Category: Japan

Summer Vacation 1999


Type: Drama, Japan 1988

Director:Shusuke Kaneko

My rating: 4

Key actors/actresses:
Eri Fukatsu .... Norio
Eri Miyajima .... Yu/Kaoru
Hiromi Murata
Miyuki Nakano .... Naoto
Tomoko Otakara .... Kazuhiko

Story:
The time setting of the story is the last summer of the century (summer 1999). Vacation has emptied a Japanese boys' school of all but three boys: the junior Norio & the seniors Kazuhiko & Naoto. They have no families to return to for the summer, so they spend their days in the empty school. They are basically in charge of their own life during this summer. A darkness hangs over the three however: the suicide, three months earlier, of classmate Yu. Norio blames Kazuhiko for Yu's death, because it was well-known that Yu loved Kazuhiko; so Kazuhiko is cruel to Norio, and yet has bad dreams. This uneasy arrangement is exacerbated by the arrival of Kaoru, a student comes early for the fall - who looks exactly like Yu. Everyone is confused and a heavy sense of guilt is stirred up for Kaoru not only looks like Yu, he also behaves like Yu. Kaoru also has a dark side of his life that is untold.

My review:
The director has chosen a very interesting approach to this unusually sensitive topic of suicide and homosexuality, he chose 4 young female actresses to play the 4 male teenagers. Is it because that makes it easier for the audience to accept a story on homesexuality or is it a liberate twist that is so obvious. Could it be because of the sensitive emotional issues that the director is trying to communicate can only be expressed by the softer and more caring gender of the human species. Despite this gender confusion, I found I could focus on the delicate relationships between each pair of the characters in the movie.

Love letter 情書


Type: Drama Romantic, Japan 1995

Director:Shunji Iwai 岩井俊二

My rating: 5
Key actors/actresses:
Miho Nakayama 中山美穗

Story:
Hiroko Watanabe's fiance Itsuki died two years earlier in a mountain climbing accident. While looking through his high school yearbook, Hiroko in a fit of grief decides to write a letter to him using his old school address. Surprisingly she receives a reply, not from her dead husband, but from a woman also named Itsuki whom had known Hiroko's husband in school. A relationship develops between the two women as they continue to exchange letters and share memories of the dead Itsuke.

My review:
A beautifully made movie that reminds me of the French movie "Double life of Veronica". The story captures audience's attention and raises their curiosity about how a subtle and special relationship is developed between two classmates, a boy and a girl with the same name, Itsuki. And how this untold relationship is finally revealed through the correspondence between the female Itsuki and the fiance of the male Itsuki two years after his death. The director adopts a subtle approach when revealing the relationship through the many past incidents. I particularly like the scene when the female Itsuki finally realised the significant of her relationship with the now deceased Itsuki, the long bottled emotions overwhelm her and she burst into tears.

Kamikaze Taxi


Type: Drama Thriller, Japan 1995
Director:Masato Harada

My rating: 3
Key actors/actresses:
Koji Yakusho .... Kantake
Kazuya Takahashi .... Tatsuo
Reiko Kataoka .... Tama

Story:
A young gangster in the yakuza whose prostitute girlfriend was killed during a session with a high-ranking Japanese politician with a taste for torture. He seeks revenge and sets out on a 'kamikaze' mission to kill his bosses and the politician, his gangster friends were all killed after a failed mission; along the way, he acquires the aid of a taxi driver who has recently returned to Japan after living in South America for several decades and is struggling to cope with poverty and the prejudices of native-born Japanese. The taxi driver maybe just what this young gangster is needed to aid his revenge

My review:
An action-packed movie to unfold the dark side of the link between powerful politician and gangsters while the silent majority is just minding their own business, until the line is crossed and the weak and exploited has to fight back to demonstrate that they are not so weak afterall and it takes real courage to be brave and selfless like the "kamikaze".

I love you, (Ai rabu yu)


Type: Drama, Japan 2000
Director:Yutaka Osawa, Akihiro Yonaiyama

My rating: 4
Key actors/actresses:
Akiko Oshidari .... Asako
Minoru Tanaka .... Ryuichi
Ai Okazaki .... Ai

Story:
Unuttered love is all the more melodious. Asako is an ordinary housewife who takes care of her husband and daughter. However, when her daughter's schoolmates see her communicate not with sound but with her hands, she is immediately labelled as a handicap. Her calm world is suddenly filled with malicious whispers and sniggers. Even her daughter is mocked at school. She realizes that deaf-mutes, just because they communicate differently, are discriminated in society. Asako is asked by her friends to re-join their deaf-theatrical troupe - Hands, which tries to promote mutual understanding with the hearing people through drama and plays....

My review:
The First Japanese Film Made by a Hearing and a Deaf Directors. This is a movie you can only see with your eyes, yet the message is thundering. It is Beyond Silence with a social theme. Simple yet touching, it does not scream for recognition and respect. Instead, by sharing their lives, we come to share their dignity. There is no handicapped love, only souls crippled by prejudice and condescension.

Bounce ko gals

Drama, Japan 1999
Director:Masato Harada

My rating: 3
Key actors/actresses:
Hitomi Sato .... Jonko Yasue
Sato .... Raku Yukiko
Okamoto .... Lisa

Story:
This is a story about 3 school girls who are trying to earn some quick buck by working as call girl. One of them is about to embark on a journey to New York and she is only doing this for 24 hours prior to her flight. Soon they find out earning the quick buck is not as easy as they think. They learn through the hard way, the girl lost all her money during a filming session of girls-in-school-uniform. The other 2 girls try to help her get the money back. The ordeal strengthens their friendship and support in the process.

My review:
The movie tries to analyse the young generation of modern Japan. It amplifies the segment that is most negelated through the story of 3 school girls. Pretty revealing.

Battle Royale

Link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/external-search?tag=dominicchan-20&keyword=B00005Y7L4&mode=blended

Image from Amazon
Battle Royale Directors Cut

Type: Drama Thriller, Japan 1998
Director:Kinji Fukasaku
My rating: 4
Key actors/actresses:
Tatsuya Fujiwara .... Shuya Nanahara

Story:
In future Japan, the younger generation has lost faith of the government and they constantly challenge authorities and resort to violence. The government passed a directive allowing the military to select one secondary class per year to participate in an exercise called "Battle Royale", in which the teenage pupils are brought to a isolated island controlled by the army. They are forced to wear a necklace with explosive and are equipped with various weapons, from spring arrow, knief, pistol and machine gun and are forced to kill each other. In 3 days' time, there can be only one survivor, or the necklace will blow their heads off. The teenagers are fighting for their own lives. To make it more interesting, they have put two pupils that do not belong to this class.

My review:
This is a highly controversial movie, indeed, it talks about a very sensitive topic. The idea on teenagers killing teenagers for their own survival is too much for most people. The movie is full of vivid and graphical violent scenes. Once the movie has established the plot, the director tried to portray behaviours of the two extremes, namely good and evil. There were some who played by the game and try to eliminate others, there were others who refused to give in to the game and strive to survive by other means without killing each other. I particularly like the light-house scene where the group of girls who initially were determined to stand by each other and sworn they would never harm one another. They took shelter at the light house. But the balance totally swinged the other way as soon as one of them was poisoned to death by accident. The results? They all killed each other and the girl who planted the poison in the first place intended to kill the boy that they rescured. She jumped off the light house and killed herself out of guilt. Peace was never long lasting, it was hanging on a thin thread, small disturbance to the system sent them to the path of no-return. Whether the director is trying to convey something deep and meaningful, or whether he is just taking the pleasure out of making a controversial movie, you can be the judge of that. But in terms of the pace, atmosphere, cinematography and casting, this is a fine movie. If you cannot accept the idea of people killing each other for their own survival (which by the way is exactly what people do when they are at war and I am all against it), then this is probably not a movie for you.

After Life

Link: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/external-search?tag=dominicchan-20&keyword=B00004U1F9&mode=blended

Image from Amazon
After Life
(buy from Amazon)
Type: Drama, Japan 1998
Director:Hirokazu Koreeda
My rating: 4
Key actors/actresses:
Arata .... Takashi Mochizuki
Erika Oda .... Shiori Satonaka
Susumu Terajima .... Satoru Kawashima

Story:
"What is the most memoriable moment of your life?". Imagine being asked this question when you are dead. In "After Life", dead people spend a week in a kind of half-way house where counselors, also dead, who help them to pick one memoriable moment of their lives. The counselors would arrange a crew to film these special moments, so people can take it to eternity. There are people who cannot decide on "the moment", so they get to see the tape of their life and try to choose something from there. Some pick their memory easily, some take their time and decide at the end of the week. The counselors themselves are the undecided thus they are stuck in this half-way house to help others, until they themselves can pick that special moment of their lives.

My review:
Ever wonder one day if you die suddenly and the many things that you want to see and experience has come to an abrupt end. What about your wife/husband, family members and friends, have you told them enough how much you love them? At your dying bed, you look back in your life, can you find the special moments in your life? Or is it full of regrets?

"After Life" has provoked my thoughts along these lines. I hope you too will continue to create many special moments in your life.

Old Leglessbird Movie guide

You can find the old leglessbird movie guide here.

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