Categories
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

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Crazy Thunder Road (Kuruizaki Sanda Rodo, 狂い咲きサンダーロード)

Director – Sogo Ishii – 1980 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 97m

*****

Following on from Arrow’s superb BD of Sogo Ishii’s Burst City (1982) comes Third Window’s equally impressive BD release of its predecessor in the Ishii canon Crazy Thunder Road (1980) – on Blu-ray from Monday, February 21st

This was Ishii’s Nihon University student graduation project, his first to be shot on 16mm rather than Super 8, which somehow got picked up for distribution by major Japanese Studio Toei which led to their giving him a budget for Burst City. Tom Mes, who as with Burst City supplies a commentary for the film, describes Crazy Thunder Road as “one of the Holy Grails of Japanese film releases if not the Holy Grail.”

When Toei presented Ishii with what seemed like astronomical funding for Burst City, it led him to overreach himself. In retrospect, he considers Burst City unfinished… [Read the full review at All The Anime]

Crazy Thunder Road was out on Blu-ray in the UK on Monday, February 21st.

Opening scene:

Categories
Features Live Action Movies Music

Burst City (Bakuretsu Toshi Burst City, 爆裂都市 BURST CITY)

Director – Sogo Ishii – 1982 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 115m

Film ****

Cultural significance *****

Arguably the lynchpin film that brought Japanese cinema back from the brink of extinction in the early 1980s and paved the way for much of what was to follow – on Blu-ray from Monday, November 20th 2020

Looked at today through Western eyes, the opening with its breakneck, speeded up race through (presumably) Tokyo cutting between nighttime and daytime POV shots, with motorbike noises, anticipates the more demented pixillated chase scenes of Tetsuo: The Iron Man (Shinya Tsukamoto, 1989), shots of bikers recall the anti-establishment feel of Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969) and patterns caused by moving lights burning into film emulsion recall Norman McClaren and Len Lye’s early animation experiments drawing and painting direct onto film. Then it seems to turn into Mad Max (George Miller, 1979) by way of a gangster film elements (two men in a car wearing a suit and a leather jacket respectively) who avoid a near collision with two punks on a motorcycle and sidecar.

How many of these precedents Ishii had in mind (or even had seen) when he made this is impossible to say.… Read the rest

Categories
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

Categories
Animation Features Movies

Akira (アキラ) 4K (IMAX)

Director – Katsuhiro Otomo – 1988 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 124m

*****

Manga artist turned director Katsuhiro Otomo’s cyberpunk classic returns to the big screen in a brand new 4K IMAX print – plays in the BFI Japan 2021 season in December and the Anime season April / May 2022 at BFI Waterloo IMAX #AKIRA4K

When Akira first appeared in the UK at the start of the nineties, Disney was busy reinventing the animated cartoon as a platform for the Broadway musical (Beauty And The Beast, Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise, 1991; The Lion King, Rob Minkoff, Roger Allers, 1994) and there were debates about whether comics (or ‘graphic novels’) could be created for adults as well as kids.

As so often in technology and media, Japan was ahead of the game. Otomo had published his long-running comic book or manga Akira in 1982 and turned it into a feature six years later, challenging widely held Western notions of what animation was. You could make SF in movies (Voyage To The Moon, Georges Méliès, 1902) and you could make serious SF (2001, Stanley Kubrick, 1968), but animation was strictly for kids, at least in the English-speaking mainstream, and that as what Disney did.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Spaghetti Code Love (Supagetikodo rabu, スパゲティコード・ラブ)

Director – Takeshi Maruyama – 2021 – Japan – 96m

***1/2

The intersecting lives of several young Tokyoites suggests they don’t know how to communicate with one another – plays UK cinemas in the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2022 between Friday, 4th February and Thursday, 31st March

A young woman hangs out in an amusement arcade. Suddenly she’s aware of a young boy. Running, shouting, “why me”. He needs something. She steps into the breach and – for a moment, at least – provides it by holding him tight, a surrogate mother, an understanding human connection.

How far this understanding goes, it’s impossible to say. We never find out the source of the boy’s malaise, we never learn anything more about the woman who holds him in the arcade. However they have connected on some level – physically and emotionally. And that’s what this film seems to be about.

It’s basically a series of character study vignettes in which the characters occasionally cross paths which could well have been written or conceived as a half dozen of so short films. They connect with or become alienated from one another. It’s set in Tokyo with a title suggestive of complex networks and computer language with the catch-all ‘love’ tacked on the end.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Detective Chinatown 3 (Tang Ren Jie Tan An 3, 唐人街探案3)

Director – Chen Sicheng – 2021 – UK – Cert. 15 – 136m

****

The Chinese franchise’s super-sleuth and bumbling sidekick join forces with their Japanese and Thai counterparts in Japan – out in cinemas on Tuesday, January 25th and 26th only

No sooner have the brilliant crime-solving sleuth Qin Feng (Liu Haoran) and his likeable if barely competent sidekick Tang Ren (Wang Baoqiang) flown in to Tokyo and met their contact there, the sharp and colourful Hiroshi Noda (Satoshi Tsumabuki), than they find themselves embroiled in one of the most seriously bonkers action sequences in the movies in recent years when members of (at least) two gangs suddenly attack in the airport to the inspired accompaniment of the pop song ‘Welcome To Tokyo’ (which gets rolled out again for a cheerful, cast of thousands, song and dance routine accompanying the end credits). Extensive mayhem ensures. A man rolls down a long flight of steps in an oil drum. Two groups of smartly uniformed and skirted women do battle (one group in red, one in blue – stewardesses from rival airlines, perhaps?). Workmen in hard hats and overalls descend from scaffolding to join the melee.

Knowing this will be an impossible act to follow, the film then throws in a pursuer Jack Jaa (Thai martial arts sensation Tony Jaa from Ong-bak, Prachya Pinkaew, 2003) on the Tokyo subway before having the trio flee him on go-karts while he comes unstoppably and hilariously after them by stealing a child’s bicycle with tiny wheels.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Tokyo Story (Tokyo monogatari)

Director – Yasujiro Ozu – 1953 – Japan – Cert. U – 136m

*****

Plays in the BFI Japan 2021 season October / November at BFI Southbank. Also currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the Japan programme alongside 24 other Ozu films together with a much wider selection of Japanese movies.

Elderly couple the Hirayamas (Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama) live in the seaside town of Onomichi, a day’s train ride from Tokyo at the time the film was made. Of their five children, Kyoko (Kyoko Kagawa) still lives at home with them and works locally as a primary school teacher, two live in Tokyo, one in Osaka and one went missing in action during the war, presumed dead. The son and daughter in Tokyo, Koichi (So Yamamura) and Shige (Haruko Sugimura), work as a doctor and a beauty parlour owner respectively. Both are married while the missing son has left behind a widow Noriko (Setsuko Hara). The fifth child is a son Keizo (Shiro Osaki) in Osaka which is on the train between Onomichi and Tokyo. The couple want to visit their offspring and see how they are doing for themselves.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Still The Water (Futatsume no Mado, 2つ目の窓)

Director – Naomi Kawase – 2014 – Japan / France – Cert. 15 – 119m

*****

Two childhood sweethearts living on an island beset by storms must come to terms with the mortality and fallibility of their mothers – on BFI Player (rental) and MUBI.

The ocean roars and then, just as suddenly, is quiet. The wind howls through the trees, then sunlight is glimpsed through tranquil branches. Welcome to the sleepy yet storm-battered island of Amami Oshima, part of the Southern Japanese Archipelago, a place of paradox and contradiction seen through the eyes of two teenaged friends and their families.

Kyoko (Jun Yoshinaga aka Junko AbeSamurai Marathon, Bernard Rose, 2019) loves swimming in the sea. Her friend Kaito (Nijiro MurakamiIsle Of Dogs, Wes Anderson, 2018, Destruction Babies, Tetsuya Mariko, 2016) is less keen – he’d rather be in the safety of a swimming pool. She uses him and his bicycle to get around the island if and when he’s nearby. She is rather keen on him and would happily have sex. He can’t explain why, but is less enthusiastic about the idea.

Once we move on to their parents, there are fascinating observations regarding motherhood – especially in the light of adoption / unwanted pregnancy outing True Mothers (Naomi Kawase, 2020) – and, to a lesser extent, fatherhood.… Read the rest

Categories
Features Live Action Movies

A Snake Of June (Rokugatsu No Hebi, 六月の蛇)

Director – Shinya Tsukamoto – 2002 – Japan – Cert. 18 – 77m

*****

Unlike any terrorised female narrative you’ve ever seen, at once bizarre and hugely rewarding – currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the BFI Japan 2021 programme

This review originally appeared in What’s On In London, June 2003.

In an unnamed (but suspiciously Tokyo-like) Japanese city where it’s constantly raining, a mysterious phone caller blackmails repressed housewife Rinko (Asuka Kurosawa). If that sounds clichéd, set your prejudices aside because Shinya Tsukamoto’s unique, new film is unlike any terrorised female narrative you’ve ever seen. The motives of the caller (director Tsukamoto himself) are scarcely what you might expect.

From the moment Rinko opens a postal package labelled “Your Husband’s Secrets” to find photographs of herself masturbating (which she flicks into life like a series of animated stills) via her subsequent following orders involving short skirts and vibrators through to the extraordinary finale, the piece walks a difficult path between humiliating and liberating women.

With the year’s most arresting opening – a stripping model reduced to orgasmic ecstasy in serial, rapid-fire static images to the flashing of a stills camera – it’s likely to engross some viewers while offending others.… Read the rest