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Like Father, Like Son Review


Extraordinary

With his previous film I Wish, we knew that Japanese filmmaker Kore-eda was an expert at drawing engaging performances out of adorable young children. And he does that again here, but the film's main focus is on a man who discovers the little boy inside himself, as well as the father he should be. It's a strikingly sentimental story that never gets remotely sappy because it draws out delicate details in each scene.

The man in question is Ryota (Fukuyama), a well-off architect raising his cheeky 5-year-old son Keita (Ninomiya) with his quietly observant wife Midori (Ono). When they're notified that Keita was swapped with another baby at birth, their reactions are extremely telling. Ryota says, "Now it all makes sense", while Midori wonders why she didn't notice it earlier. Their biological son Ryusei (Sho-gen) has been raised by the poor shopkeeper Yudai (Lily) and his wife Yukari (Maki), who have two other children. The question is whether they can just swap the boys back to their biological parents, or are the bonds already too strong?

By keeping the focus on Ryota, Kore-eda pulls us into the events from an intriguing angle. Sharply well-played by Fukuyama, Ryota is cold and sometimes harshly demanding, which we learn is a legacy from his own father. He's also snobbishly dismissive of the poorer family, even offering to raise both boys himself. By contrast, Yudai always puts his family ahead of his work, something alien to Ryota. So the key is whether Ryota will be able to view this situation through the boys' eyes.

Continue reading: Like Father, Like Son Review

Villain Review


Excellent
A difficult, realistic look at a complex situation, this film explores good and evil in a way that's far more thoughtful than we usually see in cinema. And its emotional crescendo is reminiscent of Anderson's Magnolia or Haggis' Crash.

The lonely Yuichi (Tsumabuki) is trying to find love in an online chatroom, but the chirpy Yoshino (Mitsushima) ditches him when she meets the much cooler Masuo (Okada). When Yoshino turns up dead, the police suspect Masuo of murder.

Meanwhile, Yuichi meets Mitsuyo (Fukatsu), a girl who's clearly more on his wavelength. But he soon becomes the lead murder suspect. At the same time, Yoshino's father (Emoto) and Yuichi's grandmother (Kiki), who raised him after his mother left town, are both struggling to find peace with the situation.

Continue reading: Villain Review

Arrietty Review


Excellent
Based on Mary Norton's classic novel The Borrowers, this film features striking animation and a story that's rich, detailed and full of vividly engaging characters. And it refreshingly refuses to play by Hollywood rules about narrative.

When the sickly young Sho (voiced by Kamiki) goes to live with his aunt (Takeshita) in the country, he spots a tiny girl in the garden, just like his mother remembered seeing when she was young. But housekeeper Haru (Kiki) denies they exist. Indeed, the girl was Arrietty (Shida), who lives with her parents (Miura and Ohtake) in a small home under the floor full of things that are borrowed unnoticed from the house above. But being seen has consequences, and even though Sho is clearly friendly, Arrietty's world is about to change.

Continue reading: Arrietty Review

Kamikaze Girls Review


OK
An unrequited girls' love story that spins biker gangs and a love of frilly dresses into a fun romp, Kamikaze Girls creates a candy-colored Japan that's hardly more real than a dream but is excellent enough company for its brisk passage across the screen.

The baby-faced teen whose self-centered musings and obsessions make up the bulk of the film, Momoko Ryugasaki (Kyoko Fukada) lives in Shimotsura, what she thinks of as the most remote, podunk corner of Japan. It's a land of small farms and small-minded people more interested in getting a bargain than wearing interesting clothes, a fact that horrifies the fashion-obsessed Momoko to no end. She dreams of living in 18th century France, and rhapsodizes endlessly about the Rococo era, which in her gauzy imaginings seems to be a split between Dangerous Liaisons and an outré fashion spread. Thinking of clothing as an extension of personality, she's disgusted by the people in her hometown (who she imagines as being born and dying in tacky tracksuits) and is constantly working on self-improvement, thinking "When I see clothes I like, I want to become worthy of them." So there she is, walking the lonely roads in her frilly corseted dresses, demure demeanor, parasol and all, living only for her occasional trips to a haute couture shop in Tokyo, many hours away by train.

Continue reading: Kamikaze Girls Review

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