Last Judgement / Saigo no Shinpan 最後の審判 Dir: Shinya Kawakami [Osaka Asian Film Festival / Japan Cuts 2019]

Last Judgement / Saigo no Shinpan    Saigo no Shinpan Film Poster

最後の審判 Saigo no Shinpan

Release Date: March 02nd, 2019

Duration: 29 mins.

Director:  Shinya Kawakami

Writer: Shinya Kawakami (Screenplay)

Starring: Ren Sudo, Miru Nagase, Asuka Kurosawa, Kiyomi Aratani,

Website     IMDB

New Directions in Japanese Cinema (NDJC) is a programme that has been in operation since 2007, it’s purpose being to help foster talented young filmmakers through workshops and the production of 30-minute narrative shorts, shot on 35mm film, with the help of experienced professionals. The resulting works are given screenings across Japan and at major festivals. I had covered their films in old trailer posts¹ but had never seen a whole programme until this year…

It was coming up to the end of the 2019 edition of the Osaka Asian Film Festival and there was a screening of this year’s NDJC titles early one morning. I was quite eager to see them and was truly thrilled by the final title, Final Judgement (Saigo no Shinpan) by Shinya Kawakami which is, hands down, the best of the bunch.

Inaba (Ren Sudo) is a talented artist who has tried and failed the entrance exam to Tokyo Art University many times. He is on his sixth attempt and has decided to make this year his final challenge. As he prepares to paint a portrait to pave his way into the institution, a very gifted rival named Hatsune (Miru Nagase) appears amidst the students and her unconventional methods and tremendous vision creates a work which roars with energy and snares the attention of everybody including their tutors. Inaba is incensed by this girl (who is still in school, no less!) but, at the height of his anger he takes a left turn and invites Hatsune to a cafe to find out how she is such a great artist…

Continue reading “Last Judgement / Saigo no Shinpan 最後の審判 Dir: Shinya Kawakami [Osaka Asian Film Festival / Japan Cuts 2019]”

Vampire Clay 血を吸う粘土 Dir: Soichi Umezawa (2017)

Vampire Clay   Vampire Clay Film Poster

血を吸う粘土Chi wo su nendo

Running Time: 81 mins.

Release Date: August 19th, 2017

Director:  Soichi Umezawa

Writer: Soichi Umezawa (Screenplay),

Starring: Asuka Kurosawa, Kanji Tsuda, Ena Fujita, Ryo Shinoda, Kyoka Takeda, Yuyu Makihara, Momoka Sugimoto,

Website IMDB

Vampire Clay is the feature-length film debut of writer/director Soichi Umezawa, a man who has had a long career as a special effects and make-up artist on many doramas and films like those of the Tomie franchise, low-budget sci-fi action flick like Alien vs Ninja, the chilling ghost story Dead Waves and the rather excellent Kiyoshi Kurosawa film Bright Future. That one’s not a horror but it features jellyfish which some may find horrific if stung by one. Vampire Clay is more in line with Umezawa’s horror films and the special effects are pretty good in a goofy way – gooey and creepy dolls made from clay that stalk a rural art school and bump off students one by one a la John Carpenter’s The Thing

Continue reading “Vampire Clay 血を吸う粘土 Dir: Soichi Umezawa (2017)”

Third Window Films Release A Snake of June on September 28th

Third Window Films continues to do justice to the back-catalogue of director Shinya Tsukamoto by picking up and releasing one of his most critically acclaimed and internationally known works, A Snake of June.

This film is a psycho-sexual thriller that continues his experimentation with subject and method and daringness in shooting style by placing the rather excellent and underused actor Asuka Kurosawa in the middle of a visceral tale of sexual repression and release. With its monochromatic colours and humid rainy season atmosphere it becomes rather steamy but retains a rather dread-inducing atmosphere thanks to Tsukamoto’s editing and shot composition which becomes rather surreal.

It’s emotionally stirring stuff with complex performances to match the complex script and direction. You can read more of what I thought in a review of a version released by Tartan that I wrote back in 2012 as part of my Shinya Tsukamoto season. You can check out the director review archives for reviews from other directors who are contemporaries of Tsukamoto.

Here are the details of the newer and updated DVD release coming from Third Window Films:

Continue reading “Third Window Films Release A Snake of June on September 28th”

The World of Kanako 渇き (2014)

The World of Kanako      The World of Kanako Film Poster 2

Japanese Title:

Romaji: Kawaki

Running Time: 113 mins

Release Date: June 27th, 2014 (Japan)

Seen at the BFI London Film Festival

Director: Tetsuya Nakashima

Writer: Tetsuya Nakashima (Screenplay), Akio Fukamachi (Novel),

Starring: Koji Yakusho, Nana Komatsu, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Joe Odagiri, Fumi Nikaido, Ai Hashimoto, Miki Nakatani, Jun Kunimura, Asuka Kurosawa,

Website

On paper The World of Kanako sounds incredibly formulaic: based on a novel by Akio Fukamachi, it’s about an ex-cop and bad father who goes in search of his missing daughter who may be involved in a world of trouble. The World of Kanako is anything but formulaic. It resists falling into cliché by being a visually and aurally staggering assault on the senses so meticulously designed, written, and directed by Tetsuya Nakashima, and acted out by big name actors given the chance to play evil characters that it makes an old plot feel new and exciting.

The film begins with the quote:

An era is only confused by a confused mind – Jean Cocteau

Continue reading “The World of Kanako 渇き (2014)”

A Snake of June 六月の蛇 (2003)

Genki Tsukamoto Snake of June Picture

A Snake of June                                              A Snake of June Poster

Japanese Title六月の蛇

Romaji: Roku Gatsu no Hebi

Japanese Release Date: 24th May, 2003

Running Time: 77 mins.

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto

Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto(Screenplay)

Starring: Asuka Kurosawa, Yuji Kohtari, Shinya Tsukamoto, Mansaku Fuwa, Tomorowo Taguchi, Susumu Terajima, Tomoko Matsumoto, Shuji Otsuki, Masato Tsujioka, Takuji Suzuki

Despite the active presence of women, Tsukamoto’s early films like Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Tetsuo II: Body Hammer end up being masculine stories of malign worlds full of inhuman technology, body-horror and destruction. 1995’s Tokyo Fist was the first where I felt that women were given equal footing. In A Snake of June Tsukamoto once again uses his keen style to explore and depict the dark psychological and emotional pressures that are awakened in a harsh urban environment but the violence and weirdness are replaced with a story of repressed sexual desires of a woman in the vulpine form of Asuka Kurosawa.

Continue reading “A Snake of June 六月の蛇 (2003)”

Ushijima the Loan Shark Trailer featuring Yuko Oshima

Ushijima the Loan Shark                         Ushijima Loan Shark Movie Poster

Romaji: Yamikin Ushijima-kun

Japanese Title: 闇金 ウシジマくん

Release Date: 25th August 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: 112 mins.

Director: Masatoshi Yamaguchi

Writer: Shohei Manabe (Manga)

Starring: Takayuki Yamada, Yuko Oshima, Kento Hayashi, Hiromi Sakimoto, Kyosuke Yabe, Nana Katase, Yoshinori Okada, Tsuyoshi Muro, Asuka Kurosawa

Another movie adaptation of a television series which was adapted from a manga. This Ushijima Manga & Live Actiontime it is Ushijima the Loan Shark and the manga is highly regarded (it won the General category of the 56th Shogakukan Manga Awards last year and was nominated for the Osamu Tezuka Culture Prize in 2008 and 2010). The cast list is very interesting with Takayuki Yamada (13 Assassins, Milocrorze – A Love Story, The Cat Returns!!!) reprising his lead role of Kaoru Ushijima from the 2010 television series. He will be acting alongside AKB48 Team K member Yuko Oshima (The Suicide Song), Kento Hayashi (Girls for Keeps), Yoshinori Okada (Fine, Totally Fine, Kamikaze Girls), and Asuka Kurosawa (Cold Fish, Himizu, Dead Waves).

Kaoru Ushijima (Yamada) is a loan shark who operates out of a business called “Cow Cow Finance”. One of his ‘clients’ is Mirai Suzuki (Oshima) who has taken it upon herself to pay for her mother’s debts and started work in a “Paid date café”. Another client is Jun Ogawa (Hayashi), an ambitious president for an event group who decides to renege on his payment. When Ushijima wrecks Jun’s business, Jun goes all out for revenge.  

Himizu ヒミズ (2012)

Yuichi (Sometani) and Keiko (Nikaidou) in Himizu Banner

Himizu is Sion Sono’s adaptation of Minoru Furuya’s manga of the same name. It involves tough subject matter like child abuse, murder, and the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, but it is ultimately a redemptive and moving exploration of life, identity, and the will to live in an unfair world.

Junior high school kid Yuichi Sumida (Shota Sometani) wants a quiet life but his mother (Yukiko Watanabe) comes home with different men every night, and his drunken, hate-filled father (Ken Mitsuishi) only pays him visits when he needs money. Yuichi carries on running the family boat rental business and lives surrounded by homeless people who are victims of the tsunami. Meanwhile at school he is ignoring class-mate Keiko Chazawa (Fumi Nikaidō) who has a massive crush on him. Things get tough when his mother abandons him and Kaneko (Denden), a Yakuza loan-shark, shows up looking for Yuichi’s father and ¥6 million. Pushed to breaking point by his situation Yuichi finds himself unable to control his anger and a series of events leads him to the brink of madness.

 Yuichi Sumida (Shota Sometani) in a Crisis in Himizu

Sion Sono’s films usually carry the tropes of bad parents, abuse, violence, and existential confusion but there is enough black humour and outlandishness to lighten the impact. The audience does not get that here. What we get is an extreme view of the dark side of a modern Japan and the existential soul searching that needs to take place to build a new future and a lesson in never giving up on life.

 “Nobody can touch my future!”

  Continue reading “Himizu ヒミズ (2012)”

Cold Fish 冷たい熱帯魚 (2011)

Cold Fish Murata Welcomes You

Cold Fish is Sion Sono’s award winning film loosely based on the real-life exploits of serial killer couple Gen Sekine and his ex-wife Hiroko Kazama who perpetrated Tokyo’s notorious 1993 “Saitama serial murders of dog lovers”. It received its premiere at the 2010 Venice Film Festival and is a genuinely brilliant film.

Shamoto (Fukikoshi) runs a small tropical fish shop with his second wife Taeko (Kagurazaka) and rebellious daughter Mitsuko (Kajiwara). One day Mitsuko is caught shoplifting but an intervention by a friendly man named Murata (Denden) prevents the store manager from pressing charges. As it turns out Murata also runs a tropical fish store with his wife Aiko (Kurosawa). Won over by Murata’s charm Shamoto and his unhappy family form a bond of friendship with him and Mitsuko even goes to work for him. What Shamoto does not realise is that Murata is not as friendly as he seems to be and soon finds there are many dark and twisted secrets behind the smile and he is powerless to resist.

Murata (Denden) Bullies Shamamoto (Fukikoshi) in Cold Fish

Cold Fish like many of Sion Sono’s films flits between horror, satire, thriller, and comedy. It is heavy on gore and black humour with writing and acting that perverts believable drama into a crazy, enjoyable, and moving ride.

The story can happen anywhere people exist. Shamoto’s family are believably unhappy, with each individual wrapped up in their own lives with Taeko sour from a life she feels is wasted, Shamoto unable to express his true feelings and Mitsuko contemptuous of her parents.

Shamoto is one part hapless and mostly meek. He is a simple man unable to deal with adversity and the absurdity of life. His inability to deal with life sees him retreat into his dreams just to escape conflicts that might be solved if he was more proactive and was able to communicate his real feelings to his family.

Fukikoshi develops sympathy by capturing the good-natured but timid nature of Shamoto who wants to avoid the ugly reality of life. Despite his best intentions he cannot overcome his meekness. As the film progresses he goes from looking affable but ineffective to genuinely horrified, squeezing himself into corners out of sight of the horror. Through Murata’s insistent bullying Shamoto reveals his pent up anger and when he snaps the rage is recognisable.

Equally recognisable is the bitterness and resentment that Taeko feels. It is portrayed by Kagurazaka in the curl of distaste her mouth takes when her husband speaks or the poisonous looks she shoots Mitsuko. At one point her relationship with Shamoto had romance and they understood one another as individuals and shared dreams.

Shamoto (Fukikoshi) and Taeko (Kagurazaka) in the Planetarium in Cold Fish Continue reading “Cold Fish 冷たい熱帯魚 (2011)”

Dead Waves 死霊波 (2005)

Dead Waves Editing Banner

Dead Waves Basic InformationWith a title like that I was expecting spooks on the high seas but this is about ghosts spreading their malign influence over the airwaves. It doesn’t quite make the grade as horror and ultimately feels like another average low-budget digitally shot film meant to cash in on the Ringu phenomena where ghosts use technology to get us.

At a TV network board meeting, Hiroshi Usui (Toshihiro Wada) is asked to boost ratings for his show ‘Akie Doma’s Exorcism’. The show draws people who love the supernatural as well as the mentally disturbed. It also draws the ire of a psychiatrist named Kawamura (Meikyo Yamada) who accuses Usui of exploiting the mentally unbalanced. Usui visits the house of an overzealous fan named Tsuyoshi Nagao (Masaki Miura) who lives with his sister Runa (Shihori Kanjiya) who he believes is possessed. Despite Runa’s protestations that the ghosts will be angry with an exorcism, Tsuyoshi and Usui make a deal allowing the filming of Runa’s exorcism.  Akie Doma (Asuka Kurosawa) performs the exorcism. Strangely it is Tsuyoshi who has a violent physical reaction whilst Runa’s gaze is locked on something invisible that she apologises to. Later Usui is approached by Kawamura who reveals the phenomena of “Dead Waves”, radio waves that harbour vengeful spirits who use TV broadcasts to draw people into the world of death. Despite scepticism, Hiroshi is uneasy because he discovers disturbing information surrounding the Nagao’s and a revelation about his ex-girlfriend. The show with the Nagao’s is due to broadcast soon, could Dead Waves exist? Are the Nagao’s cursed by ghosts or is there something more mundane but just as deadly.

Dead Waves Runa's Exorcism with Akie Doma

Continue reading “Dead Waves 死霊波 (2005)”