Category Archives: 16th Japanese Film Festival 2012

[JFF] Thermae Romae テルマエ・ロマエ 羅馬浴場 (2012) – Japan

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 9th November 2012
Reviewed as part of 16th Japanese Film Festival [JFF], Sydney and releasing in cinemas across Hong Kong from 18th October 2012

Hong Kong Box Office Taking: HK$1,498,789

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Turning popular manga into live-action film have always been the Japanese forte and with the hugely successful “Thermae Romae” this is no exception. The film took the Japanese box office by storm by taking nearly $75 million and despite an interesting premise of an Ancient Roman leaping through time into modern day Japan, the film falls flat in the middle and the numerous time leap becomes more cliché than exciting. All these probably makes a wonderful manga experience, but as a film, it is wholly average.

“Thermae Romae” is probably as epic as it gets in terms of adaptation from Japanese manga into live-action films. From the wonderful vision of Ancient Rome to the grand Roman baths, the film attention to detail is second to none. In fact, the first quarter of the film seems rather promising and the idea of an Ancient Roman leaping through time into modern day Japan to steal ideas in making baths, spas, saunas and fruit flavored bottled milk, all provides the film with an intriguing backdrop. However, the film becomes repetitive and rather predictable and that’s a shame as “Thermae Romae” clearly works better as a manga than an live-action film.

Abe Hiroshi is probably a credible lead and as the key protagonist, Lucius Modestus provides some good comic timing, but lacks the required expressions in some key melodramatic moments. While, it may be fun and induces a few spot of laughter by acting dumb and being fish out of the water (literally and figuratively) in modern day Japan. The audience becomes tire of the same running gag that worked once or maybe twice, but not for an entire duration of a 100 minutes film. Another issues is the questionable chemistry between Hiroshi and Aya Ueto (our little heroine in the highly brutal “Azumi” series). Aya Ueto is an attractive actress and there is something about her that makes the glue us to the screen, but despite her best efforts, her role seems limited and rather forced. One can understand a mutual attraction, but the pairing seems far too predictable and contrived as in many other parts of the film. Kazuki Kitamura as the lead villain in the role of Ceionius is probably the most one-dimensional character that I have witness for a long time. Other supporting actors are either wholly average or below par, which does nothing to help the cause.

Director Hideki Takeuchi has made a lot of Japanese TV series, but lacks the credential to handle a big budget film production. In fact, there are times, when the film feels as though it is a TV series and the characters development seems like a backdrop to the grand epic Ancient Rome than the other way around. One clear example of an ongoing joke gone bad, is the overused opera singing effect that happens during every time leaping journey. In fact, this gag is used so often that the film ends on that note. Sure, it is fun to witness it for a few times, but a few more actually got on my nerves.

All in all, “Thermae Romae” is most probably the kind of film that works as manga or on TV, but for film to work, it cannot simply just rehash the manga material. Perhaps, Hakeuchi should take a leaf out of Hollywood’s numerous rehash of comic book materials, they do not simply go page by page adaptation, but rather uses the themes, the characters, the issues and the storyline as an inspiration, take Dark Knight for example. While, it is probably an exaggeration to compare this film with its Hollywood counterparts as it is catered for the local Japanese audience and it clearly worked for them in taking $75 million odd dollars. However, as film on an international scale, “Thermae Romae” fails to relate, loses life by the quarter mark and far too many repetitive humor along the way. Still, “Thermae Romae” is far from a total failure, but a film of such epic proportion, one would expect a tad more than being just average. (Neo 2012)

I rated it 6/10

[JFF] Akko-Chan: The Movie 映画 ひみつのアッコちゃん (2012) – Japan

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 30th October 2012
Reviewed as part of 16th Japanese Film Festival [JFF], Sydney and releasing in cinemas across Hong Kong from 25th October 2012

Hong Kong Box Office Taking: HK$330,010

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“Akko-Chan: The Movie” (“Akko-Chan”) is a film that takes the reins of a child getting her wish granted of magically transformed into adulthood. The premises have been done to death, but somehow, this film still manages to charm its audience with plenty of fun along the way.

Films about a kid magically growing up and experiencing adulthood are definitely nothing new. Andy Lau grew up quickly in “Wait ‘Til You’re Older”, Tom Hanks tasted the trend with “Big” and numerous other Asian movies have followed suit. Therefore “Akko-Chan” joins the long listed queue with the same well meaning, tried and true message of “cheating might gives you the desire result, but you will miss out on learning anything along the way.” Luckily, “Akko Chan” has something in common with all the above mentioned flicks, they are all good and fun films in their own right.

Haruka Ayase headlines the film as the title character. She is the reason why the film works. At times, Ayase is so effective that she comes off like a genuine 10 year old girl and the manner in which she is able to charm the audience with her innocence, yet true antics is absolutely amazing to watch. Although the film possesses a number of plot holes and ridiculous situations, Ayase somehow manages to pull the character off and manages to touch the audience in some crucial sequences. Masaki Okada shows good chemistry as the male counterpart in the midst of the cosmetic commercial world. Okada certainly possesses plenty of good looks and delivers an extremely likable performance, even if it is not outstanding. Muga Tsukaji (Handsome Suit) steals the show in his limited screen time as the helpful security guard.

Director Yasuhiro Kawamura does extremely well in balancing magic, love, never give up attitude and a well meaning message, by focusing on characters and emotions. The aspect, I particularly enjoyed about the film is the way it goes about telling a simple story about how not giving up even in the most dire and unattainable circumstance may well get you somewhere even if it is almost impossible to imagine. The film accepts this attitude and stick to it till the very end. Although, “Akko Chan” is probably a tad overlong and tends to drag out to its 2 hour running time, the film goes to the route of boredom.

All in all, “Akko Chan” is just another one of those kids growing up magically and experiencing the pain, the fight, the struggle of real adulthood lives. However, “Akko Chan” somehow weaves its magic wane and works. The film delivers a simple yet cliché attitude to life and even if it is not totally effective, “Akko Chan” remains a surprisingly fun and charming film with a tad of emotions buried within. (Neo 2012)

I rated it 7.5/10

[JFF] Helter Skelter ヘルタースケルター 整容天后 (2012) – Japan

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 16th October 2012
In cinemas around Hong Kong from 11 October 2012 and reviewed as part of 16th Japanese Film Festival, Sydney 2012

Hong Kong Box Office Taking: HK$6,044,283

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The latest film “Helter Skelter” from famed fashion photographer turned director Mika Ninagawa is an ambitious piece of work that goes beyond its telling issue of the evils that lies in the plastic surgery craze. The film is filled with sharp bright colours, plenty of imageries and an insightful look at the cost of fame, beauty, looks and sex. “Helter Skelter” is ultimately beautiful to look at and goes on a deeper level than many of its contemporaries but somehow it still manages to come up rather flawed and mistimed. After a 5 years hiatus from the big screen and a failed marriage Erika Sawajiri simply shines through in the leading role.

“Helter Skelter” lacks a cutting edge that is required to captivate the audience. The unevenness is evident throughout, as the film itself feels like an emotional roller coaster. Perhaps indirectly the filmmaker is trying to show how much turmoil, depression and slightly mental that Sawajiri has become. The constant use of bright and bloody red throughout the film shows just how much Sawajiri is playing with fire. When things are going well, the fame that comes with being beautiful brings popularity, acceptance and recognition. However, this strive for fame is like a dangerous drug, an inevitable addiction that makes her inner soul wanting more and more. The film raises a number of questions about the price of fame, the superficial nature of showbiz, the aftereffects of plastic beauty and the equation between beauty and happiness. These are all prominent issues as the good news is that Ninagawa does not shy away from any of these.

The film first reaches an emotional crescendo with the purity of the contrasting cherry blossom scene where Erika meets her innocence looking sister. This moment in particular hits the audience hard and straight through the heart as to how far away she is actually from her sister, both physically and figuratively. However, the film often drags at crucial moments, where in turn hampers the audience’s ability to connect with the film on a deeper level as the film seems to be toying around with their moods through some inconsistent filmmaking. The scene where Sawajiri is required to face the media upon being exposed remains one of the most striking moment within the film. It is rather ironic that Sawajiri will end up destroying one of her few pieces of bodies that are still real, perfectly transcends to the audience the feeling of freedom, hope and new life.

Erika Sawajiri plays the leading role of a beauty queen who sinks deeper and deeper into depression, drugs, fame and plastic surgery. This is by far her most complicated character in her career. Sawajiri first caught my eye by displaying some fine acting chop as the older romantic interest in the coming of age tale “Sugar and Spice”. Since then, Sawajiri has left the industry, got married and divorce all within 5 years and “Helter Skelter” acts as a shadow of her own career in the show business. There is a level of sadness within her eyes that perfectly portray the situation and at times it feels rather scary as the blurring of boundaries seems to be making her real and cinematic life contravened. Other supporting characters like Kaori Momoi as the motherly figure is constantly dressed in bright green, as her character is never truly defined and remains a sense of mystery to audience as to her true intentions towards Sawajiri.

All in all, “Helter Skelter” is not a film about sex and nor should it be. Although it marks as Sawajiri’s first nude role, the scenes are never distasteful, but rather it allows the audience to feel the vulnerabilities behind her character. “Helter Skelter” is an uneven and flawed film, but Ninagawa stylistic and daring direction keeps the film afloat. “Helter Skelter” is the kind of film that has a lot to say and combining with a career redefining performance from Sawajiri, the film is able to give the evils of plastic surgery, a much needed all-out blast. Still, this is a good enough film, even if it is clearly flawed in its own way. (Neo 2012)

I rated it 7.5/10

Love Strikes! モテキ (2011) – Japan

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“With you, I will never grow.”

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Love Strikes continues the good track record of quality Japanese production with a point to express. It is simply about a story of a 30 year guy who just cannot seem to attract or keep a girl. However that’s all about to change as the movie shows how he deals with the destiny year of three very different girls coming into his life. It is almost truism to say that people want what we cannot have, but this movie shows and depicts the difficulty for an inexperience guy coming up against the more experienced female counterparts.

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What I enjoyed most about this film is because it tries to show the story from a male perspective. The carefree manner in which the director is able to breeze through the corridors and every corner is with some fun, some meaningful moments and some tragic times. One of the best lines of the movie comes from the girl that the guy loves the most, giving the following as reason why she prefers someone married over him: “with you, I will never grow.” It is one of the most cynical yet true quotations and perfectly explains the sad reality of modern relationships.

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All in all, Love Strikes! is easily one of the best Japanese romantic dramas in 2011. It may not seem like much, but the film strikes the audience right in cord where it counts, hurts and feels. In a way the film is a bittersweet lesson about the making of the female counterpart and also a story about a nerdy guy trying to find love in face of a battlefield ahead. It is true that love feels great, but to understand it will never be possible. For what it is worth, Love Strikes! is a delightful drama that works from start to finish, if you can ignore the unnecessary sweet ending. Still, this film is easily heads and shoulders above its peers and like 500 Days of Summer, the male audience can relate…

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Neo rates it 8/10

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