Blade of the Immortal (Japan, 2017)


Takashi Miike is known for trying his hand at any film genre. His penchant however, tends toward the macabre, the violent and the humorous. In recent years, the director has focused on live action remakes of animated series and manga. Blade of the Immortal is his 2017 offering, and marks his 100th feature film. Rather fittingly, Blade is about a samurai known as Hundred Killer. With 100 kills to his name, Manji won’t stop until he has destroyed every cranky crook and every moody mercenary. He has revenge in his spirit, and worms in his blood that keep him alive no matter how much he wishes to die.

If one is familiar with the animated series, the interestingly casted Takuya Kimura (who is normally cast in drama roles, and is part of recently defunct boy-band SMAP) pulls off a convincing Manji. Stylishly coiffed and scarred, he is a lone wolf cursed with Continue reading


Tokyo TIFF 2017: Hana and Alice (Japan, 2004)



Shunji Iwai is known for his lengthy coming-of-age films. Most are constructed around relatively simple ideas, but utilize an elaborate route to tell the story. This is a hit-or-miss technique, but usually the pay-off is a gentle portrayal of life, with beauty hidden between its pocks. Hana and Alice is about a pair of friends who are learning what life has in store for them – friendships, family relationships, boys, future careers – the usual things 15-year old deal with. Its beauty is in its lyricism. It’s more of a visual poem than an ordinary story with a beginning, middle and end. The airy script may be better received if the viewer knows ahead of time, that the film was originally a series of shorts. They were part of a 30th anniversary celebration for Kit-Kat in Japan. Without this knowledge, as a standalone feature film Continue reading

Tokyo TIFF 2017: Gukou Roku (Japan, 2017)



Both fiction and documentary writers are often taught to show instead of tell. Kei Ishikawa does a little of both in Gukou Roku (Traces of Sin) with more emphasis on telling. In this complex, talky murder mystery, various people give their take on how the “perfect family” might have come to be assassinated. For once, the telling method is a brilliant way to show a bloody massacre without a drop of blood or a glint of a knife. All violence is either described verbally or muted visually. It forces the viewer to think. To imagine. To create the scene from a character’s words rather than to rely on gratuitous onscreen carnage.

The unsolved case is the central theme linking every character, but on a deeper level, Gukou Roku isn’t about murder. It explores the psychological damage caused by the friction between Outsiders and Insiders. It tackles abuse of power between the sexes. At a moment in our sociological history where women are hashtagging #metoo about sexual and emotional harassment by men, the film is on point. Men are Continue reading

Fantasia 2017: Cocolors (Japan, 2017)



Blind faith in the reality of an outside world pushes Cocolors’ protagonists ahead in a mission to see what they’ve been told that they cannot. Toshihisa Yokoshima’s animated gem constructs a dystopia where children still act like kids despite their full-body protective gear, and the frailness their society’s inhabitants have inherited. Living underground after a natural disaster, Aki tries to bring hope to himself and everyone around him, but his words fall flat. His friend, Fuyu (re)invents the traditional Japanese art of woodblock printing. He is missing just one special ink color to complete his piece. Alas, it only exists “out there”.

Fatalism is pit against naive optimism in a toon shaded digital animation world (toon shading creates flat color areas – similar to woodblock printing techniques – instead of rendering objects with 3D volume). Set to a lovely score by Abe Ryudai and Hirose Kiyoshi, Cocolors premiered in Japan as a multimedia performance where Continue reading

Fantasia 2017: Rage (Lee Sang-il, 2016)



Without knowing in advance about the premise or plot, Rage throws at-first disjointed events and characters at the viewer. The connections slowly unfurl with a manhunt revealing three possible identities of a murderer. If however, the viewer goes into this 142-minute drama cum suspense thriller with the notion that it is a horror film, this isn’t the case. Perhaps by design, the mis-typing of Lee Sang-il’s film gives it the advantage of surprising its audience. It is Shunji Iwai-esque in its epic-length and treatment of subject matter. It follows multiple characters – misfits – whose confusion and grief propel their coming-of-age. Scenic Okinawan locations are juxtaposed against the neons of Tokyo, and the viewer is drawn into the relation between characters and environment.

Rarely seen in Japanese film, the gay community is surprisingly well showcased. Rage tackles several still-taboo subjects in this area, such as online hookups, what constitutes a ‘family’, and how to deal with chosen-family burial. The exchanges between characters in this story arc are Continue reading