Posts Tagged ‘Japanese Movies’



JAPAN 2004  Directed by: Takashi Miike  Written by: Kankuro Kudo  Produced by: Akio Hattori, Makoto Okada  Cinematography by: Kazunari Tanaka  Editing by: Yasushi Shimamura  Music by: Koji Endo  Cast: Show Aikawa, Kyoka Suzuki, Naoki Yasukochi, Atsuro Watabe, Koen Kondo, Makiko Watanabe, Yui Ichikawa, Yoshimasa Mishima, Ren Osugi, Teruyoshi Uchimura, Akira Emoto, Ryo Iwamatsu, Yu Tokui, Yoji Boba Tanaka, Arata Furuta, Kumiko Aso, Yoshihiko Hakamada, Miyako Kawahara, Hideki Sone, Masayuki Fukushima, Satoru Hamaguchi, Hiroshi Watari

Long before KICK-ASS was ZEBRAMAN, the nostalgic and tongue-in-cheek super-ordinary hero movie, helmed by Cult-director Takashi Miike and starring Japan’s fabulous Show Aikawa.

All hell breaks loose when alien body snatchers invade planet Earth, disguising as (what else) humans. At the same time a crab-masked serial killer is disturbing the peaceful neighborhood of teacher Shinichi Ichikawa, who believes time has come for a modern-day super hero, plus he’s got a lot of nothing better to do since his job is a drag,  his wife is cheating on him and his teenage daughter is dating older men. As his family and professional life are on the verge of collapse, Shinichi decides to dress up as Zebraman, the main character of an unpopular 70’s TV series he adored as a child. When a transfer student is assigned to his class, he not only rediscovers his love for teaching, but also realizes that he’s not alone: student Shinpei also loves Zebraman, fuelling Shinichi’s dream to fight crimes as an up-to-date version of Zebraman. Soon, he is running into the crab-masked killer, and furthermore becomes the go-to-guy as far as alien combat is concerned.

ZEBRAMAN is set in 2010, and it’s funny to see how time has passed (or not) since its first screening. Many have noted the Zebraman character is not just a guy, but gains superpowers indeed, and that’s probably true. However, the character also hasn’t been born a hero, but instead became a crime fighter for similar reasons Kick-Ass came into existence: the dull life of an ordinary citizen with the will to break out of convention. ZEBRAMAN is less a superhero movie however, but much more another Japanese fantasy depicting an exit strategy everyone is looking for but nobody dares to pursue.

ZEBRAMAN is a humorous, touching and at times intelligent reminder that we shouldn’t bury our childhood dreams, but keep them alive and make them come true wherever and whenever possible. The probability of falling short of our own aspirations once we grow up is just too high, so seeing Zebraman being inspired by a kid who resembles himself when he was young is an effective trick to rationalize what Shinichi is doing. On a larger scale, however, ZEBRAMAN tells a tale that relates to all of us: whatever you wish to be or to do, it’s never too late to go for it. All you need is to remind yourself that dreams aren’t made for children alone, but for every individual thinking that doing something extraordinary will enrich the world and even make it a better place.

And maybe that’s when Takashi Miike once again proves to be ahead of other filmmakers: KICK-ASS tells us that everyone can be a real-life superhero, but ZEBRAMAN told us years ago that it’s not about being a real-life hero, but about living your dreams to the max.




JAPAN 2010  Directed by: Kota Yoshida Written by: Kota Yoshida Produced by: Takashi Hirota  Cinematography by: Akitoshi Minami  Cast: Noriko Eguchi, Shota Sometani, Saori Hara, Jun Miho, Noriko Kijima, Shige Kasai

YURIKO’S AROMA seems exemplary to me for illustrating the opportunities and limitations of independent cinema. As much as it can take liberties the mainstream has to refrain from as it targets a mass audience, it also has difficulties at times getting out of its self-made niche. This is not to say that independent films want to get out of their niche, but as much as they feel happy within their own comfort zone (which again lies outside the comfort zone of the mainstream) they also often tend to be too much in love with their subject and never look beyond to see if it is of any relevance to the world out there.

YURIKO’S AROMA tells the story of an aroma therapist who gets caught in an affair triangle: one of her female clients is seriously hitting on her every time she comes for treatment, while at the same time she is being attracted to a young student because his head smells so incredibly good. Like a pollen seeking bee Yuriko follows the scent of Tetsuya and eventually ends up giving him a handjob in a run down building. But that is only the beginning of a difficult process of finding out what this relationship is all about.

We have seen all sorts of weird things coming out of Japan, so in case you are used to edgy films like VISITOR Q don’t worry too much, YURIKO’S AROMA is relatively harmless. Then again, maybe that’s one of its problems: it’s not breaking taboos consequently enough to stir our thoughts while at the same time Yoshida seems to believe that he has reinvented the wheel with this unsettling love story. Maybe it’s just me but I do not enjoy seeing teenagers jerked off by an older woman. Yuriko’s motivations, her issues, her hopes and fears never adequately reflect in her behavior or succeed in making the story any meaningful.

You don’t necessarily need transgressions to create impact, a movie simply has to relate to the world no matter how small or niche it is. It is difficult to clearly identify YURIKO’s theme, as much as it is hard to identify with any of the characters. They all seem to be coming from a different planet, what they are doing just doesn’t concern us (if it would you’d probably have serious issues). I wish I could say there’s a hidden meaning embedded in the movie, but I am afraid this is not the case.

YURIKO’S AROMA is self-centered and spending all of its time on odd people, odd situations and odd actions. It shuts the audience out, never involves. Everything is what it seems to be, making YURIKO’S AROMA a documentation of a dreary existence run by poor judgment and based on even poorer values.




JAPAN / USA 2010  Directed by: Dwight H. Little Story by: Namco Written by: Alan B. McElroy, Michael Colleary, Mike Werb  Produced by: Steven Paul, Benedict Carver, Iddo Lampton Enochs Cinematography: Brian J. Reynolds  Editing: David Checel Music: John Hunter Cast: Jon Foo, Kelly Overton, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Ian Anthony Dale, Gary Daniels, Luke Goss, Lateef Crowder, Candice Hillebrand, Mircea Monroe, Marian Zapico, Monica Mal, Cung Le

I am not certain if it is the firm belief of the creators of TEKKEN that a movie based on a video game has to look like a video game, or if that happens to be the result of a shoestring budget. Whatever the reason, the film does look like a / the video game, just less appealing.

In a nutshell, TEKKEN is about the King Of Iron Fist tournament, the Tekken Corporation’s interpretation of panem et circenses, in which fighters battle until the last man standing who will become a superstar. In a world that was thoroughly destroyed by several world wars the tournament is not only prime time entertainment for the masses, but also a way out of the miserable remains of human civilization.

Jin Kazama, a young, rebellious martial artist is looking to avenge his mother who was killed during Tekken’s crackdown on a slum outside Tekken City. He enters the tournament to get to the big boss and kill him. What he doesn’t know is that his father he’s never met in his life is working for the dark side. Jin is on collision course with his past, inevitably putting at risk his future.

TEKKEN is mostly about the tournament, so apart from a few dirty dusty “outdoor” locations it all happens inside the tournament arena. The fighters fight, the spectators hail, the organizers are in control. In between the tournament rounds we learn more about Jin’s youth (mostly through repetitive flashbacks) and are getting closer to find out about his father (you might be finding out quicker than the movie though). Of course there’s also a showdown, and a few showdowns on the way to the showdown.

Now, I don’t mind a good B-movie that delivers, but what simply doesn’t work for me is a B-movie that tries too hard to add depth and meaning to an otherwise trivial story, confusing us with oh-so-smart but actually idiotic dialogue, pseudo-philosophical ideas and laughable attempts of Shakespearian acting (“you don’t know anything about me”; really, I don’t want to know anything about you). It’s just like Kenny G trying to play Jazz; dreadful.

What’s more is the uninspired, rudimental camerawork that never ever once manages to create cinematographic impact. No matter what the choreography does or potentially could do, Brian J. Reynolds makes sure it has no effect. Needless to say that a movie adaptation trailing far behind the original video game in terms of action and pace isn’t exactly what fan boys might have waited for. Add to that semi-likeable and semi-talented actors / fighters, and you’ll not have much left writing about: Jon Foo remains a pale hero throughout, and the rest of the cast is as underwhelming as the story, the sets and the CGI effects.

You should be able sitting through TEKKEN with a couple of beers and a couple of friends though (in this order), it has a few catchy moments and the bad stuff is mostly really funny. If they only had added Christopher Lambert to the cast TEKKEN could have almost become a must-see bad movie.