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!

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.

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.

MUMON – THE LAND OF STEALTH (Shinobi no Kuni)

MUMON

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2017

This year’s Toronto Japanese Film Festival came to a close last Wednesday night with the North American premiere of Shinobi no Kuni, a rousingly enjoyable action movie set during the Sengoku period. Director Nakamura Yoshihiro was on hand to introduce the film and answer questions afterward.

Iga Province used to be renowned for its fearsome, highly-skilled ninja for hire. The Iga would kill without question if the price was right. Apparently, they would even sell out their own flesh and blood. As Oda Nobunaga’s forces approached their territory, in his mission to unify Japan, the Iga ninja were tasked with fighting for themselves for once, a monetarily profitless venture. How would they be able to muster up the motivation?

The acting was really good all around. The cast handled the serious dramatic scenes and the absurd comedic parts with equal flair.

The soundtrack was great too. I liked the inclusion of 70s-style rock music, which was unexpected, but really worked with the mood of the film.

Recently, I was turned off by the ugly violence in another TJFF film, Himeanole. MUMON – THE LAND OF STEALTH got it right, in my opinion. Cool-looking, largely bloodless, respectful sword fights and combat scenes are absolutely the way to go.

The movie did actually address some thoughtful themes regarding morality and honour, but it was balanced out by plenty of humour. All in all, it was a whole lot of fun to watch.

Chihayafuru Part I

Chihayafuru part 1

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016

I really love the Chihayafuru anime, so I went into this live action film with high expectations, but also some mild trepidation as to how successfully the content would transfer to a 2 hour movie format.

The screenplay writer made what must certainly have been difficult decisions, but the cuts and story rearrangements resulted in a streamlined production that hit all the right notes. In the places when it really mattered, no corners were cut. In particular, Taichi’s and Tsutomu’s conflicts had sufficient time to fully develop and the payoff was rewarding.

Some of the acting was a little unnatural, especially in the quieter moments, but the cast’s performance was effective in conveying humour and showing the characters’ personalities.

The good framing of the shots, use of slow motion, and the music further added to the excitement in this thrilling competitive karuta movie.

SCOOP! / Himeanole

Scoop Himeanole

Both released 2016

We caught 2 films at the TJFF on Friday night. Although they were quite different in subject matter, both of them freely depicted sex and onscreen smoking and both culminated in the crazy character going on a killing spree that took the life of a well-meaning police officer among other victims.

SCOOP!
2.5 stars (out of 4)

SCOOP! was about a veteran paparazzi photographer and the rookie reporter he was forced to work with. It did show what a distasteful business gossip rags are. The character interactions were mostly good, even if I was a bit icked out at the prospect of romance between the 2 leads.

The car chase was pretty exciting, especially when our protagonists decided it would be a good idea to light up fireworks inside their vehicle.

Himeanole
1.5 stars (out of 4)

Himeanole was like 2 movies. In the first half, 3 guys happened to be in love with/obsessed with the same girl, a waitress at a local café. It maybe had something to say about the psyche of loser guys and their attachment to unattainable idols.

The second half made a whiplash-inducing turn to the dark side. It was full of disturbing gore and violence and frankly didn’t seem to have much of a point. I can put up with some violence if it’s cartoonishly funny or cool, or if there’s some message like demonstrating the horror of war, for instance. Here, the violence just seemed to be hateful and gratuitous and completely out of line with my idea of entertainment.

The points I award this movie are pretty much for technical merit and acting only.

PARASYTE (Kiseijuu) Part 2 – Completion

Parasyte-2

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015 (in Japan)

When I watched this part of the story in the anime series, I thought it was a little too stretched out and overly preachy about its environmental and humans-are-the-real-monsters themes. Therefore, I rather enjoyed the faster pace of this movie by comparison.

Tamiya Ryoko didn’t get as much development as in the anime. Regardless, her vision and wisdom came through concisely over the course of the film.

For all the action sequences that got cut, I was surprised that they decided to retain the love-making scene. I didn’t really feel that it was necessary to the story in the first place; and by having it take place at a waste management facility… that just was not very romantic, to say the least.

RUROUNI KENSHIN: Kyoto Inferno / The Legend Ends

rurouni-kenshin-kyoto-inferno-the-legend-ends

Both: 3 stars (out of 4)

Both: Released 2014 (in Japan)

These represent the second and third films in the trilogy and cover the Kyoto Arc. The first film came out in 2012.

Compared to the source manga, the narrative is much compressed and rearranged, as with the first Kenshin film. It works okay as a movie, but once again, some transitions don’t completely make sense if you think about them.

Most of the individual fights between various characters have been cut; a necessity, as the intricacies and meanings would have been difficult to convey in this medium. I do regret we didn’t get to properly see the battle at Aoi-ya, in which 2 or 3 of Shishio’s Juppongatana were defeated by “women and children,” namely Kaoru, Misao, and Yahiko.

That brings me to my primary complaint, which is still the weak characterization of Kaoru. My image of her is of an open-minded young lady who is also bossy, strong-willed, and courageous. She lives by her progressive ideals of forgiveness and protecting life, but it’s not to say that she is a childishly naïve pacifist, either. From the manga (and anime), I could understand how she would be a source of strength and inspiration for Kenshin, but here she seems like just a nice girl with a pretty face.

Sadly, Yahiko, and Shishio’s woman, Yumi also lost a good chunk of their personality in the transition to film.

Soujirou was so good, though. Ryunosuke Kamiki really got his character’s scary-polite killer-child nature down. Soujirou represents an extreme version of what Kenshin used to be, and I’m glad his scenes were well-depicted in the films.

The many action and sword-fighting scenes throughout were absolutely gorgeous and thrilling; honestly, those alone are enough to make these movies worth seeing. There’s a whole lot to like in this adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin and I’m happy I got to experience these live-action films on the big screen at long last.

PARASYTE (Kiseijuu) (Part 1)

parasyte-part-one

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2014 (in Japan)

This is the live-action retelling of the story of Parasites invading human bodies and turning them into cannibals. Shinichi’s quick thinking stops his Parasite from taking his brain when he is attacked, but now he is part-Parasite (in his right arm) and he and Migi are caught in the middle of the conflict between humans and Parasites.

I have not read the PARASYTE manga, so my reference for comparison will be the anime series which aired in 2014-2015. As far as I know, it was a fairly faithful adaptation of the original source material. Basically, this film was a streamlined, nicely compressed version of the tale. While it covered a lot of material in a short time, the important pieces, including the horror and humour, were left intact.

The arc involving Kana was skipped entirely, which was wise considering the time constraints, however, Kana fans may be disappointed at the exclusion. And there was not as much detail on the gradual evolution of Migi (or Shinichi), but I think the gist of their development came through; it’s hard to say for sure how effective it was, since obviously, this was not my first exposure to the story.

In contrast to the Rurouni Kenshin films, which screened on the same day as this, I do like what they did here with the female lead. Satomi of the anime was a pretty bland nice-girl. In the film, they eliminated 2 of the secondary female characters, with the result of Satomi ending up with a greater role and more personality.

The monstrous creatures looked great; the special effects in general were fantastic. Foley artist Goro Koyama was even on hand at the screening to give a demonstration of the techniques he used to create the sound effects in the film, which was a nice treat.

The Magnificent Nine

the magnificent nine

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2016

In 1700s feudal Japan, several people devise a plan to save their suffering village from ruin by lending money to their lord in order to earn interest. Some of them get the money by selling off all of their belongings. There is no personal benefit for each of the participants, as all proceeds go to supporting the village.

It takes years for the funds to be collected and more years to convince their lord to accept the deal.

This is apparently based on a true story, and if the film is to be believed, what’s really remarkable is that even though some of the men were more miserly and self-interested than others, there was no dishonesty at all. Multiple times, just when it seemed that someone or other would be out for themselves, it was revealed that they actually had good intentions.

It certainly was a feel-good story and pretty inspiring that it could happen. It was a real miracle that so many altruistic people happened to come together and managed to accomplish something great.