Takeshi Kitano’s Takeshis’ was Kitano On Kitano, an attempt to turn a mirror on himself, and it works. Kantoku Banzai is Kitano On Kitano Yet Again, where he not only deconstructs his own career as a director but Japanese cinema in general as we have been forced to know it lately. The problem with the movie is simple: it isn’t funny.
There’s a good deal more that’s wrong with this film, actually. It’s gratuitous, insular, and boring on top of being not funny, but any one of those problems would have been solved by it being funny in the first place. Or entertaining, or even genuinely insightful for more than a couple of minutes at a time — something Banzai tries to do, fitfully, only to run aground over and over again. It’s clearly an attempt by Kitano to do a creative end run around his inability to bring an idea to fruition, any idea, but that doesn’t make this thing any more bearable. It’s the cinematic version of a beached whale, which thrashes about for 105 minutes and is then blown up to be put out of its misery. Read more
So, picture this. Sometime in Japan’s future, while some great war continues raging somewhere, a law has been passed that allows the victims of violent crime to legally retaliate against those who have wronged them. The whole process is strictly managed and controlled. The aggrieved can only use approved weapons, for instance, and the one being targeted is given notice of the action. Those who don’t have the nerve to do it themselves can hire a government-licensed killer to finish the job. The victim can escape only by killing his killers, who can also hire bodyguards to protect them — unless, say, they’re too proud to accept the help.
Freesia is not the first example of a genre Japan seems to specialize in, which for lack of any better label I’ll call “sociological science fiction”. The great-god-emperor of all such stories is ostensibly Battle Royale, where a fight to the death was couched in a sociology that could only be called “Darwinistic” at the cost of making Darwin do barrel rolls in his grave. This film, adapted from a manga of the same name, fits comfortably into the same category without trying to be a one-upsmanship job. It’s more low-key and simmering than the explosion of the other film.
Note: I was unable to finish watching this film due to the DVD being defective. At some point I plan to find a working copy and update this review. Read for flavor. Read more
Queen’s Blade’s is an adventure story with the plot of a fighting game, the heart of an X-rated dating sim, and no brain to split between them. It comes straight out of the same chainmail-bikini school of post-feminist storytelling that spawned the live-action Charlie’s Angels movies, where (to borrow a phrase from, I think, David Marsh) the best way for a woman to improve herself is by being flat on her back.
I know, I know — I shouldn’t expect much. The whole thing’s been derived from a series of fantasy RPG game books more notable for showing acres of skin than for their game mechanic. We’re not talking about anything that’s likely to cop a Japan Media Arts Festival award. What’s irritating is how the creators have compromised both the body and the brains of the outfit. The story is decently done and even gets incrementally more interesting as it goes along, but a) the real target audience for the show could clearly care less and b) the flesh parade makes it impossible to take the storytelling as anything but a sop to the Redeeming Social Value crowd. They needed to pick one angle and stick with it, for better or worse. Read more
You know within the first few seconds of Yakuza: Like a Dragon that you’re watching a Takashi Miike movie. That is, if you’ve seen his movies before, you’ll recognize all his amusing little hallmarks here: the dazzling, fast-moving cinematography, the stable of actors he draws on regularly (e.g., Sho Aikawa), the bizarre off-center humor that blooms in every scene like weeds coming out of concrete. They’re all on parade in a movie based on a videogame franchise that felt like it was itself a Takashi Miike movie — no small feat since many of Miike’s movies already feel like they’re video games. What’s the term for this? Circular one-upsmanship?
No, I haven’t played the video game, although my friend Eric has more than made up for me in that department. Although from everything I can gather, Yakuza has little enough to do with the game that it won’t matter — it draws on the game more for situational inspiration than as an attempt to make it a live-action walkthrough. Fine by me, since it is possible to be faithful to a fault: I don’t think Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children appealed to anyone but fans of the game, and I’m not sure it was designed to do anything but that in the first place. Read more