Koji Yakusho

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Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai Review


Excellent
Using muted colours and dark emotions, Miike takes a remarkably restrained approach in this 3D remake of the 1962 samurai classic. It's a slow-burning 17th century Shakespearian tragedy with an astonishing attention to detail and a huge emotional kick.

Aimless without a master to serve, the ronin Hanshiro (Ichikawa) turns up in the courtyard of a great house asking to commit ritual suicide and die with honour. Before granting permission, the house prefect Kageyu (Yakusho) recounts the story of the similarly penniless Motome (Eita), who made the same request in the hopes of receiving a compassionate payout and pardon from the nobleman.

But Kageyu called Motome's bluff, leading to a horrific seppuku with Motome's bamboo blade. What Kageyu doesn't know is that Hanshiro knew Motome.

Continue reading: Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai Review

13 Assassins Review


Very Good
Carefully paced to draw out the internal warfare as much as the blood-and-guts variety, this samurai showdown packs a potent emotional wallop. If the first half feels a little dull, the hour-long battle scene makes up for that.

In 1844 Japan, young Lord Naritsugu (Inagaki) is such a sadist that he's about to end a long period of peace. And his merciless rampage of rape, torture and death goes unchallenged because he's the Shogun's half-brother. Shocked by where this is heading, top samurai Shinzaemon (Yakusho) assembles a team of 12 warriors to take him out. It's clearly a suicide mission. And they pick up a wild-eyed 13th colleague (Iseya) on the way to setting an elaborate trap for Naritsugu and his 200-strong entourage.

Continue reading: 13 Assassins Review

Tokyo Sonata Review


Extraordinary
Starting out like a gentle family melodrama, this gorgeously made Japanese film morphs into something much darker as it progresses. And in both its economic premise and family observations, it couldn't be any timelier.

Ryuhei (Kagawa) manages a busy office and is so stunned when he's made redundant that he doesn't tell his wife Megumi (Koizumi). He pretends to go to work every day, hanging out near a homeless centre with an unemployed friend (Tsuda). Meanwhile, Megumi is battling her own inner demons, wishing her life wasn't so dull. And their sons have problems too: teen Takashi (Koyanagi) decides to join the US military in Iraq, while preteen Kenji (Inowaki) spends his lunch money on piano lessons, discovering that he's a prodigy.

Continue reading: Tokyo Sonata Review

Tokyo Sonata Review


Very Good
The differential separating Kiyoshi Kurosawa's bizarre Tokyo Sonata from his oeuvre of uneasy art-thrillers is that its eerie atmosphere isn't brought on by signs of the paranormal. Though built on a variation on Laurent Cantet's dire Time Out, Sonata is not haunted by the ghosts of technology and history, nor does it thematically concern itself with the threat of contagion. Well, at least not directly.

Entering the office one day, Ryuhei (Teruyuki Kagawa), husband and father of two, finds his job thrown to a younger man and his new place at the back of the unemployment line. He goes home and acts as if nothing happened, even helping a fellow severed salaryman with his own charade. Meanwhile, his eldest son (Yu Koyanagi) thinks his best place is in the U.S. Army, serving the Iraq Occupation. On the other hand, his youngest son (Kai Inowaki) takes his lunch money and begins taking piano lessons. Ryuhei approves of neither.

Continue reading: Tokyo Sonata Review

Babel Review


Weak
The Bible gives us the story of the tower of Babel, the magnificently tall structure whose height was deemed offensive and impertinent by God. To punish humanity for its architectural hubris, God then decided to drive a linguistic wedge between the nations of the world, who until then had spoken the same tongue. As fables go, this is a particularly effective one in that it both illustrates a moral -- don't think you're better than God or you shall be struck down with all speed -- and also provides a handy answer to those who wondered why there are so many different languages anyway.

In Babel, directed and co-written by Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros), a clutch of characters from a range of cultures and walks of life attempt to build a towering film of meaning from coincidence and portent; unfortunately, in the end it is the viewer who is punished for the filmmaker's hubris.

Continue reading: Babel Review

Babel Review


Weak
The Bible gives us the story of the tower of Babel, the magnificently tall structure whose height was deemed offensive and impertinent by God. To punish humanity for its architectural hubris, God then decided to drive a linguistic wedge between the nations of the world, who until then had spoken the same tongue. As fables go, this is a particularly effective one in that it both illustrates a moral - don't think you're better than God or you shall be struck down with all speed - and also provides a handy answer to those who wondered why there are so many different languages anyway.

In Babel, directed and co-written by Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, Amores Perros), a clutch of characters from a range of cultures and walks of life attempt to build a towering film of meaning from coincidence and portent; unfortunately, in the end it is the viewer who is punished for the filmmaker's hubris.

Continue reading: Babel Review

Memoirs Of A Geisha Review


Weak
The only thing which director Rob Marshall doesn't throw into Memoirs of a Geisha is a torch song in which the heroines can lament their sad fates; it might have been an improvement if he had. Adapted from Arthur Golden's 1997 bestselling novel, the film is about Sayuri, a young girl in pre-war Japan sold into servitude at a Kyoto okiya, or geisha house. Although interesting as drama, the book was beloved for its depiction of this long-gone culture's intricate rituals, and the grueling training and subterfuge which the geisha indulged in to succeed. Since much of that material is better suited for the page than the screen, the film blows up the book's more melodramatic moments (and there were plenty of them) into a cliched soap opera of thwarted love, backstabbing and really pretty outfits.

Marshall gives the film, especially its early scenes where Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang) gets schooled in the hard-knock ways of the okiya, a goodly amount of sound and fury that has more than a hint of Spielberg to it (the original director of the project, he stayed on as producer). Having one of the world's most photogenic period settings, Marshall makes all that he can of it, and the results are astonishing. This is a film of fluttering cherry blossoms and dark alleyways lit by paper lanterns, where all houses have their own deftly-maintained garden and everyone is dressed to the nines. The problem is that no amount of amped-up drama or pretty window-dressing can make up for the fact that the phenomenally talented cast has been stuck with hackneyed dialogue to deliver in English - a first language for none of them.

Continue reading: Memoirs Of A Geisha Review

Pulse (2001) Review


Extraordinary
Following on the heels of Hideo Nakata's original Ringu and Takashi Shimizu's Ju-On, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 2001 masterpiece Pulse is, at first glance, simply another J-horror film obsessed with the malevolent dangers posed by technology. Yet though the Internet becomes the conduit for otherworldly forces exerting their influence over the living, Kurosawa's film, largely forgoing traditional scare tactics in favor of a mood of dawning irrational terror, shares little with its Japanese contemporaries save for some aesthetic similarities (an austere color palette, measured pacing, long-haired female ghouls). As with his similarly magnificent serial killer saga Cure, Kurosawa assumes the superficial trappings of a genre only to utilize them for a philosophical inquiry into the disaffection and loneliness of modern existence. And with this tale of online-fostered apocalyptic alienation, the iconoclastic writer/director eerily pinpoints the means by which technological tools designed to foster greater interconnectedness instead - through encouraging depersonalized, anonymous interfacing with others - merely contribute to greater societal isolation.

Communication breakdown is Pulse's primary preoccupation, an infectious ailment that spreads throughout Tokyo like a plague - or, more aptly, like a computer virus, as a program on botanical nursery worker Taguchi's (Kenji Mizuhashi) floppy disk seems to spark a chain of catastrophic web-based events involving forlorn ghosts. When Taguchi goes missing from work, colleague Michi (Kumiko Aso) visits his apartment, where a disheveled Taguchi - when his guest's back is turned - uses a rope for fatal purposes. Examining the disk her friend had been working on, Michi and friend Junco (Kurume Arisaka) discover a haunting image of Taguchi's flat in which a computer screen projects the identical scene they're looking at, as well as a shadowy spectre staring into another monitor. Not long afterwards, Michi's television goes haywire (while a newsman discusses a long-lost communiqué) while her other co-worker Yabe (Masatoshi Matsuo), after receiving anonymous phone calls from someone pleading "Help me," unlocks a mysterious room whose doors are sealed with red duct tape. And in a concurrent storyline, technophobic economics student Kawashima (Haruhiko Kato) teams up with a computer lab worker named Harue (Koyuki) after stumbling upon a strange website called The Forbidden Room which depicts fuzzy people somnolently moving about their tiny abodes.

Continue reading: Pulse (2001) Review

Cure Review


OK
In and around Tokyo, a series of unrelated murders have an eerie common characteristic: the victims, killed by those well-known to them, are each branded by an X carved into their torso just below the throat. The killers are all unknown to one another and the detail has not been publicized. The only characteristic that the killers share, besides an irreconcilable remorse, is a vague confusion about what took place in the moments leading up to the murder.

The killings haunt detective Takabi (Koji Yakusho), not least because he worries about the safety of his wife, a disturbed woman who is prone to become disoriented and lost when out of the home. The first half of the 1997 thriller Cure, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation) and now available stateside on DVD, details the crimes themselves, revealing the true culprit in the killings and showing the ways in which this murderous cipher gets inside his subjects' heads. The second half is about the detective, and about his struggle to keep the villain out of his own head.

Continue reading: Cure Review

The Eel Review


OK
Takuro Yamashita is a bland, efficient little man who worked nine to five in your standard office job, going off on fishing excursions during the weekend. He hardly emotes at all, and when he discovered his wife sleeping with another man one night he dispatched her in a chilly, businesslike manner then immediately turned himself in. He spent eight years in prison.

Shohei (Black Rain -- not the Michael Douglas version) Imamura's new film, The Eel, documents this quiet, eccentric character during his first several months of parole. What starts out as the story of a murderer shifts gears to become a quirky character study with more than a little touch of farce as he attempts to start his life over as a village barber in a small seaside town. He doesn't seem to like people very much, spending most of his time confessing to his eel, which "listened to him" as his pet during those hard years in prison.

Continue reading: The Eel Review

Koji Yakusho

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Koji Yakusho Movies

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai Movie Review

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai Movie Review

Using muted colours and dark emotions, Miike takes a remarkably restrained approach in this 3D...

13 Assassins Movie Review

13 Assassins Movie Review

Carefully paced to draw out the internal warfare as much as the blood-and-guts variety, this...

Babel Movie Review

Babel Movie Review

The Bible gives us the story of the tower of Babel, the magnificently tall structure...

Babel Movie Review

Babel Movie Review

The Bible gives us the story of the tower of Babel, the magnificently tall structure...

Memoirs of a Geisha Movie Review

Memoirs of a Geisha Movie Review

The only thing which director Rob Marshall doesn't throw into Memoirs of a Geisha is...

Warm Water Under a Red Bridge Movie Review

Warm Water Under a Red Bridge Movie Review

Girl: To you, I must appear like a slut.Boy: (bemused) You certainly do!Warm Water Under...

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