Recent blog posts in the category Movies:

Tokyo Rampage

Tokyo Rampage is an example of a movie that’s not very good but remains interesting despite itself. It’s set in modern-day Tokyo and deals with one of the perennial subjects of filmmakers there: disaffected youth and sociopathic Tokyo criminals....

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/06/29 01:51

Tokyo Rampage is an example of a movie that’s not very good but remains interesting despite itself. It’s set in modern-day Tokyo and deals with one of the perennial subjects of filmmakers there: disaffected youth and sociopathic Tokyo criminals. The director in question, Toshiaki Toyoda, has made at least one other truly outstanding movie about that first subject—Blue Spring—but this time around he’s dealing with a story that’s a good deal more arid and far harder to make interesting to an outside audience. He does give it his college best, though, and what he ends up with is enough to hold our attention for its running time but not much more than that.

Rampage opens with Arano (Kōji Chihara), a sullen young man wandering around Tokyo, sunken down in his overcoat and lugging around an airline bag full of weapons. He has some strange, undefined hatred of yakuza, so severe and deeply ingrained that he stabs one to death for the grand crime of scalping theater tickets. The dead gangster’s associate is Kamiju (Onimaru), a long-haired punk only slightly older than Arano himself but with a small crew of hangers-on. Kamiju’s not exactly living large, though: most of his work consists of enforcing collections for his pimp boss, and he spends a good deal of time and effort ducking calls from his mother. Arano is wilder than him or any of his buddies, and they find that downright intimidating where they haven’t found much of anything intimidating before.

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Tags: Japan Toshiaki Toyoda movies review


Kao (Face)

Funny, touching, enthralling, horrifying, and finally heartbreaking, Face is precisely the kind of movie I love most to encounter and then tell others about. No category will encompass it succinctly; it’s an original. One critic called it the greatest Japanese...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/06/29 00:03

Funny, touching, enthralling, horrifying, and finally heartbreaking, Face is precisely the kind of movie I love most to encounter and then tell others about. No category will encompass it succinctly; it’s an original. One critic called it the greatest Japanese film of the last decade or more, and it’s not hard to see why. It tells a story of great ambition in such a modest, careful, understated—and often hilarious—way that its greatest shocks and most powerful moments sneak up on you from behind and stay with you for a long time.

I wonder if some of Face’s sheer bite and sassy vigor comes from the fact that it’s based, however loosely, on a true story: a bar hostess murdered a co-worker, fled, and hid out for years on end before finally being caught. But that seems unfair to director Junji Sakamoto and his lead performer, a stage actress named Naomi Fujiyama. Sakamoto brings a strange combination of quirky black humor and blunt pathos to this story, and Fujiyama’s performance is so unaffected and natural that we forget a camera is watching.

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Tags: Ittoku Kishibe Japan Jun Kunimura Junji Sakamoto movies review


Darker Than Black Vol. 5

Darker Than Black caught my attention from the beginning, held it through each successive installment, and continues to keep me guessing and absorbed. Volume five, the next to last disc in the whole series, does what most penultimate volumes of...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/06/28 22:19

Darker Than Black caught my attention from the beginning,held it through each successive installment, and continues to keep meguessing and absorbed. Volume five, the next to last disc in the wholeseries, does what most penultimate volumes of any series do: it setsthings up in preparation for what we anticipate will be their finalresolutions. Some of this is by filling in backstory, and some of thisis via breaking equilibriums that have held the story together untilnow.

The first half of the disc revolves around Huang—Li /Hei’s “controller”, a regular human who makes up in nerve and bluntnesswhat he lacks in super-powers. He was once a cop, we learn, who lost apartner of his to a Contractor. That alone would be enough to instillthe distrust of (and disgust with) Contractors that we see him evincethroughout the series, but there’s more to it than that. It’s alsoprecisely the sort of “more” not served by talking about her in detail,since the details go a long way towards providing the kind of characterdepth that has made this show a winner.

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Tags: Japan Tensai Okamura anime review


Mushi-shi Vol. #6

A show this good should not have to end. And yet here we are at the sixth and final disc of Mushi-shi, as beautiful and original an anime as any I could ever dare to ask for, and I feel...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/06/27 20:29

A show this good should not have to end.

And yet here we are at the sixth and final disc of Mushi-shi,as beautiful and original an anime as any I could ever dare to ask for,and I feel downright glum knowing there’s no more after this. There isthe manga, courtesy of Del Rey, which I’ll be getting around toreviewing before too much longer, but this series works so well asanime, is so lush and evocative, I fear reading the manga is going tofeel like a step down.

Don’t expect anything like a real climax, though. The final disc of Mushi-shidoes not bring anything to a definitive end, because this series hasnever been about definitive beginnings and endings in the first place.It’s about the flow of life itself, which doesn’t start or concludeanywhere but is simply something you dip into and out of as your timeon earth allows. I was worried the show would devolve into amanufactured conflict with some great enemy—maybe a sinistermushi-master who’s creating an army to do his bidding, etc.—butthankfully, nothing of the kind happens.

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Tags: review


Kairo (Pulse) (Signal)

After Hideo Nakata and the Killer Videotape of Ring, we now get Kiyoshi Kurosawa (of Cure) with a Killer Web Site. Actually, Kairo (or Circuit, as it has been rendered into English) is much smarter and maybe even a...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/06/21 19:24

After Hideo Nakata and the Killer Videotape of Ring, we now get Kiyoshi Kurosawa (of Cure) with a Killer Web Site. Actually, Kairo (or Circuit, as it has been rendered into English) is much smarter and maybe even a little deeper than such a gimmicky description would lead you believe. It doesn't completely work, though -- its bag of ideas is so eclectic that it borders on being schizoid, and by the time the movie is over we're not only not sure what was really going on, but why it would have mattered one way or the other. That said, Kairo is an interesting attempt to make a thinking person's horror movie, and it does pack a few jolts.

A small flower company has subcontracted for some computer work, which is badly overdue. When the employees enter the guy's apartment to find out what's wrong, they find only a strange black stain on the wall -- roughly in the form of a man -- and a floppy disk with an even weirder image on it. It's a picture of the guy, apparently snapped by a webcam, facing his computer, on which is ... the same picture? Asking for coherency from this movie is probably a fool's errand, though.

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Tags: Japan Kiyoshi Kurosawa movies review


Bright Future

Yuji and Mamoru work in a hand-towel factory, a futureless job that seems perfectly suited to two such futureless people. Yuji (Jō Odagiri) is impulsive and confused: he needs someone to guide him in life, and Mamoru (Tadanobu Asano),...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/06/21 19:17

Yuji and Mamoru work in a hand-towel factory, a futureless job that seems perfectly suited to two such futureless people. Yuji (Jō Odagiri) is impulsive and confused: he needs someone to guide him in life, and Mamoru (Tadanobu Asano), his calculating and somehow sinister buddy, has taken that role. Mamoru’s one big hobby outside of work is keeping a live a pet jellyfish, slowly acclimating it to fresh water so that it might survive somewhere other than the ocean. Yuji has no such hobbies or interests, and bounds from one distraction to the other. Then Mamoru engineers a tragedy that almost ensnares Yuji as well, gets sent to prison, and entrusts the other man with his “project.”

This is the setup for Bright Future, director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s most recent film [as of 2005], and after having seen several of his movies I think I am beginning to find a pattern in his work. His movies all concern themselves with somewhat antisocial characters, all trying to undertake an ambitious project of some kind which usually ends in disaster either for all concerned (or the world as a whole).

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Tags: Japan Jō Odagiri Kiyoshi Kurosawa Kōji Yakusho Tadanobu Asano movies review


Charisma

The best movies seem effortless, and Charisma embodies its intentions so effortlessly it almost seems like an accident. Here is a movie about a struggle over a tree, of all things, and yet somehow the director and the cast...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/06/21 19:12

The best movies seem effortless, and Charisma embodies its intentions so effortlessly it almost seems like an accident. Here is a movie about a struggle over a tree, of all things, and yet somehow the director and the cast have managed to invest it with a fascination and an urgency that most movies never reach. It’s not a simpleminded environmentalist’s sermon, but a deep and troubling movie about the place of the individual in society, among many other things.

Charisma opens with a policeman, Yabuike (Kōji Yakusho) being brought into a hostage situation. The whole thing goes horribly wrong, with both the hostage (an MP) and the captor being shot dead, and Yabuike is suspended from the force. Instead of heading home, however, he wanders into a forest and becomes quite lost. There, he comes across a single gnarled tree in a clearing, the object of study by a nature survey team.

The tree is an object of controversy. The nature team is convinced the tree’s root system is destroying the forest around it. There is also an apparently deranged young man who violently shoos everyone else away from the tree and cares for it, in a kind of guerilla-environmentalist fashion. He also cares for an old, senile woman, the widow of a sanitarium that has since fallen into disrepair and which he is using as his squat. Other figures show up, including the cheerful young Mitsuko, a botanist, and her slightly dizzy younger sister Chizuru, all of whom provide Yabuike either with help or a sounding board of sorts for his understanding of the situation.

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Tags: Japan Kiyoshi Kurosawa Kōji Yakusho movies review


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