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Tengoku no honya - koibi (2004)
Kenta (TAMAYAMA Tetsuji), a just fired pianist, finds himself at a bookstore in Heaven after he was dead drunk out of desperation in a tavern last night.
He's not dead. The bookstore has hired him for a short-term job, and he can go back to the earth after the working period. Most of the other habitants in Heaven have already ended their life on the earth and are preparing for their next life back on the earth. Since every human being has a life of just one hundred years, they live in Heaven for the rest of their life after they die on the earth. If you are dead at seventy, you live for thirty years in Heaven and start a new life on the earth as completely another person -- you have no memory about the previous life. If you live on the earth for a hundred years or more, you immediately reincarnate without going to Heaven.
Soon, Kenta knows Heaven is not like he imagined before and not much different from the earth. It has towns, streets, stores, parks, vehicles, and anything which exists on the earth. He meets a beautiful woman named Sho^ko (TAKEUCHI Yu^ko). She has a grand piano in her cottage and that reminds him that he met her on the earth when he was a boy. She was a gifted pianist and inspired him to make himself a pianist. She tells him she has not played the piano since she lost her one ear's hearing by an accident and has occasional pains in the ear.
At the same time on the earth, Sho^ko's niece, Kanako (Takeuchi, in a double role) is making efforts to restore the town's annual summer fireworks display after more than ten years' interruption. She and her pals especially want to revive its highlight program, "The Loving Fireworks". It is said couples will unite forever if they watch the firework. But Kanako and her pals face a big problem. There is the only man who can make the firework and he quit the job more than ten years ago. She finds and meets the fireworks maker but he tells her he has no intention to make "The Loving Fireworks" or any other fireworks. She gets to know the reason. When he invited his girlfriend to his workshop, he caused an accidental explosion and it robbed her of the one ear's hearing and her music life as a pianist.
This film has two stories in Heaven and on the earth which go on at the same time. When and how will the two meet? And What will happen when they meet?
(7 out of 10)
- USHIRO Satoshi
Janghwa, Hongryeon (2003)
What you must fear is not a ghost, but a human being.
Two sisters, Su-mi (IM Soo-jung) and Su-yeon (MOON Geun-young) return home with their father (Kim Gap-soo). Eun-joo (YEOM Jeong-ah) welcomes them but Su-mi's manner is bitter to her. Su-mi hates Eun-joo because the father let her act like the house wife after the sisters' mother died. Seeing her attitude, Eun-joo is getting to treat the sisters coldly and there grows a tense atmosphere among them.
As if called in by the atmosphere, series of mysterious things occur in the house. When Su-mi is hanging her dress in her wardrobe, there have been already hung a lot of dresses of the same design. When she put her diary into a drawer, she finds another diary of the same kind there. When she is sleeping in her bed with scared Su-yeon, a nightmare awakes her and she finds a woman standing on her -- and a hand dangles out of the woman's skirt!
Mysterious things occur to the other people, too. On the evening of next weekend, Eun-joo's brother and his wife visit the family and they have a dinner together. Eun-joo cheerfully talks about a crazy man she met when she was a child, but nobody is interested in her talk. She says the crazy man annoyed the brother, but he says he doesn't know anything about the man.
Listening to their talk, the brother's wife has a panic.
After the dinner, the conflict between Eun-joo and the sisters becomes at its worst. Eun-joo pulls Su-yeon into a wardrobe and locks her in it. Su-mi saves the crying-out sister and complains to their father what Eun-joo has done to his daughter. But his response is unexpected. "Give me a break." says he angrily, "Su-mi, please. Don't make me tired any more."
And the following words out of the father's mouth are more shocking than what they have seen in the house.
To tell the truth, I hate horror movies. Although I seated myself at a theater because my intuition told me the movie was something different, I was regretting what my curiosity had made me act when it started showing. The regret, however, had changed into joy for expectation ten minutes later.
This film is a tragic mystery more than a horror -- painful more than horrible; beautiful more than sensational. That may have a hard core horror fan disappointed, but for a mystery fan like me, this film is a must see. (9 out of 10)
Out of this world, where are they going?
On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered and World War II was over, leaving the horizon of ashes which had once been cities, and lines of the starving homeless. On the burned-out ground, U.S. Occupation troops landed with American culture -- chocolate, chewing gum, comics, English language, and jazz. During the war, Japan's military regime had banned to play or listen to the American origin music. People who love jazz must listen to the records in a closet, and most jazz players must change their genre to traditional popular music or marches with a back band or a brass band or a military band, or must stop playing.
Now is two years after the end of the war. The world has been completely changed. Japanese are enjoying freedom under the occupation forces. Freedom always includes freedom to loose a job or to starve to death. Especially in this age in Japan, economy has been reduced to almost zero and people must do anything to live. A lot of musicians have jumped to jazz. Occupation clubs need the most popular music at this time. Even in an enlisted men's club, jazz players earn a good sum of money for one night show -- the sum which is nearly equal to one month salary of an office worker. And they even have a chance to elevate the sum by changing their stage to an NCO club or an officer's club.
The Lucky Strikers, named after a popular brand of American cigarettes, are ones of such Japanese jazz players who have got a chance to play at an enlisted men's club. The members of the quartet are -
Kentaro^ (tenor sax) (HAGIWARA Masato): Jazz is his religion, but he must play the sax with a Japanese Army band in the Pacific islands during the war. He believes he plays jazz not only for money but for love. What he wants now is to restore his years in the army.
Hiroyuki (trumpet) (Mitch): He's from a country band. He's a collapsing genius -- is gifted enough, doesn't talk much and has a habit of stimulant drugs.
Akira (piano) (MURAKAMI Jun): He's from a brass band. His life has been consumed to search for his kid brother since he was missing during the war.
Joe-san (bass) (MATSUOKA Shunsuke): He was a "closet listener" of jazz and played with a Japanese Army band during the war. He's opposed to his brother and his neighbors -- to his brother because he's a communist, and to his neighbors because they bully the brother.
Sho^zo^ (drums) (ODAGIRI Joe): He has once played the Japanese festival drum -- actually he has no music career. He has never touched a jazz drum kit before, but he hangs on to the band to help his life and his family at his hometown. Because he's youngest in the band and cheerful, everybody loves him, but they don't know everything about him, especially that why he doesn't say where he comes from.
The manager of the enlisted men's club is Jim (Peter MULLAN). He knows real jazz and hopes The Lucky Strikers will improve their skill. For all musicians at the club, playing "Danny Boy" is a taboo because he lost his son Danny recently.
Russell (Shea WHIGHAM), a soldier who usually comes to the club, is a gifted tenor sax player. He looks down Japanese jazz players including The Lucky Strikers because their music sense and technique are low and old-fashioned. One night he steps up to the stage where The Lucky Strikers are playing with his tenor sax and plays Kentaro^'s part. His play is amazing. His manner gets Kentaro^ furious, although he must accept that he is no compare with the GI.
The two become strained to the breaking point. There is a reason why Russell hates Japanese. No soldiers of the occupation forces have fought Japanese because they have been transferred from Europe, or are rookies. Russell is not an exception but he has a brother who was killed during a sea battle in the Pacific.
How will the opposition between Kentaro^ and Russell develop? Can the other members of The Lucky Strikers find their solution? And more. One thing casts a shadow over them and all the enlisted men. Another war is breaking out just on the other side of a strait across Japan. (7 out of 10)
Trivia: The leading actor, HAGIWARA Masato plays the Japanese voice role for the Korean sensation, BAE Yong-joon in the TV series, "Winter Sonata".
- USHIRO Satoshi
Addicted to a wish
Ho-jin (LEE Eol) and Dae-jin (LEE Byung-hun) are brothers in very good terms. They speak about everything to each other. The relationship has not changed after Ho-jin married Eun-su (LEE Mi-yeon). The three has made a happy family in the house in the suburbs which contains a workshop for Ho-jin, a carpenter, and a garage for Dae-jin, a car racer. But their happiness suddenly comes to an end and trials begin. On the same day at the same time, the brothers meet a car crash respectively -- Dae-jin during a car race; Ho-jin on his way to the racing circuit. They both fall into a coma, and one year later, only Dae-jin awakes from his coma. Dae-jin goes home, and he and Eun-su start the life without Ho-jin. Before long she finds the brother-in-law is somewhat different than he was. He waters the plants in the garden every morning, which was Ho-jin's part. He prepares dinner for Eun-su -- he didn't cook before; Ho-jin did. And he begins to repair furniture, saying that his fingers don't move like they did. Dae-jin tells her that he is Ho-jin. Eun-su cannot believe him. Does possession really happen? Has Ho-jin's soul taken over Dae-jin's body? But when she's inclined to accept him as her husband, more cruel trials are beginning. The twisted and detail-conscious story line has made the film soar beyond a simple possession story or a stereotyped romance. The performance of the two leading actors, LEE Byung-hun and LEE Mi-yeon is splendid! Especially Byung-hun's eyes are great. They shows purity and strong will at the same time. Without the eyes, the film might have not been a success. And Mi-yeon's ability of expressions is incredible. She's the kind of actresses who talk by their looks much more than words. When Dae-jin wants to enter her bedroom, or when she proposes him to talk together about Ho-jin and starts talking, the strained atmosphere build on the screen is enormous. (9 out of 10) - USHIRO Satoshi
Kyô no dekigoto (2003)
And then, the life goes on
A college student moves to Kyoto to go on to graduate school and invites his friends to a casual party at his new home. This movie is the sketches of their one day incidents. The characters are -
Maki (TANAKA Rena): She's blue in the car on her way to the party, because she had been dying to buy a skirt for many days but it had already been sold when she made money and dashed to the shop. Nakazawa is her boyfriend and Keito is a good friend of her but Maki is a little jealous to Keito because Nakazawa talks more frankly with Keito than herself.
Nakazawa (TSUMABUKI Satoshi): He's Masamichi's classmate. He has a desire to become a film director, but still has not found the way to. He's a moderate person in any meaning.
Keito (ITO^ Ayumi): She's a friend of Nakazawa since their childhood. She has a bitter memory about "Romance of the Three Kingdoms". Her former boyfriend and she swore to cooperate to unify China and they had full and happy days in common. But at that time they could not expect that the video game would result in making them to be broken up.
Masamichi (KASHIWABARA Shu^ji): He's going to go on to graduate school and the host of the party.
Nishiyama (MIURA Masaki): He loves symmetry a lot. So it must be the most regretful thing in his life that he does not notice Maki is terribly drunken and allows her to cut his hair.
Sakamoto (ISHINO Atsushi): He does not talk much and always watches television.
Kawachi (MATSUO Toshinobu): He's handsome and kindhearted. Keito tries to attract his attention, but what is always on his mind is Chiyo. he's so kind to everybody that he has joined the party, leaving her in the middle of their date.
Chiyo (IKEWAKI Chizuru): She always gets irritated when she meets Kawachi. She thinks good nature is not a virtue if it's too much.
While the main characters are having the party, TV news is showing a man who fell out of a window and has been trapped in narrow space between two buildings. Fire fighters are trying to rescue him but they can't make him move a centimeter. Television follows up the incident for a while but when they notice that there are no signs to develop, they changes the scene to another incident.
The incident is a whale which has gone aground on a beach. The residents have gotten together and give water to the whale and try to drag it back to the sea with rope, but it doesn't move a bit, either.
And so, the night falls. How the party develops? Can the man escape from the buildings? Will the whale go back to the sea? Anyway, this is our daily life - each day is precious and no exchangeable for everybody. (7 out of 10)
The director, YUKISADA Isao also directs the latest top one box-office movie, "Crying Out for Love at the Center of the World."
- USHIRO Satoshi
The battlefield of inspiration and technology
This film is based on a real technological competition opened every year in Japan since 1988.
Satomi (NAGASAWA Masami) is a student of a technical college. She is a lazy girl and poor at both study and club activities. One day, a teacher tells her she is short of credits and needs to have extra lessons. More lessons will be killing her, but the teacher gives her a proposal that if she joins the second robot club of the college and takes part in the coming RoboCon with the club, he will accept that as the credit.
"Robot Contest" or RoboCon is competed by one hundred and twenty-four teams from sixty-two technical colleges - two teams from each college. Every team consists of one robot and three members of crew - a captain, an operator and a mechanic. The captain of Satomi's team is the club leader Yotsuya (ITO^ Atsushi), who has dropped out of the first robot club of the college because it is too tightly organized, but is worried about too few members of his club and his small gift of robot operation. The mechanic is Aida (OGURI Shun), who is a lonely genius - having enough gifts in technological fields and no cooperation. And the operator is Satomi, who has never operated a robot before. Their robot is named "BOXhund", designed with outstanding ideas but still incomplete .
The matches are a single elimination tournament. Two teams compete to make their robot carry more objects to the respective goal within three minutes. The design of the robot is free while it meets some requirements - the weight, the size when it stands still, the power supply, the budget, and so on. The first robot club wins the preliminary matches and proceeds to the final stage like every year; the second robot club loses the first round like every year. But it is not usual that the second robot club is invited to the final stage as one of two teams by recommendation of the judges. They have praised the design concept of "BOXhund".
Satomi encourages the other members to win the final stage. Her team's miserable defeat in the first round has awoke her long-sleeping competitive spirit. But they have a lot of problems to face - the incomplete robot, Satomi's poor operation technique, little cooperation between the members, and having only a few months until the final stage.
It is touching that the club members try to make their way to the final top.
The match-ups between two robots, this movie's highlight scenes, are realistic and suspenseful. And this film has a lot of good humor. The leading actress, NAGASAWA Masami also stars in the latest top one box-office film, "Crying Out for Love at the Center of the World." (9 out of 10)
- USHIRO Satoshi