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Thread: What Asian Films Have You Been Watching Recently?

  1. #51
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Akamoru: The Dark, Wild Yearning (Japan, 1966) [35mm] – 2/5
    A rather tame and dated youth-gone-bad tale by Koji Wakamatsu. The film follows a school boy who is dreaming of naked girls but living in a conservative family where he is punished for listening to rock music. He eventually joins a small-time gang at the end of the film. Some surreal dream sequences with naked women and blazing red blood filmed in color (unlike the rest of the film) are the movie’s most memorable parts. Surprisingly enough, the film was distributed in several foreign countries like West Germany and Finland back in the late 1960s.

    Dark Story of a Sex Crime: Phantom Killer (Japan, 1969) [35mm] – 3/5
    A rarely seen Koji Wakamatsu film that predates the similarly themed 1970s Yasuharu Hasebe violent pink films. It’s a mixture of violent thriller, black comedy and social commentary. The film follows a miserable young man who dreams of raping women but is too shy to do it. He eventually gets over his shyness and becomes a full-fledged psycho. Interesting, though not quite classic, piece of late-1960s Wakamatsu cinema. The use of music is quite effective.

    Secret Report from Nagasaki Woman's Prison (Japan, 1971) - 2/5
    This is the 6th and final film in Daiei's loosely linked series of women in prison movies set in the late 19th century. They were, of course, exploitation movies, but they were also surprisingly restrained compared to what Toei and Nikkatsu were putting out at the same time. There is little to no nudity in any of the films. The previous instalment, Decapitation Island, was nevertheless a very stylish entry with good acting, decent writing and an intriguing island setting. Nagasaki Woman's Prison unfortunately doesn't share those strengths. It's a mediocre-at-best genre effort with some girl fights, a little bit of blood, and no nudity at all. There are no interesting locations like in Decapitation Island either. The only memorable scene involves some inventive candle torture.

    Cherry Blossom Fire Gang (Japan, 1972) [DVD] - 2.5/5
    Junko Fuji's farewell movie brings together just about every Toei yakuza film star: Ken Takakura, Bin Amatsu, Koji Tsuruta, Kanjuro Arashi, Tomisaburo Wakayama, Shiezo Kataoka, Bunta Sugawara, and many others. That may be part of the film's problem. The beauty of the ninkyo genre always was its simplicity - one man or woman caught between obligation and humanity - and it needed a relatively tight focus to play right. Cherry Blossom Fire Gang features some good segments, but it also features so many characters that the storyline loses its focus. To make matters worse, it's hardly a memorable storyline to begin with. It's still an ok film, but genre queen Fuji would have deserved something better, or perhaps something smaller, for her last yakuza film.

    Cold Wind Monjiro (Japan, 1972) [VoD] - 3/5
    Bunta Sugawara stars as the famous matatabi (wandering gambler / swordsman) character in this film by Sadao Nakajima. It's a more realistic film than many other matatabi movies, focusing on the life during the period and choreographing its action more for realism than entertainment. It also shows the protagonist trying to live an ordinary man's life before becoming a wanderer during the film's second half. It's not the most exciting film in the genre - Nakajima directs with professionalism but little innovation - but the scenery and score are quite beautiful and the film is certainly interesting enough to watch.



    Wicked Kempo (Japan, 1974) [VoD] - 2.5/5
    A somewhat entertaining martial arts film produced briefly after The Street Fighter has its moments. Yakuza film actor Tsunehiko Watase stars as a bodyguard for hire, a real asshole kind of guy with mean moves straight out of a Sonny Chiba flick. It's a fun flick whenever it lets its protagonist loose; unfortunately the film also sabotages the sound concept with two lame sidekicks and unnecessary comedy scenes. Regular karate film villain Masashi Ishibashi co-stars in a rare good guy role. Worth a look for karate film fans; however, there are several better Japanese martial arts movies out there.

    The Youth Killer (Japan, 1976) [35mm] – 2.5/5
    This is the first one of the only two films ever directed by Kazuhiko Hasegawa, who would later do the all-time cult classic The Man Who Stole the Sun (1979). The ATG production is about a young man kills his parents and tries to run from the police with his girlfriend. It's certainly a film with something to say: Hasegawa goes for a mixture of gritty realism, social commentary, and highly theatrical acting. At the same time, however, it's a hard film to stomach with almost no entertainment value whatsoever except for Mieko Harada`s naked body, some very darkly humoristic moments, and a great soundtrack by Godiego. Very much an arthouse film for the arthouse crowd, and not a feel-good film in the least.

    Abductee (Japan, 2013) [DVD] – 4/5
    A middle aged man wakes up in a steel container, all alone, tied up, with no idea who has abducted him, why, and where he's being taken. This is a minimalist gem from director Yudai Yamaguchi, who normally helms trashy exploitation comedies. Despite literally taking place in one container from start to finish the 96 minute movie doesn`t let the viewer off the hook even for moment. On the contrary, it`s an incredibly intense thriller with an intriguing mystery, lively camerawork, stylish score and terrific leading performance by Yoichi Nukumizu, who is the only actor in the movie for over 90% of the time. The ending will divide audiences to those who love it and those who hate it – I was firmly in former camp. What a surprise from mediocre-at-best director Yamaguchi.

    Wonderful World End (Japan, 2015) [BD] - 3/5
    A quiet 13 year old runaway goth-loli girl (Jun Aonami) falls in love with her idol, a 19 year old schoolgirl model / small time idol (Ai Hashimoto) who is running her own webcast from home. After a slight misunderstanding her boyfriend invites the young fan to their home to stay, which starts eating out their relationship. This film somewhat resembles another similarly themed - and also music driven - movie: The End of the World and the Cat's Disappearance. Wonderful World End, however, is a more intimate, quiet and realistic film, minus the ending which goes to Takashi Miike territory. Ai Hashimoto is pretty good in the lead as a girl who is mainly interested in her own looks, and the film makes some good points about youth, social media and idol culture, despite not being quite exceptional in any way. Director Daigo Matsui made himself an interesting name with the excellent schoolgirl drama Luv Ya Hun (to be released later in 2015). This one isn't as good, but it's still decent.

    That's It (Japan, 2015) [DCP] - 3/5
    This is Sogo Ishii's long awaited return to punk cinema, only it is not as good as his genre defining classics. It is still mostly decent, though. The opening is the best part: an amazing street chase on foot set to the music and "3ch bazooka sound" by Bloodthirsty Butchers. The film does slow down after that, however, and it could frankly lose 20 minutes in the middle. It picks up again towards the end, until the stupid CGI blood and toy guns kick in and make it difficult to take the bloody mayhem seriously. The cast is good, though, and the film looks pretty nice for a low budget production.

    Yakuza Apocalypse (Japan, 2015) [DCP] - 3/5
    Here's a film that is difficult to summarize: yakuza vampires turning townspeople into bloodsuckers with bad attitude, a secret underground knitting club, a kappa in cellar, a deadly karate killer in frog suit, The Raid's mad dog Yayan Ruhian as foreign assassin, and a lot more. Takashi Miike's much hyped "return to roots" feasts in excess, but it also lacks the perversity of his early films, highlighted by the Japanese pg-12 rating which equals to BBFC 15 or medium R on the US. It does have its insanely catchy moments, and it's not a CGI fest either, but the film also runs at least 30 minutes too long with a too large character gallery while still leaving the most interesting scenarios underdeveloped. The problem is, Miike has done the same stuff better before, and so have many others. Nevertheless, it's a pretty entertaining two hours and worth a watch; it's just not as badass as it should've been.


  2. #52
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Lupin the Third: Strange Psychokinetic Strategy (Japan, 1974) [35mm] - 1/5
    As universally bashed as the recent Ryuhei Kitamura Lupin III film was, this earlier live action adaptation is even much worse. It's an incredibly lame and unfunny caper slapstick comedy clearly aimed at children. The gags are childish, the anime-like acting is irritating, and there is literally nothing stylish or interesting about the film. Rarely has 82 minutes felt so long. Avoid like plague!

    Zero Woman: Red Handcuffs (Japan, 1974) [35mm] - 4/5
    This must be one of the trashiest and most brutal Japanese crime films ever made aside Junya Sato's equally sadistic yakuza film True Account of Ginza Tortures (1973). Nearly everyone is an irredeemable psycho here. Miki Sugimoto stars as female cop who infiltrates a psychopath rapist scum gang who has kidnapped a politician's daughter. Another cop (Hideo Murota in his favourite role) is tailing them from a safe distance until it's time to take action. It all leads to an incredibly groovy, and unbelievably violent climax. Immoral pinky violence cinema at its best, but not for the easily offended, and never to be passed uncut by the BBFC. Viewers may observe a slight Meiko Kaji vibe in the film, from the theme song to the badass heroine. There's that influence for sure, but it's also because the film is based on a manga by Tooru Shinohara, who also wrote the Female Prisoner Scorpion comics.



    And what a pleasure it was seeing this from a gorgeous 35mm print!

    Tonda Couple (Japan, 1980) [Original Version] [35mm] – 3.5/5
    Two high school kids – a girl and a boy – end up sharing an apartment due to an error. An amusing love-hate relationship ensues. This was Shinji Somai`s first movie, a manga adaptation that resembles 1970s youth comedies but also showed the director`s eye for upbeat youth films. It's funny, energetic and contains many imaginative visual details while still being a very mainstream crowd pleaser. It was also the film that made half of the nation fall in love with the 16 year old Hiroko Yakushimaru, who appears here in her first starring role. The film was re-released the following year as an extended 120 minute “original version” which is now the standard version of the film. “Hiroko Lovecore” (love + encore) was written in big letters in the poster.

    Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (Japan, 1981) [Complete Version] [35mm] – 4/5
    Shinji Somai's second film instantly became the all-time idol film classic. Hiroko Yakushimaru stars as a high school girl who ends up inheriting a miserable four man yakuza gang from his dead father. It's a mixture of gangster satire and youth pic, with the former usually being a burden for the latter. The film tends to be at its best in small quiet scenes, where seemingly nothing happens, such Hiroko wandering around in her apartment or stopping in front of a store mascot at dawn. These are the scenes that show Somai's skill with characterization, as well as creating atmospheric moments. Hiroko is at her best in the film, giving a natural performance that is as fresh as the air in the early morning. Of course, her theme song is also a huge classic. The film also features Somai's first long tracking shot, a nice, if occasionally shaky 4 minute shot that follows characters from a park to the streets and to the other side of the town as they jump on motorcycles and the camera is loaded on a truck. Like Tonda Couple, the film was re-released as extended version in 1982, but the original version is maybe a little bit better.



    Keiji monogatari 2: Ringo no uta (Japan, 1983) [DVD] - 2.5/5
    The second film in the drama/romance/action/comedy series which is best remembered for, but not best described by, its hanger nunchaku action. As usual, the detective hero played by the beloved television actor Tetsuya Takeda is transferred to a new town where he interacts with the locals, falls in love, and kicks a little bit of ass. These are the kind of movies that go well with Japanese television audiences with all their gentle melodrama, comedy, and depictions of idyllic small town life. Fun action scenes in which the hero takes out the bad guys in inventive ways are just a small addition to the mix. Also, it's nice how in the 1980s Japanese family movies could still find a way fit in a few pairs of bare boobs somewhere.



    P.P. Rider (Japan, 1983) [DCP] – 4.5/5
    Yakuza gangsters kidnap a local kid, a fat bastard called Debu, whose father is involved in drug trafficking. His friends, two boys and one girl pretending to be a boy, then set out on a strange odyssey to find and save him. This is an utterly bizarre, and equally brilliant, film scripted by Leonard Scharder (The Man who Stole the Sun, 1979) and directed by the eccentric genius Shinji Somai. Like many of Somai`s films it runs a bit too long at 118 minutes, but it's so original, so thrilling and so full of Somai`s trademark camerawork that one does not care. The visual style sometimes resembles of Nobuhiko Obayashi's wild images (House), but with Somai`s brand of intimate, low key youth cinema which remains credible no matter how outlandish it got.



    Leave it to Kotaro (Japan, 1984) [35mm] - 2.5/5
    A typical mid-80s Japan Action Club film which leans much more towards comedy than action. Norifumi Suzuki helms the manga adaptation of a mischievous modern teenage ninja who spends his days hanging upside down in front of a girls' dressing room window. There are more panty shots than you can keep track of. Other students finally get sick of him and put a reward up for his beloved long hair. Then a blonde Caucasian girl arrives the school and falls in love with the pervert ninja, which leads to the film's best, and dumbest, laughs. It's a silly, mostly entertaining but a bit overlong comedy with several bits of action. Hiroyuki Sanada and Etsuko Shihomi play supporting roles, and Sonny Chiba makes a quest visit in a fully English language role. Suzuki did much better with the more action oriented Roaring Fire a few years earlier.

    Lost Chapter of Snow: Passion (Japan, 1985) [35mm] – 4/5
    This film is somewhat a turning point on Shinji Somai's career. It was his return to idol cinema four years after the monumental genre classic Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (1981). It was the movie that followed his real masterpiece, the defining Japanese youth film Taifu Club (released in 1985, filmed in 1984). How do you follow such benchmark classic? You can see a clear twist here, which lots of heavy handed symbolic imagery and melodramatic storytelling that were not so evident in Somai's earlier movies. Even then, it's an excellent movie. Sukeban Deka girl Yuki Saito stars as an orphan girl who grows up to love her stepfather. Somai throws in his magic from the very beginning, opening the movie with a great 14 minute take. Saito is pretty decent in the lead role and recorded an excellent theme song for the film. The movie was shot in Hokkaido, in Sapporo, Chitose and other locations, with many scenes being filmed a few hundred meters away from where I now live.



    I cross that bridge almost every day... too bad I wasn't here 30 years ago.

    Love & Peace (Japan, 2015) [DCP] - 3.5/5
    Most people probably didn't expect Sion Sono to direct a family friendly kaiju movie, but here it is. A small turtle flushed down the toilet finds a new home in the Batman Returns esque sewers where a good hearted old drunk is living with talking dolls, amusing retro-robots and all kinds of small animals. Meanwhile his original owner, a bullied owner office, worker becomes an arrogant rock star. Then the turtle begins to grow - a lot. There's an abundance of lovely handicraft on display: puppets, miniatures, and men in rubber suits, with CGI kept to the minimum. It's a nice moral story and a sweet fantasy film; should be just as entertaining for children and adults alike, and very much a Sion Sono film with all its manic overacting. However, it's still missing the final touch - whether it was overflowing anarchy, energy, or depth - that Sono's best movies - Love Exposure, Noriko's Dinner Table, Hazard, and Suicide Club - had.

  3. #53
    Senior Member The Silly Swede's Avatar
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    Dragons Forever

    Very underrated HK-actioner. Top notch Jackie that strangely flies under the radar for most people.
    "No presh from the Dresh!"

  4. #54
    Quote Originally Posted by The Silly Swede View Post
    Dragons Forever

    Very underrated HK-actioner. Top notch Jackie that strangely flies under the radar for most people.
    Yep...solid Jackie movie..very much improved due to Sammo and Yuen Biao being in it too...seem to remember it was more violent (18 cert in UK)which helped as well..

  5. #55
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Car 33 Doesn't Answer (Japan, 1955) [35mm] - 4/5
    A terrific, gritty crime film follows two policemen riding around Tokyo in their patrol car, picking up drunks, hookers, junkies and killers on what seems like a never-ending Christmas night. They finally run into professional criminals who highjack their car and take them as hostage. This is a realistic, atmospheric film that beautifully captures the post-war streets of Tokyo on film while also telling a great story with excellent characters. Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece High & Low would be a good comparison point; however, it's remarkable how much time director Senkichi Taniguchi spends documenting the policemen's everyday work and encounters with random people before turning on the plot gear. A rarely seen gem entirely worthy of a Criterion release. Unfortunately it has never been released on DVD even in Japan.



    The Big Gamblers of the Amazon (Japan, 1961) [35mm] - 4/5
    New York, 1961. A worldwide gambling committee gathers. The industry is in recession. Japan is seen as the most promising new market. Enter Amazon Kenji (Chiezo Kataoka), a homeless gunman and master gambler (mostly because he cheats) from the jungle, wearing poncho and a huge Mexican hat, who introduces himself by shooting a cigar from a random guy's hand. He's going to be the first one to sink his teeth in the new market. But before he gets there, but he's joined by an Americanized bastard Gold Rush Kumakichi and Jack the Ace, the son of a Japanese geisha on Paris. This is an insane action comedy gem by Shigero Ozawa, the director of The Street Fighter (1974). It's also a fascinating mix of new and old; the type of colourful film sets and costumes from Toei's lavish Kyoto productions combined with mad energy that was running wild at Toei's contemporary Tokyo studios. The film also includes strong western influences and a climatic shoot out where the hero guns down at least 60 bad guys. It only makes sense that halfway into the storyline the protagonist is actually locked up in a mental hospital. Amazon Kenji is a lost 1960s cult hero waiting to be discovered by the world! Only if there was a DVD release...



    A sequel, in which Kataoka stars as a homeless gambler from The Himalayas, was released later in 1961. Apparently the sequel also contains a yeti...

    Abashiri Prison: Saga of Homesickness (Japan, 1965) [DVD] - 3.5/5
    The 3rd film in the series, and one of the best. Like the previous instalment it was shot during a summer and also lacks any prison scenes. However, the screenplay and characters are pretty good this time round and the film features a very atmospheric use of music. Thr film starts with Takakura out of the slammer and trying honest living as a port labourer with other former prisoners gone straight, but of course things are complicated by Toru Abe's villainous rival gang, who want the business all for themselves. There's also a black(face) kid who makes friends with Takakura, but is surprisingly not irritating at all. Although Abashiri Prison was not really a ninkyo yakuza series, this instalments features quite a few typical ninkyo elements, including an honourable, death-sick assassin hired by Abe's gang to fight Takakura.

    Abashiri Prison: Duel in the Snow Country (Japan, 1966) [DVD] - 2.5/5
    The 7th film in the series isn't bad, but it doesn't truly come alive until the great finale. Similar to many other weaker instalments in the series, it suffers from the lack of strong plot. There's too much silly comedy, especially with two gay prisoners, and too many meaningless quarrels. The plot doesn't really kick off until during the last half an hour when Takakura is out of the prison and runs into an old man and daughter harassed by a local gang. The film benefits from some impressive winter locations, but the best thing is the highly satisfying, Western influenced gunplay/sword fight finale on the snow covered streets.



    Abashiri Prison: Duel at 30 Below Zero (Japan, 1967) [DVD] - 3.5/5
    The 8th film in the series, and one of the most entertaining. Takakura runs into an abandoned little girl whose real father is working for a slimy gangster (Toru Abe again) in a snowy northern mining town. Although this entry also doesn't have the strongest of plots and features some silly comedy in the early scenes, it comes with pretty good characters and it makes a good use of locations. Takakura especially gets to do his usual stoic 'worker class hero' act very well here. Like the previous film in the series, it also has a strong Western atmosphere with lots of gunplay, horse riding and Western esque score by Masao Yagi. It doesn't hurt that Tetsuro Tamba plays a major supporting role either.



    Abashiri Prison: Duel in the Blizzard (Japan, 1967) [DVD] - 2/5
    The 10th and last Abashiri Prison film directed by Teruo Ishii (8 more New Abashiri Prison films were made my other directors). This is another one with a winter setting, which is an instant plus. There are a few other interesting things as well, such as Takakura escaping the prison hiding in a coffin, and an elderly foreign prisoner. Unfortunately the rest of the film is no great shakes. The film mostly composed of loosely linked set pieces: there's the compulsory quarrel with other prisoners, there's the escape, there are the encounters with other gangsters outside of the slammer, and finally there's a bit of something resembling a plot when Takakura runs into a man who had his father killed long ago. The last half an hour features some strong western influences, but it all comes out a bit less stylish than one might wish.

    Women's Police (Japan, 1969) [16mm] - 2/5
    The young Meiko Kaji flashes her breasts for about two seconds in this otherwise forgettable programmer picture. Unfortunately even that sole delight was ruined by the super-soft 16mm print that screened in Cinema Vera. The film's real star is Akira Kobayashi as a some sort of night life professional looking after Tokyo hostesses and eventually getting in trouble with gangsters. It's a rather lame film in every respect, with nothing especially stylish nor sleazy about it. Of course, it's still technically well made film, but that's not saying much. Kaji, who is the most interesting thing about the film, plays a pretty small role. Oddly enough, the film received no less than three sequels.

    Melody of Rebellion (Japan, 1970) [35mm] - 2.5/5
    A mediocre yakuza film starring Yoshio Harada as an outlaw who teams up with other rebels after his yakuza clan has disbanded. There's a great series of moody scenes that capture some of that 1970s nostalgia via music and images - something director Yukihiro Sawada was really good at - in the middle of the film. Otherwise it's a bit underwhelming movie with some comedic scenes, some serious ones, and not very much consistency to any of it. The supporting cast is great, e.g. Tatsuya Fuji, Takeo Chii and Meiko Kaji, but their roles are forgettable. Harada, too, would've deserved a better film. He was a charismatic badass comparable to Yusaku Matsuda, but he ended up in mediocre movies way too often.

    Cold Wind Monjiro: None of My Business (Japan, 1972) [35mm] - 2/5
    The second and final Cold Wind Monjiro film. Both films offer a more realistic look at the matatabi heroes of the past. They intentionally lack many stylistic devices and are pretty short on action. Unfortunately, they also lack interesting storylines and characters, although Bunta Sugawara is pretty good in the lead role. This second movie is the weaker of the two, mainly because it lacks the beautiful locations and some memorable scenes the first film had.

    Lady Snowblood (Japan, 1973) [35mm] - 4.5/5
    A terrific revenge movie with an great storyline and an atmosphere that slightly reminds of old fairytales (those that were full of death, sex and brutality). Meiko Kaji stars as a girl born in prison whose only purpose in life is taking revenge against four ultra-nationalist scum who killed her father and raped her mother. It's a heavy film, and very political as well, the kind film of that could not be made in Japan anymore. Kaji is excellent, and her theme song is truly unforgettable. It's an unusual film for director Toshiya Fujita, who specialized in contemporary youth/crime films. Lady Snowblood essentially served as an early screenplay draft for Kill Bill: a female revenge film divided into chapters where the protagonist goes after the bad guys one by one in the order they are on her death list. Plus, Tarantino borrowed dialogue, music, and images from the film.

    Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance (Japan, 1974) [35mm] - 3/5
    Solid, but still a bit disappointing sequel needlessly continues the storyline. While it's true both films are based on a comic book that ran several volumes, the first movie was such an emotionally draining experience that the protagonist's transformation to wandering heroine after all she went through just doesn't feel right. That being said, this is another politically charged storyline that certainly offers several points of interest and features a good cast. The action scenes are a little more flamboyant than in the first film, which doesn't really work to its favour because Kaji isn't the best swordswoman out there. Her strength is intensity and acting skill, which are the two elements the first movie handled very well even in the action sequences. Nevertheless, this is a pretty good film; it's just no match for the excellent first movie.

    Taiyo no kizuato (Japan, 1981) [35mm] - 4/5
    The year 1981 saw two modern sun tribe films hit the screens almost simultaneously. Kichitaro Negishi's brilliant updating of Crazed Fruit (1956) was released by Nikkatsu in April. Chusei Sone's Taiyo no kizuato came out already bit earlier from Toei. The excellent youth film follows a delinquent boy who runs into his shy little brother, and his innocent girlfriend, for the first time in 11 years. He brings them to his beach crib where he's having fun with his no-good friends. This initiates an interesting psychological game where the big brother never seems quite sure if he wants to protect or destroy his brother's innocence. The film also packs literally every single genre cliché in the most enjoyable form: car chases, boat chases, motorcycles, fist fighting, sex, nudity, disco scenes, and rock music. Ken Ogata has a terrific supporting role as the main character's father, an alcoholic university professor who is constantly holding parties and couldn't care less if his son has raped some random girl or not. Probably director Sone's best film, but unfortunately this too has never been released on DVD or VHS.



    Lady Battle Cop (Japan, 1990) [DVD] - 2.5/5
    Toei's semi-entertaining V-Cinema cash-in on the popularity of Robocop. Here we have a lethally wounded tennis champ (who can't play tennis) turned into battle cop in a metal suit with high heels to fight an evil multinational syndicate. Enter the good old karate villain Masashi Ishibashi (in not one of his best roles) and a CIA developed evil wrestler with psychic powers. The film borrows its theme and dystopia from the Verhoeven classic; otherwise it's more in line with Japan's own tradition of tokusatsu entertainment, which no doubt inspired Robocop as well. Too bad the film tends to be a bit mediocre for the most part, and pretty lame in the violence department as well. Cool theme song (which steals half of its melody from Sukeban Deka III) combined with metal hero on a motorbike footage provides some great moments, though, and the film is amusingly nonsensical.



    Hana-Bi (Japan, 1997) [35mm] - 5/5
    Kitano's masterpiece, some of the most perfect filmmaking ever committed to film. I don't even have words describe how stunningly good it is.

    Gonin Saga (Japan, 2015) [DCP] - 2/5
    New generation, new Gonin. You know a filmmaker is in trouble when the film opens with 20 minutes of non-stop flashbacks and even then the audience is unable to follow the incredibly convoluted plot. Worse yet, the new cast consists mostly of pretty boys whose beard probably hasn't started to grow yet and who look about as convincing with a gun as a fashion model. It's no better than a cheap television drama for the first 70 minutes; then something happens. A dynamic heist scene kicks in, the protagonists are chased by assassins played by real actors, and the film concludes with the most violent and exciting gunplay scene in Japanese cinema since Battle Royale. No CGI, no fucking toy guns, no lame ass posing, just ultraviolent butchery, especially after one guy finds himself an Uzi. Talk about an uneven film!

    Nowhere Girl (Japan, 2015) [DCP] - 3.5/5
    A flawed but fascinating psychological drama by Mamoru Oshii. Nana Seino stars as an art school student who suffers from some sort of trauma for which reason she's given special treatment. She's being bullied by other students, her teachers are growing sick of the situation, and she seems to be going crazy. But there's more than meets the eye, and she's more than a little dangerous, as proved by a certain ultra-violent sequence near the end. It's an extremely slow paced movie bound to drive some viewers crazy, but it's also quite an interesting and extremely rewarding film. Seino is fine in the lead role, and the slow pace works when she's in the frame. Some unfortunate CGI blood weakens the impact. Director Oshii, much like Hideaki Anno, is one of those anime masters whose live action filmography is vastly under-rated, with his own fans usually being his harshest critics. Nowhere Girl is unlikely to change that situation.

    Tag (Japan, 2015) [DCP] - 3.5/5
    Sion Sono kills more high school girls than a medium size natural disaster in this often energetic, but uneven horror film. The story is loosely based on the popular manhunt franchise by Yusuke Yamada (already adapted into 5 other movies and two series), but Sono goes his own way and brings the film closer to his own Suicide Club and certain David Lynch twists than Yamada's straight-forward dystopias. In Sono's film Japanese high school girls find themselves targeted by someone - or something - that starts slaughtered them in epic fashion. The film is bound to anger the more sensitive viewers, although it also offers interesting commentary on the Japanese schoolgirl phenomena. The film suffers from some lame CGI effects; however, it also features some nice practical gore and fantastic camerawork with lots of aerial shots done with drones. The all female cast - there isn't even a single male seen during the first 70 minutes - is solid as well. Sono is consistently good with young actresses, bringing the best out of them in nearly every film he makes.

  6. #56
    Great reviews.

    CAR 33 sounds amazing, by the way.

    I've read quite a bit about TAIYO NO KIZUATO. Unfortunately, never seen it. Hopefully, a compmny like Criterion or Eureka will get wise to some of these gems and put them out on Blu or DVD.

    So appreciate these theatrical reviews, Takuma.
    Last edited by AngelGuts; 10-05-2015 at 12:33 PM.

  7. #57
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Theatre of Life: Hishakaku (Japan, 1963) [35mm] - 3.5/5
    Solid old school yakuza melodrama that is considered one of the first ninkyo films. Koji Tsuruta is an honourable gangster who goes to prison after killing an enemy boss, leaving his runaway prostitute girlfriend on his own for years. While he's away, his own boss is assassinated and the gang disbands. Some years later former gang mate Ken Takakura, now earning an honest living as a rickshaw man, falls in love with Tsuruta's girl without knowing about her history with him. Soon after Tsurura is finally released. This film has a bit more focus on the love story than most ninkyo films, but the genre elements are very much present and well used. The film also sports good performances and a charmingly old fashioned look. The story itself is very famous and has been filmed multiple times. Most adaptations, like this with its cliffhanger ending, focused on one part of the story and left the rest for a sequel (that sometimes followed, and sometimes didn't).

    Zatoichi the Fugitive (Japan, 1963) [BD] - 3.5/5
    A very entertaining and character driven 4th film in the Zatoichi series. Zatoichi encounters a woman he once loved, who has now hooked up with a desperate swordsman. Good story, good characters, and an emotionally powerful climax. This is a better movie than many of director Tokuzo Tanaka's other films.

    Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold (Japan, 1964) [BD] - 3/5
    Zatoichi meets Chuji Kunisada, a famous Robin Hood like character who has appeared in dozens of his own films, in the 6th film in the series. Director Kazuo Ikehiro had nice grittiness to his style, but Daiei was one of the most conservative studios in Japan, which set limits to what he could do. This film has nice sets and locations, but it does feel a bit conventional with its "stolen tax money" plot. One also wishes there was a bit more character depth to the menacing villain Tomisaburo Wakayama.

    Kyokotsu ichidai (Japan, 1967) [35mm] - 2/5
    Another ninkyo yakuza film from the era when the genre peaked. Unfortunately this one is a pretty hastily put together programmer picture. Ken Takakura is a soldier who deserts and joins an honourable yakuza gang. Of course there's also a villain gang in the town, with leader Bin Amatsu evil as usual. Funko Fuji has a slightly interesting double role as Takakura's deceased mother and a prostitute who resembles her. Too bad the film largely lacks plot and the kind of strong 'between rock and a hard place' dynamic that a good ninkyo film should have. It simply throws in some big names, a Takakura theme song, some silly comedy, and assumes the audience will buy it. Most did, actually.

    Hot Springs Geisha (Onsen anma geisha) (Japan, 1968) [DVD] - 1/5
    This is one of those films that in some ways doesn't deserve the low rating I'm giving it - after all, it's a technically well made film with some good looking cinematography, a solid cast (Yoko Mihara, Masumi Tachibana, Teruo Yoshida etc), and Teruo Ishii as the director. But then again, how do you survive a 90 minute a dated sex comedy with no laughs and no nudity other than in one amusing pool fight scene? You don't. Norifumi Suzuki helmed much better instalments in the same series a few years later, partly thanks to the new era allowing him much cruder jokes and sexier content.

    Flower of Chivalry's Life Story: Gambling Heir (Japan, 1969) [35mm] - 2/5
    Drama heavy Nikkatsu ninkyo with Chieko Matsubara and Hideki Takahashi. Supporting star Meiko Kaji has a couple of great moments, including a nice gambling scene and a scene where she takes out two bad guys who attack her during bath. Unfortunately the rest of the film is standard drama with little to make it stand out from the rest.

    Whipmaster: Ballad of Death (Japan, 1970) [VoD] - 3.5/5
    A spin off for the Wicked Priest series with Bunta Sugawara as the blind, whip wielding yakuza monk. He's also got a cub with him, blind just like him, as he wanders around Japan and fights evil gangsters. While not necessarily a true classic of its genre, the film rises above its programmer status thanks to atmospheric music, badass performance by Sugawara, and some very satisfying, ultra-violent karate/swordplay/whip action. In fact, if you didn't know better you'd swear this was a 1974 production with heavy influences from both the Lone Wolf & Cub films and Sonny Chiba's karate movies; however, this predated them all.



    Way Out, Way In (Japan, 1970) [35mm] - 2.5/5
    An amusingly dated morality tale about high school bad boys and girls. One of the film's memorable parts involves an innocent student boy harassed by a sexy girl, which traumatizes him to the point that he can't help but to imagine all women naked and start groping them in the train. Other highlights include a psychedelic night club scene and a groovy opening credits sequence with motorcycle footage mixed with images of bare breasts. Nevertheless, it's pretty tame stuff for its era, just like many other Daiei exploitation films which lagged several years behind competitors in terms of graphic sex and violence. It seemed like the proud samurai film giant was somewhat unwilling to jump the bandwagon, but were forced to thrown in at least moderate exploitation to keep up with the competition. This film did, nevertheless, prove successful enough to receive no less than three sequels and was also released in the US as 'Way Out, Way In'. The original title is Koukou bancho ("High School Boss").

    Bloody Feud (Japan, 1971) [VoD] - 3/5
    Chipmunk Joe Shishido plays an honourable yakuza just out of the slammer. Makoto Sato is his old friend from another yakuza clan. Sneaky Ryuhei Uchida manipulates the two against each other by killing men from both clans and having them blame each other for it. Functional yakuza film lacks originality until the memorable final act, which sees the half-dead Shishido and Tatsuya Fuji heading for a final journey to catch the main villain after the big battle that normally ends yakuza films. The film also features a kick-ass score by Hajime Kaburagi. Meiko Kaji appears in a small supporting role, but doesn't have much to do.



    Bohachi Bushido: Code of the Forgotten Eight (Japan, 1973) [DVD] - 4.5/5
    A stunning exploitation chambra based on super violent comics by the Lone Wolf & Cub author Kazuo Koike. Tetsuro Tamba plays nihilistic swordsman who joins a depraved yakuza gang whose life consists of nothing but sex, torture and prostitution business. He is hired to wipe out their competition by killing the other clan's customers and shaming their women. This initiates a counter-attack and Tamba becomes target for ninja assassins. An incredibly colourful, stylish, and often surreal film with exciting action scenes and terrific performances. Tamba is a real stand out, as are the deadly (and frequently naked) Bohachi clan female bodyguards. The screenplay must have been exceptional as the film comes with terrific pacing, entertaining cut-to-the-bone plot, and badass dialogue. This was exactly the kind of material director Teruo Ishii excelled with.



    Truck Yaro (Japan, 1975) [35mm] - 3.5/5
    The first film in the series director Norifumi Suzuki is best known for in Japan. Bunta Sugawara and Kinya Aikawa star as two truckers, the former an eternal bachelor who always falls in love with the wrong girl, and the latter a family man with an authority problem. The first film establishes the formula: an almost schizophrenic mix of silly comedy, fast action and tender drama, with locations playing a major supporting role. The series would see the two truckers ride all around Japan, stop by at local festivals, race rival truckers (Junko Natsu in the first film, Sonny Chiba, Tomisaburo Wakayama etc. in the later ones), and always get in trouble with the police who would try to stop them in the climatic final chase. Although the first film isn't the best, it's still a very enjoyable action/comedy/drama. The series also serves as cinematic documentation of the now-extinct dekotora (decorated truck) culture which saw lone truckers decorating their vehicles in the most imaginable ways.

    Gambling Den Heist (Japan, 1975) [35mm] - 3.5/5
    A rarely seen humoristic caper by Kinji Fukasaku. Three miserable punks come up with a plan to rob a yakuza gambling den. Things don't go quite as planned. A fun film with a superb robbery scene and excellent tragicomic supporting performances by Takuzo Kawatani and Hideo Murota. The middle third is a bit slow, but otherwise the film comes with the energy expected from Fukasaku. This one is just much lighter and more humoristic than his usual nihilist crime epics. Great score as well.

    Violent Panic: The Big Crash (Japan, 1976) [DVD]- 4/5
    An utterly insane action classic that is one of Kinji Fukasaku's lesser known films, despite featuring one of the greatest car chases of all time. Tsunehiko Watase is a bank robber trying to escape the country with his girlfriend while being chased by the police and his dead partner's maniac brother who wants his share of the cash. Fort the first 60 min it's an enjoyable heist drama set to Toshiaki Tsushima's (Battle without Honor and Humanity) terrific score and with excellent turns by Watase and Sugimoto (her best performance was in the previous year's ATG film Preparation for a Festival), followed by an incredible 20 minute demolition derby that is unlike anything else ever seen. Imagine The Blues Brothers directed by Fukasaku as an ultraviolent crime film and you'll get the idea.



    Authentic Account: Osaka Shock Tactics (Jitsuroku gaiden: Osaka dengeki sakusen) (Japan, 1976) [35mm] - 4/5
    A very entertaining jitsuroku yakuza film by Sadao Nakajima, who spent most of his career contributing to genres other directors had made popular. Here he unleashes an unoriginal but highly effective vision of gang wars breaking out on the streets, all set to a kick-ass score by Toshiaki Tsushima. It echoes both Kinji Fukasaku and many Italian crime films from the same era. Hiroki Matsukata and Tsunehiko Watase are at the top of their game as ugly and brutal gangsters. The pretty boys that populate modern Japanese gangster films would piss in their pants if they came across these guys. There are some slow parts in the beginning, and the film lacks any real characterization, but it's so entertaining with great action scenes and badass mayhem that it doesn't really matter.

    Busu (Japan, 1987) [35mm] - 3/5
    Jun Ichikawa's first film, an enjoyable though not unforgettable slice of life film about an introvert girl who moves to Tokyo. It's a low key film, though there's also some cool montage set to pop music that really captures the time and place. The title means "ugly" but that doesn't refer to star Yasuko Tomita's looks: she's quite cute.

    *** Nobuhiro Yamashita Early Works start ***

    Night Imitate Summer (Japan, 1996) [DVD] - 1/5
    Amateurish 8mm short film gives no indication of Yamashita's talent. The 11 minute film follows a salesman who finds himself in a building full of crap and crappy people. Yamashita's trademarks are nowhere to be seen, and the film is not really worth a watch even as a curiosity.

    Rotting Woman (Japan, 1997) [DVD] - 3/5
    This must be the most unusual thing Yamashita has ever done: a gruesome zombie film dedicated to Lucio Fulci. Shot on 16mm, the film shows one woman's slow transformation into a zombie after being fatally bitten. It's simple film, but the short running time (10 min) makes it work and the gore effects are great. The film was shows on quite a few international festivals, where audiences probably labelled Yamashita a rising horror talent. How ironic for a director who, in reality, became known as the Japanese Aki Kaurismäki.

    Season Seeds (Japan, 1998) [DVD] - 2/5
    Two lazy guys stuck in a small apartment. This one is starting to feel a bit like a Yamashita film, and it stars Yamashita himself, but it's neither very funny not especially interesting. 8mm again, runs 19 minutes.

    Hiroshi and Rolan (Japan, 1999) [DVD] - 1/5
    Frustrating 12 minute short film about a Japanese guy and a very irritating foreign girl in a small hot room. This is not the kind of clever understated humour Yamashita became known for. The only point of interest is Hiroshi Yamamoto in the starring role. Runs 12 long minutes, shot on Hi8 and looks like crap.

    105 Yen Hamburger is Not Cheap(Japan, 2000) [DVD] - 2/5
    Yet another one room dialogue film, this time about fast food and dating. Yamamoto co-stars and improvises - one can hear Yamashita laughing behind the camera. He's having more fun than the audience. The 15 minute film, shot on digital, feels oddly amateurish considering Yamashita had already completed his enjoyable debut feature film Hazy Life (1999) by that time.

    *** Nobuhiro Yamashita Early Works end ***

    Azumi (Japan, 2003) [DVD] - 2.5/5
    This film will always have a special place in my heart as it made me fall in love with Aya Ueto for quite a few years, collect just about anything related to her, and probably influenced they way I grew up to be and where I ended up as well. I've been hesitant to watch it again in the fear or ruining those memories. Now, a more than decade later, a lot of the film's appeal is indeed gone. For starters, the film could lose about 50 minutes of its 143 minute running time as much of the drama is utterly uninspired, predictable and poorly paced. The stylized action works at times - the vertically spinning camera at the end is still fantastic - but there's a bit too much posing and one does wish Aya was a little faster. On the positive side the film lacks some of the caveats that would plague more recent Japanese films: CGI is relatively minimal, and the movie looks fine for being shot on film. Also, it remains a dozen times better movie than Shinobi: Heart Under Blade (2005).



    Attack on Titan: Part 1 (Japan, 2015) [Flight] – 2/5
    There was a cute girl in this one, but she got eaten.

    Attack on Titan: Part 2 (Japan, 2015) [Flight] – 1.5/5
    There was no cute girl in this one.

    This year’s major Japanese mainstream bait, released in two parts just like Rurouni Kenshin last year. The two films are surprisingly dark and violent with the titans ripping human bodies into pieces (Part 1 was cut in Hong Kong to avoid CAT III) for PG-12, but the action scenes are frustratingly nonsensical. Characters using wires to move and attack the giant titans was a nice idea, but half of the time the wires don’t seem to be attached to anything. In the second film we also get a bloated final battle that goes on forever and includes every cliché imaginable. The same can be said about the characters: boring, superficial, and clichéd, mostly portrayed by charisma-free actors who either are or look like idols. Special effects include some nice touches (also look out for Noboru Iguchi, and makeup artist Yoshihiro Nishimura’s other pals, as Titans) but the plentiful CGI looks like, well, CGI. The first movie still remains somewhat watchable due to the interesting premise and decent pace, but the second one really isn’t worth it.

    Round Trip Heart (Japan, 2015) [Flight] – 3.5/5
    It is thanks to directors like Yuki Tanada that Japanese mainstream cinema still produces occasional pleasant rides that aren’t plastic idol flicks – even when they star an idol. Ex-AKB-48 Yuko Oshima is as a twenty something train waitress who is semi-kidnapped by a divorced, pick pocketing film producer (Koji Okura) for a road trip. He’s looking for a chance to escape his miserable life even for just one day, and she seems to be having enough worries of her own not mind disappearing for one day. There’s a bit of today’s Nobuhiro Yamashita, a bit of early 2000s Ryuchi Hiroki, and of course plenty of Tanada. It’s a gentle, somewhat understated film with some wonderful moments and no actual romance in it, despite the Japanese title ‘Romance’. Oshima and Okura both give solid performances as well.

  8. #58
    An Andalusian Dog enandalusiskhund's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Takuma
    Truck Yaro
    Bunta Sugawara's rather strange cameo in Star of David must be a reference to this character, right?
    Proletarier aller Länder, vereinigt euch!

  9. #59
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by enandalusiskhund View Post
    Bunta Sugawara's rather strange cameo in Star of David must be a reference to this character, right?
    Yes. It's the same character.

    It's unfortunate that 99% of foreign viewers miss the joke. It's a pretty amazing moment if you get the joke.

  10. #60
    I'm always amused by Sugawara's appearance (in his truck) in STAR OF DAVID. It's even referencing another studio's series, which is funny.

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