Monday, June 30, 2008
JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film starts this Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008 and runs through Sunday, June 13th. Films from July 3-6 are co-presentations with the New York Asian Film Festival 2008.
The Long Cuts series consists of 18 U.S. and/or NY premieres of recent Japanese feature films, as well as a sidebar tribute to the late, great filmmaker Kon Ichikawa.
The Short Cuts series will screen over 60 short films from Japan's independent filmmakers and video artists. It will also include a special highlight on Naomi Kawase.
One of the films that will be featured is United Red Army (Jitsuroku rengo sekigun: Asama sanso e no michi) Koji Wakamatsu's epic depiction of 1960s Japanese leftist militants. Mr Wakamatsu, who got his start making "pink films" with titles such as Go, Go Second Time Virgin, was himself an active member of the radical left. This may have something to do with his not being able to obtain a United States visa.
Although unable to appear in person, he will be available from Tokyo for a real time Q&A with the audience following the July 6th screening, this via Keio University's high-speed, high-def video network specially installed at Japan Society.
There will be two screenings of United Red Army, both at Japan Society:
- Sunday, July 6th, 2008 @ 4:00 PM
- Tuesday, July 8th, 2008 @ 7:30 PM.
Masayuki Kakegawa, who wrote the novel upon which the film is based and co-wrote the screenplay with the director, will speak in person about the political and social context of the story before both screenings: at 3:00 PM on July 6th and at 6:30 PM on July 8th.
For further info about the screenings of United Red Army or to buy tickets, click here.
For info about the entire JAPAN CUTS film series, click here.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Directed by Joe Ma
Hong Kong/Japan, 2008, 103 min
North American Premiere
Well, New York Asian Film Festival 2008 has passed the half-way mark, and it's about time I start putting up some reviews of films I've seen.
Sasori ("scorpion") is a joint Hong Kong/Japan production that revives the Female Convict Scorpion series. This time around Miki Mizuno plays Nami, a lovely young thing who's forced by a group of toughs to kill her fiance's father and sister. Needless to say, the wedding's off, and Nami is carted off to a prison run with by a lecherous and dastardly warden, played to slimy perfection by Lam Suet.
From the "art house" look that the film starts with, it turns into a really gritty Women In Prison mode. Lots of girl-on-girl violence, including death matches staged by the warden. From observing them, Nami learns how to fight, and fight good! (Would that martial arts in the real world were that easy to master, but hey, it's a movie!!).
After Nami lays some whoop-ass on a bunch of fellow prisoners who attacked her, she is strung up on the warden's orders and left out in the cold to die. Then her shrouded body is dumped in the woods and covered with leaves and branches.
The Corpse Collector (Simon Yam in a terrific cameo) takes the body to the deserted building where he practices martial arts. When he discovers that she's actually still, if barely alive, he utters the priceless line: "A person who comes out of a coffin will be good at kung fu"!!!! You gotta love it!!!
After getting advanced training from him Nami returns to exact some kick-ass revenge on those who set her up. Be prepared for lots of slicin'-'n'-dicin' and such.
This "scorpion" has every bit as much sting as its predecessors and then some. It's a lively actioner that has great fight choreography and is beautifully filmed. I give it 3.5 out of 4 stars, highly recommended.
Sasori will be screened a second time at the IFC Center on Thursday, July 3rd, 2008 @ 11:55 PM. For info or to order tickets, click here.
For information about the entire remaining NYAFF 2008 schedule through July 6th, 2008, click here.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
ANA (All Nippon Airways) is presenting a free screening of the 2006 anime (Japanese animation) hit Paprika. Briefly, the film is about Dr. Atsuko Chiba, a psychotherapist, who dons the alter-ego "Paprika" so she can enter the dream world and discover who is behind the disappearance of a prototype machine for dream viewing.
Director Satoshi Kon, who made his directorial debut with the fabulous Perfect Blue in 1998, will speak before the screening.
Monday, June 30th, 2008
Doors open at 6:15 pm
Director Kon will speak at 7:00 pm
Film will screen after the director's talk
The ImaginAsian, 239 East 59th Street, New York, NY
Although the screening is free (yeah!), you must R.S.V.P. to be on the admission list.
This screening of Paprika is Part 13 of ANA's "Nippon Eiga" (Japanese film) Series.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Aya Ueto as Azumi
It's always nice when someone you respect shares your opinion. So I was pleased to read Samuel L Jackson's list of his Top 10 New Classic Asian Films in the current double-issue of Entertainment Weekly (#999/1000, June 27 & July 4, 2008, page 24). Jackson, of course, knows a thing or two about action flicks. In fact, he co-starred, with Geena Davis, in one of my two favorite Hollywood action films, The Long Kiss Goodnight. (My other Hollywood favorite is John Woo's Face/Off.)
Coming in at number 6 was Azumi. I reviewed the DVD released by Urban Vision Entertainment in ACF 114, giving the film a 3.5 out of 4 star rating and the special features a 4 star rating. (My review of Azumi 2 appeared in ACF 115.)
Here's Jackson's complete list:
1. Oldboy (South Korea, 2003)
2. Audition (Japan, 1999)
3. City on Fire (Hong Kong, 1987)
4. Infernal Affairs 1, 2, & 3 (Hong Kong, 2002, 2003, 2003)
5. Ong-Bak: The Thai Warrior (Thailand, 2003)
6. Azumi (Jpana, 2003)
7. Family (Japan, 2007)
8. Duelist (South Korea, 2005)
9. Hard Boiled (Hong Kong, 1992)
10. Hero (China, 2002)
Aside from Family, the only film on his list that I haven't seen, I gotta say that Mr. Jackson has come up with quite a respectable top 10, or perhaps that should be top 12 if you count Infernal Affairs as three films.
I'm not that into making top ten lists myself, but if I did I'd include many of his picks, though most certainly not Duelist, which I liked it, but not that much.
Plus, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon would have to be at the top of my list.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Directed by King Hu
Hong Kong, 1966, 91 min
Cheng Pei-pei stars as Golden Swallow, the daughter of a provincial governor. Disguised as a man, she is sent on a mission to rescue her brother. A gang has kidnapped him, hoping to exchange him for their boss, a prisoner who is to be executed. Fan Ta Pei (Yueh Hua), also known as Drunken Cat or The Drunken Hero is a top notch martial artist who assists her. The Chinese title is literally translated as "Drunken Hero" and this character comes to dominate the latter part of the film.
Cheng Pei-pei carried forth this tradition in stellar form in Come Drink With Me, which was her first martial arts film. Oddly enough, it was also King Hu's first film in this genre. And though there names are strongly associated with one another, this is actually the only film they did together.
Some consider this film a masterpiece. I don't think it quite qualifies as one, but it definitely is a great film, an important film, and a classic film. Every Asian Film Fan should at least see it, and given this DVD release, it really deserves a place in any decent collection.
The extras (listed below) are consistent with the outstanding offerings typical of all Dragon Dynasty releases. I found it particularly interesting that in their separate segments, both Cheng Pei-pei and Bey Logan spoke of King Hu's sense of rhythm, most specifically in regard to the action scenes. Cheng, who trained as a dancer from a very young age, describes how King Hu would play a drum to demonstrate the rhythm of the movements and how this had much more of a jazz beat then a conventional Chinese drum would normally have.
The one thing I didn't have a chance to do yet is watch the film with the commentary by Cheng and Logan. I'm really looking forward to that at some point in the near future.
Dave Kehr wrote a review of the DVD in the New York Times of May 27th, before I'd received my review copy. While acknowledging that the use of the original English subtitles (what I like to call "Chinglish") preserved a kind of grindhouse tone, he felt that King Hu deserved "something more respectful." His point is well taken. Dragon Dynasty has done updated subtitles on other releases. Perhaps the decision was made that, since the film is a classic, it should be presented in its original form.
I rate the film at 3.5 out of 4 stars, highly recommended.
The Special Features get a 4 out of 4 star rating, outstanding, stellar.
Languages: Mandarin Mono, English Dolby 5.1
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Runtime: 91 min
Screen Format: Widescreen
- Feature Commentary With Lead Actress Cheng Pei-pei and Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan
- The King And I: Acclaimed Director Tsui Hark Remembers King Hu
- Come Speak With Me: An Exclusive Interview With Leading Lady Cheng Pei-Pei
- A Classic Remembered: A Retrospective With Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan
- The Drunken Master: An Exclusive Interview With Leading Man Yueh Wah
- Trailer Gallery
Thursday, June 19, 2008
The 2008 New York Asian Film Festival starts at the IFC Center. Lots and lotws of great films through July 6th! Plus, for the first time, Discounted Festival Passes are now available!. Check it all out at Subway Cinema.
Over at the Film Forum, and lasting for seven weeks through August 7th, there will be a retrospective of the films of Tatsuya Nakadai, 26 films in all if I counted correctly. Plus there are a number of related events. For further info and to order tickets, click on this link to Film Forum.
And as I said in my last post, Hair Extensions begins its New York theatrical premiere at The ImaginAsian.
Clearly, there's no shortage of great Asian films in The Big Apple over the next several weeks. See all you can!!!!!!
Friday, June 13, 2008
Yamazaki himself harvests hair from the dead to fashion wigs for his own pleasure and hair extensions that he sells to salons. Having taken the dead girl's body to his home and placed it in a hammock, he is amazed to discover that she's a very unique specimen. Fresh hair continues to grow in profusion from her wounds and sundry other places on her body.
While the lustrous hair of Asian females has become a cliche, Hair Extensions proves that there's still life in the plot device, at least when it's smartly mixed with an interesting twist, great special effects and deft comic touches, as it is here by director Sion Sono (probably best known for his international hit Suicide Club).
I give Hair Extensions a 3.5 out of 4 star rating, highly recommended.
Hair Extensions will have its New York theatrical premiere starting Friday, June 20th at The ImaginAsian, 239 East 59th Street in Manhattan. For showtimes, click here.
This release is being presented by Media Blasters Releasing and Tokyo Shock. Media Blasters previously has released such fare as Ichi the Killer (one of my all-time favorites!) and The Great Yokai War. Upcoming releases include Tokyo Gore Police and Takeshi Miike's Crow Zero.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
But, what’s this got to do with me, some of you who don’t live in New York or won’t be visiting during the festival may be wondering? Just this: many of the films that screen here will later have theatrical runs, perhaps where you live, and/or will be available on high-quality DVDs from prime U.S. distributors such as Dragon Dynasty or Viz Pictures.
Want examples from previous New York Asian Film Festivals? How about So Close, Azumi, Hero, Infernal Affairs, Juon, Funky Forest, Linda Linda Linda, and Ping Pong?
Last year’s NYAFF was the first I was able to cover in some depth and the films I saw were never disappointing and often fantastic. The films will again be shown at the IFC Center near Greenwich Village and New York University. This is a great venue and very convenient. Many screenings sold out last year, and I expect that will be true again this time around. For information about New York Asian Film Festival 2008, or to order tickets in advance, click here.
The Festival trailer can be found on YouTube by clicking here.
(Photo copyright 2007 SAKURAN Film Committee and Moyoco Anno/Kodansha)
JAPAN CUTS will again offer lots of the new Japanese cinema. The main attraction will be 18 feature length films. In commemoration of the death of Kon Ichikawa, the festival will present the first-ever screening with digital English subtitles of his classic mystery-thriller The Inugami Family (1976), the New York premiere of Murder of the Inugami Clan (2006), Ichikawa’s own remake of his original, and Filmful Life an affectionate documentary about him by director Shunji Iwai. The Short Cuts series will present over sixty short films (for free on a first-come-first-served basis!), and MEET Cuts will have special guest artists presenting their works.
JAPAN CUTS offerings will be shown at Japan Society at 333 East 47th Street, between 1st and 2nd avenues, near the U.N. For the complete schedule, to view JAPAN CUTS trailers, or to order tickets, click here.
This award winning Japanese animation film will debut with a one-week bi-coastal theatrical run from June 13th - 19th. In New York, an English-dubbed version will screen at the ImaginAsian theater. Across the country, a version with the Japanese language track will play at the ImaginAsian Center in Los Angeles. The screener DVD I watched was of the dubbed version that will be playing in New York. While I generally prefer an original language soundtrack with English subtitles, the voice acting here was first rate and totally appropriate for the characters' ages and speach. So New Yorkers, don't let the dubbed version keep you away.
The film is a sequel to The Little Girl Who Conquered Time, a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui that was made into a live action film directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi in 1983. Like that original story, The Little Girl Who Leapt Through Time centers on a high school girl and her two close male friends. Here the main character is Makoto Konno. She spends lots of time throwing a baseball around with Chiaki Mamiya, who tends to get to school just on time, same as Makoto, and Kousuke Tsuda, who’s a more conscientious student.
One day in an empty school room, Makoto investigates a mysterious noise, has a serious fall, and winds up gaining the ability to literally leap back in time at will! At first she uses this to her own advantage, for example going back so she can do well on a pop quiz she wasn’t prepared for. But she also discovers that her travels sometimes have dire consequences for others, particularly those she cares about. Eventually she is faced with a tragedy of her own making and uncertainty about whether or not she will be able to rectify the situation.
The film was named Best Animated Feature Film at the 30th Japanese Academy Awards. At the 6th Tokyo Anime Awards it won six awards:
- Animation of the Year
- Best Director (Mamoru Hosoda)
- Best Original Work (Yasutaka Tsutsui)
- Best Script (Satoko Okudera)
- Best Art Direction (Nizo Yamamoto)
- Best Character designs (Yoshiyuki Sadamoto)
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time has a really interesting story, and the animation is very good, quite up to the task at hand. Some of the backgrounds were absolutely stunning. And as I said before, the English dubbed version is spot on. I give it a 3.5 out of 4 star rating, highly recommended.
For more information about show times in New York, click here.
For information about Los Angeles screeenings, click here.
Update 06.11.08: Bandai Entertainment Inc. and Kadokawa Pictures USA have announced that the first 50 people at the 6:00 PM showing at the ImaginAsian Theater in New York and at the 7:00 PM sdhowing at the ImaginAsian Center in Los Angeles will each receive a free theatrical sized poster of the film! So get there early!
Monday, June 09, 2008
Ichigo Kurosaki, the main human character, is an ordinary 15-year-old boy. Except he just happens to be able to see ghosts. His life changes when he meets Rukia Kuchiki, a female Soul Reaper on the trail of Hollow, a malevolent lost soul. While protecting Ichigo and his family, Rukia is injured by Hollow. Desperate, she transfers some of her powers to Ichigo, and together they face the challenges that lie ahead.
The film is aimed aimed primarily at teens and older teens.
For more information about this special event and to find a participating theater, click here.
The official BLEACH website can be found at bleach.viz.com.
A DVD release of the film is planned for winter 2008.
A special note for those going to the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con:
Tite Kubo, creator of Bleach and many other mangas, will appear for a series of rare in-person appearances beginning Friday, July 25th. Besides various appearances, Mr. Kubo will participate on Shonen Magazine's panel discussion and will greet fans at Viz Media's booth and sign autographs twice on Saturday, July 26th.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
Invisible Target is an action-packed, testosterone-laced thriller replete with terrific old-school Hong Kong stunts. And it's coming out on Tuesday, June 10th in a Two-Disc Ultimate Edition from Dragon Dynasty that's spectacular.
A well-trained crew pulls off a daring daytime armored car heist, netting $100 million in U.S. currency. However, we later learn that they were betrayed by the mastermind of the robbery and that as they were leaving Hong Kong three were killed by the police. The other four got away, but without their share of the loot, and six months later they've returned to claim it.
Nicholas Tse plays Chan Chun, an unconventional cop who has a personal interest in bringing the gang to justice, preferably his own form and not that of the courts. Shawn Yue is Fong- Yik-wei, a good cop but rather arrogant and egoistic. Rounding out the leaders of the good guys is Jaycee Chan, Jackie's son. Looking much like a taller, leaner version of his father, Jaycee is a naive, upright young policeman named Wai King-ho. His older brother was an undercover cop who disappeared around the time of the robbery and who's therefore suspected of having joined the bad guys.
Jacky Wu (as Wu Jing) is Tien Yeng-seng, the ruthless leader of the gang. His crew includes Ronin Tien Yeng-yee (Andy On), Tien Yeng-chi (Vincent Sze), and Tien Yeng-yan (Mei Wang Xue, here as Xue Mei Wang). Jacky is, as always, fantastic in his action sequences. For me, the real find was Ms Wang, who I understand is a wushu champion. I don't think she has a single line in the film, but she can definitely kick butt and more than hold her own against any of the guys, as Shawn Yue attests in the commentary.
Benny Chan, who's previous credits include New Police Story and Robin-B-Hood, definitely knows how to handle action. The film is well-paced and a real rush when it's supposed to be, which is often. My only quibble, and it's admittedly a very small one, is that Chan gets a bit carried away with breaking glass. Basically, anything made of glass gets destroyed, which gets predictable after awhile.
This Dragon Dynasty release is just jam-packed with extra features, which are listed below. I don't know anywhere that you'll get more value for your money.
Invisible Target Two-Disc Ultimate Edition gets a well-deserved 4 out of 4 star rating, highest recommendation.
- Price: $24.95
- Street Date: June 10, 2008
- Rating: R
- Languages: English Dolby 5.1, Cantonese Dolby 5.1, Cantonese DTS
- Subtitles: English, Spanish
- Closed Captioned
- Audio Commentary with Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan and actors Jaycee Chan, Shawn Yue, and Andy On
- The Making of Invisible Target
· Trailer Gallery
- Gen X Genius: Director Benny Chan
- Like Father, Like Son: Star Jaycee Chan
- Licensed to Kill: Star Shawn Yue- Invincible Target: Leading Villain Jacky Wu Jing
- Young and Dangerous: Co-Star Philip Ng
- Carte Blanche: Co-Star Vincent Sze
- The Ronin: Co-Star Andy On
-Fight For The Glory: Constructing The Action Sequences of Invisible Target
· Conception To The Silver Screen: A Look At The Storyboard Concepts for Invisible Target
· The Gala Premiere
Saturday, June 07, 2008
At the end of Azumi, which I reviewed in ACF 114, the title character and one other assassin, Nagara (Yuma Ishigaki), are the only survivors of the group that was trained to kill three warlords. As Azumi 2 begins, these two are being pursued by forces led by Kanbei Inoue (Kazuki Kitamura), a loyal retainer of the second warlord that Azumi killed. After escaping, the pair meet with Nankobo Tenkai (Shigeru Kohyama), the priest who initiated the mission. Azumi and Nagara decide to continue their quest and assassinate Masayuki Sanada (Toshiya Nagasawa), the remaining daimyo who is loyal to the Toyotomi clan.
They are joined by Kozue, a female warrior roughly their age who has an agenda of her own. Kozue is played by Chiaki Kuriyama, best known for her role as Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill, Vol 1. She also starred in Exte: Hair Extensions, a big hit at the 2007 New York Asian Film Festival.
These three meet a group led by Ginkaku, a young lad who bears a striking resemblance to Nachi, the orphan boy who actually brought Azumi into the group when Ji had passed her by in the first film. Nachi had also been her closest confederate during the years of training, and Azumi feels guilty about his death. These two characters are both played Shun Oguri.
When Nagara and Kozue go off on their own, Azumi, accompanied by Ginkaku and his gang, continues to Sanada's redoubt. But he and his forces have already left to attack Tenkai. Azumi rushes off for a final showdown to save the priest, kill Sanada, and hopefully usher in a period of peace and stability for Japan under the Tokogawa shogun.
Aya Ueto reprises her role as Azumi. Still a teenager when this sequel went into production, she again does a fine job conveying Azumi's inner conflicts. On the one hand she yearns for a "normal" life, perhaps with someone special and even children. This impulse is made stronger by her encounter with Ginkaku. On the other hand, she cannot ignore her duty to complete the mission for which so many of her friends have already died.
Azumi 2 is helmed by Shusuke Kaneko, who has also directed the Death Note movie and its sequel. He does a good job with the material, though he doesn't seem to have quite the panache of Ryuhei Kitamura, the director of the first Azumi, when it comes to fighting scenes.
Indeed, these scenes are a bit of a letdown compared to those of the first film. I mentioned that the climactic fight in Azumi, the one that pits her against Bijomaru, is like a great boss battle in a good video game. In Azumi 2, the main challenges are from three members of the Kogan Ninja Clan, who fight for Lord Sanada. They are more like sub-bosses, and Azumi in some cases needs assistance in dispatching them, instead of handling them one-on-one. Thus she comes across as somewhat less formidable than in the first film.
All things considered, Azumi 2 is a good movie and well worth watching, a decent if not quite stellar sequel to the original. The extra features are rather limited, but that's not surprising when one considers that the two-disc DVD of the first film was packed with extras. Still, interviews with the director and producer, even brief ones, would've been nice.
Overall I give the Azumi 2 DVD, which was recently released by Urban Vision Entertainment, a 3 out of 4 star rating, solidly recommended.
- English 5.1 Surround
- Japanese 5.1 Surround
- Optional English Subtitles
DVD Special Features:
- Through the Eyes of Azumi featurette
- Image Gallery