Mysterious Girlfriend X

The high school genre is one I have professed indifference to in the past but I started Mysterious Girlfriend X because it was one of the few titles from the winter 2012 crop that interested me. I was attracted by its short length, character design and art. At only 13 episodes and easily available on Crunchyroll, I figured I would spend a short sojourn with a weird tale peopled with characters that reminded me of anime from the 90’s.

The anime is based on Riichi Ueshiba’s manga and follows Akira Tsubaki who is your relatively normal high school kid (normal in anime terms).

Akira in Mysterious Girlfriend X

He has a burgeoning interest in girls. He manages to keep things contained until he meets a strange transfer student named Mikoto Urabe. She is genuinely strange since she likes to sleep during class breaks and carries scissors hidden in her underwear.

Late one afternoon, Akira catches Mikoto asleep after class. He tries to wake her up and catches sight of her drool on the desk in the afternoon sun… and he tastes her drool… and he becomes addicted to it… and he develops something of a psychic connection with her… and this leads to Akira going out with her and discovering more about her. And this is how the strange story begins…

With a main female protagonist who keeps scissors in her panties and a main male protagonist who is a complete wimp with a fetish for girl’s drool I was hardly expecting psychological realism but with its strange drool-based premise it seemed like it could echo something like J.G. Ballard’s Rushing to Paradise where a twisted tale of psycho-sexual mind-games could make an interesting story full of power-plays between characters with weird psychologies and not just another fan-service show. Alas no. I was being foolish thinking such a thing…

Mikoto in Mysterious Girlfriend X

Continue reading “Mysterious Girlfriend X”

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Heat After Dark

Genki Jason Heat After Dark Review Banner Suzuki and Watabe

Heat After Dark                                     Heat After Dark Film Poster

Japanese Title: Heat After Dark

Romaji: N/A

Release Date: 1997 (Japan)

Running Time: 50 mins.

Director: Ryuhei Kitamura

Writer: Ryuhei Kitamura (Screenplay)

Starring: Atsuro Watabe, Kazuma Suzuki, Shigeru Izumiya, Toshiyuki Kitami, Masami Miyata, Shinichi Suzuki, Shun Sugata

Heat After Dark was a random purchase I made alongside another Yakuza film, Onibi: The Fire Within. I had no idea what it was about, just that it starred Atsuro Watabe from Love Exposure and it was the theatrical debut of Ryuhei Kitamura, director of the cult favourite yakuza/zombie film Versus.

In the opening sequence all we can see is a low shot of two men from the knees down as a man named Reiji (Watabe) walks into a bar. This could be the start of a joke… Reiji is meeting his friend Goto (Suzuki). After some small talk Goto says, “I killed someone.”

There is a brief pause.

“Very funny,” Reiji says.

“He’s over there,” Goto replies thinly. Reiji turns and a body is revealed slumped against the bar. Goto had borrowed 20 billion yen from the dead man who is the leader of a Yakuza gang and Goto needs Reiji to help him dispose of the body and so they head to Yakeyama, a place about to be flooded because a dam is being built. However the tunnel to their destination is chained shut and a police officer is hovering around.

Atsuro Watabe as Reiji and Kazuma Suzuki as Goto looking at a corpse in Heat After Dark

Two young guys in suits with a flashy foreign car out in the middle of nowhere? That strikes him as highly suspicious. “Do you have something to hide?” he asks.

Reiji is forced to open the trunk. But there is no body! Suddenly Goto charges down the tunnel and into an abandoned factory surrounded by verdant grasslands and streams. As they rush into the area a gunshot strikes Reiji on the crown of the head. There is another gangster (Izumiya) and it turns out he is selling guns to a gang and that the real reason for Goto being there is to kill this gangster who betrayed him before the deal goes down!

Continue reading “Heat After Dark”

The Garden of Words Anime Film Trailer

The Garden of Words                  Garden of Words Film Poster             

Japanese Title: 言の葉の庭 

Romaji: Kotonoha no Niwa

Release Date: May 31st, 2013 (Japan)

Running Time: N/A

Director: Makoto Shinkai

Writer: Makoto Shinkai

Starring: Kana Hanazawa (Yukino), Miyu Irino (Takao)

Did the end of 5 Centimeters Per Second leave you teary-eyed? Was The Place Promised in Our Early Days emotionally rough? Brace yourself for more sadness fuel as Makoto Shinkai is back!

Anime production company CoMix Wave Films posted the first trailer for acclaimed director Makoto Shinkai’s newest film The Garden of Words (Kotonoha no Niwa) on Wednesday and fan reaction was quick (check out Anime UK News for an interview with Makoto Shinkai where he answsered one of my questions. We love his work over there!).

“We met, for each of us to walk forward.

Takao is a 15-year-old boy with dreams of becoming a professional shoe designer and was skipping high school, sketching shoes in a Japanese garden when he encounters a mysterious older woman named Yukino who is 27. Without arranging it they end up meeting again and again, but only on rainy days, deepening their relationship and opening up to each other. But the end of the rainy season soon approaches…

Hmm… Another visually gorgeous film about loneliness then. The trailer is gorgeous and I like the music a lot. Even the theme song by Motohiro Hata (Kids on the Slope). The audio and visuals evokes a feeling of emotional intensity but maybe that’s trace memory in me from Shinkai’s other films… Who are the staff and seiyuu?

Shinkai is famous for his mastery of telling melancholy stories of love and separation and has gained a lot of respect for creating a lot of his early titles almost single-handedly. This one is a little different. We know that it is directed and written by Makoto Shinkai over at CoMix Wave Films and he is aided by Kenichi Tsuchiya who takes charge of character design and animation direction. This looks to be Tsuchiya’s biggest role yet. Art designer Hiroshi Takiguchi is a little more experienced having worked on the background art one the excellent films Mai Mai Miracle and Sword of the Stranger.

Kana Hanazawa takes the female lead as Yukino. She has appeared in a lot of titles I like including Bakemonogatari/Nisemonogatari (Nadeko Sengoku), Occult Academy (Kozue Naruse), Haganai (Kobato Hasegawa) and Psycho-Pass (Akane Tsunemori). The male lead is performed by Miyu Irino who voiced Shin in Shinkai’s last film Children Who Chase Lost Voices, Akira Tsubaki in Mysterious Girlfriend X (yes, I watched that and regretted wasting my time…) and he put in a good performance as Seigen Hayami in Un-Go.

Anyway, the film gets its theatrical release on May 31st and it is getting a manga adaptation courtesy of Midori Motohashi in Kodansha’s Monthly Afternoon magazine starting in April. For a more in-depth look at the trailer, visit Otherwhere!

Body Temperature, Garo and the Wailing Dragon, A Certain Magical Index: The Miracle of Endymion, Memories Corner, The Story of Yonosuke, The Intermission, Life After 3.11 and Other Japanese Film Trailers and Movie Chart February 23rd, 2013

Umineko Twilight ImageI started this week with a trailer for HAL and followed that with a review for The Twilight Samurai and a trailer for the first Hanasaku Iroha movie. Next week I hope to get some yakuza films reviewed. There are so many films released this week I decided to shorten the title of the post rather than write the whole thing out as I usually do and the title highlights the films that caught my attention. Before that…

What does the Japanese film box-office chart look like this week (Feb 16/17)?

  1. A Good Day to Die Hard
  2. Ted
  3. Brain Man
  4. Strawberry Night
  5. Les Miserables
  6. Zero Dark Thirty
  7. Life of Pi
  8. Jack Reacher
  9. Masquerade
  10. Tokyo Family

None of the Japanese films released last week break into the top ten. The new entries are western films – A Good Day to Die Hard, Zero Dark Thirty and Masquerade. Nothing too interesting. There are a lot of films released this week with a lot of documentaries and a lot concerned with the anniversary of the 3/11 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami.

 

Body Temperature            Body Temperature Film Poster

Japanese Title: 体温

Romaji: Taion

Release Date: February 23rd, 2013 (Japan)

Running Time: 72 mins.

Director: Takaomi Ogata

Writer: Takaomi Ogata (Screenplay),

Starring: Chavetaro Ishizaki, Rin Sakuragi

This film sounds a lot like Air Doll going by the synopsis alone. I am unfamiliar with the names involved and the trailer seems to give the whole game away. Be careful, some racy content is present.

Rintaro (Ishizaki) works in a factory with does not have any real relationship with anyone except his blow-up doll Ikbuki. When he meets night cub hostess Rinko (Sakuragi) who looks like Ibuki, he falls in love with her. She is also a bit of a loner despite the public face she puts on. The two grow closer.

 

Garo and the Wailing Dragon          Garo and the Wailing Dragon Film Poster

Japanese Title: 牙狼 GARO 蒼哭ノ魔竜

Romaji: Garo – Soukoku no Maryu

Release Date: February 23rd, 2013 (Japan)

Running Time: 96 mins.

Director: Keita Amemiya

Writer: Keita Amemiya (Screenplay/Creator),

Starring: Ryosei Konishi, Yuki Kubota, Anna Aoi, Yukijiro Hotaru, Rei Fujita, Hiroyuki Watanabe, Keiko Matsuzaka, Shouma Yamamoto,

The Garo fantasy adventure television series gets its second film and it is a special effects family fun-filled which premiered at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival where it got a good review from Screen Daily. Most of the actors are unfamiliar to me except Yukijiro Hotaru (Stacy: Attack of the School Girl Zombies, Cure, Mitsuko Delivers) but the film looks like a lot of fun with plenty of action and inventive looking creatures.

Kouga Saezima (Konishi) travels to the land of promise to retrieve the Fang of Sorrow but when he gets there he loses his Garo sword, magic clothes and Mado ring which renders him useless. Not quite as he still save a girl named Meru (Aoi). Can she help him?

 

A Certain Magical Index: The Miracle of Endymion                     Toaru Majutsu no Index: The Miracle of Endymion Anime Film Poster

Japanese Title: 劇場版 とある 魔術 の 禁書目録 エンヂュミオン の 奇跡

Romaji: Toaru Majutsu no Indekkusu: Endyumion no Kiseki

Release Date: February 23rd 2013 (Japan)

Running Time: 90 mins.

Director: Hiroshi Nishikori

Writer: Hiroyuki Yoshino (Screenplay),

Starring: Atsushi Abe (Tōma Kamijō), Rina Satou (Mikoto Misaka), Yuka Iguchi (Index), Kisho Taniyama (Stiyl Magnus), Aki Toyosaki (Kazari Uihara)

The first film entry in the The Toaru Majutsu no Index (A Certain Magical Index) franchise is released this year and it is going under the title Toaru Majutsu no Index: Endyumion no Kiseki (A Certain Magical Index: The Miracle of Endymion). The staff list is filled with Index franchise veterans. Leading the way is Hiroshi Nishikiori (Gad Guard, Azumanga Daioh) who is directing the film. The script has been written by Hiroyuki Yoshino (Macross Frontier, Accel World) and that is based on an original story from Kazuma Kamachi the creator of the franchise. Kiyotaka Haimura, the man behind the illustrations for the Toaru Majutsu no Index light novel is helping with original character designs while art direction is orchestrated by Tomonori Kuroda. All of this is taking place with J.C. Staff animating and studio Sanzigen handling the CG.

Academy City is about to see the completion of the space elevator named Endymion. Around the time of completion Tōma Kamijō and Index encounter a Level 0 girl named Arisa Narumori who has a mysterious connection to Index. The three get along well but soon find themselves the targets of magicians lead by Stiyl Magnus who claims that Arisa is key to a brewing war between science and magic. A female leader named Shattoaura leads a unit from Academy City against the attack but Tōma Kamijō and Index still need to deal with the threat posed by Stiyl.

Continue reading “Body Temperature, Garo and the Wailing Dragon, A Certain Magical Index: The Miracle of Endymion, Memories Corner, The Story of Yonosuke, The Intermission, Life After 3.11 and Other Japanese Film Trailers and Movie Chart February 23rd, 2013”

Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home Theatrical Trailer

Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home            Hanasaku Irohana Film Poster

Japanese Title: 花咲くいろは Home Sweet Home

Romaji: Hanasaku Iroha: Home Sweet Home

Release Date: March 30th, 2013 (Japan)

Running Time: 93 mins.

Director: Masahiro Ando

Writer: Mari Okada (Screenplay),

Starring: Kanae Itō (Ohana), Aki Toyosaki (Nako), Ayumi Tsunematsu (Takako), Chiaki Omigawa (Minko), Cho (Denroku), Haruka Tomatsu (Yuina), Junichi Sawabe (Tarō), Junji Majima (Tōru)

The movie sequel for Hanasaku Iroha – Blossoms for Tomorrow is set for a theatrical release at the end of next month. It is a slice of life anime which follows a girl named Ohana who has to lie with her grandmother in a hot springs after her single mother runs off with a boyfriend to skip out on a debt. Said grandmother is strict and requires Ohana to work hard and despite her initial dislike over her circumstances and all of the hard work Ohana begins to find life isn’t as bad as she thought.

 

Ohana has grown accustomed to living in the hot springs inn her grandmother manages, Kissuisou. One day, the daughter of a manager for Kissuisou’s rival inn, Yuina, comes to Kissuisou for training to become a landlady herself. As Ohana is observing her training, she finds “a certain item” in the storeroom while cleaning.

The anime movie sees the return of staff and cast from the TV series with Kanae Itō Hanasaku Iroha Home Sweet Home Poster 2taking the lead role of Ohana and Aki Toyosaki voicing Nako. Kanae Itō has cropped up in a number of slice of life anime like Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai where her vocals are put to good use portraying Senna and yelling insults. Kanae Itō’s real life friend Aki Toyosaki has voiced a dynamic bunch of characters such as Yui in K-ON!!!, Inga in UN-GO and Momoka Oginome in Mawaru Penguindrum. Pretty awesome performances since I can still remember the dulcet and high pitched tones of each!

It is directed by Masahiro Ando, a chap who has worked on some of my favourite anime like Jin-Roh, Patlabor 2, Ghost in the Shell in the key animation department and the man who directed Sword of the Stranger and CANAAN. He is working from a screenplay from Mari Okada who is one of the hardest working writers/head writers in anime. She has written scripts for things like Toradora!, Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, Red Garden and Aria the Natural. More importantly the two worked on the TV series for Hanasaku Iroha.

P.A. Works is animating and it is the studio which has worked on Hanasaku Iroha as well as another slice of life anime Tari Tari as well as my favourite supernatural anime of last year Another.

The Twilight Samurai たそがれ清兵衛 (2002)

Genki Jason The Twilight Samurai Review Banner

The Twilight Samurai                                     The Twilight Samurai Film Poster

Japanese Title: たそがれ 清兵衛

Romaji: Tasogare Seibei

Release Date: November 02nd, 2002 (Japan)

Running Time: 129 mins.

Director: Yoji Yamada

Writer: Yoji Yamada, Yoshitaka Asama (Screenplay), Shuuhei Fujisawa (Novels)

Starring: Hiroyuki Sanada, Rie Miyazawa, Nenji Kobayashi, Ren Osugi, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Min Tanaka, Miko Ito, Reiko Kusamura, Setsuko Tanaka, Erina Hashiguchi, Keiko Kishi, Hiroshi Kanbe, Tetsuro Tanba, Kanako Fukaura, Atsushi Maeda

When the film opens we catch things in media res, a funeral taking place, a family mourning. A narrator, an old woman, chimes in, “After a long illness my mother died when I was five.” We discover that she is the young girl in the opening scene, her name is Ito and she is the daughter of a samurai named Seibei Iguchi (Sanada).

It is a time of famine and tumult. The end of the samurai era is in sight and we are The Twilight Samurai Seibei (Sanada) and His Girlsnearing the beginning of the Meiji restoration. Not that this matters to Seibei as taking care of his sick wife, two daughters and a senile mother and then paying for an elaborate funeral for said wife has left him in debt. As a result he spends a lot of time wielding a hoe instead of a sword and constructs insect cages to sell. Whenever he finishes work in the castle store house and is asked to go for a drink by co-workers Iguchi turns the offer down as he has to hurry home to look after his family, earning him the nickname Twilight Seibei (Tasogare Seibei). Not that he minds as he has lost his taste for combat and values time spent with his family.

A chance encounter with his good friend Michinojo Iinuma (Fukikoshi), who is back from a visit to Edo on clan matters, brings news that Seibei’s childhood love, Iinuma’s sister Tomoe (Miyazawa), is divorcing her husband Toyotaro (Osugi), a mean drunk who beats her. Tomoe pays Seibei a visit and it is clear that Tomoe harbours feelings for him just like he does for her. She is a natural with Seibei’s girls Ito and Kayano and brings life to his house. Tomoe’s ex Toyotaro finds it unacceptable that he is being divorced and feels humiliated so he threatens Tomoe. Seibei defends her honour and accepts a challenge to a duel with Toyotaro the next day. He easily beats his opponent and word of Seibei’s skills with the short-sword travels. It soon proves to be an asset for a faction in the clan who ask him to settle a matter of great importance. The task goes against Seibei’s new peaceful lifestyle and puts his role as a father at risk but he cannot duck his responsibility as a samurai and it may get him out of debt and even offer him a shot at winning Tomoe.

Continue reading “The Twilight Samurai たそがれ清兵衛 (2002)”

HAL Anime Film Trailer

HAL                                  Hal Film Poster

Japanese Title: ハル

Romaji: Haru

Release Date: June 08th, 2013

Running Time: 125 mins.

Director: Ryōtarō Makihara

Writer: Izumi Kizara (Screenplay),

Starring: Yōko Hikasa, Yoshimasa Hosoya

Ah, another trailer for an anime film. Wait! This one is based on an original screenplay.

This near-future romance is called Hal and it sounds like a cross between Time of Eve Hal Key Imageand the supernatural romance Ghost. I love the former but I have not seen the latter in a long time so I cannot comment. Anyway, this mixture of soul trading and androids is full of names that are new to me as far as the staff goes but I am very familiar with the cast. Yōko Hikasa takes the lead alongside Yoshimasa Hosoya. I have heard her voice Maya in Occult Academy and Gabriella in the recent TV comedy anime Cuticle Detective Inaba. I have heard Hosoya as Subaru Hidaka in Robotics;Notes. I like the sound of her voice! One look at the trailer made me think of Natsuyuki Rendezvous.

Here is the trailer:

Kurumi (Hikasa) likes Haru (Hosoya) and the two seem happy life ends when a plane accident takes Haru from the mortal world. A robot version of Haru, Hal emerges as a substitute. As the two live together Kurumi gradually opens her memories and mind to him.

Ryōtarō Makihara makes his theatrical directorial debut. Hosoya has a lot of experience with TV anime like directing an episode of Tatami Galaxy and MonsterSummer Wars and Le Chevalier D’Eon. I like the titles I just listed but this is a different sort of title altogether but the trailer looks good. Music comes from Michiru Oshima (Fullmetal AlchemistFuse: A Gungirl’s TaleHana Yori DangoLe Chevalier D’Eon) and character designs come from manga artist Io Sakisaka (Strobe Edge) and Katsuhiko Kitada (Guilty Crown) is chief animation director. The anime is produced by Wit Studio who are bringing a thrillingly dark title to television screens with Attack on Titan, a title with giants chomping down on people. They also worked on the cool anime Robotics;Notes. As well as this movie there will also be a manga running in Bessatsu Margaret in the spring.

Sky Society, Catching Father, Sado Tempest, Become Ancestors, The Lifetime of Poison Wine in Nabari Incident Trailers and the Japanese Film Box Office Chart

Biomega Nihei (3)This week was spent catching up with reviews of some of the films I saw at the Japan Foundation’s Touring Film Programme. I gave a 4 to Ninja Kids!!!, a great little kids films by Takashi Miike while I gave a perfect 5 to Mai Mai Miracle which, despite initial scepticism, won me over. The more I thought about it the more I loved it. I also posted a trailer for the dorama xxxHOLiC. Film-wise I watched the Edward Norton film The Painted Veil and found that I loved it. I also watched the great little crime thriller Heat After Dark – an Austrian DVD but with English subtitles thankfully (always check before you order!) – and I watched more of Robotics;Notes and Arch-enemy and Hero. I have also been ploughing through Resident Evil 6! Tonight I watch The Twilight Samurai directed by Yoji Yamada who has a film in the Japanese chart and at the Berlin Film Festival called Tokyo Family

What does the Japanese film box-office chart look like this week (Feb 9th/10th)?

  1. Ted
  2. Brain Man
  3. Strawberry Night
  4. Life of Pi
  5. Jack Reacher
  6. Les Miserables
  7. Tokyo Family
  8. Yellow Elephant
  9. One Piece Film Z
  10. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Last week’s release, Brain Man takes second place while older films switch positions by dropping down a place. There aren’t too many interesting films there and I can’t see this week’s releases having much of  major impact…

What Japanese films are released this week?

Sky Society                                     Sky Society Film Poster 

Japanese Title: 空の境界

Romaji: Sora no Kyoukai

Release Date: February 16th, 2013 (Japan)

Running Time: 92 mins.

Director: Kei Horie

Writer: Kei Horie (Screenplay),

Starring: Mayuko Kawakita, Masahiro Inoue, Tengai Kuramoto, Ayano Kudo, Tetsuya Makita , Kazue Ito, Miyabi Endo, Makoto Ashikawa

Kei Horie is a bit of a journeyman director and actor who has been involved in low-budget v-cinema shockers like Shibuya Kaidan 1 and 2 and The Suicide Manual (shocking because they are terribly dull). He has come a long way since then with great dramas added to his name such as Sentimental Yasuko and Tomorrow, both released last year. This is another drama although it is based on a real-life incident. It is packed full of love and suspense and diving!

Yuko (Kawakita) works as a clerk in a prefectural swimming pool. She was once a high diver with a promising future but cannot do it anymore due to a traumatic incident that occurred in the past. She cannot even contemplate marrying her lover Satoshi (Makita) and so she decides to get counselling. 

Continue reading “Sky Society, Catching Father, Sado Tempest, Become Ancestors, The Lifetime of Poison Wine in Nabari Incident Trailers and the Japanese Film Box Office Chart”

Mai Mai Miracle / Mai Mai Shinko and the Millennium-Old Magic マイマイ新子 と千年の魔法 (2009)

Genki Mai Mai Miracle Review Banner

Mai Mai Miracle / Mai Mai Shinko and the Millennium-Old MagicMai Mai Miracle Poster

Japanese Title: マイマイ新子 と千年の魔法

Romaji: Mai Mai Shinko to Sen Nen no Mahou

Release Date: August 15th, 2009 (Japan)

Running Time: 93 mins.

Director: Sunao Katabuchi

Writer: Nobuko Takagi (Autobiography), Sunao Katabuchi (Screenplay)

Starring: Mayuko Fukuda (Shinko Aoki), Nako Mizusawa (Kiiko Shimazu), Ei Mai Mai Miracle Film Poster 2Morisako (Nagiko Kiyohara), Tamaki Matsumoto (Mitsuko Aoki), Keiichi Noda  (Koutarou Aoki), Manami Honjou (Nagako Aoki), Eiji Takemoto (Tousuke Aoki)

Mai Mai Miracle was the third film I saw at the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme and it was the first anime to have been screened at the festival.¹

The film is based on Nobuko Takagi’s autobiography and is set in 1955, Hofu City, Yamaguchi Prefecture. One thousand years ago during the time of the Heian Period (794-1185) Hofu was the site of the ancient capital of the Province of Suo (Suo no Kuni) named Kokuga and ruins are still dotted around the rural city. Shinko Aoki (Fukuda) is one of the modern-day inhabitants. Born in1946, she is a nine-year-old elementary school student and a bit of a tom-boy. She lives with her sister, parents and grandparents. Her grandfather was a teacher and taught her all about the local area and its history and so Shinko loves constantly wandering around the countryside and daydreaming about the past and wishes to travel back to the days of the Heian period. The only nuisance in her life is a curl of hair she can never make straight. She has named it Mai Mai and thinks it powers her imagination which is all well and good but trying to get it to stay in place is hard to do!

Hofu city has a new arrival in a doctor named Shimazu from Tokyo who has taken a job in a factory. He is moving into a new housing development in the suburbs of the city and brings his daughter Kiiko Shimazu (Mizusawa) who is very withdrawn. When she appears in Shinko’s class as a transfer student Shinko is curious about her in a way her classmates are not. Indeed, the classmates rather cruelly ignore Kiiko but Shinko follows her home. After breaking the ice the two begin playing together and Shinko invites Kiiko to ‘time travel’ by the power of imagination and join her circle of friends. The two begin to form a deep friendship right around the time they learn about the story of a princess who moved to Kokuga. Her name was Nagiko and like Kiiko she came from a bigger city and was isolated and wanted friends but finds circumstances are difficult.

Mai Mai Miracle Princess Nagiko (Ei Morisako)The story of both Kiiko and Nagiko run almost parallel and the two learn a lot about real life and the power of imagination.

The poster and animation feel a lot like a Ghibli film but it was animated by Madhouse who are known for brilliant psychological thrillers like Paranoia Agent, Perfect Blue and Monster. It was directed by Sunao Katabuchi, a man with an eclectic filmography including directing the explosive first season of Black Lagoon. Crucially he acted as assistant director of Kiki’s Delivery Service. The latter title is a perfect comparison as Mai Mai Miracle hits all the magical realism notes that Ghibli are known for. It fits the magical (in this case, the power of imagination and small miracles) into the everyday.

I had little idea what to expect but tagged it as Totoro in 1950’s Japan. The visuals and Mai Mai Miracle Shinko (Mayuko Fukuda) and Her Sister Mitsuko (Tamaki Matsumoto)plot are similar: two extremely cute girls and the power of imagination in rural Japan. Such a reading was glib because unlike some of Ghibli’s stories which feel like dark fables with clear-cut endings (I am being extremely glib here), Mai Mai Miracle reflects the messy and uncaring nature of the universe and the unexpectedness of life much like The Wolf Children did. Indeed, while I detected a child-friendly message about using your imagination and persevering to overcome tough situations you may encounter in life and find a better future, the narrative is involved what with its magical fantasies and jumping back and forth in time and delivers situations with an unexpectedness that is real and very dark.

My dismissiveness was washed away when I became absorbed in the simple yet effective way of delivering the story and the great animation.

We get a kids eye view of life and the world. We only ever see and hear and things at the pace they do and we only uncover important things related to the plot like character motivation in moments like the kids getting into very serious scrapes or overhearing adults gossiping and it is sometimes a cruel shock as it is not glossed over. Like real life, Shinko, Kiiko and Nagiko find their concerns are just a selection amongst many and that life can be very different from what they expect. We see that even on summer days full of imagination and play death and dishonour can be found under the same sun.

Mai Mai Miracle Sadness Strikes Kiiko (Nako Mizusawa) and Shinko (Mayuko Fukuda)

This is where things take a real dark turn as the world of adults intrudes on that of children and makes them question reality. Characters are forced to grow and it can be affecting to watch (and it was affecting!) because there is a feeling of verisimilitude and reality. You feel like life is being lived an even the most minor of characters gets something of an arc that feels real. I was surprised at the force of feeling (I had to wait in the cinema before leaving just to compose myself!) but I was sucked in.

The animation was intoxicating in its detail and the camera work was assured. It is like total immersion as every scene and character design help to convey a sense of place as well as the tones of the story, situation and character.

The film is animated with a high degree of detail and life. The audience are always aware of things on a global scale like the age we are in thanks to hindsight of over 50 years. It is post-World War 2, an age of growth after devastation so there are signs of renewal and reconstruction with new buildings being put up on idle land and cranes about town. It is an age of innocence, children play with mud, marbles and kewpie dolls and wander about everywhere in complete freedom and safety. Characters marvel over such modern wonders like gas-powered refrigerators and the mere idea of television. It evokes tones of nostalgia and transports us to a simpler age.

The animation is more than just for setting as everything from colour, shading and character animation it also informs the audience of the character’s mental space.

Mai Mai Miracle Shinko (Mayuko Fukuda) DaydreamingShinko and Kiiko are totally different characters. Shinko lives in a colourful and vibrant world full of sunshine streaming from skies of infinite blue on fields of gorgeous green. We hear the sounds of lively shouting and nature. She likes lazing around in tall grass and dashing through wheat fields. Highly energetic, brave and a bit of a rebel, her demeanour is lively and she throws herself around the screen causing the camera to become ever more active in trying to chase her and keep her in frame.

Mai Mai Miracle - Shinko's Imagination at WorkThis life is reflected in her imagination which she uses to make houses and people of the period pop up in her everyday surroundings. A city develops around her, starting off as crayon drawing from a colouring book to almost accurate reconstructions straight from text books all the way to the real thing populated by people from the time. At first the contrast in animation is garish but it becomes a joyful evocation of inspiration. I personally loved Shinko all the more for it!

In complete contrast is Kiiko, a girl who is totally timid and withdrawn and marked by a degree of sadness in life which is reflected in her physicality and her surroundings.

She is highly contained and walks at solemn pace, following people at a distance in Mai Mai Miracle Outsider Named Kiiko (Nako Mizusawa)silence, head down and closed off to the sights around her. Shinko loves wildlife while Kiiko is absolutely terrified of it and knows little of nature. Her home is a silent place wreathed in shadows and a pallid light there is a definite sense of coldness. The audience could be witnessing something submerged in the sea. She is extremely pale when compared to the tanned children who surround her in her new classroom and something of an outsider both physically and mentally. She does not don a school uniform and her clothes are subdued colours.

As the two become friends, Kiiko’s world becomes all the more and filled with the liveliness of Shinko and she discovers an inner-strength through imagination and friendship that gives her new life. This story is also played out through the tale of Princess Nagiko which runs adjacent. It is not merely a flight of fantasy and imagination but a reminded that things in life are timeless. Even though there are a thousand years separating the girls they deal with similar problems, ones where a character is forced to confront the fact that life is not clear cut and there are many curved balls and no overarching narrative to set things right and they must find inner-strength and imagination to overcome their problems and take control of their future.

Mai Mai Miracle Kiiko (Nako Mizusawa) and Shinko (Mayuko Fukuda) at Play

It is not trite. It is thoroughly absorbing. The use of imagination and reality, playing on what the audience knows and what the children believe and shaping a narrative in which the growth of the characters is compelling and their world feels so vital and alive is done here to perfection. The changes in tone from light-hearted to serious are delivered matter of factly. Things happen just like in real life. Deal with it. This, like all the changes in tone and the switching between imagination and reality is handled with such confidence that I have to admire the film and I think that it carries a great message for kids and is also adult enough to entertain grown-ups. Indeed, this review turned out longer than I thought it would but it is just because I hold the film in high regard. With the chances of this being shown on the big screen in the UK again being slim, I am very happy to have watched it!

5/5

¹ It was sold out and there was an audience made up of children and adults. If  the screening is considered successful, the Japan Foundation may programme more anime for future festivals. Judging by the positive reaction of the audience that is probably a dead certainty because I heard nothing but praise for the film. Consider this review another voice of praise!

Mai Mai Miracle Imagination Run with Shinko (Mayuko Fukuda) and Kiiko (Nako Mizusawa)

Ninja Kids!!! 忍たま乱太郎 (2011)

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Ninja Kids!!!                                         Ninja Kids!!! Film Poster

Japanese Title: 忍たま乱太郎

Romaji: Nintama Rantaro

Release Date: July 23rd, 2011 (Japan)

Running Time: 100 mins.

Director: Takashi Miike

Writer: Soubee Amako (manga), Yoshio Urasawa (Screenplay),

Starring: Seishiro Kato, Roi Hayashi, Futa Kimura, Mikijiro Hira, Susumu Terajima, Anne Watanabe, Takahiro Miura, Arata Furuta, Koji Yamamoto, Renji Ishibashi, Yusuke Yamamoto, Rei Dan, Akira Emoto

Ninja Kids!!! was the second film that I saw at the Japan Foundation’s Touring Film Festival 2013 and there was an audience made up equally of adults and kids. I felt everybody was engaged and laughed at all the comedic moments and even sniffed at the more emotional ones thanks to its good natured handling by director Takashi Miike.

Ninja Kids takes place in 16th Century Japan during the Sengoku period. We first see Rantaro (Kato) at home with his parents in a farm house. He is from a low-class ninja family. Things will change because Rantaro, upon his father’s recommendation, is heading to the ninja academy to train to be an elite ninja and raise his family in terms of status. “I’ll do my best” he cries before setting off.

The academy is somewhere deep in the mountains of the Kansai region. His journey is long and we see him running through blossoming cherry trees, a town and a forest and even in between a samurai battle but he eventually makes it to the academy which is a spectacular and colourful vision of fun packed with eager, fresh-faced children and CGI ninja shimmying up and down ropes and other obstacles that look like a lot of fun.

Ninja Kids Classroom 2And this is how most of the film continues. Rantaro makes a lot of friends like Shinbe (Kimura), the son of a wealthy merchant family who has a nose that constantly runs and a case of narcolepsy, and Kirimaru (Hayashi), an orphan who lost his parents in the war who now has a job babysitting to pay his way.

Indeed we get to meet nearly all of the students as we see their training like throwing grenades, fighting, evasion and deception through disguise and all sorts of ninja gadgets but these kids will soon prove their worth when assassins from the Usetake clan target a fellow student named Takamura (Mizoguchi) who want to kill his father Yukitaka (Kaga) for leaving their clan to become a hair stylist.

A hair stylist? Yes. What makes ninja kids a comedy is the sheer absurdity of the situations.

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