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Cold Fish (冷たい熱帯魚 Tsumetai nettaigyo ) 2010 – Sono Shion 園子温

*/5

I believe it was Isaac Asimov who wrote, “It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety.” Getting his commercial feet wet in the 2002 bloodbath Suicide Club (自殺サークル Jisatsu sākuru lit. “Suicide circle”), Sono Shion 園子温 (b. 1961) does not evoke subtlety. Would it surprise anyone, then, that his latest creation, Cold Fish (冷たい熱帯魚 Tsumetai nettaigyo  lit. “Cold tropical fish”), retains that—Sono—luster? No, and it shouldn’t. But could I be blamed for holding out hope? I hope not.

Caveat lector: I am note opposed to violence, sex, nudity, etc., in film. That said, I am aesthetically remote from splatter flicks in general; gore does not stimulate my cinematic taste buds, neither does graphic absurdity for its own sake. In short, I do not enjoy porn of this order. If you do, feel free to ignore the rest, because you may well enjoy it; if you do not, read on. Read the rest of this entry »

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*****/5

One of my favorite Japanese movies is now available to watch on HULU until mid July. When the Last Sword Is Drawn (壬生義士伝 Mibu gishi den), released in 2003 and directed by Yōjirō Takita (the guy who directed the Oscar-winning Departures, and the Molester’s Train series apparently, but you got to start somewhere I suppose), is not your usual slash-em-up samurai flick. It is more in the vein of Yoji Yamada’s 2002 masterpiece Twilight Samurai ( たそがれ清兵  Tasogare seibei) and uses the bakumatsu period more as a motivated setting than an excuse to slice a few heads off. If you prefer slicing and dicing, see the Zatoichi films, also available on HULU. When the Last Sword Is Drawn won the Best Film award in the 2004 from the Japanese Academy, and a few others.

Watch it while you can: http://www.hulu.com/watch/84241/when-the-last-sword-is-drawn

And if you miss it, go rent it. Heck, go buy it.

Count our lucky stars. The old Zatoichi movies are available to view on HULU: http://www.hulu.com/zatoichi-the-blind-swordsman

If you like old samurai flicks these are very cool. Well, technically he’s a blind masseur played by Katsu Shintaro who is more gamler-type than samurai. But plenty of swordplay is involved. Check it out (especially the early ones).

The Blue Bird (Aoi Tori) 青い鳥  2008 – Nakanishi Kenji

****/5

Bullying has been a widely acknowledged problem in Japan, and this isn’t the first movie to explore it. But Aoi Tori, based on a novel by Shigematsu Kiyoshi, does something most other movies dealing with this issue fail to do. It explores the gray areas, between outright physical violence against and the virtuous defense of the weak, in which many instances of bullying probably occur.

Abe Hiroshi (who has a few outstanding roles in TV dramas and won the Mainichi Film Concours award for his role in this movie) plays Mr. Murauchi, a stuttering substitute teacher who comes to a school in the aftermath of bullying incidents, which the entire school wants to forget. Murauchi actively dredges up those memories, forcing the students to reassess their own responsibility in the matter they’d rather move past.

This film is worth watching and I don’t want to give anything away. Not because there are any plot twists or clever tricks the directors pulls—there aren’t any—but because watching the story gently unfold is better done without much knowledge of the relationship of each student to the incident in question. I am not a fan of heavy-handed message-driven movies, but I can say I enjoyed this one. And you probably will, too.

Notes:

The director, Nakanishi Kenji, won the special mention SIGNIS Award for this film in his directorial debut.

Do not confuse this film with a TV drama of a similar name, but an entirely different story.

This 15-minute documentary, titled “Traces of a City,” focuses on Masaaki Tanabe’s efforts to digitally reconstruct his hometown–Hiroshima–as he remembered it before the destruction of the atomic bomb. Well worth watching, won’t take much out of the day. But it does speak to memory, nostalgia, and the concept of furusato, or “hometown,” which plays an important role in Japanese culture.

Since WordPress does not allow java, check it out at Mainichi.

Recently more and more attention has been paid to Japanese elections, since PM Aso announced the dissolution of the Diet and called for a snap election to take place on August 30. Many are considering this the first time the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has a real chance to unseat the hitherto ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

For those who are curious about how campaigns are done in Japan, POV ran a fantastic documentary about a year ago on a–essentially a political nobody, (but an LDP-backed nobody)–candidate for a suburban city council seat. Well worth the time. Things haven’t changed all that much, I suspect. With the exception of the unquestioned LDP dominance, but the jury is still out on that one until Aug. 30.

Watch the full documentary, called simply Campaign, on the PBS website.

Just ran across this short documentary (about 45 min.) about Japanese high school baseball (高校野球). Interesting stuff. These kids are not messing around. Filmed in 2003, so not the most up to date, but still worth watching. Check it out on HULU. And read up on it on the PBS’s POV page here.