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

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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

Review: Films Inspired By Japan – Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009)

As Tokyo Fox is slowly running short of films ‘set’ in Japan to review, it’s time to start a new series analysing those movies inspired by Japan that have been set in other countries, most commonly the USA. Having been to the new Hachiko statue at the University Of Tokyo recently, the Akita dog was very much on the brain so I guess this Lasse Hallström-directed re-make is the perfect place to start.  Continue reading

Review: Films Set In Japan – Cars 2 (2011)

Always keen to add a twist or two to these ‘set in Japan’ reviews here is the first  review of an animated movie. My sister told me at Christmas that ‘Cars 2‘ featured Japan and I had hoped to watch it with my nephew but sadly that never happened and so I ended up viewing it all alone one afternoon which is pretty sa-a-a-a-ad!! Continue reading

Review: Films Set In Japan – Fear And Trembling (2003)

Starting off at Ryoanji temple in Kyoto this French film has a Belgian woman called Amélie (Sylvie Testud) looking back on her year at a Japanese corporation in Tokyo in 1990. Having been brought up in Japan until the age of five she decides to return and has a one year contract working as a translator for the giant Yumimoto Corporation.

She is a determined young woman who suffers for doing things in a western manner in a country which rewards loyalty rather than initiative and workers are promoted based on their years served instead of their track record. Of course, its hammed up a bit on screen but there’s an element of truth to most of what we see in this office based comedy and it’s this kind of mindset that may explain why the Japanese economy has been in a slump for 15 years or so.

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It may be a comedy but this is certainly nothing like BBC sitcom ‘The Office‘! The entire movie takes place in the office (filmed in Paris) so we sadly don’t get any hint of what life is like outside of their workplace. It would’ve been nice to see a glimpse of Amélie’s home life as it’s this kind of thing which helps form and develop a character.

Having tried and failed to work and integrate into the conformity of a Japanese office, Amélie works her way down the corporate ladder amid abuse, humiliation and insane routine as she fails to understand how things are done in Japan. She goes from doing great bilingual research (albeit work that violates the all important company procedure!) to re-setting calendars to serving coffee to cleaning the toilets! In between all that she’s ordered to not speak Japanese when clients and visitors are present as they wouldn’t be able to have any feeling of trust if they knew the white girl understood their language!

Another degrading assignment involves her being made to copy the same document over and over again. No care for the environment and all the paper wasted from Mr Saito as he demands it be 100% accurate with the text dead on centre to the exact millimetre. Anything less is just unacceptable!

The subject matter of this film is fascinating in itself with the protagonist finding herself in these strange situations which is fine for the first half of the movie but after that it failed to really develop any further. That is probably because it’s an autobiographical account of real-life experiences with very little added in the way of artistic license. The film is based on a book which may explain why the director uses voice over (a little too much but I guess some mother-tongue is needed to keep the natives attentive) to presumably portray essential passages from it.

Taking place in 1990, one would hope that this is a caricature of Japanese offices of that time and that they are no longer like this in any way but I still have my doubts about that! A lot of the story revolves around the inability to develop any human relations with her colleagues, particularly the submissive Fubuki; her female work leader. There are some slight lesbian undertones as Amélie adulates her and wants to please her but this is answered with sadistic pleasure as she is continuously belittled. Amélie realises that the best way to deal with it all is in humour and she uses her wild imagination to play the game of obedience and passiveness which her co-workers excel in.

In ‘Stupeur et Tremblements‘, to give it it’s original French title, Amélie has daydreams of falling out the window and floating over the Tokyo skyline as she’s desperate to escape and for many it’s hard to understand why anyone would put up with all the abuse and still be determined to continue working in such an environment.

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Tokyo Fox Rating 6/10

Review: Films Set In Japan – Rhapsody In August (1991)

On August 9th 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and over 40,000 people were instantly killed including (as far as this film story is concerned) the husband and a few siblings of a woman who is now the grandmother of four children. Whether or not Akira Kurosawa made this film or not, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will never be forgotten but what is perhaps surprising in this film is that there’s no real antagonism towards the Americans and instead it’s a simple reminder to all humanity that the consequences of not respecting one another can be catastrophic.

The Japanese title of this film is ‘Hachi gatsu no kyoshikyoku‘ and interestingly the Hollywood star Richard Gere would go on to star in another Japanese related film starting with the same first word by way of ‘Hachi: A Dog’s Tale‘ (2009) telling the story of the iconic dog. Of course he’s way more famous for his other film roles (‘American Gigolo‘, ‘Pretty Woman‘, ‘An Officer and A Gentleman’ etc) and he does only feature in the final third of this movie but that’s more than enough to merit its inclusion in thisTokyo Fox series! It’s not the first time a Kurosawa movie has been reviewed here though as ‘Kagemusha‘ (1980) was also included for similarly vague reasons relating to the executive producers!

For once this is quite a short Kurosawa film (98 minutes) and it’s also not one about samurai warlords laden with symbolic references to Japanese society. Instead, we see his most humanistic film which is quite moving at times and is a poem against war and the scars it leaves on the minds of those who have suffered.

The main person to have endured agony here is an elderly woman called Kané who is  living a peaceful care free life close to nature in the Nagasaki countryside, but the memory of the disaster continues to haunt her and she is forever laden with heavy memories of the past. She is the most intriguing character and a convincing one at that. She displays a range of emotions including suffering, wisdom and forgiveness as embodied by the phrase “blame it on the war” which she continues to repeat throughout the movie. She tries to communicate this message to her four grandchildren who seem interested in their country’s sorrowful history and it is kind of through their eyes, as well as their naive words, that Kurosawa lets us in on the tragedy.

As the memorial day is approaching Kané learns that her only living brother is in Hawaii (having made his fortune in pineapples) and wants to see her before he dies but she is a little reluctant to go despite the grandkids urging her to. Next, the parents return from their very own Hawaii trip and, hoping to get in on the wealth of the Hawaiian family, they try to persuade Kané to go. However, when the son of Kané’s brother (Richard Gere), suddenly arrives in Nagasaki, the parents are sure it’s because he wants to end the proposed visit because they guess he must resent the idea that his own country caused the death of Kané’s husband a.k.a. his uncle.

There is a very nicely filmed scene in the latter part of the film where the four kids and their granny are sitting under a blue moonlight whilst the adults are just obsessed about the wealth of their distant relatives. ‘Rhapsody In August‘ has pretty much no soundtrack other than the natural sounds of wind, water, traffic and people as well as the old organ in the house which one of the older boys plays at opportune moments.

A range of themes are touched on throughout the film such as the effect of the atomic bomb on both nations, the attitudes of the three generations and the effect of American culture on the Japanese. The film moves along at a slow pace and I was a little disappointed that there was no conflict at any time. There are chances aplenty to make Clark (Gere) feel guilt for what his country did but he was let off and spared any real pain or discomfort as everyone bowed their heads, apologised and forgave one another.

The ending is a all a bit weird for me as a violent thunderstorm erupts over the village which Kané believes to be a new bomb fallen on Nagasaki leading her to run desperately for cover chased (eventually) by her entire family in a scene that is a little theatrical but one that has a lasting impact with the broken umbrella coming to represent a flower of peace or something like that!

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Tokyo Fox Rating 6/10

Review: Films Set In Japan – Godzilla (2014)

Despite all the recent Godzilla features and movie location stuff on here I didn’t actually realise that this Gareth Edwards directed version was set in Japan (in part) until I saw it at the cinema the other day. I just assumed it was all set in the USA and though the second half of the film was in Hawaii, Nevada and San Francisco, the first hour or so was all set in Japan. As a movie locations geek it should be noted that the majority of this production was filmed in Vancouver, Canada.

Well, what do you know but it was the first half of this 123 minute movie which I preferred. A fair few people have complained of Godzilla getting very little air time but I don’t have a problem with that. In my opinion, the beast does not need to be seen immediately but its appearance is built up whilst delivering a terrifying off-screen presence with a foot here and a tail there!

This incarnation of the the giant lizard is told from a human perspective and Bryan Cranston’s character Joe Brody seemingly gets all the character-driven stuff from the moment we first see him in 1999 working as an engineer at the fictional Janjira nuclear plant in Japan. Having been tracking oncoming tremors, a fateful event occurs at the reactor on the morning of his birthday which see his wife (Juliette Binoche) killed and the city sealed off for all eternity.

Fifteen years on and Joe’s son Ford (Taylor-Johnson), who is now a US Navy Officer living in San Francisco with a wife and kid, has to fly to Japan to bail out his father who has been arrested for trespassing. Joe’s still overcome with grief and is a crackpot conspiracy theorist living in a tiny apartment where the wall is covered in news clippings, maps and charts. Joe manages to convince Ford to accompany him to their old home to retrieve some vital information he recorded and whilst in the quarantine zone they find that it’s not at all contaminated thereby enhancing Joe’s opinion that the government covered up the true cause of the disaster. However, after recovering the data, soldiers appear and detain them within the plant’s ruins.

It’s thereafter that all the monster stuff begins to happen with “MUTOs” (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) appearing on the scene which didn’t really catch my imagination but then again I’m not really a fan of kaiju (monster) movies. The rest of the film is carried out in the States with the US Navy task force getting involved which see’s the bad CIA guy (David Strathairn) from ‘The Bourne Ultimatum‘ (2007) yet again in charge and standing in front of a wall of screens and monitors giving out instructions. Like so many other actors in this film though he was under-utilised which was perhaps a little surprising given how his distinctive voice was used in the promotional trailers.

British director Gareth Edwards is obviously a man with a great knowledge of, and affection for the previous works of Godzilla (stuff that I have actually slagged off a fair bit on this site throughout the years!) and there are plenty of nods of affection to the original 1954 film without any of the horrors repeated from the almost universally panned 1998 Roland Emmerich film of the same name.

The awakening of the MUTOs leads to the stirring of the pre-historic predator known as “Gojira” as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) says before reverting to the English name for the rest of the film. I particularly liked the opening titles with the grainy archive footage showing missiles and atomic bombs being used in the Pacific Ocean and we get to see them again as it later emerges that the existence of the giant monster has been kept secret by the U.S. government since 1954. The re-appearance of Godzilla results in atsunami and with this film also touching on another sensitive subject by way of nuclear power, things could be slightly uneasy for some Japanese people. It is quite clear that this movie could never have been made in Japan as local directors might be uncomfortable turning such matter into a big budget production.

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Tokyo Fox Rating 6/10