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.

Nagasaki – Memories of My Son

nagasaki memories of my son

3.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015 (in Japan)

On August 9, 1945, Nobuko’s son Koji perished when the atomic bomb fell on Nagasaki. On the third anniversary of the tragedy, Nobuko resigns herself to the fact that he is really gone and that she should move on with her life. She advises Koji’s girlfriend Machiko to do the same. That night, Koji starts appearing to his mother as a ghost. They talk and reminisce about the past. Meanwhile, we follow Nobuko’s interactions with the other people in her life, including Machiko.

Nagasaki – Memories of My Son is a very personal, simple story that perfectly captures and conveys the thoughts and emotions of its characters. It is profoundly sad, but the whole thing is not just a downer, either. There are moments of levity and hopefulness too.

In at least one instance, the characters marvel at how incredible America was, creating impressive things like Hollywood movies as well as nuclear weapons. Lines like that reflect the soft humour and intrinsic sadness of the film.

I really appreciated that this isn’t the kind of movie that beats you over the head with its melodrama. The pacing is such that the viewer doesn’t actually get a chance to dwell on any one idea or emotion for too long.

After all, 3 years had passed, and if anything, Nobuko was accepting of her lot in life; she held no particular resentment or bitterness about her loss. But the sadness that she kept inside her heart, the unspoken mourning over wasted hopes and dreams, that hit me straight in the gut.

This is a truly excellent, powerful film that perfectly accomplishes what it sets out to do. I’m glad I got to experience it. It really affected me. However, it was so brutally, emotionally draining that I don’t think I could ever watch it again.

THE VANCOUVER ASAHI

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2014

Based on the true story of the legendary Japanese-Canadian Asahi baseball team, which achieved success against brawnier Caucasian opponents through its members’ “brain-ball” style of playing.

The acting was better and more restrained than in many Japanese films I’ve seen. English lines were delivered competently by both Japanese and non-Japanese actors for the most part, as well. We were warned ahead of time that the film’s pacing would be on the slow and deliberate side, especially for a sports movie.

This was a Japanese-made film, but the subject matter was not truly a Japanese story at all. Its focus was on the challenges faced by Canadians of Japanese descent in the years leading up to WWII, with racial discrimination as the primary root cause of the struggles.

As borne out by historical events, baseball obviously did not change the world in this instance; the war continued and the internment occurred. But it was a baby step toward mutual understanding and The Asahi served as a symbol of hope.

To this day, some discrimination against visible minorities still exists in Canada, but I’d like to think that we’ve come a long way in these past 75 years.

KAKEKOMI

2.5 stars (out of 4)

Released 2015

Divorce in mid-1800s Edo, Japan was the topic of the opening night film at this year’s Toronto Japanese Film Festival on Thursday. Apparently there was a formal process for women of the time to exit an unhappy marriage, although it basically involved renouncing all possessions and living in as if in a nunnery for 2 years.

The movie featured many female roles, and the women were generally portrayed as being stronger, braver, and smarter than the men.

And yet, the tales were still mostly told through the eyes of the medic, a male. Because the narrative was fragmented into several storylines, we didn’t get an in-depth look at what each of the women went through first-hand at the temple. In particular, I would have liked to have seen more of the friendship that developed between Jogo and O-Gin.

The Snow White Murder Case

3 stars (out of 4)

Released 2014 (Japan) – Closing night film of 2014 Toronto Japanese Film Festival

At the base of the story is a classic whodunit that arises when a beautiful office worker is brutally murdered. Instead of focusing on the police investigation, the film explores the spreading of information and misinformation through irresponsible news reports and the prevalent use of social media.

A few provocative tweets can affect the public’s perception of a person. And innocent past events can suddenly seem damning if you are suspected of committing a crime.

In this day and age of hurtful and judgemental internet comments by anonymous users, The Snow White Murder Case serves as a reminder that we need to keep an open mind and not assume that everything we might believe to be true is actually the truth.