Countdown to the 10 Best Japanese Movies of 2012 – Part 3

Part 3 of our countdown to the Top 10 Japanese movies of 2012 features an anime, a detective thriller, and two distinctly unique coming of age movies starring 2 of today’s most promising actors with the same first names – Kento Nagayama and Kento Hayashi. Nagayama is the younger brother of Eita and just like his older brother, can act with passion and intensity. In The Cowards Who Looked Up to the Sky, he plays a lonely youth who had an affair with an older woman, which turned into something deeper, and ended in tragedy.

Kento Hayashi, from Lesson of the Evil, plays the son of a motorcycle gang leader who has grown old of his nasty ways in Blazing Famiglia. However, certain incident in the present compelled the father to go back to his group of gangsters to take revenge against an old rival.

As you may have guessed it already, the detective thriller is Ace Attorney, from Takashi Miike. Many have considered it a big success in adapting the highly entertaining Nintendo Game Boy video game “Gyakuten Saiban” into a live action movie. While the anime is Wolf Children which happens to be one of the most endearing anime to be released during the year. It features the voice of Aoi Miyazaki, Takao Osawa, Haru Kuroki and Shota Sometani, among others.

More of these films after the jump!

The Cowards who looked up to the Sky is the dramatic showcase for Kento Nagayama and Tomoko Tabata who play lovers in this erotic/drama/thriller. Shown recently in Toronto and Hong Kong, the movie has been well received by international audiences and critics. Toronto J-Film Pow-Wow recently interviewed the director, Yuki Tanada and remarked:

Based on the award-winning 2010 novel by Misumi Kubo, The Cowards Who Looked to the Sky begins as a love story, albeit a dysfunctional one. Lonely housewife Anzu (portrayed by former child actress Tomoko Tabata) and high school student Takumi (Kento Nagayama) are caught up in a tempestuous affair, one fueled by Anzu’s obsession with a popular romantic manga. Their cosplay love-making sessions, in which Anzu adopts the persona of a Princess and Takumi her manga Prince Charming, lie in stark contrast to their daily lives. [ read more ]


Critical Buzz: Says Maggie Lee at Variety:

What Tanada does best is mine her protags’ troubled psyches with deep empathy, especially in the love scenes, which express eroticism from a female perspective, poignantly revealing Satomi’s desire for pleasure as rooted in repression and low self-esteem. These scenes also encapsulate the sexual confusion of adolescence, especially for Takumi, who’s been raised by his single mother (Mieko Harada).

Tabata, who made her debut as a child actor in Somai Shinji’s “Moving” (1992), credibly and touchingly limns the contradictions of Satomi’s childlike innocence and selfishness. Nagayama also shows promise charting Takumi’s painful growth as he’s forced to cope with experiences and trials too harsh for his age. [ read more ]

Shota Sometani’s performance in Himizu is, by far, the best for a young actor this 2012, but Nagayama is not far behind. While many in Japan maybe rejoicing the rise of Tori Matsuzaka as leading man material, Nagayama is growing in stature as an actor to reckon with. One cannot also deny the fact that Tomoko Tabata played a vital role in making this movie spellbinding.

Blazing Famiglia – centers around a family of former teenage gangsters. Tetsu Hino (Yoshimi Tokui) was once the leader of the most feared motorcycle gang in the Kanto area. Now, Tetsu Hino is middle-aged man who is looked down upon by his rebellious son Shuhei (Kento Hayashi). One day, Tetsu and his old biker gang gather together again after the daughter of a member is assaulted. Tetsu, worried about his day to day life, nevertheless regains the passion from his biker days. Tetsu then finds out that Ken Igarashi (Jun Murakami) is the man behind the attack. Ken Igarashi has had a grudge against Tetsu for a long time.


After seeing Kento Hayashi in Parade playing a prostitute, it was another surprise to see him play a young rebelious son in Blazing Famiglia. Hayashi has a wide range of acting ability and he delivers on his role with grit and angst. Mr. Hayashi is also one of 2012 most active young actors – with plenty of critical acclaim and promises of more to come.

Critical Buzz: Again Maggie Lee reacted positively to the movie in her review at Variety:

For decades a staple of Nipponese straight-to-video “V-cinema,” biker-gang subculture gets a galvanizing bigscreen treatment in helmer Kazuyoshi Kumakiri “Blazing Famiglia.” A coming-of-ager baptized in blood and steeped in soulful midlife blues, the film reps an action aesthetic of savage masculine beauty that harks back to the golden age of yakuza films in the 1970s. Readers of the original 1999 manga by Hiroshi Tanaka will constitute the core aud for the pic’s September domestic rollout; Asian action markets will feel the heat as well.

Pic introduces mechanic Tetsu Hino (comedian Yoshimi Tokui), whose cluttered apartment; dismissive wife, Kiri (Chisun); and teenage son, Shuhei (Kento Hayashi), signal a washed-up life. One day, Tetsu is jolted from inertia by a brutal assault on Shuhei’s g.f., Makoto, also the daughter of his old friend Atsushi Yokota (Sadao Abe). He gathers his former bosozoku (delinquent biker pals) to exact rough justice on the young punks responsible, initiating Shuhei into the notorious world of his father, a member of east Japan’s most notorious biker gang, Shinsha. [ read more ]

Mamoru Hosoda’s previous directorial works include Summer Wars and The Girl who Leapt Through Time. Wolf Children is his third movie in the span of 6 years. Anime News wrote a glowing review, even comparing the film to some of Studio Ghibli’s works:

This is the third stand-alone feature by Hosoda, and the first by his fledgling Studio Chizu (Summer Wars and Girl who Leapt were by MADHOUSE). It starts with a woman; a Tokyo college student called Hana, who notices a young man sitting by himself in a lecture theater. Approaching him, she learns he’s not a student but a drifting interloper, without four walls to call his own. (Ironically, his job is moving other people’s furniture.) Drawn by his gentle manner, and her own impulse to help, she reaches out to him… and on a crisp starry night, he shows her what he is.

As you’ll know if you’ve seen the trailers, he turns into a wolfman, though shorn of creature-feature mythology. Moon and silver have no hold on Hosoda’s wolves; they change when they wish, or when they’re stressed or threatened. Hana is amazed but not frightened by this fairy-tale Beast, and by the prospect of having his children. “I’m not frightened, because you’re you,” she says, lying down with the tender wolf in an adult moment as wholesome as Snow White. There’s no magical items, no destinies or fates to deny. The telling is resolutely natural. Few anime, even in the slice-of-life genre, show a pregnant woman making use of a sick bowl. But Hana’s true challenge starts when the man suddenly vanishes from the film, leaving her and her children alone. [ read more ]


Critical Buzz: Hugo Ozman at Twitch review the film and says:

Wolf Children establishes Mamoru Hosoda as a master animator and storyteller in his own right. He is impressively capable of telling greatly different kinds of stories and using wildly different styles to tell them. If the triumph of Summer Wars comes from its use of dazzling and imaginative visuals to tell the complex story, then the beauty of Wolf Children lies in its simplicity and gentleness. It is a film that quietly whispers in your ears and softly tugs at your heartstrings. [ source ]

There is beauty in simplicity and this applies perfectly to Wolf Children. It’s quite unfair to have Hosada compared to the more popular and established Hayao Miyazaki. He has his own style and ability to dazzle his own set of audience. The story, the voices lend by a star-studded cast, and the music made Wolf Children such a movie to behold. Hopefully, Hosada can come up with another anime in less than 2 years time, but then again, as proven 3 times already, the wait is well worth it.

Ace Attorney from Takashi Miike is the perfect model for transforming a video game into a live action movie. With an exciting cast led by Hiroki Narimiya, Takumi Saito, Mirei Kiritani and Shunsuke Daito, this detective thriller made use of some amazing special effects. Kotaku East praised the film, saying:

A movie like this could find no better director than Miike Takashi (Ichi the Killer, Audition). Known in the West mostly as a horror director, he’s actually done everything from children’s fantasy films to classic anime adaptations in addition to his horror work. His ability to merge the real and the surreal does more than hold the often-comical/often-serious drama of Gyakuten Saiban together: it crafts a world where such things feel natural.

If you’ve ever complained that a video game movie strays too far from the source material, then Gyakuten Saiban is the movie for you. Everything from hair styles to the Blue Badger come straight from the game with little to no embellishment. Much of the game’s music returns—now fully orchestrated—and even the set design perfectly mirrors the in-game locations.

That said, the movie and game are not identical as Miike doesn’t hesitate to take the ideas present in the game and run with them to their logical conclusion. In a world where all trials last for a maximum of three days, Miike treats courtrooms as the world’s most popular sport, where fans buy tickets and lawyers face off in pre-fight interviews. [ read more ]


While some may find it boring, it really depends on how you approach the movie. It’s quite straight forward and require not much for moviegoers in terms of attention span. Adds The Hollywood Reporter:

Miike’s great accomplishment here – executed with his usual visual panache – is in fusing the real with the surreal so that the surface silliness and caricatured personalities are underpinned by a propulsive dramatic arc. The ambitious narrative stays close to the source material, spanning the first five court cases of the Capcom videogames that star the young defense attorney Phoenix Wright. [ source ]

I’ve been a fan of Narimiya who was superb in Lala Pipo, Drop and Bakamono; The Idiots. He has such comedic flair, and together with co-stars Saito and Kiritani, made Ace Attorney an enjoyable movie to watch.

Have you seen the movies above? Which one is your favorite? Let us know what you think! 

Up next, our Top 10 Japanese Movies for 2012 in ranking!