Emi-Abi エミアビのはじまりとはじまり Dir: Kensaku Watanabe (2016)

Emi-abi    

Emi-Abi Film Poster
Emi-Abi Film Poster

エミアビのはじまりとはじまり 「Emiabi no Hajimari to Hajimari」 

Running Time: 88 mins.

Director: Kensaku Watanabe

Writer: Kensaku Watanabe (Screenplay)

Starring:  Ryu Morioka, Tomoya Maeno, Haru Kuroki, Hirofumi Arai, Mari Yamachi,

Website IMDB

Emi-Abi is a film marked by death but it is incredibly life-affirming. Written and directed by Kensaku Watanabe (he adapted the novel The Great Passage  into a script for the big screen), it tells the tale of artistic endeavour in the face of disaster and comes up trumps with a happy ending in a film that perfectly balances tragedy and comedy.

The story begins at the end of the manzai act Emi-Abi. The duo has lost its funny-man Unno (Tomoya Maeno) in an accident. All that remains is the handsome straight man Jitsudo (Ryu Morioka) and his dutiful manager Natsumi (Haru Kuroki) who has a comedy streak funnier than her remaining charge. With Unno’s funeral in the past and an uncertain future as a mere pretty-boy performer in a pretty crowded field, Jitsudo is on his way to his comedy sempai Kurosawa’s (Hirofumi Arai) home to pay respects and to get advice.

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The Bride of Rip Van Winkle リップヴァンウィンクルノ花嫁 (2016) Dir: Shunji Iwai

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!

A Bride for Rip Van Winkle Nanami (Haru Kuroki)

Here’s a snippet of my review of the film A Bride for Rip Van Winkle (2016), the latest from the auteur Shunji Iwai. It is one of three films directed by him at the New York Asian Film Festival which is where he will pick up a lifetime achievement award. You can find more images plus a trailer and a link to the full review further down the post.

Continue reading “The Bride of Rip Van Winkle リップヴァンウィンクルノ花嫁 (2016) Dir: Shunji Iwai”

The Great Passage 舟を編む (2013)

Genki The Great Passage Review Header

The Great Passage                We Knit Ship Film Poster

Japanese Title: 舟を編む

Romaji: Fune wo Amu

Release Date: April 13th, 2013 (Japan)

Seen at the BFI London Film Festival 2013

Running Time: 133 mins.

Director: Yuya Ishii

Writer: Shion Miura (Original Novel), Kensaku Watanabe (Screenplay),

Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Aoi Miyazaki, Joe Odagiri, Haru Kuroki, Misako Watanabe, Kumiko Aso, Shingo Tsurumi, Chizuru Ikewaki, Hiroko Isayama, Kaouru Kobayashi, Go Kato, Kaoru Yachigusa, Ryu Morioka, Shohei Uno, Kazuki Namioka

The year is 1995 and the place is the Dictionary Editorial Department of the publisher Genbu Books. The staff include Matsumoto (Kato), a veteran editor in chief of dictionaries who is assisted by his key right-hand man Araki (Kobayashi), a skilled editor who is on the verge of quitting because his wife is ailing and he wants to be by her side. Also in the department are Sasaki (Isayama), the oil for the team ensuring that word entries are logged on computers and filed away and young blade Nishioka  (Odagiri) who, while not as is good at defining words, is a pro at getting more up to date definitions and examples because he has skill with human contact.

And that’s it for the dictionary team. All dedicated to the beauty of words but considered weird by the rest of the staff at the publisher. Fact of the matter is that compiling dictionaries is not hot shot work in publishing terms because such things are boring and costly in an age when digital technology is coming to prominence and everybody else would rather work on glossy magazines.

With Araki seeking to retire it places great strain on the department at a time when Matsuoka wants to initiate a new project called The Great Passage, a 240,000 word dictionary that will capture everything from the most current youth slang to the most technical terms of different fields like theatre and literature making it the most comprehensive and representative dictionary in the country.

Genki-The-Great-Passage-Work-on-the-Jisho

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The Wolf Children おおかみこどもの雨と雪 (2012)

Genkina hito's Wolf Children Rain and Snow Review Banner

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,

The Wolf Children was the first film I saw at the 56th BFI London Film Festival and a film I had been eagerly tracking all year. Despite being left cold by the director’s last film I went into this with an open mind and was soon won over.

Maybe you’ll laugh and say it’s a fairy tale. Think it too preposterous to be true. But it is a true story about my mother.

The Wolf Children is a story about identity and love between parents and children that takes place over thirteen years. It starts when a university student named Hana falls in love with Ōkami who is a “wolf man”. The two 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 Tokyo concealing the true nature of their existence. Then Ōkami leaves and Hana is faced with the prospect of being a single mother with two children who are half wolf.

The film’s writer and director Mamoru Hosoda is frequently compared to Hayao Miyazaki but while his work shows a similar ease at mixing the fantastical with realism there was always something forced and, in the case of Summer Wars, bland. The Wolf Children is different. Despite providing a familiar coming-of-age tale it is executed with subtlety, realism, detail and humanity, leaving the film feeling refreshingly natural and meaningful.

Till the field

The synopsis, trailers and character design suggest heart-warming fantasy fun but the film’s direction is rooted in realism which is used to underline the struggles faced by characters and depth of feelings felt by the characters. By presenting us with such detail the film defines itself and makes itself original and gripping.

We are first introduced to Hana and through a few deft details like dialogue and a family picture we understand her independent character. We then witness the courtship between Hana and Ōkami and while the idea of a wolf man and a human woman having children sounds outrageous it is handled in a subdued and naturalistic way whether it’s seeing Ōkami’s day job or Hana’s pregnancy cycle, morning sickness and all. The early quarter of the film tracks the parents who sacrifice their own identities as they build a family life. It ensures that we understand that Hana’s acceptance of Ōkami and her children is based on love.

Wolf Children Early PArenthood

When Ōkami leaves it is Hana who emerges as the hero. She exists in a universe which can be quite indifferent and must dig deep into her character to create a family life for the rambunctious and cute Ame and Yuki.

Wolf Children Transform

The wolf children are quite a handful. The script sets up many charmingly cute scenes where they are a recognisable and exhausting combination of child and puppy. They burst with energy and desire to be as mobile as possible, constantly morphing into wolves. This has genuinely amusing consequences like Ame and Yuki’s teething troubles ruining furniture and tantrums usually involving screaming, tears and sprouting whiskers and pointy ears.

Wolf Children Teething

While the situations start off as amusing it is clearly difficult to handle in a crowded place like a city and soon there is a believable undercurrent of fear faced by Hana. Walks in the park are impossible and living in an apartment with a no-pets policy becomes stifling as she restricts her children’s natural exuberance. Most menacingly the child welfare agency appear. All the while Hana is making things up as she goes along but never wavering despite exhaustion. Soon she takes the gutsy decision of moving to the country which opens the film up visually and offers a celebration of family, community and nature.

You have to be stronger

When Hana moves to the country she is initially an outsider herself with locals whispering things like “She’s going to start missing convenience stores”.

She buys a ramshackle house which is lovingly detailed in all of its disrepair. In a montage we see her fixing the place up and engaging in back-breaking farming. These activities display the beautiful animation and speak volumes on Hana’s hope, belief and determination in providing a future for her children. These sequences are most like the  Ghibli classic My Neighbour Totoro but what defines The Wolf Children is the observation on the struggles that Hana faces and the refusal to be sentimental which I appreciated immensely.

Wolf Children Height Check

Eventually Hana and her children are accepted, albeit by hiding their odd forms. While the negativity they faced in the city remains in the memory, the countryside folks exhibit all of the good qualities of Japanese society and the message of the film becomes one of community spirit, as voiced by one of the elderly characters when she says “We have to help each other”.

There is a consistent theme of nature and traditional values and it is told with no fuss. The use of montage and succinct sequences providing vignettes of daily life continue to track the change in the characters, seasons and nature.

With the change in location the film truly comes alive with brilliantly animated sequences which are truly breathtaking and capture spectacular scenes of the natural world in Japan. Mist wreathed mountains, surging waterfalls, endless fields, and dense forests are all vividly brought to life with vibrant colours and deep levels of detail. Gone are the claustrophobic close-ups of the city and in come long-shots of the terrain with the bright pink and blue of Ame and Yuki moving through it. The film moves the action onto a larger canvass as the wolf children experiment with their abilities like being a wolf up against cats and snakes, dashing through tall grass up trees and discovering which part of the natural world’s eco-system they belong to. The best sequence is an exhilarating chase over a snowy landscape as it evokes feelings of youth, discovery, freedom and joy.

Wolf Children Snow Chase

While the titular wolf children can morph between human and wolf in the blink of an eye they face the same difficulties of growing that are universal to everyone, mainly the need to be accepted and know their place in the world and define themselves in their journey to decide whether they will be human or wolf while Hana must also learn to change her character as she watches them mature. Their character arcs are not completely original but thanks to the realism, playfulness and sharp characterisation we are anchored in their struggle and root for them. Every funny use of wolf transformation draws laughter, every dangerous situation draws gasps of shock (one woman in the audience gave a gasp so loud I initially misinterpreted as being part of the soundtrack) and every moment of love and growth draws a smile and, for many in the audience, tears of happiness.

Be human or wolf

I cannot praise the visuals or script enough but on top of direction, script and images, Hosoda also gets pitch-perfect performances from the voice actors. I especially loved the performances of the younger voice actors of Ame and Yuki.

Momoka Oona who plays the youngest version of Yuki is brilliant. Her voice overflows with such tomboyish enthusiasm and energy when she does particularly unladylike things like chasing cats and bagging snakes. Every growl, shout and squeal contained a childish and admirable joy of life and the determination to face the world around them.

Amon Kabe who plays the youngest version of Ame adds such depth to the script’s characterisation with his shy voice full of searching questions and a need for certainty and reassurance. Typical childhood things like fairy tales become sources of pain as he discovers the wolf is always the bad guy. Through him you feel the precarious nature of their situation.

They have the lion’s share of the film and the comedy and they essay their characters so well they become an intrinsic part of the character and remained the way I chose to remember how the characters sounded.

The Wolf Children has to be one of the best films I have ever seen. Its intelligent script and assured direction justify Hosoda’s high critical regard and wash away any doubts about his abilities. Despite echoes of the finest of Ghibli’s output, The Wolf Children feels like its own beast thanks to a script which mixes fantasy with realism and humanity that makes the film have substance. It is a film that pays tribute to Japan and Japanese culture while remaining universal because of its trio of characters who will charm and be familiar to us all.

5/5

Wolf Children Snow Laughter