Foreign

NYAFF Review: Meeting Dr. Sun

Jul 01 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219608:42457:0[/embed] Meeting Dr. Sun (Xingdong daihao: Sun Zongshan)Director: Chih-yen Yee Rating: NRCountry: Taiwan  Everyone knows the rule of threes. You can do a joke three times before it becomes grating. If done well, that repetition can make it amazing, but going beyond that just becomes frustrating. I don't know who who it came from, but I've heard it said that the trick to Family Guy's humor is that things become funny again after you've done them for the 27th time. It's funny, funny, funny, not funny, not funny, infuriating... kinda funny, funny, amazing. And that's kind of accurate. I'm sure there's something in our brains, probably a fear response, that tells us that eventually this thing that is making us uncomfortable with its repetition is actually something to be laughed at (again), lest we drive ourselves actually crazy. Whatever it is, it works. Sometimes. Meeting Dr. Sun really wants that to be true. Or at least, its editor does. Because apparently he left the editing bay after he put together his rough cut and someone walked by and shouted, "It's perfect!" Every single scene is too long. Every. Damn. One. You could cut at least 10 seconds from the end of every sequence in the film and it would only benefit the film. Most shots go on too long, and every joke definitely goes on too long, but sometimes they become funny again. Meeting Dr. Sun is a heist movie, of sorts. Some kinds can't afford to pay their class fees, so they decide to steal a statue and sell it for scrap. But they have to steal it. But because they're children (end of middle school/beginning of high school (or the Taiwanese equivalent of that), if I had to guess), everything is inherently very silly. As it's presented, there are no great stakes, and there are no serious dangers. It's not even really clear what it would mean if the kids didn't pay their class fees. (Here my American ignorance is probably at issue, though the film's dialogue makes it seem like it's not a necessity to get through the year.) The whole thing feels appropriately childish, and on some level the humor actually works like that as well.  Some years ago, I was having dinner with a friend and his extended family. His very young cousin wanted to be the center of attention, and so he said to said to his dad, "Hi mommy!" and everyone laughed. And then he went to every single person around the table (nearly a dozen of us) and said, "Hi mommy!" to all the men and "Hi daddy!" to the women. The first couple of times, it was adorable. By the time he got to me? It was infuriating. But the kid thought he was the cat's pajamas, and he kept doing it until his dad (thankfully) stopped him. He would have done another round of the table, I'm sure, because he didn't understand what actually made it funny, just that other people were laughing. And that's what the humor in Meeting Mr. Sun is like. I laughed pretty hard on multiple occasions, and some of the people around me laughed so hard I literally (not figuratively) thought they were going to die, but then once I'd moved on, the young kids onscreen wanted to keep doing the joke. They keep pantomiming or dancing or talking or moving or doing any of those other things that kids do, because... they're kids. What else are they gonna do?  That said, there's a weird, dark undercurrent about issues of socioeconomic class structures throughout the film. And while it's always there, it doesn't come up explicitly until the end, when it hits in a fascinating, mood-wrecking kind of way. And thinking back on the film through that lens, it's actually pretty seriously depressing; a (very) long sequence involving two characters trying to prove that their family is worse off is played for humor, sort of, but it's really very sad. At the time, that was in the back of my mind, but it didn't snap into focus until that moment near the end. But this theme seems so at odds with the comedic intentions of the film. Director Yee wanted us to laugh. But here was this grand theme about poverty and what it forces people to do, even on a small scale. And... we were supposed to laugh at it? I mean, I definitely did. I'm just not sure how I feel about having done so.
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Child's play
In the two hours leading up to the US premiere of Meeting Dr. Sun, I saw director Chih-yen Yee speak twice. First was at a reception hosted by New York Taipei Economic and Cultural Office. The second was just minute...

Review: When Marnie Was There

Jun 12 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219314:42335:0[/embed] When Marnie Was There (思い出のマーニー)Director: Hiromasa YonebayashiRelease Date: May 22, 2015Country: Japan In the wake of Hayao Miyakazi's retirement, Studio Ghibli has "temporarily" shuttered its doors. There may never be another Studio Ghibli film. There are probably people who are mad at Miyazaki for leaving. When Marnie Was There is a response to those people. It's a response to people who hold grudges and hate themselves and take it out on others. It's a a response to the fundamental negativity that drives much of modern society. And it made me cry.  It's easy to forget that cartoons can make you feel real people emotions if you don't watch many of them. And obviously calling a serious animated film like any Ghibli production a "cartoon" is reductive at best and borderline offensive at worst, but the point is that it isn't just the ultra-artistic works like Ghibli films that can get to you. They're probably about the best example, but it's just another toolset for a would-be filmmaker to use. And one that doesn't get nearly enough credit for the things it can do to you. When Marnie Was There starts in a place where the air is bad. It's a city, and Anna is a girl with asthma. She hates herself and keeps herself isolated from everyone around her. She has an asthma attack and the doctor tells her foster mother that she should be sent to the countryside. A countryside where there is nothing but Anna, nature, and whatever creepy, spirit-related things are going on in the town's abandoned buildings. (So far so Ghibli.) Before too long, Anna runs into Marnie, a blonde-haired girl who lives in the Marsh House, an old abandoned mansion at the edge of town. But, of course, Marnie isn't real. You know that. Anna knows that. The film knows it. Marnie's scenes are hyper-stylized, often dream-like, but knowing that she's not real actually makes everything more intriguing. Because the question isn't, "Is Marnie real?" It's, "Who is she?" Or perhaps, "Who was she?"    But what's never a question is what her role in Anna's arc is going to be. From the outset, it's obvious that Marnie is here to bring Anna out of her shell, to allow her to talk to others and stand up for herself and be brave. She's a self-loathing pre-teen. The world has enough of those. Marnie is there to help her come to terms with everything she's gone through. To give her some perspective. And its ability to put things into perspective without being contrived or annoying is When Marnie Was Here's greatest strength. Even in particularly expository moments, everything comes from a place of honesty in a valiant attempt to get at the fundamental beliefs we all have. A conversation between Marnie and Anna about the role of the parent begins a bit stiff, and I was worried that we were heading down the wrong path, but it ultimately turned into something exceedingly compelling. Whether it was critiquing an aspect of society found in both Japan and America, celebrating it, or simply accepting it is probably up for interpretation, but nothing in the film is skin-deep. It's all in service of these moments of revelation that turn both Anna and Marnie into an extremely compelling pair, even if the latter is "imaginary." But imaginary or not, Marnie's impact on Anna is tangible. As the truths behind Marnie's past become clearer, Anna begins to build up the strength to keep her partner safe from the evils of the world. Because there are always evils, no matter who you are or how you live. And even if you can't always fight them yourself, being able to recognize the plights of others and connect with them will make you a stronger person. Perhaps someone who can help others face their own demons as well. And when it all comes down to it, we're all in this together. Films like When Marnie Was There serve as reminders of just how meaningful life can be.
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All the places you'll go
Every so often, I think about old articles I've written, for Flixist or elsewhere, and wonder how different they would be if I'd written them now. Not from a grammatical or structural perspective. I wonder how my fundamental ...

NYAFF 2015 photo
NYAFF 2015

The 2015 New York Asian Film Festival lineup and schedule are here


My favorite festival of the year returns
Jun 08
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
The New York Asian Film Festival is very near and dear to my heart. When I started at Flixist in 2011, I was a news writer. I wasn't supposed to be writing reviews or doing any of that high-minded stuff. But then my girlfrie...

Look of Silence Trailer photo
Look of Silence Trailer

The trailer for The Look of Silence offers a glimpse at one of the best films of 2015


A follow-up to The Act of Killing
May 08
// Hubert Vigilla
Joshua Oppenheimer's documentary The Act of Killing was one of the best films of 2013. The film examined the Indonesian genocide from the point of view of the killers, and in the process provided a chilling look at the way hi...

Tribeca Review: The Birth of Sake

Apr 21 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219229:42341:0[/embed] The Birth of SakeDirector: Erik ShiraiRelease Date: TBD Rating: TBD A second family is essential for the brewers at Yoshida Shuzo. (The brewery has produced Tedorigawa label sake since 1870.) They spend an entire season at the brewery tending to the sake rice, waiting for the precise moment of fermentation, stirring vats or letting them sit still and bubble. They eat meals together, they sleep in on-site quarters, they party together, and they toil. All the while, the camera lovingly considers the winter outside and the activity indoors, making the rice and steam both a counterpoint and a complement to the falling snow. It's not food porn, it's food poetry. The general sentiment from the brewmasters and Shirai is that the brewing process is almost like raising a child. (Hence The Birth of Sake rather than The Making of Sake.) When they're away from their baby, we see the various men in isolation and get to understand the kind of necessary camaraderie that builds through this rearing of sake. At one point, some of the older brewmasters bathe together. In another context, these men ought to be retired, but at Yoshida Shuzo, they're like brothers playing in the tub. There's a generational divide in the sake brewing process, which reflects a change in Japanese drinking habits just as much as the way that most traditions fade generation by generation. The primary seller for Tedorigawa is much younger than the veteran brewers, and he spends his off-season traveling the world to promote the brand. Sake is his life, but he's had to feel his way around the changing market for it. He shares some wine with his fellow brewmasters, and the differences in their palettes are apparent with the first swirl and sniff. The other young brewmasters, when off work, hang out with the other young brewmasters, and they talk about dating women, though maybe "girls" given the teenage tenor of their conversation. The cycle of making sake would get in the way of those plans. It's the difference between a job and a calling, which leaves the future of the craft in question. Shirai captures both the beauty and the melancholy of the sake brewing process, and it's fascinating that The Birth of Sake never feels forced in its various observations. That's probably because the brewmasters have such fondness for what they create, and for the family that's created because of it.
Birth of Sake Review photo
The brotherhood of brewers
At a certain point in Erik Shirai’s documentary The Birth of Sake, it becomes apparent that the film isn't just about the art of making of sake. This is common in movies that are about making something—food, art, ...

Review: The Dead Lands

Apr 17 // John-Charles Holmes
The Dead LandsDirector: Toa FraserRelease Date: April 1st, 2015 (Video On-Demand release)Rating: RNew Zealand The Dead Lands is a tale of revenge and redemption in the forests of New Zealand. The son of a tribal Maori chief, Hongi, goes on a quest to avenge his family when they are slaughtered in the night by a rival tribe, leaving him as the sole male survivor. He travels to meet an old legendary warrior who teaches him the skills to fight like a true warrior while they both confront their own personal demons and history with their ancestral spirits. Once the training is complete, it’s time for all-out war with the murderers of Hongi’s tribe. The movie is pretty ambitious in trying to make a gritty and realistic action film out of the conflicts of the tribes of New Zealand. Unfortunately, The Dead Lands runs into a lot of problems along the way that keeps it from being the exciting film that it wants to be. The film in general is incredibly hard to follow, from the story which rarely gives context for the Maori culture to the erratic nature of the cinematography. The Dead Lands is presented in anamorphic widescreen, but doesn’t seem to make good use of the increased frame space. Shots are often very close to characters faces and other obstructions making it very hard to often see what’s going on or even get a sense of space. Add on top of this that the camera is constantly cutting and changing focus which makes the action scenes peppered throughout the film just as hard to follow as the story. There seems to have been a focus on how intense and brutal these fights can get, with most conflicts ending after one or two hits with a sharp club. Though it can be hard to see the action, the film makes sure we can see the results. Every cut, stab, and laceration is given a languishing focus which certainly does help to drive home the risk of these fights, but admittedly feels kind of gross by the midpoint of the movie. If movie blood makes you squeamish, this might be one you’ll want to skip. It almost feels like these effects are what the filmmakers were most proud of in the production. I suppose it makes sense as this ended up being the memorable part of the movie for me. In general, The Dead Lands struggles to leave a lasting impression, but ends up proving difficult to watch and ultimately somewhat dull. There’s some merit to the idea of showing the journey of both new and old warriors along with their connection to the past and spirituality, but I never really got a good sense of the culture these characters were from, making it hard to understand much about these peoples outside of the tribal warfare. With a stronger story, some tighter editing, and camerawork that exhibits the strengths of both the tribal martial arts and the natural beauty of New Zealand, The Dead Lands could’ve been a strong outing for such a unique premise. As it stands, the end result feels more akin to actors running around in the woods with a camera and a bunch of blood packs.
The Dead Lands Review photo
Smells like warrior spirit
Films about indigenous groups have a strange and sordid history in film. Their appearances are far and few in-between and those that exist are a mixed bag of both quality and subject matter. The Dead Lands seeks to join this ...

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The estate of Bruce Lee doesn't want him in Ip Man 3


The CG Bruce Lee is now unlikely
Apr 02
// Hubert Vigilla
Just last week we reported that production on Ip Man 3 is underway, featuring Mike Tyson and a CG Bruce Lee. While Iron Mike is a lock, it seems that the Donnie Yen sequel has hit a snag with CG Bruce Lee (aka Marshall Law fr...
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Ip Man 3 will feature Mike Tyson and a CG Bruce Lee


So... will this Donnie Yen sequel be partial schlock or total schlock?
Mar 24
// Hubert Vigilla
Ip Man 3 (or Ip Man 3D) has been in the works for a while, but the Donnie Yen sequel started shooting today in Shanghai. With the start of production comes news of some really bizarre stunt casting. According to The Hollywood...

Review: The Tale of Princess Kaguya

Feb 24 // John-Charles Holmes
[embed]219012:42246:0[/embed] The Tale of Princess KaguyaDirector: Isao TakahataRelease Date: February 17, 2015 (DVD/Blu-Ray)Rating: PGCountry: Japan The Tale of Princess Kaguya is based on the classic Japanese folktale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, which tells of a bamboo cutter and wife who find a small girl inside a stalk of bamboo.  The girl, who eventually comes to be named Princess Kaguya, grows very quickly into a beautiful young woman, which is only exacerbated by the bamboo cutter finding a trove of treasures in other stalks of bamboo in the forests.  The bamboo cutter buys his family’s way into the lap of luxury and refines Kaguya from her quaint mountain life into to the extremely restrictive lifestyle of a feudal princess. As Kaguya matures, word of her beauty spreads across the land and in due time, five overzealous suitors show up at the mansion doors.  What follows is a haunting tale of Kaguya’s struggles for independence and freedom as well as an idea of what the definition true happiness is and what it brings to us.  Is it wealth?  Security?  Beauty?  Or something else altogether? Princess Kaguya launches by wearing its folktale trappings on its sleeves.  Most of the characters act as the everyman for all the roles people play in our lives and logic is thrown to the wind in favor of mysticism and bewilderment.  However, once the stage for the story is set, emotion becomes the guiding force for most of the film.  Each moment of the film is driven by these strong moments of expression, ranging from extremes of happiness to absolute depression.  Even when it seems that the film is setting up an eclectic series of events, the narrative constantly takes a back seat to the emotional state of the film, Princess Kaguya, and the audience. The story itself is actually quite simple to digest, but the true star of the film is the unique and striking animation on display.  The film looks unlike any modern Ghibli film, trading in crisp and strong digital lines for very rough, very human brush strokes.  The visuals evoke the imagery of traditional Japanese ink and watercolor paintings.  You could take a still from any moment of the film and hang it up on a wall. It’s not quite clear through why you’d want to freeze-frame the film, though, as the animation is simply stunning in motion.  As lines are redrawn with every frame this motion implies a great sense of breath and life or quietness and weight when lines stand still.  As motion increases and action climbs, the lines get more and more out of control, as if a master artist loosened his grip on the brush.  Little details like moving accent lines to imply light or restrained palettes to direct attention add that extra polish that makes it a true masterwork. Words truly don’t do these visuals justice and honestly might be the most visually interesting film I’ve ever seen out of Studio Ghibli in years—which given their legendary pedigree, is saying a lot.  This is what makes somewhat upsetting when the film falls prey to the same pratfall of the last few Ghibli productions.  The mood and animation silently tells more of the story than the words ever do, but in the final moments of the film, an immediately pressing impetus emerges to give the film a climax that, quite honestly, I wasn’t sure was necessary.  The film seems to revolve around how Princess Kaguya feels at any given moment as well as asking the existential question of what exactly is the true nature of happiness.  Once we actually get some answers near the end of the film, it’s not exactly an answer for those questions the film sets up.  Honestly, I feel like the emotional impact of the film is so strong and so resonant that it managed to carry me through to the film’s eerie conclusion, but I would be quick to understand if audiences (particularly western audiences) found themselves very confused with final moments of the story.  As easy as it would’ve been to simply rely on the imagery of the animation through to the end, this choice probably stems more from the nature of the source material rather than a misstep of the direction of the film. Story issues aside, the film exudes a restrained and haunting air throughout its runtime.  Shots are framed like paintings in a gallery and music punctuates little moments of the film, only making itself heard with hard piano strikes at some of the more intense scenes.  Ghibli films have usually had an incredible eye for minutia, and Takahata exhibits the same mastery in his portrayal of an old, yet legendary Japan. So if you’re already a huge fan of Studio Ghibli, making a point to see Princess Kaguya is a no-brainer at this point, but for everyone else I’d still say this one is worth checking out.  The simple story keeps the film easy to follow, despite some missteps near the end, but even if the folktale isn’t enough to hold your attention, the animation and atmosphere will certainly keep you glued to your seat.  As one of the better Ghibli films of the past decade, Princess Kaguya will go down as a haunting, yet beautiful piece of work, much like the princess herself.
Princess Kaguya Review photo
Little Bamboo, big style
Isao Takahata is one of the directors out of Studio Ghibli that seems to be less discussed by fans in the west.  Takahata is responsible for directing some of the most riveting and eerie films to come from the Japanese a...

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First Victoria trailer, a true one shot action movie


One crazy night. One crazy shot.
Feb 18
// Jackson Tyler
From Hitchcock's Rope in 1948 to Birdman, Alejandro González Iñárritu's movie up for Best Picture this Sunday, and everywhere in between, filmmakers have been consistently playing with the idea...

Review: R100

Jan 22 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218709:42046:0[/embed] R100 Director: Hitoshi MatsumotoRating: R100Release Date: January 23rd, 2015 (Theatrical and VOD)Country: Japan Takafumi Katayama (Nao Omori) is your average Joe (or whatever the Japanese equivalent to that is). He's a reasonably competent salesman at a large furnishing store. There's exactly nothing remarkable about him. If you saw him on the street, you wouldn't think twice about it. Unless, of course, he was being abused by a woman in leather. And while for many that seems a bit unlikely, for Katayama it's a daily occurance. You see, Katayama likes pain. Sexually. And since his wife went into a coma, he has had a rather involved method of having this particular desire fulfilled. For one reason or another, he ends up at a club called “Bondage.” The literal merry-go-round that follows convinces him to hire a particularly comprehensive S&M care package. As he goes about his life, various leather-clad "Queens" will come to him and make him feel. And it's not always physical abuse; any sort of humiliation will do. Lovely dinner at a sushi bar? Here comes a Queen to smash the food to bits and make him eat it in front of the extremely uncomfortable guests. And he loves it. You can tell, because his face contorts like a baloon, his eyes turn black, and ripples emanate from his head. By now, you should know if R100 is your type of film. If that previous paragraph sounds either titillating or hilarious, you've already figured out the next screening within 50 miles of you and are planning your weekend around it. If you find that conceptually retched, literally nothing about it is going to change your mind. This is a film intended to appall. But it also wants to make you laugh. And in that objective it is overwhelmingly successful. Right from the outset, I was completely and totally hooked. And so was everyone else. When that first Queen roundhouse kicks Katayama's head into a glass window, it was a taste of things to come but it couldn't prepare us. Nothing could. From there it builds and builds into this amorphous, incomprehensible blob of violent sexual comedy. And it's absolutely brilliant. I'm loathe to say more. Not that I'm really worried about spoilers, because R100 truly has to be seen to be believed. A whole bunch of text on the internet won't tell you shit. I could describe the above trailer – which is really just a clip from Katayama's introduction to his new pastime – in excrutiating detail, but until you actually saw it for yourself, you couldn't comprehend what I'm saying. And that's a pretty basic scene, all things considered. Around the 45-minute mark, things get Meta. People begin to react to the film’s content and note its narrative inconsistencies. I laughed as hard as anyone, but it was also the moment that I began to think that perhaps R100 was trying just a bit too hard. Pulling off Meta humor is extremely difficult, and generally it only works when it's a fundamental part of the narrative. That isn't the case here; the film literally pauses for comment a few times and then resumes. That's an issue in part because, as funny as it is, R100 presents itself seriously. Omori and co. aren’t in on the joke, so when someone flat out states that there are massive contradictions and continuity problems, it doesn’t really jive with the narrative as presented. It seems more like an attempt to shield itself from criticism. “Hey, you can’t criticize this story for being ridiculous, because we did it first. Aren’t we zany?” Calling attention to a story’s flaws rarely works. Rather than being cutesy and playing it off, I'd rather they just fix the problem in the first place. It still bothered me in R100, but it’s less of a problem, because the film was going to have those inconsistencies anyway. The film called attention to them because it does whatever it damn well pleases. Without those moments, nothing would have changed. And so they aren’t really flaws in the way these things usually are. They were clear, albeit insane, directorial decisions to drive forward the little bit of narrative that R100 pretends to have. They didn’t have to draw attention to them. But in the grand scheme of things, none of that really matters. Because this is a film where a platinum-blonde giantess screams American profanities while jumping into a pool on a continuity-shattering loop. I mean, come on. That's fucking amazing. And if that couldn’t inspire someone to literally eat their shirt, I have no idea what could.
R100 Review photo
Viewer discretion advised
Thanks to R100, we know the proper recipe for a shirt: 24 hours in a slow-cooker, with red wine sauce, celery and carrots. Not because the film involves shirt eating (not directly at least), but because it forced Twitch found...

Review: Two Days, One Night

Jan 09 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218812:42122:0[/embed] Two Days, One Night (Deux jours, une nuit)Directors: Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne Release Date: January 6, 2015Rating: PG-13 Country: Belgium  I like Two Days, One Night's premise: While Sandra (Marion Cotillard) was on medical leave, her bosses put together a voting ballot. People could either vote for Sandra to stay on when she was feeling better, or they could keep their annual bonuses. The company can't (well, won't) afford to do both. Unsurprisingly, more went for the bonuses and suddenly Sandra was unemployed. But Sandra wasn't a part of the process, and she must go to each coworker one by one and ask (beg) them to reconsider. There are 16 people. She needs nine votes. On concept, that sounds like a really interesting way to develop a character. At the start of Two Days, One Night, we know almost nothing about Sandra other than that she's really sad. But a lot of people would be sad in that particular situation, so that barely even counts. We don't know why she left in the first place, what job it is that she's lost, or how she gets along with the others at her workplace. All we know is that Marion Cotillard is a good crier, and why wouldn't she be? She's a great actress. As it turns out, there's not really anything more to Sandra than that. Sandra is boring. It was depression that took her out of work, and while that's a totally valid reason to take some time off (she's medicated now), she is hampered at each and every moment of the film by her depression. She wants to keep her job, but she doesn't want to impose on others. She doesn't want to be told "No, I need my bonus more than I need you to have a job" by people she worked with. I get these things, but these issues manifest themselves as a constant game of Sandra refusing to do anything other than pop pills and her husband saying, "Come on!" until she eventually acquiesces. That's boring. And so is hearing Sandra explain why she has shown up unannounced on a colleague's doorstep over and over again. It's an issue of realism: Sure, most of them would not have heard of her new crusade to get her job back, but we (the audience) have heard her little introductory spiel way too many times, and it doesn't change. Nearly every single interaction starts the same way: - Sandra shows up at their house but the person is not there- She goes to wherever they are (usually pointed out by a spouse or child)- She explains the ballot- "But it's soooo much money!"- "But it's my job!" Over and over and over again. It's maddening, really.  So you'd think I didn't like Two Days, One Night, because it's boring and because its lead character is boring, but that's because what makes the film interesting (and ultimately worth watching) has almost nothing to do with its lead character. While Sandra as a character is never particularly interesting (even if the ultimate result shows something verging on character growth), the other people she interacts with are. There are only two possible responses – "I need the money, but okay" and "I need the money, so no" – but the situations that lead them to go from one answer to the other are occasionally fascinating to watch. The one-on-one interactions are by far the least interesting, because then it's just one person begging and the other person accepting or not. But when a third person (usually a spouse) becomes involved and it turns into a shouting match or some other intense moment, then you see what the money means to these people. Sandra needs a job, but these people have structured their lives around this 1,000 Euro annual bonus. It lets them pay their bills or get their children an education. Maybe it lets them do something cool and new for themselves where all of their other income had gone exclusively to the necessities. All of these are acceptable reasons to say no (even the latter, although it's a bit sketchy), and all of them get used. But seeing the way the co-worker (who usually has empathy) reacts versus the spouse (who has no love for Sandra) reveals a lot about who those people are and the fights that sometimes occur as a result are fascinating (and sometimes terrifying) glimpses into the lives of other characters. If Two Days, One Night succeeds at anything, it's at making these other characters feel like they're real people with actual lives. It feels like Sandra is intruding on them and they're just trying to keep on living. And because of that, I kept watching. Would they stick to their guns? Would they crack under pressure? Those questions propelled the narrative forward far more than the overarching "Would Sandra get to keep her job?" Because the film didn't make me care about Sandra, but it did make me care about everyone else.
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Cotillard Cried
Sometimes you watch a movie and you immediately know how you're going to feel about it. There's something about the atmosphere that it creates that just strikes you. You know exactly what the film is trying to do, and you kno...

White God Trailer photo
White God Trailer

Trailer for White God features the dogpocalypse


Dec 10
// Nick Valdez
Remember those awesome Homeward Bound movies? White God is nothing like that. Imagine the worst possible outcome for that film (and throw in Lady and the Tramp for good measure) and you've got what looks and sounds like a gr...

SAIFF Review: Killa (The Fort)

Nov 23 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
Killa (The Fort) Director: Avinash ArunRating: NRCountry: India Chinmay is a seventh grader who has recently left the big city of Pune and headed into a new rural-ish area with his mother. It's a culture shock, to be sure, but clearly this has happened before and will happen again. Moving is just part of their life, even though it's hard on them both. But it's particularly difficult on a growing kid, who has to leave all of his friends behind and start anew in seventh grade. And though I don't know if middle school children in India are as needlessly cruel as they are in the US (the constant attempts to put a gasoline-soaked rag into a dog's butt would suggest they are), being the outcast is never fun. And when the teacher introduces him as an intellectual prodigy, it just further makes him stand out. But despite that, he finds friendship (of sorts) in some troublemaker types who are more interested in picking up crabs and having bike races than studying. It's worth noting that the conflict here does not come from Chinmay's decision to forgo his studies, and whether he's hanging out with them or not he seems to be equally competent in the classroom. Instead, it's a conflict about the friends themselves as well as Chinmay's relationship to his mother. But Killa's fundamental problem is that Chinmay is not a likeable protagonist. He spends most of the film's 110 minute runtime looking slightly forlorn. Sometimes he's happy, other times he's just straight up emotionless, but usually it's just almost-melancholy as he goes through his life being a bland human being. The world around him is so full of intrigue and color and life and he's just got none of it. And considering he's supposed to have an emotional arc (I hate it here! to I hate it less! to I hate it again! etc.), it causes some serious disconnect. I never once cared about Chinmay. Literally never. And while Chinmay the character takes the blame for a lot of that, it's the performance that really kills it. I don't usually like harping on poor child performances, but the film hinges on his ability to emote, and he can't hold up his end of the bargain. That half-pout isn't sympathetic; it's just pathetic. On the other hand, I did care about his mother, which actually made me care about Chinmay even less. His mother, who is constantly shuttled from place to place for work, lost her husband (his father) a year ago. It's something that gets mentioned every so often, but it's not really a cloud hanging over the narrative. It's just a fact. But now Chinmay's mother has to deal with him and her job, and her new job in their new town runs by some different rules, and those rules get her into trouble. That made me sad, because this is a woman who is trying to do what's right but also gets screwed over by the system at large. And once she's done dealing with that, she has to go home and pay attention to her manner-less son? Not cool. Not cool at all. He makes her life harder and doesn't really offer much in return, other than lip. But even when Chinmay was being pouty and annoying, I couldn't deny just how beautiful his surroundings were. I'm convinced that the purpose of the narrative was less to tell a story than to show off scenery. I can't say I really understood the layout of the town, so it may have been that things that seemed very far away were right there, but it did seem like he would travel long distances not because he needed to but because it would result in a gorgeous shot. And to be honest, I'm okay with that. If it was all in service of the shot, I would've rather the film dispensed with some of the less interesting moments (particularly in the school) and been a bit shorter, but I can't deny that it was exciting to see each new location. I would love to go and visit those places. So despite my dislike of Chinmay and my disinterest in everything about him, I still enjoyed Killa on the whole. The other characters were interesting, and even if I wasn't a fan of most of the children, at least they were all different and brought unique perspectives to any given situation. Combined with the amazing backdrops, it makes for a film that by all appearances should really be much better than it is. It's unfortunate, then, that the protagonist is such dead weight.
Killa Review photo
Beautiful but bland
I never moved when I was growing up. I knew people who moved once or twice, and then I knew others in military families and the like who would come and go almost annually. In a small town with a small school, that made a diff...

SAIFF Review: Dukhtar

Nov 21 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218626:41996:0[/embed] Dukhtar (Daughter)Director: Afia NathanielRating: NRCountry: Pakistan I'm going to my best to not sound like an ignorant white guy here. I know that's a distinct possibility, and I apologize in advance if I sound that way. But at the same time, it's that otherness that makes the film so compelling for me. These people live lives that are so different from mine, to the point where it really doesn't feel like a film from 2014. I don't mean that with disrespect, nor am I implying that one way is even better than the other, but the inherent difference between my world and the one this film depicts is fascinating. From a narrative perspective, it means I was always playing catchup. The film doesn't stop to explain things to people who don't understand the culture, and while there aren't a lot of true cultural barriers, each new location just got me thinking about things, about life and the world we live in. Because Earth is so, so interesting. Last year, I gushed over The Secret Life of Walter Mitty for showing a unique (and beautiful) location, but that film was more concerned with the places than the people. Dukhtar is more concerned with the people, but I was oftentimes just looking at the backdrops. And certainly the film makes a point of showing some particularly gorgeous vistas, but just seeing a different part of the world excites me. And so I was excited to go from scene to scene regardless of what was taking place onscreen, just because I wanted to see more and know more. But when I wasn't playing tourist, I was still invested in what I was seeing. Zainab (Saleha Aref) is the daughter of a tribe chief whose sons have been murdered at the hands of another tribe. In order to bring peace to their tribes, he promises to give Zainab's hand to the other chief. It's worth noting here that Zainab is young, only 15 years old (and she looks young). And so right off the bat, I was terrified that this film was going to turn into something about child abuse. Fortunately, Zainab's mother, Allah Rakhi, is also terrifed by that thought and decides to run away with Zainab on the night of the "wedding." And from there, the film becomes a chase. And as such there's quite a bit of running through interesting places and then driving through more interesting places. But at the same time, the film does get bogged down a little bit by all of the waiting that's inherent in a chase over a long journey. Once the baddies are tricked into looking elsewhere, there's some room to breathe, but what happens then? And those moments, where the film sticks with them in between significant events, sometimes drag. Not by much, but just a little bit. And it's a shame, because much of the film is brilliantly paced. Even the slower second half, although even though the pacing is fine there it does bring with it some different problems. Because every once in a while, it seems like one of the many plot threads has just entirely disappeared. Allah Rakhi and Zainab find some solace, and suddenly everything else becomes irrelevant. There is some tension still, but no one seems particularly worried about safety. In fact, the only way they bring danger back in is by going to look for it. And as this happens, characters who seemed vital literally disappear without a trace. The word "MacGuffin" springs to mind, as many things that at first appeared important actually have very little impact on the story, but it doesn't feel like an intentional MacGuffin. Plot lines are brought up and closed, but it doesn't benefit the grander narrative so much as convolute it. I was wondering why certain things happened at the time and in retrospect I'm still not really sure. Whenever the film leaves Zainab, it gets caught up in unnecessary moments. But at 93 minutes, those flaws are forgivable. A lot of ground is covered in a short time, and it means that the weird moments are over quickly and you don't have time to dwell on where it fits into the narrative or why. You just go on and on, following the chase or the calm, and just take in the sights and the sounds. The camerawork is excellent and accentuates just how beautiful the world around them is. And the world around us. Because this is a world unlike my own (and probably unlike yours), but it's still a real part of the world we all share. Dukhtar is a chance to embrace a truly different culture and see it through its own eyes. Add in just how well-crafted and interesting the film is and you get something truly special.
Dukhtar Review photo
Fascinatingly foreign
Most of the modern foreign films that I watch are from countries that are reasonably similar to the United States. People live in apartments and drive sleek cars. They use smartphones and credit cards. They have the internet....

Review: A Hard Day

Nov 20 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218601:41982:0[/embed] A Hard Day (Kkeutkkaji Ganda |  끝까지 간다)Director: Seong-hoon KimRating: NRCountry: South Korea A Hard Day would be funny if it weren't so sad. I mean, it still is kind of funny, but it's not really "Ha ha" funny so much as "?!?!?!" funny. Go Geon-soo (Lee Sun-kyun) is having a bit of a hard life, what with his mother dying and everything, but that's just the start of his issues. In fact, it's the least of his issues. And when the least of your issues is the tragic death of your mother? Well, that's just a hard day right there. It all starts when Go Geon-soo hits someone with his car on the way to his mom's funeral. And it's not really his fault, because it was nighttime and the guy did sorta just run out in front of him, but now the guy is dead and that's what matters. Then a series of unfortunate events befalls him before the big one strikes: Someone knows what he did, and begins harassing him at work. And here is where things really start to take off. There are a couple of moments in A Hard Day that shocked me not just because they were shocking moments in and of themselves but because of the way they played out onscreen. I have talked a lot about long takes in the past, but two moments in particular here are spectacular uses of long takes not because the camera does anything particularly unique but because I immediately followed the moment up with, "Could they have done that more than once?" And if it was CG in either case, it was some spectacular use of CG, because even though one of the two things looked a little bit off at first, it looked less like straight up CG and more like a very specifically crafted launching mechanism. (Honestly, it probably would have been easier to just blow the thing up.) When you watch a film about things getting worse, you start to guess what's going to happen next. "How will he get screwed over this time? What other horrible thing will he be subjected to and/or forced to do to get himself out of it?" And there are moments of setup, where you know something bad is about to happen and it almost dares you to guess what it could be. But your guess will be wrong, because what actually happens is even more ridiculous than you expect. One of those two aforementioned shots literally dropped my jaw, because I had been guessing and guessing and guessing what was about to happen, and then it turns out I was so wrong and the people behind that sequence are both creative geniuses and deeply disturbed individuals. Which is probably an accurate way of describing the entire series of events. Each moment is extremely well constructed, and even if bits and pieces of Geon-soo's plan don't technically make sense and the things he does go beyond what's really possible, it works in context and that's what matters. Importantly, it never veers into the realm of straight-up unbelievability, even at its craziest. This is crucial to its impact, because if suddenly aliens came and abducted Geon-soo or something, then it wouldn't have just been a matter of "WHAT?!" it would have been "Oh, bullshit!" And by avoiding that line, A Hard Day makes itself a consistently compelling and surprising thriller. Much of the film's success hinges on Lee Sun-kyun's performance, because the character of Geon-soo has to be sympathetic for the film to work. If the audience isn't invested in him or his hard day, then it's just a cat and mouse game without stakes. You have to want to see Geon-soo succeed. And you do, for two reasons: One: Lee Sun-kyun is lovable. He's a good looking guy, but he's not rugged. He's more cute than handsome, and it results in him appearing to be a fish out of water, which in and of itself makes him sympathetic. His performance bears that out, as he runs from scene to scene like a chicken with its head cut off.  Two: he's never scary. Even when he's doing things that are terrible, they aren't horrific. He's kind of a bad guy, but he's not evil. Even when he goes to a place that might seem like too far, it doesn't really feel that way. Geon-soo appears justified in his actions throughout. Plus, they're all motivated by fear, which is an emotion pretty much anybody can relate to. You can say that he should have done this or shouldn't have done that, but he's afraid (terrified, even), and when you're terrified you don't always make the best decisions. That's understandable. And because it's understandable, you want to see Geon-soo make it through. You root for him every step of the way, following him through thick and thin. And when it's all over and you pick up your jaw off the floor, you breathe a sigh of relief and thank whatever you believe in that your life isn't as bad as his. [A Hard Day will be screening at 9:40 PM on Friday, November 21 at BAM.]
A Hard Day Review photo
A hard day indeed
Every so often, I see a film and think that the title is a perfect encapsulation of its very existence. If I were to name the film, those are exactly the words I would have chosen. A Hard Day is that exactly, in par...

NYKFF Review: The Attorney

Nov 19 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218600:41976:0[/embed] The Attorney (Byeonhoin | 변호인)Director: Yang Woo-sukRating: NRCountry: South Korea The Attorney is a history lesson. Rather, it's a film with enough historical elements that it makes you realize you need a history lesson to truly understand it. Although lead actor Song Kang-ho's character is named Song Woo-suk, he is based off of Roh Moo-hyun, a tax lawyer who became increasingly political during the 1980s until he finally became the ninth president of South Korea. And though Woo-suk/Moo-hyun is the centerpiece of The Attorney, it's as much about torture and abuse perpetrated by police in the name of "national security." It is more specifically about the 1981 Burim Case, when 22 members of a book club were arrested under the suspicion of communism. In the film at least, Woo-suk becomes a part of this almost by accident. He was a very successful tax lawyer, an innovator in his field by going to the money before anyone realized money was there to be had. And he has a particular fondness for a woman who runs a soup shop. Her son was one of the students on trial, and she begs for Woo-suk to help. He brings her to see her son, who has been effectively missing for months, and that's when things get weird. The moment when her son walks into the visiting room is the moment The Attorney changes. It's the moment when the film stops being funny and starts being disturbing. It happens right at the halfway point. The boy comes in and instead of greeting his mother, he mutters about how well he is being treated and how wrong he has been. At first glance, he has been brainwashed, but it's really much simpler than that. Woo-suk sees the bruises literally covering his body before he is pulled back to his cell, and it's clear what's happened. The Attorney, then, is a film about torture. And in its second half, the audience is subjected to that torture. It's like National Security would be if we ever left prison. Under the guise of "national security," the police committed truly heinous acts of torture. And Woo-suk (and Moo-hyun) made it their mission to bring the people who committed these acts of torture to justice, despite the risk involved in doing so. It was a kangaroo court, where the verdict was guilty from the outset and everyone agreed. The rest of the defense was ready to let the prosecution win, because that's how it worked. Only Woo-suk's commitment to his country's constitution turned it into something meaningful. It seems overwrought, as Woo-suk is dragged out of court shouting about how justice is dead or whatever, but to condense what was likely a much more complicated legal battle into an hour makes it a bit more acceptable. There's not enough time for subtlety, so The Attorney hits you in the face with the difference between right and wrong. But then again, why isn't there enough time for subtlety? That gets at the heart of what The Attorney really is, and I'm conflicted about it. This is a movie about torture, but it's a movie about Woo-suk AKA Moo-hyun. And it's a film about a turning point in Moo-hyun's life, the thing that made him see the light, as it were, and fight against injustice. The torture is not just torture but is also the evil that changed Moo-hyun. And in order to tell the story of that change, there needs to be two different movies. There needs to be Part 1: The Comedy, about a high-school graduate who just follows the money. Otherwise Part 2: The Tragedy doesn't mean anything. It's the yin to the yang that makes the transition work. Or it should, but it doesn't. Not really. Because the moment of transition is so immediate that the inner turmoil is missing. He's blind and then he sees. He doesn't have a crisis of faith and there's never really a question of what he'll do. That vital moment to the story of The Attorney there simply isn't there, and without it the arc of the character suffers. As a viewer, I never questioned his actions, because what he's doing is capital-G Good. He is fighting for those that the system has not only abandoned but actively turned against. And in that second half, his mission matters more than his story. Even though he remains the protagonist and the film continues to follow him, it stops being about Woo-suk. It's about the people he's representing. And that matters in exactly the same way National Security matters. That is a film that forces you, the viewer, to think about torture. The Attorney makes you think about torture, but it also makes you think about the role of law. This question of what is and isn't legal and/or acceptable under the guise of "national security" is explicitly addressed during testimony, and it's actually kind of glossed over, and that's unfortunate, because that's really what makes The Attorney significant, especially to an international audience. Especially to an American audience. So it's unfortunate that so much of The Attorney is focused on something else. Roh Moo-hyun matters, and his life story matters. This isn't really a biopic, but it's not not that either. But the person is made less interesting by what he is up against. If the second hour of the film followed the first in a more direct way, continuing to tell the story of Woo-suk as he went to Seoul and opened a tax law firm and took over the world, that would have been a fine movie. But the second half cannibalizes the first half and makes it seem irrelevant by comparison. That's a fundamental problem with the narrative. But the second half is effective enough that I can't be too hard on it as a whole. I can wish that the trial had taken up more of the film and that more consideration was given to the question of what a government can and cannot do in a time of war, and I can see lost potential there. But this is still a story about a person first and foremost, and although it misses the mark in really capturing the radical shift of this historical figure, what surrounds it works well enough to make for a film that is undoubtedly worth watching. [The Attorney will be screening at BAM on Friday, November 21st at 7 PM.]
The Attorney Review photo
Not quite what I expected
If you look up stills from The Attorney, you're going to have a wildly inaccurate perception of what the film is supposed to be. Look at the poster. They're happy, right? Below you'll find another image of people being h...

SAIFF 2014 photo
SAIFF 2014

Here comes the South Asian International Film Festival


November 18-23 at the SVA theater
Nov 14
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
As is often the case, it's a festival of festivals here in New York. And if you're particularly fond of Indian and/or Pakistani films, this is probably the one you've been waiting for. The South Asian International Film Festi...
NYKFF Returns photo
NYKFF Returns

Here comes the 12th Annual New York Korean Film Festival


Runs from November 20-23 at BAM
Nov 11
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
When February came and went with no mention of the New York Korean Film Festival, I was disheartened. With all of the far-less-deserving festivals in this fine city, I couldn't accept that this one had gone away. Fortunately,...
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Trailer for Force Majeure creates avalanche of family drama


Avalanche, get it? Eh? Eh?
Sep 18
// Liz Rugg
Force Majeure is a Swedish film that premiered at Cannes and it examines a seemingly perfect Swedish family (husband and businessman Tomas, refined wife Ebba and their two lovely children) as it unravels when their trip to t...

Review: The Pirates

Sep 14 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218334:41830:0[/embed] The Pirates (Haejuk: Badaro Gan Sanjuk | 해적: 바다로 간 산적)Director: Lee Suk-HoonRelease Date: September 12, 2014Country: South Korea  Here is a short list of things I thought of while I was watching The Pirates: Moby Dick 300 The Pirates of the Carribean The amusement park ride that The Pirates of the Carribean is based on The Matrix Cards Against Humanity Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon The Discovery Channel Batman Begins Kundo: Age of the Rampart It's not in any particular order, nor is it complete. But I think it says enough about just how many disparate elements The Pirates throws out in its 130 minute runtime. It's not a film content with resting on its laurels and telling a conventional narrative (or really much of a narrative at all), because it's too busy stringing together scenes that are so wildly different in style and tone that I honestly can't figure out how the whole project got the green light. There are essentially four factions in The Pirates: pirates (duh), bandits, soldiers, and whales. The whales don't know they're a faction, and the soldiers/some of the pirates don't know that the bandits are a faction either. And the bandits have never been on the sea before, so they just kind of don't know what they're doing when they decide to go after the whales. A mother whale, you see, has eaten the royal seal for the new country of Joseon. But rather than admit this to the king, the political leaders who lost it decide to pin the blame on pirates. They then hire a disgraced, imprisoned soldier to capture the whale, and he hires some pirates to do it. Some bandits hear about it, and eventually it becomes one big ocean extravaganza. Maybe you can tell by this point that The Pirates is ludicrously stupid, but maybe you can't. Here is the moment where the film totally lost me: a female pirate captain uses an Aqueduct like a water slide in order to catch the men who stole from her. That is not the stupidest thing that happens in that scene (by a long shot), but it serves as sort of a stupidity baseline. It's also kind of amazing. Because seriously. She jumps in a freaking Aqueduct, brings a crossbow with her, and fires arrows at some people running with a pull cart. Doesn't that sound like the best thing ever? And while The Pirates isn't the best thing ever, it really does throw in everything and the kitchen sink. It's like a bunch of Korean children were asked what the name The Pirates meant to them (that's not its Korean name, by the way, but if you can't roll with this hypothetical then you're not going to make it through the film) and then write out a five sentence summary. That summary was then given to a different, probably blind child who put the summaries in a totally random order before handing them off to a screenwriter who said, "Perfect!" and turned it into a screenplay. It's really quite bad on a fundamental level, but it's also really, really funny. It's extremely immature, but it's also amazingly honest.  In fact, I'm not convinced that the whole thing wasn't created entirely by children. Certainly director Lee Suk-Hoon must be a child at heart. But I don't say this to insult the film, because it actually makes for a film that's bizarrely refreshing. I don't know what I expected from a film called The Pirates, but this sure as hell wasn't it. At the start, I thought I was in for something derivative. After a badass intro sequence is a political intro followed by a sword fight in the dark and pouring rain featuring the most heinous use of slow mo since 300. I wasn't impressed, but I was willing to stick with it. Then it turned funny. Then it turned totally insane. It also completely stopped using slow-mo, which I was grateful for but also confused by. Was that first interaction directed by someone else? Did someone show a child some fight scenes from The Matrix and 300 and ask what to do next? That latter one seems both more and less likely, but it conjures up a more enjoyable image. The action in general isn't great, though The Pirates seems to think it's more impressive than it is. When a battle is won, it's like some big epic moment has finished, but it's really just the culmination of a bunch of slow movements (but not slow motion) and rapid cuts. I was often not really sure what was happening, but I knew it wasn't great. And then it's over too quickly and suddenly I'm bored.  But it's hard to be bored for long, because you really never know what's coming next. If I had to compare it to only one thing, I would choose an amusement park ride. This is not a Korean version of Pirates of the Carribean the movie; it is a Korean adaptation of the film's amusement park source material. And whereas Pirates of the Carribean succeeds on merits the of its lead performance, The Pirates succeeds on its commitment to a wild and crazy ride. Also, it has a CGI whale baby breastfeeding. So... that's something.
The Pirates Review photo
A thrilling amusement park ride, created by children
Every so often, a film comes along that completely shatters your expectations. You think you've got it figured out and then it throws a curveball. Then another. Then five more. Soon you realize you can't figure the film out a...

Cub Trailer photo
Cub Trailer

First trailer for boy scout horror film Cub


Sep 09
// Nick Valdez
I really don't know what to expect from Cub. It premiered during the Toronto International Film Festival, and has a unique premise (cub scouts are attacked by a feral child) but the trailer doesn't look too appealing. Then again, we rarely get a chance to promote a Belgian horror film.  There's no domestic release date yet, but we'll keep an eye out for one. The poster's neat though.
Rurouni Kenshin photo
Rurouni Kenshin

Trailer for final Rurouni Kenshin film, The Legend Ends


Sep 05
// Nick Valdez
Although we'll never get a proper release here in the states, I can't stop covering the Rurouni Kenshin films. After seeing the first one, I read through the manga it's based off of and I can't wait to see it in action someh...
Dear V/s Bear photo

More please.  [via Lotus Movies] 

Review: Kundo: Age of the Rampant

Aug 31 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218270:41800:0[/embed] Kundo: Age of the RampantDirector: Yoon Jong-binRelease Date: August 29, 2014 (Limited theatrical)Country: South Korea It's not that I dislike long(er) movies; I just need to be in the right mood to see them. Much of watching a film, reading a book, playing a video game, or doing any sort of thing is being in the proper mindset for that thing. Blue is the Warmest Color requires a very different mindset than Detention, and the 135-minute pseudo-epic that is Kundo: Age of the Rampart requires a different mindset than the 100-minute Robin Hood-esque action film I expected. None of this is Kundo's fault, of course, and it actually speaks to how generally enjoyable the film is that I never really got bored despite the unexpected extra half hour. I did, however, get confused a few times by who was who. Certain characters looked enough like characters that I thought I was seeing flashbacks when I wasn't. For the most part, characters simply are who they are, no backstory needed. In essence, Kundo is ultra-violent Robin Hood. The merry band of thieves don't just steal from the rich and give to the poor; they sentence the rich to death for crimes against the poor. Also, no one is merry. The violence is Kundo's bread and butter. When the drama get hamfisted (which it does regularly), you can rest assured that it will soon be over and then people will be beating each other up. And by beating each other up, I mean killing each other. Essentially everyone in the film fights with weapons of some kind – whether it's a ball and chain, the aforementioned butcher knives, or swords – and that leads to large scale fights that often end rather quickly. One strong sword swipe means instant death, so the unfortunate masses caught in the middle perish in a spray of blood. Kundo follows Dolmuchi, a butcher who joins the Kundo after his mother and sister are killed in a fire. It's worth noting that while actor Ha Jung-Woo gives an excellent performance, he is also the least convincing 18-year old I have ever seen. Ha is 36 years old and looks at least his age in this film. But apparently he's 18. The first time a character said this they were saying that he was only a few years older than some children who they were trying to scam out of food. I assumed that this was just part of the scam. But it came up again, and again. When he shouted (after a time jump) "I'm 20 years old!" I actually laughed out loud, and I'm shocked he didn't do the same. (They must have done a lot of takes.) The age thing is sort of a problem throughout, because it's never really clear how old certain people should be or how they relate to others. The film's antagonist, Jo Yoon, is played by the 33 year old Gang Dong-Won, and he looks much younger. But I got the impression that they're supposed to be the same age. But then again, maybe not. Jo Yoon's sister is older(?) and gives birth, which is narratively important but the ages of everyone involved are just too confusing to make heads or tails of the family tree. And the film actually understands how confusing it is, because it frequently turns to extensive voiceover, for example a long explanation of Jo Yoon's past (what backstory there is is a bit excessive). Footage of him being good with swords is talked over by a woman who (as far as I could tell) has nothing to do with the film itself. She simply piped up every so often to explain things about the people or the time period. I don't know how much of Kundo was attempting to be historically accurate, but the filmmakers sure wanted it to feel authentic. People just keep talking and talking, explaining everything and making it actually feel more like people practicing for a historical reenactment than an actual moment in history. Still, there are some dramatic beats that strike the right tone, and the performances by Ha Jung-Woo and Gang Dong-Won do a good job of propelling the narrative forward. I was actually surprised at how deep both characters were. Although much of Jo Yoon's "development" takes the form of that voiceover, he still has room to grow and change. His final scenes are especially poignant, and reveal some fascinating things about the character. At one point, it threatens to become too reductive, but the moment is salvaged by the finale. But he is cruel, and much of Kundo centers on the cruelty of his class. Peasants are scammed, stolen from, and generally taken advantage of by the well-to-do. This is a film for the 99% if I ever saw one, but it's got the stereotypical brutality of Korean cinema. It makes the film hard to watch at times, and there are points where it feels like they may be going too far. And while Robin Hood was always going to succeed (spoiler), it's comes at an extremely depressing cost. No one comes out of the battle unscathed, which makes the eventual victory bittersweet. A feel-good family film this is not. But it's absolutely worth seeing- if you're in the right frame of mind.
Kundo Review photo
Robin Hood for adults
When I decide to watch a movie, it is usually based on two thing: Whether or not the press picture implies some kind of action. The runtime. While there's obviously some leeway on the first one, once a movie pushes past the...

NYAFF Review: Cold Eyes

Jul 11 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218018:41679:0[/embed] Cold Eyes (Stakeout / Gamshijadeul | 감시자들)Directors: Cho Ui-Seok and Kim Byung-SeoRating: NRCountry: South Korea  Well, it’s about a cops and robbers. On one side are the trackers (my word, not theirs), who scout out information. On the other are the thieves, pulling off elaborate, perfectly timed heists. It’s something. Enter Team Animal (not their real name), a group of special officers renowned for their ability to locate anybody and everybody. Rookie detective Ha Yoon-Joo (Han Hyo-Joo) is the newest entry to the force, and right from the get-go, she shows off her incredible memory skills during her final assessment, recalling details that were probably impossible for her to have noticed. It makes her perfect for the team, and she joins immediately. At first glance, their work doesn’t seem all that thrilling (and in reality, it’s probably not). In fact, the initially hot-headed Detective Ha can’t deal with just how simplistic their job is: They locate and identify criminals for others to confront. They track and trace but they don’t engage. It’s a fascinating job, and even though it would probably be boring the majority of the time, Cold Eyes makes it look awesome. The way the team works together as a unit to call out criminals is absolutely fascinating. And it’s what made me want to be a spy. They gather intel and bring it back to HQ, in and out in total secrecy. It’s badass. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I added just a little bit of generic “stealth” to my movements for the following couple of hours. Behind it all is Hwang (Sol Kyung-Gu). Just as the heists need a man watching from above and calling the shots, the trackers need a voice in their ear to get them from point to point. Working from a constantly circling van, Hwang runs the show in a decidedly low-fi manner: using an old fashioned map of the city and wooden figurines he has to manually place in location. But that’s not because he doesn’t have the technology at his disposal, just that he prefers a more classic approach. But then again, how “classic” could that be? I wonder how people were tracked before the advent of our interconnected world. The use of the city-wide surveillance cameras, phones, GPS trackers, and etc. all add up to a modern job for a modern world. And it seems like it would have been impossible to do what they’re doing even just 15 years ago. But despite its reliance on technology, nothing about Cold Eyes seems implausible. Films that go deep into that sort of thing often have to make leaps of logic just to push the narrative forward. Most frequently: blurry images need to magically resolve detail in a far-off reflection. Fortunately, Cold Eyes has none of that. Particularly notable is the lack of facial recognition software, because that’s just the reality. Here’s a true fact: the FBI’s new system produces a list of 50 potential matches with only an 85% chance that the correct person is named. It’s the kind of thing that could make the tracking jobs significantly easier (and potentially even unnecessary), but it’s not possible with today’s technology. When films use it, they do so as a crutch. Cold Eyes’s refusal to go down that path was something I greatly appreciated. Instead of a computer’s algorithms, the constant surveillance footage is manually combed through by a whole bunch of people sitting at computer monitors. The technology is a tool, but it only aids their work; it does nothing to replace it. That isn’t to say Cold Eyes is totally realistic; it isn’t. While pretty much everything the heroes do seem real enough (Detective Ha’s memory aside), the primary antagonist verges on being cartoonish. Part of this comes from his preferred location: high above the streets on a rooftop where he can survey his own operations. But when he gets into the heat of it, he’s even more dangerous than his goons. And when he pulls out his weapon to take on the good guys, it’s… a fountain pen. Seriously. I mean, as badass as it is to see him take someone down with a pen, it’s borderline stupid. And that goes back to his over-the-top villainy. He’s basically a perfect human, and while the only person who could get past the protagonists would have to be, it’s just a bit silly. That being said, Cold Eyes is at least part comedy, so it’s not as off-putting as it could have been. The majority of the comedy comes from Hwang’s running commentary. When they see a potential, overweight suspect on one camera, he instructs everyone to search for the “thirsty hippo,” and thus he is dubbed for the rest of the operation. And it’s a badass operation. Though  centers around the capture of a single character, it’s interesting throughout. New tactics on both sides keep the action feeling fresh, even when nothing is actually accomplished. The actual confrontations are awesome too, and the film has some of the best pen-based fight choreography I’ve ever seen. But while the bombastic moments are fun, Cold Eyes is at its best when its characters are in the streets, working as a well-oiled machine tracking down their subjects. Those are the scenes that made me want to be a spy, and those are the scenes that will stick with me long after the credits have rolled.
Cold Eyes Review photo
Track, mark, repeat
Some of my favorite movies are ones that make me want to go and do something after the lights come up. Some films make me want to travel the world or shave my head or something. Others take professions and make them seem so m...

NYAFF Review: Silent Witness

Jul 10 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218019:41674:0[/embed] Silent Witness (Quán Mín Mù Jī | 全民目擊)Director: Fei XingRating: NRCountry: China Courtroom dramas have always fascinated me. In any given crime, there is a single objective truth: the perpetrator committed the crime, or they didn't. It's a black and white reality that's mired by a whole lot of gray. Sometimes the crime was committed for legitimate reasons, ones that could allow the "criminal" to walk. Sometimes the real crime is hidden and some serious digging needs to be done. Most of the time, actual courtrooms are a whole lot less interesting than the ones you see in movies. But why would someone make a movie about a straightforward case? Silent Witness isn't a reflection of reality, straddling a line between the familiar and something ridiculous like the Phoenix Wright games (brilliantly adapted by Takashi Miike). In these stories, the police are basically useless, forcing the lawyers to go search out evidence in all manner of ways, going out on wild goose chases based on super-secret intel or even hunches. These aren't things an actual lawyer does, but they make for a far more interesting story. On trial is the daughter of the famous entrepreneur Lin Tai (Sun Honglei) for the murder of his girlfriend. Heading up the prosecution is Tong Tao (Aaron Kwok), a man who has been trying to convict Lin Tai for years. The defense is Zhou Li (Yu Nan), the most expensive lawyer in the country. It's a battle that plays out primarily on the public stage, and it's fascinating how it unfolds. Especially in the beginning, the film makes extensive use of a newsroom as a producer tries to create the most compelling TV drama he can. Choosing subjects and cameras from behind the scenes, he gives insight into how the media can manipulate a viewer's impressions of people and an event. It's a fitting metaphor, because everything in the trial is every bit as manipulated. Unclear motivations, misunderstands, and false evidence are about. Twists and turns come rapid-fire, and by the time everything becomes clear, it turns out that nobody is really who they seemed. The biases that everyone brought into the courtroom painted very specific pictures of the characters, but people are rarely so black-and-white. Fortunately, Silent Witness knows this, and everybody is given some nuance to clarify and even redeem them. And this gets to the part of the narrative that's uniquely Chinese. While much of the film could really take place anywhere in the world, the true reverence for family (and not just family values) is foreign. There is an extremely strong bond between Lin Tai and his daughter, and that bond drives everything in the film. It's kind of heartbreaking, really, but it all feels very natural and real. Bravo to the performances on all sides. As an interesting aside, actor Aaron Kwok is from Hong Kong, and his Mandarin is not particularly good. You'd never know it from watching Silent Witness, though, because he had someone read out the ~60,000 character script and put it onto a CD for him to listen to. He memorized the entire thing like a song, and then acted on top of that. It's a brilliant bit of theatre underlying the whole narrative. While I'm no expert on the intricacies of Chinese dialects, the shocked reactions from the crowd (which featured no small number of Chinese natives) when director Fei Xing mentioned it told me that Kwok pulled it off with aplomb. As I watched Silent Witness, I kept coming back to the idea of the mainstream. I wondered whether or not this sort of narrative could be popular in the US, and I still don't know the answer to that. Courtroom dramas make for good TV, but they rarely succeed on the big screen. If the film truly represents Chinese cinema, then that's a sign of a film market that has excellent potential to grow with all kinds of narratives. If Silent Witness can succeed in theaters side by side with juggernauts like the new Transformers film, then the industry is going to thrive. And that's a future I'm looking to.
Silent Witness Review photo
Ace Attorney
Before the screening of Silent Witness, it was introduced as an example of what mainstream Chinese filmmaking is like in the modern era. Many of the films that play at the New York Asian Film Festival fit into some sort of ni...

Japan Cuts 2014 continues where NYAFF leaves off

Jul 07 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
JAPAN CUTS: The New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema  July 10-20, 2014 at Japan Society New York, NY -- North America’s largest showcase of Japanese film and “One of the loopiest… and least predictable of New York’s film festivals” (New York Magazine),JAPAN CUTS: The New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Cinema returns for its eighth annual installment. Running July 10-20 and screening 27 features with 8 special guests, JAPAN CUTS 2014 encompasses a thrilling cross section of cinephilic genre oddities, sword-swinging period action, profound documentaries, cathartic melodramas, warped comedies and cutting-edge arthouse cinema made in and around Japan. Guests include superstar performers and independent auteurs opening up in rare Q&As and dynamic parties rocking Japan Society’s historic theater and waterfall atrium. As in past years, the festival dovetails with the 13th New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), co-presenting 13 titles in the JAPAN CUTS lineup July 10-13. JAPAN CUTS 2014 again earns the distinction as “New York’s premiere Japanese cinema event,” every title never before screened in New York City, “unspooling across a kaleidoscopic range of taste and aesthetics” (The Wall Street Journal). Boasting 1 World Premiere, 3 International Premieres, 7 North American Premieres, 6 U.S. Premieres, 5 East Coast Premieres, and 4 New York Premieres, every day of the festival provides a must-see event for the NYC cinephile, follower of Japanese art and culture, and devoted world cinema aficionado alike.  The festival opens July 10 with the U.S. Premiere of Takashi Miike’s candy-colored undercover cop saga The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji, followed by the yakuza-turned-filmmaker movie magic that is Sion Sono’s Why Don't You Play in Hell?. The screening is joined by young actress Fumi Nikaido, named by Variety this year as its International Star You Should Know, who joins for an introduction and Q&A, as well as the JAPAN CUTS Opening Night “Let’s Play in Hell!” Party. The festival centerpiece is the World Premiere on July 17 of director Momoko Ando’s masterful dark comedy 0.5mm—a wicked critique of patriarchy following an assisted living caregiver who survives unemployment by taking advantage of elderly men. Ando visits Japan Society to present and discuss her film, as well as participate in the intimate reception after the screening. JAPAN CUTS’ closing film is the magnificent The Tale of Iya, with its North American Premiere July 20. Director Tetsuichiro Tsuta joins to present his renowned work that tells a timeless story on beautiful 35mm, showing a vanishing part of rural Japan through a mode of film artistry which is itself disappearing. A sign of the times, JAPAN CUTS 2014 marks the debut of a new digital cinema projection system in the Lila Acheson Wallace auditorium of Japan Society’s landmark building, continuing to show viewers the best of this vibrant international film scene in the best cinematic conditions possible. The festival also celebrates the career of brave and unpredictable international starKazuki Kitamura, who receives JAPAN CUTS’ annual prize, the CUT ABOVE Award for Excellence in Film. Kitamura has proven to be not only a versatile performer in dramatic and comedic roles in Japan’s Tragedy and Thermae Romae, but a trailblazer in transnational filmmaking in The Raid 2 and Killers, receiving Kinema Junpo's Best New Actor award for his work in Rokuro Mochizuki's Minazuki and Takashi Miike's Ley Lines (Nihon Kuroshakai). Kitamura joins the festival July 19 to share Dave Boyle’s Japanese-American thriller Man from Reno along with the director, including an introduction and Q&A following the East Coast Premiere of this sexy, moody neo-noir. Kitamura will receive the award as part of the International Premiere of the irresistible comedy Neko Samurai ~Samurai ♥ Cat~, in which Kitamura plays a deadly ronin whose heart is melted by his feline target, followed by the Japan CATS Party!. Other festival highlights include the hotly anticipated East Coast Premiere ofUnforgiven, Sang-il Lee’s adaptation of Clint Eastwood’s original Western masterpiece. Starring Ken Watanabe, this samurai-western remains in the realm of greatness, while completely reformed for the new setting. Japan’s controversial mega-blockbuster The Eternal Zero will screen for the first time in the U.S., giving local audiences a chance to see its amazing aerial dogfight sequences as well as confront the film’s contested vision of history. Yuya Ishii’s The Great Passage, a moving tribute to the power of language and Japan’s Oscar entry, receives its awaited New York Premiere, and anime fans get their fix with the North American Premiere of Keisuke Yoshida’s rapturous My Little Sweet Pea, an emotional rollercoaster of a family melodrama about an aspiring anime voice actress otaku. Also slated is the U.S. Premiere of Aya Hanabusa’s Tale of a Butcher Shop and the East Coast Premiere of Yoju Matsubayashi’s The Horses of Fukushima, two remarkable documentaries that tackle inequality and post-3/11 life through the exploration of human-animal relationships. July 18 sees a euphoric night of exceeding depravity, with the International Premiere of Ryoko Yoshida’s must-be-seen-to-be-believed comic tale of sex and possession The Passion adapted from Kaoruko Himeno’s acclaimed novel, U.S. Premiere of Daisuke Miura’s brilliant orgy-cum-psychodrama Love’s Whirlpool, and the East Coast Premiere of Eiji Uchida’s bloody intergenerational battle to the death Greatful Deadwith newcomer Kumi Takiuchi. Zany director Katsuhito Ishii takes on the children’s genre with the North American Premiere of Hello! Junichi (kids get in for only $6 following Ishii’s own efforts to conscript young cinephiles during the Japanese release!). Award-winning writer for the screen and stage Shiro Maeda makes his directorial debut with the hilarious and profound The Extreme Sukiyaki, presented here in its North American Premiere. Maeda will join for a Q&A via live video stream to discuss this remarkable film.  “Curating annual festivals of a national cinema is necessarily problematic, swinging between exhaustive cultural surveys or limited selections of titles with international arthouse appeal, between a lineup that is representative and one that is exceptional. Our tactic at JAPAN CUTS--and I believe this is especially so this year--has been to focus on diversity,” says filmmaker/scholar Joel Neville Anderson, programmer for JAPAN CUTS 2014. “And the results have been surprising, politically incendiary, and always entertaining. I see the festival’s ongoing engagement with high and low genre, mainstream and experimental forms, as an extension of Japan Society’s century old mission of cultural exchange. The lineup demonstrates Japan’s film cultures navigating issues such as discrimination, aging, regional transformation, and widespread social precarity, evincing a nationalist groundswell attempting to revise history, as well as positive political awakenings following the natural and human-made disasters of 3/11." Tickets: $13/$10 Japan Society members, seniors and students, except for the July 10screening Why Don’t You Play in Hell? and the July 19 screening of Neko Samurai ~Samurai ♥ Cat~: $20/$15, including after parties. Tickets for Hello! Junichi are $6 for any child 12-years-old or younger accompanied by an adult. Patrons who purchase more than 5 tickets for at least 5 different films receive $2 off of each ticket (this special offer is available only in person at the box office or by telephone, not with online purchases, and is not valid for the July 10 screening of Why Don’t You Play in Hell?,July 19 screening of Neko Samurai ~Samurai ♥ Cat~, or the discounted $6 ticket forHello! Junichi.) General admission tickets may be purchased in person at Japan Society, by calling the box office at 212-715-1258, or at www.japansociety.org. The box office will be closed July 4-7 in observance of the July 4th holiday weekend. SCREENING SCHEDULE AT-A-GLANCE Thursday, July 10 6:00 – THE MOLE SONG: UNDERCOVER AGENT REIJI 8:30 – WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL? + guest intro/Q&A + party Friday, July 11 6:00 – THE SNOW WHITE MURDER CASE 8:30 – MARUYAMA, THE MIDDLE SCHOOLER Saturday, July 12 12:30 – THE GREAT PASSAGE 3:00 – THE ETERNAL ZERO 6:00 – THE DEVIL’S PATH 8:30 – MISS ZOMBIE 10:30 – THE PINKIE  Sunday, July 13 12:30 – WOOD JOB! 3:00 – MONSTERZ 5:30 – ALL-ROUND APPRAISER Q: THE EYES OF MONA LISA 8:00 – UZUMASA LIMELIGHT + guest intro/Q&A    Tuesday, July 15 6:00 – THE HORSES OF FUKUSHIMA 8:30 – UNFORGIVEN Wednesday, July 16 6:30 – THE EXTREME SUKIYAKI + guest intro/Q&A Thursday July 17 6:30 – 0.5MM + guest intro/Q&A + reception Friday, July 18 6:30 – THE PASSION 8:30 – LOVE’S WHIRLPOOL 10:45 – GREATFUL DEAD Saturday, July 19 12:00 – TALE OF A BUTCHER SHOP 2:15 – MY LITTLE SWEET PEA 4:30 – MAN FROM RENO + guest intro/Q&A 7:30 – NEKO SAMURAI ~SAMURAI ♥ CAT~ + guest intro/Q&A + party 11:00 – KILLERS + guest intro Sunday, July 20 12:30 – PECOROSS’ MOTHER AND HER DAYS 3:00 – HELLO! JUNICHI 6:00 – THE TALE OF IYA + guest intro/Q&A JAPAN CUTS 2014 SCREENINGS (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER) All films are in Japanese with English subtitles unless otherwise noted.  0.5mm (0.5 miri) – CENTERPIECE PRESENTATION Thursday, July 17 at 6:30 pm **World Premiere **Featuring Intro and Q&A with Director Momoko Ando, followed by a reception Japan. 2014. 198 min. Blu-ray, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Momoko Ando. With Sakura Ando, Junkichi Orimoto, Toshio Sakata, Masahiko Tsugawa, Akira Emoto. Sawa, an assisted living caregiver for a middle class family with an elderly infirm grandfather, is forced to stretch her morals to keep her job. As a result, she finds herself broke and out on the street. She survives her first night by striking up an ambiguous friendship with a kindly old man, gaining access to a portion of the immense wealth held by Japan's aging population. She continues with similar encounters, and while these begin as scams or revenge on rampant sexism, they ultimately become vulnerable intergenerational exchanges. Director Momoko Ando (Kakera: A Piece of Our Life, 2009) masterfully crafts this journey through Japan's embattled sexual landscape, confronting aging, class and patriarchy. Adapted from the director's first novel, 0.5mm features Sakura Ando (the director's sister), who charges each scene with as much humanity as its impeccably photographed frames can handle. This is a dark and profound comedy of the best sort. “Her debut film (Kakera) is a finely tuned meditation on what it means to be loved and to love, regardless of boundaries and social constructs." --Film International --- All-Round Appraiser Q: The Eyes of Mona Lisa (Bannou Kanteishi Q Mona Riza no Hitomi) Sunday, July 13 at 5:30 pm **North American Premiere, Co-presented with NYAFF Japan. 2014. 119 min. DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Shinsuke Sato. With Haruka Ayase, Tori Matsuzaka, Eriko Hatsune, Charles Deladonchamps, Hiroaki Murakami. The Japanese will always have Paris! In this adaptation of the arch-popular eponymous mystery novel by Keisuke Matsuoka, the city of l'art et l'amour provides the gorgeous backdrop for a grand intrigue involving the world's most iconic artistic treasure: the Mona Lisa. Armed with quasi-supernatural powers of deduction, bottomless knowledge on a limitless array of subjects, and last but not least, cute-and-sexy librarian good looks that would give Audrey Tautou a run for her money, Riko Rinda (Haruka Ayase) is a brilliant appraiser whose "All-Round Appraiser Q" reputation earns the attention of The Louvre as a Mona Lisa exhibition is to be held for the first time in Japan. Accompanied by sidekick Yuto Ogasawara (Tori Matsuzaka), a magazine editor who follows Riko for professional and possibly most personal purposes, she goes to Paris and finds her judgment challenged by the shroud of mystery and threats of theft surrounding the masterpiece as well as the Mona Lisa herself. Minds will be blown, puzzles will be solved, but will a 500-year-old curse be removed? By the director who gave you the Gantz and Library Wars blockbusters. --- The Devil's Path (Kyoaku) Saturday, July 12 at 6 pm **East Coast Premiere, Co-presented with NYAFF Japan. 2013. 128 min. DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Kazuya Shiraishi. With Takayuki Yamada, Pierre Taki, Lily Franky, Chizuru Ikewaki, Kazuko Shirakawa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Katsuya Kobayashi, Yu Saito. The Devil's Path shows the hell of guilt and conscience as it chronicles the case of a condemned yakuza. A massive monster of a thug (actor-singer Pierre Taki) seeks revenge on his former accomplice and hopes to achieve his goal by telling his story to a journalist (Takayuki Yamada), revealing three unknown killings. The film is a sullen journey that hardens its emotions, anxieties and energies into a shell of obsession. For the death-row gangster, who's now found God, killing was just part of the cost of doing business. For his accomplice (Lily Franky), killing is just fun. A modest, quiet man, Yamada stands in for the viewer as Taki's mesmerizing, murderous presence absorbs the space around him, inviting him in to encounter a possibly even more evil man, his former partner in crime. As it tells their deeds, the movie becomes an expression of philosophical despair. Nominated for Picture of the Year, Director of the Year and Screenplay of the Year at the 37th Japan Academy Prize --- The Eternal Zero (Eien no Zero) Saturday, July 12 at 3 pm **U.S. Premiere, Co-presented with NYAFF Japan. 2013. 144 min. HDCAM, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Takashi Yamazaki. With Junichi Okada, Haruma Miura, Mao Inoue, Hirofumi Arai, Shota Sometani, Min Tanaka, Isao Natsuyagi. Japan's biggest hit last year, one of the 10 top-grossing Japanese films of all time, will no doubt provide the most unique and extreme film experience of the NYAFF/JAPAN CUTS 2014 lineup. As infuriating in its ideological and political black holes as it is exhilarating in visual artistry, The Eternal Zero follows a young man who, as he investigates the life and times of his grandfather, a reluctant kamikaze pilot during the Pacific War, goes from troubling revelations to shocking truths about heroism, history and his own family. Adapted from a hugely popular novel by Naoki Hyakuta, the film tells the tale of tokkotai ("special section," or kamikaze) pilot Kyuzo Miyabe in flashbacks that progressively reveal his alleged cowardice in battle actually concealed a specific moral philosophy of survival. From the cruelties of war to breathtaking airborne battles, this kinetic, emotionally intense, but also politically ambivalent film will leave no one indifferent. --- The Extreme Sukiyaki (Ji, Ekusutorimu, Sukiyaki) Wednesday, July 16 at 6:30 pm **North American Premiere **Featuring Q&A with Director Shiro Maeda via streaming video Japan. 2013. 111 min. HDCAM, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Shiro Maeda. With Arata Iura, Yosuke Kubozuka, Mikako Ichikawa, Kana Kurashina. Reaching a crisis in his post-college life, Horaguchi (Arata Iura) abandons his job and searches out his best friend from his school days. However the bitter and unemployed Ohkawa (Yosuke Kubozuka) hasn't heard from his friend in 15 years and is reluctant to resume their friendship. He is given no choice in the matter. Joined by Ohkawa's partner Kaede (Kana Kurashina) and Horaguchi's former love interest Kyoko (Mikako Ichikawa), the four set off on an aimless day trip to the beach, sukiyaki pot in tow. Ohkawa brings along the one thing that excites him--a crude boomerang he's carved.The Extreme Sukiyaki marks the reunion of Iura and Kubozuka, who shot to stardom after appearing side by side in Ping Pong (2002). This is the directorial debut of award-winning writer and playwright Shiro Maeda, whose film is adapted from his own novel. Directorial debut of Shiro Maeda, winner of the 52nd Kishida Drama Award and 22nd Mishima Yukio Prize --- The Great Passage (Fune wo Amu) Saturday, July 12 at 12:30 pm **New York Premiere, Co-presented with NYAFF Japan. 2013. 134 min. DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Yuya Ishii. With Ryuhei Matsuda, Aoi Miyazaki, Joe Odagiri, Haru Kuroki, Misako Watanabe, Chizuru Ikewaki, Kaoru Yachigusa, Kaoru Kobayashi, Go Kato. Cult arthouse director Yuya Ishii (Sawako Decides) racked up top honors at the Japan Academy Awards this year (best picture, best director, best actor for Ryuhei Matsuda, best script plus technical prizes) with this captivating existential drama/comedy featuring a charmingly nerdy editor, Majime Mitsuya (Ryuhei Matsuda), who spends decades writing and compiling definitions for a "living language" dictionary while courting his landlady's granddaughter. Set in the mid-1990s, The Great Passage starts as the responsibility for putting together the massive dictionary project is passed on from long-time editor Kouhei Araki (Kaoru Kobayashi) to Majime Mitsuya, a much younger man with a degree in linguistics and an obsessive love for words. An oddball ode on the surface, the film is in fact a deeply humanist tribute to the power of language to connect people, a poignant study of life's slow but steady progression, and ultimately, about finding a reason to live. “At once accessibly humanist and endearingly nerdy, suffused with a deep love of language and a quiet awe at the possibilities of human collaboration” – Variety Selected as the Japanese entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards --- Greatful Dead (Gureitofuru Deddo) Friday, July 18 at 10:45 pm **East Coast Premiere Japan. 2014. 97 min. DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Eiji Uchida. With Kumi Takiuchi, Takashi Sasano, Kkobbi Kim. Wealthy young Nami (Kumi Takiuchi) has found herself a hobby to while away the time between ordering new appliances and fashion accessories--surveilling the lives of the crazed and lonely, or "Solitarians," as she calls them. Perched atop the city with powerful binoculars, she tracks the descent of the elderly and unemployed into madness and death, gleefully snapping a selfie beside their freshly decaying corpses. When one of her most prized Solitarians (Takashi Sasano) is snatched up by Christian volunteers and becomes hopeful once again, Nami is sent into a murderous rage, pitting young against old in an epic, bloody battle. Eiji Uchida's genre pleaser is also a cutting critique of Japan's post post-bubble insularity and consumerism. "Dark, bloody, unflinchingly brutal, yet also laugh-out-loud funny, genuinely touching and with a profound social conscience, Greatful Dead is the real deal." --Twitch Film --- Hello! Junichi (Halo! Junichi) Sunday, July 20 at 3 pm **North American Premiere Japan. 2014. 90 min. DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Katsuhito Ishii, Kanoko Kawaguchi, Atsushi Yoshioka. With Amon Kabe, Hikari Mitsushima, Ryushin Tei, Chizuru Ikewaki, Tatsuya Gashuin, Yoshiyuki Morishita. Katsuhito Ishii (Funky Forest: The First Contact and The Taste of Tea) takes on the story of Junichi--a timid third grader who can't muster the courage to return an eraser he borrowed from his secret crush--and turns it into a children's rock 'n' roll comedy. Junichi's world is turned upside down as apprentice teacher Anna-sensei (Hikari Mitsushima) scraps her lesson plan to show the rambunctious students about life as an adult. With Anna's unorthodox style, Junichi and his friends are able to gain confidence and pursue their goal of putting on a big concert. Co-directed with Kanoko Kawaguchi and Atsushi Yoshioka, Hello! Junichi brings out the kid in adults and lets kids be kids. Boasting Ishii's signature dance numbers and Yoshiyuki Morishita (the "Japanese Steve Buscemi") as the band's homeroom teacher, it's a unique experience built for future and current movie maniacs. "Extraordinary." --Udine Far East Film Festival Special price of $6 for children 12-years-old and under! --- The Horses of Fukushima (Matsuri no Uma) Tuesday, July 15 at 6 pm **East Coast Premiere Japan. 2013. 74 min. DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Yoju Matsubayashi. Fukushima's Minami-soma has a ten-centuries-long tradition of holding the Soma Nomaoi ("chasing wild horses") festival to celebrate the horse's great contribution to human society. Following the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in the wake of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, local people were forced to flee the area. Rancher Shinichiro Tanaka returned to find his horses dead or starving, and refused to obey the government's orders to kill them. While many racehorses are slaughtered for horsemeat, his horses had been subjected to radiation and were inedible. Yoju Matsubayashi, whose Fukushima: Memories of the Lost Landscape is one of the most impressive documentaries made immediately after the disaster, spent the summer of 2011 helping Tanaka take care of his horses. In documenting their rehabilitation, he has produced a profound meditation on these animals who live as testaments to the tragic bargain human society made with nuclear power. Note: Some scenes contain graphic animal imagery. Winner of the Muhr AsiaAfrica Documentary Best Film Award at the 2013 Dubai International Film Festival --- Killers (Kirazu)   Saturday, July 19 at 11 pm   **East Coast Premiere   **Introduction by actor Kazuki Kitamura  Indonesia/Japan. 2014. 137 min. Blu-ray, in English, Indonesian and Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by The Mo Brothers (Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto). With Kazuki Kitamura, Oka Antara, Rin Takanashi, Luna Maya, Ray Sahetapy, Mei Kurokawa, Denden.  Kazuki Kitamura's tour de force performance as an eerily handsome and decadently deranged serial killer centers this remarkable Indonesian-Japanese co-production. Nomura (Kitamura), a wealthy expat returned to Tokyo from the U.S. after the financial crisis, has taken to killing young women and uploading videos of the acts. Bayu Aditya (rapper Oka Antara), an honest Jakarta journalist whose personal life has been destroyed by a corrupt politician, encounters Nomura's viral snuff films online and his sense of vigilante justice becomes a dangerous bloodthirst. Communicating anonymously online, Nomura encourages the fledgling killer, but when Bayu wants out, Nomura forces him to complete the transformation in a bloody, operatic finale. Executive produced by Gareth Evans of The Raid, Killers channels American Psycho and Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill via Johnnie To's Fulltime Killer. By turns funny and assaultive, Killers is one of the most disturbing and rewarding viewing experiences in years.    "One of the most interesting, disturbing, and provocative takes on the world of the serial killer ever made." –Twitch 18+ This film is unrated, but may only be viewed by persons 18 years of age and older. --- Love's Whirlpool (Ai no Uzu) Friday, July 18 at 8:30 pm **U.S. Premiere Japan. 2014. 123 min. DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Daisuke Miura. With Sosuke Ikematsu, Mugi Kadowaki, Kenichi Takito, Eriko Nakamura, Hirofumi Arai, Yoko Mitsuya, Ryusuke Komakine, Seri Akazawa. In a fancy split-level condo in Tokyo's Roppongi nightlife district, four women and four men gather from midnight to 5 am. They've all paid to be there (men more than women), and they have only one thing in common--they seek anonymous sex. Using no names, they're known only by their types: freeter (temp or part-time worker), mild-mannered salaryman, duplicitous OL (office lady), self-conscious working class factory worker, perfectionist teacher, veteran pervert, shy NEET ("not in education, employment or training") and bashful college student. Together, they unravel their identities in a night of increasing debauchery. Daisuke Miura's adaptation of his critically acclaimed 2005 play of the same name explores Japan's fuzoku (sex industry) with depth, humor and freewheeling indecency. This surprising, erotic and disturbing film features breakout performances by Sosuke Ikematsu and Mugi Kadowaki, who are tempted to mix love with sex. 18+ This film is unrated, and may only be viewed by persons 18 years of age and older. Original stage play winner of the 50th Kishida Drama Award --- Man from Reno (Rino kara Kita Otoko) Saturday, July 19 at 4:30 pm **East Coast Premiere **Featuring Intro and Q&A with Director Dave Boyle and Actor Kazuki Kitamura USA/Japan. 2014. 111 min. DCP, in English and Japanese with bilingual subtitles. Directed by Dave Boyle. With Ayako Fujitani, Kazuki Kitamura, Pepe Serna, Elisha Skorman, Hiroshi Watanabe. A Japanese bestselling crime novelist visiting San Francisco finds herself embroiled in a real life mystery after a night with a handsome stranger. The man--Japanese and supposedly from Nevada--disappears the next morning, after which increasingly strange and dangerous events begin to occur. This beautifully photographed Japanese-American co-production overturns the gender stereotypes of the mystery thriller, casting international star Kazuki Kitamura as its homme fatale. Kitamura effortlessly slides between gentle and sinister, while Ayako Fujitani fits perfectly into the role of author-turned-detective. One of this accomplished transnational film's greatest features is a rare leading turn from Pepe Serna, veteran character actor of over 100 Hollywood films (Scarface, The Black Dahlia). Set in San Francisco, this neo-noir offers not only a compelling portrayal of gender and globalization, but a model for vibrant independent filmmaking across borders. "Uncovers exhilarating new takes on genre conventions." --Los Angeles Film Festival --- Maruyama, The Middle Schooler (Chuugakusei Maruyama) Friday, July 11 at 8:30 pm **New York Premiere, Co-presented with NYAFF Japan. 2013. 119 min. Blu-ray, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Kankuro Kudo. With Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, Takuma Hiraoka, Kenji Endo, Ik-June Yang, Maki Sakai, Toru Nakamura, Nanami Nabemoto, Yuiko Kariya, Fumina Hara, Ryo Iwamatsu. Though described by acclaimed actor/scriptwriter/director Kankuro Kudo as a "self-fellatio" comedy, Maruyama is also a moving coming-of-age story and an exploration of the infinite possibilities of the human imagination. Maruyama, a sex-crazed 14-year-old (Takuma Hiraoka) is not only dedicated to auto-eroticism but desires to defy the limitations of his body and transcend himself--until his spine literally cracks. When he encounters a newcomer, a nerdy, single father (Tsuyoshi Kusanagi) who finds fault with his neighbors, things take a weird turn as corpses are found in the otherwise ordinary neighborhood. As Maruyama's imagination gets out of control, his fantasies go joyously wild and free as he reimagines his family and the inhabitants of the entire apartment complex as manga-like characters cast in an action-packed saga of assassinations and revenge. “[A] hugely entertaining, sensitive, hilarious and whimsical pop-comedy gem.” – Twitch Film --- Miss Zombie Saturday, July 12 at 8:30 pm **New York Premiere, Co-presented with NYAFF Japan. 2013. 85 min. HDCAM, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by SABU. With Ayaka Komatsu, Toru Tezuka, Makoto Togashi, Riku Ohnishi, Tateto Serizawa, Takaya Yamauchi. In a future or parallel world, family-man Dr. Teramoto (Toru Tezuka) receives a very special delivery: a crate containing a mail order female zombie (Ayaka Komatsu), complete with an instruction manual prescribing a vegetarian diet, a cautionary note against any meat, and a gun--just in case. Teramoto's wife (Makoto Togashi) promptly puts the zombie to work, assigning her the task of scrubbing the garden patio. In lieu of wages, she gets daily rations of rotten greens. Things take a disturbing turn when two contractors working at the villa molest the zombie girl. Witnessing this, the doctor becomes turned on and makes her his plaything. The zombie shows no particular emotional response and yet, as she stoically sews back her wounds, a sense of foreboding emerges. Fate comes knocking at the door when Teramoto's young son, Kenichi (Riku Onishi), has a dreadful accident. The tables begin to turn for master and servant. “A deadpan social satire, an ode to motherhood, and a self-consciously grungy homage to classic silent horror-thrillers” – Variety Winner of the Grand Prize at the 2014 Gérardmer Film Festival; Winner of Best Film Award at the 2014 Fantasporto Film Festival --- The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji (Mogura no Uta Sennyu Sousakan REIJI)– OPENING FILM Thursday, July 10 at 6 pm **U.S. Premiere, Co-presented with NYAFF Japan. 2013. 130 min. DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Takashi Miike. With Toma Ikuta, Riisa Naka, Takayuki Yamada, Yusuke Kamiji, Takashi Okamura, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Kenichi Endo, Sarutoki Minagawa, Ren Osugi, Koichi Iwaki. Takashi Miike leaves respectability, restraint and decency at the door in this out-and-out balls-to-the-wall cops vs. yakuza farce. Inept rookie cop Reiji Kikukawa (Toma Ikuta) falls short of busting a city councilor who's caught molesting a teenage girl. Fired without ceremony, he is quickly rehired for an undercover mission to infiltrate a yakuza clan. Reiji's new colleagues give him a baptism of fire with an unorthodox initiation rite: he gets beaten up, tied naked to the hood of a car and driven around at top speed, and is coerced into shooting another cop. Reiji soon befriends Crazy Papillon (Shinichi Tsutsumi), the No. 2 in the gang. Sharing Reiji's taste in fashion as well as his distaste for drugs, they face down the diamond-toothed "cat" Nekozawa (Takashi Okamura) and his gang. How far will Reiji go in the yakuza underworld, and will he be able to bring down the gangsters in the end? ”Takashi Miike hits a home run with an irresistible cops and yakuza romp” – The Hollywood Reporter “Anyone who falls asleep during this extremely exuberant film can ask for his money back.” – International Film Festival Rotterdam 2014 --- Monsterz (Monsutazu) Sunday, July 13 at 3 pm **North American Premiere, Co-presented with NYAFF Japan. 2013. 111 min. DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Hideo Nakata. With Tatsuya Fujiwara, Takayuki Yamada, Satomi Ishihara, Tomorowo Taguchi, Motoki Ochiai, Taiga, Masaki Miura, Mina Fujii, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Yoshiyuki Morishita, Yusuke Hirayama. Japanese horror master Hideo Nakata (Ringu, Dark Water) returns with a remake of the 2010 South Korean film Haunters, a paranormal thriller that offers an original, exciting variation on the tale of two men with supernatural abilities locked in a duel to the death. The nameless villain is a brooding loner (Tatsuya Fujiwara) who uses his mind control to rob banks to fund his solitary lifestyle. He is thrown off guard when delivery man Shuichi Tanaka (Takayuki Yamada) remains unaffected by his power, even after everyone standing in a public square has been placed under the control of his menacing sapphire eyes. Feeling threatened, the malevolent mind-bender sends a speeding truck after Shuichi and leaves him for dead. The young man mysteriously recovers and finds a job working for the driver, Mr. Kumoi (Tomorowo Taguchi), a guitar-shop owner. But when the mind-bender finds out that Shuichi is still alive, it is a war to the death between the two men. --- My Little Sweet Pea (Mugiko-san to) Saturday, July 19 at 2:15 pm **North American Premiere Japan. 2013. 95 min. DCP, in Japanese with live English subtitles. Directed by Keisuke Yoshida. With Maki Horikita, Kimiko Yo, Ryuhei Matsuda, Yumi Asou, Yoichi Nukumizu. It isn't easy to find a dream to chase when you're young, but Mugiko (Maki Horikita) has one: she can't wait to become an anime voice actress. Saving up for classes while she works part-time in a manga store, she lives with her older gambling brother (Ryuhei Matsuda), her father having passed away. When the mother (Kimiko Yo) she never knew turns up out of nowhere and moves in, it only causes irritation for the aspiring otaku. But when she disappears just as quickly, it leaves Mugiko (or "Sweet Pea") searching for answers, bringing her back to her mother's hometown to discover what happened to her mother’s own dream. Featuring fun animated sequences produced especially for the film by renowned studio Production I.G (Ghost in the Shell, Blood: The Last Vampire), My Little Sweet Pea boasts hilarious and moving performances all round, with director Keisuke Yoshida's signature comic timing and snappy dialogue. A consummate two hanky melodrama, My Little Sweet Pea won't leave a dry eye in the house. “You’ll feel like calling Mom after this one.” --Mark Schilling --- Neko Samurai ~Samurai ♥ Cat~  (Neko Zamurai) Saturday, July 19 at 7:30 pm **International Premiere **Featuring Intro and Q&A with actor Kazuki Kitamura, with CUT ABOVE Award Ceremony, Followed by the Japan CATS Party! Japan. 2014. 100 min. HDCAM, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Yoshitaka Yamaguchi. With Kazuki Kitamura, Misako Renbutsu, Yasufumi Terawaki, Kanji Tsuda, Shigeyuki Totsugi. The ever versatile Kazuki Kitamura stars as masterless samurai Kyutaro Madarame, a feared swordsman who has fallen on hard times in old Edo. Caught between two warring gangs in an epic battle of cat lovers and dog lovers, he begrudgingly accepts the canine faction's offer to assassinate the opposite leader's beloved pet: an adorable white cat. Yet upon raising his lethal sword, he cannot bring himself to go through with the act, and the cat melts his ronin heart. But before finding peace as a newly minted cat person, the still fearsome Madarame will have to take on both gangs in a classic samurai street brawl. Kitamura and the cat ("Tamanojo") form a winning onscreen pair in this charming and hilarious romp. Directed by former Takashi Miike Assistant Director Yoshitaka Yamaguchi, Neko Samurai ~Samurai ♥ Cat~ is perfect for cat lovers and cinephiles alike. "Obviously, this is a must see film. Let's not even kid around about that." --Badass Digest --- The Passion (Junan) Friday, July 18 at 6:30 pm **International Premiere Japan. 2013. 95 min. DCP, in Japanese with live English subtitles. Directed by Ryoko Yoshida. With Mayuko Iwasa, Kanji Furutachi, Yasushi Fuchikami, Kumiko Ito. A singular deadpan comedy, The Passion tells a story of a young woman raised in a convent named Frances-ko (Mayuko Iwasa), after Saint Francesco. Distressed by not knowing about love and sex, she calls out for a sign from above, but instead hears a voice from below. A human-faced growth speaks to her from between her legs, constantly berating her, calling out "Woman, you are worthless!" Mr. Koga, as she names it, continues the verbal abuse, yet Frances-ko somehow adapts, forming an adversarial yet symbiotic relationship. This bizarre film, based on Kaoruko Himeno's acclaimed 1997 novel of the same name, is skillfully directed by Ryoko Yoshida, lensed by veteran cinematographer Akiko Ashizawa, grounded by Iwasa's show-stopping performance and enlivened by the hilarious Kanji Furutachi, who lends his voice to the chauvinistic Koga. The soundtrack boasts an unmissable eclectic score by legendary experimental musician and composer Otomo Yoshihide. 18+ This film is unrated, and may only be viewed by persons 18 years of age and older. Original novel shortlisted for the prestigious Naoki Prize --- Pecoross' Mother and Her Days (Pekorosu no Haha ni Ai ni Iku) Sunday, July 20 at 12:30 pm **East Coast Premiere Japan. 2013. 113 min. Blu-ray, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Azuma Morisaki. With Ryo Iwamatsu, Harue Akagi, Kiwako Harada, Ryo Kase, Naoto Takenaka, Kensuke Owada. Laid-back baby boomer Yuichi (Ryo Iwamatsu) is a middle-aged manga artist and singer-songwriter when he isn't at his salaryman day job or watching out for his elderly mother. Suffering from increasing dementia since her husband's death, Mitsue (Harue Akagi) is a constant source of comic energy or annoyance for Yuichi, and he and his son must soon decide if they should put her in a home for the elderly. Jumping back in time, we see how Mitsue (played by Kiwako Harada) tracked the tumult of the latter half of the 20th century, being raised as one of 10 brothers and sisters, surviving the war, and having to push her alcoholic husband (Ryo Kase) along in life. Pecoross is directed by the oldest active film director in Japan, Azuma Morisaki (b. 1927), who creates an emotionally complex work that is only the more profound and life-affirming for its cartoonish portrayal. Awarded Best Japanese Film of 2013 by Kinema Junpo and Eiga Geijutsu --- The Pinkie (Samayou Koyubi) Saturday, July 12 at 10:30 pm **New York Premiere, Co-presented with NYAFF Japan. 2014. 65 min. Blu-ray, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Lisa Takeba. With Ryota Ozawa, Miwako Wagatsuma, Haruka Suenaga, Reon Kadena, Takashi Nishina, Mondo Yamagishi, Kanji Tsuda. The winner of the Grand Prix at the 24th Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival, Lisa Takeba's debut feature is a hyper-imaginative sci-fi(ish) drama about a slacker and his clone. Devil-may-care Ryosuke is taking it easy, nice and easy, particularly with the girls. Unfortunately, the latest beauty he seduces turns out to be a yakuza's moll. Reckoning comes when gangsters beat him up and chop off his pinkie, which falls in the hands of Momoko, a naughty girl who has been stalking him. She gets herself a cloning kit and grows her own Ryosuke-clone. It performs beyond expectations and proves to be a remarkable lover. Frantically paced, The Pinkie is chock-full of Western and Japanese pop culture references and jokes, as if Gen Sekiguchi's Survive Style 5+ had been directed by the minds behind Sushi Typhoon splatter films, mixing Weird Science, Battles Without Honor and Humanity and The Terminator into 65 minutes of concentrated weirdness. “The best thing about The Pinkie is its total adherence to a vision. That this vision is so utterly bizarre is what makes it special.” – Film.com --- The Snow White Murder Case (Shirayukihime Satsujin Jiken) Friday, July 11 at 6 pm **U.S. Premiere, Co-presented with NYAFF Japan. 2014. 126 min. DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura. With Mao Inoue, Go Ayano, Misako Renbutsu, Nanao, Shihori Kanjiya, Nobuaki Kaneko, Erena Ono. Yoshihiro Nakamura's Snow White Murder Case (helmer of Fish Story and Golden Slumbers) offers one of the best brain teasers of the year. Based on a novel by bestselling author Kanae Minato, the film dissects the odd goings-on behind the grim discovery of a corpse in the woods of a national park near Tokyo. The victim is a beautiful young office worker, Noriko Miki (Nanao), the object of much jealousy at the cosmetic company where she was employed. Suspicions soon turn toward her co-worker Miki Shirono (Mao Inoue), who has vanished after the murder. Blogger/journalist Yuji Akahoshi (Go Ayano) takes his investigation to the world of social media and the case quickly turns into a witch hunt with a full-blown Twitter storm. As the plot makes brain-bending twists and turns, the camera takes a cold, hard but not humorless look at the damage wrought by the pettiness of a passive-aggressive society. “Exceptionally well-written and skillfully lensed, The Snow White Murder Case is definitely one of the most compelling crime thrillers to come out of Japan in the last few years.” – Twitch Film --- Tale of a Butcher Shop (Aru Seinikuten no Hanashi) Saturday, July 19 at 12 pm **U.S. Premiere Japan. 2013. 108 min. DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Aya Hanabusa. The Kitades run a butcher shop in Kaizuka City outside Osaka, raising and slaughtering cattle to sell the meat in their store. The seventh generation of their family's business, they are descendants of the buraku people, a social minority held over from the caste system abolished in the 19th century that is still subject to discrimination. As the Kitades are forced to make the difficult decision to shut down their slaughterhouse, the question posed by the film is whether doing this will also result in the deconstruction of the prejudices imposed on them. Though primarily documenting the process of their work with meticulous detail, Aya Hanabusa also touches on the Kitades' participation in the buraku liberation movement. Hanabusa's heartfelt portrait expands from the story of an old-fashioned family business competing with corporate supermarkets, toward a subtle and sophisticated critique of social exclusion and the persistence of ancient prejudices. Note: Some scenes contain graphic animal imagery. Official selection 2013 Busan International Film Festival and 2013 Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival --- The Tale of Iya (Iya Monogatari--Oku no Hito--) – CLOSING FILM Sunday, July 20 at 6 pm **North American Premiere **Featuring Intro and Q&A with Director Tetsuichiro Tsuta Japan. 2013. 169 min. DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Tetsuichiro Tsuta. With Rina Takeda, Shima Ohnishi, Min Tanaka, Hitoshi Murakami, Naomi Kawase. Shot on 35mm in Tokushima Prefecture's gorgeous Iya Valley, Tetsuichiro Tsuta's second feature feels like the work of a seasoned filmmaker. The Tale of Iya depicts the story of a shrinking rural community and traditional ways of life encroached on by modern society and consumerism. A grandfather (legendary dancer Min Tanaka) and his granddaughter, Haruna (actress and martial artist Rina Takeda), live together in a small mountain town, eating food they grow and hunting in the forest. Haruna is about to finish high school and must choose whether she will stay or move to the city. Tanaka is powerful and nearly wordless in this indelible screen performance, matched by Takeda, who provides the film with its emotional anchor. Through the appearance of a young man from Tokyo (Shima Ohnishi), Tsuta subtly portrays the dilemmas of leaving, staying and the politicized fights to conserve the environment or temporarily boost the economy. "5/5 stars… a work of instant and startling brilliance." --The Telegraph (UK) --- Unforgiven (Yurusarezaru Mono) Tuesday, July 15 at 8:30 pm **East Coast Premiere Japan. 2013. 135 min. DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Sang-il Lee. With Ken Watanabe, Koichi Sato, Akira Emoto, Yuya Yagira, Shiori Kutsuna. In adapting Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven (1992), Sang-il Lee paid tribute to the film's grandiosity and scale while exchanging America's Western frontier for Meiji-era Japan, a time of immense social and political change after the fall of the Shogunate. Jubei (Ken Watanabe), once a samurai assassin, has survived to raise his children as an impoverished farmer. Before his wife's death, he promised her that he would lay down his sword, but when Kingo Baba (Akira Emoto) comes with news of a bounty on two men who mutilated the face of a prostitute, he can't turn him down. Young Goro (Yuya Yagira) joins the hunt, but they'll have to get through sadistic police chief Ichizo Oishi (Koichi Sato) first, and Jubei must confront even greater injustices, as well as his past deeds and killer heart. With gorgeously choreographed action set pieces in Hokkaido's beautiful and cruel landscape, this Unforgiven stands tall and alone. "Unexpectedly brilliant." --Time Out London ---  Uzumasa Limelight (Uzumasa Laimulaito) Sunday, July 13 at 8 pm **International Premiere, Co-presented with NYAFF **Featuring Intro and Q&A with director Ken Ochiai and actress Chihiro Yamamoto Japan. 2014. 103 min. DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Ken Ochiai. With Seizo Fukumoto, Chihiro Yamamoto, Hiroki Matsukata, Masashi Goda, Hirotaro Honda, Hisako Manda. A moving, nostalgic portrait of the men behind the golden age of chanbara (sword-fighting dramas and films), Uzumasa Limelight goes behind the scenes of the distinctive film genre for which Japan is famous. A professional extra named Kamiyama (Seizo Fukumoto, a real-life kirare-yaku, or chambara extras whose job it is to get killed on screen) has devoted 50 years of his life as a kirare-yaku in sword-fighting movies produced at Kyoto's Uzumasa Studios. A master of the art, he lives to die--or more exactly "to be cut"--and show a beautiful, spectacular death on screen. Now an elderly man, Kamiyama lives very modestly but has earned immense respect from his peers, some of them movie stars. When the studio where he works decides to discontinue its chanbara productions, Kamiyama finds himself at a loss. Hope arrives in the form of a young girl named Satsuki, who soon becomes Kamiyama's disciple. Will the art of dying by the sword live on? --- Why Don't You Play in Hell? (Jigoku de Naze Warui) Thursday, July 10 at 8:30 pm **NYC Premiere, Co-presented with NYAFF **Introduction and Q&A with actress Fumi Nikaido, Followed by the LET’S PLAY IN HELL! Opening Night Party Japan. 2013. 126 min. DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Sion Sono. With Jun Kunimura, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Fumi Nikaido, Hiroki Hasegawa, Gen Hoshino, Tomochika. A tribute to old-school yakuza cinema and shoe-string amateur filmmaking based on a screenplay Sion Sono wrote 17 years ago. The Fuck Bombers, a group of film geeks led by Hirata (Hiroki Hasegawa), try to turn brawler Sasaki (Tak Sakaguchi) into their new Bruce Lee but are nowhere near making their action masterpiece. An ambush set up by a yakuza clan comes to a gory end in the home of boss Muto (Jun Kunimura) with only one man, Ikegami (Shinichi Tsutsumi), surviving. When Mitsuko, the Mutos' young daughter, makes an unexpected entrance, Ikegami is instantly smitten. Ten years later, she has become one sultry mean mess of a girl (Fumi Nikaido). Determined to make Mitsuko a star, her father gives Hirata a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make his movie, with the yakuza as film production crew and the Bombers joining the "real" action--the ultimate sword battle between the Muto and Ikegami clans. "Quite possibly mankind’s greatest achievement, Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell” is less of a question than it is a glorious grindhouse requiem for an entire mode of filmmaking… “– Film.com --- Wood Job! (Ujjobu! Kamusari Naanaa Nichijo) Sunday, July 13 at 12:30 pm **North American Premiere, Co-presented with NYAFF Japan. 2014. 116 min. DCP, in Japanese with English subtitles. Directed by Shinobu Yaguchi. With Shota Sometani, Masami Nagasawa, Hideaki Ito, Yuki Hirano, Naoki Ishii, Yoki Iida. The new film from Shinobu Yaguchi, director of Water Boys, is based on Shion Miura's bestseller, a bittersweet coming-of-age novel. Yuki Hirano (Shota Sometani), an ordinary 18-year-old high school graduate, fails his university entrance exams. Finding himself without a job or anything much in the way of career prospects, he abruptly decides to leave the city life behind, prompted by a brochure with a dishy girl on the cover (Masami Nagasawa) that advertises a one-year forestry program. He winds up in Kamusari, a backwater village nestled deep in the mountains, far beyond civilization, convenience stores and mobile phone coverage. There, he meets Iida (Hideaki Ito), a combination of mountain boy scout, dreamboat, handyman and wildman. Alongside Iida, Yuki learns and grows to love the Thoreau-like lifestyle in the woods and he finds himself embracing the dream of forging a fresh green life--and finding the girl from the brochure. “[Yaguchi’s] latest … is a return to comic form, with more laugh-out-loud gags than his films have produced in many years.” – The Japan Times   GUEST SPOTLIGHTS Kazuki Kitamura (Neko Samurai ~Samurai ♥ Cat~, Man from Reno, Killers) - An incredibly versatile, talented actor, Kazuki Kitamura has established himself over the past two decades as one of Japan's most sought-after stars. Embodying devilishly handsome villains and dashing heroes in dramatic and comedic performances of equal virtuosity, he'll present three of his latest films at JAPAN CUTS: the hilarious Neko Samurai, the the Japanese-American independent thriller Man from Reno, and the Indonesian-Japanese co-produced horror-thriller Killers. Recently taking on ambitious transnational projects such as the Indonesian action film The Raid 2, Kitamura hails from Osaka, and made a name for himself in 2000 when he received Kinema Junpo's Best New Actor award for his work in Rokuro Mochizuki's Minazuki and Takashi Miike's Ley Lines (Nihon kuroshakai). That same year he was awarded Best Supporting Actor at the Yokohama Film Festival for his work in Minazuki, Ben Wada'sPerfect Education (Kanzen-naru shiiku), and Kazuhiro Kiuchi's Kyohansha. Since then, Kitamura has continued to impress with a wide range of memorable leading and supporting roles in film and television, including the deliciously evil alien commander in Godzilla: Final Wars, the Thermae Romae franchise and acting opposite Tatsuya Nakadai in Japan's Tragedy. JAPAN CUTS 2014 celebrates Kitamura's career with candid introductions and Q&As for Man from Reno, Killers and Neko Samurai followed by the Japan CATS Party! Momoko Ando (0.5mm) is a multitalented filmmaker, artist and writer, and a rising star of Japan's independent filmmaking scene. Ando's first film, Kakera: A Piece of Our Life, was released in 2009 to great acclaim, scored by the Smashing Pumpkins' James Iha.0.5mm, her tour de force second feature, is adapted from her debut novel of the same name, and stars her sister, actress Sakura Ando. (From an immensely creative family, Momoko Ando is also the daughter of actor/director Eiji Okuda and essayist Kazu Ando.) While critically approaching contemporary issues of gender and patriarchy, Ando's films evince a classical visual style and brilliant comic touch. JAPAN CUTS presents the world premiere of 0.5mm as the festival's Centerpiece Presentation, including an introduction, Q&A and reception with the director. Dave Boyle (Man from Reno) is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker once memorably described by the Wall Street Journal's Jeff Yang as "the best Asian American filmmaker who's not actually in any way Asian American." After debuting with the bilingual comedy Big Dreams Little Tokyo (2006), in which he also starred as a young American businessman obsessed with Japanese culture, Boyle's sophomore featureWhite on Rice starring Hiroshi Watanabe and Nae Yuuki was released in theaters in 2009. In 2011, he embarked on a multi-film collaboration with San Francisco musician Goh Nakamura, who played himself in both Surrogate Valentine and Daylight Savings. JAPAN CUTS presents his fifth feature film, Man from Reno, accompanied by an introduction and Q&A with the director, and star Kazuki Kitamura. Shiro Maeda (The Extreme Sukiyaki) is a writer/director/actor and leading figure in Japan’s contemporary performing arts scene, also establishing himself through his work on novels, TV and movies. Born in the 1970s, Maeda is said to represent the voices of Japan’s “Lost Decade,” which refers to those who have lived through times of economic downturn and social uncertainty. Maeda is most recognized and praised for the way he deals with heavy and universal issues through levity, subtle humor and even absurdism. He is recipient of Japan’s most prestigious award for playwrights, the 52nd Kishida Drama Award, and the 22nd Mishima Yukio Prize for literature. Adapted from his novel, Maeda presents his directorial debut The Extreme Sukiyaki and joins JAPAN CUTS for a Q&A via streaming video. Fumi Nikaido (Why Don't You Play in Hell?), one of Japan's most popular rising stars, was scouted at the age of 12 to become a model and television actress. Hailing from Naha, a southern coastal town on Okinawa Island, Nikaido made her film debut in Koji Yakusho's 2009 Toad's Oil. For her stirring performance in Sion Sono's 2011 Himizu, she received the Marcello Mastroianni Award at the Venice International Film Festival with co-star Shota Sometani, the festival's highest prize for emerging talent, never before awarded to a Japanese performer. Nikaido joins JAPAN CUTS to present Sion Sono's Why Don't You Play in Hell?, including an introduction and Q&A followed by the Let's Play in Hell! Opening Night Party on the festival's opening night Ken Ochiai, Seizo Fukumoto, Chihiro Yamamoto (Uzumasa Limelight) - Ken Ochiai is a writer/director based in Los Angeles who works in both the U.S. and Japan. Having made his first film at age 12, he left his native Tokyo after high school to pursue filmmaking in the U.S., graduating from the USC School of Cinematic Arts with a BA in Production and the American Film Institute. Seizo Fukumoto entered Toei Studio Kyoto at 15. Since then he has been featured in film and TV for more than half a century. Chihiro Yamamoto started learning Tai Chi at 3 and won gold and silver medals at the World Junior Wushu Championship. This is her film debut. The director and stars present Uzumasa Limelight at JAPAN CUTS, joining for an introduction and Q&A. Tetsuichiro Tsuta (The Tale of Iya) studied filmmaking at Tokyo Polytechnic University, where he began using black-and-white 16mm film. His first feature, Islands of Dreams was produced on this now rare format, and his magnificent second film, The Tale of Iya, is shot on color 35mm in the mountains not far from his hometown. The Tale of Iya, starring legendary dancer Min Tanaka, was awarded a Special Mention in the Asian Future section of the Tokyo International Film Festival, and chronicles not only a disappearing part of Japan, but a rare mode of film craftsmanship. Tsuta joins to present his spectacular work as JAPAN CUTS’ Closing Film, with an introduction and Q&A.
Japan Cuts 2014 photo
It never ends
With our NYAFF coverage still running strong, it seems an appropriate time to let you know that there's much, much more where that came from. Starting this Thursday, July 10th, the Japan Society kicks off their NYAFF crossove...

NYAFF Review: The Eternal Zero

Jul 05 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]217991:41659:0[/embed] The Eternal Zero (Eien no Zero | 永遠の0)Director: Takashi YamazakiRating: NRCountry: Japan  I'm really not that patriotic. On July 4th, I went out for Indian food and went to sleep as the fireworks started booming. But as much as America and I have our differences, I'm still a relatively-proud citizen of a pretty great country. And that made The Eternal Zero hard to swallow, because it is really, really difficult for an American to feel for a Kamikaze pilot. Even though the film is not really pro-war and it tries to portray the Kamikazes as people forced into a horrific situation by their government, so what? They were working towards the death of Americans; they just didn't want to cause their own in the process. That may be something people want to see and hear about in in Japan, but on this side of the Pacific, it's weird and uncomfortable.  And it's made worse by just how emotional the whole thing is. Nearly every scene ends in tears, and they're not the attractive kind. These people go all out, shouting and screaming and contorting their faces in the ugliest of manners. It's the kind of thing that would be off-putting if I did feel for their plight. Watching the whole thing dispassionately, it became a new level of awkward. From start to finish, The Eternal Zero is trying to be this emotional epic drama, and it does not succeed. Not in the slightest. But it thinks it does, and that's actually sad. I've realized in the past few years that I rarely like framing narratives. It's something I've written about before, and it's something that is really difficult to pull off. Almost every time I see a film that switches back and forth in time I find myself wishing that one part of the film wasn't there, for various reasons. Usually it's the framing story, where person A is telling the actual story to person B (who is the modern day protagonist). It works sometimes; it doesn't work in The Eternal Zero. At the family meal following his grandmother's death, 26-year old Kentaro Oishi finds out that the man he calls grandfather is not biologically related. He and his older sister, Keiko, go off to learn more about Kyuzo Miyabe, who had gone Kamikaze many years before. They go from person to person, piecing together this story and building up this image of this man. And as I watched the film, I found my thoughts constantly returning to videogames; the narrative felt like like one giant series of unnecessary quests. Go talk to this guy, then this guy, then this guy. And in the end, it all comes back to where they started. Sure, they learned all kinds of new things, but the intentional withholding of information in order to send the kids on a wild goose chase is both obnoxious and ridiculous. The final reveal, then, isn't poignant but disappointing. The whole thing could have taken 30 minutes and been done with. Maybe that would have been worth watching. Probably not, but I would have had a whole lot less to complain about. The padded narrative isn't the only reason I thought about videogames; the atrocious effects. I've been complaining about CG (especially in Asian films) a lot recently, but it's particularly awful here because the film is so reliant on it. The massive dogfights that punctuate each and every flashback look like acceptable pre-rendered cutscenes from five years ago. The tiny little animated sailors in white on the ships at Pearl Harbor look just silly as they scramble around before their ships burst into meh-looking flame. (And again, these are fake Americans that I guess I'm supposed to be rooting for the annihilation of.) If it's impressive by Japanese standards, that's the other sad thing about The Eternal Zero, because it's really, really bad. Seriously, I've seen fake vehicles that look every bit as realistic on YouTube. But the worst thing about The Eternal Zero is its runtime. At 144 minutes, it's at least an hour too long. I checked my watch five times throughout, and my friend who sat next to me said he considered doing the same, but he knew it would have just depressed him. The focus on the present day (which is actually 2004, the year before the 60th anniversary of America's victory over Japan) takes up an obscenely long time. As much as I didn't like the sections because of its subject matter, they told a much tighter and more compelling narrative. When I'd rather watch people plot the deaths of Americans than some emotional confrontation, that's a really bad sign. And by the end, I had tears in my eyes. But it's not because I was emotional; The Eternal Zero literally bored me to tears. And it was pretty much a steady stream for the last 15-20 minutes. I was so done with the movie, but it wasn't done with itself. And that may be the saddest thing of all.
The Eternal Zero Review photo
History as written by the losers
The Eternal Zero is one of the biggest blockbusters ever released in Japan. A tale of the World War II from the viewpoint of the fighter pilots who took on the American forces. An ostensibly epic tale celebrating... some...

NYAFF Review: The White Storm

Jul 04 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]217973:41658:0[/embed] The White Storm (掃毒)Director: Benny ChanRating: NRCountry: Hong Kong  The White Storm fits snugly in the canon of undercover cop films that Hong Kong has built up over the past few decades. It’s a subgenre I’d like to know better, and this is not a bad place to start. Starring familiar faces like Louis Koo and Ching Wan Lau, the film follows three men as they try to take down Eight-Faced Buddha, the only real drug warlord left in Asia. So Kin-chow (Koo) is undercover with a high-ranking Hong Kong drug dealer, and on the eve of their big bust, plans change. And by eve, I mean literally seconds before things go down. And they go down anyway, setting off a pretty cool gunfight nice and early. And then it slows down, because The White Storm is a film of peaks and valleys, and though the peaks are pretty high, the valleys are really long. During the slow periods, lots of interesting, dramatic things happen, but I wasn’t looking for interesting drama, and that gets to the problem of expectation. If others hadn’t told me to expect insanity, I think I would have liked The White Storm a lot more. It wasn’t just Grady who hyped me up; everything I had heard promised a wild and crazy ride. So I immediately set my expectations up to something like The Raid, or at least Hard Boiled. I was expecting a switch to go off, at which point all hell would break loose and blood would rain down from the heavens. That doesn’t happen until the very end. Instead, you get increasingly complicated interpersonal drama. People die (or not), betray their comrades (or not), and do all the kinds of things people to do in an undercover cop film(or not lolololololollo). Keeping track of who’s who, and did what to whom is difficult, and though I’m pretty sure I understood it, a second viewing might be a bit more enjoyable. I couldn’t just let the experience wash over me, because I was too busy wondering what everything meant. Even so, it’s an enjoyable narrative, and a couple of the plot twists caught me off guard (in a good way). It’s also oddly funny, with jokes that punctuate serious scenes in unexpected ways. It adds some levity to scenes where it doesn’t seem entirely appropriate, but I laughed anyway. The personal drama is punctuated by some intense action, albeit less than I expected. The final fight is all kinds of amazing, and it’s basically what I hoped the entire second half of the film would be like. And I don’t really have a lot of complaints about the other scenes other than to say that I wanted more. I mean, that first gunfight is badass, a major sequence has enough helicopter minigun fire to satiate anybody, and the rest are still enjoyable to watch, but they just didn’t feel unique or bombastic enough. Even the helicopter minigun isn’t as cool as you might think, because that’s such an impersonal sort of action. It’s basically an instant massacre. Rather than some long, badass firefight between two armies, bullets rain down from above and destroy pretty much everything in their path. In minutes, it’s all over. It’s a nice effect, but it doesn’t have the visceral intensity of two guys shooting each other 50 times until one of them finally falls to the ground. And because it’s out in the open, it doesn’t have the sheer brutality of something like Dredd’s minigun scene. Perhaps that’s why two of the best moments in The White Storm involve intimate violence, one in the service of getting information from a traitor and the other tying up some loose ends. I didn’t cheer like some people, but I laughed pretty freaking hard. Afterwards, I heard some people say that it’s their favorite film of the festival so far. Maybe they were expecting something different.
The White Storm Review photo
Great expectations
Before the screening of As the Light Goes Out, NYAFF co-founder/the world’s greatest salesman Grady Hendrix made a pitch for people to stay for The White Storm, the film that was playing immediately afterward. He descri...


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