[Film Review] Sayonara Itsuka

I don’t know why, but about a month ago I went from almost never watching movies, to watching them pretty much every day. I discovered a, possibly boredom-driven, sense of curiosity that fueled my long, aimless treks through Netflix’s Instantwatch collection, genre-by-genre. At first I followed through on some specific recommendations, and then once I hit upon my niche (that sounds a bit trashy, but you know what I mean), I let my discernment take a back seat and well, my post-midnight lack of anything better to do take the wheel.

So last night while cruising my queue, I came upon a Japanese film from 2010 titled Sayonara Itsuka (Goodbye Someday), the cover of which rung wearily the much-overused-by-Japanese-directors bells of either a) love ruined by the early onset of some horrible disease or b) arufou chick-flick, that strange, house-wife-culture driven genre for bored women “around forty”. Neither of these being reasonable means of driving me away from the probability of wasting two precious hours of my life, I gave it a whirl.

Based on the novel of the same name by Hitonari Tsuji, Sayonara Itsuka follows the story of rising-star airline employee Higashigaito Yutaka who, 3 months before his marriage to totally objective opinion boring a-typical Mitsuko, is transferred temporarily to Thailand for work. While in Thailand, Yutaka meets fiery, fun Manaka Touko, with whom and you really can’t blame him he can’t resist starting a passionate, forgive-ably physical affair.

This may not make a difference to any of you, but I am currently developing a great appreciation of Korean films, for various reasons which solicit a lengthy analysis and comparison of their own which shall not be touched upon in this post. As much as I love them, though, I’m always torn because I have such a strong admiration for the Japanese, and the Japanese language. It was therefore, as you can imagine, exciting to discover that Sayonara Itsuka was actually directed by John Lee, a Korean director, produced by a Korean company, and released simultaneously in So. Korea and Japan.

 The film, not remotely soap-y as it would turn out, is reasonably predictable. The guy ships off to Thailand, meets a firecracker, they fall for each other and get it on and clearly he has prior obligations to marry the boring chick back home. What’s to guess?

However, I shall dock no points for something so nit-picky.

The film itself was, to stereotype, as intriguingly directed and as exquisitely filmed as 4/5 of the Korean movies I’ve seen. I mean, you were there, in the oppressive Thai heat, the sultry sun, the dusty streets of Bangkok in some other era (It seemed like it was meant to be in the ’50s or something, but I could be severely off-track.). You could practically reach into the screen and touch and taste and smell the world Lee was portraying.

Although it’s all well and good to want to sink into Bangkok (especially on a day like today when you wake up to find snow everywhere. Somebody put me out of my misery.), Sayonara Itsuka isn’t a documentary on post-war Thailand. The musky, sticky world is made accessible and intoxicating to us because it has accessed and intoxicated its characters.

Wife of the original story’s author, Nakayama Miho portrays the alluring and irresistible Manaka Touko, who entices ambitious Adonis Yutaka (played by Nishijima Hidetoshi, whose “stone-face” and exquisite smile previously charmed certain people might be talking about myself, might not be in the, also Korea x Japan, drama Boku to Sutaa no 99 Nichi) out of the steamy sun and into the sumptuous yet fleeting world of illicit love.

The pair both have a stubborn, alluring attitude that worked well, building a clearly (yet elegantly) fragile chemistry, the likes of which you just wish you could take by the shoulders and give a good hearty shake until they acknowledge that they’re meant to be together and stay that fricken way. My one qualm about the story and the fact that it was based around this chemistry, is simply that the director didn’t just let the relationship carry the film. No, he had to go and click into epilogue overdrive.

Seriously, at 2.13 hours of viewtime I felt the whole thing sort of ran on and on and on, and honestly after about the 1.30 hour mark it felt like they started a whole new film about unfulfilled, depressed people who realize everything sucks (not exactly riveting material), I still think Sayonara Itsuka was a great movie. It depicted a very real dynamic of love, one that puts the head against the heart in an inevitable lose-lose situation, one that was brought to life by great, if a-typical, characters and exquisite cinematography.

The film bore all the majestic characteristics of the awesome Korean drama/romance films I have had the pleasure of watching, while containing the emotional and thematic content of the more reserved, do-it-for-honor Japanese films from the genre. These qualities together made, I feel, a terrific cinematic context which satisfied all the chaotic yearnings of my cross-cultural conflictions.

Just, seriously, after the 1.30 mark, fast-forward about 30 minutes. You won’t miss anything (Sorry, Lee).

Samurai Fiction

Well, I’ve been yammering on a lot about Visual Kei lately, in case it slipped your notice. I like working in these weird thematic clumps; I geuss I just get struck with these bouts of incurable inspiration– For example, I’m just drowning in a mouth-frothing fervor over writing about Samurai just now. Like how we get cravings for chocolate cake or grapefruit juice.

Yeah, it’s the truth: I’m totally into Samurai movies. A couple of years ago I watched the epically lengthy cowboy flick Magnificent Seven, which is a wild-west rendition of Kurosawa Akira’s masterpiece The Seven Samurai. I really enjoyed both movies, and I thought that Magnificent Seven captured the characters well. And, of course, there’s no more typical Western mirror for Japanese history than cowboys and Samurai. Generally I’m a fan of Kurosawa’s films, partly because I’m a big fan of Mifune Toshiro, who acts in a lot of them. If I could choose to be anyone else, I would probably pick him.

I also added an aside to my rant on emo culture earlier about Miyavi’s Kabuki-rock project. Although “kabuki rock” is sort of Miyavi’s little brain-child, there’s  common ground where many bands meet, and I like to call it “SamuPan”– in plain English, Samurai Punk. Stop chuckling- it’s true. Japanese rockers consciously interact with their famously honorable warrior culture by rocking out in various modes of Samurai-ness. The best of both worlds. Today I’m going to review a film that takes it to the next level: rockers actually playing Samurai.

Samurai_fiction

Although there are a lot of excellent (and otherwise) Samurai films out there, I’m always looking for something that’s really interesting. Anybody can run around howling and wielding extremely sharp weapons and get us pumped up and ready to hack at the first thing that comes along, but I’m talking about some real spice that sets one ancient feud apart from another.

I discovered one which deserves much noise made in its honor. *fanfare* Samurai Fiction (1998)distributed by Pony Canyon [which also takes charge of the exotic Jrock duo LM.C]. The film was the first full-length feature by director Nakano Hiroyuki, who was established as the director of music-videos for MTV Japan. This is apparent in particular scenes that are brief, but dreamlike and strange with no character movement or dialogue taking place, set under a dramatic music score.

Samurai Fiction begins when the aloof swordsman Kazamatsuri, warden of the ancestral sword of the Iga Clan, steals the sword and leaves the Clan. The Clan head’s young son (in the lovely passion of youth! The daring days of youth! The reckless– ok, we get it) gets the uppity idea to chase after Kazamatsuri and retrieve the sword. The rest of the film follows both men in their clashes and reprieves.

The other area in which we see homage to the director’s MTV-heritage is in the casting of musician Hotei Tomoyasu
in the villainous role of Kazamatsuri Rannosuke. Hotei composed and performed the entire musical-score for the film, and it was his acting debut.

Kazamatsuri

Kazamatsuri

After Kagen No Tsuki, I’ve about had my fill of 2-hour-long music video acting-debuts, but Samurai Fiction soon revealed that I had nothing to worry about! The musical-score was quite awesome. Mainly rock with some heavy
guitar-wailing courtesy of our villain, paired quite nicely with some taiko (Japanese drums) tracks where appropriate, and a few licks in honor of Clint Eastwood’s cowboy flicks. (*heh hem*)

The film itself was an exceptionally awesome piece bowing to famous Samurai productions such as the acclaimed Kurosawa’s masterpieces. The film, although shot in 1998, is done entirely in classic black and white, except for some special situations. Such as. There is no gore– nope, not a spec of crimson blood (and certainly no fountains exploding from graphically punctured arteries). However, we are not entirely cheated! Whenever someone is cut down by a masterful katana stroke, the screen flashes red, and we shudder….punctured arteries exploding in our deep, wounded conscious….

The film is also intended to be a comedy. And honestly…it’s the first Japanese comedy I have ever watched and
actually laughed really really hard at! It was truly hilarious! Many aspects of SF and lots of the characters (especially
the frantic young protagonist) were almost parodies of the same movies that inspired it. And it is as skillfully done as the finest episodes of School Rumble! (yes…I did just pull that comparison out of no where… actually it has nothing in common with School Rumble except for its wild abandon in hilarity and awesomeness).

The acting was great, and contrary to this wounded psychology’s concerns around acting-debuts… It was actually Hotei’s appearance on screen that caused much heightening of attentiveness– his portrayal of the totally awesome, aloof, brimming-with-badass-ness was completely perfect, and you could totally expect him to draw his katana and have it do like Transformers and morph into super-sleek guitar and then everyone watching would start rocking out along with.

If you have any pride as a samurai-movie-lover, you will acquire this masterpiece ASAP and do not just yourself, but all of us, a huge favor. Both parody and tip of the hat to the great Samurai films of the century, Samurai Fiction is the perfect blend of comedy and action, and is perfectly acceptable to watch with your mom.

Gacktpause, over and out.

TRANSFOOOOOOORM

TRANSFOOOOOOORM

Kagen no Tsuki

Last Quarter

Last Quarter

I’m going to start adding some multi-media into this blog. Namely film, I think. I think it’s good to stir it up a bit– too much law and order just starts to make my joints hurt. Since I’m too young for arthritis, I think I will just start putting things in here– like…whatever I want. Yeah, that works. Today we’ll start by throwing in something with relevance– granted, purely by accident! If Hyde wasn’t in this movie, I’d put the review up anyway…. I do think it’s cool to know about movies that musicians act in and stuff, though. It’s like, how can we be fans if we just ignore all the multi-media? Pssshhhht!

KAGEN NO TSUKI (下弦の月)、English title Last Quarter is a Japanese movie starring HYDE of L’arc-En-Ciel and Kuriyama Chiaki (Kill Bill), co-starring Narimiya Hiroki of NANA movie fame. Released 2004.

Based on the 3 volume manga by Yazawa Ai (NANA, Paradise Kiss), the manga was serialized in Ribbon magazine, which had a following primarily of teenage girls. The story begins when Mochizuki Mizuki finds out on her 19th birthday party that her boyfriend (Narimiya) slept with her best -friend. Horribly upset, Mizuki runs away from the party, losing a shoe in the process. As she staggers homeward with one shoe and one broken, bloody heel, she comes across a terrifying looking haunted-type house– the very one, believe it or not, that she has been seeing in her dreams…. She goes inside the house, because that’s what any normal person in her situation would do– she just walks right in. Standing in the foyer, she hears the faint notes of a guitar playing an eerie song– the very one, believe it or not, that she has been trying to learn on piano since she was a child…. hyde-doing-what-he-does-best

She walks down the dark hallway, lamps flickering on, following her as she ventures deeper into the house, sans surprise, fear, or curiosity. Somehow she then becomes a trapped soul within the house, striving always to get back to her lover, Adam (Hyde). Two middle-school students discover the ghost in the house and befriend her, becoming devoted to helping her spirit find peace.

(Trivia: In NANA when Komatsu Nana goes with Shouji and Junko to check out her new apartment, Shouji remarks on how the place is kind of creepy. Nana suddenly gets all worried and when they wonder if it’s haunted, Nana thinks to herself, “Like Adam???!!”)

If I could describe the movie in one sentence…. : Kagen no Tsuki is a blatant and uninspired 2 hour long promotional video for Hyde’s new release, CAPE OF STORMS. The movie immediately lost major points for its lack of realism (her just finding this scary house and just randomly going inside and meeting Adam and just inviting herself to stay…No emotion, no good dialogue, no coherency or points of interest that may have hooked us with any of that vital sense of “it could have happened like that”.) Even with the labels “supernatural” and “mystery” slapped on it, the movie could not justify any plot developments or character decisions, and the whole thing was a mess of dream-like points of randomness and lack of any cohesion whatsoever. [Good] dialogue was practically nonexistent, and the acting was obvious, forced, and utterly uncaptivating at best. Hyde made small appearances in different scenes, but mostly just stood around looking cool, or playing guitar. The only actor I didn’t find utterly disappointing was Narimiya Hiroki.  He always has a lot of energy and brings a lot of humor, realism, and when necessary, seriousness and thoughtfulness to his scenes.

Ok. Here it is. Cape of Storms. The whole movie was bad-acting and weird scenes of cob-webby hallways interspersed with either Mizuki or Adam playing half of Hyde’s song on either piano or guitar, respectively. The experience was akin to having an upstairs musician- neighbor who valiantly struggles to learn a cool-sounding song, repeating the same segment over and over again until they are no better and you have a massive migraine.Now, don’t get me wrong– it’s a great song, and you have to commend Hyde’s all-English composition and performance. BUT. By the end of the movie you could care less about any of the characters, and just pray with all your beating heart that the “major character arc” could be that SHE LEARNS THE REST OF THE SONG.

The storyline had potential, but the “supernatural” aspect of it became muddy and incoherent, and the mystery side of things was predictable and boring at best. I read a review that said “Hyde is one musician who can actually act”, and I second that remark with “unfortunately, he didn’t.”