Part 2 of our countdown to the Top 10 Japanese movies of 2012 features two drama and a light comedy. These movies feature some of Japan's best-known actors. Kiki Kirin is already an icon in Japanese cinema - with countless movie roles to her credit and awards and accolades through the years. She is one of the leads in Chronicle of my Mother. Compared to her, Shota Sometani is just starting his acting career but is already considered one of today's most important young talents not only in Japan but in the international scene. One of his latest movies, Himizu - from famed director Sion Sono - is a hard-hitting look at the recent Japanese tsunami and nuclear disaster.
On the lighter side, Eita and Kenichi Matsuyama played train otaku (train enthusiasts) in Train Brain Express, the last movie helmed by Yoshimitsu Morita, who passed away last year. What makes them such amazing films? Get to know why after the jump!
Chronicle of My Mother is all about relationships. Between mother and son, between family members. Aside from Kiki Kirin, it stars Koji Yakusho, who was outstanding in The Woodsman and the Rain.Yakusho plays the son, while Aoi Miyazaki is Kotoko, his daughter.
What the Movie is all about: "Chronicles Of My Mother" recounts the relationship of an author (Koji Yakusho) and his elderly parents. The author has a strained relationship with his father and his mother's (Kirin Kiki) memory grows weaker by the day. A reconciliation is attempted by the son. [ AsianWiki ]
Critical Buzz: Time Out Tokyo interviewed director Masato Harada, and commented:
Though he's been courting international audiences for over two decades now, even shooting a pair of English-language films in the 1990s, director Masato Harada seemed condemned to be best remembered for his role as the immaculately bearded villain in The Last Samurai. That might change with Chronicle of My Mother, his first foray into the world of family dramas and one of his strongest – not to mention most accessible – films to date. Based on the autobiographical novellas by Yasushi Inoue, it centers on the relationship between successful author Kosaku Igami (Koji Yakusho) and his mother (Kirin Kiki) as she succumbs to Alzheimer's, while also finding time to follow other family members including Igami's headstrong youngest daughter (Aoi Miyazaki). A handsome, beautifully acted drama, the film won the Special Grand Prix of the jury when it premiered at last year's Montreal Film Festival, and seems a strong contender to become Japan's entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2013 – assuming, at least, that Harada's past criticisms of the Japanese film establishment don't get held against him. [ source ]
As Harada himself predicted, the movie was not chosen to represent Japan at the Oscars, instead another movie - 'Our Homeland' (Kazoku no Kuni) - was chosen. Third Window Films in their post of their best movies for 2012, ranked Our Homeland at 9th place.
As expected many Western audiences who are not sentimental and would not mind having to let go of their parents in nursing care cannot identify with the sentiments of the movie, however, Elizabeth Kerr at the Hollywood Reporter has this to say:
Chronicle of My Mother is impeccably produced, and Yakusho and Kirin work wonders with the material they have. He is suitably stoic and wounded, keeping his emotions in check by channeling them into work and ordering his family around. Kirin manages to avoid the histrionics of disease and keeps mom sympathetic. When she drifts off into memory, it flows seamlessly from the moment before.[ source ]
Train Brain Express is a light comedy that features some amazing acting from the leads - Eita and Kenichi Matsuyama. As train enthusiasts, they met accidentally while taking a ride and instantly strike up a friendship. There are a lot of scenes where they interact with each other, the result of which is amusement and laughter. I am especially impressed with Shihori Kanjiya. She is always excellent in portraying her characters. She has this unique ability to look simple yet there is so much complexity with her acting.
What the Movie is all about: Kei Komachi (Kenichi Matsuyama) works for a big company in a densely populated area. Kenta Kotama (Eita) works for his family iron foundry business, which is in crisis. Both men are railroad otaku (avid fans of trains) and meet while riding on the same train ... [ AsianWiki ].
Critical Buzz: Remarks the Japan Times' Mark Schilling:
Watching Kenichi Matsuyama and Eita play simple-souled train buffs who find uncomplicated pleasure in each other's company, I understood again why actors lined up to work with Morita: He gave them permission to stretch beyond their usual screen personae, from the strange to the silly.
Similar to Johnny Depp in his affinity for nonconformist, oddball roles (see his reclusive, sweets-addicted detective L in the "Death Note" films for an example), Matsuyama boards " 'A' Train" as Kei Komachi, a nerdy salaryman working for a big real-estate developer. Eita, who plays the Unabomber-like loner in Toshiaki Toyoda's new drama "Monsters Club," is Kenta Kodama, the unworldly son of a small metal-shop owner who is fascinated by anything metallic, especially if it has wheels and rides on rails. [ source ]
Finally the last movie on the list, Himizu. Sion Sono's movies are not made for everyone. If you want to watch something compelling, remarkable, challenging and insightful, then you can rely on Sono to deliver. Himizu is not an easy movie to watch - you need to go back to certain scenes to appreciate what the message really is. The dialogue, the actions and the reactions, the colors, the moods - all aspects of the film need deeper appreciation. But the time you devout to it is well worth it. Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikaido already got acclaim from the last Venice Film Fest because of this movie.
What the Movie is all about: Sumida and his schoolmate Keiko are 14-year-old school kids living a dystopian existence where each of their parents' hopes and encourages them to die. Set in tsunami-hit areas of Japan about May 2011, which is used as a backdrop, the story follows roughly that of the manga of the same name wherein Sumida fights frequently with his father, is abandoned by his mother and tends to reject friendly advances of others. Eventually, he kills his father and then, assuming his life is ruined, attempts to improve society by killing "bad" people. Although not immediately obvious, what instead happens is that he attacks psychotic and violent characters, while he instead learns from Keiko and the Yakuza and people who befriended him that he himself has become "sick", eventually breaking free of the cycle of violence, but without a complete resolution of the issues raised during the movie before its end.[ IMDb ]
Critical Buzz: Says the Hollywood Reporter:
While young local audiences will appreciate the film’s manga roots much more than the uninitiated, no one can help but feel touched when the camera pans over a flattened city in which a lone man walks around in a daze. The film was shot on location in the quake zone and, though disaster visuals are used sparingly, the sound of deadly rumbling is a recurrent reminder of where and when the action is taking place.
All the main characters have been deeply affected by the disaster, and the question now is what future awaits them. Sumida (Shota Sometani) lives in a humble boathouse on the side of a placid lake with his often absent mother. He lets refugees who have pitched flimsy tents nearby to use their bathtub when mom is out, like crazy old Yoruno who not long ago was the president of a company. Meanwhile, he fights off the unwanted attentions of a crazy rich girl in his class, Chazawa (Fumi Nikaidou). His greatest desire, he tells her, is to lead an ordinary life. Both 14-year-olds rebel against the stupid banalities taught in school, and look for an authentic way to live. [ read more ]
You can also read Part 1 of our list here.
More of the countdown in Part 3 up next! (plus the rankings of the Top 10 Japanese movies of 2012).
Let us know what you think of these movies!