We watched a lot of Japanese movies during 2012 and in reviewing the year, made some comparisons to previous years' best. Looking back, I fell in love with Villain, Phone Call to the Bar, Villon's Wife, 13 Assassins and Air Doll while Karen went gaga over Rebirth, The Borrower Arrietty, Dear Doctor and Confessions (which I also like a lot!). For this year, our choices are varied - a couple of drama, a horror-thriller, a light comedy, an anime, and a few coming of age. Before the Best 10 Japanese movies of 2012, here is our review of the year in Japanese movies.
A showcase for young Japanese talents: Some critics are saying 2012 is not a good year for Japanese movies, but we have to disagree. There are some very good movies which provided opportunities for young Japanese talents to shine - Shota Sometani in Himizu and Lesson of the Evil, Kento Hayashi in Blazing Famiglia, Kento Nagayama in The Cowards Who Looked Up to the Sky, Satoshi Tsumabuki and Junpei Mizobata in Fly with the Gold, Tori Matsuzaka in Tsunagu, Takeru Sato in Rurouni Kenshin just to name a few.
Box Office history: One Piece Film Z broke box office records in Japan with $16.6 million take-ups during its first week of showing.Anime News Network reports:
Film journalist Hiroo Otaka reported on Monday that One Piece Film Z earned 1,372,050,000 yen (about US$16,339,700) this past weekend, and thus topped Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo for the highest opening weekend box office in Japan this year. The latest One Piece film sold 1.14 million tickets on 300 screens.[ read more ]
Anime is definitely Japanese territory - with recent successes including Summer Wars, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, From Up on Poppy Hill, and the more recent Wolf Children and Evangelion 3.0. I am not really surprised that One Piece Film Z would break box office results.
- - -
Japanese Films and the Global Movie Audience: Various film festivals around the world always love to show selected Japanese movies. Takashi Miike's Ace Attorney graced a couple of film fests - actually a lot - 11 festivals in all. Chronicle of my Mother attended 9 festivals, winning a major award (Special Grand Prix of the Jury) in Montreal. Another Miike film, For Love's Sake, got screened in 8 festivals, including Cannes and London.
Sion Sono's Himizu was shown in 10 festivals, with 3 major wins - one of which recognized Sometani and co-star Fumi Nikaido for the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best New Young Actor or Actress in Venice. The Land of Hope, also from Sono, was screened in 8 festivals, including Toronto and Hongkong.
- - -
Big disappointments: There are also some movies that showed promise at the beginning, but failed to impress when finally seen on the big screen. Sadako 3D boasts of using the latest in movie technology but failed to deliver the goods. It offered nothing new and waste such talents as Koji Seto, Satomi Ishihara, Yusuke Yamamoto and Shota Sometani. The movie received a 3.3 rating out of 10 in IMDb. While we're disappointed, it's not entirely a waste of time. We agree with Beyond Hollywood's James Mudge, saying:
While it doesn’t come close to replicating the effectiveness and chilling atmosphere of the original “Ring” (something which Hideo Nakata himself has similarly failed to do in his career since), “Sadako” is nevertheless quite enjoyable. Approached with adjusted expectations and an open mind, it stands as an acceptable entry in the uneven and frequently daft franchise, and though it’s hard to imagine it birthing a new generation of Sadako fans, the film should go down well enough with anyone looking for a bit of old-fashioned modern Asian ghost action. [ source ]
Isn't Anyone Alive? maybe the title of the movie but the more relevant question is: Is anyone still awake? I watched this Gakuryu Ishii movie because it has Shota Sometani among the cast, but not even the talented young actor can make up for this boring film. The movie I remembered that had me snoring in my seat was The Last Action Hero (yeah starring Arnold Schwarzenegger) but this one made me do the snoring all over again.
I've written so much about this film because I can't realistically envision anyone else on any other site giving it this much thought. Taken literally it's a film about an uninteresting group of people who die. Looking at it from a metaphorical standpoint it's... about a group of people who are so boring that they just die? I don't know. They all die anyway, and then I went home. [ read more ]
- - -
10. Train Brain Express - two young men accidentally met during a train ride and discovered their common obsession with trains. What happens next is their hilarious adventures.
9. The Kirishima Thing - two young students explore social issues from two different perspectives - an elite's way of looking at the world and a youth from the lower class who has an agenda.
8. The Cowards Who Looked up to the Sky - a young impressionable man named Takumi got involved sexually with an older woman, the consequences of which both of them could not control.
7. Blazing Famiglia - a former gang leader takes on a former rival, and in turn forced his rebellious son to face himself and the future with uncertainty and violence.
6. Ace Attorney - Attorney Phoenix Wright learns the ropes of Japanese legalities in the future while saving a friend and discovering the key to solving an old mysterious case.
5. Wolf Children - the moving saga of a mother and her two children, who are different from everyone else.
4. Kotoko - the moving and horrifying story of a young woman who suffers from double vision, and her attempt to maintain her sanity amidst a spiral towards self-destruction.
3. Chronicle of My Mother - a son's attempt to regain a relationship with his mother who is slowly losing herself to dementia.
2. The Woodsman and The Rain - a comedic yet warm relationship between a young filmmaker and a woodsman and the community who helped him complete his Zombie movie.
1. Himizu - a dramatic, forceful and uplifting story of two youths who suffer from abandonment, natural disaster and cynicism and their attempt to rise from it all.
An interview with Sion Sono at Busan film festival had him said the following:
After Japan's defeat in World War II, our country carried out industrialization at a rapid pace, without weighting the consequences. Japan basically sprinted for economic growth. During this time, we didn't have a chance to examine whether nuclear power is safe or not. As a result, we are in this kind of situation. This year, the Japanese government started the nuclear power plant earlier than expected. I think if Japan keeps the pace of its recent past it can't avoid failing. My point with the characters walking one step by one step is my wish for the Japanese people to go forward slowly .... one step by one step. [ source ]
I really like Sono's movies. There is this inherent challenge to his audience to think. In Himizu, he allowed us more than just a glimpse of what can happen during a big and devastating calamity and how the Japanese will cope with it. With impressive acting from the two young leads, Himizu offers more than just a portrait of ordinary Japanese facing disaster. He gave countless victims of the tragedy, not one but two faces that many can identify.
Have you seen the movies listed above? Which are your favorites for 2012? Let us know what you think!