Happy New Year from Kino 893!

明けましておめでとう!

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.

Review: Tokyo Godfathers (2003)

Satoshi Kon’s third feature, Tokyo Godfathers (2003), sees three unlikely, Tokyo_Godfathers_(Movie_Poster)homeless protagonists happen upon an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve in Tokyo. Gin, a middle-aged alcoholic, Hana, a former drag queen, and Miyuki, a young runaway girl are forced to look after the baby, which they name Kiyoko, and in the process are taken on a whirlwind tour of the city in the lull between Christmas and New Year’s as they try to keep her safe – and find her real parents.

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Review: Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983)

Trying to find seasonally-appropriate Japanese films can be difficult when the holiday in Merry_Christmas_Mr_Lawrence_poster_Japanesequestion isn’t celebrated in Japan, but I’m giving it a shot with Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (1983). Starring David Bowie, Tom Conti, and Takeshi Kitano, this British-Japanese production is an unforgiving, oddly-paced, but fascinating take on a WW2 Japanese internment camp in Java.

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Review: Runaway Train (1985)

Two felons break out of an Alaskan maximum security prison in the middle of winter. runawaytrainposterWhen they find come across a train leaving a depot it seems like their ticket to freedom and escape from the snow and the cold – but a freak accident traps them aboard as the unmanned train picks up speed, out of control and unable to be stopped. This is Runaway Train (1985). Starring Jon Voight (Midnight Cowboy, Heat) and Eric Roberts (The Pope of Greenwich Village, The Dark Knight) as the escapees and directed by Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky, Runaway Train is an unexpectedly brilliant thriller – but why is it on Kino 893?

Because it was based on an undeveloped screenplay than none other than Akira Kurosawa.

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Review: Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (1972)

My experiences with the first two Lone Wolf and Cub movies didn’t fill me with excitement for the remaining four films in Criterion’s box set. I don’t regret watchinbabycartposterg them, but I was starting to regret owning the collection – all the more reason to be sad Amazon was shuttering its LoveFilm rental service. And yet! Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart to Hades (1972) performs the nigh impossible task of course-correcting from the previous films, with drastically improved cinematography and fight scenes, as well as more interesting character interactions. While still by no means a perfect film, it took me by surprise, and reinvigorated my interest in the series.

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Review: Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972)

In this second instalment of the cult Lone Wolf and Cub, Itto Ogami (Tomisaburo Wakayama) and infant son Daigoro take on a Shogunate plot to steal a region’s indigo dye techniques, do battle with a legion of ninjas anBabyCartStyxposterd plenty of sword maidens, and spray buckets of luminously-red blood. It’s Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx (1972)! When I reviewed the first film in the series, I wrote how deeply disappointed I was; it was not the vital action classic I was imagining. Does the sequel manage to right those wrongs?

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Review: Your Name. (2016)

By the time I got around to seeing Your Name. (2016), it was already a phenomenon.yournameposter It held the top spot at the Japanese box office – before returning for another three. It was the second largest box office for a domestic Japanese film behind Spirited Away, and the first non-Miyazaki anime to pass $100 million dollars. Critical praise was high, and the fandom was intense. People were going on pilgrimages to locations featured in the film. As time slipped by and I still hadn’t seen it, I grew worried that it couldn’t possibly live up to expectations – or worse, that all that hype would undermine even an above average film. In the end, I needn’t have worried: Your Name is visually stunning and has a story to match.

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31st Leeds International Film Festival

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).

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Review: Stray Dog (1949)

The synopsis for Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog (1949) simply reads, “During a sweltering summer, a rookie homicide detective tries to track down his stolen Colt pistol.” Stray Dog PosterThat could seem like a reductive description, but Stray Dog might be the sweatiest film ever made. Set in a broiling Tokyo summer in 1949, Kurosawa drenches the film in atmosphere. No scene is complete without cops mopping sweat from their face and necks, people fanning themselves, or characters just slumped lethargically in the heat, unwilling to move. Toshiro Mifune, in one of his very early Kurosawa collaborations, stars as newly-minted detective Murakami. In the opening moments of the film a pickpocket lifts his service weapon from his jacket pocket and kicks off a hunt that stretches all across the post-war city.

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Hard to Find: Shakotan Boogie (1987)

While companies like Arrow, Criterion, and Eureka’s Master of Cinema are doing a lot to bring lesser known or previously unavailable Japanese films to the west – sometimes being seen for the first time with English language translations – there are still hundreds upon hundreds of films languishing in obscurity. Anime and even Japanese dramas can sometimes count on dedicated fansubbbers to provide unofficial translations (and host illegitimate, downloadable copies) but films rarely get the same treatment. Hard to Find will be an irregular feature on Kino 893 looking at films I’d love to watch, but haven’t yet found a way to.

For the first entry in Hard to Find, let’s talk Shakotan Boogie (1987). I stumbled across this title through my interest in cars – particularly (you guessed it) classic cars from Japan. Automotive enthusiast site Speedhunters is my regular fix for old Skylines and Fairlady Zs. I’d come across the word shakotan before, used to describe a particular style of quite extreme car modification, typically with the car riding low, tall bosozoku-style exhaust pipes, and outlandishly cambered wheels. I have no idea whether the term shakotan came first or if it was popularised by the manga, anime, and film – all titled Shakotan Boogie – but I first heard of the connection in this article by Mike Garrett. I think Garrett actually has some of the timeline wrong here, at least going by Wikipedia; it looks as if the film was in fact an adaptation of an on-going manga – but that’s neither here nor there. We’re here to talk about the Toei movie from 1987.

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