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Postby Oz » Thu Sep 18, 2014 9:55 am

Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words: After rewatching 5 Centimeters Per Second I decided to rewatch The Garden of Words too in order to compare the two properly. Shinkai’s 46-minute piece of lush romance is certainly his most solid film apart from 5CPS. The only major gripe I had with the film was the overt melodrama of the climax - while the sudden burst of it made sense and was necessary I think Shinkai clearly overdid it. Apart from that it is a good film that doesn’t really differ that much from Shinkai’s films in terms of content or style.

Naomi Kawase’s Shara: Kawase is by far one of the most acclaimed Japanese directors recently (both in Japan and worldwide) yet I have not watched almost anything from her filmography. So I decided to start going through her films and started by rewatching the only film I had seen: Shara. I remember that back when I watched Shara for the first time it baffled me a lot, but I liked some parts of it. I remembered a couple of its scenes very vividly even though it had been a long time since I had watched it and this time I absolutely liked the film. Kawase’s enchating portrayal of a boy coming to terms with the disappearance of his brother and the cycle of life feels both transcendental and naturalistic at the same time. One could say that her style resembles the work of some master directors, such as Tarkovsky, but in my opinion she has crafted her own slow-paced but gripping style. Her camera floats around her characters who don’t necessarily speak that much. For example, there is a very ephiphanic festival scene which features nothing but the citizens dancing for minutes, but it’s a very powerful and unforgettable sequence. I liked how subtly Kawase characterizes the protagonist and his girlfriend although I would have liked to see her focus more on the girlfriend as the film hinted that there was more going on in her mind as well. Nevertheless, Shara was a very pleasant experience and I can’t wait to watch what Kawase has filmed after it.

Yuya Ishii’s Sawako Decides: Ishii is one of the young Japanese directors worth keeping an eye on. His comedies are some of the most interesting and inspiring films coming out of Japan these days. Sawako Decides is a wonderful working class comedy about a woman who becomes fed up with the selfish people around her who keep mocking and pushing her around. She decides to take control of her “lower middle class”. Ishii doesn’t pull any punches as he depicts the roughness of the working class life with stuck-up old ladies and cheating men and he wrings all the humor one could possibly find of Sawako’s miserable situation. Even his visual style reflects the subject: I’m not sure if it was just the DVD’s fault, but even the image quality was quite rough and that perfectly with the mundane lives of the characters. However, his cinematography and editing are masterful: he manage to create genious bridges and overlaps between many characters without having to spend time on narrative exposition. Ishii’s camera mostly follows the characters from a fairly close distance, but in the dramatically central scenes the camera observes the characters from a distance in a very hard-hitting way. Hikari Mitsushima’s riveting lead performance carries the whole film and would deserve to be selected as one of the best lead performances of the past decade. Mitsushima’s Sawako goes from being the weak-minded girl that’s pushed around to the gutsy and powerful working class lady. And the film is not all about laughs either: Ishii’s moving drama sweeps in once in a while. Both the director and Mitsushima handle the switches in tone exceptionally well. I liked the film when I saw it for the first time, but rewatching it made me absolutely love it.

Naomi Kawase’s The Mourning Forest: I was worried I had set my expectations for The Mourning Forest too high as I loved Kawase’s Shara and The Mourning Forest is her most praised film (it even won the Grand Prix at Cannes), but the film did turn out to be just as great as I expected. In The Mourning Forest, Kawase tells a story about a woman who is still grieving her son’s death working at a nursing home where she forms a special bond with an old man with dementia struggling to accept the death of her wife. The scenario is a great platform for Kawase to meditate on death, loss, old age and letting go. In only 97 minutes Kawase manages to craft an enlightening and almost spiritual experience that will certainly haunt me for a long time. I already know that this is a film that I should and will rewatch many times to enjoy its enthralling direction and to experience the quiet, emotional rollercoaster again.
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Postby StarShaper7 » Thu Sep 18, 2014 9:30 pm

View Original PostOz wrote:Makoto Shinkai’s The Garden of Words: After rewatching 5 Centimeters Per Second I decided to rewatch The Garden of Words too in order to compare the two properly. Shinkai’s 46-minute piece of lush romance is certainly his most solid film apart from 5CPS. The only major gripe I had with the film was the overt melodrama of the climax - while the sudden burst of it made sense and was necessary I think Shinkai clearly overdid it. Apart from that it is a good film that doesn’t really differ that much from Shinkai’s films in terms of content or style.


I'm not much of a romance guy. When I think of romance movies that I like, off the top of my head, there's Amelie and then there's... Yeah, that's it. Romance usually works better for me when it's more of a sub-plot. Neither 5CPS nor Garden of Words proved to be exceptions. I like the animation (especially in GoW) but aside from that they're both somewhere between "meh" and "okay" for me. I will say that Shinkai is successful in what he aims to do, which is to create works that feature the longing that can come with love very prominently. People fall in love, but their circumstances and obligations get in their way and sometimes they're separated by distances both metaphorical and physical, and the resultant feeling of desire to be close to your loved one is intense. This longing is probably most prominent in Japanese romance than any other. Shinkai is very good at what he does, but his style and subject matter don't really appeal to my personal preferences so I don't really like them as much as some others.

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Postby Oz » Thu Sep 18, 2014 10:06 pm

Shinkai is pretty much all about his style since his screenplays are either severely flawed (The Place Promised in Our Early Days) or pretty straightforward (5 Centimeters Per Second). If one doesn't enjoy his overtly sentimental and melancholic style then his films do not have much else to offer.
"I'd really like to have as much money as you have, Oz" - robersora
"No you wouldn't. Oz's secret is he goes without food to buy that stuff. He hasn't eaten in years." - Brikhaus

"Often I get the feeling that deep down, your little girl is struggling with your embrace of filmfaggotry and your loldeep fixations, and the conflict that arises from such a contradiction is embodied pretty well in Kureha's character. But obviously it's not any sort of internal conflict that makes the analogy work. It's the pigtails." - Merridian
"Oh, Oz, I fear I'm losing my filmfag to the depths of Japanese pop. If only there were more films with Japanese girls in glow-in-the-dark costumes you'd be the David Bordwell of that genre." - Jimbo
"Oz, I think we need to stage an intervention and force you to watch some movies that aren't made in Japan." - Trajan

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Postby BrikHaus » Fri Sep 19, 2014 3:32 pm

Every Shinkai film is exactly the same. Pretty visuals, tales of love lost, and not much else.
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Postby Dr. Nick » Fri Sep 19, 2014 8:30 pm

StarShaper's post actually sums up my opinion about Shinkai amazingly well. But I would always recommend his films just for the puddle and water droplet action alone.

******

Hells:
Image

Oh hey, an anime Bible movie! A clueless schoolgirl does the "shit I'm late" toast in mouth run and gets sent to hell (animated by Madhouse-masquerading-as-Trigger) for it. What starts out like a Deuteronomic version of Mind Game at its zaniest eventually bogs down in a grievously overlong third act, but the film is still a hilarious watch just for the Old Testament cameos alone.

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Postby StarShaper7 » Fri Sep 19, 2014 9:55 pm

I liked Hells. The animation was what drew me in. It's one darn good looking anime. I was enjoying it up to the part where it turns into this weird competition to see who can moralize or demoralize the masses better. That kind of dragged on for longer than it should have. I also feel like it would have done better as a series. This adaptation of the manga needed some trimming down, because it feels kind of uneven. I've never read the manga, but I get the feeling that they tried to be as faithful as possible and as a result bit off more than they could chew. Too much for even a nearly two-hour movie. I liked the altered Christian mythology and the cosmology of Hells the most, but the monster high school thing was fun too.

I'd give it a 7/10, but it could have gotten an 8.

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Postby Oz » Sat Sep 20, 2014 4:03 am

Sang-il Lee’s Villain: These days it is fairly common to come across films and TV series that justify crimes by sympathizing with the perpetrators and blaming the society. Especially in Japan fictional crime stories constantly return to this theme to milk drama out of it. Lee’s Villain is a much more mature take on the subject. The film begins with the protagonist killing a girl he met via a dating site and then proceeds to reveal that the protagonist had not been treated well by the world (his victim in particular was cruel). But Villain doesn’t end up crying over how the society is the root of all evil. Instead it is a proper character study of the killer that reminds the viewer of the fact that he committed a crime and that it shouldn’t be forgotten. The film does acknowledge the society’s responsibility and shows understanding for the killer, but in the end a crime is a crime. In addition, the film develops multiple sidestories that brilliantly expand on the film’s theme and underline the film’s point in a great way. One of those sidestories even deliver a moving monologue that sums up the film in a better way than any reviewer could. However, I have to mention that at least one of the sidestories feels a bit unnecessary and makes the film a tad too long. Villain’s melodrama also boils over a bit too much in a couple of scenes. The acting should have been more restrained in those scenes since they are very distracting - although the melodrama doesn’t luckily ruin any of the key sequences.

Naomi Kawase’s Nanayo: A Japanese woman tries to start a new life in Thailand and ends up living with a Thai family and a French man. The film mostly revolves around the three-way barrier of language and culture that makes it hard for the characters to understand each other. The film is basically slice of life of their life together shot in Kawase’s trademark style of ellipses and a floating, wandering camera. One of the main plot points of the film revolves around the Thai family’s mother wanting to his to become a monk, but even that is focused on only once in a while. I personally see the film as much more than an atmospheric piece of Thai countryside life. If it intended to be more than that (which I think it did) then it failed to get its message across. While I can’t say I was bored by the film it did completely lack focus and didn’t offer much in terms of content. I like Kawase’s style and the film was full of it so it’s not like I disliked it either.

Jun Ichikawa’s Tony Takitani: At 75 minutes, Tony Takitani is a very compact film. It is based on a short story written by Haruki Murakami and it tells the story of a lonely man called Tony Takitani. Even though the film is exceptionally short it manages to cover a lot of ground - especially the first 15 minutes masterfully reveal the rich background of the character and his family. What makes the film even more special is how it is shot: since the film is about loneliness it is shot like as if the protagonist lives in a thick fog of melancholy. The people around him constantly change and the viewer doesn’t get to know any of them - except for the woman he marries. The cinematography is very static and distant and the film is shot with very grey and bland colors. It is perfect for the uneventful and sad life of Tony Takitani. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s beautiful soundtrack makes the film even more bittersweet in a magnificent way. Tony Takitani’s solitude is very, very tangible. The film also has a very literal feeling: most of it is narrated by a monotonous voice which fills in the gaps of the story - although the protagonist himself does speak out once in a while. Once Tony is married, the film also focuses a little on his wife who fills her own emptiness and loneliness by buying tons of clothes. It is a nice way to further explore the film’s main theme. However, the film never stops and moves quickly to the next scene. That makes the film’s dramaturgy feel a little thin and superficial at times. That may be intentional as the film wants the viewer to feel the same sort of melancholy and solitude that Tony feels, but it also damages the film at the same time. By the end of the film the characters are still slightly artificial because the film is so monotonous and never lets the viewer sink into the story completely. Nevertheless it is a very good film that I liked even after watching it for the second time.

Naomi Kawase’s Hanezu: Kawase’s Hanezu revolves around a love triangle that reaches almost mythical proportions. With the heavy presence of nature and history, it feels like Hanezu is set in a world different than ours: there is barely any technology to be found. Kawase strengthens the illusion even further by employing enigmatic storytelling, hazy cinematography and enigmatic voiceovers. It is a shame that a movie that is executed so well and draws the viewer into its mysterious atmosphere so well has an underdeveloped script that barely keeps itself together. The central love triangle isn’t tangible enough and the screenplay even gets a bit redundant at times. In any case, I absolutely loved the enthralling direction of the film and the thematical ideas the film played around with so I’m satisfied with that alone. If only Kawase had paid more attention to the surface storyline Hanezu could have been a masterpiece.
"I'd really like to have as much money as you have, Oz" - robersora
"No you wouldn't. Oz's secret is he goes without food to buy that stuff. He hasn't eaten in years." - Brikhaus

"Often I get the feeling that deep down, your little girl is struggling with your embrace of filmfaggotry and your loldeep fixations, and the conflict that arises from such a contradiction is embodied pretty well in Kureha's character. But obviously it's not any sort of internal conflict that makes the analogy work. It's the pigtails." - Merridian
"Oh, Oz, I fear I'm losing my filmfag to the depths of Japanese pop. If only there were more films with Japanese girls in glow-in-the-dark costumes you'd be the David Bordwell of that genre." - Jimbo
"Oz, I think we need to stage an intervention and force you to watch some movies that aren't made in Japan." - Trajan

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Postby robersora » Mon Sep 22, 2014 8:19 am

View Original PostStarShaper7 wrote:I liked Hells. The animation was what drew me in. It's one darn good looking anime. I was enjoying it up to the part where it turns into this weird competition to see who can moralize or demoralize the masses better. That kind of dragged on for longer than it should have. I also feel like it would have done better as a series. This adaptation of the manga needed some trimming down, because it feels kind of uneven. I've never read the manga, but I get the feeling that they tried to be as faithful as possible and as a result bit off more than they could chew. Too much for even a nearly two-hour movie. I liked the altered Christian mythology and the cosmology of Hells the most, but the monster high school thing was fun too.

I'd give it a 7/10, but it could have gotten an 8.


Hell's should have gotten a slot in Noitamina and it would have been a lot better than it turned out in the end. The biggest problem was, that it just didn't know, what it wanted to be.
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Postby Oz » Mon Sep 22, 2014 10:19 am

Gen Takahashi’s Confessions of a Dog: Confessions of a Dog is one of the most condemning and devastating depictions of the corruption of the Japanese police force ever put on film. In fact, it is even banned in Japan so you could say the film is very touchy for the real police. One would think that a 200-minute film with nothing but cops committing one crime after another and two civilians investigating them would be repetitive and boring, but Confessions of a Dog is very gripping even on a rewatch. It is not mere exploitation (which is why it is banned in Japan). Takahashi builds the film around a friendly and honest cop who gradually turns crooked as he gets involved with the higher-ups of the police force. His downfall is the main plotline while the film also builds a couple of other plotlines that feature innocent people having their lives ruined one way or another by the police. The film’s genius lies in how Takahashi carefully peels one layer after another - revealing how the Japanese police force functions. The film portrays the police force as if it was the dirtiest and most powerful yakuza family of the nation. Shun Sugata’s lead performance is also very mesmerizing as he gets wearier and more twisted by every scene before finally breaking down. Confessions of a Dog is a criminally underseen masterpiece. And yes, that pun was intended.

Nobuhiro Yamashita’s The Drudgery Train: The Drudgery Tran begins like a slacker comedy. We find out that our protagonist is a dropout who has been doing manual labor since graduating from junior high and wastes his money on beer, peep shows and cursing everyone around him. He’s clearly a good-for-nothing scumbag who isn’t able to make friends with anyone, but that changes when he befriends a student who works at the same warehouse and a lovely bookstore clerk agrees to be friends with him. This sounds like the perfect setup for a coming-of-age drama in which our fool with a heart of gold grows up through difficulties. But that is not what Yamashita is after despite being well-known for lighthearted deadpan comedies. What he offers is a character study of a loser that fails to grab any of the chances he is given to grow up. It is not much of a spoiler to say that by the end of the film he has gone from bad to worse. The scumbag is not the typical sympathetic slacker protagonist: instead he is a tangibly real character who is both funny and annoying to watch. The Drudgery Train may not be a film for everyone despite its inviting premise, but it is a great portrayal of one of the least likable protagonists ever.

Toshiaki Toyoda’s Blue Spring: Blue Spring, a film adapted from a manga by Taiyou Matsumoto, portrays school just like many other Japanese youth films do: it is not run by the teachers, but instead the students do as they please. The school is a mess with an endless number of graffitis on the walls and everything is out of order. The boys have crated their own mock society, a strict hierarchy within the school and follows their own rules. Each year the boss is chosen with a test of courage, but when a new boss shows no interest in leading the hooligans, the school falls further into anarchy and chaos. Since Blue Spring is based on a manga, it has its set of mangaesque elemnts: the ridiculously outlandish sets, exaggerated haircuts and striking framings here and there. But Toyoda combines this aesthetic with a an almost naturalistic direction that favors calm pacing, static shots and subtle editing. While the combination does work most of the time in a good way, the compromise comes off as awkward at times. Especially the young actors are awfully out of place and Toyoda’s use of music is questionable in a few scenes. At its core, Blue Spring is a coming-of-age drama that catches glimpses of the lives of the students. Most of them are lost causes as they turn into yakuzas, murderers or other sort of criminals, but the film isn’t completely rid of hope for the youth. The film manages to introduce and develop a fairly big cast of characters in only 83 minutes and most of them give a new perspective to the film’s main thematics, but the end result is quite thin. Especially the main storyline that focuses around the new boss’ friendship with a childhoof friend is quite underdeveloped. I remember enjoying Blue Spring when I last watched it, but after this rewatch it turned out to be a way too flawed film. It is an entertaining curiosity, but ultimately only a mediocre film.

Hitoshi Matsumoto’s Big Man Japan: Matsumoto’s first experiment as a film director is a mockumentary of a hated superhero who can turn himself into a giant to fight all sorts of bizarre monsters. In general the film is a slow-paced mockumentary with an interviewer following the protagonist, but once in a while the film forgets that it is a mockumentary and has the protagonist fight the weird monsters with cheap CG. While the monster fights pace the film in a good way there could have been less of them. The mockumentary parts also feel a bit too long and unfocused although they are never repetitive at all. In any case, Big Man Japan is a solid comedy even though it is too long and lacks a proper narrative structure. Its gags are much funnier than Matsumoto’s failures (R100 and The Scabbard Samurai), but it isn’t as successful as a film as the clever Symbol.
"I'd really like to have as much money as you have, Oz" - robersora
"No you wouldn't. Oz's secret is he goes without food to buy that stuff. He hasn't eaten in years." - Brikhaus

"Often I get the feeling that deep down, your little girl is struggling with your embrace of filmfaggotry and your loldeep fixations, and the conflict that arises from such a contradiction is embodied pretty well in Kureha's character. But obviously it's not any sort of internal conflict that makes the analogy work. It's the pigtails." - Merridian
"Oh, Oz, I fear I'm losing my filmfag to the depths of Japanese pop. If only there were more films with Japanese girls in glow-in-the-dark costumes you'd be the David Bordwell of that genre." - Jimbo
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Postby Bagheera » Mon Sep 22, 2014 10:33 am

View Original Postrobersora wrote:Hell's should have gotten a slot in Noitamina and it would have been a lot better than it turned out in the end. The biggest problem was, that it just didn't know, what it wanted to be.


Hellish, presumably.
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Postby Squigsquasher » Mon Sep 22, 2014 1:36 pm

View Original PostOz wrote:Gen Takahashi’s Confessions of a Dog: Confessions of a Dog is one of the most condemning and devastating depictions of the corruption of the Japanese police force ever put on film. In fact, it is even banned in Japan so you could say the film is very touchy for the real police. One would think that a 200-minute film with nothing but cops committing one crime after another and two civilians investigating them would be repetitive and boring, but Confessions of a Dog is very gripping even on a rewatch. It is not mere exploitation (which is why it is banned in Japan). Takahashi builds the film around a friendly and honest cop who gradually turns crooked as he gets involved with the higher-ups of the police force. His downfall is the main plotline while the film also builds a couple of other plotlines that feature innocent people having their lives ruined one way or another by the police. The film’s genius lies in how Takahashi carefully peels one layer after another - revealing how the Japanese police force functions. The film portrays the police force as if it was the dirtiest and most powerful yakuza family of the nation. Shun Sugata’s lead performance is also very mesmerizing as he gets wearier and more twisted by every scene before finally breaking down. Confessions of a Dog is a criminally underseen masterpiece. And yes, that pun was intended.


Wait, it's actually banned in Japan?!? I didn't think they ever banned films/game etc unless there was a very, very good reason (so for example, the Pokemon episode that gave kids seizures).

Sounds a great movie though. Is it available for legal purchase in English?
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Postby Oz » Mon Sep 22, 2014 10:04 pm

Since it was immediately banned in Japan, the film was originally distributed out of Hong Kong. Third Window Films has released an R2 DVD of the film.
"I'd really like to have as much money as you have, Oz" - robersora
"No you wouldn't. Oz's secret is he goes without food to buy that stuff. He hasn't eaten in years." - Brikhaus

"Often I get the feeling that deep down, your little girl is struggling with your embrace of filmfaggotry and your loldeep fixations, and the conflict that arises from such a contradiction is embodied pretty well in Kureha's character. But obviously it's not any sort of internal conflict that makes the analogy work. It's the pigtails." - Merridian
"Oh, Oz, I fear I'm losing my filmfag to the depths of Japanese pop. If only there were more films with Japanese girls in glow-in-the-dark costumes you'd be the David Bordwell of that genre." - Jimbo
"Oz, I think we need to stage an intervention and force you to watch some movies that aren't made in Japan." - Trajan

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Postby Bomby von Bombsville » Tue Sep 23, 2014 10:51 pm

Silver Linings Playbook

I'm not going to say that this is zomg teh best movie evar but it hit me close to home on a personal level that made me like it quite a bit more than I probably would have otherwise if the main character and I didn't share the same mental illness. I'm happy enough to have a movie that doesn't romanticize bipolar as some "cool" illness to have.

SPOILER: Show
That being said, getting dance lessons from Jennifer Lawrence isn't a cure-all for bipolar disorder. It probably helps though. I think I'm starting to see why so many people like her so much now.
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Postby Oz » Wed Sep 24, 2014 12:15 pm

Toshiaki Toyoda’s 9 Souls: When an old con man reveals the location of his hidden treasure, his 9 cell inmates escape the prison to look for it. The ensuing escape is a hilarious series of mistakes, survival tactics and chaos as the 9 not-so-bright criminals are distracted by their lust. One would expect that finding the treasure would be the climax of the film, right? The film turns this expectation around and aims to be something more than a mere comedy about silly criminals. In 9 Souls, the treasure is discovered before the midpoint of the film and what they find is not what they expected. From here on the film takes a new direction as the 9 inmates begin to look for the lives they left behind and get them back even when it is impossible to return. At first I wasn’t sure if this move was a good one as the film would have been perfectly fine as a simple, straightforward comedy and Toyoda’s Blue Spring had problems with its dramaturgy. Even though the film doesn’t manage to develop the characters into more than two-dimensional stereotypes, I realized what Toyoda intended with the film. He wanted to catch glimpses of humanity of the characters who were considered inhuman by others (the film often goes out of its way to show how they are seen by others). That’s why the film is called “9 Souls”. The film takes a risk with the tonal change, but it actually works very well in the end. I remember being quite ambivalent about it when I saw the film for the first time, but this time I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. Even though Toyoda doesn’t know how to use music and likes his over-the-top sentimentality, I very much enjoyed 9 Souls.

Itsuji Itao’s The King of Jail Breakers: When I found out that Itsuji Itao, one of the most bizarre Japanese comedians ever, had directed two films I decided that I should watch at least one of them. Since even Hitoshi Matsumoto has made two interesting films I fgured Itao may have some sort of a knack for making funny films. I was completely mistaken. Itao’s The King of Jail Breakers is mostly a serious film about a man who keeps breaking out of jail one time after another - except that the guy has supernatural ninja powers that help him get out of any possible prison. The first hour of the film consists of nothing but the protagonist escaping from prisons and fighting with frustrated guards. Apart from one random musical scene there really is nothing else but repetitions of the same pattern. The repetitions don’t develop any of the characters or the story itself. They are entirely useless. After the first hour the film finally does something else. There is a random flashback, a guard who is incomprehensibly interested in the protagonist and a weird prison for erased people. There is a twist at the end of the film, but it doesn’t even begin to excuse the film for its problems. Combine that with terrible acting and the only decent thing about the film is its bland but solid visual style.

Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Tamako in Moratorium: As a fan of both Nobuhiro Yamashita and AKB48, I never expected that the two would mix together so well. After graduating from AKB48, Atsuko Maeda has already appeared in two of Yamashita’s films and their collaborations work perfectly. Through her character, Tamako, Yamashita takes a look at Japan’s youth unemployment problems. Having graduated out of university only to find no job, Tamako spends her days doing nothing but reading manga and playing video games while her father does all of the housework for her. Unlike Yamashita’s other films, Tamako in Moratorium focuses only on one character, but otherwise his trademark style is all over the film. His caring observation of the character and ability to find humor in the most mundane of things are both very prominent. The film is even shorter and more straightforward than the director’s earlier films, but works just fine that way. There isn’t much content to cover - to the point that the film feels a bit watered down. Nevertheless, it’s another entertaining film from Yamashita - even his “mainstream” projects tend to be unique and highly enjoyable.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata: This has to be at least the 3rd time that I have watched Tokyo Sonata and it is only now that I truly love it. Its portrays a dysfunctional family in which tensions boil over and all the members of the family wander off for some soul searching. This time it occurred me to just how rich the screenplay really is. I would even say that Tokyo Sonata provides what could be the best and most complex portrayal of the 21st century Japan. There are lots of themes and points one could take apart and discuss. Most of it boils down to a depiction of the problems of a patriarchal society that rely on busy working fathers and mothers staying at home. Kurosawa is known for his (psychological) horror and one could say something similar is going on here: the film has a constant dread, or fear, of modern insecurities, namely the looming financial uncertainty, the fear of losing loved ones and saving one’s face. When the financial reality hits the traditional Japanese family model, everything comes loose. There is the father’s unemployment and self-confidence issues, the mother’s feelings of emptiness and frustration as the children’s unwillingness to join the nightmarish cycle of non-stop studying and working that deprives them of individual thinking. The family’s breakdown and reunion teach valuable lessons of happiness and life. Tokyo Sonata’s ending is one of the most euphoric scenes in recent memory as it ties up all the emotions of the film neatly together.
"I'd really like to have as much money as you have, Oz" - robersora
"No you wouldn't. Oz's secret is he goes without food to buy that stuff. He hasn't eaten in years." - Brikhaus

"Often I get the feeling that deep down, your little girl is struggling with your embrace of filmfaggotry and your loldeep fixations, and the conflict that arises from such a contradiction is embodied pretty well in Kureha's character. But obviously it's not any sort of internal conflict that makes the analogy work. It's the pigtails." - Merridian
"Oh, Oz, I fear I'm losing my filmfag to the depths of Japanese pop. If only there were more films with Japanese girls in glow-in-the-dark costumes you'd be the David Bordwell of that genre." - Jimbo
"Oz, I think we need to stage an intervention and force you to watch some movies that aren't made in Japan." - Trajan

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Postby Kazuki_Fuse » Thu Sep 25, 2014 11:47 pm

A Walk Among the Tombstones

Liam Neeson plays a recovering alcoholic, ex-cop turned unlicensed private detective who is hired to track down a pair of serial killers that are targeting loved ones of high ranking drug dealers. A solid, gritty thriller that delivers pretty much what you would expect it to. Neeson being a bad-ass is always welcome and the one killer's dark humour and wit make for some great character interactions.

8/10
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Postby Oz » Fri Sep 26, 2014 1:02 pm

Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence: After portraying the perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide in The Act of Killing, Oppenheimer turns his camera to the victims of the genocide. He has the victims’ relatives watch clips of the perpetrators boasting about how they killed people and has one of the relatives confront the killers and challenge them with tough questions. Just like The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence is a stunning documentary that is not afraid to take risks in order to explore the emotions of its subjects. While The Act of Killing was built around the scenes of the murderers acting out their own crimes in front of the camera, The Look of Silence quietly observes the lives of the victims and seeks their facial expressions in all sorts of situations. The Look of Silence is an outstanding documentary unlike any other and one of the greatest masterpieces of the 21st century.

Takashi Miike’s The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji: Miike still keeps making films at a manic pace although he has calmed down from his V Cinema days after settling down as a director of mainstream projects. His films tend to be more boring in general these days and the quality varies a lot from film to film. However, The Mole Song is a refreshing change of pace for the cult director: while it is a through-and-through blockbuster (complete with a Johnny’s idol as the lead actor) it is one of the most engaging pieces of pure entertainment of the past few years. The Mole Song is a hyperactive comedy about a cop who sinks deeper and deeper into a web of conflicting loyalties, fights and backroom deals as he enters a yakuza family as an undercover agent - all the while trying to get rid of his virginity. The Mole Song certainly doesn’t turn around the cliches of undercover agent films, but it takes a refreshing approach to the all-too-familiar narrative. Furthermore, it is full of Miike’s trademark humor that hasn’t been as hilarious and aggressive in some time. In overall, The Mole Song is a welcome return to form for one of Japan’s most notorious filmmakers.

Daihachi Yoshida’s Funuke, Show Some Love, You Losers!: Daihachi Yoshida may have made his breakthrough with the naturalistic The Kirishima Thing, his roots lie in a distinctive, mangaesque sort of filmmaking. Funuke tells the story of a family after the parents die while trying to save a cat and the remaining children try to make ends meet. What is so exaggerated and mangaesque about Funuke is not its visual style: while there are a few visual tricks inspired by manga and some of the striking framings could be straight out of the page of a comic book, the overall style of Yoshida’s direction is not so flashy. What makes Funuke so mangaesque is in the wild characterization of the family, the eccentric humor and the all-around craziness of the script. Yoshida’s storytelling is also clever: he jumps straight into the story without telling much about the family, but it is obvious from the start that there is something going on between the siblings. He gradually reveals the twisted conflict between the two sisters and their stepbrother all the while building up tension and frustration that lead up to the mindblowing and unpredictable climax. The older sister is certainly one of the most disgusting and loathable characters in film history. At times it feels like Yoshida is going over the top with the character, but he does so for a good reason. In conclusion, I have to mention that although I call Funuke “mangaesque” it isn’t that similar to the hyperactive and cartoonish comedies that are dime a dozen in Japan these days. Yoshida knows what he is doing with his unusual script and doesn’t resort to cheap drama or obnoxious gags.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Doppelganger: This is the first time I’ve seen a terrible film by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Doppelganger is a mess. It is not hard to guess by the title that the film explores what would happen if your own doppelganger appeared in your life. But even after watching the film I am not sure what Kurosawa intended to do with the idea - not to mention I don’t even know what sort of tone he intended. The film begins almost like a ghost story. There is an example case of a doppelganger case leading to a suicide. But once the protagonist’s own doppelganger appears, the film turns into an unfunny comedy. He just keeps bickering with his own doppelganger and the rest of the cast and there’s no sense of tension or horror of the opening scene left. I’m not sure if it was intended to funny (which it is not) since there is no proper drama in the film either. The characters don’t make sense at all and the film is full of overacting (not to mention the offbeat music). Considering that everything in the story is so offbeat it has to be intentional, but I can not comprehend the reason behind it. Kurosawa is also playing with the form: the film is much more fast paced and visually more conventional than his other films - except for the fact he plays around with split screen a lot, but it is just distracting and serves no good purpose. The elements themselves are not terrible for the most part, but they simply do not add up at all. As a result, Doppelganger is one of the worst films I’ve seen in a while.
"I'd really like to have as much money as you have, Oz" - robersora
"No you wouldn't. Oz's secret is he goes without food to buy that stuff. He hasn't eaten in years." - Brikhaus

"Often I get the feeling that deep down, your little girl is struggling with your embrace of filmfaggotry and your loldeep fixations, and the conflict that arises from such a contradiction is embodied pretty well in Kureha's character. But obviously it's not any sort of internal conflict that makes the analogy work. It's the pigtails." - Merridian
"Oh, Oz, I fear I'm losing my filmfag to the depths of Japanese pop. If only there were more films with Japanese girls in glow-in-the-dark costumes you'd be the David Bordwell of that genre." - Jimbo
"Oz, I think we need to stage an intervention and force you to watch some movies that aren't made in Japan." - Trajan

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Postby Gus Hanson » Fri Sep 26, 2014 5:17 pm

Hours

One of Paul Walker's final finished presentations and you can tell that he gives it his all like always. I can't imagine what being in a situation like his character was put through would be like if I was to experience it but I cannot bear to see little creatures suffer so I would've probably been willing to do what he did to keep his baby alive.

Ong-Bak 3: The Final Battle

Hands down my favorite of the entire trilogy! The road to redemption is a lively one complete with an epic score, martial arts combined with traditional dance sequences that are a sight to behold, and even the special effects hold up like a finely tuned instrument.

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Postby StarShaper7 » Sat Sep 27, 2014 8:17 am

This is Where I Leave You

Watched this with some blood relations. Not really my kind of film. I was hoping it would be a bit more humorous. I didn't laugh as much as the rest of the audience did. It's about an upper middle class family and their personal struggles, such as rampant infidelity, loveless marriages, having children, etc. I found myself rolling my eyes a few times throughout the film. Maybe I would have liked this a few years ago when I was into anything I saw as "deep." But now I just find it boring.

4/10

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Postby Trajan » Sat Sep 27, 2014 3:06 pm

The 39 Steps

I thought it had some nice scenes, the whole faux-speech scene is great for instance and the earliest example of that trope that I've seen, and Robert Donat was great. But it does suffer from a bit of 30s early talkie awkwardness with some strange editing choices, bad sound quality both of which lead to an at-times confusing plot. The stunning shots of the Scottish moors help make up for it though. Given that, I can't help but compare it to the vastly superior North by Northwest, and as such, I'd recommend this one for Hitchcock fans only; otherwise, you'd do better to just watch North by Northwest.
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Postby Oz » Sun Sep 28, 2014 8:35 am

Kazuyoshi Kumakiri’s Sketches of Kaitan City: Based on a short story collection, Sketches of Kaitan City is set in the titular harbor city. The lives of its citizens go awry as the dock that is the core of the city’s economy begins to lay off its workers. The film opens with a story of two siblings who lose their parents in an accident at the dock, but they continue to live and work at the dock only to face further problems when the layoff begins. The film features altogether 5 stories of working class suffering that don’t really show any hint of hope even though the characters in them are portrayed in a positive way - with the exception of the one about domestic violence that got slightly on my nerves (which is intentional). What makes the film a great drama is Kumakiri’s direction. He sets a very oppressive, downbeat mood for the film that suggests impending tragedy and when it does come, there is no melodrama, but instead the heavy cinematography and the subtle acting performances deliver the hard-hitting blows. Even by the standards of downbeat tragedies Sketches of Kaitan City is quite heavy and dark. As long as the viewer is capable of enjoying extremely grim and sometimes even frustrating depictions of suffering, there is a lot to be discovered in Sketches of Kaitan City.

Toshiaki Toyoda’s Hanging Garden: The last thing I ever expected from a Toyoda film is that it would remind me of Sion Sono’s Love Exposure. Hanging Garden is about a seemingly ideal family that never holds secrets from each other. To point this out in the crudest possible way, Toyoda opens the film with a scene in which the parents openly talk to their children about the love hotel in which they conceived their children in detail. One begins to wonder how such an open family would work or is it even possible to not keep secrets. This is where the associations to Love Exposure begin as the film gradually begins to crawl under the skin of each family member and reveal how the family is putting up a facade for themselves. The scenario itself is not like Love Exposure’s, but the way Toyoda turns the story into a jolly merry-go-round of lies that build upon each other and then break apart like an unpredictable storm. The film has everything from mindtrip sequences and metaphorical references to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon to constant flips between reality and insanity. The end result is almost like a twisted deconstruction of the Japanese equivalent of the American dream. The mother is at the core of the clusterfuck with her fundamental problems and how she has tried to deal with them by constructing her own perfect family. Toyoda follows the farce with a constantly rotating and spinning camera. Although I think he overdid the style a bit, the camera movement was never used without a reason. He is still guilty of building unnecessary sequences for nothing but using songs he likes, but this time they were not as interruptive as in Blue Spring or 9 Souls. Even though I liked 9 Souls a lot I would say that Hanging Garden is Toyoda’s most mature film by far as it is a great, refreshing take on obsession and family.

Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins: Even after rewatching 13 Assassins I am still amazed that Miike was capable of putting together such a solid samurai epic. While 13 Assassins does feature a little of his trademark humor and violence there is only little of it, the movie is a traditional even if particularly violent film about samurai honor. Miike builds the story of 13 assassins going after the reckless and violent brother of the Shogun with a very careful and thorough build-up that doesn’t manage to introduce the large of cast of characters properly, but it focuses on the rich characterization of the most central characters - especially the unforgettable antagonist. It is a shame that after the magnificent build-up the monstrous fight scene at the end that lasts at least over 40 minutes throws the movie off balance. The setpiece is quite genius, but after a while it gets a tad repetitive and unfocused. I have to admit that Miike succeeded very well in leaving the audience guess how the battle will actually end, but the bloated battle is exhausting to watch and makes the ending less impactful. Nevertheless, it is rare to get to see such a good samurai epic these days so the movie deserves its praise.

Kazuyoshi Kumakiri’s The End of Summer: After seeing the title of the film my first thought was “is someone trying to make an Ozu film?”. My impression did not change as the film started since the film dedicates itself to recreating the authentic Showa Era atmosphere. However, the film ended up being much different from what the old master filmed in his day. Kumakiri’s film is based on a novel from the 60’s which was apparently quite unconventional due to its unusual heroine at the time it was published. At the center of The End of Summer, there is an odd love triangle between a married author, his lover and her former lover. Kumakiri approaches the drama in a very sensual way: all the scenes carry very loaded tension and follow the characters closely, but the camera remains stoic. The dim lighting and hazy colors fit to the slowly burning drama. The film’s narrative structure is a bit loose, but apparently that is only because it is fateful to the original work. The loose structure makes the film feel a bit superficial at times, but the strong acting performances cover up for that. Especially Hikari Mitsushima’s tour de force performance as the heroine is particularly stunning. It is even more stunning when one finds out that her character is supposed to be in her late 30’s and the actress herself is over 10 years younger yet she fully absorbs the complex character. Having seen two strong films from the director (Sketches of Kaitan City and this one) I'm beginning to believe he is one of the most capable living Japanese directors.
"I'd really like to have as much money as you have, Oz" - robersora
"No you wouldn't. Oz's secret is he goes without food to buy that stuff. He hasn't eaten in years." - Brikhaus

"Often I get the feeling that deep down, your little girl is struggling with your embrace of filmfaggotry and your loldeep fixations, and the conflict that arises from such a contradiction is embodied pretty well in Kureha's character. But obviously it's not any sort of internal conflict that makes the analogy work. It's the pigtails." - Merridian
"Oh, Oz, I fear I'm losing my filmfag to the depths of Japanese pop. If only there were more films with Japanese girls in glow-in-the-dark costumes you'd be the David Bordwell of that genre." - Jimbo
"Oz, I think we need to stage an intervention and force you to watch some movies that aren't made in Japan." - Trajan


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