Japanese Journals - General

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Re: Japanese Journals - General

Postby trevor826 » Sat Jul 22, 2006 10:03 pm

Survive Style 5 (2004)

Directed by Gen Sekiguchi

Starring Tadanobu Asano (Vital, Caf Lumire), Vinnie Jones (X Men III), Kyko Koizumi (Blue Spring)

"What is your function in life?"

Five interconnected stories edited in a similar style to Pulp Fiction, the difference being the total humour and outrageousness of each of these tales.

1. A man kills his wife and buries her in a forest, returning home he grabs a carton of milk from the fridge, turns around and there sitting at the kitchen table, as large as life is his wife! Again and again over the following days he kills her, even hiring a hit man on one occasion. Again and again she returns, to punish him in different ways depending on the method he had used to kill her. For instance, after killing her for the third or fourth time, he chops the body up only for her to shoot her forearms at him like missiles the following day.

2. An advertising executive carries a tape recorder with her everywhere she goes, she often gets ideas and needs to record her thoughts straight away, always finishing with one of the most bizarre sniggers/laughs youre ever likely to have heard. She is unhappily married to a T.V. celebrity hypnotist and procures a hit man to bump him off, meanwhile her career isnt running too smoothly as some of her advertising ideas are a little too way out there for her customers.

3. A family take a trip to a hypnotism show, he offers 1,000,000 yen to anyone he cannot put into a trance, the father accepts the challenge but ends up being hypnotised into believing hes a bird. This wouldnt be so bad but before he can be released from the trance the hypnotist is killed by a hit man. The family returns home but the father still believes hes a bird which starts to become difficult for most of his family to cope with.

4. A gang of inept burglars raid a house, they find little worth stealing but get excited when they find some trump cards. Having to conceal themselves quickly when they hear family return, they are convinced theyve been rumbled when the father opens the wardrobe theyre hiding in, luckily for them he just coo's like a pigeon then closes the door again. There is another problem within the gang though; one of them appears to have a crush on another, an affection that doesnt appear to be welcomed never mind reciprocated.

5. An English hit man has been hired (because Western things are sophisticated and better) by an advertising executive to eliminate her husband. He flies into Tokyo with his interpreter (who seems to ad-lib more than a little with the interpretation), the assassin isnt exactly what anyone would define as sophisticated, he has a very short temper and a habit of asking people the same question, What is your function in life?. Whilst in Tokyo he takes on another hit and takes in various aspects of Japanese life.

There may seem to be a lot of listed but the majority of this happens within the first twenty to thirty minutes of the film. This is the wild, crazy and kitsch side of Japan, garish colours and idealised settings, nothing can prepare you for the utter pleasure this film gives, a pure joy from start to finish as the story cuts from one to another and each intersects with the others. I cant say I was looking forward to seeing a film with Vinnie Jones in but he lampoons his own image with great aplomb.

Its mad, its laugh out loud funny, it is probably the best all round entertainment Ive seen this year and really plays to the colourful and kitsch side of Japanese culture. A high recommendation for a wonderfully constructed movie that will leave you wanting more, the cast are excellent and Id love to see some sort of behind the scenes doc as Im sure they must have had a great time making the film.

Any weak points? The editing between the stories could have been slightly better as it jumps from one to another very quickly at times but it certainly wont diminish your enjoyment of the film as a whole.

Cheers Trev

BBFC rated 15

R2 dvd available from Manga.

Re: Japanese Journals - General

Postby hengcs » Sun Jul 23, 2006 5:18 am

Hey, this was one of the better movies from Japan in 2004.
I just did not have time to catch it.
Will do so some day.

Re: Japanese Journals - General

Postby trevor826 » Sun Jul 23, 2006 7:49 am

Survive Style 5 was a total surprise for me and although completely different, it is as Japanese as an Ozu film, just the side of Japan that we usually only see on quirky T.V. game shows and animes.

If there is an underlying message it's quite simply to grab life and live every moment, you can't get much better than that.

Great entertainment and well worth seeing in my opinion. Unlike the majority of films released, this film is totally unpredictable which only adds to its charm.

Cheers Trev.

Re: Japanese Journals - General

Postby wpqx » Sun Jul 30, 2006 6:09 pm

Crazed Fruit (1956) - Ko Nakahira

Films of troublesome youth were an international trend in the mid fifties. An increasingly Westernized Japan recieved the Hollywood films Blackboard Jungle and Rebel Without a Cause in '55 and '56, and not surprising they had their impact. The shift of consumerism was changing. The youth market was rapidly expanding, and the average film going audience was no longer the family unit, but teenagers on dates. Various studios took awhile to learn this, but almost in a move of pure desperation one time powerhouse of Japanese Cinema Nikkatsu decided to embrace the new youth film, or taiyozoku. The move proved successful, and Crazed Fruit was a powerhouse of the budding new genre.

The film went almost completely unseen in the US however for an extremely long time. Western audiences were still slowly being introduced to the films of Kurosawa and Mizoguchi, and it wasn't until well into the sixties that American audiences even realized that the majority of Japanese films were timely pictures, and generally aimed at the new young filmgoers. Shintaro Ishihara was something of a figure head for this new shift in disembodied Japanese Youth. His books Season of the Sun (1955) and Crazed Fruit (1956), became something of rallying cries for his generation. Filled with disaffected, bored, idle, and immoral young protaganists, they reflected a side of Japanese life that until then went largely undocumented. As his celebrity began to rise, it wasn't too surprising that the film world would soon catch on. In fact the film of Crazed Fruit was made the same year the book was released, which helped to add to its timely appeal.

The film it is said however differs greatly from the book. It wasn't so much a filmed adaptation, as a starting off point, or inspiration. Perhaps this is why the film survives much better today compared to the filmed version of Season of the Sun. The film is not traditional in most ways. The editing is more concerned with punctuation than transition. Cuts match action graphically. It comes off in the beginning as something of a Hollywood clone, but the anti-Americanism present in Ishihara's books comes through in the film. Sure these kids might idolize James Dean and Marlon Brando, but they are still proud to be Japanese, and resent this foreign encroachment. Characters may occasionally utter a phrase in English, but are always willing to retaliate in Japanese.

The story itself is nothing to get too excited about. Two brothers are enjoying a summer of fun, and they meet a girl. The younger brother goes after, and gets her, but of course some jealousy ensues, and the older feels he needs to get a piece of it. The girl is married, and is hardly faithful, but of course the younger doesn't know this. You can see how the over emphasis on sex would dominate the picture, but it is more the morality, or lack of any that makes the picture stand out. Today it may come off as a dated exploitation movie, you can however sense the excitement the picture would have caused in '56.

Grade C

Re: Japanese Journals - General

Postby trevor826 » Sun Jul 30, 2006 8:45 pm

Thank's for your review plus some very interesting notes regarding the time the film was made wpqx. I have a couple of films that certainly fit into the "disaffected youth" genre but this is a new one to me. Is it available officially on dvd?

Cheers Trev.

Re: Japanese Journals - General

Postby wpqx » Mon Jul 31, 2006 3:36 am

Criterion released it here in the US, and it was certainly unknown to me before that, I couldn't even find an online review of it.

Re: Japanese Journals - General

Postby wpqx » Fri Aug 04, 2006 1:57 am

Underworld Beauty (1958) Seijun Suzuki

Steadily gaining in popularity in the 1950's were the infamous "yakuza" films. Nikkatsu was an early leader in the genre, and Seijun Suzuki spent the peak of his career working for them. He paralleled his American counterparts trying to put their own stamp on horrendously tacky b-movies and studio enforced assignments. Unlike Edgar G. Ulmer or Samuel Fuller though, Suzuki never really caught on with critics of the time. In fact it would take several more decades before his status would be elevated to where its at today.

Underworld Beauty was his 7th feature, and his first in widescreen. It is both exemplary and redefining of the "borderless" yakuza film being specialized by Nikkatsu. It has a lone wolf hero, the type with his own code of ethics embodied in the traditional heroes of the Hollywood Western. However the morally corrupt yakuza is also exemplified by the boss Oyane who seems able to stop at nothing to get the precious stones. The stones in question are like any "mcguffin" simply a motivating plot device, and one that sets every character in motion, and frequently against each other.

The title character of the film is played by Mari Shiraki, and true to exploitation standards few opportunities to get her in little clothing are wasted. In one scene where she tells a rather lecherous pursuer that the diamonds are hidden in her breasts, he wastes no time trying to rip her shirt off and get them. The jokes on him however, because she meant the breasts of the manniquin modeled after her, however we the viewers get teh gratuitous groping at no extra charge. Not surprising she winds up in the final shootout with only a robe, and later even less, as she of course has to remove articles of clothing to deal with all the stiffling heat.

The film plays on certain noir conventions, and near the end before the climatic shootout Miyamoto takes the trouble to shoot out all the lights to create rather high key shadows. The lighting doesn't lend itself directly to noir, but the feel is still very much there. Like any good noir this also starts at night, with a seemingly innocent enough manhole cover. The point is clear, there is something going on beneath the surface, and in this case the "underworld" is literally right beneath the surface, a rather obvious touch, but it works.

Underworld Beauty however never goes much beyond a traditional genre picture, and one that although representative of Suzuki's emerging style and the genre in question, is far from a great picture. Suzuki was evolving and this certainly sets the stage for his later, much more ambitious 60s yakuza films like Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill. However I'll take any Suzuki I can find, and they always wind up being at least somewhat interesting.

Grade C-

Re: Japanese Journals - General

Postby justindeimen » Tue Aug 29, 2006 1:34 pm

Shall We Dansu? (1996)

Some spoilers herein...shades of Takitani but with a comic slant and a dutiful ode to life's hidden wonders.

With a deft sleight of hand, Masayuki Suo infuses comedy, romance and criticism of Japanese conservatism into the foreign world of ballroom dancing in the land of the rising sun. Treated with suspicion, this form of dancing carries with it a certain sense of shame, like online dating or personal ads. As if finding himself in a seedy part of town, our protanganist, Sugiyama (Kji Yakusho), looks left and right while covering the best part of his face with the requisite nippon salaryman manila folder before heading up the stairs to continue his lessons. We're not to realise his motivations until he does as he reminisces his first urge to seek out a change and battle his midlife demons.

Just as every other day he takes the train home, where he gets on his bicycle and rides back to his newly bought house, complete with the large mortgage, the homely wife and cherished teenage daughter. One day, after a boring after-work dinner with his colleagues he first takes note of a beautiful young woman, staring out the window of a dance studio. Sugiyama takes the train each day after that, pondering why that woman's mirthless expression haunts him so. He decides reluctantly to join up after his wife tells him that he doesn't go out enough. Even with her unknowing encouragement, he keeps his past time a secret from his family as he joins a beginner group consisting of a loudmouth with good intentions, an overweight man finding some self-esteem and a kindly seasoned pro who teaches them the heart and soul of ballroom dancing.

He keeps an eye on the beautiful, sorrowful woman, Mai who harbours her own set of problems. At first staying out of Mai's way, Sugiyama grows more confident with his repertoire of moves and starts to become attached to the dance as Mai silently takes interest.

This is a story of characters, each with their own history and reasons for taking up the dance. Some noble, while some not so much. But what's constant is their burgeoning passion for what they do, while staying the periphery of society's glare. Sugiyama is a tacit individual who holds his fears, insecurities and inhibitions close to his heart. His family, although the most important things to him are mere ideals and goals that he has achieved in his life as a Japanese working man. Without any more goals to look towards, he finds more than he bargained for when he embarked on deciphering Mai's secret grief.

With a happy ending, comedy with its supporting characters and numerous subplots, its a light and underplayed (but not without some measure of stinging depth) look at the heavy upheavals of life's tedius banalities and doldrums. Showing how unbalanced we might be with our monotony, trust and loyality are always key virtues in succeeding.


Re: Japanese Journals - General

Postby trevor826 » Tue Aug 29, 2006 2:07 pm

It appears we're pretty much in agreement on Shall we Dansu justindeimen, I was just wondering if you have seen the Hollywood remake?

I found it quite depressing compared to the original, changed for the worse and badly miscast.

Cheers Trev.

Re: Japanese Journals - General

Postby justindeimen » Tue Aug 29, 2006 2:21 pm

I could. But I don't think I would want to.

On first impressions I do think, Gere was grossly miscast seeing as the protanganist needed to be a common, not particularly handsome individual who expresses himself with melancholic abjection with no distinguishing idiosyncracies. It seems like a overly flowery bastardisation of the original which shows enough pathos and underlying desolation of urban living and social restrictions, something which I think the remake might have done away with to give it the Hollywood treatment of an uplifting, inspirational but ultimately hollow message to middle-aged housewives and watery-eyed teenagers.

Stinks of trying to lend legitimacy to an inherently problematic film. What made the original great was its digs at Japanese society and the lack of progressive liberalisation of its people. What could they possibly replace that with in an American pop remake?


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