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 ]
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 earns. 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.
Did you know that Masahiro Higashide and Shota Sometani acted together in the live action adaptation of xxxHolic? In Parastye Part One they were reunited, this time playing hosts to worm-like alien creatures. Shinichi (Sometani) plays the lead character and is tasked to save humankind from the aliens while Shimada (Higashide), is the mysterious transfer student who will help in the alien invasion.
There was an interview that appeared in Nihon Eiga Magazine vol 45 2014 and a translation was made by Norathorn @Tumblr.
Higashide was happy to note that he was a big fan of the manga and having been cast as Shimada is more than enough for him. As the transfer student:
Higashide said that the difficulty with the role was to portray alien-infiltarated humans’ emotionless blank expression and unblinking stare (which in reality actually makes eyes teary XD). Sometani said that Higashide was so good at it that he really disgusted him with the “plastic” face [ source ]
Sometani, on the other hand, spent more than 6 months in the process of playing the scenes involving the alien who invaded his hand (which normally should have invaded his whole body and took over him):Read more...
Former AKB48 idol Atsuko Maeda joins Shota Matsuda and Fumino Kimura in a new movie about love and passion, long distance relationships and mystery during the 1980s, set in Shizuoka. Based on the novel "Inishieshon Rabu" by Kurumi Inui - with more than one million in print, it was reported that celebrities and other famous personalities have been promoting the book ever since.
The writer who is a native of the city, has attributed much of its success on the location - theme parks, the mountains, the city center - all breathtakingly beautiful which kept readers coming back for a second or more reading. The twist at the end of the book is in itself another reason why readers love it.
While director Yukihiko Tsutsumi (who also did 20th Century Boys, SPEC, Trick and The Bandage Club) has discussed with the writer about a possible change in the ending, Inui remains excited with the movie. The same kind of excitement is being felt by the actors - Atsuko Maeda is reportedly very interested in playing the part of the heroine, a role she has not yet done. Matsuda also felt the excitement since he has read the book and reacted to the story quite emotionally.
The 1980s - its look and feel and the people of that generation has a different view of the world, says the actor. It would not only be a challenge to play one of the main characters, but would be loving it as I am already familiar with the novel and the personalities of the characters.
Matsuda who has not done any film with a meaty, major role since 2012 will work with Maeda for the first time. Love's Initiation is slated for a 2015 release.
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.