The Eternal Zero is one of Japan's biggest box office draws for 2013, featuring a stellar cast and even personally endorsed by the country's Prime Minister. While it may appear to be a nationalistic film which aims to arouse Japanese sentiments, the universal themes of love, friendship and family make it worth a look. It's hard not to mention The Wind Rises, which to me, regards the war with a different set of eyes.

Directed by Takashi Yamazaki, Eien no Zero, tells the story of an elite Japanese fighter pilot who became one of the 4,400 kamikazes who dedicated their lives for the war and Japan. But not all pilots are created equal, hence the legacy of a man branded as a coward by many of his peers. But then again, how can someone be considered as such if he died during the war and as a kamikaze pilot?

Thus began the investigation of Kentaro Saeki (Haruma Miura) and his older sister, Keiko (Kazue Fukiishi) upon discovering that their biological grandfather was no other than Kyuzo Miyabe (Junichi Okada), the said fighter pilot.

Masaki Suda has left behind his peers and joins Shota Sometani, Masataka Kubota, and Kento Nagayama in the elite group of young Japanese actors, by his remarkable and sensitive portrayal of Toma in Backwater (Tomogui). Kamen Rider fans may remember Suda as Philip, the male lead, and half of the eponymous hero of the 2009-2010 Kamen Rider Series, Kamen Rider W. 

 

Like a snake shedding its skin, Masaki Suda has evolved from an aspiring young actor playing high school kids to the son of a sadistic father and a war-stricken, disabled mother in this film by Shinji Aoyama (Tokyo Kouen, Sad Vacation, Crickets).

Toma is like any ordinary 17-year old, he is on the verge of manhood and thinks nothing else but sex. Unlike geeky-nerdy and shy virgin Japanese boys, he has a girlfriend Chikusa (Misaki Kinoshita) and has plenty of opportunities to satisfy his lust. While sex is a constant craving, family matters is also a big concern. His parents are separated, and he longs for them to be together, even for a short period as they catch fish in the backwaters of Kawake.

I finally got the chance to watch Yuya Ishii's The Great Passage (Fune wo Amu), but I'm still waiting for Koreeda's Like Father, Like Son to make an intelligent comparative analysis of both. While some movie bloggers are already criticizing Japan's entry to the Oscar Best Foreign Language Film category, I still reserve my judgment.

I like The Great Passage, but unfortunately, it's not for everyone's viewing. The slow-paced and lingering character depiction maybe too much for impatient moviegoers. Here we have a geeky lexicographer, too low-profile if you like immortal superheroes like the Wolverine. The kind of pleasure you'll get out of watching this movie cannot compare to special effects and massive explosions of the mentioned Marvel superhero movie, but a soothing kind of pleasure - like smelling the pages of a favorite book as you lay down in bed with nothing to worry about.

My Way is a Korean-Chinese co-production that tells the story of Joon-Sik (Jang Dong-Gun) and Tatsuo (Joe Odagiri) - their rivalry and later, their brotherhood and friendship amidst the destruction and tragedy of the Second World War. The painful memories of the last World War remain, especially for the Koreans and the Chinese. As an avid observer of history, I cannot fathom the horror and the pain of its victims, nor can I feel the humiliation of those who were defeated. 

In Je-kyu Kang's movie, the focus is not on the horrors of war, but on the unlikely friendship between a Korean and a Japanese. Being a joint production, I expected a straight forward Korean hero versus Japanese villain, where the latter ends up dead and the former victorious at the end. There are too many Hollywood and Asian movies where the Japanese are always the evil guy, and it's getting to be a tired old habit that's hard to break.