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Ji yi da shi (2017)
Great Entertainment - Well Done, Great Story
14 May 2017
Saw this with my wife in a AMC Cinema in Columbus, Ohio. We were two of a total of 9 people in the theater. ....Which was too bad, because this was a very well done, fun, entertaining movie: much better than the schlock playing in the other 23 rooms of the complex.

The idea of memory erasure and insertion is not totally new (see "Total Recall") nor is the idea of two different humans memories competing (See "Get Out") Nevertheless, this movie has some original ideas about the problem and an intricate web of a story that emerges in the confusion of the competing memories.

Outstanding acting and cinematography. Visually stunning. The lead actor is particularly convincing. Beautiful Chinese costars, exciting pace, keeps you guessing. My only complaint is that the writer/director actually tried to do a little too much with the complicated story. For example, the similarly confusing "Get Out" snaps together into perfect coherence after the last 60 seconds of the movie. In "Battle of Memories", the pieces don't quite all fit together at the end. Nevertheless, overall the movie was great entertainment, exciting, well acted, very interesting, beautiful to watch - we enjoyed the evening.
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Fun, Solid Entertainment
8 May 2016
Having just relocated to the Columbus, OH area ... with some effort, I identified one theater playing a Chinese movie. Initially, I was the only one in the theater. Five minutes into the movie, one other couple came in. That set the record for my lifetime lowest number of people in the theater. Which was too bad. The movie, "Phantom of the Theater" was pretty good. The Hong Kong director Wan Mai Yip is much more famous for the "Ip Man" action, kung fu, police series. This one, however, was a ghost story set in a fictional Chinese city in the 1930s. The plot involves a handsome young director who decides to shoot a horror movie in a stage theater known to be haunted. The movie would definitely not win any European Avante Guarde Art awards, but it was great entertainment. Handsome leading man, gorgeous leading ladies, good story, super-saturated colors, gorgeous period clothing, jealousy, intrigue.... It was a great evening. :-)

By the way, other than some normal frightening death and ghost horror scenes, this movie is family friendly. No nudity, no profanity. No controversial social issues.
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Good Light Entertainment for Japanese History Fans
24 September 2011
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.
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Shanghai (2010)
Too Bad it Wasn't a Better Movie
4 July 2011
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.
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Okoge (1992)
Good, But Not Comedy and Not Family Entertainment
13 February 2011
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 (!)
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Pretty Good Crime Story, Interesting Twist on Actual Historical Incident
20 July 2010
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....
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Bang-Bang Action Movie - Very Popular in Japan....
20 July 2010
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)
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Quirky, Quiet, Kind of Interesting, A Little Slow
30 May 2010
(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.
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Otôto (I) (2010)
Some Wry Humor But Really Depressing
30 May 2010
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.
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Some Funny Parts, Japanese Audiences Liked it, A Bit Slow
30 May 2010
(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.
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Good Solid Family Entertainment
19 July 2008
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.
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Very Nice Warm/Quirky Fantasy Movie
13 September 2007
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...
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Cool Dimension (2006 Video)
So Bad that it is Good
13 September 2007
The first thing that we noticed as the movie began is the "cheap" look. The film seems to have been shot with low cost video equipment of the type used for daytime soap operas. The lighting sophistication was similar to that of soap operas. Camera angles were not subtle.

Choreography was crude. Acting was very weak.

However, half way through the movie there was a short, very technically effective, soft-porn sequence (bare breasts; no genitalia) Our suspicion was that the movie may have been made by a team that otherwise earns its living making soft porno movies - that is a porno movie team hoping to move upscale to something more "artistic"

Note that other than this little sequence in the middle of the movie, the rest of the movie is almost family entertainment - lots of hand-to-hand fighting and little else. Nothing awfully terrifying. No other nudity at all.

The net result was that our college age boys, roared with laughter through the entire movie. Their otherwise extremely open-minded, fun-loving, not-a-bit-prudish, Japanese mother was so disgusted that she went to sleep.
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Daibyônin (1993)
Interesting but Somber Movie
19 August 2007
This is the most somber Juzo Itami movie that I have seen.

While it does contain some humor and cute side plots, for the most part, the movie is a serious exploration of two aspects of death, one familiar to American audiences another rather uniquely Japanese.

The first (familiar) problem is the death-with-dignity issue. Should every last conceivable attempt be made to extend the life of a hopelessly terminally ill patient? Even at the expense of intensified suffering of both patient and family at the end of life?

The second (uniquely Japanese) question is whether the doctor and family members should be candid with a terminally ill patient about the true nature of his illness. Until fairly recently (like the late 1990s) both the Japanese medical community and Japanese society in general were firmly convinced that it was better to try to keep the patient hoping for recovery for several reasons, among them that sometimes the patient's own hope can be more powerful than the most advanced efforts of Western medicine in curing the patient.

The handling of these two themes is graphic and intense. The portrayal of the medical treatments is incredibly technically detailed as well. The performance of Masahiko Tsugawa as Dr. Ogata is extremely convincing and among the best work of this actor's career.

Towards, the end of the movie, the effects around the patient's out-of-body experiences are also extremely creative and technically superb, even by today's standards, much less for 1993 before the advent of digital-everything.

There is also a superb sequence of one of the key Buddhist sutras set to classical music towards the end of the movie as well.

Overall this is a good movie. However, if you are looking for a light-hearted romp along the lines of "Tampopo" this movie is not for you.
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Fun Comedy About College Girl and Some Silly Middle Age Men
18 December 2005
After a stormy breakup with her boyfriend, 3rd year pharmacy student Keiko Obayashi (played by Rena Tanaka) rushes into a train, without paying any particular attention to where she is going. After falling asleep and coming to the end of the line, she finds herself applying for a job at a new drugstore that is about to open. Meanwhile, a group of middle age men that own run-down, less than competitive local businesses are fuming at the arrival of the new competitor drugstore. They decide to take action...but end up all falling hopelessly in love with young Obayashi-kun. ...which leads to their increasingly desperate attempts to learn the strange game of Lacrosse, which seems to be her hobby...

As a Japanese/American bilingual household with high school / college age daughter and sons...all of whom play Lacrosse... we had a great time with this film. We rolled around on the floor laughing.

It has the usual Japanese lightly suggestive/racy content, but no frontal nudity, swearing or violence. Extremely religious parents might be concerned; for everyone else it should be fine as family entertainment.
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Buraikan (1970)
Wonderful witty, interesting, dark, colorful Period Drama
17 July 2005
Nominally this movie fits into the "Jidaigeki" (Period Drama) genre. However, this movie is much more interesting with funny, complex characters. Tamba Testsuro (the head of Japanese secret service in "You Only Live Twice") is outstanding is the "lone wolf" Buraikan - a kind of good-hearted, if ruthless and highly clever monk. Nakadai Tatsuyo is also funny, eerie and compelling as the handsome, never-do-well, lazy fortune teller.

The story is set during the "Tempo Reform" period of Mizuno Tadakuni (1793-1851). Lord Mizuno was an extreme moralist and tried to outlaw more or less anything pleasurable. His reasoning was that things like staged plays, posters of actors, popular novels, expensive meals, cakes, dolls, paintings, etc... were wastes of the country's resources and contributed to the decline of the national moral fiber. Not a very fun-loving guy.

The story in the movie concerns several characters living in an entertainment area (probably Asakusa or Yoshiwara) who become involved with a band of rebellious underground actors.

The movie has everything: multiple, well-developed, interleaved story lines. Well developed individual characters. Some eroticism, a lot of traditional art, many funny sequences, suspense, action.

This is an excellent movie, especially for lovers of Japanese history and art.
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Suspense and Atmosphere on Remote Japanese Island
17 July 2005
On the ferry to a small Japanese island, a local asks a mysterious stranger why he is returning. As the story unfolds, we learn about a brutal, isolated war time penal colony for boys the local reform school could not handle...and a mysterious incident that is going to be resolved.

Although this particular story is fiction, the Japanese have a long cultural tradition of "Shimanagashi" (banishment to a remote island) as a correctional method. As such, the story is quite believable in a Japanese context.

The atmosphere at the beginning of the movie was great! The build-up and development of the story is excellent. The photography (shot of Hachijojima south of Tokyo in the Pacific Ocean) of the isolated colony for "the worst of the boys" is beautiful. Some viewers may find the movie too brutal.
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Great Movie - Beware of VHS Tape from Amazon
22 December 2004
After years of trying to get a copy of this wonderful movie and checking on Amazon, suddenly it became available on VHS at Amazon last summer and I ordered a copy. What arrived, is NOT an original studio release. Instead it was a generic tape with a typed white label. When I put it in to view, what I found was a very grainy image with a dubbed English soundtrack. I was very disappointed.

My guess is that someone found a copy of the 1972 poor U.S. release at a flea market somewhere and has taken a position that the copyright has entered the public domain after 28 years as per statutory section 17 USC 303 of the copyright law and is publishing copies of that worn out flea market copy.
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Akai hankachi (1964)
Great film for fans of Japanese Karaoke
29 March 2004
First, this film seems to be available in Japan only. I purchased mine on a recent trip to Tokyo. I believe it was about 3600 yen (around $32) It is region 2 encoded and will plan only on "all region" machines or machines imported from Japan (I have a machine from Japan)

There are no subtitles or alternate language track, so you need to be able to speak Japanese to appreciate the movie.

What is the main interest? The hero Mikami is played by Ishihara Yujiro.

Ishihara Yujiro (now deceased) was the brother of the current outspoken governor of Tokyo, Ishihara Shintaro who cowrote "the Japan that can say no." about 15 years ago.

Ishihara Yujiro is a sort of John Wayne for Japan - the man's man. The movie theme song is one of the most famous "Enka" Karaoke songs.

Plot: opening with a criminal running through foggy back alleys of the Yokohama harbor. Elite policeman Mikami (Ishihara) and his partner Ishizuka (Nitani) in hot pursuit. The crook stashes a mysterious briefcase in a little "Oden" stand and runs on, only to be hit and killed by a truck. As the police grill the elderly owner of the Oden stand, Mikami goes to notify his daughter (Asaoka) who thinks her father is drunk again and sends Mikami back with a sweater for her father. During the interrogation, it comes out that Mikami is going to be on Japan's olympic pistol team. The father won't talk. As Ishizuka walks the old man across the courtyard, suddenly the old man turns, knocks Ishizuka over, grabs his gun and begins firing wildly. Rushing from the building, ace-shot Mikami pulls his service revolver and kills the old man with one shot. Needless to say, the daughter is furious... too bad, because she was Mikami's love interest. In the ensuing scandal, Mikami is forced to resign. Four years later, real-man Mikami is working in the Hokkaido snows on a dam construction project drilling holes in the cliff when the police investigator Tsuchiya arrives to tell him that there is something peculiar about his former parnter's subsequent financial success and marriage to the old man's daughter...
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