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A Leicester City fan teaching English in Japan

Review: Films Inspired By Japan – Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. (1990)

Yet another silly movie with p*ss-poor acting but I guess that’s what we’ve come to expect from a low budget independent production company like Troma. ‘Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.‘ is actually a spin-off from the Kabuki-Boy character seen in ‘The Toxic Avenger Part II‘ (1989) which is actually one of the films showing at the cinema (along with ‘BlackRain‘) in the background of an early scene involving the protagonist. Company founder Lloyd Kaufman jokingly mentioned he was making a movie about the character and Japanese investors became interested so you can blame this country for this comical sci-fi cop adventure seeing the light of day!

Warning: Contains spoilers!

Bumbling New York police detective Harry Griswold (Rick Gianasi) goes to the theatre to see some kabuki but things are interrupted when a load of guys wielding machine guns burst in and start firing off shots at the actors on stage. Harry is the have-a-go hero type and retaliates with gunfire of his own and as the oldest actor is dying he gives the protagonist a sloppy kiss. With that action, his old Kabuki-spirit is transferred to Harry.

The super-hero movies may have seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years with the addition of many, many newer characters on top of the classics like Batman, Spider-Man and Superman but it really is not a new phenomenon as proved by the much forgotten (never remembered or known in the first place?!!) Kabukiman which does pay homage to the genre with some scenes that rip-off the aforementioned famous super-heroes.

Harry’s transformation doesn’t take too long and before you know it he’s wearing kabukiface-paint and a kimono and is fighting crime and evil with the help of the old man’s granddaughter, Lotus who teachers him to master his new found Kabuki-powers in order to stop the Evil One from ruling the earth.

As well as his police duties, he has to stop something from happening which he does whilst displaying his arsenal of attacking moves. Though still incompetent in his new role, New York grows to love Kabukiman as he gets a grasp of his powers and tackles petty city crime in entertaining ways such as tying a car thief in noodles, burying a guy in mustard wasabi, throwing Japanese footwear, using chopsticks as arrows, fans that blow his opponents away and turning people into sushi.

That’s just a taster of what you get in this film which is full of Troma trademarks like gratuitous nudity (albeit quite sparse compared to other offerings), gross humour, outlandish violence, cartoon-like characters, blood, worm eating, crazy villains, sound effects, narratives explaining what’s happening and so on.

The film really is longer than it needs to be. No-one ought to be subjected to 105 minutes of such entertainment, not even young teenage boys who I guess probably lap this kind of stuff up! I know I would have done at that age whereas now I find it hard to laugh as such absurd and ridiculous action such as the transformations when Harry became Kabukiman. I guess those things are the appeal for many though and I can kind of see why such films can quickly develop a cult following.

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TF Rating 5/10

London Filming Locations: GoldenEye (1995)

After a six year hiatus the James Bond franchise returned in 1995 with Irish actor Pierce Brosnan at the helm as the series was modernised a bit in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War and this ended up providing background for the plot.

Following opening scenes in Switzerland (filling in for the USSR) and Monaco, the capital of England appears as we see the debut of the MI6 building, Vauxhall Cross (below) at 85 Albert Embankment. It would go on to appear in ‘The World Is Not Enough‘ (1999), ‘Die Another Day‘ (2002) and ‘Skyfall‘ (2012) and just so you know that it really is London, a red double decker passes by in the foreground on 36 minutes.

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Over the decades, many world locations have been faked in Bond films and ‘GoldenEye‘ is no exception. Sure, there are a few shots of the real St Petersburg but much of it was shot in the UK in the nations capital. Somerset House (below) at The Strand on 55 minutes doubled up as Russia’s second largest city whereas in ‘Tomorrow Never Dies‘ (1997) the courtyard was seen as 007 is driven to the MI6 HQ. This place is a short distance from Temple tube station and also appears as scenery footage at the start of ‘Love Actually‘ (2003).

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Other “Russian” locations in London to feature include Brompton Cemetry (below) on 58 minutes which is the exterior of the St Petersburg church where Natalya meets Boris by chance. This cemetery can also be seen in the Rowan Atkinson Bond spoof ‘Johnny English‘ (2003) and in ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation‘ (2015).

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The interior is St Sofia’s Cathedral (below) which funnily enough is on Moscow Road near Bayswater Station.

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The Langham Hilton (below) at Portland Place is portrayed as ‘Grand Hotel Europe’ and is seen briefly on 63 minutes.

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One final “Russian” location is Drapers’ Hall (below) on Throgmorton Street near Bank station. It is the St Petersburg council chamber where a General discovers that Natalya has survived the detonation. I visited here on two occasions with the first one being hindered slightly by a lot of visible scaffolding which meant I had to zoom in close to cut it out.

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A couple of years after ‘GoldenEye‘ and this place, which isn’t open to the public, became Russia again in ‘The Saint‘ (1997) starring Val Kilmer.

For other London filming locations click on the links below:

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#ForceFriday – The Journey Towards The New Star Wars Movie Has Begun

It’s still a few months until ‘The Force Awakens‘ a.k.a. ‘Star Wars Episode VII‘ gets its worldwide release but for a while now September 4th has been billed as #ForceFriday; the journey towards the long awaited sequel to ‘Return Of The Jedi‘ (1983).

Much of the Star Wars fan community has been getting very excited about today and the release of new merchandise in stores and fan events around the world to mark the occasion. Principle markets like the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany and Spain have had midnight openings to allow fans to get their hands on all kinds of new figures, toys, stationery, Lego, clothing, masks, lightsabers and other such accessories.

As much as I tried to find out, I got no answers from Tokyo stores regarding them doing anything for #ForceFriday. Eventually I just decided that I’d check out the huge Toys ‘R’ Us store within Sunshine City in Ikebukuro. Fortunately, my friend Ben mailed me earlier this morning asking if I was going there and so we agreed to meet up to visit the shop just after it opened at 11am.

It took us a while to locate the Force Awakens goodies but just as we were pessimistically thinking there would be one or two Star Wars toys in the whole place we then saw a sizeable section devoted to all the new Star Wars things.

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First point of call was the section displaying the 3.75 inch figures (below) which dominate my collection. The most prominent ones on display were of Poe Dameron, Kylo Ren, Finn, Rey, Captain Phasma as well as various stormtroopers and sandtroopers. I had no intention of actually buying any of these new figures today and I didn’t! Instead, I got a bit caught up in the euphoria of such an event (which of course was not really an event!) and bought a Kylo Ren bobble head!

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It was all a little overwhelming at first but way more exciting than I thought it would be when I set out in the morning. Whilst this area of the store was far from busy and bustling, there was a constant flow of people (mostly men!) passing through; some with baskets being stocked full of figures and I very much doubt they were for their kids!

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It wasn’t just about the new heroes and villains though as there were also some new figures of classic characters like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca and so on. I imagine the new crossguard lightsaber will be a very popular toy with the kids and with Halloween coming up next month, it will be interesting to see if anyone purchases the new masks and dresses up as a character from a film which still won’t have been released by then!

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One thing that it was lacking though was figures or merchandise relating to the soccer ball droid known as BB8. Maybe that kind of thing is being held back until a bit later in the year. As we left the store one hour later (yes, we spent 60 minutes working our way through almost every single item!) we noticed some Star Wars Lego cardboard display exhibits (below) on the way out although ‘Minions‘ were doing their best to hog the limelight!

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Reconvening later in the afternoon, Ben and I met up again to extend the buzz of #ForceFriday. We went to StarCase; the Star Wars shop in Koenji but there wasn’t much new stock there but for a few new figures. It seems the 7 Eleven convenience stores started selling tickets in anticipation of the December 18th release but you still need to exchange that ticket for the actual cinema seat ticket so we didn’t purchase any. Village Vanguard and AmeComi Senmonten Comic Collectors, which featured in the Tokyo Foxtop 5……otaku shops in Tokyo, were also checked out but had nothing new to offer.

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Later on, I checked out Loft in Shibuya (below) where a huge space has been given over to Star Wars merchandise with even more stuff available than was on sale at Toys ‘R’ Us. An awesome spectacle and had I been tipped off earlier I may well have made this my first port of call.

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Today was just the start of the journey taking us up to December 18th and no doubt the marketing and promotion will step up over the coming months with all kinds of Star Wars tie-ins with all kinds of food and beverage companies. With season one of ‘Star Wars Rebels‘ out on DVD soon, season two starting next month, Star Wars Celebration in London next July, the spin off movie ‘Rogue One‘ in December 2016 and ‘The Force Awakens‘ this Christmas time there really is no better time to be a fan of the franchise.

Cambodia: City Of Ghosts & R-Point Filming Locations

Ever since I saw ‘City Of Ghosts‘ for the first time in 2010 I have been interested in the Old Bokor Hill location which appears towards the end of the movie. Further online research informed me that a Korean movie had also been filmed there which I alerted my friend Mostyn to ahead of his visit to the area in January 2011 and thankfully he bought both films on DVD so I was able to borrow and re-watch them ahead of this trip.

Le Bokor Palace a.k.a. Old Casino Hotel is shrouded in history with tales to tell from within its walls since construction began around a century ago. All fascinating stuff but it is the last decade which is of most interest to Tokyo Fox when ‘City Of Ghosts‘ (2002) and ‘R-Point‘ (2004) were filmed there.

WARNING: Contains spoilers!

The Old Palace Hotel first appears on 90 minutes as Jimmy (Matt Dillon) approaches it  from the south-west but sadly whilst we were there I didn’t visit this particular spot which is a little annoying as I had all the screen shots with me! Instead, I include my first glimpse of the place. As mentioned in the previous post the old structure was obscured by mist and fog when we arrived with visibility cut down substantially. A perfect introduction to a place famed for it’s eerie atmosphere!

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Con artist Jimmy is in Cambodia to collect his share of money from an insurance scam involving his mentor Marvin (James Caan), who at one point in the movie performs the Khmer-language song ‘Bong Sorlang.‘ We are led to believe he is dead in a scene (below) on 96 minutes that was shot on the back left side of the ruin.

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However, he turns up moments later (below) as his high risk scam (involving corrupt Cambodian government officials, high-ranking military and the Russian mafia) is unravelled.

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The back right-side of the complex appears on 100 minutes as that is where Marvin’s car is parked. Having been wounded, Marvin is helped by Jimmy to his vehicle (below) as they escape their situation. Sadly, the old hotel has been stripped in recent years of the dirty, rotten, rusty look which was such a distinctive feature.

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As Jimmy drives his dead partner away on 102 minutes there is a much wider shot (below) of the Old Casino Hotel perched on the hill. The coastline is over 100 metres below and for reasons of elevation the French chose this location for the slightly cooler climate.

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Just a couple of years later and the makers of Korean horror movie ‘R-Point‘ decided to use this place as it’s major location. When I originally watched it I was just expecting a few scenes to have been shot there so was quite surprised that it featured so prominently.

Though it was filmed in Cambodia the story actually takes place in January 1972 in Vietnam with the Old Palace Hotel doubling as a colonial French plantation. On receiving a radio transmission at the South Korean base in Nha Trang from a missing platoon who had been presumed dead, a squad of eight soldiers are despatched to extract the missing soldiers from the rendezvous point or R-Point. They eventually locate a colossal, vacant mansion (below) on 25 minutes which they subsequently use as their base.

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They are given a week by the High Command to find the missing soldiers but as time passes slowly and as R-Point day 2 begins on 46 minutes, one soldier informs his Lieutenant on the front steps (below) of the old building that he can’t find Private Chung.

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Moments later two soldiers are sat on the steps at the back of the place (below) on the right side as you look at it from the front. As they ponder what has happened to Chung, a pretty gruesome and bloody scene solves that mystery.

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R-Point Day 4 starts on 66 minutes at the front entrance steps (below) as the soldiers are ordered to split into two teams to scout the region from the spot where they first arrived in search of the radio operator.

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As the film draws to a close, there is a final front-on shot of the ruins (below) on 104 minutes. The closing credits appear soon after that bringing to an end this tense, atmospheric and tightly controlled war and horror movie crossover.

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You can read ‘Cambodia 2015 Pt VIII: Phnom Penh‘ here

Cambodia: Lara Croft Tomb Raider Filming Locations

This film adaptation of a popular video game has probably been forgotten by many but it’s legacy certainly lives on in Cambodia where it is mentioned day in-day out by the thousands of tourists who descend on main location Ta Prohm to see it’s fascinating tree roots which have swallowed up parts of the temple complex.

The action in Cambodia starts on 40 minutes as Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) is on a mission to retrieve half of the triangular MacGuffin. Before Ta Prohm though, there are a couple of other temples playing cameo roles. Having called in a favour from the Special Forces, she is parachuted down (in her Land Rover no less!) and waves goodbye to the plane which helped her from the Central Sanctuary at Phnom Bakheng.

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This temple, located 400 metres south of Angkor Thom, is an incredibly popular place for tourists to photograph Angkor Wat at sunrise and sunset and is where Lara begins her journey. She gets to work straight away and. looking through her special binoculars, she sees Manfred Powell (Iain Glen) and Alex West (Daniel Craig) getting up to mischief at the East Gate of Angkor Thom. 

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To get to this place involves a 20 minute hike up a hill although elephants are sometime on hand to do the hard work for you. At a cost of course!

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Moments later she prepares her ammunition and shoots off in her Land Rover from in front of the sacred Bayon temple (below) which is the centrepiece of the fortified city of Angkor Thom. Bayon is famed for its enigmatic faces donning the many towers within its three levels. 

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The most famous temple though is of course the aforementioned Ta Prohm which first appears on 42 minutes. This spectacular temple has been swallowed up by the jungle over time and the roots are growing out of the ruins. Lara parks her vehicle at the eastern entry which has seen a lot of restoration work between my two visits in 2007 and 2015.

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A mysterious girl appears and disappears a few times as Croft enters the complex and soon she comes across the huge tree below which is entwined with the ruins.

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Croft wanders around the eerie place for a bit before she finally catches up with the young little girl who points her in the right direction.

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She heads towards the doorway seen below where, having picked a jasmine flower, she falls through the ground…..ending up in Pinewood Studios! Alongside the screenshot is a photo I took on New Years Day 2007 as the place has changed a bit since then and is now more restrictive with the area roped off from the public who can only view it from a boardwalk.

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World Heritage site Angkor Wat appears on the hour mark and appears to be looming over a lake bursting with waterlilies and boating villagers. There are mixed reports on this one with some saying this elaborate floating village was constructed on the northern pond. Others refute that and say it was just a set with CGI used to add the worlds largest religious building into the background.

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Whilst there are a couple of pools at Angkor Wat, there is no activity on them whatsoever. Croft comes ashore asking a monk in Khmer language where she can make an international call.

You can read ‘Cambodia 2015 Pt VI: Kampot‘ here

Click here to see the London filming locations of ‘Lara Croft: Tomb Raider‘ (2001)

Click here to see the Hong Kong filming locations of ‘Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle Of Life’ (2003)

Review: Films Set In Japan – Unbroken (2014)

Due to the content of this film it has never come out in Japan and probably never will (other than maybe a minor release). Elsewhere though, it was released last Christmas but as it didn’t get reviewed on Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review show on BBC Radio 5 Live, this inspirational true story completely escaped my attention until very recently.

Some Japanese nationalists asked for the film and the director to be banned from Japan which usually wouldn’t matter too much but given that the director in this case is the very high profile Angelina Jolie that is unlikely to ever happen, especially given the public thirst for such A-list celebrities visiting these shores. 

Unbroken‘ is the second feature film to have been directed by Jolie and tells the life story of USA Olympian and athlete Louie Zamperini who went through so much in the air, at sea and on land. This is far more than just a war movie and there’s a lot of story to fit in within the constraints of the running time but Jolie managed to pull out the key elements and, for me, Jack O’Connell is convincing enough in the starring role.

Having already survived one plane accident, Zamperini then suffers a near-fatal plane crash in WWII and spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen. This takes up the first half of the movie in scenes reminiscent of a survival type programme. The action on screen is minimal but nevertheless engaging and this section is not rushed.

The second hour sees them caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a POW camp and this part of the film is somewhat similar to ‘The Railway Man‘ (2013) and, like that story, this one is very much about the incredible forgiveness that these men have offered in the wake of such atrocities from their Japanese capturers.

Louie and his compatriot Phil are separated into different camps with protagonist Louie being sent to a POW camp in Tokyo headed by Japanese sergeant Matsuhiro “Bird” Watanabe who treats him very cruelly due to his status as a former Olympian.

Although it’s set in Japan the production never came anywhere near the country and instead filmed it all in Australia where a POW camp was built at the historic Fort Lytton National Park on the southern bank of the Brisbane River. Other scenes were shot in New South Wales at Blacktown International Sportspark, Werris Creek and Cockatoo Island respectively.

Being unaware of the story beforehand was a kind of bonus as it’s usually better to go into these things without any knowledge. As a result my mind wasn’t clouded by how well Jolie captured the essence of the book. With no preconceived ideas I just watched it and was enthralled by it for the 137 minute duration. Yes, it may have played safe and Zamperini’s character could possibly have been been developed a bit but overall I was more than satisfied.

As much as I like Coldplay, I’m not really a fan of pop music being in films but that is of course dependant on the type of movie but I just felt that this soundtrack was out of place and a more sombre reflective score would have been a more appropriate way of accompanying the initial end credits.

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Tokyo Fox Rating 7/10

Japan: Earth’s Enchanted Islands

There have been plenty of TV programmes about Japan over the years but they only really ever focus on Tokyo and Kyoto so it was refreshing that this three-part BBC documentary series exemplified that there is plenty of life beyond those two particular cities.

In the land of noisy, dumbed down terebi it was so nice to see this trio of one hour BBC2 episodes dedicated to showing Japan’s true wild side in it’s most simplistic form. The beautifully shot footage of Japan’s natural environment was left to speak for itself with limited voiceover from Michelle Dockery adding to the pictures. It’s all a far cry from the TV programmes that air in this country!

Originally shown in June 2015 these programmes each week featured on different regions of Japan with the last ten minutes of each episode being a very enjoyable diary feature giving behind the scenes information about how the filming was done which I found to be very interesting.

Here is a rundown and review of what was in each episode:

Episode 1: Honshu – Tokyo may be a concrete jungle stretching as far as the eye can see but the main island of Honshu where it’s located is around 75% mountainous. As explained in the ‘Journeys Into The Ring Of Fire‘ documentary this is why the cities are so crowded as people can’t live so easily in such environments.

Despite living in the most urban of places many of the residents of Honshu yearn for nature and throughout the year they sample it here and there. The seasons are very much celebrated in Japan and this episode starts and finishes with the magic of the brief cherry blossom season which shows the Japanese bond with the natural world runs deep.

About half of Honshu is forested and accordingly it’s a feast of nature here and the viewer gets a good insight into the lives of monkeys, tree frogs, giant carp, fireflies, bees, black bears, squid, tanuki and deer. There is nowhere where the paths of these animals and humans don’t cross and nowhere is that more evident than with the latter two.

However, their interaction with humans is very different. The deer of Nara spend their days hanging out with the many tourists around the temples and shrines of this famous area and are allowed to wander freely as they are believed to be messengers of the gods.Tanuki a.k.a. Japanese racoon dogs are rarely seen (apart from in this series of course!) for they roam the streets at night having been forced to adapt to urban landscapes after forests made way for concrete. They can be a nuisance but are also believed to bring good luck.

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Episode 2: The South-West Islands – As you might expect this episode was more focused on aquatic life but first up was the truly unique sight of the Japanese macaque and deer species both living side by side on Yakushima island with the former riding on the latter’s backs.

Sakurajima is next to feature and this island has the most volatile volcano which has been erupting for 60 years. It could get quite violent at anytime and covers the city in ash every few weeks. I guess the residents are more than used to taking such precautions but seeing the school kids wear protective helmets is not something you see everyday! Believe it or not there are actually some benefits of the eruptions as it means the soil is very fertile and people go here to bury themselves up to their neck in sand to help improve circulation and vitality.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this programme was the section on sea-snakes whose greatest nemesis is actually two 70 year old women divers. They have been hunting snakes on the small island of Kudaka (just east of Okinawa’s main island) for 40 years and it’s been in the family of one of them for over 500 years. They brave the cave waters at night without any protection whatsoever to just grab the venomous sea snakes by hand. Inspiring stuff!

The lost world of Yonaguni is Japan’s westernmost island lying fairly close to Taiwan and therefore the first island to feel the force of the frequent typhoons which hit the country. Only as recently as 1986 were colossal terraced sandstone pyramids discovered off the island’s southern coast. There is still debate as to how the submerged monuments originated.

Other Hokkaido highlights included seeing the worlds tiniest wild boar on Iriomote-jima island, how mozuku seaweed is grown, a caterpillar transforming into the largest moth in the world and heavy crabs that can’t swim and have to wade to a safe distance to release their precious eggs without getting swept out to sea.

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Episode 3: Hokkaido – Only 4% of Japan’s population live on Japan’s wildest island which is home to the brown bear. Way back in the past when Russia and Hokkaido were attached, their ancestors could actually walk to Japan’s most northerly island from Siberia. This episode showed a brown bear and it’s two cubs hunting for salmon which was quite possibly the highlight of the whole series for me. In the area they filmed in on the north-east coast, there are around 200 brown bears and the post-show diary part showed how the bears and fishermen integrate into society without too much fear from either species.

Other highlights included seeing two stag’s fighting, cranes doing some kind of ballet having been close to extinction last century and sika deer, the toughest in the world who are prepared for everything that’s thrown at them and have to search  for food buried deep beneath the snow.

It wasn’t just about animals though as once the harsh winter season is over, there’s a dramatic colour change and transformation which sees Hokkaido resemble rural England. The narration tells us that Hokkaido never stands still and it’s seasons rush by which is proved by it’s short Spring and Summer seasons. During July it becomes positively Mediterranean-like whilst the rest of Japan sweats it’s way through extreme hot and humid conditions.

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The landscapes of Japan’s 6000 islands are highly varied and range from volcanic mountainous terrain to subtropical warmth and throughout this wild and mysterious land. This series provided a great insight into the extraordinary relationship that’s developed between the wildlife and the people whose lives are entwined.

Click here for a list of TV shows and documentaries about Japan