Posts Tagged ‘Ryoko Hirosue’



We are not yet sure if this is going to be just a lengthy commercial for Shiseido, but the story  reads quite interesting: FLOWERS features the six stars from Shiseido’s famous TSUBAKI (椿) ads and tells the story of different women throughout various decades, starting in the 30’s.

Helmed by director Norihiro Koizumi the movie was reportedly planned since 2008 by creative director Takuya Onuki who was also responsible for the television commercials. Well, at least the girls sure look good. Starring, of course, Yu Aoi (蒼井優), Yuko Takeuchi (竹内結子), Lena Tanaka (田中麗奈), Yukie Nakama (仲間由紀恵), Kyoka Suzuki (鈴木京香), and Ryoko Hirosue (広末涼子).




JAPAN 2009   Directed by: Isshin Inudo Novel: Seicho Matsumoto Written by: Isshin Inudo, Kenji Nakazono  Cinematography: Takahiro Tsutai Editing: Soichi Ueno  Music: Koji Ueno  Cast: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Ryoko Hirosue, Takeshi Kaga, Miki Nakatani, Tetta Sugimoto

Who would have thought that the writer of Kitamura’s VERSUS would do movies like ZERO FOCUS. Isshin Inudo’s latest work – a remake of the 1961 original – tells the story of Sadako whose husband Kenichi leaves for business to Kanazawa and never returns. Since no one has an answer to where he might be and why he has disappeared, Sadako travels to Kanazawa herself to find out about what happened. Most people in Kanazawa are not exactly supportive, but she finds some allies who help her find out more. She slowly comes to realize that she doesn’t know much about her husband who she met through a matchmaker at all, and that Kenichi has led a double life for the past 18 months of their marriage. But this only the tip of the iceberg: very soon she will be involved in the hunt for a serial killer, local politics and her husbands past that all turn out to be all intertwined.

ZERO FOCUS is still set in 1957 and as remake I would have wished for more innovation than repeating the look of the original. However, as this is the 21st century I must admit that the retro-look works splendid and adds a visual quality that would have not been the same if the story was transported into the present. The story is of course largely influenced by the post-war era, so much of the reasons behind what happens is directly influenced by what Japan was like after the WWII.

This also explains why ZERO FOCUS to some extend is a film about Japan’s past and a historic recollection of Japan’s society and politics. Just like other eras have influenced people’s life the post-war years have left their mark and create an interesting backdrop for the film’s intrigues. As the movie develops from subtle drama into crime thriller it more and more reminds us of Alfred Hitchcock’s works that without a doubt have been the blueprint for ZERO FOCUS, then and now. If Hitchcock had been Japanese, this is how he’d done it. His spirit, tonality and techniques are more than apparent, more than just once.

Different from the original the 2010 version is now featuring full color, so Inudo is also adopting a bit of Nicholas Roeg’s DON’T LOOK NOW here with his killer dressed in red and a preference for the color red and strong shadows throughout the film. I must admit though that it all works: Inudo has created a beautiful, captivating movie that at times is visually almost too attractive and aesthetic and distracts from what’s going on. And since this isn’t VERSUS indeed, the pace is slow, almost graceful, reflecting many of the classic virtues of Japanese cinema; at the same time it painstakingly recreates a world long gone and a style of filmmaking that’s hard to find today.

The story then is intelligently written and embedded well into the historic context, but during the last third it feels like either the pace of the film is too slow as we’d wish to get to the point faster, or the story is not surprising enough so that it’s not worth the wait. That doesn’t mean that there’s anything fundamentally wrong here, but most movie goers will have to get used to the (un)balance towards the end.

ZERO FOCUS is a welcome change in menu: a film that feels like solid oak rather than laminate. It has an enormous intensity, yet feels at ease. Everyone will have to decide for him/herself if it was worth remaking the original, or if the crime drama is convincing enough, or if the pace should have been different. I for once say all good things take time, and given the huge amount of films that think that spectacular editing can cover up substantial flaws it is refreshing to see someone going against trends.

It takes courage to tell a story like Inudo does with ZERO FOCUS. ZERO FOCUS is not a film that can be watched over and over, but watching it once is a qualitative experience you don’t want to miss.




Japan 2009   Directed by: Kazuaki Kiriya   Story: Kazuaki Kiriya  Script: Kazuaki Kiriya & Tetsuro Takita  Production: Kazuaki Kiriya, Takashige Ichise  Cinematography: Kazuaki Kiriya   Editing: Kazuaki Kiriya, Chisako Yokoyama  Music: Akihiko Matsumoto  Cast: Yosuke Eguchi, Takao Osawa, Ryoko Hirosue, Jun Kaname, Gori, Mikijiro Hira, Masato Ibu, Susumo Terajima, Hashinosuke Nakamura, Tetsuji Tamayama, Eiji Okuda, Choi Hong Man

Before Zack Snyder was CASSHERN (and before CASSHERN naturally someone else). What goes around comes around. Nevertheless has Kazuaki Kiriya managed to create his own kind of genuinely modern, surreal aestheticism (despite all the obvious influences), and he continues to celebrate his trademark approach to filmmaking once again with GOEMON.

Style with Substance, not over or under: GOEMON is about the historical Japanese Robin Hood called Goemon (played brilliantly by Yosuke Eguchi, one of Japan’s most underrated actors; it is really nice to see him getting the role he deserves) who is brought up and trained to become a Shinobi by the legendary Hattori Hanzo after his parents had been killed. At the end of his education however he decides not to follow the path of his master, but instead begin a career as master thief who takes from the rich and gives to the poor.

But there’s more to it than meets the eye: Goemon wants to be free, free from obligations, duties and other people’s influence. The new career goes pretty well until Goemon literally opens Pandora’s box by mistake – from now on he must face his past as well as more than just one archenemy. And “by the way” he must save, can save, should save, should better quickly save his country as Japan is on the brink of war. Or should he save his one and only love from becoming a concubine instead? Or simply do everything at the same time?

Most people will probably underestimate GOEMON as much as CASSHERN before. Too seductive are its style and aesthetics, too overwhelming the visual ideas, too obvious its class. A film with such outstanding form can’t be more than skin-deep, or can it? Conventional thinking is hard to outmaneuver: large and light, fast and economical? Impossible.

GOEMON is, just like CASSHERN, an excellent film indeed. A film about values, ideals and faith. A film about how everything is connected. How our actions affect the future, for better or worse. How our decisions become the storm caused by butterfly wings.

Last but not least is GOEMON religion: rooted in (Zen)Buddhism and its philosophy of sufficiency, common desires like fame, money or status are all meaningless. GOEMON is a metaphor for the greed for power and how people are corrupted by its pursuit, perfectly expressed by the last dialogue between Goemon and Hideyoshi.

At the micro level GOEMON deals with the personal fate of an (anti)-hero who has mistaken irresponsibility for freedom and at the end discovers that freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose. Whereas at the macro level it is a film about society and what actually constitutes society in the first place.

Everything makes sense when Goemon comes to realize what true strength really is. We have to applaud Kiriya for his nonchalance, this just looks so easy, like child’s play, and everything’s so clear and obvious. It is wonderful to see how the recurring theme and question for what strength really is makes for the most beautiful, small twist at the end that skillfully shows how our individual fate and the fate of everyone else are related.

It may be hard to believe for some, but GOEMON is as much visual art as it has profound substance. A little bit ASSASSINS CREED, a slice of RASHOMON, or sometimes SHINOBI NO MONO, GOEMON is always a feast for the senses. You’ll either love it or hate it, so keep an open mind and enjoy it for what it is. For GOEMON most of all is a triumph: clearly more commercial than CASSHERN does GOEMON display the same sheer energy and maybe even more sophistication as far as attention to detail is concerned. The apparent concessions to a mainstream audience correspond perfectly with Goemon’s character and fit actually really well amid all the visual excess and the movie’s appetite for destruction.

In Japan GOEMON was criticized for the fact that it relies too much on popular characters and for playing it too safe by never really putting the hero in harms way. But is Kiriya the one to blame? In recent years Japanese cinema has fed the public almost exclusively with well-known stories and has conditioned local movie goers to expect cross-promotions all along the way: manga becomes film becomes video game becomes film becomes manga, and so forth. Kiriyas strategy is legitimate: popular figures and legends stir the interest, and once the audience is sitting comfortably in the theatre seat you take them to the edge without warning.

Why not? Don’t we all know that the hero’s gonna make it in the end anyway? Didn’t we come to see it? It isn’t justified to say that GOEMON per se ignores the basic rule of putting the hero in potentially lethal situations, but “potentially lethal” is also a matter of definition. Goemon is exposed to multiple dangers and he fights various battles throughout the film; so boredom isn’t exactly what comes to my mind.

As far as direction, script writing, camera, editing, music and cast go does GOEMON deserves the high score. Perhaps this doesn’t reflect well on, but whoever’s familiar with statistics will also know why that is. GOEMON is film as it should be: epic, honest, universally relevant and detailed. We can watch it for the artistic showcase that it is, enjoy it as a history lesson, see it as a serious work about society, watch it as a love movie or just as a martial arts flick.

There is one thing that GOEMON specifically pays attention to and gets perfectly right, and that’s the quintessence of every great film: a great story. And life simply still tells the best stories: whoever dismisses GOEMON as “video game” or primarily perceives it as an MTV-era relic has apparently never ever once left his apartment. Time to get a life, dude.