Category Archives: Japanese Movies

Poison Berry in My Brain 脳内ポイズンベリー (2015) – Japan

Poison Berry in My Brain 脳内ポイズンベリー (2015) – Japan

Reviewed by: Andrew Chan

Cast: Yoko Maki, Yuki Furakawa, Songha
Director: Yuichi Sato
Writer: Setona Mizushiro

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Before we launch into any sort of “Inside Out” similarities debate, I would like to point out that “Poison Berry in My Brain” is based on a 2009’s Japanese manga of the same name. Putting this topic to bed, one can say that the Pixel cartoon borrow the idea from the original manga, while “Poison” draws inspiration from both. The good news is that “Poison” is largely a romantic comedy that talks about decisions and the consequences that we make in life will deter our fate and amongst other things. We as human beings can easily be overwhelm by emotions and sometimes, we make irrational decisions on a spontaneous moment that may or may not result in the best outcome for us. “Poison” explores this notion in a comedic routine through the mind of our protagonist Ichiko Sakurai (played the superb cute-faced Yoko Maki) and like “Inside Out”, there are many voices or “people” in our heads, constantly debating, analyzing, remembering our memories, drawing from our past experiences and ultimately deciding on our next move.

Yoko Maki (“Like Father, Like Son”) plays a 30 year single woman who is on the verve of finishing her first novel and in the process she meets a younger handsome suitor, Ryoichi Saotome (Yuki Furakawa) and instantly falls “heads over heals” for the lad. The manner in which the film explains how the five different “voices” / characters in her head argues about whether they should be together, provides the film with one of many comic moments. As an objective bystander, you can clearly tell that their relationship will not last and how the duo by being together exhausts, Yoko Maki’s creativity and inspiration for life. While Maki blindly supports Yuki Furakawa in his pursue of his dreams of becoming a successful artist, the same cannot be said vice versa. Songha, on the other hand plays the supportive friend and her publishing manager who simply adores her with unrequited love.

Like all things in life, regrets are part of our history and memories and it is these kind of experiences that we draw upon when we make seemingly “better” judgments in our next big life decision. However, as history have shown, human constantly repeats the same mistake over and over again. “Poison Berry in My Brain” excels in depicting the notion of how our emotions can something get the better of our and while it is important to have the “feel” to live, we need to be balanced when it comes to decision making, but when it comes to love, its simply irrational. All in all “Poison” is a fun and interesting romantic comedy that is presented in an innovative ways and goes behind our heads and minds as well as the difficult decision making process that are affect both our lives and others around us. There is no right answers to the decisions we make in our lives, but it is important to understand that we are responsible for it and ultimately it is our memories and experiences that makes up who we are today. It is through these kind of experiences that we grow and “Poison” depicts and embraces precisely that. (Neo 2015)

Recommended film and endorsed by HK Neo Reviews.

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Flying Colors ビリギャル Biri Gyaru / Biri Gal (2015) – Japan

Flying Colors ビリギャル Biri Gyaru / Biri Gal (2015) – Japan

Reviewed by Andrew Chan

Cast: Kasumi Arimura, Atsushi Itō, Shūhei Nomura, Yūhei Ōuchida, Kokoro Okuda, Morio Agata, Ken Yasuda, Airi Matsui, Tetsushi Tanaka, Yō Yoshida
Director: Nobuhiro Doi
Screenwriter: Hiroshi Hashimoto
Producers: Jun Nasuda, Junichi Shindō
Director of photography: Yasushi Hanamura
Editor: Junnosuke Hogaki, Sayaka Yamamoto

Distributed by: Golden Scene

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“Flying Colors” is one of those films that will invokes plenty of emotions of those who have once attempted to achieve the impossible despite the biggest of odds. Never give up is both an attitude and an innate human personality that defines our character, where when life throws “lemons” after “lemons” at you”. How we deal with the “lemons” in life provide us with important life lessons and hurtles. As a result, “Flying Colors” will appeal to a particular personality type and once they engage, it will be impossible to not emote, be inspired and leaving the cinema with teary eyes.

Director Nobuhiro Doi is extremely diligent from start to finish to focus on one ultimate goal that is for a “dead beat”, bottom “20% student” and “written off” blond-dyed haired, pretty young high schooler to achieve the impossible of getting into a top private university. Kasumi Arimura is wonderful in her pursue for this goal and her change in personality and character is both gradual and believable. Her interactions with her mum, dad and brother showed us that nothing is perfect and like life, getting into university is not just a single sided ambition, but can inspire other aspects of your life. Atsushi Itō (from the famed role of “Densha Otoko” aka “Train Man”) is sensational in his belief in Arimura and in a scene where he openly defends her in a cafe despite an onslaught of insults from her classroom teacher provides a tiny little moment to endure. The two play of each other in the most engaging fashion and forms the core for the rest of the film.

All in all, “Flying Colors” is a great film that shows what can be achieve in life, if you truly believe in yourself. As the saying goes, “When life gives you lemons make orange juice” and this film perfectly encapsulate the difficulties, the hardship and the many situations where you will feel like giving up. To achieve the impossible is never easy and like life it will never be. This is a personal film as I am a strong believer in this attitude. Still, “Flying Colors” is a wonderfully paced film that is bound to inspire and that’s extremely important.

Recommended film and endorsed by HK Neo Reviews.

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Jeonju Film Festival: A Courtesan with Flowered Skin 花宵道中 (2014) – Japan

Jeonju Film Festival: A Courtesan with Flowered Skin 花宵道中 (2014) – Japan

Reviewed by Andrew Chan

Reviewed at 16th Jeonju International Film Festival, 2015

Date: 8th May 2015

Director: Keisuke Toyoshima

Cast: Yumi Adachi, Yasushi Fuchikami, Ena Koshino, Tomochika, Saki Takaokaù

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One of the few bright spots of the 2015 Jeonju International Film Festival comes in the form of a love story between a courtesan and an fabric artisan.

Director Toyoshima Keisuke perfectly paced the 102 minutes running time through gradually building of characters and the best moments in the film remains when the lovers stare at each other helplessly in a scene where the courtesan is being forcefully having sex with the artisan’s biggest client. Most films would falter in such a moment, but this one excels and build on from this to create a film that will touch the heart of most romantics. Yuki Adachi gives a heartfelt performance that combines beauty, class and character despite being nothing more than a prositute. Her simple moments are the best, her reactions to being blown away at the genuine assistance of the artisan gentleman is believable and perhaps setting the tone for the rest of the film.

Setting in the period Edo Era in Japan, being a woman is not easy, let alone a courtesan where they lives are essentially doomed to begin with. The beauty of why this film worked so well is because of its ability to play out the scenes, build its characters and a sustainable story that at its very essence is rather romantic. I especially enjoyed the final quote about love, “she never lost hope for love and life, she just find her greatest blossom.” It is a lovely way to finish of a hugely romantic film that will leave most hopeless romantics like myself indulged with emotions.

All in all, “A Courtesan with Flowered Skin” works because it is directed in a simple and classic manner much in line with the traditional Edo era setting. Elegance and graceful are not usually words associated with Courtesans, but somehow Yuri Adachi manages to pull this of in the most rounded manner. Life is not easy and as a hopeless romantic like myself, I have grown to understand how difficult it to find “your greatest blossom” and this film perfectly encapsulated that feeling.

Recommended film and endorsed by HK Neo Reviews  

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HKAFF: It’s Me, It’s Me / Ore Ore 俺俺 (2013) – Japan

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Ore Ore

Directed by:  Satoshi Miki 
Based on Original Novel by: Tomoyuki Hoshino (novel)
Screenplay by:  Satoshi Miki 
Cinematography: Takashi Komatsu
Starring: Kazuya Kamenashi, Yuki Uchida

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Reviewed by:  Andrew Chan

Reviewed at the 2014 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival

Initial Thoughts: 

“It’s Me,  It’s Me” plays like a random and sponteneous comedy with plenty of hidden deeper elements in expressing about identity thief,  identity crisis,  self doubts,  conseqences of our actions and the underlying concerns of human conformity and cloning. The film drags at times and struggles to hit a core,  but Kazuya Kamenashi’s ability and verstility to play multiple versions of “yourself” remains the best thing out of this puzzing,  fun and at times dark experience. 

Indepth Analysis:

Playing with the idea of multiple versions of yourself is nothing new to the cinematic medium. Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman have flirted the premises with “Being John Malkovich” and even Jet Li’s “The One” have venture into this possibility. Therefore “It’s Me, It’s Me” is on surface a comedy, but it is whenever the film attempts to drill deeper into dark territory and thematic moments that we become truely intrigue. Director and screenwriter Satoshi Miki created a world where multiple version of yourself is normal and while not directly providing a social commentary on the effects of human cloning or associated side effects. Miki seems to be interested in the human condition, how the same person can turn out differently due to how they are brought up in different levels of society.

We are constantly bound by the consequences of our actions and every decision we make may well shape our future and personalities. Through the protagonist played by Kazuya Kamenashi, showed how easy it is to commit identity thief in today’s modern society and while multiple versions of yourself popping up may seem interesting as you are essentially communicating with yourself, people changes, wants different things and are ultimately self fish in thinking that they are the only one.

Think about it this way, in society, we act differently to to different situation, circumstances and even in different stages of our lives. The multiple versions of Kamenashi simply represents our own living conscience and how many different type of us, we will eventually realise in our lifetime. However, the issue with this film is that none of these concerns are dealt with or answered, but rather the focus is more on how the clones communicate wih eachother that eventually led to the deletion process.

The shots of the vast and dead end department store setting, where the tens of TV showing the same screenshot of Kamenashi in an early scene, perhaps alluding to what is to come. The same scene is given a repetition a few times in the movie.

It almost goes without saying that Kamenashi is a real star of the film, to be able to play different charcters and personality in a few roles is lways difficult and somehow he managed to pull it off with winning comic timing. Yuki Uchida is given substantial screen time as the mysterious married woman who constantly seduce Kamenashi. Uchida is one beautiful actress, but despite playing off eachother well, the added meaning of her presence seems rather unexplained. Perhaps, this relationship is he only spark that Kamenashi can strive for in his dull existence within the vast electronic department store.

I tried hard to embrace this film, more than I really should have and most likely manufactured more thematic meaning than director Miki ever intended. It is rather unfortunate that the film never drill deep into any of the mentioned issues and rather like band-aid effect, comic moments gets priority and that is not necessary a bad thing. On a final note, I have always imagined what it will be like if there is another “me” in this world. I guess, it is a scary thought and one that requires a deletion. (Neo, October 2014)

I rate it 7 out of 10

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HKAFF: Still The Water 第二扇窗 / 2つ目の窓 (2014) – Japan

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Still the Water

Directed by:  Kawase Naomi
Screenplay by: Kawase Naomi
Cinematography: Yutaka Yamasaki
Starring:  Murakami Nijiro,  Yoshinaga Jun, Matsuda Miyuki,  Sugimoto Tetta

Reviewed by: Andrew Chan

Reviewed as part of 2014 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival.

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Initial Thoughts:

“Still the Water” is like the evolution of life, touching upon the man vs wild, nature overcoming humanity and love vs lost. While Kawase Naomi previous films simply implies these thoughts through beautiful images. This film relies on obvious self-conscious dialogue and ultimately suffers from a self-inflicted slow burning start. Despite a strong finish, this film is fit for festival circuit at best.

In Depth Analysis:

The film opens in a striking and captivating manner with a slow slaughter of a goat through the release of its blood, soul and ultimately the spirit within. This sets the tone of the film focusing on life and death, the struggle between nature and humanity. These are all favourite themes of auteur and Cannes regular Kawase Naomi’s body of work.

However, “Still the Water” takes an incredulous amount of time to build up a story, perhaps compromising on something the audience can identify and hold tangible with. In fact, for a good hour, the film is rather lifeless, without a core focus to follow and engage. It is this aspect that will ultimately lead to a mixed response to Naomi’s latest work, despite a strong and rather resounding finish.

The power of nature is never more evidently seen in waves after waves of brute and overwhelming forces that humanity is simply powerless to resist. Perhaps alluding to the fact that humanity only threshold for an impending victory lies in the slaughter of a helpless goat, the bottom of the food chain. Tie to the tree branch, upside down, screaming in agony, the goat representing a part of nature that is finally powerless.

Death plays a big role in most of Naomi’s work and from the floating dead tattoo body to Yoshinaga Jun’s Sharma mother impending death from terminal illness, humans forever want to live on whether it is another island far, far away or simply alluding to another world. The journey of love, life and death requires the kids to grow up at a blistering pace, this is ironic as “Still The Water” is quite the opposite in terms of pacing.

It remains ironic that the most powerful and erotic scene came at the end of the film. The intently wonderful Yoshinaga Jun and confident newcomer Murakami Nijiro releases a sense of love, fearlessness, youth and hope for humanity in face of the gigantic ocean. Their naked swim across the underwater depicts how vulnerable and fragile we are compared to the mysterious aspect of nature.

It is all the more unfortunate that a film that expresses such a powerful theme, message and produces so much aftermath thoughts and emotions, started off so feebly. “Still The Water” is likely to deter the cinematic masses, but will be a hidden delight and joy for festival indulgence. (Neo, October 2014)

I rated it 7.5 out of 10

This film world premièred at 2014 Cannes Film Festival.

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