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122 reviews in total 
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Too much of the ordinary, 9 July 2014

I see from the other reviews that TT was adapted from a successful TV series and is autobiographical of a well-known Japanese author. In that case, the central problem with TT seems to be too much reverence for the material.

As a standalone movie, TT is way too long. It rambles and spends too much time on the ordinary details of life, therefore lacking pace and often feeling very depressing. For an international audience, this film could perhaps be cut by as much as half without losing its essence.

On the plus side, the performances are sincere, with the standout being the great character actress Kiki Kirin as the very long-suffering mother. Sentimentally, I have given TT an extra point for being largely set in northern Kyushu, which is where my late wife was born and raised. This area, well-known for coal mining, is one of Japan's rural backwaters, and the young Masaya's strong desire to escape is entirely understandable.

There are many funny and warm moments, though more of the first 3/4 is depressing, ordinary or just plain dull. The final quarter is much tighter and more involving, although still too drawn out.

Remade for good reason, 22 June 2014

Ozu remade this movie 25 years later. I saw the remake first, and it is a sumptuous masterpiece. I had wondered why Ozu had chosen to remake, so I looked forward to seeing the original, though with some trepidation. The original is a lovely film, but it is no match for the remake.

Ozu is a director of assurance and confidence, coaxing from his actors exactly what he wants. ASOFW is a simple and fairly straightforward tale of a dissolute man who leads a troupe around Japan at a time when life was hard. He puts himself in the, for Japanese men, highly shameful position of accepting the hospitality of his old flame, partly to spend time with his son, whose paternity has been kept secret by common consent.

It is difficult for me to consider A Story Of Floating Weeds on its own merits, and I will not even attempt to do so. The remake flows smoothly and looks simply glorious. ASOFW seems to have been sketched in comparison. And some of the apparent 'jumps' do not quite make sense. Whereas the leader's decision to dissolve the troupe makes clear sense in the remake, it appears whimsical at best in ASOFW.

In short, if you have the choice, watch ASOFW first, then prepare to be blown away by the glory of the remake.

Too much like the dull small town, 8 June 2014

Yet another example of "great ingredients poorly cooked".

The first reviewer pretty much nailed it. While I don't think the acting was all that bad, the boredom and relentless dullness of small-town 'life' pervades the mood to far too great an extent, utterly flattening the occasional moments of lightness and humour.

The lead actress is compelling, and her situation all too clearly elucidated. But notwithstanding a few outbursts at her mother, Alma is such a doormat. And she had every opportunity to encourage Artur, but failed to take them.

Anyone who grew up in an isolated small town could certainly relate to the situation. For me, there needed to be more humour and light relief to distract from the grinding dullness, which was much too realistic.

Alma manages to find a group of people, away from her small-town schoolmates, who lighten the mood. There should have been much more of this in the film, and it may have been bearable.

Honestly, more nudity and fewer 'strong sex scenes' (which were fairly muted) would have made TMOG more bearable. Perhaps in the sequel ?

5 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
Funny for Japanese, otherwise puzzling, 17 December 2013

I found A Story Of Yonosuke striking, but for entirely the wrong reason. Put simply, ASOY is a case study in culture-specific humour, and is far more interesting to consider in this manner than as a light comedy biopic epic.

It was an effort to sit through nearly two and a half hours of this. Not that it was all that dull, but the laughs are mostly silly giggles, and there are often long stretches between laughs where not a lot happens. The narrative is structured as an epic, spanning sixteen years, told from several different viewpoints, with multiple flashbacks which sometimes confuse and irritate. This epic scale is stunningly at odds with the lightly comic examination of the life of one foolish man, and how he affected the lives of those he befriended.

The title character is presented like a younger version of Tora-san, a fool who stumbles through life with a sunny view of things, strongly projecting that quality much admired by Japanese, 'genki' (difficult to translate – a combination of lively, positive, optimistic, energetic). The laughter starts when he tells his name. Nearly everyone in the film giggles at the mention of his name. The Japan Film Festival audience was sharply divided on this. Japanese audience members got the joke, but we gaijin (foreigners) sat there po-faced and puzzled, until one of the characters thoughtfully explained that the alliteration of the name was the funny part.

Alliteration seems to have a more specific definition in Japanese. That his name is Yokomichi Yonosuke is what cracked up the characters and the Japanese audience. An English equivalent, such as Adam Addison, just doesn't do it for us. Not that Japanese names aren't funny to us. Any name including Fuk or Yuk, or the name Aso, can trigger more than giggles.

Perhaps this is the Japanese equivalent of rhyming names in English. Ridiculously contrived rhymes such as Richard Pritchard or Katie Tate are practically guaranteed to amuse. Japanese songs hardly ever rhyme. Indeed, it seems they are constructed to avoid rhyming at all costs. Odd, considering that the language has a much greater potential for rhyming (and punning) than English.

So, Japanese dislike rhymes but Westerners find them amusing. Japanese are amused by alliteration, but Westerner only raise an eyebrow at best.

We evidently have a clear difference between the humour of Japanese and Westerners. ASOY rests totally on this humour, which is why I found watching the movie a test of endurance more than a comedy. If ever ASOY were given a wider release, I heartily recommend shortening it by at least one hour, and I do not think the story will suffer for it.

The Japan Film Festival website classified this year's movies into a number of categories. I am puzzled that they failed to apply the category "Only In Japan" to ASOY.

There are a few bright spots. Yonosuke woos a rich girl. He feels very out-of-place in her mansion. There are several scenes where he has awkward dates, which are only semi-explicably always watched over by the family chambermaid. This actress never speaks, but when the camera cuts to her for a reaction, her expressions are simply hilarious. This is a combination of excellent editing and superb comic timing. Pity there wasn't more of this.

The ending is very puzzling. There is no explanation, stated or implied, as to why things worked out this way. For such an unnecessarily long journey, which examines Yonosuke's effect on a number of people and his near-relentless cheerfulness in exhausting detail, I expected something better, to not be left hanging. But I suspect that, like the humour, only the Japanese would ever truly get it.

Crisis of confidence for young director, 9 December 2013

Kinoshita has directed his first film for Shochiku, so all should be well. But in 1944, the Armed Forces and the War Cabinet are worried. The war is clearly being lost, and censorship is getting tighter. Despite his film, called simply The Army, being strongly patriotic and stirring, the Army censors criticized the closing sequence for showing a woman crying freely while her son proudly marches off to war. Kinoshita is told that he will not be allowed to make another film because of this pressure. His boss wants him to stay on, and wait out the ban, but Kinoshita leaves anyway, proud and hurt.

He returns to his village at the worst possible time. The American bombing raids are closing in on even his rather remote village. The family must evacuate. Problem is, their mother is too ill to travel by bus on the bumpy roads. Kinoshita and his brother resolve to carry their mother in a litter over the mountains on foot. Assisted by a young porter, they set out for the hard journey.

Most of the movie is the hardships of the journey and the long conversations between the young men. Kinoshita is compelled to consider and defend his decisions, and challenged to return to movie-making.

Apart from a number of crises (such as pouring rain and bombing from the air), the pace is fairly gentle though always involving and never dull. The lead actors do a creditable job, but Yuko Tanaka as the literally long-suffering mother is simply stunning. And she is all the more impressive for saying not a word until her final scene, when she struggles to convince Kinoshita to go back to his dream.

The mountain scenery is also lovely to look at, and the camera-work is gorgeous. I did find some of the dialogue and characterization rather too neat and lacking in credibility. For instance, the porter chats with Kinoshita about seeing his film, the Army, unaware that he is addressing the director himself (Kinoshita does not tell the boy, as much out of shame as anything else). The porter gives him a rapturous review, reinforcing his vision of how he thought local audiences would react. This looks very much like dramatic license and seems unlikely to have happened so neatly and succinctly.

Considering the stature of Kinoshita, who started at the same time as Kurosawa and his contemporary in every respect, this story may appear to have been an oddly trivial episode to make into full-length feature. After all, his great body of work all came after this time. However, Dawn Of A Filmmaker is a lovely and affectionate film, and tries earnestly to shine a light on the views, life experience and tribulations of this great artist.

DOAF ends with a clips from most of his movies, and makes me all the keener to seek out his harder-to-find efforts.

Highly recommended for anyone who loves Japanese film, whether you are yet to see a Kinoshita masterpiece or, like me, are a firm and committed fan.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Outstanding, 4 December 2013

The outstanding film I saw at this year's Japanese Film Festival, Orpheus's Lyre is a grand showcase for the star. Ryoko Hirosue is riveting as Yoko, the woman living any mother's worst nightmare, the death of a young daughter, and in extreme and long-term denial.

Although the situation is universal, Japanese mourning rituals are given solid coverage. The 49th day after death is considered crucial, as the date at which the soul passes from this world to the next and, therefore, the date from when the living are expected to get on with life.

But Yoko doesn't move on. The ache of the loss that simply won't heal takes an awful toll on her husband and friends, who try doggedly and unsuccessfully to help her move on, and to guide her away from the misguided and damaging belief that daughter Kanako's spirit has entered another living child.

The supporting cast do a fine job, but rarely do they manage to take attention away from R. This is a star vehicle par excellence. Highly recommended.

Rosy childhood memories, 3 December 2013

Oh, if only the school bully could be so easily turned in real life.

The great Ryu Chishu stars as a kindly and even indulgent teacher, who seems rather at odds with the strict and regimented school atmosphere at the time in Japan. He seems the ideal supporter for a backward boy, Kanta, whose parents are new arrivals in the town. The teacher encourages his boys to treat the new lad well, and Kanta gradually shows hidden talents, such as being able to make perfectly spherical clay balls.

But the arrival of another new boy, Kinzo, heralds change. Kinzo is a clever bully who ruthlessly manipulates Kanta and makes much fun of him. The teacher refuses to discipline Kinzo, instead insisting that things will work out well.

Much of the narrative covers the developing relationship between these two boys. The cruelty that children wreak on each other is shown in excruciating detail, and I found it hard to watch the backward Kanta allow himself to be continually put upon by the scheming Kinzo.

Kanta even helps out when Kinzo stuffs up, just as the teacher predicted. Thus, Children Hand In Hand manages to combine the gritty reality of poor schools in post-war Japan with an unbelievably optimistic picture of faith in man's good nature triumphing over baser instincts.

In short, very watchable and never dull, though rather hard to credit. I saw a fairly good print of this film at this year's Japanese Film Festival here in Sydney. One rather credible Japanese audience member asked, without irony, if it were a true story. I stated that it was very unlikely, as I had never seen a school bully so readily turned.

Good-natured nudge at J jobseeking, 26 October 2013

You think you got problems finding a job as a new graduate ? Be thankful you're not in this rat race. Being born and raised Japanese doesn't seem to be much help for the too-eager stumblebum Takeo. He and his college chums are treated to a bewildering array of corporate tactics, tricks and inducements, and they often fall into traps, though not always set for them.

Big corporations allow students to ferociously compete for places in mock interviews, then tease applicants about the interviews being real, and carefully note their reactions. Smaller businesses are desperate for highly qualified talent, and try all manner of tricks and rewards, up to and including group kidnapping.

Both employ a curious concept known as 'unofficial appointments'. Larger corporations use them to tease and test, while the smaller companies use them as a trick to lure graduates away to them.

One of the lady students is asked to give her 'three sizes' (vital statistics) by an old salaryman who is clearly out-of-touch.

Takeo is generally good-humoured about being continually frustrated and spun around like this, maintaining his all-important 'genki' (roughly, 'I will be strong'), though he does make the mistake of drunkenly punching his intended new boss at a bar one night, then sweats it out when the man is his lead interviewer the following day. One of many running jokes is Takeo's continuing failure to flag down taxis. When he finally manages to catch one, is it a tantalizing hint that his luck has changed ? All through the confusion, two women vie for Takeo's affection : A childhood friend who has never refused his calls for help, and an ambitious career woman who helps him negotiate the recruitment process in the company of the man he drunkenly punched.

The pace clips along nicely, and the comedy is mostly gentle nugding. The similar and later Star Reformer (2006, also starring Yuji Oda) is a shade better, though this one is pretty good entertainment too.

Kizuna (1998)
Frustrating to begin with, 15 September 2013

The first half of Kizuna is rather confusing and dull. Most puzzling of all, the first hour is not very well acted either. Koji Yakusho has been Japan's top actor for the past 20 years, and was already at the top of his game around this time, especially having starred in the international smash hit Shall We Dance two years earlier. The great Koji appears bored with the role, and the introduction of half a dozen other important characters, which should have enriched proceedings, becomes an exercise in head-shaking.

It perhaps doesn't help that Koji is playing a fairly unsympathetic character. The support actors seem to warm up faster than Koji, and are mostly fairly convincing by the half-way mark. Shortly after, Koji seems to switch on, fairly suddenly, and the movie dramatically improves as a result. The plot threads come together nicely, the pace quickens, the violence and gore increases (it was already pretty high !), nearly all the characters become more desperate as the pressure mounts.

If not quite gripping, the second half is highly watchable and the conclusion satisfying.

I can't honestly say what could be done to improve the first half of Kizuna, but I certainly would not have stuck with it, had there been a lesser actor in the lead. Therefore, if you are new to the great Koji, start with another of his many fine films, and catch up with Kizuna later.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Ken makes it watchable, 31 August 2013

This confection is hard to watch for the first twenty minutes. The loudmouth driver in the cowboy hat is particularly irritating, and the poor distracted girl he eventually persuades to take for a ride is only just tolerable. Things begin to settle in when the great Ken-san finally moseys on in (about 25 minutes in).

Another reviewer observes that Hokkaido is a co-star. The local tourist bureau could certainly use this movie as a promotional video, as the lovely scenery of Japan's frozen north is handsomely on display here. Frankly, it is about the only aspect of the movie that held my attention while waiting for Ken-san, and remained a considerable asset from then on.

In case there can be any doubt, I will state it clearly. Yes, I can see that the young couple are mainly in this story as a foil for Ken-san. But I still contend that they take up too much screen time, and the film could only have been improved if their parts had been substantially cut. For instance, the first twenty minutes could have been cut to five minutes or less with no appreciable loss.

I hardly need say that Takakura puts in a subtle and moving performance, for which he is justly famous. And the longer he is on screen, the more the young couple improve. By the end, they are almost bearable, and the cowboy has even managed to develop some gentleness. Better late than never.

Ken's character's past is gradually revealed, and though there are no surprises here, the journey is compelling and moving. Very sentimental but highly watchable.

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