Review: Films Set In Japan – The Wolverine (2013)

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.

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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.

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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

Tokyo Daytripper: Zojoji Temple a.k.a. The Wolverine Temple

So this is a bit of a first then as TF presents you with some filming locations for a movie  that hasn’t even come out yet!! ‘The Wolverine‘ is the sixth installment in the X-Men film series and it is released at the end of July in most countries apart from Japan of course where the locals have to wait till mid-September. It’s fairly common that Japan is the last country to see an international film released but perhaps a bit surprising given that Tokyo features quite prominently.

Scenes were shot in late August 2012 at Tokyo Tower and Zojoji Temple which can be seen quite a bit in the trailer which is where I got the screenshots below from. The Main Hall is used for a funeral scene and it looks quite different from normal with the addition of lots of lanterns and cars going by where I’m standing in presumably some sort of funeral procession. The Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and his accomplice are seen climbing the steps of the Main Hall with the sanmon (main gate) visible in the background.

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Despite the Star Wars obsession on this site I’m not actually such a big fan of sci-fi films or even comic book heroes but any regular reader of ‘Tokyo Fox‘ knows that I have a strong interest in any movie shot in Japan and so in anticipation of this release I have been working my way through the previous films to get me ready for ‘The Wolverine‘ which I will watch at the cinema (maybe even when I’m back in Britain in August) and review on this site in the Films ‘Set’ In Japan section; the first time I will have reviewed a film of such sort on its release. If it wasn’t for the fact that I have a set of Spider-Man Top Trump cards (below left), which I often use in lessons to help teach comparatives and superlatives, I wouldn’t have had any idea who the likes of Professor Xavier, Magneto, Storm or Iceman were!

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I can only assume that the shot (above right) was taken either from a crane, helicopter or The Front Tower Shiba Koen although when I went up to the top on the 24th floor (and subsequently the 22nd, 21st, 20th, 19th, 18th….) I couldn’t get the view I wanted. For the record there is nothing on the 23rd floor and the views on each floor were all looking in the wrong direction with offices taking up space on the side I needed.

For your information, further filming took place at the start of September 2012 outside Fukuyama Station in Hiroshima-ken and in Tomonoura, a port in the Ichichi ward of Fukuyama but sadly I didn’t know about that when I was in Hiroshima earlier this month. If I did I could at least have got a shot of the station in anticipation that a similar one would be seen in ‘The Wolverine‘!

Parramatta in Sydney doubled up as a Japanese city and Sydney Olympic Park was made into a Japanese village draped in snow. Filming also took place on Brisbane Street in Surrey Hills which was transformed to look like a Japanese street with Japanese signs and vehicles scattered throughout…according to Wikipedia, so it must be true!

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This isn’t the first time though that Zojoji Temple has featured in a movie for who can forget its appearance in the Steven Seagal classic ‘Into The Sun‘ (2005) where the main hall could be seen on 66 mins in the foreground of Tokyo Tower (above left) whilst there was some meeting between the baddies though god knows why they chose to meet at such a public place! My not-so-perfect match-up of that film is above right.

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As for the temple itself, it is worth a visit in its own right and is included in the ‘Fodor’s Tokyo Top 25 Sights‘ guidebook and was therefore visited by me a few years ago when I cycled all 25 sights in one day. I have visited it half a dozen times now and definitely rate it as one of the best in Tokyo and along with Shiba Koen Park next door and Tokyo Tower nearby it all makes for a nice day trip within Tokyo. The two-storied sanmon was originally built in 1605 and is a rare example of early Edo-period architecture in Tokyo. After entering the complex through the sanmon (above) you soon come across a statue,  the stone image of buddha’s foot, a purification trough and the Great Bell of 1673 (3m high) which can all be seen in the four images below.

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I guess this temple is most famous for its rows and rows of little statues of jizobosatsu(the protector of the souls of stillborn children) which are decorated with baby clothes, toys and little windmills. Dressed mostly in red baby bonnets the statues are colourful and sad at the same time.

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The building (below left) standing in the background of the folded paper prayers and next to the Main Hall (seen from a different angle below right) is Ankokuden which houses the Black image of Amida Buddha and is used as a prayer hall as it is widely revered as a place that brings victory and wards off evil spirits.

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Above left is the Mausoleum of the Tokugawa Shoguns which is not normally open to the public apart from on certain days each year. Some statues (above right) stand in front of its gate.

The Wolverine‘ is released in the UK, the USA and most of the world on July 26th. It comes out in Japan on September 13th!