The 100 Best Contemporary Japanese Movies - Psycho Drama has launched an ambitious project to compile 100 of the best modern-day Japanese movies from the last 2 decades or so. Featuring the best young actors of their generation - from Joe Odagiri, Takako Matsu and Tadanobu Asano, to Satoshi Tsumabuki, Hikari Mitsushima, Mao Inoue, Ryuhei Matsuda, Shun Oguri and Masanabu Ando to the current crop of exciting young talents - Shota Sometani, Yuya Yagira, Kamiki Ryunosuke, Sosuke Ikematsu, Kento Yamazaki, Fumi Nikaido and Ai Hashimoto. [ click here ]
Exactly one year ago, we asked the question: Who will be the next great Japanese actress? We mentioned actresses who created big waves with their performances through the years, names like Sayuri Yoshinaga, Kirin Kiki, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Takako Matsu, Mao Inoue, Miki Nakatani and Oscar nominee Rinko Kikuchi. We also launched our Top 30 Hottest Actresses list... But in the span of one year, many (including the bloggers of this site) have been frustrated (even angry) at the way a few powerful agencies in Japan seem to be monopolizing the casting of important, leading roles for young actresses. Thus the question, Are we Doomed to Watch Mediocre Young Japanese Actresses?
While what we say here means nothing to these agents, we couldn't care less. I mean, there are young boys who get exploited all the time, it goes without saying the same applies to their female counterparts and probably much more - take the case of a newly formed girl-idol group (The Margarines) who announced that their performances as idols mean they can now take care of their debts... and just how are they supposed to pay for it? By selling their performances? Come now, are we to believe they are only selling their stage performances and nothing else? Says the Japan Times:
As pointed out in an editorial in this newspaper, what The Margarines are really selling is an implication of sexual availability, which is also true of most idol groups and makes the gimmick all the more disturbing. Human traffickers for the prostitution trade often prey on girls and women who are destitute or in debt. Some people will say that’s reading way too much into The Margarines’ business model — that these girls just want to be entertainers and this gives them an opportunity to do that — but this argument ignores the selling point, which is that they willingly make themselves available to fans in order to sing and dance and, in turn, get out of debt. [ read more ]
I'm not saying those favored by these agencies return "favors" to their agents - sexual or otherwise, but how do you justify being promoted by them when others are definitely more talented yet ignored and pretty much relegated to play bit roles?
I know, all of these news sound so gloomy and we're just a blog promoting young talents...
Anyway, the complaint about mediocrity and the prevalence of bland, uninspired acting remain one hot topic, we'll pursue now and later on.
On with the rankings! Before the 10 Most Promising list, we'll have a go at the 5 most over-rated actresses in Japan today, and why these powerful agencies don't really give a shit if their talents suck (and suck big time) in their roles...Read more...
Bugmaster (Mushishi) is the movie I used to hate a lot, probably because I viewed it in the wrong place at the wrong time. After a few discussion on a friend's review site, I decided to give it another viewing and was pleasantly surprised what I missed the first time. You may asked, what made me watch it again - two good reasons: I was in the middle of writing a profile of Joe Odagiri who was great in Tokyo Tower, My Way, Yureru (Sway), Le Maison de Himiko and Adrift in Tokyo that I know he cannot make a bad movie at all. Second, I was drawn by the supernatural aspect of the story. I would think the story was unique and that it demands the benefit of the doubt. Right now, I just finished watching it and wanted to rave on the beauty of the film and the performances of the actors.
Directed by award-winning manga artist and filmmaker Katsuhiro Otomo, Mushishi (Bugmaster) tells the story of Ginko (Joe Odagiri), a bugmaster or mushishi (one of the very few humans who can actually see the strange, iridescent creatures called mushi that float in the air and cause sickness among humans.) During his travels, he came upon a young woman named Tanyu (Yu Aoi). Her family has deep connections with the mushi and has recorded their history in scrolls, but she suddenly became sick after hearing a story from a blind woman about a fish called Tokoyami that lives at the bottom of a pond. Using his skills, Ginko attempts to heal Tanyu...
The original manga of which this film was based has a long history - winning awards for both the original source and the anime version and receiving universal praise from critics and manga readers.
I believe the cause of my confusion upon first view is the result of having to understand a lot from its origin - bear in mind it was published from 1999 until 2008 and has sold over 3.8 million copies.
Cinematic Moment: Ginko's struggles in the basement library of Tanyu’s house, as they battle the mushi which began to erase all the writings in the scrolls. Equally memorable is the encounter at the pond where the Tokoyami lives - the special effects here not only made the scene surreal but very exciting and engrossing. The trailer above gives some justice to the movie but you need to watch it whole to really enjoy and understand what I'm saying and raving here.
When you browse at promotional photos of upcoming movies, have you noticed the words "Production Committee"? In producing Japanese movies, there is a group of people who discuss its many aspects - the cast and crew (including the director and writer), source materials (usually manga and its anime versions), funding, marketing & promotion and everything else in order to do a movie. One thing remains very important: The movie should not be a "hardsell" because it will be shown on TV networks right after. [ Case in point: The Eternal Zero, starring Junichi Okada, Haruma Miura and Mao Inoue will be broadcasted on TV, after its run on theaters last year ]
According to UniJapan.Org, the Japanese Production System has a history:
In recent years, a group of companies referred to as the production committee that is comprised of several investors produces majority of the films in Japan. After its peak in the first half of the 1960s, the Japanese film industry has been marking a long downward trend. At the time, five major companies (Shochiku, Toho, Toei, Daiei Motion Picture and Nikkatsu) ran the film industry, and these companies had their own studios and box- office network of various sizes. In other words, these companies controlled the film business. However, as economic downturn prolonged and entered the 1970s, the most costly part of the film business, the production section was separated from the rest of the filming process and outsourced. That is how a film production came to be invested by several companies.
Powerful talent agencies are taking part in these committees and if your favorite actresses are not part of these agencies, then you might as well accept the fact that they will not be cast. Or if it so happens someone who is much favored by the same agency where she is a part of, then she'll end up playing the supporting or bit roles.
In Hollywood and perhaps elsewhere, the agency works for the talent. In Japan, it's the other way around. Some agencies would require a 50-90% commission, so you can imagine just how much an up and coming actress earn. No wonder many return to school, in order to have a more reliable and realistic future. They have no influence on what roles they will play, it's a job and they have to do it.
Viewers such as you and me and our opinions mean nothing to these Production Committees, since as one producer said
"Japanese movies and TV dramas are made for an exclusive Japanese audience".
The current issue regarding piracy follows the same logic. Since drama shows are for an exclusive Japanese audience, then it is the government's duty to take down these illegal video uploads. Japanese living and working outside will, of course, suffer and so shall we.
Anyway, so much serious issues! Can we finally answer the question: Are we doomed to watch mediocre Japanese talents? Let me talk some more...Read more...
What will you do if, all of a sudden, your Dad brings home his mistress? This incident triggered a lot of emotions in the young Nozomi Sugichita (Nana Eikura) that would define how she would view the world. In one of the latest Fall 2014 Japanese dramas, N no Tame ni shines with a murder-mystery plot, spiced up with a coming of age tale, family drama, and long-standing friendships that would be tested by time and unusual events. This TBS drama is topbilled by Nana Eikura and Masataka Kubota, with supporting cast including Kento Kaku, Keisuke Koide, Shono Hayama and Manami Konichi.
4 out of 5 stars (First Impressions)
Based on the novel "N no Tame ni" by Kanae Minato, the drama switches from past to the present as a former cop/detective Shigeru Takano (Tomokazu Miura) tries to unravel the truth behind the murder of a couple in the presence of four close friends, all with the initial N. Thus the title "Anything for N" in which anyone of them could be hiding the truth in order to protect each other or is it just one - the real murderer?
Nozomi Sugishita (Nana Eikura), Shinji Naruse (Masataka Kubota), Nozomi Ando (Kento Kaku) and Masato Nishizaki (Keisuke Koide) are obviously not related but they have very close relationships. They were questioned by the police for the murder, and with each of them have similar confessions, Nishizaki goes down for the crime. Admitting that he murdered the couple, Nishizaki was sentenced to 10 years in prison. This particular part of the story remains unclear and mysterious to a former cop who knows two of the witnesses - Nozomi and Naruse.Read more...
Erika Sawajiri is back for the second season of First Class, while Ryoko Yonekura reprises her role as an independent-minded Doctor (Michiko Daimon) in the third season of Doctor-X. Finally, Haruka Ayase is once again on TV in Kyou wa Kaisha Yasumimasu as a shy 30-something maiden (ala Last Cinderella) who fell in love with a younger guy played by Sota Fukushi. [ You can also read Part 1 of this report, featuring Nobunaga Concerto, Hell Teacher Nube and Regrets from my Youth ]
Early ratings for the first episode is tilted towards Yonekura's medical drama, followed by Ayase's romcom (14%) while Sawajiri manages a decent 8% having to compete directly with Ayase. Doctor-X (shown every Thursdays) garnered more than 20% of the Tv audience. Both First Class (Season 2) and Kyou wa Kaisha Yasumimasu are shown on the same day at the same time slot, creating lots of buzz from Japanese viewers regarding the battle between the two actresses. While the locals are passionately watching Doctor-X, Chinese and other Asian TV viewers seem to favor Sawajiri's First Class as torrent site Yyets puts Erika's drama 3rd place behind two US canned shows (The Big Bang Theory and Walking Dead).
More about the shows after the jump!Read more...
Those who have seen the more recent Like Father, Like Son may have been amazed at the power and intensity (and subtlety) of this moving family drama by Hirokazu Koreeda. But if you have seen his 2004 film, Nobody Knows, you will have no doubt that you're watching the work of a genius. There is nothing fake or pretentious in Koreeda's movies and his actors always come across as authentic.
Nobody Knows was a Cannes Film Festival official selection and gave lead actor Yuya Yagira his most important acting award to this day - Best Actor - at the young age of 14. It tells the story of a mother and her children whom she left behind in order to pursue her own happiness at their expense. In order to survive, the eldest Akira (Yagira) was forced to mature and play the role of the provider.
Based on true events known as the "Affair of the four abandoned children of Sugamo" - which occurred over a 9 month period in 1988 in Tokyo's Toshima Ward, what makes the movie special is Yagira's performance as the young boy who is torn between surviving on his own and supporting his family even though he is so incapable of doing so. Akira's running scene (as in all of Koreeda's movies) represents someone who is trying to escape - whether from reality or pain or death or obligation...
There are no hysterics here, no over-the-top acting, what you will see are scenes of children forced to survive on their own - they have to clean themselves in fountains out in the open, scavenge food and eating leftovers. But while Akira tries his best to become an adult, the joy of seeing them as kids is not only refreshing but so dramatic, you know it can happen to anyone, even the kids from your neighbor.
Cinematic Moment: There are so many (especially the kids as they show what interest and passion they have), but as mentioned already, the running scene symbolizing Akira's inability to escape from his obligation to make sure he and his brother and sisters survive.
There is only one Takayuki Yamada and with more than 30 movies and another 15 drama series to his credit, it would be very hard to name just one movie that would define his acting style. However, more than half way through his career, he was chosen to play the lead roles (3 different and unique characters) in Milocrorze: A Love Story. Written and directed by Yoshimasa Inshibasi, this movie participated in more than 12 major film festivals around the world and won big at the 15th Fantasia Film Festival.
Milocrorze: A Love Story is like traveling back in time as we get to know 3 different chracters played by Takayuki Yamada. Ovreneli Vreneligare is a child-like guy who fell in love with Mirokuroze (played by Maiko) when he was just a child, but she left him after they live together. The second part of the movie features Besson Kumagai, a love guru who helps young men get the girls they like. The last part involves Tamon, a highly-skilled assassin who fell in love with a florist who looks exactly like Mirokuroze. There are connections between the 3 main characters and it's not quite linear, you have to watch it to appreciate these inter-locking relationships.
While Yamada was particularly good in Crows Zero (even eclipsing Shun Oguri is some of the most intense scenes) and awesome in Thirteen Assassins, you will enjoy three sides of Yamada in this movie.
Cinematic Moment: Definitely the lengthy fight scene. You will understand if you think of the final battles in Miike's Thirteen Assassins. In this movie, its also bloody and violent, with amazing slow-mo sequences, but there is a modern twist added to it.
Sites and blogs dedicated to award-watching in Japan may not be as popular as the Oscar-watchers (those who dedicate analysis, statistics and reporting on the Oscar Race) In fact, we maybe one of the few doing that. Last year, we made our first predictions focusing on the Best Picture and Best Performances. For 2014 (38th Japan Academy Prize, which will be announced on March 2015), we'll begin by listing down potential Best Picture nominees.This year, a few Japanese movies garnered prestigious awards from international film festivals, and some acting awards too - particularly the big win by Haru Kuroki at Berlin, where she distinguished herself as Best Actress, the 4th Japanese to win in said festival.
Update #1 - Best Actor for Koji Yakusho (The World of Kanako) @Sitges Film Festival in Spain. EigaNews twitted the win -
Earlier, The Vancouver Asahi (Yuya Ishii follow up to The Great Passage) won the Audience award @Vancouver International Film Festival. At Montreal, the Japanese had good reasons to celebrate early on:
The movie “Fushigi Na Misaki No Monogatari” (“Cape Nostalgia”) starring veteran actress Sayuri Yoshinaga has won the Special Grand Prix at the Montreal World Film Festival. It is the first Japanese film to win the second-highest award at the festival since “Waga Haha no Ki” (“Chronicle of My Mother”) by director Masato Harada in 2011.
Japan’s Mipo O also won the best director award for “Sokonominite Hikari Kagayaku” (“The Light Shines Only There”). “Cape Nostalgia,” directed by Izuru Narushima, is Yoshinaga’s 118th film. [ source ]
On the local front - Seven Weeks from Nobuhiko Obayashi and Yuya Ishi's Our Family won Best Picture, while Satoshi Tsumabuki, Yo Oizumi, Fumi Nikaido and Chizuru Ikewaki won major acting awards [ more details here ]
Let's have a look at the 10 potential nominees for Best Picture after the jump!Read more...
In partnership with Coventry University and Third Window Films, East Winds will be celebrating East Asian film and culture through a selection of 11 International, European and UK Premieres from Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand, ranging from star-studded action blockbusters and chilling horrors to touching dramas and delightful comedies.
Alongside some pretty major titles such as the European Premieres of 'Partners in Crime', 'Z Storm', 'Record of Sweet Murder' and 'Teacher's Diary' (Thailand's Oscar submission) there are also many other UK premieres and 2 new Third Window genre titles: 'Greatful Dead' and 'The Lust of Angels' which will play.
More details at the Film Festival website
13oys and Men - Promoting the awesome and talented young Japanese actors, with lots of screenshots and insights into the careers of top and upcoming young talents.
Asian Addicts Anonymous - Comprehensive reviews and recaps of exciting Japanese drama, including interesting post on Asian music and movie news.
Dorama Doll - a new blog that will feature recaps of selected Japanese dramas, most probably related to Johnny & Associates talents, with some great recommendations on what to watch if you're new to the J-drama scene.
Genkinahito's Blog - Reviews, news, box office results & some amazing insights into Japanese films, including manga and anime.
My Drama Tea - Honest and insightful reviews of Japanese drama, also reviews of Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese dramas, with music news and movie reviews.
Ritsu No Dorama Land - J-dorama reviews with a difference, complete with recaps that really complements the review.
OtherWhere - Excellent and varied trailer showcase, insightful reviews of Japanese movies (both indies and mainstream), and a great resource for news on Studio Ghibli too!
The Corner of the Mind - Drama reviews (with detailed analysis of up and coming dramas via first impressions) and anime spotlights.