Friday, November 26, 2010

Bushido Sixteen (Tomoyuki Furumaya, 2010)

Furumay's last film, The Homeless Student, had a generally fine cast but didn't quite work -- mostly because the actor playing the central character was way too old for the part and wasn't a strong enough performer to overcome this handicap.  The twin heroines here, played by Riko Narumi (How To Become Myself) and Kii Kitano (BandAge), are closer to the right age and far more skilled. The film  focuses, almost entirely, on these two girls, who initially meet in passing during a junior high kendo competition (where Kitano beats Narumi by a fluke) and then later wind up in the same high school.

Kitano plays a (mostly) happy-go-lucky character, who participates in kendo because she finds it to be fun (and also, one suspects, because her friends also participate); Narumi's character is the daughter of a kendo master (who lives in the dojo run by her father). Narumi is mortified to learn that Kitano doesn't even recall their prior match -- and is more than a bit ferocious in their first practice match.  Despite their contrasting dispositions, the two form a (sometimes rocky) friendship during their first year of high school.  The two young stars here do a first-rate job in making the relationship credible.

While the film depicts plenty of kendo practice (and competition matches), these scenes mainly serve to establish the nature of each of the characters and the growth of the bond forming between them.  The overall pacing is relatively leisurely, but the film seems to flow about the right speed. The cinematography is not especially flashy but is effective.  I suspect this gentle little film  does not have much chance of getting Western distribution due largely to its own virtues -- its sweetness of tone and its low-key nature.

The Japanese DVD does not include English subtitles, as is now (unfortunately) becoming the norm for releases of this type. Indeed, this DVD lacks even Japanese subtitles.

(Postscript -- for the first time ever, the Amazon Japan shipment containing this DVD got hit by customs charges).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sweet Little Lies (Hitoshi Yazaki, 2010)

A picture-perfect couple (Nao Omori and Miki Nakatani) that is bored, bored, bored with their current life. Both drift into adulterous romances. He with an old college classmate (Chizuru Ikewaki), she with a customer (Juichi Kobayashi) who buys one of the cute stuffed bears she makes. Meanwhile, the couple goes on as if nothing has changed (as best they can). Can this marriage be saved?

Yazaki's last film was the excellent, rather edgy Strawberry Shortcakes (about four young woman who were all in a state of romantic disarray). In this film, Yazaki takes a more classical turn, evoking the 50s family dramas of Ozu and Naruse. One gets echoes of Early Spring, Repast, Sudden Rain, Husband and Wife and A Woman's Heart (among others) -- tinged with (perhaps) a dash of HONG Sang-soo. In a nice touch, Yazaki managed to find a surviving cast member from Repast (Akiko Kazami, who also appeared in Shinozaki's Not Forgotten several years ago) to play an elderly neighbor of the couple.

The Japanese DVD is afflicted with the current curse of no subtitles (not even Japanese ones). This is the kind of release that would have gotten English subtitles just a few years ago (Strawberry Shortcakes had them). But this convenience appears to be a thing of the past. In the event this film turns up anywhere in your neighborhood (sadly not all that likely), I recommend it highly.