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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.

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Summer Wars (2009) December 29, 2009

Posted by ayasawada in Anime.
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Summer Wars

Having discovered the wonderful talents of Mamoru Hosoda last year with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (Toki wo Kakeru Shojo or ‘Tokikake’ as the fans call it), I really was eagerly anticipating his next film. In hindsight,my expectations may have been a little too high. Summer Wars is certainly not TokiKake, but is enjoyable in itself and every bit as imaginative. (more…)