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Shin Gojira (2016)
Politicians & co. vs Godzilla and red tape
What the new Godzilla does right far outweighs its wrongs, although they can't be missed- -what's with those eyes? What's with her accent? What kind of tank alignment is that? The haters will have a field day picking the movie apart, but unlike the majority if not all of the other entries in the genre, the following tropes also have gone out the window: children, romantic relations, wives left waiting for the return of their brave husbands, victims holding personal grudges, exposition from long ignored all knowing specialists, a common enemy to side the audience with the titular creature--tiresome plot gimmicks, the total absence of which felt refreshingly good. The political subtext aside--which should mostly only interest people with political opinions on Japan, the plot follows a team of underdogs and outcasts led by a government cog in a race against literal bombs to find an effective way to neutralize a national threat. The camera-work and editing is fast-paced, and a multitude of characters play a role in handling the crisis. Crisis management movies based on real events usually try to hit emotional chords by emphasizing the above mentioned tropes to varying degrees of success, while overlooking the mundane aspect of processing such situations. Resurgence avidly instill a life into the mundane work of these everymen who happen to be the alternative to possible obliteration, human or otherwise.
As can be seen from the range of its ratings, the movie is divisive. But whatever the conclusion, viewing it is worthwhile if only to track the influence it will hopefully have on the genre as well as Japanese cinema.
The Revenant (2015)
Gripping vendetta marred by convenient cop-out ending
The conclusion is completely inconsistent with the driving force and direction of the rest of the story and an all too convenient third option in the last moments--though foreshadowed, feels so out of the blue it cheapens the drama built up till that moment to Saturday morning cartoon morality. Otherwise, the visual intensity and sense of desolation and scale is superbly captured through the lens, choreography, wardrobe, location, props and casting. It is an undeniable masterpiece until the last three minutes, and if Iñarritu could Brazil or Blade Runner this, he should definitely release an alternate ending or simply cut off its tail and slap on a director's cut on it.
There could be a deeper interpretation meant to elevate this movie beyond this first impression, if so, the blame for allowing this poor interpretation still falls on the filmmakers.
I Am a Hero (2015)
Japanese meditation on the collapse of the status quo.
Just as Ringu was a social metaphor of its times, I am a Hero stabs post 3/11 Japan, after earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear meltdown stripped it of the comfort it took for granted and threw it out into a world where things stopped making sense. The movie follows the average near jobless modern Japanese thirty something's journey through a disheveled society deprived of the civilities his preceding generations have taken for granted where he is left with the ultimate choice to adapt or die.
I am a Hero is my favorite zombie movie next to Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland!! It hacks the manga it's based on and blends it into a movie satisfyingly. A lot of character development goes through the window, but enough is left to make you imagine the rest. Half the staff is Korean whom we can thank for the superior effects, and the script is surprisingly tight for a Japanese production of this budget. Blood flows by the gallon, it has the best panic scene I've seen in any disaster movie, and the ZQN (zombies) are the scariest thing that's been put to film to date because they retain their former selves. None of the cast lets the film down. My sole complaint is an unimaginative crucial scene which feels more metaphorical than physical--removing some of the immediate threat I wished it would convey, but it is a mere skipped beat in a heart pounding sequence which still concludes with a powerful image. If you are familiar with the original work, I must tell you to stay away from the manga till you see the movie though, some of the stuff left out might be harder to swallow with a fresh memory. The movie keeps the main character's imagination, but leaves out the supernatural beyond the early ZQNs--it focuses on the early books, allowing it to stand alone as a zombie movie.
Swimming Pool (2003)
Topless chick open to interpretation
The plot in a giant SPOILER: A female London-based mystery novel writer spending a summer at her publisher's villa in France helps a young woman (Julie) claiming to be the publisher's daughter get rid of evidence of her murder of a local young man interested in both ladies. The writer ends up writing a book based on this girl and a book by her mother based on her romantic relationship with the publisher, and publishes it behind his back. The final sequence reveals another similarly named girl (Julia) to be the daughter of said publisher. The writer waves at both girls in the final scene, and the silhouette she waves at mimics her. Further SPOILERS: The first girl is topless through a lot of the movie, and BIG SPOILER: the older writer also goes Full Monty for one scene. No one else that matters gets naked.
I immediately looked up interpretations of the film because it does not hold your hand in its conclusion. Julie's existence, her relationship with Julia, with the publisher, and with the writer all come into question.
One character (if we accept he existed) grounds Julie in reality, it's the gardener Marcel. He has a dwarf daughter whom at the mention of her mother shuts herself in terrified, insisting she died in an accident. When he stumbles upon the freshly dug grave of Julie's latest victim, it is as if he had already seen this before. The writer looks at Julie for help, but since she's asleep, offers herself to the gardener instead. Julie is playful with Marcel, and in one scene stops him from working and pulls him in the bushes with her newly met sex partner. Julie might have had to gain the gardener' silence previously. Maybe she killed his wife. The hysteric way in which Julie pleads her mother not to leave her and her agony when she realizes she's talking to the author and her mother already isn't there could suggest she's reliving the past trauma of having been abandoned by her mother after a similar incident. Since the writer wouldn't have been there before, the gardener might have been Julie's former accomplice. Work at the villa might be compensation, it explains why neither parent wants to go back there or see Julie.
Julia is younger than Julie, and could be the official family the publisher approves of. She has braces. Julie absolutely does not wear bras. She is too free, the unwanted child of a sex orgy. The book the writer publishes behind the publisher's back is an "illegitimate" product itself. It is more personal and vindictive.
Etymologically, I don't know how much the director likes to play with names, but Julie's mother fled to somewhere Nice, her relationship with her father is Long done, and at the end she herself drives off to St Tropez, or Saint too much.
When I first saw the writer seeing Julia for the first time, I thought Julie had duped her. The final scene might suggest the two are the same, but Julia does not seem to recognize the writer at all when they meet in London. Perhaps the writer is projecting one onto the other, but Julia is in London and wouldn't come without her father, Julie is gone to St Trop. The shadow she waves at happens to mimic the writer's wave, suggesting both are her puppets, imagination, or own projection. The movie ends leaving the silhouette anonymous. It also puts the writer back in France. Maybe the publisher gave her the villa as compensation. She did warn him her detective series would be coming back, a not so subtle blackmail after delivering him a book digging up old bones literally in his backyard. The best way to shut her up would be to give her a reason to keep people off the property he doesn't want to go back to himself.
As soon as I finish writing this I'm sure I will come up with another interpretation, and I've already spent more than the movie's running time on this. This is perhaps the beauty of the Swimming Pool.
Read the spoilers and save yourself the time and pain.
I saw the movie in 2D. I now believe Martin S owns the movie industry. Have yet to find professional reviews calling the movie a failure without kissing up to the man. The titular homeless orphan living within a French train station's walls fixes an invention of grumpy old toy shop owner George Melies and restores the man to his legendary status. Adding nothing to the main plot are the budding romances of two elderly regulars of the station and their dogs and that of the slapstick station inspector and a flower girl. Couldn't have cared less about any of the antipathetic characters. Especially the lead. Not particularly pleasing to the eye or ears, a lot of camera time is spent on his less than interesting variations of silent frowns and glares. Sexy beast Kingsley, Sasha Borat Baron and hit girl Chloe, I'll think twice before getting excited to see you in a movie. If you absolutely must go see this, bring a Nintendo 3DS with you.
Columbus of the dead
I hate all zombie movies except Shaun of the Dead. Now I hate zombie movies except Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. No other zombie movie has managed to make me feel so good and happy for having watched it. Production value, acting, humor, action, romance, bromance, cinematography, music, presentation, style, reference to pop culture, name the criteria, I love both movies on all levels. I am otherwise speechless and drooling at how good this movie was. And will be every time I'll be rewatching it with friends and by myself.
Thank you for making me believe in Woody Harrelson again.
Missing the number of lines necessary to make a review, unlike the very concise movie, I shall delve deeper into what has made it such a welcome blast in the face for me. The casting is superb. Aside the obvious thumbs up for the main cast and the triple hoorray for the surreally incredible cameo, every zombie and its victim is simply an amazing selection of vivid faces, making the opening sequence one of my favorites, along with those of Seven, Dead or Alive-Hanzaisha, and Watchmen. The zombie make-up is fantastic. Every new zombie flick seems to try a distinct look for its zombies, but fortunately this one backs up its efforts to make rotten flesh look fresh with a good plot and characters to love. Even the deleted scenes and promotional theatrical trailers in the special features expanded on the characters in completely hilarious directions. I especially love the deleted scene where the pasts of two of the protagonists are hinted/guessed at. It's a scene that is nice left out of the movie, yet must be seen to add another layer to every character involved. Just watch it. The promotional theatrical trailers give you a list of clips from the movie followed by the two main characters giving you zombie survival tips, and serve as great fillers. Very worthwhile.
I can't wait to buy my own copy.
Ryû ga gotoku 3 (2009)
Ode to Okinawa.
I took this game with me on a half year long trip abroad so I wouldn't get homesick. Rural summers in the company of children and Tokyo night life among yakuzas somehow coexist in a single cohesive storyline deeply rooted in its meticulously recreated miniature Japan. I missed an opportunity to go to Okinawa, and am currently outside of Japan, but this game is the next best thing.
The game spends a good portion of the plot developing your relationship to the new characters, which might throw you off a bit until you reach that point when events call you back into action, and your new "family" becomes what you fight for. And the ass-kicking business has never been this good. I played through the fourth game, which introduced three new playable characters and entirely new points of view on the plot along with distinct fighting styles, making for an awesome experience, but I still don't mind coming back to play the third game.
Ryû ga gotoku (2005)
Lone Yakuza and 10 billion Yen Cub.
I am plowing through my second run of the fourth installment of this franchise, yet the first game will always hold a dear place in my heart. This is not Grand Theft Auto. The morality of the protagonist is impeccable, and the worst you could do is refuse to help in a side mission. You play a man who took the fall for his best friend and spent ten years in prison, and since you supposedly killed your own boss, every yakuza hates you. This is unfortunately the most irritating aspect of the first title. Every encounter-able character in the street will pick a fight with you (a problem addressed in the sequels). Go to a convenience store to buy that household item which will turn your weapon into something more, and you'll get into two fights along the way. Try to make your way back to a save point and you'll have to beat the crap out of three new sets of punks. What saves this from becoming entirely unbearable is that your set of moves develops as you smash more faces to the ground, and you rarely run out of environmental weapons or the chance to pull a cinematic special move: you seldom get bored of beating people up. While you're not beating people up, you're running from place to place in town, and unfortunately, this second aspect is equally mortally flawed by slow loads--as many load times as street corners, and space distorting camera angles which will make you run into a street (after a prolonged load time hiccup) and back where you came from (meaning another prolonged load time to put you back where you started) by simply holding the directional stick in the same direction because the fixed camera angle will have done an unexpected 180 on you.
Those are the only two things I can complain about the game, which I still think deserves its 10. Once you beat it, get hold of the sequel which is twice as long and takes place in Osaka half the time. Beat that and buy a Playstation 3 to play the third game (not the swashbuckling spin off), which is half set in Okinawa. The fourth game is entirely set in the original city, with the addition of rooftops and underground levels. I love the series, and every installment. Since the playstation 3 games did away with the fixed camera, I doubt I'll be playing this game again, but I still give it a 10 for hooking me in so bad I did all of the above.
A lady's memoirs of the young kamikaze pilots who ate at her diner, as told by the Governor of Tokyo
We are told early on that the kamikaze missions were entirely suicidal, and that therefore sinking a ship wasn't half as important as dying in front of the enemy. In the same breath, "voluntary" enlistment for those missions is revealed to have been an irrevocable order. Once the demented premise established, the episodes of various young men and how they spent their last moments come and go, as simply and as mercilessly as History sent off its zero fighters. The grainy footage and detail to military mannerism and apparatus give an authentic flavor that counterbalances the poor effects and sparse, but undeniable awful (child) acting. The first two thirds are drama heavy, and the climactic beautifully and obviously computer-generated aerial battle comes early at the head of the third act, which then peters out into a dragging epilogue about the aftermath of war that stretches out of the frame into the present. Personally, I have never found that plot device a good idea to begin with, but it is especially poorly executed in Japanese movies, such as Otoko-tachi no Yamato (2005), Lorelei (2005), The Twilight Samurai (2002), or Murudeka 17805 (2001). The credits should start rolling right after the last plane crashes, leaving the remaining twenty minutes to those who wish to stay seated. The weight of the movie still rests in the first half hour, but that alone is worth the price of admission. The Governor of Tokyo scripted the movie based on the stories he heard from the diner lady around whom the movie is centered.
Dare mo shiranai (2004)
"Grave of the Fireflies" for a post-postwar Japan
Studio Ghibli's "Hotaru no haka" (grave of the fireflies) came to mind after reflecting on the uncathartic "Dare mo Shiranai" (Nobody knows). While the former is an animation (by Hayao Miyazaki's studio nonetheless), it is an effective tearjerker. The impact of Nobody Knows is the casual eye the camera takes to document the degeneration of a family of children. Unlike Grave, Nobody does not have an anti-war agenda to preach the human tragedy with an orchestra score. It's about the real time Japan that nobody knows, and the last glance the movie throws at the spectator is a dagger retitling the movie Nobody Cares. Like "Ponette," the movie is told from the unpatronizing perspective of the children, and the film follows minute details which thread the challenge it is for them to simply live.