Archive for the ‘J-Drama & Film’ category

Film Review: Ashita no Joe / Tomorrow’s Joe (2011)

December 29, 2011

Mighty Joe Young and the Pecs of Tomorrow

by Ender’s Girl

(Related post: Boxer… Shorts: Vid Clips from Ashita no Joe, Crying Fist and 1-Pound Gospel)

The Cast:
Yamashita Tomohisa, Iseya Yusuke, Karina, Kagawa Teruyuki, and Yomoshita Tomohisa’s various muscle groups in a dazzling repeat performance!!!

Directed by Sori Fumihiko / TBS Pictures, 2011

In a Nutshell:
A scrappy young delinquent discovers a love for boxing and rises from the slums to challenge an old rival in the ring – with a little help from a boozy nut of a trainer, unconventional fighting techniques, and his magic moobs.

(SpoilLert: Everything but the ending!)

[Recommended sing-along companion track: “Eye of the Tiger” by YamaPi. No, by Survivor]

Risin’ up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances…
Went the distance, now I’m back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive…

Yamashita Tomohisa, he of the “mighty chest” (LMAO) and plum Getsuku dramas, steps into the ring as Japan’s favorite boxing icon Yabuki Joe in this live-action adaptation of the acclaimed manga epic from Takamori Asao and Chiba Tetsuya.

Serialized from 1968 to 1973 in the Weekly Shounen Magazine, “Ashita no Joe” was an ode to the working-class hero – the social archetype that became wildly popular during the boom years of the ‘50s and ‘60s, when Japan’s remarkable economic growth was largely driven by heavy industry and mass production.

While the coming-of-age theme of “Ashita no Joe” holds universal appeal, the story would resonate especially with members of the so-called “manga generation.” Born around 1950, many of these youths were uneducated factory workers uprooted from rural areas, or radical university students when “Ashita no Joe” was first published. In the character of Yabuki Joe, a street punk who boxes his way to a bantamweight championship despite all odds, these readers found a protagonist they could identify with and root for, and who best embodied their own dreams of overcoming whatever obstacles stood in the way of personal progress.

Let’s get rrrready to GRRRUMBLE! (heh) MOAR after the jump!

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Film Review: 13 Assassins (2010)

October 19, 2011

My ‘ssassin Boys

by Ender’s Girl

(Sorry for the lame-o title-o, but a pun on the hit 2001 K-romcom My Sassy Girl was the best I could come up with – though I know not everyone can relate. My apologies.)


The Cast:
Yakusho Koji, Yamada Takayuki, Iseya Yusuke, Matsukata Hiroki, Inagaki Goro, Ihara Tsuyoshi, Sawamura Ikki, Furuta Arata, Takaoka Sousuke, Rokkaku Seiji, Matsumoto Koshiro, Namioka Kazuki, Kondo Koen, Ishigaki Yuma, Kubota Masataka, Ichimura Masachika

Directed by Miike Takashi / Toho & Sedic International, 2010

In a Nutshell:
A crack team of 13 samurai battles the odds – and an army of 200 elite guardsmen – in a suicide mission to dispatch an evil lord in late-Edo Japan.

(SpoilLert: Don’t worry, not saying who dies – or lives – in the end!)

“A good fort needs a gap. The enemy must be lured in so we can attack them. If we only defend, we lose the war.”

– Shimada Kambei in Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954)

With 13 Assassins, master provoc-auteur Miike Takashi takes on a revitalized genre that, in recent years, has become the playground of veteran filmmakers like Yamada Yoji who favor quieter, deconstructed re-imaginings of samurai slumming it in the relatively bloodless years of the Pax Tokugawa.

In sharp contrast to Miike’s 2010 period opus (and, uh, 183,034th career feature to date lol), Yamada Yoji jidaigeki (Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade) are leisurely explorations of the minutiae of Japanese feudal society – samurai pass their time running office errands, dabbling in a trade, or perhaps, on more exciting days, refereeing (or figuring in) a domestic spat or two. In this era of peace, nobody has time to whinge about not having any civil wars to fight, or foreign armies to repel, or rival daimyo to vanquish (the daily grind of life is a battle in itself). And instead of traditional heroes and villains, Yamada Yoji protagonists are but regular blokes, and the antagonists usually snooty in-laws or petty, opportunistic bureaucrats.

Now enter Miike Takashi’s World, where: “If it ain’t about the killin’, then it ain’t worth filmin’!!!” His samurai and aristos are just. too. cool to trouble themselves with such mind-numbing mundanities; they loaf through the hated peacetime torpor with a bad case of the blahs, willing themselves back to the good ol’ pre-shogunate g(l)ory days of barbarism and bloodshed, when everyone and everything went by the credo “Fight-o ergo sum.” Robbed of their self-validating license to do violence, they longingly finger their idle swords while dreaming of honor and sacrifice, and nursing death wishes of an epic scale to match their own aspirations to immortality.

Goro Gone Bad, after the jump! Click to read MOAR!!! MOAR!!!

Film Review: Space Battleship Yamato (2010)

August 15, 2011

Moviestardom: The Final Frontier

by Ender’s Girl

 

The Cast:
Kimura Takuya, Kuroki Meisa, Yanagiba Toshiro, Ogata Naoto, Yamazaki Tsutomu

Directed by Yamazaki Takashi / Toho; TBS Films, 2010

In a Nutshell:
A single battleship and its doughty crew are mankind’s last hope against an invading alien race!!!

The Real Nutshell:
Kimura Takuya makes a bid for international moviestardom!!!

(SpoilLert: Well it’s that kind of film, so can there really be anything to spoil?)

It’s 2199 and there’s something straaange in the solar system: Earth is this close to getting nuked out of existence by an invading alien race – SO WHO YA GONNA CALL?????????????

KIMUTAKUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(Did the Ghostbusters theme song start playing in your head just now??? It did, dinnit??? Hahahaha)

The last time a cocky, nonconformist hero saved the world from imminent destruction while a Steven Tyler power ballad blared in the background, the year was 1998 and the movie was Armageddon. It’s 2011 and (a newly relevant) Steven Tyler is still caterwauling the same tune (well, almost), although the crew nationalities have changed from Eeemrrican to Japanese, the Earth faces a different kind of threat (enemy extraterrestrials! instead of giant asteroids!), and the hero (Kimura Takuya in full-on Moviestar Mode) has way more hair than Bruce Willis did in Armageddon (or anything he starred in since 1987, for that matter).

I don’t know if the producers of the 2010 Space Battleship Yamato remake intentionally hired Steven Tyler as a nod to Armageddon – and, by association, that other celestial-body-on-a-collision-course-with-Earth-OHNOES!!! flick from 1998, Deep Impact (whose plotline the Bay/Bruckheimer/Willis mega-production reportedly cribbed off, tsk tsk). Strictly speaking, Yamato isn’t a disaster sci-fi flick like Armageddon or Deep Impact, but it runs on the same basic premise: A motley crew of spacemen sets out on a hail-Mary mission to [insert planetary body], which they must [destroy/steal an alien device from] in order to save the earth. Chances of success or survival seem dire, but the intrepid officers and crewmen are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of our planet!!! *cue [insert Steven Tyler song]*

Beam me up, E.G.! MOAR!!! after the jump. (Because… you don’t wanna miss a thing.)

Film Review: Kimi ni Todoke / From Me to You (2010)

June 24, 2011

Blue Skies and Cherry Blossoms: Miura’s Spring Awakenings

(continued)

by Ender’s Girl

(Read Part One: my Koizora review)

Kimi ni Todoke: Nice and Over Easy… (But Too Easy?)

The Cast:
Tabe Mikako, Miura Haruma, Renbutsu Mikako, Netsuna, Arata, Katsumura Masanobu

Directed by Kumazawa Naoto / NTV and Toho, 2010

In a Nutshell:
The last four decent students at West High attempt to draw out the class loner from her antisocial shell. Friendship, self-confidence and love bloom under the cherry trees!!!

(SpoilLert: Yep, there’s quite a few!)

If Koizora was the Ultimate Makjang Fantasy, then Kimi ni Todoke (From Me to You, lit. Reaching You) would be the Ultimate Shoujo Fantasy – not that this makes it a bad thing, not at all. I’ll take the most jejune of shoujo fiction over the obscene little sideshow that was Koizora any fureaking day of the year, thank you very much.

When this much-awaited live-action adaptation of the popular manga hit theaters in 2010, Miura Haruma could not have chosen a better post-Koizora palate-cleanser for fans clamoring to see him in another romantic-lead role – although this time, his character was a complete about-face from his soulful-cad-secretly-dying-of-too-much-hair-bleach-cancer in Koizora. If his Koizora character, Hiro, was the boy you loved to hate, then his Kazehaya Shota in Kimi ni Todoke was that boy in school, Mr. Perfect, the Golden Boy himself. (And forgive my inner geek-dork, but at this point I’m tempted to add that bit from the Voltron series opener: “…loved by good, feared by evil!” That’s Kazehaya-kun for you! lol) So I don’t see why fans of the original manga would ever object to Miura essaying the role of Kazehaya-kun; judging from the character’s description, the decision to cast the Most Agreeable-Looking Idoru Under 30 was right on the money.

[Sidebar: It’s quite interesting how Miura so convincingly embodies both the Ultimate Shounen Hero (in the Bloody Mondays) and the Ultimate Shoujo Heartthrob (Kimi ni Todoke). Could his idealized good looks and wholesome, sincere vibe have anything to do with it? Still, points for unisex appeal. *ka-ching!* ]

Click to read MOAR!!! MOAR!!!

Film Review: Koizora / Sky of Love (2007)

June 14, 2011

Blue Skies and Cherry Blossoms: Miura’s Spring Awakenings

by Ender’s Girl

“Nothing really matters / I don’t really care
What nobody tells me / I’m gonna be here
It’s a matter of extreme importance
My first teenage love affair…”

Alicia Keys, “Teenage Love Affair”

Ah, Spring! Never experienced it, lol. (Here in the tropics, we have only two seasons: El Niño and La Niña, hahaha) …And [noona alert!!! run away run away!!!] ah, Miura Haruma! — the ultimate poster boy for Spring: bright-eyed, fresh-faced and with a smile so sweetly accessible, a young man on the cusp of bloom standing tall and pure amid the orgiastic freakscape of dancing plassstic Johnny-botsss (my precioussss…).

It would only be fitting for an actor of Miura’s looks and appeal to move past the mandatory silliness of his earlier work and anchor his promising career on heartthrob roles of the young-adult persuasion. After all, the boy turned 21 this year, so forget the shounen-manga adventurism of the Bloody Mondays or the high school hijinks of Gokusen 3 and Samurai High School; because the real rite of passage, the definitive landmark of any aspiring leading man’s career, is the Romantic Drama Screen Test (RDST): 1) Can you convincingly play someone who’s young and in love? 2) Can you make female audiences fall in love with your character, and with you? and 3) Can you do it again and again until you make the transition to Hot Single Dad/Elder Statesman roles? (I hope you’re taking notes, KimuTaku. ha,ha,ha)

We all know how a 24-year-old Kimura aced his RDST in Long Vacation back in ‘96 (and no, Asunaro Hakusho doesn’t count, hahaha. eeewww geeks hahaha); ditto Tsumabuki Satoshi in the contemporary classic, Orange Days in 2004 (although fans may argue that Lunch Queen in 2002 was the real turning point). To follow this matinee-idol trajectory would be a wise career move as any for someone of Miura’s type. I mean, if weird little Kame, who skews more towards “horny hobgoblin” than “hetero heartthrob,” pulled it off beautifully in Tatta Hitotsu no Koi, then it ought to be a cinch for wholesome, normal-looking Haruma-kun, right?

Reviews after the jump. Click to read MOAR!!! MOAR!!!

The Great Asian Fantasy Movie Quest: Shinobi ~ Heart Under Blade (2005)

April 2, 2011

Ten Little, Nine Little, Eight Little Ninjas…

by Ender’s Girl

A hopeless sucker for a good sword-and-sorcery yarn, I never pass up the chance to road-test possible contenders for the Next Great Asian Fantasy Flick. (Recs from y’all are most welcome!) This particular movie tracks two ill-fated ninja lovers trying (not?) to kill each other in the mountain forests of 17th-century Japan. Sounds, epic, I know. But is it really?


Shinobi: Heart Under Blade

The Cast:
Nakama Yukie, Odagiri Joe, Sawajiri Erika

Directed by Shimoyama Ten / Shochiku Films, 2005

In a Nutshell:
An uncanny pair of star-crossed ninjas (and one in a mullet) must choose between forbidden love and clan duty. (OHNOES OHNOES!!!)

(SpoilLert: Ohohoho you bet!)

Genres: fantasy, romance, cosplay
Iconography: secret ninja communes, dueling magicky people, Odagiri Joe in a mullet
Main themes: mullets, blood feuds, filial piety, forbidden love
Key message: If your boyfriend grows a mullet, you might as well gouge your eyes out. (Yowww!)

Watching certain parts of Shinobi – and I’m just talking about the good parts here – is like watching nature-themed screensavers while pretending to send emails from your workstation. Same amount of brainwork required, too. Because if all you’re looking for is a pretty movie, then this one is it. It’s hard to top the visuals of the Edenic realm in which this film is set: a falcon winging over tree-topped ravines… a shallow rock pool shimmering in a forest glade… a fish arcing out of the water and scattering crystal droplets in slow-mo… a wood nymph with lavender chenille in her hair, alighting by the pool for a sip while her would-be lover, a solemn young man in a mullet, gazes at her from across the water…

Click to see MOAR mullets! MOAR!!!

Drama Review: 99-nen no Ai ~ Japanese-Americans (TBS, 2010)

February 21, 2011

99 Years of Zzzzsolitude

by Ender’s Girl


The Cast:
Kusanagi Tsuyoshi, Matsuyama Kenichi, Nakama Yukie, Nakai Kiichi, Izumi Pinko, Kawashima Umika, Terashima Saki, Yachigusa Kaoru, Kamijo Tsunehiko, Kishi Keiko

In a Nutshell:
A family of Japanese immigrants struggle to survive in America in the years leading up to the Second World War, enduring bigotry and injustice – both on their farm, and later, in an internment camp – from an increasingly xenophobic society and its government.

(SpoilLert: It’s A WAR DRAMA, so it can’t possibly end well, can it?)

“But when we came out of camp, that’s when I first realized that being in camp, that being Japanese-American, was something shameful.”

– George Takei


This multi-generational saga begins when the founding patriarch leaves his hometown in search of a better life and a better future…

[*buzz* What is “One Hundred Years of Solitude”?]

…and he embarks on an epic journey across the ocean, where America beckons with the promise of land so green and bountiful, as far as the eye can see. And on this land he unexpectedly finds love…

[*buzz* What is Far and Away?]

…But he and his wife soon realize the hardships faced by migrant sharecroppers – the unfair wages, abusive landlords and wretched living conditions…

[*buzz* What is “The Grapes of Wrath”?]

…Still, the young couple persevere until they acquire their own farm and start to raise a family. But when war breaks out between America and Japan following the Pearl Harbor attacks, the family is forced off their land by the U.S. government and relocated to the Manzanar Internment Camp…

[*buzz* What is “Snow Falling on Cedars”?]

…And in this production, the lead actor appears in multiple roles…

[*buzzzzzz* What is Coming to America???????]

(LOL.) Er, sorry to disappoint the Gabriel Garcia-Marquez fans, the Tom+Nicole fans, the Steinbeck fans, the Ethan Hawke fans (lol) and most of all, the Eddie Murphy fans reading this blog, but the answer is “none of the above.”

When 99-nen no Ai (99 Years of Love) ~ Japanese-Americans aired for five consecutive nights in November of 2010, it wasn’t just touted as TBS’ 60th anniversary offering — a worthy milestone in itself — but as something more momentous, not only for the network but for the whole country. For this tanpatsu wasn’t just any historical drama, it was a drama about a particular subset of Nihonjin who lived in a land not their own, amid a people hostile to their race, and during one of the most harrowing periods in 20th-century history. By following the story of the fictional Hiramatsu family, 99-nen no Ai gives viewers a glimpse into the injustices suffered by the first-generation Japanese-American immigrants (called Issei) and their American-born children (or Nisei) on U.S. soil during the 1920s-1940s, the most egregious of which being their blanket labeling as “enemy aliens” during the Second World War (despite the Nisei being American citizens) and subsequent incarceration in concentration camps.

Click to read MOAR!!! MOAR!!!