Results tagged “Japanese Cinema”

Liz and the Blue Bird Blu-ray Review: Take a Flyer on This Moving Anime Film

Close friends face the end of high school and differing plans for the future
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High school life is a favorite topic of anime productions, but this one differentiates itself by having a very narrow focus on the unresolved relationship between two senior girls as they near graduation. Mizore and Nozomi are close friends destined for different paths after high school, but still going about their daily school routines, including intensive orchestra rehearsals, as they try to ignore their future. In order to ease their upcoming transition, Nozomi encourages Mizore to study the story behind the orchestral work they’re rehearsing, a tale of a human who keeps a wild bird as a pet before setting

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms Blu-ray Review: Anime at Its Finest

Veteren scriptwriter Mari Okada makes a dazzling directorial debut
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Although Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms didn’t make as much of a splash in the U.S. as the Oscar-nominated Mirai, it’s just as worthy of acclaim. It’s also somewhat of a rarity, as it was directed by a woman, a refreshing departure from the traditional boys club of the anime world. Mari Okada has a lengthy resume as a successful screenwriter for her production studio P.A. Works, and takes full advantage of the opportunity to wholly express her vision with this directorial debut. Maquia is a 15-year-old member of a blonde, fair-skinned, nearly eternal race called the Iorph, content

Audition Blu-ray Review: Family Drama Turns Violent

Takashi Miike's disturbing melodrama gets a nice restoration from Arrow Video.
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Perhaps the most shocking thing about Takashi Miike's 1999 film Audition is that for its first half or so there is nothing shocking about it at all. Miike, a Japanese director known for films featuring perverse images, black humor and extreme violence, spends the first 50 minutes of his nearly two hours run time telling an intimate, emotional, family drama. For anyone who comes to Audition knowing Miike films such as Ichi the Killer, Visitor Q, or Izo, watching nearly an hour of cinema in which nothing weird, blood soaked, or insane happens is the craziest twist of all. This

Lu Over the Wall Blu-ray Review: Vampire Mermaids Warm the Heart

A boy befriends a mermaid, and director Masaaki Yuasa reigns in his anarchic animation style...for a little while.
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Masaaki Yuasa is something of a wild card anime director. In an industry that can be chided for a certain uniformity of design and technique, he makes movies that look like nobody else's. To paint with a broad but not inaccurate brush, anime tends to go for contrasts of motion - energetic motion punctuated by stillness. Detailed backgrounds with simplified characters. Yuasa can do that, then wildly shift into incredible kineticism, with characters and backgrounds shifting with no concern for realism, detail, or anything other than the effect of the shot. Lu Over the Wall was conceived, as Yuasa explains

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms Blu-ray Review: Emotional, Poignant Fantasy Epic

This visually arresting fantasy story of a mother and son that pulls at the heartstrings (and the tear ducts).
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Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms is visually stunning, and works hard at it. It opens with the working of a loom on screen, digitally animated. It's an incredibly detailed bit of mechanical animation, all lit with a white light that makes the images pale and almost translucent. The next image is of a beautiful vista - a white city sitting above a lake, blue water in the foreground and green and white mountains behind. Both shots are detailed, and rendered to be as visually impressive as possible. As the anime characters start appearing among these detailed fore and background

The Night Is Short, Walk On Girl Blu-ray Review: A Long, Strange Trip

Funny, bizarre, and strangely obsessed with underpants, this Japanese animated comedy deserves to be seen.
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Two strangers have a separate, but equally long, strange night where they meet an increasingly eccentric group of people. In the end, they meet, not so coincidentally, and fall in love. The Night is Short, Walk On Girl is Masaaki Yuasa’s psychedelic, dream-like animated romantic, comedic, adventure film brought to the U.S. by way of GKIDS and Shout! Factory. The girl is known as Kohai (which translates to “junior” in English) or The Girl with Black Hair (Kana Hanazawa). She is of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl variety, beautiful and quirky. She wants to spend her night partying and drinking

A Story from Chikamatsu Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: A Tale Worth Watching

Criterion continues their welcome attention to the works of director Kenji Mizoguchi with this superb new Blu-ray release.
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When an adulterous nobleman learns that his wife is rumored to be carrying on an affair with a member of his staff, he seeks to punish both of them. Sure, it’s fine for the man to brazenly step out on his wife, but when the smallest hint of initially untrue impropriety is leveled against her, his righteous indignation speaks volumes about the vast gender morality imbalance. There’s also the matter of his continued noble status, as his failure to punish his perceived transgressors carries the risk of loss of his esteemed title. With that setup in place, director Kenji Mizoguchi

Shoplifters Movie Review: A Potent Mix of Pragmatism and Empathy

Shoplifters is a well-acted, bittersweet ode to the impoverished.
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One thing that’s so amazing about Shoplifters is that it succeeds in areas where it could’ve easily gone wrong. It’s an insightful look at a family living in poverty without becoming preachy and demonstrates people with misguided yet good intentions without acting judgmental. Director/writer Hirokazu Kore-eda handles the film with a pragmatic yet empathetic eye and as a result, crafts together one of the year’s best movies that clutches the heartstrings by the time the credits roll. The story follows Osamu Shibata (Lily Franky) and his wife Nobuyo (Sakura Ando), a couple that barely makes ends meet since they work

Orgies of Edo Blu-ray Review: Torture, Surrealism, and Topless Women

Teruo Ishii's strange anthology of period stories of sex and torture is more bizarre than erotic, though entertaining.
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When a form of entertainment is facing a crisis, when other forms of media cut into its business and make it more and more difficult to be profitable, the most tried-and-true formula for clawing your banks books out of the red: exploitation! This was what faced the Japanese film industry from the early '60s onward, when television had finally become more pervasive and people could get their entertainment without having to go to the movie theater. Movie studios worked hard to show on the movie screen material you just can't get on television...which in the case of the Japanese studios

Metropolis (2001) Blu-ray Review: Visually Opulent, Narratively Dormant Adaptation

Inspired by Osamu Tezuka’s manga and Fritz Lang’s movie, this anime has style in excess...but lacks a cohesive story.
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The cliché about Osamu Tezuka is to call him the Walt Disney of Japan. He was, indeed, a pioneer of modern manga and anime, including creating the world famous Astro Boy, both as a manga and anime. But while he was wildly successful and astoundingly prolific, Tezuka was able to make inroads with his illustrated stories that Disney never realized: He created entertainments for adults as well as children, including a 3000-page biography of the Buddha. Metropolis, published in 1949, was a graphic novel from 30 years before the term was coined: a standalone comic book story, telling a complex

Horrors of Malformed Men Blu-ray Review: Complete Malformed Japanese Madness

Teruo Ishii's strangest film of murder, doppelgangers, and the titular malformed men finally makes it to Blu-ray.
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Escaped asylum inmates, mistaken identity, resurrection from the grave, bizarre biological experiments, murder, incest, and a plot for world domination via freaks - the barest bones of a plot outline makes Horrors of Malformed Men, directed by Teruo Ishii, sound itself malformed - overstuffed with ingredients that can’t cohere. Surprisingly, the film maintains an integrity to its own oddity and perversity, never pausing for a moment to let a hint of self-awareness turn the proceedings into farce. We meet our protagonist, Hirosuke Hitomi, in a woman’s cell of an insane asylum, where half-naked women dance around him and try to

Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji Blu-ray Review: Low on Blood, High on Social Commentary

Despite the lurid title, Tomu Uchida’s most famous work is more social commentary road movie than samurai action film.
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Director Tomu Uchida was an esteemed contemporary of Japan’s most internationally well-known directors, Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu, and yet his work is barely known in the U.S. Arrow Academy aims to correct that oversight by presenting this remastered Blu-ray of his most famous film. The film follows a samurai and his entourage as they venture toward Edo (modern-day Tokyo), but rather than focus on swordplay action scenes one might expect from the title, it instead spends time on ancillary commoners they meet along the way, such as a poor orphan boy and shady man who seems to have gained

Mind Game (2004) Blu-ray Review: Endlessly Confusing, Endlessly Fascinating

Masaaki Yuasa's debut animated feature is a kaleidoscope of images and scenes that, miraculously, make a coherent (if confusing) film.
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The first couple minutes of Mind Game contains, after a brief scene of a girl being chased onto a subway train and getting her leg caught in the door, a montage. It lasts a couple of minutes, and contains scenes from various lives, put together without context, without any real sense of which character is which, who is who or when or where. Segments from TV shows are interspersed with scenes from daily life, and memories that are later shown to be incomplete. A similar segment plays at the end of the film, and while most of the context for

Street Mobster Blu-ray Review: Gritty, Nasty Yakuza Drama

Kinji Fukasaku's brings docu-drama realism and brutal ugliness to the Yakuza genre in this gritty film.
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Street Mobster is a rough, often ugly story about Okita, a common street thug who tries to eke out a living as a low-level yakuza, but whose temper and inability to kowtow to his bosses lead him to disaster. He's not a gallant rogue or a tragic figure. His father was killed in the war; his mother was a whore who walked drunk into a river and was fished out dead the next day. He turned to crime as soon as he was capable, and one of his jobs was grabbing country girls who'd just moved to the city and

The Third Murder Movie Review: All Justice, No Truth

Hirokazu Kore-eda's keen observation of human interaction is brought to a courtroom drama, winner of six Japanese Academy awards.
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There shouldn't be much to the murder trial. After all, the murderer has already confessed. The prosecution is pushing for the death penalty, though, after as much as guaranteeing the defendant Misumi they wouldn't if he just says he did it. His current attorney in over his head, new counsel is pressed in to do what can be done to make sure Misumi only spends the rest of his life in prison. The new attorney Shigemori is barely interested. He resents being brought in to the case when it's already set to go to trial. Misumi was only two years

Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell Bastards! Blu-ray Review: Undercover Yakuza Hijinks

Released in 1963, director Seijun Suzuki was on the brink of his artistic breakthrough with this comic gangland picture.
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Seijun Suzuki, one of the stable of directors at Nikkatsu in the '50s and '60s, Japan's oldest film studio, was fired in 1967 after his imaginative and visually inventive Branded to Kill completely confused the studio head. It was the culmination of an increasingly prickly relationship between Suzuki and the studio, as he worked very hard to put a personal touch and visual flair on what were standard studio genre scripts. He would happily undermine the generic beats and tone of the violent gangster movies he was tasked with making, if it would allow him to get something interesting on

The Bloodthirsty Trilogy Blu-ray Review: Dracula Goes East

Three Japanese movies directed by Michio Yamamoto that involve Western-style vampires, with style, atmosphere, and some decent sprays of blood.
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As one of the great national cinemas, the Japanese movie industry has invented whole cloth many genres and excelled in many non-native filmic conventions… except arguably the Western-style horror movie. Until the late '90s, when The Ring brought out a rather short-lived craze of ghost stories (usually with a long black-haired ghost, which is cribbed from Japanese folk-lore), Japanese example of horror were rather sparse, and rather different than Western films. In the West some of the acknowledged greatest movies of the silent era are horror films. There are several distinct studio and national traditions: Universal horror creatures, the '50s

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Portrait of the Artist As a Fascinating Man

Director Paul Schrader crafts a daring, spellbinding biography of Japanese writer Yukio Mishima.
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Yukio Mishima carved out a career as an esteemed playwright and author before ending his life by taking over a military facility and performing seppuku, a ritualistic form of suicide. Paul Schrader's daring film traces his life by having actors perform vignettes from some of Mishima's most famous works, painting a brilliant picture of this intriguing man. The film is notable not just for its subject but for its structure. After a brief color intro, it moves to black and white for the story of Mishima's childhood, then shifts to color for multiple vignettes that represent later stages of his

Seijun Suzuki: Early Years Vol.2 Border Crossings: The Crime and Action Movies Blu-ray Review: Nikkatsu Noir

Five early films by Seijun Suzuki spotlight Nikkatsu's early 60s trends and the director's growing ambition.
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Seijun Suzuki is one of the more famous Japanese directors of the '60s, when younger filmmakers were taking the rein from the older masters like Ozu and Mizoguchi and Japanese domestic cinema was seeing both its high point as a commercial medium, and heading toward a crash in the late '60s when television would finally saturate Japanese markets. Suzuki worked at Nikkatsu, strangely the oldest and newest Japanese film studio at the time (it was the first film studio in Japan but had been disbanded by the Imperial government in 1941 and reformed 10 years later) whose bread and butter

Ichi the Killer Blu-ray Review: Blood-soaked Fun

Well Go USA's new 4K transfer of Takashi Miike's splatter classic gives you all the gore you can handle in pristine high definition.
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While watching Well Go USA’s new 4K transfer of Takashi Miike’s classic splatter flick Ichi the Killer, you may ask yourself whether or not one needs to see all that gore in super high-definition. Is it necessary, you may ponder, to see the insides of a man cut straight down the middle, or the viscera of a dozen nameless foes sloshed across the floor, blood dripping from the ceiling, or even the title cards rising from a puddle of semen in all its digitally restored, detailed resolution? For fans of the highly influential, totally disgusting, and surprisingly funny film, the
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