MY HERO ACADEMIA: TWO HEROES

Released 2018

3 stars (out of 4)

The recent North American theatrical run of the MY HERO ACADEMIA movie proved to be a resounding success. The original screenings in September were so popular, additional dates were added in early October, eventually earning more than $5.7 million US and ranking the film in the Top 10 of highest-grossing domestic anime films of all time!

So how was it? Well pretty good, actually. It was generally a lot of fun; familiar characters were true to their personalities without it feeling tired; the new girl was cool; and a nice plot twist kept the story from being as predictable and simplistic as it could have been.

The film might have had too much recap, though, enough to be a little tedious for someone who’s been following the anime series. But I can understand that they needed to make the movie accessible to uninitiated viewers, so that’s kind of unavoidable.

What did confound me was the totally unnecessary coincidence that practically all of Deku’s class was in attendance at I-Island for the I-Expo for various reasons and Deku didn’t know about it. It should have been common knowledge that the winner of the tournament was invited. And absolutely no one talked about their holiday plans? As far as I could tell, it had no bearing on the story whatsoever; if Deku had expected them, it would have all been the same. So I’m just scratching my head at that narrative choice.

I was also surprised at how the college-aged voice and middle-aged voice of All Might’s friend sounded completely different! It seems rather odd to hire 2 different seiyu to voice 2 adult versions of the same character. (The screening I attended was in Japanese with English subtitles. The English dub might not have this peculiarity.)

THE LAST RECIPE

Released 2017

3 stars (out of 4)

Last week, we attended the Toronto Japanese Film Festival closing night screening of THE LAST RECIPE. Hard to believe it has been a whole week already, but anyway…

Mitsuru is a gifted chef who can remember and replicate any dish he’s ever tasted. Talented to a fault, his exacting nature previously got in the way of the success of his restaurant, so now he makes ends meet by re-creating custom meals for high paying clients. He receives an unusual request to find the final recipe of the dishes that were to be served to the Emperor during his visit to occupied Manchuria. Although Mitsuru is skeptical about the job, the offered reward is too great to refuse, so he begins an investigation into the life and works of a renowned chef named Yamagata.

Chronicling Yamagata’s past quickly becomes a journey of self-discovery for Mitsuru as well in this historically detailed and satisfying film. Stories set amongst the politics and espionage of 1930s Manchuria are always interesting. Of course, there’re also lots of images of beautiful food. Yeah, you bet we were hungry after the show!

Chihayafuru Part 3

Released 2018

3 stars (out of 4)

Unfortunately, my sister and I never got the chance to watch Chihayafuru Part II, but since we have seen the anime in full, it wasn’t difficult at all for us to jump right in to this film. On the other hand, we attended the screening with a friend who was completely uninitiated in the franchise; he was still able to enjoy the individual parts and follow the gist of the overall story, but I would strongly recommend watching Parts I & II first if you aren’t familiar with the manga or anime.

As with the first installment of the live-action trilogy, there was some over-acting in the earlier, quieter parts of the film, but once they got going with the karuta drama, the characters seemed a lot more natural.

The soundtrack, once again by composer Yokoyama Masaru (Your lie in April), was really good! My favourite was the piece with the cello and strings after the team first tied up their sleeves; it was so affecting!

Haikara-San: Here Comes Miss Modern (Part One)

Released 2017

3 stars (out of 4)

Benio is a teenaged girl living in 1920s Japan. Contrary to the expectations of her family and school, she is more interested, and has more skill, in kendo than in housekeeping. She is also very much against the idea of arranged marriages, which turns out to be a problem when her father reveals that she has long been betrothed to a young army lieutenant, and understandably, there was never a good time for him to tell her!

The film starts out moderately paced, with good time for development of the characters and the setting. Benio and her fiancé Shinobu both prove to be likeable people. I also appreciate that Shinobu’s grandfather’s discomfort at the whole marriage arrangement gets addressed on multiple levels.

However, a few scenes in the second half feel strangely truncated, including the part where Shinobu fights to earn the respect of his charges in the army, the parting of Benio and Ranmaru, and Benio’s seemingly ill-informed response to the riot during her first assignment as a journalist.

I have to stress that this movie is only the first half of the Haikara-San story, and so, it ends on a bit of a cliffhanger. Other than that though, it is a funny, enjoyable, and well-animated adaptation of a classic shoujo manga.

The Scythian Lamb

Released 2018

3 stars (out of 4)

As part of a project to bolster the population of a small seaside town, six ex-convicts are secretly paroled into the community. Their link is a young city employee, Tsukisue Hajime (Nishikido Ryo), who is responsible for helping them to settle in. Tsukisue himself, at least initially, is in the dark about the circumstances of the new residents. But things start to get a bit unsettling as he learns the truth and as he and his friends and family become personally involved with some of the parolees.

In turns humorous, suspenseful, and chilling, The Scythian Lamb is a thought-provoking tale that challenges the expectations of its viewers.

On the one hand, criminals who have paid their debt to society definitely deserve a chance to live a normal life once again; but on the other, if even just one relapses, it can have devastating consequences. The film provides a thoughtful exploration of the experiences of each of the ex-cons, while grounding the story in the perspective of Tsukisue.

INITIAL D Legend film trilogy

INITIAL D Legend 1: AWAKENING (Released 2014)

INITIAL D Legend 2: RACER (Released 2015)

INITIAL D Legend 3: DREAM (Released 2016)

3 stars (out of 4)

A reboot of the classic car racing anime series, the INITIAL D Legend movies play out pretty much as expected plot-wise. Main character gets challenged by various tough opponents, which he reluctantly takes on, all the while developing an appreciation for the sport.

I never saw the original series, but I’m sure the updated animation added to the excitement here, including impressive camera work that would zoom in on the driving inside the cars, and then seamlessly transition out as the vehicles maneuvered down the mountain course. I also had no complaints about the voice cast, which included Miyano Mamoru, Ono Daisuke, Nakamura Yuuichi, and Suwabe Junichi in major roles.

Mogi, the girlfriend, existed only as a plot device and to provide fan service in the first 2 films. Fortunately, she was redeemed a little bit in Legend 3, as she was given more lines and seemed like more of a friend and confidante for Takumi.

That relationship didn’t work as well for me as the one between the Takahashi brothers, though. It was realistic how they both shared a passion for racing; and I loved seeing their easy rapport and mutual respect for each other.

I was not quite convinced that Takumi’s dad would have told him nothing about cars and racing while he was growing up, considering the dad’s past and the racing culture of his hometown. A valid reason would’ve been that he didn’t want his son to get involved in racing – that I would understand; but that didn’t seem to be the case. Regardless, it did make for good comedy that the fastest guy on Mt. Akina had no interest in racing and didn’t know jack about cars!

The Shape of Water

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

The Shape of Water is one part unconventional love story and one part Cold War-era spy thriller. After months of talking about it, we finally got out to see this film 2 days before it went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.

I can’t say I was entirely sold on the romance between the mute cleaning lady and the mystical sea creature, personally. I think it takes more than true love to build a meaningful relationship. Although, pure love that requires no words is certainly a beautiful thing; it’s hard to argue with that.

The rest of the drama was more complex than I expected, which is good. Essentially, three sides had their own designs on the creature, which was being held captive in a top-secret facility in Baltimore: the Americans, who were willing to destroy it to learn from it; the Soviets, who would do anything to thwart the Americans; and Elisa, the lady who wished to save him. Beyond that, several individual players had their own beliefs and agendas as well, which made for a satisfyingly suspenseful story.

Our favourite character was Elisa’s friend and co-worker Zelda, who was really great at telling it like it is. Case in point: the washroom scene.

My only real complaint is that the nudity on display was completely unnecessary. Right off the bat, Elisa bared her all to the audience. I was waiting for it to become relevant somehow later on, but it never happened.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

Like The Force Awakens, if you think about some of the events in The Last Jedi a little bit, it doesn’t completely make sense.

For instance, at one point Finn and Rose go off to find the Master Codebreaker, only knowing their target would be in a certain place and wearing a specific piece of attire. That’s actually worse than the “Map to Luke.” What, this nameless guy is in that one location always? He never goes home to sleep; he has the attire visibly displayed at all times; and there’s no chance he’s already been enlisted in someone else’s mission? At least things don’t go exactly the way they wanted, but it’s still not quite believable that Finn & co. would even bother to undertake such a not-well-thought-out-virtually-zero-chance-of-success plan.

Also, I thought it was a ridiculously stupid mistake for the Resistance to voluntarily sacrifice one of their top personnel when this was clearly not even the final battle. Narrative-wise, I understood why it had to happen; but considering the difficult fight that’s certainly still ahead, it made no sense.

It seemed like half the things the characters were trying to do were for nothing.

Beyond this, I know many dissatisfied viewers have questioned the portrayal of Luke Skywalker, the various plot holes and inconsistencies. I have to say, I actually agree with nearly all of the complaints. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the film anyway.

At the end of the day, The Last Jedi is thrilling and fun, and it solidly lives up to what I’ve come to expect from Star Wars episodes – lots of great action and heroes that are easy to root for. The humour works for me too – the funny scenes are some of my favourite parts of the movie. Oh, and overpowered BB-8 is awesome!

BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

An immortal warrior named Manji joins forces with a girl who is out to avenge her murdered family in director Miike Takashi’s 100th film.

I enjoyed the humour that was in the movie, although I personally thought there could have been more of it. Some of the quieter scenes dragged on a bit too, which needlessly slowed the pace in several parts.

But, as far as grand sword fighting spectacles go, BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL delivered what it promised. The body count was astoundingly high. So lots of good fun, in other words.

Rin, the lead girl, was pretty useless though! If she was supposed to be nothing more than a damsel in distress, they should have just made her that. Instead, I got the impression she was one of the better students at her father’s dojo. And she trained for her revenge every day with Manji, only to end up utterly incapable of defending herself! I have to conclude that probably the villain was right when he dismissed her father’s abilities; maybe he (and his sword style) really did suck.