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.

Unbroken Poster unbroken

Tokyo Fox Rating 7/10

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Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘Letters From Iwo Jima’ (2006)

I decided to watch this again a few days ago having just taught a student who this week is going to visit the island of Iwo-jima which is actually part of Tokyo albeit a long, long way south (750 km) of the mainland. Most of the scenes weren’t actually filmed there though but on the black sand beaches of Sandvik in the south-west of Iceland. Clint Eastwood directed this film straight off the back of the less successful ‘Flags of our Fathers‘ in order to give the Japanese perspective and when I originally watched it on its release in 2006 I admittedly wasn’t expecting anything more than just being able to tell students that I had seen it. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

This Hollywood production gets full credit first and foremost for not going anywhere near the usual Japanese stereotypes portrayed in most other films. It is clearly distinguishable from all the other films set in Japan with no need to rely on any stereotypical images of Japanese society and is supposedly scripted with excellent research into Japanese society at that time. Secondly, it used nearly all Japanese actors rather than American-Japanese or other Asian actors. This doesn’t bother me so much but its something the Japanese often get worked up about in the name of authenticity. Finally, all but about five minutes of the films 141 minute length features Japanese dialogue but despite the length and need for subtitles I was captivated throughout which for someone like me, with a short attention span, is very rare.

The main characters all have interesting stories to tell which are shown via a few flashback scenes. Ken Watanabe, by far the most famous Japanese actor (if not the only one) known overseas, may be the lead role but the true star of the film is the baby faced Shingo; the baker with a pregnant wife, who is called up to fight for his country. He is a frightened, anxious man full of hope and battling against the harsh regime of the Japanese army. He wants to realise just one dream which is to get home to see his daughter.

 

The film starts off in the present day with someone discovering the letters on the island and then its back to 1944 as the film really draws you into the caves and makes you a part of the Japanese soldier’s life. We see them basically defend the island to the death which General Kuribayashi (Watanabe) says is of utmost importance. The utter hopelessness of their situation is quite a recurring thing and time and time again we hear of the soldiers dying with honour and courage in the line of duty against the American invasion and we even hear that it’s “our fate to find our place at Yasukuni Shrine.”

Overall, I was thoroughly engrossed throughout this emotionally powerful movie and I’d probably even go as far to say that it’s one of the best war films out there and Clint Eastwood deserves all the accolades that came with this picture. The ironic thing is that it is he who has made this film rather than the Japanese themselves and if you didn’t know anything about the production you’d naturally assume it was not a domestic production.

 

London Filming Locations: Goodnight Sweetheart (1993-1999)

We take a little detour from the usual filming locations to take a one-off look at a few pivotal shots which were used in this popular 1990′s BBC sitcom featuring Nicholas Lyndhurst. He played Gary Sparrow who became an accidental time traveller going back and forth between the 90′s and the war torn 40′s in a love story where he juggles two women; one from each era.

Ezra Street (below) in Bethnall Green plays the part of the passageway Ducketts Passage which when he walks down it leads him back in time to wartime London. The litter bin and telephone boxes were props added to make it look more 90s-like.

  

As the camera switches angles we see Gary in the 1940′s continuing on down the lane (above) where he finds and enters The Royal Oak pub (below) where he meets landlady Phoebe. The screenshots featured here are from the first ever episode which was when Gary stumbled upon that time period and so was not dressed for the era as he was on all subsequent visits of which there were many.

 

Having bought and subsequently watched the complete six series of the show last year I was very excited to locate this pub which also appeared as ‘Samoan Jo’s’ in ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels‘ and as an East end boozer in ‘The Krays‘. It can be found at 73 Columbia Road, E2 7RG close to the famous flower market.