The Actor 俳優亀岡拓 Dir: Satoko Yokohama (2016)

The Actor

The Actor Film Poster俳優亀岡拓次 「Haiyuu Kameoka Takuji」

Release Date: January 30th, 2016

Duration: 123 mins.

Director: Satoko Yokohama

Writer: Satoko Yokohama (Screenplay), Akito Inui (Original Novel)

Starring: Ken Yasuda, Kumiko Aso, Shohei Uno, Yoshiko Mita, Shota Sometani, Hirofumi Arai, Youki Kudoh,

Website    IMDB

It is fair to say that most people go into acting with the expectation that they will be cast in a leading role at some point. However, not everyone can be centre stage and some are relegated to a career of supporting roles. In a profession where acting in the limelight is what actors pursue, how does being in the shadows feel? This is a question that the titular actor, Takuji Kameoka, faces when a mid-career crisis meets an existential crisis as he takes stock of his life in this melancholy comedy, or should that be, melancomedy.

Takuji Kameoka (Ken Yasuda) is a lonely thirty-something bachelor who plays bit-parts in movies and dramas. His only interest outside of cinema is drinking. One day, on a shoot in snowy Nagano, he gets drunk and sadder than usual at an izakaya where a woman named Azumi Murota (Kumiko Aso) runs the bar in her father’s stead. Takuji and Azumi talk while sharing saké. He quietly falls in love with her and it happens just at the point he begins to wonder if he will ever be the leading man in his own life and in the acting profession.

Continue reading “The Actor 俳優亀岡拓 Dir: Satoko Yokohama (2016)”

The Virgin Psychics 映画みんな!エスパーだよ Dir: Sion Sono (2015)

The Virgin Psychics    The Virgin Psychics Film Poster

映画みんな!エスパーだよ「Eiga Minna! Esupa- Dayo!」

Release Date: September 04th, 2015

Duration: 114 mins.

Director: Sion Sono,

Writer: Sion Sono, Shinichi Tanaka (Screenplay), Kiminori Wakasugi (Original Manga),

Starring:  Shota Sometani, Elaiza Ikea, Erina Mano, Makita Sports, Anna Konno, Motoki Fukami, Ai Shinozaki, Tokio Emoto, Megumi Kagurazaka,

Website IMDB

This is directed by Sion Sono one of the world’s great contemporary directors who built a career on existential drama/horror like Suicide CircleStrange Circus, and Noriko’s Dinner Table. 2015 saw the release of six of his films, three of which were froma  franchise including this one. This is based on a TV dorama that is based on a manga written by Kiminori Wakasugi, creator of the hilarious Detroit Metal City. After a first viewing I was tempted to write it off as an insincere cash-in on a smutty comic book and Tenga sex toys but I will be generous and say that the film is an unashamed celebration of raging hormones and naive love (as well as Tenga sex toys) wrapped up in a knowingly stupid story.

We’re not watching Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, we’re watching the misadventures of Yoshiro “Yocchan” Kamogawa (Shota Sometani), ordinary (virgin) high school boy in Toyohashi. It is a city with more good-looking women than anywhere else in the world, apparently, but he can’t get laid because he’s a bit of a nerd. He finds his life literally changes overnight when he wakes up with the ability to read other people’s minds. Sounds awesome! But he cannot use it effectively since he is caught up in an obsession with the idea that a classmate named Sae (Erina Mano) is his destined girl. He has a dream that they formed a mental connection while their mothers sat next to each other in the hospital when they were both still in the womb. Destiny does seem to have a hand in their meeting because she is the daughter of a travelling scientist (Ken Yasuda) who is in town to discover psychics!

Continue reading “The Virgin Psychics 映画みんな!エスパーだよ Dir: Sion Sono (2015)”

And Your Bird Can Sing きみの鳥はうたえる Dir: Sho Miyake (2018) [Japan Cuts 2019]

And Your Bird Can Sing   Kimi no tori wa utaeru Film Poster

きみの鳥はうたえる Kimi no tori wa utaeru

Release Date: September 01st, 2018

Duration: 119 mins.

Director: Sho Miyake

Writer: Sho Miyake (Screenplay), Yasushi Sato (Novel)

Starring: Shota Sometani, Tasuku Emoto, Shizuka Ishibashi, Makiko Watanabe, Ai Yamamoto,

Website IMDB

Film adaptations of stories by the writer Yasushi Sato have slowly been made over the last decade with Sketches of Kaitan City (2010) by director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri, Mipo Oh’s The Light Shines Only There (2014) and Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Over the Fence (2016) joined by Sho Miyake’s And Your Bird Can Sing which premiered at the 2018 Tokyo International Film Festival. All are set in the author’s native city of Hakodate in the north of Japan and all centre on the lives of working-class people, showing them with subtle shades of sadness in slow moving dramas struck through with moments of beauty for some uplift. And Your Bird Can Sing is the least dramatic of the bunch but no less engaging.  

The film takes place over one summer in Hakodate and follows an unnamed protagonist (Tasuku Emoto), simply referred to as “Me” in the credits. He is a freeter who works at a bookstore while sharing an apartment with his unemployed friend, Shizuo (Shota Sometani). They pass their time together drinking from dusk until dawn and shambling home in a fit of giggles after some mild caper. “Me” will frequently roll into work with a hangover while Shizuo will potter around during the day in anticipation of the night to come which promises a repeat of their antics. They are young, aimless and content. However, their lethargic days are shaken when “Me” begins dating his co-worker Sachiko (Shizuka Ishibashi). Independent and quietly rebellious, she is attracted to “Me” and his laid back nature. Curiosity turns into companionship as she gets roped into his hang-about life and meets Shizuo.

For “Me” and Sachiko the future appears so far off as to be inconsequential especially with more immediate pleasures at hand which consist long nights spent bopping to beats in clubs or slipping in and out of a lover’s embrace but change will happen because there is an ever so gentle forward motion to the story driven by Shizuo’s growing attraction to Sachiko. Sho Miyake’s camerawork loves Shizuka Ishibashi’s spirited performance as she slinks and grooves through scenes and she imbues a liveliness to her character which naturally holds the attention of the audience as well as other characters, Shizuo especially as his snatched glances and side-eyed stares segue into touchy-feely interactions during their many trips to karaoke bars and clubs.

“Me” seems to just accept the situation with indifference but the subtle shifting of emotions presages bigger changes as the three friends start to slowly slip away from each other at a time when employment and family pressures mount and provide unwelcome pricks of reality that let the air out of the snug and comfortable world they created. Responsibilities avoided come crashing down and it seems like the fun is over as the story forces them to reassess their situation and recognise a general malaise they feel from having held life in stasis for some time. 

This is a soft drama rather than something hardscrabble, something that explores the harmony of companionship where the pace of the film is affected by the lifestyle of the three as they while away their time but the emotional fluctuations are there and they lurk under the surface of scenes, usually in subtle movements of the actors. When the pressure mounts, hints of nastiness emerge, Shota Sometani and Tasuku Emoto able to turn their character on a dime and launch into aggressiveness and then reveal a more sympathetic worry to add welcome layers of emotions to characters that initially just seem aimless. 

Sho Miyake chooses to use this slow pace to delicately tease out the changes felt between these people in moments of low drama so the film ends up feeling like a tender and caring examination of characters preparing to face complicated feelings rather than something harsher as experienced in other adaptations of Yasushi Sato’s work. Miyake probably captures the freeter lifestyle accurately as he respects and translates the pleasures of their lives, shooting everything with a pleasant light, often during dusk and dawn, giving the image a quality that softens everything and renders their activities and the city of Hakodate more beautiful than it could possibly be in reality. Reality can be harsh but there is some hope at the end of this film as they have to leave behind their freeter lifestyles. As much as they like hanging out, at some point the party has to end but who will leave with the girl…?

 

My review for this film was originally published on July 21st at VCinema

Samurai Marathon  サムライマラソン Dir: Bernard Rose (2019) [New York Asian Film Festival 2019]

Samurai Marathon 

サムライマラソン Samurai MarasonSamurai Marathon Film Poster

Duration: 104 mins.

Release Date: February 22nd, 2019

Director:  Bernard Rose

Writer: Hiroshi Saito, Kikumi Yamagishi Bernard Rose (Screenplay), Akihiro Dobashi (Original Novel)

Starring: Takeru Satoh, Shota Sometani, Mirai Moriyama, Nana Komatsu, Munetaka Aoki, Hiroki Hasegawa, Etsushi Toyokawa, Naoto Takenaka, Danny Huston, Junko Abe, Mugi Kadowaki, Mariko Tsutsui,

Website IMDB

Every May in Annaka city, Gunma Prefecture, a marathon is held that claims to be the oldest in Japan. Its origins can be traced back to when Commodore Perry arrived off the coast of the country in 1854 with his black ships and, through threat of aggression, ended 260 years of Japan’s self-imposed isolation. Leaders across the land reacted differently to his arrival. One cautious feudal lord, Katsuaki Itakura of the Annaka clan, tested the abilities of his samurai by holding a marathon. This story is brought to life by British director Bernard Rose – famous for Candyman (1992) – who worked from the novel “The Marathon Samurai: Five Tales of Japan’s First Marathon” by Akihiro Dobashi. The resulting film, Samurai Marathon will sweep audiences away in its neatly executed adventure that, once it gets running, provides plenty of action and amusement.

The film’s set-up is a sprint to get everyone to the starting line. Opening with the arrival of Commodore Perry (Danny Huston) and his treaty demands it dashes into Katsuaki Itakura’s (Hiroki Hasegawa) organising a marathon 36 miles long to toughen up his warriors in mind and body for potential attacks from foreigners. The promise of a wish being granted to the winner is the motivation for the ensemble of runners which consists of fighting men of all stripes from lower-class spear-men like Hironoshi Uesugi (Shota Sometani), who dreams of being raised to the status of a higher-class samurai, an aged samurai recently put out to pasture named Mataemon Kurita (Naoto Takenaka), to the chief retainer’s son, Heikuro Tsujimura (Mirai Moriyama) who wants to marry Itakura’s daughter Princess Yuki (Nana Komatsu). All are vying to win and all are introduced quickly as are the people connected to them such as wives and children. By the time we get to the starting line at the 40-minute mark we get a vertical view of samurai society and become connected to characters who are all distinctly sketched.

Continue reading “Samurai Marathon  サムライマラソン Dir: Bernard Rose (2019) [New York Asian Film Festival 2019]”

The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan    泣き虫しょったんの奇跡 Dir: Toshiaki Toyoda (2018) [Japan Cuts 2019]

The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan   The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan Film Poster

泣き虫しょったんの奇跡 Nakimushi Shottan no Kiseki

Release Date: September 07th, 2018

Duration: 127 mins.

Director: Toshiaki Toyoda

Writer: Ayako Kato (Screenplay), Shoji Segawa (Autobiographical Novel)

Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Yojiro Noda, Shota Sometani, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Takako Matsu, Kiyohio Shibukawa, Kaoru Kobayashi, Jun Miho, Jun Kunimura, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Itsuji Itao, Shizuka Ishibashi, Issey Ogata, Kento Nagayama,

Website IMDB

Considering Toshiaki Toyoda made his entry into Japanese films with low-budget punk titles about outsiders like Pornostar (1998) seeing him take on a film about shogi, or Japanese chess, is something of a surprise until you find out that he initially trained in shogi as a child. That, and the lead character of this biopic, the titular crybaby Shoji (Shottan) Segawa, was an outsider and trailblazer himself when he became a shogi professional well past the age when it is acceptable.

Continue reading “The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan    泣き虫しょったんの奇跡 Dir: Toshiaki Toyoda (2018) [Japan Cuts 2019]”

That’s It  それだけ Dir: Gakuryu Ishii (2015)

That’s It   

Soredake That's It Film Poster
Soredake That’s It Film Poster

それだけ 「Sore dake」

Release Date: May 27th, 2015

Running Time: 110 mins.

Director: Gakuryu Ishii

Writer: Kiyotaka Inagaki (Screenplay),

Starring: Shota Sometani, Erina Mizuno, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Jun Murakami, Gou Ayano,

Website   IMDB

Gakuryu Ishii loves punk music and this film was inspired by the 1999 song “Sore dake” by Japanese rock band Bloodthirsty Butchers. The rest of the band’s music is also featured in the film which was released on May 27, 2015, two years to the day the Bloodthirsty Butchers’ lead singer Hideki Yoshimura died. With lyrics and chords adding to the energy of the proceedings, this is a shot of urban punk action with echoes of films from director Gakuryu’s earlier career.

Continue reading “That’s It  それだけ Dir: Gakuryu Ishii (2015)”

Parks Film Review パークス Dir: Natsuki Seta (2017) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2017 Review

Parks        

parks-film-poster-2
parks-film-poster-2

パークス Pa-kusu

Running Time: 118 mins.

Director:  Natsuki Seta

Writer: Natsuki Seta (Screenplay),

Starring: Ai Hashimoto, Mei Nagano, Shota Sometani, Shiro Sano, Reiya Masaki, Ryu Morioka, Shizuka Ishibashi,

Website IMDB

Tokyo is home to many world famous parks such as Yoyogi and Ueno but when I lived in the mega-metropolis I developed a soft spot for Inokashira Park out in the fashionable area of Kichijoji. It may not be as big as the others but I found it an equally wonderful serene green space with lots of interesting features. It recently reached its 100th anniversary and the film “Parks” was commissioned to commemorate the special occasion. Since parks are public spaces that invite a multitude of visitors who form their own stories and memories, the challenge of making a film about the park would be paring down a huge number of ideas and interpretations of the area into a coherent narrative but writer/director Natsuki Seta and her team have managed it by creating an off-beat and charming drama with music at its heart that spans the decades and fully encompasses why parks are treasured by so many people.

Continue reading “Parks Film Review パークス Dir: Natsuki Seta (2017) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2017 Review”

As the Gods Will 神さまの言うとおり Kami-sama no Iutoori (2014)

As the Gods Will      

As the Gods Will Film Poster 1
As the Gods Will Film Poster 1

Japanese: 神さまの言うとお

Romaji: Kami-sama no Iutoori

Release Date: November 15th, 2014 (Japan)

Running Time: 117 mins.

Director: Takashi Miike

Writer: Hiroyuki Yatsu (Screenplay), Muneyuki Kaneshiro, Akeji Fujimura (Original Manga)

Starring: Sota Fukushi, Hirona Yamazaki, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mio Yuki, Shota Sometani, Nao Omori, Lily Franky

Website

As the Gods Will is the big-budget adaptation of a horror-survival manga series written by Muneyuki Kaneshiro and illustrated by Akeji Fujimura. I picked up on it at the end of last year because it looked great and was directed by Takashi Miike who has gone back to his V-cinema horror/action roots as of late. The DVD/blu-ray was released at the end of May and I’m happy to report that this film doesn’t disappoint fans of Miike. The film is a star-studded affair with talented actors like Ryunosuke Kamiki, Shota Sometani, Lily Franky being led by Sota Fukushi in a tale about a bored schoolboy who wants a bit of excitement in his life and gets more than he bargained for.

Continue reading “As the Gods Will 神さまの言うとおり Kami-sama no Iutoori (2014)”

The Boy and the Beast Trailer

Yesterday it was announced that anime films Hana to Alice Satsujin JikenMiss Hokusai and The Boy and the Beast are set to be shown at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival (The Boy and the Beast is part of the Work in Progress section while Hana to Alice and Miss Hokusai are in Competition) ahead of their theatrical release in Japan in a few months’ time. The directors of the films are regulars of the festival, giving talks and getting awards. I have already written previews about Miss Hokusai and Hana to Alice (no reviews as yet) so that leaves The Boy and the Beast.

Bakemono no Ko Character Design Continue reading “The Boy and the Beast Trailer”

Third Window Films Releases Takashi Miike Film Lesson of Evil

Third Window Films will release Lesson of Evil on September 28th and I have had mine on pre-order since it became available on day one. I’ll wait until I get it before I review it but I am anticipating a barn-storming bit of entertainment. It’s a title I have kept track of ever since it played at the Rotterdam film festival and I was excited by the buzz because the reviews pointed to it as evidence that he was going back to his roots in gory horror and action titles and those are the films I first go to know him by. The film is based on a book written by Yusuke Kishi, an award winning novelist who specialises in horror and stars a lot of great actors.

Also, awesome DVD case!

Here are the release details:

LESSON OF EVIL

Lesson of Evil DVD Case

A film by Takashi Miike (Audition, 13 Assassins, For Love’s Sake)

Japan / 2012 / 129 Mins / In Japanese with English subtitles / Colour

Continue reading “Third Window Films Releases Takashi Miike Film Lesson of Evil”