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.
I would love to be able to say that I reviewed Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After the Storm this week because I knew he was a surefire winner for this year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, but in truth, it’s a very happy coincidence. I did want to revisit a previous Cannes contender – and After the Storm played in the Une Certain Regard category back in 2016 – but I wasn’t expecting his latest film, Shoplifters, to suddenly gain such acclaim. On the other hand, it’s great news for Japanese film fans as it makes it more likely for his latest work to get a quick Western release. Here’s hoping I’ll be able to view it myself before the year is out.
Shoplifters (2018) is a story of a Tokyo family surviving in poverty on a limited pension, turning to shoplifting to support themselves. It features Kore-eda regulars Lily Franky (Yakuza Apocalypse, After the Storm) and Kirin Kiki (Sweet Bean, After the Storm). It debuted on May 13th at Cannes 2018, with Magnolia Pictures picking up the North American distribution rights. Fingers crossed Arrow Academy will snatch it to accompany their other Kore-eda releases in the UK.
It’s been far too long since I last updated Kino 893. Part of it is being swamped at my day job since one of my colleagues left in a hurry to greener pastures, and part of it is I simply haven’t been watching enough Japanese films to review! However, I just posted my take on Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi’s Shin Godzilla (2016) and I’ve got Baby Cart in Peril, the next instalment of the Lone Wolf and Cub series, lined up. Hopefully I’ll maintain this as its not like I’m short of content to review – along with the remaining two Lone Wolf and Cub episodes there’s Last Days of the Boss to close out New Battles Without Honour and Humanity and the final Female Prisoner Scorpion movie, #701’s Grudge Song. Plus, Arrow Films have kept me in good stead by releasing a steady stream of Seijun Suzuki’s early films. Between the first two volumes, I’ve got no less than 10 of his early works to get through! Depending on how well each stands alone, I might review those as complete sets rather than individual movies.
A little while ago I posted my thoughts on the predictably dull Hollywood remake of Ghost in the Shell. Along with actual Japanese cinema, I still plan on hitting remakes and other films with ties to Japanese culture – so I feel like I can’t avoid watching Netflix’s The Outsider, a yakuza movie inexplicably starring Jared Leto (although Tokyo Vice author and frequent reporter on all things yakuza Jake Adelstein, whose opinion I greatly respect, writes that “as much as [he] expected to hate the movie, [he] didn’t”). I also picked up the 1974, Sydney Pollack-directed The Yakuza. Roughly contemporaneous with Battles Without Honour and Humanity (and close behind the success of The Godfather) I’m interested to see how ’70s America saw Japanese gangsters.
Away from Japanese cinema, I enjoyed a ‘Cartel season’, checking out a slew of movies revolving around South American drug cartels. Sicario, Savages, Clear and Present Danger stood out among a few more peripherally related movies. I still want to check out Soderbergh’s Traffic, which seemed to be highly-regarded as ‘the’ Cartel movie until Sicario, and a couple of documentaries like Cartel Land and Narco Cultura. The whole thing was spurred on by the dull yet oddly compelling Ozark, when after the first season I wanted to watch something similar – and after having already seen Breaking Bad, which Ozark shamelessly borrows from, needed to branch out. So far, Sicario is the stand out for its beautiful cinematography and damning indictment of both sides in the War on Drugs, and I wonder if the soon-to-be-released Sicario 2: Soldado will actually be any good.
Beyond a slew of Netflix movies (including Mute, Annihilation, and The Cloverfield Paradox) I haven’t been keeping up with 2018 cinema. I did manage to catch Black Panther, though, and you can listen to my review over on the This Gen, Last Gen podcast. This week marks the release of Avengers: Infinity War and I, for one, am far too excited!
Yesterday Netflix released Duncan Jones’ Mute (2018), the cyberpunk movie the director had been gestating for some sixteen years. Loosely connected to his debut Moon (2009) and starring Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, and Justin Theroux in a near-future Berlin, I found it unevenly paced but totally engrossing – well worth a try from any subscriber, even if the director himself has said it’s a Marmite kind of film. Blade Runner may have set the template for cyberpunk visuals but Mute managed to remind me of the even filthier, cheaper, more run-down and lived in worlds of Harebrained Schemes‘ Shadowrun games – especially, of course, the Berlin-set Shadowrun: Dragonfall.
Halfway through the movie, as Paul Rudd’s uncharacteristically unpleasant Cactus Bill skulks through graffiti covered streets, what should walk prominently across the shot but a Basset Hound?
Of course, I can’t help but assume this is a reference to my favourite cyberpunk series, Ghost in the Shell:
Mute: cementing that Basset Hounds are cyberpunk af
Welcome to 2018 and welcome back to Kino 893. Last year, I set out to explore Japanese cinema in a way I never had before, pushing myself to hunt down everything from classics by Akira Kurosawa to B-movie action and horror unearthed by niche publishers like Arrow, Eureka, and Criterion. I’d always had a soft spot for Japanese films given my time spent living in or studying Japan over the last decade, but 2017 marked the first time I sat down to check out a lot of films I really should have seen before.
I started Kino 893 to chronicle the different movies I was watching and hopefully over time build up an eclectic collection of reviews. For many of the more obscure films, I was also encouraged by the fact very little information on them exists in English, and I wanted to try and include as much as I could for other film fans looking to track this stuff down. I was aiming to release a new review every week for the whole of 2017, but ‘real life’ occasionally got in the way – but still, 45 out of 52 isn’t bad! In 2018, I hope to hit my target, as well as releasing the occasional ‘bonus’ review still relevant to the site – Hollywood movies set in Japan, the Western films of Japanese directors, or Japanese dorama, anime, or videogames.
With the holiday season now behind us, if you missed my reviews of Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence or Tokyo Godfathers, be sure to check them out now. New reviews will start arriving this Friday, January 4th, with Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon leading the pack. As ever, follow and subscribe to get updates on new reviews and articles, and I welcome comments on reviews whether you agree or disagree with my takes.
Every year in my adopted Yorkshire hometown, Leeds holds the Leeds International Film Festival. This year marks the 31st, and
for the first time for only the second time since catching Howl’s Moving Castle back in 2005, I’m actually paying attention to what’s on offer. While there are plenty of noteworthy films in competition for the first time or being replayed on the festival’s cult or retrospective circuits, this site of course focuses on Japanese cinema, so here’s my breakdown of the Japanese films on offer at #LIFF31.
The only Japanese film in the festival’s official selection – described as “some of the most anticipated films of 2017, alongside outstanding debuts” – is Atsuko Hirayanagi’s first film, Oh Lucy! (2017). Adapted from a 2014 short of the same name, it stars Shinobu Terajima and Josh Hartnett.
With few exceptions, the remaining Japanese films can be found in two marathon sessions – Animation Sunday (Sunday 5th November) and the Manga Movie Marathon (Sunday 12th November).
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.