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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Eyes of the Spider 蜘蛛の瞳 (1998)

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I’m a big Kiyoshi Kurosawa fan but when Third Window Films announced they had two Japanese films made by Kurosawa in the 90’s I had no idea what they could be and I had little to guide me but posters and a brief plot synopsis. Less than a year on from that announcement and Third Window Films has released the two films in a set. I have watched them and I have to admit that these are two of the finest crime films I have seen.

The films originate from a single offer. Kurosawa was offered the chance to make two low-budget V-cinema films in two weeks with the same cast and so he came up with Eyes of the Spider and Serpent’s Path. Both have many similarities not least the cast and story about a about a man seeking revenge for the murder of his daughter but the similarities end there as Kurosawa’s execution of both films differ. This review covers Eyes of the Spider.

Eyes of the Spider                              Eyes of the Spider Poster

Japanese Title: 蜘蛛 の 瞳

Romaji: Kumo no Hitomi

Release Date:  February 21st, 1998 (Japan)

Running Time: 83 mins.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer:  Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Starring: Sho Aikawa, Dankan, Ren Osugi, Sadao Abe, Susumu Terajima, Moe Sakura, Kumi Nakamura, Satoshi Kajiwara, Shun Sugata

When we first see Nijima (Aikawa) we find him in the process of taking vengeance.

Eyes of the Spider Nijima (Aikawa) and the Murderer

He has kidnapped the person who murdered his daughter Mitsuko six years ago. After taking revenge. Nijima cannot adjust to normal life with his wife Noriko and is unsettled, life has lost its meaning and he’s haunted by his actions. Then he runs into Iwamatsu (Dankan), an old friend from high school.

 Eyes of the Spider Nijima (Aikawa) and Iwamatsu (Dankan) Meet

Iwamatsu offers Nijima a job. Iwamatsu runs what he calls an “import and export” business from a warehouse stacked with empty boxes and toys. This is a front for a kidnapping business overseen by a larger yakuza clan, where he and his three employees kidnap and murder to order.  

It’s an intriguing job offer for Nijima who finds that he has a talent for the job and enjoys exercising it. But when he is approached by Naomi (Osugi), the gangster who oversees his small band of kidnappers, he finds out that he may be being double-crossed. 

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Heat After Dark

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Heat After Dark                                     Heat After Dark Film Poster

Japanese Title: Heat After Dark

Romaji: N/A

Release Date: 1997 (Japan)

Running Time: 50 mins.

Director: Ryuhei Kitamura

Writer: Ryuhei Kitamura (Screenplay)

Starring: Atsuro Watabe, Kazuma Suzuki, Shigeru Izumiya, Toshiyuki Kitami, Masami Miyata, Shinichi Suzuki, Shun Sugata

Heat After Dark was a random purchase I made alongside another Yakuza film, Onibi: The Fire Within. I had no idea what it was about, just that it starred Atsuro Watabe from Love Exposure and it was the theatrical debut of Ryuhei Kitamura, director of the cult favourite yakuza/zombie film Versus.

In the opening sequence all we can see is a low shot of two men from the knees down as a man named Reiji (Watabe) walks into a bar. This could be the start of a joke… Reiji is meeting his friend Goto (Suzuki). After some small talk Goto says, “I killed someone.”

There is a brief pause.

“Very funny,” Reiji says.

“He’s over there,” Goto replies thinly. Reiji turns and a body is revealed slumped against the bar. Goto had borrowed 20 billion yen from the dead man who is the leader of a Yakuza gang and Goto needs Reiji to help him dispose of the body and so they head to Yakeyama, a place about to be flooded because a dam is being built. However the tunnel to their destination is chained shut and a police officer is hovering around.

Atsuro Watabe as Reiji and Kazuma Suzuki as Goto looking at a corpse in Heat After Dark

Two young guys in suits with a flashy foreign car out in the middle of nowhere? That strikes him as highly suspicious. “Do you have something to hide?” he asks.

Reiji is forced to open the trunk. But there is no body! Suddenly Goto charges down the tunnel and into an abandoned factory surrounded by verdant grasslands and streams. As they rush into the area a gunshot strikes Reiji on the crown of the head. There is another gangster (Izumiya) and it turns out he is selling guns to a gang and that the real reason for Goto being there is to kill this gangster who betrayed him before the deal goes down!

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Tokyo Gore Police 東京残酷警察 (2008)

Police Announcer in Tokyo Gore Police

Director Yoshihiro Nishimura has a background in special effects and make up and Tokyo Gore Police shows off his love for these elements.

In near-future Japan the Tokyo Police force have been privatised and have to meet a new threat bringing violence to the streets: Engineers. These are genetically altered humans who can withstand excessive violence and sprout weapons from wounds. Leading the Engineers is the mysterious Keyman (Itsuji Itao). Leading the police fight back is ace Engineer hunter Ruka (Eihi Shiina), daughter of a murdered policeman who was against the privatisation of the police. Little does Ruka know the connection between herself, her father and Keyman but it will rock the foundations of Tokyo and its new police force.

The Privatised Police in Tokyo Gore Police Tokyo Gore Police is a wonderfully trashy film but very undisciplined. The world created is an extreme future where everything including compensated dating, suicide and extreme violence are privatised and made commercial as demonstrated by the numerous satirical ads throughout the film like this amusing wrist-cutting one.

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