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.
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
The 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.
As 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.
Shield 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.
Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl (吸血少女対少女フランケン): the new girl in school is a vampire, but she’s determined to steal the boyfriend of the resident bad girl. The picture above is a girl with steel from the Tokyo Tower extending her limbs, and legs spinning round her head (to fly), having a fight with a vampire, on the Tokyo Tower, with Mt Fiji in the background… in case it wasn’t clear! The bloodsoaked bloody bloodbath of an opening sets the tone for the movie – it’s fantasy gore, cranked up way past 11. Bad acting, short skirts, stockings, skimpy outfits… feels like it’s dangerously close to – at any moment – turning into a porn film. Every aspect of the most convoluted storyline ever is in there just to get some more blood on the screen, and the FX team go through gallons of the stuff. Acting-wise, it’s not meant to be serious but the expositional narration by the main guy is so lackluster – sounds like the most uninterested person in the world, despite all of the crazy shit happening around him. Vampire Girl vs Frankenstein Girl feels less like a movie, and more like an extreme SFX experiment – and in that respect, it’s alright but there’s not much else in there for people outside of the novelty gore crowd to enjoy.
Love Exposure (愛のむきだし): everything’s epic these days: a night out, food, car insurance, 99% of fails… how about this for a movie epic: a 4 hour film examining the relationships between religion, cults, family, perversion, sins, obscenity, love, erections, and upskirt photography. THAT’S EPIC! First-off, it feels a lot more like a TV series: technically (camerawork, budget, quality etc) and story-wise in the four, quite individual hour-long segments of the film. The acting however is fantastic; all three youngster are great to watch, but the two main adults are particularly engaging and believable – really adds to the drama. When one of the main story threads is the usage of ninja moves (and weapons) to take upskirt pictures in order to sin – it’s mental, it’s batshit mental, and when you throw in some schoolgirl karate lesbians it could really only be from Japan. In saying that, it’s all done very well and with lots of humour, much like the pervert’s motto the film is “Careful, Oblivious and Bold”. Staying true to it’s subject matter, there’s at least one – if not a montage – panty shot every 10 minutes – so if that’s your bag, this is an absolute must-own. For being as long as it is, the melodramatic final half hour is the only time the film feels like it’s truly stretched. Love Exposure is a lot of things, but at four hours (237 minutes!) long, and containing this subject matter – forgettable is definitely not one of them.
Tokyo Decadence (トパーズ, Topāzu): a specialist prostitute with a very particular set of skills is doing some very strange things with salarymen in the hotel rooms of Tokyo. The opening scene has a girl strapped to a chair, gagged, blindfolded then injected with heroin – if that makes you uncomfortable, this film’s probably not for you. It starts of feeling like an exploration piece/eye-opener focusing on an extreme (sub)culture. The film portrays some extremely ‘out-there’ acts, without appearing to be overly leery or vulgar. It keeps upping the ante scene by scene until there’s nowhere else left to go; then it implodes during an ending which, out of nowhere moves the film from a risqué/explicit/shock melodrama into plain old existential pompousity. It’s packed with rough cutting and hard editing; difficult to know if it’s intentional/stylistic or just budgetary constraints. If you like a bit of smut dressed as art or ‘world cinema’ then this is about as wild as you’ll probably get; and if you dig S&M, Bondage, BDSM, Dominatrices etc etc then it’s probably a must own. As a film however, Tokyo Decadence is fairly unremarkable, and if you took away the controversial/notorious S&M scenes it would be a completely unremarkable 2-hour instantly forgettable snooze-fest.
Chanbara Beauty (a.k.a. OneChanbara, Bikini Zombie Slayers, Bikini Samurai Squad, お姉チャンバラ): straight to DVD zombie-fest based on a hack-and-slash video game centered around action-girls. The four titles and heartbreakingly dubious synopsis say more about the film than any review could, but if you still want to find out if this is any good… It’s always refreshing seeing headstrong, empowered, female action leads unleashing industrial-sized cans of whoopass, grabbing here gender by the balls and proving to everyone that women in modern cinema are no longer… oh, wait… is she wearing a fluffy bikini? Never mind!! Rule one of making a live-action adaptation of any game/manga is instantly broken: don’t do it with shit CGI and no physical effects!!! Made in 2008, looks like something cheap from 1988. Stylistically, it’s topped off with a shitty grey-washed out filter – rendering the movie devoid of almost any colour. The action direction is confusing: too dark, too shaky – and the non-action scenes are long, frequent and boring filler / padding. To cut this review short, I can’t remember the last time that hacking up zombies last felt so boring and arduous. I doubt that even fanboys of the computer games (which I’ve never played) could find any redeeming features in this stinker.