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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...


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...

Review: Dragonball Z: Resurrection 'F'

Aug 04 // Nick Valdez
[embed]219696:42515:0[/embed] Dragonball Z: Resurrection 'F'Director: Tadayoshi YamamuroRated: NRRelease Date: August 4-12, 2015 Sometime after the events of the last film Dragonball Z: Battle of Gods, and a few years after the end of Dragonball Z, the remaining commanders in Frieza's army use the titular dragonballs (seven mystical items that grant anyone who collects them two wishes) to bring the long dead villain, Frieza (Chris Ayres), back to life. Seeking revenge against Goku (Sean Schemmel) for his loss, Frieza trains for a few months for their ultimate showdown. Now that Goku, Vegeta (Christopher Sabat), and Frieza have reached a new level of power, it's time for them to settle years of regret and anger. That's quite a bit of story for an hour of punches, right? That's exactly why the film deserves your attention.  I should state this right off the bat: There isn't a lot to attach to if you're not a regular fan of the series. It's made with a certain demographic in mind, and because of that, there's quite a hurdle to overcome. Not narratively, as what little story therein is easy to follow for both newcomers and old fans of the series drawn for a nostalgic romp, but grasping what exactly Dragonball Z is and why the film's conflict is so special. In terms of introductions, however, there isn't a better encapsulation of the series' tone and characters. So to make this review easier, the rest of this will be written with the intended audience and fans in mind.  There have been numerous Dragonball films over the years, but they've all been non-sequitur works which never tied into the series proper. Resurrection benefits from both past and future influences, and it gives the punches thrown in the film (which you can always argue as superfluous) added weight. The film's enemy, Frieza, isn't some random alien or purple cat god, it's a villain with an entire "saga" worth of backstory and thankfully the character work done here can pull from it. In fact, the villain's even a bit sympathetic as you realize he's just a privileged kid who lost for the first time. The film wonderfully highlights this as Frieza becomes more and more visibly frustrated as the film rolls on (which is why he's one of the better villains of the series). Goku and Vegeta also get some great character work in as Resurrection takes their arcs to the next logical step. Now that they've grown to such a power level they're essentially gods, Goku is now an awesomely condescending fighter brimming with confidence. And although the finale takes away a huge moment for Vegeta (that could've settled a series long character arc, but runs from it) Vegeta and Goku have some great bits with one another. There're also some nice scenes for the rest of the "Z Fighter" gang who're usually pushed to the sidelines. After some explanation (which actually makes sense story wise), every one is on an equal playing field. And without dragging in some of the weaker cast, each fighter gets a chance to shine. It's going to be a major pleasure for fans to see these guys back in action, for sure.  On the technical end, the film is absolutely gorgeous. Fully representative of the series, the fights take characters through various landscapes instead of the standard cliffs you'd usually see, movement is slick, and as one of the last proponents for traditional hand drawn animation it's great to see it succeed fully. Other than some odd looking CG that really take you out of the moment, the main fight between Goku and Frieza is a Dragonball fan's dream. I wish the fight between the two would've looked this way all those years ago.  While it's definitely not for everyone, Dragonball Z: Resurrection 'F' hits all the high points with the folks it's meant for. Capturing both the spirit of the original series and hope for the future, this is a full blown revival. Dragonball used to dominate action cartoons, and it's come back to take the crown once more.  Neither gods, hundred strong armies, or golden alien super monsters can stop this juggernaut. 
Dragonball Z Review photo
A legend reborn
Dragonball Z holds a special place in my heart. It was my first experience with more adult oriented action shows, and it changed my childhood for the better. All these years later, here's a brand new movie featuring one of th...

Naruto photo

Believe it, a live action Naruto adaptation is in the works

Aug 03
// Nick Valdez
In an effort to make everything you've ever possibly loved into a movie, the searched has moved over to Japan and its ever growing collection of manga comics and anime. One of the more famous over there, Naruto, a comic serie...

Japan Cuts Capsule Review: Pieta in the Toilet

Jul 23 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219688:42498:0[/embed] Pieta in the Toilet (Toire No Pieta | トイレのピエタ)Director: Daishi MatsunagaCountry: Japan 
Pieta in the Toilet photo
Don't let the name fool you
Pieta in The Toilet is done a disservice by its name. From the country that brought us Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead, there are certain expectations that come with a name of that sort. And the use of such a well-known religi...

Japan Cuts Capsule Review: Strayer's Chronicle

Jul 22 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219670:42496:0[/embed] Strayer's Chronicle (Sutoreiyazu Kuronikuru | ストレイヤーズ・クロニクル)Director: Takahisa ZezeCountry: Japan 
Strayer's Chronicle photo
X-Men for nihilists
It's hard to make a rip-off of X-Men without hundreds of millions of dollars to back up the production. With a relatively minimal budget, any version of the mutants with superpowers who have to fight other mutants with (bette...

NYAFF Capsule Review: Kabukicho Love Hotel

Jul 22 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219626:42495:0[/embed] Kabukicho Love Hotel (Sayonara Kabukicho | さよなら歌舞伎町)Director: Ryuichi HirokiCountry: Japan 
Kabukicho Love Hotel photo
No hope for the hopeless
When director Ryuichi Hiroki came out to introduce Kabukicho Love Hotel, he said something to the effect of, “Please stay through the credits. After the credits, you will see some hope.” It wasn’t really adv...

Japan Cuts Capsule Review: I Alone

Jul 21 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219665:42490:0[/embed] I Alone (この世で俺/僕だけ | Kono yo de ore/Boku dake)Director: Sho TsukikawaCountry: Japan 
I Alone Review photo
Save the baby
I Alone is a film about a lot of things. It's about political corruption and kidnapping, sure, but it's also about responsibility and staying true to one's own beliefs. It's about fighting until the bitter end, because i...

NYAFF Capsule Review: Chasuke's Journey

Jul 13 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219663:42484:0[/embed] Chasuke's Journey (天の茶助 | Ten no Chasuke)Director: SabuCountry: Japan 
Chasuke's Journey photo
Mr. Angel's Screenwriting Workshop
Chasuke’s Journey is an indictment of dramatic shortcuts in writing. The head tea server in heaven works among the screenwriters who decide the fates of everyone below, but their stories are trite. The immortal one who ...

NYAFF Capsule Review: Nowhere Girl

Jul 13 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219660:42485:0[/embed] Nowhere Girl (Tōkyō Mukokuseki Shōjo | 東京無国籍少女)Director: Mamoru OshiiCountry: Japan 
Nowhere Girl Review photo
Whup whup whup whup
New York Asian Film Festival co-programmer Samuel Jamier has a tendency to describe films as “interesting,” and he will sometimes say the word five times in half as many minutes when introducing them. He didn&rsqu...

NYAFF Review: Tokyo Tribe

Jul 07 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219610:42463:0[/embed] Tokyo TribeDirector: Sion SonoRating: NRCountry: Japan  If you asked a small child to describe to you what they thought when they heard the phrase "rap battle," you'd probably get something like Tokyo Tribe. This isn't a film about a few MCs spittin' some ill beats in order to prove themselves and ultimately win the respect of their peers; it's a film about a city ravaged by rap-related crime and the ultimate gang war that breaks out. And much of the dialogue spoken between the characters flows against the thumping beats that back the entire film. It's a rap musical; it's a martial arts action film; and it's a sardonic comedy eviscerating systemic issues with Japanese culture. It's everything you could possibly want it to be and a whole lot more shoved into just two hours of screentime. (It's also a manga adaptation. Shocker, that.) I honestly wonder who will find the music more grating: people who hate rap, or those who love it. It's pretty obvious why the former would hate it, but the latter is the more interesting thing to discuss. This is a film that clearly has reverence for rap music, but more often than not it makes a pretty poor case for the genre. Rapping is hard. (I should know. My dream is to be a white rapper some day, but I'm terrible at it, and it definitely won't happen.) I get the impression that a lot of people don't appreciate the linguistic ability and agility required to really get some funky fresh rhymes going. Unfortunately, those are things the general cast of Tokyo Tribe lack. When the credits rolled, a couple of Japanese names (written in Japanese letters) were followed by "Young Dais." I'd been expecting something like that, because I knew right off the bat that Kai, the head of the Peace and Love gang, was actually a rapper. Everyone else had an awkwardness to their rhythm that Kai had on point from start to finish. Everyone else was amateur by comparison. And yeah, of course they were. They're actors, and he's a rapper for one of Japan's various boy bands. It was a good casting choice, but it made me wish that there were more rappers and fewer actors. (There were some others that were clearly rappers as well (I particularly liked the heads of the female gang), but they weren't crucial to the story and didn't get much screentime.) Sion Sono has played up style at the expense of substance in the past, but never so dramatically as here. Tokyo Tribes oozes more character from an average frame than most films in their runtime. Whether it’s the ridiculous and elaborate sets or the bizarre image distortions and lens flares (or a combination of the two), this is a movie that is distinctive and memorable. Love it or hate it, you cannot deny it. You don’t forget that you’ve seen a movie like Tokyo Tribes. You can’t, unless you legitimately have a memory disorder. And if you do… well, you’ll get to see it for the first time all over again, and there’s something magical about that too.  But, of course, form can overtake function, and that undoubtedly happens here. During the film’s final confrontation, one of the characters raps The Point of the movie, and I nearly said (out loud), “Oh! So it’s a film with a message.” It wasn’t funny then, and it’s not funny now, but up until that moment the film wasn’t building up to anything other than a battle. I mean, there’s a “Good vs. Evil” thing in the sense that the bad guys hate Kai's gang because of the peace and love thing, but that never feels like more than a way to artificially build conflict. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but to pretend at the 11th hour that this was all in service of something? Come on.  The only time when style gets away from the film is in the moments of pathetically poor CGI. There are a few moments where it’s so blatantly fake that the veracity of the moment is ruined. You have to suspend a whole lot of disbelief in order to get into this movie, but there’s still a limit. A tank that looks like something a child would make in a My First AutoCAD class is that limit. And it’s not just that tank, though that’s the most obvious example of it. What’s worse is the blood. In the past, Sion Sono films have been horrifyingly bloody, but the blood was real. It felt like a thing that existed in the film. My only real problem with Why Don’t You Play in Hell? was that it took the easy way out on occasion (and lower-budget Asian cinema clearly hasn’t figured out digital blood sprays yet (come on guys, Fincher had this shit down in 2007)). But here it's worse, because even if the initial spray in his previous film was sometimes faked, at least the blood staining the floors and the people after the fact were real. The moment could be forgiven in service of the greater good. Not so here. The film verges on being bloodless, because the red stuff has no feel to it. It's just an effect lazily thrown onto the screen a few times and then forgotten about. But those are all relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. People have said that Tokyo Tribes is too much of a good thing, and I don't think that's quite accurate. It's not too much of a good thing, because it's too many things to be too much of any one of them This film throws the proverbial kitchen sink at the screen and does so with an ungodly amount of technical flair. When you get sick of rapping, it turns into a (fantastic) action movie. The punches may not always land, and the wirework is very clearly wirework, but ya know what? It's freaking awesome. And then there's more rapping. And then there's some rapping and fighting. And it's all awesome. A plausible argument could be made that there's just too much movie, that it could have been cut down by 20 or 30 minutes without much narrative impact. But to what end? The content of the film is nothing if not excessive. Why shouldn't the film itself embody that as well?
Tokyo Tribe Review photo
Well then.
My favorite film to play at last year's New York Asian Film Festival was Sion Sono's cinematic love-letter/masterpiece Why Don't You Play in Hell?. It's a spectacular film, and now that it's seen a domestic release, y'all hav...

DBZ Trailer  photo
DBZ Trailer

Goku has blue hair in newest Dragonball Z: Resurrection of F Trailer

Super Saiyan God Super Patti Mayonnaise
Jun 29
// Nick Valdez
With a new Dragonball TV series taking up after the events of this film, I'm pretty pumped for Dragonball Z: Resurrection of F. The sequel to last year's Battle of Gods where Goku achieves the "Super Saiyan God" form that com...
Japan Cuts 2015 photo
Japan Cuts 2015

2015 Japan Cuts Film Festival lineup unveiled

And it's pretty flipping cool
Jun 05
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
One of the best parts about being an Asian film lover in New York is the late-June-through-mid-July run of Asian-centric festivals. The second half of that time is taken up by the Japan Cuts Film Festival, a showcase at the N...
Death Note  photo
Death Note

Death Note film gets kickass director

Apr 28
// Nick Valdez
If you're not aware the American adaptation of Death Note, a manga about a kid finding a book that magically kills people when you write their name in it, has been floating around for quite some time. The last we heard of thi...

First trailer for Takashi Miike's Yakuza Apocalypse

It's weird and then it gets weirder
Apr 24
// Matthew Razak
Yakuza, vampires, Takashi Miike and Yayan Ruhian from The Raid and Raid 2? You're sold, I know, but there's also a really weird trailer above that will sell you even more on Yakuza Apocaplyse: The Great War of the Undergroun...
Boy and Beast photo
Boy and Beast

First trailer for Mamoru Hosoda's next anime film, The Boy and The Beast

Apr 23
// Nick Valdez
Mamaro Hosoda's films are always triumphs of animation. Known for Wolf Children, Summer Wars, and even The Digimon Movie, his films have a distinct and flowing art style that's always very pleasing to the eye. On top of that,...

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, ...

When Marnie Was There photo
When Marnie Was There

Here's the US Trailer for Ghibli's When Marnie Was There

Apr 17
// Nick Valdez
Since Studio Ghibli is still stuck in purgatory, and haven't announced a new feature since all of that financial weirdness reared its ugly head some time ago, When Marnie Was There might possibly be the studio's final film. ...
Dragonball Z photo
Dragonball Z

First trailer for Dragonball Z: Fukkatsu no F features a golden Frieza

Mar 03
// Nick Valdez
I don't think I've ever talked about it here, but Dragonball Z: Battle of Gods was one of the funnest animated films I saw last year. Didn't give it enough credit because it was essentially an hour of a dude punching a giant...

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...

Rurouni Kenshin photo
Rurouni Kenshin

Newest Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends trailer is on fire

Feb 19
// Nick Valdez
I'm not a huge anime or manga fan (I'll stick to One Piece thank you very much), but I really dug Rurouni Kenshin and the films adapted from the series. The story of a former assassin who's turned a new leaf and refuses to k...

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...


Japan's Godzilla to return as Toho announces new film

This better be a rubber suit or I'm done with you, Japan
Dec 08
// Matthew Razak
Big news (get it?) out of Japan today as Toho, the wonderful folks behind every Godzilla film that used large rubber suits has announced they will be bringing the giant lizard back once again. This will be the first non-...

Review: Why Don't You Play in Hell?

Nov 05 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]217995:41667:0[/embed] Why Don't You Play in Hell? (地獄でなぜ悪い Why don’t you play in hell?)Director: Sion SonoRelease Date: November 7, 2014 (Theatrical and VOD)Rating: 18+Country: Japan If you haven't been on an actual set, seeing a movie about making movies can be kind of intimidating. Films about any industry have the potential to alienate viewers unfamiliar with them, but simply by virtue of the medium, films about films are particularly capable of turning people off. Much of Why Don't You Play in Hell? takes place on film sets, and for a while I was worried that that might create a film that would push away audiences who might otherwise be drawn in by the fact that it's so totally and completely insane. But then I realized something crucial: Why Don't You Play in Hell? isn't really about making movies. It's about the desire to make movies. And I think that's something that most people have had at least once in their life. Maybe when they were younger they picked up a camera and made something dumb with their friends; maybe they walked out of a movie and had an amazing idea of their own that goes nowhere. Those people can't necessarily relate to the creation of a movie, but they can relate to that fundamental desire. And everyone can relate to the need to make something great. This isn't about getting a paycheck; it's about art (or something like it). Whether it's writing the next Great American Novel, developing a new type of string cheese, or Kickstarting Citizen Kane 2: Rosebud's Return, every person has felt the drive to create something. Many people may never take it there, but that makes seeing someone beat the odds and truly succeed all the more satisfying. So let's talk about crazy. Yesterday, we posted our review of R100, which began with a discussion of Twitch founder Todd Brown's decision to eat his shirt. It was a bet he made because he saw Why Don't You Play in Hell? and couldn't fathom anything being even half as crazy. He was wrong, obviously, but it points to just how crazy Sion Sono's film is. Earlier I was talking with someone who said that it is one of the few films that truly can't be classified into a genre. And he's right, because it is a little bit of everything. It's like the Babymetal of movies, and I mean on a technical and conceptual level. If you know Babymetal, you'll get what I mean. If you don't, you're welcome. That music video is Why Don't You Play in Hell? in a nutshell. It's ridiculous, exceedingly Japanese, and absolutely perfect. But not perfect in the way Bad Film is perfect. It's something more. You see, the beauty of Bad Film is the fact that it exists. Against all odds, it's a movie that was finished and then released. Yes, it's riddled with problems, but the sheer fact that I sat in a theater and saw it completely blew my mind. But the reality is that it's a film that requires an audience and a theater. Without the pomp and circumstance of that movie-going experience, the sheer brilliance and insanity of it doesn't really register. My recommendation of Why Don't You Play in Hell? comes with no such caveats. While it's undoubtedly a film that could benefit from a crowd, it could be enjoyed in any scenario. On a first date with the girl of your dreams? Why Don't You Play in Hell? Suffering from some horrible disease and looking for a cinematic respite? Why Don't You Play in Hell? Stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and trying not to turn your road rage into a segment on the nightly news? Why Don't you Play in Hell?  There are exactly zero circumstances under which watching Why Don't You Play in Hell? is not the best possible thing you could be doing. So why are you still reading this? Seriously. Close your computer or throw your phone in a river and go see the movie. And if there's no screening within a 300 mile radius of you, you know what you should do? Make your own goddamn movie.
Why Not Play in Hell? photo
The Babymetal of movies
Last year, Japan Cuts played Sion Sono's Bad Film, a project filmed back in 1995 but not finished until 2012. In my non-review of the film, I unequivocally called it a masterpiece, and I stand by every word. It is a labo...

Sexy Freddy vs. Jason photo
Sexy Freddy vs. Jason

NYCC: So... someone made "sexy" female Freddy vs. Jason figurines

But I'd totally pay to see this movie.
Oct 12
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
You know what I've never once thought? "There should be female versions of Freddie Krueger and Jason Vorhees!" And even if I had, I certainly wouldn't have followed that thought with, "Let's put them in skimpy outfits and sex...

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