Results tagged “Japanese Cinema”

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

Fathom Events and GKIDS Present Mary and the Witch's Flower

Studio Ponoc, heir apparent to Studio Ghibli, proves they have taken the animated torch and ran with it.
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In September 2013, famed director and Studio Ghibli founder Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement. He had made such proclamations before but this time he promised he was serious. A few months later, the studio announced there would be a brief pause in production in order to re-evaluate where the company would go without their founder and creative leader. Speculation was that they would never produce a new movie but might venture into releasing films made by other companies. Amongst all of this, Yoshiaki Nishimura, a lead producer for Ghibli, started a new company, Studio Ponoc. Soon after, many animators from

An Actor's Revenge Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: Kabuki Costumes in Modernist Cinema

Kon Ichikawa's remake of a '30s movie dresses a stagey plot in innovative cinematic stylings.
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Yukinojo, the kabuki female impersonator who gets the titular vengeance in Kon Ichikawa's An Actor's Revenge (1963), is a tough sell for a cinematic character. Heavily made up both onstage and off, never once dropping his female gestures and high-pitched voice, Kazuo Hasegawa's performance is definitely deeply committed. This, which according to the title card early in the film was his 300th film performance, is also a remake of a popular film from the '30s, also starring Kazuo Hasegawa. A Kazuo Hasegawa in his early 20s playing a female impersonator so mesmerizing that the most beautiful woman in Edo (Tokyo

Blade of the Immortal Blu-ray Review: The Immortal Takashi Miike

Veteran director Takashi Miike reaches the unimaginable milestone of his 100th film with this spellbinding supernatural samurai tale.
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Takashi Miike has directed some of the most well-known Japanese genre films to ever reach our shores, including his turn-of-the-century gems such as Ichi the Killer, Audition, and the Dead or Alive trilogy, as well as his more recent samurai hit, 13 Assassins. For his 100th film, he has helmed the film adaptation of the classic manga series, Blade of the Immortal. Manji (Takuya Kimura) is an adept samurai who suffers mortal injuries and the murder of his sister in a massive battle against 100 enemies. Just as he’s about to bleed out, an ancient witch appears and dumps “sacred

Napping Princess Blu-ray Review: Don't Sleep on This

Veteran anime writer/director Kenji Kamiyama successfully launches a delightful new property.
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While you might not be familiar with Kenji Kamiyama’s name, he’s the force behind many successful anime projects, most notably Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and Eden of the East. For his latest project, he wrote and directed this charming tale of a modern high school girl who has magical dreams that might or might not be true. In 2020, as Japan is preparing for the opening of the Tokyo Olympics, Kokone Morikawa is a normal student plodding through her average life, her humdrum existence only interrupted when she dreams she’s a magical princess in her kingdom of

The Green Slime (1968) Blu-ray Review: Would You Believe It When You're Dead?

The Warner Archive Collection gives the campy U.S./Japanese cult classic a stellar new HD transfer.
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Apart from the occasional World War II movie, there haven't been terribly many instances in film history wherein the US and Japan collaborated on something together. When they did, the results tended to vary, ranging from epic successes such as Tora! Tora! Tora! to movies almost as disastrous as WWII itself. And it is there, on the latter list of atrocities, that you will find a barely moving motion picture; one which has been sitting ‒ quite comfortably, at that ‒ in the same illustrious spot for several decades. An unofficial sequel to the mid '60s Gamma One quadrilogy from

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
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