From its origins as shorts Takashi Shimizu made for Kansai TV’s 1998 Haunted School G series to his low-budget V-Cinema debut to becoming a banner title during the J-horror boom, the Ju-On franchise has shown a considerable lifespan with around ten Japanese feature films, four American adaptations, numerous novelisations, and a Nintendo Wii video game.
Key to its success was the elegant simplicity of the structure of the initial films: each is structured as a series of vignettes featuring people entering a haunted house and getting cursed to be tormented the resident ghosts of Kayako and her little boy Toshio. Tension ratchets up as the two make their presence felt in everyday environments. They slowly make offices and hallways and even beds alien through their manipulations, before pulling off some shocking (and genuinely surprising) coup de graces, often with the scare delivered with just a simple switch in camera angle and an actor contorting themselves in some way.
Nobuhiro Yamashita is a director who has a particular forte for downbeat stories, whether they are slacker comedies or dramas, most of which contain misanthropic and misaligned characters who make for uncomfortable yet interesting leads (think The Drudgery Train). Here, he adapts an obscure manga from the early 90s by writer Marley Carib and illustrator Takashi Imashiro where the characters and the story are sometimes bizarre, sometimes sorrowful but secretly gentle, all of which plays out in a slow and uneven story.
Starring: Miyuki Oshima, Asami Mizukawa, YosiYosi Arakawa, Kami Miraiwa, Yuuki Tokunaga, Mei Kurokawa, Maho Yamada, Takeshi Yamamoto, Kanji Furutachi,
Director Yosuke Fujita has taken nearly a decade to follow up his debut film, the marvellous low-key comedy Fine, Totally Fine(2008), with another feature film. In the time between the two he has been making short films (including the Cheer Girls entry in Quirky Guys & Gals) and a TV movie. Fujita also spent this time crafting the screenplay for Fuku-chan which, like his first film, is equally filled with eccentric and loveable characters’. Fujita’s inspiration for the film was the comedian Miyuki Oshima, a regular face on Japanese television, and he challenges her to take on the role of a guy with a fear of women who audiences will surely come to love.
Tatsuo Fukuda (Oshima) is a nice guy and has the nickname ‘Fuku-Chan’.
The final film I saw at the Terracotta Far East Film Festival 2014 was the international premiere of Judge! and it was a fantastic way to finish the event. Akira Nagai flew in to introduce the film and even took the time to talk to me.
Taking a break from an award-winning career in a Tokyo-based advertising company, director Akira Nagai makes his feature film debut with the 2014 comedy Judge! Both Akira Nagai and writer Yoshimitsu Sawamoto have careers in advertising which they both draw on to make a sleek, light-hearted, and hilarious satire on the international ad industry which made me roar with laughter.
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!
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
Japanese Title: 天地 明察
Romaji: Tenchi Meisatsu (Tenchi: The Samurai Astronomer)
ReleaseDate: 15th September 2012 (Japan)
RunningTime: 141 mins.
Director: Yojiro Takita
Writer: Tow Ubukata (Novel), Masato Kato, Yojiro Takita (Script)
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.
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 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 Fine, Quirky 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
Japanese Title: ライク サムワン イン ラブ
Romaji: Raiku Samuwan In Rabu
ReleaseDate: 15th September 2012 (Japan)
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.
For a title Fine, Totally Fine sounds like damning with faint praise but don’t be fooled because the film is a relaxing and charming tale of people forced to grow that will have you recognising much of yourself in the characters and feeling refreshed.
Teruo (Arakawa) lives at home with his heart-sick used bookstore owner father named Eitaro (Kanie). Teruo is nearing his 30th birthday and when not working as a part time gardener he spends his days aimlessly dreams of building a haunted house which he hopes will be able to “scare people to death” and secure him riches. His childhood friend Hisanobu (Okada) may have a respectable job as a hospital administrator but he still helps Teruo in his childish schemes, however his enthusiasm is waning since he feels his life is stuck in a rut. He is not the only one as Eitaro ups and leaves Tokyo so he can roam the country which leaves Teruo and his sister stunned. Enter clumsy artist Akari (Kimura). She has a love for fish paste sausages and painting but she also has a ‘negative aura’ which results in self-injury. When she attends a job interview at the hospital Hisanobu works at he falls in love with her and when her accident-prone nature forces her to quit Hisanobu snags her a job at Teruo’s bookstore while trying to channel Akari’s artistic talents. Unfortunately for Hisanobu, Teruo falls for Akari, regarding her as his future wife and looking for a way to woo her but life is not that simple.
Yosuke Fujita’s is a writer and theatre director and this is his movie debut. The time spent on stage and script seems to have armed him perfectly for his debut film because the insights into human nature are sharp and delivered amid moments of gentle but highly amusing humour.