400 And Counting: Week Eight (Turning Japanese)

December 10, 2014

My goal for the Japanese Film Festival, like this blog, is to see as many strange and interesting films as possible. To that end, I decided to go in blind. This means no descriptions, no trailers, no reviews and no IMDB-ing.

Basically, I’m jumping into the deep end.

Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends (2014)
Director: Keishi Ohtomo
2:15:00 (Completed)

I knew two things about this film going in:
- It was the third film in a trilogy.
- It was an action film.
That’s it.

Rurouni Kenshin tells the tale of reformed/regretful former assassin, Himura Kenshin (Takeru Satoh). It’s a period of unrest in Japan (around the late 1870s), during a civil war of sorts, and due to his dark past, Kenshin finds himself in the middle of it.

This is like watching Return of the King as your first introduction to the Lord of the Rings series. Yes, it’s this huge epic movie with lots of stuff happening. You can enjoy it but you know you’ve missed about two films worth of back story. That was 100% the case here. I still found the characters and story engaging, and the fight scenes were great (not The Raid great, but pretty excellent).

All in all, a great period film that makes me want to watch the first two films in the series. What a great way to kick off JFF.

The Loved Ones (2009)
Director: Sean Byrne
1:24:00 (completed)

This isn’t part of JFF. In fact, it’s an Australian film (for some reason, without Rose Byrne). This is a film that premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival about five years ago. It was on my list but I never got around to seeing it. I even bought the DVD at some stage where it has sat on my shelf for three or so years. The timing just seemed right.

First, a story. One of my uni friends, let’s call him Tom, saw this at MIFF. He spent most of the film laughing so hard that it ruined it for those around him.

The Loved Ones is a horror with strong comedic undertones. Highschooler Brent (Xavier Samuel) is struggling to deal with the death of his father, who died in a car crash while teaching Brent how to drive. It’s only his girlfriend, Holly (Victoria Thaine), keeping him afloat. When the school weirdo Lola (Robin McLeavy) asks him to the dance he politely declines. Naturally Lola and her father kidnap Brent and stage a twisted end of school dance at their remote farm.

Things develop from there but that’s all I can really tell you without spoiling things, but it was a fun and gory ride. The film doesn’t overstay its welcome while still providing enough backstory for us to care for the characters, to an extent.

The Loved Ones is a fun Australian film — something you don’t see often enough.

Lady Maiko (2014)
Director: Masayuki Suo
2:15:00 (Completed)

My second JFF movie and, again, I had no idea what to expect. I certainly wasn’t expecting a singing, dancing remake of My Fair Lady. Though I only remember “the rain in Spain” and “move ya blooming arse!” from that film, I really enjoyed Lady Maiko.

Haruko (Mone Kamishiraishi) wants to become a geisha, so she travels to a Kyoto and begs a teahouse to take her on as a maiko, a geisha in training. Unfortunately, her accent and lower upbringing leaves her unsuitable for the role. Cue a professor of linguists and the transformational bet and you have the makings of a classic film.

The insights into the world of the Japanese teahouse and geisha culture were incredibly interesting, and while some of the characters were pretty much cardboard cutouts, there were enough funny, charming and joyful moments that made me really enjoy this film.

Ten Dark Women (1961)
Director: Kon Ichikawa
1:43:00 (Completed)

This was one of the classic Japanese films screening at JFF. Before I talk about the film, I have to make a disclaimer: On the day I saw this film, I worked all day, saw Lady Maiko (a two hour plus film), rushed to the other side of the city and missed the start of the film. So I really wasn’t in the best mind sense to watch a dialog heavy thriller.

Kaze (Eiji Funakoshi) is a TV producer with a wife and nine mistresses (hence the titular ten women). The women know about each other and wish they alone could end up with him. When that doesn’t pan out, they come up with the next best solution: Murder him.

While my eyes did glaze over some of the later subtitles, this was a rich story and with interesting characters. You could tell each of the women apart, and I’m not talking looks here — I’m talking for a character perspective. This seems like the sort of movie I would have enjoyed if I had of been prepared for it. I guess this one goes on my long list of films to rewatch.

Monsterz (2014)
Director: Hideo Nakata
1:52:00 (Completed)

Just going to put this out there: This film had an amazing opening scene that grabs you and really kickstarts the movie into gear. This is a sci fi action film that is very good. It’s a tale of good vs evil. It’s the unstoppable force vs the immovable object. Yes, I’m dancing around the actual story points. I don’t want to talk about them, I just want you to know that this is a cool film, with cool ideas, that is very much worth watching, and if it wasn’t for my next and final film, this would of been the pick of the week.

The Eternal Zero (2014)
Director: Takashi Yamazaki
2:24:00 (Completed)

Upon the death of their grandmother, siblings Kentaro (Haruma Miura) and Keiko (Kazue Fukiishi) learn their grandfather Kyuzo Miyabe (Junichi Okada) was a kamikaze pilot. The two decide to investigate the life of Miyabe and discover why he became a kamikaze pilot. They interview veterans who served with their grandfather, and this how The Eternal Zero tells its story. I found it to be a moving and complex study on love, duty and, dare I say it, peer pressure. Miyabe’s will to live and return to his family is seen as cowardice by his fellow soldiers, and it’s not until the siblings dig deeper that we begin to understand Miyabe.

This is one of the best World War II films I’ve seen. It has moments of action but really it’s a character study on how war and the kamikaze missions can affect a man, even one with resolve and strength of character like Miyabe. Not only were the ‘flashback’ periods interesting, the story of Kentaro’s investigation was moving. This was the pick of the week and my pick of the Japanese Film Festival.

All it took was a film festival to get me to watch more than five films this week. I really enjoyed my time at JFF and really should make an effort to go to more events like this. To make up for it, next week I’ll actually watch some films on the SBS On Demand service. I just checked the website than and there are about ten films I’ve been meaning to watch for ages. To name a few: Snowtown, Last Ride, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Touching the Void, Departures and Midnight Movies. It looks like I have a busy week ahead of me.

Film of the week: The Eternal Zero
Movies watched this week: 6
Did Not Finish (DNF) this week: 0
Time spent this week: 11:53:00
Total movies watched: 44/400
Total DNF: 2
Total time: 76:16:02

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