Archive for the ‘Music / Pop Cinema’ Category


Minato no Yoko, Yokohama, Yokosuka

April 2, 2017

Minato no Yoko, Yokohama, Yokosuka (1975)

This crazy disco dance youth film plays out like a Japanese Saturday Night Fever with a murder suspect plot. A young girl (16 year old Ai Saotome) is looking for her runaway sister (Yumi Takigawa) and ends up finding new life at a night club. Expect psychedelic discos, dance-till-you-drop (literally) all night dance marathon competitions and Downtown Boogie Woogie Band, whose awesome song gave the film its title and plot, and who appear in the ultra-funky intro scene. What a discovery! It’s a shame this has never been released on video or dvd.


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.


Tokyo Drifter

July 4, 2012

Another superb Tokyo film by Matsue & Maeno

Tokyo Drifter (2011)

2010/05/27, Tokyo.

Night falls in the rainy metropolis. Fukushima has exploded, Tokyo’s trademark neon lights have been turned off, and the rain falling from the sky is potentially radioactive. But one man and a small crew following him refuse to give in to the darkness. Their aim: a love song for Tokyo and the feel good film no. 1 of the year!

Documentarian Tetsuaki Matsue and folk-wonder Kenta Maeno became an indie phenomenon in 2009, when their Live Tape debuted on film festivals around the world. The inspiring little film, shot entirely with a single take, followed Maeno walking the streets of Tokyo and performing his music. Two years later the duo has a new film in the theaters. Time will show whether this stylistic re-issue will live up to the success of its predecessor.

Tokyo Drifter, which was shot during a single rainy night, is a music film and a street document. No one is interviewed and there is not a word of dialogue to be heard. Maeno, armed with guitar and sunglasses, wanders around Tokyo performing an album worth of great music about life, love, and other things. Director Matsue faithfully follows in his footsteps – though this time editing his film into separate, long take sequences.

Tokyo Drifter is above all a film for the fans of Maeno. Yet, at the same time it’s something more. As the slightly un-stylish but cool in his own way hero wanders around we start to grasp something of the insecure atmosphere that was present in the post-Fukushima streets of Tokyo. The need to save energy had finally brought the night into the city that is normally light even at night by the gigantic neon lights. In Maeno’s film Tokyo finally appears like a normal city – the most unusual state for Japan’s capital.

Director Matsue was not depressed by the change – he saw something beautiful and appealing, but unusual in it. For documenting it his choice of medium was a cheap video camera off the store shelf. Its grainy and inconsistent output, plagued with errors caused by auto-focus, reminded the director of those YouTube videos that he and millions of others had relied on as an important news source during the early hours and days of the disaster. Sound quality was, however, not to be compromised – Tokyo Drifter is a music film after all.

The real star of the show, however, is Maeno. The irresistibly energetic musician is never brought down even by the nightmarish combination of dark, rainy night, and trademark sunglasses that remain on throughout the film. He is left without audience in every location he travels (in the film), but in the comfort of cinema his show is one not to be missed. As the night finally turns into a day, one cannot help but to wish morning had not come yet. At 70 minutes Matsue turns off the lights, leaving Maeno’s Tokyo Drifter theme song playing against black screen. Good morning, Tokyo.

Side note 1: In the Sapporo premiere Matsue, who was touring the country with guitar and film reels in his hand, held a 4 song mini-concert as appetizers for the following day’s main event. The theater staff had notable difficulties believing their ears as Matsue requested to play his final song in complete darkness.

Side note 2: Nicholas Vroman’s highly informative Matsue interview, excessively referred in this review, can be found at his site a page of madness



January 4, 2012

Indie-esque mainstream pleaser falls short.

Abraxas no matsuri (Japan, 2010)

Ear-tearing noise-rock may not be the most usual way to open a movie about zen monks. Then again, Japanese monks aren’t the most usual bunch, ranging from ex-boxer bartenders (Pirjo Honkasalo’s documentary film Ito: A Diary of an Urban Priest, 2009) to rock stars, as found in Naoki Kato’s Abraxas. It’s a story based on 2011 novel by famous Japanese monk Sokyu Genyu.

The opening is quite something indeed – Jonen is a noise-rocker who defies decibel regulations and trashes half of the stage as part of his regular performance. Clothes have hard time staying on, too…

Enter adulthood + burnout. Monastery proves the solution and zen for the soul. But, can Jonen take all the harmony, or will his rocker explode from the lack on noise?

In director Kato’s hands, and perhaps because of the source material, too, a promising idea is given only a half-satisfying take. Despite an original and perhaps “indie-esque” premise, the film is aimed at mainstream audiences. It ends up softening much of its core with sappy family drama and moral message.

Still, there is a target audience for the film out there – mainstream critics and adventurous semi-mainstream audiences – and for them it may indeed prove a hit as the film’s festival success would suggest). But for all its potential there’s a constant feel of compromise in order not to alienate certain audiences.

Real life rocker Suneohair aka Kenji Watanabe is the film’s major ace. He’s quite an interesting sight in his portrait of Jonen, and carries the film over some lesser moments. His adventures would’ve deserved more spark. Dropping some of the more conventional drama and opting for HD digital cinematography to give it a more documentaristic spin (as was successfully done in the similarly balanced semi-mainstream film The Rise and Fall of the Unparalleled Band) might have worked.

In it’s current form the film feels – and looks, with it’s technically competent and colorful 35mm look – very safe. An exception to this safety comes in form of a few hard rock performances that are bound to have some of the audience holding their ears!

Disappointments aside, Abraxas is ultimately an entertaining if under-performing drama with strong lead, and no doubt plenty to enjoy for those who come looking something safe yet more original than your average multiplex offering. Oh, and the beautiful landscapes seen in the film are found in Japan’s now “notorious” Fukushima prefecture. And no, life did not end there in March 2011, despite what the media might have had you believe.


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.