The Land of Hope 希望の国 (2012)

Genki The Land of Hope Review Banner

The Land of Hope                               The Land of Hope Movie Poster

Japanese: 希望 の 国

Romaji: Kibou no Kuni

Release Date: October 20th, 2012 (Japan)

UK Release Date: August 26th, 2013

UK Distributor: Third Window Films

Running Time: 133 mins.

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono

Starring: Isao Natsuyagi, Naoko Otani, Jun Murakami, Megumi Kagurazaka, Yutaka Shimizu, Hikari Kajiwara, Denden, Mariko Tsutsui, Yusuke Iseya, Mitsuru Fukikoshi,

When Sion Sono’s last film Himizu came to its stunning open ending it was clear that he was far from finished addressing the issues surrounding the Tōhoku Earthquake and Tusnami. The Land of Hope is the powerful and important follow-up which is epic in scale and drama. For daring to take on such a taboo subject in Japan, Sono had to go to foreign investors but what has resulted is a film that is a key way of seeing the effects of a disaster. At two hours it captures all sorts of aspects about the disaster but remains incredibly humane as it centres on the travails of two families.

An old couple named Yasuhiko and Chieko Ono (Natsuyagi and Otani) live on a farm with their son Yoichi (Murakami) and his wife Izumi (Kagurazaka) near Ohara town in Nagashima prefecture.

 The Land of Hope Ono and Suzuki Families

It is a peaceful place whose only claim to fame is the nearby Nagashima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Yasuhiko’s days are spent farming land owned by his family for generations, taking care of Chieko who suffers dementia and talking with the neighbouring Suzuki family made up of father Ken (Denden), mother Meiko (Tsutsui), son Mitsuru (Shimizu) and his girlfriend Yoko (Kajiwara). 

Continue reading “The Land of Hope 希望の国 (2012)”

The Twilight Samurai たそがれ清兵衛 (2002)

Genki Jason The Twilight Samurai Review Banner

The Twilight Samurai                                     The Twilight Samurai Film Poster

Japanese Title: たそがれ 清兵衛

Romaji: Tasogare Seibei

Release Date: November 02nd, 2002 (Japan)

Running Time: 129 mins.

Director: Yoji Yamada

Writer: Yoji Yamada, Yoshitaka Asama (Screenplay), Shuuhei Fujisawa (Novels)

Starring: Hiroyuki Sanada, Rie Miyazawa, Nenji Kobayashi, Ren Osugi, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Min Tanaka, Miko Ito, Reiko Kusamura, Setsuko Tanaka, Erina Hashiguchi, Keiko Kishi, Hiroshi Kanbe, Tetsuro Tanba, Kanako Fukaura, Atsushi Maeda

When the film opens we catch things in media res, a funeral taking place, a family mourning. A narrator, an old woman, chimes in, “After a long illness my mother died when I was five.” We discover that she is the young girl in the opening scene, her name is Ito and she is the daughter of a samurai named Seibei Iguchi (Sanada).

It is a time of famine and tumult. The end of the samurai era is in sight and we are The Twilight Samurai Seibei (Sanada) and His Girlsnearing the beginning of the Meiji restoration. Not that this matters to Seibei as taking care of his sick wife, two daughters and a senile mother and then paying for an elaborate funeral for said wife has left him in debt. As a result he spends a lot of time wielding a hoe instead of a sword and constructs insect cages to sell. Whenever he finishes work in the castle store house and is asked to go for a drink by co-workers Iguchi turns the offer down as he has to hurry home to look after his family, earning him the nickname Twilight Seibei (Tasogare Seibei). Not that he minds as he has lost his taste for combat and values time spent with his family.

A chance encounter with his good friend Michinojo Iinuma (Fukikoshi), who is back from a visit to Edo on clan matters, brings news that Seibei’s childhood love, Iinuma’s sister Tomoe (Miyazawa), is divorcing her husband Toyotaro (Osugi), a mean drunk who beats her. Tomoe pays Seibei a visit and it is clear that Tomoe harbours feelings for him just like he does for her. She is a natural with Seibei’s girls Ito and Kayano and brings life to his house. Tomoe’s ex Toyotaro finds it unacceptable that he is being divorced and feels humiliated so he threatens Tomoe. Seibei defends her honour and accepts a challenge to a duel with Toyotaro the next day. He easily beats his opponent and word of Seibei’s skills with the short-sword travels. It soon proves to be an asset for a faction in the clan who ask him to settle a matter of great importance. The task goes against Seibei’s new peaceful lifestyle and puts his role as a father at risk but he cannot duck his responsibility as a samurai and it may get him out of debt and even offer him a shot at winning Tomoe.

Continue reading “The Twilight Samurai たそがれ清兵衛 (2002)”

Himizu UK Theatrical Release

Third Window Films is releasing Himizu in selected cinemas across the UK today with screenings in London’s ICA, Prince Charles, Renoir and Riverside Studios cinemas. There will also be showings in Wales at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre from the 11th to the 13th of June, Ireland at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin from the 22nd of June until the 28th, and Scotland at the Eden Court Cinema in Inverness from the 31st of June to the 02nd of August. For a full list of sites and dates check the this page at Third Window Films.

Himizu        Himizu Poster

Release Date: 01st June (UK Theatrical Release), 14th January 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: 129 mins.

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono (script adaptation), Minoru Furuya (manga)

Starring: Shota Sometani, Fumi Nikaidō, Tetsu Watanabe, Denden, Jun Murakami, Makiko Watanabe, Ken Mitsuishi, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Megumi Kagurazaka, Asuka Kurosawa, Taro Suwa, Yosuke Kubozuka Keisuke Horibe, Takahiro Nishijima

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.

Sion Sono (Cold Fish, Exte, Love Exposure) is a favourite director of mine so when Third Window Films announced that they were had acquired the rights to Himizu I was excited to say the least. Then I saw it and was blown away. This is one of the most powerful films to come out of Japan recently and so I urge anybody who has an interest in Japanese films or films in general to go and see it!

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)”