Happy New Year, readers, and to kick off 2019 I present: Zatoichi-Gatsu, a terrible pun based on Criterion UK releasing the (near) complete Zatoichi Collection late last year and the Japanese word for January (ichigatsu). I’ve got twenty-five films to watch starring everyone’s favourite blind swordsman and as reviewing one a week would take us almost half the year, I’ll instead be peppering reviews throughout January as I work my way through the collection.
It’s that time of year again: my adoptive hometown of Leeds is gearing up for the 32nd Leeds International Film Festival. Last year, I wrote about the selection of Japanese cinema at LIFF 2017, and I had planned on catching Takeshi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal before the flu struck me down at the last minute. This year, I’ve got my fingers crossed for more Japanese films (as well as some others that have been making waves on the international festival circuit, like Sorry to Bother You and Tigers Are Not Afraid).
This year’s line-up hasn’t been announced yet. The festival programme launches on October 10th. Tickets are free, but need to be booked in advance, for the two screenings of trailers for this year’s event. I’ll be there hoping to catch a glimpse of Shoplifters and One Cut of the Dead.
One of my favourite podcasts – at least, one of the few I listen to that aren’t just discussions of politics and the news – is the Arrow Video Podcast hosted by Dan Martin and Sam Ashurst. This probably comes as little surprise when a huge number of the films I watch and review on Kino 893 come from Arrow Video or Arrow Films. In typical fashion, though, I forgot the podcast existed for a few months and have come back to find a huge backlog of episodes to listen to – which at least is working out very well for my commutes. This week, listening to one introduced me to the site Letterboxd. It’s pitched as a ‘social network for film fans’ and allows you to track which films you’ve seen, curate film lists, and keep a diary of when you watched a film.
Keeping a ‘film diary’ is something I started doing a few years ago anyway, and I’ve got long lists of films clogging up Google Sheets going back to 2014 already. I’ve signed up and you can find my film diary here; I just hit 100 films for 2018, though my ‘goal’ is 100 films I’ve never seen before and I’m still around ~25 shy. I’ve also put together a list of every film featured so far here on Kino 893 and it’s pretty amazing seeing the array of posters.
If you’re already a member of Letterboxd or sign up, let me know in the comments below or simply follow me on there.
I’m a pretty casual Godzilla fan. I hadn’t seen the original, Ishiro Honda-directed classic until just a few years ago, or any of the many, many Japanese movies that followed. I had, on the other hand, seen the mediocre 1998 Hollywood version (which, if nothing else, gave us an incredibly catchy Jamiroquai song that is now stuck in my head from just thinking about it tangentially) and the 2014 reboot. Over the last couple of years, though, I’ve grown pretty fond of the big guy – from the original nuclear allegory to Hideaki Anno’s satirical take on Japanese red tape. Some of the most recent entries haven’t been great: I kinda loved the 2014 film when I saw it on a giant cinema screen but didn’t think it held up well when I watched it at home, and the Netflix-Toho CG-anime films so far have been extremely rough going – look out for my review of the just-released Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle next week.
But this? This looks good. Sure, I feel a little wary because the trailer for the 2014 film was likewise impressive, with that jaw-dropping sequence where the US soldiers dive through cloud cover around the absolutely enormous Godzilla. The actual film largely played coy with him, though, and in the end was somewhat lacking in kaiju action. Godzilla himself looked great, but the other creatures lacked the long cinematic history of Godzilla’s usual array of foes and allies. Not so this time. The trailer alone teases Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah, and let’s just say I’ll feel sorely undersold if there isn’t a lot of kaiju-on-kaiju action come 2019.
There are other reasons to be hopeful, too: as well as Toho loosening its grip on the aforementioned kaiju, which Legendary Pictures weren’t allowed to use in the previous film, the breaking news alongside the trailer is that composer Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica, Black Sails, God of War) will get to incorporate the original 1954 theme.
It’s also hard not to endorse the central thesis of the trailer: that the planet is dying, humanity is an infection, and unleashing giant monsters from the depths of time is the only way to save the planet (even if it means wiping most of us out). Long live the King.
What a long, strange tournament it’s been! There is of course one day left in the Nagoya Basho, but with his win over Tochiozan, young sekiwake Mitakeumi has clinched his first ever top division tournament win and with it, the Emperor’s Cup.
The great thing about there being six sumo basho a year? It’s never that long between tournaments.
Things have been quiet on the blog for a few weeks with my attention split between the news from E3 and then a major conference at my actual, non-Japanese-film related job. There’ll be new content soon though, from the stack of Beat Takeshi-directed films I picked up during Third Window’s sale celebrating their association with Arrow Video to the July sumo tournament looming up ahead. Roll on summer.
I felt like it would be remiss to build up my interest in the summer sumo tournament and then neglect to mention how it all turned out, so here’s my take on the results. On the final day, it came down to two wrestlers: Georgian Tochinoshin and Mongolian yokozuna Kakuryu. Going into their final bouts, Tochinoshin – who had most likely performed well enough to secure his promotion to the second-highest rank of ozeki – had lost twice in a row. It felt like he needed at least one more win, symbolically, to come out of the tournament feeling good. It was especially galling considering one of his losses felt like an accident, with Tochinoshin losing his footing and slipping to the clay rather than facing an opponent who actually overpowered him. Kakuryu, on the other hand, was looking to achieve a tournament victory, that would have been his first back-to-back tournament win in his career following an earlier championship in March this year.
In his final match with Ikioi, a wrestler who had pushed hard against both yokozuna in earlier bouts, Tochinoshin was finally back on form. It was a win that put him on 13-2 out of the 15 day tournament. After two days with a face like thunder he actually looked pleased with his performance again, even relaxed, even though he was not technically out of the running for the championship. That hinged on how Kakuryu did against fellow yokozuna Hakuho, an extremely talented wrestler. Hakuho was mathematically out of the running, but if he beat Kakuryu, he could force a playoff between Tochinoshin and Kakuryu. Even though Kakuryu had beat the Georgian hopeful the day before, it would be anyone’s guess whether he would repeat that, especially coming straight off the back of a match and therefore having to fight two bouts in a row.
The speculation was all for nothing though – Kakuryu won, and the tournament was his. As much of a cheerleader as I am for Tochinoshin, it was good seeing someone other than the frequently unsportsmanlike Hakuho clinch it. Besides, Tochinoshin’s promotion to ozeki now looks all but guaranteed, and he even picked up a some of the special prizes for technique and fighting spirit, adding to the impressive collection he has already racked up over his career. Now, however, all we can do is wait for the announcements from the Sumo Association ahead of the next tournament to see how everyone shapes up going into the Nagoya Tournament in July.
In the meantime, my last review was Hayao Miyazaki’s debut feature length anime, the classic Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro. This week, I’ve got a new review lined up of The Rambling Guitarist, one of the many old Nikkatsu movies Arrow Films has put out in its Nikkatsu Diamond Guys series.
Last weekend I wrote about my excitement for the current sumo tournament being held in Tokyo. After eight days, Georgian sekiwake Tochinoshin was sitting at the top of the leader board with eight straight wins and looked set up to earn his promotion to ozeki and perhaps even win the entire tournament. As the days wore on, he racked up win after win, until on Day 12 he had his toughest opponent yet: yokozuna Hakuho, one of the most succesful wrestlers of all time, and someone who Tochinoshin had never before defeated in 25 previous bouts.
With that victory, it looked like Tochinoshin had secured his promotion and cleaned up the tournament. He still had three bouts left, and mathematically, he could still go on to lose the title to the tournament’s other yokozuna, Kakuryu. Yet, it felt like Tochinoshin was safe.
Then he collapsed to Shodai, a lower-ranked wrestler, in a shocking upset. It didn’t even seem to be that Shodai won so much as the Georgian lost his footing and slipped to the clay just as his opponent was flying out of the ring. Suddenly, it all came down to his match-up with Kakuryu today, on Day 14. If Tochinoshin could beat Kakuryu, he would claw back first place in the leadership race.
That means that going into Day 15, Kakuryu is sitting at the top of the leaderboard with just one loss from early in the tournament. Tochinoshin has been pushed into second place, but he’s not completely out of the running – unlike Hakuho, who suffered an unexpected but much-deserved defeat to Ichinojo. On Day 15, Tochinoshin will face Ikioi, a wrestler who failed to defeat either yokozuna but clearly pushed them hard. It’s not guaranteed that Tochinoshin will beat him, especially after two days of defeat himself. If Tochinoshin can best Ikioi he’ll finish the tournament with only two losses. That makes a playoff for the title possible if Kakuryu loses in his final day match-up with Hakuho – another conceivable result, but again, not one that’s guaranteed. If Kakuryu wins his bout with Hakuho – or in an anti-climactic nightmare scenario, Hakuho withdraws – it’s all over anyway.
It’ll be a tense final day.
As HBO’s Westworld heads into Season 2 – and don’t worry, I’m not here to discuss the show’s plot so read on without fear of spoilers – it has picked up a number of highly recognisable Japanese actors in guest or recurring roles. Two of my favourites are among the most well-known Japanese actors currently working in Hollywood, with Hiroyuki Sanada and Rinko Kikuchi both making their Westworld debut in the fifth episode of Season 2, “Akane no Mai”.
Kikuchi had a few early roles in Japan, and while she continues to appear in Japanese media, first hit international recognition with Babel (2006) before starring in The Brothers Bloom (2008) and Pacific Rim (2013). She manages to star in both big budget, action-heavy Hollywood releases, artsier fare like Tran Anh Hung’s dreadful adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood (2010) or Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (2014), and hyperdramatic Japanese television dramas like Liar Game (confession: I’ll always think of her as an eccentric villain from Liar Game). It was a welcome surprise spotting her in Westworld. While I wasn’t a huge fan of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter, it did at least give AV Club an excuse to interview Kikuchi and amongst other things ask her about the “Mako Mori test”.
Hiroyuki Sanada – who is somehow, inexplicably 57 years old – is likewise an actor with a career in his native Japan before gradually branching out into Hollywood and plenty of North American TV. Sanada, however, got his start much earlier by training with Sonny Chiba and his Japan Action Club. While probably recognisable to Western fans of J-horror through the Ring/Ringu movies or from the critically acclaimed Twilight Samurai (2002), Sanada also co-starred in The Last Samurai (2003), Sunshine (2007), the underrated The Wolverine (2013), and last year’s Life (2017). Sanada brings some real presence and a lot of cachet to his role in Westworld, even serving as the show’s Japanese cultural advisor [caution: minor Westworld Season 2 spoilers within].
With the second season of Westworld drawing on Japanese culture but also playing with how that culture is stereotyped and portrayed in western media, it’s interesting that the show has picked up Japanese actors to flesh out its world. It’s a little too early to tell how the rest of the season will unfold and how well it utilise (or exploit) Japanese culture, but if nothing else, it’s great seeing some of my favourite actors appear. It’s also a reminder that I really need to track down a copy of Twilight Samurai – which despite its Oscar nomination, doesn’t appear to have ever received a Blu-Ray or digital release in the UK, leaving only an old Tartan Video DVD edition.