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film writing by nicholas vroman

Archive for December 2014

Best Japanese Films 2014

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Man, what a sad year for Japanese film. When even Mark Schilling pens a piece on the lackluster product produced in Japan, you know things aren’t looking so good. I also had a conversation with another film writer, who shall remain unnamed, wherein the conversation drifted to the idea that the standard of what’s good in Japanese films is far lower than that of the rest of the world’s films. A kind of “not bad for a Japanese film” attitude.  So, even the best Japanese films these days are much lesser than other films from around the world. Of course, that’s an extreme statement, but a relative truism. And of course, someone like Koreeda still makes incredible films that are right up there with the best. But I’d say on this year’s list, it’s a no go. There are some fun films, some moderately provocative films and one crazy bad/good film, but none have made it to what I’d call an important film. Yes, it is a sad state.

Missing from the screens this year were any new films by some of my favorites – Haruhi Oguri, Masahiro Kobayashi, Tetsue Matsuake, Hirokazu Koreeda. I dutifully watched new premiers at TIFF and Filmex, of which there was little of interest. And there was the genuinely laughably bad “remake” of Fires on the Plain by Shinya Tsukamoto. It’s one of those films that makes you reconsider everything else he’s ever made. I still like Tetsuo, though.

So, in just a few years, my list has been, out of necessity, whittled down to a mere handful of best films, rather than a top ten. And one of them really isn’t that good. Here you go.

1. Idol Is Dead: Non-chan’s Propaganda Major War

Yukihiro Kato’s sequel to his 2012 opus finds the Brand-new Idol Society (BiS), a thrash girl group pitted in an epic battle against corporate idol group Electric★Kiss. This spirited essay on the social Darwinism of Japanese society is appropriately low budget and trashy and mainly, fun.

2. Tokyo Tribe

Sono Shion treads similar waters as Non-chan with his utopian musical about a Tokyo only of his imagination. Here, rival gangs, again go down Darwinistic paths amid tons of gore, machismo, sex, violence and overdone sets that all strangely ends up all hearts and flowery.

3. Still the Water

Naome Kawase gets back a little of her magic, after a few years of serious, and seriously bad, new ageism. In Still the Water she finds many magical moments in a frank and touching coming of age drama.

4. Sad Tea

Rikiya Imaizumi lets a talented cast of 20-somethings work out the ins and outs of relationships in a deliciously funny comedy. He screws up the end where he has all the characters meet cute and resolve their plotlines – at a beach! Shades of Sansho the Bailiff!

5. Sharing

Sharing looks horrible. It’s too long. The acting is fairly atrocious. And did I tell you that it’s way too long? But Makoto Shinozaki’s Bunuelian vision of the trauma of 3.11 as a constantly reoccurring nightmare within a nightmare within a nightmare within a nightmare… may be the only film made since that fateful day to deal honestly with the many issues it brought up.


Written by Nicholas Vroman

December 11, 2014 at 7:25 am

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100en no koi / 100 Yen Love

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100_Yen's_Love_(Hyaku_yen_no_Koi)-p1Even with a sharp script by Shin Adachi, director Masaharu Take doesn’t quite pull of the complex balance of something between an homage and a send-up of Million Dollar Baby – not quite getting the effective tragedy out of tragic-comedy. And bringing a questionable sensibility to what should be funny. The story of Kazuko (Sakura Ando), a loser taking her one shot in the boxing ring sends up the usual hero dynamic. Ando, who is being dangerously typecast for her ennui, spends half of the film as a misdirected cliché of a downbeat slacker, stuck working in a convenience store after escaping from her family and her largely unexplained dysfunctionality. Kazuko meets Kano (Hirofumi Arai), a washed up boxer and strangely unattractive individual, who needy person that she is, ends up with. This pushes her into her attempt at Rocky-ness and finding self worth. 100 Yen Love has several moments – the boxing ring scenes are great – and a lot of filler that keeps the viewer wondering what Take is up to.

Originally published in EL Magazine, December 2014

Written by Nicholas Vroman

December 3, 2014 at 2:44 am