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"Japanese sweet things..."
8 July 2009
As Matsuda Ryuhei's character says, there are certain delicacies of uniquely Japanese creation. This film is one of them, with a light and pretty exterior but a rich depth at its heart. I don't think I'll be suspected of teenage fangirl favouritism (seeing as I'm neither teenaged or a fangirl) when I say that, as with so many of his lighter films, Matsuda is the core acting talent who brings the best performances out of his two female leads. That's not to say that Aragaki and Kikuchi are not already well above pretty-face levels in their roles, and their relationship is wonderfully natural.

This sweet thing couldn't be made or re-made by any other country but Japan, and I personally kept wanting to walk into the screen and live in the world that Akiko Oku & Co. created.
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Kikujiro (1999)
Incredibly sweet and surprising film
9 June 2009
This was an absolute delight from start to finish. Beat Takeshi made me laugh my socks off, and brought tears to my eyes when Kikujiro had poignant moments of insight and pathos. The chemistry between him and little Masao was pitch-perfect throughout the whole film, and the story itself built very naturally and beautifully.

My husband and a male friend of ours thought it would be too sappy for them (and opted for Mongol, which I had also rented). Thanks to Takeshi-san and his superb comic sensibility, I can now set their opinions straight.

As another user mentioned, this absolutely knocks a film like Lost in Translation out of the runnings. (Coppolla never seems to have grasped anything fully beyond Virgin Suicides anyway) There is something about this particular type of pacing in films that only Japanese directors can achieve. Any attempts by Westerners ends up as a mere pastiche.
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Love Collage (2003)
Very pretty people and imagery, but really needed more development
8 June 2009
While this film definitely took some bizarre turns, I didn't let that ruin my overall pleasant experience watching it. Matsuda and Hirosue are respectively gorgeous people, even if their affection was at times a teensy bit like siblings. The photography and focus on techniques was excellent and - happily for a photographer - made up the majority of screen time.

Having American-British dual nationality, I'm not quite so ready to pick holes or take offence in the portrayal of Americans. Actually, I think they did a good job of showing US/Japan culture issues. I love NYC so much that I'm moving there this year, and you really can't go too crazy with a city that constantly surprises even those who were born there (Cassius is practically a stock city character in real life). Seeing as this story is told entirely first person from Masato's POV, viewers should give themselves over to his perspective as much as possible and not see it as a serious social commentary.

The Big Problem: English usage Seriously, if you're already filming in New York why not puh-lease look up a professional Nikkei Amerikajin translator to do the English in the script? It was almost completely unnatural to native English-speakers, to the point where it jarred you out of the most emotive moment.

Also, they really should have handed over Ryuhei's English training to his little brother Shota, who I believe (could be wrong) was studying in London around this period and who's English is pretty damn good. Considering Ryu-kun's character was teased for having 'Queen's English' in the beginning of the film, Shota's posh London inflections would have been perfect for big bro to learn from.

This big problem is most of my reason for giving it a 4/10. There's only so much actors and great photography can do, but it was still a sweet film.

Oh, and Cassius *so* would have had his way with Masato - who would ever say that Ryuhei Matsuda isn't 'their type'?
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My favourite movie of all time
8 June 2009
I adore this film far too much to restrain gushing. I also have way too personal an attachment to pay any heed to other comments or input, which I normally enjoy when reading about movies. This is Takashi Miike's self-professed masterpiece, a statement I whole-heartedly agree with.

As I am still a novice to Japanese culture, I have to give my impressions with Western references: The lighting is Caravaggio and the colours are Rembrandt. Jun's character could easily have jumped out of Camus or Rimbaud, while Shiro is absolute Bataille at his most abstract yet violent and carnal. The punctuations of real-life inserted amid the prison scenes are more jarring than any of Miike's more overt attempts to discomfit his viewers in previous films (through violence, sex, or both). The outside world looks like an unwelcome schism in the timeless, almost monochromatic prison. Via the character of Shiro, the film brutally dispatches all Euclidean and Cartesian occupation of time, space, and psychology - but crucially, does not seek to put anything in its place (something that Jun attempts and fails to do repeatedly). All that's left when Shiro has conquered his final opponent (himself) is the love between the two main inmates.

I can see why anyone with the word 'pretentious' as a regular feature in their vocabulary would blank out this film. Probably just as well, in my opinion.

Favourite bit: when Jun and Shiro first see each other in the prison 'waiting room', and Shiro is revealed in extreme out-of-focus as a kana form.

I've never had a 'favourite film' before in my life, and now I do. Arigatou gozaimasu, Miike-sama.
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Taboo (1999)
26 March 2009
I was a complete Japanese cinema novice when I watched this film and, while I had to watch it twice to fully appreciate the tone, I now feel the same maddening addiction to it that I've seen in so many other reviewers. The insouciant but deadly thread that Oshima weaves throughout the beautiful shades of 19th cent. Japan is all the more poignant, as he seemed to single-handedly bring a Japanese film icon's son into a profession he now seemed destined for. I've read that Ryuhei-san was more interested in soccer than following his parents into acting, and in likely teenage boy squeamishness, actually turned down the role of Kano because it was a gay character (Matsuda is straight, and now married). Thank goodness he changed his mind, because Oshima had hand picked a boy who held his own among multiple film greats in a way that I have never seen in a teenage actor of his generation...or in anyone since.

The only summary I can give is 'exquisite' – a must-see film in my opinion. And really, the explicitly 'gay' scenes are not explicit at all, and even the most butch heterosexual wouldn't be offended (perhaps I'm being optimistic). This is a perfect movie.
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