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Jianne

Hong Kong

Jianne

Hong Kong
Completed
Anger
19 people found this review helpful
Nov 17, 2016
Completed 2
Overall 8.5
Story 7.5
Acting/Cast 10
Music 10
Rewatch Value 7.0
Lee Sang-il's "Rage" (or Anger, Ikari, whatever you wanna call it) might seem like a murder mystery to you, but it isn't really. While the film's narrative does center around a mysterious bloody murder, the ultimate message is not about finding who the murderer is but rather stories on trust and connection among its characters.

With a talented and star-studded ensemble of some of Japan's most famous names, it's no surprise that Rage shines. Ken Watanabe needs no introductions, the male leads: Go Ayano, Matsuyama Kenichi, Tsumabuki Satoshi and Moriyama Mirai who all have already made names for themselves. Aoi Miyazaki, who's been in the industry since she was four. And the up and coming, Hirose Suzu. I also want to mention the relatively unknown Takara Sakumoto who makes his debut here as an actor to watch out for.

I'll tell you why Rage is a very raw film -- it depicts Japanese rigidity. I don't say that to provide a negative interpretation but there is a lot of suppressed emotions in the society. Hence, these suppressed emotions are bottled up, be it sadness, be it anger, be it loneliness—whichever. The need for catharsis is just too high and I think Rage perfectly depicted that need and gave these characters that chance.

As I watch this film, I too, want to scream, I too want to have a tantrum, I too, want to throw things—I want to release bottled-up feelings. Lee knows how to build-up these emotions that echoes the characters' as much as he builds up the narrative. He knows how to give you the "feels" combined with Ryuichi Sakamoto's score that's just filled with too much dramatic tension, you too, would want to explode.

There are two overlaying narratives in the film, all of which were very cleverly linked not only by the murder and that the three men emerge as potential suspects but are also connected through dialogue, through visuals and through sound. The sound is really the one, to me, pushes the plot. The sounds emit the emotions, emit the passion and emit everything. Lee connects visuals from Tokyo, from Chiba and from Okinawa together with the dialogues and the sound. I think it's a very refreshing way to do so and it makes the three narrative feel balanced.

These narratives, on their own are unique but still keeps the underlying theme of trust and connection. Go and Satoshi's narrative touches on their sexuality. It is very refreshing to see an aloof, almost-silent Go that contrasts with Satoshi's fearless and enthusiastic nature. Miyazaki, Watanabe and Kenichi's narrative touches on acceptance and of family. The lonely, almost weird Kenichi forms a connection with Miyazaki, who has just been rescued by Watanabe (her father) from an abusive sex work. Suzu, Mirai and Sakumoto brings us to Okinawa, of a simpler life, of youth and of curiosity but to me is really the one that resonated with me the most.

If you really want to know who the murderer is, I'd say look at the narrative that's filled with the most rage. Look at which narrative makes you feel the angriest, the one that filled you most with rage and you will have your answer. By the second hour of the film, where it's filled with tears and screaming and throwing, you'd know. The reveal isn't what matters, it's their stories that do. Lee knows how to juggle the three narratives that three of the suspects are all likely to be the killer.

The plot does, disintegrates into a cornucopia of crying, weeping, wailing and just a lot of those (all three narratives stitched together too) so it does overwhelm and to itself, an overexcess portrayal of the characters and their narratives. But nevertheless, very very very impressive performances from the cast.

All I have to critique is probably the lack of a backbone for the killer himself. There is an ongoing question of where the rage comes from. Is it simply from surpassed emotions? Is it simply from being laughed at his pitiful state? Or is it from being pitied? We are never given a straight answer so we can only interpret.

The visuals are stunning. The opening shot of a bird's eye view of Tokyo, to the clear waters of Okinawa to the colorful houses of Chiba—it's beautiful. The visuals are great transitions and there is never the lack of varying colors to depict the scene's mood.

Finally, I just want to say that I will never look at Hirose Suzu the same again. I'm only commenting on her the most because her films are the one I've seen the most. I used to say how Suzu knows how to act, she can cry but there is blankness in it (compared to the way Fumi Nikaido tries) but seeing her, in a very very very mature role, I'm taking back what I said—Suzu deserves all the spotlight she's getting. And with such roles, it's no doubt, she can do more.

Also, Takara Sakumoto making his debut here impresses.

Ultimately, the film is about trust and connection. No, it doesn't tell you who to trust and stuff but it does tell you how it feels when someone you trusts betrays you or someone you choose not to trust just decides to leave.

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Completed
The Bride of Rip Van Winkle
11 people found this review helpful
Oct 21, 2016
Completed 0
Overall 9.0
Story 8.0
Acting/Cast 10
Music 10
Rewatch Value 7.0
A Bride for Rip Van Winkle is Shunji Iwai's return to Japanese feature film after a 12 year hiatus. And here, he proves why he's a doyen when it comes to storytelling as the film's writer and director.

Iwai explores loneliness, longing, companionship, destruction and construction of Japanese family, the rigid nature of Japanese society in the modern age. This makes Bride both a affirmation and subversion of Iwai's earlier films that I've watched like Love Letter, All About Lily Chou Chou and Hana and Alice. If those films reflects nostalgia, Bride seeks to redefine how the age of technology may bring people closer but also further and how this creates and define human connection.

Bride still incorporates Iwai signatures like sun flares, soulful montage, instrumental music and bringing in small scenes to bigger ones. Yet, Bride stands as its own. It's not as romantic as Love Letter of Hana and Alice nor as the coming-of-age of All About Lily Chou Chou. Despite a 12-year hiatus, Iwai doesn't lose his touch. He is still a very lyrical storytelling in a 3-hour emotional tale driven by an impressive cast, beautiful cinematography and heart whelming music.

When it comes to cinematography, Iwai's films are on the top of list. But of course, the credit goes to the film's cinematographer, Chiga Kanbe. What I love about Bride is how Iwai (and Kanbe) tells some much with its visuals and music that doesn't overpower each other even if sometimes, the dialogue is barely heard. The music by Mako Kuwabara embraces its stunning visuals. The overall tone is filled with sheer melancholy reflected with the littered cold colors, we too, are plunged in Kuroki's trauma paired with unstable camera angles showing a distorted vision.

Iwai knows how to tug at your heartstrings. He knows how to many silent shots mean so much more later. And finally, he knows how to build up drama and tension. It's 3 hours long (shorter in other countries) but the tension never subsides and the reveal particularly of Ayano Go and Cocco particularly laid down every detail shown prior to it. It makes the execution so satisfying. Yes, 3 hours is very long. Overly long and the film could've been shorter but very scene counts. Every scene matters. Though they seem random, they're not. That's how I felt watching this.

The cast, led by Hana Kuroki has amazing chemistry together and each of their characters contrast one another that brings out the personalities more. It's not a lopsided portrayal despite Mashiro (Cocco)'s later appearance in the second half. These characters aren't stock or just for display, they are there for a reason and their characters are explored.

Kuroki plays Nanami, a timid doe-eyed wallflower. Kuroki embodies a certain innocence that makes Nanami's somewhat bittersweet ending...worthwhile. She shines, in a subtle, very modest way but she shines. Though I would say Go is my favorite. He just has this charisma that pushes its way through. Playing a jack-of-all-trades, part Mephistopheles, he has done it with such clarity. Cocco is the light of the film (as ironic has that sounds given her character's fate) because of how vibrant and how lively she is compared to Kuroki's character.

Iwai doesn't sugarcoat these characters. He establishes them as such and moves on as much, making their emotions and experiences so much more connective with the viewer. He shows Nanami as awkward and docile by her experiences in school, having no relatives to invite at her wedding and eventually her own marriage.

Kuroki and Go stared in Flower of Shanidar (2013) which explains their good chemistry. But Kuroki and Cocco also share this same chemistry particularly because they're opposites of each other which really brings out their own respective personalities. Perhaps their bond is more than sisterly, maybe even erotic but I see it as more platonic bond of two lonely women, trying to find comfort in a directionless world.

Very much like Rip Van Winkle, these two women wake up in a world that breaks away from their past and try to make the most out of it...to be happy.

Bride also stands out because of how symbolic things are and how metaphorical it is. There is a scene where Kuroki approaches Go, some might see as romantic but Go's lines are metaphorical which relates back to the reveal of both his and Cocca's character. Seeing how Iwai reverts that and how Iwai chooses dialogue as a vital component in storytelling.

Finally, I want to say that there is so much suppressed emotions in this film which perhaps echoes the rigidity of Japanese social mores. Cocca's occupation is a very clever and important choice that relates to that. Not going to mention here explicitly but her job embodies the freedom and rejects this rigidity. Overall, it ties back to what the films show. Leaving yourself bare and exposed is a more intimate emotion where throughout the film, you suffocate by how much people are keeping and how fake they can be especially in this digital age.

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Completed
Happy Together
8 people found this review helpful
Jun 19, 2016
Completed 0
Overall 8.5
Story 8.0
Acting/Cast 10
Music 9.0
Rewatch Value 8.0
I've always said that Wong kar-wai's films are like odes to Hong Kong. Or Hong Kong as it was in the past. But Happy Together is not an ode to Hong Kong. Instead, it's set in the other side of the world: Argentina. An unlikely choice but a beautiful one.

As with other Kar-wai films, it's always the cinematography that lunges at you. Typical of his style. I'd say that Happy Together is probably much more daring than his other films. Often overshadowed by In the Mood for Love and Chungking Express, Happy Together is both a happy and sad portrayal of romance. Yes, it's a love between two men. But instead of focusing on that aspect like other films do, it focuses more on their time together. It's cynical as much as it is positive. Kar-wai won Best Director at Cannes for a reason.

The film also pays tribute to classic noir style. But with a purpose. The black-and-white colors reflect their time apart. And gradually...color emerges. There's color when they rekindle their relationship or as they say "start over" again. The visuals speak as much as the story, as much as the actors. The aesthetics are also reminiscent of other Kar-wai elements -- cramped apartments, sudden close-ups, intense DOFs. But the colors are all retro. They're vibrant and intense. Add some exotic music to that. The setting and scenery are all beautiful. It's so so so appealing to the eyes.

Of course, we have Tony Leung Chiu-wai again. Yes, he won Best Actor for In the Mood for Love but I'd say Happy Together is his opus. It's a much more dramatic, challenging and intense character, he delivered in with more passion characters. He wants Po-wing (Leslie Cheung) but he can't show that but we still know he does -- that part is delivered very well. On the other hand, we have a charismatic Leslie Cheung here. He's able to deliver Po-wing's character with such rawness and explosion of emotions. Conflicted but at the same time very powerful. The chemistry between the two is undeniable.

The film is about intimacy. And it shows that. Chiu-wai and Cheung's acting all delivers that. In the cinematography, in the sounds, it shows all that. Even if Chiu-wai's character speaks in Cantonese while Chen's character speaks in Mandarin, it doesn't create a distance because it shows the understanding between the two. Happy Together is so underrated compared to its counterparts but it's also one of the most beautiful.

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In the Mood for Love
8 people found this review helpful
May 7, 2016
Completed 0
Overall 9.0
Story 7.0
Acting/Cast 9.0
Music 10
Rewatch Value 7.0
If Kar-wai's Chungking Express is an ode to romance, longing and 90s Hong Kong then In the Mood for Love is an ode to 60s Hong Kong, nostalgia and desire. Watching In the Mood for Love will make you in the mood for love.

This film is about details. From small gestures, to quick looks, ringing of the telephone and shots of the clock to show the passing of time, it allows you to venture into a unrequited love story that's not painful but not overly dramatic. Kar-wai channels his use of details to move the story forward without too much effort just with simple rain, simple change of clothes or simple montage that exert such beauty it takes your breath away.

He knows how tell a story not through grand dialogues but through body language which is through cinematography. Not much head space here, much head space there, blurred wall here, never showing the face there, it leaves you guessing but also doesn't leave you in the dark. You know what's happening because it's being shown before it's being told. Repetition is also key here. Repetition blends well with time which blends well with setting and ultimately dances around the story.

If Chungking Express' aesthetic is filled with exotic colors, In the Mood for Love is vibrant and exhilarating with different colors even exhibiting some traces of noir style. Similar themes with Chungking, In the Mood for love portrays a more intimate type of longing, one that's filled with utmost desire that excites us through actions and not words spoken. We are plagued with a nostalgic 60s Hong Kong setting detail by detail and it entraps us into this alluring tale filled with cinematic beauty including slow motions and simple focus on blowing smoke; it is sexy without needing to be.

Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung exhibit such tension that we feel the love without needing to do anything passionate. Cheung's beauty transcends while Leung's restrained depiction is admired. There is delicateness present when they act together that just leaves you hungry for more. Of course this is all made possible by the soundtrack, handled by Shigeru Umebayashi. The music exerts feelings and flirts with Kar-wai's mastery of cinema together with the actors' vivid emotions makes everything a complete package.

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Completed
I Hear Your Voice
11 people found this review helpful
Jan 7, 2015
18 of 18 episodes seen
Completed 0
Overall 8.5
Story 8.5
Acting/Cast 8.5
Music 7.5
Rewatch Value 8.0
The Plot/Setting:

It really is simple. Yet as you know with Korean dramas, the plot can never really just stayed simple. So as it progresses, it digs deeper. And effectively at that. I love how the series starts off smoothly, already presenting the plot and its backstory by Hye-song's storytelling during her public defender's interview. This to me, was a great way to introduce everything because we didn't have to go through a painful full-on flashback but rather telling it in a way that contributes both to the present happening and the establishment of what happened back then. It, in a way, also created suspense. And it also made me, as a viewer, connect the dots myself.

I really really do love how I Hear Your Voice made a great connection with all its character. One way or another, each character is affiliated with another. And even if it's just a little, it's central or it contributes to the plot. This connection is really cohesive, concise and very tight. Of course, it may not be perfect but it makes sense and upon discovery, it makes it much more exciting. Hye-song's past is connected to Soo-ha's and Joon-gook. Hye-song is also connected to Do-yeon, Do-yeon is connected to Dal-joong's. Lawyer Cha is connected to Lawyer Shin's in the past and that's only a minor detail yet it's great because it establishes the present relationship of the characters and the chemistry between all of them.

Now, I do love the flow of the story. The connection with the past to the present is strong and has always been reinforced. I liked the time span of the story as well. However, I wasn't really a fan of the time skip (the one year gap). I'm not a fan of time skips in general. To me, it always feel like there's something missing even if it does get mentioned or solved in the future, I want to see everything for myself. And that's exactly what I felt especially with what happened to Soo-ha. But I did like how the story played out. I think the drama's court and law elements is really a great treat for me, I've learnt a lot and my interest in law just intensified. But those elements itself really helped a lot with how the twists have turned out, it allows engagement with the audience to help in figuring out together with the lawyer. To some extent, it addresses what it means to be a lawyer and a public defender especially (even a prosecutor or a judge). There's a lot of value conflict and morals as well as surprising plot devices that you do not see coming. It's a mixture of comedy, romance, drama and even thriller and mystery.

But, I'm sad with how the series failed to really address its biggest plot device: Soo-ha's mind-reading. Given that everything in the plot is in touch with reality, his supernatural ability is in isolation. So it has to be addressed. Like, how? And why him? I'm sure it's not just some random decision to have that ability. It's true that it's very crucial and helpful to the plot and the characters, so for something so important to have no background at all really doesn't sit well with me.

The Characters:
This drama provides me with a deep set of characters that have their own individual characteristics which were explored. The thing is, every character that is in the drama had their roles and they needed to be there no matter how small that role is. Every character compliments one another, every interaction has chemistry even between the antagonist and the protagonist. You see, Min Joon Gook is not the meanest of the meanest but of course he, too is horrible. However, that cruelty is justified, not accepted but at least there are reasons for the way he is. This in a way, makes us as an audience understand his character despite being the villain.

His character compliments Park So Haa's and brings out the "beast" within him. There is great chemistry, I'm telling you. Even between Park So Haa and the two policemen. Every interaction feels like a crucial factor. You can basically come up with a ship for all these characters, they just have a great atmosphere together. One of my favorite is between Hye Song and Prosecutor Seo. It's such a bittersweet friendship. Like these two go way back and have such a long history together (an unpleasant one at that) and they're bickering towards each other is as much fun as how they try to hide their care for each other. It's such an interesting friendship. The subplot for Prosecutor Seo is also great, not only did it give her character depth and development but it also tied in the connections between the characters that no one is left out.

The Romance:
I get it. Lee Jong Suk has great chemistry with anyone. Be it a male or a female. (Okay, maybe I'm being a bit biased because I love Jong-suk but still) I know that age doesn't matter. I know that Park So Haa and Jang Hye Song are wonderful together and I ship them. Though, this tandem is not a romance for all. It has its audience. It appeals to some, it's weird to some. Some would not sit well with their almost 10 years gap. Some wouldn't care at all. That's just what I would say about it as a whole.

But as for me, this romance is not exactly 100% forbidden. There is a tendency to be. But it just depends on your own personal taste. I think that this romance is meant-to-be. It's much more fated than Cheon Song-Yi's and Do Min-Joon's in My Love From Another Star or at least it seemed much more like fate with how their story was presented. The connection, the history and all that are much more cohesive and united. Not to mention that yes, despite the fact that they can seem like brother-sister or pass on as a mere admiration, there is a stronger chemistry with these two. Of course, it is similar in some way to Song-Yi's and Min-Joon's, So Haa is more like the older and mature one of the two, the protector but that itself is great because it shows that differences can bring out the best and change in people. All I can say is, Lee Jong Suk is such a bae.

The Themes:
Do not live with hatred and revenge. Hate is heavy. Revenge can make you a monster. But you have the choice not to be a beast. You have the choice not to be slave to your past. As a whole, that's the drama's main focus. But to some extent, it also focuses on the value conflicts of lawyers. What is moral or immoral? Will you defend someone even if you think they commit a crime? Would you actually have to care about that or just do your job? It deals with a lot of themes regarding the past and regrets and it presents it well despite the tangled lives of its characters.

As much as I love the series, it doesn't shy away from the ever-so-cliche, alone and loneliness theme. Though it doesn't heavily focus on that, it does at some point become Min Jook Goon's driving force or at least contributed to it in some way.

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The Assassin
7 people found this review helpful
Apr 17, 2016
Completed 0
Overall 7.5
Story 6.0
Acting/Cast 8.0
Music 8.0
Rewatch Value 5.0
Directed by lumiere and critically acclaimed Taiwanese director, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, The Assassin is his ballad of the beauty of Asian cinema. If you're looking to watch The Assassin thinking that you'll get an action-packed film then you can stop right there. This is not an action film. It's more of a political drama. And it's certainly not everyone's cup of tea.

Instead, it is more for those who want to see a film and appreciate cinema as an art form. Hsiao-Hsein makes use of cinematic beauty to tell his story which is loosely based on the 9th century story, Nie Yinniang. It's a turtle's pace story that drags its viewer on. With long cuts to wide angles to old school panning, Hsiao-Hsein channels in traditional storytelling. There is a lot of ambiance shots, little dialogues and more expression to move the story forward. As a viewer, you focus on the cinematic beauty. It's a cinematic ballad of Asian context.

True enough, it might be difficult for people to follow the plot. The summary might even be misleading because I see no romance here. Instead, I see more of an exploration of one's identity but perhaps a little too less. The lack of dialogue is overshadowed by the overwhelming amount of wide setting shots that makes you, the viewer decide most of what happens. There is little close-up of characters so you are in total control when it comes to interpretation.

The Assassin's strongest feat is definitely it's visual allure that explores the power of stillness (through the cinematography) and silence (through the lack of dialogue and use of music) that brings an unease tension, excitement and anticipation. It's almost as if you're watching a poetic piece, embedded in mystery all the while embodying precise movements and careful gestures that speaks to the camera. The lack of dialogues amplifies the action creating literature-like atmosphere.

Shu Qi reminds me of Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, her movements are so graceful and full of clarity. Her stone-cold face and unstained expressions just captures the assassin role so well. Hsiao-Hsien won Best Director in Cannes for this film and also swept 8/9 awards in the Asian Film Awards among others. In the end, it's really the ice-pole pace and the uninteresting characters that'll make you keep it at arm's length.

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Completed
Confessions
7 people found this review helpful
Mar 30, 2016
Completed 0
Overall 8.5
Story 8.0
Acting/Cast 9.0
Music 7.5
Rewatch Value 7.0
This review may contain spoilers
Well, it made the final shortlist in the Best Foreign Film category of the 83rd Academy Awards for a reason. From Kamikaze Girls and The World of Kanako director, Tetsuya Nakashima, Confessions is considered his opus. And with good reasons. This is based on the thriller novel by Kanae Minato.

With a strong 20 minutes opening monologue, Confession quickly establishes itself. It sets up the scene, introduces characters and creates conflict within 20 minutes with elaborate control and pristine intrigue. It's not perfect. It's not as detailed or as convincing especially actions coming from mere junior high school students but it enters a new type of fascination as a viewer. While the immoral practices presented in the film will make you question, it delivers the shock factor it needs. Perhaps the reason why it chooses that age group as its major protagonist (or should I say, antiheroes).

Confessions is a revenge thriller that is cleverly wrapped into a psychological film. Yes, the actions will cause shock (perhaps not even for the lighthearted) but it's the mental manipulation, the monotone, the poker face and the polite words that Moriguchi (played by Takako Matsu) that makes everything a perfect blow, up until the end, almost pulling a perfect Chekhov's gun.

While the intertwining confessions benefit viewers in giving a different perspective and a two-side of the story narration, it suffers from inconsistency especially in terms of clarity and length. Given the context of the story though, it makes you question how plausible the writing is. You can applaud Moriguchi's clever plotting but you question just how much, especially having junior high school kids here, how of much of what happens makes sense...in reality (being vague to avoid spoilers).

A contrast in terms of style with Nakashima's The World of Kanako which incorporates fast cuts and heightened overtones, Confessions is slow, filled with slow motions that adds dramatic effect but renders the stab to the heart effect. Irony and contrast is a recurring theme. Lots of irony. Contrast in overall cinematography with dark colors against white background reflect the melo-dramatic feel, sometimes emo ballad curled in psychological mindfuck that the film tries to take. Lots of dark gray tones creating a gloomy ambiance. Contrast with English music with ironic lyrics and dramatic scenes make the scenes stand out.

Ai Hashimoto, often called as an acting prodigy because of the massive pool of films under her belt at the age of 20 puts on her signature smug look that shows a character filled with secrecy. Yukito Nishii executes his character well, playing an innocent genius with dark secrets. His actions surprised me and I least expected that. He has great chemistry onscreen with Hashimoto. It's probably mean to say but Kaoru Fujiwara fits the stereotypical wimpy loner look which makes his acting effective and his eventual collapse all the more heartbreaking.

Overall, Confessions is not a perfect film but the acclaim it gets is the way it handles the psychological factors it imposes on its viewers. It tries to ask you teach you a lesson about life, but actually you don't need that lesson. That's a red herring in the film. Everything it "tries" to tell you, you already know. And I think the film is just showing these underlying "lessons" out in the open using young teenagers for elaborated effect. It's not a film about evil per say but the little hidden dark side in all of us. But I'm just glad that it wasn't the least bit romanticized.

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Her Love Boils Bathwater
6 people found this review helpful
Sep 27, 2017
Completed 0
Overall 8.0
Story 8.0
Acting/Cast 10
Music 8.0
Rewatch Value 8.0
Rie Miyazawa's award-winning performance in Her Love Boils Bathwater is justified. She is the core of this film.

Her Love Boils Bathwater sets itself to be a sentimental family drama. But Ryota Nakano takes a more light-hearted approach. Instead of following a very dramatic ill-single-mother-making-her-time-worthwhile take (and it's very tempting to), he doesn't. Instead, he rallies his great cast to launch the story foreword.
And that's the film's greatest strength—its cast. Hana Sugisaki won Best Supporting Actress for her role and she proves once again that she's one of Japan's most promising young actresses perhaps taking on the footsteps of the chameleon actor, Fumi Nikaido (a personal bias).

Perhaps being Japan's entry to the Best Foreign Film list is a little bit of a stretch since the film is simplistic but heartfelt, strengthened by its cast. Its little moments and character interactions are its charm. Nakano doesn't patronize these characters—he shows them as flawed ones and as imperfect beings but what's great is how that all plays out.

The cinematography is stunning, paired with lukewarm colors yet vivid. The score truly embraces the scenes. Yes, I cried.

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Pink and Gray
6 people found this review helpful
Sep 20, 2017
Completed 0
Overall 8.0
Story 8.0
Acting/Cast 10
Music 7.0
Rewatch Value 7.0
Isao Yukisada made a cameo in his own film. He even had a line. Japanese idol turned writer, Shigeaki Kato who wrote the novel this film is based on as well. To describe Pink in Gray would be: a film within a film.

I really love Yukisada's use of light, color and tone here. And to me, that has always been a strength of his since serving as assistant director in April Story, Love Letter and Swallowtail Butterfly (yes, Shunji Iwai's films; hence, the similarity between the two's use of light and color).

Another signature of his is using timelines. He subtly uses that here too. He shows how characters develop, their experiences and how these changes them is a signature. Seeing that Pink and Gray is an adaptation from a novel, which bears similarity to his previous films as well. And finally, Yukisada likes to incorporate love and friendship in his narratives and make them focal points for his characters to develop. That is inevitably true here as well.

Needless to say, Yukisada stays true to his style. But also brings something new to the table. Here, the mystery element is something new. And say, even until the end, it's still mysterious. Not everything is answered. It's very...open-ended. His films to me, have a soft side to them and while the friendship aspect here is that, there's also this desire for answers. The second half of the film also has a daring decision he takes as a director. Is it effective? I think it depends on your cup of tea. It has a purpose to the overall story but it's metaphorical that in a way...seems unnecessary as well.

Perhaps applaud also goes to the great young actors here. Yuto Nakajima, an idol from Hey! Say! JUMP! and the film serves as his feature debut. It's easy to compare it to his co-star, Masaki Suda, a versatile actor with many features under his belt. But Nakajima shines as his own, playing dual characters with clarity: one being a pretty-face docile character and the other a more assertive one.

But since I have a personal bias towards Masaki Suda, my love still personally goes to him. Playing Riba-chan, an angry and even dark misfit is a role not foreign to Suda. In fact, roles like this are his best. Baring a charismatic and attractive demeanour, he also plays Naruse very well. That laugh while blood pours from his mouth is haunting. Kaho is very much the same. Playing a timid, quiet girl at first and then transforming to a seductive heiress. Love the addition of Yuya Yagira here too.

Besides the use of light, color and tone, I think that the score also makes the film feel much more sentimental. I really love how Yukisada played with the narrative here without dropping any hints whatsoever, the twist/reveal at the end makes it so much more satisfying.

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The Age of Shadows
6 people found this review helpful
Feb 13, 2017
Completed 0
Overall 9.0
Story 8.0
Acting/Cast 10
Music 8.0
Rewatch Value 9.0
Renowned South Korean director, Kim Jee-woon returns after a 3-year hiatus in the country's Best Foreign Film entry, "The Age of Shadows". Like Woon's other films, (I Saw the Devil, A Bittersweet Life), Shadows is an action-packed cat-and-mouse thriller extravagant.

Shadows has an amazing line up: Sang Kang-ho (Memories of Murder, Thirst), Gong Yoo (Train to Busan, A Man and a Woman) and cameo appearance from Lee Byung-hun (A Bittersweet Life, Inside Men) whom Kim has worked previously and Um Tae-Goo (Coin Locker Girl, Veteran).

Pulled at the edge of your seat from start to finish, Kim doesn't disappoint tossing action sequences and twists that he carefully crafts and builds in suspense, only to laid them out with the greatest satisfaction, it leaves you hungry for more.

Just like "I Saw the Devil" and "A Bittersweet Life", Kim starts Shadows with little-to-nothing description of what's going out, only to follow it up with an action-filled chase scene, an amputated toe nail and blood splashed across the wall.

Shadows' 30 minutes train sequence is one of the best I've ever seen. This is the juice. It builds the plot as much as it shapes it and moves it, that includes the characters too. Accompanied by a more menacing version of Ravel's Bolero, the adrenaline just doesn't stop. I, for one, had to pause the film just so I could breathe. Kim brings us from compartment to compartment from character to character from discoveries to discoveries.

Cinematographer Kim Ji-Young does a fine job of transporting us to a 1920s setting of South Korea and Shanghai (the accuracy may be question but it looks beautiful nonetheless) with retro-like colors and saturated tones. Kim ravishes in extremism at times, with loud shoot outs, dialogues delivered in sinister whispers, loud slapping sounds, to torture scenes that likens to his other film, "I Saw the Devil".

Kim channels his narrative into powerful loyalty that seems like The Age of Shadows take a patriotic approach but ultimately, this thrill-filled film is entertaining as much as it is greatly crafted.

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The Murder of Snow White
7 people found this review helpful
Jan 9, 2015
Completed 0
Overall 8.0
Story 8.0
Acting/Cast 8.5
Music 7.0
Rewatch Value 7.0
The Snow White Murder Case is the first film that I watched in a cinema alone. It's also the first Japanese film I've watched in the cinema. It's also the first foreign crime-thriller I've watched in the cinema. Basically, it's a lot of firsts. All because of Mao Inoue.

Not giving too much story-telling here so I'll just say that I grew up with Hana Yori Dango (Inoue's hit-TV series that shot her to fame).

The plot of The Snow White Murder Case is pretty straightforward. There's a crime. Of course what's next is to find the suspect. But what SWMC does differently is instead of trying to pinpoint who the suspect is, we already have one. Miki Shirono played by Inoue. What's left is to identify whether Shirono is really guilty or not. By all means, it seems that all clues lead back to her.

The film features several other characters, Noriko Miki, the one who was murdered, Yuji Akahosi, a reporter trying to solve the case for his 'big break' and at the same time, tweeting updates (which is not allowed in his job), Satoshi Shinoyama and Eimi Mitsushima, both Miki and Shirono's co-workers.

I think that Shirono's character is the one most explored and that's effective given that she is the suspect, in a way, it made her character richer and someone the viewer can sympathize with rather than hate. But that's not to say that the accounts of the other characters are not in vain because they are the pieces of the puzzle that make the story more structured and strong. The flashbacks are great additions to make everything tighter.

There is great storytelling here. The testimonials of the different characters, from co-workers, to the head, to Shirono's neighbour and primary/secondary classmates makes it all the more compelling. Why? Because as a viewer, you need to follow these testimonials to build and finally see the bigger picture. Then you judge. Are all the testimonials true? How can you judge if one is lying or not? That itself is enough to make you focused and think, it's not entertainment but it's also about you as a viewer being involved in the process.

Maybe I'm a little biased when it comes to Inoue but she is definitely one of the greatest actresses of her generation. I have seen her play a tomboy-ish, loud, fierce and strong character in Hana Yori Dango. I have seen her as a girl madly in love in I Give My First Love to You. And here, her performance is superb. The purity, innocence and plain Jane parts of her character here were delivered well. Everyone is full of angst and jealousy and such yet she is the only one full of pain and showing that as an actress makes her the central focus.

Nanao as Noriko Miki is also great. She is able to become flexible with her character, sometimes nice, sometimes not. And it's that type of acting where you just become annoy with the character and you know it's effective because the acting is good enough to make you annoyed. Go Ayano as the desperate Akahoshi is pretty sympathetic to watch and I think his performance also made them film compelling given his up-to-date tweets.

And those tweets made the film show another side of murder mystery. It's showing how the internet (or technology in general) can either help you or condemn you. There's those detective elements and aspects that reinforces the film's objective, making sure you stay focus on the goal as a viewer much like the character.

Cinematography's good. Perhaps there's a tendency for conversations to be long and making shots last longer. But beautiful setting. Not to mention the beautiful score especially by Serizawa Brothers. I love the connection with Anne of Green Gables and the timeline that the film chooses to go back to and tie the whole thing up.

All in all, it is a murder-mystery but it gives you a different side highlighting to what extent would you actually believe people just to get to the answer? In the end, I don't think it'll give you much of a surprise. But how things came to be perhaps might. You would eventually feel bad for the suspect and hate the victim. This film is all about questioning. But that's not to say it's all just about murder. It is the central focus but it's not too heavy on that, there are instances where scenes are light, funny and even dramatic (especially with regards to Shinora's past and I love that).

Maybe the downs of the film is there are times when it seems to good to be true. Sort of wishy-washy. Like you'd actually start to question if such things are possible in real life. Hypocrisy if you think about it since the film tries to establish the "questioning" part. The goal is there true. But the message the film wants to send needs to be stronger. To me in some way, the Curse aspect seems out of place and is not too in sync with the story line though I understand that some of Inoue's past are needed to make her character stronger. (like the reunion-ish with the childhood friend?) Still, some parts of it are questionable.

Overall, Snow White Murder Case is a compelling mystery-thriller. It gives a different side to the story and has great actors especially Inoue's acting.

"Good things are coming."

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Drowning Love
5 people found this review helpful
May 11, 2017
Completed 0
Overall 7.5
Story 7.5
Acting/Cast 9.0
Music 10
Rewatch Value 7.0
I wanted to love this film as much as I love the actors in it, I really do.

Okay, I've read the manga—and I loved it. That probably explains why I wanted to love the film too. But don't get me wrong. There are things that I loved about the film too. Yes, the actors. No doubt. I am in love with both Nana Komatsu and Masaki Suda and to me, they are the perfect Natsume and Kou. It seems like, in an hyperbolic way, that Komatsu was born to be Natsume, you know.

The cinematography is just stunning and breathtaking. And the OST. Oh god, the sounds. The sounds are of absolute brilliance. There was a scene where Suda is doing the fire ritual and I felt like the cinema was going to collapse because of the raging and roaring of the fire. The cuts are done in many angles, some in slow-motion to be more melodramatic and sentimental. Which would be fine if not for the major problem.

But get this. The film really really failed in establishing one very important thing from the beginning: Natsume and Kou's relationship.

I've read the manga so the narrative itself is pretty clear to me but honestly, if I were someone who didn't read the manga, I doubt I'd understand. Or worst, I doubt I'd believe the authenticity of their relationship.

The manga establishes their strong bond, their strong connection and their strong (almost drowning ironically) feelings for each other. But the film...okay, I get that there is so much manga material to cover in 111 minutes running time and it did feel draggy towards the end—but it wouldn't have felt that way nor would it raise eyebrows if their relationship was properly established.

What I see when I watch are just two 15-year-olds who are trying too hard to cling to each other without any strong feelings—it seem like something de factor being the both good-looking, mysterious and popular. And I felt that was wrong. Very wrong.

That is why ultimately, this love story is doomed from the start. What salvaged it is Komatsu and Suda's chemistry. Or even Komatsu and Daiki Shigeoka's chemistry. And the amazing cinematography and roaring OST. I felt like there was so much more to these characters, to Natsume, to Kou, to Otomo, to Kana—and it felt like they were just discarded.

Even Kou and Otomo's friendship just got ignored and it's such a pity because the friendship plays a major part in how the love triangle shapes itself. Kana plays a bigger role later in the manga and the film just makes her like a stock character. Otomo gets discarded after his use. And the ending is very open-ended (which I would probably not mind if they fixed the crucial element of their relationship).

I feel like roles like this fit Komatsu well. But it's truly the first role where she's done the most drama. I love her (very much) and I have a bias but I will also be honest and say that she still lots to improve because Suda overpowers her. It's not BAD deadeyefish acting, it just needs to feel...stronger, more foreful. This me saying because she has worked with a lot of Japan's top actors (like Yamaken, Kamiki, Takeru Satoh; heck she even act alongside Andrew Garfield).

Though I guess, her timid, almost suppressed acting here works well for her character because her character has to be beautiful and calm and poised even while crying...it's not heavy drama but similar to what I said to Hirose Suzu before, just because you can cry doesn't mean you need to forget how your eyes show the emotion. And Suda's eyes remind me of my chameleon actors Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikaido—they act, they speak.

But I don't know why Suda looks so malnourished here. Honestly. There are times when it's so uncomfortable to watch him because I'm so afraid he'll break because you can literally see how skinny he is (yes Kou is in the book) but it looks unpleasing. I see a lot of potential in Daiki Shigeoka and the up-and-coming Mone Kamishiraishi.

Ultimately, Drowning Love (a title that actually holds a lot of significance which the film KIND OF touched on but not properly though the original Japanese title is Oboreru Knife which translates to "Drowning Knife") does try to remain a faithful adaptation but it really fails in establishing the leads' connection and relationship. It started off right away, very direct (though the dialogue is very poetic and that didn't work well because it felt like youngsters sprouting wishy-washy words) without much context or at least shape it properly later—which they didn't. It felt like a film with no goal which as romance wouldn't be a problem if you're telling a narrative though here, it felt...directionless with no clear intention. But still, I'll tell you that you will still feel some *feels* because the sounds and visuals would keep you there.

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Hana & Alice
5 people found this review helpful
Jul 13, 2016
Completed 0
Overall 8.5
Story 8.0
Acting/Cast 9.0
Music 9.0
Rewatch Value 8.0
When it comes to cinematography, Shinji Iwai and his films are my absolute favorite. Whenever I watch his work, I'm always hit with a raging wave of nostalgia. There is so much simplicity, so much pureness and delight that just tugs at your heartstrings. Hana and Alice is filled with so much beauty and a simple tale of friendship and growing up that I couldn't help but smile and laugh like I'm a teenager all over again.

Watching this (as many other reviewers noted) was like reading a love letter. You see the story of two best friends, liking the same guy. That probably sounds shallow but it's something that happens in real life especially as you grow up and experience the wonders of a first love. And that's precisely why I love Hana and Alice. It's simplicity as a story calms you. It's nothing more than a simple tale that doesn't try to be too much than that it originally intended.

Iwai just delivers everything with such beauty. The colors aren't exotic nor are they bright but in a way, there's so mellow (but not in that dark way) and so refreshing to the eyes that you also fall in love with what you see on screen. These colors makes you feel closer to the characters and their story. Each scene, each setting is filled with visual beauty, I cannot praise it enough. Add some amazing soundtrack, the feels are everywhere. Especially for me, who has just entered her twenties.

The balance between Hana and Alice's life is also a nice touch, the other doesn't outshine the other. After all, this is about them. The similarities (absence of a male figure in their life, ballet) but also the contrast (Alice's house is filled with messy things while Hana's house is filled with flowers) shows the attention to details, the delicate choice that Iwai made. Also, Anne Suzuki and Yu Aoi just have such amazing chemistry together.

Yu Aoi's ballet dance sequence is so mesmerizing, I can watch her all day long. Anne Suzuki's heartbreaking confession is so pure, so heartfelt so evident of growing up, it brings back loads of memories.

Shinji Iwai is a great director that really does deserve more praise. He cares about setting as much as he cares about story as much as he cares about character. There's a fine balance of that here. (Always love his works with Yu Aoi too!)

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Love Exposure
5 people found this review helpful
Jun 19, 2016
Completed 0
Overall 9.0
Story 9.0
Acting/Cast 10
Music 7.5
Rewatch Value 7.0
I watched Love Exposure on a 11 hours plane ride to Vancouver (my first ever out of Asia trip) so the thing is 1) I was sleepy 2) I was sleepy 3) I was sleepy. I watched Love Exposure knowing absolutely nothing about it except two things: it's by Sion Sono and it's 4 hours long. But other than that, I don't know anything else. And boy, was I in for a surprise.

4 hours didn't feel like 4 hours at all. In fact, it made my 11 hours flight seem...so short. To summarize what Love Exposure is is difficult. But that's very Sion Sono-like anyway. He's an auter that way. I enjoyed Love Exposure because it was different, because it was refreshing. It's a combination of all these things that normally don't fit well together but Sono does just that -- very Sono-like again. You have religion in one area and then sexuality on the other. You have panty shots on one hand and blood on the other. You have sinning in one hand and confession on the other. They're not things that go hand in hand yet Sono makes a perfect combination out of them.

I don't know what Love Exposure wanted me to get out of it. But it doesn't matter. In fact, I think Sono doesn't even want to make you think too hard. You're not suppose to undergo some epiphany just because of it. It's just a mash-up of different things that keeps you entertained and also think but not to the point of overanalyzing -- much like Sono's other works anyway. Sono doesn't try to hard to insert things, he shows it to you.

The divisions of 4 chapters was cleverly done and balanced well enough. There are loads of characters but each of them are given their own screen time that it doesn't seem so lopsided. It's 4 hours alright, but I felt like everything mattered and needed to be there...no matter how bizarre and weird they seem.

Truly, it's a romantic comedy that isn't subtly one. Above all, I think it aims to reflect the whole parent vs. child conflict of how parents carve their children into their own ideals, ultimately abandoning who they truly are in the process. It's about bad parents raising "bad" kids. But mostly, it's about how love, above all, conquers. At the end of the day, you lose your memories, you fell out of the line...but love it could save you.

Great soundtrack, exciting, funny, amazing cast and acting and most of all entertaining without trying too hard. 4 hours? It'll pass by so fast you won't even notice it.

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Chungking Express
5 people found this review helpful
Apr 6, 2016
Completed 0
Overall 8.0
Story 7.0
Acting/Cast 8.0
Music 8.0
Rewatch Value 7.0
Chungking Express is probably Wong Kar-Wai's ode to romance, longing and 90s Hong Kong. Kar-Wai is known as an auteur for his visual work and Chungking Express is another example why. Instead of working on Ashes of Time, he took some time off and...made another film: Chungking Express.

Written during the day and shot by night is impressive and makes the film an exciting one that adds to Kar-Wai's pool of Asian work. While not his opus, Chungking Express is fascinating on its own. It's a film that's not plot driven but rather pulled and told by jarring cinematography, takeaway-meals and serendipitous tales.

An exotic bright colors and cinematography that's a combination of cris-cross, fast-moving shots that seems like a huge powder of euphoria has been splashed all over the screen. It's not your-typical-romance. It's more about storytelling, dialogue and narrative that's shown through the visuals that allures you.

It's the shakey cameras, the close-ups and the movements that guide you as you want. It's cinematic freedom that speaks pure Kar-Wai style of emotionally resonating narrative, visual uniqueness and stylized touch.

This is a intertwining stories of two cops, both of which are getting over a heartbreak on their own ways yet are told in similar ways through the use of visuals and small references and even candid symbolism that reflect Kar-Wai's poetic storytelling. It's really the second story that shows more of Kar-Wai masterpiece with cinematic sequences, engaging dialogues and great contrast and after effects. It's the little details of slow-motions or Faye's dancing in no. 663's apartment that pulls the cinematographic storytelling forward.

As such Chungking Express just like Kar-Wai's films about love is showing that love-can't really be described. No words. Instead, he shows it through visuals and details and such. This makes the film pure, not romanticized and a alluring ode to Asian cinema.

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