Tag Archives: Japan

Bleach (2018 Movie)

Warner Bros.

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Kurosaki Ichigo: a normal high-school student with bleached-looking hair, a grumpy expression . . . and the ability to see spirits. The wheels of fate begin to turn as this ability leads to his encounter with a shinigami, Kuchiki Rukia, and spin completely out of control as their encounter with a dark spirit known as a Hollow leads to Rukia’s injury and Ichigo’s subsequent taking on of her shinigami powers. In effect, he becomes a substitute shinigami, fighting Hollows until he’s strong enough to give Rukia’s power back to her without dying in the process. He may even get a shot at the Hollow that killed his mother years ago. Assuming Rukia’s superiors don’t kill them both first.

I was surprised and pleased to see a decent live-action remake of Bleach released this year. This movie takes the first major story arc, all the stuff with Grand Fisher, Ichigo’s becoming a substitute shinigami, basically everything up to Rukia’s return to Soul Society, and compresses it into about an hour and a half of fast-paced action. It’s quite well done and manages to summarize a lot of information into a very brief chunk of time without losing the story in the process. Still, I would recommend this mostly for fans who are already familiar with the story, or at least the basic concepts, because it’s kind of a huge info dump even still. They did a good job keeping the balance, though, with drama, humor, and of course some action-packed fights interspersed. And the fights are properly epic. The CG throughout is very impressive, especially for the Hollows themselves. The casting was well done, especially for Ichigo himself and for Yuzu and Inoue, although I don’t personally love the casting for Renji. Honestly, my biggest complaint is just that, because there are sooooo many characters in Bleach, there just wasn’t time for lots of character development for everyone. Like, at all, in some instances. But still, they did a good job of picking a few key characters and developing them well. I liked that they actually took a proper story arc from the original manga instead of just making a random plot or hugely distorting a main plot, and I honestly do think they did well trimming and unifying it to work as a movie. So yes, I would recommend the live-action Bleach, particularly to fans of the original anime/manga.

Written by Shinsuke Sato & Daisuke Habara/Directed by Shinsuke Sato/Based on Bleach by Tite Kubo/Starring Sota Fukushi, Hana Sugisaki, Ryo Yoshizawa, Erina Mano, Yu Koyanagi, Taichi Saotome, Miyavi, Seiichi Tanabe, Masami Nagasawa, & Yōsuke Eguchi/Music by Yutaka Yamada

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The Demon Prince of Momochi House (Manga)

Mangaka: Aya Shouto

Status: Ongoing (currently 12 volumes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

When she turns sixteen, orphan Himari Momochi mysteriously receives a will stating she’s inherited her family’s ancestral home, Momochi House. Not that she thinks to question it much; it’s a true windfall, and she cheerily packs her bags and sets off into the mountains to move in. Only, once she arrives, she finds this mysterious boy Aoi is already living there, claiming to be the house’s guardian, along with a variety of yokai. Because apparently the house is on the border between the human world and the otherworld, a gateway of sorts. Not one to be so easily discouraged, Himari determinedly declares she’s the house’s landlady and tries to get the squatters to leave . . . only to be confronted with the fact that Aoi literally cannot leave the premises since he’s been chosen as the house’s guardian. Well, Himari’s not about to leave either, even if it does mean she has to share her home and deal with whatever weirdness comes through from the otherworld. And believe me, the weirdness is just beginning.

Personally, I find The Demon Prince of Momochi House well worth reading for the gorgeousness of its art alone, especially the color spreads at the beginning of each volume. Absolutely stunning. As for the story itself, well, I’m almost tempted to think of it as xxxHOLiC lite. You’ve got all these encounters with traditional Japanese yokai and suchlike, as well as other traditional folklore, all set in this mysterious house on the border between worlds. Yeah, sound familiar? But instead of this dark josei sort of flavor, you’ve got something much more traditionally shoujo. Bishounen galore–and it’s only Himari’s fixation with Aoi that keeps this from becoming some kind of reverse-harem situation–for one. A tendency for shoujo tropes, gentle romance, and a generally lighter tone in spite of going to some dark places at times. Oh, and Himari is a pretty classic shoujo heroine–innocent, romantic, stubborn, slightly blonde, and a total do-gooder. But she’s pretty likeable for all that. And Aoi’s mysterious dark past (and sometimes present) kind of counterbalances her air-headed sweetness. Shouto-sensei actually does quite a good job at making the characters more nuanced than you’d expect, especially through their facial expressions. I really love Aoi’s variety of expression in particular; well, I love his character in general, so there’s that too. Currently there’s a lot of uncertainty still as far as where the story will go, but it’s shoujo enough that I’m hoping for a sweet, satisfying end. I’m certainly curious where the story will go from here.

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The Forest (2016 Movie)

Gramercy Pictures

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Rated PG-13/Trigger warning for suicide

Sara Price receives a phone call from Japan informing her that her twin sister Jess was last seen entering Aokigahara Forest–a place legendary for people going to commit suicide–and is presumed dead. But Sara knows better. Ever since they were kids, she’s been able to sense Jess’s existence, tell when she’s in trouble. So she knows that Jess is still alive, and as so many times before, that she needs Sara’s help. Arriving in Japan, Sara is warned off numerous times, told of the yūrei that haunt the forest, driving people to madness and luring those with sadness in their hearts to kill themselves, even if that wasn’t their intention. But Sara refuses to be dissuaded, and teaming up with reporter Aiden and trail-guide Michi, she sets off into the forest in search of her sister.

I initially picked up The Forest for the simple reason that Eoin Macken is in it. For the record, don’t do that. His role here isn’t that big, and while I liked his character, the writing here simply did not do justice to his immense skill as an actor. Having said that, I very much do not regret watching this movie. It’s an unexpected horror/thriller that refuses to fall into any of your typical genre niches neatly. There’s an Asian horror feel to it that goes beyond just the setting, but it’s not strictly an Asian horror film. Nor is it your typical jump-scare, blood and gore fest that so many horror movies are. In fact, although it seems strange to say this in regards to any horror sort of movie, The Forest is remarkably clean. Still not family friendly, obviously, what with the scariness and allusions to suicide that are prevalent, but it’s not all the sex and language and blood that so many movies of this sort seem to stoop to. Rather, this movie is a slow, atmospheric build of emotional, mental, and psychological horror over the course of the entire movie. If you’re not a fan of the slow burn, it will probably drive you crazy; give this movie a pass. But if you’ve got the patience, the atmosphere of tension that builds is quite well done–the lighting, music, acting, sets, backstory, everything working together quite brilliantly. There’s a sense of mystery that plays in well, and of course, the supernatural element as the yūrei here are real . . . at least in Sara’s head. And that’s where things get really interesting as we have this slow descent into madness from her perspective, so we as the viewers aren’t always able to tell what’s real and what isn’t either. I’ve seen a lot of controversial ratings for this movie–some very positive, others negative in the extreme–but personally, I feel The Forest is one of the best horror/thriller movies I’ve seen, period. Recommended, at least for those who have the patience for the slower pacing.

Written by Ben Ketai, Sarah Cornwell, & Nick Antosca/Directed by Jason Zada/Produced by Tory Metzger, David S. Goyer, & David Linde/Starring Natalie Dormer, Taylor Kinney, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, & Eoin Macken/Music by Bear McCreary

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Meteor Prince (Manga)

Mangaka: Meca Tanaka

Status: Complete (2 volumes)

My rating: 2.5 of 5

Hako has the worst of luck–pencils breaking, things falling on her, rain beginning just as she goes outside, you name it. So why should it be any surprise when an experiment by her friends in the Occult Research Club leads to a naked alien prince falling on her, claiming she is his soulmate, and demanding she mate with him? Fortunately for Hako, she has awesome friends who manage to convince said prince, Io of the planet Yupita, that he has to win Hako’s love first. Meanwhile, they also convince Hako to try to make him fall in love with her and then make him leave. Of course, with her luck, what are the chances they’ll actually both fall in love for real?

Meteor Prince is not a bad read, but it’s certainly not Tanaka’s best by any means. It’s cute and goofy and hopelessly romantic in a sweet, innocent way (ignore all the nudity and talk of mating; it’s actually pretty clean). But it’s also kind of predictable and tropey. Like, down to the amnesia getting in the way of their love kind of tropey. Io is very reminiscent of Tamaki Suoh is oh so many ways, only with a dark past that never really gets developed much, with less social awareness (le gasp! Is this possible?), and with cool alien shape-shifting abilities. And aside from her bad luck, Hako is a pretty predictable shoujo heroine–innocent, girly, a bit too sweet, but relatively lacking in outstanding characteristics. On the other hand, Hako has a pretty awesome baby brother whose background and character I would have loved to see developed more; we didn’t even get to meet him until partway through the second volume! Probably the biggest pro for this series is actually Hako’s friends in the Occult Research Club–both because they have interesting personalities and because they’re just good friends, which is important. As for the art, it’s cute, pretty typical in style for the author. So yeah, for a cute, short shoujo manga, Meteor Prince will do quite nicely, but it’s not particularly memorable or outstanding.

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Urusei Yatsura 2: Beautiful Dreamer (1984 Anime Movie)

Kitty Films & Toho

My rating: 3.5 of 5

The kids at Tomobiki High School are all gearing up for the cultural festival, preparing shops, fitting costumes, and getting into their usual hijinks. They’ve been so busy, they’ve even been staying overnight at the school! But wait . . . how long have they actually been working on this? Once they start paying attention, more and more things don’t add up. Parents don’t answer the phones at home. When a staff member goes home, he finds the place covered in layer upon layer of dust. When the students go out of the school grounds, they find the city oddly deserted . . . and find themselves mysteriously re-routed back to the school. Someone should probably freak out or do something, right? But it’s kind of fun just hanging out together without a lot of responsibilities, isn’t it?

Beautiful Dreamer was just recently re-released in a beautiful collector’s edition, making this classic film once again readily available to the general viewer. Not being particularly familiar with Mamoru Oshii’s directing work, I can’t specifically comment on how this movie compares to his other work; however, I have heard others say that this is an excellent example of his early work, for those of you who are interested in that. The animation and story content do certainly show the age of the movie to a certain extent, while still being pleasant and enjoyable. For those who have watched or read Rumiko Takahashi’s Urusei Yatsura, I think Beautiful Dreamer will definitely strike a chord. While somewhat dated, the art is also undeniably classic Takahashi, giving it a timeless quality that is quite endearing. The story is classic for the series as well, full of hijinks and strange, unexplainable occurrences galore. Also, Ataru chasing girls and Lum shocking him for it. There’s actually a nice focus on a large number of classic cast members, which is fun. But this movie also manages to be more pensive, to delve into Lum’s mindset and Ataru’s relationship with her . . . it’s just generally a bit more thoughtful and philosophical than the rest of the series. Surprisingly, it works well and I found the movie to be enjoyable. Fair warning, those unfamiliar with the series would probably have a difficult time jumping directly into this movie, but for those who have enjoyed Urusei Yatsura in the past, I think Beautiful Dreamer would be a nostalgic and amusing choice.

Written and Directed by Mamoru Oshii/Produced by Hidenori Taga/Based on Urusei Yatsura by Rumiko Takahashi/Music by Masaru Hoshi/Voice Acting by Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Akira Kamiya, Kazuko Sugiyama, Saeko Shimazu, Machiko Washio, Mayumi Tanaka, Shigeru Chiba, Akira Murayama, Shinji Nomura, Issei Futamata, Kenichi Ogata, Natsumi Sakuma, Michihiro Ikemizu, Masahiro Anzai, Tomomichi Nishimura, Ichirō Nagai, & Takuya Fujioka

 

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Fullmetal Alchemist (2017 Movie)

Netflix/Warner Bros./Oxybot Inc./Square Enix

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric find their lives forever changed when their childhood attempt to use alchemy to resurrect their mother ends tragically, with Ed losing a leg and an arm and Al losing his body entirely–only Ed’s quick thinking and sacrifice binding Al’s soul to an old suit of armor in the house. Years later, Ed has become an Alchemist for the military in order to access their resources, and the brothers travel the country searching for the Philosopher’s Stone, the one thing they are convinced will help them get their bodies back. But stranger and larger forces are at work in the country, and the two find themselves treading into murky waters, thick with government intrigue, homonculi, and people who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals.

First of all, thank you Netflix for making this available in the U.S.! Secondly, I have seen such a polarized array of reviews that I feel I need to write my own review in two sections–the first discussing who should and who shouldn’t watch this movie, and the second discussing what I personally enjoyed and my general impressions of the movie. You should know before going into this that Fullmetal Alchemist is a Japanese live-action movie based generally (not precisely) on the manga and anime series of the same title. It’s not exactly the same story, so don’t expect that; rather it is an adaptation of the story crafted to suit the live-action movie format, and I believe it does that very well. Also, it’s Japanese–Japanese actors, Japanese language, subs only. Moreover, the acting style and the humor shown here are very Japanese–tastefully done, but stylistically distinct, so if you don’t like that, pick something else to watch. But if you’re interested in a creative, well-cast, cinematically gorgeous adaptation of this beloved story, Fullmetal Alchemist (2017) may be worth your checking out.

For myself, I truly enjoyed this movie a great deal. I felt like the cast was chosen well and portrayed their roles excellently. The acting was very well done, keeping the darkness and tension of the story present, but balancing it with appropriate humor, friendship, and hope. Again, since this is an adaptation, certain characters don’t come up at all, and others don’t get as much attention and screen time as they might in a different format; however, I felt like the characters they chose to focus on and the way they wove their stories together told the story well and kept distractions from the main storylines to a minimum. With the plot itself, again, they adapted it, taking pieces from both Fullmetal Alchemist and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, while also doing some things unique to this particular movie, but I felt that the story they chose to tell was crafted well. Additionally, the ending point is conclusive enough for me to be okay leaving it there, but it leaves things open enough for the possibility of a sequel. . . . We can hope, right? Visually, this movie is absolutely stunning. The countryside where this was filmed is just gorgeous–a lot of it shot in Italy as well as some in Japan. The CGI is also incredible, like, seriously breathtaking. And the music is really beautiful as well, quite suited to the sweeping beauty of the country. My only minor complaints are that I would like a little more Al cuteness and open brotherly bromance (both of which are there, I just want more), and I could do with less fiery violence at the end (although that’s an important part of the big finish, so it’s kind of excused). But seriously, I was very impressed with the 2017 live-action version of Fullmetal Alchemist and would recommend it to anyone who likes Japanese live-action films and who isn’t going to nit-pickingly compare this to the anime, because if you’re that person, you won’t enjoy this. At all.

Written by Hiromu Arakawa/Directed by Fumihiko Sori/Produced by Yumihiko Yoshihara/Screenplay by Fumihiko Sori & Takeshi Miyamoto/Music by Reiji Kitasato/Starring Ryosuke Yamada, Atomu Mizuishi, Tsubasa Honda, Dean Fujioka, Ryuta Sato, Jun Kunimura, Fumiyo Kohinata, & Yasuko Matsuyuki

 

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The Invisible Museum (Manga)

Mangaka: Kore Yamazaki

Status: Complete (Oneshot)

My rating: 4 of 5

She’s the daughter who was left, unwanted, with her drunken mother after the divorce while her father took her brother with him. Sometimes she just wants to escape, to disappear. One day, she finds herself in front of a building she’s never seen before, and curious, she enters to find herself in what appears to be a museum, complete with display cases . . . only the cases are completely empty.

The Invisible Museum is a thought-provoking oneshot by the author of the popular The Ancient Magus’ Bride. It’s a strange tale, almost reminiscent in a way to CLAMP’s xxxHOLiC with its strange building that’s not visible to everyone, its enigmatic proprietor, and its strange, mystical creatures. I like it. It deals with a challenging emotional situation in a way that raises good questions without claiming to have all the answers. (Fair warning that it sort-of deals with the topic of suicide/suicidal ideations, but in a generalized, non-graphic sort of way.) I love the back and forth between the girl and the proprietor–even in this short oneshot, their personalities shine through. I could totally see this story being developed into an actual series, and I would be thrilled if it ever came to pass. The art is classic Kore Yamazaki, but in a sense only parts of it (like the butterfly) seem like it at first glance–because it’s really strange to see Yamazaki’s work set in contemporary Japan as opposed to somewhere in Europe, in a highly fantasy-like setting. I really enjoyed The Invisible Museum and would recommend to anyone who likes a solid, slightly fantastic manga.

Note: I read this as an omake in the first volume of Frau Faust. I’m not sure if it’s available anywhere else or not.

 

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