japan

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
Naruto

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


Dattebayo
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...
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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


FREEZER FREEZER FREEZER
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...

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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...
Japan Society Screenings photo
Japan Society Screenings

Dark Side of the Sun film series playing at New York's Japan Society


Monthly series running from October to February
Oct 08
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
New York's Japan Society is awesome. I love the annual Japan Cuts film festival, and while it's definitely their biggest film-related event, there's a lot of other cool film-related (and not film-related) stuff that goes on t...
Rurouni Kenshin photo
Rurouni Kenshin

Trailer for final Rurouni Kenshin film, The Legend Ends


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

Fantasia Review: Live (Raivu)

Aug 02 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218140:41727:0[/embed] Live (Raivu | ライヴ)Director: Noboru IguchiRating: NRCountry: Japan  Live (pronounced "lyv" not "lihv") is a new take on an adaptation. Rather than really basing his script on Yusuke Yamada novel of the same name, Iguchi's film uses the book as an integral part of the plot. Naoto Tamura is a not-very-nice person who is forced to finally care about someone when a garbled voice calls him one day and tells him his mother will be killed if he doesn't follow instructions. As proof, he is sent a live feed of his mother in a dark room and men with covered faces holding needles full of poison. (Isn't technology great?) The instructions are simple: Find him. How is Naoto supposed to do that? Why, by reading Yusuke Yamada's novel, of course. The mysterious person on the other side of the phone has effectively recreated the situation in the book, a deadly "triathlon" reminiscent of Battle Royale, and Naoto is not the only player in the game. As he reaches the first destination (note: the book's protagonist is also named Naoto Tamura), he runs into a number of other people running around with copies of Live in their hands. Each and every one of them was given the same order, or a loved one would be poisoned, and so they've all got their phones open to their respective live feeds. (This operation is clearly a big one.) But things take a turn once people start dying. Not the people on the live feeds, the people reading the book. The first death is an accident, a woman's head is crushed in an almost Final Destination-like fashion, set off by an unfortunate chain of events. (The catalyst, by the way, was an exceedingly short miniskirt given to her by the game's director as part of the uniform. Obligatory up-skirt shots are in abundance in the following minutes. (And shots of female behinds are found throughout.)) Soon, though, the accidents are replaced by straight up murders (and the occasional accident). And while I was hoping for some real Rube Goldberg-esque kills, what I got was a bit more straight foward (but no less ridiculous). Eventually, of course, the various people in this game turn on each other, and the director arms them well. In an elevator, beside the only bike in the film (it's a triathlon in name only) are a whole bunch of weapons. And once people get their hands on them, all hell breaks loose. The violence in Live straddles the fine line between funny-stupid and stupid-stupid. There is just enough imagination to keep things fresh throughout and the moments before and after are usually pretty funny (I laughed often and loudly), but the actual implementation leaves much to be desired. Ranged weapons use CGI ammunition and the more dangerous close range weapons cause CGI bloodsprays. The film usually then cuts to a prosthetic or other practical effect, but at the point of contact it just looks bad. It doesn't help that the fight choreography is bland at best. While there's no reason to think that this rag-tag gang would be able to pull off intense fights, the attempts at creating such scenes comes off as laughably bad. Not funny-stupid, just stupid-stupid. So I said this film is reasonably accessible, and I stand by that statement. The premise is crazy, but it's also really not that over the top in the grand scheme of Iguchi's works. Person being told by a voice in his ear what to do, lest someone he loves dies? That's positively Hollywood. Not good Hollywood, but definitely the kind of junk you'd see come from a smaller studio. Live is better than that junk. It's obviously got its Japanese quirks (Iguchi is all about the Japanese quirks), but it's pretty easy to follow along, despite its large cast. And while a couple of things happen that go a bit too far off the deep end (see header image), for the most part it's oddly logical. In fact, for most of the film the weirdest thing is just how bad everyone's aim seems to be (I think if you find fifteen crossbow bolts, you'd hit something. Even by accident.) While this isn't a film for everyone, it could serve as a reasonable introduction to the stranger side of Japanese cinema. The low quality CGI/silly look practical effects mean that its over-the-top violence never takes a turn for the sickening. Plus, it's a comedy at heart and the jokes hit more often than they don't. Having never read Yusuke Yamada's original book, I don't know just how well the characters adhere to it, but on concept alone the meta-adaptation is a brilliant move, and one that I'd like to see explored elsewhere. Live is dumb, fun, and definitely one to see in a crowd. If you can catch it in a theater, do so. If not, though, get a group of friends together and check it out on when it inevitably ends up on Netflix.
Live (Raivu) Review photo
Almost accessible Iguchi
To those who know it, Noboru Iguchi's name brings up a very particular image. In fact, when people with only a tangential knowledge of Japanese cinema, Iguchi's work is probably the first thing they think of. It's exactly the...

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Ghibli's The Tale of Princess Kaguya gets English cast and release date


Jul 17
// Nick Valdez
While I may only like a small selection of Studio Ghibli's films, there's no mistaking their quality. Based on the Japanese tale "The Tale of Bamboo Cutter" and directed by Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies), Princess Kag...

NYAFF Non-Review: 3D Naked Ambition is the weirdest movie I've ever seen

Jul 09 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]217959:41660:0[/embed] 3D Naked AmbitionDirector: Lee Kung-lokRating: NR (18+)Country: Hong Kong/Japan Two years ago, Pang Ho-Cheung's excellent Vulgaria (starring Chapman To, who leads 3D Naked Ambition) opened my eyes to a new world of sex comedies, ones that are dirty in concept but clean in practice. I don't know for sure if actor nudity is disallowed, but I can say that I've never seen a HK actor properly naked or an actress in any serious state of undress. During sex they wear shirts and in any other case there are plenty of ways they're covered up. In my reviews of Vulgaria and others (like Golden Chickensss), I noticed the trend and even commented on it, but in reality I find it kind of compelling. It's like watching an American comedy from during the Hay's Code era, back when implication was everything. While obviously more explicit than those films, the HK comedies have a similar need to conform around standards while trying to push the envelope. I assumed that it was actually a grander requirement of Hong Kong films: If they wanted a release, no nudity allowed. Apparently that's not quite the case, because 3D Naked Ambition has a whole lot of exposed breasts. But there's a loophole: each and every one of them is Japanese. Hong Kong actresses still cover up (with one sorta-exception) and the Japanese ones bare it all. And by all, I only mean boobs, because actual genitals are still disallowed (in both Hong Kong and Japan). It's an interesting use of another culture's more lax laws, and – as far as I know – unique. (Golden Chickensss is also partially set in Japan but lacks nudity.) 3D Naked Ambition tells the story of Wyman Chan (Chapman To), a sex writer who is fired thanks to all of those dirty ingrates on the internet who refuse to pay for quality content. But unable to believe that paid-porn is dead, he gets together with some friends and they head off to Japan to make some AVs AKA Adult Videos AKA pornography. As you might expect, the decision to switch to that was a pretty simple one: They wanted to get free access to people having sex. As producers, they get to be on set and push the actors and actresses into whatever weird contortions they so choose. They're horny and excited. But they push the actor away with their requests for positions that may or may not exist/be possible. He simply walks off. But since the show must go on, they choose a new actor from amongst themselves. And, of course, Wyman is the chosen one. But here's where things get weird in a bad way. Let's talk about rape. Yes, seriously. Because 3D Naked Ambition is – perhaps inadvertently – a celebration of rape. Japan stereotypically has a rape culture, especially in their porn (I mean, they hadn't banned the possession of child pornography until last month), so it makes sense that any film about Japanese porn would feature it in some form or another, but you know, it's supposed to be funny. It's not about the rape of women, though; it's about men. Wyman is forced into that encounter, literally shouting "No!" and trying to run away and being thrown back into position by his female partner. It's funny... but it's still rape. And while it would be vaguely uncomfortable just that once, man-rape becomes the focal point of his character. Japanese women go absolutely crazy for this new star who lets women take the reigns, and Wyman is pulled into this new career, playing the awkward guy who gets raped by everybody around him. Like one of his first videos, where he plays a thirteen year old student who gets raped by his school nurse. "Everything that's about to happen is a hallucination," she says, and then off she goes. At that point, Wyman has accepted his fate and even begins to kinda-sorta enjoy his work at times, but I mean... what the fuck? That's not okay on a ridiculous number of levels. If the gender roles were switched, everyone would have been up in arms. The fact that they're technically being sort of subversive doesn't actually make it okay. I laughed along with everyone else because in practice it's pretty darn funny, but conceptually I had serious reservations about what I was watching. Last year, I saw Takashi Miike's Lesson of the Evil. If you look at that review, it's another case where a film goes into something exceedingly fucked up and just feels wrong. Afterwards, I had a discussion with Mike Gingold from Fangoria, and he was absolutely appalled. I wasn't quite as horrified as he was, but I understood where he was coming from. It was ideologically offensive. But that film knew it was fucked up. It may have featured the gleeful slaughter of dozens of schoolchildren, but it did so to offend. 3D Naked Ambition shows no such self-awareness, and plays the rape for comedy. And it succeeds. 3D Naked Ambition, for the most part, is really, really funny. And it's not like all of the comedy is about him being taken advantage of by women, and there are some genuinely nice moments. A particular scene that went a small way towards redeeming the story involved a new porn actress running off set in tears and Wyman running after her. I was expecting it to immediately turn into a, "It's fine. Just come do it!" sort of thing, but it doesn't. What happens is much better than that. But it's also weird that this movie has that moment. It may be the most "normal" scene in the entire film, but it only serves to highlight just how crazy everything else is. I mean, it's not even worth trying to explain how insane it is. Like R100, it needs to be seen to be believed. Sure, I can tell you that 3D Naked Ambition features a woman spinning vertically around a man's genitals, exploding in a terrible 2D animation, and – in the process – causing him to ejaculate so hard it shatters the earth's atmosphere. I can also tell you that the scene is significantly weirder than it sounds and that it's not the weirdest thing that happens in that movie. But what good would that do you? Can you even fathom what I just said? Of course you can't. Also, it's in 3D. Because why the fuck not. What makes 3D Naked Ambition the weirdest thing I've ever seen is a combination of the actual content (like the scene referenced above) mixed with the off-putting conceptual things that shouldn't work but kinda do. There's just nothing else quite like it, and that's honestly a good thing. One film like this verges on being too many. Even so, I recommend it, but I do so with reservations. And that's the reason this is a "Non-review." Were I to attempt to give 3D Naked Ambition a score based on my experience, it would undoubtedly be a very high one. I greatly enjoyed myself and seeing it in a theater setting, in 3D, with a crowd had an intoxicating effect. But I also can't in good conscience give a film that I find so fundamentally upsetting the score it on a practical level deserves. If you were to see 3D Naked Ambition without reading this, much of what I said probably wouldn't even occur to you. And there's a pretty good chance, whether you've seen it or not, that you think I'm taking this whole thing too seriously. You're free to think that. But whatever else you may say, I think everyone can agree that 3D Naked Ambition is completely insane. It truly is the weirdest thing I've ever seen. But I'm not sure if that's a good thing.
3D Naked Ambition photo
There are no words, but I'll try to think of some
It's been an odd week. On Monday, we posted my review of R100, a film so crazy it inspired a man to eat his shirt. On Tuesday, we posted my review of Why Don't You Play in Hell?, a film so insane that it inspired a man to mak...


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