Japan

47 Ronin (2013)

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The famous Japanese legend is given a supernatural twist in Carl Rinsch’s story. Despite the film being one of the biggest flops of 2013, the film is actually worth seeing.

In the times of feudal Japan, a young teen is found in the forests of Ako. Thought to be a demon, he is revealed to be half-Japanese, half-Caucasian. Lord Asano, the ruler of Ako, offers the boy shelter and takes him in. As the boy, to be known as Kai, grows, he begins to fall for Mika, the daughter of Lord Asano. However, the romance is verboten due to their differences in both class and race.

Years later, Kai assists Asano’s loyal samurai Oishi in a forest where he believes there is trouble awaiting. Lo and behold, a demon arrives and while many of Asano’s men are hurt in the battle, Kai is able to defeat the demon. Kai has pledged his loyalty to both Lord Asano and Oishi yet still has love for Mika. Meanwhile, Lord Asano is given a visit by a rival, Lord Kira and the Shogun. When a competition is to be held by Asano samurai Yasuno and a behemoth member of Kira’s samurai, Yasuno is out of commission. Kai takes Yasuno’s place and brings disgrace to the house of Asano when his cover is blown. Instead of death, he is beaten mercilessly and even more shocking, Asano learns of the love his daughter has for Kai and shuns her as a result.

Lord Kira, hellbent on taking over Japan, relies on a witch to set up Asano for a trap. Using her powers, the witch puts Asano under a spell to think Kira is raping Mika. However, when Asano attacks Kira, Kira is revealed to be alone and as a result, the Shogun decides that instead of execution, he offers Asano to regain honor by seppuku, a ritualistic art of suicide. The Shogun declares Oishi and the rest of the men ronin (masterless samurai). Kai is also banished. However, Oishi is forced into a pit in an attempt to have his will broken. While Kira wants Mika to marry him, the Shogun gives Mika a one-year grievance period before the wedding. The ronin are also forbidden from seeking revenge for their lord.

A year has passed and Oishi is free from the pit Lord Kira had imprisoned him in. However, instead of having his will broken, Oishi has had only one thing in mind: revenge. With help from his son Chikara, Oishi is set to bring the ronin back together and because of his honor, he decides to get Kai, who has been sold to slavery and forced to fight in the pits of a pirate-like area. What Oishi soon learns is that Kai is no ordinary faithful halfbreed.  He has a dark secret, one that could help the ronin get their revenge on Lord Kira and bring honor back to the fallen House of Asano.

The story of the 47 Ronin is one of the most legendary stories to come out of Japan.  The story is that Lord Asano’s house was fallen to the evil Lord Kira. The loyal samurai of Asano were banished and became ronin. Oishi led the ronin to attack Lord Kira in order to regain honor to the house of Asano. Starting out as a kabuki play, it became one of the first jidai-geki (period films) in the 1910’s and 1920’s. There have been many variations of the story brought to films but none like this. Chris Morgan, writer of the last four installments of the Fast and Furious installments (including next year’s number seven), and Hossein Amini wrote the screenplay based on an idea by Morgan and Walter Hamada. The idea was to take the legendary story and add a twist involving the supernatural. Interestingly enough, the main legend is still there and the supernatural elements involving witchcraft and demons add a nice touch to the story.

Many are wondering what Keanu Reeves is doing in the film. Well, his central protagonist of Kai was created for this version of the film and he proves to be vital to the overall story. However, it is clear that while he is given top billing, this is definitely Reeves and Hiroyuki Sanada’s movie. The veteran Sanada gives out a wonderful performance as the ronin leader Oishi, who overcomes a year of imprisonment with one goal in mind. It is clearly Oishi who is the real leader and star of the film, with Kai as his most trusted ally.

While there are those who will complain that the virtually all Japanese cast speak English, one can only guess is to bring a style similar to those of graphic novels and to attract an international audience, the Japanese cast speak English. However, the ensemble Japanese cast is top-notch in their roles. Tadanobu Asano plays it very sly as the evil Lord Kira while Battle Royale and One Missed Call actress Ko Shibasaki does quite well as Mika, the lovelorn daughter of Asano who is in love with Reeves’ Kai. One can’t help but love Rinko Kikuchi. She is definitely a great talent who gives out one of her best performances here as the evil witch who uses her powers to help Lord Kira achieve his power. She even has a lustful inclination towards Kira, forcing her Mika into some sort of submission with dangerous threats. In his limited screen time, legendary Cary Tagawa makes an impact as the Shogun while one has to give kudos to debut actor Takato Yonemoto in his role of the likable Basho. The former hospital worker and film buff plays one of those characters one would just like to pal around with.

The action scenes are nicely done as well. Where to begin in terms of the hard work the cast pulls off in the frenetic action? Tsuyoshi Abe, a veteran martial artist and stuntman, served as sword master while the collaborating team of Nikki Berwick, Stephen Oyoung, and Zhang Peng served as the film’s fight choreographers. These three are definitely veterans in the stunt field and their hard work pays off here. One can’t help but praise Reeves into the hard work he tends to bring when it comes to action scenes. As if he does well performing unarmed combat in films, he pulls off some handy swordwork with his fellow cast members and the battle sequences get better as the film progresses, leading into a nicely shot final battle sequence.

So the question is if the film is decent, why did it flop? Perhaps bad timing a lack of decent promotion?  Whatever the case is, this reviewer recommends a rental and possible buy for Carl Rinsch’s 47 Ronin. It is not that bad at all with the supernatural elements adding a nice touch to a legendary story with a stellar ensemble cast. Even more, one cannot underestimate the hard work of Keanu Reeves in terms of performing action. Maybe after all these years, has he finally found his calling? Only time will tell. Nevertheless, definitely rent this film.

WFG RATING: B+

Universal Pictures presents a Mid Atlantic Films/H2F Entertainment/MPC/Stuber Productions film. Director: Carl Rinsch. Producers: Eric McLeod and Pamela Abdy. Writers: Chris Morgan and Hosseini Amini; story by Morgan and Walter Hamada. Cinematography: John Mathieson. Editing: Stuart Baird.

Cast: Keanu Reeves, Rinko Kikuchi, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, Min Tanaka, Jin Akanishi, Masayoshi Haneda, Hiroshi Sogabe, Takato Yonemoto, Hiroshi Yamada, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Togo Igawa.

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Harakiri (1962)

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Director Masaki Kobayashi helms this classic samurai eiga that, like his Japanese counterpart Akira Kurosawa, features exciting camera techniques that would influence later martial arts films. In addition, an exciting storyline and twist leads to a classic samurai film.

It is May 13th, 1630. At the manor of Lord Iyi, a bewildered-looking samurai appears at the manor. His name is Hanshiro Tsugumo. He has suffered since the fall of his former master, Fukushima. With no job and living in poverty, Tsugomo has only one intention in the manor of Lord Iyi. It is to sacrifice himself and die like a samurai by committing harakiri, the art of ritual suicide. While Lord Iyi himself is away, counselor Kageyu Saito decides to grant Tsugumo’s wish.

Before he decides to sacrifice himself in front of the house of Lord Iyi, Tsugumo tells a story of another Fukushima clan ronin, Motome Chijiwa. Five months prior, Chijiwa went to the manor of Lord Iyi to commit harakiri. However, Chijiwa’s plan was only a ruse for money when it is revealed that his blades were replaced with bamboo blades. Chijiwa was forced to commit the ritual using the bamboo blades he brought to the house. Tsugumo soon reveals that Chijiwa was in fact, his son-in-law and from there, Tsugumo tells the story of the incidents that lead up to this very day.

Classic Japanese cinema has had its share of auteurs, including popular dramatic filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu and the legendary Akira Kurosawa. Harakiri practically puts Masaki Kobayashi on the international map. One can see the Kurosawa-esque influence in this film, which revolves around a samurai who wishes to commit harakiri (sometimes known as seppuku) in the house of a popular lord in Edo. What is very interesting is that the film uses techniques that would later influence many martial arts films, notably the wuxia pian and classic kung fu cinema of the late 1960’s and 1970’s.

Veteran Tatsuya Nakadai churns out a terrific performance as the potentially tragic hero Hanshiro Tsugomu. From the beginning, very little is known about Tsugomu. However, as the film progresses, we learn not only more about his ways as a ronin, but he lives life as a family man. The film crosses present day well with flashbacks that begin with Tsugomu’s life as a ronin and a sworn promise to take care of his friend’s son, Motome Chijiwa, whose actions trigger this entire film. The film showcases Tsugomu as a regular family man after the fall of his clan, attempting to marry Motome to his daughter Miho, well played by Shima Iwashita to the incident that leads Motome into forced harakiri.

It is when Tsugumo reveals his true intentions, this is where the action begins. He tracks down the three men responsible for Motome’s forced harakiri and as he tracks down each one, the amount of action grows until he finds himself in a field in a nicely choreographed samurai duel between himself and Omodoka, played by veteran Tetsuro Tamba. The final act, in which Tsugumo takes on practically the entire Iyi manor, brings reminiscence of tragic heroes like wuxia pian star Jimmy Wang Yu and perhaps classic kung fu actor Alexander Fu Sheng. Despite being a black and white film, there is some graphic violence that would be perhaps be an influence to the late great Chang Cheh, who used this brand of violence in his films.

Harakiri may start out somewhat slow. However, once the plot twists are revealed, one can only be satisfied with the tragic character of Hanshiro Tsugumo, who goes from loyal samurai to regular man to an avenger of sorts. A true Japanese samurai eiga classic!

WFG RATING: A

A Shochiku Production. Director: Masaki Kobayashi. Producer: Tatsuo Hosoya. Writer: Shinobu Hashimoto; based on the novel by Yasuhiko Takiguchi. Cinematography: Yoshio Miyajima. Editing: Hisashi Sagara.

Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Ishihama, Shima Iwashita, Tetsuro Tanba, Masao Mishima, Ichiro Nakatani, Kei Sato, Yoshio Inaba, Hisashi Igawa, Toru Takeuchi, Yoshiro Aoki, Tatsuo Matsumura, Akiji Kobayashi.

Pyongyang Nalpharam (2006)

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This North Korean film takes a page from the classic kung fu era and brings a tale of Korea’s martial art of Nalpharam (which later would be called Taekkyon, a predecessor of Tae Kwon Do) against Japanese invaders.

In the early 20th century Japanese occupation of Korea, an ancient martial arts manual that showcases the techniques of Nalpharam is given to Jeong Taek, the son of the manual’s current owner. Taek’s father wants Taek to deliver the manual to Father Jidam at Mount Taesong and also gives him the news that Taek’s childhood sweetheart, So Kyon, is returning to town to marry Taek. Mieko, a Japanese woman, poses as So Kyon and poisons Taek’s father in an attempt to get her hands on the manual for the Japanese, who want to combine the techniques of Nalpharam with Judo.

With Taek forgiving Mieko, he eventually comes across the real So Kyon, who revealed her father was killed when he refuses to reveal the location of the manual. Along with Taek’s fellow students and a group of reformed masters, the group attempts to protect the manual. However, when they are betrayed by one of their own, Taek, Kyon, and the rest must band together when they learn the Japanese plan to challenge them to a match on Mount Taesong.

While this film is from North Korea, the film is seen more of a Korea vs. Japan martial arts action film. The film revolves around the art of Pyongyang Nalpharam, a predecessor of the martial art of Tae Kwon Do and in a very interesting viewpoint, the names of the two primary characters are named after what would be another predecessor of the renowned Korean martial art, Taek and Kyon. The film’s script has a straightforward story mixed in with some intricate twists that help drive the story.

Ri Ryeong-Hun and Kim Hye-Gyeong do really well in their roles of our loving couple Taek and Kyon. In addition to showcasing martial arts, they show that chemistry of a couple who still hold strong feelings for each other. As for Ri’s Taek, he has a thirst of revenge for his father’s death after he finds himself duped by Japanese woman Mieko, who starts out with her mission in mind but shows a bit of sympathy towards Taek. However, when she is forced in a situation she wishes she never was involved in, she finds herself having to face midway against the very person she impersonated.

As for the fight scenes themselves, they are quite sped up at times. However, they do showcase some nice display kicking skills as well as some nice tackling and wrestling skills. There are some bits of wirework that exaggerate the fight scenes but they are ultimately forgiven as the film is a period piece in the vein of how period pieces would use that exaggerated wirework in films. Thankfully, it doesn’t take away the overall quality of the film’s action itself. The final match between the Koreans and the Japanese experts is pretty well with Taek and company using their skills against the judo skills of the Japanese.

Pyongyang Nalpharam is a decent period martial arts film from North Korea that meshes a love story of sorts with Korean martial arts against the Japanese martial arts in the vein of a classic kung fu film done in modern times. Definitely worth taking a look.

WFG RATING: B+

A Korea Film Export & Import Corp. Production. Directors: Phyo Kwang and Maeng Cheol-Nam. Writers: Kim Jeong-Seok and Jo Se-Hyeok. Cinematography: Shim Yeong-Hak.

Cast: Ri Ryeong-Hun, Kim Hye-Gyeong, Ri Yun-Su, Yu Hye-Gyeong.

 

Thunderbolt (1995)

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Jackie Chan’s love of car racing transitions to the big screen in this action packed film from director Gordon Chan.

Graduating from a racing academy in Japan, Jackie returns home to Hong Kong where he plans to help his father’s garage and assist him in tracking down illegal racing cars at night with the police. Reporter Amy Ip plans to have a special report on Jackie and his father, yet they both refuse comment. However, on one fateful night, a deadly racer has arrived in Hong Kong and he is no ordinary racer. His name is Cougar and he is one of Interpol’ s most wanted criminals, prompting agent Steve Cannon to arrive in Hong Kong.

When Jackie is able to stop Cougar one night, Cougar becomes impressed and plans to race Jackie, who refuses. However, when a band of thugs attempt to attack Jackie, Jackie uses his fighting skills to fend him off and with Steve’s help, Cougar is sent to prison for extradition. However, Cougar escapes and seeks revenge on Jackie and decimates his family home, which causes his father to have a heart attack. Even worse, Cougar kidnaps Jackie’s two sisters and now, Jackie must return to Japan and compete in the race of his life, but he cannot do it alone. With Amy and former trainer Murakami, Jackie prepares for the race but he also must settle a score before the race begins.

While many know Jackie Chan as the one of the world’s favorite martial arts action stars, some may not know thar he is an avid racing fan. The time came for Jackie to mesh both his trademark martial arts action with his love of car racing in the form of this film, co-written and directed by Gordon Chan. Jackie brings a sense of both comic wit in the film’s opening and emotion when it comes to the pivotal scene where he finds himself forced to race. He plays a man who just wants to go about his business, a mechanic who has studied racing in Japan, and is forced to return there for the race of a lifetime as it becomes personal to him.

Anita Yuen starts off as a bit annoying, but ultimately proves to be reliable in the role of investigative reporter Amy, who looks for a story only to have true compassion for Jackie when he is at his worst. Michael Wong makes the most of his screen time as Interpol agent Steve Cannon while German-born actor Thorsten Nickel looks to be having fun in the role of lead villain Cougar, with the likes of Kenya Sawada and Ken Lo as his main henchmen, who have a fight scene with Chan in a pachinko parlor prior to the film’s big action sequence. Chan had to doubled by co-star Chin Kar-Lok for pieces of this particular fight scene due to his ankle injury on Rumble in the Bronx. Sammo Hung took care of the film’s fight sequences in the film.

The final action sequence is actually the big car race and while the chase scenes in the film are expertly choreographed by Frankie Chan, it is the final race that really stands out. It looks as if Frankie and his team took a page out of big racing films such as Days of Thunder and adds a touch of insane road films like Smokey and the Bandit and nicely interweaves the elements of a very insane car race that pits our hero Chan against the villain Cougar as well as other racers competing.

Thunderbolt is quite a fun Jackie Chan film that melds his trademark action with his love for car racing. The car chases and big race are a hoot and the pachinko fight is quite fun to watch, even if Chan is obviously doubled for some parts. Nevertheless, Chan fans will like this one.

WFG RATING: B

A Golden Harvest (HK) Ltd. Production. Director: Gordon Chan. Producer: Chua Lam. Writers: Chan Hing-Kar, Gordon Chan, and Kwok Wai-Cheung. Cinematography: Ardy Lam, Lau Hung-Chuen, Horace Wong, Kwan Chi-Kan, Joe Chan, and Cheng Siu-Keung. Editing: Peter Cheung, Cheung Ka-Fai, Ng Wang-Hung, and Chan Ki-Hop.

Cast: Jackie Chan, Anita Yuen, Michael Wong, Thorsten Nickel, Dayo Wong, Ken Lo, Kenya Sawada, Cho Yuen, Daisy Woo, Annie Man, Yuzo Kayama.

 

The Funeral (1984)

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In what would be the beginning to his prolific career as one of Japan’s top auteurs, the late Juzo Itami brings this tale of chaos during a family funeral.

Family patriarch Shinkichi Amamiya has passed away after suffering a heart attack. Upon the request of his widow, the wake for the funeral is to be held in the home of her daughter, actress Chizuko Amamiya and her husband, actor Wabisuke Inoue. Inoue was never fond of his father-in-law so it comes to no surprise that Inoue is none too thrilled about having the wake at his home for the next three days.

Things only go from bad to worse. Having never experienced a funeral in their lives, Wabisuke and Chizuko resort to watching a video tape on how to perform rightfully at a funeral. As many of the Amamiya family members and friends arrive for the wake, things get chaotic. Some of the visitors include members who only wonder how much money he had because they want to get their hands on the family fortune, some old business associates who find themselves drinking their sorrows away, and a young female who claims to know the elder Amamiya through the game of gateball only to reveal she is there because she had been having an affair with Inoue and wants him to leave his wife for her. This is three days this family will have to endure.

Juzo Itami is quite an interesting filmmaker who tends to make subtle style comedies with a dose of “what the heck” moments that somehow work. Look at the review for Tampopo to see what exactly what we mean by this. His feature film debut as a writer and director seems a like a simplistic tale of a funeral and the various reactions by family and friends. However, for some reason, it works and can be seen as a precursor to the 2007 Frank Oz comedy Death at a Funeral, which was remade in 2010.

The film’s driving force is actually the couple whose house is the setting for the wake. Tsutomu Yamazaki and Itami’s wife, Nobuko Miyamoto, play the son-in-law and daughter of the deceased and they both have their own personalities. Inoue is not really arrogant, but somewhat of a grump at first because he never really liked his father-in-law and on top of that, he is having an affair in which the side piece does show up at the funeral in an attempt to take him away. This results in the two of them having a quick frolic in the forest with some comical results.

As for Chizuko, she is more subtle and doesn’t really know how to react perhaps due to her lack of ever being in a funeral. However, she proves to be close to her mother and brother and in a nice bonding scene, the three of them start drinking and singing to remember their beloved father and husband.Some of the other characters can be seen as eccentric, from the housemaidens who disapprove of the deceased’s business associates drinking their sorrows away late into the night and even making fun of them to the greedy relatives. Aside from the mother, it is clear that Chizuko’s brother Shokichi does care about his father and even denounces his uncle and cousins for only caring about how much money the deceased had because they think they can get their hands on some of the fortune.

The film also gives the viewer a look at Japanese funeral customs, something that proves to be quite unique and that’s something about Itami’s films. While his films are comedies geared towards Japanese audiences, he also attracts international audiences who want a sense of not only Japanese cinema, but in some aspect, Japanese customs and their differences.

The Funeral is a pretty subtle and comedic look at a Japanese funeral from the mind of one of the late great auteurs of cinema. With an eclectic cast and some bursts of laugh out loud moments, Juzo Itami truly made a worthy film debut.

WFG RATING: A

New Century Productions An Itami Productions film. Director: Juzo Itami. Producer: Seigo Hosogoe. Writer: Juzo Itami. Cinematography: Yonezo Maeda. Editing: Akira Suzuki.

Cast: Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Kin Sugai, Hideko Otaki, Hiroko Futaba, Kiminobu Okumura, Koji Okoyama, Asao Sasano, Hideo Nagai, Atsuyoshi Matsukidaira, Chikako Yuri,
Michino Yokoyama.

 

REVIEW: The Toxic Avenger Part II (1989)

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1989, Troma Inc.

Directors:
Lloyd Kaufman
Michael Herz
Producers:
Michael Herz
Lloyd Kaufman
Writers:
Lloyd Kaufman (story and screenplay)
Gay Parrington Terry (screenplay)
Cinematography:
James London
Editing:
Michael Schweitzer

Cast:
Ron Fazio (The Toxic Avenger/Apocalypse Inc. Executive)
John Altamura (The Toxic Avenger)
Phoebe Legere (Claire)
Rick Collins (The Chairman)
Lisa Gaye (Malfaire)
Rikiya Yasuoka (Big Mac)
Mayako Katsuragi (Masami)
Tsutomu Sekine (Announcer)
Shinoburyu (Shochikuyama)
Jessica Dublin (Mrs. Junko)

Five years after getting put on the independent film circuit with their trademark style, the Troma Team bring their iconic character back and this time, he’s taking Japan by storm!

After defeating the corruption that had plagued the small town of Tromaville, New Jersey, the monster hero known as The Toxic Avenger doesn’t have any more evil to destroy. He gets a job at a center for the blind where his girlfriend Claire also helps the local blind townsfolk. However, a new evil threat is about to arrive in the form of Apocalypse Inc., a New York City-based chemical company who want to make Tromaville their latest dump site. When they destroy the center for the blind killing almost everyone, they soon learn the Toxic Avenger is not affected and the Chairman watches as his men are dispatched by the monster hero.

Having to come up with a new plan to get rid of the Toxic Avenger, the Chairman’s number one henchwoman Malfaire has discovered that the reason why he has destroyed evil and it is because of a chemical in his body called “Tromatons” and to destroy the monster, they must destroy the Tromatons via Japanese technology. They come up with a plan to send Toxie to Japan to find the one man who’s been missing in his life since childhood: his father. When Toxie gets to Japan, he makes a new ally in Masami, who agrees to help him find his father. However, Toxie also finds himself in one pickle after another and learns the truth while Apocalypse Inc. takes advantage of Toxie’s absence and begins to move in on Tromaville. Will Toxie be able to get back home in time to stop the evil company?

After making the iconic Toxic Avenger in 1984, Troma has worked on other films and after five years, Lloyd Kaufman decided it was time for the monster hero to finally return. Here’s where it gets interesting as Kaufman has decided to make a proper sequel that would not only feature our hero in his hometown of Tromaville, but learning that the original film had a massive Japanese following, bring Toxie to Japan for some action as well. The end result is that Kaufman had shot over four hours of film and it nearly caused a breakdown until his wife, New York City Film Commissioner Patricia Kaufman (who appears in the film as a blind mother) convinced her husband to split the footage to two films.

For some strange reason, the name of Sara is changed to Claire and is played with a lower form of intellect by musician Phoebe Legere, who makes the most of her role here. In another “why” moment, the last name of Melvin has been changed from Ferd to Junko and the names would stick until the fourth installment in 2001.

In another bold move of the film, where Mitch Cohen did not reprise his role of the monster hero in this film, this film has the distinction of having not one but two actors play the Toxic Avenger. John Altamura starts out as the monster in the film’s opening action sequence. However, he would later be fired for complaining about the make-up and even threatening a crew member. One of the thugs in this opening sequence, Ron Fazio, would end up completing the film by taking on the role of the Toxic Avenger (and using his voice) and thus it is Fazio who is seen in the Japanese sequences, which are surprisingly shot in a V-Cinema style that looks like it could be its own Japanese action film in respect to perhaps a tokukatsu or something of that nature, minus the giant robots.

The film also makes good use of Japanese talents Rikiya Yasuoka and Mayako Katsuragi as Big Mac and Melvin’s ally Masami. If you see the film and notice that their voices sound very different, it is because the actors’ English didn’t bode well enough for Kaufman so during post, Michael Herz dubbed Yasuoka, Patricia Kaufman dubbed Katsuragi, and Lloyd Kaufman dubbed the sumo wrestler Shinoburyu, whose character helps nurse Toxie after a near-fatal incident. The highlight of the Japanese sequences come in the form of the hilarious Tsutomu Sekine, who appears randomly as a news announcer.

The film would also mark the film debut of another well-known actor in Hollywood today. In this case, it is martial artist and actor Michael Jai White, who plays a member of Apocalypse Inc. who has a brief fight against Toxie in the film’s opening action scene before running off and then has a few lines and more fight scenes. White and Kariim Ratliff (who also plays an Apocalypse thug) served as the fight choreographers for the Tromaville sequences while Hitoshi Genma choreographed the action scenes for the Japanese segments. You can clearly see a notable difference in the styles of combat seen in the film.

The Toxic Avenger Part II is truly an action-filled sequence with a nice combination of action, bits of horror, comedy, and all out fun in both Tromaville and Japan. If only they kept the original names, it would have bode so much better!

WFG RATING: B+

DVD/BLU-RAY

TRAILER: Resident Evil – The Final Chapter

Milla Jovovich unleashes fury in the apocalypse for the last time in the Japanese teaser trailer to the final installment of the Resident Evil films.

In Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Jovovich’s Alice must return to Raccoon City, where the deadly Umbrella Corporation plans to launch a final attack against the remaining survivors of the apocalypse. It is there that Alice must face the one who has betrayed her as well, Wesker (Shawn Roberts).

The film co-stars Ali LarterRuby RoseIain GlenEoin Macken, and William LevyPaul W.S. Anderson (Jovovich’s husband) returns to write and helm the film based on the Capcom horror games. 15 years and six installments later, it is time for the saga to come to an explosive ending.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter will be unleashed in the U.S. on January 27, 2017 from Sony and Screen Gems.

H/T: Dark Horizons; YouTube

REVIEW: Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1982)

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1982, National Film Trustee Co. Ltd

Director:
Nagisa Oshima
Producer:
Jeremy Thomas
Writers:
Nagisa Oshima (screenplay)
Paul Mayersberg (screenplay)
Laurens van der Post (original novel “The Seed and the Sower”)
Cinematography:
Toichiro Narushima
Editing:
Tomoya Oshima

Cast:
David Bowie (Sgt. Jack Celliers)
Tom Conti (Gen. Lawrence)
Ryuichi Sakamoto (Gen. Yonoi)
Takeshi Kitano (Sgt. Hara)
Jack Thompson (Hicksley)

Based on the novel by Laurens van der Post comes a film that brings out one of David Bowie’s best performances.

The year is 1942. During World War II, a band of British soldiers are forced to serve time at a Japanese prison camp due to their actions against the Japanese. While most of the soldiers are relegated to punishment and hard labor, one such soldier, General Lawrence seems to have earned the respect of the commanding officer General Yonoi and his number one, Sergeant Hara. Lawrence has the ability to speak Japanese fluently and acts as a “bridge” between the English and the Japanese. While Yonoi has nothing but hatred towards the prisoners, all of that changes when respected British soldier Jack Celliers enters the prison camp. Yonoi seems to change his ways as he sees Jack as a man of respect. However, the lives of the prisoners change one fateful Christmas Day.

Director Nagisa Oshima has the respect of being both a Japanese auteur and quite a controversial figure in the world of cinema. He has tackled many taboos in his film career. With this film, based on a novel by former war veteran Laurens van der Post, what may look like respect between a pair of Japanese soldiers and a pair of British soldiers takes a bit beyond that but on a subconscious level. However, Oshima is a respectful artist and when he came up with the name of the film, perhaps to pay homage to author van der Post by spelling “Laurens” as “Lawrence”. Perhaps, Oshima wanted to present the film to van der Post as a tribute to the author’s real-life exploits as a prisoner of war in World War II Japan.

The film brings out a sense of homoeroticism but done not in the manner of films like Brokeback Mountain, but in a more subliminal level, especially between David Bowie’s Jack Celliers and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s General Yonoi. This could be said to be seen on the level of Yonoi, who looks to be sporting eyeliner and rouge under the right lighting. Whether Oshima perhaps meant to show Yonoi as an effeminant soldier as if he has a heart or even bringing out an homage to Bowie’s famous Ziggy Stardust character, is never truly known. The homoeroticism is seen when Jack is forced to stop Yonoi from executing a fellow British officer the day after Christmas.

While the level between Yonoi and Jack can be said to have a sense of homoeroticism, the respect between Tom Conti’s titular character of Lawrence and Takeshi Kitano’s Hara is clearly a sense of respect and perhaps, seniority between the two as Conti may be seen as British and an enemy to the Japanese. However, in the military aspect, Lawrence has a higher ranking of Hara. It seems as if at times, Hara shows respect to Lawrence not only because of his fluency in Japanese, but perhaps because of his military rank as well. This is clearly evident in the fated Christmas Day scene, where a drunken Hara decides to release Lawrence after he attempts to escape the prison camp. Hara, who usually speaks in Japanese, belts out the titular phrase in English. Kitano, a former stand-up comedian, makes his dramatic debut here and admits, it was this very film that influenced him to become a director, mostly in the yakuza eiga genre.

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is truly a film for the ages. It is clear that David Bowie breaks through as an actor here, with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tom Conti, and Takeshi Kitano giving great support. Truly a Nagisa Oshima classic!

WFG Rating: A+

DVD

A Series of Trailers to Get One Going…

As we approach both Christmas and the end of 2015, there are a lot of films from around the world coming in 2016. Here are some trailers for some of those upcoming films!


Bhooloham – a Tamil boxing action flick that stars Jayam Ravi, Prakash Raj, Trisha Krishnan and Australian powerhouse Nathan Jones. N. Kalyanakrishnan directs the film, which is due out shortly.


Skiptrace – Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville star in this new action comedy from director Renny Harlin. Chan plays (what else?) a Hong Kong police officer who must rely on a gambler with a big mouth to take down the Triads.


Ip Man 3 – with a Christmas release in China followed by a January release in the United States, this is the final installment of the seminal trilogy about the Wing Chun grandmaster most famous for being the teacher of Bruce Lee. Speaking of Bruce, expect him in the film to be played by Danny Chan, who played Lee in a 2008 TV series. The film pits star Donnie Yen against the likes of Max Zhang and…Mike Tyson!


Ultraman X – a theatrical adaptation of the 27th series of Tsuburaya’s iconic character will be unleashed on March 12, 2016. Kensuke Takahashi, Akana Sakanoue, Yoshihiko Hosoda, and Ukyo Matsumoto are reprising their roles with Yuichi Nakamura donning the suit to play the titular superhero.


Re: Born – the film marks the return of Tak Sakaguchi in front of the screens as he spent most of the last few years behinds the cameras as director and action choreographer of many Japanese films. While the plot is not known, expect some amazing amazing from Sakaguchi-san in this film, directed by Yuji Shimomura.


Duelist – a Russian action film revolving around a man who duels for pay in the 1800’s, a very interesting concept. The film was written and directed by Alex Mizgiryov.

Thanks to the crew over at Twitch for unveiling some of these trailers for some of these upcoming films and more.

“Godzilla 2016”, Big G’s return to Japan, begins production

In 2016, the monster known as Godzilla is making his return to Japanese screens after twelve years, when “Big G” made his final appearance there in the 50th anniversary film Godzilla: Final Wars. Production has apparently already begun!

So what prompted Toho to bring their beloved monster back to their home turf? Well, a few things it may seen. First, Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Hollywood film that starred Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, and Elizabeth Olsen was a huge hit and featured the monster actually protecting the people as Big G took on two alien monsters amidst the chaos. The only complaint from some of the hardcore fans of the genre was that Godzilla didn’t get enough screen time in his near two-and-a-half hour running time.

The second? Well, if you haven’t heard the news, Godzilla was officially declared a Japanese citizen in Shinjuku this past June. In addition, he was declared a tourism ambassador of Japan, with a replica statue being placed on top of the Toho building in Shinjuku. This helped give Toho, the creators of the monster, the idea to bring him back to Japan before Gareth Edwards decides to borrow him again for a sequel, which has been green-lit already by Warner Brothers but still in development at this time.

While story details on Godzilla 2016 is being held under wraps, otaku everywhere must be in total fan mode right now because directing this new film are Hideaki Anno, who is responsible for directing one of the greatest anime series ever made, Neon Genesis Evangelion; and Shinji Higuchi, a special effects wizard who directed what many fans are saying is one of the best live action adaptations of an anime, Attack on Titan. Anno also has written the screenplay for this very film.

Interestingly enough, when Toho saw what Hollywood had done with Godzilla in 1998, they were apparently livid and as a result, the famed Millennium series, which ended with Final Wars was the result. Now that Gareth Edwards brought justice with his take in Hollywood, it will be exciting to see Big G back on his home turf when Godzilla 2016 comes out next summer!