Archive for the ‘Idol’ Category


Idol is Dead (2012) + Idol is Dead: Non-chan’s Great Propaganda War (2014)

February 18, 2014

A brand new blood soaked idol society

Idol is Dead (2012)
Idol is Dead: Non-chan no propaganda daisenso (2014)

It is always a pleasure when the latest idol film, seemingly made to promote an up and coming sweet girl band, turns out a splatter movie!

Idol is Dead doesn’t quite follow the usual idol film format. The film kicks off with its protagonists accidentally killing an amateur idol group. To hide their crimes, the girls bury the bodies and steal their identities by becoming idols. They name themselves BiS: Brand New Idol Society. Music and more bloodshed ensue as the girls soon find themselves in an idol event where few walk out alive.

Director Yukihiro Kato’s film shows promise! It’s messy, clumsy, and all-around cheap, but it’s also got something most of his competitors lack: a vision. Unlike much of the new Japanese genre cinema, Kato seems to constructing a world of his own. This involves not only lengthy music performances filmed with the unashamed dedication of a true fan, but cyberpunk –style mutants and severed heads that fill the rest of the film. Effects are old school as well – no CGI. Self-irony is wisely kept understated; the audiences worshipping the idols are like a mixture of zombie army and Japanese otaku.

The 60 minute film hugely benefits from swift spacing which detracts from many of the flaws, such as frequently horrible acting from some of the supporting cast. The leading girls – consisting of members of the real life band BiS – are as energetic as ever. In fact, their name “Brand New Idol Society” would also make perfect title for this trashy vision of idol world gone mad.

The film premiered in 2012. Those who follow the music biz probably knew BiS already enjoyed a reputation as the punk rebel among idol groups. In late 2012 they teamed up with the noise band Hijokaidan to form BiS Kaidan (though they also continue performing as BiS). Reportedly it didn’t take long until one could see the sweet girls screaming and throwing severed chicken heads to the audience on their new gigs.

Fast forward to 2014 and BiS are back on the silver screen with a 90 minute sequel: Idol Is Dead 2: Non-chan’s Great Propaganda War, which sees the girls facing a challenger: Electric Kiss.

Unfortunately the film is a disappointment.

BiS’s new direction with Hijokaidan is hardly visible in the film, save for the loud and very catchy opening scene aside. The film turns out, instead, a far more restrained band product than its predecessor. The frantic pacing of the original is gone, with scenes now running too long and lacking punch. The sequel also tones down the splatter and replaces it with Noboru Iguchi -style wacky comedy, including a bulimia side-plot, and corporate conspiracies. Electric Kiss doesn’t make much of a memorable opponent either.

On the positive side, tech credits are now much better, with solid camerawork and even a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Strangely enough, dialogue occasionally sounds very muted.

The film only redeems itself with a fantastic final performance, in which both BiS and filmmakers get to shine. It’s a nice payoff, but one can’t help but to wonder what happened with the rest of the film? Director Kato managed to overcome most of the original film’s problems, but also introduced a whole load of new ones and lost much of the energy in the process.

That being said, he’s certainly a name to keep an eye on.

It should be mentioned as fun trivia that before Hijokaidan found their new partner in BiS, the noise band considered teaming up with Momoiro Clover – a sweet teen girl band know for their cinematic accomplishments in fake horror doc Shirome (2010) and arthouse film Ninifuni (2011)! All of a sudden idol film industry seems more interesting than in a long time!



January 21, 2014

Ninifuni – Full Volume Version (2011/2012)

Smash hit teen girl band stars in a minimalist arthouse film.

Director Tetsuya Mariko, who broke into film festival fame with Yellow Kid in 2009, is one of the more interesting young talents in Japanese cinema. Ninifuni is a metaphoric 42 minute meditation on depression and death. The film follows a criminal (Masaru Miyazaki) who runs from the police and eventually ends up on the same beach where the pop band Momoiro Clover is shooting a new music video.

Mariko mixes art and pop, resulting in an original, though not entirely successful film. The film’s first half consists of waiting and wandering, and is almost completely void of dialogue. The storyline is actually based on a real life tragedy, but this could easily pass unnoticed by the viewer until the ending. Those viewers who fail recognize the film’s roots, and to get a hold of the protagonist’s mindset, may be left rather clueless for most of the film.

In the film’s second half Mariko constructs a somewhat clumsy but effective contrast between the lively teen girl business machinery performing on the beach and the human wreck hiding behind the trees. Surprisingly enough, and for better or worse, Mariko restrains himself and never lets the film into a a full pop music bloom, but instead opts for low-fi documentary style means.

For Momoiro Clover Ninifuni marks already the second fascinating and highly unexpected cinematic appearance. The band was previously seen in Koji Shiraishi’s hilarious faux-documentary experiment Shirome, in which (it was claimed) the girls performed without knowing they were in a fictional movie. Whoever is the girls’ agent deserves a big glass of beer.


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.


KG: Karate Girl

July 7, 2011

KG: Karate Girl (Japan, 2011)

Lately, Japanese action cinema has been like a hamburger. First there is director, screenwriter, and action choreographer. Then the beef (choreographer) takes a hike and makes a film of his own. Finally, the choreographer’s screenwriter (sandwich) declares himself as director and delivers the third film in the continuation. This is the history of recent karate film from Black Belt (2007) to High Kick Girl (2009) and finally KG: Karate Girl (2011).

Rina Takeda, Japan’s most promising new action talent, caught the chain during its second phase. The 1991 born sweetheart fought herself a black belt in Ryukyu Shorin-ryu karate before entering show biz. Her film debut High-Kick Girl was a karate demo suffering from inadequate cinematic execution. Furthermore, she was overshadowed by the more skilled karate sensei Tatsuya Naka, who appears in all three films.

In KG Takeda is back in action as yet another super karate shoujo. The storyline kicks off with Okinawa flashback, with bad guys barging into Kurenai-sensei’s (Naka) place. The wrongdoers take a hell of a beating from the righteous master until the last coward standing manages to deliver a deadly strike by katana. The villains take Kurenai-san’s 3 year old daughter away, but seal their destiny by accidentally leaving the elementary school age big sis alive.

As further fuck up the villains grab the wrong belt. The wise sensei had replaced his black belt (symbolizing karate world supremacy) with a worthless copy when he saw the petty thieves coming. 10 years later the bad guys raise an eyebrow once again when the Internet is flooded with cell phone pics for a joshikousei who took down two thieves using Kurenai-karate techniques. Who exactly is this girl, and might she possibly have the sought after black belt in her possession?

KG essentially reverses the filmmaker roles from High Kick Girl. Yoshikatsu Kimura directs instead of writing, and Fuyuhiko Nishi, aside choreographing, does the opposite. The change is a success: KG is a far better movie than High Kick Girl, only stumbling in storytelling. The simple truth is that storytelling should not be applied when one doesn’t have what it takes. In KG the problem appears mainly in a handful of “story scenes”, although some great one liners and occasional unintentionally amusing bits lessen the problem. These scenes aside, the film rather rocks.

The action scenes are plenty and well done. Almost entirely gone are the endless replay shots seen in High Kick Girl. The fights now come with a solid flow and superior cinematic execution. Advanced editing tricks are ignored, with filmmakers relying on the good old “No Wires, No CG, No Stuntmen” mantra. Heavy full contact is still lacking, but thankfully compensated by ballsy sound effects that make bones break as they should. Some kicks are taken all the way, with one cast member taken out and sent to the hospital by Rina-chan. The only real gripe is that fights tend to be a bit one sided – standard opponents display alarming lack of self defense skills and appear eager to taste the shoe.

Aside Rina, the film’s real stand out is the 13 year old Hina Tobimatsu. She faces the regular problem: the younger the girl the more difficult it is to believe she’s able to take down grown up men. A couple of times the illusion is indeed broken, but for the most part one can only follow her movement in awe. For a 13 year old she sure is one hell of a kicking machine who’s constantly about to go into “airplane mode” as she mistakes her opponents as “stars”. The film’s editing, while not fast by any means, basically does her injustice as she was capable of taking 15 opponents out at one go, with no need for the director to yell “cut” in between.

The villain bunch is a more mixed bag. Wheel chair baddie Keisuke Horibe’s merits lie on a fantastic “Devil’s Grin”. His right hand man, Richard “The Monster” Heselton on the other hand is a real, 190 cm karate killer. He’s got murder in his eyes, while heroine Takeda-san is having depressing speech on using martial arts only on self defense. Far gone are the times when Sonny Chiba would defend himself by ripping the opponent’s balls off. Then again, such actions could not be expected from Takeda. As a wise girl she took the idol path, with beach vid Angel Rina in stores for good 6 months now. Her music talent can be witnessed in KG theme song Ready. Steady. Go!

Takeda’s idol status considered KG is considerably straight forward action film decidedly lacking any major kawaii-factors, despite part of its charm being based on “sweet girls kicking ass”. This concept, asexual in tone and aiming at maximum innocent fun, is familiar all the way from the 1980’s High School Action TV Shows (Shoujo Commando Izumi, Rebellion League of Girls in Sailor Uniform, etc.), although unfortunately it still confuses random foreign viewers. These individuals, sadly, cannot even stand the sight of one of Japan’s most commonly worn outfits, the school uniform, without feeling uneasy. Takeda and the male crew can hardly be blamed: KG goes ever further than High Kick Girl in anti-sexualizing teen girls.

KG doesn’t bring anything new to its genre and doesn’t manage to avoid all cinematic crew ups, but as silly and even unintentionally amusing genre entertainment it certainly delivers – especially it its action sequences. Someone could of course complain Takeda and Tobimatsu don’t have half of Sonny Chiba’s killing power. But Chiba never had school uniform. Case closed!

note: DVD review can be found here



July 6, 2011

Shirome (2010)

Horror x J-Pop. Grotesque director Koji Shiraishi has been rejected by UK’s BBFC, and slated as copycat hack by others. But he’s more than that – he’s the director of the very best J-horror ghost film since Ringu: Noroi – The Curse (2005). He’s also the director who ought to have the entire faux documentary genre copyrighted to his name – not because he invented it, but because along the years he has made it his own.

At the other end of Japanese entertainment world stands Momoiro Clover, yet another recently established pop idol group, courtesy of Stardust Agency. The girls, aged 13-16, are well known stars today, but not in early 2010 when director Shiraishi first approached them. Momoiro Clover was in a need of publicity, and Shiraishi wished for a new project. What the crew came up with wan an idea of an idol documentary for TV, with Momoiro Clover visiting a haunted house. The legend says that the spirit in the abandoned school building can make wishes come true. The legend also tells more than a few people have gone mysteriously missing in the same building.

Not a standard gig for teen idols, it was nevertheless an opportunity to gain publicity. Part of the deal was, of course, that the girls would be performing their new song in the school building and wish luck for the upcoming Kohaku utagassen song competition (which would be on Japanese TV on New Year’s Eve). With Shiraishi the girls would be in good hands – he has experience from working with idols (as do many other Japanese film directors from Sion Sono to Nobuhiro Yamashita, all if whom have worked in idol videos). Time to roll cameras.

What Shiraishi didn’t explain the girls, is that in reality he’s making a “horror movie”, all the people around them are hired actors, and there’s a special effects team doing live work around them. The poor girls were clueless of their starring role in a horror movie.

Morally questionable and damned funny, Shirome is one of the best things to happen to J-horror since Sion Sono. It’s not a brilliantly directed film by any means, in fact there’s a lot to be improved on, especially towards the end that goes on for too long. Yet, at same time it’s a real treat for anyone who can see the simultaneous genius and ridiculousness of both idol and j-horror scene. It may come out as a bit of a curiosity for J-outsiders, though, but at least random laughs ought to be guaranteed to anyone.

Momoiro Clover themselves are a rather typical J-idol group, although at the time of filming still in the process of mastering their kawaii-skills and personal roles (the youngest of the bunch is the “sexy momoclo”, of course…). Shiraishi takes enough opportunities to include these idol routines in his film. As trained performers the girls know how to run a show in front of camera, even if unaware of the film’s true nature. This is what makes it all the more exhilarating when real scares enters the frame and the show girls find themselves in doubt whether something is seriously wrong. Is Momoclo being cursed?!

What Shirome stumbles with most, is deciding what it wants to be. The catch is a must know for audiences – without knowing it’s a candid camera show it would come out as just another average, if not below, genre film. Yet, it’s actually not explained until the end, although much of the film’s advertising material does indeed reveal it. Shiraishi went as far as to add special effects into the film, for the audience’s scare. It does not sink the film, and can actually be taken as joke to certain extent, but does nevertheless provide a jarring element into an otherwise excellent pic.

Despite its flaws, Shirome is a Red Bull Six Pack for J-horror genre, and comes warmly recommended to any idol fan not so serious enough about their love to curse Shiraishi to seventh hell for what he has done here. In fest circuit at least, it ought to be minor hit among J-aware cult audiences. Oh, and to those wondering about the film’s last scene: only she was acting!