Tag Archives: Japanese Film

Anime-Breakdown: Ajin Part 1: Shoudou (2015) Recap Movie Review

Polygon Pictures is the name of the studio behind this film, and the anime series Sidonia no Kishi/Knights of Sidonia. I bring them up because despite only having seen one completed series from Polygon Pictures (at the time of this review being posted) it was enough for me to make them my most hated anime studio. This hatred is derived from Knights of Sidonia, or as I refer to it Sci-Fi: The Anime since it’s biggest piece of sci-fi trite I have ever seen in any form of media. Every single plot point was predictable, it didn’t put a new spin on any established sci-fi formula nor strayed from any common modern anime writing conventions, and it’s also the only piece of science fiction, and animation to ever put me to sleep. So before even starting the film, and Ajin anime series there was already the hurdle of low expectations. The only way Ajin couldn’t meet those low expectation would be if it turned out worse than Knights of Sidonia. Ajin went so below the bar of low expectations I could make a top ten list of the worst Ajin episodes in great detail by how much incompetence there is in each individual episode.

This film is basically a recap splicing together the first six episodes of the anime series Ajin. You might be wondering what’s the purpose of this recap movie if there’s no noticeable alteration between the anime series, and film. Both use the same footage with the same dialogue rendering it rather pointless to seek out the other product depending on what you decide to check out. As negative as I was towards the recap movie, Sword Art Online: Extra Edition, A1 Pictures did the logical in creating new material exclusive to it. Ajin Part 1: Shoudou only major difference with the anime series are scenes not having Izumi Shimomura (Tosaki’s secretary) cheeks turning red when blushing in two episodes of the anime series. I would like to point out this film came out in late November of 2015, and between that time all the way to mid January of 2016 when the anime aired. Someone, or several individuals at Polygon Pictures felt it was important to slightly alter moments of embarrassment by having Izumi cheeks turn red when she’s blushing instead bumping up the framerate to not make the animation look like it is always lagging. Just like the anime series, this recap film purpose is to simply be dead air. The metaphorical coaster of anime so to say.

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Sup! I’m Porcupine.

Ajin takes the classic premise of the “Human Parasite” (as I call it) trope where the focus is on a main character who becomes something he/she, or the world hates. If you read, or seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers (my go to association with this premise) you know for a fact this premise under right hands holds infinite possibilities. Especially horror since it could thrive on creating psychological fear of these creatures that easily blend into our world. However, Ajin doesn’t understand the basics of storytelling so when it tried to reach higher than possible never once does it bother to set up the building blocks for a stable story.

First issue for the film is simple; bad world building combine with bad context for exposition. In Ajin, it’s establish the entire world know the existence of Ajins, yet in a later scene in the movie a police officer is surprise there’s an Non Lethal Drug Gun specifically design to capture Ajins. Before you could be bother to ask what sense does it make that this weapon isn’t mandatory for all policemen to have in case of an emergency it throws another bad plot point at you. One being how high school students managed to find a leaked video of a Ajin being experimented on, and there being no mention of it in any news media outlet. The flimsy excuse of a student saying it could be fake cannot be assumed to apply to everyone else in the world which requires higher suspension of disbelief that does not come with the premise. In the anime series, the news media eventually discover this leaked video, but in the film the news media does not. Creating more plot holes that in sequel films Polygon Pictures will have to cover up instead of focusing on telling a story (not a good one at that).

We also have the Elephant in the room to address in that paranoia, hatred, disgust, or any feelings towards the public views on Ajin goes without setup. Aside from the first discover Ajin being a gun for hire in Africa, and if Ajin are turned in you’ll be rewarded there is nothing much to grasp from the Ajins presence in this world. The film even brings up the fact other Ajins were discovered, but mentions nothing if the other Ajins are commonly violent toward humans. If that was the case, than it would make sense for Kei Nagai (our teenage protagonist) not to trust anyone in his surroundings. However, if the story didn’t establish the public mindset on Ajins existence than the idea of them being turned in for a reward could still be a reasonable source of distrust for Kei Nagai. A simple, and not hard to shoe in solution for this issue is someone mentioning an Ajin who got betrayed by his friends for money. If this was done than you could have a less inferior reason for Kei Nagai not to trust his friends in the beginning of the film. It’s even brought up the reward could be just a rumor, but even if the reward is just a rumor than Kei Nagai fearing being betrayed by his friends from a story he heard would make a bit more sense. My solution sucks, but it could hold itself together much better compared to betrayal for rumored reward Kei Nagai just recently discovered imply by the film.

Reason number two this film is bad is because of main character Kei Nagai. I personally refer to him as Sam Blanderton since he has no personality, the writing pretends he’s a smart character, and has the plot armor of immortality. His younger sister describes Kei Nagai as a cold person so Vanilla Ice is also a suitable nickname for the protagonist. Jokes aside, you would also find Kei Nagai in that piles of jokes. Despite being told he’s a smart character, and studying to be a doctor he’s no smarter than the rest of the cast in Ajin that can’t phantom the idea of multiple people wearing hats. Having never gone to medical school I can tell you it is possible to knock someone out unconsciously with your fists. I bring this up since Kei Nagai can summon a Black Ghost which are basically an invisible humanlike manifestation Ajins can use. For some reason, when Kei is being tortured about an hour into the film, Kei seems to have forgotten everything he learned. This is a character who the audience is told wants to be a doctor. In a scene where Kei is being tortured he is also pressured into killing scientists, which you would expect someone who has been studying to be a doctor to do the logical, and knock out whoever is torturing him in order to intimidate anyone who wants to torture him in the future. Not wanting to kill is one thing, but if you have the power to knock someone out unconsciously like Kei Nagai has with his Black Ghost where’s the conflict in the situation. Kei doesn’t have to kill anyone when he’s being tortured, yet he seems content that he could only kill despite the fact he’s been studying to become a doctor. Good to know that knowledge goes to waste.

Kei Nagai acts however the plot demands him to without a consistent personality trait. In the film, Kei meets face to face with an old man who kidnapped his sister, but is okay with it since she wasn’t harm. (Tear out hair in anger). Yet, he is more concern with the idea of this same old man wanting to kill scientists who have been torturing him (Kei) for days none of whom he knows. Showing concern for their very livelihood despite torturing him. Just, huh? What makes this infuriating for me is Kei Nagai brings up the idea to handicapped those scientists while begging for them not to be murdered. So the series (along with this film) is telling me Kei Nagai gives a rat ass his sister got kidnapped who he known for basically his entire life, and shows more concern for saving people who tortured him for several days  to the point he’ll bargain to handicapped them to make sure they live. However, this completely goes against the established trait of Kei Nagai being a cold, but intelligent character which does not go well when you see this same intelligent character wear nothing to hide his face when out in public. This is never an issue since Polygon Pictures is too lazy to have background characters which is why there is hardly ever crowds of people in the film. What this means is that Kei Nagai is not a cold character since he bother saving random strangers who tortured him several days, and is not intelligent since he doesn’t use his medical knowledge in his situations to protect himself. There’s no moment of competency from this character since Kei Nagai either gets lucky by discovering a new ability to save himself when convenient, or needs to be save by another person.

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Glasses guy takes his groping seriously.

Finally, the reason the film is terrible, and the anime series itself is also terrible is pretty much everything else. Characters are one dimensional in the film with the only character using his head is Satou who is presented as the villain. Satou is refer by others as The Man in the Hat (even in the English dub for who knows why) because he wears a hat. Apparently, in Ajin, Satou is the only person in the entire world who wears a hat. This is proven whenever Satou is brought up simply mentioning someone is wearing a hat. Characters will immediately bring up Satou. Details like this makes it impossible to take Ajin seriously. What it tells me is a race of immortal beings is easily accepted in this world, but multiple people wearing hats is an entirely alien to concept those same people. Satou character also suffers the same issue, in this film, of having little character development, but compare to every other character he’s written the best. Satou is the only character who has a goal, and a motivation for what he does to a certain character. As you can assume, one character who’s passable doesn’t excuse an entire cast that’s disposable. Kei Nagai does virtually nothing to advance the plot, Kaito/Porcupine (Kei’s best friend) disappears after the second act without explanation, Eriko Nagai (Kei’s sister) is practically pointless contributing nothing to the narrative, and a slew of other unimportant characters amount to either explaining things characters in the world should already know, or just disappear after a while.

Pacing is a mess rushing through everything. This issue applies to the anime series too, but in movie format it’s boils down to throwing set pieces at the audience face without substance. There’s nothing of value to gain from constantly seeing the main characters in danger if there is no reason to care for them. No tension, no stakes, and no investment in the characters will have you constantly looking at the time wondering how long this train wreck is going to last.

On a technical level Polygon Pictures 3D animation is dated, even by 1990s 3D television standards. It’s embarrassing that the Donkey Kong Country 3D animated series from the late 90s has more expressive facial animation, and a better framerate. Donkey Kong Country can make the simple action of Gorillas walking, and dancing for that matter move smoothly. In Ajin Part 1: Shoudou, in the beginning of the film, Polygon Picture can not make the simple action of walking move smoothly. Through the film (and the anime series) it seems like characters are moving in slow motion. Polygon Pictures is capable of fixing of this, but are too lazy to do anything about it. There are two sequences in the film where two Black Ghosts are fighting against each other using the technique of slowing things down briefly then speeding things up. This simple demonstration of being able to change the speed of motion freely should also apply to the frame rate. It’s done deliberately so Polygon Picture have the technology not make to their anime series, and films look like they’re lagging at all times. Polygon Picture is so lazy the film closing credits is the opening sequence to the anime series with just longer credits. Bravo Polygon Picture.

Ajin Part 1: Shoudou needed to be story boarded, and drafted at least once before ever entering production. If this was done than Polygon Pictures would have realize they have no motivation for people to hate Ajins which would have save them from a number of issues if it was addressed. However, even if Ajin did give a good reason for why Ajins are hated it wouldn’t do away with the idiotic plot filled with shallow characters, and a very lazy production. You could find better looking 3D animation from the late 90s than this film which came out in 2015 which is embarrassing. Whatever way you view Ajin in either film, or tv format it is an embarrassment display of Japanese animation, an embarrassment to 3D animation, and an embarrassment to storytelling.

1/10

Cinema-Maniac: Rurouni Kenshin (2012) Movie Review

Adaptations of any sort of property can be tricky. Besides appealing to the original source material fanbase (if there is any) comes with the decision of how exactly to adapt the source material into a new medium. If it’s made specifically for fans like the 2005 Joss Whedon’s film Serenity than newcomers probably won’t get much out of it like fans would. Especially when the best counter-argument against it not standing as its own creation is checking out supplementary material (which happened in my case). Regardless if the film adaptation was preceded by a TV Series, comic-book, or other sources the adaptation in a different medium should be able to stand on its own. Coming from someone who has never read a single chapter of the manga, or seen a single episode of the anime series related to Rurouni Kenshin this live action film adaptation can be enjoyed as its own creation. It’s a great film adaptation, and an equally engaging samurai film.

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I can relate. This is typical reaction when I talk to a woman.

 

Rurouni Kenshin follows former legendary assassin Kenshin Himura (played by Takeru Satoh) who has now become a wandering pacifist samurai with his new beliefs being challenged in Tokyo. From the opening action sequence right to the end Rurouni Kenshin always feels confident in where it’s heading. Expertly knowing how to setup the social climate of Tokyo where the story takes place. Distinguishing through some characters their struggles to find a new purpose in an era that seemingly in no need of Samurai’s. One moment in the beginning of the film shows villain Kanryu Takeda (Teruyuki Kagawa) ringing a bell singling former Samurai warriors it’s time for dinner. Small details like these help get across the idea of how difficult it could be for a Samurai to adapt to an new era of living. When the story jumps from it subplots including one of an assassin killing using Battosai name it does not feel overwhelming to keep track off. This theme of finding a purpose is explored heavily keeping its main story focus as it introduces more characters in the story while continuing other story threads.

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You will come to the dark side Kenshin.

Kenshin leads the overall narrative with his main conflict attempting to live a new life away from his former assassin ways. One aspect on writing characters that generally isn’t understood is every action you have your main character perform can develop them. In this film, writers Kiyomi Fuji, and Keishi Ohtomo understood this using Kenshin playful attitude to highlight his struggling ordeal. In some scenes Kenshin has a good time talking to other characters, but in others scenes he get thrown back into his Samurai fighting instincts. As the film progresses the line between famed assassin Hitokiri Battosai, and Kenshin Himura grow closer together. His backblade katana named the Sakbato Kageuchi, for instance, demonstrates Kenshin practicing his beliefs. The way Kenshin fights with careful calculation with a Sakbato Kaeuchi is different from the brief moments when Kenshin is shown fighting with a regular blade instinctively with ease. This builds upon Kenshin as a protagonist as it’s a trait that is treated as part of his character instead of a plot device.

Characters in the film will challenge Kenshin as he attempt to maintain his pacifism. The film takes it time exploring Kenshin motivation for his new ways becoming an engaging lead character as well as an entertaining one. By the end of the film, there’s still room left over for Kenshin to grow as a character while not downplaying his battles to maintain his ideals. This is accomplished by having Kanryu Takeda (Teruyuki Kagawa) be a unsubtle villain. Upon the first time Kanryu Takeda appears on screen there’s no misleading the viewer that he’s clearly evil, and seek to only make money. Kenshin constant refusal to become battosai no matter who asks him attributes to Kenshin growth as well display the need of capable fighters. Supporting characters don’t receive the same degree of exploration, but are given specific roles such as comedy relief with Sanosuke Sagara (Munetaka Aoki), eventual damsel in distress Megumi Takani (Yu Aoi), adversary with Jine Udo (Koji Kikkawa), and even just plain badass bad guy with Gein (Gou Ayano). The ones that do recieved development are Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei), and Saito Hajime (Yosuke Eguchi) both of whom are moving on from a turning point event of their past. While both pursue different goals they can relate to Kenshin the most either offering playful banter, or some dialogue on adapting to change.

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Come on kid. Give us your lunch money.

Contributing to the film’s biggest problem is obviously having too many characters. It’s villain, Kanryu Takeda, appears infrequently in the film, and when he does appear it’s usually accompanied by music. When Takeda executes his evil plan it comes out of nowhere without proper build up aside from one scene that establish he sells drug, and one brief scene where he explicitly says to poison the water. That’s not good buildup since this eventually leads to the film largest set piece. However, this issue isn’t as harmful as it could have been. Every character serves a purpose at some point in the story with varying degree of significance. Be it to help Kenshin fight off a dozen of Kanryu goons, or to arrest one of the main villains. Each character at some point in the film contribute to a larger story by being given simple character arcs, but treated as characters instead of plot devices that only serve to progress the story. One aspects of the film that can’t be overlooked is Jine Udo supernatural ability in the film. Jine has the ability to cast a spell that can paralyze his opponent lungs. This ability is out of place with the film world which makes itself grounded for a majority of the film. At most, you get human performing superhuman feats like outrunning bullets that could come across as far fetched as Jine’s ability. Those moments aren’t out of place since they’re being performed by people whereas Jine Udo paralyzation ability comes across as plain magic.

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The film has an awesome cast, and cool to look separating it from other Samurai films.

Taking charge as Kenshin Himura is leading star Takeru Satoh. Performance in the film is very good portraying different sides of Kenshin. Satoh perfectly fits his character as he neither looks like an assassin, nor like a man with a tormented past. His looks are deceiving, but when it comes to displaying Kenshin true nature he balances the torments, and playfulness of Kenshin. Takeru Satoh shows restraint in his delivery which contributes to his character change. Koji Kikkawa delivers the second best performance in the film. Much like his character, Koji delivers a menacing performance as Jine Udo. He’s goes more for power in his line delivery while subduing his physical expressions. Giving the impression that he could you at any moment, even if in plain sight. Emi Takei plays Kaoru Kamiya who does a good job in the film. While limited in depth, Emi Takei gets a couple of scenes to show off range. What best about her performance is despite being the love interest she shows her affection in subtle ways. Munetaka Aoki plays the strong goofball Sanosuke Sagara in the film. For the whole the film he neither the actor, nor the character linger into a serious subject for long. Whenever on screen they are light hearted. Munetaka despite lacking range in the film does deliver on his comedy delivering especially in a action scene that incorporates humor in the middle of it.

Yu Aoi plays  Megumi Tanaki to her effect. She’s dramatic, provide some playful banter, and eases when displaying her characters different emotions. It’s a good performance, though unlike her male co-stars isn’t given a memorable scene. Teruyuki Kagawa plays Kanryuu who’s given little screen time. Whenever Teruyuki Kagawa is on screen he’s simply meant to come across as rude. He’s cynical, but not over the top in his portrayal with the exception of a single scene. Kagawa is subdue in his portrayal of a clear villain making him as grounded as possible. While the character is not memorable due to how one dimensional the character is written Teruyuki Kagawa performance at least makes it enjoyable to see. Other actors whom are also lacking in screen time are Taketo Tanaka who plays Yahiko Myojin, and Gou Ayano who plays Gein. Gou Ayano doesn’t get to display his acting chops, but does to be involved in an excellent action in the film. While not much, it does allow Ayano to shin as a performer. Taketo Tanaka receives more scenes than Ayano does, but does get a scene to highlight his talent. Tanaka does a good job in his role regardless having good chemistry with his older co-stars, especially with Emi Takei.

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Also, the film contains great cinematography, and cool shots.

One aspect of the live action adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin that’ll distinguished it among Samurai films is the action choreography by Kenhi Tanigaki who worked on famous martial art films Saat Po Long (Killzone in English), and Flash Point. In this film, Kenhi Tanigaki goes from rapid fist fights to elaborate sword fights. There’s two action scenes in the film where Kenshin goes up against large number of fighters that the choreography sells the fights convincingly. The first of these fights is in a dojo where Kenshin fights against a group of thugs. What the choreography in this scene focuses on is Kenshin speed. Another aspect in this fight that is used are the actors in the background are given something to do. In the beginning of this particular action scene Kenshin first knocks his opponents down with defensive maneuvers with rapid punches. This causes the thugs slowly fearing Kenshin as he keeps on dodging thugs sword strikes whom begin to swing wildly at Kenshin. A tiny detail like Kenshin using maneuvers that hits an opponent behind him makes the implausible scenario reliable as well as being a action scene. Of course, the cinematography is also worth complimenting since in this action scene it’s close enough to see the hits, but not to far to show inactive actors in the background waiting for their cue to perform their specific move in the sequence. It’s filmed, and edited in a way where it’s easy to decipher what is going on in the scene.

Then the second of these action scenes is the in the third act that once again has Kenshin along with Sanosuke fight against a large number of Samurai. Like the previous large scale action scene, the quick performances in the choreography, the way it shot, and edited makes it convincing. Sanosuke uses a different fighting style swinging around his giant sword to hand to hand combat. A majority of the action sequences in the film are one on one bouts all which are well done. All the action sequences make use of the characters abilities, and the environment around them. A standout in the movie is Kenshin fight with Gein which starts out with Kenshin taking the evasive approach dodging bullets inching his way closer to Gein as he keeps taking Gein ability to fight. It’s an exciting fight scene that also shows while limited, the execellent work in the film.

Aesthetically the film simply looks like high budget Japanese Samurai film which is to it credit. Everything from the costumes, the sets, the actors, and everything else looks cinematic. Nothing about it gives off the impression it’s an adaptation as even some of the more outlandish elements (characters dodging bullets for from a minigun) seemed grounded. Another aspect to the live action film is the music composed by Naoki Sato which is excellent. Ranging from fairly modern techno beats with tribal vocals to standard orchestral with the usage of the Shamisen. Sato score is easily of high quality succeeding in strengthening a scene. It’s best usage are definitely in the action sequences as it creates more excitement when viewing them. One overused of Naoki Sato music definitely when Teruyuki Kagawa is on screen having the track Kanryuu Teikoku – Gashuu No Take play in the background. Aside from that track, the music is well utilized in the film. Some listeners of Japanese rock music will be surprised by the unexpected song “The Beginning” by band One Ok Rock to be heard.

Rurouni Kenshin is an excellent adaptation that can stand on its own as a film. Anyone who has no familiarity with the series can easily view the film without feeling like they missed anything. As far faithfulness to the source material I can’t comment on it since I’ve yet to read a single page of the manga, or see a single episode of the anime series. However, I would say for anyone who enjoy Samurai films will find the familiar, but well executed story has enough to distinguishes itself to make it worth viewing.

9/10

Cinema-Maniac: Blue Exorcist The Movie (2013) Movie Review

My previous ventures into a film adaptation based on a anime series were usually first exposures to certain properties. Blue Exorcist is a different story with me actually taking time to see the anime series. Overall I thought the show was decent and anyone wanting to know why I say that there’s a link to a blog on my thoughts on the anime series at the end of this review. However, unlike the anime series Blue Exorcist The Movie is strictly for fans with little characterization, explanation on its world, and clumsy plotting will leave newcomer in the dust.

Blue Exorcist The Movie is about Rin coming across a seemingly innocent child demon with no memories and soon realizes what the boy really is and later understands why he was sealed ages ago. Understanding the simplistic story doesn’t require any level of knowledge on the source material. By removing itself from the anime series it could be view as its own creation following no continuity. However, what isn’t as accessible is basically everything else. It doesn’t bother to tell newcomers needed information about the world. You’ll wonder why some exorcists carry guns while other don’t will seem nonsensical. In the series it’s explained there are several advantages and disadvantages to combat a demon something the film sheds no light on. Another issue are the large cast characters that go wasted. Some characters make pointless appearances in the films that chew up screw time. Aside from the protagonist Rin and the demon child he takes care off characterization is left as is. Fans will have an understanding of the familiar cast of characters, but newcomers on the other hand will be given virtually nothing on why they should care for these characters.

When it comes to story Blue Exorcist has never been an expert on that front. It’s plot formula is given in the form of a children story in the beginning if done right would have been foreshadowing events and nothing else. Unfortunately the story reiterates the children story several times eliminating any mystery and making itself predictable. This is the first time I’ve seen a movie literally spoiling the plot itself. Blue Exorcist problematic writing unfortunately is a trait that is retained too. Much like the series, the film excels in building up to a big fight by slowly escalating the stakes. Like the series, the film has a disappointing resolution to its conflict and lazy writing in pivotal moments. For example, Rin Okumura and others attempt to exorcise a phantom train. Whenever it appears on screen it is proven difficult to defeat. That is until lazy writing pops up with Rin Okumura demonic powers serving as an easy getaway when things get rough. What is done properly are the personality of the characters. They’re down to Earth and easily relatable. The relationship are earnest and so are how they interact with one another. Most of the highlights come from the cast comedic antics often deliver laughs. Comedy relief is far superior to the film dramatic elements, but gets it across it points without any emotional gain for newcomers. Ending in a way that guarantees to adds nothing for either side as the ending made sure it leaves no impact on the series or the film itself.

This is an often gorgeous looking animated film, one with incredibly detailed backgrounds (some of the urban settings are really and scenes at the festival are spectacular looking in the film), as well as well done characters. Colors are very intense at times, running the gamut from bright, vivid primaries to more subdued pastels. Line detail is very sharp and consistent throughout this presentation. Exceeding in taking you into another world. Action sequences come in short supply, but it does offer satisfy. The few action scenes sports plenty of visuals flare whenever the combatant attacks be it with guns, demonic blue flames, and a simple strike display considerable amount of damage to their surroundings. Hiroyuki Sawano score is cinematically excellent. His score sells the somber moments of the drama and the lighthearted tone of the comedy. Perfectly pacing itself with the events of the story and exceeding the film writing in strengthening the tone of scenes where the writing does no justice. Simply hearing UVERworld track “Reversi” brought greater sense of emotional closure than the film ending. Voice acting is all around solid maintaining the same charisma that could be found in the anime as well. These performances aren’t movie level, but work because they stay in line with the anime series representation of the characters.

Blue Exorcist The Movie certainly could have been better if its writing was on the same level as its technical aspects. Animation is smooth and the world design is intricate, voice acting is solid, and the soundtrack is absolutely perfect enveloping you into the mood. It’s story is easily accessible for newcomers, but it’s clearly a film just for fans of the anime series or manga. Unlike the anime, Blue Exorcist isn’t given enough time to fix any of its shortcomings leaving everything introduce as is.

5/10

Cinema-Maniac: 47 Ronin (2013) Movie Review

In films there are usually certain characteristics that help decide what seen regardless how it turns and one of those is the Samurai. In work of fictions or based around true events Samurai films have provided some of my personal favorite characters and stories. Alongside with an interest in Samurai culture in films “47 Ronin” was inevitable to be seen. Unfortunately this interpretation of the classic story butchered everything that made the original story timeless.

47 Ronin tells the story of a band of samurai set out to avenge the death and dishonor of their master at the hands of a ruthless shogun. The first and immediate problem with the film is the departure from the source material which is based on true events. It was emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that people should preserve in their daily lives especially during a time where the Samurai class was struggling to maintain a sense of itself – warriors with no war, a social class without a function. Important details like that turned an epic story of revenge into an influential story of the importance of self worth and honor. This adaptation is a literal trainwreck in every sense of the word. Taking an established story and giving a Western touch that severely damages it identity. Understanding of the Samurai code is nonexistent as it leaves audiences in the dust. Unless you have minimal understanding of Samurai culture and their code of honor none of what the Samurai expresses come across with any meaning. Down to the basic details such as explaining the significance behind the title of a Ronin (a masterless Samurai/someone who is without a home) aren’t touched upon. Without getting across the bare essentials it’s doom upon arrival. Since the writers don’t know how to implement Eastern culture into the film both sides are left unsatisfied. Those unfamiliar with the story will misinterpret its intention and those familiar with the story will be infuriated by not only the liberties that were taken, but how ignorant it is to what made the “47 Ronin” legendary.

If it were be taken as pure fiction it has all sign of life stripped away. Fantasy elements that were meant to be exuberant are lifeless. Dry dialogue tells us of an Japan that is home to dangerous monsters, witches, and fearless warriors. Main problem being hardly implementing fantasy elements in a story that clearly didn’t need any of it. Every time an element of fantasy is introduced they are blatant metaphors that hammered their point across. An important scene in the Tengu (a legendary creature depicted with both human and avian characteristics) Temple where the ronin go to gain swords serves as the creation of the film’s black hole. Our non-Japanese protagonist immediately tells the leader how to pass the test given to him defeating the whole purpose of testing his leader loyalty to his men. Not only that, but it’s also introduces the non-Japanese protagonist to a supernatural abilities which he uses only once later on in the film. Everything portrayed is meant to hammer a single point further establishing the one dimensionality of every single thing in its writing.

Obviously a two hour film can’t developed 47 individual characters into three dimensional characters, but without a single worthwhile character ensures emptiness. Kai, the protagonist (a work of fiction) is simply a tool in the film. He’s not a white man who leads Japanese to reclaim their honor. No, Kai is a man who’s constantly told to annoying extremes that he’s not a Samurai and a half bread. Beating the protagonist down with secondary characters has two effects; the first being it makes Kai unlikable because he’s given little reason to stick with his fellow ronin who constantly show no respect and the second being it makes our heroes as equally dislikable as the villain. Speaking of which we’re only told through the ronin words he’s a terrible man and yet never once do we see any reason to hate him. Given how poorly it establishes how deeply Japan values honor the heroes motivation is just as easily missable. Romance is severely half baked. Since most of the film is spend on the ronin preparation to avenge their master what little time it spends to establish a romance early on in the film is fades away and reappears later carrying no weight to the overall story. Detracting from Kai journey to save her seeing his love interest is simply a flat plot device.

Keanu Reeves performance is wooden. His character is written in a way that he shows little emotion as possible in which Reeves delivers on his front. Always looking broody and down on his feet when interacting with the rest of the cast. Reeves here comes into focus in action mode making him appear cool as his dialogue is among the simplest of the cast. The Japanese actors have trouble saying their lines in English. It’s made very evident (five minutes in no less) that the Japanese actors aren’t comfortable speaking in English. Their line delivery is awkward and sometimes difficult to comprehend. Only sounding natural when speaking in their native language. Action scenes are a dull affair utilizing the best in random swinging. Sword techniques are fluid requiring careful reading of your opponent movement and speed; something not made evident in the film sword fights. Our ronin simply strike without planning resulting in a stalemate of pointlessly clashing swords. More characters are killed by projectile than a slash of a blade lessening the effect of the main weapon in most of the action scenes. All of this with editing that has a tendency to exist scenes abruptly. I appreciate the editor wanting to make the film end more quickly, but doing so did more harm than good to the way the film plays out. Just about the only compliment that could be given to “47 Ronin” is it cinematography. It’s varied in location and has some good looking scenes (especially ones involving fire). Nice visuals can’t make for bad acting, unimaginative action, horrid editing, and a plot that has sign of life to be found.

47 Ronin is a misinterpretation of an Eastern story told by Westerners that don’t understand it. Combining Japanese folktale, American empty set pieces, Japan Samurai culture, and American lazy writing creates a fusion of a culturally unsatisfying film. It’s more than a bad adaptation, it’s more than a awful movie, and more than a generic blockbuster, but it’s a complete butchering representing the worst in Eastern and Western filmmaking.

1/10

Cinema-Maniac: GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack (2012) Movie Review

Films that have a run time that is below an hour and half are a risky endeavor. Usually the length of a film isn’t a solid indication of a film quality, but tell its audience how much of their time is either going to be rewarded or wasted on it. GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack falls in the category that is left for individual viewers to determine for themselves. As someone who enjoys seeing films with wacky premises both it strengths and weaknesses arrive from the writing.

GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack is follows Kaori and her friends vacation to celebrate their upcoming graduation, when suddenly an infestation of mysterious walking fish forces them to reevaluate everything they care about in order to stay alive. It’s a premise that demands very little thought and has even less intelligence. For starter it plays against following a single genre rules switching it up as it goes along. Starting as a slasher film, than turning into a siege film, a mad scientist film, and ending with post apocalyptic. As clever as the structuring might be keeping the story interesting with it different paths it corners itself when it comes to telling the story. Characterization is easily the weakest aspect of the film. Characters simply represent a shallow theme hardly building upon it for any meaningful insight. Attempts at genre riffing are made clear without anything clever to say about them simply acknowledging their existence. The lead herself plays against the damsel in distress by being the heroine of the film. This in turn also undermines giving her a compelling journey. The whole got to save my fiancee motivation is easy to get behind, but learning very little about the protagonist just makes her part of the scenery and without knowing much of heroine fiancee it questions if he’s worth fighting against a mutated spider-shark. Explanations on the question presented are intentionally left unanswered. Spending more on getting to the next set piece and less on developing it’s no surprise the explanation given are bizarre. Hinting at possibilities to an answer, but never confirming leaving it a mystery. Some will scratch their head, others will think nothing of it other than it was fun, but the intention to cause fear with the ending fails because of how it told was story.

Animation is passable at best. There’s no complicated sets, movements, or designs that makes it visuals leave much of an impression. Usually empathizing on facial expressions is done well even if the viewer and character feelings are different about the current situation. Leaving a lot to desire it moves smoothly. The 3D animated fish come across with mixed results. They work because they stand out an oddity against the hand drawn backdrop, but at the same time hardly integrated into the film. There are shots where dozens of 3D fish are roaming the streets although the lack of prominent screen time containing very few scene where sea creatures are attacking the city. Voice acting is decent granted the cast had shallow characters to work with. Given the roles the voice talent were given they come across as solid at best putting more emotion in a character that’s one dimensional.

GYO: Tokyo Fish Attack has a specific audience in mind alienating many by concealing its weakness. Having very little in terms of characters and not even bothering to build on its idea the intention is clear leaving little to experience in between. With no worthwhile investment to come from the characters, story, genre riffs, or it deluded execution towards it goal results from a film that leaves you empty handed.

4/10

Cinema-Maniac: Nerawareta Gakuen (2012) Movie Review

Describing the experience of “Nerawareta gakuen” (translated to the irrelevant, but cooler sounding title “Physic School War”) is similar to the same way of a gamer feelings playing Dice video-game Battlefield 4. Allot went into the look, but lacks substance to justify how much went behind a broken product. Bland characters in an overly cliche story, and a sense of awe that something so shallow has so much care put into it.

Nerawareta Gakuen (Physic School War in English) is about Ryouichi Kyougoku, a mysterious time traveling psychic from the future where the world ended in the future and humanity settled on the moon, and transfers into the 8th grade to awaken as much psychics in the present. Effortlessly combining high school romance with time traveling, physic powers, and impending apocalypse into an overly complicated mess. If the story only desired to be a high school romance it would have been a sensible, easy to follow bland story. Spending the first two act developing the romance (to a disappointing climax that avoids resolving conflicts) and a considerable amount of characterization is somewhat defeated. Somewhat since the central characters are all bland anime personalities; Kenji Seki is a dumb teen who has bad luck and oblivious to the fact his childhood friend Natsuki Ryouura loves him, Natsuki Ryouura is the typical girl next door who picks on Kenji to hide her true feelings from him, Kahori Harukawa is created to advance the plot in the form of a love triangle or having her start a conversation relating to their feelings, and finally Ryouichi Kyougoku who’s the popular mysterious teen with an hidden agenda. Four characters all of which aren’t interesting because what the story does with them is highlight their weaknesses. Sure the characters are given depth, but what the writer do with them gives off the wrong impression. Natsuki Ryouura for example clearly likes Kenji, but upon meeting her characters she in a single minutes teases him, punches him, and calls the police. Like everyone in the story Natsuki matures, though the way she acts towards Kenji is the same. That’s just the characters not working on their own imagine the rest of the film.

Being split into a supernatural drama and slice of life romance never does it become good at being one thing it sets out to be. On one hand the romance doesn’t work because of the bland characters and the cliche route it takes. This being the real meat of the film story it’s disappointing what little is done with it amount to no reward. Then comes the supernatural drama aspect which is completely pointless. It’s so far removed from the central story that it’s unneeded fluff. Keeping things vague physic powers play by rules the writers make up in order to spice things up. Leading to plot holes and a muddle set of rules that makes it needlessly difficult to understand what actually happen no matter how basic it appears. Now something I left out, just like film, has something to do with it odd hatred towards cellphones. At first it appears it was going to tackle what it means to be social in a society that relied technology for interaction, but nope it reappears to amount to nothing. It’s just mention just for the sake of it, but it becomes a plot point. What is done with the cell phones plot point amounts to a character saving his childhood friend from a debate about having cell phones in school in his underwear. I’m not kidding that’s exactly what the whole cell phone angle amounts to. It can’t do a proper ending either leaving you scratching your head in confusion in what resulted from the climax. Abandoning plot elements and subplots like there’s no tomorrow Nerawareta Gakuen (Physic School War) never feels as ease to watch even when it barely works.

The production values of the film are best thing about this movie. Ryosuke Nakamura eye for details rivals of that of director Shinkai Makoto. A lot of attention is paid in the meticulous details of the visuals from the cherry blossom petals being blown in the breeze to the gleaming rays of light shining through classroom windows. Another outstanding feature is the use of color hues and tones to accentuate and render scenic clouds and evening skies. Character animation is smooth, lighting effects work nicely with the watercolor-styled backgrounds, and the film manages to build a lifelike environment and atmosphere much like in Shinkai’s films. Furthermore, director Nakamura Ryousuke throws some laid back, carefree spirit and lovable appeal into the mix, which ends up covering a whole lot of the movie’s failures in other areas. Voice actors give life to what little personalities their characters have. They have the right of playful and serious nature making its character progression seem natural. Music is downright forgettable. Having checked out the film soundtrack this is perhaps one of the laziest compilation of music for any animated film. Most of the soft piano ballads so sound similar to one another that they all sound like minor variation of one track. Songs mostly are slow, low key wanting to get across a sentimental feelings of youth. However, the more you listen to it the more you began to pick up it’s more fitting for a commercial than a film production.

Nerawareta Gakuen is pretty to look at and that’s about it. Bland characters fall into the category of being annoying taking part of a story that amounts to a whole of nothing in confusion at its ending. Whatever plot and subplots it build up ends with lackluster resolutions that bring no closure to them. Abandoning and retreating ideas will make it difficult for viewers to maintain focus because it’s all over the place. Once you take away the detail visuals all you’re left with is disappointment having seen a shallow film more concern about it looks than having its own unique personality.

4/10

Cinema-Maniac: Japanese Hell (Jigoku) (2000) Movie Review

The 1960 original Jigoku (Japanese word for Hell) is not a film I would consider a classic due to it’s unintentional humor to its serious plot, but it’s a film I would have no problem recommending because story structure is perfect for it, has amazing visuals (especially the impressive third act), and a meaningful message through relatable human actions. As for the remake I could only say bad things about it to the point that I would be send to Jigoku. It’s soulless from the unsalvageable story right down to the half baked force message will encourage viewers to do certain things to the filmmakers than make you think about your way of life as intended.

Japanese Hell is about the goddess of death name Enma (“terrifying”) giving a tour of Hell to an innocent young women and showing the consequences of sinners past, present, and future. I’m going to give a scenario to best get across why I hate this story and the meaning it’s hoping viewer will find in it soulless message. So picture a sick dog who has a terrible, incurable disease suffering for days. It’s constantly coughing up blood, unable to eat anything solid, and crying on a day to day basis from pain. Finally having had enough of seeing the dog suffer you decide to euthanize the dog much to your displeasure. According to this film you earn your ticket to Hell. The fact you ended a living creature life with a good intentions and you had no pleasure in putting it down doesn’t matter one bit to this film. Things like morals are a joke in this film. You either have to be 100% perfect good or 100% percent evil with no middle ground to be accept in either Heaven or Hell. If the film wasn’t trying to say something towards its audience this simplistic view on humanity would have been fine, but it deliberately set up to send a message you have to follow someone to be “saved” by force not will. Conformity is not the answer for everyone as it could work the other way making people do questionable activities. Oh the film ending….okay one of the deadly sins is Lust and the last thing we see are naked women. Why after taking a tour of Jigoku (Hell) would the last thing we want to see are naked women? Backward thinking like this is one of many, many, many, many, many, many, many reasons this film story is worthless.

Personal hatred aside here are other reasons why it’s an unsalvageable story regardless whether or not you seen the original. Narrative structure is messy, sloppy, and nothing connects it together. As a traditional narrative it doesn’t work because it has no central protagonist and deviate too much from the central characters preventing any meaningful to be gain from their journey. In the form of an anthology narrative it’s a bigger disaster because it only has two different story making it very evident which had more focus. One of the two sinners story is short while the other one overstays its welcome. The first sinner is a person who takes pleasure in killing young girls with no redeeming values. Automatically there’s the main problem as this kind of character will relate to a slim number of its viewer if any at all. Never does it bother to look into why the sinner temptation controls him and never bother to explore why this sinner is unable to gain a positive change. This also applies to the second sinners which is a false religious group who scam their believer out of millions of dollars for personal gains. At no point does the film attempt to use these characters wrongdoings as a correlation to how some outsiders might view religion in general. None of the characters are ever developed only being split into good or evil with no reasonable middle ground nor a reason why the character are who they are. Also, for a film with its setting in the title it does a terrible job incorporating Hell into its story. We never spend that much time in Hell never coming across as this unspeakable place of never ending sufferings of the essence of evil. Not to forget the most annoying thing is yes the lord of evil Enma who punishes people comes across as a hero. I’m might be looking to much into this, but this film supports the goddess of death more so than it does any positive religious figures.

Production values are a joke. Upon entering Jigoku and traveling on the Sanzu river we see a gate shape like a demonize women va….better that I keep it vague. It also has rejected costume from I could only assume are for a lost gritty reboot of “The Flintstones”. Apparently the minions of Hell are a compilation of cavemen with horns, a horse-man creature, and a very disfigured old man. The attention to detail given to these costumes is impeccable rivaling those you would see at a cheap costume store. That same amount of care also went into creating Hell which is constantly being covered in fog only adds an extra layer of detail to hide the blank canvas of the sets. Gore effects are cheap made more evident when the sinners punishment take a long time to get their point across. Another trait aside from the fog are the constantly spinning backdrops that attempted to give the allusion of an otherworldly place, but just makes the viewer think how the poor use of it budget was this bad. Acting like everything else is of the lowest quality. Ranging from over the top to no effort was even into put into that performance. If anything this film does serve as a blueprint on how not to spend your money in a low budget flick. It’s nothing short of amazing how director Terui Ishii manages to not only destroy all essence of good filmmaking, but absolutely have no understanding of the original film execution of its message nor the value behind the existence of Jigoku which is quite sad.

Japanese Hell is about as soulless and phoned in you can get with a horror remake. Nothing that made the original worthwhile is present and this new version of the story does nothing more than encourage its viewer to do things to the filmmakers it wants us to avoid. It’s a film that both believers and non believers could agree is unsalvageable, soulless, preachy trash. If you ever have more good things to say about Satan than you do the actual film focusing on Hell you pretty much know just how little hope you have left after it’s all over.

0/10