Japanese Film Festival, Kuala Lumpur, Day 4

Ninja Kids !!!

Takashi Miike

2011

Rantaro is from a long line of mediocre ninjas. One day he is sent by his parents to ninja school, a six year course where he will learn all a ninja needs, but it isn’t long til Rantaro and his chums get caught up in a confrontation with two flamboyant hairdressers and their old clan. It is left to the ninja kids (!!!) to save the day.

I would like to read the manga on which this film was based. I’m not a big fan of manga but it would be fun to see if the comic is a bonkers as this film. It starts simply enough, kind of like Harry Potter with ninja stars, and I was enjoying the children’s progression through their first year. But then, out of nowhere, it takes a U-turn into (to repeat myself from earlier) bonkers territory. We are suddenly confronted with assassin hairdressers, flashing headmasters and all other kinds of lunacy. It’s not that the first part of the film wasn’t crazy as well, but at least I could half understand what was going on. This madness continues for around 30 minutes and then we get to a proper story again. The Ninja Kids (!!!) have to win a race to the top of a mountain to help their friends (that’s more like it). I won’t tell you how the movie ends (Though any film with three exclamation marks at the end of the title should give you a clue) but I cannot say I was heartbroken when it did.

To sum up:

Act 1, plot

Act 2, bonkers

Act 3, back to plot

Japanese Film Festival, Kuala Lumpur, Day 3

Hayabusa (はやぶさ)

Tsutsumi Yukihiko

2011

An aspiring astronomer is scouted to assist in the research and deployment of ‘Hayabusa’, a probe which aims to reach the asteroid ‘Itokawa’, collect dust samples and bring them back home.

While watching Hayabusa I started to think, “besides astronomers and die hard science boffs, is anyone going to be interested in this?” I freely confess that I didn’t understand half of what was said, not because it was in Japanese, but because they don’t lighten up on the lingo for the viewer. The film reminded me of Werner Herzog’s The Great Blue Yonder which uses real scientists to explain the ideas of the story. I enjoy films like this. Mostly because I like watching people doing the things they are passionate about. Most people could never understand why a person would dedicate their life to doing something that seems a great waste of time, but these people couldn’t care less, and I find that inspiring.

The film’s focus is an awkward astronomer, trying to finish her thesis and become a real scientist. She becomes involved in the ‘Harabusa’ mission and we become involved in all the workers and their passion: to complete the mission successfully. She has doubts about her life, where it is going and if she is doing what she really wants to do, much like us all. This film is certainly not for everyone but it has a wonderful message and is a story worth telling. It won me round.

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Japanese Film Festival, Kuala Lumpur, Day 2

A Good Husband (今度は愛妻家 Kondo wa aisaika)

Itoh Chihro

2009

Shunsuke is an idle photographer. He is also a womaniser and husband to Sakura: a warm, ditzy health freak who one day decides that enough is enough and leaves him. We then see  Shunsuke’s life after his wife’s actions, how he changes, how much he actually misses his wife and what she really meant to him.

As soon as I finished watching this film I checked to see if it was based on a play (it is). It has that stagey feeling that a lot of filmed plays have. Not that it is without merit. The actors do their best to bring the film to life (even if Yakushimaru Kiroko is miscast as the wife) and the film did hold my attention throughout. There is a clear change of direction in the film just over half way in and this part was stretched out for too long at the end. Twenty minutes shorter would have made it a lot tighter.

The Last Ronin (最後の忠臣蔵 Saigo no Chuushingura)

Sugita Shigemichi

2010

Kichiemon, the one survivor of the legendary 47 Ronin happens to cross paths with Magozaemon, a servant and protector of a beautiful girl on the verge of womanhood. Magozaemon disgraced himself deserting his leader the night before the great battle. Through the film, we see Magozaemon’s motive for his action.

When we start the film, it looks like Kichiemon will be the focus, but he is very quickly side-lined when Magozaemon shows up. Yashuko Koji, the famed Japanese actor who plays Magozaemon made another two samurai films directly before and after this: 13 Assassins and Hari Kari: Death of a Samurai, both by notorious director Miike Takashi. Three samurai films in a row. If you like your samurai movies bloody violent with flesh to spare, may I suggest 13 Assassins. The film this most reminded me of, albeit surprisingly, was Remains of the Day. It’s a film about duty, honour, loyalty and living within a strict code of conduct which can never be altered.  Magosaemon gets all kinds of love and hate thrown his way throughout the film but his code never shakes and his life’s path doesn’t wander. It’s a slow film but there’s nothing wrong with taking your time if that’s what’s right for the story. It’s a film that shows a true samurai’s loyalty far better than many others.

Japanese Film Festival, Kuala Lumpur, Day 1

Ending Note: Death of a Japanese Salesman

Death of a Japanese Salesman

Sunada Mami

2011

A man diagnosed with stage 4 cancer tries to settle his accounts and spend as much time with his family as possible before the end, all through the watchful gaze of his daughter’s video camera.

From the title, there will be no surprise at what happens at the end of this film.

The documentary, made for probably as much as it cost to buy the camera and some film, is incredibly poignant.  I cried like a little girl lost in the woods through large portions of it. I can’t remember the last time a film made me cry this much. The salesman in question, Sunada Tomoaki is a typical Japanese businessman but as we see through the film, his typicality is a value to envy. He has had ups and downs like the rest but when we see him, right after the diagnosis and right to the end, we see a life filled with humour, love, happiness and an unshaking lust for life. What got me the most was his dry and sharp sense of humour which never left him and his deep love for his grandchildren. I defy anyone not to break down when he sees them for the last time. As I said before, it is a very cheaply made film, using a standard home video camera, but cost seems immaterial after seeing a film about a man who cared for the most important things in life. RIP Mr. Sunada.

Rebirth

Narushima Izuru

2011

Kiwako, who has fallen in love with a married man, impulsively abducts his infant daughter. Through the first four years of the child’s life she is cared for by Kiwako. After the woman is arrested and the child taken back to her parents, she finds it hard to believe that these strangers are her own parents.

Rebirth is an abduction film unlike others as it almost solely focuses on the abductor and not the family. Is this woman a monster? Is she crazy? Possibly. Although no one can deny that she is a wonderful mother to the child with whom she gives nothing but love. She cares for her so much and protects her so well that, even though you know the full story, that this woman has destroyed at least three lives by her actions, at least half of you wants her to get away with it.The film is a meditation on love and loss. It follows the abductor as she cares for the child through her infant years and what her actions do to all those concerned years after.  The one true victim is the little girl, who in her adult years finds herself making the same mistakes as the women before her. The film is too long and the ending was a disappointment but the acting was very good and it uses the base of an abduction story to make something new. Kudos.