Japan

Fantasia 2014

Fantasia International Film Festival 2014 runs July 17 to August 6. Follow all of our coverage here. Naoto Tamura (Yuki Yamada) is a bit of a dick. He’s obnoxious and indifferent to everyone around him including his hard-working mother, but he takes his attitude one step too far when he lashes out at her. While on his own a short while later he receives a package with a novel titled “Live” in it timed to a phone call and a video. His mother has been abducted, and she’ll be killed unless Naoto participates in and wins the caller’s elaborate “death triathlon.” He sets off to the first location only to discover that he’s not alone. A dozen other people, each frantic and glued to their cell phones, are also in the race. Other players lessen Naoto’s odds of winning, but so do the various obstacles put in their place including, but not limited to, a pair of bikini-clad crossbow-wielding women on roller skates. You probably thought Live was looking like a serious movie didn’t you.

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review its me its me

Hitoshi (Kazuya Kamenashi) works a job he hates for a boss he loathes, but he does it for the measly pay check he gets at the end of the week. It’s not long before that’s not enough though, so one day he makes a spur of the moment decision to “accidentally” steal a stranger’s cell phone and commit a bit of a scam. It’s called ‘ore-ore sagi’ which loosely translates to “it’s me! it’s me! scam/swindle,” and it involves phoning a stranger’s friend or relative, claiming to be that stranger, and then milking the concerned person on the other end of the line for money. It’s a rash act, something Hitoshi would never have thought himself capable of, but he does it all the same. He calls the stranger’s mother, pretends he’s been in an accident resulting in damage to someone else’s car, and then convinces her to deposit money into his own bank account. Cash in hand a short while later, Hitoshi is briefly thrilled before the guilt settles in forcing him to ditch the phone and attempt to return the money. But then things get weird.

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Screenshot-Space-Battleship-Yamato-2010-under-attack

It’s 2199, and Earth is under attack from an alien race called the Gamilas. The assault has left the planet’s surface uninhabitable, and while the survivors huddle underground the radiation above will lead to mankind’s extinction in a year’s time. A message arrives from the previously unknown planet of Iskandar with an offer of help and designs for a special engine to travel there, pick up the device for Earth’s ailment, and return back before the year is up and humanity is doomed. The battleship Yamato, sunk during World War II, is resurrected and retrofitted into a space ship capable of making the journey across light years. A crew is assembled, and the ship sets off on a mission that will determine the fate of mankind. If the plot of Space Battleship Yamato sounds familiar but the name doesn’t it’s probably because you know it only by its American title. Star Blazers was an animated television show that aired in the U.S. in the late ’70s and was a re-edited and dubbed version of the original Japanese series. We got three seasons of it here before it passed into relative obscurity, but it’s stayed a fairly active franchise in its home country culminating in this big budget feature from 2010. Those unfamiliar or unmoved by the show will find this live-action feature to be a laughable sci-fi adventure of the highest order, but for the rest of us, especially those of us who recognize the value of the original series’ […]

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nyaff lesson of the evil

The 2013 New York Asian Film Festival runs June 28 – July 15. If you’re lucky enough to be in the area and interested in tickets check out the official NYAFF page here, but if not feel free to follow along with us as we take a look at several of the movies playing the fest this year. As the name implies the festival presents new and select films from several countries including Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. Our fourth look at the films of NYAFF 2013 examines the evils that men (and women) do in the name of fame, madness and love.

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nikkatsu 2

Japan’s oldest major film studio, Nikkatsu Corporation, began producing romantic pornography (aka Roman Pornos) in the 1970s. The movies are a mix of sex, nudity, violence and nuttiness, and while they range from dramas to comedies the focus never veers very far from the obscene and offensive. The studio has been out of the business for a while now, but Impulse Pictures is resurrecting the films on DVD. I covered a pair of releases last year (review here), and while one of them managed to be both funny and sexy the other was too rape-happy for my tastes. One bad egg wasn’t going to ruin the entirety of pink cinema for me though, so being the consummate professional that I am I’ve gone spelunking once more in the fleshy caverns of Nikkatsu’s back catalog with two recent releases from Impulse.

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fo_foreign duck2

Yoshihiro Nakamura isn’t as high a profile Japanese director as folks like Takashi Miike or Kiyoshi Kurosawa, but he truly deserves to be. His early career focused on horror, but the last few years have seen him deliver powerfully affecting entertainment in the form of films that explore friendships and relationships through fresh, thrilling and often fascinating  stories. Fish Story, Golden Slumber and A Boy and His Samurai are fantastic movies, each charming and supremely entertaining in their own ways., and any one of those films would mark Nakamura as a director to watch. But all three on his resume means anything he directs deserves at least a cursory glance. Thanks to Third Window Films those of us who don’t speak Japanese finally have the opportunity to view one that preceded the three above but retains some of the same themes and much of the quality.

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Foreign Objects - Large

Quentin Tarantino has never shied away from the debt he owes to foreign cinema when it comes to his own films, and whether they’re called homages or ripoffs the bottom line remains that certain movies from overseas inspired some of his most well known features. Reservoir Dogs is a blatant lift of Ringo Lam’s City on Fire, Inglourious Basterds found inspiration from Enzo Castellari’s The Inglorious Bastards and Tarantino’s two-part, female led revenge thriller Kill Bill? You need look no further than Toshiya Fujita‘s 1973 classic, Lady Snowblood. Japan, 1874, and the cries of a newborn baby can be heard echoing in the cells of a women’s prison. Deemed a “child of the netherworld” upon her birth we next see Yuki Kashima (Meiko Kaji) twenty years later as an adult walking a secluded and snowy road. A group of men approach carting their gang boss leader in a rickshaw, and when they attempt to forcibly move Kashima she slices and dices her way through them like blood filled bags of butter, painting the snow red as she goes. As the gang leader falls beneath her blade he asks who sent her, and he dies knowing only that it was revenge.

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The Wolverine has had a long and storied production history. It’s had changes of shooting locations, changes of directors, and probably a handful of other stumbling blocks that we’ve all forgotten put in front of its eventual release. But work on the film has finally been underway for a while now, and some real progress toward its July 2013 release must actually be being made, because the film’s official Twitter account has just unveiled its first official still. So, how does it look? It looks like what one would expect. It’s long been understood that this new Wolverine adventure will take the character to the land of the rising sun, and, sure enough, this poster features Hugh Jackman looking jacked, sporting Wolverine’s adamantium claws and scruffy facial hair, and standing in front of an out-of-focus shrine that looks vaguely Eastern religion-y. That pretty much nails the whole checklist for advertising a Wolverine in Japan movie. Check out the full version after the break.

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Nikkatsu fanny check

The Nikkatsu Corporation is Japan’s oldest major film studio, but even though they closed up shop in 1993 their legacy lives on with the careers of the directors and actors they shepherded towards success. They’re like Roger Corman in that way having provided opportunities to talents that have gone on towards bigger and better success. They shared one other trait with the king of the B-movies… a recognition that T&A sells tickets. Starting in the early 70s, Nikkatsu began producing romantic pornography, aka Roman Pornos, and the profits soon followed. The films are a mix of sex, nudity, violence and nuttiness, and while they ranged from dramas to comedies the focus never veered very far from the obscene. Sadly, the sexy times only lasted until 1988, but now Impulse Pictures has taken on the enviable task of re-releasing these classics to DVD so new generations can enjoy the fornicating, fingering, showering (of all kinds) and pig porking fun.

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UPDATED: ComingSoon throws a real wrench in (some of) our awesome speculation with news that Will Yun Lee has joined The Wolverine as Kenuichio Harada, otherwise known as the Silver Samurai. Read on, though, as we can still have a lot of fun with our initial thoughts. Casting appears to be underway for James Mangold’s upcoming entry into the X-Men franchise, the Japan-set solo story of the world’s scruffiest mutant, The Wolverine. Of course, we already know that Hugh Jackman is on board to once again star as the title character – that’s pretty much the only thing that’s been set in stone about this project since development began an eternity ago – but now ComingSoon has some scoops on the names that will be making up the gaijin’s supporting cast, and if you know anything about Wolverine’s Japanese past, these are some big roles. Ralph Lauren model Tao Okamoto is set to play Mariko Yashida, a young Japanese girl who Wolverine falls in love with and becomes engaged to, while relative newcomer Rila Fukushima is on board to play Yukio, a sort of ninja-trained thief who often works as the clawed Canadian’s ally. The next bit of news is a little bit confusing. Listed as being cast are two more characters, one named “Shingen” and one named “Yashida.” In the Wolverine comics, the young bride Mariko has a father who is named Shingen Yashida – the head of a once great clan who disgraced their name by turning them into […]

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When it was first announced that Disney had purchased Marvel Comics, the holy grail endgame of such an acquisition that instantly popped into every film fan’s head was that now the group of acclaimed artists working over at Disney’s Pixar wing could get their hands on a Marvel property and make an animated superhero movie that would blow everyone’s minds. With Pixar’s already full slate of projects and the murky details of who owns the film rights to which Marvel characters in what context, the idea was something of a long-shot, but when you get a couple companies under the same corporate umbrella like this and give executives the chance to start throwing around words like “synergy,” eventually anything becomes possible. The news that broke today isn’t quite that holy grail of Pixar making a Marvel movie, but it’s a team-up that brings us one step closer to that reality. For the first time ever, Disney is going to be making an animated Marvel movie. But, instead of Pixar, the artists handling this one are coming from that other wing of animators who work under the Disney corporate banner, Walt Disney Animation Studios. This is the studio that’s most recently brought us Tangled and Winnie the Pooh, and have Wreck-It Ralph set up for a release this fall.

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According to Deadline Tokyo, John Woo will director his first non-Red Cliff movie since 2003′s Paycheck. Fortunately, he’s chosen something that will definitely facilitate the use of slow motion doves. He’ll be tackling the world of the Yakuza for a remake of the 1963 Seijun Suzuki film Youth of the Beast, which will aptly be titled Day of the Beast. Production will be handled by Lion Rock and Nikkatsu – Japan’s oldest major movie studio which celebrates a full century in business this year. According to the release, the movie “follows a western outsider with a grim past as he becomes embroiled in a global turf war between a vicious new breed of Yakuza and old school Cold War Russian mobsters. It’s an action-packed saga of loyalty, revenge and redemption which erupts in the heart of Tokyo.” Yes, yes, and yes. The original was a 60s-trippy, frantic crime story with a lot of ins and outs (and whathaveyous), so it’ll be fertile ground for Woo to get as weird as he wants to be.

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Fuji TV, Ridley and Tony Scott are asking that the people of Japan pick up a camera on March 11th to tell their own stories for a massive documentary project being called Japan in a Day. The project will join the growing number of crowd-sourced docs like Life in a Day (which was also produced by Ridley Scott) and the burgeoning world of Post-Tsunami filmmaking (which is in part getting started by Sion Sono). The goal, as with other films like it, is to get a ground-level viewpoint of the everyday in Japan to show the beauty of banality. Videos will be featured on their official Youtube page, and their team will assemble clips into a feature length film for a Fall release in Japan to be followed by an international release sometime later. And what about the people who can’t afford cameras? That’s right – rumors that all Japanese people have bionic, recording eyeballs are false – which is why Scott and Fuji are donating 200 cameras to areas hit hardest by the tsunami so that they can share their stories as well. The production has a trailer/call for films that celebrates the exciting world of walking, waiting, looking around, and otherwise going about your day. Check it out for yourself, and see those all-too-familiar things become poetry:

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Director Peter Webber (Girl With the Pearl Earring) has a new project coming up called Emperor that looks at the tension and confusion in Japan immediately after their surrender in World War II. The film will star Lost’s Matthew Fox as a man named General Bonner Fellers (or “boner feeler” as he was doubtless known in his junior high), who served General Douglas MacArthur as his leading expert on all things Japanese. Basically he was the 40s military version of kids that are really into manga and video games. Being the leading expert on Japan was a pretty important role in this particular moment in history, however, as Fellers ended up being the guy who had to decide whether or not Emperor Hirohito should be tried and hanged as a war criminal. That’s some pretty grave stuff, but Fox won’t have to handle the dramatic load alone. THR is reporting that veteran actor Tommy Lee Jones has now signed on to the project to portray General MacArthur. Emperor producer Gary Foster says of the choice, “Tommy will bring strength, intelligence and gravitas to the portrayal of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a legendary American hero.” Gravitas is a good word to use there. Jones is one of those actors that just lends a certain weight to every role he takes, no matter how ridiculous the movie around him might be. I’m sure his familiar presence will add quite a bit to this historical drama. Hell, at this point he’s practically a legendary […]

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Sion Sono’s films have never really been aimed at a wide audience, but few directors are as capable as he is of making the ugliest things beautiful. Case in point is his latest film, Guilty of Romance. Izumi is the docile wife of a successful romance novelist who saves all of his energy and emotion for his books and readers. Her entire life is in service to him as her daily duties include making sure his shoes are ready for him at the door and his meals are ready for him at dinnertime. She’s also expected to compliment his naked body even though he’s never interested in sharing it with her in any meaningful way. Seriously, the scene where he shows her his penis, fishing for reassuring words, and then tells her she can touch it if she wants is just awkward and painful to watch. But when she steps out of her normal life to get a job and find her own worth she discovers a deviance she never expected… both outside her home and inside herself. She meets Mitsuko, a professor by day who moonlights as a prostitute, and the two of them descend into a very dark hole together. And that’s not a euphemism. Okay, maybe it is.

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The premise of Ben-To is a simple one: being a student is hard, money is tight, and if you want cheap food, you’re going to have to fight for it. The tone seems far less Battle Royale and more Lucky Star, but that’s because a situation where poor students turn to fisticuffs in order to get at discounted food demands to be a broad comedy. Thanks to Twitch, we can share the teaser for the forthcoming Anime series, so check it out for yourself:

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Yoshino (Hikari Mitsushima) is lying to her friends, her parents, and herself, and if she’s not careful it just might get her kil– wait, scratch that. Too late. Her friends and family believe she’s dating and in love with the flashy and wealthy Masuo (Masaki Okada), but that’s not the truth. He barely tolerates her pushy and trashy ways but puts up with her strictly for the sex. The other man in her life is Yuichi (Satoshi Tsumabuki), a guy she met online who pays her for sex even as he begins to develop feelings for her. She cancels her plans with Yuichi one night after convincing Masuo to hang out instead, and as the couple drives away a frustrated and angry Yuichi speeds after them. The next day Yoshino is found dead at the bottom of a ravine. What follows is part murder mystery, part love story, and part exploration into the hearts and minds of those left behind. Two men become suspects. A father and a grandmother begin to crumble beneath the weight of crushing guilt. And an impossible romance grows for a couple with little chance of seeing it blossom. Identifying the villain and victim amidst the emotional chaos is never as simple as it seems.

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It didn’t take long after the character of Wolverine got added to the X-Men back in 1975’s “Giant Size X-Men #1” for him to take the pop culture world by storm and become one of the most beloved and prolific characters in comic book history. By the time 1982 rolled around, the character was so big that he was ready for his first solo title, and so a Chris Claremont-penned Frank Miller-penciled four issue mini-series was released seeing the character travel to Japan, get engaged to a woman named Mariko, and battle some modern day samurai. That first Wolverine in Japan storyline showed the most human side of the character we had seen yet, and over time it has become pretty seminal. That’s why the upcoming sequel to X-Men Origins: Wolverine, adapted to the screen by The Usual Suspects writer Christopher McQuarrie and simply titled The Wolverine, will be drawing on it heavily for inspiration. But we’ve known all of that for a while. What is the new news on the development of this project? The Wolverine used to be a highly anticipated upcoming film back when Darren Aronofsky was attached to direct, but once he dropped off the hype machine died down quite a bit. The last we heard about it, 3:10 to Yuma director James Mangold was most likely to be stepping into Aronofsky’s shoes, and shooting would most likely begin in fall. That news was met with a collective “meh” from the online world, so we haven’t […]

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Sawako (Hikari Mitsushima) isn’t quite leading the life she always wanted in Tokyo. She’s been there for five years and like clockwork is on both her fifth job and fifth boyfriend… neither of which she’s all that thrilled about. The job sees her walked over by her male bosses and abused by little kids, and her private life finds her playing second fiddle to her boyfriend’s daughter, Kayoko (Kira Aihara). Her co-workers tell her to leave Kenichi (Masashi Endo), but she thinks she doesn’t really deserve any better. “We’re both lower-middles,” she says. How can she possibly hope for more? Clearly, Sayako is no bundle of sunshine. She gets a call from home letting her know that her father is gravely ill and she’s needed to help with the family business, a freshwater clam packing company. Her impulse is to say no as she left home for a reason, but she reluctantly lets Kenichi talk her into returning home with both him and his rude daughter in tow. Once there she goes to work trying to keep the factory afloat in her father’s absence, but it won’t be easy. If her door-mat attitude wasn’t bad enough she’s also forced to confront townspeople she offended, deal with her boyfriend’s wandering eye, and accept the guilt of her last words to her father those many years ago.

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Criterion Files

Welcome to the fifth and final installment of Guest Author month at Criterion Files: a month devoted to important classic and contemporary bloggers. This week, David Ehrlich, whose bimonthly column Criterion Corner was a favorite at Cinematical, takes on Paul Schrader’s incredible biopic Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters. Tune in next week as Adam Charles returns Criterion Files to its usual rotation, and in the meantime you can take a look at the previous entries from guest contributors here. Infamous Japanese iconoclast Yukio Mishima once said “I still have no way to survive but to keep writing one line, one more line, one more line…,” a sentiment which suggests that his eventual suicide came only once his creative resources had run dry. Yet, as Paul Schrader’s sublime film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters so fluidly illustrates, Mishima ended his life with a self-administered sword thrust to the chest not because he was out of words, but rather because the page had never been a sufficient canvas for his artistic expression, or one to which he had ever intended to confine himself.

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