Archive

Japan-O-Rama

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

Advertisements

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