Miss Hokusai 百日紅 ~Miss HOKUSAI~ (2015) Dir: Keiichi Hara

I recently landed a role as contributor to V-Cinema and I have reviewed a number of films for the website. I have been something of a fan and enjoyed listening to their podcasts when they have covered Japanese cinema so I’m pretty excited to be a part of the team and helping to highlight Japanese cinema. Writing reviews is something I enjoy doing and I hope people enjoy reading my reviews!

Here’s a snippet of my review of the film Miss Hokusai (2015), the latest from Keiichi Hara Colorful (2010). It tells the story of one of Katsushika Hokusai’s daughters, O-Ei, who was an artist in her own right. It is a historical tale played with some comedy and a touch of fantasy and rich in period detail.

Miss Hokusai Image

The film is based on a manga from an award-winning creator Hanako Sugiura who is an interesting person. She was the daughter of a kimono merchant and

Hinako Sugiura
From the website Prominent People of Minato City

made her manga debut in 1980 in the experimental magazine Garo, the place where artists Yoshihiro Tatsumi, Oji Suzuki, and Usamaru Furuya all came to fame. The website Prominent People of Minato City states that Sugiura defined her work with intricately researched historical stories about Japan’s Edo period with a focus on customs and manners and her unique storytelling won the Japan Cartoonists’ Association Award in 1984 and the Bunshun Manga Award in 1988. She retired from being a manga artist in 1995 and became a regular participant on NHK’s television program Comedy: Oedo de gozaru (Comedy; This is Edo) and was popular as the expert guide who gave interesting easy-to-understand commentaries about Edo culture. She passed away in 2005 at the age of 46.

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xxxHOLiC First Impression

xxxHOLiC Dorama Image

xxxHOLiC

Japanese Title: ホリック xxxHOLiC

Romaji: Horikku xxxHOLiC

Duration: 8 Episodes

Director: Keisuke Toyoshima

Writer: Jun Tsugita (Screenplay), CLAMP (Original Manga)

Starring: Anne Watanabe, Shota Sometani, Karen Miyazaki, Masahiro Higashide, Naoto Takenaka, Yumi Adachi,

xxxHOLiC is the TV adaptation of a popular manga by CLAMP, a quartet of artists who have a huge back-catalogue of supernatural tales all with their distinctive designs which features impossibly long-limbed and waifish characters.

ホリック xxxHOLiC Anime

They are so influential they are called in by various production studios to provide character designs and stories – witness Blood-C, the latest entry in the Blood franchise.

Despite their fame and prowess the only CLAMP franchise I have watched is Cardcaptor Sakura back when I was back in high school. Even that I dropped after the first series because, let’s face it, it’s aimed at girls. xxxHOLiC is a title I know of but have missed. I have not read the manga or watched the anime so I am going into this eight part TV adaptation as a complete novice which is pretty exciting because it is virgin territory and I can form an unbiased opinion. After three episodes I can safely say that I like it. Part of the reason I like it is because it feels familiar thanks to the staff and the atmosphere and the other part I like it is the great acting.

ホリック xxxHOLiC WatanukiThe story begins with Kimihiro Watanuki (Sometani) who is a high school boy who can see Ayakashi (spirits). These spirits take on all manner of forms like shades and disembodied body parts and they pop up at the most unexpected points which, when you think about it, is pretty irritating since ghosts seem to haunt everywhere. Even school, is haunted by these supernatural presences. Furthermore, some seem to be aggressive.

XXXHOLiC Watanuki Sees Ghost Arms

His ability to see the supernatural also opens up possibilities. On his way to school he finds himself witnessing a woman pass by with a dark mist emanating from her ‘pinkie finger’. It turns out he will meet said woman later but let us continue with the setup for now… he continues walking down an alley into what looks like a gorgeous magical grove. Seriously, XXXHOLiC (8) Magic Grovethis is ‘take-a-picture and admire the light emanating from the sun’ gorgeous. Watanuki’s about to see more gorgeous things when he steps in a puddle. The scene cuts to a mysterious woman who seems to summon him by taking control of his body and dragging him to her house. Watanuki is stunned at the sudden change of location which is gorgeous but not as gorgeous as what comes next…

Watanuki is seized by a supernatural force and taken to a house where he is met by two cute girls named Maru and Moro who drag him into what can only be described as a mystical chamber where he finds himself in the presence of a (seriously) gorgeous woman named Yūko Ichihara (Watanabe).

ホリック xxxHOLiC Anne Watanabe

Who is she to have these mystical powers? What is her plan in hooking Watanuki? Will the camera lovingly hug her body at every moment?

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Ninja Kids!!! 忍たま乱太郎 (2011)

Genki Jason Ninja Kids Review Banner

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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Live-Action xxxHOLiC Dorama Trailer

xxxHOLiC  Dorama                                    xxxHOLiC Dorama Image

Japanese Title: ホリック xxxHOLiC

Romaji: Horikku xxxHOLiC

Release Date: February 24th, 2013 (WOWOW Channel 11:00PM) Japan

Running Time: 8 Episodes

Director: Keisuke Toyoshima

Writer: Jun Tsugita (Screenplay), CLAMP (Original Manga)

Starring: Anne Watanabe, Shota Sometani, Masahiro Higishide, Naoto Takenaka, Yumi Adachi,

This post marks my first dorama post… I am relatively inexperienced with Japanese television having only watched two live-action shows but I am on familiar ground here because despite the fact I have never read xxxHOLiC I know about it. The reason why is because it comes from CLAMP the artist collective who have a very, very impressive track record creating supernatural romances and other types of shows which I have watched. For example, I have watched Cardcaptor Sakura (it was airing on British television and there wasn’t much on in terms of anime!) and read some of their works but xxxHOLiC I have missed… which is a shame because from the research I have done I found it an attractive prospect! Here’s the trailer.

Yūko Ichihara (Anne) is a witch who owns a shop. People visit the shop to have their wishes granted. Such things do not come for free and for those wishes people must give up something important. Kimihiro Watanuki (Sometani) is a high school boy who can see Ayakashi (spirits). He decides to work in Yūko’s shop after she promises to get rid of the spirits.

Anyway, it’s getting a live-action TV adaptation the lead role as Yūko Ichihara is Anne Watanabe who I last saw in Ninja Kids!!! and can be seen in the forthcoming adaptation of Keigo Higashino’s novel Platina Data. Watanuki is played by Shota Sometani who voiced one of the characters in The Wolf Children and put in a phenomenal performance in Himizu. They are joined by Masahiro Higishide (The Kirishima Thing) and Karen Miyazaki (Great Teacher Onizuka). As far as I am concerned that is a great cast. It is directed by Keisuke Toyoshima who worked on the 2004 movie Tales of Terror, so he’s comfortable with supernatural action.

The show launches on the 24th (thanks Paul)! I may just start watching the anime and then this.