The major cast in the LA films featured here represent the current and future stars in the Japanese movie firmament - Kimura Takuya, Oguri Shun, Yamada Takayuki, and the new heroes: Satoh Takeru, Yamazaki Kento, Kubota Masataka, Suda Masaki, Fukushi Sota, Yagira Yuya, Yoshizawa Ryo, and Yamada Ryosuke.
While Blade of the Immortal appears to be the most "historical" among the live-action films, Gintama and Fullmetal Alchemist are also set in a historical timeline. Both Jojo's Bizarre Adventures and Tokyo Ghoul center on its respective main characters, as well as Ajin: Demi-Human. So, among them, which one is generating the most excitement?
What the movie is all about: The LA centers on a student, Kei Nagai (永井圭), who discovers he is an immortal referred to as Ajin. The realization only came when he was hit by a truck, died but actually recovered. He becomes a target for the government as Ajin are considered dangerous semi-human beings. While the government claims to help Ajin live in a safe environment, they are using them as subjects for cruel and inhumane experimentation. As a result, many Ajin that have escaped are bent on revenge with a specific Ajin, Sato (Ayano Gou), planning to destroy humanity. Is Kei the only one who can stop him?
Cast: Satoh Takeru (as Kei), Ayano Gou, Shirota Yuu, Chiba Yudai, Yamada Yuki, Hamabe Minami
Highlights: Directed by Motohiro Katsuyuki, the film is in safe hands as Katsuyuki is known for the LA adaptation of the Bayside Shakedown movies. He also did such films as Summer Time Machine Blues (Eita) and the wacky Space Travelers (Kaneshiro Takeshi). Director Katsuyuki is also assigned to do the live action for Fukushi Sota's Laughing Under The Clouds.
Reports have it that the action sequences for Ajin: Demi-Human will be supervised by the same team who did those for Rurouni Kenshin, and that is great news. While many Japanese special effects have been questioned for their quality and authentic look, the Kenshin fight scenes and other effects were excellent.
Trailer Impressions: One of the most exciting half-minute long trailers I've seen in a long time. The trailer offers the audience a lot: suspense, thrills, and a glimpse into the humanity and/or inhumanity of the Ajin as seen from the eyes of both Satoh and Ayano - the characters who represent the good and the evil side of the demi-humans.
Thoughts: Satoh Takeru has gained a reputation as an actor who has a specific career goal. He will not do anything for the sake of making "just a movie". His agency has seen to it that he gets cast in quality films. As Nagai Kei, he is a victim of terrifying and painful experiments, and a rep for the "good" side of Ajin. This is not the first time that Satoh will play a character with conflicting personality. In the Kenshin trilogy he was a former assassin who seeks atonement for his old ways.
Blade of the Immortal
What the movie is all about: The LA follows the deeds of Manji, a skilled samurai who has a decisive advantage: no wound can kill him except for a rare poison. In the past, his criminal actions led to the death of 100 other samurai (including his sister's husband). He becomes immortal at the hand of an 800-year-old nun named Yaobikuni and is compelled by the death of his sister to accept the quest that will end his agelessness. He has vowed to make amends by killing 1000 evil men, and until he does Manji will be kept alive by "sacred bloodworms" (血仙蟲 kessen-chū), remarkable creatures that allow him to survive nearly any injury and reattach severed limbs even after hours of separation. Manji crosses paths with a young girl named Asano Rin and promises to help her avenge her parents who were killed by a cadre of master swordsmen led by Anotsu Kagehisa. Anotsu killed Rin's father and his entire dōjō, making them a family of outcasts. Anotsu's quest is to gather other outcasts and form an extremely powerful new dojo, the Ittō-ryū (a school teaching any technique that wins, no matter how exotic or underhanded), and so has started taking over and destroying other dojos for this purpose.
Cast: Kimura Takuya, Sugisaki Hanna, Toda Erika, Fukushi Sota, Ichihara Hayato
Highlights: While the term "eternally youthful" may no longer apply to Kimura Takuya, his box office draw remains quite potent. In a few days we'll see if this remains the case.
There is only one (or perhaps two) critic who we can rely on and it's always Mark Schilling at The Japan Times who offers a rundown of whether the film sucks or not, and he was not happy - not at all: he gave the film 2 out of 5 stars, and says:
Many viewers will see the film, not for Miike but Takuya Kimura, who stars as the unkillable title hero. This former SMAP star is now 44 — not a prime age for the film’s many grueling action scenes, but hey, Tom Cruise is 54. Kimura delivers a solid performance physically and otherwise, though, channeling the scruffy, sneering, untamable swordfighters of Toshiro Mifune’s repertoire. [ source ]
Fresh from her multiple acting awards for Her Love Boils Bathwater, Sugisaki Hanna comes across as being annoying in this movie, at least from the trailer, but even Schilling seems to think so.
Trailer Impressions: Not at all impressive.
Thoughts: Miike Takashi, apparently, has lost his touch. From Lesson of the Evil to As the God's Will, it has been a downward spiral. Most Western bloggers always identify Miike with his films Audition and Ichi, the Killer - films that can be considered notorious, yet highly sought-after. Perhaps the shock value is gone already, and Blade of the Immortal is not violent and bloody enough? Well, imagine eye candy and a young villain in Fukushi Sota. Can he even hold a candle against Kimura?
PsychoDrama's Guide to Japanese Movies
Through the years I have been asked to make recommendations on a "verified, authentic list" of Japanese films that one may want to see, as a way of introduction. Many times, I failed to come up with such a list because I don't think I have seen enough. I'm celebrating five years of blogging Japanese movies this coming March 2017 and I thought it would be nice to restart my ambitious 100 contemporary Japanese movie list.
What the movie is all about: The plot takes place at the beginning of the 20th century, in a reality where alchemy (ancient esoteric science that sought the transmutation of matter) is real, extremely developed, and respected. The plot features brothers Edward, and Alphonse Elric who, after attempting the forbidden technique of human transmutation, suffer the consequences. Alphonse loses his entire body while Edward loses his left leg. He then sacrifices his right arm to keep his brother's soul trapped within a metal suit of armor. Using mechanical prosthetics known as automail, he's been given the nickname Fullmetal Alchemist, all while in search for the legendary philosopher's stone that will repair their bodies.
Cast: Yamada Ryosuke, Honda Tsubasa, Fujioka Dean, Sato Ryuta,...
Highlights: On adapting the source material Fumihiko Sori said, "I want to create a style that follows the original manga as much as possible. The cast is entirely Japanese, but the cultural background is Europe. However, it's a style that doesn't represent a specific race or country." Regarding the faithfulness of the adaptation, which has characters of non-Japanese ethnicity, the director said, "There will never be a scene in which a character says something that would identify him/her as Japanese." Sori told Oricon he has a deep affection for the story that tells the "truth of living," and said, "It is my dearest wish to turn this wonderful story into a film, and it is not an exaggeration to say that I am living for this reason." He added that he "wants to create a wonderful film that uses techniques that challenge Hollywood," and noted that nowadays Japanese filmmaking techniques have progressed greatly.
Trailer Impressions: I want to see more! While the special effects look decent enough, I felt that the trailer is not sufficient to offer a gist of what the movie is all about, especially if you have no prior background of the manga or anime. But I assume this is just a teaser and a full trailer will soon be posted.
Thoughts: Yamada Ryosuke has been quite visible in both drama (Cain and Abel) and movies - his Assassination Classroom franchise is well-received by fans - resulting in impressive box office results. However, given that he is a multi-tasking sort of artist, does he have what it takes to become a top tier dramatic actor and is this the film he ought to do it with? I'd say he has shown some improvements in acting, and I guess FMA's Edward Elric will not be that hard to play. Now, here's the rub, the character may be playful and even naughty, but Elric has a deeper side to him. I hope Yamada has enough grit to show these subtleties.
What the movie is all about: The Amanto, aliens from outer space, have invaded Earth and taken over feudal Japan. As a result, a prohibition on swords has been established, and the samurai of Japan are treated with disregard as a consequence. However one man, Sakata Gintoki, still possesses the heart of the samurai, although, from his love of sweets and work as a yorozuya, one might not expect it. Accompanying him in his jack-of-all-trades line of work are Shimura Shinpachi, a boy with glasses and a strong heart, Kagura with her umbrella and seemingly bottomless stomach, as well as Sadaharu, their oversized pet dog. Of course, these odd jobs are not always simple, as they frequently have run-ins with the police, ragtag rebels, and assassins, often leading to humorous but unfortunate consequences. Who said life as an errand boy was easy?
Cast: Oguri Shun, Suda Masaki, Hashimoto Hanna, Yagira Yuya, Okada Masaki, Nagasawa Masami, Yoshizawa Ryo, Hayami Akari,...
Highlights: Scott Green over @Crunchyroll wrote an article about the author who talks about what he earns from his work. Apparently, he has no share at any profits at all. Right after releasing his manga, he lost all rights, and that any revenue will go directly to the producers:
To tell the naked truth, regardless of how many people watch the film or how much the gross earnings are, not a single yen goes to the author. We are only paid an upfront license fee. The amount we’re paid is peanuts in comparison to the overall box office gross. The majority of the profits go to filthy unscrupulous companies such as Shueisha and Sunrise. Releasing individual manga volumes is way more profitable. But the reason why I slog to fulfill these film adaptations, to the extent that I’m peeing blood, is because there is a place in this world that is more wonderful than a mansion at Roppongi Hills. And that place, ma’am, is in your heart. [ read more ]
Trailer Impressions: Aliens in ancient Japan where samurai used to rule can only be a comedy. Logic dictates that it should, but since we're talking about an LA adaptation of a manga written by Sorachi Hideaki it could be anything. Having no prior knowledge of what the movie is all about I rely heavily on Oguri Shun for an intro and I find the teaser trailer to be enough to raise my expectations. Having Yagira Yuya and Yoshizawa Ryo in the cast is a big plus for me. I just hope they have enough screen time to register "something worthwhile".
Thoughts: I was never a fan of Oguri Shun, but he has been quite consistent in all the films I've seen of him. What makes this movie interesting is the cast of characters and how much screentime they will have. It's quite certain that Suda Masaki will have some spotlight, but I'm after Yagira and Yoshizawa's performances since both are excellent actors.
Jojo's Bizarre Adventures: Diamond is Unbreakable
What the movie is all about: In the fictional Japanese town of Morioh in 1999, Jotaro arrives to reveal to Higashikata Josuke (the kanji 助 in his name is read in the on'yomi form as jo) that he is the illegitimate son of Joseph Joestar and to warn him that Morioh is beginning to be filled with Stand users due to a mystical Bow and Arrow that bestows Stands on those struck by the arrowheads. After Josuke takes revenge on a Stand user who killed his grandfather, he agrees to help Jotaro hunt down the holder of the Bow and Arrow, gaining allies in Josuke's friend Hirose Koichi, who is hit by the arrow, Nijimura Okuyasu, whose brother was using it until it was stolen from him, the famous manga artist Kishibe Rohan, and even his estranged father Joseph Joestar. Along the way, the group deals with the various new Stand users throughout Morioh, including several of Josuke, Koichi, and Okuyasu's classmates, until the death of one of their friends leads to the discovery that one of the new Stand users is the serial killer, Yoshikage Kira.
Cast: Yamazaki Kento, Kamiki Ryunosuke, Mackenyu, Komatsu nana, Yamada Takayuki, Iseya Yusuke
Highlights: The movie jumps to Part 4 of the Joestar family saga, a family whose members are destined to take down supernatural creatures using unique powers they possess. The spotlight is on Yamazaki Kento's character, Higashikata Josuke.
The JoJo's Bizarre Adventure manga has over 100 million copies in print, making it one of the best-selling manga series in history, and has spawned a large media franchise that includes several novelizations and video games, action figures, a jewelry line, and even snack foods
Trailer Impressions: Think of the word "bizarre" and you will get it. I mean, it was meant to be weird and I get those weird vibes all over. Just look at Kento's hair for example. The purple hues and the sinister look and feel of the teaser appeal to me just as much as the Ajin teaser.
Thoughts: After those sentimental romantic roles, Yamazaki Kento is back but this time as a whole different character, perhaps his most daring to date. To say that the success of the movie rests on his shoulder is an understatement, as this particular manga and the characters are as iconic and as popular with both Japanese and foreign manga fans. There is also considerable interest to watch any acting showdown between Yamazaki and Kamiki - being that this is their first time in a movie together.
What the movie is all about: Tokyo Ghoul is set in an alternate reality where ghouls, individuals who can only survive by eating human flesh, live among the normal humans in secret, hiding their true nature to evade pursuit from the authorities. The story follows Kaneki Ken, a college student who barely survives a deadly encounter with Kamishiro Rize, his date who reveals herself to be a ghoul. Due to circumstances he ends up being taken to the hospital in critical condition. After recovering, Kaneki discovers that he underwent a surgery that transformed him into a half-ghoul. This was accomplished because some of Rize's organs were transferred into his body, and now, like normal ghouls, he must consume human flesh to survive. The ghouls who manage the coffee shop Anteiku take him in and teach him to deal with his new life as a half-ghoul.
Cast: Kubota Masataka, Shimizu Fumika, Aoi Yu, Oizumi Yo, Nobuyuki Suzuki,...
Highlights: While Shimizu Fumika has already announced her retirement from acting, I'm not sure if this will affect the movie. However, I felt that there is a bigger issue here, and that is the casting of Kubota Masataka. While many may regard the actor as highly competent, even acclaimed, the fact remains he isn't fit for the role (he is too old, for one).
There was considerable discussion on why the production committee failed to cast Hongo Kanata when he could have been a perfect choice.
Trailer Impressions: Similar to FMA there is something missing with the teaser. It could not generate the kind of excitement I expected from something as big as this. Tokyo Ghoul is a trailblazer for me. It's different, it's exciting, it's horrific and there is that sense of urgency while one watches the anime from episode to episode. Of course, what's a teaser trailer of 30 seconds when the movie will run for at least 60 minutes right?
Thoughts: PsychoDrama is one of the first blogs to ever promote Kubot Masataka a and we mostly sing praises for his acting. However, recent performances have failed to impress. It seems he is becoming a victim of the overacting virus that has afflicted Fujiwara Tatsuya up to this day.
Among the five LA coming up for release (Blade of the Immortal has been released already as of this writing), which one excites you the most and why?