Posts Tagged ‘Taiga’

PANDEMIC [KANSEN RETTO | 感染列島]

2010/07/10

http://kansen-rettou.jp/

JAPAN 2009  Directed & Written by: Takahisa Zeze   Story: Takashi Hirano, Atsuyuki Shimoda Produced by: Takashi Hirano  Cinematography: Koichi Saito  Editing: Isao Kawase  Music: Goro Yasukawa Cast: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Rei Dan, Ryoko Kuninaka, Yuji Tanaka, Chizuru Ikewaki, Takanori Takeyama, Koichi Sato, Tatsuya Fuji, Akio Kaneda, Ken Mitsuishi, Midoriko Kimura, Kyusaku Shimada, Bokuzo Masana, Erika Mabuchi, Ayaka Komatsu, Akifumi Miura, Natsuo, Taiga, Ichirota Miyagawa, Koji Sato, Dante Carver, Shiro

Japan loves doctor dramas, just as much as the country is anal about hygiene and cleanliness. Add to that a morbid fascination for self-destruction in all forms of popular culture and the Aum sect scare that until today is firmly stored in everyone’s memory (just see how nervous the country was for the 15th anniversary of the attacks this year), and you can’t help but find PANDEMIC the perfect fit for the local audience.

The surprise is that KANSEN RETTO (“Infected Islands”) scores more than well compared to any virus movie of the last decade(s). Not everyone will fall in love with the local customs, behavior and emotions displayed frequently throughout PANDEMIC – you’ll probably appreciate these only once you’re familiar with the people and the culture –, but this distinctly Japanese take on the virus / disaster movie genre may actually be the reason the movie works so well.

A young doctor, Tsuyoshi Matsuoka, is treating a patient for flu-like symptoms, just to find him dying a horrible death in the ER the day after. Despite all tests coming back negative everything points towards a new kind of super-flu virus that is spreading quickly and is lethal most of the time. As an increasing number of people in Japan shows the symptoms of the virus and hospitals struggle to cope with so many cases, the WHO takes over disease control measures, headed by Matsuoka’s former senior and girlfriend Eiko Kobayashi.

Initially the virus appears to be a form of avian flu, spreading from a chicken farm outside Tokyo, but this turns out not to be the case. The origin and type of the virus is clouded in mystery, and as Japan is spinning out of control, with hundreds of thousands dead and the country on the brink of a civil war, a race against the clock is on with Matsuoka and Kobayashi chasing after the virus’ birthplace in order to find a cure before it’s too late.

PANDEMIC doesn’t make the mistake trying to impress us with fancy special effects, an array of military weaponry or endless action sequences. Instead the film relies on its story, a very solid script and fine cast, takes a lot of time for character development and nuances and still doesn’t forget to keep its pace up. The resulting 2+ hours are tense and dense, but never rushed or fragmented. PANDEMIC is linear, logical and flowing smoothly; its conventional storytelling however doesn’t mean it chums up with the audience.

With a strong focus on the protagonists, the work of the hospital staff and the search for the virus PANDEMIC is always personal, more drama than disaster movie, churning out big emotions and not set pieces. Debating the quality of the few special effects is pointless as PANDEMIC is entirely driven by story and dialogue, but take my word for it they are perfectly acceptable.

The movie’s key message proves its eco-consciousness, the great thing about PANDEMIC however is that it doesn’t feel like a Birkenstock in 24fps. It’s grand entertainment that presses all the right buttons – after Petersen’s OUTBREAK this might very well be the second best contemporary commercial virus flick on the planet (if we leave out everything that borders on horror, SciFi or cyberpunk).

Ever since AIDS and Ebola every generation has its virus threats – caused by man, or man-made; natural diseases or bio-terror – and so virus movies will always be in fashion. PANDEMIC is as much a recapitulation of what has happened so far as it is a warning and pessimistic outlook. There’s this double-edged sword, comfort zone and fear at the same time: it’s all in our hands.

J.


LAST OPERATIONS UNDER THE ORION a.k.a. BATTLE UNDER ORION [MANATSU NO ORION | 真夏のオリオン]

2010/06/01

http://www.manatsu-orion.com/

JAPAN 2009  Directed by: Tetsuo Shinohara  Written by: Yasuo Hasegawa, Harutoshi Fukui, Kenzaburo Iida  Novel: Tsukasa Ikegami, Kenzaburo Iida  Music: Taro Iwashiro Cast: Hiroshi Tamaki, Keiko Kitagawa, Yoshikuni Dochin, Yuta Hiraoka, Eisaku Yoshida, Toru Masuoka, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Masaya Kikawada, Taiga, Taku Suzuki, Kimito Totani, Akiko Nagayasu, David Winning, David Barnes, Eric Weidman, Joe Rayome

During the final days of World War II, a Japanese submarine and a US destroyer are fighting it out somewhere off the coast of Okinawa. Captain Koramoto is leading his men and the I-77 submarine to attack an American convoy, and while another submarine is destroyed by the Americans Koramoto and his men successfully sink several enemy ships – until the destroyer finds them and a life and death game between the two vessels and their captains begins.

LAST OPERATIONS UNDER THE ORION continues with the new wave of nationalist movies that have proven to be successful at the local box office. It is far more toned down and as objective as that is probably possible compared to other movies, leaving room for the views and feelings of the antagonists as well.

LAST OPERATIONS UNDER THE ORION is a good attempt to show both sides of the coin called war, and in that respect the movie is very different. I wouldn’t really call it a naval action movie as even though it concentrates largely on the battle between the submarine and the destroyer LAST OPERATIONS UNDER THE ORION deals with questions of honor, justification of orders and the human side of conflict.

All that may not be more than skin-deep most of the time, but given that many movies of this kind are sole action films or nationalist propaganda LAST OPERATIONS UNDER THE ORION is at least trying to give us a good story without black and white clichés and leaves the judging to the audience. From a Japanese perspective, this is probably as far as they are willing and able to go, even criticizing the notorious suicide missions designed to sacrifice people for the greater good.

What LAST OPERATIONS UNDER THE ORION clearly lacks however are originality and a more profound description of the characters. The latter often remain pale and semi-believable, partly thanks to some heartthrob actors, partly thanks to the script that is too careful and tame and almost seems to say sorry for its attempt of criticism as if it wants to make up for its objectivity with harmless characterization. The protagonists are simply too nice and considerate, nothing disturbs the perfect first impression and nothing adds to their predictable behavior throughout the movie.

LAST OPERATIONS UNDER THE ORION scores even lower in the originality department: you will find bits and pieces of many war movies and submarine flicks recycled here, but it is surprising to see how much the film as borrowed from the world’s greatest submarine drama of all time, the German epic DAS BOOT.

Wolfgang Petersen’s unsurpassed masterpiece has been the inspiration for many of the key scenes of LAST OPERATIONS UNDER THE ORION, and the copycat simply doesn’t live up to a comparison at all. DAS BOOT is in a league of its own, and looking at ORION from this angle quickly reveals how far LAST OPERATIONS UNDER THE ORION is trailing behind. LAST OPERATIONS UNDER THE ORION is a submarine whereas DAS BOOT is the submarine movie.

LAST OPERATIONS UNDER THE ORION is a welcome change from American naval films, but just as most projects out of Hollywood LAST OPERATIONS UNDER THE ORION doesn’t really add much to the genre. It even borrows its narrative framework from another iconic war movie – SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.

So unless you are interested to see what comes out of a cross-breeding between SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and DAS BOOT you might as well skip LAST OPERATIONS UNDER THE ORION. If you are a fan of the genre however LAST OPERATIONS UNDER THE ORION offers a slightly different take on the subject and might be fine addition for completists.

J.