Kamurocho Travelogue #2 – On Prequels and Remakes

I have a proposition: there is no good place to start with the Yakuza series in 2021.

This isn’t true of course. There are plenty of great places: there’s the chronological prequel, Yakuza 0, or the remake of the original game, Yakuza Kiwami. There’s the most recent game in the series, Yakuza: Like a Dragon, which is the first time the original protagonist has been left aside entirely and a new character takes the lead for a completely fresh introduction. It’s also the first game to ditch the real-time brawling that made it famous and go with turn-based, JRPG style battles. There’s even a spin-off, Judgement, that is just now getting a sequel, that carries on the brawling legacy but features more of a private detective flavour, and again stars an original character.

A vintage Kazuma Kiryu [Yakuza 0 / Sega]

So why would I argue there’s no good place to start?

Continue reading “Kamurocho Travelogue #2 – On Prequels and Remakes”

Kamurocho Travelogue #1 — An Introduction

Pop your collars, fill your pockets with Staminam, and get ready: we’re going back to Kamurocho–

Kamurocho, 2005 [Yakuza Kiwami / Sega]

–you do know Kamurocho, don’t you? The heart of Sega’s long-running Yakuza series, modelled closely on Tokyo’s Kabukicho – so closely that a younger me was able to navigate around Shinjuku based on the location of the Don Quijote store prominently featured in the original game. Kamurocho, first introduced in Yakuza (aka 龍が如く, “Ryū ga Gotoku” or “Like a Dragon” in its native Japan), has evolved and changed a great deal since 2005. Like a real city, businesses close, buildings get knocked down, streets change, and people come and go. Unlike a real city, it also faces appearances across console generations and multiple game engines, adding additional quirks in the way we, as visitors, experience it.

Continue reading “Kamurocho Travelogue #1 — An Introduction”

JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film 2021

The on-going pandemic has made attending film festivals and in-theatre screenings difficult. Some festivals have moved to online-only or hybrid events, but even where that has occurred, finding Japanese cinema in particular remains tricky. Enter JAPAN CUTS, from New York’s Japan Society, a hybrid in-person and online Japanese film festival running August 20th to September 2nd.

The bad news? For a UK-based viewer like me, most of the films remain inaccessible, region-locked for US audiences only. But there is good news. With a tip of my hat to Japanese film distributor Third Window it has come to my attention that at least a couple of feature films and a smattering of shorts are available to rent worldwide.

In the features department, we find B/B (2020), the debut from Kosuke Nakahama, and Sasaki in my Mind (2020), from Takuya Uchiyama. Both are airing under the festival’s Next Generation banner, “a hand-picked selection of independently produced narrative feature films by emerging directors who offer a glimpse into the future of Japanese cinema”.

The most attractive pick for me is Toshiaki Toyoda’s 26 min short Go Seppuku Yourselves (2021). Toyoda has been on my watchlist as a director to check out, especially with a new collection of his works coming soon in a 2005-2021 box set here in the UK. What better time to engage with his work?

Though I cannot watch it myself as it’s both restricted to the US and already sold-out online, I would be remiss in not mentioning that tickets still appear to be available for Wife of a Spy (2020), the most recent winner of the Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film of the Year. New Yorkers reading this before Friday, August 27th may still be able to catch it – though I’d only suggest doing so if you can attend an in-person screening safely.

LIFF2020 Programme

Living in Leeds as a film fan has its perks. The city has a long historical association with filmmaking, and annually hosts the Leeds International Film Festival, celebrating films from across the world. Despite living in the city for over a decade now I only started attending the festival in recent years, but it’s quickly become an annual tradition of my own. Every year I enjoy looking through the programme, keeping a particular eye out for Japanese cinema. 2020 has disrupted this yearly ritual as much as anything else. LIFF2020 is smaller, with fewer feature films on the programme, and split between some of its usual venues and a new online player.

Continue reading “LIFF2020 Programme”

The Real Cop Influencers of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

I don’t always write about Japanese cinema. This week I have a piece on fanbyte covering the uncomfortable relationship between Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and some of the real-life veterans featured as playable characters:

Most of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s “operators” are wholly fictional characters created for multiplayer and Warzone battle royale. A few are drawn from the game’s narrative campaign. A handful, though, are modeled closely on real life figures. I wanted to know more about the people these characters were based on, and investigating their background took me on a strange journey into the marketing of tactical training and equipment — and what it means when that marketing makes it into one of the biggest gaming franchises on the planet.

Keep reading over on fanbyte.com

Review: Days of Youth (1929)

Back when I started this blog, I was trying to keep a record as I began to explore Japanese film in greater depth. I was someone who had spent a significant chunk of their adult life either living in or studying Japan, but Japanese cinema was a blind spot for me beyond a handful of films. I started by going straight to Akira Kurosawa, whose name is still synonymous with Japanese cinema, but I’ve still barely scratched the surface when it comes to other giants of the past – those directors like Yasjuiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, Kon Ichikawa, and Mikio Naruse whose names and careers are often linked, like in this feature from the Toronto Film Festival.

Days of Youth (1929) directed by Yasujirō Ozu • Reviews, film + cast •  Letterboxd

Ozu is particularly fascinating to me in the way he straddles the silent and sound eras, and in that many of his earliest works are now lost. The earliest known surviving film of his is Days of Youth from 1929: a gentle, slow-paced comedy following two university students (Ichiro Yuki and Tatsuo Saito) as they vie for the attentions of Chieko (Junko Matsui).

Continue reading “Review: Days of Youth (1929)”

Osaka Loves Kaiju

This week, officials unveiled the logo for the forthcoming 2025 World Exposition – and Japanese social media is delighted with the result. The red, ring-shaped mass of eyeballs and blobs has immediately been compared to a kaiju, the giant monsters of Japanese cinema fame, with Twitter users immortalising it in art.

Osaka Expo 2025 logo announcement

Per the Mainichi, graphic designer Tamotsu Shimada was quoted as saying, “Like the Tower of the Sun … we wanted to create something that was unique and has impact.” The Tower of the Sun, a huge sculpture by artist Tarō Okamoto, was built for the last World Exposition to land in the city, all the way back in 1970. Though most of the expo park is long gone, the Tower of the Sun still looms over the area.

Continue reading “Osaka Loves Kaiju”
Benkei and the Porter

Review: The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945)

After writing about the BFI’s celebration of Japanese cinema earlier this month, it still took a little while before I renewed my subscription to the BFI Player and started indulging in some classic films. Over the weekend, I rewatched Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog, which absolutely holds up as a portrait of Tokyo in its sweltering summer heat, and that left me hungry for more of the director’s work. In truth, I didn’t actually expect much from The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail; I had a suspicion that the story around its banning in 1945 by occupying forces would be more interesting than the film itself. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Continue reading “Review: The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945)”

Ghost of Tsushima Impressions

Barring any late-breaking delays – and really, anything could happen with the coronavirus pandemic not going anywhere any time soon – 2020 will be the final year of the PS4. The final year of a platform is often when developers deliver their finest work, able to leverage a whole console generation of technical know-how. This summer just gave us two swansongs in quick succession: Naughty Dog’s gruelling The Last of Us Part II, closely followed by Sucker Punch’s samurai cinema-inspired Ghost of Tsushima.

Continue reading “Ghost of Tsushima Impressions”

BFI Japan 2020

Looks a little quiet around here. I haven’t updated for months, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping busy. Over on Letterboxd you can find my Lockdown List of the films I’ve been watching since the UK went into suspended animation.

It’s an eclectic mix, but extremely light on Japanese cinema – so how about something a little more relevant to this blog? Not so long ago, the BFI announced BFI Japan 2020 to celebrate Japanese cinema. I compiled their list of the best Japanese films since 1925 into another Letterboxd list (and if you’re looking for other critically acclaimed Japanese films, you’ll find links there to lists of winners of both the American and Japanese Academy Awards, as well as Kinema Junpo’s film of the year selections).

If you actually want to watch some of those movies, the BFI Player currently has collections of organised into “Classics”, “Cult”, “Yasujiro Ozu”, and “Akira Kurosawa”. You’ll find plenty of films I’ve reviewed earlier on Kino 893, including some personal favourites like Stray Dog, Female Prisoner Scorpion, and Stray Cat Rock: Delinquent Girl Boss.

Right now, with all the stresses of dealing with the pandemic, films are a welcome escape. Writing reviews can turn them into work, even if I enjoy analysing them, so I’m not going to hold myself to any update schedule just yet. Still, I’m not abandoning Kino 893. Not when I’ve still so many films to see.