Tag Archives: japan

Review: ‘Weathering With You,’ Whether Rain or Shine

Shinkai Makoto’s followup to the smash-hit animated feature ‘Your Name’ takes an even more fantastical approach to a coming-of-age tale. 

Loneliness and desperation mark Hodaka’s path as he enters into the big city for the first time. 

Sixteen years of age, Hodaka is running away from something, though we don’t know what, exactly. Initially, Hodaka (voiced by Daigo Kotaro) follows a careful, detailed plan upon his arrival in Tokyo from the provinces. With only a tiny sum of money, he knows he must get a job and secure a place to live. But he’s only 16! And he looks it!

Shinkai Makoto’s new animated feature remains hopeful, even as Hodaka becomes more desperate as the days pass. That’s because Hodaka is easily likable; he has a becoming, positive spirit, despite whatever might have happened to caused him to plan and execute an escape from a home where he no longer wished to remain. 

One day, he stumbles into a man he’s encountered before, and his immediate life course becomes more steady. The sage Suga (voiced by Oguri Shun) writes, edits and publishes a magazine that covers strange occurrences in life. His outward appearance may be seedy, but he has a kind heart desperate his sometimes-blustery speech, and he offers Hodaka a job and a place to stay. Together with a young coworker, the trio form a makeshift family. 

Then Hodaka encounters Hina (voiced by Mori Nana), who can bring out the sunshine on a rainy day. 

We’ve seen her apparent ability in an opening scene, where her fervent, silent prayer to her god caused the sun to burst out of a cloudy sky. Now it seems that she can command the weather, whenever there’s a good reason to do so. Remembering her kindness to him on a bleak night, Hodaka is at first drawn to her because of her supposed abilities — he’s working on a story about ‘weather girls’ — and then is attracted to her personal qualities. 

Hina is a little bit older than Hodaka, but her mother has died and so she cares for herself and her young brother, including all domestic duties, while trying to earn enough money to care for their needs and, of course, manifesting a positive, industrious spirit. These are all things that Hodaka lacks, but she enjoys his ambitious leanings anyway, and they appear to be destined to wind up together. 

Except that fate, director Shinkai Makoto, has something else in mind. 

Shinkai’s previous film, Your Name (2016), enjoyed massive success while plumbing deeper, darker emotional depths, but his career as a whole — including his features The Garden of Words (2013), 5 Centimeters Per Second  (2007) and The Place Promised in Our Early Days (2004), as well as the shorter Voices of a Distant Star (2002) — typically feature hopeful, fantastical, lyrical spins on romantic challenges faced by young people. 

Certainly he knows well how to give authentic, genuine bounce to his stories, injecting wistful melancholy and a measured amount of melodrama, and that proves true again in Weathering With You, which takes flight into the fantastical while never losing sight of earthbound realities. There’s always a price to pay, according to the film; humans just have to decide how much to invest. 

Weathering With You takes flight into the fantastical while never losing sight of earthbound realities. 

Review originally published on ScreenAnarchy when the film opened in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on January 17, 2020. The film will be available to watch via a variety of digital services as of August 4, 2020. For more information about the film, visit the official site.

Review: ‘After the Storm’

dfn-after-the-storm-300If there’s one word that describes the films of Hirokazu Kore-eda, it would be “generous.” Ever since bursting onto the art house scene with After Life (1998), he’s amassed a career of about a dozen films whose central themes are universal ones of family, separation, community and melancholy relationships.

His films acutely represent the passing of time and the patient interactions he concocts between characters are touching beyond description. They’re all so rich and three-dimensional, we can graft our own memories of loved ones onto them as if we’re watching our own home movies replayed before our eyes.

His latest home movie is After the Storm and, yes, it’s generous and warm and funny and deeply moving. It features subplots of private investigators, rampant gambling and a massive typhoon that threatens landfall …. all things that in another movie would veer off into clichéd territory. But in Kore-eda’s film, those plot devices are reductive and not only add profound feeling to the eventual second half of the story, but give After the Storm a somewhat shaggy dog appeal in how Kore-eda weaves towards a denouement.

And shaggy-dog could precisely describe Ryota (Hiroshi Abe). A novelist of some acclaim fifteen years ago, his life has drifted far from those streaks of ‘genius,’ as his mother (Kirin Kik) once noted about him. Divorced and mostly estranged from his wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki) and young son (Taiyo Yoshizawa), except on sparse weekend visits, Ryota bides his time moonlighting as a private investigator. Telling himself it’s only a job to conduct research for an upcoming book, he and his baby-faced partner (Sosoku Ikematsu) seems to take perverse interest in selling their compromising evidence back to the people they’re spying on.

Taking his privileged access on spying a step further, Ryota spends his off-days following his ex-wife to determine if she’s seeing anyone else. Even more unscrupulous, he doesn’t win any points as a family man either, continually visiting his elderly mother to search for his recently deceased father’s prized possessions to pawn for money.

If all of this sounds like a morally bankrupt examination of a sleazy guy, it’s not. Kore-eda manages to keep things fairly sweet and gentle even when Ryota does some awful things. It’s a tone that could have self-destructed easily at any moment, yet After the Storm maintains a steady atmosphere, especially in the second half when Ryota, his son, ex-wife and mother are forced to spend a night together waiting out the titular storm. It’s in this portion of the film that Kore-eda’s deft eye and ear for narrative take over.

Also written and edited by Kore-eda, After the Storm is quite miraculous in the effortless way it presents a slice of life tale. Drifting off rather than ending, it’s a film that understands the nuances of life. In the humorous way Ryota finds a note from his sister that reads “too late!” when he finds a possibly valuable trinket hidden away by his dad, the frailty of life is tactile in the way his mother asks him if it’d be better for her to die quickly in her sleep or be bedridden for years. Ryota eventually gives her an answer, but it’s a conversation between mother and son rarely heard on-screen. It’s yet another example of the way Kore-dfn-after-the-storm-300eda manages to balance the sublime and sad in one brief moment.

The film is now playing at the Angelika Film Center in Plano.

Review: ‘Belladonna of Sadness’

dfn-belladonna-of-sadness-300The 70’s is one of my favorite decades of cinema for several reasons. Not only did the New Brat pack of Hollywood (Scorsese, Coppola, Spielberg, etc.) fully hone their skills and chart exciting territory in an ancient-feeling Tinseltown that would reverberate still today, but films like Eiichi Yamamoto’s ‘Belladonna of Sadness’ (1973) existed. Adult-oriented animation, based in folk fairy tale, and sprayed across the screen with complete seriousness in imagery and tone. If anything tops the phantasmagoric visual style of the film, its the swooning psychedelic rock soundtrack that accompanies its narrative. Basically, ‘Belladonna of Sadness’ is the complete trip and deserves to be seen on the big screen.

Presented in a new restoration courtesy of Cinelicious Pics, Belladonna of Sadness concerns beautiful Jeanne and her desire to wed strong Jean, a literal trick that is just the first of many double entendres and allusions. When they can’t afford the taxation imposed by the local feudal lord, he proceeds to cast out Jean and rape Jeanne, an act that quickly alienates her desirability to her proposed husband.

Shunned by the village, Jeanne’s domestic trouble seems over once a vision appears to her and promises her wealth and power if she succumbs to his wishes. In straight order, Jeanne makes a pact with the visitor and does indeed become wealthy from further village taxation. That is, until the village turns on her and almost kills her, sending her fleeing into the woods where she lives out the life of a succubus, imbued with the Devil, practicing witchcraft and conducting orgies. 

All of this is represented in fascinating and mind-melting animation from artist Kuni Fukai. At once abstract and violent, ‘Belladonna of Sadness’ imparts its feelings through a variety of styles. Flames are represented as tiny wisps of color that curl up around white legs. The bubonic plague is shown to turn ordinary people into shifting charcoal gray forms. And, perhaps most startling, the impacts of forced sexual aggression and a body being pierced by arrows are rendered with blinding streaks of throbbing red. Fukai’s animation works on a primal level. We feel the colors and sense the violence. It’s something I haven’t quite felt from an “animated” film in a long time.

Yet all this artistry would ring hollow if not for something more, which filmmaker Yamamoto applies through his use of movement within each delicately realized hand-drawn frame to maximum effect. Like legendary auteur Nagisa Oshima did a few years earlier with his film ‘Band of Ninja’ (1967), the camera pans and tracks across a storyboard of images that not only creates action, but implies time passing and memory. It’s a conceit that wonderfully compliments the base animation and breathes life into its characters.

Based on a mid-nineteenth century book by Jules Michelet about witchcraft, ‘Belladonna of Sadness’ does indeed use these arcane mysteries and old wives tales to weave a seductive and dark story. But its the flashes of humanity- the sadly drawn eyes of Jeanne, the quivering lips as she wonders what her life might have been and, at the end of the film a passage that alludes to further real life history- that provide Yamamoto’s daring film with a pulsing heart beyond the simplistic label of ‘adult oriented cartoon’. Go see this and prepare to be dazzled, puzzled, and eventually heartbroken.

Belladonna of Sadness will have a limited engagement in the Dallas/Fort Worth area beginning Friday, May 13 at Alamo Drafthouse cinemas. Go to http://www.drafthouse.com for information.

Review: ‘R100’

'R100' (Drafthouse Films)
‘R100’ (Drafthouse Films)

Hitoshi Matsumoto’s expectation bending and quite insane R100 could only exist in the sub genre known affectionately as ‘Japanese craziness’, and only a daredevil company like Drafthouse Films would even think of playing this film on American screens. It’s crude, at times repellant, and mordantly funny, ratcheting up the sexual deviancy to levels that would make even Luis Bunuel blush.

The mild-mannered Takafumi (Nao Omuri) is leading a droll, stagnant life. He works as a furniture salesman in a multi-level retail store. His daily routine consists of work, arranging for take-out dinner to haul home to his young son, and visiting his comatose wife in the hospital. He desperately yearns for something more, which comes in the form of a company called “Bondage.”

Not only does the company provide him with a release from his humdrum existence, but it satisfies his dark desires of sadomasochism. See, Takafumi enters into a year-long agreement with the company, wherein any time of the day, a female dominatrix appears and either humiliates him, whips him, or beats him silly in public. Now one can see why I mentioned the words sexual deviancy.

Initially, the actions soothe Takafumi’s hidden proclivities, but things rapidly evolve into something deranged when the “no rules” policy not only involves his father-in-law (Gin Maeda) but his young son as well, and the procession of dominatrix figures become increasingly degrading and even harmful. The playtime turns frighteningly real, which very well may be the point of R100.

Yet finding any other buried messages within the film is pointless, something filmmaker Matsumoto toys with himself in the emergence of a very “meta” subplot, breaking up the film we’re watching with several static shots of five people in a nondescript room discussing the film and their mounting problems with the sex, violence and downright illogical narrative swerves. Acting as a Greek chorus for our own possible ruminations about the on-screen excess, they then adroitly return to the screening room and the film reel of R100 begins again for them. Unfortunately for us, there’s no such respite.

Even the title itself is an acknowledged mockery as one stunned chorus members states “the director said no one under the age of 100 will understand this film.” With that type of logic, R100 sets the stage for a weird, uncompromising jaunt through the dark corridors of some unstable individuals.

Despite all this, R100 is a comedy, albeit a disturbed one. There are moments of unhinged humor and outrageous scenes, amped up to intense levels when the CEO of the Bondage company arrives and wages war with Takafumi for reasons best not discussed here. Add to that an army of dominatrix ninjas, secret government agents and something called the Queen of Gobblers and R100 firmly establishes itself as a future midnight classic.

R100 is currently in release at the Alamo Drafthouse in Richardson.