Movie Review – Kako: My Sullen Past (JAPAN CUTS 2016)

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EXPECTATIONS: No idea. But it has FUMI NIKAIDO!!

REVIEW: I honestly have no expectations of what this film is about. I didn’t browse through reviews or watch the trailer, but all I knew about this film was that Fumi Nikaido and Kyoko Koizumi were in it as the two leads. I have fan-boyed over Nikaido for long enough, like praising her versatility of roles like playing a human equivalent of a goldfish to a psychopathic terrorist, so I won’t dwell more into it. As for Koizumi, I’ve been an admirer of her work because she is such a quiet force of nature that her sheer presence will elicit a reaction from anyone. Her roles in the thrilling TV drama (later turned into feature-length) Penance to the under-seen darkly comic drama Before the Vigil and the horrifically true family drama Tokyo Sonata are clear examples of her talent. So with two impeccably talented actresses in the leads, that alone got me excited. And to have the screenwriter of great films of A Story of Yonosuke and Isn’t Anyone Alive? at the helm, this got near the top of the lists of films I wanted to see. Did the film live up to the talent involved or will it fizzle out with a light blow-up?

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Fumi Nikaido stars as the titular character, Kako, a high school who is trudging through the boring summer holidays, taking care of her niece at her family’s restaurant at Kitashinagawa. She has an affinity for past events, particularly ones that involve deaths and kidnapping (or in one case, crocodiles), and points out that she can see the future. And because of that so-called gift, she has incredibly low expectations of the future for herself, as well as others. But her life suddenly changes when her Aunt Mikiko (Kyoko Koizumi) suddenly appears into her life. And this is a huge surprise for the whole family, not just because of a long absence, but she was assumed to have been dead for 18 years. But what made her come back into the family life? Where has she been? What has she been doing? Who is she? Rumours begin to spread that she may have been overseas, fighting the government. Making bombs, destroying Yakuza headquarters; sounds like things a typical Aunt would do.

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The film’s narrative is as weird as if gets, but it sure doesn’t play out that way. It plays out as understated as Japanese cinema can reach, and considering the mileage that director Shiro Maeda gets out of it, I think he made the right choice with his approach. Not having seen his directorial debut, The Extreme Sukiyaki, I have no prior knowledge of how his direction would come about, but I think he did a good job writing/directing this film. The dialogue is drolly cynical yet surprisingly human and the odd story is dealt with in a calm way, that the humour is more sly than explicit and the ridiculous elements peppered throughout the story all have a good payoff that lends weight and growth to the characters. A subplot involving crocodiles is a great example and it makes the ending very satisfying. A repeat viewing is recommended just to watch all the moments and to figure out what they mean, but that’s part of the fun.

There is also a healthy amount of offbeat humour that made me chuckle quite a bit, that thankfully feels natural to the story, and is not just included for the sake of laughs. There’s a scene where Kako is staring intently towards the water to see if there are any crocodiles while other civilians are running towards two people angrily fighting each other in the background. People are telling Kako about it, but she pays no mind to them whatsoever, to the point where she claims that she’s seen it all. The scene stands out because it clearly focuses more on the character (as the shot placement shows Kako in the foreground, and the fight in the background) and her contrast between her and the supposed main event was funny to witness. Other offbeat moments involve Kako babysitting her unnamed niece and she again stands in one spot and stares at her intently and there is a scene in the final act that involves the use of an umbrella that starts out dramatic but ends up being funny because it starts off dramatic. And don’t get me started on the tip of that scene. When you watch the film, you will know what I mean when I say the word “tip”.

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With all the humour that I have stated, it seems like I am making the film out as an all-out comedy, but it isn’t. There’s plenty of relationships and character reveals to go around and they all get their moments to shine, but it is not seen to be significant to the story all that much, but the characters themselves. Director Maeda creates distinct and compelling characters and his storytelling is complimentary to them in the best way. Kako is as world-weary as it gets, but she seems to have an unhealthy fixation with the past. The enigmatic Mikiko is a cool and collected woman, in a graceful way that only Kyoko Koizumi can portray, but her attitude is unexpected when you consider the rumour that she could be a terrorist. And despite the hatred that Kako has towards Mikiko, she is again fixated towards someone elses’ past and she gradually realizes that they are more similar than she would care to admit. Both ample in storytelling as well as character growth, director Maeda has a subtle, yet assured hand that makes it work.

But none of the characters would stand out as well without the talented cast. The character of Kako could have been seen as annoying, but thankfully Nikaido sidesteps that pratfall with such a sardonic attitude that it comes off as witty. The first scene she has is with an aspiring rock-star (Yuki Yamada) and it sets her performance perfectly. Kyoko Koizumi is fantastic as Mikiko, showing the sense of grace that Koizumi always does but to apply it to a character that has a subtle fire in her, it gives the character a very sophisticated and surprisingly philosophical side that piques the audience’s interest as well as the character of Kako’s. The character is the catalyst of the story and that is when the film takes flight, thanks to Koizumi.  It certainly helps that the chemistry between her and Nikaido works wonders as the crabbiness of the latter compliments the cool and impassive behaviour of the former. The rest of the cast are great like Kengo Kora as the stranger and Itsuji Itao as the father who may have a secret up his sleeve.

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The story may be a bit too weird for some and the characters may not be inherently likable for the mainstream to take interest in. Some of the character’s actions may turn people off and in this day of age, it can be seen as downright irresponsible. Plus, for those who are expecting the film to be more overstated and insistent in either of its comedy or drama will definitely leave disappointed, as director Maeda’s approach to the story is more understated. The film’s pacing can be a bit faster, but it complements the ennui that the characters experience throughout.

Kako: My Sullen Past is an offbeat family drama that stands out due to the performances of the two leads, director Maeda’s script and its compelling mixture of surrealistic humour and the understated human drama.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic lead performances

Maeda’s offbeat script and story

The wonderfully and surrealistic humour compliments the human drama in a subtle manner

Many odd moments all coalesce in the end

CONS

The slow pace and understated approach may irk audiences

Some irresponsible actions from the characters

SCORE: 8/10

Cast: Kyoko Koizumi, Fumi Nikaido, Kengo Kora, Itsuji Itao, Mochika Yamada, Kumi Hyodo, Yuki Yamada, Takashi Kodama, Ahmad Ali, Makoto Otake, Kitaro, Shigeru Saiki, Mei Kurokawa, Masayo Umezawa
Director: Shiro Maeda
Screenwriters: Shiro Maeda

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Movie Review – Time Renegades

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EXPECTATIONS: A return to form for Kwak Jae-yong.

REVIEW: Director Kwak Jae-yong, quite frankly, is a bit of a sap. Not offending him in any way, but as the evidence states that in all of his films contain a melodramatic love story of some sort, he really is. From his debut years of the Watercolor Painting in a Rainy Day films to the worldwide critical acclaim he received with the 2001 mega-blockbuster My Sassy Girl and his expansion into other genres and other countries like 2003’s classical drama The Classic or the two 2008 films like the wuxia/rom-com My Mighty Princess or the Japanese sci-fi/time-travel film, Cyborg Girl. But since then, he hasn’t made much progress lately due to screenwriting-only duties like Tsui Hark’s 2008 bonkers comedy All About Women, failed film projects like Yang Gui Fei, to his unfortunate nadir with 2014’s China rom-com, Meet Miss Anxiety. But now, director Kwak is back (I didn’t mean to rhyme, honest!) in Korea with another love story within a backdrop of a crime thriller for Time Renegades. Will this be a true return to form that made us love his work in the first place or will it start off a path that will end in eventual mediocrity?

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During New Year’s Eve celebrations at Bosingak Belfry in Seoul, 2014 rookie detective Geon-woo (Lee Jun-uk) and 1982 high school music teacher Ji-hwan (Jo Jung-suk) suffer life-threatening injuries after both of them were trying to stop a thief. When all hope seems lost, a momentary power blackout brings both men back from the brink. Back in 1983, Ji-hwan has just recently proposed to his long-time girlfriend Yoo-jung (Lim Soo-jung), a sweet and intelligent science teacher working at the same school. While in 2015, Geon-woo has a laughable encounter with So-eun (also Lim Soo-jung), a headstrong and sassy woman who is a doppelganger for Yoo-jung and also a school teacher. What links both the men from the two time periods is that they both dream of each others points of view and the tragic. untimely death of Yoo-jung.

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This is Kwak’s first venture into crime thriller territory and I am happy to say that he has done a fantastic job. The pacing, the action scenes (one involving an escape) and the foreshadowing (like a simple blackout) are all great. But the thing that really struck me when I watched the opening was how incredibly razor sharp the editing was. Considering the two time periods and an action scene that crosses the two, it is fantastic to see concise and clear editing supporting the story. What’s even more amazing is that the editing is so good that it nullifies one of the major flaws in director Kwak Jae-yong’s film-making. Usually, his works have bloated running times and the narratives have needless subplots and run longer than they should, so in the case of Time Renegades, it’s a miracle that Kwak learned his lesson and he immediately grips the audience from the very first scene.

After the bravura opening scene, Kwak wisely develops an emotional through-line with the three leads (or four, technically) gleefully letting loose with the thrills and it makes the film that much better as Kwak ensures us that the characters are worth caring about. He and screenwriters Ko Jeong-un and Lee Sang-hyun also create intriguing side characters that may or may not be involved with the murder of Yoo-jung. In 1983, Ji-hwan investigates people like Seung-beoum (Lee Min-ho), a rambunctious student and Hyung-chul (Jung Woong-in), a construction worker to a unnamed biology teacher (Jeon Shin-hwan) who might or might not have the eyes on Yoo-jung. We also have other distinct characters like Geon-woo’s sidekick (Lee Ki-woo) and newly-appointed veteran commander Lt. Kang (Jung Jin-young) who is haunted by the murder of his wife years ago. All the supporting characters are well-realized and well acted and add a lot of spice to the film, especially when Kwak teases the audience by making all of them look suspicious that one of them might be the killer.

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But let’s not discount the main actors here, who provide great work. Cho Jung-seok is easy to root for as Ji-hwan, as he shares fantastic chemistry with Soo-jung and has a every-man vibe that easily engenders sympathy (despite the pretty-boy looks). Lee Jin-wook is convincingly determined as Geon-woo, the rookie detective who becomes immersed in the murder case of Yoo-jung. But the MVP here in this film is Lim Soo-jung. Capturing my heart attention since her fantastic performance in the horror drama A Tale of Two Sisters and giving more performances of the like in films like the romantic drama …ing and the subversive rom-com All About My Wife, Lim destroys the male performances into oblivion with her dual roles. Playing Yoo-jung with brimming intelligence and sweet nature, she clinches the love story into place, ensuring that it works to immerse the audience. While her character of So-eun is so endearingly brash that it actually reminded me of Jeon Ji-hyun’s performance in My Sassy Girl. She even exclaims in a comedic manner to Geon-woo’s character whether he wanted to die, which had to be a reference to My Sassy Girl. It is just Jung’s performance alone that ensures that Time Renegades has a beating heart underneath its surrealistic narrative.

With all stories of this nature, there are flaws involving logic and plot and Time Renegades is no exception. Events in the past do change the line of time in the future, but there are some moments that would befuddle the audience. Fortunately, the film establishes its own logic that it rarely takes the audience out of the film. There isn’t even an explanation or long scenes of exposition of how the dream-sharing works, but it never truly matters to director Kwak, and neither should it matter to the audience, since the characters are the heart of the film. The cinematography by Lee Sung-jae is beautiful and clearly thought out, making the time periods easy to discern, while the score by Kim Jin-sung is effective, if emotionally overbearing at times. And for those who are expecting a film involving time-travel, which is implied by the title, will be disappointed, since it has no time travel whatsoever.

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Time Renegades is a triumphant return-to-form as well as a great departure to new territory, melding his passion for love stories to the crime thriller genre with a killer premise. And with great performances, distinct characters, plenty of thrills and air-tight pacing, Time Renegades continues the roll of fantastic Korean cinema.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Kwak Jae-yong’s direction and storytelling

The concise editing and beautiful cinematography

The distinct characters

The great performances (especially from Lim Soo-jung)

The trippy premise

CONS

Minor plot holes and lapses in logic

Musical score can be a bit overbearing at times

SCORE: 9/10

Cast: Jo Jung-suk, Lim Soo-jung, Lee Jun-uk, Jung Jin-young, Lee Min-ho, Jeon Shin-hwan, On Ju-wan, Lee Ki-woo
Director: Kwak Jae-yong
Screenwriters: Ko Jeong-un, Lee Sang-hyun, Kwak Jae-yong

Movie Review – Emi-Abi (JAPAN CUTS 2016)

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EXPECTATIONS: Absolutely no idea.

REVIEW: Comedic dramas, or dramedies, are an incredibly hard genre to pull off. A delicate balance and an assured hand in directing is key so the audience can be able to accept the switch in genres without alienating the audience or worse, causing unintentional laughter. Some really bad or disappointing comedy-dramas are the insufferable Patch Adams and the badly realized superhero film Hancock. Films such as those lack a delicate balance that makes them fail miserably. Now we have the director of one of my personal favourite Aoi Miyazaki films, Loved Gun, who is also the award-winning screenwriter of the fantastic drama The Great Passage; coming back into film-making after an 8-year absence with Emi-Abi, a dramedy about a comedy duo going through a tragic event that is no laughing matter. Does director Watanabe still have his directing chops to make a great dramedy or has he lost his touch and will end up with an unintentionally comic disaster?

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Ryu Morioka and Tomoya Maeno stars as Jitsudo and Unno, two aspiring comedies whom together combine to make a comedic duo called Emi-Abi. But unfortunately, Unno had tragically passed away in a car accident, which leaves Jitsudo depressed and his career dwindling. The accident also affects retired comedian Kurosawa (Hirofumi Arai), whose sister Hinako (Mari Yamachi) was also in the same car as Unno was. Supported by his manager, Natsumi (Haru Kuroki) who may have more comedic chops that Jitsudo does, he and Kurosawa gradually learn to come to terms with the passing of their loved ones as well as summon up the courage to learn the true depths of what comedy truly is.

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The story makes it sound like it is going to be a hard feat to pull off, but goddamn, director Watanabe pulls it off. His direction of how he handles the tone shifts are smooth and never takes the audience out of the movie. There is a scene in the movie where Unno and Hinako are in a conflict and Unno is forced to make the bullies laugh for them to leave unharmed, so he does a comedy routine that involves flatulence and Watanabe pulls off the scene with ease. His storytelling with time shifts are always well-integrated into the film without fancy transitions and he never leaves the audience feeling lost within the narrative. There is even an element of surrealism that accentuates the depths of comedy that the characters are looking for. It also provides a convincing story element that conveys courage and the push that the characters desperate need to drive themselves as well as adding unpredictability into the story. Like the hilarious use of the deus ex machina trope in a scene where Kurosawa tries to make family members of the deceased to laugh.

Much credit should be given to the actors, who make their characters much more developed than the tight running time would imply. Ryu Morioka is convincing as Jitsudo, as he conveys the character’s fear, anger and brash attitude really well, and his comedic chops are also well-done. Tomoya Maeno plays the comedic side of Unno with ease, but it is the dramatic aspects that Maeno is a surprise to see, even when all of it is overacting and cliched. We clearly see his motivations and thoughts (a shy introvert who’s unlucky at love) and thanks to Maeno’s performance and Watanabe’s script, the character presence of Unno hangs over the film, even when he is not on-screen. The two share fantastic scenes together with wonderfully funny comedic routines that involve penile gags that are visually wondrous. Yeah, I said it.

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As for the supporting cast, the same goes for Mari Yamachi, who provides an amusing contrast to Maeno’s performance, with her acidic tongue used towards Unno while hiding her true feelings. Hirofumi Arai handles the character’s depression effortlessly while also playing the straight man to the comedic antics with aplomb. His thousand-yard stare is pure comic perfection. And last but not least, Haru Kuroki provides ample support as the mother manager of Morika’s character who gets him out of his rut. She also engages in the antics and brings out the best of the actors. The chemistry with the cast and the three-dimensional portrayals is what makes the film stand out.

As for flaws, it does take a bit for the story to get going as the through-line is not readily apparent and the tone shifts will irk some, since having comedy being executed during a serious matter is not universally seen as a good thing. But apart from those nit-picks, Emi-Abi is a wonderful surprise that packs plenty of laughs, tears and gasps that guarantee a wonderful time at the movies. The film’s title translates as “showered with smiles” and the film certainly does that.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic performances from the main cast

Well-realized and distinct characters

Watanabe’s assured direction melds opposing genres with ease

Surprisingly emotional and substantial within its short running time

CONS

Tone shifts may irk some

A bit of a slow start

SCORE: 9/10

Cast: Ryu Morioka, Tomoya Maeno, Haru Kuroki, Hirofumi Arai, Mari Yamachi
Director: Kensaku Watanabe
Screenwriters: Kensaku Watanabe

Movie Review – The Shell Collector (JAPAN CUTS 2016)

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EXPECTATIONS: A beautiful yet unfulfilling experience.

REVIEW: Art-house films are such an enigma within film-making and alongside other forms of art, it is rightfully so. Obviously not for mainstream audiences, I personally believe an art-house film still has to adhere to a perfect balance of these two traits in order to succeed: a human element and the power of suggestion. Films from directors like David Lynch, Terrence Malick and others are prime examples. As for myself, I am not a knowledgeable person about such a genre, but I do have an open mind of such films and when I heard about The Shell Collector, I was cautiously ecstatic. The talented cast and the beautiful trailer certainly sealed the deal. But does the film deliver a memorable experience or will it drown in a sea of meaningless drivel?

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Lily Franky stars as the nameless blind professor who lives on a small remote island in Okinawa. He has separated his life from his wife and activist son (Sosuke Ikematsu) and has dedicated himself to the field of conchology, due to its wondrous mystery and beauty. Until one day, a woman is swept up to the shore and the blind professor rescues her to his care. She is revealed to be Izumi (Shinobu Terajima), a painted who is suffering from some sort of paralytic disease which disables her from painting. Despite the professor’s reluctance of having company, the two get to know one another but she is suddenly struck by a poisonous sting from one of the shells that the blind professor was nursing. But somehow, Izumi not only survives, but she is also cured of her affliction. Word spreads about the miraculous shell to the point that it threatens the peaceful civility of the professor’s life with potentially tragic results.

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First things first, this will be a short review considering the short running time (87 minutes) but if there is one thing that will stick with you about The Shell Collector, it is the breathtaking cinematography by Akiko Ashizawa. The compositions of the island, the professor’s dwelling and especially the underwater scenes are so magnificently well-realized, it completely immerses the audience like a cool gust of wind at a beach during low tide. And director Tsubota certainly delivers on the metaphors, particularly one involving Franky’s character sitting on a lawnchair in the ocean floor. The musical score by Billy Martin (not the baseball player) is melodic and complimentary to the film’s tone, but never overused to the point of being cloying.

As for the performances, all the actors give variable performances with the material they are given but the stand-out is Lily Franky, who compliments the film with his subtle, yet compelling performance. Shinobu Terajima is a bit too overstated as Izumi, especially when her character is cured of her affliction. It may make sense of the character development, but her performance could have been better handled. Sosuke Ikematsu doesn’t really make much of an impression as the son of Franky’s character, but the script doesn’t really help him much to the point that it makes his character seem like a spoilt child, rather than the vocal activist he was meant to portray. And since his performance doesn’t work, the contrast between him and the tranquility of Franky’s professor doesn’t work out as effectively as it should. Ai Hashimoto doesn’t even have much dialogue to speak of, although her presence within the film is quite effective and her monologue in the final act does have an impact.

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Despite the production values and Franky’s performance, there isn’t really much to speak of in terms of its thematic impact. While there are some disturbing visual metaphors (like and images i.e. a painting that Izumi paints on the professor’s wall, but they don’t offer much food-for-thought beyond the simple messages of “coming out of your shell” and “don’t mess with nature”. And since the relationship between Franky’s character and Ikematu’s character doesn’t work, the contrast of their relationship and the relationship between man and nature and how they correlate doesn’t make enough of an impact for the audience to really care as neither the character arcs.

So with the underdeveloped script, the lack of thematic material, the slow pace, the hypnotic images/music and the understated performances does not add up to much other than a visual and aural experience that may put people to sleep. I wanted to like this film but it just couldn’t gather enough to keep me involved. The film is like a mixed bag with some shells of greatness but most of the shells are tarnished.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Astoundingly beautiful cinematography

Lily Franky’s performance

Complimentary musical score

CONS

Underdeveloped script and characters

Lack of compelling thematic material

The performances are a mixed bag

SCORE: 5/10

Cast: Lily Franky, Shinobu Terajima, Sosuke Ikematsu, Ai Hashimoto, Akira Fukuhara, Masahiro Aragaki
Director: Yoshifumi Tsubota
Screenwriters: Kaori Sawai, Yoshifumi Tsubota, based on the novel of the same name by Anthony Doerr

Movie Review – Mohican Comes Home (JAPAN CUTS 2016)

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EXPECTATIONS: A very entertaining comedy/drama similar to Shuichi Okita’s earlier films.

REVIEW: The family drama genre is usually a mixed bag for me. Especially when it has comedic elements that are meant to offset the drama and prevent the film from being a total drag. If the film veers too much towards comedy, it will dilute the power of the drama and even the reality of the film. If the film veers too much towards drama, ironically, it will also dilute the reality of the film and even take the film into unintentionally comedic territory. So there must be a delicate balance between the two that will make a great film. Enter director Shuichi Okita. He has made great comedy/dramas like The Woodsman and the Rain and A Story of Yonosuke and this is his first family drama film. With a talented cast assembled with young talent and acting veterans and a relatable story at hand, will Okita succeed in making another great film?

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Ryuhei Matsuda stars as Eikichi, a failing rock musician who hasn’t really amounted to anything worthwhile in life after 7 years in the city. The only ray of sunshine in his life is the slightly ditzy and very pregnant Yuka (Atsuko Maeda). She decides to declare her pregnancy to Eikichi’s family, despite his reluctance to go back to his hometown. So a long ferry ride later, they both arrive to meet Eikichi’s family, consisting of Koji (Yudai Chiba), Eikichi’s timid younger brother; Haruko (Masako Motai), Eikichi’s optimistic mother and last but certainly not least, Osamu (Akira Emoto), Eikichi’s grouchy father. The meeting of father and son could have not been any worse but in a random change of thought, Osamu brags to family and friends about becoming a grandfather and plans a party. Osamu then collapses after a drunken fit and is taken to the hospital, where he’s diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. Upon hearing the tragic news, Eikichi and Yuka have no choice but to postpone their return to Tokyo.

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This movie was a huge surprise for me. For a story such as this, it has all the ingredients of an inspirational family drama. A dying parent, a deadbeat child trying to make amends, uplifting moments of family togetherness and an ending that should be an emotional crescendo. Yet, Mohican Comes Home plays these tropes out in such an understated and even off-kilter way, that it becomes extremely endearing. The film is not really a comedy, nor is it really a drama; it basically is a slice-of-life with all the happiness and sadness that comes with it, but director Shuichi Okita directs the film for all of the story’s worth, to great effect.

One refreshing change that Okita executes is that there is no sentimentalism to be found at all. Not one drop. Moments of potential tragedy are either played comically or farcically, but never stripped out of its reality. The ending of the film had be gasping with shock and hilarity, yet it still felt surprisingly human. Character interactions are intimately realized and easily endear the audience to the characters i.e. a scene when Yuka learns how to gut a fish from Haruko after failing miserably on her first try. There are no big emotional moments like soul-bearing reconciliations or incredibly cloying moments in the rain (although there is a scene set in the rain); the family gradually come to terms with each other in its own quirky way, but it never feels like the film is doing it for the sake of being quirky. There’s a scene that had me laughing due to the absurdity of it all and it involves a pizza that Osamu remembers eating fondly and Eikichi tries to find it for him which leads to three competing pizza delivery boys.

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The actors certainly pay up on their end of the bargain and Okita gets his money’s worth. Ryuhei Matsuda certainly looks the part of a grungy musician but his usual understated approach makes Eikichi surprisingly relatable and even charismatic at times. Atsuko Maeda brings out the slacker charm that made her so likable in Tamako in Moratarium as Yuka, the surprisingly bubbly mother-to-be. Masako Motai plays the loving mother Haruko with ease while Akira Emoto plays the cliched “crazy old man” archetype as great as one would hope, but when his backstory is gradually revealed, it makes his behaviour believable to the point that Eikichi isn’t really that far from the proverbial family tree. While Koji clearly comes from the mother’s side, as evident by Yudai Chiba’s shy performance.

As for flaws, there are hardly any that come to mind. The 2-hour run-time can be shortened a bit, but the time spent developing the characters is well-utilized. And for those who are expecting the tropes of the family drama genre will be either end up being surprised or disappointed. Or even both.

Mohican Comes Home is a fantastic film that has director Shuichi Okita turning the family drama genre on its head and its fantastic performances and its refreshing storytelling guarantee that the film goes out like a rock-star.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic performances

Endearingly oddball characters

Refreshing storytelling and directing

Surprisingly human despite amusingly farcical humour

A fantastically satisfying ending.

CONS

Slightly overlong running time

SCORE: 9/10

Cast: Ryuhei Matsuda, Akira Emoto, Atsuko Maeda, Masako Motai, Yudai Chiba, Katsumi Kiba, Jun Miho, Ryota Koshiba, Miu Tomita
Director: Shuichi Okita
Screenwriters: Shuichi Okita

Movie Review – Jossy’s

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EXPECTATIONS: An amusing spoof of the tokusatsu genre that loses its momentum due to repetition.

REVIEW: The tokusatsu genre has always been a favourite of mine, with the incredibly straightforward heroes, the extravagant costumes and villains, the incredibly ridiculous plots and even the repetition of said plots. For those who don’t know, tokusatsu is basically any live-action media that involves colourful special effects that are mostly aimed for children. As for Western audiences, there are adaptations of tokusatsu over in America like Godzilla and Power Rangers that are still popular today, with even a new Power Rangers film on the way. And with such a popular genre, there will be lots of spoofs and parodies about it and this is where we enter Jossy’s, a tokusatsu parody that knocks all the tropes and cliches of the genre, particularly ones involving Super Sentai. With an all-female cast and the lowest of budgets, will Jossy’s save the world and be a fun film or will it fail and sink into the clutches of evil?

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The story starts off with five different young women (Kirei Miritani, Mitsuki Takahata, Mizuki Yamamoto, Mina Fujii and Kasumi Arimura) of different characteristics and personalities being assembled against their will by male leader Charles (Jiro Sato) who only appears as a hologram projection. Amusingly, they were only chosen due to their last names due to having colours in their surnames (Red, Yellow, Navy, Blue and Green respectively). Nevertheless, they take on the task to save the world from complete destruction, but it does have its caveats like the increasingly unfortunate timings of interfering with their daily lives and careers. And there are the little things like demanding salaries for their heroic deeds and the little difference in colour between Navy and Blue and the amusingly crappy name of Jossy’s, which makes just as little sense to the Japanese as well as the Western audience.

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Jossy’s is directed by Yuichi Fukuda, who directed comedies like the Hentai Kamen films and Kids Police, so he definitely has a hand in amusing comedies and thankfully, Jossy’s continues that trend. The skewering of the tokusatsu genre is surprisingly accomplished. So much so that even the flaws of the film can be seen as absolute positives in the long run, like the repetition of jokes and the astoundingly low budget i.e. the quarry used to fight villains is used over and over again and the henchmen never change despite the different villains on display. While the repetition may irk some (as it is a major flaw in Fukuda’s other works), it actually builds up to a major plot point that adds to the humour. It especially works in the second half of the film, when the characters are aware of the repetition and how rote the superhero job actually is, which results in spectacularly off-kilter gags like a scene involving an acting rehearsal that could not be more deluded.

All the tropes and cliches are touched upon in an amusing fashion i.e. the heroes always fail individually but together they are unstoppable AND even the product placement inclusion in tokusatsu gets a big laugh in the form of Febreze that is used to defeat a villain. There’s even a slight social undercurrent of feminism in the film, especially how women deal with the workforce dominated by men who are either unskilled or lazy; in comparison to the women, who are clearly more determined and hard-working, despite some of them pining about how cute some actors are and their petty squabbles.

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The actors are all game in their parts and fortunately, they all have their funny moments to add to the film. Mirei Kiritani plays the role of Red with such conviction that it comes off as hilarious i.e. when she says lines that are meant to be epiphanies for other characters, only to be brushed off instantaneously. Her lack of awareness to current pop-culture is also a good running gag that not only is funny, but is also a commentary about the lack of self-awareness of the genre itself i.e. like her lack of knowledge of the mega-popular 20th Century Boys manga and dissing pretty-boy actor Jang Keun-suk as a “ugly bastard”.

Mitsuki Takahata plays the role of Yellow in such an understated manner with aplomb that she makes throwaway lines more amusing than they actually are. It certainly helps that she supposedly has the most “tragic” character to play and its an amusing contrast to how the character is actually portrayed. In fact, she may have the best scene that involves staring at stairs for a LONG time. You just have to see it to believe it. Mina Fujii, who plays Blue, clearly relishes the brash attitude of the character, stating the obvious silliness of the situations at hand with some offbeat swearing. Kasumi Arimura plays the role of Green in an amusingly cutesy manner that may cross into the lines of delusions of grandeur. Her hilariously inaccurate impression of a tree is worth the price of admission. The trait of delusion also applies to Mizuki Yamamoto, who plays Navy, the only one who isn’t struggling financially, yet she comes late to battles due to superficial things like eyelash adjustments. Her best moment involves a break-up with a love interest whom may not be as handsome as people think. Jiro Sato plays Charles (with a kitten puppet for some reason) in a such a funny way of stuttering that you believe the women’s lack of faith towards him with ease.

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As for flaws, as stated earlier, the repetition of jokes may irk some and some of the jokes tend to drag a bit too long, particularly jokes involving Jiro Sato’s character. Other scenes that drag too long are scenes involving a love interest (Shunsuke Daito) for Red also drag too long. Most of these scenes are in the second act and with a little editing and tightening, the film’s pacing could have been improved with a possible injection full of hilarity within an 80-minute run-time, but what we are left with is a funny 97-minute film with some unfortunate slow spots.

Nevertheless, director Yuichi Fukuda continues his winning streak of comedies with Jossy’s, a lovingly affectionate parody of the tokusatsu genre and with its winning performances from its lead actresses, off-kilter jokes and its comically low-budget production values, it’s a hoot worth looking out for.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Winning performances from its cast

Many funny jokes from its skewering of the tokusatsu genre

Flaws like repetition and the low budget work to the film’s advantage

Social undercurrent of feminism adds value

CONS

Repetition of jokes may irk some

Some scenes in the second act drag too long

SCORE: 7.5/10

Cast: Mirei Kiritani, Mitsuki Takahata, Mizuki Yamamoto, Mina Fujii, Kasumi Arimura, Shunsuke Daito, Jiro Sato, Ken Yasuda
Director: Yuichi Fukuda
Screenwriters: Yuichi Fukuda

Movie Review – The Inerasable

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EXPECTATIONS: A ghost story with more reliance on storytelling than actual scares.

REVIEW: Ghost stories have been incredibly popular on film and in Japan, it was a huge craze. From films back in the 50’s and 60’s like The Ghost of Yotsuya and Kuroneko to its resurgence in the 90’s and 00’s with Ringu, Ju-On and many others, many people were flocking into the theater. And ironically flocking out of the theater too after the films finish. But like all trends in film, all the juice is squeezed out for all of its worth and now we have inferior, and quite frankly, crappy so-called horror films like Sadako 3D, The Shock Labyrinth and Ghost Theater, which I have comprehensively slaughtered. But that’s another review. Now we have The Inerasable; Yoshihiro Nakamura’s first venture into horror since his ghostly contained thriller, The Booth. Applying his vast and ambitious storytelling in the horror genre, will he create a thriller that will stick in the minds of audiences or will it be something the audience would want completely erased from their minds?

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Kubo (Ai Hashimoto) is a university student who is studying architecture and she has recently moved into an apartment complex for travel conveniences. While studying one night, she hears strange noises coming from the living room every time she has her sights elsewhere. Noticing an old-fashioned clothing garment moving in and out of the shadows, Kubo is understandably a little bit concerned. She writes a letter to a popular writer (Yuko Takeuchi) who is famous for her crime stories and mystery novels. Seeing this as the perfect jump-start for a new novel, she helps Kubo to investigate the strange happenings. But what starts out as straightforward with simple solutions, it is implied that no tragic circumstances have happened anywhere near the apartment, nor did anything similar happen in recent history. Not willing to back out from certain intrigue (or even a fight), the two keep on investigating until their findings lead them to a backstory that gradually turns out to be more tragic, disturbing and far vaster than anyone would have expected.

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After my disappointment of watching Yoshihiro Nakamura’s other film of 2016, The Magnificent Nine, and the present state of J-Horror, I didn’t have much high hopes of watching The Inerasable. But after seeing it, the film surprised me in many ways.  One way is how Nakamura’s approach to the ghost story is surprisingly self-referential. It is then that it results in some amusing observations of the J-Horror genre (thanks to Kenichi Takito who plays the writer’s husband) as well as many opportunities taken to subvert horror tropes and cliches, like the story unraveling through cliches like noises signifying suicide or properties build over a place of death. Or how the characters react in the story, which is not as loud and exaggerated as one would expect. If anything, the characters are a lot more accepting of the paranormal events, since they are more self-aware of it.

All tropes and cliches are prodded and subverted, but not in a post-modern or wink-wink way, and the film is all the better for it. There’s a wonderful flashback sequence where the story goes back to the 1950’s and the cinematography (thanks to talented cinematographer Yukihiro Okimura) changes to evoke that time period (i.e. old film stock), as well as the sound design (i.e. ONE channel sound). Okimura’s compositions always change when the film changes time-periods and it is very effective in story immersion as well as adding to the realism of the story. Another surprise is Nakamura’s approach to scares, which is surprisingly old-fashioned and realistic. The film’s scary moments rely more on sound and the power of suggestion, rather than jump scares and bombastic music. A silhouette seen through a window, talking in understated manner while accompanied with a lack of a musical score is scarier than a lazy and loud jump scare that you can just interject in the film without effort.

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The acting from the two lead actresses certainly contribute to the film. Between this and Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2016 film Creepy, Yuko Takeuchi is venturing into dark roles and it is a thrill to watch. Helped by a pair of glasses, Takeuchi nails her nameless character with aplomb, conveying the character’s intellect with utter sincerity. Ai Hashimoto, who’s been a star on the rise since Tetsuya Nakashima’s 2010 film Confessions, she is maturing to be a fine actress, as she acts out her character’s maturity and insatiable interest in the paranormal events like a pro. All the supporting cast are fine in their roles, but it is the two actresses that stand-out and rightfully so.

As much as the refreshing approach to the story goes, it does come with a few caveats. One, the story does get quite a bit convoluted with its numerous amount of ghost stories (though you can narrow it down to FOUR), it does get a bit rough to get into. It starts to feel like an anthology of sorts (which director Nakamura has worked on vast amounts of) but somehow, all the stories connect in the end, which is a feat to behold. Two, those expecting a full scary blowout will be a bit disappointed, since Nakamura relies more on an understated approach as opposed to films like Ju-On. It is reminiscent of a similar approach to his recent films like Prophecy and The Snow White Murder Case. But those who go along for the ride will be rewarded with a spectacularly creepy climax that subverts the typical endings of Japanese horror films.

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The Inerasable is a great film that is buoyed by two good leading performances and Nakamura’s assured hand to subvert J-Horror tropes and cliches to create a part meta-horror experience and part crime procedural that is refreshingly smart.

Quickie Review

PROS

Good leading performances

Nakamura’s refreshing approach to storytelling of ghost stories

Nice subversion of horror tropes and cliches

A spectacularly creepy climax

Understated approach to achieving scares and tension works

CONS

The story can be quite convoluted due to numerous subplots

May be a bit to subtle and understated for those who are accustomed to the usual horror genre fare

SCORE: 8/10

Cast: Yuko Takeuchi, Ai Hashimoto, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Kentaro Sakaguchi, Kenichi Takito, Erika Shumoto
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Screenwriters: Kenichi Suzuki, based on the novel “Zang-e” by Fuyumi Ono

Movie Review – The Magnificent Nine (JAPAN CUTS 2016)

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EXPECTATIONS: A riotous comedy with a lot more character and emotional resonance than expected.

REVIEW: The ensemble film trope has always been a favourite of mine and has been a fantastic staple for films, ever since the first ensemble action film; 1954’s action masterpiece Seven Samurai. With many opportunities to gather up an all-star cast, a story involving teamwork that everyone can relate to, a lively vibe enhanced by scenes of camaraderie; films with this much potential can be a hell of a lot of fun to watch. We also have director Yoshihiro Nakamura, famous for his character-led storytelling and his versatility with thrillers, horrors, dramas and comedies; sometimes happening all at once. So when I heard that he was doing an ensemble comedy with an all-star cast with the likes of Sadao Abe, Eita, Yuko Takeuchi and others, I was psyched. Will the film live up to its title or will it fail magnificently?

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Set in 18th century Japan, the residents of a town, Yoshioka, are living in hard times, due to the state of poverty and the high expenses of land taxes and logistics. Not to mention that the Lord Date is financially strapped. But an ingeniously simple idea from a simple tea grower (Eita) gets everyone talking that could bring the whole town out of their misfortunes. Nine of the wealthiest (including Sadao Abe, Satoshi Tsumabaki and others) of the town will pool all of their resources to sell and anonymously loan their earnings to their Lord, therefore collecting the interest earned and distribute it to the townspeople. That is of course unless they caught and the price for that is death by beheading. So yeah, no big deal.

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So what did I think of this film? Unfortunately, this was a massive disappointment on almost every level. Never have I thought to see a comedy about an inspirational true story be so underwhelming. The story itself had so much potential, but it never gets realized and some of the major flaws are the pacing and the plot. The running time of the film is 129 minutes, which is way too long for a story like this already, but with the plot involving 80% of the film involving people essentially begging people to give money, it drags for an eternity to actually gets to its goal.

What makes it worse is that there are so many characters to make track of, making the film needlessly convoluted. The majority of them do not have enough of a personality to make them stand out, making them interchangeable from each other. The tone of the film is also confusing, as if Nakamura wasn’t sure to make this film a comedy or a drama. The trailer of the film certainly markets the film as a comedy, but apart from the first five minutes and a certain actor’s performance, I just didn’t see much of an attempt to make this film funny. I struggled to follow the plot and even remember the character’s names, and what’s worse is that I just didn’t care. When the film reaches its ending, I did feel some kind of relief but I’m sure that it was from the fact that it ended, rather than the journey of the characters.

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The actors try valiantly to stand out, but they fail to add much life their cardboard cutouts. Sadao Abe does make his downtrodden character quite sympathetic while Eita does OK with his character, showing a youthful side as well as an authoritative side that is well-realized. The rest of the supporting cast don’t make much of an impression, with the big exception of Yuko Takeuchi, who is a delight in every second of her screen-time. Adding some mirth and vitality to the proceedings, Takeuchi woke me up every time I saw her, and I wished she was in the movie more often.

The film is well made though, with production designs and the cinematography evoking the time period really well. I can’t really say the same about the music, which is annoyingly repetitive, especially during scenes when plans upon plans are sketched out by the characters.

An experience of boredom in a film is something I can’t forgive, and this film is riddled with it. This is one of Nakamura’s films coming out in 2016. The other is The Inerasable, a horror/thriller starring Yuko Takeuchi as the lead and I hope that it will compensate for this letdown.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Some good acting (particularly Yuko Takeuchi)

Good production values

CONS

The story is dreadfully boring

Tonal issues

Too many underdeveloped and interchangeable characters

The plot is needlessly convoluted

Possible mis-marketing

SCORE: 4/10

Cast: Sadao Abe, Eita, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Yuko Takeuchi , Ryuhei Matsuda, Yuzuru Hanyu, Karen Iwata, Maiko Yamamoto, Tsutomu Yamazaki
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Screenwriters: Yoshihiro Nakamura, Kenichi Suzuki, Based on the novel “Mushi no Nihonjin” by Michifumi Isoda

Movie Review – The Legend of Tarzan

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EXPECTATIONS: A potentially great film squandered by studio heads.

REVIEW: Tarzan is a character that I have enjoyed over the years. I’m not a big fanatic of him, but I did like the concept of a man living in the jungle and residing with its inhabitants to become one of them and its fish-out-of-water plot. I grew up watching Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes with the Highlander himself, Christopher Lambert as the ape-man and I enjoyed the Disney adaptation of the story as well. So when I heard about another adaptation of Tarzan, I was cautiously optimistic. Cautious because of the many reboots, re-tellings, remakes and many other words with the prefix “re-” diluting the film industry these days; but optimistic because of the major talent involved. We have an underrated actor Alexander Skarsgard (whom I’ve enjoyed in The East and especially War on Everyone), rising star Margot Robbie, acting veterans Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz and director David Yates, who was responsible for the last four magically entertaining Harry Potter films. You even have the script co-written by writer/director Craig Brewer, who was responsible for the great Hustle and Flow and the both underrated Black Snake Moan and the Footloose remake.  How could I not get a little bit of my hopes up? Little did I know…

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Set a decade after the events of the original story, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard), called John Clayton III after his family name, is now residing in Victorian England with his loving wife Jane Porter (Margot Robbie). The plot starts off when Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz), an envoy for the ruthless King Leopold, comes up with a plan to take out Tarzan. Rom plans to capture Tarzan for Chief Mbonga (a wasted Djimon Hounsou), an enemy of his in exchange for rare diamonds to fund the armies of King Leopold and continue his reign over the country with his rule of slavery. Unfortunately, Jane becomes entangled into the plot, it is up to Tarzan and his companion, George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) to return to the jungle and not only save Jane but to stop Rom from delivering the diamonds.

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I hate to say this to a film with this much talent involved, but this was a huge let-down. I don’t even know where to start. For a reported $180 million dollar film, you expect the CGI and green-screen to be immersive. But there are many scenes where the two are noticeable to the point of one having to point to the screen in frustration. Like a scene involving Tarzan, George and his fellow men swinging onto a speeding train. The storytelling (or the script, who knows) was rushed and slipshod, with the flashback scenes in particular being integrated into the film so poorly without any transitions whatsoever that it comes off like the director was just ticking it off a checklist, like a tragic scene involving a death of a loved one. It never comes off as emotional and will elicit more of a sigh than a tear. It also does not help that the film is nowhere near as entertaining as the premise of the film strives to be. A film about a heroic ape-man who can communicate with animals, swing on vines and fight for his own kind should elicit some joy, but the tone of the film is so self-serious, that it sucks a lot of the potential fun. Even the action scenes in the film are badly done, with lots of quick-cut editing, tight camera angles and really bad slow-motion.

The actors do their best, but their roles are so thinly-developed that they never make much of an impression and worse, the actors basically play themselves rather than inhabit their own characters. Alexander Skarsgard is fully committed to his role, with his fine presence and unique look, but without much personality, he becomes more of a cardboard cutout of a hero rather than a full-bodied (which he physically is) person. Margot Robbie valiantly tries her best to amp up her role with sass and quick wit (much like herself), but unlike her calls denying to be called a “damsel”, she most definitely is one, and it is a shame that she’s stuck with a role like this. Christoph Waltz basically reprises his villainous role from Inglourious Basterds, but with a bigger paycheck and much less personality to sink his teeth into. The only stand-out in this film that manages to single-handedly add mirth, fun and joy into the film is Samuel L. Jackson. Like Robbie, he basically plays himself, but he seems to be the only actor that is having fun in the movie. In interviews, he has stated that his character (which is based on a real person) should headline his own movie. I wholeheartedly agree.

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Apart from some okay acting and some interesting story ideas (like transfixing the story of Tarzan into real-life events), The Legend of Tarzan was a disappointment for all involved. But thank Samuel L. Jackson for his entertaining performance, as he makes the film more entertaining that it has any right to be.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Samuel L. Jackson

Some interesting story ideas

CONS

Bad CGI/green-screen

Slipshod and rushed storytelling

Thinly written characters

Horribly edited action/flashback sequences

SCORE: 4/10

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This review can be also seen at THE IRIS. Visit the site by pressing the picture above.

Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Margot Robbie, Djimon Hounsou, Rory J. Saper, Christian Stevens
Director: David Yates
Screenwriter: Adam Cozad, Craig Brewer based on the “Tarzan” stories created by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Movie Review – Bitter Honey (JAPAN CUTS 2016)

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EXPECTATIONS: An enjoyable, whimsical and off-putting experience. With FUMI NIKAIDO!

REVIEW: Fumi Nikaido is an actress that I have, for a lack of a better word (or even an actual word), fan-boyed over since I saw her in Sion Sono’s unbearably nihilistic Himizu. Since then, she has gone on a huge variety of roles that border past the definition of “versatility”, with roles like an impulsive rising actress who is a daughter of a gangster to a woman who is in an incestuous relationship to a pop-idol singer to even a sadistic terrorist bomber! And we also have director Gakuryu Ishii (formerly known as Sogo Ishii) who was a rockstar of a director with such blisteringly frenetic classics like Burst City and Electric Dragon 80000v, but he also varies with another plane of style, aiming for more of an understated and even artful style of film-making with films like Isn’t Anyone Alive and August in the Water. After his return to his punk-rock roots with That’s It. he collaborates with Fumi Nikaido for Bitter Honey, a whimsically weird love story involving an old man and his pet goldfish. How could you not get excited over that?

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Fumi Nikaido stars as Akako, a shape-shifting goldfish in the form of a young girl fitted in red dresses, whom is a muse and adoring pet for an aging writer (who remains nameless) seeking much-delayed glory (Ren Osugi). Things quickly get complicated for the odd couple, however, when the writer’s deceased former student/lover, Yuriko Tamura (Yoko Maki) dollies into the plot, as ghosts usually do, and becomes the catalyst for Akako’s own needs and wants, while bringing about her independence and indirectly destroying the writer’s own fantasy of having Akako as his pet of desire. Figure in past lovers, musings about life and death, bouts of dancing, asteroids and even the famed Japanese writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa and you’ve got yourself a weird story.

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Veering very far away from his maverick style of film-making, Gakuryu Ishii employs beautifully understated touch to this fable that is also a cautionary tale about drowning in one’s past and its effect to the people around you. Themes of sex, life and death, desire and humanity are all dealt upon well without compromising the many tones of the film, instead adding a touch of beauty and wonder. Even a pivotal sex scene in the second act is executed with a sense of wonder as well as eeriness. The production values certainly reflect that in spades; with Kazuhiro Sawataishi’s fantastic costume design (absolutely loved the outfit of Akako), art director Hisashi Sasaki’s period look that feels accurate yet distinct and cinematographer Norimichi Kasamatsu’s marvelous compositions, mixed with smooth long takes, like a scene where Akako jokingly confronts Yuriko that involves a revolving dolly shot that would not be out of place in a Michael Bay film. The music compliments the many tone shifts of the film, shifting from amusingly whimsical to dramatically sound to even eerily haunting.

And going along for the weird and bizarre ride, the actors employed here give their all, to even the smallest parts. Fumi Nikaido is an absolute wonder as Akako, who achieves the perfect pitch of being cute without actually becoming annoying or grating. And throughout the film, she conveys the character’s growth and wonder like a pro; particularly in scenes where she experiences a kindling of a friendship between herself and Yuriko and experiencing jealousy for the first time after discovering something about the aging writer. It certainly helps that her dancing is great (which pays off with the ending) and her impression of a goldfish brought a huge smile on my face. Ren Osugi embodies his problematic character really well and comes off more sympathetic than his character has any right to be. The peak of his performance is in the climax, when his character bares his heart and soul about his insecurities and combine that with Nikaido’s completion of her character arc, it is compelling to witness.

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The supporting actors are all great and do more than they should than the script allows them to. Yoko Maki, whom I have bragged about being incredibly underrated, adds depth and nuance to her tragic character, without being morose and even coming off as amusing at times. She shares good chemistry with Nikaido and they bring out the funniest scenes together, like their first meeting. But the biggest surprise is Kengo Kora as the real-life famed writer, Ryonosuke Akutagawa. He makes the biggest impression with his limited screen-time and alongside Ren Osugi, brings one of the most compelling scenes that finally bring about the aged writer’s arc into fruition. Aside from Kanae Han, who is surprisingly understated in her small role as a tragically burdened student of Osugi’s, the rest of the cast leave an amusing impression, especially Kiyohiko Shibukawa as a bartender who is sloppy with his care of his many goldfish.

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As much as I rave about the oceanic film of its acting and production values, the water gets a little bit murky about its storytelling. The film does take quite a bit with its first act to really get anywhere so when the characters are getting into conflicts that we barely know about, it is hard to get into their plights at first. Even for Western viewers, the relationships in the film can be seen as a little creepy and off-putting. Also, some of the whimsical touches tend to grate after a while, like the sound design reflecting actions in the water that appear throughout the film. But when it reaches the third act, the arcs suddenly become clear and the gradual growth of the characters suddenly make sense, making the emotional journey a worthwhile trek. And the film ends on a subtle, yet emotional crescendo of an ending that truly embodies the meaning of the English title.

Bitter Honey is theoretically an encapsulation of Nikaido’s performance. Cutesy, alive, maturing, a little bit off-putting, yet thoroughly irresistible. If you are unsure about the off-kilter story, Nikaido’s impression of a goldfish is surely worth the price of admission.

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Quickie Review

PROS

Fantastic acting

Wonderfully bizarre story

Production values all add to the feel of the film beautifully

Thematically sound

CONS

Mildly problematic storytelling within its first act

Sound design may grate at times

Weirdness of the story will put people off

SCORE: 8/10

Cast: Fumi Nikaido, Ren Osugi, Yoko Maki, Kengo Kora, Masatoshi Nagase, Hanae Kan, Koichi Ueda, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Seiko Iwaido
Director: Gakuryu Ishii
Screenwriters: Takehito Minato, based on the novel “Mitsu no Aware” by Saisei Muro