Tag Archives: Japan

The Great Yokai War: Guardians (Takashi Miike, 2021)

Sixteen years and over 30 feature credits ago, Takashi Miike directed The Great Yokai War, one of the prolific Japanese filmmaker’s earliest forays into family-oriented fantasy. The film’s narrative incorporated various creatures from Japanese mythology, known as yōkai, whereby a modern boy is chosen to team up with them to destroy evil forces.

Now, Miike has directed a belated follow-up, The Great Yokai War: Guardians – although the standalone story by Yûsuke Watanabe (a veteran of Dragon Ball Z and Attack on Titan films) is really more a spiritual sequel, requiring no real understanding of its predecessor. This wildly entertaining fantasy adventure gets by on exuberant direction, game performances from a large ensemble, and lavish production design and makeup work. For a sense of the aesthetic, imagine a mix of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy films and Clive Barker’s Nightbreed

Full review for Little White Lies

The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers: Stardust Melodies

Originally published as a print-exclusive in SciFiNow #167, in January 2020

In 1985, a legend was born. Except, in the western world, it’s a legend you never encountered. And, to be fair, it wasn’t encountered much in the eastern world where it originated. 

Released in Japan that year, The Legend Of The Stardust Brothers is a terrific musical comedy, with horror and sci-fi trappings, that premiered to not-so-terrific critical notices and box office, seeing virtually no release outside of East Asia. In the 30-plus years since, the film has developed a cult following, to the extent that its writer-director was able to make a semi-sequel, The Brand New Legend Of The Stardust Brothers, in 2016. Thanks to the efforts of distributor Third Window Films, the original Legend is premiering on UK home media in a dual format, region-free Blu-ray and DVD set, having undergone a full restoration.

Director Macoto Tezka has gone on to a career of further live-action films, animation and teaching, but in 1985, he was primarily known for being the son of Osamu Tezuka, the man considered the Japanese equivalent to Walt Disney. Tezuka’s best known manga series include Astro Boy, Black Jack and Kimba The White Lion

Full interview for SciFiNow

Special Actors (Shinichiro Ueda, 2019)

When your breakout feature as a writer/director is predicated on narrative twists and sudden aesthetic left turns, there can be pressure for your next film to retain a similar element of surprise. Shinichiro Ueda’s Special Actors is his solo follow-up to One Cut of the Dead (he co-directed another feature in-between), the independent Japanese zombie horror of sorts that earned more than one thousand times its budget back in its home country, and became a word-of-mouth hit overseas.

For the sake of those still yet to see it, this review will avoid explicit spoilers for One Cut of the Dead; suffice it to say that Special Actors was always going to struggle to live up to its predecessor. That said, the results are largely entertaining and inventive…

Full review for Little White Lies

 

First Love (Takashi Miike, 2019)

“Fuck. How many does this make today?” an exasperated, backstabbing yakuza says to himself, as he attempts to tie up yet another loose end in the fallout of a scheme gone disastrously wrong. He has no idea that the previous loose end he thought he tied up – i.e. someone he left for dead – is very much still alive, kicking and maniacally set on revenge. Welcome to Takashi Miike’s First Love, the Japanese icon’s 103rd film to date: a high-energy slice of pulp fiction with a dozen distinctive characters…

Full review for VODzilla.co

Promare (Hiroyuki Imaishi, 2019)

The opening of Promare establishes that the sudden combustion of various people across the globe caused severe damage to the world. This was the first appearance of the Burnish, a race of hitherto unknown mutant beings with the ability to wield flames.

Thirty years later, a firefighting mecha service, Burning Rescue, has been created to put a stop to similar catastrophes. The arrival of a new group of aggressive mutants known as ‘Mad Burnish’ sets up a conflict between its leader, Lio Fotia, and over-eager firefighter Galo Thymos, but all is not as it seems and the fate of the planet is at stake…

Full review for SciFiNow

Earthquake Bird (Wash Westmoreland, 2019)

A few minutes into Earthquake Bird, Alicia Vikander’s Lucy Fly is shown translating an English-language film into Japanese for what we soon learn has been her job in Tokyo for a number of years. The film in question is Black Rain, Ridley Scott’s cross-cultural action movie in which Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia play New York City cops escorting a Yakuza member back to Japan for extradition.

It’s a cute nod given that Scott Free Productions is one of the companies behind this Netflix-distributed film, and that Black Rain opened in 1989, the year in which Earthquake Bird is set. But the reference ends up backfiring. While the general consensus on Scott’s film remains largely negative, not least due to its use of Asian stereotypes, many of its detractors have nonetheless pointed to the director’s stylistic excesses as a positive. By contrast, Wash Westmoreland’s adaptation of Susanna Jones’ 2001 novel is a pedestrian thriller lacking any zest or flair…

Full review for Little White Lies

Modest Heroes (Hiromasa Yonebayashi/Yoshiyuki Momose/Akihiko Yamashita, 2018)

In a short documentary available on Netflix, titled The Modest Heroes of Studio Ponoc, producer Yoshiaki Nishimura says that makers of short animation films are often asked: “Why do you make short films?” But he wonders why they never ask the question, “Why do you make feature films?” He suggests that short films are often viewed as a stepping-stone of sorts for people who can’t yet make feature films, but that this does a disservice to the form. As he says, short animation films have their own form of expression: “If the creator fully understands the idea, they can create great work… we create short films because we believe they have a value in and of themselves”

Nishimura is right to point out this unfair view towards shorts films. And it is admirable that Studio Ponoc’s second release, which clocks in at under an hour, should be an anthology collection of short films, rather than a traditional narrative feature, such as their 2017 debut, Mary and the Witch’s Flower. The good news is that this three-film collection does a strong job at illustrating the range of the studio’s talents, helping them emerge from the shadow of Studio Ghibli, for whom many of their staff used to work…

Full review for VODzilla.co

“A Movie is Not Something Where I Need to Convey a Message About How People Are Supposed to Live”: Director Kôji Fukada on ‘A Girl Missing’

Since his debut feature, Human Comedy in Tokyo, in 2008, Kôji Fukada has steadily become one of the most interesting filmmakers working out of Japan in the last decade plus. Many of his features can be characterised by a protagonist or family unit’s apparent stability being upended by one event, a plot development that illustrates how easily and turbulently lives can spiral out of control. In his sophomore feature, Hospitalité (2010), this was played for laughs. In that film, a family printing business is gradually taken over by a former associate who talks his way into a job, moves into the building, and invites more and more people, with increasingly tenuous connections, to live with him in the cramped space.

Harmonium (2016), Fukada’s international breakthrough in terms of distribution and awards recognition, presents his darkest take on that theme to date. Winner of the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at that year’s Cannes, it sees a man invite a friend with an unsavory past back into his life, offering him a job in his garage workshop, only for the kind act to have devastating effects on him, his wife and their young daughter.

A Girl Missing (2019) is not Fukada’s direct feature follow-up to Harmonium, with The Man from the Sea (2018) having premiered in between, but it is both a reunion with one of Harmonium’s stars, Mariko Tsutsui, and a return to a mode of storytelling that contains a significant time jump. But in contrast to Harmonium, the two narratives of A Girl Missing play in parallel…

Full interview for Filmmaker

A Girl Missing (Kôji Fukada, 2019)

In Fukada Kōji’s Harmonium (2016), Tsutsui Mariko played a woman whose life was destroyed by tragic circumstances beyond her control. In this reunion of the actor and writer-director, Tsutsui is working in a similar mode, including playing someone before and after a significant time jump. Here, those timelines are presented in parallel, tracking, to largely deft effect, a transformation from a compassionate, pragmatic individual to a vengeful soul who’s lost everything…

Full review for Sight & Sound

The Legend of the Stardust Brothers (Macoto Tezka, 1985)

Some backstory first: the legend behind The Legend, if you will. In the early ‘80s, Macoto Tezka, the son of “godfather of manga” Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy), was a film student with few credits to his name beyond some experimental shorts. In 1985, at age 22, he met musician and TV personality Haruo Chicada, who had composed a soundtrack for a movie that didn’t actually exist yet: The Legend of the Stardust Brothers.

Chicada used his clout to get an adaptation of his fake soundtrack made into a feature-length musical, with Tezka directing. The budget was sizeable and some of Japan’s most famous musicians of the time were on board, while various prominent names in manga were among the assembled crew; Kiyoshi Kurosawa, a director who would become much famous later for films like Pulse and Cure, even has a supporting role as an actor…

Full review for SciFiNow