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This Corner of the World photo
This Corner of the World

Trailer: Acclaimed anime In This Corner of the World looks like a moving war-torn romance


This looks like something special
Jun 14
// Hubert Vigilla
I'm not familiar with the films of Sunao Katabuchi, but after watching the trailer for In This Corner of the World, I want to seek out his previous anime features: Princess Arete and Mai Mai Miracle. Katabuchi was also a...
Miike's 100th movie photo
Miike's 100th movie

Blade Of The Immortal trailer: Takashi Miike's 100th film is bloody samurai mayhem


Way to celebrate #100
May 18
// Hubert Vigilla
Takashi Miike is one prolific guy. At 56 years old, he's about to screen his 100th movie (!) at the Cannes Film Festival. He's like the Robert Pollard of cinema: wakes up in the morning, makes a movie before he gets the coffe...

Tribeca Capsule Review: The Departure

Apr 24 // Hubert Vigilla
The DepartureDirector: Lana WilsonRating: TBARelease Date: TBA  These sorts of punk-turned-monk contradictions are on display at the very outset of The Departure. Before we see Nemoto in his robes and with clients, we first encounter him in a dance club bathed in neon and strobe lights. He's lost in the music and the crowd, but Wilson's camera catches a glimmer of beatific happiness on his face. In retrospect, of course this man lost in the present moment in the club is a monk. Later in the film he seems less in control--drunk and belting out karaoke. Here's someone I'd like to talk to about mindfulness before heading out to a karaoke bar. At home he seems like a good but distant husband and father. His wife Yukiko is patient with him, devoted, and kindly reminds him to take things a little easier. But when dealing with the emotional and psychological needs of others, nothing is that easy. There is yet another contradiction in a life that seems so plain. By helping ease the suffering of others, Nemoto is suffering himself; and yet maybe the physical and psychological stress that this strain places on him is what gives his life meaning and makes it worth living. Maybe that last leap is a wholly western projection on my part. The Departure is such a quietly observed film anchored the entire time to the stable (or maybe wobbling) Nemoto as its center. While he comforts a man over lunch about suicidal thoughts or in the same man's apartment as he's struck by a wave of depression, Nemoto offers conciliatory hums of acknowledgement and the occasionally warm smile, remark, and laugh. They talk about the man's children, and Nemoto eventually opens up a bit about himself and mentions his son. It's just one sentence, but it feels so blunt and weighty when he says it. When someone so purposefully reserved shares something so vulnerable, it seems to speak to a larger yearning or anxiety or love within that is kept contained save for little spurts. The volume and quality of this inner life is emphasized by Wilson's ability to isolate such moments as part of a whole. They are beautiful in passing, as brief as they are, though there are many.
The Departure review photo
The long process of letting go
Almost everyone could benefit from a little bit of therapy, especially therapists themselves. I often wonder what sorts of anxieties therapists have to deal with after they've finished dealing with clients for the day. Empath...

Mary and Witch's Flower photo
Mary and Witch's Flower

New Mary and the Witch's Flower trailer showcases magic from ex-Ghibli talent


From Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Apr 13
// Hubert Vigilla
Even though Hayao Miyazaki is no longer retired, Studio Ghibli is in a transition period. The venerable studio went on a hiatus in 2014. The following year, producer Yoshiaki Nishimura and other Ghibli members started their o...

Review: Your Name

Apr 04 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221337:43448:0[/embed] Your Name (Kimi no Na wa, 君の名は。)Director: Makoto ShinkaiRating: PGRelease Date: August 26, 2016 (Japan); April 7, 2017 (USA)Country: Japan Our two body-swapped and star-crossed heroes are a country girl named Mitsuha and a city boy named Taki. Apropos of nothing, the two teens swap bodies. At first they think they're dreaming--as Mitsuha in Taki's body struggles as a waiter in a restaurant, she wonders when her long and bizarre dream will end. Taki in Mitsuha's body begins each morning copping a feel like a creeper. They intermittently lead each other's lives, and they come to enjoy the ability to live a life so different from their own day-to-day. The allure, like most body swap films, is in the contrast of experiences--metropolitan and pastoral, modern and traditional, the social norms of male and female, etc. My enjoyment of Your Name can be broken into quarters. I loved the first quarter of the movie, which was a great modern take on the body swap genre. The city boy and the country girl get to know each other obliquely, corresponding through their own cellphones with do's and don'ts about each other's lives. Shinkai closes that opening quarter with a fantastic montage of the joys and frustrations of living another life only to return to the mucked-up nature of your own. I liked the second quarter of Your Name, which, without spoilers, involves a mystery and a journey. Tonally it reminded me a little of Hirokazu Koreeda's charming I Wish, though an adolescent version. As for the last half of Your Name? It was all right. "Generally acceptable" may be a more accurate phrase. So much about Your Name hinges on a major plot twist and the way the narrative treats this revealed information. If I wasn't on board with the first portion of the film, the swerve at the halfway mark would have soured me on the whole movie. It's all dependent on a series of narrative conveniences that the story doesn't attempt to explain: spotty memory, technological failure, the loose rules of the body swapping, a lack of common sense from the characters, lapses in human curiosity. And yet, somehow, I think Your Name still works by the end because it is so earnest about its teenage feelings. There's the desire to be understood by someone, to forge a lasting connection, to make sense of your own life. That's all there. I watched the movie in a crowded theater full of teens and young adults. As a plot twist occurred in the second half, gasps rustled through the crowd. After that emotional gut reaction, the analytical bits in my brain stepped forward and processed the information. No, a little too convenient, but just go with it. This kept happening in the last half of the movie. I found myself liking moments even though I was of two minds about them. There's a gorgeous scene set at dusk before a dimming sky. It's quiet, it's memorable, it was enough for me to disregard a lapse in logic a few scenes before. A young woman in the crowd, excited by the connection that occurred on screen, whispered an elated "Yes". Minutes later, sighs from the crowd, crestfallen, like everyone had breathed out at once. I couldn't help but be moved as well--I felt what someone else was feeling, which is what Your Name is about at its best. Oddly, some of my qualms come from understanding Shinkai's point of view as a storyteller. To affect the audience the way he wants to, Shinkai needs to move the story in direction P, therefore actions L, M, N, and O have to occur. I saw the movie with Steve over at Unseen Films, and his immediate feelings for the movie were far more tepid than mine. The logical lapses were so apparent to him. My own fondness for the first half of the film led me to justify those logical lapses to him even though I noticed them as well. And I have to admit, my justification was because I understood Shinkai's storytelling motivations rather than any diegetic explanation provided by the film. I can't recall who said this or if I'm even getting it right, but there's a sandwich rule when it comes to storytelling. Say you make a movie. Part of it doesn't make sense. If an audience member doesn't realize there's a lapse in logic until hours later when they're making a sandwich, the story is successful. Your Name didn't pass the sandwich test with me, but I could sense it did with many others in the crowd. Even without the sandwich test, there was a lot to admire. If only the last half had hooked me more, not by plot twists but through the characters, not by letters signifying Shinkai's moves but rather that ineffable emotional stuff that's harder to figure out and impossible to name.
Review: Your Name photo
The body swap movie with a swerve
Makoto Shinkai's Your Name is the highest-grossing anime film of all-time, and it hasn't even come out in the United States yet. It beat Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away; give it a few more months and Your Name may beat Spirite...

Your Name US trailers photo
Your Name US trailers

Watch the US trailers for Makoto Shinkai's anime mega-hit Your Name


Dubbed or subbed for your pleasure
Mar 14
// Hubert Vigilla
Despite some of my qualms about its second half, Makoto Shinkai's Your Name was a good coming-of-age body swap film with an undeniable teenage earnestness. It's a major anime mega-hit in Japan. Not only was it Japan's biggest...
Zatoichi/Motorhead combo photo
Zatoichi/Motorhead combo

A Zatoichi/Motorhead mash up is something you didn't realize you needed until now


Zatoichi is metal as f**k
Feb 19
// Hubert Vigilla
The Zatoichi series includes some of the most badass samurai films around. Starring Shintaro Katsu, the story centers on a blind swordsman who turns a new leaf as a traveling masseur. His violent past follows him wherever he ...
Wes Anderson Isle of Dogs photo
Wes Anderson Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson announces next film, a star-studded stop-motion movie called Isle of Dogs


Win a small role in the film
Dec 22
// Hubert Vigilla
Yesterday Wes Anderson release a video announcing his next movie, a stop-motion feature called Isle of Dogs. The movie will come out some time in 2018, released by Fox Searchlight. Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs is about a b...
Kodoku Meatball Machine photo
Kodoku Meatball Machine

The trailer for Kodoku: Meatball Machine is blood-soaked and absolutely bonkers (NSFW)


Content and title are a perfect match
Dec 06
// Hubert Vigilla
If GWAR in its classic form decided to remake Tetsuo: The Iron Man, it might look like Yoshihiro Nishimura's Kodoku: Meatball Machine. That is all I can really say. There are no words. Just feelings. Strange, strange feelings. Seriously, watch this f**king trailer, dudes. Note: There is a lot of blood and some (maybe fake?) nudity.

Watch the first trailer for Martin Scorsese's long-awaited Silence

Nov 28 // Hubert Vigilla
Silence comes so late in 2016 that it didn't have a chance to premiere at any of the usual year-end film festivals (i.e., Toronto, New York, Telluride, AFI Fest). Instead, Silence will have its world premiere at The Vatican tomorrow, Tuesday, November 29th. No word on if Pope Francis will be at the screening of the 159-minute film. There is also no word on what designer brand the Pope will be wearing to the world premiere if His Holiness is present. Here's a synopsis for Silence: Martin Scorsese’s SILENCE tells the story of two Christian missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who face the ultimate test of faith when they travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) – at a time when Christianity was outlawed and their presence forbidden. The celebrated director's 28-year journey to bring Shusaku Endo’s 1966 acclaimed novel to life will be in theaters this Christmas. Silence will be in theaters December 23rd. A poster for the film is included below. [via /Film]
Martin Scorsese's Silence photo
Almost 27 years in the making
Martin Scorsese has had his eyes on Silence since 1990. We first reported on Silence way back in 2011. Had the movie been made sooner, the cast might have included Daniel Day Lewis, Benicio Del Toro, and Gael Garcia Bernal. I...

Hayao Miyazaki is back photo
Some good news in 2016 for once
Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement from filmmaking back in 2013 with the release of The Wind Rises. That directing bug is strong, however, and he couldn't completely step away from animation. Back in July 2015, Miyazaki ...

Kadokawa retrospective photo
Kadokawa retrospective

NYC: Haruki Kadokawa 80s cinema retrospective at Japan Society (Nov 8-Dec 17)


Producer, publisher, poet, eccentric
Nov 11
// Hubert Vigilla
Japan Society routinely has excellent screenings and film series throughout the year for fans of Japanese cinema. Right now there's a special retrospective on flamboyant book publisher and film producer Haruki Kadokawa. The s...
Pokemon: The First Movie photo
Pokemon: The First Movie

Pokemon: The First Movie is coming back to theaters October 29th and November 1st


Gotta catch em at Cinemark
Oct 24
// Hubert Vigilla
The popularity of Pokemon Go spawned a forthcoming Detective Pikachu movie from Legendary Pictures. With the Pokemon resurgence, it should come as no surprise that the Pokemon Company is going to milk all of its adorable...

Review: Tampopo

Oct 21 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220968:43157:0[/embed] TampopoDirector: Juzo ItamiRating: NRRelease Date: October 21, 2016 (limited)Country: Japan  There's a familiar old west tale in Tampopo, with variations on cowboys and saloons and pretty schoolmarms. Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki) and Gun (Ken Watanabe) are a pair of truck-driving gourmands that mosey into town. They stop by a noddle shop in a sorry state run by a widow named Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto). She's quaint, mousy, often dressed in gingham, demure to a fault. Also, her ramen just plain sucks. Since they're good cowboys, Goro and Gun help Tampopo improve her shop, sort of like working the farm or rebuilding this here schoolhouse. Tampopo spends the the film perfecting her ramen and in the process attempts to perfect herself. It's not just a western but, philosophically, a martial arts movie. This is a story about the discipline of mastery. Think Jiro Dreams of Sushi, except ramen: self-improvement through a process of trial and error and practice. It's a familiar narrative, but when filtered through an unexpected intermediary, it achieves remarkable existential heft. Even in a decidedly lighthearted comedy like Tampopo, it's moving to witness someone try and try again until they achieve some ennobling dignity, no matter how small. All that effort for a good bowl of soup. But that's just part of the oddball/heartfelt appeal of Tampopo. Soba isn't the only noodle. The movie starts with a gangster in white (Koji Yakusho) and his moll (Fukumi Kuroda) entering a movie theater, ostensibly to watch the main story of Tampopo described above. The gangster waxes philosophical about life, death, and the movies, and then roughs up a guy crinkling a bag of chips in the row behind him. Later in the film, the gangster and his moll reappear periodically, using food as foreplay. By comparison, these scenes make 9 1/2 Weeks seem like the missionary position in Mormon underwear. Swirling around these two recurring narratives are a series of one-off skits on the role of food in people's lives. So many rituals, roles, and social codes are built around food and propriety, and we take a break from our gal at the noodle shop to get a survey of food culture in 1980s Japan. What Tampopo seems to emphasize in most of these one-offs is the sensual pleasure of food, and how our desire for sweets and richness and even just sloppy eating can't be restrained. Yet even when defying restraint, our taste for the sensual can be refined and in the process our appreciation for pleasure deepened. Tampopo isn't a movie for foodies. What a wretched, bourgie word that is. Tampopo is a movie for uplifting gormandizers who want to suck marrow rather than spoon it from the bone. Tampopo was just the second film from Itami, though it seems so assured and confident. Who else but a confident filmmaker decides to include a goofy rice omelet scene with a hobo? At numerous times the actors address some off-camera interlocutor by looking directly at the audience. This recurring quirk is sort of like Ozu, but not like Ozu at all. Tonally I was reminded a little of A Christmas Story, but then in comes a sexy or dark or sensitive moment redolent of some separate influence. Every couple minutes, unexpected surprises, and just more and more delight.
Review: Tampopo photo
Zen and the sexiness of ramen making
Prior to this week, the last time I saw Juzo Itami's 1985 food comedy Tampopo was in the mid-90s. I remembered so little of the movie save for the fact that I enjoyed it. Some isolated scenes are easy to recall, though. There...

Review: Shin Godzilla

Sep 30 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220931:43124:0[/embed] Shin GodzillaDirectors: Hidaeki Anno and Shinji HiguchiRated: NRRelease Date: October 11th, 2016  Much like the original Godzilla (or Gojira) film released in 1954, Shin Godzilla is a natural disaster film through a political thriller lens. When a giant, radioactive monster suddenly rises out the sea and wanders through Tokyo, the Japanese government discusses how to handle the situation. But the focus is on the one lone dissenter, Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), the Deputy Chief who's more interested in saving as many people as possible rather than rise through the political ranks. As he leads a task force, he must now work with the Japanese government members who have their own agendas, an American government with their own ideas as to how to handle the problem (both metaphorically and narratively), and of course, a giant monster slowly getting deadlier as time rolls on.  As you can gauge from the synopsis, Shin Godzilla is light on Godzilla action. It's reflective of that old school Toho mentality where Godzilla is merely a disaster punctuating the human drama. But unlike the similar criticism used against Edwards' Godzilla in 2014, this film makes sure each of those short bursts is treated with the appropriate amount of weight. When Godzilla attacks, or better yet walks, the action is grounded. You see citizens actively reacting to the monster and even witness some of their downfalls. When this Godzilla tears through a building, there's a sense that each of those buildings is populated. Like the film, Godzilla itself moves in a direct way. Using a traditional suit highlighted by CG also helps the titular kaiju feel real. There is an attention to detail that's been missing from the series for quite some time. It's part of the reason the new design is so effective as well. This "Shin" Godzilla radiates with bright reds and oranges, and I've never seen the series' radioactive fire breath be more effective. Watching deep purples giving way to the trademark blue flame crawling up through Godzilla's tail and then out of its mouth is honestly badass.  But the problem with having such a well thought out, weighted Godzilla is the absence felt when not on screen. By leaning so heavily into a political thriller, directors Anno and Higuchi bet everything on human drama. The main problem with this angle, however, is the political stuff isn't all that interesting. There are vague hints of government members who are making decisions in order to protect their own interests, but it neither helps build the world nor is relevant to the overall plot. The attention to detail also works against the team here as a lot of time is spent explaining minor details like evacuation plans or devoted to following down a chain of command as they issue orders. Leading to much of the dialogue feeling like wasted time. To their credit, Anno and Higuchi do their best to make the dialogue heavy scenes easy to digest. Much of the dialogue is framed through quick cuts (leading to these weird moments when characters speak directly to the camera), and little jokes give some of the members much needed personality. But it's not until the titular monster fully evolves does the film choose to evolve as well. Much like the 1954 original, Shin Godzilla is a thinly (then not so thinly) veiled metaphor for nuclear weapons. But before settling on the same commentary on the subject the series has been known for (making for a weak conclusion), directors Anno and Higuchi slip in some experimental commentary never seen in this series. For one, there are several direct references to America's vision of Godzilla. From its name change, as this film adopts "Godzilla" over the traditional "Gojira," to ridiculing American blockbusters' penchant for big, loud solutions to their problems. But oddly enough as the two ridicule Western film making sensibilities, a lot of its themes are adopted here. When the film works best, it lauds itself with a Japanese nationalism mirroring much of American disaster films. The "united we stand" mentality carries the film through its climax and eventually gives way to a cool "rah rah" moment. Which makes it all the more confusing when it reverts back to a somber, "nuclear weapons are bad" tone.  In the end, Shin Godzilla has me torn. While I appreciate a return to the series' deep thematic roots, the film is at its best when it flirts with ideas outside of the norm. It's a clash of old school Toho and modern monster movie filmmaking that ultimately leaves a lot to be desired by film's end. But at the end of the day, Shin Godzilla accomplishes what Toho set out to do. This new Godzilla is fearsome as it is toothsome. It simply beats out the American version with just the fire breath alone.  Regardless of what Toho decides to do with this new Godzilla series moving forward, I'll be there to watch it happen. 
Shin Godzilla Review photo
Godzilla got busy
When Gareth Edwards' take on Godzilla failed to light up screens here in the U.S., Godzilla's parent company, Toho, took the reboot as kind of an insult. Vowing to reclaim their famous monster, Toho unveiled a striking new de...

Tampopo rerelease photo
Tampopo rerelease

Quirky cult Japanese food comedy Tampopo getting 4k restoration and theatrical rerelease


Egg-cellent and egg-quisite
Sep 13
// Hubert Vigilla
To paraphrase Roger Ebert, Juzo Itami's 1985 Japanese comedy Tampopo seems to exist outside of traditional categories. It's a movie I remember enjoying a lot when I rented it in high school, with its oddball exploration of fo...
Digimon  photo
Digimon

New Digimon Movie getting US release


DIGIMON ARE THE CHAMPIONS
Jun 30
// Nick Valdez
If you're one of those kids that watched Digimon on Fox Kids every Saturday morning like me, this next bit of news should excite you. In celebration of the series' 15th anniversary, Toei Animation released their new project, ...

NYAFF Capsule Review: Twisted Justice

Jun 30 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220637:42978:0[/embed] Twisted Justice (日本で一番悪い奴ら)Director: Kazuya ShiraishiRating: NRCountry: Japan 
Twisted Justice Review photo
Missing chapters
It's fascinating to watch a film about the police searching for criminal guns while living in a country where the ubiquity of guns is a constant national conversation. It's something I think about a lot while watching foreign...

Shin Godzilla photo
Shin Godzilla

Japanese trailer for Toho's Shin Godzilla is pretty much a dream come true


"EEEERRRRRRRRRRRNGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH"
Apr 14
// Nick Valdez
When Gareth Edwards and Legendary released a so-so Godzilla, the giant lizard's original creators Toho decided that it wasn't good enough and announced they were working on a Godzilla of their own. A more proper one, per se. ...
Japan Sings! April 8-23 photo
Check out the Japan Sings! series
Japan Society is a great place to catch Japanese cinema here in New York. If you're around in April, you'll definitely want to check out Japan Sings! This film series (curated by Michael Raine) runs from April 8th to April 23...

Review: The Boy and the Beast

Mar 04 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220368:42844:0[/embed] The Boy and the BeastDirector: Mamoru HosodaRelease Date: March 4th, 2016 (limited English dub release) Rating: PG-13 After the death of his mother leaves him in the care of his extended family, Ren (Eric Vale) runs away from home and ends up stranded on the streets of Shibuya. After following a hooded figure he ends up in a secret world of beasts and gods, and after witnessing a fight between two animals squabbling over lordship, he decides to stick around in the world and become a disciple of one of them, Kumatetsu (John Swasey), a red bear man. With both characters in it for their own selfish purposes (Ren, now named Kyuta, doesn't want to go home and Kumatetsu wants to prove he's capable of being a leader), the two must find someway to get along and make each other stronger. The Boy and the Beast is ostensibly a film about growing up, yet it's awesomely a film about coping with one's own selfishness. Rather than the typical monomyth, or hero's journey, the stakes always remain personal despite its grandiose setting. In telling its personal tale, the art of the film is much more subdued than in Hosoda's previous work. It's definitely not the first thing you'd expect upon hearing the premise, but its certainly surprising when the fantastical world the film takes place in feels so grounded. Colors are a bit muted (but not washed out), the film doesn't involve as much action as you'd probably expect from the premise. and despite the mystical nature of the beast world the character designs are more rooted in reality. The beastmen themselves are usually bipedal in nature and have lots of "human like" features with beast accents. Grounding the film like this goes a long way toward making the entire thing more digestible even when it goes off the rails a bit near the end of the film. Above all, the film is absolutely gorgeous. Other than some weird CG use toward the end, it's full of great stylistic choices.  I've spent the past few days just trying to pin down exactly what kind of film The Boy and the Beast is. It's like Digimon, Spirited Away, Kingdom Hearts, and a couple of My Chemical Romance songs had a baby and read it really obscure poetry every night. Suffice to say, this film isn't like anything you've seen before. I'm not even sure how this package holds together so well given all of its zanier ideas, but it just works. Going back to what I said earlier about its atypical monomyth story, Boy and the Beast is a fairy tale about adolescence. Mainly how adolescence often breeds copious bouts of anxiety (and loneliness as a result) when trying to find one's identity. "Lordship" basically equates to some kind of adult responsibility which one would use to truly ascend into well adjusted adulthood. I'd discuss a bit more about it here, but it'd spoil a bit of the movie. But I can say that when Kyuta faces that all important adult question of whether to pursue a different way of life or keep chugging along his current path because that's all he knows, it'll resonate a bit.  But the film doesn't exactly explore these themes perfectly. Subtlety isn't Beast's strong suit. While its two leads are well characterized (they're basically bickering brothers), they do skew the film's effectiveness. The characters don't really move the story forward well enough to follow through on a lot of its ideas, so we're left with a truly confusing and rapidly paced final quarter of the film. The climax just sort of happens without a well established lead in so there's not as much of a connection to it as intended. Speaking to that, pacing is all over the place. Some plots move too quickly to be developed, and other scenes are dragged out further than they need to be. Rather than feel like we're soaking in every aspect of the film and its world, sometimes it feel like I was crawling along in the goo snails leave as they move.  Even if The Boy and the Beast has some story and editing issues, it's definitely one of the more interesting animated films I've seen in some time. It's full of charm and it packs a genuinely emotional wallop. It's full of such crazy ideas that's it's hard not to completely fall in love with this film. It's one of Hosoda's best, if not his most peculiar.  The Boy and the Beast is not, uh, the least. 
Boy and Beast Review photo
Boy, this is a good movie
Mamoru Hosoda is behind some of my favorite animated films: Summer Wars, Wolf Children, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and even The Digimon Movie. His direction always brings what's best about the animation medium to the fo...

Review: Seven Weeks (Nononanananoka)

Dec 04 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220169:42720:0[/embed] Seven Weeks (野のなななのか, Nononanananoka)Director: Nobuhiko ObayashiRelease Date: March 2, 2014 (Japan)Rating: n/aCountry: Japan There's a line in Neil Gaiman's Sandman that goes, "If you keep [stories] going long enough, they always end in death." Ironically, death is also a great place to start a story. When a friend or relative passes away, loved ones gather to mourn and remember, and in the process they find something useful for the future. Seven Weeks opens on a similar note, commemorating the real-life passing of a director before saying that each time someone dies, someone else is born to take his or her place. So stories keep going, and there's death, but it's not necessarily the end; it's more like a continuing historical process. That's the broad shape of Seven Weeks. A family's 92-year-old patriarch, Dr. Suzuki Mitsuo (Shinagawa Toru), passes away, and the film proceeds to explore the town he lives in, his secret past during WWII, and the lives of his surviving family and friends. The film is set in Ashibetsu, a mining town whose population has dwindled as reliance on coal has declined. The characters in the film often have rapid, funny exchanges with one another, especially in the first hour, which plays out with the speed of a screwball comedy. It's not just Mitsuo's surviving family members doing the talking. The ghost of Mitsuo also has a chance to comment on his own life and death, which he does at length. Even though I'm only mildly familiar with the history and politics of post-war Japan, the setting is essential for Obayashi's concerns, which are at once distinctly Japanese and yet also universal. So many of the anxieties of every generation are rooted in the inability to account for a world that's constantly changing. Moving from coal power, Japan settled on nuclear energy, and yet with nuclear power comes a reminder of the atomic bomb and, more recently, the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima. What next, where to go, what to do? When Mitsuo's family brings these concerns up, Seven Weeks feels like a message movie about green energy, albeit a sincere one. The local economy in Ashibetsu isn't what it used to be and may continue to decline, and yet Obayashi lovingly photographs the rural landscape, always finding beauty and grace in the hillsides. It's as if somewhere in the past, in the very soil of this place, there's an answer, or at least a chance for beautiful reflection that can inspire worthwhile solutions. I sensed a few nods to Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries, which is apt. Similar concerns of place and tradition come from a few of Mitsuo's drunk contemporaries, who talk about the loss of a traditional Japanese culture, the west exerting more cultural influence on the country and its youth in the post-war period. Mitsuo's own struggles with the past suggest an unwillingness to let go, haunted by a poem and the memory of a woman. His clinic even has an adjoining local history museum, which suggests different ways and reasons why we hold on to events from our past. Seven Weeks clocks in at nearly three hours. Some long films feel much shorter, but Seven Weeks feels like it's three hours. That's not really a bad thing, but anyone expecting the movie to be brisk will be disappointed. Anyone expecting an experience like Hausu will be especially disappointed. Seven Weeks contains a few flashes of anarchic experimentation like Hausu, but it's mostly a grounded affair given the subject matter. The characters are quirky, but mostly only just. There's a monk who plucks and admires his comically large ear hair, which has a nice payoff in a scene in which one of Mitsuo's grandsons starting picking his own nose hair. A few uses of blue screen and green screen to convey the passing of time and the change in the seasons are jarring since they look spotty, but for the most part there's a slow, deliberate confidence in much of Seven Weeks that reveals an old director in complete control of his material. There's an overture played throughout Seven Weeks by a group of marching ghosts. The spectral musicians are motif I've seen in a few other Japanese movies, though I'm still never quite sure what to make of them. The melody they play is rather charming, and the slow yet beautiful dazzle of the tune seems mirrored in the pace of the film. The ghosts walk the landscape and play their song, and they're a calming presence in Seven Weeks. The whole film has a calming and contemplative presence, in fact, like a grandfather telling a story. Sometimes we drift in and out when listening to the tale, but there are details and textures we recall vividly, and it's just nice to hear that voice.
Review: Seven Weeks photo
Past, present, future
Even though most people in the US know Nobuhiko Obayashi for his 1977 cult classic House (Hausu), he's remained a prolific filmmaker in Japan. His body of work is varied, including the body swap comedy Exchange Students ...

Non-Review: The World of Kanako

Dec 04 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
The World of KanakoDirector: Tetsuya NakashimaRelease Date: December 4th, 2015Country: Japan  The first time someone got raped in The World of Kanako, I knew I wasn't going to like the movie. I've written about rape too many goddamn times, and I'm not going to go into another tirade on the subject. I knew when the first rape happened (one committed by the protagonist, no less) that this was not a movie I was going to like. But I kept watching. The second time, the film lost me. I didn't "forgive" the first one, but there's something kind of magnetic about Kanako. I wanted to forgive it because of that magnetism. But the second rape is more horrific than the first, both visually and contextually. It's also one that drives the rest of the narrative forward. In that sense, it's "important" in a way the first rape is not. On some level that makes it "okay." But on every other level? Nope. The third time, that dislike turned to hate. I had been waffling on whether or not I "hated" the film for a while leading up to that moment. I was thinking I probably did, but I didn't feel the passion. Some part of me really wanted to like the film, for reasons I don't fully understand. But the third rape clinched it. The passion was ignited. "Fuck this movie," I thought. But I kept watching. So I could write this review. Or, I guess this non-review. Because there's no score at the end. Only regrets.  I spent a lot of The World of Kanako thinking about other movies and my reactions to those movies. I also thought about other peoples' reactions to those movies. I thought about Lesson of the Evil, a film which Fangoria's Michael Gingold found morally abhorrent. He hated it. I kinda liked it. I understood where he was coming from, though. The content is such that it's an easy movie to hate (in America especially (and now especially especially)). But there was something about Takashi Miike's style that just won me over. I didn't like the fact that I kinda liked a movie about massacring school children, but I couldn't deny just how well-crafted the film was. My technical appreciation overrode my conceptual disgust. The World of Kanako is also very well made. It's fascinating, structurally. I think I would need to watch it at least seven times to truly understand what I saw, because the jumping timelines and differing viewpoints and legitimately schizophrenic protagonist all serve to make a film that is a mindfuck at best, possibly completely opaque. It's pretty, and though the editing is exhausting, I can't deny its style. There's a flair to the whole production that I wanted to love, but here the content . It wasn't just the rape, either, though that certainly factored into it heavily. The characters across the board are terrible, and though that's kinda the point, it doesn't mean I have to like it. I don't have to bring myself down to the film's level to judge it. I can sit on my high horse and simply toss it aside. I thought about Hard Romanticker, a film I also hated. I opened that review by comparing it to a much older film called The Cruel Story of Youth . The final line of the intro to that review: "I hated The Cruel Story of Youth." (I guess things haven't changed much in the past three and a half years.) But the reason I thought about Hard Romanticker wasn't because I hated it; it was because other people really liked it. I couldn't understand why. I still can't. I think it's an objectively bad movie about bad characters doing bad things. It's irredeemable. But people liked it. Maybe they were drawn to its irredeemability. I don't know. Likewise, there will be people who like The World of Kanako. Maybe they'll be drawn into it the way I was with Lesson of the Evil. Maybe they're the same people who like Hard Romanticker. I don't know. I guess I can see the allure, but I can't see how they aren't repulsed. I thought about a lot of movies for a lot of reasons, most of them Japanese. This film is very Japanese, for better and for worse. Oftentimes I like that. Sometimes I love it. And sometimes I hate it. Sometimes the cultural divide is too big, and I can't even be bothered to try to bridge it. This is one of those times. I could go on... but I don't see the point. The things it does well (and it does do some things well) don't matter. It's almost like The World of Kanako wants to be hated. Mission accomplished.
The World of Kanako photo
Cool story, bro.
I haven't hated a movie in a very long time. It's happened (oh it has happened), but it takes a certain special something to bring me over from annoyance or general dislike into sheer, visceral hatred.  The World of Kanako has that special something. It has it in spades. It is a film that cannot really be considered "bad." But it can absolutely be considered The Worst.

Nobuhiko Obayashi: The Strange, the Sweet, and the Childlike

Nov 20 // Hubert Vigilla
In Alec's Cult Club piece on Hausu, he hinged some of his observations on the childlike approach to the film. Originally intended as a remake of Jaws, Obayashi went entirely in his own direction, blending his background in experimental filmmaking with the imagery of soap operas, melodramas, youth pictures, and colorful horror films. (I'd still love to see a Jaws remake done in the style of Hausu.) Obayashi turned to his 10-year-old daughter for the film's story, and it feels like the sort of story a 10-year-old would tell. There's a haunted house that eats people, and a bunch of school girls are its prey. Spooky and surreal things happen. And then Noodle Bear. I mentioned last week that Hausu feels like the fever dream of an imaginative child who's really into Scooby-Doo and Mario Bava. The events unfold with the logic of the subconscious, as Obayashi fills the film with his young daughter's fears. It's an anarchic film, a story told without an expectation of adult rules since the film is mostly about young girls fending for themselves and using their own skills and ingenuity to do it. The finished movie is like the work of a child rooting through an upended box of art supplies and being asked to make a pretty picture. And what a pretty picture. What's striking about Hausu is how the movie seems stitched together by the childlike conjunction "and then"--they went to the house and then Mac's head flew around and then the piano ate a girl and then Kung Fu jumpkicked stuff and then the man turned into bananas and then there was a flood. It's a flow of strange ideas, and if a 10-year-old girl told it to you, the stream would only be interrupted for the occasional impish giggle and a brief fit of hyperventilation to catch a breath. I Are You, You Am Me (転校生, Tenkousei) is a much quieter and down-to-earth film adapted from a novel by Hisashi Yamanaka. Sure, almost any film is much quieter and down-to-earth than Hausu, but I get a sense that I Are You is less like a movie told by a 10-year-old and more like a movie made by an adult who's taking a thoughtful look back at what it was like to be 14. I Are You is something of an adolescent minor-masterpiece, a coming-of-age story built on one of the great comedy sub-genres of the 70s and 80s: the body-swap movie. Rather than swap roles of parent and child, I Are You switches the minds of a boy named Kazuo and a girl named Kazumi during the awkward early teen years. Seeing the two child leads "act male" (snips and snails and puppy dogs' tails) and "act female" (sugar and spice and everything nice) is pretty fascinating, particularly given how gender norms have become more fluid over time, but almost all ideas of maleness and femaleness are products of their time and culture, and so the gender norms in the film are no exception. (Tangent: Maybe there's an era-specific nature to the body-swap genre? Decades when the world started to become more interconnected and the earth a little flatter?) I Are You predominantly centers on Kazuo's mind in Kazumi's body, which might be a kind of stand-in for Obayashi himself as he tries to inhabit the world of adolescence again and what it's like to be a young girl. Young actress Satomi Kobayashi has solid body language playing a guy, sort of like Hausu's Kung Fu by way of Tom Sawyer. By contrast, Kazumi's mind in Kazuo's body is meek and out of sorts, with more than a hint of deep depression. Before the body swap happened, Kazumi was a happy transfer student who's new in town. Now she's been unmoored from her own body, and she may have to move away with Kazuo's family. That unanchored, life-in-flux state is part of growing up, but here its given more metaphorical heaviness. Much of I Are You is goofy, but it arrives at a beautiful, wistful tone by the final half hour. Many coming-of-age stories are defined by a lesson that equips a child for the adult world. In I Are You, it's all about the beauty of empathy. Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, and the Seacoast (野ゆき山ゆき海べゆき, No Yuki Yama Yuki Umibe Yuki) is also a great film, and also its own animal, which speaks to Obayashi's diverse range as a filmmaker and the concerns he has as a storyteller. It's a period piece set right before World War II, focused predominantly on the lives of the children of a town as a counterpoint to the poisonous nationalism, militarism, and conformity of the adults. It's a type of coming-of-age film about empathy, and yet it's done in a style reminiscent of Yasujiro Ozu, with balanced compositions and characters looking right into the camera as they recite their lines. In terms of weirdness, Bound for the Fields splits the difference between Hausu and I Are You, like a break in the child world of experience and the adult world. Obayashi continually finds surreal, fantastical moments to play with and locates that beating human heart in the scene. When a young woman meets with a lover at night to discuss running away--she's going to be sold to a brothel, he's been conscripted into the Japanese military--there's a pair of extras above them at a dock playing with sparklers. As we come in for the two-shot of the couple, the foreground becomes filled with sparks. It's a beautiful bit of romantic dazzle. By focusing on children in Bound for the Fields, Obayashi is able to critique the absurdities and horrors of war and also the underlying creepiness of playing war as a child. As the kids simulate a battle, they chuck rocks at one another. It's fun and games, but as their bodies lay flat to play dead, it can't help but evoke thoughts of the real and forthcoming horrors of WWII; the same goes when watching the kids tied up playing prisoner and tortured enemy combatant. As the factions of children join together to save a boy's sister-in-law from life in a brothel, they come up with a type of game that doubles as a rescue mission. It reminded me of the weird solution that Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer have for getting Jim out of his jam. Mark Twain did that rescue as a farce because, as George Saunders mentioned in an essay, the ugly and logical reality of what would have happened to Jim had it not been a farce would be too dark to handle in a comic novel. Obayashi, on the other hand, takes the light and the dark of the situation, blending farce with painful social commentary. As a coming-of-age-story, Bound for the Fields deals with the way children confront the ugliness of the adult world, and also the realization that it's a world they'll eventually join.
Nobuhiko Obayashi photo
Youthful Anarchism vs. The Adult World
The largest retrospective of Nobuhiko Obayashi's work in the United States kicks off tonight at The Japan Society with a screening of House (Hausu). Hausu is Obayashi's best known work in the US, and probably the only one of ...

Hausu director in NYC photo
Largest US retrospective of the director
Nobuhiko Obayashi's Hausu (House) is a favorite here at Flixist. (Alec did a great Cult Club piece on it a few years back.) It's a bit like the fever dream of an imaginative child who's really into Scooby-Doo and Mario Bava. ...

Star Wars Japanese photo
Star Wars Japanese

Japanese trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens features new footage


Get your fix, Star Wars junkies
Nov 06
// Hubert Vigilla
The final domestic trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn't the last trailer for the movie. A Japanese trailer for the film has popped up online, and it's got all-new footage for you Star Wars junkies to enjoy. Check it...

Review: Attack on Titan

Oct 29 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220069:42671:0[/embed] Attack on Titan: Parts 1 & 2Director: Shinji HiguchiRated: NRRelease Date: October 20, 22, and 27th, 2015 (limited) Attack on Titan (split into two 90 minute parts released a few months from one another) is the story of a small walled off city that's constantly being attacked by giant, grotesque man eating monsters known as the Titans. After a surprise attack leaves their city devastated, two boys, named Eren (Hamura Miura) and Armin (Kanata Hongo), join the military in order to fight them. Also, their friend Mikasa (Kiko Mizuhara), who was once thought to be eaten before being saved by super soldier Shikishima (Hiroki Hasegawa), is also there and very angsty. Then follows are soldier on titan fights, titan on titan fights, and lots of poorly conceived military conspiracy intrigue. I don't have a lot of experience with the original comics, but that's okay since the two films are their own entity and venture into different paths than the stories fans may be familiar with. The stories of the films have to end, after all, and who knows when the comics will do the same.  The first thing you'll notice about Attack on Titan is how great it all looks. Part 1 opens spectacularly as the initial titan attack is well storyboarded and the action flows well from scene to scene. It gives the titans an appropriate horrific weight despite how ridiculous some of them look. Rather than choose to go CG (the terrible green screen actions scenes later in the films notwithstanding), the titans are all people in body skin suits akin to Toho's Godzilla or a very gloomy episode of the Power Rangers. You'd figure it was a low budget shortcut, but it works. Thanks to using actual actors, we're given a chance to sink in to the titans' emotions rather than be distracted by the film's spotty CG. It's just that nothing in these films ever looks as good as the opening scene again.  I'd be willing to forgive the wonky effects had the rest of the film worked, but sadly that's also a problem. I'm not sure what's to blame here. Whether the two films are victims of adaptation, translation, or even the property's fandom, but nothing in the two films makes any sense. Although the film chooses to create its own narrative, it still bases some of the films' bigger scenes on scenes from the comics. But the problem with cherry picking key scenes in order to please its fans, is that without adapting the rest of the story those scenes won't make sense. It's also thanks to the films' short runtimes that everything moves at too brisk a pace to keep up with or even care about in the slightest. Like Eren, for instance. First he's got this plot about wanting to escape from the walls, to suddenly pulling an Ultraman and becoming a giant himself, to suddenly hatching a plot to blow up the walls with a discarded H-bomb. And within all of that, he's still got Mikasa's random angst to deal with. No character is developed well enough, and there're so many that none of them have any chance to leave a lasting impression.  The biggest flaw with either of these films was I couldn't really separate the two from one another. I initially wanted to review each part much akin to Hollywood films like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, but neither part was substantial enough to warrant its own discussion. It only seemed fair to the film to just take it all in as one entity since the majority of the plot and backstory waits in part two, while the visual budget was clearly all exhausted back in part one. I'm not sure how these films were shot, but it's clear that by the end of part two, they had pretty much used all the money at their disposal. The film's big finale looked absolutely ridiculous. And since there isn't any real narrative reason to stay invested, it's all just a wash. At least the acting was good. I didn't personally note any bad performances, and even if an actor was chewing the scenery, they all tried their best. Bringing it back around to my Titanic metaphor earlier, it's like the cast was the string quartet composing a soundtrack for their imminent doom.  But at the end of the day, I understand the film isn't for me. But it really isn't for fans of the Attack on Titan series either. In fact, it may even be more of a detriment to the fandom itself. It's a hollow adaptation that only chooses particular moments from the story in order to manipulate the fans. They want the fans to go out and see the film, talk about seeing their favorite anime/comic scene in live action and hope those same fans ignore everything else.  A fan's worst nightmare is to see their favorite stories and characters wrung through an unrecognizable filter, and that's exactly what Attack on Titan is. I don't think that's the kind of horror the film wanted to embody. 
Attack on Titan Review photo
Sinking ship
Much like how you'll see films based on comics like Marvel's Avengers or DC's Dark Knight Trilogy, manga comics get a huge following back in Japan they don't get here domestically. One of the biggest releases from the last fe...

GOJIRA! (GODZILLA!) photo
GOJIRA! (GODZILLA!)

New Japanese Godzilla movie in the works from Toho Studios


Gojira vs. Godzilla
Sep 18
// Hubert Vigilla
Gareth Edwards' Godzilla got generally positive reviews and did good business at the box office, grossing $521.9 million worldwide. And yet the American Godzilla was full of boring humans (except for Bryan Cranston) who got i...
Studio Ghibli photo
Studio Ghibli

Ghibli film Only Yesterday is getting a new English release on its 25th anniversary


What's old is new again
Aug 24
// John-Charles Holmes
You kids have it so easy with your anime these days-- if there's any show or movie you want to see, it's already up online in a few days with fully fleshed out fan-subs. Back in the day, we only got what the big licensing com...
Masaaki Yuasa photo
Masaaki Yuasa

PSA: Mind Game and other STUDIO4℃ classics heading to Netflix next week


For the love of god, watch Mind Game
Aug 24
// John-Charles Holmes
The Japanese animation company STUDIO4℃ recently announced that they're going to be bringing an entire slew of animated movies and anime series to Netflix starting next week. The highlight of the update includes directo...

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