Great Scenes: “Food fight” from Family Game

Family Game (家族ゲーム) is a 1983 film directed by Morita Yoshimitsu.  The film explores many social issues in Japan at the time including, but not limited to, dysfunctional families, competitive educational problems, and bullying.  Family Game is about the Numata family, which consists of mother, father, and two sons, Shinichi and Shigeyuki.  Shigeyuki is a junior high student who will be taking his high school entrance exams soon, while Shinichi is already attending a prestigious high school.  Shigeyuki’s grades, unlike his elder brother Shinichi’s, are poor.  So his father finds him a private tutor, Yoshimoto, and expects him to help Shigeyuki improve his grades and pass the entrance exam to a top high school.  Yoshimoto is a student at a third-rate University, but still manages to exponentially improve Shigeyuki’s grades using strict and overly odd tactics.  Family Game is a brilliant film that keeps you interested and laughing.  Employing dark humor, Morita effectively keeps the film entertaining while also being provocative.  The film reaches its climax in the following scene. Continue reading

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Quick Review: Violent Cop (Kitano, 1989)

Cold and violent…

Rating: ★★★★½

In short: Violent Cop is a great film.  Kitano plays a cold, Dirty Harry style cop well.  The film is very well-paced and uses its screen time adequately. Violent Cop is Kitano’s first film as a director and it does not disappoint.  Watch it for an enjoyable hour and forty minutes, and enjoy the climax that will leave you with your mouth wide open while experiencing an ending that you kind of knew would happen.

Violent Cop (その男、凶暴につき) is a film about Azuma (Kitano), who is a cold detective that doesn’t care how he treats others.  There is no basic plot, just one scene after another of violence, Kitano style.  Normally I wouldn’t give praise to a film like this, but it is so well-done that it deserves it.  Camerawork is superb, acting is equally good, and the music, though minimal, comes in at just the right times.  Kitano, who had this film handed over to him after Fukasaku Kinji left it, establishes himself as a top-notch director with Violent Cop.  There are many familiar faces that will appear in later Kitano films, such as Terajima Susumu.

Azuma slaps a guy in a bathroom repeatedly 23 times.  He beats up a kid.  He stops a knife with his hand and chases a criminal for a lengthy period of time, eventually running him over with a car.  He also takes care of his mentally deficient sister and visits an art gallery.  He shows no emotion, except anger when he interrogates a guy that slept with his sister.  Azuma is an interesting character that is played brilliantly by Kitano.  Watch Violent Cop to discover Kitano’s roots and to enjoy a good dirty cop/yakuza-style film.  Recommended.

Quick Review: Undo (Iwai Shunji, 1994)

Rating: ★★½

In short: Giving off a low budget, film school feel, Undo is a dark, strange, and unique short film.  While containing some quite beautiful shots, Undo is mostly unpleasant to watch and the dialogue is a bit awkward.  For Iwai fans, Undo is a nice glimpse into his experimental side, but is far from his best film.

Undo is about a young couple, Yukio (Toyokawa Etsushi) and Moemi (Yamaguchi Tomoko) living in a small apartment (which just doesn’t seem normal).  The beginning of the film is fairly normal; Yukio brings home turtles as pets because they cannot have dogs or cats, Moemi has her braces removed, they take their turtles for walks (yes, there is a bit of animal cruelty in this film).  The situation at the apartment becomes strange when Moemi starts tying and knotting things up, books, apples, the turtles, everything.  She is diagnosed with Obsessive Knot-Tying Syndrome and only becomes worse.  The film descends into madness as Yukio has to deal with the increasingly worsening Moemi.  Various odd scenes follow.

Filmed much like Picnic (1996) and Swallowtail Butterfly (1996), Undo is mostly dark and shadowy, with grainy, fuzzy, and washed out colors.  Specific shots are stunning, and music is minimal and ineffective.  Acting is good–the girl is particularly interesting as she plays a strange woman who becomes obsessed with knotting things up.  Overall, the characters (all 3) were not normal and struck me as odd.  Specific shots were puzzling, as was the direction of the film; why some things happened, I don’t know.  Undo is a disturbing film that seeks to show love in a very unconventional way.  I probably won’t view it again, but watch it if you are interested in experimental film making or a fan of Iwai Shunji.

Review: Be Sure To Share (ちゃんと伝える)

Be sure to share, be sure to share, be sure to share…

Rating: ★★★★★

In Short: Sion Sono’s Be Sure To Share is a touching and inspiring film about familial bonds and how important the little moments spent with loved ones are.  Superbly directed and acted, Be Sure To Share is, in my opinion, Sono’s best film.  It is poetic and beautiful, utilizing basic and classical cinematography in order to convey the thoughts and emotions of the characters.  If Ozu were still alive today, he would have made this film.

Be Sure To Share opens by showing parts of events explored more thoroughly later in the film, establishing the basic premise: a husband/father/teacher (played by Okuda Eiji) is hospitalized with stomach cancer.  His wife and son visit him every day.  Shiro, the son, struggles with his father’s illness as he has always seen him as a healthy, commanding presence.  As his father was his teacher and soccer coach in school, Shiro was never able to connect with him until he became hospitalized.  This newfound emotional connection between father and son translates into promises such as “let’s go fishing together after I get better”.  The situation is further complicated when Shiro discovers that he may also have stomach cancer, and that it could possibly be worse than his father’s.  The ensuing emotional struggle causes Shiro to question what love is and how important the little moments spent with loved ones truly are.  He often questions his longtime girlfriend, Yoko (played by Ito Ayumi), if she would stay with him if he had terminal cancer. Continue reading

Review: Fish Story (フィッシュストーリー)

The song that saved the world…

Rating: ★★★★★

In short: Fish Story will take you on a wild, improbable ride in which you cannot help but smile once throughout. It is a film that rewards multiple viewings as it will leave you thinking and wishing to watch it again almost immediately. Inspired acting and an incredibly well put together set of events leads to a movie that definitely should be seen. My favorite film of 2009 so far.

If you haven’t seen Fish Story yet, you may want to stop reading this review after this paragraph. There aren’t spoilers in my review, but it is one of those movies that is best viewed with no preconceived ideas about the plot. Watch the film and enjoy the twists and turns that the story takes. It is a ride that most will undoubtedly enjoy. Continue reading

Highly Anticipated: Confessions (告白)

This.  It is the film to watch when released.  Confessions is generating huge buzz at Cannes, where it was picked up by Third Window Films for distribution in the UK.  Based on a best-selling novel, it is the story of a junior high school teacher (played by Takako Matsu) whose young daughter is brutally murdered.  Believing that a few of her own students are responsible, she decides to leave the school, but not before delivering a chilling confession to her class in which she states that she has already enacted her plan for vengeance.  I cannot wait.  The trailer is amazing, giving off the same atmosphere as Battle Royale, with the insane kids and strong classical music.  Takako Matsu is taking on this dark role, which I believe she will pull off well.

Great Scenes: “Ballet Scene” from Hana and Alice

Hana and Alice (花とアリス) is a comedic teenage romance film written, directed, and edited by Iwai Shunji (he also composed the music himself).  The story revolves around two best friends: Alice, played by Aoi Yu, and Hana, played by Suzuki Anne.  Hana falls in love with a boy, so naturally she stalks him.  One day, he hits his head on a garage door while walking and reading at the same time and obviously Hana is there right behind him.  She decides to pretend like he has amnesia and state that she is his girlfriend.  Alice is soon dragged into the elaborate story as the boy’s ex-girlfriend, but she falls in love with him as well and the story goes from there.  Hana and Alice is not only a comedy, it is very touching as well–particularly when examining the family life of Alice and her relationship with her father.  The film is uniquely filmed in typical Iwai Shunji fashion, employing hand held camera work and intimate angles.  I gave it 4.5/5 stars in my review, and it is definitely a recommended watch.

This scene moved me deeply.  Video after the break. Continue reading