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Patriotism
[Yukoku / The Rite of Love and Death ]

Genre: Minimalist Depiction of Mishima's "Patriotic" Ideology

review in one breath

Directed, produced and acted by the infamous writer/political idealogue Yukio Mishima, this short, minimalist and stark film offers an unflinching depiction of Mishima's personal and political ideology. Filmed just four years prior to his suicide, the undeniable similarity between this film's narrative and Mishima's own personal demise caused the film to be "destroyed" at his wife's request shortly thereafter. In 2005, following his widow's death, the film was re-released. It is nothing short of fascinating, particularly for those familiar with the political views and death of Mishima.



Versus

Genre: Extreme Zombie Action

review in one breath

When you exempt the mega-budget/block-buster stuff of Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, and the Wachowski brothers, what movies come to mind as jaw-dropping entertainment? Well, director Ryuhei Kitamura's Versus is now at the top of that list. Of course you and I are different (for example, we can both agree I am better looking) and so our lists of "most memorable" may indeed differ. So let me qualify this praise. For those interested in non-stop, full-throttle action involving, yakuza, zombies, karmic cycles, sinister priests, human sacrifice, revenge themes, and limb-hacking extraordinaire, this will likely top your list as well.



Ring
[Ringu]

Genre: Supernatural Horror par Excellence

review in one breath

Let me begin by stating: YOUCH! VERY CREEPY!!!

Okay. Ringu is based on Ringu (1991), the first of a trilogy of novels by author Suzuki Koji. The movie became wildly popular in Japan and spawned several sequels/prequels, two television mini-series, a Korean, and eventually US remake. Ringu was held from release in the US until the release of the US remake, The Ring, in 2003. (Go figure.)



Kyouki no Sakura
[Madness In Bloom]

Genre: Japanese Fascism Meets Clockwork Orange

review in one breath

The title Kyouki no Sakura, though translated rather simply as Madness in Bloom, is in fact a play on words. The pronounced term "kyouki" perhaps most commonly connotes "madness" (aka "dangerous spirit/mind"), but it can also mean "chivalrous spirit". In the title of this film, the term is spelled using one character from each of these meanings, specifically using the character for chivalrous rather than madness. The term "sakura" could likewise mean "bloom" in general but here most clearly refers to the more specific cherry blossom, long beloved by Japanese as their national flower. (The flower permeates the film, most dramatically in the yakuza boss' home.)



Branded to Kill
[Koroshi no rakuin]

Genre: Noir Yakuza Action

review in one breath

"He loves the smell of boiling rice more than anything in the world."

Enter the world of rice-sniffing Yakuza killers! Enter the world of moth-collecting nihilists! Enter the world of Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill (1967)! This is the type of pop noir movie where you sit with mouth open in a state of disbelief.




Pornostar
[Poruno Sutaa ]

U.S. release tile: Tokyo Rampage

Genre: Psychotically Anti-Social Neo Yakuza Youth
Director: Toyoda Toshiaki (1998)

review in one breath

Here is an absolutely excellent film for fans of the contemporary neo yakuza genre. Director Toyoda Toshiaki may be better known to Western audiences for Blue Spring (Aoi Haru), another excellent nihilistic urban youth tale, which he directed 3 years after this film. Set in the urban youth culture of Shibuya, Tokyo, Pornostar offers its own exploration of the impact of yakuza influence upon youth culture. By creating a truly unique protagonist, which is simultaneously beyond morality yet somehow set against the moral scourge of the yakuza, Toyoda leads his audience into the deepest corners of Tokyo's influential sub-culture of crime.



Dai-Nipponjin [Dai Nippon Jin]

Genre: Traditional Kaijuu Deconstruction
Director: Matsumoto Hitoshi (2007)

review in one breath

Masaru Daisato is a 4th generation Japanese superhero. His father, Grand Father and Great-Grand Father before him had protected the Japanese Islands from ultimate destruction at the hands of various monsters (kaijuu) rising from both land and sea. Unlike his ancestors, however, who were nationally heralded as beloved heroes and were often invited into the Imperial Palace, Masaru's personal life is in shambles. He is divorced, has little income, and in the eyes of many contemporary Japanese is far less spectacular than the historical hype suggests. The film Dai-Nipponjin is a documentary following Masaru's mundane daily life and superhero responsibilities in an effort to understand the man behind the legend.



Ugetsu Monogatari
[Tales of Moonlight and Rain]

Genre: Classic Japanese Ghost Tale

review in one breath

This classic supernatural morality tale follows the path of two men who prioritize their ambitions above all else and inadvertently set aside their families and responsibilities. This 1953 ghost tale is arguably the FIRST truly Japanese horror film and is thus required viewing for anyone seriously interested in the whole of J-Horror.



They Who Step on Tiger's Tail
[Tora no O wo Fumu Otokotachi]

Genre: Historical Samurai Tale (Kamakura Era 1185-1392 AD)

review in one breath

This very early Kurosawa film retells the historical tale of Yoshitsune's perilous and skillful escape from the hands of his warring brother. It is a legendary tale, well-beloved in Japanese history, here brought to the screen in a highly entertaining and effective way. This is truly one to check out.



Kamikaze Girls
[Shimotsuma monogatari]

Genre: Very fun and cool female friendship adventure

review in one breath

Momoko is dainty, enjoys needlepoint and never goes out without a flamboyantly frilly dress. Ichigo is a rough-mouthed girl biker whose two predominant behaviors are spitting and head-butting. This unlikely pair collide and strike up an awkward friendship in the forlorn rural environ of Shimotsuma, Ibaragi. Their unusual adventures easily results in one the best recent films you can see.



Salaryman Kintaro

Genre: Whoop-Ass White Collar Anime Series

review in one breath

When notorious bike-gang leader Yajima Kintaro abandons his gang to pursue a straighter path, he finds that even in the mundane world of white collar work there are plenty of times a man must either step up and confront injustice or acquiesce out of intimidation. Unfortunately for the bad guys, Kintaro has not forgotten his whoop-ass ways and brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "office power politics"! This is an infamously excellent and meaningful anime series for both youth and adults. Definitely a must see!


GTO : Great Teacher Onizuka

Genre: Very Funny Ruffian Turned Teacher Fiascoes!

review in one breath

"GTO" stands for "Great Teacher Ozinuka", referring to a rough and tumble yet amazingly sincere teacher of Japanese junior high students. Though drawn in traditional cell animation, this series' (amazingly) polished degree of humor, societal commentary and wholesome humanitarianism make this a "must see" event. Here is another excellent example of creative and meaningful Japanese anime.



Apple Seed
[Appurusheedo]

Genre: EXCELLENT (!) Sci-Fi Action CG Anime -- Please Don't Wake Me Up

review in one breath

With humanity on the brink of self-annihilation due to prolonged and numerous wars, human-like androids endowed with artificial intelligence are dispersed throughout the population to "balance" mankind's irrational emotionalism. But as the androids appear ready to surpass humanity on the evolutionary stage, a subversive movement is spawned to overthrow the new life forms, and with them the critical balance to humanity's darker side. This is such an incredible visual experience that I can only implore that you see it for yourself!



Sex and Fury
[Furyo anego den: Inoshika Ocho]

Genre: Sex, Sex, Sex and a Whole Lotta Fury

review in one breath

After witnessing the murder of her father at an early age, Ocho has dedicated her life to avenging her father's death. She was left with only three clues, the images of a wild boar, a deer and a butterfly. When she eventually unlocks the mystery behind the killers' identity, it leads her down dark halls of, well, SEX and FURY.



The Ceiling at Utsunomiya
[Kaii Utsunomiya Tsuritenjo]

Genre: Tokugawa-Era Power Politics and Ghosts

review in one breath

While Tokugawa Iemitsu prepares to travel from the Edo capitol to the Toshogu Shrine in Nikko, one of his astute spies discovers a possible assassination plot scheduled to take place during the Shogun's stop at Utsunomiya Castle. This is a wonderfully quaint historical piece and director Nakagawa Nobuo's first ghost tale.



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