Love, Masao-Kun Ga Iku, Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey Trailers and the Japanese Box-Office Charts

This week I wrote a number of reviews for a Korean movie season with A Bittersweet Life, Kick the Moon, and Duelist. As my reviews show I enjoyed them all and I highly recommend them. I watched my first modern Japanese TV drama in the form of the police mystery show Keizoku and indulged in an some insanely OTT (so offensive it turns into a parody) old school anime named Mad Bull Kino (キノ) and Hermes and their Options34 which has some of that brilliant Manga dubbing (back from when Manga was a UK company and went to town with dubs full of swearing and crazy but perfect accents). I picked up a Korean action-thriller named The Man from Nowhere and Takeshi Kitano’s Sonatine and I’m continuing the  キノ の 旅 (Kino’s Journey) simulwatch over at Anime UK News. Cue picture of Kino and Hermes.

What’s happening with the Japanese movie box-office chart this week?

  1.  Snow White and the Huntsman
  2.  Hotaru: It’s Only a Little Light in my Life
  3.  Men in Black III
  4.  Thermae Romae
  5.  Dark Shadows

Of all the Japanese films released last week only Library Wars broke into the top ten while Snow White and the Huntsman snatches the top spot.

What’s released in Japan today?

Love, Masao-Kun Ga Iku                                              Love, Masao-Kun Ga Iku Poster

Japanese Title: Love、まさお君 が 行く!

Romaji: Love, Masao-Kun Ga Iku

Release Date: 23rd June 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: 109 mins.

Director: Kentaro Otani

Writer: Izumi Takahashi

Starring: Shingo Katori, Ryoko Hirosue, Ken Mitsuishi, Riko Narumi, Takayuki Kinoshita, Kazuyuki Asano,

This film is based on the Japanese TV show “Itinerant Dog Masao’s Trip” – full marks for using the word itinerant! – which featured a comedian named Matsumoto and his Labrador Masao. Director Otani has a long list of relationship dramas to his name including the adaptations of the Nana manga. SMAP’s Shingo Katori (Sukiyaki Western Django), Ryoko Hirosue (Departures), Riko Narumi (Crime or Punishment?!?) , Ken Mitsuishi (Himizu, Rent-a-Cat, Noriko’s Dinner Table) while Atsuko Maeda (AKB48) sings the movie’s theme song.

Hideki Matsumoto (Katori) is a struggling comedian who is selected to star in a travel segment for an animal variety program on TV Tokyo. At first he is overjoyed at getting work even if he plays second fiddle to a Labrador Retriever named Masao-kun. Unfortunately Masao knows he is the boss and makes handling him difficult but things get even worse for Hideki when his girlfriend (Hirosue) leaves him.  Down in the dumps but things change when Masao rushes to his aid after an accident and after that the two get along better than ever.

 

Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for DoldreyBerserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey Movie Poster

Japanese Title: ベルセルク 黄金時代篇 II ドルドレイ攻略

Romaji: Berserk Ogon Jidai-Hen II: Doldrey Koryaku

Running Time: 100 mins.

Director: Toshiyuki Kubooka

Writer: Ichiro Ohkuchi (script)Kentarō Miura (original manga)

Starring: Hiroaki Iwanaga (Guts), Takahiro Sakurai (Griffith), Toa Yukinaru (Casca), Aki Toyosaki (Charlotte), Kenta Miyake (Nosferatu Zodd), Takahiro Fujiwara (Pippin)

Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey is the second films from a trilogy of movies that has adapted The Golden Age Arc of Kentarō Miura’s original manga and animated by Studio 4°C. It is directed by Toshiyuki Kubooka who has worked as animation director on notable titles like Gankutsuou, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water. Electronic artist Hirasawa Susumu (Paprika, Paranoia Agent) who created the distinctive music for the original TV anime adaptation created the main theme “Aria” for the movie while Shiro Sagisu is handling the rest of the soundtrack.

Synopsis

The saga follows Guts a strong mercenary with a huge sword and little direction in life. All of that changes after he meets Griffith, leader of a group of mercenaries named Band of the Hawk who are working for the Kingdom of Midland. Guts decides to throw his lot in with them and finds himself developing a deep relationship with Griffith but also finds that Casca, a commander in the Band of the Hawk, is jealous that Griffith returns his feelings. The two find themselves swept along in Griffith’s rise to power.

The second film will focus on a pivotal point in the war between Midland and Chuder as the Band of the Hawk launch an epic battle to seize Doldrey Castle, a place thought impregnable and home to an elite band of knights in the service of the Chuder Empire.

Staff: Toshiyuki Kubooka (Director), Ichiro Ohkouchi (Script writer), Kentarou Miura (Original Creator), Naoyuki Onda (Character Design/Chief Animation Director), Yusuke Takeda, Goki Nakamura (Art Director), Susumu Hirasawa (Theme Song), Shiro Sagisu (Music)

Studio: Studio 4°C

Duelist

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Duelist                                                                                      Duelist Film Poster

Release Date: 08th September 2005 (South Korea)

Running Time: 111 mins.

Director: Lee Myung-se

Writer: Lee Myung-se, Lee Hae-jyung

Starring: Ha Ji-won, Gang Dong-won, Ahn Sung-ki, Song Young-chang, Yun Ju-sang, Do Yong-gu

Duelist marks my first experience of a Korean historical film. At first disorientating, once I surrendered to the film I found myself in an intoxicating dream.

Korea under the late Joseon Dynasty is facing the threat of counterfeit money destabilising the economy. Detective Namsoon (Ha Ji-won) and her partner Detective Ahn (Ahn Sung-ki) are investigating the source of this problem but their investigation will reveal much more than standard criminality as they track down the source whilst duelling with a beautiful swordsman named Sad Eyes (Gang Dong-won) who is out to protect the counterfeiting operation. Namsoon will have to confront this mysterious man and the fact that with every duel they have, the two are falling increasingly in love with each other.

The first twenty minutes of the film are packed with so many editing and directing tricks I was scared I would be tired of what was to follow. We witness a police surveillance Namsoon (Ha Ji-won), Ahn (Ahn Sung-ki) and Sad Eyes (Gang Dong-won) in Duelistoperation in a market which turns into stylish chaos as sword fights erupt, a horse stampedes, and people chase each other. We are bombarded with a stop/start rhythm as the film cut between characters across the market and they are captured in slow motion, freeze frames, montage, and undercranking. This reminded me of the sort of impressionistic moments that Wong Kar-Wai uses and once I made that connection I relaxed.

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Kick the Moon

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Kick the Moon                                                                Kick the Moon Poster

Release Date: 23rd June 2001 (South Korea)

Running Time: 118 mins.

Director: Kim Sang-Jin

Writer: Kang Woo-Suk, Park Jung-Woo  

Starring: Cha Seung-won, Lee Sung-jae, Kim Hye-su, Lee Jong-su, Sung Ji-ru, Lee Han-gal, Kim Young-joon, Yu Hae-jin, Lee Won-jong

Kick the Moon is such an intriguing title and it must have meaning for South Korean’s but it’s lost in translation. In any case this is a very entertaining gangster comedy.

Ten years ago a legendary fight took place between two rival schools in Gyeongju. Tough guy Choi Gi-dong marks his place in history by getting into the thick of the brawl while his friend, the shy and decent student Park Young-joon stays out of trouble which makes Kick the Moon Young-joon and Gi-donghim a target for bullying for his fellow students. Ten years later the two have switched roles as Choi Gi-dong (Cha Seung-won) is a high school home-room teacher desperate to keep his kids out of trouble while Park Young-joon (Lee Sung-jae) is a major gangster operating out of Seoul. When Park Young-joon is sent to annex criminal operations (quite openly) in Geongju for his gang he runs into Choi Gi-dong and what starts off as a friendly reunion becomes testy when they reminisce about the fight. Their relationship sours even Kick the Moon Young-joon and Gi-dong Grown Upmore when they both meet and fall for feisty and cute café owner Min Ju-ran (Kim Hye-su) who has a school-age brother, Min Jin-seob (Lee Jong-su), desperate to be a gangster. The two will find their friendship strained as they fight over Min Ju-ran amidst the chaos of a mob war.

South Korea has a habit of producing amusing comedy films mixing crime with normal situations. My Wife is a Gangster had a crime boss marry a regular guy. My Boss, My Hero which had a gangster go back to school. Attack the Gas Station! had a band of youths do exactly what the title says. The last film was Kim Sang-jin’s directorial job before this film which answers the question, ‘what happens when teen delinquents grow up?’

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A Bittersweet Life

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A Bittersweet Life                                                         A Bittersweet Life Movie Poster

Release Date: 01st April 2005 (South Korea)

Running Time: 120 mins.

Director: Kim Jee-Woon

Writer: Kim Jee-Woon  

Starring: Lee Byung-Hun, Shin Min-A, Kim Yeong-Cheol, Hwang Jung-Min, Kim Roe-Ha, Lee Gi-Yeong, Jin Goo, Kim Hae-Gon, Eric (Moon Jung-Hyuk)

Kim Jee-Woon’s (The Quiet Family) filmography is packed with so many great titles made in such a short space of time it can only be explained by a Faustian pact or sheer brilliance and mastery of genre conventions. A Bittersweet Life is another masterpiece that plays with the conventions of the gangster film.

Sun-Woo (Byung-Hun) is a trusted enforcer who runs a restaurant/hotel for his boss Mr. Kang (Yeong-Cheol). The two are facing trouble from a new and sociopathic gangster named Baek (Jung-Min). Kang has other things on his mind such as his three day trip to Shanghai and the possibility that his young girlfriend Hee-Soo (Min-A) may be seeing a younger man. He sends Sun-Woo to watch over her. Sun-Woo is wary but goes ahead with the job. He was right to be wary because Hee-Soo and the world she inhabits charm Sun-Woo and open his eyes to the desolation of his life. This leads to his cool persona fragmenting under moments of weakness which will place him on the hit list of both his boss and Baek and leave Sun-Woo standing alone.

Life means nothing

Like the protagonists of neo-noir thrillers Drive and Le Samourai, Sun-Woo exists in a macho and nihilistic criminal underworld which demands a person subsumes their existence into their role/organisation and follow harsh rules. Similar to those films, when a girl enters the story the protagonist is forced to make a choice between adhering to those rules or being authentic to himself and breaking them to be with her. What A Bittersweet Life does brilliantly is to display Sun-Woo’s existential self-questioning of his place in the world.

Sun-Woo Contemplates his Existence in A Bittersweet Life

Sun-Woo is just one ego among many in his gang. What separates him is the degree of rigid self-control and awareness he possesses. Through these attributes he has cultivated the social-mask of reliable enforcer which has made him indispensable to his boss who treats him as a confidant.

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Korean Movie Season

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Since Arirang is coming out on Friday (review tomorrow) I’ve decided to kick off a short season of Korean films where I will review some of the best films to come out of the Korean New Wave.

Korean Films and Me

I grew up on a combination of Hong Kong action/martial arts films and black and white Japanese classics. I would frequently watch films like Onibaba, Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow and Police Story as a kid but I had little idea of Korea’s cinematic output or the country at large. All of that changed when I was in high school, a time when the Korean new wave was really gaining international prominence and I started shopping online. My first purchase was The Quiet Family.

I can’t remember why I purchased it (I think it might have been cheap) but I loved it. The verve, the wit, the style. There was real energy that you did not see in films coming from Europe and Hollywood and so they just could not compete.

Thankfully British television started to screen movies like Guns and Talks, No Blood No Tears and Shiri, films with so much story, substance and style that I started to import Korean films. That didn’t last long as the UK DVD label Tartan started to license the films and even screen them at the cinema. I would go out and support each film they released – I still have the ticket stubs for Old Boy and Lady Vengeance. While I only review a few Korean films a year – The Quiet Family, Public Enemy, Thirst -the release of Arirang has inspired me to look at some of these classics like (and you know the Korean film industry was producing a lot of classics at the time) again, hence the short season. I’m not touching on a lot of titles but enough to provide a nice mix of genres.

A Mix of Titles

Reviews added:

Arirang

A Bittersweet Life

Kick the Moon

Duelist