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Animation Features Movies

Inu-Oh (Inu-Oh, 犬王)

Director – Masaaki Yuasa – 2021 – Japan – Cert. – 98m

***1/2

In fourteenth century Japan, a blind musician and a deformed, masked dancer shake up the culturally staid world of Noh theatre by forming a hugely popular rock band – out in UK cinemas on Wednesday, September 28th

You never quite know what you’re going to get with an animated feature by Masaaki Yuasa (Ride Your Wave,2019; Lu Over the Wall, 2017; Mind Game, 2004) as he has a tendency to break with tradition. Here, he takes on periods of Japanese history but rather than go with power struggles as to who rules Japan, he focuses on two outcasts, an orphaned musician and a deformed dancer, who join together to form a rock band with an emphasis on theatrical showmanship to upend the artistic conventions of the day and become an overnight sensation until the ascendant ruler, determined to control the historical narrative, has the musician killed, and the dancer emasculated, forbidden to perform anything but state-approved material, and that only in the Imperial court.

It’s a triptych, one long story split into three sections. In the first section, after a prologue detailing the decisive Battle of Dan-No-Ura towards the end of the twelfth century, in which the Heiji clan were defeated by the Genji and the formers warriors threw themselves into the sea and perished, two centuries later in the period of the Northern and Southern Courts, Northern would be Kyoto-based, shogunate emperor Ashitaka decides that the power to rule demands he acquire three sacred treasures, one of which is a sword buried in the lake at Dan-No-Ura.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies Shorts

Memories (Memorizu, メモリーズ)

1/ Magnetic Rose (Kanojo no Omoide, 彼女の想いで)

2/ Stink Bomb (Saishu Heiki, 最臭兵器)

3/ Cannon Fodder (Taiho no Machi, 大砲の街)

Directors

– 1/ Koji Morimoto, 2/ Tensai Okamura, 3/ Katsuhiro Otomo

– 1995 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 113m

*****

Executive producer Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime anthology adapts three of his dystopian-themed manga stories into animation – out on Blu-ray from All The Anime, Monday, 12th September, details below review

The film that made Otomo’s name and the one with which he’s most frequently associated is Akira (1988). It wasn’t his first film, though. Previously, he was one of nine directors who collaborated on the uneven portmanteau Robot Carnival (1987), a compendium of different animated stories based around robots of various types. One of the other directors was Koji Morimoto.

Memories is loosely similar – it only has three stories (and three directors), allowing each of the segments a bit more room. Its three episodes are very different yet perfectly complement each other. Otomo directed the third section Cannon Fodder.

Parts of the roughly two hour Akira drag, while Otomo’s later Steamboy (2004) gets lost within a massive set piece after a near perfect opening first reel or so.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Bullet Train

Director – David Leitch – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 126m

***

A man boards a bullet train in Tokyo to steal a suitcase only to be prevented from leaving the train every time he tries to get off it – lightweight action thriller is out in UK cinemas on Wednesday, August 3rd

This adaptation of mystery writer Kotoro Isaka’s 2010 novel, for which the Japanese title literally translates as Maria Beetle, concerns five assassins, each with their separate agenda, who board a bullet train. The film casts Westerners in many of these roles, repopulating the film with an international cast of Americans, Brits and Japanese. Brad Pitt as the lead obviously has box office clout, and is as watchable as ever in this film, however the film has inevitably been accused of whitewashing (even though ‘white’ here would seem to include Puerto Rican and African-American).

The producers here seem to think Japanese high speed rail journeys will draw international audiences but entirely Japanese characters will not. Whether or not they’re correct, casting the film the way they have reinforces this notion. Who else could have done it, you ask? Off the top of my head, I can think of three Hong Kong Chinese, any of whom would work: Chow Yun-fat, Jackie Chan or Tony Leung Chiu-wai.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

The Deer King (Shika no Ou: Yuna to Yakusoku no Tabi, 鹿の王 ユナと約束の旅)

Directors – Masashi Ando, Masayuki Miyaji – 2022 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 113m

**

The conquerors of a foreign land succumb to a mysterious plague there – out in cinemas on Wednesday, July 27th

This starts off with clearly epic intentions by throwing line after line of convoluted plot at the viewer in rapid fire, confusing intertitles. The kingdom of Aqifa was once ravaged by the Empire of Zol until the Black Wolf Fever prevented Zol from entering Fire Horse Territory. Today, the Black Wolf Fever is believed a thing of the past. Okay, got that? If not, you’ll be in trouble because the narrative is all about Zolians, Aquafaese and wolves and while the images are often ravishingly beautiful to look at, visually arresting eye candy in background or character design is never enough of itself to propel the story forward.

It continues piling on plot information like this for about half an hour. To make matters worse, an insistent cod-Gaelic score is overlaid over the images much of the time, and it seems composed to draw attention to itself rather than advance the story in any way.

Aquafaese toil in a salt mine (someone happens to mention some time afterwards that the mineral being mined is salt, otherwise you wouldn’t know) under sadistic guards while in the depths wolves attack and infest the slave workers whose skin comes out in purple blotches before they die.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Pompo The Cinéphile (Eiga Daisuki Pompo-san, 映画大好きポンポさん)

Director – Takayuki Hirao – 2021 – Japan – Cert. 12a – 94m

*****

A film buff working as a movie producer’s assistant is unexpectedly given the job of directing his first feature film– out in cinemas on Wednesday, June 29th

Much in Pompo The Cinéphile riffs off Roger Corman’s legendary working methods. It takes place in a fictional Tinseltown named Nyallywood (what’s with the name? are they worried about getting sued?) and has near its centre the eponymous Pompo (voice: Konomi Kohara from Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train, Haruo Sotozaki, 2020; Sword Art Online, series, 2012-) who looks like a sprightly young girl (and is exactly that in occasional flashbacks) but is, in fact, a seasoned, teenage (!) producer of exploitation movies (sample titles: Across The 8th Dimension, Guns Akimbo, Zombizarre) starring a busty blonde named Mystia (voice: Ai Kakuma) who is currently shooting a Summer movie titled Marine with lots of girls in revealing bikinis fleeing a giant tentacled beastie at the beach with which the gun-wielding Mystia will do battle: quite literally a ‘tits and tentacles’ show “with just the right amount of sex appeal.” Director Hirao is, after all, the man behind similarly exploitative anime Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack!Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Belle (Ryu to Sobakasu no Hime, 竜とそばかすの姫)

Director – Mamoru Hosoda – 2021 – Japan – Cert. PG tbc – 121m

*****

A bereaved, teenage girl starts to emerge from her shell when she signs up for a virtual world on her smartphone – out on Blu-ray and DVD from Monday, June 27th and 4K UHD Blu-ray including the soundtrack from Thursday, July 7th

‘U’ is an internet, virtual world of high tech, futuristic architecture. When you sign up, you receive your own personalised avatar built from your biometrics. You have the chance to start over in a new world.

Teenager Suzu (voice: Kaho Nakamura) could do with that chance. She lives with her dad (voice: Koji Yakusho from Mirai, Mamoru Hosoda, 2018; The Third Murder, Hirokazu Kore-eda, 2017; Pulse, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2001; Shall We Dance, Masayuki Suo, 1996; Tampopo, Juzo Itami, 1985) in a small town somewhere in the East of Japan. She doesn’t really communicate with people at her school – not Luka (Tina Tamashiro), the sax player in the school band, not Kamishin (Shota Sometani from To The Ends Of The Earth, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2019; First Love, Takashi Miike, 2019; Foreboding, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2017; The Boy And The Beast, Mamoru Hosoda, 2015; Himizu, Sion Sono, 2011) who set up the canoe club but hasn’t been able to attract any members, not Shinobu (Ryo Narita) who proposed to her – well, told her he wanted to protect her – when she was six.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

The House Of The Lost On The Cape (Misaki no Mayoiga, 岬のマヨイガ)

Director – Shinya Kawatsura – 2021 – Japan – 100m

*****

Two children separated from their respective parents are taken in by an old woman in a benevolent, magical house with a malevolent monster nearby – plays in the Annecy Animation Festival 2022 which is taking place in a 100% on-site edition this year right now in the Official Competition section

A younger girl and an older girl find themselves at Kitsunezaki (Fox Cape) Bus Station that’s been wrecked in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. An old lady appears and takes them under her wing. They walk through forests, then up a hill, until eventually they arrive at a huge bungalow with a thatched roof which is to be the girls’ home. Kiwa, the old lady, claims to be their granny.

There’s something odd about the house, though. The older girl Yui accidentally makes a hole when she puts a finger through a paper wall. Later, the hole has mysteriously vanished. Then there are the drinks which appear out of nowhere when Yui says she’d like such and such a drink. At night, outside, strange turtle spirits (kappa) gather.

The younger girl Hiyori never speaks. This appears to be the result of some sort of trauma.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

A Silent Voice (Koe no Katachi, 聲の形)

Director – Naoko Yamada – 2016 – Japan – Cert. 12a – 130m

****

Groundbreaking and innovative Japanese drama about school children, bullying, remorse, isolation and self-loathing – plays in the Annecy Animation Festival 2022 which is taking place in a 100% on-site edition this year right now in the Special Programmes section (A Special Screening for the Hard of Hearing)

Egged on by Naoka Ueno (voice: Yuki Kaneko) then later shunned by classmates for his bullying of new girl in class Shoko Nishimiya (Saori Hayami), who happens to be deaf, Shoya Ishida (Miyu Irino) stops interacting with them and withdraws. This is represented onscreen by the extraordinary graphic device of an ‘X’ over the faces of his fellow schoolmates whenever they appear. It’s a very powerful way of expressing his isolation. Five years on, wrecked with guilt about his treatment of Nishimiya, he learns sign language and decides to befriend her and to make amends…

This film may well broaden your idea of what animation is capable. It’s nothing like Disney and equally it’s light years from Japanese SF action fest Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988) although it likewise started life as a manga and concerns teenagers.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Some recommendations from the BFI’s Anime season 2022

With the BFI’s long-promised Anime season finally under way, here are some highlights. At BFI Southbank through April and May 2022.

Anime is the Japanese word for animation: here in the West, the term has been co-opted to refer to animation produced in Japan, and there’s an awful lot of it. Further titles will be added below as the season progresses. Click on the links for full reviews. Scroll down for booking info and screening times.

Memories (1995). Executive producer Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime anthology adapts three of his dystopian-themed manga stories into animation. One is scripted by Satoshi Kon. Akira may be widely considered Otomo’s masterpiece, but for me, the more collaborative Memories is at least its equal – if not a better film altogether. Tragically, it never had a UK theatrical outing. However, if I were to recommend one film in this season, this would be it.

Perfect Blue (1997). Satoshi Kon‘s feature debut is a multi-layered, identity crisis psycho thriller which redefines the boundaries of animation, Japanese or otherwise.

Tokyo Godfathers (2003). Satoshi Kon delivers a Christmas movie with a difference. Three homeless people – a drag queen, a hard drinker and a runaway teenage girl – find an abandoned baby at Christmas and resolve to return her to her parents.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies

Tokyo Godfathers (Tokyo Goddofazazu, 東京ゴッドファーザーズ)

Director – Satoshi Kon – 2003 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 91m

*****

Three homeless people – a drag queen, a hard drinker and a runaway teenage girl – find an abandoned baby at Christmas and resolve to return her to her parents – plays in the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Southbank

This opens with a nativity play to an audience of what one initially presumes to be admiring parents, a perception rapidly revised with the realisation that what is on offer is a programme of ‘nativity play, sermon, dinner’ for Tokyo’s homeless, with the first two items something to endure in order to access the much wanted third one. Any thought that the film is going to deal with religion is however swiftly dismissed with the introduction of three homeless characters holed up in an empty house containing a piles of discarded and bagged up goods, one of which turns out to contain an abandoned baby.

Teenage runaway Miyuki (voice: Aya Okamoto) has fallen in with two men old enough to be her father (if not her grandfather) who look out for her: the cross-dressing Miss Hana (voice: Yoshiaki Umegaki) and the hard-drinking Gin (voice: Toru Emori).… Read the rest