Naoto Takenaka

Naoto Takenaka

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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

Tokyo! Review


Good
Tokyo! is a curious conundrum. The movie is a triptych of short films about the titular metropolis made by Michel Gondry, Leos Carax, and Joon-ho Bong, three non-Japanese filmmakers. Each tries to offer up personalized impressions of the Japanese capital, and that alone would suggest a worthwhile cinematic experience. But the films themselves lack the intimacy with Tokyo's cultural nuances that we crave from a piece like this, trafficking instead in stereotypes and platitudes.

For its easy charm and humor, Michel Gondry's "Interior Design" comes off best. Gondry's story follows a young couple -- Hiroko and Akira (Ayako Fujitani and Ryo Kase) -- who have just moved to Tokyo, struggling to find an apartment, jobs, and generally to start their new lives. Akira's an aspiring filmmaker-artist, hence a bit of a space case, while his girlfriend Hiroko is smart but directionless. While getting started in Tokyo, they bunk up with a friend in her absurdly tiny apartment. Gradually, Hiroko pulls away from Akira and, in a Gondry-esque bit of transmogrification, she suddenly has the ability to shift from human to chair form and back. As a chair, she becomes part of the furnishings in a stranger's home, and feels herself an object of value, something she lacked as a human being. Gondry pokes fun at Tokyo's housing crisis: The living spaces are hilariously cramped, hardly more than glorified closets. With the low-key bantering of its characters, the quotidian details of Tokyo street life, its movie-within-a-movie device, the human-chair magic trick, and the overall theme of life-as-reverie, this is a Gondry project through and through. And, though not illuminating on the subject of its city, it's still a cute, clever take on Tokyo to keep us amused.

Continue reading: Tokyo! Review

Azumi Review


Very 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

Azumi Review


Very 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

Shall We Dance? (1996) Review


Excellent
There's something about Japanese depression that feels so specific. A 40-something accountant, Shohei Sugiyama (Koji Yakusyo, the intense star of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure), has a high-paying job, a house in the suburbs, and a happy middle-class wife and child. But in his attainment of those yuppie dreams, all the joy and mystery has gone out of his life. One fateful night, riding the train home from work, he sees a beautiful woman staring out the window of a ballroom dance studio. Perhaps intrigued by her look, he ventures into the dance studio.

This quiet, buttoned-down man signs up for dancing lessons, which in Japanese culture is highly suspect. It becomes a guilty secret that he keeps from his wife and child, attracted to the rush of feeling that accompanies ballroom dance. Though initially drawn by the woman (Tamiyo Kusakari), who becomes his instructor, Sugiyama and his equally uncoordinated businessmen-by-day/dancers-by-night classmates are quickly swept up in the magic of the fox trot, the cha cha, the rumba, and, of course, classy ballroom.

Continue reading: Shall We Dance? (1996) Review

Naoto Takenaka

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Naoto Takenaka 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...

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