Blog posts in Movies for October 2009:

Movie Reviews: Blood: The Last Vampire (2009)

You wanted a live-action Blood: the Last Vampire, you got it. The first of the big-budget Hollywood anime adaptations has arrived, and it has pretty much everything you could want from such a project. We get Saya, the katana-swinging vampire...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/10/27 16:23
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You wanted a live-action Blood: the Last Vampire, you got it. The first of the big-budget Hollywood anime adaptations has arrived, and it has pretty much everything you could want from such a project. We get Saya, the katana-swinging vampire hunter in a sailor suit; we get tons of gory, fantastically-photographed action; and with any luck we get the door thrown open to more quality live-action anime adaptations. My money’s still on Vampire Hunter D there, but this’ll do for now.

The basic premise is the same as the Production I.G. animated short feature that should be familiar to most people reading this. In Japan, 1970, a girl named Saya (Korean actress Gianna Jun, of My Sassy Girl and Il Mare) stalks and kills vampires by night. She looks like she might be in her teens, but as always looks deceive: she’s been around for centuries, and this is just her most recent battle. She chafes quite a bit from being on the end of a leash held by her American controllers, since they’re mostly using her to keep the Things That Go Bump In The Night from ruining relations between the U.S. and Japan. These “bottom feeders”, as she calls them, are not her real target—she wants to go after the head bloodsucker, Onigen, who’s been around even longer than she has.

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Tags: Hong Kong Japan Production I.G live-action anime movies review


External Movie Reviews: Claymore: The Complete Series

1994. The dawn of anime fandom. Huddled in my little ratbox NYC apartment, I sat down with a copy of the July/August issue of the now-defunct Anime UK, which sported none other than ur-fan Helen McCarthy in the editor’s chair....

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/10/25 11:12
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1994. The dawn of anime fandom. Huddled in my little ratbox NYC apartment, I sat down with a copy of the July/August issue of the now-defunct Anime UK, which sported none other than ur-fan Helen McCarthy in the editor’s chair. On page 27 I read Peter Evans’s “The Beautiful and the Terrible”, a paean to all strong female leads from Ellen Ripley on through Motoko Kusanagi and beyond. “I find it a constant joy that anime continues to give us a welter of strong, competent, sensible heroines who do not exist purely as a prize or objective for the male ‘hero’,” he wrote, and went on to ask why there were not only so many female leads, but all-female casts for so many shows (Knight Sabers, Eternal Story, et al.). He mused about biology and physiology, the sociological implications of “male” and “female” role behaviors, and in general found a lot to mull over apart from the fact that, yeah, hot chicks in armor kicking ass is a major ratings draw.

2009. The grand tradition of the Beautiful and the Terrible continues. Evidence for the defense: Claymore. Here, again, is another show where not only the lead character but the vast majority of the cast, period, is female—where they do not exist as objects of sexual conquest, and in fact dish out far more devastation and destruction than their generally genderless enemies. The Claymores are presented as chaste but powerful Joan of Arc-like figures—nominally female in form, but unmistakably female in the way they bond with each other and use both tenderness and strength to lift each other up. Clare and her friends may look good, but we’re never in doubt that it’s what on the inside that matters. This is a series about blood and guts, make no mistake, but it’s also about heart and soul, and how “please kill me” and “I love you” can both be words of tenderness.

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Tags: Japan anime review


Movie Reviews: Jungle Emperor Leo

They called Osamu Tezuka the God-Emperor of Manga for a reason: he produced a whole bookshelf's full of work in his lifetime, and had as much impact on the art of comics as any one man has had in any...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/10/23 17:02
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They called Osamu Tezuka the God-Emperor of Manga for a reason: he produced a whole bookshelf's full of work in his lifetime, and had as much impact on the art of comics as any one man has had in any country. That said, it's still possible to derive a mediocre product from his work (much as Romeo and Juliet was turned into a screeching, unwatchable mess by Baz Luhrmann).

Jungle Emperor Leo was adapted from one of Tezuka's comics, and while a great deal of his spirit is present in it, it doesn't quite work. Not nearly as well as the outstanding Metropolis, certainly, which brought us a great many sights unseen and visions undreamed of. The vision of Leo is slightly more mundane -- animals and men conflicting in the jungle -- and it's also hamstrung by storytelling problems that dilute a great deal of what it could have been.

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Tags: Japan Osamu Tezuka anime movies review


Movie Reviews: Makai Tenshō (2003) (Samurai Resurrection)

All countries have their perennial movie subjects. Western viewers get treated to new cinematic versions of Dickens and Shakespeare every few years, and Japan has had no less than three movie adaptations of the immensely popular pulp-fantasy novel Makai Tensho...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/10/23 16:37
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All countries have their perennial movie subjects. Western viewers get treated to new cinematic versions of Dickens and Shakespeare every few years, and Japan has had no less than three movie adaptations of the immensely popular pulp-fantasy novel Makai Tensho (known variously in English as Samurai Reincarnation, Samurai Resurrection, or Darkside Reborn). The first one, a Japanese pop-culture staple, starred the inimitable Sonny Chiba and was directed by Kinji (Battle Royale) Fukasaku; the second one was a dreadful direct-to-video product that wasn’t even worth slamming. This version, released in 2003 under the banner of the Kadokawa media empire, isn’t quite as gleefully wild as the first but it sports better graphics and hardware (so to speak) and is still fairly fun to watch.

Makai Tensho takes inspiration from an actual historical personage, Christian rebel Amakusa Shiro Tokusada (Yōsuke Kubozuka, of Ping Pong), who stood off against the Shogunate in 1638 along with his army of thousands of loyalists. The movie opens with the final siege against his stronghold in progress, a massive battle scene with hundreds of extras and full-scale sets that’s over way too soon. Shiro is beheaded by his enemies, but not before making a pact with the underworld to rise again as a demonic incarnation of revenge. With him come several other figures from Japanese history, including another Christian martyr, the Lady Hosokawa (Clara Oshina), whose seductiveness takes over where Shiro’s powers to raise the dead leave off.

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Tags: Japan movies review samurai


Movie Reviews: The Most Terrible Time In My Life

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in the movies they just call it homage. The Most Terrible Time In My Life might seem like parody at first, but it’s actually a sincere love letter to Hollywood’s hard-boiled...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/10/23 16:33
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Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but in the movies they just call it homage. The Most Terrible Time In My Life might seem like parody at first, but it’s actually a sincere love letter to Hollywood’s hard-boiled detective movies. It mixes black comedy, straight drama and hard-boiled noir very effectively—it’s genuinely enjoyable, and not just some self-indulgent filmmaking exercise. Movies like this are hard enough to get right for real, so to turn them into a kind of in-joke is only all the more self-defeating; I love it when a director is able to be sincere with his source material and not simply hijack it.

I suspect some people are simply going to consider Life a sophisticated act of cinematic plagiarism. Consider the main character’s name: Maiku Hama. Yes, that’s a Nipponification of “Mike Hammer,” much in the same way popular Japanese horror writer Edogawa Rampo took his name from a similar rendition of Edgar Allan Poe.

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Tags: Japan Kaizo Hayashi Masatoshi Nagase movies noir review


Movie Reviews: The World Sinks Except Japan

History lesson first. One of Japan’s best-selling novels in recent years was Sakyo Komatsu’s Japan Sinks, a bit of Crichton-like popular SF about seismic activity causing the Japanese islands to disappear into the Pacific. It was adapted into a hit...

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/10/14 20:39
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History lesson first. One of Japan’s best-selling novels in recent years was Sakyo Komatsu’s Japan Sinks, a bit of Crichton-like popular SF about seismic activity causing the Japanese islands to disappear into the Pacific. It was adapted into a hit movie not just once but twice, thus converting itself into a prime target for satire. No less a satirist than Yasutaka Tsutsui, he of Paprika fame, took it upon himself to pen just such a lampooning: The World Sinks Except For Japan.

And now we have a movie version of said parody, courtesy of Minoru Kawasaki—he of Executive Koala and Calamari Wrestler and a whole slew of other satire / parody / black comedy hybrids. The underlying idea is to poke fun at Japan’s nascent insularity, or at least the worst aspects of it. Like the very material it parodied, it ended up being a big hit, although those of us who weren’t there for it are likely to not laugh as hard. Some bits are dead-on, some are not, and some are just aimless milling around.

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Tags: Japan Minoru Kawasaki movies review


Movie Reviews: Crows Zero

At this point Takashi Miike could shoot a movie about tree bark and make it work. He has made films in every conceivable genre—and some of no conceivable genre—and is not only comfortable but downright revolutionary in many of them....

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2009/10/09 23:20
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At this point Takashi Miike could shoot a movie about tree bark and make it work. He has made films in every conceivable genre—and some of no conceivable genre—and is not only comfortable but downright revolutionary in many of them. Crows Zero is Miike returning to territory he practically has a monopoly on: gangsters and delinquents. What I didn’t expect was how oddly charming the results would be. It’s a great example of how Japanese movies go for the heartstrings at the same time they go for the gut.

The plot’s straight out of a shonen manga—in fact, it is one, since it was adapted from the comic of the same name. It’s set in Suzuran High, one of those fantasy schools where the students are all ass-kicking punks, classes are never in, graffiti covers more surfaces than ads do at the Indy 500, and everyone’s fighting to be the king of the hill. In strides freshman Genji (Shun Oguri), determined to climb to the top of the heap as a way to score points with his gangster father. He sets his sights on the current #1, Serizawa (Takayuki Yamada), and while he has strength and heedlessness to spare, he’s only one guy. He needs to build an army, and he doesn’t know how to do that yet.

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Tags: Japan Takashi Miike movies review


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