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Thread: What Asian Films Have You Been Watching Recently?

  1. #751
    Quote Originally Posted by Jason C View Post
    I can see why Kinji Fukasaku is so well regarded but its surprising how so many of his masterpieces just don’t work for me. I appreciate the cinematography and camera work. I see what critics/historians are saying when they praise him for his originality. Even though the stories are well told I just don’t seem to enjoy them. In the case of STREET MOBSTER and GRAVEYARD OF HONOR, I vehemently dislike the lead characters. It wasn’t a problem until about halfway through the films when their over-the-top histrionics and cartoonishly unbelievable self-destructive behavior wore me out. It becomes unbelievable that the other characters tolerate them to the extent they do. The men should have put a bullet in their heads sooner and no way the women would give them a second look. More importantly, 45 minutes of their ridiculous behavior was all I could tolerate sitting through. (I have the same criticism of another great film, Sadao Nakajima’s Aesthetics of a Bullet). All that said, there are some Fukasaku I absolutely adore, like COPS VS THUGS.

    Noboru Ando plays a mob boss in both STREET MOBSTER and GRAVEYARD OF HONOR. He is so damn cool and is easily one of my favorite Japanese actors. Oh how I wish he was the main mob boss in the original BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR films. Nobuo Kaneko ruins those great films. A cool and reserved Noboru Ando in those films would have been amazing.
    As someone who loves Fukasaku films, I'm intrigued by your comments, Jason.

    I agree that the protaganists/anti-heroes are often over-the-top and hard to like, but I guess, personally, I enjoy watching how their behavior impacts others.

    Totally disagree that women wouldn't put up with them. Plenty of women are drawn to these "bad boy" characters. It's in their DNA. Doesn't mean they'll marry and settle down with them, but many are deluded enough to think the man will change for them and "settle down."

    Agree on Noboru Ando.

  2. #752
    Scholar of Sleaze Paul L's Avatar
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    As someone who finds himself constantly butting heads with corporate types, I like the Ishikawa Rikio-inspired characters in STREET MOBSTER and GRAVEYARD... I can sympathise with them and their nihilistic/self-destructive behaviour a great deal
    'You know, I'd almost forgotten what your eyes looked like. Still the same. Pissholes in the snow'

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  3. #753
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Ishihara x 5 (and 1 Watari in the middle)

    Man Who Causes a Storm (嵐を呼ぶ男) (Japan, 1957) [VoD] – 2.5/5
    A Nikkatsu classic with hard-fisted delinquent Yujiro Ishihara put behind drums to replace arrogant AWOL band star Toshio Oida. The boy proves to be an instant sensation. But the yakuza affiliated (backed up by crooked Toru Abe) Oida isn't going let his glory, nor his stripper girlfriend, be taken away that easily. Energetic Ishihara shines, but the conservative drama with Ishihara seeking mother's approval is strictly a product of its time, and can bog down the film's momentum at times. The film remains one of Nikkatsu’s more popular pictures, however, and has been remade multiple times.

    Red Handkerchief (赤いハンカチ) (Japan, 1964) [DVD] - 4/5
    Young detective Yujiro Ishihara quits the force after gunning down a drug ring suspect and orphaning pretty girl Ruriko Asaoka. Years later police chief Nobuo Kaneko finds him in the snowy north working as a construction worker and a wandering guitarist! The chief needs help with the old case which remains unsolved and somehow landed Asaoka in Ishihara's ex-partner Hideaki Nitani's amorous hands. Beautifully atmospheric and visually poetic mood action with a great use of metaphoric winter and fall scenery, which reminds of matatabi films. Of course, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to see Ishihara's character as a modern matatabi hero. Though my knowledge of the genre is limited, there is doubt this film is rightfully considered one of the cornerstones of Nikkatsu Action.



    Man Who Causes a Storm (嵐を呼ぶ男) (Japan, 1966) [VoD] – 2/5
    A disappointing remake of the 1957 Yujiro Ishihara film. It’s the same storyline, but with conflicts and villains downplayed to the point of the drama becoming toothless. Tetsuya Watari is the new delinquent going band star, Tatsuya Fuji the arrogant drummer, and Meiko Kaji a girlfriend character in a new race driver brother side-plot. Despite the star power, Watari is the only one who makes an impression. It’s very much the same film as the original, only with less punch, and in colour this time. No, wait, the original was in colour, too!

    Safari 5000 (栄光への5000キロ) (Japan, 1969) [VoD] – 4/5
    You probably didn't know there was a Japanese 3 hour racing film that is both a sentimental epic and heavily influenced by French new wave. And a good chunk of it is spoken in French. Japanese daredevil driver Yujiro Ishihara crashes near-fatally in Monte Carlo, separating ways with teammate and close friend Jean Claude Drouot. The latter goes on to become a rival, while girlfriends Emmanuelle Riva (of Hiroshima Mon Amour and Haneke's Amour) and Ruriko Asaoka (who speaks all her dialogue with Riva in French) remain close. Motorsports boss Toshiro Mifune and team leader Tatsuya Nakadai then recruit Ishihara for the legendary East African Safari Rally. Koreyoshi Kurahara helms the film with loads of style and intense documentary-like touch in the racing scenes (the climatic rally scene takes over 50 min). Ishihara is excellent as the bull-headed driver, and manages his abundant English dialogue alright (his Kenyan co-driver, on the other hand can speak English well, but not act). The storyline was inspired by real events. This was the no. 1 film at the Japanese box office in 1969.



    The Walking Major (ある兵士の賭け) (Japan, 1970) [VoD] – 3/5
    America is a friend: The Movie. Major Dale Robertson (and sidekick Frank Sinatra Jr.) decides to walk through half of Japan to raise money for an orphanage. And then he walks, walks, once falls into a ditch, and then walks some more. Cute little kids cheer for him, women shed tears of admiration, and once he even stops to put out a fire. A terrible military march keeps playing in repeat. Pretty pedestrian filmmaking to say the least, and could pass for a genuine propaganda piece only if it wasn’t produced by the Japanese themselves, Yujiro Ishihara’s Ishihara International. And it is a true story, with some invented content, the opening states. It is not without innocent, sentimental charm, however. By the end, you’ve likely grown quite fond of it. And the last part of the film is genuinely curious. Aside Ishihara, there’s Toshiro Mifune, Ruriko Asaoka, Mayumi Nagisa and Michiyo Aratama popping up, faring somewhat worse with their English in what is mainly an English language film than in Safari 5000. The director is b-grade import Keith Eric Burt aka Keith Larsen.

    Fuji sancho (富士山頂) (Japan, 1970) [VoD] – 2.5/5
    Mitsubishi Electric Corporation: The Movie. In 1964 Mitsubishi - yes, they did more than just cars and rice cookers - built weather radar on top of Mt. Fuji under gruelling conditions. And here we have a motion picture epic about their struggles to make that happen, courtesy of Yujiro Ishihara's Ishihara Production. It's big enough a film for engineer protagonist Ishihara to disappear for a good 40 minutes while Shintaro Katsu and Makoto Sato try to drive a bulldozer on top of the mountain. Third billed Tetsuya Watari doesn't appear until well into the 2nd hour as a helicopter pilot. It’s a great cast only rivalled by the beautiful scenery, in a decently suspenseful but awfully safe tale of a national achievement. Very much made for mainstream audiences, and indeed, this was the 3rd biggest box office hit of 1970, tied with Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo.



    Others

    Ganso dai yojohan dai monogatari (元祖大四畳半大物語) (Japan, 1980) [DVD] - 1.5/5
    Unfunny mainstream comedy co-directed by Chusei Sone and Leiji Matsumoto (based Matsumoto’s manga). It’s is about a nerdy teenager staying opposite of a yakuza chinpira in a guesthouse. Yuri Yamashina (does not strip) and James Hunt (does not play) pop up briefly. This must rank as one of Sone’s most boring films. There are no laughs, no characters to care for, and nothing cinematically inventive. Sone had done much better with another teen comedy, Hakatakko junjo (1978), a few years earlier.

    Tezuka's Barbara (Japan / UK / Germany, 2019) [DCP] - 3/5
    Astro Boy Osamu Tezuka's adult manga brought to screen as jazzy noir weirdness with an intellectual undercurrent. A writer (Goro Inagaki) with "slight mental issues" (he mistakes a lingerie store mannequin for a real woman and tries to make love to it) is saved by bad-mannered, booze-loving, French literature quoting Barbara (Fumi Nikaido). But things only get more bizarre from there on. Lots of interesting talent behind this one: Tezuka's son Macoto helms, Christopher Doyle lenses, and Third Window Films' Adam Torel produces. It’s a good looking picture, with a standout performance by (the frequently naked) Nikaido as Barbara. But this could have been even wilder, with tighter editing, better character depth, more cannibalism and, well, let’s not give away too much. Still, even with its shortcomings, this is surely the most interesting film in Japanese multiplexes at the moment, one with some bite.


  4. #754
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    The Shogun’s Vault (御金蔵破り) (Japan, 1964) [TV] – 3/5
    Teruo Ishii entered Toei with a number of stylish, contemporary capers. Here he does the same formula in Edo, with met-in-prison Hashizo Okawa and Chiezo Kataoka putting on black hoods and scheming to nab the shogun’s gold without anyone noticing. The film takes a while to get going, but the heist sequence delivers thrills in spades. Also noteworthy is the opening (all male) prison segment, full of perversity pre-dating Ishii’s late 60s Tokugawa films.

    Woman Boss: Chivalrous Fight (女親分 喧嘩渡世) (Japan, 1969) [TV] – 3/5
    A standard ninkyo film elevated by star Nijiko Kiyokawa. At 57 years of age, she wasn’t quite the cutie idol Toei put in their other movies. An actress since the early 1930s, she was probably best known to Toei yakuza audiences as the battle axe wife in the Tomisaburo Wakayama’s Gokudo series. This film is somewhat a derivative, with mostly the same cast (Kiyokawa, Shingo Yamashiro, Bunta Sugawara, Minoru Oki, Bin Amatsu) and a similar feel. Kiyokawa gets her gang into female wrestling, quarrels with delinquent girls (Hiroko Minami, Masumi Tachibana, and Yumiko Katayama with some amazing fashion), and shoots a bad guy in the eye! Mediocre Takashi Harada helms it with professionalism albeit without originality. But it is lovely Toei gave Kiyokawa a film of her own at this point of her career…. even if they couldn’t refuse a bunch of (non)sex appeal jokes.



    Chivalrous Woman (女渡世人) (Japan, 1971) [DVD] - 3/5
    An unusually feminine yakuza picture with Junko Fuji searching for her long lost mother, and becoming a mother figure herself for a girl whose father (Koji Tsuruta) went nagurikomi on an evil gang. Fuji always had a distinctly motherly aura, even at a young age, which still didn’t stop her from killing a dozen people and slicing a few arms off, as in this film’s opening scene. Another oxymoron: director Shigehiro Ozawa filmed much of this picture in real mountainous locations instead of studio sets, which creates an oddly realistic effect in the fairytale like ninkyo context. A solid film with many good scenes (e.g. clueless/arrogant boss Tatsuo Endo asking for Fuji's name and getting a formal yakuza self-introduction in return) but it could have done with a few barrels of tears less – half of the film is spent about crying over lost and found mothers.

    Chivalrous Woman 2 (女渡世人 おたの申します) (Japan, 1971) [DVD] – 3.5/5
    An unusual ninkyo film that attempts to strip the genre of its trademark romanticism. Junko Fuji is a woman gambler who travels to another town return a fellow gambler’s ashes to his parents, and to collect his debt. However, her good deeds are only greeted with ungratefulness, and every action she takes brings more death and misery to the people around her. "We are yakuza, we are destined to live in the shadows" says honourable companion Bunta Sugawara. There is some silly comedic relief in the beginning, and a rather uninspired musical score, but by the bloody climax the film has descended to a level of emotional despair never before seen the ninkyo genre. An inconsistent, but remarkable effort by director Yamashita and writer Kasahara.



    Swords of Death (真剣勝負) (Japan, 1971) [TV] – 3.5/5
    Tomu Uchida’s final Musashi Miyamoto film, produced a decade after the classic 5 film series (1961-1964). This one follows Miyamoto’s (Kinnosuke Nakamura) encounter with chain and sickle wielding Baiken Shishido (Rentaro Mikuni), which results in a massive, 30 minute battle scene between the two adversaries. At only 75 minutes, this is a compact pack of both hard core action and philosophical discussions. Whether the abrupt ending and the short running time were artistic decisions or merely a result of director Tomu Uchida dying before the film was completed, they often work to its benefit. The film was brought to theatres in February 1971, some six months after Uchida’s death.



    Chiwawa (チワワちゃん) (Japan, 2019) [DVD] - 3.5/5
    Fragmented, hectic youth exploration about a group of friends recalling Chiwawa, a cheerful party girl who was found floating in Tokyo Bay in pieces. Director Ken Ninomiya again proves he is (the only new Japanese director) on to something. Here he updates Hideaki Anno's masterpiece Love and Pop to the Instagram age, and does Harmony Korine's (masterful) Spring Breakers with honesty instead of satire, resulting in a film that feels very much on to its time. One can only assume these images spring from the director's own life. And after bombarding the audience with disco lights and life on speed for 100 minutes, he ends the film with a scene where all these young, popular actors have been stripped of make-up, and the result is beautiful. He could've cut the film shorter, though. Side note: contains an insanely funny group sex scene.


  5. #755
    Senior Member The Silly Swede's Avatar
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    Outlaw Brothers hadn't seen it since the days of VHS, but recently ran across a DVD copy of it. Quite fun from the last few good years of Hong Kong cinema.
    "No presh from the Dresh!"

  6. #756
    Senior Member Lalala76's Avatar
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    So all week I've been rewatching the classics of King Hu.

    One thing I've noticed about these seriously towering achievements of cinema are that as with quite a lot of Wu-xia films each King Hu film requires a great deal of patience, but are ultimately rewarding in the end.

    A Touch of Zen has to be my number one, but takes a good hour plus to remotely get anywhere, but instead takes it's time. It's also a strange beast as tonally it changes course in the last third and almost feels like it has part of a second film tagged on in the end. That forest scene is just awesome though.

    Up for a close second is Legend of the mountain, The concept of duelling ghosts, who battle with music is genius and is such an odd but atmospheric film.

    The three "Inn" films (Come drink with me, Dragon gate inn and Fate of Lee Khan) are a bit more limited in scope but don't make them any less interesting.I change my mind constantly as to which of these three I prefer.

    Raining in The Mountain is perhaps the hardest one to digest due to it's limited amount of Wu-xia action but is still great.
    Last edited by Lalala76; 02-08-2021 at 11:56 AM.

  7. #757
    I love the peculiar way the characters in "Raining in the Mountain" scamper around. That movie grew on me. I rewatched it a couple of weeks ago.
    Last edited by mjeon; 02-09-2021 at 06:52 PM.

  8. #758
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Bullet Wound (弾痕) (Japan, 1969) [DVD] – 3.5/5
    Interesting, bloody counter-espionage thriller set in 1969 Tokyo during violent, anti US student protests. Yuzo Kayama is an American-Japanese operative working for the US to uncover an arms deal between an American seller and Chinese communists, and to take out both parties. After almost getting assassinated himself, he takes a wounded civilian (Kiwako Taichi) with him despite living in a world where no one can be trusted. This is a loosely linked companion to Kayama’s other sniper / professional killer films Sun Above, Death Below (1968), The Creature Called Man (1970) and Target of Roses (1972), but with a more political approach. And there is no lack of nihilism, as proven by the unnecessarily long torture / interrogation scene. The film’s first half runs at leisure pace and ought to have been cut down, but the second half is tight, suspenseful and action packed. The era is captured well, and Kayama is great at channelling lonely tough guy vibes as a man with no true homeland, looked down upon by Americans and Japanese alike.

    Farewell, Movie Friend: Indian Summer (さらば映画の友よ インディアンサマー) (Japan, 1979) [DVD] – 3.5/5
    Film aficionado Takuzo Kawatani, whose life aim is to watch a movie in theatre every day for 20 years, makes friends with student boy Naohiko Shigeta and his girlfriend Atsuko Asano whose delinquent girl antics and yakuza affiliations proves troubling, in 1969 Tokyo. This was Masato Harada’s (Kamikaze Taxi, Bounce ko gals) first film, a love letter to cinema. Toei’s live action Donald Duck Kawatani gives a heartfelt performance in the lead. He’s best know as a Piranha Gang member (a group of Toei bit-player hell raisers who spent their nights drunk and days competing who gets the most outrageous on-screen deaths; fellow piranha Hideo Murota is in this film too). But those who saw him in Fukasaku’s Gambling Den Heist already knew the underlying talent he had for tragicomedy. Here, from the opening where he runs himself breathless to catch a movie, to reciting movie dialogue at every chance, doing a Dancing in the Rain number, and studying Ken Takakura movies to learn how to deal with the yakuza, Kawatani just oozes sympathy. The film’s weakness is giving too much of (the excessive 110 min) runtime to the good but less interesting Shigeta.



    Tokyo Heaven (東京上空いらっしゃいませ) (Japan, 1990) [VoD] – 2/5
    A deceased teen idol refuses to go to heaven, comes back to earth as a runaway spirit to try and live an ordinary life. She seeks shelter with a young marketing employee who has just been tasked with covering up her death for a greasy politician responsible for her ran-over-by-a-car mishap. Shinji Somai was arguably the greatest youth film director of the 80s, but he seemed to lose his intimate touch and technical genius as he grew older. This one plays out like a standard domestic 90s drama with a low key fantasy touch akin to Nobuhiko Obayashi. There is one scene, however, where the protagonist meets a childhood friend on a buzzing home district street, all shot in one long take, that sparks the old Somal magic. The film remains a largely forgotten entry in Somai’s filmography, though it's been making a bit of a comeback with recent 35mm screenings in Tokyo and VoD distribution.

    Drug Connection (極東黒社会 DRUG CONNECTION) (Japan, 1993) [TV] – 3/5
    Toei V-Cinema antics disguised as a theatrical film. Opens with a close-up of bare breasts, in a New York drug lab full of topless men and women processing narcotics, moments before the police raid the place and shoot half of the people dead. The mafia then decides to seek new markets in Japan. Cut to Shinjuku where small time smuggler (Koji Yakusho) is caught between Japanese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong crime syndicates (the latter lead by ruthless Jimmy Wang Yu!) fighting for drug dominance. Enter N.Y. undercover cop (Sho Kosugi!) who has followed the trail to Japan, and a gaijin woman who shows her boobs. Good film! There's a bit of Fukasaku, a hint of mid 90s Miike, and perhaps even a passing resemblance to John Woo here. The action is never quite as catchy as you'd wish, and there is excess length at 110 min, but the great cast and the sheer amount of sex and violence in theatrical wrapping makes this worth a watch. The film's box office failure, they say, sank Toei ever deeper into V-Cinema where the audiences for stuff like this were.



    The Blood of the Wolves (孤狼の血) (Japan, 2018) [VoD] – 2/5
    Toei is back at the gangster game… with a film that opens with a close up of shit coming out of a pig's ass. The turd finds its way to a man's mouth, who is soon to be found dead, initiating a police investigation lead by take-no-shit detective Koji Yakusho. An ugly portrait of ugly business, as witnessed by idealistic rookie cop Tori Matsuzaka. Over-rated director Kazuya Shiraishi borrows heavily from Fukasaku, which only highlights this film’s relative shortcomings. Gone is the filmic look, gone are Toshiaki Tsushima's badass riffs, replaced by a nauseatingly dull modern soundtrack, and while Yakusho is good in his role, the cast just doesn't have the grit of the 70s Toei guys in films like Okinawa Yakuza War or Osaka Shock Tactics. These modern stars come out as great pretenders, which is what the whole film ultimately is.

  9. #759
    Senior Member Takuma's Avatar
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    Japan's Underworld (日本暗黒街) (Japan, 1966) [TV] - 3.5/5
    A super-stylish gangster / action film with ex-mobster Koji Tsuruta forced back in action when his ill-lucked buddy (excellent Ko Nishimura) gets himself in trouble with the yakuza. The film achieves nothing profound, but it's got a great, unmistakably 60s swing (probably attributable to comedy / musical director Masaharu Segawa) and even a bit of spy film influence. There's an excellent jazzy score, superb cinematography and spot-on performances / characters that are loving caricatures of the kinds of tough guys and beautiful women that populate these sort of noirish gangster tales. Koji Tsuruta in particular is at his Humphrey Bogart best here. Very enjoyable..

    Funeral Parade of Roses (薔薇の葬列) (Japan, 1969) [VoD] - 4/5
    A hugely important, semi-documentary exploration of the late 60s Tokyo underground gay scene, helmed by experimental director Toshio Matsumoto and starring the to-be gay star Peter in his first role at the age of 16 or 17. Matsumoto blends purely fictional storytelling (that borrows from an ancient Greek play) with genuine interviews about gay life, drugs and anti-government protest that were going on in the streets of Tokyo at the time. Most of the characters are what modern audiences might see as drags, but what wasn’t so clear cut back then, e.g. Peter who dresses up as woman, but has not gone through a sex change operation (something that would also have been nearly impossible in 60s Japan, though fellow star Maki Carrousel did go through that and nearly died), and identifies himself as gay. Groundbreaking upon its release when gay and trans characters were usually reduced to comic relieves in hit films such the Abashiri Prison series, or heinous villains such as in Teruo Ishii's Shameless: Abnormal and Abusive Love (1969), the film still remains a fascinating zeitgeist, a visual tour de force, and a showcase for the brilliantly captivating (and it must be said, gorgeous) Peter.



    Women Hell Song (おんな地獄唄 尺八弁天) (Japan, 1970) [VoD] - 2/5
    There's something fascinating on a scholastic level about a near-lost film scripted by underground hero Atsushi Yamatoya, starring the first ever pink queen Katori Tamaki (of Flesh Market, 1962) and helmed by one-man soft porn factory Mamoru Watanabe as of his 200+ films. But this is just another dose of Yamatoya's half-baked pink terrorism coming out as little more than a pretentious sex roughie. A female outlaw who does a tiny bit of gambling (the popular comparisons to Red Peony Gambler are largely unwarranted) is violated by two villains and one lawman, and then goes for revenge. Another girl gets violated some more. Little happens aside a multitude of rapes, but some of the B&W compositions look good, and you can read it all as commentary about male cruelty if you so wish.

    Gushing Prayer: A 15-Year-Old Prostitute (噴出祈願 15歳の売春婦) (Japan, 1971) [VoD] – 4/5
    Mesmerizing philosophical-political exploration with four 15 year olds, one of them pregnant, set on beating the sex-driven adult world that is trying to swallow their souls. Koji Wakamatsu’s main screenwriter, to-be Red Army fighter and convicted terrorist Masao Adachi’s poetic youth film and pink flick is constantly balancing between true art and ridiculous-pretentious. But it has so much to say, and it unfolds on screen via such striking images, accompanied by a hypnotic score, that it comes out as nothing short of Pure Cinema. Many indie filmmakers have attempted the same, few have succeeded this well. This instantly became one of my favourite youth films of all time. Trivia: Japan’s all time best screenwriter, Haruhiko Arai, served as “director’s assistant” in this film.



    Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time (シン・エヴァンゲリオン劇場版𝄇) [DCP] – 3/5
    Anno completes his remake quadrilogy after battling COVID release restrictions, Godzilla, and depression. He seems to have emerged victorious since this is the most positive, life-embracing of the franchise known for mirroring Anno's unstable mental health. Now if I could just remember what the heck happened in the previous film, which I saw in theatre eight (!) years ago, I could probably appreciate it even more. As usual, the mecha action is as boring as ever (I've no clue what makes it so popular, the choreography is a mess) but what happens between those fights is more interesting. Following the opening action bore, Anno finds time to settle down in the countryside with his emotionally healing characters, with no mecha is sight for the next 60 minutes. He's got all the time in the world, with a massive 155 min run time. And there's finally a conclusion to Shinji's story, surely a relief to those who were sending Anno murder threats in the 90s after the earlier psycho-acid-mindfuck endings. But for its added coherence and positivity, the film is never quite as gripping, nor fascinating, as what he had achieved before in anime or live action (his masterpieces, Love & Pop, Ritual).

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