Strange Circus 奇妙なサーカス (2003)

Strange Circus Mitsuko Genki Banner

Strange Circus                                                           Strange Circus Japanese Film Poster

Japanese Title: 奇妙なサーカス

Romaji: Kimyou na Sa-kasu

Japanese Release Date: 24th May, 2003

Running Time: 83 mins.

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono

Starring: Masumi Miyazaki, Issei Ishida, Rie Kuwana, Mai Takahashi, Tomorowo Taguchi, Hiroshi Oguchi

I love all of Sono’s films. Not equally though. As powerful as I find his dramas like Himizu and Noriko’s Dinner Table, I really loooooove his horror films like Suicide Circle and Cold Fish. This is the first time that I have watched Strange Circus, having only read a great review for it on Goregirl’s blog but I can safely say that this is one of Sono’s best.

Mitsuko Ozawa (Kuwana) is a young girl whose father Gozo (Oguchi) is the principal of the school she attends. Her existence is one of fear as her father is a sexual predator. At first she is forced to see her father having sex with her mother Sayuri (Miyazaki) but is soon sexually abused herself. This causes an insane jealousy to develop in her mother which leads to a deadly accident… Or does it? The above nightmare Mitsuko suffers is part of novel written by successful author Taeko (Miyazaki). She has taken on a new assistant named Yuji Tamiya (Ishida) who will expose dark secrets.

Continue reading “Strange Circus 奇妙なサーカス (2003)”

Genkina Hito and It Came From Japan

The LAMB logoIt is getting close to Halloween and so this post is timely… I am a member of The LAMB (Large Association of Movie Blogs) and occasionally, very occasionally, I take part in some of the events organised by them. Recently I have taken part in Foreign Chops #6: It Came From Japan which hosts a bunch of reviews from LAMB members which are focussed on Japanese horror films.

Apparently this is the second largest edition of Foreign Chops and from what I can see the titles sent in are an interesting mix. There are some obvious titles like, Audition and Ichi the Killer, the splatter-fest Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl and classic kaidan eiga like Jigoku, Kuroneko and Onibaba and more recent J-horror like Ju-On and Ringu.

Onibaba Demon Hag

There are a lot of titles I wouldn’t class as strictly horror since they mix genres. Titles like the kaiju eiga Gamera vs. Guiron and Godzilla vs. Mecha Godzilla, and the dystopian action thriller Battle Royale.

There are even some non-Japanese films including, Bio Zombie and Three Extremes. While Three Extremes scrapes in (just) since only one section (the best) is Japanese, the others come from Hong Kong and South Korea, Bio Zombie is clearly from Hong Kong. It is also pretty unspectacular. Thankfully there are some interesting reviews of classic titles, notably from Silveremulsion with The Ghost of Yotsuya and Jigoku.

My reviews (picked with help by Goregirl) are for Cure, Retribution (representing Kiyoshi Kurosawa), Suicide Circle (probably the most fun I have had watching and reviewing a Sion Sono film), Tetsuo: The Iron Man (an incredible film from Shinya Tsukamoto) and Audition (Miike represented). Three of Japan’s biggest directors, five films that deserve to be seen and probably three of my more readable attempts at film criticism.

As for Halloween itself… on Wednesday I will post a review of a great horror film, a tradition I started last year with Shinya Tsukamoto’s Nightmare Detective.

Manga Entertainment Acquire Wolf Children Rain and Snow for UK Distribution

The London MCM Expo festival is currently under-way and UK anime distributors are announcing their acquisitions and projected release dates. The big news is that Manga Entertainment has announced that they will release THE WOLF CHILDREN in the UK!!! Anime UK News, which I write for ;), broke the news of this announcement and others on Twitter just before I was going to turn my computer off and watch a Japanese slasher film. Here are the details of the upcoming releases:

The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki                                The Wolf Children Poster               

Romaji: Okami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki

Japanese Title: おおかみ こども の 雨 と 雪

Japanese Release Date: 21st July 2012

UK Release Date: 2013

Running Time: 110 mins.

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Writer: Mamoru Hosoda, Satoko Okudera

Starring: Aoi Miyazaki, Takao Osawa, Yukito Nishii, Haru Kuroki, Amon Kabe, Momoka Oona, Shota Sometani, Kumiko Aso, Mitsuki Tanimura,

Mamoru Hosoda is frequently called the next “Hayao Miyazaki” and while I loved The Girl Who Leapt Through Time I was left unimpressed by Summer Wars. So unimpressed that I have yet to turn my review notes into a review despite more than a year elapsing since I last watched it… Then I went to the 56th BFI London Film Festival where The Wolf Children was screened and I loved it. I can confirm it is brilliant. So brilliant it is joint number one for my films of the year. For those wanting a bit of the brilliance at home, the film will be released on both DVD and Blu-ray and a theatrical release is also being considered. For some odd reason Ame and Yuki have been dropped from the title making it rather bland. Anyway, here’s the trailer and some more details:


A story of love between parents and children that takes place over thirteen starts when a university student named Hana falls in love with Ōkami who is a “wolf man”. The two marry and have children named after the weather on the day they were born – Yuki (snow) the older sister and Ame (rain) the younger brother. The four live quietly in a city concealing the true existence of their relationship until Ōkami dies and Hana decides to move to the country.

Hosoda has been aided with scripting duties by Satoko Okudera who has worked on major anime movies like Summer WarsMiyori’s ForestThe Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and The Princess and the Pilot. Legendary character designer Yoshiyuki Sadamoto (Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, FLCL, Evangelion) is acting as character designer here. Madhouse Studio (Paranoia Agent, Black Lagoon, Millennium Actress, Perfect Blue, Master Keaon, Dennō Coil) is co-producing the animation. The voice actors involved come from the world of live action movies. Hana is voiced by the actress Aoi Miyazaki who starred in Shinji Aoyama’s 2000 film Eureka (she does have experience in anime after voicing Tula in Origin: Spirits of the Past)Ōkami is voiced by Takao Osawa (All About Lily Chou-Chou), Yuki is voiced by Haru Kuroki, and Ame is voiced by Yukito Nishii (Confessions). Other notable names include Momoka Oona (Mitsuko Delivers) who plays an even younger version of Yuki, Amon Kabe(Tada’s Do-it-All House) who plays an even younger version of Ame, Shota Sometani (HimizuSadako 3DIsn’t Anyone live?), Mitsuki Tanimura (13 Assassins), and Kumiko Aso (Pulse).

Continue reading “Manga Entertainment Acquire Wolf Children Rain and Snow for UK Distribution”

My Departure, A Terminal Trust, Resident Evil: Damnation, 009 Re:Cyborg, Smile PreCure! The Movie: Everyone is All Mixed Up Inside the Picture Book! Trailers and the Japanese Movie Box Office Chart

FFXIII LightningThis week a gallery that had remained dormant opens and so there has been extra work for me to do. Not that it stopped me from posting information for Terracotta’s forthcoming release of a double-bill of Kim Ki-Duk movies in the form of Arirang and Crocodile, the Japanese films at the London International Animation Festival and a trailer for the hotly anticipated Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo anime movie. I also wrote a small obituary for the Japanese filmmaker Koji Wakamatsu who tragically died last week. I had a day off earlier in the week which allowed me to write up my notes from the BFI London Film Festival and do a lot of previews for films. My prediction about getting free time made a couple of weeks back did not quite pan out as expected but I am running slightly ahead of schedule (writing this did not feel like a desperate struggle).

What does the Japanese movie chart look like?

  1. The Expendables 2
  2. Tsunagu
  3. Bayside Shakedown 4: The Final New Hope
  4. Outrage Beyond
  5. Uchu Keiji Gyaban: The Movie
  6. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax
  7. The Mystical Law
  8. Resident Evil: Retribution
  9. Bakarea High School
  10. Intouchables

The big change is the fact that The Expendables 2 is at the top spot and Space Ranger Gavan is at five. Sono latest film, The Land of Hope is apparently not in the top ten which strikes me as a crime, especially as it has had good reviews.

What is released in Japan today? A lot of anime!


My Departure                   My Departure Movie Poster

Japanese Title: 旅 の 贈りもの 明日へ

Romaji: Tabi no Okurimono Ashitae

Release Date:  27th October 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: 109 mins.

Director: Tetsu Maeda

Writer: Takashi Shinohara

Starring: Kiyoshi Maekawa, Wakako Saki, Yu Yamada, Kurumi Shimizu, Shono Hayama, Yu Tokui Taro Suruga, Atsuka Sakurai

Tetsu Maeda… That name rings a bell That’s right! Late last month his film The King and I was released. Well he’s back with My Departure, a film which stars the popular enka singer Kiyoshi Maekawa, Wakako Sakai, Yu Yamada (Nodame Cantabile live-action films). Being a gaikokujin and completely unfamiliar with Japanese television beyond Keizoku, The Water Margin and Monkey Magic, the only people I recognise are Yu Yokui (Keizoku, Swing Girls, Insight into the Universe, Dark Water, and the amusingly titled I am a Cat Stalker) Kurumi Shimizu and that’s only because I wrote up a film she was in last month called The Kirishima Thing, which I really want to see. From the synopsis I thought I might not like the trailer but actually… I kind of liked it. Maybe it is because I commute to work via train.

A man from Tokyo who worked for a construction company, a woman from Nagoya who is a hair stylist and another woman from Osaka who is about to get married travel by train to the city of Fukui As they travel by train these three people go on a journey both physical and personal.


A Terminal Trust                        The Terminal Trust

Japanese Title: 終 の 信託

Romaji: Tsui no Shintaku

Release Date:  27th October 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: 144 mins.

Director: Masayuki Suo

Writer: Saku Tatsuki (Original Short Story)

Starring: Koji Yakusho,Tadanobu Asano, Takao Osawa, Yoshihiko Hosoda, Tamiyo Kusakari

Masayuki Suo, director of I Just Didn’t Do It and the smash-hit film Shall We Dance? reunites two cast members from the latter film with Tamiyo Kusakari and Koji Yakusho (Séance, Cure) as the trailer shows at the beginning. They are joined by Tadanobu Asano (The Kids Return, Bright Future, Vital, Survive Style 5+) and Takao Osawa (All About Lily Chou-Chou, Ichi) This medical/legal drama is based on a short story named Tsui no Shintaki (The Final Request) by the lawyer Saku Tatsuki.

Doctor Ayano Orii (Kusakari) is placed in a difficult position when a patient named Shinzo Egi (Yakusho) who suffers severe asthma requests that he does not want to be put on life support following an attack. When he does die she is questioned in a criminal case. 

Resident Evil: Damnation                             Resident Evil Damnation

Romaji: Baiohazādo: Damunēshon

Japanese Title: バイオハザード ダムネーション

Japanese Release Date: 27th October 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: N/A

Director: Makoto Kamiya

Writer: Shotaro Suga

Starring: Paul Mercier (Leon), Alyson Court (Claire Redfield), Sam Riegel (Steve Burnside), Patricia Jay Lee (Jill Valentine)

I am old enough to remember when Resident Evil was first released… I think I played it that same year. Over the intervening years I have lost interest in the franchise – the last one I played was Code Veronica on the Dreamcast – but I still watch the films if I have nothing better to do. Anyway a trailer for Resident Evil: Damnation, the 3D CGI anime film sequel to Resident Evil: Degeneraton, was released last week.

In this story Leon S. Kennedy takes centre stage as he finds himself in a war-torn European country, the East Slavic Republic to verify that Bio Organic Weapons (BOWs) are being used in a civil war which both the US and Russia plan to intervene in. Obviously there are BOWs since the trailer shows Leon battling Lickers. Makoto Kamiya who directed Resident Evil: Degeneration and has handled the special effects on Gantz, acted in Tokyo Gore Police and was assistant director on Mamoru Oshii’s Avalon is directing this. Takahashi Tetsuya (AppleseedHalo Legends) is composing the music.

009 Re:Cyborg                                                           009 ReCyborg Poster

Japanese Title: ゼロゼロナイン リサイボーグ

Romaji: Zero Zero Nain Resaibo-gu

Release Date:  27th October 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: N/A

Director: Kenji Kamiyama

Writer:  Kenji Kamiyama (Script), Shotaro Ishimori (Original Creator)

Starring: Sakiko Tamagawa (Cyborg 001 / Ivan Whisky),Daisuke Ono (Cyborg 002 / Jet Link), Chiwa Saito (Cyborg 003 / Françoise Arnoul), Toru Ohkawa (Cyborg 004 / Albert Heinrich), Teruyuki Tanzawa (Cyborg 005 / Geronimo Jr), Tarou Masuoka (Cyborg 006 / Chang Changku), Hiroyuki Yoshino (Cyborg 007 / Great Britain), Noriaki Sugiyama (Cyborg 008 / Pyunma), Mamoru Miyano (Cyborg 009 / Joe Shimamura)

Production I.G.’s 3D anime take on Shotaro Ishinomori’s classic manga is released today. Kenji Kamiyama (Eden of the EastGitS: Stand Alone Complex) has taken on the roles of director and screen-writer for the movie. Other notable staff attached to the movie include Yusuke Takeda (Blood: The Last VampireGhost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) as the art director, Gatou Asou (Moribito – Guardian of the SpiritOccult Academy) as the character design Masanori Uetaki who has handled 3D CG on titles like Asura Cryin’ and Tiger & Bunny, is lead animator, and Kenji Kawai (Patlabor!Ghost in the Shell!!) handling the soundtrack.

The story follows a group of nine people who have been kidnapped from across the world for a project involving human experimentation. These people are turned into cyborgs but escape and turn their new powers against their former captors in order to protect humanity from them.

Smile PreCure!  The Movie: Everyone is All Mixed Up Inside the Picture Book!Precure Mixed Up Movie Poster

Japanese Title: 映画 スマイル プリキュア! 絵本 の なか はみんな チグハグ

Romaji:  Eiga Sumairu Purikyua! Ehon no naka wa minna Chiguhagu

Release Date:  27th October 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: N/A

Director: Narumi Koda

Writer:  Shoji Yonemura (Script), 

Starring: Asami Tano (Akane Hino/Cure Sunny),Chinami Nishimura (Reika Aoki/Cure Beauty), Hisako Kanemoto (Yayoi Kise/Cure Peace), Marina Inoue (Nao Midorikawa/Cure March), Misato Fukuen (Miyuki Hoshizora/Cure Happy), Daisuke Sakaguchi (Pop), Ikue Ohtani (Candy), Megumi Hayashibara (Niko)


The PreCure anime is popular amongst girls in Japan where it is a massive franchise. I am not a girl or Japanese, therefore this has no effect on me. The film is directed by Narumi Kuroda who has acted as a director on the differenttelevision series. Shoji Yonemura (Glass Fleet, Fairy Tale, Smile PreCure!) is writing the script for the film and characters designs come from PreCure franchise veteran Toshie Kawamura.  Kozue Komatsu is also aiding Kawamura in character design as well as fulfilling the role of animation director. Chie Satou, another PreCure franchise familiar is handling the art direction.

Voice actors from the PreCure franchise are also reprising their roles and they are joined by Megumi Hayashibara (Rei Ayaname in Evangelion).

The five legendary PreCure girls find themselves transported into a picture book and are guided in their journey out by Niko, a girl who lives in fairy tales.

Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo Trailer

Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo                                                Evangelion 3 Film Poster

Japanese Title: ヴァンゲリ新 新劇場版:Q Quickening

Romaji: Evangelion Shin Gekijoban: Kyu

Release Date:  17th November 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: N/A

Director: Hideaki Anno, Masayuki, Kazuya Tsurumaki, Mahiro Maeda

Writer:  Hideaki Anno

Starring: Megumi Hayashibara, Megumi Ogata, Akira Ishida, Yuko Miyamura, Kotono Mitsuishi, Takehito Koyasu, Fumihiko Tachiki, Yuriko Yamaguchi, Motomu Kiyokawa, Hiro Yuuki, Miki Nagasawa, Maaya Sakamoto

Neon Genesis Evangelion is one of those anime series that marks everyone who watches it. This 90’s anime is smart, intelligent, imaginative, emotionally devastating and uplifting and visually stunning. It was a post-modern take on the mecha genre that combined mecha tropes with crazed religion, science and the twisted imagination and state of near depression of anime veteran Hideaki Anno.

It certainly marked me. I remember being glued to the television on Saturday mornings and being blown away. I remember being gripped all the way to the end and having my favourite characters. I remember the anger I felt when Asuka suffered her fate (as I mentioned in my anime heroines series last year) and welling up with emotions when the series came to the end and Shinji… well, I won’t spoil it. I was moved to tears and if you have yet to see the series, watch it because you will be too.

Then Anno claimed he was not happy with the way the series developed and released a number of films which tried to retell the ending of the show. I have yet to see them but from what I have heard I am glad I have not. Anyway, Evangelion has become quite the money spinner as numerous manga, action figures, models and other cash-ins like pachinko machines and gatchapon testament so it was inevitable that there would be new films on the classic franchise. This film is the third of four which, Anno claims, is how he originally envisioned Evangelion being if it had the time and budget to develop back when the TV show first aired. It looks stunning.

Japanese Films at the London International Animation Festival

Tomorrow sees the London International Animation Festival kick off at the Barbican for its 2nd year and there is an incredible amount of titles and talent due to attend.

The festival runs for 11 days at the new Barbican Cinemas 2 & 3 and closes on the 04th of November. During that time there will be 280 films from 30 countries with presentations, discussions and workshops with some of the creators getting involved including BAFTA award-winning Kevin Girffith and Klasky Csupo studios (Rugrats, Aah! Real Monsters).

The choice is bewildering until I remember that this is a Japanese film blog and I cover anime, so here are the Japanese contributions:

Japanese Films at the London International Animation Festival

The big news for Japanophiles is the fact that Oscar ominated and award winning short film auteur Koji Yamamura will be attending the London International Animation Festival and will be holding a masterclass and Retrospective which includes an introduction and Q&A. Here are the details:

International Programme 4: Recent Japanese Shorts (15)
Saturday 27th October, 7:00 pm – at Barbican Centre
Columbus Animated ShortThe best of recently released short animated films from Japan – this year’s LIAF country of focus. A programme that opens the window on what’s going on in the young Japanese animation scene.


Midori-ko (Japan 2010 Dir Keita Kurosawa 55 mins) (cert. 15)

Saturday 27th October, 9:00 pm – at Barbican Centre

In this dark sci-fi tale, 21st century Tokyo is a city at the edge of apocalypse. Little Midori is dreaming of a colourful vegetable world, but instead, as a teenager, she travels to a post-apocalyptic, surrealist, and grotesque future that looks like a Jan Svankmajer nightmare where there is a serious food shortage. Neither hunger nor her bizarre mutant neighbours weaken Midori’s vegan spirit. In the meantime, five scientists work in a lab and manage to develop “dream food”, which is both meat and vegetable. The problem is that Midori-ko – a sort of pumpkin with face and limbs – has no intention of being eaten. When Midori and Midori-ko’s paths cross, they will have to fight to stay safe from neighbours, scientists, and even their own instincts.

Japanese animation artist Keita Kurosaka needed more than a decade’s work and almost 30,000 drawings, completely hand-drawn in coloured pencils, to produce Midori-ko, a dazzling, atmospheric “paranoid fairy tale”, as it has been called. Midori-ko is its own unique kind of animated classic, one that takes today’s present day environmental concerns and puts them into realms of imagination that most of us would never have dreamed possible.

Midori-Ko will screen with two of director Keita Kurosaka’s acclaimed short films:

Worm Story (Japan 1989 Dir Keita Kurosawa 15 min) and Agitated Screams of

Maggots (Japan 2006 Dir Keita Kurosawa 4 min).

New Japanese animation: The CALF collective (15)
Wednesday 31st October 31, 7:30 pm
13 shorts from The CALF Collective, a small group of young Japanese indie animators that decided to pool resources and take their work to the world under a single banner. It’s worked extremely well with CALF screenings of one kind or another in a vast array of festivals around the world in the last 18 months. And now it’s our turn to check out this group of Japanese indie animation trendsetters.

“The Oscar-nominated animator Koji Yamamura is in London to present a Masterclass and a Retrospective as part of the International Animation Festival. This is a rare opportunity to hear one of the Japanese animation world’s true heroes talking about his work, so book early for the 1st November events.”

Thursday 1st November 2012, 6:30pm
Barbican Frobisher Room 4, Level 4

Standard: £25 online / £30 on the door
Barbican Members: £20 online / £25 on the door
Concessions: £20 online / £25 on the door
Book Tickets
Maximum capacity: 25


Kafka COuntry Doctor

Thursday 1st November, 9:15pm
Introduction and Q&A with the director with the following shorts screened:

Mount Head / Atama-yama – 2002, 10 min
Fig – 2006, 4 min
The Old Crocodile/ Toshi wo Totta Wani – 2005, 13 min
Franz Kafka ‘A Country Doctor’ – 2007, 21 min
A Child’s Metaphysics/ Kodomo No Keijijougaku – 2007, 5 min
Muybridge’s Strings – 2011, 13 min
Barbican Cinema 3 (enter via Beech St)

Best of the Next: Programme 1 – Tokyo University of the Arts

Saturday 03rd November , 6:00 pm – at the Horse Hospital
Specimens of ObsessionLegendary Japanese animator Koji Yamamura (‘Mt Head’, ‘Franz Kafka’s A Country Doctor’) dramatically and quickly re-energised the Tokyo University of the Arts animation course into a creative powerhouse of the Japanese animation scene and the world is beginning to sit up and take notice of its graduates. This collection looks at some of their more recent graduate works and shows what a unique torrent of animation has been untapped there. 14 shorts will be screened in this series

Tickets (Barbican)
Standard: £10.50 online / £11.50 on the door
Barbican Members: £8.40 online / £9.20 on the door
Concessions: £9.50 online / £10.50 on the door

Tickets (Horse Hospital)
Standard:  £10.00
Concessions:  £8.00

Terracotta Release Kim Ki-Duk Double-Bill Arirang and Crocodile

With the success of Pieta at the Venice International Film Festival it seems that Kim Ki-Duk’s star is in the ascension once again. As I made clear in my review of Arirang (which I gave 4 out of 5), I have long been sceptical of any positive press surrounding him since my previous experiences with Kim Ki-duk felt like a slog thanks to the despite visual beauty of 3-Iron and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring. I think I also saw his enfant terrible persona that he had built as a bit much but after watching Arirang, I became convinced that I was a little too harsh, a little too dismissive. I have since even considered a season of reviews of his films. As I found out through Arirang, Kim Ki-duk has lead a tough life and became a filmmaker without any previous training. I have to respect him for that and I can see where his tough subjects comes from but I still find the content of Samaritan Girl and Bad Guy and The Isle a bit much to take. As if sensing the wavering of my dismissive attitude, Terracotta distribution have announced the release of a two-disc set featuring his very first film, Crocodile (1996) and Arirang (2011) one of his latest offerings which I quite liked. Here are the details:


Crocodile and Arirang DVD Cases

Director: KIM Ki-duk

DVD RELEASE DATE:  12th November 2012

This 2 disc DVD set will include Crocodile, Kim Ki Duk’s rarely seen 1996 directorial debut which has never been released in the UK; the grittiest of his early work which led the path to series of intense and highly acclaimed features and Arirang, the director’s long anticipated documentary about his self-imposed exile, Winner of “Un Certain Regard” Award at Cannes Festival 2011.


Crocodile Kiss

South Korea / 1996 / 102 Mins / Drama / In Korean with English subtitles

Starring: Cho Jae-hyeon (Wild Animals, The Isle, Bad Guy, Address Unknown, Sword in the Moon, The Kick)

Kim Ki-duk’s stunning debut Crocodile is a study of violence in South Korean society and seemingly unlike any other Korean films made before it. It depicts the life of violent thug, Crocodile, who lives with a peddling boy and an old man by the banks of the river Han in Seoul, a popular suicide spot.
Jo Jae-Hyeon in CrocodileHomeless Crocodile makes a living by robbing the dead bodies of those who commit suicide by jumping into the river. One day, he saves the life of a suicidal young woman from drowning but only to use her for sex. Keeping her there, he develops an abusive relationship and, despite his temper and violence, a bond soon forms between the four of them.


Arirang Kim Ki-duk Gives An Intense Look

South Korea / 2010 / 100 minutes / Documentary / In Korean with English subtitles
Arirang marks Kim Ki-duk’s triumphant return to cinema after an absence of three years. Arirang offers audiences a unique and indiscreet look at the man regarded as one of Korea’s greatest living directors.

While shooting a suicide scene for his last film, DREAM, in 2008, the lead actress nearly Arirang Winter Washingperished and the incident triggered an emotional and creative breakdown for the director. As an act of self-administered therapy, Arirang takes playful liberties with the documentary form as Kim Ki-duk traces his experiences and mindset during this period of crisis.

Arirang is a folk song and, according to some sources, Korea’s unofficial national anthem. While ostensibly a love song, its theme of parting and sorrow provides a potent metaphor for Korea’s suffering as a nation and its enforced division at the end of the Korean War.

Arirang is the ultimate work of auteurist cinema” – Empire

This startling, fascinating and bizarre film is in some ways the strangest arthouse event of the year.” – The Guardian 4/5 stars

a rare insight into a controversial director who’s as divisive as the 38th Parallel.” -Total Film

Arirang is quite simply Kim Ki-duk’s best film to date.” – Hangul Celluloid

Koji Wakamatsu 01st April, 1936, 17th October, 2012

Koji Wakamatsu

“Film making is my essential weapon for expression.”

Tragic news broke earlier this week when the death of Koji Wakamatsu was announced on Wednesday 17th October at 11:00 PM. He died after being hospitalised following a traffic accident in central Tokyo on the 12th of October in which he was hit by a taxi. This event happened just a few days after he returned from the 17th Busan Film Festival where he was awarded Asian Filmmaker of the Year.

His career has been long and colourful including time spent working with gangsters and serving a stretch in prison. His experiences in prison where he was mistreated by guards would solidify anti-establishment¹ feelings he carried. Upon his release, the connections he built up in organised crime helped him get his foot in the door in the movie industry in the realm of pink films in the 1960’s with Nikkatsu studios. Pink films are a familiar proving ground for many directors² who have a certain degree of freedom so long as they film a certain number of sex scenes and make it a certain length and filmed on time and on budget but after a film ran afoul of government censors and Wakamatsu found Nikkatsu did not support him, he formed his own production company, Wakamatsu Studios³ and made films stamped with his ideas, smuggling political messages amidst the sex and extreme violence, referencing the revolutionary fervour in the air at the time⁴.

Go GO Second Time

These were dark and troubling films that were raw commentaries on the state of Japan and various aspects of society. Two major titles include Go,Go Second Time Virgin, a film involving two young people being brutalised, facing rape, murder and violence and directly challenging the audience at points. Another one is Sex Jack which involved revolutionary students hiding from police in a claustrophobic apartment, the males forcing the female members into having sex. These are both seen as a commentary on the power relationship between men and women in Japan and criticism of the treatment of youth.

Sex Jack Picture

This radicalism he essayed would form the basis of some of nearly all his films including later and more well-known films like United Red Army in 2007 and 11:25, The Day He Chose His Fate in 2012. This late period in his career has seen a surge in interest in his works including the 2010 film Caterpillar, a film which is partially based on Edogawa Rampo story. It is a dark tale of a disabled Japanese war criminal who uses sex and violence against a wife who has long despised him because of his evil nature. Then, with him at her mercy, she turns the tables. It criticising militarism and, again, the imbalance in power between the genders. Starring celebrated actress Shionbu Terajima, it was nominated for a Golden Bear Award and Shinobu Terajima won the Silver Bear for 1125 The Day He Chose His Own FateBest Actress. She would later appear in the aforementioned 11:25, The Day He Chose His Fate, a film which took place in 1960’s Japan and focussed on the nationalist author and intellectual Yukio Mishima who espoused traditional values based on the Bushido code and attempted a coup d’Etat by taking a military commander hostage. It premiered at Cannes earlier this year where it got mixed reviews. Shinobu Terajima also appeared in The Millenial Rapture which premiered a few months later at the Venice International Film Festival. Despite the western critics having differing opinions, if the cast lists for his films are any indication, he was held in high regard in Japan.

I am writing this having only experienced one whole film and fragments of his other works as it is pretty hard to get them and, quite frankly, I have been a little intimidated by them. Unfortunately it seems that many film labels have felt that audiences in the west might have felt the same I have since they have pretty much ignored him because he would be harder to sell. Or perhaps, like me, they thought he might be around for much longer and they could get around to him eventually. One film that he worked on and is easily available is one of the most important Japanese films ever made is Nagisa Oshima’s critically acclaimed In the Realm of the Senses which which he helped produce. I have seen that and it is pretty stirring stuff intellectually and viscerally.

Koji Wakamatsu at Premiere

It might be crass to say this but his life ended on a high considering the fact that he was quite in demand at the festivals this year and he won Asian Filmmaker of the Year. How many of us can even hope to have achieved what he did and have as much burning passion? Still, the film world and, more importantly, his family have lost someone special. Maybe it is time for me to try and get acquainted with him.

Koji Wakamatsu Busan Film Festival


Koji Wakamatsu 01st April, 1936, 17th October, 2012


² Other directors from the pink film proving grounds include Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure: The Power of Suggestion, Loft), Masayuki Suo (Shall We Dance?) and Yoshimitsu Morita (Take the A Train, The Family Game)

³ My knowledge of pink films comes from, a Channel 4 documentary and a couple of films that I thought rather silly

Norwegian Wood and My Back Page are two major Japanese films that have protests as backgrounds

Penguin Fufu, The Land of Hope, Fuse: A Gun Girl’s Detective Story, Space Sheriff Gavan The Movie Trailers and the Japanese Movie Box Office Charts

Last Exile Fam-the Silver Wing Fan-Fan Giselle Collette Vingt Grunge Range MurataThis week started with my revamp of my Top Ten Films page (now with pretty pictures and comments!), continued with a review for the surprisingly pleasing Korean rom-com Petty Romance, an announcement for the release of Return to Burma and a review of Sogo Ishii’s wonderfully absurdist chat-pocalypse Isn’t Anyone Alive? I have also been planning my next festival excursion but I face a dilemma… The London Korean Film Festival or Premiere Japan? While the dates and times for the former have been released I am still waiting for an announcement from the latter. You can count on me to bring you the news (not least because I tend to report about it for Anime UK News, which I have started writing for again). I know I am leaning towards Premiere Japan because they will pack more films in fewer days and I am hoping that Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s TV drama Penance gets screened since it was at Venice and Toronto.

What are the new entries in the Japanese movie box-office this week?

  1. Tsunagu
  2. Outrage Beyond
  3. Bayside Shakedown 4: The Final New Hope
  4. Resident Evil: Retribution
  5. Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax
  6. The Mystical Law
  7. The Raven
  8. Bakarea High School
  9. Intouchables
  10. The Bourne Legacy

Predictably, the two indie features released last week did not enter the top ten. In the case of The End of Puberty, that looked like a festival film but I would have thought A Road Stained Crimson might have stood a better chance not least because of the big stars. What changes there are come from big budget films like the American entry The Raven (despite liking the works of Edgar Allen Poe, I thought it looked boring) and Bakarea High School which is based on a TV show and full of young idols. Other changes come from Tsunagu knocking Outrage Beyond off the top spot… and Intouchables improving it place again and hanging on in the top ten.

What Japanese films are released in Japan today?

Penguin Fufu                                                       Penguin Fufu Poster

Japanese Title: 夫婦 の 作りかた

Romaji: Penguin Fufuu no Tsukurikata

Release Date:  20th October 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: 90 mins.

Director: Katsutoshi Hirabayashi

Writer: N/A

Starring: Eiko Koike, Kingone Wang, Motoki Fukami, Tomoji Yamashiro, Susumu Taira, Taeko Yoshida

This is the second feature film from Katsutoshi Hirabayashi who has a much longer filmography as an assistant director, most notably on The Foreign Duck, the Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker. The plot is quite an interesting one considering it comes at a time when relations between China and Japan are at a low. The film stars Eiko Koike (Penance, 2LDK, Kamikaze Girls), Motoki Fukami (The Land of Hope, Hi-Zai, Love Exposure).

Ayumi Matsuda (Koike) is a freelance writer who has spent five years being married to a Chinese cameraman named Xiaoxuan Fan (Wang). When his employers go bankrupt, Xiaoxuan and Ayumi move to Ishigaki island and Xiaoxuan applies for Japanese citizenship. To prove they are a genuine married couple they have to go through an interview but it proves far more difficult than expected.


The Land of Hope                               The Land of Hope Movie Poster

Japanese: 希望 の 国

Romaji: Kibou no Kuni

Release Date: 20th October, 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: 133 mins.

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono

Starring: Isao Natsuyagi, Naoko Otani, Jun Murakami, Megumi Kagurazaka, Yutaka Shimizu, Hikari Kajiwara, Denden, Mariko Tsutsui, Yusuke Iseya, Mitsuru Fukikoshi,

I am a major fan of Sion Sono as two seasons dedicated to his films show (tonight, I watch Strange Circus). Sion Sono’s latest film, The Land of Hope, got its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival back in September where it received mixed but generally positive reviews – his films usually get that reaction since some critics have a hard time dealing with his sudden changes in tone. This is the first fiction film to address the Tōhoku Earthquake and Tusnami and features footage shot at Fukushima. The film is apparently inspired by a true story and deals with a family struggling to survive. While I really love Sono’s horror work like Suicide Club and Cold Fish, I have to acknowledge that his drama titles like Himizu and Noriko’s Dinner Table are very powerful. This looks like it will be a stunning film and I will definitely see this not least because Third Window Films are co-producers on this film so I expect it to get a release in the U.K. soon! Maybe Premiere Japan…?


An old couple named Yasuhiko and Chieko (Natsuyagi and Otani) live on a farm near a peaceful village in Nagashima prefecture with their son Yoichi (Murakami) and his wife Izumi (Kagurazaka). When an earthquake strikes the nearby nuclear power plant explodes and the village’s residents are forced to evacuate since the village is in the twenty-kilometre evacuation radius. The family are soon faced with a tough decision: evacuate with the rest of the village or stay on the land that generations of their family have lived on. Yoichi and his wife decide to head to a nearby urban community while Yasuhiko and Chieko remain on the farm. Both couples are beset by doubts and problems.

Fuse: A Gun Girl’s Detective Story       Fuse: A Gun Girl's Detective Story Movie Poster

Japanese Title: 伏 鉄砲娘の捕物帳

Romaji: Fuse Teppō Musume no Torimonochō

Release Date: 20th October 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: 110 mins.

Director: Masayuki Miyaji

Writer: Ichiro Okouchi (Script), Kazuki Sakuraba (Original Writer),

Starring: Minako Kotobuki (Hamaji), Mamoru Miyano (Shino), Hirofumi Nojima (Iesada Tokugawa), MHiroshi Kamiya (Makuwari), Kanako Miyamoto (Meido), Katsuyuki Konishi (ousetsu), Maaya Sakamoto (Funamushi)


The story follows a teenage girl named Hamaji who joins her brother in hunting dog-human hybrids known as Fuse as part of a karmic cycle of retribution. The movie is based on the novel Fuse Gansaku: Satomi Hakkenden which was written by Kazuki Sakuraba, author of the Gosick light novels. She was inspired by a 19th century epic novel series named Nansō Satomi Hakkenden written by late Edo Period popular author Kyokutei Bakin. His tales dealt with themes based on Buddhist philosophy, Confucianism, and Bushido as it followed eight samurai serving the Satomi clan during the Sengoku (Warring States) period. These samurai are the reincarnations of the spirits that Princess Fuse mothered with a dog named Yatsufusa and they each represent a Confucianist virtue.

Although this isn’t the first time Kyokutei’s story has been adapted into modern mediums like anime – it had a 1999 sci-fi TV anime series named Shin Hakkenden and the story wasadapted for the video game Okami – it is the first time it has been made into a movie. The film is directed by Masayuki Miyaji (Eureka Seven,Xam’d: Lost Memories). The script comes from Ichiro Okouchi who is the scriptwriter for episodes of Azumanga Daioh and the Berserk movie adaptations. Music comes from Michiru Oshima who has composed the music for Production I.G.s historial fantasy Le Chevalier D’Eon. Okama is in charge of design and he has worked on the recent Evangelion anime movies.

Hamaji is voiced by Minako Kotobuki (Yūko Nishi in A-Channel) and she is supported my Mamoru Miyano (Rintarō Okabe in Steins;Gate), Maaya Sakamoto (Hitomi in Escaflowne and Akashi in Tatami Galaxy), and Hiroshi Kamiya (Kou in Arakawa Under the Bridge).


Space Sheriff Gavan The Movie                        Space Sheriff Gavan

Japanese Title: 宇宙刑事ギャバン THE MOVIE

Romaji: Uchuu Keiji Gyaban Za Mubi

Release Date:  20th October 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: 83 mins.

Director: Osamu Kaneda

Writer: Yuji Kobayashi

Starring: Yuma Ishigaki (Geki Jumonji/Space Sheriff Gavan Type G), Kenji Ohba (Space Sheriff Gavan/Retsu Ichijoji), Yukari Taki (Itsuki Kawai)

I do not pay attention to tokusatsu movies so this one caught me off-guard after I posted this trailer selection so I have few details to give. Here’s a trailer instead.

Isn’t Anyone Alive? 生きてるものはいないのか (2012)

Isn't Anyone Alive Review Header Image

Isn’t Anyone Alive?                                                         Isn't Anyone Alive DVD Case

Japanese Title: 生きてるものはいないのか

Romaji: Ikiterumono Inainoka

Japanese Release Date: 18th February, 2012

UK DVD Release Date: 22nd October, 2012 (Third Window Films)

Running Time: 113 mins.

Director: Gakuryu Ishii (aka Sogo Ishii)

Writer: Gakuryu Ishii (Screen Adaptation), Shiro Maeda(Original Story, Screenplay)

Starring: Shota Sometani, Rin Takanashi, Hakka Shiraishi, Asato Iida, Mai Takahashi, Yumika Tajima, Ami Ikenaga, Kota Fudauchi, Keisuke Hasebe, Hiroaki Morooka, Tatsuya Hasome, Eri Aoki, Konatsu Tanaka, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Shoshiro Tsuda, Tateto Serizawa, Chizuko Sugiura, Jun Murakami

Isn’t Anyone Alive? is the latest film from Gakuryu Ishii (formerly Sogo Ishii), a  director I have recently discovered after watching his talky serial killer thriller Angel Dust which I loved. This is his first film after taking a decade out to take up a teaching post at Kobe Design University. Ishii once again shows his skill as a director but instead of cult killers he is tackling the absurd.

Continue reading “Isn’t Anyone Alive? 生きてるものはいないのか (2012)”