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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Mushishi 蟲師 (2007)

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Mushishi                                                                   Mushishi Film Poster

Japanese Title: 蟲師

Romaji: Mushishi

Release Date: March 24th, 2007 (Japan)

Running Time: 131 mins.

Director: Katsuhiro Otomo

Writer: Yuki Urushibara (Original Manga/Screenplay), Sadayuki Murai (Screenplay),

Starring: Joe Odagiri, Yu Aoi, Makiko Esumi, Nao Omori, Reia Moriyama, Reisen Ri, Lily, Hideyuki Inada,

Mushishi is based on Yuki Urushibara’s award-winning manga. It is a title which has captured imaginations because it was quickly adapted into a highly regarded award-winning anime in 2005-06. To cap it all off we get a live-action version.

Mushishi Ginko Manga Anime Live Action Comparison

This story of an itinerant spiritualist wandering through a Japan just entering the meiji era is beautiful and poignant with bits of human drama and nostalgia. This combined with the visuals formed a wonderful film which is a visual and aural feast that submerges the viewer in a narrative that evokes wonder.

Mushishi begins with long-held wide-angle shots of rain-soaked tree-covered mountains wreathed with mist. It feels like a scene from a primordial time before man has trod on the earth and a time where spirits could be lingering in this natural world.

Mushishi Landscape 2

The film then cuts to a shot of two people trudging along a muddy road that clings to the Mushishi Ginko and His Motherside of the mountain. The smallest figure, Yoki, is a boy moving from town to town with his mother who carries a heavy pack with all of their belongings. All talk about spirits lingering proves right as Yoki can see wisps of spirits emanating from the landscape. These are mushi (bugs), the phantom soul of nature which breathes through the living and the dead. Think of them like magical presences which can affect people in various, mostly negative, ways such as causing the growth of horns and sucking souls. Few people can see them but it seems that Yoki (Inada) is one of them. They fascinate Yoki who lags behind his mother on the road. Perhaps this is what saves him as a landslip causes trees and earth to careen down the side of the mountain and engulf the road he and his mother are on. His mother yells at him to run before she is swept away. When the smoke clears all we see is Yoki clawing through rocks trying to find his mother while an enigmatic figure with white hair steps into high angle shot and watches his futile effort. Her name is Nui (Esumi) and she will play a pivotal role in his future.

Mushishi Nui (Esumi) Watches

Mushishi Snowbound VillageCut to a snowy landscape and Yoki has grown up into Ginko (Odagiri), a humble mushi-shi (bug master) who travels around Japan with his huge chest of medicines and tools helping people beset with mushi problems by trying to solve, or at the very least, lessen the problems mushi cause. The film tracks a selection of his adventures such as his first where he wanders into a snow-bound village and discovers that the inhabitants have been infected by mushi who make the villagers deaf in one ear. By following Ginko we see that mushi are everywhere and affect people in various ways but he is not alone in tracking the mushi of the world as he reunites with a woman named Tanyu (Aoi) who chornicles the different mushi in Japan to tackle a fierce mushi which may be linked to his past.

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Vital ヴィタール Dir: Shinya Tsukamoto (2003)

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Vital                                                           Vital Film Poster

Japanese Titleヴィタール

Romaji: Vuita-ru

Japanese Release Date: 24th May, 2003

Running Time: 85 mins.

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto

Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto(Screenplay)

Starring: Tadanobu Asano, KIKI, Nami Tsukamoto, Kazuyoshi Kushida, Lily, Jun Kunimura, Hana Kino, Ittoku Kishibe

Tsukamoto once again brings us a tale of metamorphosis but, as in A Snake of June, it is more psychic and mental than physical, life affirming instead of destructive and much calmer than usual. The fascination with cyberpunk and body-horror, once an overwhelming aspect of his early films, is toned down and replaced with a humanistic tale of life, death and memory. Warning: this is a long review which does not contain any particular spoilers but discusses the film in detail.

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