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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Girls for Keeps, Kotsutsubo, My House, Still Human Beings Trailers and Japanese box-office Charts

The Cannes film festival is winding down and critical responses have been mixed for Japanese films. Abbas Kiarostami’s latest film, Like Someone in Love, has had prLike Someone in Love Posteraise for the performances of the actors (particularly the gorgeous Rin Takanashi) but the story with its ambiguous ending has upset many. Thankfully Takashi Miike rescued proceedings with Ai to Makoto. Also flying the flag for Japan was Koji Wakamatsu with his Mishima biopic which has garnered a good review (more on that tomorrow).  I also had the pleasure of seeing the Olympic Flame pass by and managed to get a picture of the young lady carrying it. And all of the sponsors. And the Metropolitan Police Escort.

What is dominating the Japanese movie box-office charts?

  1.  Dark Shadows
  2.  Thermae Romae
  3.  Sadako 3D
  4.  Space Brothers
  5.  Detective Conan: The Mystery of the Eleventh Striker

Tim Burton storms to the top of the charts of the charts as the newest entry at number one while familiar franchise entries make up the rest of the top ten. Thermae Romae is doing excellent business as it remains in the top three  for the fourth week in a row. Enough of that… what Japanese films get released today?

Girls for Keeps                                             Girls for Keeps Movie Poster

Japanese Title: ガールGaru

Release Date: 26th May 2012 (Japan)

Running Time: 124 mins.

Director: Yoshihiro Fukagawa

Writer: Hideo Okuda (Novel)  

Starring: Kumiko Aso, Karina, Yuka Itaya, Rei Dan, Rosa Kato, Michiko Kichise, Osamu Mukai, Yusuke Kamiji, Jun Kaname, Kento Hayashi, Eriko Hatsune, Mei Kurokawa, Kenichi Yajima

Based on the 2006 anthology novel Girl, the movie adapts a number of short stories that follow women in their romantic lives and so on. Obviously I’m not the target audience but I recognise a lot of the names involved: Kumiko Aso (Pulse), Yuka Itaya (Suvive Style 5+, Apartment 1303). Eriko Hatsune (Norwegian Wood, Spiral) head the list of beautiful ladies while the handsome men include Kento Hayashi (Arakawa Under the Bridge), Jun Kaname (Casshern), and Kenichi Yajia (Sonatine, Kamikaze Taxi).

 

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Starfish Hotel スターフィッシュホテル (2007)

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John Williams is a Briton making films in Japan. This is his third feature but it borrows so extensively from David Lynch and Haruki Murakami that it lacks a heart of its own.

Yuichi Arisu (Koichi Sato) is a salary man leading a bland existence with Chisato (Tae Kimura) his beautiful wife who finds him distant. His only joy is in the supernatural mystery novels of Jo Kuroda (Kazuyoshi Kushida) which are set in Darkland, a mysterious alternate universe. A series of coincidences turn Arisu’s life upside down; he meets a psychologically disturbed chap in rabbit costume named Mr. Trickster (Akira Emoto), Chisato disappears and, when he falls asleep on the underground, he finds himself in conversation with Kuroda who wants him to tell his story, a story of an affair with a beautiful and mysterious woman named Kayako (KIKI) which begins at the eponymous Starfish Hotel. As the story is revealed and he searches for Chisato, Arisu‘s reality, memories and nightmares begin to mix.

Starfish Hotel Follow the Rabbit on the Platform

If you are a fan of Haruki Murakami you can play spot the reference. A disappearing wife comes from The Windup Bird Chronicle. The mysterious hotel, alternate reality and weird animal-men can be found Dance, Dance, Dance. Throw in Alice in Wonderland and Lynchian alternate realities and you have a film beholden to its source material.

The film’s familiar story ransacks the personal life of Arisu. Prior to his wife’s disappearance he is living an existential nightmare as a simple office drone who takes refuge in different masks to avoid authenticity and responsibility for his actions. His life and his surroundings are sterile while he plays loyal salary-man.

Starfish Hotel Office Drone Arisu (Koichi Sato)

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Infection 感染 (2004)

The Review Header for the J-Horror Film InfectionJ-horror imagery has become so clichéd that Hollywood has appropriated it, parodied it and moved on. Infection is a nice surprise as it expands the territory of J-horror by adding psychological horror, neat set-pieces using the hospital and the green gloop of the infection itself.

Infection takes place over a single night in a failing hospital where the doctors are late getting paid, supplies are running out, nurses are quitting, and those that are staying are either inexperienced or so overworked they fall asleep standing up. There are a lot of neglected patients including one covered in bandages, a man in constant pain, a victim of a hit and run accident and a senile old woman who sees ghosts. Trying to hold things together is Doctor Akiba but when a patient with a mysterious infection appears and a fatal medical blunder occurs, events spiral out of control.

Doctor Akiba (Koichi Sato) in the J-Horror Film Infection          

Ochiai spends the first quarter creating a convincing and disconcerting sense of decay and claustrophobia in the hospital. The set is a lobby, some corridors and a few rooms which look run-down. The place is packed with a variety of patients with a variety of maladies that look difficult to treat. Equally varied are the hospital staff who look exhausted and, as the dialogue reveals, are pushed to the edge due to various crises and personal troubles.

Patients are mishandled and ignored while the staff members bicker amongst themselves, doctors upbraid the (foxy) nurses who bully less experienced (but equally foxy) nurses.

The Foxy Nurses in Infection

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