Results tagged “Japanese Cinema”

Book Review: Unchained Melody: The Films of Meiko Kaji by Tom Mes

A loving, informative reading on the films of a Japanese icon.
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You first notice the long, straight black hair. Then you see her body: thin, straight, erect. You look past the blade in her hand and gaze into those eyes. Those haunting, cold, beautiful, deadly eyes. This is Meiko Kaji, she’s a fanboy fantasy. A cult Japanese film star beloved by genre fans everywhere and muse to Quentin Tarantino. She starred in nearly 100 films in her long career but she’s best known for her role as the assassin in Lady Snowblood, the murderious Sasori from the Female Convict 701: Scorpion series and a rebel in the Stray Cat Rock films.

New Battles Without Honor and Humanity Blu-ray Box Set Review: Movies with Honor

Director Kinji Fukasaku and star Junta Sugawara team up again for more impressive results.
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That "New" in the title is your tip that these films are a continuation of a previous project. In this case, the "original" was a series of five interconnected yakuza films from the same director and star. The original films proved to be so popular upon their release in the early 1970s that Toei Studio begged the talent to come back for more, leading to this mid-'70s follow-up trilogy. Unlike their predecessors, each of the films in this trilogy are unrelated to each other, with the primary constants being the director, star, genre, and theme music. The titular first film

Hana-bi Blu-ray Review: Violence, Beauty, and Beautiful Violence

Takeshi Kitano’s first international success is unique, enigmatic and frequently beautiful.
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Off-beat and enigmatic, with a timeline that eschews strict linearity, Hana-bi (originally released in 1997 in the states as Fireworks) is a “cop movie” only insofar as the main characters are police officers, and there is violence between them and gangsters. The film’s main focus (without ever getting weepy or talky) is the response to grief and trauma - a response that includes robbing banks and shoving chopsticks into people’s eyes. Written, directed and edited by as well as starring Takeshi Kitano, Hana-bi follows detective Nishi, a man on the edge. His wife is sick, and his daughter has recently

New Battles Without Honor and Humanity: The Complete Trilogy Blu-ray Review: More Frenzied Yakuza Madness

Returning to his Yakuza series a whole six months after the last, Fukasaku covers similar ground, but finds new angles.
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Battles Without Honor and Humanity has been called the Japanese Godfather, and while it has some similarities (depicting daily life of gangsters, where formality and ritual places a veneer of civility on brutal criminality) it has a completely different tone. There's a sepia-tinged nostalgia to The Godfather, with Michael Corleone's rise in power and his subsequent decline in humanity looked on with a sense of tragedy. The Battles series, directed by Kinji Fukasaku and largely written by Kasahara Kazuo, was an intentional demystification of the yakuza. Gone are the stoic and honor-bound modern samurai of earlier yakuza films. In Battles,

Brutal Tales of Chivalry (1965) Blu-ray Review: Who Says Chivalry Is Dead?

The one and only Ken Takakura shows those young upstarts how to do it in this early yakuza offering from Toei and Twilight Time.
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Much like Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather would someday pave the way for jaw-droppingly violent cult classics like Massacre Mafia Style, Kiyoshi Saeki's 1965 yakuza gangster drama Shôwa zankyô-den (Showa Era Resistence) is essentially the less-exploitative precursor to Kinji Fukasaku's Battles Without Honor and Humanity. Shôwa zankyô-den ‒ hence referred to by its better-recognized English-language alias, Brutal Tales of Chivalry ‒ even stars the same amazing actor: the inimitable Ken Takakura. Here, Takakura-san plays Seiji, a World War II veteran who returns from the battle abroad only to find a new one brewing up at home. With the whole of

After the Storm Blu-ray Review: Human Drama is Equally Sad, Sweet

Japanese director Kore-Eda continues career-long streak of touching, humorous and very human dramas.
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The premise sounds like a high-concept, wacky comedy: down on his luck novelist and sometimes private detective follows around his ex-wife to keep tabs on her new boyfriend, while his aging mother engineers a scheme to get the two back together, for the sake of the couple's son. The lead actor even looks the part for broad physical comedy: at 6’2”, Hiroshi Abe literally stands out in any crowd in Japan. But After the Storm was written and directed by Hirokazu Kore-Eda, Japan’s latter day master of the quietly powerful drama. His style is about observing small moments and interactions,

In This Corner of the World Movie Review: Daily Life in Wartime

A personal perspective on war is shown in this anime about a daydreaming house-wife's life in Japan in WWII.
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In This Corner of the World is a Japanese animated movie that tells the wartime story of Suzu, a sweet but ditsy young girl who at 18 is shipped from her home in Hiroshima to be married to Shusaku, a young man from Kure, a port and shipbuilding city about 15 miles away. It's 1944, and the war is beginning to come home to Japan in earnest. Shusaku's mother is in ill health, and the family needs a new girl to help take care of the home. Maybe the couple will love each other some day, and her new family

Pulse Blu-ray Review: Loneliness is Hell

Japanese horror doesn't so much scare, but fills you with unnamed dread.
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Horror in the 1980s was all about the slasher - mindless monsters mutilating teenagers in desolate places. With Scream, released in 1996, director Wes Craven and screenwriter Kevin Williamson stabbed the slasher in its cold, dead heart. Scream (and its numerous sequels and countless inspired-bys) satirized slasher films with a self-aware sarcastic mocking. Around this same time, Americans first began discovering (and then remaking) Asian horror in general and Japanese horror in specific. These films neither relied on blood-filled violence (though certainly Japan has its fair share of gore maestros - the films of Takashi Miike come immediately to mind)

Doberman Cop (1977) Blu-ray Review: Sonny Chiba Does It Doggy Style

Arrow Video unleashes a truly mind-blowing 1970s exploitation action-comedy equivalent to fusion cuisine starring the larger-than-life Shin'ichi Chiba.
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An unconventional policeman from the boonies travels to the big city to help out on a case, complete with a pet pig in tow. No, it's not the beginning of another Italian cop comedy starring Terence Hill. Rather, this particular picture marked both the beginning and the end of two distinctively different eras in Japanese cinema. After maybe overdoing the yakuza genre just a tad throughout the '70s, the film industry in Japan started to explore different options. And if there is one good word which may be employed in a noble effort to accurately describe all of the sights

Wolf Guy (1975) Blu-ray Review: Lycanthropy, Grindhouse Style

Arrow Video throws us a bone in the form of a shapeshifting werewolf feller like no other.
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Much like vampirism, the subject of lycanthropy is generally reserved for horror films. Or perhaps a comedy horror film. There have even been action horror comedies pertaining to the subject of werewolves and shapeshifters. But there are very few movies like Wolf Guy floating about. In fact, I think Kazuhiko Yamaguchi's Wolf Guy may be a real one-of-a-kind filmic outing; a gory, over-the-top Japanese action thriller which has very little to do with the common folklore western civilization seems to be better familiar with. But then, I can't even say Wolf Guy's peculiarity is purely attributable to a foreign culture

Doberman Cop (1977) Blu-ray Review: Sonny Chiba's Hick Dirty Harry

Entertaining cop movie despite a wildly fluctuating tone, a departure from director Fukasaku's harder-edged Yakuza material.
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Kinji Fukasaku, of Battles Without Honor or Humanity fame, is best known as the director of hard-edged, cynical material with an almost documentary edge to it (that is, before he directed his final film Battle Royale, 20 years after his career heyday). When he was tapped to direct a manga adaptation, it was an odd pairing. Manga, or more specifically, gegika, which is manga that takes itself seriously, still tends toward over-heated material, with one foot in reality and on foot in comic book exaggeration. The book Fukasaku was tasked with adapting, Doberman Cop, is about a Harley-riding tough who

GKIDS and Fathom Events Partner to Bring Studio Ghibli to U.S. Cinemas Throughout 2017

The series features six of Studio Ghibli’s revered animated classics offering both dubbed and subtitled versions.
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Press release: Following the success of the Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke cinema events, GKIDS, the acclaimed distributor of multiple Academy Award-nominated animated features, and Fathom Events, the leading distributor of event cinema, are proud to announce a partnership to bring the biggest series of anime titles to U.S audiences throughout 2017. The series features Studio Ghibli’s revered animated classics, a selection of GKIDS new release titles and an ongoing animated short film mini-festival. The 2017 partnership kicks off with the iconic My Neighbor Totoro, from Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, on Sunday, June 25 and Monday, June 26. Totoro

Cops vs. Thugs (1975) Blu-ray Review: Kon'nichiwa, Dirty Harry-san!

Arrow Video busts Kinji Fukasaku's gritty, offbeat crime drama out of the Toei vaults.
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A full quarter of a century before he would stun filmgoers around the world with Battle Royale in 2000, the late Kinji Fukasaku was already blowing his own established cinematic perimeters out of alignment with violent and gritty crime dramas. Certainly, 1975's Kenkei tai soshiki bōryoku ‒ which shall be known henceforth by its international English moniker, Cops vs Thugs ‒ is no exception. It is, however, quite a bit different than the many similarly-themed yakuza flicks of the time, inasmuch as its main protagonist is a cop this time around; one who has learned an effective (though highly questionable)

Cops vs Thugs (1975) Blu-ray Review: Corrupt Cops Combat Corporatization

A vintage Yakuza story by Fukasaku in his prime about the corrupt links between cops and gangs.
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Of the spate of Japanese movies that infiltrated the American consciousness at the beginning of the 21st century, when the industry was in a sadly short-lived renaissance, most, like The Ring and The Grudge were by relatively young filmmakers. One, however, was the surprise swan song of a septuagenarian who had been making movies all his life: Battle Royale, directed by Kinji Fukasaku. That's the movie where naughty schoolkids are sent to an island to do televised battle to the death. It was also the last film that Fukasaku would make (he died in the middle of directing the sequel,

Wolf Guy Blu-ray Review: Too Much Guy, Not Enough Wolf

A bizarre genre mashup gives plenty of '70s exploitation awesomeness, but very little werewolf.
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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it on a continuous loop until it stops being true: we live in a golden age of home-video releases - a veritable utopia for film nerds and collectors. It seems like every other week a new company pops up willing to release high-class editions of seemingly every film in every genre imaginable. Here at Cinema Sentries, our hearts just gush at the amazing bounty made available every Tuesday. Let us turn our thoughts over to one of our very favorite production companies - Arrow Video. They consistently do top-shelf releases of some of

The Yakuza (1974) Blu-ray Review: That Time Robert Mitchum Went to Japan

Like a trusty katana, the Warner Archive Collection whips out this neglected, gritty, emotional '70s cult classic with much grace and dignity.
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What can you say about a Japanese-American co-production from the director of Three Days of the Condor as written by the beautifully dark minds who penned Chinatown, Taxi Driver, and Kiss of the Spider Woman? Well, if said film also happens to star the great Robert Mitchum alongside Japanese icon Ken Takakura, and features an eclectic funky score by Dave Grusin, then the one and only official answer to that query is a heartfelt "Plenty!" ‒ as Sidney Pollack's 1974 cult classic The Yakuza should prove to even the most jaded classic movie buff beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Good Morning (1959) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Japanese Master's Flatulent Comedy

One of the great filmmakers of the 20th century fills his domestic comedy with wistfulness, charm...and fart jokes.
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Comedy doesn't tend to get the respect of drama in movie writing. Like horror, its effectiveness depends on whether or not the audience laughs - it demands, when done right, an immediate physical response. It's hard to write oneself out of having laughed at a comedy a writer doesn't want to enjoy for whatever reason, or to write oneself into praising a comedy that didn't raise a yuck. Dramas have more stuff for writers to write about, and writers are the ones who make the lists of what's important in cinema and what isn't. I've seen reviews of 1959's Good

Kiju Yoshida: Love + Anarchism Blu-ray Review: Radical Politics and Radical Filmmaking

Thematic trilogy from a Japanese master, these three films are designed to be as beautiful, and baffling, as possible.
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Some movies offer formal challenges as part of their appeal. They might have sequences of the narrative where the viewer doesn't know exactly what's going on or in what sequences they're shown. They might have elliptical stories that really require an interpretation rather than just unfolding the narrative directly for the viewer, like a David Lynch film. Or they might have a different way of showing images on screen that is unconventional. Entire film movements are built around recognizing the "rules" by which films are made, and then subverting or even ignoring them. And then there's Kiju Yoshida's Japanese New

Dead or Alive Trilogy Blu-ray Review: Literally Explosive Cinematic Madness

Yakuza blow up the world, and that's just first film of this loose trilogy starring Show Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi.
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The opening six minutes of Dead or Alive, one of the first films of Takashi Miike to get international attention, are some of the most energetic, aggressive, and propulsive filmmaking of the '90s (or, hell, of any era.) Several characters are introduced and plots are put into motion, interwoven with quick cuts of various people engaged in various debaucheries: stealing drugs, sex in bathrooms, stripping, a man doing a six-foot line of cocaine off an enormous ramp, and a man shoveling in bowl after bowl of ramen (which then memorably gets blown out of his stomach in a shotgun blast).

Mifune: The Last Samurai DVD Review: Japan's Greatest Actor Profiled

Informative, engaging overview of the actor's life and work, both with Akira Kurosawa and beyond.
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Toshiro Mifune is one of the most dynamic actors who's ever played on the big screen. He was an animal presence that made it difficult to look away. Even in one of Akira Kurosawa's more staid productions, the stagy and fairly drab The Lower Depths, comes to life when his character comes on screen for an unfortunate few times. In combination with Akira Kurosawa, he made one of the definitive actor/director teams who shaped the future of Japanese cinema, helping to bring it to international attention for the first time in 1950’s Rashomon. Mifune: The Last Samurai, a feature-length documentary
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