The Queen of Asian Drama is Back with more Irreverent Reviews and Snarky Commentary.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Japanese Movie Reviews

Ashita no kioku / Memories of Tomorrow

2006 movie that stars Ken Watanabe and Higuchi Kanako as husband & wife who have to come to terms with the devastating disease known as Alzheimer's.

I actually chose to watch this because it also stars Sakaguchi Kenji, but the star of this flick is Watanabe, and he won an award for his portrayal in this film, which says more for the movie than I can.

Highly recommend this one, and the title is linked to for your convenience.

Tengoku de kimi ni aetara / Life Tears in Heaven

I chose this one because I became curious about the star: Osawa Takao after watching him in the two Coins from Heaven dramas that he made early in his career.
Sure, he's aging now and not quite as sexually appealing to the female senses - but, he's still a dynamite actor and worth staring at for two hours.
In this movie, he portrays a real-life man with real-life issues.
He's a wind-surfer bum traveling the globe trying to win titles, and he drags along his girlfriend (Ito Misako) for comfort.
Eventually, he makes good at the sport, but then he's diagnosed with a terminal illness and once again we watch him and his growing family struggle to cope.

I enjoy fact-based movies (docudrama, if you will) and I think you might like this one, too.

Cinderella ni Naritai! / シンデレラになりたい!

2006 broadcast from Japan relating to a Manga series about a young man, Kuramochi Bon, who isn't society attractive and therefore reclusive and shy, but filled with goodness inside.
He works at a popular fast-food chain and his main job is to take out the trash, which he does with pride and makes sure to use colorful ribbons to tie the bags with, not wanting even them to feel insignificant about their lot in life as he feels about himself.
One day, he bumps into a strange, handsome man with an outgoing personality who assures him that by drinking his magic potion, that he will obtain his heart's desire (to be beautiful for a 24 hour span).
With the 3 bottles and a transfer to another branch of the fast-food chain, Bon decides to try out the potion, and it works.
He arrives each day looking gorgeous and everyone wants to be close to him, especially the children.
While his outward appearance has been altered dramatically, his inward self, the kind, gentle man with a heart of gold, remains the same, and as a handsome man, he finds the courage to ask out the girl of his dreams.
It's a delightful story with an interesting twist on the Cinderella fairy tale mixed with the frog prince.

252: Seizonsha ari / 252 生存者あり

December 6, 2008 movie release from Japan.

Now, even though my all-time favorite Japanese actor, Hideaki Ito starred in this thing, I can do no more than to give it a 3-star review, I'm dreadfully sorry to say.

I'd heard about this for awhile, and it made me very happy to finally stumble upon it last night at, too.
The plot gave away the corn-ball factor without having to view the movie, but at the beginning, I sat riveted in wide-eyed surprise at the amazing special effects!
It's the story about a natural disaster that strikes Tokyo.
Supposedly, a week prior, a devastating earth quake shook the area - but, that was not evident AT ALL in the movie.
Buildings stood tall, highways remained intact, and even suspension bridges had heavy traffic on them.
hmmm ---

Anyway - as a result of this mind-blowing earthquake, it is purposed that a crack in the earth's surface has caused the ocean's temperature to rise dramatically.
They even paused to show us a bunch of dead dolphins floating on the surface.
So, because of this increase in temperature, a typhoon of epic proportions is eminent.
And, when the storm hits, it creates a tidal wave of BIBLICAL proportions that sweeps across town in no time flat, leaving just about everything in its wake annihilated.
Well, not everything - just a bunch of helpless people trapped in the subway terminals.
Even during this outrageous storm, people were outside, standing upright, and they were even able to shout at one another!
It was amazing!
And highly unlikely, too.

Wouldn't it have been more credible if the earthquake had caused the tsunami and not a typhoon?
They went to great lengths to show us what could happen if hail stones the size of softballs were to hit a metropolitan area, and yet during a typhoon, they made it look like a monsoon instead?
I think even the most uneducated among us would be able to surmise that it'd hurt pretty damn bad to be standing outside during a typhoon, with driving rain smacking you in the face, no?
And, while we're talking about the driving rain - where was the debris?
I mean, not even a piece of wayward newspaper made its way up the streets during that storm!
Cell phones became useless, but streetlights, hotels, and even computers ran perfectly fine, lights, power, and all.
Not even the television stations were knocked out during either the quake or the storm - but, the meteorologists had to wait for a satellite to kick in before they could detect when the eye of the storm would pass over the city?

Ok, so enough about my reason for giving this one only three out of five stars.


luxury car salesman getting canned

He plays Yuji Shinohara, a former firefighter who walked off the job after savings his older brother's life at the expense of his best friend.
He's married to a milquetoast woman named Yumi, and they have a deaf daughter, Shiori.
On the day of the disaster, Yuji is at a mall to buy Shiori her birthday present, and Yumi and Shiori are at the train station to head back home.
Yuji leaves the shopping mall and pauses to look up at the blackening sky when suddenly, a man walking past him is struck on the head by a huge ball of ice, knocking him down.
Then glass starts breaking and people start screaming, and everyone does what they shouldn't do - stream into the subway terminal like a bunch of panic-stricken lemmings.

time to freak out

Yumi phones Yuuji, asking why it is everyone is suddenly filing into the subway terminal, and Yuuji explains about the hail storm.
Now that he knows where to find his wife & daughter, he, too, heads toward that station when the tsunami strikes.
As I said before, this was the only time when special effects were incredible in this movie.
It was pretty cool watching that wave roll to shore and bounce off the glass buildings like a person at a water park sails down a plastic slide.
Adorable, little Shiori wears a whistle around her neck in the event she is ever separated from her parents, and as the water begins to gush inside that terminal, the whistle continues to sound.
Yuuji is getting off the train at the station when he sees Shiori standing near a wall, ducking for cover from the hordes of terrified, screaming masses.
He tries in vain to reach her, only to be swept away by the crowd.
A Korean woman, Kim, sees Shiori, though, but at that moment, the water comes careening through the tunnel, and we're left to gaze into the terrified eyes of a startled conductor.

I don't know how, but I do understand why, when the water settles, our unlikely hero, Yuuji, is the only survivor inside that tunnel.
He's walking among the dead looking for signs of life when he hears a noise, opens a door, and finds a guy standing inside another room.
Takayuki Yamada plays Makoto Shigemura, a med student drop-out with a chip on his shoulder big enough to make him caustic even in the face of astronomical adversity.
There's another guy there, too.
Yuichi Kimura as Keisuke Fujii, a family man with nine children who carries around a silver box like his life depends on it (which we soon find out it actually does).
So, here comes another massive wall of water, and suddenly there are survivors again!
They're running toward Yuuji and the open door - but alas, not quick enough.
Yuuji has no choice but to close it before the water strikes.

Now, don't ask how - but, inside this old, unused terminal, they find yet, another door, which Yuuji opens, and two bodies fall to the ground.
Yep, you guessed it!
No, you didn't - it's not his wife and child, it's his child and the Korean woman, Kim!
As frail as Yumi appears, she managed to dodge the throngs below surface, rise to the city streets, avoid the tidal wave, walk in the typhoon, and make her way to a hotel that has become a make-shift hospital.

By the way - Kim is played by Minji, and when you hear her tell Yuuji that she only speaks a modicum of Japanese, DON'T BELIEVE HER!
The only time she used Korean was when she referred to Yuuji as Ajusshi - the rest of the time, she spoke in perfect, fluent Japanese.

they also found a room with a bunk bed in it

Here, our Ajusshi Yuuji is referring to a life-saving measure where they use metal pipes to bang on metal poles in a 2-5-2 rhythm, which in firefighter speak says, 'There Are Survivors'

Wouldn't any type of rhythmic banging be considered as a sign of life?

So, below the earth, where our survivors are learning about each other and their sob story personal lives, above ground, we watch a young, female meteorologist who warns her boss DAYS in advance of the possibilities to come as a result of the cataclysmic earthquake - but her boss waves it off as speculation with no intent on alarming the public.
Yet after the storm she predicted would occur arrives, it suddenly becomes her fault.
She and a colleague run through the typhoon to the make-shift hotel-hospital, to warn the rescue workers not to risk their lives during such a horrific weather phenomenon.
She apologizes endlessly for being personally responsible for the lives of everyone in Tokyo, too.
The rescue workers are torn between doing their duty and following orders, too.
The young bucks are eager to take risks and look death in the eye while the elders among them are more concerned about having another home-cooked meal once all is said and done.
Not Yuuji's older brother, though.
He argues with his commanding officer in every scene he's in, wanting to go back out into the storm and find his little brother - at all costs.
Then Yumi starts giving him an even harder time, yelling at him and accusing him of not loving Shiori as much as she does.

PISSED me off big-time that she never ONCE cried for Yuuji.

I'd be devastated if anything happened to a guy like him
and he happened to be my HUSBAND

Baby girl cared more about her papa than Yumi cared about ever seeing his incredible face again - or gazing upon his amazing BODY ever again, for that matter!

Yuuji with Shiori

Shiori stole the show - and I'm not alone in this instance based on the reviews, either.
At the end, they use the eye of the storm to make a last-ditch effort to free the victims from beneath the earth.
Yuuji's brother emerges, but not with Yuuji.


Yumi doesn't ask, "Where is my hubby?"
Shiori asks, "Where is my papa?"
Big brother feels like crap and walks away weeping.
Deaf-mute Shiori - omg - (sniff) she struggles to cry out, "Papa!" over and over again, until I'm reaching for another tissue.

Eye-goo - I mean aigoo!

So, that's why I didn't, quite care for 252: Seizonsha ari.



at his bud's funeral

Press Conference photos - isn't she sweet?
her outfit is adorable, too!
(if i was the chick in the gold lame gown, I'd be jealous - heehee)

maybe a promo poster or something - he's hot

Before I go, I'd like to point out that while doing my research for this blog, I came across a similar movie with these images:

It's the same title, but with Episode Zero after it, and if I read the Japanese right, it was released the day before the movie I just blogged about came out.

I'm totally confused.

K-20: Kaijin niju menso den

A December 20, 2008 movie release from Japan that stars Kaneshiro Takeshi as Heikichi Endo, a young circus performer with exceptional dexterity skills and who can't say Arigatou under any circumstances.

It's science fiction meets comic book hero fantasy set in late 1940's Japan, where WWII never occurred.
Instead, the country is controlled by wealthy industrialists, royalty, and the police.

Everyone else (Endo included) are the forgotten of society and therefore destitute beyond poverty's wildest dreams.
If it wasn't for the fact that Kaneshiro AND Nakamura Toru starred, I know I'd never have bothered watching this flick.

There's this masked marauder running around stealing artwork (for a reason that still makes no sense to me) and giving the cops a really, bad name.
Nakamura's character, Kogoro Akechi, is like this chief-of-police guy, and he's really cool (as usual).
He's engaged to a princess (Takako Matsu as Yoko Hashiba), and she's getting cold feet.

K:20 (the masked dude who looks a lot like Zorro) hires Endo to take pictures of the engagement party, and Endo agrees so he can get the circus ringmaster some proper, medical attention.
He has no idea that it's K:20 who hired him, though.
Endo gets caught taking the pictures and ends up in prison, where he's beaten mercilessly.
One of his stage pigeons lands on the barred window with a note attached to it's leg, and in the next scene, we see how his circus friends help him to escape.
Endo's pissed now, and since his name is destroyed, he wants to exact revenge on K:20.

He practices hard to mimic K:20's moves, and that's how he ends up meeting the heroine of sorts, Yoko Hashiba.
Yoko would rather do anything other than be a dutiful wife, so she's glad to follow Endo, and he wants to hate her for being rich, but deep down inside, he's a good guy with a big heart.

It's a funny movie, though the beginning is a tad on the ssslow side, and I thought the dark effect was slightly over the top, but it was a great watch I assure you.
From the start, I had a sinking suspicion about who K:20 actually was, and then it disappointed me when the ending revealed that I was right the whole time.
I saw it on, and the subtitles were nearly flawless, too.
It's actually a movie I'd buy online, because I know I'll want to watch it again and again.

Since I first saw him in Tokyo Raiders, Nakamura Toru has been on my top-ten gorgeous, Asian actor list.
He's the first and only Ken-doll usually type-cast as the bad guy whom I have a lusty thang for, too.

For me, he's like the John Wayne of Japanese actors -
a suave guy with a hard-ass persona,
impeccable taste in clothing,
whose hair is never out of place,
and who has that confident swagger on film.
His eyes drive me insanely crazy, and it makes me think I'd probably lose it if I was ever lucky enough to have him gaze at me for even a few seconds in real life.

Kaneshiro is hilarious, there's no denying it.
Damn is he funny!
and his hair was still long!
My biggest fear is that he'll buzz it off some day, making me cry.
His voice is UNreal, too.
It almost doesn't suit him, it's so macho-deep sexy when he's not, quite that.

Kamome Shokudo / かもめ食堂 / The Seagull Diner

A 2006 movie that revolves around one woman and her dream of serving Japanese soul food to the residents of a Finnish town she has moved to from Japan.
At the start, things look bleak, but then a young man who is a fan of anime enters the shop, and from there, things begin to pick up.
You could say it's a slow-going story, but it managed to keep my interest throughout, and the storyline might be considered mundane, but the writer did some odd things here and there, perhaps to keep the movie from being a yawn.

I liked it, and I think you might, too.

Wool 100%

This bizarre, 2007 release was about two, old ladies (twin sisters) who live in a ramshackle, old house stuffed to the rafters with every, bit of junk they have pilfered from garbage cans in their neighborhood over the years.
One day, a strange, young girl arrives to disrupt their routine.
She is knitting incessantly with red yarn, and every time she makes a boo-boo, she screams loud enough to bring down the house.
The viewer is then taken on a strange journey through the past, when the twins were young and their faceless mother abandons them for a man.
It was weird, but I liked it, and I recommend it.

10 Promises I Made to My Dog / 犬と私の10の約束

I was afraid this would be a kitschy type movie dripping with sentimentality, but it wasn't.
It's about a young girl who really wants a dog for a pet, and her doctor father thinks it'll be too much of a bother.
Her ill mother, however, thinks that it would be a good experience for her daughter.
One day, the girl sees a golden retriever pup roaming about her yard, and she chases it around until she loses it.
At the hospital, she tells her mother what happened, and her mothers encourages her to keep looking for the puppy, promising she can keep it if she can catch it.
The girl eventually catches the cute animal and is delirious with excitement to finally have a pet dog.
I wish I was able to watch my first pet dog grow old with me, but I could still relate to the author's story in this movie.
We go through the phases of dog ownership with this young girl, and I think the movie was supposed to make pet owners remember the promises we made when we first received that overly anticipated, much hoped for gift.
Her mother illustrates and writes a kawaii book for her daughter, naming it '10 Promises to 'Socks'
Eventually, Akira (the girl) grows up, falls in love, and gradually overcomes her initial love, the dog.
Of course, dogs don't live as long as people do, and it is then that the doctor father reminds Akira about the book her late mother made for her when she was 12.
I didn't cry at the end, but maybe you will.

Kikansha Sensei / 機関車先生 / Locomotive Teacher

A 2004 Japanese movie that stars hunk-a-licious Sakaguchi Kenji as Seigo Yoshioka, a strapping, young man who flees to his mother's island home after a Kendo accident leaves him mute.

He's dubbed 'Kikansha Sensei' by the students he is there to teach, likening him to a picture of a locomotive on the classroom wall.
It's a tiny school with only 7 students total, and the children warm up to Seigo right away while the adults are upset to discover they've been given a 'defective' teacher for their children.
Eventually, everyone grows to like the guy, and at one point in the movie, a young boy is helped by Seigo, teaching him about inner strength and how to accept reality.
Later, Seigo himself has to confront his own demons in order to help the kids embrace this fact of life.

I thought it was a wonderful story and that Sakaguchi did a terrific job portraying the main character.
It's well worth the time.

Shiawase no Soup we Ikaga? / 幸せのスープはいかが?
幸福的味道 / Taste of Happiness

A 2008 Hong Kong to Japan movie that stars Annie Liu as Lam Mei Lan, and Narimiya Hiroki as Tao Tetsuya.

Lam Mei returns to Hong Kong wanting to help out at her grandfather's fishball noodle shop only to discover that things have changed quite a bit since she was a little girl, and the fact that her grandfather's health is failing.
His soup is famous, and she is trying (in a rather half-hearted way) to perfect the technique in order to keep the restaurant afloat at a time when street upon street in Hong Kong is being torn down for modernization.

Tao is running away from his childhood, hating his father who happens to run a noodle restaurant, and drifting (which I guess is the new trend over there among youth in an effort to escape tradition and their parents stranglehold).

Tao's girlfriend begs him to go to her Hong Kong apartment to look after her cat while she's away, and when he arrives, he finds the cat and another guy there; his girlfriend's new boyfriend.

The apartment happens to be above the fishball noodle restaurant, so he goes there for a bite, meets everyone, and ends up getting a job in the kitchen.
Seeing what Mei is going through causes Tao to rethink his attitude about family and tradition, so together, the two return to Japan, and Tao struggles in vain to get his father to impart in him the secrets to running a successful restaurant.
His father sends him on a few oddball errands that end up helping Tao to discover the answers to his questions, and he & Mei go back to Hong Kong with the intention of perfecting her grandfather's dish.

In the end, they realize what is most important.

It's a feel good movie with a great storyline and superb acting.

I highly recommend this movie.

Kisaragi / キサラギ

weird, weird, and weird

After The Rain / 雨あがる / Ame agaru

Released in 1999, it's the story of a Ronin and his wife who travel the countryside in search of honest work for honest pay.
They end up at a ramshackle Inn during a monsoon, and while his wife remains cloistered in a small room, Ihei Misawa (Akira Terao) mingles with the poor guests who are starving.
He returns with a lot of food, and while everyone feasts, our humble Ronin is being scolded by his wisp of a wife for dueling after he had promised her he wouldn't anymore.
While out in the woods, awaiting the river's calm after the rains have passed, Ihei encounters an impending duel between a group of young, anxious guards.
Ihei breaks up the fight, but the lord of the fief has witnessed the situation and invites Ihei to his palace.
He's in need of a champion fighter to train his troops, and Ihei is honored to be asked to apply for such a prestigious position.
He passes the initiation tests without a problem, and he even defeats the Lord of the fief, which causes Ihei to return to the Inn feeling dejected and under the misguided notion that he's just ruined his chance at happiness, a good wage, and stability for his wife.
This was a wonderful story that was slow, filled with love, and well worth the watch.

Cafe Isobe / Jun kissa Isobe / 純喫茶磯辺

A July, 2008, movie from Japan that stars Riisa Naka as Sakiko, a brooding teenager of divorced parents who lives with her father, Hiroyuke Miyasako as Yujiro Isobe, a shiftless sort of guy with a casual style and relaxed attitude in stark contrast to Japan's post-bubble economy work ethic.
He quits his job the minute he inherits a lot of money after his father dies, but as he's relaxing in a cafe, he notices it is filled with a lot of pretty women, and knowing he's not getting any younger or wealthier, he decides to open a cafe of his own, hoping to attract the same type of clientele.
Sakiko already despises her father, and her friends have grand plans for the cafe, but Yujiro ignores her (or so she thinks) for his own take on what a modern-day cafe should look like.
It isn't the most welcoming place in the world, and it serves no alcohol, either.
A rag-tag bunch end up converging on the place, and father/daughter go through some interesting experiences while the cafe is still open for business.
It's a coming-of-age type story about the strained relationship between a girl and her father, and that life's twists & turns help them to discover each other while they both end up growing (perhaps) in wisdom.
I liked it despite the fact there were no, memorable or even attractive actors to keep me glued to the screen, which says a lot about the movie's content.

Love Letter / Letters of Love / When I Close My Eyes

A Japanese film from 1995 that stars Nakayama Miho as Itsuki Fujii and Hiroko Watanabe.
The movie begins with Hiroko visiting the parents of her deceased fiance, Itsuki Fujii, two years after his fateful fall on a winter hiking trip.
His mother gives Hiroko her sons old school album, and Hiroko looks up Fujii's old address.
She sends him a letter, even knowing that the house has been torn down to make way for a highway, and even knowing that Fujii is dead.
She receives a reply, though, and from none other than Itsuki Fujii.
Turns out that when her dead fiance was a boy, he lived in a small town where there happened to be another student, a girl, with the very, same name as his.
Hiroko wants to know more about her late fiance, so she begs the surviving Fujii to tell her more about what it was like to grow up with, go to school with, and to be a part of her late lover's life.
It's a wonderful story, and the ending was magnificently scripted as well.

Uôtâzu (Gigolo Wannabe)

A 2006 Japanese film about seven guys at the same breaking point in their careers who are then conned out of their last bit of $ by a guy who claims he needs handsome dudes to fill his entertainment club.

Shun Oguri is Ryohei, a street performer who occasionally delights Minako (Hitomi Manaka), a capital ventures mogul who thinks her friends have all changed now that they're rich.
Personally, it was Yusuke Kirishima who grabbed my attention!
The guys congregate at a run-down place on a wharf with the club being underground, and they find out about the scam, but with nowhere else to go, and with a young girl tugging at their heartstrings with her illness, the guys decide to give it a go anyway and work to open the club.
No muscle-bound hotties in g-strings with which to stuff your money, though.
The guys simply wear tuxedos and do what they think will please the ladies - who happen to be Minako and her snob friends since no one else ever enters or leaves the Dog Days club.
I didn't think it was that bad a movie, but reviewers are again comparing it with a Hollywood flick of the same or similar premise, so I don't see what the problem with Gigolo Wannabe is, actually.
The ending surprised me, and I'm usually pretty good at deducing things long before the end of the show - but, maybe because it wasn't a suspense thriller, I got taken the same way our pathetic 7 did.
If you're looking for something to occupy your time for nearly 2 hours - I recommend you give this flick a try.



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