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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.

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.

Petty Romance (2010) May 8, 2011

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Petty Romance posterA lovely little film marked my participation in this year’s Terracotta Film Festival. Petty Romance (Ze-ze-han Ro-men-su) is a sweet, entertaining way to spend a couple of hours, brightened further by an imaginative blend of live-action and animation, and a sparkling performance from the two lead actors.

Lee Sun-Kyun and Choi Kan-Hee play Jeong Bae and Da Rim, an intellectual manhwa artist with no storytelling skills and a hopeless sex columnist with no experience of sex. Teaming up to win a $100,000 comic book prize, opposites eventually attract, but not before both learn a thing or two about what’s really important to each of them.

I’m a sucker for romantic comedies and Korean romcoms in particular (often the first thing I look for when I’m on an international flight ;) ). I’ve said it before: mainstream fare like this is so generic that more often than not you end up with banal crap. The recipe is almost too easy, so it’s refreshing when once every so often one gets it right.

Petty Romance benefits from imaginative direction, with Kim Joung-Hoon utilising Korea’s first-class animation studios to really bring Jeong and Da’s creations to life. But it really wins because of its fabulous lead actors (with history from a Korean drama series), whose wonderful chemistry left a big smile on my face.

Love Exposure (2008) November 30, 2009

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Love Exposure poster

Love Exposure is a four hour cross-genre epic about an innocent misguided young panty photographer trying to relate to his father and win over his one true love.

It sounds pervy and completely batshit insane, and in some ways, it is. But its a film well worth seeing. Exciting (in both senses of the word), touching (in both senses of the word) and moving (in both senses of the word), Sion Sono‘s opus combines contemporary Japanese perversity with romance, empathy and sensitivity, delivering comic moments, disturbing moments and downright perplexing moments.