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5 Modern Japanese Movies Everyone Should See: Summer Wars

The Best Movie of 2009

So here we are, a little over a month later and the last selection of 5 Modern Japanese Movies Everyone Should See. The point of these articles was to demonstrate that the Japanese have a very rich and colorful cinematic variety, rich enough that it can make people completely change their view of Japanese Popular Culture as a whole. I’ve tried to present movies that avoid certain stereotypes such as Samurai movies, Yakuza movies and Tokusatsu movies. I wanted the fifth movie in 5 Modern Japanese Movies Everyone Should See to be something that didn’t fall into the trap of recommending an animated film from Japan. Let’s face it, non-film fans and non-anime fans tend to lump all anime into 2 categories; Miyazaki films and tentacle porn (aka Hentai). Though I may be over-generalizing how people view anime, the non-anime fans definitely tends to look at Japanese animation as something pornographic. They make exceptions for the work of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli because those films are meant to be family films. The fact is more than 90% of anime is non-pornographic in nature and most of it is aimed at children and teenagers.

Miyazaki’s reputation is such that I have actually had people who don’t like anime try to argue that Miyazaki doesn’t make “anime”. That somehow, because he makes such remarkable family fare, his work shouldn’t be lumped with the likes of say Dragon Ball or Gundam. I am quick to point out in these arguments that Miyazaki built his early reputation on Lupin The Third, a franchise that is still going strong in Japan with new animated TV movies every few years. To say Miyazaki doesn’t make anime is ludicrous and I encourage everyone to laugh at those who say otherwise.

This brings us to Mamoru Hosoda, a director who is making his name by making family friendly movies yet has nothing to do with Miyazaki or Studio Ghibli. Hosoda first came on most anime fans radar back in 1999 when he directed 2 films in the Digimon franchise. Some would not use that as a positive example of good filmmaking but all directors have to start somewhere. He alter directed the 2005 entry in the One Piece film franchise Baron Omatsuri & The Secret Island. It was his work on One Piece that spring boarded him to a project that earned him widespread acclaim with scores of anime fans and critics in The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. Hosoda used a well loved science fiction story from the 60s and its movie adaptation from the 80s to create a sequel to the original works. Doing a semi-sequel to something that is pretty well loved is always risky but Hosoda, along with his cohorts at Studio Madhouse, delivered a fun and bitter-sweet tale that deals with time travel without making the viewer’s head explode for worrying about time paradoxes. Making a sequel is one thing but making a good sequel is always tricky. Hosoda not only made a good sequel but he made a sequel that is at least equal to its predecessor.

So after the acclaim of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time in 2006, Hosoda began work on his next project. It would be three years before the end result was seen in Japanese theaters and it is that film which I am here to praise. Hosoda’s Summer Wars was my favorite movie of 2009. Not favorite animated movie, not favorite genre movie. It was simply my favorite movie of that year. Summer Wars made me laugh, it made me almost shed a tear and it made me stand up and cheer the way good a movie should. Summer Wars was Mamoru Hosoda’s notice to the Japanese film industry that his name should be spoken in the same reverence as Miyazaki, Mamoru Oshii and the late Satoshi Kon. Hell those are just the animation directors in Japan; I’m not even counting directors like Kurosawa or Fukusaku.

So what was so great about Summer Wars?

Summer Wars was great because it is a family movie where the theme of the movie is about family coming together and overcoming a crisis on a global scale. It is a family comedy, drama and action film all rolled into one. It has teen romance, malevolent artificial intelligence and such a vibe of fun, even during its most somber of scenes. To put it simply, Summer Wars is the summer movie that you really can enjoy with your family and not feel like it is being specifically marketed for children. Hey I love me some Pixar movies but outside of Up just how many of their films aren’t geared with getting children into the theater?

What we get in Summer Wars is the tale of Kenji Koiso, a boy who gets sucked into a lie by the cute girl in his class, Natsuki Shinohara. The lie involves Natsuki’s family reunion and her taking Kenji along to pass him off as her fiancée. Never in the history of film has a plan like this ever been successfully pulled off. Of course all this goes down when the largest online social networking site called The World, has gone absolutely haywire. Of course it is up to Kenji, Natsuki and Natsuki’s insanely large and eccentric family to save the day. Of course I am over simplifying the movie. The theme of responsibility to family and oneself flows throughout the movie. It is that theme makes Summer Wars so enjoyable without being heavy handed. The film is balanced with its comedy and drama, mixing the 2 to give a viewer a downright enjoyable movie. Hell I might even say Summer Wars is one of the best “Adventure Movies” I’ve ever watched.

Even better is that Summer Wars delivers on more than just its portrayal of story and characters. The animation is crisp in both its hand-drawn segments and CGI. One type of animation doesn’t overshadow the other, which especially nice given how every animated these days is about showing off just what a computer animated film can do. Summer Wars lets one style of animation compliment the other, something that isn’t done enough in modern animated films. It isn’t lush and gorgeous like a Miyazaki movie but it isn’t offensive to the eye either. It finds that perfect balance that so few animated films seem to be unable to find. That just might be its greatest accomplishment from a technical standpoint.

So what is Mamoru Hosoda trying to tell us with Summer Wars?
Is it about the dangers of technology and Artificial Intelligence or is it about the importance of putting family first? Is it trying to teach us about the dangers of lying?

Well it is about all these things. Picking out one theme in Summer Wars to put above the others is a disservice to the overall movie. It is all these elements that help Summer Wars more than just your average animated film. It is these elements that form a story tapestry where all the themes are the thread and without all of them the tapestry is there but not nearly as rich and satisfying. After all, who wants to look at a dull tapestry?

So we come to the end of 5 Modern Japanese Movies That Everyone Should See and in turn my analysis of Summer Wars. I hope that those of you that read these articles have at least had your interest piqued to the point where you want to watch at least one of these movies. There is so much in the way of good movies out there and you really should give something different a shot. Hell even bad movies deserve some attention, if for no other reason than to entertain you for all the wrong reasons. So go forth, watch at least one of these 5 movies and I DARE you to walk away with at least an opinion of what you watched. Because really, if you can watch any of these and not have an opinion then you really shouldn’t be watching movies, foreign or domestic, in the first place should you?


5 Modern Japanese Movies Everyone Should See: Aragami

Aragami - Because Sometimes When We Touch...

(You were possibly expecting to read a review of Ryuhei Kitamura’s Aragami. What our blockhead of a writer failed to mention is that he needs to re-watch Aragami because it has been well over a year since he last sat down and viewed it. Of course the schmuck lost his copy of the movie and the damn thing isn’t available for streaming on Netflix. The author blames Netflix. We here at Brave Blog blame the author for being a twit. We’ll give him some time to dig up a copy of the movie. We have no idea what he is planning on writing about right… Oh that FUCKER! He wrote the Aragami review! We are NOT amused!)

I was all set to write a long rambling diatribe about Ryuhei Kitamura’s Aragami, I really was. The problem is that, even though I have watched Aragami multiple times, I honestly cannot sit down and recall the movie in a way that makes it easy to write about. This is very frustrating because Aragami is actually a very straightforward film. It is the more cerebral half of The Duel Project, which is kind of interesting given its director is known for making more straightforward action films. I mean we are talking about Ryuhei Kitamura here. The man gave us a low-budget masterpiece in VERSUS. You know that movie about the escaped convict who fights undead Yakuza members and discovers that he is part of a cycle of reincarnation that is supposed to decide the fate of the world. For him to have made a movie about a samurai fighting against a malevolent and ancient power that lives for battle may not sound as cerebral as I might make it out to be. Trust me, it is has action but the layers that Kitamura gives in Aragami are magnificent because it relies on narration by one of its characters to tell a story within a story.

The set-up of Aragami takes 2 injured samurai seeking shelter in a cave. What transpires from there becomes the tale of the surviving samurai meeting a man claiming to be Miyamoto Musashi. What unfolds is a conversation on mankind’s propensity for violence and cruelty. The longer the conversation goes the more the fleeing samurai realizes that he is not so much talking to Musashi, but an immoral Demon that believes itself to be the “Invincible God of Battle”. The conflict is that the Demon wants to die and pass on its immortality to the samurai, simply because the Demon has grown weary of its life as unstoppable killing machine.

One would think that this would lead to a masterful duel between 2 samurai in the moonlight. This is the exact opposite of what the focus of the movie is. If 2LDK is an example of direct conflict and confrontation between 2 parties in the form of adrenaline and violence, then Aragami is the antithesis of that as it relies more on dialogue. The crux of Aragami is one man telling his story to another man and as the story unfolds the man listening becomes more and more aware of just what is going to be asked of him. The conflict isn’t direct; it is subtle and builds as the story of the Demon is told. Thus when the story is finished the only option for the both characters is to fight. The Demon needs to be killed or else its bloody reign as the God of Battle will never end.

The level of conflict in Aragami is also multilayered, it isn’t just the samurai and the Demon in conflict with each other, but also hey are struggling internally. The Demon wants to die but at the same time isn’t just going to lay down his sword and let the samurai kill him. The title of “God of Battle” must be earned in that respect. The Demon laments its existence; it doesn’t want to be the God of Battle anymore because what is the point of living for battle if one never loses in battle? It is a cursed existence of living life without having really lived it. But remember the samurai is equally conflicted. He has to wrestle with the fact that he is going to duel a nigh-unbeatable foe. He has the weight of knowing the Demon’s secret and that if he doesn’t take the Demon’s offer to fight and replace him then the Demon will continue to slaughter people in battle. Then there is the matter if what would happen if the samurai pulls of the impossible and actually beats the Demon. Wouldn’t the samurai suffer the same fate of fighting endlessly until his days are filled with the constant malaise of not wanting to live anymore?

This is Aragami, a movie about the art of war that relies on subtly sucking you into its back-story to unveil what the conflict will be. Remember this is the other half of The Duel Project, where the point of both Aragami and 2LDK was to present 2 characters in conflict with one another in one location for the length of the film and then have that conflict be resolved by movie’s end. What we have is 2 movies that accomplish this in two very different but equally entertaining ways. 2LDK does it by being a bubbling cauldron of rage and hate, while Aragami is a pot set to simmer to bring out a richer flavor. That isn’t to say 2LDK isn’t as good as Aragami. If anything the ending to 2LDK is actually more satisfying to Aragami’s. The flaw in Aragami is that given everything that is on the line between the samurai and the Demon, there was no way their fight could match the hype that the rest of the movie was building for it. It is like the hype for a Mike Tyson fight circa 1986, 4 months of hype for a fight that, if you were lucky, went maybe 3 rounds.

Perhaps I am being unfair to the resolution of Aragami. Maybe it is just that for a movie that is ¾ dialogue between 2 guys sitting and drinking booze in a Shinto temple, to suddenly have the movie have its big showdown go all crazy with the wire-fu and Matrix-style fight scene seems to be incongruous to what one might expect of 2 samurai squaring off for a duel. That is the only fault I have with this movie. Ryuhei Kitamura could have given us a truly epic sword fight, an old school sword fight that Asian cinema hasn’t seen since Toshiro Mifune passed away. Instead we get fight choreography that is anachronistic; it seems to be against the very vibe the rest of the movie seemed to be going for.

Still, Aragami is one of the 5 Modern Japanese Films Everyone Should See. It is a study in mood and pacing and most importantly, storytelling. For being as short as it is (only 70 minutes) it has dialogue that makes one feel like they’ve watched and listened to a pair of philosophers arguing what makes life worth living. Like all things in life it has its shortcomings, but the dialogue is what drives this movie. The dialogue is what illustrates the conflict of the past and how it relates to the violence of the present. After all “Conflict” is the driving theme of The Duel Project. It is just how one defines “Conflict” that helps to define this mostly satisfying movie.

5 Modern Japanese Films Everyone Should See: Cutie Honey The Movie!

Cutie Honey The Movie... Seriously How Can You Not Want To Watch This?

There are many things one has to worry about when sitting to watch a movie based on a different medium, especially when that medium is comic books. One task is to make the movie honor its source material while not making it feel like a children’s movie or being overly silly. At the same time a comic movie shouldn’t feel maudlin, unless it is some obscure indie comic that was maudlin to begin with. There needs to be action, drama and even a hint of romance with an actual story that links those elements together. Maybe this is what is wrong with so many comic book movies. They are failing to make the connection with all of the elements to make their stories cohesive and pop. Now what if the point of a comic book movie is to play up the campy angle. Remind the audience of the movie’s comic book roots and characters? What if the approach is to be as over the top and outrageous as the source material?

This brings us to Hideaki Anno’s interpretation of Cutie Honey. Cutie Honey is a manga by renowned writer/artist Go Nagai that ran in comic form from 1973-74. Of course Nagai was a hot commodity at this time, having rolled out such works as Harenchi Gakuen (Shameless School), Devilman and the mighty Mazinger Z. Cutie Honey was Nagai’s take on the Magical Girl genre first set forth by “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka’s Ribon No Kishi (Princess Knight). Nagai combined the Magical Girl genre with elements of Pygmalion and Asimov’s Laws of Robotics along with just enough T&A to create one of the most enduring Japanese Pop Culture icons. Now add into this Hideaki Anno, he who traumatized many Otaku in both the east and west with Neon Genesis Evangelion. One semi-brilliant anime director taking on, arguably, Go Nagai’s most popular character. What could go wrong?

If You Don't Watch Cutie Honey The Movie You Will Make Eriko Sato Cry!

Well the truth is very little. Anno may have made one of the most depressing anime of all time but his approach to doing a live action Cutie Honey is very simple. Anno knew that to make a “serious” Cutie Honey movie was pretty much a futile thing. Cutie Honey is sexy and fun and just a bit campy in its 70s approach to things. Updating Cutie Honey has been tried before with mixed results. So instead of something serious or something as drastic as a re-imagining of the concept Anno opted to keep the absurdity of everything that encapsulates Cutie Honey and puts it to film. Yes, there is copious CGI used throughout this movie but they only enhance the camp vibe the movie gives off. Gravure model Eriko Sato plays Honey Kisaragi with such charm and goofiness that you can’t help but adore her. This despite her voice can get exceedingly high-pitched at times. Like so high-pitched she could probably summon dolphins.

There is no reason this movie should be any good. It is totally juvenile, violent and exploitive towards women. The thing is all those elements make me LOVE Cutie Honey The Movie as much as I love Cutie Honey in all her anime and manga forms. Look at it this way, If Takashi Miike was giving us a cautionary tale about exploitation with Audition, then Hideaki Anno is saying “Exploitation is a 2-way street so just enjoy the ride”. The movie has good action scenes, a razor-thin plot and an amply endowed Japanese Gravure Model running around in a menagerie of costumes, many of which get strategically ripped throughout the course of the movie. This is exploitation I can get behind!

Now I am not saying Cutie Honey is some classic example of great film making but I can think of far worse ways to spend 90 minutes of my life. Not all movies need to be taken seriously and Anno proves this by taking a ludicrous and somewhat dated concept and turning it into a zany, fun romp of a movie. Not everything has to be analyzed by a classroom of pretentious film students and compared to the work of Bergman. Sometimes all you need is a movie to be fun, intentionally fun at that. This is exactly why I’ve included Cutie Honey in 5 Modern Japanese Movies Everyone Should See. 2LDK is about bad interpersonal relationships with 2 women seeking to be exploited, while Audition is about the misguided revenge of one exploited woman. Like the previous 2 movies reviewed, Cutie Honey is very vaguely about exploitation but the exploitation is mutual exploitation. Eriko Sato bounces around onscreen yelling “HONEY FLASH!” with a smile, knowing full well who the audience is. Sato is engaging in self-exploitation in order to let us know that she is in on the joke and it is actually okay to watch and enjoy this movie.

Fuck Crying! Eriko Sato Will Just Plain Stab You in The Face! The Girl Don't Play!

Cutie Honey is worth every penny I paid for it. I watched it knowing what it needed to be and was pleased that it ended up being exactly what I thought it should be. Go ahead and diagram that sentence if you want, it makes plenty of sense. It is a film that is fun for children and adults, though I would hardly consider it a “Family Film”. If anything Cutie Honey The Movie is Hideaki Anno’s love letter to Go Nagai’s original concept that gives fans of Nagai and Cutie Honey the movie they deserve. It proves something, namely that a movie with a minimal story, cute girls and some good action scenes is all one really needs to enjoy the cinema. The Japanese really do understand how to make FUN movies, be they schlock or just plain zany fun. Cutie Honey is a little bit of both and I, for one, am grateful for that.

In summation, if you want to turn off your brain and watch a genuinely fun movie then Cutie Honey is the movie to watch. As much thought goes into watching it as probably went in to making it. Wow, that might have been the most backhanded compliment I’ve given any movie and I totally didn’t mean it to be. What I’m trying to say is, Cutie Honey takes one of the sacred idols of anime and does it justice. It does it with comedy, sex and violence. For a fun movie those are pretty much the 3 things you need for me to really enjoy it. Most importantly, it FEELS like how a live action Cutie Honey ought to feel. It is modern, yet simultaneously a throwback to a different time. It is original yet seemingly faithful to its source material. It is a movie of incongruity and contradiction, yet it makes perfect sense all the same. There is no reason this movie should be good but it is. So with all that said how can Cutie Honey The Movie be anything but one of the 5 Modern Japanese Movies Everyone Should See?

The Answer: It is and you should watch it and thank Go Nagai and Hideaki Anno for entertaining you. You really couldn’t ask for anything more than to be entertained after all. Would now be the time time to mention that there was a live action TV Series after Cutie Honey The Movie? No? Well we’ll just save that review for another time.

Until Next Time...

5 Modern Japanese Films Everyone Should See: Audition

This Movie Will Manipulate The F*** Out of You!

Takashi Miike is one of those Movie Directors that has something of a mixed reputation. On the one hand he has directed some really good films that range from comedy, action and even social commentary. On the other hand, many of his movies can leave a viewer scratching his or her head by the end credits. If there is one movie by Miike that is captivating yet simultaneously difficult to watch it is without a doubt Audition. Miike can take something as innocent as a man trying to get over the death of his wife and turn it into an exploitation film with a somewhat unique anti-exploitation message. There are people who I know that either refuse to watch Audition or are told by others that they are under no condition whatsoever to see it. People either seriously love the movie or go out their way not to watch it. What is it about this movie that makes it so damn polarizing?

It might be a case of Miike doing such a fine job of manipulating his audience. Using the tale of a lonely widower trying to find someone to love is one thing, but then turning that around on a viewer to tell a story of abuse, manipulation and mental cruelty really will send any moviegoer for a loop. Then of course there is how the movie switches from sweet love story to mystery and then full-on psychotic-horror. The movie is one giant curveball; it suckers you in with multiple sympathetic characters and then spends the second half of the movie disassembling what the viewer has watched.

The story is about Shigeharu Aoyama, a widower who still mourns the loss of his wife 7 years before the start of the movie. Aoyama is a sad guy, so sad that even his 17 year-old son all but tells him that Dad should find himself a new woman. This sentiment is echoed by Aoyama’s buddy Yoshikawa, who comes up with a scheme to hook his pal up with a new woman. The plan is to hold a fake audition for young actresses and have Aoyama pick the one he likes best so he can date her. This might be the worst idea for meeting a woman I have ever come across. It is a straight up manipulation of young women and exploiting them for one man’s purpose. Aoyama isn’t comfortable with the plan but still goes along with it.

The girl Aoyama ends up selecting is a quiet, shy girl named Asami. Asami is a former ballerina who quit after suffering an injury to her leg. Aoyama somehow relates to her, mistaking her dethatched shyness for depth. Now Yoshikawa, despite being the semi-sleaze who set the audition up, plays the Bro-Card. He lets Aoyama know that there really isn’t something right about this girl as none of her information from her resume can be verified. This not a deterrent for Aoyama though, as he is so lonely and sad from missing his wife that he pursues a relationship with Asami.
Do I need to tell you that things go south from there?

This seemingly sweet and innocent tale about a widower searching for love becomes a deceptively clever mystery as Aoyama discovers more about Asami’s past. What’s more is that Miike lets us see that there is something very disturbing about this girl. It is one scene that is so chilling and eerie that you know that Aoyama is in trouble but you feel helpless because you know that you, as a viewer, cannot warn him. The scene set in Asami’s empty apartment where she waits by the telephone, waiting to find out if she got “The Part”. That scene frames what is to come. That scene paints the picture that Aoyama isn’t the only one who is about to get fucked with.

No further synopsis for this movie will be given because to give anymore away might dissuade you from actually watching it and that isn’t how I do things here at Brave Blog. I want you to see this movie. I want you to experience Takashi Miike luring you in with your own sentimentality and then turn that against you for one hell of a brutal finish. If anything, Miike uses Audition as a means to treat his viewers like Marks at a Carnival. He has lured you to his game and has you thinking that you might get through the experience with no harm. Of course Miike is the Carny here; he already had this game rigged before you even set foot in the theater. Before you know it, Miike has taken your money and left you asking yourself “What just fucking happened here?” Hell, you don’t even get to call shenanigans on him, that’s how good Takashi Miike is.

The thing is this isn’t a new movie. Audition was first screened in 1999. That is 12 years worth of movies that has come and gone. 12 years is not “Modern Japanese Film” technically speaking, but the movie holds up amazingly well. I’ve never really thought of a psychodrama/horror movie as “Timeless” before but there is a certain feel to Audition that makes it seem that way. It doesn’t feel dated or out of place with current modern cinema. Hell, I am genuinely stunned that some American didn’t try to remake Audition during Hollywood’s “Let’s remake all those current Japanese horror movies” phase at the turn of the century. Miike builds tension really well in giving you clues to what might happen later in the film. There are scenes that will have the slightest movement that will make you jump and an ending that you will either adore or be repulsed by. Miike directs a movie that just might hit every emotion along the way before giving you quite a harrowing conclusion. I might even be willing to say that Audition is the most perfect Horror/Psychodrama movie ever made.

So despite its age, Audition is still an example of great modern Japanese cinema. It is my favorite film by Takashi Miike because it opens soft and by its end it punches you in the face. It isn’t even like one doesn’t see that things will not end well for everyone involved in the story. Hell by the midpoint of the movie you sense everything is building to massive climax. But you are so pulled into this movie that you know you need to see how it all plays out.

Audition is the movie your parents warned you about when you were a kid. You know the movie that they would not take you to no matter what. It is an exercise in anti-exploitation exploitation. It is sweet, scary and at times, very brutal. It is a movie that manipulates the viewer and that alone is why you should both love and hate it. It is for all these reasons it is in my Top Ten Movies of All Time. So go watch audition already dammit, even if you come away hating the movie itself there is no way you can walk away from it and say honestly say that it isn’t actually good. That is how damn manipulative it is. That is why Takashi Miike is a bastard of the highest magnitude. God I love him for that!

5 Modern Japanese Films Everyone Should See: 2LDK

2LDK: Addressing The Issue of Japanese Overcrowding

Women are crazy. This is a fact that has been proven time and time again. That isn’t to say Men don’t bring their own brand of crazy as well but when it comes to cinema, man do writers and directors love to show just how crazy women can be. This brings us to 2LDK, a pretty great little Japanese film that is all about building tension between two women until they let their crazy just explode all over each other. Writer/Director Yukihiko Tsutsumi takes a scenario of 2 women sharing a small apartment and showing how both, at their core, are potentially the same person despite their different backgrounds. This is about what happens when two competitive people push against each other from the outset and that pushing leads to shoving… and punching and stabbing.

The film itself came about in a most unique way. See when a movie Producer and two feature directors decide to go drinking weird things can happen. In this case Tsutsumi went drinking with producer Shinya Kawai and Versus director Ryuhei Kitamura. Kawai put forth a simple challenge. Make a movie with two principle characters, with a conflict between the two taking place in one primary location for the entire film. That scenario is a task unto itself but Kawai then added his stipulation, get the whole thing made in one week’s time. Now even with the rapid fire production schedules of most Asian films, that is a challenge. If you factor in the fact that both Kitamura and Tsutsumi usually make some pretty good movies when left to their own devices then one week would seem an almost impossible amount of time to write a story, find actors for the film and then come up with a completely insane shooting schedule to get everything done in time. To take the challenge is crazy enough, for both to take the challenge and NOT make two incomprehensible Ed Wood level films is just unbelievable. But both men rose to the challenge and the result are 2 very different, but very entertaining films. The end result was called The Duel Project. Kitamura’s result was Aragami, a movie that we will discuss in a few days during these movie reviews. Tsutsumi’s result was a piece of psychodrama simply titled 2LDK.

In Japan, finding a place to live is trouble enough, especially when you consider that Japan is one of the most densely populated places on Earth with such a small amount of space for its expanding populace. The concept of a luxury apartment is something most city dwelling Japanese only dream about and with good reason. Luxury Apartments are very expensive. 2LDK is basically like a Realtor code for potential renters indicating 2 Bedroom, Living Room, Dining Room and Kitchen. So when a young girl from the countryside, with dreams of being an actress gets set-up in the big city with a nice apartment thanks to the talent agency she signed with, things might seem pretty good. This is how it is going for Nozomi (Eiko Koike). Things are seemingly falling into place for her, as her agency has her lined-up to audition for a TV role. But the good times are not to last, as Nozomi’s agency sets her up with a roommate named Rana (Maho Nonami), who is also auditioning for the same show. The two are seeming opposites of each other. Nozomi is demure and quiet, Rana is flashy and outspoken. It is the City Mouse and The Country Mouse trying to share an apartment, but as opposed to being cousins with different ideas of what living is, these mice are trying to have the EXACT SAME life. Things are not helped in the least by the fact that both women are basically waiting for the same phone call.

Meet Nozomi: The Shy Country Girl?

Waiting for that phone call only adds to the mounting tension between the 2. Petty words escalate to personal attacks. Personal attacks escalate to destruction of property. Destruction of property leads to a plethora of forms of physical violence. It is a rapid succession of 2 women repeatedly trying to kill each other. Hell it is also the ways that they try to kill each other. Each attempt by one leads to a more extreme retaliation from the other. The attempted homicide rate on this ranges from arson, drowning and strangulation to the fun time that is attempted murder via electricity and of course, as I mentioned before, stabbing. Hell after all that physical drama THEN they try for psycho-sexual-damage with the kissing. Of course after all is said and done both women have managed to successfully kill one another and then the ironic twist at the end comes. Both women got parts in the TV show they auditioned for. The outcome of the movie is never in doubt. Rana was to extreme a personality for Nozomi to cope with, so of course Nozomi fights fire with fire and pays the price for becoming something she wasn’t meant to be. The last twenty minutes of this movie is an example of cinematic crossbreeding at its finest, as Writer/Director Tsutsumi has Taken The Odd Couple and forced it to mate with the Keith David/Roddy Piper fight scene from They Live.

In the end Tsutsumi has given us 70 minutes of commentary about a myriad subjects and for each of them the end result is violence. The overcrowding of Japan leads to these 2 meeting each other, loathing each other and killing each other. It addresses the conflict between what remains of the rural countryside of Japan, its residents and how they approach things differently than those dwelling in large urban areas. It also addresses the nature of the latter and how it affects not just person to person relationships but how female to female sexual-politics are affected by the complexity of their previous living environment. If both Rana and Nozomi had similar backgrounds, one could surmise that the end result of the movie would be very different. The problem is that they are both competitive females, with different backgrounds. They are polar opposites with no hope of friendship, just a constant need to be better than the other. Make no mistake that Rana is a totally magnificent bitch in how she treats her roommate, but Nozomi letting Rana abuse her to the point where her only option is to mentally snap in retaliation is nobody’s fault but her own.

Meet Rana: Go Ahead & Tell Her She Isn't "The Rational One"

2LDK is a vicious movie. Its characters show that one should not judge physical cruelty and mental abuse as things that are relegated solely to the domain of the male of the species. Women are just as mean, vicious and damaging to one another as they are to men, in fact this movies shows that they can be more so. In the end what 2LDK ends up being is a multi-layered story about 2 people who end up in the way of one another’s ambition. In a sense society is punishing them for that ambition, by making these 2 people who have no business meeting, let alone living together, share an apartment. Society takes its form via the Talent Agency both women contract through that thought sticking them together was a good idea. Tsutsumi gives the viewer everything that the challenge of The Duel Project asked of him. He does so, bluntly, with direct conflict and resolution. The resolution is violent and brutal but it gets its point across in the end. Sadly that point is just a little too late for Rana and Nozomi. They literally drive each other crazy and make a viewer contemplate living alone for awhile.

When I get to the review of Aragami in a few days, the different approach that Tsutsumi and Kitamura take to the concept of The Duel Project makes one reconsider exactly what the term “Conflict” can mean. 2LDK is the more brutal and visceral of the 2 movies. It is the punch in the face of female to female relationship movies. It was less Thelma & Louise and way more Ali/Frazier from The Thrilla In Manila. So watch this movie to see what the hell I’m talking about. You may like it, you might end up loathing it but after all is said and done I guarantee you will at least come away knowing you watched something different and a little unique.

5 Modern Japanese Films Everyone Should See: The Preamble

Do You Really Think This Is All That Japanese Cinema Has To Offer?

Japan is one hell of a great country if you like low budget schlock. But every now and again there are some actual good movies that get made on a shoestring budget that come along and surprise the hell out of you. Now I am not talking a gorefest like Tokyo Gore Police or something by Noboru Iguchi, I’m talking about a move that genuinely is a good piece of cinema that isn’t based on the “it is so bad it is good” criteria. No sir, just like any other country the Japanese turn out some pretty great low-budget films that one can enjoy without fear of watching a human being spew blood everywhere. The next 5 articles I am going to roll off 5 reviews for low-budget Japanese cinema that has no people exploding, people being abducted and turned into cyborgs or over the top martial arts fights. Now this isn’t to say these movies aren’t violent. Quite the contrary, a few of them are very violent but not, say, on violence level of Battle Royale (which in retrospect isn’t that violent anyway).

I think Japanese cinema gets a bad reputation with the United States mainstream because when the majority of people think of Japanese movies people think you mean one of the following:

1. Anime – Still one of the most misunderstood Asian niche forms despite its overall fanbase having grown larger since the mid-90s. Lots of people lump all anime into the same hentai category as Urotsukidoji: Legend of The Overfiend. Hell the only Japanese anime director that gets widespread acclaim is Hayao Miyazaki and I keep running into people who try to deny that what Miyazaki does is anime. No really, I’ve had this conversation with non-anime fans who think that just because he makes family films that Miyazaki isn’t an anime director, that he is something more and shouldn’t be lumped in with other anime directors like Mamoru Oshii, Mamoru Hosoda or the late Satoshi Kon. Miyazaki does not “transcend anime” as one person said to me once. What he happens to be is a very talented and passionate director and storyteller. But make no mistake, he directs anime.

2. Kaiju Movies – Who doesn’t love a good Godzilla movie? Yes, watching a guy crush models of Tokyo and step miniature tanks can be kind of campy, but some of those movies are actually entertaining as fuck. Hell do we remember what happened when Western directors and producers decided they could make a “better” Godzilla than the Japanese? Yeah, you remember the evil of Roland Emmerich directing a CGI Godzilla that really wasn’t quite Godzilla enough and way more a refugee from Jurassic Park. Hell I’d rather watch Son Of Godzilla 10 Million Billion times than sit through the US Godzilla ever again! There is good to excellent Kaiju that has been made and all of them have been done by the Japanese. Whether it is Godzilla, Mothra or Gamera, each has at least one good movie to their credit that you can sit-down, watch and have a good time with.

3. Samurai Movies – Yes, the Japanese make a ton of period movies and TV shows but it isn’t all they do. Hell Akira Kurosawa made a ton of Samurai films but also made some amazing non-period films like Dreams and Rhapsody In August. These days there more non-period movies and television being made than ever before. Samurai and Ninjas don’t rule the landscape nearly as much as they used to. I mean they are still out there but there is so much more to modern Japanese culture than focusing on ancient Japanese culture. The 70s and 80s were the days of period drama, we are now in the second decade of 21st century and while these films still get made we hear less about them than we used to.

4. Horror Movies – Yes, the Japanese make some pretty great horror films. The thing is Ringu led to the U.S. version of The Ring which led to Hollywood trying to remake every Japanese good horror movie of the last decade. The problem with that was, none of these remakes were any good. Hell Hollywood even remade one of the movies with its original Japanese director and still managed to screw it up. Didn’t the U.S. Godzilla teach them anything?

5. Yakuza Movies – Yakuza movies still get made with alarming frequency because no matter what country you live in people go to see movies about gangsters. Since the 50s the Japanese have been turning out Yakuza films and Bullet Operas. Anti-heroes play well at the box office and video rentals. Kind of odd given that Japanese dynamic focuses on team players and doing things for the benefit of the group or company. Of course there is the matter of just how much Yakuza money gets pumped into films about the Yakuza but I’ll leave that to the Japanese police to figure out. Hell it can’t be nearly as bad as how much influence the Triads used to have in the Hong Kong film industry in the 80s and 90s right?

Hell there are probably more categories that I am forgetting. I know after I post this like 3-5 more Japanese Cinema Sub-Genres will dawn on meStill, most Western audiences do not tend to think romantic comedies or doomed romances when they think Japanese movies. That is a damn shame. Hell I reviewed one teen romance movie not so long ago, on this very blog. We kick off the reviews tomorrow with a personal favorite of mine, 2LDK.

Is it fucked-up? You bet your ass it is fucked-up but not like say, a Takashi Miike movie fucked-up. Oh I’ll be covering 1 Takashi Miike film in this, a very well known one at that, hell probably THE ONE that most people know and cringe the most during and after. I’ve got a few good movies lined up for review that I hope will lead to those of you reading will seek out and watch.

Here is your movie list, that I have carefully selected for your potential viewing pleasure. I’ve got 1 Psychodrama (2LDK), 1 Miike Film (It is a surprise but not really), 1 Superfun Campy Romp from Hideaki Anno (Cutie Honey), 1 Ryuhei Kitamura film (Aragami) lined up for review. Now that is only 4 movies and I said 5. The fifth movie will be a random film, just ot keep things lively and slightly insane. Each of these are movies that are more than what they can seem to be and I’ve picked them for very specific reasons. So strap in kids, starting tomorrow 5 Modern Japanese Films Everyone Should See begins with 2LDK, a tale of 2 women, 1 movie part and all the craziness that 2 women can bring to any situation!! Bring The Family! Make some popcorn! We are going to have some fun together I promise!

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