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Moteki February 9, 2014

Posted by ayasawada in Drama, Music.
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Moteki drama poster

Moteki is Japanese slang for a period of romantic bloom in your life where you are suddenly attractive and popular. The very idea of a ‘moteki’ seems absurd, the kind of thing that could only happen in harem manga and Hollywood romantic comedies. But where this franchise succeeds is taking this bit of seemingly wishful-thinking and turning it into a something real, human and honestly (don’t laugh) quite profound. (more…)

Japanese film at #LFF 2012 October 21, 2012

Posted by ayasawada in Anime, Film.
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The 2012 BFI London Film Festival is nearly over and as usual there were more interesting films than one could possibly see/afford. So as usual, I made an effort for the Asian ones. Because of scheduling and budget, I ended up picking 4 Japanese films, but was overall very pleased with my choices.

Helter Skelter

A thought-provoking and incredibly well acted, if deeply deeply disturbing (in a very Sono Sion way), take on the Japanese model industry and the lengths to which people go for fame and  beauty. I hadn’t realised Helter Skelter was based on a manga, though that partly explains why it interested me. Overly stylish, though not as much as Director Mika Ninagawa’s earlier feature Sakuran, and suffering from Lord-of-the-Rings-style over-endings syndrome, but absorbing nonetheless. Erika Sawajiri gives an absolute knockout performance in the lead role.

Wolf Children (Okami Kodomo Ame to Yuki)

Mamoru Hosoda‘s latest effort and the sole anime offering in the LFF this year. I have to admit, I was a little underwhelmed by Summer Wars and when I first heard the story of Okami Kodomo it sounded a bit meh. I was pleasantly proved wrong. From the stunningly animated opening this is captivating from start to finish. As with all Hosoda’s previous films, the fantasy element is almost totally irrelevant; the real focus is the very human drama – in this case the perils of growing up and single parenthood. As always, Hosoda, as writer and director,  captures this, particularly the little life moments, so very very well. Yet what impressed me most is the character development – every character goes through a genuine arc of transformation leaving you with a lump in your throat as you follow them through hardship and relief along their life journey.

I have a feeling the ending isn’t going to stay with me as much as Toki wo Kakeru Shojo, but the film certainly will.

For Love’s Sake (Ai to Makoto)

Takashi Miike, you’ve done it again. Another (slightly baffling) cult classic with plenty of charm. This is the tale of two high school kids literally from opposite ends of the social spectrum, and what all of us will do ‘for love’s sake’. I love musicals, manga adaptations, Japanese music and weird Japanese humour (especially ones bookended by anime scenes), so I was guaranteed to love this, though I didn’t expect to be moved by it.

It’s not perfect by any stretch, mind. It’s based on a slightly off the cuff manga so the characters are pretty one-dimensional (though in a comedy, and one with so many characters, this works in its favour). Moreover, you can’t shake the impression that the film has cut the story a little short from the original manga. It’s a shame characters like Gumko never get fully realised, but there’s surely more to Makoto’s story than just ‘he wanted to save his Mum’. His father isn’t mentioned much and we never really know why his family fell into such disarray – I can only conclude that ‘the person he wants revenge on’ is actually his father, and he would have done so had he not [SPOILER]… you know. There’s also the puzzling role of the teacher, who only has a couple of scenes prior to his [SPOILER] surprising appearance at the end – why would he do that?? The opening also talks about the 70s, the start of the bubble economy and how not everyone felt the riches even when the country had its rise – hints of a larger theme probably explored in the manga but not one ably touched on in a musical movie adaptation.

Nevertheless, Ai to Makoto = great fun and with an ending that gives it poignance. More than the throwaway entertainment I was ready to brand it as.

Key of Life

Unexpectedly, the highlight of my LFF films (and that’s saying something considering how much I enjoyed the others). Key of Life (Kagi Dorobo no Method) is an outrageously good tale of swapped lives and the search for love and purpose in life. It’s a classic example of the off-kilter, slice-of-life comedy featuring an unbelievable, yet believable plot and weird but loveable characters that Japan does so well. Slickly plotted, brilliantly acted (particularly the ever-reliable Teriyuki Kagawa and Ryoko Hirosue, who I’ve had a soft spot for since Yasuko to Kenji) and so full of heart you’ll be smiling your face off, it was a wonderful way to finish off my LFF run. I defy you not to love the doki-doki car alarm bit at the end.

Terracotta Film Festival 2012 April 22, 2012

Posted by ayasawada in Anime, Film.
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Another year, another excellent Terracotta Film Festival. This year’s line-up had a nice blend of relatively unknown gems, while still featuring the popular blockbusters and well-known filmmakers. I only saw four of the films, but what I saw, I liked. (more…)

The Foreign Duck, the Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker (2007) May 14, 2011

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With a title like that, you can’t really go wrong.

Director Yoshihiro Nakamura has a reputation for comedy dramas with seemingly random plots that make sense right at the end (see also the fabulous Fish Story). This little gem, which I was fortunate enough to see at a random movie meet up in a London bar, is much the same.

For what it’s worth, the story follows Shiina, a freshman law student who’s encounter with a next door neighbour embroils him in a convoluted affair involving three friends, foreign exchange students, love, death and Bob Dylan.

To say any more would ruin the plot, and, to be honest, require more words than I care to spare in this post! But I assure you it all makes sense. Every cog in this tightly directed piece does its part in servicing a fantastically well-written plot, which comes to a very satisfying end.

And that, I believe, is where the magic lies. A friend once explained to me the importance of the ending to any story – it leaves you, the viewer/reader, with a final feeling to go way with, whatever has gone before it. Nakamura has mastered this, along with the handy knack of actually mopping up his many clues and tying up his plot threads, ducks and all. And with so many seemingly random ones, it’s no wonder he ends up with titles like this.

One Million Yen Girl May 13, 2011

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One Million Yen Girl poster
A lovely, if not entirely absorbing, little film starring Yu Aoi (yes, this was the main reason I went to see this ^^;).

Yu plays the titular One Million Yen Girl, Suzuko, a plain, well-meaning girl who seems to run into nothing but trouble at home. A spiteful acquaintance leads her to jail time and on her parole, she vows to save one million yen and get away from those who treated her so badly. This turns into something of a habit, taking her away from each place she settles when her savings reach the magic number again.

This is one of those quirky, slow-moving, slice-of-life films, which comment on Japanese society and human nature, as we, through the protagonist follow her from town to town, experience friendship, kindness, love and lots and lots of spite. It’s nothing spectacular, but Director Yuki Tanada crafts an empathic story with some lovely moments – Suzuko’s letters to her brother back home are particularly nice. And of course, there’s that lovely lead actress ^^

Kamui: The Lone Ninja (Kamui Gaiden) (2009) May 11, 2011

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Kamui Gaiden poster
I have to wonder, with a technologically-advanced society and one of the best animation industries in the world, why oh why is Japanese CG so goddamn awful?

Kamui is a distracting, if a tad over-long, take on the classic manga. Its a tale of one breakaway ninja and the forces that pursue him, the class boundaries of Tokugawa era Japan, and, at its heart, trust and fateful encounters. It has to its advantage a great performance from the ever-reliable Kenichi Matsuyama, a fascinating story and some super fight scenes.

Where it falls down is its attempt to pack maybe too many of the manga’s storylines into two hours – to the extent that a lot of plot turns seem a bit too random – and some frightening overacting (stand up, the overly emotional Susuku Ohgo, who plays Sayaka).

But its main problem is the computer generated effects. Far from blending into the background, or at least being bad in an ironic way (as in Japanese gorefests like Tokyo Gore Police or Machine Girl), Kamui’s CG just jars you out of the movie experience and there’s far too much of it. It’s a shame as the film itself, while not great, is entertaining enough. And you just feel that, for a samurai-era movie, there should be ways to do present most of this without having to resort to bad computer graphics. Especially if you know what your country’s track record is like.

Kimi ni Todoke (2010) May 9, 2011

Posted by ayasawada in Anime, Film, Manga.
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Kimi ni Todoke poster
I’m still reading the Kimi ni Todoke manga, which I’m enjoying immensely. I’ve purposely avoided any of the anime, as I realise it skips ahead the Viz translations of the manga and I don’t want any spoilers. But I figured this recent movie would probably ‘reimagine’ things to get a nicely wound up ending, without giving away the real plot. And besides, it’s got Mikako Tabe in it ^^;

Straight up, this is nothing amazing. The film is so-so, mistaking a snail’s pace for ‘breathing room’ and character development. It’s also full of the overly cheesy tropes (such as god awful piano/string music to overemphasise the ‘heartfelt moments’) that plague most Japanese mainstream cinema. But it’s not altogether terrible and not quite as much of a travesty it might have been.

The story stays largely covers the same ground as the first 7 volumes of the manga, rejigging some bits so they can all fit into a 2 hour running time. The ending could maybe have been done better (why did they just gloss over the Xmas bit and instead opt for a New Year ending?).

The protagonists are ok. My darling Mikako Tabe is, for once, not playing the same ditzy clown she does in almost every movie/drama and she makes for an effective Sawako, though as some have pointed out, not quite as goofy as the original character is. Miura Haruma’s Kazehaya isn’t quite as I would have imagined him, but is decent. However, the casting of Chizu, Yano and Ryu are spot on, with Misako Renbutsu particularly brilliant.

Overall, it’s not going to have anyone raving about it, but it’s enjoyable enough for fans of the manga or anime.

Norwegian Wood (2011) April 3, 2011

Posted by ayasawada in Books, Film.
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It is, in many ways, the impossible adaptation. The popularity of his novels makes it surprising that there has been just one ‘Murakami’ film before. The fact that the plots often feature the oddly supernatural, or not very much actually happening, makes it less surprising. Yet, as Jun Ichikawa’s Tony Takitani showed, capturing the essence of what makes the novels means capturing the inner-monologue, the feeling that drives the story, is what’s most important.

A friend said to me once that Tony Takitani was the “most beautifully pointless film” she’d ever seen. Slow-moving, but gorgeously filmed, and full of emotion (at least that that readers of the original short story would have interpreted), its point was perhaps lost on those who fell asleep during the snail’s pace.

So what of Norwegian Wood, the most eagerly awaited of Murakami adaptations? It is, in many ways, as faithful an adaptation as we might get —  like Ichikawa, director Tran Anh Hung captures perfectly the incredible feel of a Murakami novel. The whole thing is like a crisp, gorgeous dream, every scene dripping with angst and emotion. That it’s as slow as Tony Takitani perhaps again shows its faithfulness to the source material.

(SPOILERS AHEAD and some of this might not make sense to those who haven’t read the novel) (more…)

Kokuhaku (Confessions) (2010) March 13, 2011

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Confessions poster

A few weeks ago I flicked over the channels late at night and found Tetsuya Nakashima‘s Memories of Matsuko on. Unimpressed by the pseudo-Amelie wackiness of it all, the friend I was with sniffed at the nonsensical plot and overstylised visuals. “Where’s the substance?,” he asked.

With Kokuhaku, Nakashima finally answers such questions. It is simply outstanding; a film of profundity and raw emotion to match Nakashima’s undoubted visual flair. This is the film in which Nakashima matures, marrying beautiful slow-mo and overhead shots with a stunningly bleak colour palate to create an atmosphere and pacing that completely sucks you in. (more…)

Afterlife (1998) June 30, 2010

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Another Kore-eda classic. Afterlife (or Wonderful Life as it is known in Japan) is an imaginative, quiet tale of a waiting room between this world and the next.

When people die, they appear on a small campus, akin to a school or temple, where they are asked to select one memory from their life to be recreated on film and screened just before they move on to (presumably) heaven.

Now, getting past questions of why film is the medium chosen, why beings in the afterlife should have to recreate such a thing using 90s technology, or who is making them do it in the first place, it’s quite an elegant conceit.

Kore-eda uses real interviews with real people to bring, well, realism to his fantastical idea. And as fantastical as the concept is, the film itself isn’t so. Deliberately shot in a low-profile way, you’d have no idea this was about the afterlife without the characters referring to it.

What the film explores beautifully is different people’s concepts of a happy and successful life and what people really remember, and realise, is important to them. We spend our whole lives trying to figure out what our purpose in life is. This film considers that we spend at least part of our afterlife still trying to work that out.