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

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”

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”

LIFF 2019: The Lighthouse (2019)

With LIFF now over for another year, it’s time to catch up on the films from the second week of the festival. First up…

The Lighthouse

I’d been anticipating Eggers’ film since it started making waves earlier this year: I’m a big Willem Defoe fan, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Robert Pattinson’s post-Twilight career, and trailers hooked me with the moody, black and white visuals and rhythmic soundtrack. I’d also heard good things about Eggers’ previous film, The Witch, but as I’m only tangentially a horror fan I still haven’t gotten around to seeing it.

Continue reading “LIFF 2019: The Lighthouse (2019)”

LIFF2019: Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

My second film of the festival is being screened as part of the “Mother Cutter” exhibit showcasing female film editors (named after Verna Fields, editor of American Graffiti and Jaws, amongst others). Dziga Vertov’s landmark Soviet documentary – if it can be even called a documentary; it’s more of a pioneering visual experiment in presenting moving images without any framework like intertitles or narration – was edited by his wife, Elizaveta Svilova. Simply put, the film wouldn’t exist without her; it’s through her work that the myriad scenes shot across the Soviet Union are intertwined. She even features in the film, shown, naturally enough, cutting and splicing the frames of footage that make up the film itself.

I love the film, principally for the way it brings to life a lost era. It’s propaganda, of course, but it’s incredible to glimpse the Soviet Union as it wanted to be seen in 1929 – Vertov seems to delight in showing off public transport, industry, work, play. It’s fascinatingly egalitarian, intercutting between men and women at work, marriages and divorces, funerals and births.

It was also a pleasure to watch on the big screen, in the same way Juzo Itami’s Tampopo was at a retrospective screening last year. Man with a Movie Camera opens in a movie theatre, watching as the projectionist readies his reels, as the chairs are set and the crowds come in, as the orchestra prepares to accompany the film. It feels very similar to Tampopo‘s film theatre opening, where one of the characters speaks to the audience, who view the theatre as if looking in from the screen. Watching a film like that, one that plays with its theatre environment, feels very different when actually watched in a slightly rickety old theatre seen than on the sofa at home.

Leeds International Film Festival 2019

It’s November, which means the Leeds International Film Festival has returned to my city. Last year I wrote up a quick rundown on the Japanese films that would be showing. This time around, things are a little more subdued – there’s nothing as high profile as Hirokaze Kore-eda’s headline-grabbing (and later Oscar-nominated) festival favourite Shoplifters, for example, or the previous year that featured not only Takashi Miike’s 100th film Blade of the Immortal, but the prolific director’s 101st film, too.

Still, just because Japanese films aren’t being showcased in quite the same way doesn’t mean they aren’t featured across the two weeks of the festival. There are three anime features, with Studio Trigger’s visually acclaimed Promare and the latest film from Lu Over the Wall director Masaaki Yuasa perhaps representing some of the most anticipated of the festival’s Japanese catalogue. There’s also a Werner Herzog drama, a retrospective screening of Osaka Elegy (1936), and a couple of quirky looking features in the form of Five Million Dollar Life and We Are Little Zombies.

Jump below the cut for a breakdown of each film.

Continue reading “Leeds International Film Festival 2019”