License to Live ニンゲン合格 (1999)

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License to Live                                     License to Live Film Poster Slightly Bigger

Japanese Title: ニンゲン 合格

Romaji: Ningen Goukaku

Release Date: January 23rdt, 1999

Running Time: 109 mins.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Starring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Koji Yakusho, Kumiko Aso, Sho Aikawa, Lily, Shun Sugata, Ren Osugi, Yoriko Douguchi, Masahiro Toda, Hajime Inoue

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is better known in the west for his horror films thanks to titles like Cure, Pulse, and Retribution being more available than his dramas and crime thrillers. In fact he is adept at working in other genres and there is a large body of work from his v-cinema days during the 90’s missing to those of us outside Japan. Overall his best film is the drama Tokyo Sonata, a masterful portrait of the breakdown of a modern family. License to Live is another drama film with similar themes to Tokyo Sonata but from 1999, ten years prior, and with a lighter comic touch.

Yutaka Yoshii (Nishijima) has just awoken from a ten year coma caused when he was knocked off his bicycle by a man named Murota (Osugi). It comes as a shock to the hospital staff and Murota who can’t forget the story and paid for Yutaka’s medical bills but Yutaka is conscious and so Murota gives him 500,000 yen to put an end to it.

Yutaka’s family might be glad of his recovery but they have all separated having accepted the possibility he might never wake up. His parents are divorced and his sister is supposedly in America. The only person willing to take Yutaka in is Fujimori (Yakusho), an old college friend of his father who raises carp in a fish farm on the Yoshii’s family property.

License to Live Yutaka (Nishijima) and Fujimori (Yakusho)

 

With Fujimori’s help Yutaka begins to grow up but soon his family hear about his recovery. First to appear is his father Shinichiro (Sugata) who travels the globe and has consigned Yutaka to the past. Next is Yutaka’s sister Chizuru (Aso) who shows up on the fish farm with her fiancé Kasaki (Aikawa) but she doesn’t want to stick around. Finally Yutaka finds out about mother Sachiko (Lily) who is the only one to stick by him.

“Your new life is what counts,” others tell him but Yutaka wants to bring his family back together again, even if only for a moment.

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The Guard From Underground 地獄の警備員 (1992)

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The Guard From Underground  The Guard From Underground Film Poster

Japanese Title: 地獄の警備員

Romaji: Jigoku no Keibin

Release Date: 1992

Running Time: 97 mins.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Kunihiko Tomioka (Screenplay),

Starring: Makiko Kuno, Yutaka Matsushige, Hatsunori Hasegawa, Ren Osugi, Taro Suwa

Akebono Corporation is a major business and Akiko Narushima (Kuno) is on her way to a new job. She used to be a curator at a gallery and is now the new adviser for the purchases of paintings for the corporation. Akebono are also hiring a new security guard in the rather tall and solidly built shape of former sumo wrestler Fujimaru (Matsushige), a man who is wanted by the police investigating the case of the murder of his lover and her lover, another sumo wrestler…  He was released due to being insane but the police are looking to prosecute again. Akiko starts her first day brightly and meets her new colleagues, the flighty Hanae Takeda, the rather useless Ken Nomura, and anonymous bald dude Minoru Yoshioka (Suwa). Her workmates are great… apart from her lecherous manager Kurume (Osugi), a carefree head of human resources named Hyodo (Hasegawa) and the mighty Fujimaru who takes a liking to her.

The Guard From Underground Security Booth

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Eyes of the Spider 蜘蛛の瞳 (1998)

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I’m a big Kiyoshi Kurosawa fan but when Third Window Films announced they had two Japanese films made by Kurosawa in the 90’s I had no idea what they could be and I had little to guide me but posters and a brief plot synopsis. Less than a year on from that announcement and Third Window Films has released the two films in a set. I have watched them and I have to admit that these are two of the finest crime films I have seen.

The films originate from a single offer. Kurosawa was offered the chance to make two low-budget V-cinema films in two weeks with the same cast and so he came up with Eyes of the Spider and Serpent’s Path. Both have many similarities not least the cast and story about a about a man seeking revenge for the murder of his daughter but the similarities end there as Kurosawa’s execution of both films differ. This review covers Eyes of the Spider.

Eyes of the Spider                              Eyes of the Spider Poster

Japanese Title: 蜘蛛 の 瞳

Romaji: Kumo no Hitomi

Release Date:  February 21st, 1998 (Japan)

Running Time: 83 mins.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer:  Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Starring: Sho Aikawa, Dankan, Ren Osugi, Sadao Abe, Susumu Terajima, Moe Sakura, Kumi Nakamura, Satoshi Kajiwara, Shun Sugata

When we first see Nijima (Aikawa) we find him in the process of taking vengeance.

Eyes of the Spider Nijima (Aikawa) and the Murderer

He has kidnapped the person who murdered his daughter Mitsuko six years ago. After taking revenge. Nijima cannot adjust to normal life with his wife Noriko and is unsettled, life has lost its meaning and he’s haunted by his actions. Then he runs into Iwamatsu (Dankan), an old friend from high school.

 Eyes of the Spider Nijima (Aikawa) and Iwamatsu (Dankan) Meet

Iwamatsu offers Nijima a job. Iwamatsu runs what he calls an “import and export” business from a warehouse stacked with empty boxes and toys. This is a front for a kidnapping business overseen by a larger yakuza clan, where he and his three employees kidnap and murder to order.  

It’s an intriguing job offer for Nijima who finds that he has a talent for the job and enjoys exercising it. But when he is approached by Naomi (Osugi), the gangster who oversees his small band of kidnappers, he finds out that he may be being double-crossed. 

Continue reading “Eyes of the Spider 蜘蛛の瞳 (1998)”

Serpent’s Path 蛇の道 (1998)

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I’m a big Kiyoshi Kurosawa fan but when Third Window Films announced they had two Japanese films made by Kurosawa in the 90’s I had no idea what they could be and I had little to guide me but posters and a brief plot synopsis. Less than a year on from that announcement and Third Window Films has released the two films in a set. I have watched them and I have to admit that these are two excellent crime films.

The films originate from a single offer. Kurosawa was offered the chance to make two low-budget V-cinema films in two weeks with the same cast and so he came up with Eyes of the Spider and Serpent’s Path. Both have many similarities not least the cast and story about a about a man seeking revenge for the murder of his daughter but the similarities end there as Kurosawa’s execution of both films differ. This review covers Serpent’s Path.

Serpent’s Path                             Serpent's Path Poster

Japanese Title: 蛇の道

Romaji: Hebi no Michi

Release Date:  February 21st,  1998 (Japan)

Running Time: 85 mins.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer:  Hiroshi Takahashi

Starring: Sho Aikawa, Teruyuki Kagawa, Yurei Yanagi, Shiro Shitamoto, Hua Rong Weng

The film starts with two men travelling by car in a bland urban environment. The two couldn’t be more different. The calm one who is driving is Nijima (Aikawa), a physics tutor, while his passenger who is tense and on edge is Miyashita (Kagawa) a former yakuza. The two pull up in their car outside an anonymous house. Pretending to be a deliveryman, Nijima forces his way into the house of a middle-aged man and kidnaps him, taking him to a warehouse, where he and Miyashita chain him to a wall and proceed to mistreat the man and threaten him with violence.

As Nijima hovers in the background with an air of indifference, Miyashita looks about ready to explode as he howls and paces about. He soon drags a television in front of the increasingly angry and defiant man and plays footage of a girl in a playground.

Eyes of the Spider Television

The man watches the footage incredulously but begins to get really scared when Miyashita paws at the video image of the girl and reveals she is his daughter then tells him she was brutally murdered and he wants a confession of guilt. The man is horrified and starts blaming others. Nijima and Miyashita have no choice but to continue down the path of vengeance.

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Kiyoshi Kurosawa Season and Biography

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Regular readers will know that I keep ranting about four directors: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Sion Sono, Takashi Miike. and Shinya Tsukamoto. The reason these four men are always mentioned is that they have made a lot of my all time favourite live-action films. I’ve grown up watching a lot of Japanese films from classics to the most contemporary but it’s these four who have blown my mind with their imagination and use of the medium of film. There are few other directors out there who can match them, in my opinion. Sion Sono and Shinya Tsukamoto have had a season dedicated to them but my most favourite of all, Kurosawa, has not… UNTIL NOW!!!

This is going to be a short season dedicated to the maestro, Kiyoshi Kurosawa because I have reviewed most of his films that are available in the west already. It has come about because I have recently watched three of his lesser known works and two of them are going to be released in the UK this time next week! We start with a biography! A long and boring and incoherent biography! WAIT, COME BACK! There are pictures!

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