With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Thursday, December 31, 2009

ACF 442: Happy Birthday, Gong Li!

Gong Li as the Empress in Curse of the Golden Flower
Image copyright 2006 Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc

Gong Li
was born December 31st, 1965, in Shenyang, Liaoning Province, China and graduated from the Central Drama Academy in Beijing in 1989. While still a student, she was cast as the female lead in the 1987 release Hong gao liang (aka Red Sorghum), the initial directing effort of Zhang Yimou. She starred in a number of his other films, including Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern, over the next several years and reunited with him for Curse of the Golden Flower (2006). Her work in the films of other notable Chinese directors includes Farewell My Concubine by Chen Kaige and Wong Kar Wai's 2046.

Talented and lovely, she has won numerous awards as Best Actress or Female Actor, and has been named as one of the "sexiest movies stars" or "most beautiful" women in various lists.

Unfortunately, her Hollywood films (Memoirs of a Geisha, Miami Vice, Hannibal Rising) thus far have failed to strike Box Office gold. Ms. Gong is due to be seen next in the period piece Shanghai, which has a January 1, 2010 release date. She also is set to star along with Mickey Rourke, Forest Whitaker, and Ray Winstone in Walter Hill's St. Vincent, which currently is in pre-production. Hopefully we'll continue to see her in Western as well as Eastern productions for many years to come.

Gong Li @ IMDb
Gong Li @ WikipedeaGong Li @ Fandango

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

ACF 441: Samurai Films by Roland Thorne

This book was one of those 'faith' purchases I make every now and then. It was 'recommended' by Amazon.com based on my other purchases of Asian film related books. Because the book seemed interesting and was reasonably priced, I decided to take a chance on it. While it has its faults, overall I'm quite happy I bought it and consider it a worthwhile addition to my collection.

Roland Thorne is a writer based in Australia and this is his first book. He rather broadly defines samurai films to include other Japanese swordplay movies. This is actually tipped off by the cover photo of Takeshi Katano in his 2003 version of 'Zatoichi,' which he both directed and starred in. Zatoichi is a blind masseur and, despite his visual handicap, a master swordsman, but he most definitely is not a samurai. Still, Thorne shouldn't be faulted for this decision, as he has picked terrific films to discuss, whether actually concerning samurai or considering swordspersons in general. Furthermore all his picks are readily available on DVD.

The first chapters briefly discuss the history of the samurai and of samurai films, some important directors, and a few of the major stars. The bulk of the book is devoted to actual reviews , and takes a chronological approach. Information about each film - including the Japanese title - is followed by sections devoted to plot summary, analysis, and a verdict of the films worthiness.

The writing at times is a bit repetitive, and Thorne has a tendency to overuse the phrases "worthy of mention, 'should be commended,' and variations of them. Also the images are somewhat disappointing: most of them appear to be screenshots that are not particularly sharp.

Occassionally his statements are rather questionnable, to say the least. For example, on page 23 he writes: “Beginning with the excellent Rashomon, Kurosawa made one classic film after the other, throughout the 1950s and 60s” [emphasis mine]. In fact, Kurosawa's next film after Rashomon was The Idiot (1951), which was a critical and box office failure. In Something Like An Autobiography, Kurosawa wrote that if it hadn't been for the awards that he received for Rashomon, he would have had to "eat cold rice" because The Idiot would have seriously derailed his career. And several of his other post-Rashomon films, while worthwhile, are hardly deserving of being called "classics."

Still, Thorne writes about films that anyone interested in samurai or Japanese swordplay films should know about. I've seen almost all the films covered and I think he has done an essentially sound job in describing and discussing them. I learned a fair number of new things.

Samurai Films is a very worthwhile guide book for viewers new, or relatively new, to samurai and swordplay cinema. However, if you're already very knowledgeable, it may not be of particularly great value.

Monday, December 21, 2009

ACF 440: VIZ DVD releases for January 2010

VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media) has announced their list of DVD titles scheduled for release in January 2010. This includes the first box set of NARUTO SHIPPUDEN in regular and special editions, the next installments in POKÉMON ELEMENTS, as well as the latest episodic releases of the popular BLEACH and NARUTO SHIPPUDEN series. VIZ Media DVD titles are distributed (in English) in the U.S and Mexico by Warner Home Video and in Canada by Allegro.

SHONEN JUMP releases include:

NARUTO SHIPPUDEN Special Edition Box Set 1 · Rated 'T+' for Older Teens · MSRP: $69.97 US / $99.99 CAN · Available January 26

Naruto Uzumaki is back! After two and a half years of training on the road with Jiraiya of the Sannin, Naruto is back in the Village Hidden in the Leaves, and he's ready to show off his new skills. He and Sakura team up to take on their old master Kakashi, who's pretty impressed with their progress. They'll have plenty of opportunity to put it into action when news arrives from the Sand Village that Gaara, Naruto's former rival and now Kazekage of the Sand, has been kidnapped! And the culprits are the very same group who are after Naruto--the Akatsuki! The Special Edition Box Set features 13 episodes on 3 discs and also includes a collectible NARUTO Shippuden Mininja figure.

NARUTO SHIPPUDEN Box Set 1 Standard Edition · Rated 'T+' for Older Teens · MSRP: $49.95 US / $71.99 CAN · Available January 26

DVD-only collection featuring 13 episodes from the hit series on 3 discs; (collectible figure is not included.)

NARUTO SHIPPUDEN Volume 5 · Rated 'T+' for Older Teens · MSRP: $24.92 US / $35.99 CAN · Available January 12

Team Guy and Team Kakashi finally reach the Akatsuki hideout, only to encounter a tricky five-seal barrier that triggers an even stranger trap. While Team Guy face some pretty tough opponents--themselves!--Kakashi and Naruto must take off after Deidara who has absconded with Gaara. Sakura and Granny Chiyo are left behind to confront Sasori of the Red Sand. Granny Chiyo may be the only one with the ability to see through his many complex traps and skilled puppetry, but even one scratch from his poisoned weapons could mean instant death!

BLEACH Volume 24 · Rated ‘T’ for Teens · MSRP: $24.92 US / $35.99 CAN · Available January 19

Captain Toshiro Hitsugaya is assigned to lead the defense of the Soul Society and mobilize the Soul Reapers to find and kill the intruding Bounts. But the Bount leader Jin Kariya has gathered a huge mob of ruffians and plans to use them in his quest for revenge. Meanwhile, it is discovered that Maki Ichinose, the banished Soul Reaper helping the Bounts, has infiltrated the Seireitei and has been secretly manipulating their data. What strategies will play out, and how can Ichigo and his allies stop them?

New POKÉMON Releases Include:

POKÉMON ELEMENTS, Volume 7: Psychic · Rated 'A' for All Ages · MSRP: $9.98 US/ $14.99 CAN · Available January 26

POKÉMON ELEMENTS, Volume 8: Dragon · Rated 'A' for All Ages · MSRP: $9.98 US / $14.99 CAN · Available January 26

Following the POKÉMON All Star series set, the POKÉMON: ELEMENTS collection consists of the most important episodes commemorating the different types of Pokémon characters. Each disc showcases a Pokémon type with three all-time favorite episodes.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

ACF 439: GHOST HOUND and TO LOVE RU anime DVDs now on sale

Section23 Films has announced two new anime DVDs from Sentai Filmworks: the first installment of the interplanetary romantic comedy To Love Ru and the final volume of the supernatural thriller Ghost Hound. Both new releases are available now.

Ghost Hound Collection 2 concludes Production IG’s 20th Anniversary Project, a haunting series about three friends who learn to project their consciousness into a parallel world – just as that spirit world threatens to collide with our own! Created by anime legend Masamune Shirow (Ghost in the Shell, Appleseed), this lavish production is a fitting tribute to Prodution IG’s twenty years of anime excellence.

SYNOPSIS: Teenager Taro Komori and his friends are getting used to the experience of soul traveling – leaving their bodies to travel in spirit form unseen by others. But something sinister is brewing in the Hidden Realm. The spirits are restless and a malevolent ghost is appearing with increasing frequency. In the “real” world, an out of favor religious cult is finding dozens of new converts, especially among high ranking politicians. And just what the scientists at Dai Nippon Bio are up to is a question in need of an answer. Can Taro and his friends find the answers they need in time to save their friends and family? Find out in the dramatic conclusion to Masamune Shirow’s psychology masterpiece Ghost Hound!

Running Time: 275 min.
Age Rating: TV 14
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
Published by: Sentai Filmworks
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Format: DVD
SRP: $59.98

To Love Ru Collection 1 is an interstellar romantic comedy that reminds us just seriously how close encounters with aliens can wreck your social life. With 13 episodes on two discs, this collection is loaded with laffs!

SYNOPSIS: One should always understand other people’s customs before making commitments. Unfortunately, Rito Yuki had no idea the planet Develuke even existed when their Princess Lala teleported naked into his bathtub, let alone that touching a girl’s breasts is how they propose marriage! Given that he was IN the tub when she appeared, and slippery soap suds being what they are, Rito’s now engaged to a beautiful girl with a pointed tail. Worse, various aliens are showing up on missions of varying hostile intent; the girl that Rito REALLY loves is still completely unaware of his feelings; and all of the new customs he’s got to learn seem to involve touching a girl’s chest! (Okay, maybe he’ll get used to that last one, but he’s still in high school and a bit intimidated.) Can a nice boy from Japan become the next King of Galaxy A or will he just end up feeling like a boob? Keep abreast of further developments in To Love Ru Collection 1!

Running Time: 325 min.
Age Rating: TV 14
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
Published by: Sentai Filmworks
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Format: DVD
SRP: $39.98

Saturday, December 19, 2009

ACF 438: "Oishinbo a la Carte, Vol 7 - Izakaya: Pub Food" due out January 2010


Izakaya: Pub Food, The Last Hand-Selected Volume
Out Of A 100+ Volume Hit Series
Exploring Essential Elements Of Japanese Cuisine
Will Soon Be Here!

In my December 10th review of Oishinbo Vol. 6: The Joy of Rice, I mentioned that the seventh and final volume would be coming out in January, 2010. Well, VIZ Media has announced the planned release of the final volume of the mega hit food manga for January 19th. Volume 7, Izayaya: Pub Food is rated ‘T’ for Teens and carries an estimated retail price of $12.99 US and $16.99 CAN.

Izakaya occupies the same vital space in the Japanese culinary landscape as tapas bars in Spain or tavernas in Greece. Unpretentious and frequently boisterous, they're places to meet with friends or business partners to unwind over drinks and small dishes that range from hearty standards to refined innovations. In this volume of OISHINBO, Yamaoka and Kurita investigate classic Izakaya foods such as edamame and yakitori, devise new dishes to add to the menu of an old shop, and discover how the concept of "play" is essential to the enjoyment of food.

OISHINBO creator Tetsu Kariya, writer and essayist extraordinaire graduated from prestigious Tokyo University. Kariya was employed with a major advertising agency before making his debut as a manga writer in 1974 when he teamed up with legendary manga artist Ryoichi Ikegami to create Otoko Gumi (Male Gang). The worlds of food and manga were forever changed in 1983 when Kariya, together with artist Akira Hanasaki, created the immensely popular and critically acclaimed OISHINBO.

“Fans of Japanese cuisine and culture have been delighted with every volume of the critically acclaimed OISHINBO series and we are excited to bring them this final volume that covers the excitement of izakaya,” says Evelyn Dubocq, Sr. Director of Public Relations, VIZ Media.

OISHINBO (or “The Gourmet") depicts the adventures of journalist Shiro Yamaoka, who writes for the fictional newspaper Tozai News. When the paper’s top executives decide to create “The Ultimate Menu” to celebrate the paper’s 100th anniversary, Yamaoka, known for his reputation as a foodie with culinary skills to match, is given the daunting assignment. With the help of his coworker Kurita, Yamaoka begins an epic saga to find unique and tasty dishes that will compose this ultimate bill of fare. Each volume of OISHINBO focuses on specific foods and culinary trends such as sake, sushi, vegetables, rice dishes, ramen, and Izakaya (pub food). VIZ Media has served up selected highlights from this epic 100+ volume series and compiled them into seven a la carte editions that can be enjoyed individually or as a series. OISINBO has further inspired a 136-episode anime series, a live-action film and TV dramas, video games, recipe collections, and TV shows in Japan.

For more information on OISHINBO and other VIZ Media titles please visit www.Viz.com.

Friday, December 18, 2009

ACF 437: "Ear To The Ground: Tokyo" - Free, Legal 18 Track Music Download

LimeWire Store and New York – Tokyo Present:

I learned about this in an email from New York-Tokyo. It's not only a free, legal download of 18 tracks, but a damn fine one. A terrific offer you should take advantage of.

Here's the basic info:

Ear To The Ground: Tokyo is an exclusive collaboration between LimeWire Store and New York – Tokyo. LimeWire Store’s Ear To The Ground series of FREE digital music compilations spotlights a different city for each release, and Ear To The Ground: Tokyo is the series’ 15th installment! New York – Tokyo has selected a group of artists that represent the current progressive music scenes of Tokyo. They are the tastemakers within their scenes: from their fashions to the artwork on their album covers, these creative artists are making an effort to stand out in the crowded urban setting of Tokyo.

And here's the link to the LimeWire website for Ear To The Ground: Tokyo.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

ACF 436: Natsume Ono's manga "not simple" from VIZ Media

NOT SIMPLE © 2006 Natsume ONO/Shogakukan)

Emotional Slice-of-Life Story About A Man’s Search For Family, Love And His Place In The World Engages Fans Of Both Manga And U.S. Indie Comics

Preview On SigIKKI.com after December 17th, 2009

VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media) kicks off 2010 with the release on January 19th of Natsume Ono’s manga, not simple. The story, contained in a single volume, is rated ‘T+’ for Older Teens, will be published by the VIZ Signature imprint and carries an MSRP of $14.99 U.S. / $19.99 CAN.

To celebrate this launch, a preview of the prologue of not simple will be available on SigIKKI.com, VIZ Media’s premiere website for presenting a diverse collection of titles which include the most inventive, bold, and compelling titles in the world of contemporary manga.

not simple follows Ian, a young man with a fractured family history, as he travels from Australia to England and on to America in the hope of realizing his dreams and reuniting with his beloved sister. His story unfolds backwards through the framing narrative of Jim, a reporter driven to capture Ian's experiences in a novel titled not simple.

“This new release will captivate readers with its unconventional story and artwork,” says Gonzalo Ferreyra, Vice President Sales & Marketing, VIZ Media. “Natsume Ono’s art blends manga aesthetics with a graphic style reminiscent of many western indie and alternative comics, and fans of both genres will enjoy this title. We also welcome not simple as the newest addition to SigIKKI.com, the hottest outlet for online manga. Fans can check out the prologue chapter after December 17th at www.SigIKKI.com!

Another of Ono’s manga series, HOUSE OF FIVE LEAVES, is an action drama about samurai during the height of the shogun's rule in Edo-era Japan and is also currently serialized on SigIKKI.com.

Natsume Ono is one of today's top creators of seinen manga – designed for adult readers of mature and more sophisticated stories. She made her professional debut in 2003 with the web comic LA QUINTA CAMERA and subsequent works not simple, Ristorante Paradiso, and GENTE (a continuation of Ristorante Paradiso) have met with both critical and popular acclaim. In 2009 Ristorante Paradiso was adapted into an animated TV series. Her manga drama HOUSE OF FIVE LEAVES (Saraiya Goyou) is currently published in Japan in IKKI magazine.

For more information on this title please visit http://www.sigikki.com/. For information on all other VIZ Media titles please visit http://www.viz.com/.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

ACF 435: Korean Talismans of Protection at The Korea Society through January 29, 2010

Key Charm with a Medallion and Commemorative Coins

A rare collection of locks, latches, and key charms from the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910) are on view at The Korea Society through January 29, 2010. The objects are on loan from the Lock Museum in Seoul and are being shown in the U.S. for the first time.

Fish-Shaped Lock

These beautifully designed metal and wood objects come in myriad shapes and reveal the richly symbolic and exquisitely decorative dimensions of the traditional Korean aesthetic.

Clockwise from top right: Drum-shaped lock; Lock with silver inlay; Embroidered key charm

And here's a suggestion: If you're going to see tomorrow night's screening of Korean Ghost Stories, which starts at 6:30 PM, arrive a bit early and check out this interesting and intimate exhibit.

For further info and gallery hours, click here.

The Korea Society
950 Third Avenue @ 57th Street, 8th Floor
(Building entrance on SW corner of 3rd Ave. and 57th St.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

ACF 434: Serizawa textiles on exhibit at Japan Society through January 17, 2010

Serizawa: Master of Japanese Textile Design
Japan Society Gallery
Through January 17, 2010

Obi (Sash) Length, Scenes in Okinawa, stencil-dyed crepe silk

Last Friday my wife Francesca, who weaves and knits, and I, who do neither, took in this exhibit at Japan Society. Both of us marveled at the creations of Serizawa Keisuke (1895-1984). They made it readily apparent why he was deemed a "Living National Treasure" during his lifetime.

Noren (Entrance Curtain), Knots in the form of
the Chinese character Kotobuki (long life), stencil-dyed cotton

Serizawa was a master of stencil-dying. His works of art, based on craft techniques, covered a broad range of media, such as screens, kimonos, book covers, magazine designs, and entrance curtains. He also utilized a wide variety of materials: cotton, silk, hemp, and other fibers, all decorated with beautiful natural dyes.

Chinese character hana (flower), stencil-dyed tsumugi-weave silk

The above images are from scans I made of the three postcards that are on sale. A fully illustrated catalog can be ordered online or purchased at Japan Society.

But Serizawa's creations deserve to be seen and appreciated in person, if at all possible.

For further information and gallery hours, click here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

ACF 433: Two episodes of Korean Ghost Stories to screen at The Korea Society

The Korea Society
950 Third Avenue @ 57th Street, 8th Floor
(Building entrance on SW corner of 3rd Ave. and 57th St.)

The second installment of The Korea Society's Korean Ghost Stories mini-series features two spine-tingling episodes. Haunted House and The Reincarnated Princess will be shown this Thursday, December 17, 2009, starting at 6:30 PM. Both were originally shown on the KBS television series Korean Ghost Stories, which was also known as Hometown of Legend. They will be presented in Korean with English subtitles.

This is the second of the two-part mini-series. The first, on November 19th, featured a fascinating and informative introduction by Heinz Insu Fenki, both an author and the director of Interstitial Studies Institute at Suny New Paltz. This was followed by a screening of Nine-Tailed Fox, a marvelous tale of a clan that uses the harshest means imaginable to hide a dark secret about some of its women.

Haunted House

In Haunted House (starring Lee Duck-hwa, Lee Min-woo, and Yoo Hye-jung), the ghost of a young woman haunts the family members who sold her into a life of corruption.

The Reincarnated Princess

Two sisters return from the grave to seduce and punish the men who killed them in The Reincarnated Princess (starring Lee Jin, Kang Sung-min, and Lee Ji-hyun).

For further information, click here.

Korean Ghost Stories is a presentation of The Korea Society with support from

Sunday, December 13, 2009

ACF 432: 20th Century Boys 1 DVD due out this Tuesday, December 15th from VIZ

20th Century Boys 1
© 1999, 2006 Naoki Urasawa, Studio Nuts / Shogakukan
© 2008 “20th Century Boys” Film Partners

20th Century Boys 1: Beginning of the End
Directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi
Japan, 2008, 142 min.

20th Century Boys 1: Beginning of the End, the first film in a trilogy based on Naoki Urasawa's hugely popular manga, is due out on DVD this Tuesday, December 15th from VIZ Pictures, the live-action division of VIZ Media. Both this film and its immediate sequel 20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope had their New York premieres at this past summer's New York Asian Film Festival. I was unable to go to a screening of either of them, so I was glad to get an advance screener of this upcoming release.

The film begins in 2015 in the Disciplinary Cells of Umihotaru Prison, a clearly high-security lock-up on a barge located in a bay, presumably Tokyo's. Two prisoners who can't see one another are talking, one of them recounting the story of a hero to the other, a hapless manga artist.

That story, and the bulk of the film, is set in the late 1990s. It concerns several individuals, roughly in their late twenties, who were close friends in their youth. Kenji Endo (Toshiaki Karasawa) was the leader of the group in 1969. He later went on to play guitar in a rock band, but now (late '90s) manages a convenience store and takes care of his young niece, whose mother, Kenji's sister, disappeared sometime ago. Among his friends are long-haired Otcho (Etsuishi Toyokawa) and Yukiki Setoguchi (Takako Tokiwa), a lovely female police officer.

The group comes together again as a mysterious cult led by a man who wears a mask and is known only as "Friend" has emerged. Numerous individuals have disappeared, just like Kenji's sister, and one of their friends has met an untimely and bizarre death. At the same time, catastrophic events have begun occurring around the world, events that seem to be replicating fantasies in Kenji's "The Book of Prophecy" which he wrote years earlier to entertain his young friends. As the new millennium approached, is the world heading towards the apocalypse he predicted? And who is this "Friend" and what role, if any does he have in these strange occurrences?

Intercut within the general "flashback" to the late 1990s are further flashbacks to 1969, when Kenji and his friends hung out in a "clubhouse" fashioned from tall grass and when he wrote "The Book of Prophecy." One of the very nice touches here is the expert casting of the younger counterparts of the various characters. Each really bears a strong resemblance to their grown-up personage, which aids in reinforcing their individual characteristics.

20th Century Boys 1 is blessed with an intriguing story line, solid directing, and fine acting. My only regret was that I didn't have the next two volumes available to pop into my DVD. I can't wait to see the two remaining films and find out what happens.

ACF rating: 3.5 out of 4 stars (very good, highly recommended).

The 20th Century Boys 1 DVD will have an M.S.R.P. of $24.92 US and $35.99 CAN. Sorry, but I don't have any info at this time about special features on the DVD.

But I have been informed that 20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope is scheduled to be released in February, 2010, also by VIZ Pictures. No word yet on when 20th Century Boys 3: Redemption, which premiered in Japan in August, 2009, will be out, but I expect it to be sometime later next year.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

ACF 430: Oishinbo a la Carte - The Joy of Rice


The latest installment in the Oishinbo a la Carte manga series recently became available from VIZ Media. This one is all about that quintessential Japanese food, rice. It covers such topics as the optimum moisture content of rice grains before cooking, when organic brown rice can be very unhealthy, foods that actually taste better with rice than by themselves, and dishes in which other items are either cooked separately or together with the rice.

All this is remarkably entertaining as well as informative.

Rice of course has been of major importance to the Japanese for millennia. So much so that it was used as a unit of monetary exchange, the koku (approximately 330 lbs of rice), and of a daimyo's (feudal Japanese lord's) wealth. Estates were appraised by how many koku of rice they could produce.

By coincidence, shortly after reading this volume, I happened to watch Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill again. In it, Jo Shishido's character has a thing for smelling fresh cooked rice. In an interview on the Criterion DVD, Suzuki explains that since the character was an assassin, he did not think the character would crave the smell of cooked meat. So instead, Suzuki says, he decided to use rice, the most Japanese of all foods.

Oishinbo ("The Gourmet") has sold over 100 million copies since it began publication in 1983. The VIZ a la carte editions compile selected highlights by topic. Consequently, the narrative is sometimes non-chronological. That is, developments in the story line that occur in one edition may not have yet occurred at points in a subsequent edition. Fortunately, there's a concise, easy to use appendix of notes at the end of each volume. Here such "temporal dislocations" are explained, and additional terms are described.

The Joy of Rice is another fine volume in this terrific manga series, which is definitely one of my favorites. The only downside about it that occurs to me is that, like every other volume, it made me hungry and wishing that I was wealthy enough to fly to Japan and eat and drink nothing but the best of the national cuisine!

Finally, for your info, the next and I believe final a la carte edition will explore the world of izakaya - Japanese bars and drinking establishments. It's due to be available in January 2010.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

ACF 429: Section23 Films announces two more DVD releases

Section23 Films has announced the release of Clannad After Story Collection 2, the latest anime release from Sentai Filmworks, as well as the live-action Japanese thriller Gun-Kyu ~ War Pigeon from Switchblade Pictures. Both DVDs are available now.

Anime fans have been following the Clannad saga since the blockbuster launched two years ago. Now the journey comes to an end with Clannad After Story Collection 2, a two -disc release containing the final 13 episodes of the Clannad saga.

SYNOPSIS: The course of love doesn’t always run true. Nagisa may have accepted Tomoya’s proposal, but her father, Akio, withholds his permission until Tomoya can meet his terms… and even if that can be achieved, darker clouds are gathering that will shatter their dreams forever, as Nagisa’s health begins declining. When what should be a happy moment turns instead into tragedy, Tomoya’s rage and frustration at being unable to do more than be by Nagisa’s side leaves him unable to handle the responsibility left to him. But the story is not yet over, and there is still another act to follow. Happiness can still be attained, provided that Tomoya holds onto love, the most precious thing of all. The grand climax, plus several enchanting side stories, await in the second collection of CLANNAD AFTER STORY.

Running Time: 325 min.
Age Rating: TV PG
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
Published by: Sentai Filmworks
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Format: DVD
SRP: $39.98

Beware the doves of war! Next up is Gun-Kyu ~ War Pigeon, the new live-action thriller from Switchblade Pictures. With all the chills and suspense you’ve come to expect from Japanese horror, plus the violence, adult situations, and nudity you crave, Gun-Kyu is a worthy addition to the Switchblade catalog!

SYNOPSIS: Ever since that fatal incident in college, Kanako has sensed them. A sound behind her… an object moving at the corner of her vision. Birds. Cooing, taunting birds… But are they real, or just in her head? As she struggles to perform her duties teaching marine biology, the images of pigeons slowly begin to drive her to the edge of insanity, until even drugs and alcohol no longer offer her protection. And what if they aren’t figments of her imagination? What if that strange rumor she heard at the crime scene was true? If it was, then the real nightmare is only beginning! Vengeance has wings and the sky is filled with terror in GUN-KYU!

Running Time: 77 min.
Age Rating: Unrated (contains violence, adult situations, and nudity)
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
Published by: Switchblade Pictures
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Format: DVD
SRP: $19.98

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

ACF 428: Samurai Vendetta kicks off new series at Japan Society this Friday, Dec 11th

All images © 1959 Kadokawa Pictures, Inc.

Samurai Vendetta / Hakuoki
(a.k.a. A Chronicle of Pale Cherry Blossoms)
Directed by Kazuo Mori
Japan, 1959, 109 min
In Japanese with English subtitles

The Double-Edged Sword: The Chambara Films of Shintaro Katsu & Raizo Ichikawa is the name of Japan Society's new monthly film series. It kicks off this Friday, December 11th at 7:30 PM with a screening of Samurai Vendetta (Hakuoki). This 1959 film stars both actors as expert swordsmen from rival schools.

This rivalry has resulted in numerous duels. To end the bloodshed, each are sacrificed by the heads of their schools by kicking them out. The two are also rivals who each love the same woman. But both are highly honorable, sort of a samurai version of "frenemies."

I first encountered Raizo Ichikawa in his title role in the Nemuri Kyoshiro series, a.k.a. Sleepy Eyes of Death. (The fourth film in that series will also be screened as part of The Double-Edged Sword). In fact, I still have several films in the series on VHS tapes that AnimEigo put out under their Samurai Cinema brand. Ichikawa died a tragically early death from cancer in 1969, just shy of his 38th birthday.

Raizo Ichikawa is probably best known for his roles as Zatoichi and as Hanzo the Razor. It's terrific seeing him paired off with Ichikawa in this epic swordplay variation on the story of the 47 Ronin.

I had the opportunity to watch a screener of Samurai Vendetta and really enjoyed it. So much so that I'm going to the opening night screening and see it again!

This series has been curated by Chris D. (a.k.a. Chris Desjardins), author of Outlaw Masters of Japanese Film (a fine book that I'm about half-way through), and is an updated version of a series he presented in Los Angeles in 2002. He's slated to be present for the opening night festivities, which will include a reception and book signing in addition to the screening.

For more information, go to my November 24th post, or to this page at the Japan Society website.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

ACF 427: Naoki Urasawa's "MONSTER" available Tuesday, Dec 8th as DVD Box Set


Animated Crime Drama Based On Smash Hit Manga Series Weaves
An Intricate Tale of Conspiracy, Political Intrigue and Murder

Naoki Urasawa’s MONSTER is scheduled to be released as a DVD Box Set from VIZ Media next Tuesday, December 8th.

Based on the acclaimed manga creator’s tense psychological masterpiece, MONSTER Box Set 1 features 3 DVDs/15 episodes (episodes 1-15), is rated ‘M’ for Mature Audiences, and carries a suggested MSRP of $59.90 U.S. / $85.99 CAN. The DVD box set will also include an exclusive digital booklet, which is a digitized version of the original Japanese booklet.

What would you do if a child you saved grew up to be a Monster? An ice-cold killer is on the loose, and Dr. Kenzo Tenma is the only one who can stop him! Tenma, a brilliant neurosurgeon with a promising future, risks his career to save the life of a critically wounded young boy named Johan. When the boy, now a coldhearted and charismatic young man, reappears nine years later in the midst of a string of unusual serial murders, Tenma must go on the run to uncover the story of Johan and stop the Monster he set loose upon the world. Conspiracies, serial murders, and secret government experiments set against the grim backdrop of the former East Germany are masterfully woven together in this compelling psychological drama. The critically acclaimed MONSTER manga series is also published in North America by VIZ Media and was nominated for a prestigious Eisner Award in 2009.

“Naoki Urasawa’s MONSTER is a real must-see for any true fan of anime, suspense or crime dramas,” says Brian Ige, VIZ Media Director of Sales, Home Entertainment “The animated series follows in a fine tradition of psychological crime noir ranging from Hitchcock and Mickey Spillane to Silence of the Lambs and CSI. All the tension and drama that made Urasawa’s manga such a masterpiece comes to life, and audiences will be glued to the screen when Dr. Tenma matches wits with a monstrous serial killer!”

Naoki Urasawa’s MONSTER is also featured each Monday night on Syfy’s Ani-Monday block, and re-broadcasted the week after on SyFy’s sister network, Chiller, which airs a variety of horror and suspense-themed programs. Check local listings for specific airtimes.

For more information on MONSTER the anime, please visit Monster.viz.com.

For more information on Naoki Urasawa’s MONSTER manga series (rated ‘T+’ for Older Teens), please visit www.vizsignature.com/monster.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

ACF 426: New Live-Action Double Feature DVD Released by Section 23 Films

Section23 Films has announced the DVD release of the Makiriko / Battler Sienne Matra Double Feature from Switchblade Pictures.

This special release contains two high-octane live-action features on one disc – because after all, what goes best with swords, sex and sorcery better than a second serving?

SYNOPSIS: The monsters, maidens and mayhem are out of control as Switchblade Pictures dishes out a double helping of double-breasted demon hunting goodness! First up: MAKIRIKO, which transposes the perennial anime premise of high-school heroine with a giant sword into live action reality! When sailor-suited warrior Makiriko shows up at a new school, there are two immediate clues that trouble is brewing: 1) the soul sucking demons taking over the student bodies; and 2) the talking green demon thing sitting on her shoulder that tells her trouble is brewing!

Then get ready for babes, blades and bare-chested battles galore as a nubile ninjette in training must confront her treacherous sister student, a possessed demon hand and the even more monstrous monster master to which the hand belongs. Why she thinks a tiny leather bikini is the appropriate garb for this is anyone’s guess, but that’s why she’s BATTLER SIENNA MATRA!

Two totally twisted fantasy thrillers on one great Switchblade DVD… because they know you like things that come in pairs!

Running Time: 60 min. + 67 min.
Age Rating: Unrated (Contains Violence, Nudity)
Language: Japanese with English Subtitles
Published by: Switchblade Pictures
Distributed by: Section23 Films
Format: DVD
SRP: $39.98

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

ACF 425: Comedy Manga "Butterflies, Flowers" available today from VIZ



Zany Comedy About Office Romance And Social Class Introduces
The ‘Josei’ Genre Of Manga Aimed At Older Female Readers

VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media) has announced the North American debut today, December 1st, of BUTTERFLIES, FLOWERS, a new manga series that takes place against a backdrop of office romance and social class. BUTTERFLIES, FLOWERS, published under the Shojo Beat imprint, is rated ‘M’ for Mature Audiences and carries an MSRP of $9.99 U.S. / $12.99 CAN.

Choko Kuze is the sensible daughter of a venerable family who went bankrupt. She joins a real estate company as an entry-level office worker, but her eccentric boss is harder on her than anyone else in the company! After hearing him inadvertently call her "milady," she realizes he was the young servant boy she knew as a child. At work he's a tyrant, but after hours he insists on treating her like a lady of the nobility. Is romance even possible for a couple locked in such a crazy role reversal?

BUTTERFLIES, FLOWERS is a josei manga, a comic aimed primarily at female readers over the age of 18,” says Candice Uyloan, Director Brand Marketing, VIZ Media. “Readers familiar with the genre will enjoy this lighthearted story that is often funny and more than a bit sexy. As shojo manga readers mature and their interests expand, we are delighted to be able to offer titles that are aimed at a grown up audience. We look forward to readers discovering this zany romantic comedy.”

BUTTERFLIES, FLOWERS was created by Yuki Yoshihara. She debuted in 1988 with Chanel no Sasayaki which appeared in the pages Betsucomi magazine. Yoshihara is also the creator of numerous josei manga series including Darling wa Namamono ni Tsuki and Itadakimasu.