Jo Odagiri

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I Wish Review


Essential

Even without much of a plot, this meandering Japanese film holds our attention with a clear-eyed attention to character detail and situations that spark our imaginations. Beautifully shot and edited, filmmaker Kore-eda tells the story from a child's eye, offering a funny, involving look at growing up. And the film refreshingly never pushes its themes home, delicately letting us take an adventure along with a group of lively kids.

After their parents separated, the thoughtful young Koichi (Koki Maeda) went with their mother (Ohtsuka) to live in the southern city of Kagoshima, which is dominated by an ash-spewing volcano. He misses his cheeky little brother Ryu (Ohshiro Maeda, Koki's real brother), who has moved north to live with their slacker-musician dad (Odagiri) in Fukuoka. Over the phone, they hatch an elaborate plan to ditch school and meet up at the seemingly magical point where new bullet trains cross, where their wishes will be granted. Travelling with their friends, Koichi and Ryu begin to realise that what they wish for might be changing.

Yes, this is a sort of coming-of-age film in which two young boys make some startling discoveries about the world. But writer-director Kore-eda never overstates any of this, so the film feels like almost like a free-form documentary following both the children and adults through everyday experiences that are so well observed that they take our breath away. In the raw, honest performances from the entire cast, we feel like we're watching ourselves up there on-screen.

Continue reading: I Wish Review

Azumi Review


Good
When underground director Ryuhei Kitamura announced that he'd be making Azumi, his first film inside the Japanese studio system after a successful run of independent films (Versus, Aragami), fans may have had just cause to fear. Not only was he joining the mainstream machine, but he was also directing -- for the first time -- a script in which he had no hand. As it turns out, there's no need for concern.

Azumi opens in war-torn feudal Japan. A clan of assassins, raised from youth by their master Gessai (Yoshio Harada, resembling no one so much as a Japanese Burt Reynolds), endeavor to wipe out three warlords bent on waging yet another bloody struggle to rule the country.

Continue reading: Azumi Review

Bright Future Review


OK
If you see one Japanese-urban-ennui-with-a-jellyfish story, see Bright Future, a curious story of how a bad job can wear you down to the breaking point.

Two go-nowhere factory workers are content to make moist towelettes by day, sit around their apartment by night. One fellow is slowly acclimating a jellyfish from salt water to fresh. That's the extent of the excitement.

Continue reading: Bright Future Review

Azumi Review


Good
When underground director Ryuhei Kitamura announced that he'd be making Azumi, his first film inside the Japanese studio system after a successful run of independent films (Versus, Aragami), fans may have had just cause to fear. Not only was he joining the mainstream machine, but he was also directing -- for the first time -- a script in which he had no hand. As it turns out, there's no need for concern.

Azumi opens in war-torn feudal Japan. A clan of assassins, raised from youth by their master Gessai (Yoshio Harada, resembling no one so much as a Japanese Burt Reynolds), endeavor to wipe out three warlords bent on waging yet another bloody struggle to rule the country.

Continue reading: Azumi Review

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