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Tokyo Sonata Review

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 18 - 2010
Heya people! From Takashi Miike to Kiyoshi Kurosawa? This really is my website! I’ve been sitting on this review since December and had to hold it back for the previously written reviews that were put off due to the Kung Fu Christmas festivities. Anyhow, it’s here and it is spectacular! Easily one of Kurosawa’s best films and one of the best movies I have seen in a long time! Check out the review and then check out the movie!

The Plot: Tokyo Sonata tells the story of a family on the verge of crisis. The father figure has just been laid off from his job which has outsourced the majority of their positions to China, their eldest son is never at home any more and the youngest son has an incident at school. When passing along a profane book during class, his teacher stands him up and confronts him about it. He doesn’t believe the young man when he says its not his, so the son fires back at the teacher and points out the fact that he saw him reading a pornographic comic on the train just the day before. This sends the classroom into revolt as the students no longer feel the need to respect his authority. The son feels immense regret and never intended for the situation to come about, but the damage has been done. Meanwhile the father figure is out wandering in free-food lines during the day and visiting the unemployment office on a daily basis trying to find work. Keeping the secret from his wife and children is tearing him apart but he makes friends with another old classmate who is in the same position. Together they try to keep up the appearance of working every day while drawing unemployment and severance pay. The mother figure has recently acquired her driver’s license and desperately seeks attention from her husband or the world. She wants a car, something fast and showy so she can get out into the world for herself feeling her days as a stay at home mother are diminishing. What will happen to this family in this new Tokyo?

CONTINUE READING THE REVIEW HERE

Tokyo Sonata

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 18 - 2010
The Plot: Tokyo Sonata tells the story of a family on the verge of crisis. The father figure has just been laid off from his job which has outsourced the majority of their positions to China, their eldest son is never at home any more and the youngest son has an incident at school. When passing along a profane book during class, his teacher stands him up and confronts him about it. He doesn’t believe the young man when he says its not his, so the son fires back at the teacher and points out the fact that he saw him reading a pornographic comic on the train just the day before. This sends the classroom into revolt as the students no longer feel the need to respect his authority. The son feels immense regret and never intended for the situation to come about, but the damage has been done. Meanwhile the father figure is out wandering in free-food lines during the day and visiting the unemployment office on a daily basis trying to find work. Keeping the secret from his wife and children is tearing him apart but he makes friends with another old classmate who is in the same position. Together they try to keep up the appearance of working every day while drawing unemployment and severance pay. The mother figure has recently acquired her driver’s license and desperately seeks attention from her husband or the world. She wants a car, something fast and showy so she can get out into the world for herself feeling her days as a stay at home mother are diminishing. What will happen to this family in this new Tokyo?


The Review
I like to think that I’ve been flying the Kiyoshi Kurosawa flag for quite some time now. Although, with the release of Cure I think almost any critic that saw it immediately knew we were dealing with a master filmmaker. Still, it’s unfortunate that his name didn’t immediately take off after that movie. Years passed and with the popularity of Tadanobu Asano it seems, Bright Future took off as another well known feature of his here in the states but there’s just so much more to this man’s output. He is without question one of the most consistently breathtaking filmmakers out there. No matter the genre, no matter how basic a story may seem the man knows how to manipulate his audience. He takes the most average of story structures and adds this strange flare and fascination inside of them that you’re drawn inside of the story and before you know it, you’re feeling the movie. Few artists can provoke these kinds of reactions and I think Kurosawa is a master of making his audience feel his movies. Every time I go into one of his movies, I know that by the final shot I am going to have this feeling of pressure on my chest. Many of his films truly do provoke a physical reaction from me when I first watch them and Tokyo Sonata is just another in a long line.

After the credits finally rolled and the silence filled the room during those end credits, I could feel the grin on my face from ear to ear. Kiyoshi Kurosawa has done it again and this time he delivers his most human effort yet. When I first got wind that his latest was going to be a very straight familial drama, I just thought “oh well, just another thing for him to do well”, but in a lot of ways its as if it’s the perfect format for him to work in. He’s able to take these characters he so often creates, that you care so much about and he delves them into this very real world with these very real issues that confound them. Tokyo Sonata delivers emphatically over its two hour timespan and develops these incredibly three dimensional characters to the point where I personally was fully absorbed in the film itself. Sitting back, even though watching it on the small screen, all I could focus on was this story. This little story that pops off the screen in such a huge manner. Kurosawa floods the film with characterization and provokes some truly monumental performances. Perhaps some of the best acting I’ve ever really noticed in a Japanese film to this date.

From the most basic of characters up to the main cast, everyone is just so very good here. Even the school teacher, who’s role isn’t exactly a huge one, is so brilliant in his time on screen. Every one in the cast really gave their all for their project and it shows. The standout of the cast for me has to be Teruyuki Kagawa the father figure Ryuhei Sasaki who goes through so many emotional changes throughout the movie and remains so sympathetic. Truly remarkable. The way both he and the film starts somewhat light in the way it deals with the loss of his job, but then everything slowly becomes darker as the realization sets in that this situation isn’t one to be trapped in for a long period of time. There’s this really emotional moment that comes along when we lose a certain character, one who doesn’t really have a huge role, but is still felt so passionately. If you have seen it, you’ll know who I am referring to but if you haven’t, come back after the movie. That sequence made me sit back and just say ‘wow’. To take a rather small character and flesh him out in such a way, relate him to the parable of our own story here in such a direct way, that the passing of this character effects our own viewing… I am just so often left speechless by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, but I think his treatment of his characters and the performances he manages to get out of his cast with this movie is the real story here.

Getting back to the father figure, his emotional transformation throughout the movie is spellbinding. The way Kurosawa gets inside of this character’s head and allows us to see exactly what is happening inside of this family from all directions. There’s a sequence in the movie where our father figure denies his son piano lessons on the basis of it just being a whim, and although Kurosawa never comes out and points us in the direction, we still know the real reason he refuses it is due to financial reasons. He can’t let on to this for his wife or children’s sake, but as the movie goes along and times become more and more desperate we see this rock solid father figure chisel away and become less and less of himself. Doing things he ordinarily wouldn’t do. I just think that it’s amazing that despite everything that happens, it’s still so crystal clear why this character is still respectable and sympathetic. He is misunderstood, but so is everyone in the family circle. From the mother who wants to get out and not feel so trapped, to the eldest son who wants to join the American military and the youngest son who feels so passionate about music but feels forced to hide it from his entire family. There’s some really heartbreaking drama caught in Tokyo Sonata but at the center of it all is the need and love for family.

The look of Tokyo Sonata is an interesting mix. Although usually with Kurosawa you can expect a lot of abandoned or decrepit looking buildings, small cramped little apartments or green outdoor areas. Tokyo Sonata is a really different kind of beast however, with a very open and large home that our characters live within. Really clean and sterile office buildings. The only real touches of traditional Kurosawa are the scenes that take place on the free lunch line, which is trash littered and not so pretty. That or the massive line all the way down a stairwell that makes up the unemployment office. Kurosawa paints every part of Tokyo as this cramped breeding ground of either those on their way to work or looking for their own employment. There are some amazing shots of what look like hundreds of people walking in one direction away from a living division towards what we assume to be the business district. The streets are literally packed with people heading to work, while our characters are just lost somewhere in the mix. There’s a great deal of subtext to be found here about modern Japan, commercialism and the level of importance placed on work instead of family, but that’s another paragraph to itself.

The Conclusion
From my initial hearing-about the project all the way through to seeing the movie, I was continually reminded of Toshiaki Toyoda’s equally brilliant Hanging Garden. If you’re familiar with that movie then you just have to see Tokyo Sonata. Both films kind of show the destruction of the Japanese family unit as well as their resurrection. Kurosawa’s film may be one of the best of his impressive career and I found myself amazed at every turn in its wonderful story. An absolute must see and an unquestionable five out of five for me. Check it out ASAP, it’s available from Eureka! DVD.



Shinjuku Outlaws Review

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 14 - 2010
Back again people, this time with some classic Takashi Miike! It has been a little bit since I reviewed anything from the mad dog of Japanese cinema, so why not go back to something a little more obscure from the man? So this goes back to Miike’s earliest days and is generally considered one of his first real “Miike” movies. Not a bad film at all either, check out the review to discover more!

The Plot: The story begins in Shinjuku with the boss of a Yakuza crime family sitting in the hospital dying of cancer. The bosses impending death scares the family and they think that when their rivals find out about the shift change in the upper echelon of the group, that they’ll take it as their time to move in on their territory. So, looking to make the first move the bosses son turns to Katsuichi Yomi (Hiroyuki Watanabe) to kill the boss of this rival gang. He is given a gun, arranges to be picked up by the law if he survives the attack and starts looking for the boss of their rivals. When he tracks the old man to a bowling alley, he goes in guns a-blazing. He takes out the old man (in front of his granddaughter, who’s face is splattered with blood) but gets mowed down by his bodyguards. When he arrives at the hospital, he falls into a coma. For the next ten years he lays asleep in a medical ward of a prison. When he finally awakens, the whole world has changed around him. His best friend Eto has run off with his woman Ayumi and the two now run a small time Filipino prostitution ring. Eto has himself in a decent amount of debt so on Yomi’s return he finds himself at the wrong place at the wrong time, as Eto has been kidnapped by a group he owes money to and they are now looking to extort to get their cash back. Yomi, who everyone assumed would hunt down and kill Eto for what seems like betrayal, instead risks his life to save his former partner. The yakuza takes notice of Yomi and decides they want him in their organization and make him an offer he can’t refuse. Yomi will have to battle his own personal demons as well as a crooked cop, the mob and the Taiwanese mafia.

CONTINUE READING THE REVIEW HERE

Shinjuku Outlaws

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 14 - 2010
The Plot: The story begins in Shinjuku with the boss of a Yakuza crime family sitting in the hospital dying of cancer. The boss’ impending death scares the family and they think that when their rivals find out about it, they’ll take it as weakness and take over the territory. So, looking to make the first move, the boss’ son tasks Katsuichi Yomi (Hiroyuki Watanabe) with killing the rival gang’s boss. He is given a gun, arranges to be picked up by the law if he survives the attack, and begins his search for this rival boss. When he tracks the old man to a bowling alley, he goes in guns a-blazing. He takes out the old man (in front of his granddaughter, who’s face is splattered with blood) but gets mowed down by his bodyguards. When he arrives at the hospital, he falls into a coma. For the next ten years he lays asleep in the medical ward of a prison. When he finally awakens, the world has changed around him. His best friend Eto has run off with his woman, Ayumi, and the two now run a small time Filipino prostitution ring. Eto is in debt, and finds himself kidnapped by a group that he owes money to. Yomi, who everyone assumed would hunt down and kill Eto for what seems like betrayal, instead risks his life to save his former partner. The yakuza take notice of Yomi and decide they want him in their organization, making him an offer he can’t refuse. During this sordid tale, Yomi is going to have to battle his own personal demons, along with a crooked cop, the yakuza, and even the Taiwanese mafia.


The Review
Like so many people from my age demographic that are now into Asian cinema, Takashi Miike served as my gateway drug. If you visited Varied Celluloid in its earliest days, the majority of our discussions always seemed to be focused on this man. I spent the better part of the past decade watching his movies. Literally going through anything that bore his name; anything that I could possibly sit down and watch. I even bought a copy of Isola The Multi Personality Girl because he had a small cameo in it. Truthfully, if you ever watch that movie, you’ll learn he’s no more than an extra in it. Still, I was very dedicated to The Mad Dog of Japanese Cinema. In the past few years, however, I’ve slowed down my search for new films from this director. It was a natural progression (or regression) of sorts. I felt as if maybe I had dedicated too much time to his filmography, rather than branching out and becoming a more well-rounded viewer. There’s also that feeling of being burned out on his work, I can’t deny. I think I just needed to get out and check out other things, and maybe it’s the same for some of you reading this. However, despite feeling so burned out, every time I go back and watch something of his that I haven’t seen before – I am blown away by just how impressive a filmmaker he tends to be. With films like Sukiyaki Western Django and Zebraman, two films I didn’t actually expect to enjoy, I was reminded of why I focused so much of my time and energy on this director. He’s a brilliant filmmaker with the track record to prove it. Shinjuku Outlaws is actually one of his earlier films, and one that some people consider to be his first movie to represent a personal style. After watching the film, that’s a statement I can’t really argue with.

This comes from Miike’s earlier days, from his time in the V-Cinema market mainly. For those unaware, V-Cinema is more than just a Vidcast that happens once a month. V-Cinema is essentially a name for the Japanese straight-to-video market. This is a market made up of low budget Yakuza flicks, pink films, and whatever else sells. Shinjuku Outlaws, mainly due to its credit sequence, definitely reflects the V-Cinema budgetary restraints that one might expect. This is Takashi Miike though, so the audience can expect some artistic flourishes despite the lack budget or generic nature of the plot. This is early in Miike’s career though, so at this point he is still finding his voice. Because of this, the movie turns out to be a pretty by-the-numbers Takashi-Miike-Yakuza-Movie. Speaking for myself though, I am totally cool with that. Miike does a yakuza movie unlike any other Japanese director I know. So many of these movies seem to get torn to bits by their “day to day” take on the Yakuza lifestyle. Miike likes to really implement his own more interesting take on the genre. Whether it’s through neat character quirks or whatever it might be, I just don’t think I’ve seen a boring Miike-directed Yakuza flick. Although this particular film isn’t my favorite of the bunch that he has done, I will say that when Miike does a more subdued version of these films, and doesn’t shy completely away from genre conventions, he really shows how good a formula-driven story can actually be.

Although it doesn’t feature a lot of the more bizarre elements that have defined Miike’s filmic library for Western audiences, if you know the man, you’ll spot a lot of really familiar ideas that he would later expound upon. For one, Miike loves to include elements of foreigners striving in Japan. Movies like Shinjuku Triad Society, Blues Harp, and Dead or Alive might be the best examples for this motif. Shinjuku Outlaws is no exception, as it covers a section of Taiwanese gangsters looking to take over the Yakuza rackets. The most interesting use of this element is via the Filipino prostitute with whom Yomi strikes up a relationship. She’s in another country working as a prostitute for the mob, but at the same time she is a practicing Christian (alienating her further). She’s an absolute outsider, but Yomi feels compassion for her and sees his own relationship with the world mirrored through her. You can draw connections between this pairing with many of Miike’s lover-duos. Also, if you know anything about Miike, you already know that most couples in his cinematic crime world are usually doomed from the start.

Another Miike touch, one that’s got him in a lot of hot water before, is the torture of women. Shinjuku Outlaws brings this back with full force in a particularly nasty scene featuring a poor young woman being bashed around an apartment building. She is thrown down stairs, her head slammed into doors, she’s shoved, she’s punched multiple times, all before the violent beatdown concludes. This scene definitely stands out as it’s hard to see any real point to it, other than to maybe show how brutal this world can be. It’s a horrific moment that truthfully might not have been all that necessary. At the end of the day though, the scene doesn’t really make or break the movie as a whole. Just another reoccurring theme from Miike’s body of work. Surprisingly though, there’s really not a whole lot of Miike regulars, something I found surprising from an early Miike effort. Still, the cast here is very good for what the script calls for. That is to say, it doesn’t call for much more than solid line delivery and looking “hard”. This is an apt description for the entire cast, honestly. Everyone here is trying to play up their onscreen toughness, and they do a pretty good job of it. Hiroyuki Watanabe, who plays Yomi, really carries the movie well. He’s a stoic actor that sells the story with his on-screen charisma. I’ll also go out and say that he has a really interesting look. He has these wide eyes and defined face that make him someone to be remembered. He’s an actor I’m not really familiar with, but I wouldn’t mind exploring more of his movies.

One of the best segments in the movie comes during the final twenty minutes. It best resembles a mix between the Godfather’s baptism sequence and the opening for Dead or Alive. We see the Taiwan mafia using Kung Fu on their victims, literally dancing in the streets while shooting someone, and ending things with one of the best visual moments of the entire movie: a moment in which we watch a Taiwanese gangster urinate on a Yakuza, in broad daylight, before blowing his brains out at point blank range. If nothing else in the movie reveals Miike as his usual genre-defying self, it is this little montage. It’s probably going to pop up as most everyone’s favorite sequence in the movie, because the rest of the film can be seen as a rather generic affair.

The Conclusion
I think a lot of people might actually take a lot less from it than I did, especially those looking for something a little different from maybe Yakuza Demon. If you’re like me though, and you dig that aforementioned Miike title, then maybe you’ll get something out of Shinjuku Outlaws. It’s not a “great” movie, so I have a hard time seeing it as a four out of five. I think the fitting score is a proper three. It may be a high three, I certainly like it a lot more than just an average movie, but it is what it is.



Samurai Princess Review

Posted by Josh Samford On January - 11 - 2010
Whatup everybody! More reviews written during the month of December that I didn’t post due to all of the Kung Fu love being spread around! This time it’s Samurai Princess, which has been getting a pretty mixed reaction from fans and gorehounds alike. My take? I like it, but not without regrets! Check out the review to see what I mean!

The Plot: In a strange world that looks like our past but has parts of a potential future, wandering swordsmen and samurai roam the Japanese countryside. In this world, there are your every day human beings and then there are Mecha beings. The Mecha are partially human creatures who have been biologically engineered to be fighting machines. Arms and limbs are replaced with weapons and various other additions are added to their apparently human appearance. When a young girl and her friend are viciously attacked by The Couple (two very psychotic Mechs who lead a gang of rapists), an assault that leaves one girl ripped to pieces, the survivor of the attack determines that her life should be focused on revenge. When she is found by one of these Mech engineers and a Buddhist nun, the two combine forces to make her the ultimate Mecha. The combination of eleven souls all determined to revenge their lives which were cut short. Now our young Samurai Princess sets out on a blazing path of revenge that will leave all sorts of carnage in her wake.







CONTINUE READING THE REVIEW HERE

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Varied Celluloid is a film website intent on delivering views on movies from all genres. Started in 2003, the website has been steadfast in its goal and features a database of over 500 lengthy reviews. If you would like to contact us about writing for the website or sending screeners, please visit the about page located here.

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