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Norwegian Wood Movie December 31, 2010

Posted by oldboy in : Cinema, Asian Cinema, Book to Film , add a comment

“I once had a girl, or should I say she once had me” is a line from the song Norwegian Wood by The Beatles which this Movie and Novel got it’s name from. The film haunts me in the way the novel does. At best it serves that purpose well and I tend to like what the director has done with this. Having watched all of his previous films I’m rather fond of his style and am always quite affected by them. Music plays a big factor in that and the music here reflects Naoko’s inner turmoil well. Suicide is a background theme of the movie and book. There’s a certain frustration because unlike some other forms of media the movie doesn’t really deal with it. It’s more about the people left behind, We aren’t given answers to why people kill themselves and true to life sometimes that is the case. It might be that thing that is most tormenting.

The film photography is exquisite, very beautiful. Tran has an impressive eye for detail in his films exploring the most encratite things that are often so tiny and unnoticeable in our every day lives. I feel it’s a return to form from his last film “I come with the Rain” where he shied away from that into something a little more mainstream.

Rinko Kikuchi as Naoko was perfect, she resembles the image of Naoko that formed in my mind when reading the book, Midori too is also close to the image I have of the character and both actresses give a great performance.  Kenichi Matsuyama as Watanabe I was less thrilled with, the unsure and young Toru doesn’t really come across in Matsuyama’s performance. There is a vulnerability with the character that is missing here, unfortunately casting a more geeky, less manly type of actor won’t cut it for audiences.

This film might have problems finding an audience. To appreciate it I think having read the novel or being familiar with Murakami’s works will be of benefit. However as a fan of the novel you may also dislike the adaptation of the material as is typical with such things. But scripts are far shorter than novels. Before I had imagined a director like Wong Kar Wai making this thinking his style suits Murakami’s world. For me I like both Murakami’s work and also Tran Hung’s work so I felt I got the best of both worlds and was given the Director’s personal interpretation of the material.

Norwegian Wood Novel

Posted by oldboy in : Books , add a comment

The first story I read by Haruki Murakami was the short story “On Seeing My 100 Percent Woman One Fine April Morning” having heard that it was a favorite story of an actor I admired and having also read that Wong Kar Wai (one of my favorite Directors) also liked his stories and that they partly inspired his film making. The short story was contained in a collection of short stories called “The Elephant Vanishes”. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I moved onto reading his other works such as “The Wind Up Bird Chronicle”, “Hear the Wind Sing”, “Pinball 1973″, “Kafka on the Shore”and “Norwegian Wood”.

Unlike the former stories “Norwegian Wood” is one of the most down to earth of Murakami’s works, setting in a real world with a realistic tone. Following Toru Watanabe, a man who is in love with a girl named Naoko, the two have a close bond due to Toru’s friend, also Naoko’s boyfriend Kizuki having killed himself a few years prior.

Of all of Haruki Murakami’s stories it’s the one I least like. That is not to say I dislike but rather I tend to sway to his less realistic stories which are easier to lose myself in. Which is strange because I like realistic stories. I find there’s an edge of reality to Norwegian Wood that gets under your skin. There’s allusions to the final events at the beginning of the novel and throughout that overshadow everything in the story. It’s unsettling in some ways and there’s a bit of dread about what will happen to Naoko.

The character of Naoko I never really liked. Midori was more the type that I found interesting. Naoko is portrayed in my view as a more selfish person. She is a tragic figure deserving of sympathy but Watanabe is messed around a bit by her and is continually sucked into her downward spiral. His attitude towards it all is seemingly mature but not altogether unusual for a guy who is barely 20. At that age people fall in and out of love at the drop of a penny and are ready devote their entire life to one person before they even know what a life lived really is. This shows in the book when he falls hard for Midori and is confused between her and Naoko. Sure Watanabe slept (not played) around with lots of girls but he is still in a way ‘pure’, untested by time in a long term relationship when we meet him at an early age. To take a quote from the book that to me describes his realtionship with Naoko, “too clear and detailed to have been a fantasy, and too whole and beautiful to have been real”.

A reader of this journal has critiqued that I don’t talk enough about myself on this blog, but it’s not a blog, it’s a film journal and I’m more interested in movies than myself quite frankly. But without being too precipitous I will speak on own experience of reading this. I read this book twice, once before I came to Tokyo and again while living in Tokyo. My view of the story hasn’t really changed, but I do relate to it more. I’m familiar with the places described in the book, I have walked in Watanabe and Naoko’s footsteps. I can relate more to the characters. I think reading the novel now reflects a truer view of myself. There are truths that we can admit to ourselves later as we become more experienced in life. I think Watanabe is a character who realises that at the beginning of the story for the beginning is far in his future with the past a fading memory in the fog. As the memories reced the truth remains

Favorite Quote: I’m finished as a human being. All you’re looking at is the lingering memory of what I used to be. The most important part of me, what used to be inside, died years ago, and I’m just functioning by auto-memory.” - Reiko

Kurosawa Exhibition

Posted by oldboy in : Unproduced Scripts, Asian Cinema , add a comment

This years marks the 100th anniversary of kurosawa’s birth. Throughout the year Japan has been celebrating his centenary through exhibitions and attractions featuring his art work and international posters of his movies as well as screenings of his most celebrated and important films in his long career.

A while back I had the privilege of attending an Exhibition in Ebisu, Tokyo which featured paintings from the master himself. It’s beyond a delight to get up close to something the great artist has laid his creative hands on. It’s a wonderful exhibition to mark his centenary and gives a greater insight into his method and process of film making.

From what I’ve read Kurosawa was a meticulous filmmaker, when he wrote the scripts for his movies such as the Seven Samurai, he even went into such great detail to note what each character ate for breakfast.

Kurosawa also enjoyed painting but burned a large portion of the work he created. A lot of his paintings that exist today are based on his film projects, for some projects such as Kagemusha Kurosawa was unsure he would be able to secure financing for such a large scale film and thus wanted to release his artistic vision to the world in some form if film was not possible. So presented were paintings for ‘Ran’, ‘Kagemusha’, ‘Dreams’, ‘Mādadayo’, and ‘The Sea is Watching’

It was really interesting to see paintings from scripted scenes that were cut out of his films, for example the declaration of world peace segment that was written for ‘Kurosawa’s Dreams’, the main character being woken up by artillery shells only to discover they are being fired in celebration of world peace.

A large portion of these sketches and paintings were donated by Martin scorsese who was given them as a gift by Kurosawa. Scorsese himself appeared in Kurosawa’s “Dreams” as Vincent Van Gogh. Kurosawa cast him after meeting him and seeing how passionate Scorsese was about the art of filmmaking, so much so that it reminded Kurosawa of Van Gogh’s passion in his letters to his brother Theo.

The most interesting Painting in the exhibition for me was a painting from “Dreams” of the old wise man by the water mill. Why I adored it so much was because the brush strokes were so vivid like those of Van Gogh himself. I couldn’t help but smile inside.

Favorite Quote: “Everybody, find something you really love. I advise you to look for something that is truly important to you, something that matters and has most significance to you. Once you find it, try to channel all your energy into it.” - Akira Kurosawa

Godzilla: Final Wars

Posted by oldboy in : DVD/Video/T.V., Science Fiction, Asian Cinema , add a comment

What in the name of holy blue F**k is this? I’ve seen some bad movies in my time and this ranks high among them. A 50th anniversary film for Godzilla in 2004 and this is how Toho decided to send off the big G? Seriously? I kept watching it wondering if this really was the actual movie and not some cheaply made piece of trash knock off, but to my horror I find that no, this is the last Godzilla film made in all it’s in-finiteness to retire the character.

I mean, what the….

Words fail me. The effects are dreadful, absolutely dreadful. The cheapest episode of power rangers has better effects than this movie. It’s astonishing to me that such a low quality level of film making was allowed to be screened at cinemas and people were made to pay for it. Did the director think “yeah, these effects look cheaper than any other Godzilla movie before. That will do”.This movie had the largest budget of any Godzilla movie! Even fan movies created for the likes of youtube have better effects than this movie.Shame on you Ryuhei Kitamura and anyone else who let this out on the general public.

The acting. I don’t even need to go there. Horrible. Even a great script couldn’t have stopped such clunky delivered dialogue. We’ve got this guy who looks like Haggar from the arcade game “Final Fight” (great game) as a captain of a crew of mutants that look like boyband rejects who have to face off against evil aliens that also look like boyband rejects. These aliens control all the world’s monsters except Godzilla. Godzilla goes around the world and beats the crap out of them all. The Godzilla scenes aren’t too bad, but I feel the movement of the monster has become too human.

This is not the Godzilla I grew up with in my youth. I first encountered the big G late on Friday night on Channel 4 after eating a midnight snack in my kitchen and was glued to it. The first movie of Godzilla’s I saw was called “Destroy All Monsters”, followed weekly by “Godzilla Vs Gigan” “Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla” etc. The Shōwa series. In later years I was able to see the far darker and mature original from 1954. What.A.Movie. The Godzilla remake by the US in 98 wasn’t great nor wasn’t really Godzilla but as a disaster movie of a monster tearing up a city it wasn’t so bad.

This Final Wars Godzilla is a joke though and the apple has fallen far from the tree. The last great Godzilla scene was in the film “Always” which had a brief opening scene of Godzilla. What might save Godzilla now is the planned US reboot of the remake of Godzilla, this time getting the formula right, having a monster that looks like Godzilla and foes to match.

Least Favorite Quote: “Listen kid, there are two things you didn’t know about the Earth. One is me. And the other is… Godzilla” - The guy that looks like Hagger

Space Battleship Yamato Live action Movie December 16, 2010

Posted by oldboy in : Cinema, Science Fiction, Anime/ Manga, Asian Cinema , add a comment

I was pretty excited to see this as I enjoyed the series quite a bit. Unfortunately it’s more of a typical Generic Sci-fi movie.
It looks like Yamato, everything is there. Beautiful effects, wave motion Canon, the Yamato lifting off from Earth. Analyser at first only appears as a tricorder type object used by Kodai but surprisingly turns up later in full robot mode and kicks some serious ass. In many ways the movie stays close to the series story and visuals. The voices of Dessler, Analyser and Starsha sound the same as the series. The music captures the spirit of  Hiroshi Miyagawa. The costumes and sets are great (although the bridge could have been bigger).

But it’s lacking spirit. The cast aren’t great. Kimura Takuya who plays Kodai is pretty much acting as himself in the movie. In this movie I feel it’s less about Kodai the Hero and more about Kimura the hero. Too much time is spent talking in this movie. It doesn’t move forward enough and is a bit dragged out at over 2 hours.
Meisa Kuroki plays Yuki who is more like a Starbuck type figure from the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, she is an ace fighter pilot and she likes to act tough and punch people’s lights out. I’m all for 21st Century chicks been more bad ass and less girlish making tea for the crew etc but the character is uninspiring and just seems like a rip on Galactica.

The space battles. Gods damn it, the makers of this movie just didn’t get it right. They are your typical affair nothing inspiring, space battles that are pretty much the norm for sci-fi movies, fast and furious. Nothing dynamic about them. Even the opening looks like it copied the opening of the new Star Trek movie. There is also a scene where Kodai has to save Yuki who is stuck out in space before the enemy reaches them and before Yamato warps which is a copy of the miniseries episode of nBSG which had Kara saving Lee in his Viper before the enemy reached them and Galactica Jumped away. In the original animated series they based the battles on World War II movies and had the attack fighters move like fighter planes. Here it’s just ships buzzing around. Where’s the beauty gone in space battles these days?

Gamilus. Are now a bunch of bug type aliens. In the animated series they looked human which was shocking to the Yamato crew and made it far more complex an enemy for it’s a lot harder to kill an enemy that looks like you rather than bug creatures that jump around. Here there is no tactical battles of miltary minds between Gamilus and the Yamato. It’s just a free for all. And Dessler is as disappointing as galactus was in ” Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer” here he is just a blue humanoid squiggly light.

The Ending is a bit heartbreaking and a tiny bit cheesy in a good way. Unfortunately though it looks like we are only getting one Yamato movie.  After watching this ending I realised it’s a bit like Armageddon. Meteorites attack the earth, a ship leaves earth to stop them.  At the end the hero dies saving the earth and the song ends with a song by Steven Tyler (from Aerosmith) Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Space Battleship Yamato Season 1

Posted by oldboy in : Animation, Science Fiction, Anime/ Manga , add a comment

Before Yamato came along animations were usually based on successful Mangas. Space Battleship Yamato was the first animation that was done with nothing to back up the possibility it might be successful. It was simultaneously released as an animation and Manga. Since 1974 it has amassed 85 episodes, 3 Manga Volumes, 7 films and 1 live action movie.

Japan seems to have a great way of overcoming past difficulties, socially and historically. They turn the once negative thing into something more symbolic, powerful, positive and push forward through hardships. Take Godzilla, an allegory of the disastrous effects of Atomic weapons of which Japan is the only victim of. Space Battleship Yamato takes the past destruction of it’s most powerful warship in WWII the Battleship Yamato and uses it as a symbol to fight for the entire Earth. Building a space ship out of a battleship they head off into space to find a radiation purifier to save the earth which has only 1 year till extinction due to the meteor attacks by an unknown Alien enemy Gamilus.

I first saw Yamato on Video under the name Starblazers. I really enjoyed and liked the more mature tone of the animation but I never watched the entire series. It wasn’t until more recent years did I see the series under it’s original title and story. It’s somewhat campy by today’s standards with very 70s style music and stock footage often being reused, the story drags in some parts, but in the later half of the first series it becomes far more serious as their deadline looms and they head into unforeseen danger. Episode 22 is where Yamoto grows out of it’s training pants and when it becomes an adult themed war epic in a spectacular battle against Domel and his fleet, the battle is like a battle on the pacific ocean between fighter planes battleships and aircraft carriers in space. The producers of the show watched the Battle of Britain and other war movies as a reference to visualizing the final combat scenes. Amazing stuff, 3 years before George Lucas’s star Wars did something similar with the run on the Death Star. The black nebula came 10 years before the action scenes of Star Trek II’s mutara nebula battle.There has to be some inspiration from Yamato on these two movies and in turn there must be an inspiration from those franchises onto Yamato in the long run also.

For more science fiction inspired by “Space Battleship Yamato” check out JMS’s Babylon 5 spin off “Crusade”,  after Earth is attacked and a plague is released on the planet the experimental Ship Excalibur is sent out into space to find a cure to the plague with only 5 years before all life on Earth is dead. The hero ship in this series the Excalibur also features a massive beam canon gun on it that drains the ships power every time it’s used.
Star Trek Enterprise Season 3: Earth is attacked by unknown aliens called the Xindi who are testing out a new weapon that will ultimately destroy the Earth in 1 year. The Starfleet Ship Enterprise NX-01 is sent out on a mission to find and stop the Xindi and their weapon before it’s too late. There is an episode near the end of the season called “Azati Prime” which shows the Enterprise getting the snot get kicked out of her much in the same way Yamato was on it’s full on encounter with Gamilus and it’s commander Domel.

Battle Royale 3-D December 6, 2010

Posted by oldboy in : Asian Cinema, Book to Film , add a comment

New opening and ending credits with a techno version of Verdi’s Requiem adding an extra umf to the movie, a lot of the most noticeable 3D consists of CGI blood splatters and bullets firing out of the screen which look a bit too CGI, the blood in particular works well in 3D as it gives the impression of landing on the 3D glasses but it looks a bit unreal and reminds me of a horrible scene from the 1973 film Earthquake, (if you seen it you’ll know right away what I mean).

Having Takashi Kitano in the film changes the plot of the film somewhat from the novel. sticking in a well known actor is bound to do that. But some scenes are out of place making it a little less realistic, having Kitano walk out onto to the island to Noriko while the game is still going on. The relationship between Noriko and Kitano I don’t really get and neither does she it seems.

However Kitano plays up his character well and is quite menacing at the beginning. In fact i’m on his side in this movie. When he set of Yoshitoki’s collar I was glad. Thing is, I don’t like this punk kid, we see near the beginning of the movie Yoshitoki stab Kitano. I have no sympathy for a kid who performs a random act of violence for pleasure. This might be a failure in the film since we are supposed to sympathize over his death and this is the driving force behind Shuya, to get some revenge for his best friend’s death.

While the film is controversial it’s a mild commentary on teen killings in my opinion. These people who are trapped on the island don’t show too much hesitation to kill each other off unlike the novel where they show a bit more restraint. It might have to do with the number youth killings in Japan and the laws which do not punish youth crime as much as they do to Adults. Often I have read reports of youth crime of youths attacking Teachers and parents because they “felt like it” and wanted to experience something before entering adulthood.
Shuya is a bit whiny and idiotic. Shogo and Kazuo are pretty close to their novel counterparts. What we missed out in the novel we get here. Mitsuko Vs Kazuo. Kazuo vs Shogo. However, after reading the novel (which is 615 pages long) this movie feels very condensed and quick. Missing are the elements of mistrust between characters, the relationships between them, the basketball team, Shuya, the Third man and Kotohiki are guys whom are depended upon by their classmates and are the most skilled of their class. We only get a glimps of their relationship here through flashbacks of them playing basketball. The novel is well worth a read to appreciate these characters more and what these scenes are all about. They didn’t hold much meaning for me when I first saw the film almost 10 years ago.

What really goes well with this movie is the classical music score. I think it’s pretty perfect.

Lastly those Collars. A great idea that’s been used before in Films such as “The Running Man” and one of my favorite Anime’s “Cyber City Oedo”. A great concept.
Unfortunately and expectingly so the 3D CGi blood and bullets detract from this film. The only good reason to see it is the oportunity to watch a Cult Asian Extreme movie on the big screen and get all teary eyed with nostalgia.

Favorite Quote: And then - I’m glad I found true friends.” - Shogo Kawada - student # 5


Battle Royale Novel

Posted by oldboy in : Books, Asian Cinema, Book to Film , add a comment

The most violent novel I have ever read I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel like this that has made me squince at the detailed description of violent acts and murder preformed by the students.

The message of the novel,  well it deals with dictator ship, bad people who come to power and societies attitude towards it. Basically comments on people’s passiveness and collective thinking allowing dictators to govern and bad things to happen while the general public concern only themselves and thus evil succeeds because good people do nothing. The issue of trust is explored too, can anyone really trust each other if they are told they will be killed if they don’t kill. It’s a rip situation for paranoia bordering on the orwellian.

Shogo is the Hero of the story in my mind. He wants to tear down the fucking country even though he knows at heart what he can do is very little.

Unlike the movie when The third man’s plan falls it’s pretty horrid as it almost all came together. The movie shows this but it’s over all too quickly and the tense dramatic buildup is completely missing from the movie.
Kazuo Kiriyama, is this guy ‘The Flash’? He practically can dodges the speeding bullets of anyone that shoots at him yet others are falling into the line of bullets often. When Kazuo gets a bullet proof vest he is pretty much Superman and how he is killed at the end is just unbelievable after all his beyond lucky escapes.

Favorite Quote: “I’ll Tear this fucking country down” - Shogo

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