Rainbow Kids, directed by Kihachi Okamoto, is one of those movies that sounds like it can’t miss, but for some reason it does. It’s a Japanese version of a plot we’ve seen a few times: a gang of kidnappers abduct someone who’s only too happy to go missing, and is soon running the whole shooting match. This time around the kidnappers are a trio of ne’er-do-well twentysomethings who have already done time for petty crimes, and who graduate up to kidnapping a wealthy matron, Old Lady Yanagawa (Tanie Kitabayashi), who has billions of yen in property to her name. She’s a sweet old thing who likes hot tea and hiking through the woods, and the presence of three masked desperadoes in her life gives her something to do.
As it turns out, Yanagawa decides that the best thing to do is to use the whole kidnapping ruse as a way to put one over the chief of police (Ken Ogata) and get her immediate family to pull themselves together and act like a family for a change. She stage-directs a media conference by remote control, throws the cops off her trail again and again, and in the end reveals a set of motives for the whole thing that isn’t just grandmotherly affection for her misguided abductors — although that’s certainly a big part of it. Read more
The Red Spectacles is a little like what you might get if you took a screenplay for one of Jean-Pierre Melville’s movies (Le Samouraï) and gave it to F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu). That doesn’t mean it’s any good, though. Here, the director and screenwriter are Mamoru Oshii, he who gave us the digressions of the Ghost in the Shell films and the deeply underrated Avalon, so I expected at least something thoughtful. Red Spectacles is actually the first live-action movie after he’d already spent a great deal of time in anime (his dream-state production Angel’s Egg immediately predates this film), and it’s clear throughout this movie how he tries to apply an animation director’s sensibilities to what he’s doing. Unfortunately, he doesn’t produce a movie that’s worth watching, let alone one worth thinking deeply about, and in the end even the most hard-core movie buffs will be left scratching their heads.
The plot’s a reworking of a story that Oshii has revisited time and again throughout his career, where an elite metropolitan police force, the Kerberos, were established to combat growing levels of crime, insurgency and corruption. Then the Kerberos themselves succumb to the same vices that they’re allegedly combating, and are disbanded — except for a loyal few, who stick it out to the end after being outlawed. One of their number, Koichi, flees the city and returns several years later to pick up what he’s left behind, to reunite with his comrades and to strike a blow for justice, or something. (A much better version of the Kerberos saga was told in the animated film Jin-roh.) Read more
Harmagedon is an endearing combination of massive ambitions and goofy end results. It’s grand in scope, full of wonder, and thoroughly over-the-top, all of which are things I can admire on the right day. To some people it’ll come off as an animated version of an epic science-fiction novel written by a high-school kid during study hall, but in a weird way that was exactly what I liked about it. I admire movies that are bold, that stick their necks out and run the risk of looking foolish. Sometimes they fall flat on their face; sometimes they achieve greatness; and sometimes, even more rarely, they wind up doing both at the same time.
Genma Taisen, the movie’s Japanese surtitle, translates as The Great War Against Genma — Genma being a demonic creature that is slowly destroying the whole universe (something like the Nothing from The NeverEnding Story). His — its — swath of destruction is now endangering Earth itself, its inhabitant blissfully ignorant of the devastation to come. Well, except for Princess Luna of Transylvania, the “esper” who is awakened to the danger Genma poses when an asteroid obliterates her transatlantic jet. Hovering between life and death, she comes into contact with a kind of cosmic consciousness that implores her to find others like her across the world and defend her world from destruction. Read more
Well, it sure looks good. That’s what I kept saying to myself throughout Last Quarter: it’s a lush, digitally-photographed movie that’s been art-directed and lit to within an inch of its life. And since it stars the gorgeously androgynous J-rocker Hyde (and the no-less-gorgeously-female Chiaki Kuriyama) and was adapted from a girl’s comic, you could guess that it’s mainly a teeny-bopper vehicle for the black-lipstick set. It’s actually a little more sophisticated than that, but not enough to make it really special.
Mizuki (Kuriyama) has problems. On her nineteenth birthday, she discovers her rocker boyfriend is cheating on her, flings a shoe at him while he’s up on stage, storms off like a lame duck and tears up her shapely heel in the process. On the way home she passes a large house shrouded in mist that looks like it was forklifted in from the Universal Studios backlot, and for no discernible reason other than screenwriterly convenience she steps inside. There, she meets Adam (Hyde), a musician who’s renting the place for the week, and who’s playing a song that seems terribly familiar to her.Read more