Archive for the ‘High School’ Category

h1

Nowhere Girl + Wonderful World End

August 22, 2015

Nowhere Girl (Tokyo mukokuseki shojo) (2015)

A flawed but fascinating psychological drama by Mamoru Oshii. Nana Seino (from Tokyo Tribe) stars as an art school student who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. She’s being bullied by other students, her teachers are growing sick of the situation, and she seems to be going crazy. But there’s more than meets the eye, and she’s more than a little dangerous, as proved by a certain ultra-violent sequence near the end.

Nowhere Girl is an extremely slow paced movie bound to drive some viewers crazy, but it’s also quite an interesting and rewarding film. Seino is fine in the lead role, and the slow pace works when she’s in the frame. When the film focuses on supporting characters, the slow pacing begins to feel a bit too pretentious. Some unfortunate CGI blood weakens the film’s impact, although Seino’s physical competence compensates for it.

Director Oshii, much like Hideaki Anno, is one of those anime masters whose live action filmography is vastly under-rated (especially the excellent, existential road movie Stray Dogs), with his own fans usually being his harshest critics. Nowhere Girl is unlikely to change that situation.

 

Wonderful World End (2015)

A quiet 13 year old runaway goth-loli girl (Jun Aonami) falls in love with her idol, a 19 year old schoolgirl model / small time idol (Ai Hashimoto) who is running her own webcast from home. After a slight misunderstanding her boyfriend invites the young fan to their home to stay, which starts eating out their relationship. This film somewhat resembles another similarly themed – and also music driven – movie: The End of the World and the Cat’s Disappearance. Wonderful World End, however, is a more intimate, quiet and realistic film, minus the ending which goes to Takashi Miike territory. Ai Hashimoto is pretty good in the lead as a girl who is mainly interested in her own looks, and the film makes some good points about youth, social media and idol culture, despite not being quite exceptional in any way.

Director Daigo Matsui is a name to keep an eye on, especially for the excellent schoolgirl drama Luv Ya Hun (to be released later in 2015). This one isn’t as good, but it’s still decent. The film is based on two highly cinematic music videos by Seiko Ohmori, both directed by Matsui, both starring the film’s cast, and both released in 2013. Some of that that footage is also used in the film, plus Ohmori appears in the film as herself in a concert scene.

h1

Tag

August 22, 2015

Tag (Real onigokko) (2015)

Sion Sono kills more high school girls than a medium size natural disaster in this often energetic and amusingly over-the-top, but uneven horror film. The story is loosely based on the popular manhunt franchise by Yusuke Yamada (already adapted into 5 other movies and two series), in which a man named Sato finds himself a parallel universe where all people named Sato have been ordered to be captured or executed on spot by killers hired by the government. Sono, however, goes his own way with not a single Sato to be found in the film, and brings the film closer to his own Suicide Club and certain David Lynch twists than Yamada’s straight-forward dystopias. In Sono’s film Japanese high school girls find themselves targeted by someone – or something – that starts slaughtered them in epic fashion.

Tag is bound to anger the more sensitive viewers with its endless schoolgirl splatter, although it also offers quite an interesting commentary and criticism on the Japanese schoolgirl phenomena. In one of the key lines the protagonist utters “stop playing with us [high school girls]” which is clearly aimed at not only characters but viewers as well. Indeed, a notable part of Japanese entertainment industry from family movies to music industry and adult videos is built on the popularity of school girls. That being said, most of the criticism here is probably more comparable with the anti-violence message in Death Wish 3 than anything else, and even the amount of panty shots Sono inserts in the film roughly equals to the number of punks killed by Charles Bronson in Death Wish 3.

The all female cast – there isn’t even a single male seen during the first 70 minutes – is solid as well. Sono is consistently good with young actresses, bringing the best out of them in nearly every film he makes. The handsome heart knob Takumi Saito appears in the film’s only notable male role – a nice shock aimed his Japanese female fans who know nothing about his involvement in racy pictures like this; and indeed, he’s not even credited in the advertising materials or in the end credits.

Like many recent Sono films, Tag suffers from some lame and distracting CGI effects. However, the film also features some nice practical gore courtesy of Yoshihiro Nishimura, and fantastic camerawork with lots of aerial shots done with drones. There’s also a pretty atmospheric score by composed by Takaakira Goto, the lead guitarist for the instrumental rock band MONO. The film’s official “image song” by Glim Spanky doesn’t seem to be in the film at all – and all the better for it. It was used for na on-demand mini-series released online around the same time as the film, featuring three episodes directed by Hajime Ohata (Henge), Eisuke Naito (Let’s Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club) and Kayoko Asakura (It’s a Beautiful Day).

h1

Yubari 2015: Luv Ya Hun

August 22, 2015

Luv Ya Hun! (Watashitachi no haa haa) (2015)

Daigo Matsui’s latest film Luv Ya Hun was easily the best movie in Yubari this year! The film follows four high school girls who run away from home in Kitakyushu to attend their favourite artist’s concert on the other side of the country in Tokyo. Their plan is to ride bicycle all the way to Tokyo and sleep under the summer sky; however, that only gets them till Hiroshima. That’s where the reality starts hits and they need to figure out how to manage – and finance – the remaining 800 kilometres. As expected, they soon realize that there are always some ways for girls in school uniform to earn money in Japan. They also film everything on video camera and upload videos on the internet in real time.

This is a wonderful film seen entirely from the youth’s point of view. That’s something you don’t really see in Western youth movies. Western youth films tend to be somewhat conservative, even the great ones like Boyhood or Blue is the Warmest Colour, in that they feel like a grown up director looking back at childhood and telling a tale that has some kind of a lesson to teach. They may be gritty, but at the end the characters have always grown up and learned from their mistakes. This wisdom is then passed on the audience.

Luv Ya Hun, and some other Asian films, dare a different approach. They’re basically coming of age films without all that much of the coming of age part. Director Matsui, apart from some strong criticism on the music industry, doesn’t judge his young protagonists, even though the stunt they’re trying to pull is obviously insane. Instead he shares their excitement with the viewer. The moral lesson is left almost entirely for the viewer to pick up – and some probably won’t. You might consider the film a bit dangerous in that sense, but for an intelligent viewer it’s a refreshing treat.

The film also benefits from an excellent young cast and solid cinematography, about half of which is POV. This actually works so well that one almost wishes the entire movie had been POV. Highly recommended for fans of Japanese youth films, such as All About Lily Chou Chou and Love & Pop (two of the three best Japanese youth films ever made, the third being Taifu Club). Those who enjoy Luv Ya Hun may also wish to try Schoolgirl’s Gestation (2014), which is about a group of high school girls deciding to get pregnant together in a small seaside town. While not as good a film as Luv Ya Hun, it shares the same non-moralizing and energetic approach to the topic.

h1

The World of Kanako

July 14, 2014

Kawaki (2014)

Director Tetsuya Nakashima made himself name with hyperactive music video style comedies ala Kamikaze Girls and Memories of Matsuko. Then, in 2010, he had a change of pace with Confessions: a controversial hit about a high school teacher who avenges her child’s death to her students – with half of the film played in slow motion.

The World of Kanako features Nakashima back to his old habits, only this time the genre is violent thriller. Alcoholic ex-cop (Koji Yakusho) goes on a rampage to find his missing daughter, only to discover she wasn’t quite the pure angel he though she was. In fact, the entire school seems to be populated with 16 year old monsters, which raises amusing questions about director Nakashima possible vendetta for high school kids.

To keep it fair, the father is not much better; beating and raping people left and right on his quest to uncover the mystery. “Shock Therapy Entertainment”, as the film’s advertising slogan states.

The film is ridiculously over the top, but decidedly so, and extremely violent in places. It doesn’t quite pack the punch it wishes it would, and it gets a little tiresome after a while. Few cuts last longer than half second, the film goes from music video aesthetics to animated shots, and there’s constant shifting in time between present and past. Still, some scenes hit the nail with a sledge hammer and bring a maniac grin to the audience’s face.

Koji Yakusho is rather excellent in the lead role, despite the frenetic editor serving his performance in one second shots. Nana Komatsu does sufficient job driving everyone mad as the titular character. Fumi Nikaido appears briefly as a bad girl, nearly unrecognizable with blond hair.

The film caused a bit of stir in Japan when the distributor marketed it to young people by giving students an extra discount. The film is rated 15, but some of the content is 18-level by most countries’ standards and guaranteed to upset moralists. Perhaps Nakashima wanted to tell the kids to behave better or they’ll have a psychopath Koji Yakusho after them.

h1

High Kick Angels

June 17, 2014

New low for schoolgirl karate – but with one highlight!

High Kick Angels (2014)

Martials arts fanatic and school girl lover Fuyuhiko Nishi has been working hard in the recent years combining the two into action entertainment. High Kick Girl (2009) launched Rina Takeda’s career despite not being all that solid of a film, and K.G. (2011) continued on the same path with more success and unintentional amusement. Now the school girls have been officially promoted as angels – unfortunately the film is no heaven.

The storyline, written by Nishi and brought to screen by Kazuhiro Yokoyama, is about a bunch on high school girls (Kanon Miyahara, Mayu Kawamoto, Nagashima Hirona, Kaede Aono, Risako Ito) filming their own martial arts movie in an empty school building. Then all of a sudden a group of bad guys appear, looking for money hidden in the building, and not quite expecting the corridors to be filled with karate-skilled school girls. The girls decide to fight their way out and film it.

First things first: Mayu Kawamoto! Remember that name. This 20 year old Kyokushin karate black belt (the world’s toughest karate variation, and Sonny Chiba’s primary art) is great. It was her promo videos released prior to the film that were the most impressive, and she does the same in the film. Her fights are real action goodness: attacks, blocks, counter-moves, dodges, fast moving; in other words, intelligent, interactive and exiting fighting! It’s a shame she’s not the main character, but a supporting one.

Then comes the bad, which is practically everything else. The story is dull beyond belief. The music is horrible. The directing and almost all of the acting is incredibly childish and over-done, especially by the adult villains (Chisato Morishita, Shingo Koyasu). It’s hard to say who are more irritating: the girls imitating Bruce Lee’s battle cries (+ borrowing looks and lines from Hiroko Yakushimaru and Meiko Kaji) or the adults sporting the corniest possible villain looks. Kanon Miyahara and Kaede Ayano are the top billed school girls, and while both surely have some ability, most of their action looks way too much like a kicking demonstrations: the bad guys wait in line to be kicked or hit, and never even try to block.

As wonderful as Mayu Kawamoto is, it’s hard to recommend the entire 90 minute film just for her. High Kick Angels has none of the slick (and partly unintentional) amusement of K.G, and it’s not even on par with High Kick Girl. It might work as a children’s movie, but that’s it. Wait for DVD and fast forward to Kawamoto’s scenes is the best that can be said about it.

As a side note, it must be said it’s amusing the school girls are now officially referred as angels. Yet, the film is about as unexploitative on the subject as it can be, even if it still probably makes some of the more insecure Western viewers feel uncomfortable.

h1

Haru and Aki in Nekoyado + Summer of Angels

January 17, 2014

Idols, cinematography, and SFX by Yuichi Kondo

Nekoyado no Haru to Aki (2012) and Sora kara kita tenkousei (2013)

Director Yuichi Kondo always wanted to make giant monster movies. Fate did not favour him and he ended up making idol films about teenage girls – with small special effects.

Kondo’s been a regular name on short film festivals for about a decade now, mostly producing films via his special effects company GirafFilm, but had his first exposure to wider theatrical distribution in 2013 when his films Haru and Aki in Nekoyado (15 min) and Summer of Angels (49 min) played as a double feature nationwide.

Haru and Aki in Nekoyado is a rather charming if unremarkable small fantasy about two girls and two small teddy bears. The girls used to be best friends until falling in love with the same boy. Now the girls are brought back together to save two teddy bears (who are in love with each other) from being separated.

The film’s real stars are the two CGI generated teddy bears. Japanese cinema, especially low budget films, is not known for high quality CGI – rather the opposite – but Kondo is an exception. He has wisely limited the amount of special effects shots to a minimum and invested all his skill into them. The result is a pair of photorealistic teddies who are cute enough to bring Takashi Miike’s The Great Yokai War and its Sunekosuri creatures to mind.

The film stars a pair of young idols; Megumi Mizoguchi and Rika Hoshina, both manufactured by idol factory Itoh Company. Mizoguchi is the more competent of the two. She’s not only sweet and cute, but can also play her character in a believable way. Rika Hoshina, on the other hand, is more suitable for being a model. This is actually exactly what Kondo did with her in a video camera demo shot around the same time as the film.

The latter is what is most interesting about Kondo. Being a technically oriented filmmaker, he has insights into cinematography. His films look much better than most Japanese low budget films. He uses light quite well. In Haru and Aki in Nekoyado he does, however, weaken the visual impact a bit with an odd smooth cam effect that makes the image softer.

Cinematography is what stands out most in Kondo’s second film Summer of Angels. The fantasy film follows a schoolgirl angel who comes down to earth in search of a missing person. The film is very nicely shot; especially the colours are a standout. Few Japanese low budget films look half as good as this does. Unfortunately the visuals are the only good thing that can be said about the film.

Summer of Angels stars Megumi Mizoguchi and Rika Hoshina again, but this time in reverse order. This turns out a fatal decision as the girl with acting talent is pushed to a supporting role while Hoshina struggles to carry the lead role. The supporting cast too, which is made mostly of Itoh Company reserve, seem to be competing who can deliver the most wooden performance in the film.

Director Kondo is equally to be blamed for. His clumsy script is full of dialogue that never sounds natural. The director’s attempt at poetic and playful storytelling falls flat, being a mere shadow of his obvious role models such as the films of Shunji Iwai / Noboru Shinoda (Hana and Alice especially).

Kondo is a semi-interesting name for his talent behind the camera, as well as with special effects, but he might serve cinema better by focusing on his strengths. It’s a shame other directors have not spotted his talent as a cinematographer. Nevertheless, his brand new follow up to Haru and Aki in Nekoyado (the name, btw, refers refers to a small shopping street in director Kondo’s hometown in Tochigi prefecture), Tenen no chisai koi (2013, 17 min) sounds intriguing. Admittedly, he’s also very good and filming pretty girls and idols in harmless fantasy tales that make some of the sweeter products in the idol market.

h1

Schoolgirl Complex

January 17, 2014

Surprising, but ultimately disappointing photo book adaptation.

Schoolgirl Complex: Hôsôbu-hen (2013)

Yuki Aoyama’s hugely popular Schoolgirl Complex photo book has finally been turned into a movie. There is both irony and admiration to director Yuichi Onuma’s take on the franchise, which somewhat turns the material upside down.

Unlike Aoyama’s book, which drooled all over high school girls in expertly framed photos that never revealed their faces, Onuma goes for a realistic coming-of-age drama where his protagonists look more real, perhaps less beautiful, than the actresses playing them normally do. It is quite ironic that this appears in a Schoolgirl Complex adaptation, while any average Japanese youth film would draw a more romanticized / fetishized image of high schoolgirls. Opening credits aside Onuma’s camera focus, too, is on the girls’ faces rather than on their bodies or uniforms.

Unfortunately the film never manages to dig that deep into its characters, despite solid acting by Mugi Kadowaki and Aoi Morikawa. Onuma takes a no-hurry approach to his love triangle set in an all girls’ high school, but comes out with little psychological depth. A quiet girl secretly in love with a classmate, who in turn receives little response from the class’s newcomer she has a crush on, is hardly an original character set up either.

One problem is also the film’s rough low-budget looks. With all the blown out whites and exceedingly digital looking images the film is hardly a pleasure to the eye. Perhaps, with more appealing visuals and more captivating camerawork the film’s character focus would also reveal more depth.

All complaints aside, Schoolgirl Complex is not actually a bad movie. It is, in fact, a somewhat functional character drama with some good acting. It also lacks the flashiness and silly melodrama found in most high school films. At the same time, however, it feels like a missed opportunity on several fronts. Those who saw Onuma’s earlier work Nude (2010) – an interesting take on AV industry – no doubt expected more from the promising director.