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Yu Aoi Shines!
Although Yu Aoi has been in many films before, she has always shared the spotlight with others or has played minor supporting roles. For One Million Yen Girl, this is actually her first starring role where she is the undeniable main character and she gives a knock-out performance that's worth mentioning! Her expressions of shyness, embarrassment, awkwardness, determination and loneliness are played flawlessly! I don't know what it is about Yu, but it's always so easy to sympathize with her characters. She has a certain charm and elegance about her that can easily win over any audience.
As for the film, One Million Yen Girl is a crowd-pleasing movie with a positive message. Even though the film is a somewhat conventional "Search for Yourself" road movie, it has a not so conventional ending that I thought felt just right.
This was an outstanding performance by Ms. Aoi and I hope she gets more opportunities to showcase her talent and star in future films. Along with Hana & Alice, it should be noted that this is her best work yet and I think only shows how effective she can be if given decent material to work with.
Kiraware Matsuko no isshô (2006)
Devastatingly Good! ( *****Minor Spoilers******)
I have seen a lot of films in my day from many different eras and countries and I have to say that "Memories of Matsuko" is right up there with the best of them. This masterpiece is so original, so entertaining, and so tragic that its hard to deny its brilliance! The two movies I've heard people compare it to the most are "Moulin Rouge!" and "Amelie". This is a correct assessment, but in my opinion, Matsuko's the far better picture! The film revolves around the life of Matsuko who is deprived of her father's love as a child. She realizes that the only way to get her father's attention and affection is to degrade herself (by making that silly face). This develops into a bad habit as she progresses in life and whenever she is faced with being alone, she chooses the demeaning path, because that's what worked with her father. We soon see her as a prostitute, a Yakuza girl, and in several abusive relationships. What's even more heart-breaking is the fact that Matsuko tries to make the best out of every situation but it somehow always ends in tragedy. She gives and gives while asking for almost nothing in return and that's what makes it so easy to sympathize with her.
The character of Matsuko is brilliantly played by the beautiful, Miki Nakatani. I've never seen anything from her before, but this film proves that she is one of the top actresses in Japan if not the world! The director, Tetsuya Nakashima, really brought out the best in her and it's a shame that the two don't get along and will most likely never work together again. Asuka Kurosawa who plays the character of "Megumi" also gives a noteworthy performance. I personally think the movie is at its best when she's in it! It really is a disgrace that this film didn't win the Japanese Academy Award for Best Picture that year! The Academy is obviously brainless for picking "Hula Girls" to win while "Memories of Matsuko" didn't even get recognized with a nomination!?! Talk about an injustice!
Switching gears, I did have a few minor problems with the film. First of all, there's this childhood lullaby song that plays one too many times throughout the course of the movie. By the end, you get really tired of hearing it, at least I did! Another problem I had was how Matsuko died. The film builds it up as a whodunit and when we finally find out who the killer is, the conclusion is far less important, powerful, or striking than expected. Several other reviewers commented that the film drags at the end and they're right! I think 5-10 minutes of editing would have made it flow better.
As for the positive, there's a lot to love here! The music scenes are great and the songs are very catchy! The acting, story, cinematography, visual effects, and direction are all top-notch! Another thing that's great with this film is that it's re-watchable! I've probably seen it 10 times and I still haven't gotten tired of it.
At the time of this review (9 / 2009), there's no DVD in Region 1 that I'm aware of and that really is too bad! This film deserves a lot more prestige than its currently getting and its bizarre that its almost unknown in the United States! "Memories of Matsuko" will stay with you days after watching it. Whether you're into artsy films or mindless action movies, I think there's a lot here for any type of person to enjoy! Highly Recommended!!! 10/10!
Tôkyô gomi onna (2000)
When describing Tokyo Trash Baby, the words "weird", "gross" and "disturbing" come to mind. There are definitely a few problems with this film....For one, the English subtitles are horrendous containing many grammatical errors and misspelled words which get a little annoying after a while. Second, there are a few long and meaningless shots that go on forever and serve no purpose other than to suggest that the movie is more artistic than it really is. And lastly, the whole production of the film had that cheap quality to it mainly because of the low budget camera they were using. With all that said, I still really enjoyed this movie. I was engrossed the whole time watching it and for some odd reason, really started to care about the main character towards the end of the film. Also noteworthy is the strange music and the eerie mood that was established throughout. I know that the majority will absolutely loathe Tokyo Trash Baby, but if you're a little peculiar yourself and have the patience, then this movie is certainly recommended.
Hito no sekkusu o warauna (2007)
"Sex is No Laughing Matter" or "Don't Laugh at My Romance", whatever you want to call it, is a fairly standard movie. The performances by Hiromi Nagasaki(Yuri) and Ken'ichi Matsuyama(Mirume)are good but nothing spectacular. I honestly didn't care much about those characters or their storyline and I thought that the more interesting subplot was the relationship between Mirume and En-Chan played by the always brilliant, Yu Aoi. Mirume and Yuri's affair has a devastating impact on the heartbroken En-Chan, who becomes jealous when she finds out that her secret love has fallen for an older woman. She plays the part of the forlorn college student to a tee and is the main reason for any success the film achieves. I've got to say that after "Hana & Alice", this is the funniest performance of Yu Aoi's that I've seen yet and really showcases her comedic talent. There's a very hilarious and endearing scene between Shugo Oshinari(Domoto) and Yu Aoi's character at the end of the film that is just about as good as it gets from a comedic standpoint. For those of you who don't know, Yu and Shugo played the characters of Tsuda and Hoshino in the film "All About Lily Chou Chou", where in that movie, Shugo actually played Yu's pimp. It's both odd and nostalgic to see those two act together in "Don't Laugh at My Romance" knowing what their characters went through in the previous film. To sum everything up, I would recommend this movie to Japanese film lovers, but this is a must-see if you're a Yu Aoi fan.
Kame wa igai to hayaku oyogu (2005)
Turtles are not so fast after all!
Being a fan of Yu Aoi, I make it a priority to see all of her films....at least the ones that are available with English subs. So when I came across the hilarious online trailer for "Turtles Swim Faster Than Expected", I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. Lucky for me, I found a copy with English subtitles and went into it with huge expectations. Little did I know that pretty much all of the funny moments in this film are already shown in the trailer. I could compare the experience to already knowing the punchline to a joke, but then having to go through listening to the setup.
The biggest problem with the movie is the story, or lack thereof. It does have an interesting premise, but definitely does not live up to its potential. I was quite disappointed with where the plot was going about half way into the film and the ending was just a mess! The film all too often strays away from the plot and gets down right ridiculous in some instances.
I'm glad to say that not all is lost. Juri Ueno's performance was spectacular and her on screen charisma is what makes this film at least somewhat watchable. Yu Aoi was just as charming and adorable as she is in every film, but wasn't used nearly enough. I also must comment on the song playing at the end. It was very catchy and put a smile on my face even though the movie as a whole was a big letdown. Don't get me wrong, there are some funny parts in the movie, but they are few and far between.
Overall I'm extremely disappointed even though the movie was still decent. Its more of the fact that it had so much potential and wasted it. An interesting premise + Juri and Yu would seem to be a sure thing, but instead the writers went with total absurdity + underdeveloped characters + pointless plot and thought that would somehow work.
I give the film 6/10 but that is largely due to the performances of Juri and Yu.
Mimi wo sumaseba (1995)
Film Review - Animated Masterpiece
Whisper of the Heart is truly my favorite film from Studio Ghibli. Produced by the Great Hayao Miyazaki and directed by his apprentice Yoshifumi Kondo, the film centers around the journey of Shizuku who is a girl about to graduate junior high school and is struggling to find her way. One day she meets Seiji, a boy in her grade, who inspires her to do something important with her life. The song by John Denver, "Take Me Home, Country Roads" is prominently used in the movie and there is a magical little scene where Shizuku performs the song. One of the only Studio Ghibli films to be centered in reality, minus a few dream sequences, the movie is set in the real world, although is just as magical and inspiring as the likes of Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. One might think from reading the plot that the movie sounds boring, but let me tell you, that is far from the truth. Whisper of the Heart was engaging on all levels as soon as it began and kept my attention throughout. Its a simple movie, but a brilliant one and its re-watchability factor rates very high in my book. This movie has changed my life for the better. I am giving it a Huge Recommendation! 10/10