Zero Focus ゼロの焦店 (2009)

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Zero Focus                                            

Japanese Title: ゼロの焦店

Romaji: Zero no Shoten       Zero Focus Film Poster

Release Date: November 14th, 2009

Running Time: 131 mins.

Director: Isshin Inudo

Writer: Seicho Matsumoto (Novel), Isshin Inudo, Kenji Nakazono (Screenplay)

Starring: Ryoko Hirosue, Miki Nakatani, Tae Kimura, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Takeshi Kaga, Tetta Sugimoto, Hiromi Sakimoto, Toru Nomaguchi, Fukumi Kuroda, Hirotaro Honda, Hana Matsumoto, Yoshie Ichige, Shunta Watanabe, Kansai Eto

The final film I saw at the Japan Foundation’s Touring Film Programme was the sold out screening of Zero Focus where the film’s director Isshin Inudo was present and gave an enlightening Q&A at the end (and I had my picture taken with him!). Part of the reason for my selection is because I like a good mystery but I had no idea how popular the source novel was in Japan. Lengthy review with some slight spoilers.

Sadako (Hirosue) has just married Kenichi Ubara (Nishijma) after meeting him through a matchmaker. The two know little about each other apart from surface details like the fact that she can read and write English and adores the classic English novel Jane Eyre and he enjoys swimming, he was wounded in war and now works for Toyo Advertising and is stationed in Kanazawa in the snowy north of the country. His marriage means that he asks for a transfer back to Tokyo. Despite not knowing each other they feel comfortable together and look forward to starting a new life.

1 week later, December 01st, 1957

Zero Focus Bye Kenichi (Nishijima) Hellooo Sadako (Ryoko Hirosue)

Sadako is at Ueno Station with Kenichi. He must depart for Kanazawa to wrap up his business dealings and pass on contracts to his replacement. “It’s only a week,” he assures her but he never returns. He just vanishes.

Against the advice of her brother-in-law Sotaro (Sugimoto), Sadako heads to Kanazawa where Kenichi’s replacement Yoshio Honda (Nomaguchi) guides her around a town which undergoing tumultuous political changes thanks to a woman named Sachiko Murota (Nakatani) the wife of a powerful industrialist named Gisaku (Kaga). Zero Focus Sachiko Murota (Mikitani) and Her HusbandSachiko is helping a woman become the first female mayor of the city. With her organisational skills, money and her influence it could happen. Sadako approaches Sachiko for help when she learns that her husband once worked with Kenichi. Sachiko and her husband Gisaku comply but they seem to be hiding something.

Whilst at Murota’s company, Sadako encounters a receptionist named Hisako Tanuma (Kimura) who seems to act oddly around her and has poor secretarial skills. As Sadako meets these people she learns that they are connected to Kenichi in more ways than she could ever have imagined and she knew so little about him.

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Key of Life 鍵泥棒のメソッド (2012)

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Key of Life                                                        Key of Life Movie Poster

Japanese Title: 鍵 泥棒 の メソッド

Romaji: Kagi Dorobou no Mesoddo

Release Date:  15th September 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: 128 mins.

Director: Kenji Uchida

Writer: Kenji Uchida

Starring: Masato Sakai, Teruyuki Kagawa, Ryoko Hirosue, YosiYosi Arakawa, Yoko Moriguchi

This was the second film I saw at the 56th BFI London Film Festival after The Wolf Children. While I was familiar with the actors involved I had little knowledge about the director or his past works other than the fact that they are considered extremely funny. I selected this as one of my festival picks because I was willing to bet that with its excellent cast it was going to be extremely funny. Thankfully I was right! 

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Insight into the Universe, Vampire, Key of Life, Like Someone in Love Trailers and the Japanese Movie Box Office Chart

Maharu from Steins;GateThis week I previewed the BFI London Film Festival and detailed some of the movies I will be seeing. I also started my Shinya Tsukamoto Season which is ahead of digitally re-mastered re-release of Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Tetsuo: Body Hammer. I then celebrated my birthday by being stuck in work all day and I banged my head on a museum exhibit (I did get lots of cards and two cakes and I talked all day to a Chinese girl about Kanji/Hanzi) before I reviewed Tetsuo: The Iron Man and was stunned at the brilliant use of cinematic technique and imagination in Tsukamoto’s landmark film. If you consider yourself a cinephile get this movie!

What changes have happened with the Japanese movie box office charts?

  1. Bayside Shakedown 4: The Final New Hope
  2. Rurouni Kenshin
  3. Dear
  4. The Avengers
  5. Prometheus
  6. Safe House
  7. Dreams for Sale
  8. Akko-chan: The Movie
  9. Intouchables
  10. The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki
  11. Umizaru 4: Brave Hearts

The massively popular Bayside Shakedown series has released its final movie and it has taken the top spot. It was released last week alongside the critically acclaimed (okay, the Japan Times gave it an excellent write-up) Dreams for Sale (soon to be seen at the London Film Festival) which has taken the number seven spot. Rurouni Kenshin drops into second place in its third week while Dear, with all its star power, climbs up to three. The Wolf Children Rain and Snow and Umizaru 4 hold on at ten and eleven after earning insane amounts of money.

What Japanese films are getting released today?

Insight into the Universe               Insight into the Universe Movie Poster                                                             

Japanese Title: 天地 明察

Romaji: Tenchi Meisatsu (Tenchi: The Samurai Astronomer)

Release Date:  15th September 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: 141 mins.

Director: Yojiro Takita

Writer: Tow Ubukata (Novel), Masato Kato, Yojiro Takita (Script)

Starring: Junichi Okada, Ennosuke Ichikawa, Aoi Miyazaki, Ryuta Sato, Koshiro Matsumoto

An adaptation of Tow Ubukata’s novel about a samurai who makes a calendar… Sounds boring unless you have a thing for maths/physics but since Tow Ubukata is the man behind Mardock Scramble and Le Chevalier D’Eon, the latter is a supernatural take on European history and is pretty good (I’m four episodes from the end). Also of interest is the crew behind the film including the director Yojiro Takita who directed the brilliant Departures (his early career is littered with awful sounding pink films) with a cast that includes Junichi Okada of the J-pop idol group V6 and lead in Tokyo Tower and From Up on Poppy Hill, with the main female role played by Aoi Miyazaki who starred in Eureka which I still need to watch… Music comes from Joe Hisaishi who has worked on many of Studio Ghibli’s films and produced the magnificent OST’s for Takeshi Kitano’s films!

Yasui Santetsu (Okada) is the son of a samurai class family known for its prowess at the board game go but he is a rebel and would rather solve math puzzles and observe the sky at night! He has many friends with who share his enthusiasms including Seki Takakazu (Ichikawa), math instructor Murase Gieki (Sato) and his sister En (Miyazaki). When a clan lord named Hoshina Masayuki (Matsumoto) appoints him to an expedition to map Japan using the North Star as a guide he discovers that the current calendar does not accurately predict the eclipse of the moon and it may not be keeping time as well as believed.


Vampire                                                                     Vampire Movie Poster

Japanese Title: ヴァンパイア

Romaji: Vampaia

Release Date:  15th September 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: N/A

Director: Shunji Iwai

Writer: Shunji Iwai

Starring: Yū Aoi,Kevin Zegers, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Adelaide Clemens, Travor Morgan, Amanda Plummer, Kristin Kreuk, Rachael Leigh Cook

The beautiful and talented Yū Aoi is back with Shunji Iwai who gave her her big break in his 2001 film All About Lily Chou-Chou (a beautiful OST and emotionally draining). Since then she has starred in Hula Girls, Tekkon Kinkreet and Rurouni Kenshin. She is surrounded by a diverse cast in terms of experience – Amanda Plummer (Pulp Fiction), Kristin Kreuk (Smallville) and Adelaida Clemens (soon to be seen in the forthcoming Silent Hill Revelation 3D). It sounds a lot like George A. Romero’s Martin mixed with Lily Chou-Chou. This is Iwai’s English language debut and it premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, where, according to Wildground, it received harsh reviews.

Simon (Zegers) is a high school biology teacher and a serial killer who preys on suicidal girls who are drawn to him and let him feast on their blood. To find the girls he searches for are on suicide websites and he portrays himself as an equally suicidal chap who will perform double-suicide with them but he has no intention of ending his own life and so he carries on with his evil escapades. But the police are tracking him.



Key of Life                                                        Key of Life Movie Poster

Japanese Title: 鍵 泥棒 の メソッ

Romaji: Kagi Dorobou no Meoddo

Release Date:  15th September 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: 128 mins.

Director: Kenji Uchida

Writer: Kenji Uchida

Starring: Masato Sakai, Teruyuki Kagawa, Ryoko Hirosue, YosiYosi Arakawa, Yoko Moriguchi

Key of Life is one of the films I will see at the BFI London Film Festival and I am so excited at the prospect of seeing this comedy primarily because ofthe all-star cast which includes Teruyuki Kagawa (Tokyo Sonata), Masato Sakai (Sky High, The Samurai that Night), Ryoko Hirosue (Depatures), YosiYosi Arakawa (Fine, Totally FineQuirky Guys & Girls), and Yoko Moriguchi (Casshern).


Sakurai (Kondo) is an aspiring but unsuccessful actor who has recently attempted suicide but is unsuccessful at that. He decides to head to a local bathhouse to ease his suffering and whilst there he witnesses a stranger in the neighbourhood named Kondo (Kagawa) who slips and knocks himself unconscious. Sakurai takes advantage of this and helps himself to Kondo’s locker key. He loots Kondo’s belongings and assumes his identity which is a pretty bad idea considering that Kondo is an assassin working for a yakuza. For his part Kondo wakes up in hospital minus his memory and so assumes Sakurai’s life as an actor but applies his dedicated nature to the craft while trying to recover his memory.


Like Someone in Love                                       Like Someone in Love Poster

Japanese Title: ライク サムワン イン ラブ

Romaji: Raiku Samuwan In Rabu

Release Date: 15th September 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: N/A

Director: Abbas Kiarostami

Writer: Abbas Kiarostami

Starring: Rin Takanashi, Tadashi Okuno, Denden, Ryo Kase

The film was released in Cannes where it met so-so reviews. The cast includes Rin Takanashi who starred in Goth: Love of Death, Denden who stars in Cold Fish and Himizu and Ryo Kase who is in  SPEC: The Movie which is hanging on in the Japanese charts. Kiarostami has previously won big at Cannes by taking the Palme d’Or for Taste of Cherry in 1997.

A young female student named Akiko (Rin Takanashi) works as a prostitute to pay off her univeisty fees. One of her clients is an elderly academic (Tadashi Okuno) who is fond of her. Soon a relationship develops between the two.

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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.


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