Technical Difficulties

In case you missed my tweet, this is just a quick update to admit that I missed last week’s review slot because my internet connection has been down for days, which is a real problem when I write everything in Google Docs before cross-posting to WordPress! It’s now back, and the latest review, of Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, should be up this Friday.

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A Taxing Woman (1987)

From director Juzo Itami (Tampopo, Minbo: The Gentle Art of Extortion) comes the A_Taxing_Womanfabulous Bubble-era tax evasion/enforcement comedy A Taxing Woman (1987), starring Nobuko Miyamoto (Sweet Home) as Ryoko Itakura, ace tax inspector, and Tsutomu Yamazaki (last seen on Kino 893 in a brilliant turn in Kurosawa’s Kagemusha as Takeda’s brother and original body double) as sleazy businessman Hideki Gondo.

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The Land of Hope (2012)

My second encounter with Sion Sono after Cold Fish is The Land of Hope (2012), a bleak drama heavily influenced by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and accompanying nuclear disaster that struck northeastern Japan.the land of hope poster Set in a fictional town in a fictional prefecture, much as in the real-life Fukushima incident, a strong earthquake triggers a failure at a nuclear plant and forces the evacuation of the surrounding area. The film closely follows two generations of the Ono family after the evacuation order comes just short of forcing them to leave their farm, with the younger Onos voluntarily moving away and the older generation choosing to stay for as long as they can.

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Evil Dead Trap (1988)

This week’s review comes out of left-field, off the back of a recommendation by Dan Martin from the excellent new Arrow Video Podcast. evildeadtrapIt’s Evil Dead Trap (1988), Toshiharu Ikeda’s weird, gory horror thriller. Not widely available here in the UK, it’s not a film I would have likely discovered on my own and knew nothing about, which always makes for interesting viewing.

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Bakumatsu taiyô-den (1957)

This week’s review comes via the Masters of Cinema restoration of Bakumatsu taiyô-den (1957),The poster is so colourful and gorgeous it's a true shame the film wasn't released in colour alternately translated as A Sun-Tribe Myth from the Bakumatsu Era or Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate. A slice-of-life comedy set in a Shinagawa brothel in the waning days of the Shogunate, just before the Meiji Restoration and the complete upheaval of Japan’s feudal society, the film follows Saheiji (Frankie Sakai, best known to western audiences for his turn in the 1980s Shogun series) as an incorrigible drifter who spins his unpayable debt to the Sagami Inn into a series of odd jobs and cons.

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Anime x Kino 893

I’m sure there’s a huge crossover between fans of Japanese film and fans of anime – just as I’m sure there are anime fans who don’t care about live action movies, and film fans who don’t care about anime! I don’t think Kino 893 will ever focus on anime – that could be a whole different site and never run out of material – but every now and again there’s the option of looking at classics like Ghost in the Shell or new releases like Blame!

If you’re an anime fan, why not get in touch on MyAnimeList or Crunchyroll? You can find me on both as “Jiroemon”. I’m always open to suggestions on what to watch next, and it could end up in a future review!

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Batou, drinking San Miguel beer

Blame! (2017)

Netflix delved into original anime filmmaking with Blame! (2017), adapted from Tsutomu Nihei’s manga of the same title. Set in a distant post-apocalyptic future where the last remnants of humanity cling on to survival in a vast, machine-controlled city, it’s a refreshing take on a number of familiar sci-fi and anime tropes. Directed by Hiroyuki Seshita (Knights of Sidonia, Ajin) and produced by Polygon Pictures, a Japanese CG animation studio best known to me for their work on Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, Blame! is worth a look for any anime fan with a Netflix subscription.

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It’s pronounced ‘BLAM!’

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Doberman Cop (1977)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a small town cop arrives in the big city to help solve a crime with links to his home. Except in Kinji Fukasaku’s Doberman Cop (1977), that rural detective is Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba, and he rolls into Tokyo’s Kabukicho entertainment district with his straw hat and delightful piglet in tow.Doberman Cop Poster What follows is a remarkable police thriller closer in feel to an ‘80s action film that Fukasaku’s earlier jitsuroku work – more Lethal Weapon than Battles Without Honour and Humanity. Only very loosely based on the manga of the same name by ‘Bronson’, it’s an eclectic mix of action, comedy, martial arts, and grisly crime drama; a film that should result in complete tonal whiplash, but somehow comes together into an off kilter but satisfying, cohesive whole.

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Cops vs. Thugs (1975)

Back in the early 2000s, Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale was probably one of the first live action Japanese films I ever watched. Its popularity helped highlight other Japanese cinema, and a for while, Japanese films were synonymous with shocking, violent pieces like Battle Royale or the work of prolific director Takashi Miike – slapstick exploitation like Ichi the Killer or the truly bizarre Happiness of the Katakuris. It moved the conversation away from the ubiquitous J-horror of the late ‘90s, led by Ring and Grudge and their imitators. Of course, there’s much more to Japanese cinema than that, but it’s where I got my start. It wasn’t until many years later that I became interested in throwback yakuza movies of the 1970s, largely off the back of my interest in SEGA’s Yakuza/Ryū ga Gotoku series. The title I kept seeing referenced as Japan’s equivalent of the Godfather trilogy was Battles Without Honour and Humanity, directed by none other than Kinji Fukasaku.

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“Cops vs. Thugs”

That series remains perhaps the most well-known example of the “jitsuroku” style of yakuza filmmaking – ‘actual record’ or ‘true document’ films, based on or inspired by real stories or newspaper headlines; films that didn’t depict the yakuza as masculine heroes on the wrong side of the law, but focused on petty squabbles, violence, and a nihilistic take on Japan’s organised criminals. It was between the five-film Battles Without Honour and Humanity saga and its follow-up, New Battles Without Honour and Humanity, that Toei’s top brass brought Fukasaku in to direct Cops vs. Thugs (1975). Not content to deconstruct the yakuza alone, the film drags the police and civic leaders into a fascinating quagmire of corruption.

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Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972)

The Female Prisoner Scorpion and Lady Snowblood film series present a similar SONY DSCchallenge: at the end of the first film in each, Meiko Kaji’s protagonist has found her revenge, so how will the series continue? I suspected Female Prisoner Scorpion: Jailhouse 41 (1972) might be a sequel in name only, starring Kaji and her titular, vengeful protagonist in a new scenario, rather like the Outlaw films of the 60s. Instead, Jailhouse 41 picks up where the first film left off, with a brutal reminder that Scorpion’s vengeance is not complete: the prison warden yet lives.

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