Review: Films Set In Japan – Stratosphere Girl (2004)

This modern art film is a short 84 minute story (always a good thing in my book!) about an 18 year old blonde girl called Angela who gets into a conversation with a Japanese DJ about going travelling to seek adventure and before you know it she is flying to his home country after he tells her she can get a job working as a hostess. She is portrayed as an imaginative but innocent looking girl who gets involved in a world of deception, crime and illegal foreign workers.

Naturally the plot is very thin but there’s something in there about her being an aspiring artist who for some reason is interested in finding out a lot more about the disappearance of a former hostess named Larissa who is presumed dead. As she digs deeper she discovers that everyone goes quiet and pretends to know nothing when the topic of her disappearance comes up. It follows her time in the Japanese capital via flashes between her drawings and the actual (albeit dreamy) live scenes all told in a non-linear fashion that’s simpler than past films which have used this method of storytelling.

The majority of the story involves a load of these Euro-blondies working in the Tokyo hostess industry and the Japanese men who exploit them in the name of entertaining corporate salarymen. ‘Stratosphere Girl’ shows a character study of these girls and the competitiveness of the industry where Angela’s colleagues are envious of her.

It may be a short film but it could have been a lot shorter were it not padded out with many cutaway shots of Tokyo highways. It’s supposed to be a Tokyo film but, apart from the seedy underworld, it doesn’t really let the viewer discover too much about this unique  developed world city.

Stratosphere Girl‘ builds up quite an interesting plot development only for it too drop off in a surprising but ultimately disappointing, rushed ending. Despite its many shortfalls it has to be said that this movie is consistently interesting and entertaining throughout. It is also visually beautiful and very easy on the eye and I’m not just talking about the many young blonde girls in this film! In fact there is even a line on the end credits stating that ‘no blondes were harmed during the making of this film!’

 

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London Filming Locations: Bridget Jones’s Diary

This entry incorporates some of the locations from the two Bridget Jones films; the good ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ and the much-maligned but not-actually-that-bad ‘Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason’. The first place to start has to be Bridget’s flat (below left) which is above the Globe Pub at 8 Bedale Street in the heart of the Borough Market.

   

Hugh Grant plays Daniel Cleaver and his apartment is not so far from Bridget’s and is at Clink Wharf Apartments (above right) on Clink Street opposite the old prison which is now a museum. Momo is the restaurant (below) where Bridget gets advice from her friends before her first date with Daniel Cleaver. It is located at 25-27 Heddon Street just off Regent Street.

 

Picadilly Circus is of course famous for its illuminated sign which flashes up messages from Bridget’s diary in both films. The screenshot below left is from the first film and the Coca Cola real thing slogan below right is from ‘Edge of Reason’.

  

The films romantic finale takes place in the snow at Royal Exchange Buildings (below) in Cornhill very close to the Bank of England. Its here that Bridget catches up with Darcy and is relieved to see him present her with a new diary so that they can make a new start together as one.

  

And so its the happy ending at the end of ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’ and from there we move on to the sequel where early on in the film Bridget is told to dump Mark Darcy by her friends inside The Light Bar (below left) at 233 Shoreditch High Street. Moments later she arrives at his house to discover the truth about Rebecca. This house can be found at 9 Kings Street in Richmond (below right) and is actually out on a bit of a limb compared to most other filming locations in the capital. However, I was at a family dinner nearby a couple of days after Christmas Day and so was able to pop out for a few minutes to snap the place seen below right.

 
 

Undoubtedly the most memorable moment from ‘Edge of Reason’ is the fight scene between Colin Firth and Hugh Grant which ends up Kensington Gardens (below) amid its fountains.

 

Paris Filming Locations: The Bourne Identity (2002)

The first of the Bourne trilogy was filmed mostly in Paris with a few scenes done in the Czech Republic which appeared in last years ‘Prague Pt II’ article. The action soon moves on to the French capital with Jason and Marie arriving from “Switzerland” in her red mini at night where they sleep in the car at Quai de la Tornelle (below) on 36 mins.

  

 

They arrive at Bourne’s apartment (below) on 38 mins which is 104 Avenue Kléber and not 104 Rue du Jardin as portrayed in the film. Trocadero is the nearest Metro station and this was my first port of call back in January. Its here that Bourne learns someone wants him out of the way and after an exciting fight which leaves Marie shocked they both exit his apartment on 47 mins. Featured below are the various screenshots and views which we see during those brief movie moments. The lower right photo is the view we see of Bourne from the inside of the apartment minus the metal door frame getting in the way.

 

 

The Treadstone safehouse (below) on 47 mins where Nicky gets her instructions following the altercation at Bourne’s place is 2 Place du Marché St Catherine.

 

Far easier to find (obviously!) was the Gare du Nord (below) which is Europe’s busiest railway station and my final destination as it was where I was to get the Eurostar back to Britain. Bourne leaves Marie outside pondering whether to stick with him or not while he goes inside the station to deposit his red bag (full of his many identities and national currencies) in one of the lockers. It appears on screen after 49 mins and also pops up again briefly in ‘The Bourne Ultimatum‘.

   

Unlike the 007 films the Bourne franchise doesn’t like to take place amid a places most famous landmarks but it does often feature them in the distant background. One such example of that is where the Eiffel Tower is seen in the screenshots and my comparison photos below which are of Wombosi the dictators mansion. It is seen on screen after 63 mins when he is assassinated by The Professor. The address is 11 Place des États Unis and is a short walk up the road from the aforementioned Bourne home.

 

 

Next up is Hotel Regina at 2 Place des Pyramides (below) on 64 mins which is where Bourne fills Marie in on his detailed plan for her to go inside and get information concerning his alter ego John Michael Kane. Marie enters the hotels grand lobby which I was surprised to notice was almost identical to that seen in the film even down to the tree in the corner.

 

   

Jardin des Tuilerres is across the road from Hotel Regina (below) and appears on 66 mins when Marie knocks on the phone box (a fake set piece by the way) and surprises Bourne and tells him that she ignored his detailed planning and had just got Kane’s phone records from the reception desk. Subtle humour and a kind of swipe at the usual elaborate ways of acquiring such information in films.

 

 

La Defense Grand Arche (below) pops up on screen after 69 mins for a brief second as Bourne follows the lead given to him by Marie. The place he’s going to is called ‘Alliance Securite Maritime’ and was nearly missed by me altogether as for some reason I didn’t have it in my notes or on my iPad google map page. Luckily I saw this scene on my PSP copy of the movie which I was using for the match-ups and took the metro out to the western side of Paris to see this gigantic hollow cube.

  

Bourne sets up a meeting with Treadstone Chief Alex Conklin on Pont Neuf (below) after 95 mins but as ever he’s on top of things and notices all the extra people dotted around the area keeping an eye on things and promptly flees the area. Rain had been hanging in the air all day whilst I was in Paris and on the whole I got quite lucky but the weather was awful while I was in the vicinity of Pont Neuf and the Samaritaine building seen in the background below.

     

The Treadstone operation is closed down at Rue de Jarante (below) on 108 mins when Conklin meets his maker. The aforementioned Treadstone safe house is actually behind this street.

 

   

Bourne crosses the Pont des Arts (above) walking away from Treadstone and mysteriously disappears on 109 mins. Of course he reappears a few minutes later as he tracks Marie down in the ‘Little Venice’ area of Mykonos in Greece where she is running a motorcycle rental shop. The excellent ‘Extreme Ways’ by Moby then kicks in and the end credits roll. Should I have put a spoiler alert on here?!!

You can see my Berlin ‘Bourne Supremacy’ locations here.

Paris Filming Locations: Amélie (2001)

This site goes all cultured as it moves into French cinema though admittedly this film did transcend across the English Channel to become something of a hit in the UK. Whenever I go on location to find these filming spots I do my research which includes many things but the most important one is of course to have seen the movie! However, I must confess that when I was in Paris at the start of this year visiting some of these locations I hadn’t actually seen Amélie! The reason was that I couldn’t find a streaming of it or pick up a dvd (with English subtitles) cheap enough but on my return to Tokyo I was alerted by a colleague that it was on YouTube of all places. So simple and obvious but I’d never given that site a thought.

This 2001 film takes the viewers around the Montmartre area of Paris amid this surreal tale of of love found in life’s little things. Amélie Poulain is a 23 year old who works as a waitress at Cafe des Deux Moulins (below left) at 15 Rue Lepic just round the corner from the the world famous Moulin Rouge. As part of her vow to help others she escorts a blind man en-route to Lamarck-Caulaincourt Metro station (below right) and its double staircase. Her description of the bustling market lets him ‘see’ the sights of his daily walk to the station.

  

Amélie’s apartment (lower left) can be found at 56 Rue des Trois-Freres and just round the corner as part of the same building on Passage des Abbesses is the fruit and vegetable store run by Collignon who she gets revenge on for his cruelty to his hapless Algerian assistant Lucien.

 

 

The sex shop where Nino works isn’t too far down the road from Moulin Rouge. Palace Video in the film is now Toys Palace (below left) and the address is 37 Boulevard de Clichy in the neon-lit Pigalle district. For some reason I didn’t go inside the place and thats one reason why one should never do the locations of a film they haven’t seen! Having seen it since I am well aware that there was a scene filmed inside the shop though you would maybe assume that that bit was filmed in the studio.

  

Sacré-Coeur (above right) is of course a famous landmark in Paris and the only one I saw on this particular trip to the French capital. Its around this area that Amélie plays a game of telephone tag with Nino as she goes about the process of getting his album of passport photos back to him in a mysterious, unconventional way.

Canal St Martin, Gare de l’est, La Motte-Picqet-Grenelle metro station, Au Clown de la Republique (11 Boulevard St Martin) and La Verre a Pied (118 Bis Rue Mouffetard) are the various other Amélie locations used throughout the film which I didn’t make it to as I only had a day in Paris and so had to prioritise the places I would try and hunt down.

TF Film Review: The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

I hadn’t even heard of this film until I went back to England at Christmas and saw the posters on billboards all over London in anticipation of its Boxing Day release. I then saw the trilogy of books by Stieg Larsson on my parents bookshelf which they’d read and enjoyed. With not enough time to read them I turned my attention to the original Swedish films which by luck were on sale in HMV at Heathrow Airport before I returned to Japan. I snapped them up and asked about the third one but unfortunately they didn’t have that.

         

It was quite nice watching a film without any knowledge of the storyline so that everything which happened was a complete surprise. This international re-make (or whatever you want to call it!) follows the original film closely to the extent that there is very little difference in the films apart from the fact that its in English. Therein lies a problem in where one may question what the point of this David Fincher adaptation is when there is already a fine Swedish/Danish one out there. Are western audiences really not prepared to watch any film with English subtitles if the language is not English. Well it seems so which is a shame as there are some great foreign language movies out there.

Furthermore, this 2011 version is also set in Sweden and stars many actors from that country playing Swedish characters speaking English which seems a little odd to me. I was thinking that this re-make would be moved to the United States or another English-speaking country with the same story played out in a different environment. Given that its not I see very little point in this one being made.

Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoyed this newer adaptation of the book and it entertained me albeit not quite as much as the original which has me on tenterhooks throughout as I was watching with baited breath for what was to come in each scene.

As for the sexual content, well I was pretty horrified when I saw the strong images in the original but I knew what was coming this time and this one didn’t shy away from copying those aversive scenes. I would have loved to have turned around to see the reaction of the Japanese during those moments.

Once I got beyond the fact that Daniel Craig wasn’t playing James Bond I very much got into his character Mikael Blomkvist who is the investigative journalist trying to crack an unsolved ‘who-done-it?’ mystery from 40 years ago on an isolated island in the north of Sweden.

Of course the real star of the film is Rooney Mara who follows in the footsteps of Noomi Rapace and delivers a more aggressive but equally fine performance as the enigmatic 23 year old bisexual computer hacker Lisbeth Salander; possibly the first screen heroine since Lara Croft. Of course I was comparing them from the offset and it took a while for her to grow on me but thats probably the idea with a character of such a unique personality and appearance.

The film played out a casual pace for the first couple of hours and seemingly sped up a bit in the final 40 minutes of a 158 minute film which just didn’t seem to want to end. I thought that it was gonna finish a few times before it did with an ending that is different to the Swedish one.

If Star Wars Was Set In Japan……

1. There just wouldn’t be a rebellion against the Empire.

2. Mos Eisley would have a lot more speeder accidents.

3. The deicison to hunt the droids would take the Empire years.

4. There would be a new emperor every 12-18 months.

5. Admiral Motti would have been let off the hook after apologizing with a deep bow rather than being force choked.

6. Local hunters would kill and eat the Sarlacc and claim it was both “culturally important” and “scientific research”.

7. Han and Chewie would turn themselves into the authorities despite the fact that the investigators had absolutely no clue how to catch them.

8. Textbooks would fail to mention the “Alderaan incident” but, when pressed, the writers will claim it was done to alleviate poverty on the planet.

9. Darth Vader would have tentacles and his interrogation of Leia would have been……..erm, different.

10. Every non-human looking alien would have big eyes, huge t*ts and not wear much.

11. Dagobah would be completely covered in concrete with vending machines as far as the eye can see.

12. Mace Windu would have to smile more or everyone would think he was “kowai” (scary).

13. The locals would constantly ask Han Solo stupid questions like “Do you have Ewoks on your planet?” and “Can you eat Tauntaun?”

14. Princess Leia would wear her metal bikini on Hoth whilst constantly saying “samui” (cold).

15. The Millenium Falcon would have a line of furry ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and ‘Hello Kitty’ toys in the cockpit.

16. Greedo would still be alive as neither he nor Han would dare to shoot first and upset the Wa.

17. Speeder bikes would veer all over the place as their pilots tried to ride them while holding an umbrella in one hand and sending an e-mail on their phone with the other.

18. Admiral Ackbar would be a delicacy.

19. The members of the cantina band would also be on every single commercial and TV show, despite having no discernable singing or acting talent whatsoever.

20. Princess Leia, as pretty much the only female in the entire galaxy, would have to get up ridiculously early in the morning to make lunch boxes for everyone.

21. The dark side would have it’s origins in Korea.

22. The death star would have thousands of unprotected weak spots as the bureaucracy argued over whose responsibility it was to fix them. The sheer volume of paperwork generated would take the bulk of the stormtrooper ranks just to haul back and forth between departments.

23. No-one would leave their home planet except to vist nearby, safety planets where everybody could speak their language.

24. Han Solo would still live with his parents.

25. There would only be `Japanooine` All else would simply be referred to as `Outsideraan`

26. Stormtroopers would never leave their starships except to check Outsideraanians speeders and ID badges.

27. The galaxy wide fireworks display at the end of Episode VI would have disastrous consequences as everyone shouted “Sugoooooooooooi” at once while furiously clapping their hands one inch in front of their faces. The shock wave would crumble most planetary infrastructure…but nobody would notice until the show was over.

28. The giant worm thing that lives in the asteroid cave would definitely be pixelated.

29. Greedo and Han would never be able have their conversation in the Cantina. Although Han would have studied Greedo’s language for 6 years in school, he wouldn’t be able to hold a basic conversation and would just nod his head the whole time instead….. and then he’d complain to the Mos Eisley cantina staff.

30. Luke and Leia would never be born because Anakin wasn’t interested in sex and thought relationships were ‘mendokusai’ (troublesome).

31. ‘May the force be with you’ would become ‘May you not disturb the wa’

32. Only certain people would be able to appreciate the changing seasons, or eat food with sticks.

33. There would be dire need for ‘women only’ escape pods.

34. Han Solo would constantly be complemented on his proficiency with a blaster and asked if they have blasters on his home planet.

35. The ewoks would compliment C3PO on his Japanese Ewokian ability, but then comment to each other about he still sounded like a forienger, and the ewok language of clicks and whistles is very difficult, if not the most difficult language in the Empire.

36. Death Stars would be getting built at the rate of one a week, only to be torn down after a few years and rebuilt again in a week. They’d have column upon column of neon signs going up the side of them, huge TV screens broadcasting the latest intergalactic hits from the Imperial charts (I-Pop), and lots of cute girls in Tie Fighters flying around outside handing out tissues.

37. Travelling by hyperspace would be a real drag during rush-hours, with thousands upon thousands of spacecrafts all piling in there.

38. Other questions the Ewoks would ask Han would include “Where are you from?”, “Why did you come to Endor?”, “Do you like Endorian food?”, “Do you like Ewoks?”, “Can you speak Ewokian?”, and “When are you going back to Tatooine?”. Han would get extremely riled by this, smile politely, then go and bitch about it to Chewie afterwards.

39. Boba fett would have to wait until Han Solo got a face change before catching him.

40. Older Ewoks would explain to Outsideerians that there are four seasons and constantly ask if their planet has four seasons too.

41. The secret plans to the Death Star would not be hidden in R2D2. Leia would write it all on her hands!

42. One of the most common beginnings to Ewok sentences would be “We Ewoks…”

43. Or “On Endor…”. The Endor way of doing things would always be the best, despite the fact that none of them had ever been more than 5km away from their home tree and seen any other life forms in generations.

44. The people living on the planet with the second biggest economy in the galaxy would sit at their desks looking busy for all hours of the day, yet actually achieving very little, while smaller less developed planets slowly but surely catch them up and overtake them.

45. There would be one or two storm troopers at work building the Death Star, while 20 or 30 others guided starships around them in exactly the same pattern as the landing strips and lights already placed there for the exact same purpose.

46. Travel more than 20 miles, and you would need C3PO and all 6 million of his languages and dialects to get around.

47. The Jedi schools would be full of teachers who could`t actually use a light sabre but knew all the theory behind it so everyone would ace it on the written test but fail miserably at the thrust and parry in practical usage. To remedy this the alliance would import thousands of “native Jedis” but would resist any attempts at real teaching.

48. Padawans would just say “muzukashii”, “dekinai” or “lightsaber no tsukaikata zen zen wakannai!”.

49. Nobody would ever notice Vader’s breathing due to all the snot-snorting, noodle-slurping and teeth-sucking.

50. Outsideraans would comment on many things but would be told they couldnt possibly understand as they werent Ewoks.

52. Whilst rushing to escape from the Giant Space Worm the the Millennium Falcon would already be full so Han et al would have to reverse themselves on at the top of the boarding ramp pushing their way on in the process.

53. Luke and Ben Kenobi would remove their shoes when they enter the Cantina.

54. The garbage in the trash compactor would have been properly separated.

55. Stormtroopers would never even draw their blasters.

56. The Battle of Hoth would be postponed due to it being “Samui!”

57. The stormtrooper would say “itai” when he smacks his head on the doorframe.

58. The Millenium Falcon wouldn’t be able to blast off until other spaceships have arrived so as not to upset the flight timetables.

59. The cantina band at Mos Eisley wouldn’t have been playing instruments. They would have been lip-synching and dancing choeographically.

60. Vader: “Luke, I am your father”
Luke: “eeeeeeee”

61. The names would be changed to Luke-kun, Han-chan, Chew-chan, Leia-chan (she`s very cute), Darth-sama, Yoda-kun (technically speaking he should be sama given his standing but he is just too kawaii to not be called kun or chan). Lando would just be called Land.

62. The Millennium Falcon would be shortened to Mi-fa, speedbike becomes spi-bai, Landspeeder, la-spi and so on. Everyone would refer to their blasters as burasutaa-chan.

63. All the AT-ATs would have baskets on them.

64. Han and Luke would hold umbrellas on the remote ice-world of Hoth.

65. Luke would utter the word “oishii” before drinking his blue milk.

66. Luke Skywalker would never, ever turn off the GPS Navi system in his X-wing fighter.

67. Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader would bow before their dual.

 

We Love You Japan xx

* I can not stress enough my gratitude to the message boarders on the ‘Lets’s Japan.org’ website whose many ideas contributed to this article. You know who you are.
** This article relies heavily on stereotypes and is just for fun and not intended to cause offence to Japanese people.
*** This ‘fun’ article was ready to publish about a year ago but then the awful events that began on March 11th happened and it just didn’t seem right to make even light-hearted fun of the Japanese at that time.