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Metro ni notte (2006)
Good Light Entertainment for Japanese History Fans
This film didn't win any Oscars, but we enjoyed it. The story was intriguing, there were some good visual effects and the acting was decent.
As mentioned in the other reviews, a time-travel tangled web of family and interpersonal relationships.
The movie will probably be more fun for people who have more personal experience with life in Tokyo, riding Tokyo subways, drinking in Tokyo, romance in Tokyo...being a history buff doesn't hurt either.
Viewers without that sort of personal relationship to the subject may find the movie less compelling.
Too Bad it Wasn't a Better Movie
Reading the other reviews, I can hardly believe I watched the same movie. While there were a few good scenes, on the whole this was a crummy movie.
So, we start with a reasonably believable premise for a thriller: Shanghai in 1941 definitely did have Japanese who were not nice. There definitely were Chinese collaborators who were not nice. There were large gambling establishments and a certain amount of glamour (along with a lot of horrible misery) in Shanghai at the time. Stuff was going on in the run-up to Pearl Harbor and the U.S. was not the entirely innocent, naive, passive bystander that U.S. elementary school textbooks portray. So... a U.S. Naval Intelligence guy undercover in Shanghai in late 1941? Great premise for a fiction movie!
Add a first class Japanese and Chinese cast and a good to excellent American cast. Gong Li and Chow Yun Fat are among the best China (Hong Kong) has to offer and they have done stellar work in other movies. Ken Watanabe is arguably the best living Japanese actor at the moment and was outstanding in "Inception", the "Last Samurai" and dozens of others. John Cusak was excellent in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" Mix in a large amount of effort, opulent sets, tons of money....
AND....somehow end up with a wooden turkey!
I ordered the DVD and we set it up with our projector at home. Primarily, it was my son studying history at the Naval Academy and speaks Japanese - very interested in the subject) and I watching while my Japanese wife dozed off happily on the couch.
The first clue was the subtitles. As a multilingual household we always check the options. We were surprised to find that this was an English language movie...OK...there was a certain logic to that. Should we turn on the English subtitles? Naw... that would be silly. We started the movie. One minute into the action we were stopping the movie to turn on the English subtitles. Why? Ken Watanabe was mumbling and unintelligible.
This wasn't the fault of Ken Watanabe. He did fine job delivering perfectly intelligible and compelling dialog in "Inception". Poor speech intelligibility is the symptom of sloppy production.
Next problem was the wooden script. The constant stopping for the Chinese or Japanese characters to apologize for speaking their own language might be believable for someone who has never actually been in the Far East. Real life is rarely like that. When you are the lone American in a room full of Japanese or Chinese, they are pleasant and polite, but by no means do they stop every 30 seconds to apologize for speaking their own language.
At first I thought that the stiff performances might be the result of forcing otherwise outstanding Japanese and Chinese performers to speak in English. However, as I continued to watch the rest of the movie, I realized that the native English speakers weren't doing much better.
By the end of the movie, the problem was clear: the script writer was desperately trying to scrape together every cliché in the history film noire and somehow stuff it into the movie. Less would have been more.
Ang Lee's "Lust Caution" (based on the semi-autobiographical short story by Eileen Chang) is a much better movie on roughly the same subject. By the way, I has the same reaction as the only other reviewer who wasn't enthusiastic: I thought this movie was "borrowed" from "Lust Caution". However, in poking around at the background, it looks like this one took almost 10 years to get produced...meaning the initial story predated "Lust Caution".
I love the subject material and all the performers...Too bad "Shanghai" wasn't a better movie.
Good, But Not Comedy and Not Family Entertainment
The other reviews have done a pretty good job of describing the story and the dramatic content.
If you are a gay male without any small children in the house, you will almost certainly find this movie thought provoking and interesting for all the reasons mentioned by the other reviewers.
For the more general movie viewer, three caveats:
1) Contains graphic, male, homosexual sex scenes - several of them, that go on for many minutes, and while not showing genitalia, leave absolutely nothing else to the imagination. Also contains a few scenes of slightly disturbing heterosexual sex, also pretty graphic.
2) This is not a comedy. Like many Japanese movies, the U.S. release packaging is quite misleading. This is a serious, melancholy drama with some comic relief in some of the scenes.
3) The DVD package shown is not a true DVD release, but rather a pretty obvious case in which someone took a well worn VHS tape and converted it. It is watchable, but quite grainy and washed out with poor audio quality and none of the features (switchable subtitles for example) that one associates with a true DVD release.
If you are OK with these three caveats, by all means order this DVD.
By the way, for those who do NOT happen to be gay, the leading lady Misa Shimizu is a treat (!)
Bang-Bang Action Movie - Very Popular in Japan....
This is the 3rd in a series of movies about the the so-called "Bayside Police"
This movie has been a big hit in Japan. I saw it in Ginza, in a huge theater. Reserved seating was required and every seat sold out - very unusual for a Japanese movie. (Japanese attendance at Japanese domestically produced movies is usually sparse)
Obviously a big budget production, with lots of fireworks and special effects. The story concept was sort of interesting....but the acting was...uhmm pretty unconvincing. Very hammy. Think "Lethal Weapon 27" without the high quality acting...
Which is too bad, because Japan does have superb actors such as Watanabe Ken (currently in "Inception") or in previous generations Ogata Ken (in "Mishima") or Mifune Toshiro ("The Hidden Fortress" is superb)
Rosuto kuraimu: Senkô (2010)
Pretty Good Crime Story, Interesting Twist on Actual Historical Incident
The movie was pretty good. Some parts were a little weak, some were extremely effective - the use of very high quality classical piano music was especially effective. The story was good. This was a film version of one of about 20 different novels that have been written about a famous robbery in 1968 that apparently the police failed to solve adequately. The so called: "San-Oku-En-Ji-Ken" (300 million yen incident) which the Japanese police were apparently never able to adequately solve. The young actor => Watanabe Dai was a bit unconvincing. The older actors, however, were quite good, especially the other lead: Okuda Eiji Almost all of the female cast was excellent and very convincing. With this movie, however, I was back to the normal theater condition for Japanese movies -> good to very good story and cast, excellent technical production....and...uhh....about 25 people in the theater....
Shokudo katatsumuri (2009)
Quirky, Quiet, Kind of Interesting, A Little Slow
(Saw this movie in flight on American Airlines between Tokyo and Dallas)
Generally a fun, and sort of quirky movie. The movie is clearly intended to be a bit surreal with actual cartoons in some places and cartoonish physical sets in others.
This movie is "family friendly" in that there is no nudity or profanity. There are some quirky erotic and human reproductive references but they are too subtle to register with small children.
Generally kind of a fun movie. Very nice cooking photography. Reasonably interesting story. Pace is a little slow in some places... I found myself looking around to see what was on the screens of other passengers.
Some Funny Parts, Japanese Audiences Liked it, A Bit Slow
(See the previous review for a very good plot synopsis)
I went to see this movie in Tokyo because Pia Magazine (the leading Japanese language entertainment magazine in Tokyo) had done theater exit polls for several movies and this one had scored best with 50+ respondents giving it an average of >90/100 points. Clearly Japanese audiences liked it.
I liked it too, in general. There were parts that were quietly funny and pleasantly quirky. There were scenes that were very funny. The performance of the leading lady, however, was somewhat mixed. She was very convincing in some scenes, less convincing in others. Also, the overall pace of the movie was a little slow. It probably could have been edited down by about 10 minutes with beneficial effect.
Some Wry Humor But Really Depressing
Saw this movie in flight on Cathy Pacific between Beijing and Hong Kong.
Yoshinaga Sayuri still looks amazingly good given her age. Yu Aoi is somewhat wasted in a supporting role. Most of the movie is about the relationship between Yoshinaga Sayuri's character and her life-long loser little brother. Although the start of the movie is sort of funny in a cringe inducing way, as the movie progresses the little bit of funniness disappears and it drags on and on in the misery. Perhaps the dedication of the all volunteer hospice shown in the movie is somehow supposed to be uplifting. Of course technical aspects of the movie are fine - well shot with elegant understated photography.
Chîmu bachisuta no eikô (2008)
Good Solid Family Entertainment
This movie was available as in-flight entertainment on a long overseas flight I took recently and I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Some other web sites complain because it is "commercial entertainment" I would have to agree with this complaint; if you are looking for material for your next "Esoteric Art Film" class, this movie is not for you. This is simply a solidly produced, entertainment movie.
That having been said, it manages to have suspense, plot surprises, personal interest, a little bit of off-beat humor, a nice pace and so on -> all without relying on any of the typical movie crutches of sex, nudity, profanity, violence or prejudicial stereotypes.
(By the way the two lead actresses Yuko Takeuchi and Haruka Igawa are both pretty and effective in their dramatic roles. Makes one wonder why Hollywood perceives the need to insert Chinese actresses into Japanese roles in other movies.)
The only thing that might be a little bit of a challenge for those with easily frightened, very small children is the open-heart surgery scenes. While I am not a doctor, at least I was a emergency medical technician years ago, am a computer engineer currently and was pretty impressed with the effort they put into making the medical/technical story and surgery scenes believable. While not unduly gory for a normal adult, these scenes might be too much for someone who is highly squeamish and/or faints at the sight of blood.
Strong points of the movie are the off beat interview scenes with Dr. Taguchi and her "Unspecific Complaints" department patients as well as the over the top interview style of the investigator from the Ministry of Health as played by Hiroshi Abe.
Tôku no sora ni kieta (2007)
Very Nice Warm/Quirky Fantasy Movie
A small regional jet lands at a report airport in Southern Japan, possibly on an island. The stewardesses bow as the guests disembark and walk across the ramp to the terminal. Gradually, the stewardesses notice that one guest has wandered slightly off course and is kneeling on the tarmac. When they approach him to see what is wrong, he points out a child's shoe embedded in the concrete.
So begins a very warm and quirky fantasy movie. The rest of the movie is a flashback to before the airport was built. The very quirky local villagers are resisting the airport construction. A new construction executive arrives with his young son - who is sent to the local one room school. There are many funny and eccentric characters. Some of the sequences are lightly surreal. The main characters are children, but a wide spread of age ranges are portrayed as part of the community.
I saw this in Japan in a movie theater (no subtitles) Not sure if or when it will be released on DVD, much less released outside of Japan. One interesting aside -> for non-Japanese who are studying: for some odd reason, I felt that the clarity and articulation of the dialog in this movie was exceptionally good. Much better than anything you see on Japanese television.
For sensitive viewers: no frontal nudity, overt sex, extreme violence or extreme profanity. However, like almost everything Japanese, there are bawdy hints around the edges. For the Japanese, these are a normal part of life. Some extremely conservative American viewers might be slightly uncomfortable having to explain to their small children why certain of the women in the movie keep lifting their skirts and flapping their white underwear at passers by.
It was a very pleasant evening at the movies for me...