Whilst back in England this month we took a day trip to Stamford one day and our final stop was Burghley house which has been portrayed on screen a few times. As well as featuring in the BBC TV adaptation of ‘Middlemarch‘ (1994) it has also starred in films like ‘Pride & Prejudice‘ (2005) and ‘The Da Vinci Code‘ (2006) with the latter being my main reason of interest for visiting. The interior of ‘Castel Gandolfo’ as well as Saunière’s retreat in the flashback scenes were filmed at this stately home. In the former it was used as ‘Rosings’; the palatial home of Lady Catherine de Bourg played by the legendary Dame Judi Dench. England’s greatest Elizabethan house is a hefty £12.70 to get into but its free to wander the vast area outside which is exactly what we did.
Typical eh! You wait ages for a new film set in Japan to be released and then two come out at once! ‘Emperor‘ (2013) hit Japanese cinema screens on July 27th and this sixth installment in the X-Men film series had a worldwide release the day before that. Of course ‘The Wolverine‘ is yet to be shown on the big screen here but Tokyo Fox managed to get access to an exclusive pre-screening of it.
Now before I start, I do have to say that I have never read any X-Men or Marvel comics so my knowledge of this character is perhaps more limited than others. However, I did do my homework beforehand in one sense as I watched the previous five X-Men films in anticipation of this release and my visit to the temple where the funeral scene was filmed. I can’t say that I was too enthralled by those movies but I was very much absorbed by the Logan/Wolverine character and, unlike many others, I actually didn’t mind the 2009 ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine‘ film
‘Wolverine Samurai‘ as its titled here takes place after ‘X-Men: The Last Stand‘ (2011) and in a sense the movies opening storyline is very true to the heart of X-Men as the U.S. drops the bomb on Nagasaki in WWII. This particular event on 9th August, 1945 led to anxiety of the atom age breaking and the possibility of radiation and mutation affecting people. As most of the soldiers commit suicide Logan saves a soldier named Yashida. Many years later, Yashida is a rich technology entrepreneur and still ever grateful for being saved, he invites Logan (via Yukio) to Japan because he’s dying from the radiation he was exposed to. He offers Logan the chance to become mortal if he promises to protect his grand-daughter, Mariko from the Yakuza. It’s an appealing offer for someone who feels his gift has been a bit of a curse recently.
Huge action star Hugh Jackman is always charming and charismatic in interviews and his portrayal of the ageless character is fantastic…. and a good job too as the film almost never leaves Wolverine’s side! Three female characters feature prominently with Yukio being the most interesting one; a ninja with the gift of seeing the future who acts as “bodyguard” to him as she calls it during the movie. Mariko (Tao Okamoto) was not so memorable for me and just a standard damsel in distress. The third is the venomous Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) who I didn’t really get into and thought she could have been utilised better.
I did find the film to include a few too many ninja fight scenes but I guess that’s what the kids want to see! Fights on top of moving trains have long been a feature of movies but the one on the bullet train from Ueno station was pretty exciting stuff not that any of the passenger extra’s seemed too bothered about all the destruction and devastation! What I did find of interest was the nod to a small scene in ‘Diamonds Are Forever‘ (1971) with someone being thrown over a high-rise balcony into a pool below by someone who didn’t know there was a pool there! Homage was also paid to Akira Kurosawa’s1957 film ’Throne of Blood‘ (or is it just more a case of it not being too original lacking in ideas!) when the Wolverine is halted by the arrows of archers and turned into a pin-cushion.
Japan is principally the backdrop for the majority of the flick with filming taking place at Tokyo Tower and Zojoji Temple as I revealed back in May but I should add that quite a few of the ‘Japan’ scenes were shot in New South Wales in Australia. Naturally, the cinematography was one of the films highlights for me in a film with plenty of plot loopholes and things that just don’t add up such as his memory but I guess you’ve gotta suspend belief a little bit when watching such films anyway. X-Men films always have a post credit scene and this one was no exception but I don’t really like these cheap ways of promoting the next film in the franchise with some vague ending.
Tokyo Fox Rating 7/10
Do you see that year in the title? Yes, it is this year and indeed it’s the very present and a rare opportunity for Tokyo Fox to review an actual current release! In fact, this movie will not get a UK release date for a couple more months which is the opposite of what usually happens with any western movie production being released in Japan!
However, as its a new film I don’t think its best to reveal too much in the way of plot spoilers even though you know the historical outcome! The storyline is a fairly easy one to follow with General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) being hired by General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) to investigate Emperor Hirohito’s role during WWII and whether he should subsequently be tried as a war criminal.
Don’t be fooled by that synopsis though as ‘Emperor‘ is not a war movie as there are no battle scenes and instead it focuses on the aftermath of the war and the true price of peace. Naturally, with all western films about Japan there is also some stuff about cultural adaptation as Fox’s character gets to grips with Japanese attitudes towards conflict, and how they differ from those embraced by people in the west. His work is further complicated by his memories of a girl called Maya (Eriko Hatsune) who he fell in love with during his college days which we see via a series of flashbacks. Not only is he searching for a conclusion within a 10 day framework to the emperor’s situation but he’s also keen to trace his lost love. Searching for two different things sees some quite touching scenes and leads him to the chef (veteran actor Toshiyuki Nishida) from ‘The Ramen Girl‘ (2008) who shares his wisdom with him.
Jones’ portrayal of MacArthur has been the topic of much debate but I didn’t really have a problem with it and indeed thought that his mannerisms in particular were seemingly captured very well. My problem was that, despite getting top billing, he doesn’t get enough screen time for such an important figure. MacArthur’s opinion is that his job would be far easier if Hirohito stays as emperor as he believes that with no god-like figure the Japanese people will kill themselves en masse. The powers that be in Washington see things a bit differently!
The movie was filmed in Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand as well as Tokyo itself where I assume some scenes really were filmed in the vicinity of the Imperial Palace rather than being faked in a studio somewhere. Sugamo Prison even features which has long been replaced by the Sunshine 60 building in Ikebukuro which featured in myTokyo’s Most Haunted Sights feature last year. The wartime devastation scenes are particularly impressive and overall the cinematography was pleasing and so it should be given the generous budget of the film!
Whilst I found ‘Emperor‘ quite intriguing due to my interest in such topic matter I do think that many neutral viewers may find it a bit slow not that I can really see it attracting much of a general audience. When I watched it one afternoon, the place was almost full of ojiisan and obaasan! It’s a dialogue driven film with some interesting scenery and the interwoven love subplot helps push the movie along as a decision of huge historical importance affecting all future relations between the US and Japan is ultimately decided.
Tokyo Fox Rating 7/10
Having just watched a foreign language flick I think most people might be tempted to go on and watch more films from that country or even book a trip to the place. The latter may usually be true for me but when the country we’re talking about is Iran it’s never gonna be that straightforward! I’ve heard great things about Iran actually, especially its people and would like to visit the country one day but for now I’ll have to settle for the next best thing. Having finally got round to watching ’A Separation‘ (2011) I-ran out to get some ethnic cuisine as that’s the kind of persian I am!
One obvious restaurant springs to mind when it comes to Iranian restaurants in Tokyo and thats ‘Zakuro’ at 3-13-2 Nishi-Nippori. Back in 2011 I first went to this place on an evening and slagged it off on here! That was more for my dislike of that kind of entertainment and that is still true but having returned their last year for lunch I decided it was a great place for food which kind of got forgotten about in my original entry. More on the food later.
Now, despite all the film-related stuff here on Tokyo Fox, I really am not a film buff but I do enjoy watching foreign language movies from time to time. ‘A Separation‘ (2011) won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2012 and its beauty lies with the fact that the tension and drama remains throughout without any need to resort the more commonly used gimmicks of western cinema.
It is a sad truth that most people from English-speaking countries just will not watch foreign language films when they go to the cinema or rent a dvd. Having to actually read the subtitles in order to really understand what’s going on is one basic reason why. It’s also been suggested that subtitles require more attention and take away the viewers concentration of the action in part. Movie-goers seem to be ok with small segments of the films they watch being subtitled but it seems at times that it’s only really the film buffs who enjoy good movies whether they are subtitled or not.
The brilliant and very tense ‘Argo‘ (2012) was a three-time Academy Award winner in 2012 and having also re-watched this on dvd the other day, Iran was definitely lurking in the back of my mind somewhere. As a movie locations geek I should add that the bazaar wasn’t really in Iran but was instead the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul which also featured in ‘Skyfall‘ and ‘Taken 2‘ last year.
That links me nicely back to Zakuro which is actually a mix of Iranian and Turkish food as well as also including some Uzbekistani cuisine too. The lunch set is a bargain 1000 yen and includes daily juice, daily kebab, soup, rice, nan, tea, Iran pasta and and a load more dishes which I struggle to recall.
Sitting on Persian rugs which cover the floor your table is also at ground level and fairly quickly fills up as the staff bring you dish after dish as well as a Turkish fez hat!
Having been here a few times now it really can be a bit hit or miss. Every time you go to this place the menu is a little different which is no doubt a good thing but when I took my girlfriend here recently for her maiden visit the service was a little lacking and we did get forgotten about a bit after the initial outlay of dishes given to us which it has to be said is fairly impressive. Its just that on my previous visit I was constantly inundated with extra dishes and other little bite-sized nibbles which are passed round by the waiters.
Funnyman owner Ali is a bit of a character who usually works hard to entertain the diners, particularly the larger groups, and create a communal atmosphere in the place. Sadly, he wasn’t around so much for this recent visit which may be why it wasn’t quite up to scratch. Still, I shall definitely return again one day.