (this could only be Japanese). The first five minutes are an explosive combination of funny, creepy, peculiar and entertaining. The remaining two hours however is essentially a grating portrayal of childhood innocence, but here’s the kicker: it’s played through the eyes of a sex doll!omfg!! The moment you notice this is the moment this film bursts. It’s full of ludicrously whimsical and increasingly pretentious ‘life lessons’ about what makes humans human, played through a handful of seriously irrelevant stories and sub-minor characters (which I guess is to beef up the runtime). It also features one of my biggest pet hates: the doll gets a job in a DVD rental store so the director can crowbar in a bunch of his favourites / influences / kewl moviez. Worst. Trope. Ever. There are a couple of funny-ish cultural confusion moments, but they’re balanced out by several close-up shots of a removable rubber vagina being washed in a sink: can you say “shock value”? In fact, the only saving grace is the lead actress Bae Doona who does a great job and for the most part doesn’t feel the slightest bit human. Other than the first five minutes this is literally – and figuratively – as exciting as spending almost two hours watching something slowly deflating in front of you. Air Doll comes off the rails far too quickly, never picks back up.

Score: 2/10

Air Doll 02 Bae Doona, Arata, Itsuji Itao, Joe Odagiri, Sumiko Fuji, Masaya Takahashi, Susumu Terajima, Kimiko Yo,Air Doll 03 Bae Doona, Arata, Itsuji Itao, Joe Odagiri, Sumiko Fuji, Masaya Takahashi, Susumu Terajima, Kimiko Yo,

JAPANORAMA - SF WASABI RICE BANNERBabycart in Peril 01 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Endo

Lone Wolf and Cub – Baby Cart in Peril (AKA – 子連れ狼 親の心子の心  Kozure Ōkami: Oya no kokoro ko no kokoro, Shogun Assassin 3: Slashing Blades of Carnage): Ito’s latest contract is to assassinate a killer of many samurai, but to his surprise it’s a lady with outstanding short-blade skills, and in a similar situation to himself… Oyuki presents a very strong female lead, something that the previous movies have had – but not taken this seriously. The very first frame is a tattooed boob, so it starts off great! But soon after there’s a bit of silly magic (face mask magic guy), some sizable flashback sections, and a lot more talking than previous installments. However, as good as the story and premise are, the Babycart films are never better than their action set-pieces: with Wakayama hacking, slashing, and literally flying around the frame – he can’t half move around for a big bloke. The now customary ‘final battle’ with dozens of enemies and a few ‘bosses’ is also great, and for the first time we see him properly injured/vulnerable too. More than anything, the film is a little confused about who the baddie is: the girl? Her nemesis? Itto’s old foe? The big hairy guy? By the fourth movie it does feel a bit like more-of-the-same but the film still pushes the boundaries, and does well to set up the one-armed swordsman myth.

Score: 6/10

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades Review

Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx Review

Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance Review

Babycart in Peril 02 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Endo Babycart in Peril 03 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Endo Babycart in Peril 04 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo EndoBabycart in Peril 05 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Endo Babycart in Peril 06 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Endo Babycart in Peril 07 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Endo Babycart in Peril 08 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Endo Babycart in Peril 10 Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Yoichi Hayashi, Michie Azuma, Asao Koike, Tatsuo Endo

This gallery contains 51 photos.

Konichiwa! Brief interruption from regular film reviewing schedule here. As mentioned earlier in the year, the ongoing JAPAN-O-RAMA feature I’ve been running – in conjunction with some of my favourite movie bloggers – was brought around after I booked a trip from Scotland to Japan. It’s been and gone, and I’m not even going to …

Read More

JAPANORAMA - Feast BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMACold Fish Megumi Kagurazaka, Fukikoshi Mitsuru, Denden, Asuka Kurosawa, Hikari Kajiwara, Tetsu Watanabe, Masaki Miura, Taro Suwa, Jyonmyon Pe, Makoto Ashikawa, Lorena Kotô, Suwaru Ryû, Masahiko Sakata, Sion SonoCold Fish (冷たい熱帯魚, Tsumetai Nettaigyo) (mild spoilers): a mild-mannered fish-shop owner crosses paths with a larger competitor who at first seems like an ideal business partner – but that veneer doesn’t last long. It feels like the director started out with two completely separate film ideas; the first 1-hour 45 contains a pretty credible, low-key, tense, but slow-burning con-man drama – with an off-kilter / black comedy undercurrent. The final act transforms the film into a full-blown slasher – which dwells on depraved sex, violence, gore and some body disposal scenes for a little longer than would be deemed comfortable (or necessary), peaking in a hyper-messy crimson-soaked blood ‘n’ guts finalé – shock cinema at it’s best; or perhaps worst! This wouldn’t usually be a big deal, but at 2.5 hours you could have cut two (better, and) entirely different 90-minute movies out of it – an Evil Dead style gore-romp, or Coenesque black comedy. There are glimpses of superb direction and storytelling, straight off the bat, but they end up getting lost in the bigger-picture. Acting is also solid (the runaway star being leading man Mitsuru Fukikoshi’s full-bodied transformation) – although, along with everything else, it all gets watered down and lost within the superfluous runtime. This would, by normal standards, be anything but an ordinary film – particularly because it’s littered with gropey and sensational sex scenes – but when you’re following up from an epic like Love Exposure, this feels lukewarm in comparison.

Score: 5/10

JAPANORAMA - Kinkie BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMAMidnight Meat Train Bradley Cooper, Leslie Bibb, Brooke Shields, Roger Bart, Ted Raimi, Vinnie Jones, Peter Jacobson, Barbara Eve Harris, Tony Curran, Quinton JacksonThe Midnight Meat Train (Spoilers): A struggling photographer finds more than just inspiration in late-night New York, as he stumbles across the reason why so many of the city’s people go missing. So, the average human body contains over four liters of blood – unless you’re unlucky enough to be on the Midnight Meat Train, where people have infinite blood. The film is everything that you think a movie called “Midnight Meat Train” would be. It’s a shady story that gets weirder and sillier as the film progresses, finishing with something so ridiculous and over-the-top. The acting’s alright for this type of film (gore, schlock, pure B-movie), but the characters are ridiculous. The lead goes from normal to psychotically obsessed within 2 scenes. My favourite thing about this film is that five years ago, Bradley Cooper was the leading man in a movie where an ogre-king pulls his fiance’s heart out, forces Cooper to eat it, before getting his own tongue ripped out! I don’t know if this could ever have been a good movie, but it’s the kind of film that would have worked a lot better if it was all done in Japan and in Japanese, and not just a J-horror director working in Hollywood, with an American cast.

Score: 2/10

JAPANORAMA - Seven Monkey BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpg01 Baby Cart to Hades Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa , Go Kato, Yuko Hamada, Isao Yamagata, Michitaro Mizushima, Ichirô Nakatani, Akihiro Tomikawa, Sayoko Katô, Jun Hamamura, Daigo KusanoLone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (子連れ狼: 死に風に向う乳母車, Kozure Ôkami: Shinikazeni mukau ubaguruma): Ogami Itto saves the honour of a prostitute, which leads to more work as a hired assassin. It’s yet another film that’s packed with effortless cool – slicing down the bamboo trees, ninjas fall down, Bish! Bash! Bosh! Corpses everywhere! This is definitely more wordy than the previous two outings, and the first half is overly similar to a previous story (protecting prozzies honour). The second half isn’t that memorable either, at least not until the absolute bloodbath of a finale. Wakayama plays his character with far more grit than before, he’s colder, and his dialogue is delivered with the most authoritative growl you could imagine. Poor kid though, how much bloodshed should one child be exposed to!?!? Another big game-changer is that this is the first movie in the series to feature guns, which takes the edge – and part of the appeal – from the sword fighting / showdowns. Whilst it’s not a bad film, Baby Cart to Hades isn’t really in the same league as the first two movies, and feels like it’s re-treading some plotlines.

Score: 5.5/10

02 Baby Cart To Hades Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa , Go Kato, Yuko Hamada, Isao Yamagata, Michitaro Mizushima, Ichirô Nakatani, Akihiro Tomikawa, Sayoko Katô, Jun Hamamura, Daigo Kusanom03 Baby Cart to Hades Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa , Go Kato, Yuko Hamada, Isao Yamagata, Michitaro Mizushima, Ichirô Nakatani, Akihiro Tomikawa, Sayoko Katô, Jun Hamamura, Daigo Kusano04 Baby Cart to Hades Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa , Go Kato, Yuko Hamada, Isao Yamagata, Michitaro Mizushima, Ichirô Nakatani, Akihiro Tomikawa, Sayoko Katô, Jun Hamamura, Daigo Kusano05 Baby Cart to Hades Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa , Go Kato, Yuko Hamada, Isao Yamagata, Michitaro Mizushima, Ichirô Nakatani, Akihiro Tomikawa, Sayoko Katô, Jun Hamamura, Daigo Kusano06 Baby Cart To Hades Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa , Go Kato, Yuko Hamada, Isao Yamagata, Michitaro Mizushima, Ichirô Nakatani, Akihiro Tomikawa, Sayoko Katô, Jun Hamamura, Daigo Kusano07 Baby Cart to Hades Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa , Go Kato, Yuko Hamada, Isao Yamagata, Michitaro Mizushima, Ichirô Nakatani, Akihiro Tomikawa, Sayoko Katô, Jun Hamamura, Daigo Kusano

JAPANORAMA - Gang of 3 BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpgTop Happiness of the Katakuris, Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki, Yoshiyuki Morishita

Happiness of the Katakuris (カタクリ家の幸福, Katakuri-ke no kōfuku): a family move to the country to realise the father’s dream of opening a Bed and Breakfast – but it gets a bit weird when all of their guests start dying. The film opens with clay-mation sequence, and throws a load of equally unusual elements at the viewer for the duration: musical numbers (some with Karaoke sing-a-long), zombies, trippy dream sequences, a flying sailor, and a whole lot of gallows humour. To say it’s eclectic is definitely an understatement. Most of the characters are simply drawn, single-attributed batshit crazy people, which makes for entertaining viewing. There’s loads of jokes, but the humour is like no other, a mix of absurd, random and surreal. A re-make of the Korean film “The Quiet Family” (it went down the straight-faced, black-humour route), Happiness of the Katakuris couldn’t be more different. It’s one of those “crazy Japanese films” that could only really come from Japan, and that makes people think that every Japanese film is mental. It’s a tough one to score and review: you couldn’t really call this “a great film”, but it’s definitely unique, original, and every bit as entertaining as it is baffling.

Score: 6/10

Middle Happiness of the Katakuris, Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki, Yoshiyuki Morishita 09 Happiness of the Katakuris, Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki, Yoshiyuki Morishita 06 Happiness of the Katakuris, Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki, Yoshiyuki Morishita 04 Happiness of the Katakuris, Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki, Yoshiyuki Morishita 07 Happiness of the Katakuris, Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki, Yoshiyuki Morishita 08 Happiness of the Katakuris, Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki, Yoshiyuki Morishita 03 Happiness of the Katakuris, Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki, Yoshiyuki Morishita 01 Happiness of the Katakuris, Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki, Yoshiyuki Morishita 02 Happiness of the Katakuris, Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki, Yoshiyuki Morishita 05 Happiness of the Katakuris, Kenji Sawada, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida, Kiyoshiro Imawano, Tetsuro Tamba, Naoto Takenaka, Tamaki Miyazaki, Takashi Matsuzaki, Yoshiyuki Morishita

JAPANORAMA - Kat Scratch BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMAThe Wolverine 01 - Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Will Yun Lee, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Brian Tee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Famke JanssenThe Wolverine: In a way, Wolverine epitomises everything about Japan that you see through Hollywood films: there’s ninjas everywhere, and everyone knows Katrate; crazy districts full of neon lights and big billboards (Shinjuku and Akihabara); old-fashioned houses with sliding shoji walls and tatami floors; technology and Robots everywhere (in this case a 10ft tall mecha-Samurai!!); temples, on every corner; Yakuza interference – obviously; love hotels, The Bullet Train (Shinkansen); and the Tokyo Tower is in the back of every city shot. Yet, whilst it’s using and abusing all of the lazy ‘This is Japan’ stuff we know, it doesn’t feel like it’s exploiting the culture – there’s a lot of nice touches, from the undestractable pachinko players, salarymen in Osaka looking for hostesses, and things like upright chopsticks in food.

THE WOLVERINEAs for the film itself, it feels like three completely separate movies. The first third is a rock solid, well-executed set-up starting in WWII, and laying the ground for the rest of the film. The middle feels like a dip into a tired and clichéd mystery/conspiracy storyline, and the finale – well that just feels like something from a spazzy sci-fi movie, with bald snake-women, giant robots with flaming swords and a whole lot of gratuitous OTT action. I’m surprised at the 12A rating in the UK, as it feels slanted towards a more mature audience than most comic adaptations – including a nice thread of Logan’s dry humour. The Jean Gray plot device is a little hammy, although never going to turn down Famke Yansen in a silky nightgown! Jackman’s on fire, he is the embodiment of Wolverine – down to his permanently-exposed torso – wouldn’t want to be the guy that will inevitably have to re-boot the franchise in 5-10 years as the new Logan. The Japanese cast are also all on form. Overall, The Wolverine is a pretty satisfying comic book movie, but the ever-changing story and tone prevent you from becoming fully immersed in the movie.

Score: 6.5/10

The Wolverine 03 - Hugh Jackman, Hiroyuki Sanada, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima, Will Yun Lee, Haruhiko Yamanouchi, Brian Tee, Svetlana Khodchenkova, Famke Janssen

JAPANORAMA - Yorstat  BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMATokyo Story, Onomichi, Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama, Setsuko Hara, Haruko Sugimura, So Yamamura, Kuniko Miyake, Kyōko Kagawa, Eijirō Tōno, Nobuo Nakamura, Shirō Osaka, Hisao ToakeTokyo Story: two pensioners from the country visit their children in the big smoke of Tokyo. The plot is almost non non-existent; as the plodding inconsequential family ‘drama’ (and I use that term very lightly) highlights the difference in values between the older – pre-WWII – generation and that of their children and grandchildren. To make matters even less exciting, the camerawork is dull, and for the most part, completely static – paired with plain & flat editing and direction. After the first hour it begins to feel more like an endurance test, and it definitely feels longer than its 136 minute runtime. In fairness, from an historic point of view, the film works best as a snapshot of Japanese life, and a turning point in the culture. There’s also a few touching scenes like the old guys talking about losing kids in the war, and how they all feel let down by their surviving children. As a period drama, this one is passable, but you just sit yearning for some plot or drama – 0% escapist and 0% cinematic. I don’t think it’s a completely terrible film, but that it relates to older generations – I feel like I’ll watch this in 30 years time and be devastated; but for now, it’s more like Tokyo BOREY!

Score: 2/10

JAPANORAMA - Gang of 3 BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpgShield Straw Takao Osawa, Nanako Matsushima, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Goro Kishitani, Masatoh Ibu, Kento Nagayama, Kimiko Yo, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Takashi MiikeShield of Straw (Wara No Tate): the ever-prolific Takashi Miike’s latest movie – a tycoon offers a 1bn Yen open ransom to anybody that kills the fugitive who murdered his grand-daughter. This simple setup leads to a nice, tight film: with a couple of decent action scenes and loads of tense moments. It also has a lot of moral ground to cover, as it follows the security detail assigned to keep the prisoner safe, and whether or not they should turn a blind eye, or do him in themselves. The acting’s generally good, although there’s some fairly shoddy over-acting and screaming by Fujiwara (the main kid in Battle Royale). Towards the end, it does get a little formulaic – we’re safe / we’re not safe / repeat – but the pace and questions raised by the film are enough to distract you from the fact. What you end up with is a pretty mainstream Miike film that’s quite the enjoyable popcorn thriller/drama.

Score: 7/10

JAPANORAMA - Seven Monkey BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpgSex and Fury 01 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena IchinoseSex and Fury (不良姐御伝 猪の鹿お蝶, Furyō anego den: Inoshika o-Chō): decades after her father is murdered, a pickpocket finally tracks down his killers. This one’s a mix of period revenge and softcore / (s)exploitation film – better known in Japan as the Pinky Violence genre. Unlike most exploitation films the visuals in this movie are often breathtaking: the entire film is framed perfectly, with creative camerawork, and sumptuous, colourful, pop-art combinations of sets, clothing and make up. I would love to see the damage that one of these visionary Japanese directors could do with today’s equipment and budgets. The set-pieces are equally astonishing; a butt-naked lady chopping her way through a gang of swordsmen in snow – it’s a true spectacle to behold, and never feels seedy. International star appeal comes from an infamous Western actress Christina Lindberg (Thriiller: A Cruel Picture), who delivers phonetic lines with little heart – definitely the weakest link in the picture. It may be unfair to compare as the lead actress Reiko Ike is sensational – she’s sexy, smart, dangerous, and you could get lost in those fiery eyes. There’s lesbians, slaves, gambling, drugs, sex, nudity, violence, fetish, swords, guns, nuns, blood… it’s a full house or B-movie buzz word bingo – and as for the ‘Sex and Fury’, the balance is tipped more towards the knockers than the knives. There’s only two real missteps in the film – the gay “ooohhh eeerrr” character (although he’s only in 2 scenes) and that the focus is split between 3 goodies and 3 baddies, which somewhat over-complicates what should be a straightforward revenge movie. In an era where the UK and US were churning out cheap and tacky Video Nasties with the odd notorious – censored – scene, Japan was putting out full-on high-quality exploitation films: containing 50% blood-fest, and 50% boundary-smashing sexualised nudity. Imagine you took a slasher film and gave leading parts to good actors, had a visionary director, and a major studio behind it! This is definitely part of the golden era of stylish, well directed, well acted, rock solid exploitation movies – 40 years old and still a highlight of the genre.

Score: 8.5/10

Below are a sample of screenshots / screencaps to give you an idea of the film’s style.

Sex and Fury 02 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 03 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 04 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 05 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 06 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 07 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 08 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 09 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 10 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 11 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 12 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 13 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 14 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 15 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 16 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 17 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 18 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena Ichinose Sex and Fury 19 Reiko Ike, Akemi Negishi, Christina Lindberg, Ryôko Ema, Yôko Hori, Naomi Oka, Rena IchinoseNOTE: In terms of visuals, set-pieces, story and tone Kill Bill borrows very heavily from this film (and more generally these keystone Japanese exploitation films), yet even today’s B-movie hero, Tarantino,  couldn’t make a film ½ this ballsy.

JAPANORAMA - Yorstat  BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA

Babycart at the river styx Tomisaburo Wakayama, 若山 富三郎, Kayo Matsuo, 松尾 嘉代, Akiji Kobayashi, 小林昭, Akihiro Tomikawa, Minoru Ohki, Shin Kishida, 岸田 森

Yuuuuuup – that’s someone’s head that’s just been sliced in half!

Lone Wolf and Cub #2 – Babycart at the River Styx (AKA: 子連れ狼 三途の川の乳母車 and Kozure Ōkami: Sanzu no kawa no ubaguruma) – a disgraced executioner lives on the road with his son as a mercenary, avoiding about five assassination attempts per day. While it feels like more of the same, this film expands on much of the first outing – pushing the larger story forward, upping the action, and having even more stylish and poignant moments – like a slashed-up guy appreciating the sound of blood flying out from his neck. Shots like the sword dripping blood whilst tearing down a fusuma wall, and frozen bodies synchronously hitting the deck – are just fantastic to watch, pure cinema escapism, soaked in cool – it feels decades ahead of its time. Tomisaburo Wakayama further expands his role as the dangerous, effortless, perfectly timed slayer of baddies. This also pushed the boat out by having a crew of super-dangerous female ninjas – which isn’t seen too often in the genre. Simplified, it’s essentially about a guy that walks down a road, mows down some killers (baby sometimes mucks in) then carries on walking down the path – yet this film gets away with it because it’s got so many layers. The biggest disappointment is that all of the scenes filmed at night (around 60% of the film) are terrible and you can’t make out a thing for the most part. This film’s great, and I’d love to give it a 7 or 8 out-of-10, but because such a large chunk of it is just a black frame with something moving around in it, it’s often frustrating to watch.

Score: 6/10

Babycart Sword Tomisaburo Wakayama, 若山 富三郎, Kayo Matsuo, 松尾 嘉代, Akiji Kobayashi, 小林昭, Akihiro Tomikawa, Minoru Ohki, Shin Kishida, 岸田 森

JAPANORAMA - Seven Monkey BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpgLone Wolf and Cub Sword of Vengeance 01 Kenji Misumi, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Tomoko Mayama, Fumio Watanabe, Keiko Fujita, Reiko Kasahar, YunosukeLone Wolf and Cub #1 – Sword of Vengeance (子連れ狼  子を貸し腕貸しつかまつる, or Kozure Ōkami: Kowokashi udekashi tsukamatsuru): when his wife is killed by ninjas and he is betrayed by a rival clan, the Shogun’s lead executioner becomes an assassin for hire, wondering the country with his infant son. The film opens with the lead character beheading a child… which lets you know exactly what to expect from the film, and what the lead, Itto Ogami is capable of. Despite this, being played so well by Tomisaburo Wakayama means that you still relate to, and feel for the character and his situation, as he transforms from obedient executioner, to a masterless badass – even if he’s out-of-shape. He is another one of Japan’s surprisingly complex – well acted – anti-heroes. The action scenes are second to none; heads literally roll across the screen, limbs fall to the ground, jets of blood spray everywhere – it’s completely over the top, yet so ridiculously stylish and meticulously planed; it was the first of the more extreme, exploitative Chambara movies. There’s also surprisingly good period detail for an out-and-out exploitation movie; the weirdest part however is that there’s a strangely high volume of scenes involving suckling on teats (OK, only two, but that’s still two more than most films). Sword of Vengeance is over 40 years old now, but it’s crammed full of everything that most modern exploitation films can’t even do right – the main difference is that it’s filmed by an absolute auteur – the film looks like art at times, which is a testament to the story’s manga roots.

Score: 7.5/10

Lone Wolf and Cub Sword of Vengeance 02 Kenji Misumi, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Tomoko Mayama, Fumio Watanabe, Keiko Fujita, Reiko Kasahar, YunosukeLone Wolf and Cub Sword of Vengeance 03 Kenji Misumi, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Tomoko Mayama, Fumio Watanabe, Keiko Fujita, Reiko Kasahar, YunosukeLone Wolf and Cub Sword of Vengeance 04 Kenji Misumi, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Akihiro Tomikawa, Tomoko Mayama, Fumio Watanabe, Keiko Fujita, Reiko Kasahar, YunosukeNOTE: Some people will be familiar with this from the Shogun Assassin movie – which takes the bloodiest bits from the first two Lone Wolf and Cub films and mashes them together to create an even bloodier samurai slasher film aimed at Western audiences. That banned VIPCO vault of horror DVD was my first exposure to the series, and god was it brilliant.

JAPANORAMA - Metal Lord BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpgBig Man Japan 01 Hitoshi Matsumoto, Riki Takeuchi, Ua, Ryūnosuke Kamiki, Hiroyuki Miyasako, Daisuke Miyagawa, Shion Machida, Daisuke NagakuraBig Man Japan (大日本人 Dai Nipponjin): every time a monster appears and threatens the nation, ‘Big Man Japan’ is called upon to fight it off. A mockumentary superhero movie like no other, this is part monster-fighting CGI and part humdrum, everyday issues of an off-duty superhero – wage concerns, pension problems, the effects on your family – all quite quirky and different. There’s a few really gutsy / interesting lines, one in particular about Japanese people not being “anti-American”, but being brought up ‘a little bit like that’ – very interesting, and something that’s very rarely addressed in other movies. There’s a streak of very bizarre – absurd – humour that runs through the movie. There’s not a lot of laugh out loud moments, (mostly very, very low-key, mumbly, superdry dialogue) but when they pop up, they are really funny. The films looks like it’s heading towards a classic showdown, when it – for no apparent reason – changes into an Ultraman / Power Rangers type TV show spoof; which doesn’t really match the rest of the movie and feels like a stupid way to end it. The premise is completely brilliant, but instead of doing it justice, the film feels like it’s concentrating more on it’s genre-ending message that Japan doesn’t really want to tolerate any more monster movies.

Score: 6/10

Big Man Japan 02 Hitoshi Matsumoto, Riki Takeuchi, Ua, Ryūnosuke Kamiki, Hiroyuki Miyasako, Daisuke Miyagawa, Shion Machida, Daisuke Nagakura

JAPANORAMA - Osaka BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpgVersus Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki, Chieko Misaka, Kenji Matsuda, Yuichiro Arai, Minoru Matsumoto, Kazuhito Ohba, Takehiro Katayama, Ayumi Yoshihara, Shōichirō Masumoto, Toshiro Kamiaka, Yukihito TanikadoAs part of JAPANORAMA I have been inviting my movie-reviewing peers to join in. This post is from Brikhaus over at the fantastic Awesomely Shitty. I love the site because it’s not afraid to stick the boot in and dissect anything and everything that the masses are generally scrambling over each other to fawn over – from Django to the Academy. Today Awesomely Shitty takes on Versus, a low-budget cult zombie flick. You can see the full review here, and follow on twitter @awesomelyshitty.

Versus (-ヴァーサス- Vāsasu): Versus is a bizarre, nonsensical movie. It’s a super low-budget cult film featuring cops, gangsters, shootouts, samurai, zombies, martial arts, karate zombies, sword fighting, and demons. It’s like the director grabbed a list of “cool shit” from the internet, and mixed it all together, hoping it would work. And depending on your point of view, it either totally works, or is a complete fucking mess. The movie has an odd tone somewhere between serious and wacky. I suppose if Versus had played it straight, nothing would work. The whole thing is just too goddamn crazy. The closest thing I can compare it to is Evil Dead II. The zombies are a mix of traditional lumbering zombies, and other zombies who can shoot guns and know karate. I can’t think of any other movie where you can see zombies shooting machine guns, or humans roundhouse kicking zombie heads off. At least it earned a few points for originality. At 2 hours and 10 minutes, Versus definitely overstays its welcome. Some of the fight scenes seem endless, and when they aren’t fighting, the movie sucks so hard you wish they were back to fighting again. It’s an endless cycle of shit. Versus is a hard movie to rate. I enjoyed the karate zombies and weird sense of humor. I also enjoyed the well-choreographed fight scenes. However, the movie drags at times, and it way too long for its own good. I’d say it rounds out to be an average watch. Good to watch drunk, but not otherwise.

Score: 6/10

An old review of Versus from this site can be found here.

JAPANORAMA - Yorstat  BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMASansho the Bailiff lake Kenji Mizoguchi, Kinuyo Tanaka, Kyoko Kagawa, Eitarō Shindō,Yoshiaki Hanayagi, Ichiro Sugai, Ken Mitsuda, Masahiko Tsugawa, Masao Shimizu, Chieko Naniwa, Kikue Mori, Akitake Kono, Ryosuke KagawaAs part of JAPANORAMA I have been inviting my movie-reviewing peers to join in. This guest post is from Will over at Silver Emulsion Film Reviews, one of my favourite sites due to the broad, eclectic taste in movies; there’s no genre he won’t check out – superhero, world cinema, B-movies, bodybuilding… it’s all there, and everything’s given an equal footing. Today Will takes on Sansho the Bailiff, a harrowing Japanese masterpiece that has been picked up by both the Criterion and Masters of Cinema collections. Will has done a full review on his site here, and you can also follow him on twitter @SilverEmulsion

sansho the bailiff Kenji Mizoguchi, Kinuyo Tanaka, Kyoko Kagawa, Eitarō Shindō,Yoshiaki Hanayagi, Ichiro Sugai, Ken Mitsuda, Masahiko Tsugawa, Masao Shimizu, Chieko Naniwa, Kikue Mori, Akitake Kono, Ryosuke KagawaSansho the Bailiff (山椒大夫 Sanshō Dayū): an unforgettable film that takes you on a deeply affecting journey of despair and suffering. Skillfully crafted by director Kenji Mizoguchi, the film is beautifully shot, yet still hard to watch because of the emotional anguish the film puts its characters through. The story is set during feudal Japan’s Heian period, and begins when a governor is transferred to a far-off region for being too kind to his subjects. His wife and children are sent to live with his brother, but six years later they attempt the trek across country to reunite the family. This journey goes awry in ways unexpected, and the father’s creed on mercy becomes the family’s guiding light through tough times. A true masterpiece, Kenji Mizoguchi’s Sansho the Bailiff is a must-see for fans of classic and Japanese film, and a stunning picture that will haunt your soul.

Score: 10/10

JAPANORAMA - Kinkie BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMAThe Girl Who Leapt Through Time 時をかける少女 Toki o Kakeru Shōjo 2006As part of JAPANORAMA I am inviting fellow movie sites to join in. This post is a guest review from Nostra over at My Film Views, a talented reviewer and feature-writer that has both English (My Film Views) and Dutch (FilmKijker) movie blogs. I’m also looking forward to participating in the site’s 5 Obstructions Blogathon soon, based on the Lars Von Trier movie of the same name. You can follow Nostra on Twitter @MyFilmViews, and there’s an extended review of the movie on Nostra’s site HERE.

The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (時をかける少女, Toki o Kakeru Shōjo): is a time travel movie set at a Japanese high school. It is the story of Makoto Konno, who discovers she is able to travel through time. She initially uses her power to travel back and set some things straight, but quickly finds out that even though her life might be better, the lives of others have been impacted by her choices. Like in Back to the Future she finds out that there are consequences to time travel and she has to see how she can make it all alright again. Teenage love is also a subject that’s explored. Visually the movie might not blow your mind, but the concept is very entertaining. A movie which is well worth watching.

Score: 9/10

JAPANORAMA - Seven Monkey BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpgGoyokin, 御用金.  Goyōkin, Official Gold, Steel Edge of Revenge Tatsuya Nakadai, Kinnosuke Nakamura, Tetsuro Tanba, Yoko Tsukasa, Ruriko Asaoka, Ben Hiura, Isao Natsuyagi, Hideo GoshaAs part of JAPANORAMA I am inviting fellow movie sites to join in. This one is a double-whammy from Michael over at It Rains… You Get Wet. who has sent over a paragraph review of Samurai / Ronin movie Goyokin (below), and posted a simultaneous look at its oddly intriguing American remake, The Master Gunfighter (1975), on his site: here. You can follow Michael on twitter @le0pard13

Goyokin (御用金 Goyōkin, also called Official Gold or Steel Edge of Revenge) (1969), directed by Hideo Gosha, starts so unexpectedly for what ‘chambara‘ (sword-fighting) genre fans would expect, viewers must think they’re in another movie. Imagine Alfred Hitchcock transporting the whole of Bodega Bay across the Pacific, planting them down onto another seashore town, only to have them discover their old friend, genus Corvus, waiting to finish them off…in Japanese. Make no mistake; this is a samurai flick, one of the best, in fact. The brilliant tyrant filmmaker, Gosha, co-wrote the tale of a samurai wrought by guilt over his unwitting part in a massacre of a small village three years earlier. Now ronin, displaying his skills to earn money, he learns, after an attempt on his life, of a scheme by his old clan to repeat the same crime for more gold (the Goyokin in the title). Determined to stop them, he endures great hardships in an attempt to atone for his earlier mistakes and prevent further bloodshed. While the character Magobei (the great Tatsuya Nakadai) excels at making amends, he only contributes to the latter. In essence, mowing down a boatload of mercenaries, clansmen to stop a wholesale slaughter. Hmm… Clearly, redress only worked one way with the guy expert at chopping fish and those who get in the way with a katana.

JAPANORAMA - Cheng Cheng BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMAThe Twilight SamuraiAs part of JAPANORAMA I am inviting fellow movie sites to join in. This post if from Mike at Screen Kicker Movies, an up-and-coming site full of film reviews and features that are oozing with funny writing and personality, making for easy and entertaining reading. He has chosen to review The Twilight Samurai – full review can be found on his site here. You can also follow Mike on Twitter @Metalmike25

The Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei, たそがれ清兵衛) The movie really isn’t your typical samurai movie. It’s set during peacetime when samurai worked as accountants instead of warriors. Essentially they went from doing the coolest job in the world to the most boring job in the world. This is where we meet Seibei (Hiroyuki Sanada) a samurai/accountant/single parent (what a combo!) who struggles to make ends meet until he is presented with an offer he can’t refuse. Released in 2002 and directed by Yoji Yamada it throws a curve ball at anyone expecting a violent action movie. It tackles something I feel is much more important than the usual motive of revenge – it’s about how normal people survive when life has given them a hard time. It’s very relevant during these recession hit times, more so than when it was released and this gives it an immediacy that stays with the viewer. Combine this with romance, comedy, and some very cute kids, and you have a winner on your hands. All together it’s one of those films that gives you hope in humanity.  Oh and a desire to get a kick-ass samurai sword.

Score: 9/10

JAPANORAMA - SF WASABI RICE BANNERBranded to Kill 01, Jô Shishido, Kôji Nanbara, Isao Tamagawa, Anne Mari, Mariko Ogawa, Hiroshi Minami, Goro Hanada, No. 1, 殺しの烙印, Koroshi no rakuin

Branded to Kill (殺しの烙印, Koroshi no rakuin): when a hitman fumbles his latest job he is soon a marked man. To say that this is “fairly non-sensicle” is probably over-selling the story – it’s like someone took a 5 hour movie and edited it so hard that only the absolute key dialogue and scenes were left in – leaving no time for characterisation, backstory, or context for anything happening on the screen. It’s quite explicit for the time; with an abundance of sex and violence. Stylistically, it’s got very rich visuals, some of which are as trippy and absurd as you can imagine – but overall it manages to remain a chic, kitsch, sexy 60s spy thriller. It’s undeniably B-Movie in nature, but boasts more stye and directorial flair than 99% of all films. Unfortunately, the story surrounding the film is actually more interesting (and makes more sense) – it flopped so badly that the director Seijun Suzuki was blacklisted by the Nikkatsu studio from making films, until, 10 years later, he successfully sued and got his career back on track. Branded to Kill is ridiculously hard to follow, but surprisingly easy to watch.

Score: 5.5/10

Branded to Kill 02, Jô Shishido, Kôji Nanbara, Isao Tamagawa, Anne Mari, Mariko Ogawa, Hiroshi Minami, Goro Hanada, No. 1, 殺しの烙印, Koroshi no rakuinBranded to Kill 03, Jô Shishido, Kôji Nanbara, Isao Tamagawa, Anne Mari, Mariko Ogawa, Hiroshi Minami, Goro Hanada, No. 1, 殺しの烙印, Koroshi no rakuin

JAPANORAMA - Yorstat  BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA
The 47 Loyal Ronin Kazuo Hasegawa, Shintaro Katsu, Kōji Tsuruta, Raizō Ichikawa, Machiko Kyō, Fujiko Yamamoto, Michiyo Kogure, Chikage Awashima, Ayako Wakao, Yatarō Kurokawa, Eiji Funakoshi, Eitaro Ozawa
As part of the JAPANORAMA feature I am inviting fellow movie sites to join in. This post is from Michael over at It Rains… You Get Wet (a sweet Heat reference). The site is full of great articles, although I particularly like the TMT series of posts, which are great pieces of cinema nostalgia – and make me wish that I could visit such grand cinemas in their heyday. You can also follow Michael on Twitter @le0pard13.
The Loyal 47 Ronin (忠 臣蔵 Chushingura) (1958), directed Kunio Watanabe, is based on a historical event that occurred in early 18th century Japan. In that ancient land, it’s the national legend typifying the samurai code of honor, bushidō. I daresay, few westerners before World War II knew of it. Of course, after 1998 that number went up significantly with John Frankenheimer’s espionage-thriller Ronin, which used the famed tale as allegory to its own. Its summation works well here, “Forty-seven samurai, whose master was betrayed and killed by another lord. They became ronin – masterless samurai – disgraced by another man’s treachery. For three years they plotted, pretending to be thieves, mercenaries, even madmen – that I didn’t have time to do – and then one night they struck, slipping into the castle of their lord’s betrayer and killing him.” Essentially what transpires in this film and all the other versions of it (there are a lot). Beautifully shot in widescreen, and considered by many scholars to be the most accurate and best, it’s stage heritage does keep it bound some. But as a timeless yarn of honor and revenge, it doesn’t get any better than this. Shogun Assassin fans should stay far far away, though, as the film’s almost three-hour runtime is its own test of loyalty.

JAPANORAMA - Gang of 3 BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpgBattles Without Honour and Humanity Kinji Fukasaku, Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Kunie Tanaka, Eiko Nakamura, Tsunehiko Watase, Gorô Ibuki, Nobuo Kaneko, Toshie Kimura, Tamio Kawaji, Yamamori, Shinjo, Shozo Hirono, Tetsuya Sakai

Battles Without Honour and Humanity (AKA The Yakuza Papers, Jingi naki tatakai, 仁義なき戦い): focuses on the inception, growth and brutal wars between various Yakuza clans in post WWII Japan (namely Hiroshima). This film starts at 200mph; limbs flying, fights, murders, rape, riots… not to mention that something dramatic happening at least every ten minutes. The energetic handheld style, fast cutting and brutal editing (there’s not one unnecessary frame in here) give the film an electricity, realism and urgency that grabs you for the duration – although paired with the sheer breadth of the story, you really need to pay attention. The acting does the expert direction justice, with several complex central characters – and many minor characters – but they’re all championed by Bunta Sugawara, with a magnetic intensity and stoic performance that is really something to marvel. For a 97 minute film, this feels like an epic saga: the story (set over thirteen years) is absolutely crammed full of more betrayal, deception, gang warfare, murders, and more drama / action than you could shake a katana at. Better still, it isn’t just about the gang stuff, boasting a strong social commentary on the power vacuum in post-WWII Japan, and how it eventually poisoned society. Based on memoirs from a Yakuza member, this film feels like the real deal, and was so well-received that is spawned 4 sequels, and the director – Kinji Fukasaku – would go on to direct some of Japans’s most domestically successful movies; ending his career with Battle Royale. Battles Without Honour and Humanity is a remarkable film, that is an absolute must-see for both world cinema and gangster fans alike.

Score: 9/10

JAPANORAMA - SEGA BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpgFast and the Furious Tokyo Drift Lucas Black, Bow Wow, Nathalie Kelley, Brian Tee, Sung Kang, Leonardo Nam, Vin Diesel, Sonny Chiba

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift: a ‘teenager’ who’s always in trouble moves to Japan to dodge juvenile prison (is this a real thing?), but is soon back in the shit when he joins the underground drift/racing crew in Tokyo. For being a franchise film, the only thing connecting it to previous outings is a 20 second Vin Diesel cameo in the final frames – that’s stretching it. A brief list of the things that pissed me off about this film would be: the cheesy all-Americanism, particularly the leads honking redneck accent & attitude; why would anyone give a total stranger their high-spec supercar to race in!?; suspiciously old actors playing teenagers; and most worryingly, all of the girls in the film are there to be race trophies, one of whom actually states “The winner gets me” – what a skank! Also, what the fuck is martial artist legend Sony Chiba doing in this, and why does every street corner, garage, club and eatery in Tokyo have a DJ with decks and big headphones?!?! In the film’s defence, the stunt driving / drifting sections are pretty cool – and to an extent, that’s probably the biggest target it had to hit. The visuals are rich and for all the flaws, it’s well shot and directed on a technical level. Tokyo itself is represented through vending machines, gadgets, high-tech garages, neon signage, quaint bath-houses and gangster-punks. There’s a handful of obligatory ‘Culture Clash – LOL’ moments also put in for good measure. If the rest of the Fast/Furious movies were normal Jonas Brothers this one would be the talentless, embarrassing, tone-deaf one that the parents intentionally keep locked in the basement – hoping that the world forgets about him: unfortunately, Tokyo Jonas is still part of the family, so comes with the box-set, and thus has to be watched and reviewed. Tokyo Drift feels like a totally unrelated, knock-off, emotionless, empty-car-chassis of a film, that had the potential to kill off the franchise. This one definitely failed it’s M.O.T.

Score: 2/10

The Fast and The Furious
2 Fast 2 Furious

JAPANORAMA - Seven Monkey BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMA.jpgThe Princess Blade 2001 2003 Yumiko Shaku, Hideaki Ito, Yoichi Numata, Kyusaku Shimada, Yōko Maki, Shinsuke Sato

As part of the JAPANORAMA feature I am inviting fellow movie sites to join in. This is another post from Andy at Fandango Groovers Movie Blog, who reviewed Azumi last week, and is back for more. Paragraph Review below, his extended review can be found here.

The Princess Blade (Shura Yukihime, 修羅雪姫) (2003), directed by: Shinsuke Sato is loosely based on the manga comic Lady Snowblood by Kazuo Koike. Set in near future Japan; imagine the Village crossed with a samurai movie.  Yuki (Yumiko Shaku), The Princess Blade of the title is the last surviving royal of the House of Takemikazuchi. Living in isolation from the world, they use their skills developed as Mikado guards to become the most deadly assassins for hire. She discovers that the new leader of the house killed her mother when she was a child, and her own life is in danger. On leaving she encounters Takashi part of a rebel movement that gives her an opportunity for revenge and possibly a normal life. Filled with large scale set pieces, usually involving sword fights, punctuated by slower more thoughtful moments, the movie is at its heart an updating on the ideas and ideas of a samurai movie. It loses its way towards the end but on the whole it is well worth seeing. The action is great and the near future setting is handled well and is an inspired idea.

You can read Andy’s extended review here.

JAPANORAMA - Cheng Cheng BANNER JAPAN-O-RAMAThe Duel Project started out as a drunken bet, when Japanese movie producer Shinya Kawai challenged two up-and-coming directors to each make a film that had only two actors, who would fight to the death, in a single location – it also had to be shot in less than a week, and stick to a tiny budget. The results were Aragami and 2LDK (2LDK REVIEW HERE)

Duel Project 0Duel Project AragamiAragami: two wounded soldiers collapse at the door of a monastery, but when one wakens up the hospitality doesn’t last long. This film couldn’t be more different to 2LDK. The dialogue feels slow and padded out. There’s continual talk of magic, immortality, demons, goblins and such fantasy staples – bit of a turn-off for me. The film’s soundtrack is OTT porno music / thrash metal, and the tone is equally unusual – slapstick/manga. All familiar territory for Ryuhei Kitamura who’s biggest film to date was Versus, and was using this as a ‘dry run’ for Azumi – unfortunately the film only finds its stride in the last 10 minutes. My favourite aspect was how much the film was steeped  in a history of swordplay and swordfighting movies yesteryear – from intricate/complex katana flare, down to some lovely, old school, ‘Shing! Ching!’ metal-clashing sound effects. Aragami isn’t a bad film, but watching it after 2LDK really takes the sting out it’s tail: whereas you enjoy the pressure-cooker buildup in 2LDK, Aragami’s set-up feels flat and uninteresting, you just want to see these guys battle it out, and when it does roll round, it feels much shorter and less innovative/satisfying than the other movie. The Duel Project is definitely worth checking out, but I’d recommend watching this first, building up to the superior 2LDK.

Score: 5.5/10

Aragami 01 - Takao Osawa, Masaya Kato, Kanae Uotani, Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki

“Ninja Stars are for losers”

Aragami 02 - Takao Osawa, Masaya Kato, Kanae Uotani, Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki