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Banned Director Wins Asian Film Award For Cop Drama 'Mystery'


Takeshi Kitano

A Chinese drama movie about police corruption won the prestigious best picture award at the Asian Film Awards on Monday (March 18, 2013). 'Mystery," directed by Lou Ye, upset the country's censors for dealing with controversial issues, though it was rewarded at the awards ceremony.

The movie is Lou's first film after he was banned from filmmaking for five years for screening the politically charged movie 'Summer Palace' at the Cannes Film Festival without the Chinese government's approval in 2006. 'Mystery' appeared to be a risky comeback project for Lou, though critics lauded the film. "I am very happy because this (latest film) project has run into some troubles before, so this is a recognition for us," Lou told AFP after winning the award at the ceremony in Hong Kong. "I just want to concentrate on making films.... Movies and society cannot be separated," he added.

Censors had reportedly demanded a cut to the violent ending in Mystery, in which the male lead bludgeons a garbage collector to death with a hammer. Sticking by his guns, Lou refused to budge on the actual content of the scene though agreed to darken the lighting. 

Continue reading: Banned Director Wins Asian Film Award For Cop Drama 'Mystery'

Zatôichi Review


Excellent
Seated at a gambling table with his head tilted downward in silent, intense concentration, Zatôichi, a 19th-century blind Japanese nomad enjoying a game of dice, listens closely to the two white cubes clank against one another inside a wooden cup. Suddenly, the sound of the dice changes. The men, Zatôichi recognizes, are trying to cheat him. He looks up, his eyes closed but his face nonetheless stern, and without warning unsheathes his gleaming cane sword and begins to hack and slash his way through the gaming establishment's samurai warriors. When the melee is over, only a pile of bodies remains in Zatôichi's wake. If Zatôichi, Takeshi "Beat" Kitano's period piece featuring the classic Japanese superhero, teaches us anything, it's not to mess with the handicapped.

Zatôichi, the hero of 26 feature films and a long-running television series in his native Japan, was a wandering masseur, gambler, and warrior (played by Shintaro Katsu from 1962 to 1989) who fought for the rights of the downtrodden working-class man against villainous crime lords and land barons. In this reinterpretation of the Japanese icon, director Kitano plays Zatôichi with blond hair and a red cane (which houses his ferocious blade), and reimagines the friendly samurai as a dour, remote hero prone to isolate himself in meditative silences. While Kitano retains the character's impish chuckle and sympathy for the countryside's maligned outcasts, his Zatôichi substitutes Katsu's balletic gracefulness with a swift physicality. This new Zatôichi is a viper coiled to strike with tornado-like ferocity at any moment, and in his silent-but-deadly manner, the character more than slightly resembles the gun-toting yakuza madmen of Kitano's Sonatine and Brother.

Continue reading: Zatôichi Review

Brother Review


Grim
Violence is bad. Violence is ugly. Violence breeds yet more violence. Kids, don't try this at home. This weighty message isn't the only barrier to enjoying Brother, but it's certainly one of the largest.

Written, directed by, and starring the infamous Takeshi Kitano (Kikujiro, Sonatine) Brother is his first film made outside his familial Japan, bringing the yakuza tradition to Los Angeles. (Yakuza translated for the average American is the Japanese mafia.)

Continue reading: Brother Review

Sonatine Review


Good
In close to a dozen movies as actor, director, and/or writer, Takeshi Kitano (who acts under the name Beat Takeshi) has reinvented the time-honored yakuza genre. Gangsters may act like gangsters the world over, but Kitano's Zen take on crime, punishment, and violence gives his films a uniquely Japanese vibe and make them well worth watching.

Sonatine gives us Kitano as Murakama, a burned-out and nearly silent mid-level thug who admits to his loyal sidekick Takahashi (Kenichi Yajima) that he's just plain tired. "Maybe you're too rich for this business," retorts Takahashi, and it may be true. As a trusted member of the local gang, Murakama gets big assignments, but lately he's been suspecting that the higher-ups are trying to get rid of him. When the big boss commands him to take a team to the island of Okinawa to settle a regional gang war, Murakama is suspicious. Could it be that the boss wants to trigger a bloodbath so he can move in and take over the turf? Something smells like sushi.

Continue reading: Sonatine Review

Dolls Review


Terrible
This may not be the most boring film ever made, but it's probably safe to say it's a strain on the attention span. Only a director who enjoys some cult status, it seems to me, would attempt such a thing as using Japanese Bunraku puppets for a model of human behavior while carrying on tragic romances as though they're in some parallel universe. This 2002 film now hitting DVD bins is imagined by Takeshi Kitano (Zatoichi). For lovers of the exotic, the reflective, or the stubbornly abstruse, it may pay off. Apart from some stunning visuals, it didn't for me.

After a short prelude in which a Bunraku tragedy is staged as a framework for what is to follow, three intersecting human stories are told simultaneously in a tedious 114 minutes of mystification. In the first, Sawako and boyfriend Matsumoto (Miho Kanno and Hidetoshi Nishijima) walk along public pathways, tied together with a red rope. This is meant for protection and identifies the pair as "'Bound Beggars,' aimless vagabonds to the outside world but desperate to find something forgotten," (according to the promo description).

Continue reading: Dolls Review

Arakimentari Review


OK
While Nobuyoshi Araki's claim that he's the world's most published photographer is debatable, he's definitely the photographer with the most published photos of Japanese girls' crotches.

Whether tied up and hanging in a doorway, covered in sushi, or merely on the floor on all fours, Araki (typically sans first name) captures all manner of semi-perversities, and you'd think a guy with such a penchant for softcore porn would be a little more rough-and-tumble. But as revealed in this straightforward documentary, Araki is a genial, rather impish little man who couldn't seem nicer, even while he's carefully arranging pubic hair and playfully groping his subjects.

Continue reading: Arakimentari Review

Battle Royale Review


Good
Consider a parallel world at the dawn of the new millennium. Unemployment is rampant, national morale is low and the country's youth are unruly and dangerous. The government's solution: Banish one school class per year to a deserted island and force them to kill each other. Three days, no rules, one winner.

If you've never heard of this twisted action thriller a film that appears to have strong potential for box-office success it's simply due to American sensitivities. Since its release in 2000, the Japanese Battle Royale has been an acclaimed cult hit in its native country... but for obvious reasons of content, chances for American distribution hover somewhere between slim and none.

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Kikujiro Review


Grim
I'd describe Kikujuro if I could. Written, directed by, and starring Takeshi Kitano (best known for the Asia-meets-America gangsta flop Brother), the film is a road trip of two unlikely buds: a crotchety criminal (Kitano) and a doe-eyed little boy (Yusuke Sekiguchi) in search of his mother.

Somehow this bit of whimsy is combined with a pedophile who tries to molest the kid, a guy who spends most of the movie naked (his privates covered by animated butterflies), and a solid, but Western, soundtrack. The road trip itself tends to go around in circles, as does the movie. It's too bad, because Kitano wants to say something about the inexplicable nature of friendship a la Harold and Maude, but it's drowned by a ridiculous storyline and the jarring presence of naked man-buttocks,

Continue reading: Kikujiro Review

Johnny Mnemonic Review


Weak
In 2021, when the world is basically ruled by corporate Japan, humans with microchip brain implants are used to transport the most important of data files. Computer networks are unsafe, because people can "jack in" and neo-physically enter the complex world of cyberspace, where a computer virus won't just knock out your computer, it'll kill you outright.

This is the world of writer William Gibson, and it seems like a pretty interesting place to visit. It's unfortunate that Johnny Mnemonic does very little in this setting and comes off as little more than a remake of Tron, without the lightcycle sequence.

Continue reading: Johnny Mnemonic Review

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