Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

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Quick Takes #8

September 6, 2013

Winter’s Alpaca (Fuyu no arupaka, 2012)

Japanese culture worships anything cute and sweet. It is no wonder Alpaca, the bad smelling mixture of sheep and camel, has become a local favourite. The South American animal is a rare but adored sight in Japan. Yuji Harada’s black comedy Winter’s Alpaca casts alpacas in supporting role.

The half-hour short film roughly resembles the early comedies of Nobuhiro Yamashita. The protagonist is an unattractive young woman in dept for the yakuza. To save her alpaca farm she sets out to collect the money before the deadline – any way possible.

The small budgeted film plays its cards well. Drama is well made and humour unexpectedly dark, cleaning the floor with the audiences sympathies. Acting and tech credits are good enough to raise the film above amateur productions. The city of Yamakoshi in the Niigata prefecture, which serves as the setting, obtained the alpacas as an international gift after an earthquake that struck the area the area.

From Here to Nowhere (Gokushiteki runaway, 2013)

23 year old director Ken Kawai’s road movie From Here to Nowhere is a humoristic coming of age story where no one really comes of age. The film follows a good-for-nothing boy who meets an eccentric prostitute in Tokyo and decide to run away with her – with no apparent destination.

Kawai was the youngest director at this year’s Yubari Fanta competition series. His good meaning film has its moments, but it hardly breaks any new grounds. The Japanese slacker movie genre has already been mastered by directors such as Nobuhiro Yamashita and Yuya Ishii. Kawai’s dry humour and quiet, ill-lucked characters feel derivative in comparison, although a graphic sex scene comes as a surprise.

Among low budget indies, the film looks quite acceptable visually. Acting is occasionally stiff, however, and some of the jokes lose their effect because of the lack of originality. Nevertheless, Kawai and his 24 year old main actors put their hearts into the film and don’t try to fish laughs with loud and childish slapstick. From Here to Nowhere isn’t a terribly good movie, but it’s a good try from a young director. Perhaps next time Kawai will find a more original approach to the material.

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Quick Takes #7

August 20, 2013

About the Pink Sky (Momoiro sora o, 2011)

Keiichi Kobayashi’s Tokyo International Film Festival winner is an empty affair. The youth film follows a high school girl who finds a wallet on the street. This leads to a series of encounters with various characters, most importantly the wallet’s owner.

Storyline is secondary to Kobayashi, who is more interested in looking into the psyche of a high school girl. It is for the audience to decide how fascinating of a protagonist a frequently screaming, idiosyncratic and selfish teen girl makes.

Rather than atmospheric and existential, the film is loud and scripted. Comparisons to such masters as Shinji Somai or Shunji Iwai are a far cry from reality – Yuya Ishii’s awkward comedies would be a closer match.

On the positive side, the film’s B&W cinematography is gorgeous and effectively hides some of the shortcomings of digital video

Zero Man vs. the Half Virgin (Hanbun shojo to zero otoko, 2011)

Takashi Miike screenwriter Sakichi Sato’s (Gozu, Ichi the Killer) trendy romance /drama / comedy / fantasy. A policeman wakes up with no memory, but instead a new skill. He can see the number of other people’s past sex partners as the figure appears on their foreheads.

Raunchy concept makes for relatively innocent comedy romance. Sex is limited strictly to one scene where the titular semi-virgin (pink star Shijimi) comes out of her shell. Characterization is decent enough to hold the film together.

Sato makes most out of his limited budget, utilizing wonderful pop/rock soundtrack and some visually mesmerizing scenes. The film is 20 minutes too long, but the energy and innovative camera angles keep the film running.

Performances are solid, including a standout stand-out supporting performance by film translator Don Brown as a 55-hit gaijin. Nobuhiro Yamashita regular Hiroshi Yamamoto co-stars.

The amusing little film is unlikely to be discovered by larger audiences, but possesses potential for minor cult classic. Among mini-budgeted J-obscurities, this is certainly a small discovery. Part of the second season of Artport’s Seishun H films.

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Quick Takes #3

January 12, 2013

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.

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Ai to Makoto (For Love’s Sake)

June 21, 2012

A tired pop-cult mess by Miike.

Ai to Makoto (2012)

It would be stating the obvious to say Takashi Miike is hit and miss. But there was a time when even a miss-Miike was an interesting Miike. Having abandoned cult arena and become a trusted studio director, Miike has become a much bigger gable for the audience, though good films also frequent. Unfortunately Ai to Makoto (For Love’s Sake) is not one of them.

An adaptation of the 1973 manga, previously turned three several live action films (1974-1976) and one TV show (1974-1975), Ai to Makoto seems like an ideal playground for the new, mainstream friendly Miike. His wacky superhero pic Yatterman was a delight, and the high school violence duo of Crows Zero produced at least one good film (the 2nd). These are the two closest comparisons to Ai to Makoto, which tells the love story of a hard fisted hooligan Makoto (Satoshi Tsumabuki) and a sweet good girl Ai (Emi Takei). All set in the 1972 Tokyo, complete with eight musical numbers!

While unfolding its load of gang wars, sukeban girls, and desperately in love nerds (Ace Attorney’s Takumi Saito, looking distractingly similar here) Ai to Makoto makes an attempt at being an audiovisual feast, but none of it comes through very successful. The colorful but supercharged visual look, with its blown out whites and distracting lack of shadow detail, make it look very much a modern film even when the attempt is at paying tribute to the old era.

The soundtrack fares a little better, but even then goes to insert a modern sappy theme song by Yo Hitoto in the middle of a showa era (1926–1989) hit parade. Is there so little to be trusted in the modern audiences that one cannot even close a 1974 set movie without a modern relief? Don’t worry kids, showa is gone and Ayumi Hamasaki still in the record store (uhm, iTunes store, or something…)

For its defense, Ai to Makoto does gather some nice set of showa classics forthe audiences to enjoy – though there’s hardly a person in the film’s native country who hasn’t already heard Kiyoshi Ozawa’s all time classic Mata au hi made too many times. Indeed, it might be better sticking with one’s CD collection as Ai to Makoto’s half-arsed musical scenes are effectively brought down by the lack of lip sync that soon becomes a major distraction. It’s something the film could’ve gotten away with had it been done on purpose, but Miike gets stuck somewhere between professionalism and kitsch, with no satisfactory balance.

The final death knell is the equation of 134 minute running time and a screenplay that achieves very little. Aside a glorious amount of justified self defense violence towards women, the film’s decision to keep Makoto an unlikable, romance avoiding brute serves very little purpose. As odd as it sounds, Ai to Makoto is a 2+ hour romance film with no romance whatsoever to be found. That being said, it’s also a fighting film without fighting worth mentioning. That’s a bit of an under-achievement, considering Miike’s previous idol-parade Crow’s Zero 2 managed the action with solid grades.

For its modest merits – a few amusing performances (especially Love Exposure’s Sakura Ando as a sukeban girl) and gags, and an inventive flashback sequence staging a character’s past in cardboard theater sets – Ai to Makoto doesn’t pay off. It’s a tiresome effort by Miike.

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Milocrorze – A Love Story

January 3, 2012

Semi succesfull kitsch fest gives birth to a cult hero.

Milocrorze (Japan, 2011)

The latest offering in the J-kitsch cannon, helmed by Vermilion Pleasure Night creator Yoshimasa Ishibashi and starring heartthrob Takayuki Yamada in no less than three different roles! Sketchy comedy in four episodes.

The four-part love story collection opens with a pastel colored flashback sequence merely fishing laughs with its main character’s unusual name, Ovreneli Vreneligare (pronounces with your expected heavy katakana-accent). The follow-up, an insane 70’s disco parade with Yamada portraying an overly aggressive relationship counselor Besson Kumagai makes the film.

Somewhat a contrast for the previous story, the third episode takes a turn to slow paced melodrama and action, with Yamada returning as a vengeful samurai. The pic finally closes with adult Vreneligare (Yamada one more time) seeking for his lost childhood love.

Strangely uneven with its mixture of striking musical bits, comedy, and slow paced story pieces, the film does eventually come out better than many of its lackluster competitors (Survive Style 5+, Memories of Matsuko, etc.). That’s not to say especially much, though – while Besson Kumagai is an instant cult hero complete with sexy dancers who follow him anywhere he goes, most other characters are instantly forgettable, including Seijun Suzuki’s (isn’t he dead already?!) senile tattoo artist. Any attempts at “serious” storytelling, which are surprisingly plenty here, merely end up as failed harakiri.

For manga aesthetics appreciation Milocrorze does, nevertheless, have quite a bit to offer, from ultra-colorful visual design to a dull slow motion fight scene posing as a one shot wonder. Had the film been released some 7 years ago, it might have gained considerable gaijin popularity.