Tagged: Sono Sion

Review: Sono Sion’s Experimental Film “I Am Keiko” (1997) is Almost the Opposite of Entertainment

Suzuki Keiko is turning 22. Her father died of cancer and she manage to secretly steal some of the remaining bones from the crematorium. Keiko is alone and thinking a lot. In three weeks she will be 22. She decides to chronicle these three weeks. She decides to chronicle every hour, every minute, possibly every second. Time passes. Time passes as she speaks. She speaks of time passing. She counts the seconds as they pass. Her 22nd birthday is nearing. Time is still going. She can say or do whatever. Time doesn’t care, it just goes on, with the same exact, precise, boring rhythm and pace.  Continue reading

Review: Nuovo Cinema Paradiso Meets Kill Bill in Sono Sion’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (2013)

A group of teenagers, who call themselves Fuck Bombers dream of making Japan’s greatest action movie. Unfortunately they don’t have any money or professional film equipment. One night they write a prayer to the Movie God to help them realize their dream and put it in a shrine. In the meantime there is a yakuza war between two clans going on. The boss’ (Jun Kunimura) wife (Tomochika) is thrown in prison for ten years, for slaughtering rival gang members. To keep her going in prison her husband promises to make her daughter (Fumi Nikaidō) a movie star.  Continue reading

Film Analysis: Sono Sion’s Utsushimi (2000)

Utsushimi (2000)
is Sono Sion‘s ninth feature film. Before directing his first feature film Man’s Flower Road (Otoko no hanamichi) back in 1986, Sion was a writer and a poet. Only one year later he would gain worldwide popularity with his groundbreaking Suicide Club (Jisatsu sâkuru) which would be quoted by directors like Eli Roth. Utsushimi on the other hand seems to have inspired modern auteurs like Lars von Trier and Pedro Almodóvar.  Continue reading

Review: Japanese Auteur Sono Sion Smoothly Transitions to American Cinema with His Poetic Crime Film Hazard (2005)

Hazard (2005) 2
Shin (Joe Odagiri) dreams of bigger and better things. Japan makes him sleepy, yet restless at the same time. He’s so bored. He wants something more, but what is it that he wants? Maybe it’s an adventure. He decides to go to the US: The land of opportunity. When he arrives in New York it all makes sense. He was looking for hazard. Not speaking one single word of English his stay in the States is immediately problematic. He gets robbed, but then he meets these crazy Japanese-American gangsters: Lee (Jai West) and Takeda (Fukami Motoki). They become great friends, but their criminal lifestyle is bound to get them all in big trouble.  Continue reading

What Are Your Most Anticipated Films of 2014?

2013 is coming to an end. We’ve had some great movies. Some have not yet been released for wide audiences or in foreign territories. That always happens. So before I get into my most anticipated films of 2014, I’d like to mention the 2013 films that I’ll only get to see next year at this point. Some of these will be (or are already) available for my American friends by the end of the year, but not in sad and small Switzerland. Here it goes: Catherine Breillat’s Abuse of Weakness, Spike Jonze’s Her, Kim Ki-duk’s Moebius, Alexandre Payne’s Nebraska, Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best, Sono Sion’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell? and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. As you can tell from this list I base my anticipations for a film mostly on the director. Now then, let’s see what 2014 has in store for us.  Continue reading

Sono Sion’s Guilty of Romance (2011)

A terrible murder has occurred in the love hotel district of Maruyama-cho, Shibuya (Tokyo). A woman’s dismembered body and creatively rearranged with that of a mannequin. The police is investigating the case.
Izumi (Kagurazaka Megumi) is a devout wife and the picture girl for housewives in the 1950s. Unfortunately it’s the 1990s and Izumi, who’s turning 30, would like to do something with her life. Anything really, that doesn’t involve only thinking about her husband (Tsuda Kanji) Yukio’s slippers and marseille soap all day. Yukio is a famous novelist who’s never home. He treats her wife like a maid and doesn’t really seem to love or care about her. Out of boredom Izumi decides to take a job cooking sausage samples in a local supermarket. One day a costumer notices her and asks her if she wants to become a model. Turns out the new job involves more than just posing naked. At first Izumi seems to be finally taking control of her life, but then everything spirals down in a vortex of sex, prostitution and water balloons filled with pink paint.  Continue reading

Good: The Land of Hope (2012), One Point O (2004), City of Women (1980) and More!

While it looks like I’ve seen a lot of good movies this week I was actually a bit disappointed. Yes, these are great and all, but except for The Land of Hope I rate them all 7 out of 10. I guess I expected something more. Oh well.

The Land of Hope (2012)
– 7.5 (IMDb 6.6) – Drama (Japan)

The Housemaid (1960) – 7 (IMDb 7.4) – Crime, Drama, Horror (South Korea)
If anything can be said about the original Hanyo it’s that it looks absolutely gorgeous. Beautiful black & white cinematography by Kim Deok-jin. Great acting all around and a solid script. However the film about the housemaid/home wrecker/psycho suffers from some pacing issues here and there. One of the film’s strongest feats is the unique unsettling, creepy and uneasy atmosphere that is hard to describe. No other film has made me feel like this one. It’s not a pleasant feeling, but that’s why we watch horror films. This one certainly shines for its originality. It also breaks the “fourth wall”, you know when you have a character directly speaking to the camera, I thought it was a fun & funny touch. The film is considered a classic and we have to thank Martin Scorsese for restoring the original print and making this one available. Definitely skip the remake and watch this one instead.

The Demon (1963) – 7 (IMDb 6.6) – Drama, Horror (Italy)
I checked out Il Demonio because it’s set in Basilicata, that’s one of the lesser known Italian regions of the south. My dad comes from around these parts. Superstitions and weird rituals were and still are poplar in these parts. This film is said to be based on true events. The story about a young woman who was believed to be possessed by the devil is definitely a heavy one. In the film she tires to make this guy fall in love with her with a potion, but the bastard only exploits her for sex and then marries some other chick instead. It’s rare to see a film where the villain is also the only sympathetic character and it’s especially tricky to pull it off with a female lead (for some reason not many get it right). This film succeeds mostly because of Daliah Lavi’s committed performance and acting skills. The depiction of the people and traditions in the south seems very faithful and so I’d say this film is also culturally relevant and not many horror films are, so that’s again a plus for this film. On the downside it’s a fairly depressing and sad film from the get go.

One Point O (2004) – 7 (IMDb 5.9) – Mystery, Horror, Sci-Fi (USA)
I wasn’t expecting much from this film and maybe that’s why I was positively surprised by it. I chose to watch it mostly because one of my favorite actors, Udo Kier, makes an appearance as an improbable neighbor. However the star of the film is Jeremy Sisto, who was perfectly cast for this role. One Point O is what you’d call a “high concept” film. What I loved most about it is that the plot is so strange and incomprehensible, yet the characters are so relatable that you can still get invested in the story even if you don’t understand everything. Set in a dystopian future, this film is about government control, big brother stuff and all them crazy conspiracy theories. The filmmakers seem to be a fans of David Cronenberg’s work, but they still brings their own fresh vision and flavor to the screen and they do so in the most unpretentious way possible, without taking themselves too seriously, but at the same time without falling into annoying and constant auto-ironical jokes.

La città delle donne (1980) – 7 (IMDb 6.8) – Comedy, Drama (Italy)
At this point in his career Federico Fellini could basically do whatever the fuck he wanted. So he made City of Women a film about a man wondering around guided by his male organ who ends up in a hotel that has been taken over by some crazy feminists. I’m not even going to try and understand or explain all the sexual identity and gender issues brought up by this film, there’s too much of it and I’m not entirely sure what it means. In fact I’m not even entirely sure Fellini knew what it meant. This film takes a more dream-like/dream-logic approach and so not everything shown is meant to be read literally. It’s a crazy film, like every Fellini, it’s cinematic, hilarious, absurd, excessive, loud, quiet, bored, ecstatic, high, low, happy, sad, all over the place. While I think he has made better films, I still enjoy Marcello Mastroianni in the lead role and some of the humor. The film could have been a bit shorter, but still there are a lot of great and very entertaining scenes.

The Sinners of Hell (1960) – 7 (IMDb 6.9) – Horror, Drama, Criterion (Japan)
Jigoku is a film about hell according to Japanese culture (don’t ask me what religion exactly). It felt a bit like Dante Aligheri’s Inferno, only with more action and subtitles. The film has an experimental, art house look and feel, which is probably why it was picked up by the Criterion Collection. While the story gets a bit confusing and overly dramatic at times, it’s still a fun flick for a sunday evening train-ride home. I love how this film was lit, the actors almost seem translucent at times, as if the light is beaming through their skin. Speaking of skin, there’s not much going on in terms of sex and nudity in this film, which is weird because in the title sequence there are women stripping and dancing. In the actual film however there’s not much of that. I just thought that was odd.

Sono Sion’s The Land of Hope (2012)

The Ono’s are a humble family of farmers living in rural Japan. One day there is an earthquake which causes a disaster in the local nuclear power plant. Everyone is afraid of the consequences of radiation on the local population. The Ono family lives just on the 20 kilometer radius border, where the authorities have established there is no “officially” no risk of contamination. They watch their neighbors being brought away into some a provisory facility away from their hometown. Yoichi ono (Murakami Jun) wants to stay with his father Yasuhiko (Natsuyagi Isao) and mother Cheiko (Ohtani Naoko). However Yasuhiko advices his son to move away from the contaminated area, with his wife Izumi (Kagurazaka Megumi) and start a new life elsewhere. Yoichi says goodbye to his parents and moves to a nearby town that is supposedly safer, but when Izumi discovers that she is pregnant she becomes paranoid about the radiations possibly hurting her unborn child.  Continue reading

Five Favorite Films About Family

More precisely I should specify dysfunctional families, because those are really the most interesting ones, right? Family is a beautiful thing, unfortunately no family is perfect, because every family is made of human beings and human beings are imperfect. Pets don’t count or maybe they do, who cares. What I’m saying is that we all want a family, we need a family. If our “blood” family sucks, we’ll probably look for a surrogate family, like in a Paul Thomas Anderson film. The thing is: We can’t escape being tied to a family, unless they’re dead. Sometimes even then they’re somehow with us, for better or worse.

This weekend Luc Besson‘s action/crime/comedy The Family comes out in American theaters, and so I thought I’d discuss one of my favorite sub-genres. Why am I particularly taken with this type of films? Well, because one way or another they’re useful to help you understand the dynamics within your own family. There’s also always a lot of drama going on usually, which is fun to watch, as long as it’s not your own family. I love my family and so here are some of my favorite films about family. I’m not even sure these are the top five, these are just five that are near and dear to me.


5. A Woman Under the Influence (1974, John Cassavetes)
A powerful drama about a man (Peter Falk) living with an insane woman, his wife (Gena Rowlands). This is one of my favorite films by John Cassavetes. It’s maybe more about marriage than family, but it’s definitely worthwhile and memorable. Cassavetes creates a nerve-wracking atmosphere that makes the film feel very heavy and weighty. Both lead actors give fantastic, possibly career-best performance in their respective roles. The film is also beautiful to look at and I’m not a big fan of the 70s aesthetic.

4. Der siebente Kontinent (1989, Michael Haneke)
The Seventh Continent is about a “failed” family. Failed in the sense that they all kill themselves. This is no spoiler, they set out to put an end to their existence from the get go. You know it’s going to happen, but in typical Haneke fashion of course it will take quite some time before it actually happens. The film takes it’s sweet time and that’s what makes it so intense and hard to watch. It’s a very depressing and cold film, and I usually tend to enjoy more romantic fare, but in this case it is totally appropriate to the narrative.

3. Festen (1998, Thomas Vinterberg)
The Celebration is a hand-held camera, documentary-style portrait of a family gathering together for a what is supposed to be a joyous occasion. You know who doesn’t seem to think so? Our main character. He has some “unresolved” issues with his father and they’re going to come to the surface in an epic climax. I won’t give anything away, but this film hit me very hard emotionally. There’s some dark stuff, but I love how it’s done and it’s very Danish. I’m a big fan of Danish humor and director Thomas Vinterberg.

2. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Wes Anderson)
Definitely on the lighter side (this is a comedy/drama) The Royal Tenenbaums is about a bourgeois family. Parents are divorced, kids grew up to be adults in arrested development with daddy issues and so on. To me this is still Wes Anderson’s best film and it’s interesting to see him really find his style and who he is as an auteur. Charming, funny, well-written, great attention to detail (especially in the set design and costuming), an incredible cast of character actors and some genuinely touching moments: What’s not to love?

1. Noriko’s Dinner Table (2005, Sono Sion)
When I first saw this film (a sequel to Sono’s Suicide Club) I hated it. Then thinking about it I realized that I hated one of the main characters, but the thing is: You’re supposed to hate her. She is a horrible person doing horrible things. The film’s premise is that two girls function as “family members for hire”. Much like actors they play the role a family asks them to in exchange for money, but of course being a Sono Sion film there’s more to it. Noriko’s Dinner Table is a powerful drama bringing up some interesting sociological and moral issues.

So as you may have noticed these films about family are not easy to swallow. Sometimes they’re very heavy and deal with taboo issues or things that are not often talked about publicly when mentioning family. Sometimes they’re also lighter like the charming quirky indie Pieces of April (starring the adorable Katie Holmes). Either way they always tend to get emotional, sometimes it’s earned and sometimes it’s cheesy and unrealistically “perfect”, like in most Hollywood films or films targeting families. That’s not to say indies can’t be heavy-handed, there are of course a lot of Oscar-baity films, but they’re not worth mentioning or talking about, so I’ll stick to the ones I’ve mentioned. Yeah, so if you could just tell me about your favorite films about family that would be great!

What Movies Did You Watch Last Week?

Howdy. It’s been a while. I’ve been busy lazy. Sorry. For some odd reason I also didn’t watch a great deal of movies last week. Only four to be exact. Luckily, all four were home runs. Well, two I had already seen, so I knew they were good (or to my liking) but still, I’ve had some bad surprises re-watching movies. That wasn’t the case however. Moving on, here are a couple of thoughts on the movies I watched this past week.

Love Exposure (2008) – 9 (IMDb 7.8) – Action, Comedy, Drama, Romance (Japan)
Sono Sion is probably my favorite Japanese director. His movies are always very violent, but also very dramatic and deliberately paced. This film however moves at a brisk pace, probably because it’s four hours long. It doesn’t feel four hours long however. It’s very entertaining and there’s not a single dull or boring moment, if you can believe it. I’ve seen it a while back now and it was due for a re-watch. It did not disappoint. The film is about a young man (Yu played by Nishijima Takahiro) whose father becomes a catholic priest. It all starts to become crazy when his father asks him to confess his sins every single day, but he has nothing to confess. So he joins a gang of misfits and starts getting into a life of crime to “connect” with his father. Meanwhile an evil cult is planning some evil shit and out main character is falling in love with a girl who is very distrusting of men. Wonderfully acted, great soundtrack and fun story. The humor is a bit “Japanese” and results “weird” for a Western audience, but other than that I have no complaints. My favorite scene is still when Yoko (the main female character played by Mitsushima Hikari) recites Corinthians 13.

Pain & Gain (2013)
– 7.5 (IMDb 6.7) – Comedy, Crime, Thriller (USA)
I enjoy Michael Bay’s films and it’s no secret/mystery/shame for me. Some people believe in guilty pleasures, I believe in watching whatever you like and stand by it. Pain & Gain might just be Michael Bay’s masterpiece. It’s his “fuck you” to everyone who said he can’t do a film about characters, although it’s still not quite satisfying in that respect. What Bay really excels at is the visuals. His films are insane in that regard and he is a true innovator and the most copied action auteur (along with Tony Scott, may he rest in peace). What’s baffling about this film is that it’s based on true events. It’s played as a dark comedy, which is an interesting thing to do, especially if you know how serious some of the things in the film are and how everyone else would have gone the serious route to be “respectful”. Bay doesn’t care. He shoots the story of three bodybuilders kidnapping a rich guy, just as he would have done with any other picture, only his budget is considerably smaller this time. It feels a bit like we’re back to Bad Boys. What really stood out in this film for me were the performances, especially Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson’s. This really is the year for films about the American Dream, and Pain & Gain‘s take is just as interesting as the ones that are going to win a ton of Oscar gold.

Into the Abyss (2011)
– 9 (IMDb 7.3) – Documentary (USA)

Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – 8 (IMDb 7.8) – Comedy, Drama, Romance (USA)
I liked Wes Anderson’s film the first time I’ve seen it, but revisiting it I felt like I really got it. I might just have to write an analysis of it at some point, but I’m too tired to do so right now. Anyway, Moonrise Kingdom is about two young kids falling in love and escaping together. It’s about boy-scouts and broken families, flawed, lonely individuals and lush visuals: Basically it’s a Wes Anderson film. It feels like a very personal and important story for him and it’s also one of his best (my favorites still remain The Royal Tenenbaums and the very underrated Darjeling Limited). The two kid actors do a fine job for their first film, I liked them a lot more rewatching it and the supporting cast is great, but of course that’s to be expected with big names such as Bruce Willis, Ed Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Jason Schwartzman and other great performers. Also very noteworthy: Alexandre Desplat’s score, boy was he on a roll lately. Roman Coppola co-wrote the screenplay, and I feel that I need to remind people of that, because they tend to underestimate him and his collaborations with Anderson. Not much to add, very sweet and romantic and of course one of my favorites of last year.

That’s it for this week. Hopefully I get to see more movies next week, but then I’ll also have more to write, but hey. I know I’m getting to see my most anticipated of the year (which you should know by now you’re sick and tired of hearing me talk about) in two days, so expect a review on The Bling Ring soon!