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.
As 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
, 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.
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.