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.
Thor: after putting the galaxy’s’ peace at risk Thor is cast out to Earth until he learns to tone down the arrogance, and ramp up the leadership. This is one of the most eclectic mixes of a film I can remember seeing; there’s oodles of tongue-in-cheek camp, so much so that everybody seems to think they’re in an amateur stage play; there’s about 30 characters all turning it up to eleven and vying for attention – not to mention robots, goblins, gods, scientists and feds. Most annoyingly, the SFX are insanely overused – reminiscent of the first wave of GCI laden 90s films. The action scenes are also poorly done – resulting in a series of blurry smashes and explosions until there’s a body is lying on the ground / frozen in ice. The bottom line is that the tone, style and elements of Thor are so erratic, that it ends up feeling like a film that exists just to be the next comic book film. Big, bright, loud and stupid, Michael Bay would be so proud
Survive Style 5+ : I wish I was in the meeting when this was pitched! The fun & upbeat DVD menu / opening credits do their best to prepare, although I don’t think anything could. It’s so amazingly colourful, the music’s beat-tastic and the pace is nothing short of rapid – this is totally fresh and original. The only way I can remotely describe this is an enjoyable ‘Punk Film’ if that makes sense!? Above the style, the characters are also memorable and unique: an outrageously hot wife that keeps getting reincarnated, a hip-thrusting tiger-obsessed hypnotist, a hitman who kills anyone who’s ‘function in life’ is unnecessary, a man that thinks he’s a bird and 3 gay burglars (‘Come baby, come come baby’ is ingrained in my brain). Despite the crazy ideas and characters all five stories are connected and, although it’s fragmented, the narrative makes sense. It grinds to a halt in the last 20 minutes, other than the last scene, which is the only fault I have on this. The most fun I’ve had watching a film in ages. Modern Japanese cinema at it’s very best!
Tokyo Zombie: keeping Japan’s offbeat fascination with the undead ‘alive’, this black comedy is tagged as ‘Japan’s Shaun of the Dead’. Basically, it’s a movie of two halves; the first of which is pretty funny, dark, entertaining and has some top comedy violence. The second half is boring and full of poor drama, with the last 15 minutes perking up again. In true Japanese style weird, irrelevant and perverse subjects crop up throughout, and it’s got a similar look and feel to the ‘Happiness of the Katakuris’. There’s a few glimmers of good acting through the ridiculous scenes, a couple of great long takes, and a few awesome J-punk riffs in the soundtrack. Because it peeks too early I’d check this out if you were in to your Japanese films already, but wouldn’t use this as an introduction to Asian cinema.