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Recently in political / social Category

Female Slave Ship
[Onna Dorei-sen]

Genre: War Hero Despite Defeat

review in one breath

The year is 1945, months prior to Japan's ultimate defeat in WW2, and military lieutenant Sugawa is sent on a critical mission to deliver micro-fiche war plans to Tokyo from his base in Malaysia. But while flying over Chinese waters his plane is shot down and he is taken aboard a ship bound for Shanghai to deliver its merchandise - a ship filled with Female Slaves kidnapped from Japan. Will he abandon the women to pursue his main objective? Or will he fight foes, spies and pirates to save these women against all odds?



Under the Carp Banner
[Koinobori hatameku shita ni]

aka "Molester: Obscene Peeping"
[Chikan Waisetsu Nozoki]

Genre: Pinku-Erotic Social Commentary

review in one breath

In Under the Carp Banner renowned/notorious director Kazuhiro Sano creates an impressively explosive clash between Japan's contemporary social momentum and traditional sensibilities, all under the umbrella of an independent erotic (pink) film. While chocked full of sex scenes, this film clearly demonstrates Sano's highly valued contribution to the intellectual trajectory of independent Japanese film and easily justifies his place amongst the "Four Kings of Pink".



The World Sinks Except Japan
[Nihon igai zenbu chinbotsu]

Genre: Cornball Parody and Political Satire

review in one breath

Due to sudden tectonic shifts which only the half-crazy Dr. Tadokoro can explain, all of earth's land masses have sunk into the sea with the exception (of course) of JAPAN turning the island nation into the global relief center for the world's population. How will Japan handle its new role as the earth's only government? Directed by Kawasaki Minoru, this film is a parody of the widely popular "Japan Sinks" novel and films.



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.



Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis
[Teito Monogatari]

Genre: Battle Of White and Black Onmyoji Magic over Tokyo's Urban Development [Taisho Era 1912-1926]

review in one breath

This incredibly ambitious and well-cast film depicts a spiritualized version of Japan's gradual turn away from its ancestral religion and toward modernity starting in the early Taisho Era and ending in the Showa Era. Whereas actual secular history accounts for the great earthquake of 1923 and the subsequent rebuilding of Tokyo using modernized architecture and technology (such as a subway system), here we are told of both evil and benevolent spiritual forces at work behind all these events. Available now in subtitled Region 1 DVD and running at slightly over 2 hours, this is a highly involved and sometimes confusing tale of Japan's irrevocable turn toward modernity.



Love & Pop
[Rabu & Poppu]

Genre: Unnervingly Realistic Social Commentary

review in one breath

This film follows one day in the life of high school student Hiromi as she meets with her friends in Shibuya for a shopping spree. Their mundane adventure is brimming, however, with the seedy undertones of contemporary Tokyo's prolific tendency to sexualize and bait high school girls into enjo-kosai, dating for hire. What starts out as an ordinary day with friends will end in irrevocable, life-changing events for Hiromi.



Hellevator : The Bottled Fools
[Gusha no Bindume]

Genre: Bloody and Claustrophobic Social Satire

review in one breath

Luchino's routine morning elevator ride up from her subterranean home on level 138 to her school many stories above turns horrific when the elevator operator is ordered to pick up two passengers from floor 99, the maximum security level. What starts as psychological manipulation soon turns wholly physical as both the cruel convicts and Luchino's own dysfunctional past are unleashed. And then every passenger must fight for his or her survival.



Giants and Toys
[Kyojin to Gangu]

Genre: Satire of Capitalism Run Amuck

review in one breath

As three rival Caramel companies prepare for their annual promotional campaigns, the corporate backstabbing begins. But when the PR director of World Caramel discovers Kyoko, a cute but rather unpolished girl to star as the new face of the campaign, the competitive tide seems to turn in their favor. Until, that is, Kyoko becomes such a wild sensation that the entire campaign implodes. Director Masumura here explores the non-ceasing battle between pursuit of profits and business ethics in Japan's increasingly cut-throat corporate world.



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.)



Kichiku Dai Enkai
[Banquet of the Beasts]

Genre: Extreme Youth Political Violence

review in one breath

In 1972, a small group of students affiliated with the Allied Red Army (Reng�e Sekigun) held a hostage in the mountain village of Karuizawa in Nagano-ken (Japan). The stand-off and ensuing battle between the student revolutionaries and the police were broadcast live into Japanese living rooms via intense television coverage. When the police finally overcame the leftist radicals, they found that the small group had violently turned upon themselves, committing brutal murders in order to purge themselves of those not fully committed to the path they had taken. This infamous scenario became known as the Asama Sans�o Incident (Asama is the name of the mountain there) and is generally viewed as the collapse of the New Left student movement of the 1970's.



Fighting Elegy
[Kenka Ereji]

Genre: Quasi-historical Action [Showa Era: 1926-1989]

review in one breath

The early trilogy of movies by Director Seijun Suzuki, of which this movie is the last, examines the impact and ludicrousness of the forces leading to war. Fighting Elegy follows the life of Kiroku, a junior high student in 1935 rural Japan, through a series of over-the-top humorous brawls. Under the instruction of master brawler "Turtle", Kiroku undertakes a rigorous training which involves mastery of several fighting techniques and an austere abstinence from mingling with the opposite sex. Unfortunately for Kiroku, he resides in a boarding house along with the young and beautiful Michiko, who sends Kiroku's raging libido off the deep end. To battle his urges (and sudden, ill-timed erections) Kiroku throws himself all the more fervently into his scuffles.



Ecstasy of the Angels
[Tenshi No Kokotsu]

Genre: Extreme Youth Coming of Age (Political)

review in one breath

This film is the creation of Director Koji Wakamatsu who, after filming the Japanese Red Army in the Palestinian territories, became a target of both the Japanese government and Interpol, and was blacklisted by the American government. To this day he is unable to leave Japan.



Battle Royale II: Requiem
[Battle Royale 2]

Genre: Sappy Political Melodramatic Action

review in one breath

Fukasaku Kinji (1930-2003) directed over 60 films in his lifetime, including Black Lizard (Kurotokage , 1968 - working with and starring Mishima Yukio) , Mansion of the Black Rose (Kuro bara no yakata, 1969), Chushingura Gaiden: Yotsuya Kaidan (Crest of Betrayal, 1994), and the wildly popular Battle Royale (2000). Fukasaku Kinji died of prostrate cancer shortly after the filming of Battle Royale II: Requiem started, and thus most of the directorial responsibilities fell upon his son, Fukasaku Kenta, who also helped in the writing of Battle Royale. Thus the film clearly credits "Fukasaku Gumi" or "Fukasaku Group" with the directorial role, alluding to this exchange of responsibility.



Seishun zankoku monogatari

Cruel Story of Youth

Genre: Extreme Youth Coming of Age

review in one breath

Holy Cow!
Let's just start by saying that the word "Cruel" in the title should be in all caps! As in: CRUEL(!) Story of Youth ...

This movie is directed by Nagisa Oshima, who is perhaps better known for his much later In the Realm of the Senses (1976). Both movies revolve around a love relation in which the main characters find themselves; a relationship of such intensity that it breeches the confines of social expectation, thereby requiring the characters to redefine themselves solely in terms of their love. Both movies also view social expectation as ultimately unyielding, resulting in inevitable tragedy for the characters who have forsaken the protection of convention in the pursuit and realization of passion. The world, we find, is brimming with harsh, harsh reality. (Some might even call it Cruel!)



Samurai Chicks [Dokuritsu shojo gurentai]

Genre: Politically-minded Ninja-ettes
Director: Mari Asato (2007)

review in one breath

Deep within the basement of Tokyo's Orion Dance Academy is a politically subversive training ground where aspiring young starlettes are transformed into assassins and spies. Highly skilled in toe-tapping terrorist techniques and sophisticated disguises (such as a large Pink Bunny suit!), our team of four babettes must fight the diabolical security forces of Japan to free their Mother Land, Okinawa. Will they succeed? Will they survive? Will they be able to finally perfect that cool but tricky dance move before their oppressors come crashing down upon them???


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