Posts Tagged ‘japanese movie’



Part drama, part swordsplay movie SWORD OF DESPERATION tells the story of a swordsman who is being punished for killing an evil mistress and later must battle with powerful enemies.

The movie is directed by Hideyuki Hirayama and based on the novel by  Shohei Fujisawa. Starring are Etsushi Toyokawa, Chizuru Ikewaki, Koji Kikkawa, Naho Toda, Jun Murakami, Megumi Seki, Fumiyo Kohinata and Ittoku Kishibe. Out now.




JAPAN 2009  Directed by: Masahiko Tsugawa Written by: Yasuhiro Koshimizu, Masao Kosuge (novel) Produced by: Taiichi Inoue, Hisao Nabeshima, Tsuguhiko Kadokawa Cinematography: Katsuhiro Kato Cast: Toshiyuki Nishida, Yasuhi Nakamura, Ai Maeda, Keiko Horiguchi, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Takashi Sasano, Zen Kajiwara, Hisako Manda, Sansei Shiomi, Naomasa Musaka, Hiroyuki Nagato, Ittoku Kishibe, Akira Emoto, Naomasa Musaka, Zen Ishida, Taro Ishida, Houka Kinoshita, Akaji Maro

Surprises can come in many forms, but who would have thought that a movie about our furry friends (and their friends) could be any good. PENGUINS IN THE SKY however turns out to be more than just the semi-fictional answer to HAPPY FEET.

The story is based on a novel by Masao Kosuge that again is based on true events surrounding the Asahiyama zoo, Japan’s most northern zoo. Plagued by harsh winters, lack of visitors and money and strong competition from amusement parks the Asahiyama zoo is fighting for survival. While local politicians would like to see it closed rather sooner than later the zoo’s director and staff are dedicated to keep it running and are seeking for a breakthrough idea to get the zoo back on track.

One day the nerdy Yoshida applies for a job, any job, just so he can be with the zoo and its inhabitants: ever since his childhood Yoshida prefers animals over humans thanks to bullying classmates. The dedicated but naïve Yoshida works his way up and brings with him some fresh ideas and motivation to the ailing zoo.

Things get more desperate when a disease leads to the death of some animals and a local political reshuffle starts to increase the pressure on the zoo and its staff. But great solutions are often born in difficult circumstances, so they come up with a brand new idea called “behavioral exhibition” that makes all displays more interactive and attractive and finally they play their last trump card – Yoshida promises he can make the penguins fly and Asahiyama zoo the first zoo in the world to feature this never-before-seen attraction.

It’s not that PENGUINS IN THE SKY is reinventing the wheel, but its love for the subject, its honesty and subtle way make it a wonderful film about the ever more important conflict of culture vs. nature. By definition humans turn nature into culture (and in this sense there are no good or bad kinds of culture), leading to nature being forced to retreat into reservations for preservation. Today the movie is even more relevant than when it came out – zoos may seem a trivial matter or even a place that exploits animals for the sake of family entertainment, but after the BP oil spill disaster you might want to rethink the zoo as a place that is becoming ever more important while the destruction of the environment and its species continues to progress with no end in sight.

PENGUINS IN THE SKY hasn’t exactly set out to become eco-conscious cinema, but it succeeds in creating awareness through a simple provocative question: if you had to choose, would you prefer a zoo or instead a theme park in its place? Confronted with this dilemma we begin to reflect on what’s really important, without being forced or lectured. It’s an automatic process that also reminds us of a time when we treasured seeing real animals more than seeing a plastic mouse.

Even it may follow the Japanese blockbuster recipe a little PENGUINS IN THE SKY isn’t clinically designed as entertainment, but it’s a heartfelt story with just the right attitude and message. In other words, it’s a really good movie.




JAPAN 2010  Directed by: Toshio Lee  Written by: Satoshi Suzuki, Tamio Hayashi, Koji Kinjo (novel) Produced by: Mieko Fujiwara, Kei Haruna  Cinematography: Koichi Nakayama  Music: Coba  Cast: Takashi Okamura, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Hisashi Yoshozawa, Jun Kunimura, Atsuro Wataba, Mieko Harada, Masami Nagasawa

Toshio Lee’s first of at least two films released in 2010 (the other one being BOX!) is based on the autobiographical book of the same title by Koji Kinjo and tells the true story of a nerd and his wife who coincidentally become what today’s been called “environmentalists”. Kenji’s true love is the sea, especially the coral reefs; since his childhood he is fascinated by the ocean and spends every single minute possible by the water.

It is not surprising therefore that he fails as a professional: he regularly loses his jobs and hence leads a simple life together with his wife and kids. Kenji believes he could do many jobs, but at the end all he cares about is the sea. One day however he finds a way to turn his love for coral reefs into a business: he opens up a “coral bar”, a pub that showcases corals in a fish tank and aims to recreate the Okinawa sea. He calls the joint Bar Blue and quickly develops it into a successful franchise.

It comes as a shock to his family and friends when he decides to close down the bar business and instead wants to replant corals in nature. What got into him? Once again his passion gets in his way and all he dreams about is cleaning up the sea and breed corals. He starts with transplanting his Bar Blue corals into the ocean, but the more corals he plants the more resistance he meets from fishermen and politicians. While Kenji wants to preserve nature others want, or need, to exploit it. The conflicts of interest soon make big waves in the press and Kenji becomes something like a local hero, supported by many, disliked by even more.

His main idea becomes crucial for his undertaking: Kenji believes he can become the first person in the world to ever spawn coral reefs. Nobody has achieved this before, but Kenji thinks he can do it. Scientists quickly reveal his lack of method and are questioning his mission that is driven by little more than ambition and intuition. Kenji is facing the challenge of a lifetime: can he make corals spawn before he finally runs out of money, support and luck?

Forget AVATAR, watch SUNSHINE AHEAD instead. If you are looking for eco-conscious entertainment that’s authentic, absolutely not fabricated and free of clichés SUNSHINE AHEAD is the best choice in recent years. Even though it seems convenient to release the movie in times like these (the BP oil spill came later but once again proves that the movie’s timing is right), SUNSHINE AHEAD has absolutely nothing to do with calculated commercial moviemaking.

I have not read the novel but the storyline seems to stick to the real events as only a very few plot points hint at a basic dramaturgy that has little in common with conventional mainstream scripts. The movie has its ups and downs of course, yet it is going with the flow without being trivial. SUNSHINE AHEAD is very convincing as a movie with a message, but it also remains unpretentious from beginning to end.

Story aside, some of the movie’s footage features breathtaking images of nature that make us feel for the hero and his mission even more – SUNSHINE AHEAD may be a drama but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a cinematic experience. The movie is carefully framed and beautifully shot when it matters, and otherwise leaves it to the believable cast to make SUNSHINE AHEAD a really likable film.

SUNSHINE AHEAD is the best proof that a touching movie with a sincere message doesn’t require 3D. Also, it reminds us that despite the technological advancement all that matters is a great story. SUNSHINE AHEAD is a well-rounded, relevant movie that’s especially valuable for oil company executives.