Think Again, Junpei

JunpeiThinkAgain-posterJunpei, 21, is a lower-ranking yakuza. One day, his boss assigns him the mission to kill a high-ranking yakuza of a rival group. Junpei, who wants to be recognized by his clan, agrees. Junpei meets OL Kana and they spend the night together. He evokes with her the task that awaits her, and she is both worried and excited. She stays with him for three days until he carries out his mission. (FFM)

WARNING: May contain traces of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot’s elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further.

This is a good movie for the younger crowd. It’s a yakuza movie with an existentialist tone. I don’t have anything bad to say on this movie: the photography is nice and clean, the acting is good, the storytelling fluid, the music is catchy and support well the story. However, I feel that there is something missing. It has all the looks of a feel-good movie and yet it ends badly for the main character (not surprising in a yakuza movie after all).

Junpei is a young wanna-be yakuza. He worships his aniki (“big brother”) and would do anything for him. However, he has a good nature, too good for him, as he likes to help people and has strong principles. In order to help a friend who has been wronged by a real-estate agency, he pays them a visit and play the tough yakuza. Unfortunately, the place is ran by a rival group. This initiative probably displeased his big boss because, not long after, he is asked to make a hit against a rival boss with little chance of survival. He is given money and told to enjoy himself for the three days before the scheduled hit.

A young woman working at the real-estate agency, Kana, noticed him and is impressed by his guts and looks. They hook up, make love — and fall in love. He goes back to his hometown to see his mother, they help a homeless man, etc. During all that time, Kana is tweeting (or using some equivalent app) their every moves, they every mood, and the tweetosphere is reacting, pondering weather killing people is bad (who still order hits on their competition, anyway?), how romantic they are, that they should forget the hit and elope, will Junpei survives the hit, etc. They plan to leave for a tropical island after it. Junpei goes ahead with the plan, because he is too loyal to avoid his responsibilities, even if he was told that his boss was using him to get promoted…

However, the boy Junpei is now a man. A good man who does the right thing (for a yakuza). He loves a woman. He takes his own decision. He has nothing to regret. In three days he has lived a whole life, more than many could boast for their entire existence. What is to live, but to live fully? And yet it feels sad. What a waste, some could say. But a yakuza’s story has an inescapable end. Is there a point to all of this?

I really enjoyed this philosophical yakuza movie. It’s both entertaining and food for thoughts, particularly for the younger generation who still have a life to live! It is well worth watching.

Think Again, Junpei (純平、考え直せ / Junpei, Kangae Naose): Japan, 2018, 95 mins; Dir.: Toshiyuki  Morioka; Scr.: Rumi Kakuta, Teru Kimura, Nami Kikkawa (based on a novel by Hideo Okuda); Phot: Shinji Kugimiya; Ed.: Naoki Watanabe; Prod.: Yukihiko Yamaguchi, Haruo Umekawa; Cast: Kisetsu Fujiwara, Shuhei Nomura, Yurina Yanagi, Reiko Kataoka, Manaka Kinoshita, Katsuya Maiguma, Suzuka Morita.

Screened at the Cinema Imperial (Thu. 8/30 at 16:30) as part of the “World Great” (Out of Competition) program of the 42nd Montreal World Film Festival. There was a little more than a dozen people in the theatre (but I was told that there was about fifty people in the previous day’s screening). stars-3-0

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About writing (3)

Sometimes, when I start writing a comment on a book or a movie, I have no idea what I will be writing. It just comes along, one idea bringing the next and the whole comment is slowly taking form. Sometime, I have a pretty clear idea of what I want to say and I have to make a plan, a structure, detailing the basic elements of each idea or concept I want to cover in order not to loose the tread of my thoughts (which happens sometime if I wait too long before putting it down on paper or on the computer).

I don’t have a good memory, I usually don’t remember much about a book I’ve just read or a movie I’ve just watched after a little while. When I want to remember, I just read what I’ve written about it. In fact, that’s one of the reason I write.

Sometime, when I don’t know what to say about a book or a movie, I just sleep over it and it usually helps a lot. But I must not wait too long to write after that. If not I might just end up with some sketchy notes and not much substance…

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Winchester

Winchester-DvdI am not a big fan of horror movies but I like Helen Mirren. So I watched the movie with the expectation that I would not like it. It is not a bad movie after all. Not a great movie, but a good entertainment nonetheless. 

The heiress (Helen Mirren) of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co is cursed and haunted by the spirits of all the people killed with a Winchester rifle. To appease their spirits and help them moving on she built for each of them a replica of the room where they were killed so her mansion is in constant construction, resulting in a huge building that doesn’t make much sense. The board of the company think she’s crazy and hires a doctor (Jason Clarke) to evaluate her mental state. He was himself widowed and almost killed in an incident involving a Winchester rifle and became addicted to laudanum as a result. Of course, the moment of his arrival at the mansion coincide with the appearance of an evil and vengeful spirit seeking pay back on the Winchester family! Will the rational mind of the doctor let himself be convinced and help fight against the murderous supernatural forces at play? Or is it all the result of the convergence of natural events and the power of suggestion of their own minds?  

It is quite an interesting take on the legend of the Winchester mansion and of Sarah Winchester. I also like the way they used other events of the era to add to the story, so it is really based on “real” events. After all, the mansion is well known for being the most haunted building in America. The storytelling is good and managed to follow the Todorov definition of the fantastic genre (if the characters seem to believe in the supernatural aspects, at least the viewers are well aware of the possible rational explanations for them). The acting is respectable, and the visuals are good considering that this is a very low budget production (shot in Australia for $3.5 million). So it is nothing to get excited about (besides the cheap scary tactics), but it is still worth watching. Although the reception was not very good (the critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes was 14%, with an audience score of 35%) the movie still managed to make over ten times its production cost at the box office! stars-3-0

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Samurai’s Promise

Chiri_Tsubaki-posterShinbei is exiled from his clan for investigating its activities too closely. Eight years later, when Shinbei’s dying wife pleads with him to go to help his former best friend, Umeme, he returns to the clan. Infighting has produced turmoil within the clan, allowing Shinbei to discover the truth behind incidents involving his wife and his friend. Confronting Umeme, he understands the reason for his wife’s last wish. (FFM)

This is a very good movie. Its most noticeable aspect is that it offers an excellent photography (which is not surprising since director Kimura acted as his own photography director, a job he has hold many times for other directors like Kinji Fukasaku, Yasuo Furuhata, or Shin’ichirô Sawai). He made great use of the superb location in the Toyama Prefecture (anciently the Etchû province) showing as backdrop the fantastic landscape of the Hida mountains in the Northern Japanese Alps. 

Another aspect that I quickly noticed was that the music was unfortunately very annoying. They used a soundtrack of classical music (which first accords sounded like The Godfather’s music by Nino Rota), playing it again and again recurrently. I think that, for a jidaigeki (samurai movie), a soundtrack of traditional Japanese music would have been better…

Shinbei (Jun’ichi Okada) is exiled from the clan after denouncing as corrupt a high-ranking officer of the clan — who is later mysteriously murdered leaving all the suspicion of culpability on Shinbei. Both Shinbei and his friend Uneme (Hidetoshi Nishijima) were courting Shino (Kumido Aso), but when Uneme’s family denies him the permission to wed Shino, she goes with Shinbei instead. The harsh condition of their exile put a toll on Shino’s health who eventually dies. She makes Shinbei promise to continue living, to go back to their village to observe the camellia falling in spring and to reconcile and help Uneme. When he tries to clear his name and find out the real assassin, he gets entangled in the complex politics of the clan…

Samurai’s Promise is a beautiful and interesting samurai movie. It has a smooth storytelling, although it is sometimes difficult (at the beginning) to understand who’s who and figure out all the plots and politics at play. The acting is good, and particularly the nice realistic combat scenes. It must not have been easy considering the fact that there was many fights in the rain or snow and that the dialogues were using an old form of Japanese. 

Of course, we should expect nothing less from such a veteran director. During his sixty-year career, Daisaku Kimura worked on over fifty films and won many awards. He started his career as camera assistant on Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress (1958). He worked five years with him (on movies like Yojimbo and Sanjuro) and he learned a lot during this time. Eventually, he cames to direct his own movies (Mt. Tsurugidake in 2009 and Climbing to Spring in 2014), mostly about mountain climbing. Samurai’s promise is his first jidaigeki and he made it as a tribute to Kurosawa. It is a beautiful and authentic movie, well worth watching. These days we don’t see much movies like this…

Samurai’s Promise (散り椿 / Chiri Tsubaki / lit. “Falling Camellia”): Japan, 2018, 111 mins; Dir./Phot.: Daisaku Kimura; Scr.: Takashi Koizumi (based on the novel by Rin Hamuro); Ed.: Tomoni Kikuchi; Mus.: Takashi Kako; Prod.: Yoshihiro Sato. Cast: Jun’ichi Okada, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Haru Kuroki, Hirofumi Arai, Kyôko Yoshine, Sosuke Ikematsu, Kumido Aso, Naoto Ogata.

Screened as opening movie (in the “World Competition” program) of the 42nd Montreal World Film Festival (at the Cinema Imperial on Thursday August 23, 2018 at 19:00). stars-3-5

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Life in Overtime

Owatta_Hito-posterSosuke Tashiro has a successful career in a large bank until he is transferred – or rather relegated – to a subsidiary until retirement. After decades of dedication to his work, he is lost and idle. He then decides to resume a professional activity, but realizes that the challenge is daunting. Over the course of two meetings, at the gym and at the adult education center, his life is on the move again. (FFM)

This is exactly the type of Japanese movie that I like the most: some sort of family drama that touches us (and often makes us cry) but which, in the end, makes us feel good and laugh. It is so perfectly enjoyable! And the seamless storytelling, the bright, well-framed and beautiful photography, as well as the nice soundtrack (particularly the beautiful song 「あなたはあなたのままでいい」 [Anatawa Anatano Mamadeii / “You can stay as you are”] by Miki Imai) really show the mark of an experienced filmmaker. Strangely, Hideo Nakata is mostly known for his horror movies (Ring, Chaos, Dark Water, Kaidan, etc.) so it is really surprising to see him direct for the first time a more traditional Japanese comedy! This is probably his way to tell us that he is not finished yet and that he can be a polyvalent creator. He does that brilliantly. Unfortunately, he didn’t arrive in time to present the movie and do the Q&A for the first screening at 11:30, and that was a great disappointment for me (I knew I should have gone to the 21:30 screening!). The quality of the production as well as Nakata’s fame makes of Life in Overtime a great contender for the competition. It is surely the best Japanese film I’ve seen at the festival so far this year.

Sosuke studied at the top university in Tokyo and finds himself on the path for an executive position at a large bank, but gets beaten by a rival and ends up finishing his career at a subsidiary branch. He already feels he’s a failure but, when he retires, he finds himself with no hobbies, no dreams, no job and no sympathy at home! What to do? He feels “Retirement is like a premature funeral (…) I don’t want my life to end like this!” It’s like the game is over but you continue to play in overtime in hope to finish on top (I like this idea)!

He tries to find a new purpose in order to make up for his failures. He looks for a new job but his impressive resume torpedoes his efforts. He considers going to graduate school to study literature, makes an attempt at a new romance or, after a chance meeting with the CEO of an IT company, try to start a new career but without any success. However, does it really matter as long as you have a life to enjoy?

Nakata succeeds in giving a realistic depiction of life struggles and relationships while tackling one of the hot topic of the decade: with its aging population, Japanese society has to deal with an ever increasing number of retirees. To keep them mentally and physically fit, it is important to make sure they feel their life is not finished yet and that they can make their experience or expertise valuable and useful to the society. It’s also a challenge on the domestic level as many couples, who never spent lots of time together because they were too busy working, find out that they don’t know much about what to do with each other! Retirement can surely be a shocking change but it is certainly not the end of your life (personally, I know very well that I’ll probably be even busier once I retired — in about 3192 days!). However, for some people, not knowing what to do or not feeling useful anymore can be an horrific experience and, in that aspect, maybe this is an horror movie after all…

Life in overtime, with its sadness and joy as well as its beautiful scenery, gives us plenty to ponder and an excellent movie experience. It is certainly a must see.

life_in_overtime

Life in Overtime (終わった人 / Owatta Hito / lit. “A finished man”): Japan, 2018, 125 mins; Dir.: Hideo Nakata; Scr.: Nonji Remoto (Based on the novel by Makiko Uchidate); Phot.: Koichi Saito; Prod.: Masatake Kondo; Cast: Hiroshi Tachi (Sosuke), Hitomi Kuroki (Chigusa), Ryoko Hirosue (Kuri), Asami Usuda (Michiko), Tomorowo Taguchi (Toshihiko), Tsubasa Imai. 

Screened at the Cinema Imperial (Sun. 08/26 at 11:30) as part of the “World Competition” program of the 42nd Montreal World Film Festivalstars-4-0

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Electoral conundrum

On October 1st the population of Quebec will have to vote to put their favourite candidates in the National Assembly. I find myself in quite an electoral conundrum since the lack of leadership makes it impossible to find anyone worth of my support. Every party has good ideas, but also so many stupid ones. I began this reflection when my union started a campaign advocating not voting for either the Liberals or the CAQ because “they are all the same” and that “we deserve better”… But if not them, who?

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Zone Out

Zone OutKindergarten teacher, Chinatsu is always in a state of stress. And it is at this moment that a pupil of her class is murdered. Totally distraught, Chinatsu begins to sink into a world of illusion that she can not control. (FFM)

I don’t know what they have put in the water of that city but all the characters in this movie offer a whole catalog of mental illness: Chinatsu, a kindergarten teacher, cracks under the pressure brought by all those helicopter parents and develops schizophrenia; her acupuncture doctor, Yuichi, suffers from Capgras syndrome; Naoto, a salesman bullied by his seniors, has nomophobia; Akamatsu, the convenience store clerk, suffers from Asperger; Mitsuki, Haruka’s mother, suffer from Munchausen syndrome, etc. I guess it was the purpose of the director to show with this docudrama-style movie what it is to have such illness and how difficult it can be for the families.

It is a very dark movie and the end result is, unfortunately, barely average. The storytelling is awkward and not particularly skillful, the photography feels amateurish and the acting is so-so — although, the main actress is very charming and switching the actors who plays the two Yuichi toward the end of the movie in order to unexpectedly show the schizophrenia of Chinatsu is, I must say, quite brilliant. Also, the movie is really not well served by the poor translation (in the subtitles). When I noticed two typos in the very first sentence of the movie, I knew that this would spell trouble! (unless they made it on purpose to make us feel crazy!) If it was not already obvious with the production quality, the horrible translation really smelled of tiny budget…

Finally, to really give a last pathetic impression, the absence of a translator for the Q&A at the end of the presentation (due to the minimalistic ressources of the festival this year — what? they couldn’t even find a volunteer to take up the task?) left the poor director and main actress at the mercy of their basic English language skills and made for such a laughable exchange that you could only feel sorry for them. 

However, undertaking such a difficult and serious subject requires some strength. I understand what the director was trying to achieve and I greatly appreciate his efforts (for that I give him extra points!). In a society that was repressed for so long, where you find a real epidemic of bullying (both at school and at the work place, including sexual harassment) and where an aging population is plagued by various forms of dementia, it is really not surprising to find that mental illness has become a great challenge in Japan today. Kudos to the director for trying to bring attention to this problem.

Zone Out / Regarder dans le vide (アウトゾーン / Out Zone): Japan, 2017, 115 mins; Dir.: Hiroshi Kanno; Scr.: Mari Takanashi; Phot.: Makoto Hayashi; Ed.: Aya Mitsuaka; Light.: Sousuke Yoshikado; Sound: Kazuyuki Tutiya; Mus.: Magumi Masui; Cast: Minami Matsunaka (Chinatsu), Masato Oki (Yuichi Akino), Kyoko Toyama (Kyoko), Gen Kuwayama (Naoto), Yusuke Ueda (Akamatsu), Yusuke Sugiyama (Yuichi Kagawa), Ben Hori (Hisashi Aoyama).

Screened at the Cinema Imperial (Sat. 8/25 at 16:30) as part of the “World Great” program (out of competition) of the 42nd Montreal World Film Festival. stars-2-0

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

GuernseyLiteraryAndPotatoPeelPieSocietyNot long after the end of WW2, Juliet (Lily James) receives a letter from a pig farmer in Guernsey (who’s a member of a local literary club) asking her for the address a good bookstore in London. He got her address from inside a used book she sold before the war and which somehow had made its way to this island near the coast of France. She send him one book for free at the condition that he answers three questions to explain the name of their literary club and the circumstances of its creation. The tale of their ordeal under German occupation intrigues her, therefore, being a writer herself, she invites herself for a reading at their club to make some research in preparation for a newspaper article she was asked to write. Upon arrival she notices that the founder of the club, Elisabeth (Jessica Brown Findlay), is mysteriously absent and the club members seem very secretive about her circumstances. She starts asking questions around and her enquiry will unravel a painful past and make her fall in love with the island. It’s interesting how books can touch people and change their lives forever!

Of course, it is not a perfect movie as you find, for example, many stereotypical characters (like the self-centred and possessive American, the nationalist mean informer, the nosy and religious lodger, etc.). However, it remains a very beautiful movie, that offers a well-written and touching story about the hardship of war — a time when friendship and compassionate sentiments can be quite dangerous! It’s based on the novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Interestingly, since nowadays Guernsey is too touristy, the movie was shot in North Devon with a cast in good part made of actors from Downton Abbey (Lily James, Jessica Brown Findlay, Matthew Goode, Penelope Wilton)! It is also noteworthy that the movie is distributed by Netflix as one of its original films (that’s where I watched it). All in all, it’s quite entertaining (critical response of 81% on Rotten Tomatoes) and an excellent movie experience. stars-4-0

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