The End of Puberty (Koi ni itaru yamai, 2011)
Perky high school girl (Miwako Wagatsuma) and a shy teacher (Yôichirô Saitô) change genitals in Shoko Kimura’s dull fantasy/comedy/drama.
The PIA Film Festival financed indie film is visually pleasing enough, but lacks any memorable moments. Character development is non-existent, wacky ideas underutilized, and energy lacking. Audiences mislead by the catchy theatrical trailer are in for a disappointment.
Kimura seems to have something to say of a world where men have lost their balls and women are unable to take the lead – indeed, interviews have confirmed her conservative views – but the topic eventually leads nowhere.
Perhaps most interesting is the film’s soundtrack that plays like an old Nintendo game, but like the rest of the film, it remains a curiosity that never really catches fire. The film is a far cry from Nobuhiko Obayashi’s similarly themed 1982 classic Transfer Student.
The Samurai That Night (Sono yoru no samurai, 2012)
Actor and stage director Masaaki Akahori’s directorial debut is a long revenge drama lacking in revenge. The star studded but low key arthouse drama follows a widowed, obsessed man stalking the hit-and-run crook that killed his wife after the release from prison.
Opting for strong realism, rather than fantastic revenge fantasy, the film has its moments but doesn’t eventually find very much depth. Little happens within its two hour running time, and some scenes come out “made-art” rather than natural storytelling. Characters feel distant, though Masato Sakai is not bad in the lead, and heart knob Takayuki Yamada makes a surprisingly believable killer. Mitsuki Tanimura, Tomorowo Taguchi, Hirofumi Arai, Go Ayano, Sakura Ando and Denden co-star.
The Drudgery Train (Kueki ressha, 2012)
Fan favorite Nobuhiro Yamashita’s welcome return to slow paced, rather non-commercial cinema. With a 19 year old protagonist who burns his money on booze and strippers, and whose father is a sex criminal, it’s certainly a film of old school Yamashita ingredients.
The minimal and slightly overlong film is, however, neither quite like nor as good as Yamashita’s early slacker masterpieces. Perhaps because of the source material – an autobiographical novel by Kenta Nishimura, adapted into screenplay by pink maestro Shinji Imaoka – Yamashita opts for slightly darker tones than expected. The recognizable Yamashita moments of quiet comedy are still to be found, though.
The start studded cast fare reasonably well, especially Mirai Moriyama who takes a minor gamble with his career. AKB48’s only acting capable member Atsuko Maeda is passable as well, though the whole cast suffers in comparison to Yamashita’s early works and their stars.
Flawed but pleasing, Kueki ressha may have a bit of difficulties finding its audience despite the puzzling Toei multiplex distribution that feels almost like a twisted joke by itself.