Tag Archives: Takashi Miike

Cinema-Maniac: Kurôzu zero II (Crows Zero II) (2009) Review

The original Crows Zero while loud and nonsensical tried to tell a story. To it credit it didn’t entirely fail giving development to why fighting for hierarchy in high school is held with so much importance to its characters, but neither did it succeed in providing engaging characters to hold the viewers attention the same way the many fight scenes did. In many ways Crows Zero 2 feels similar the original in that it’s trying to tell a story, but repeats similar problems of the original while toning down the amount of fighting. It matches the original in quality of the original for different reasons.

Crows Zero 2 tells the story of Genji and his victorious G.P.S. alliance who find themselves facing down a new challenge by the students of Hosen Academy, feared by everyone as ‘The Army of Killers. It’s a direct continuation from the “Crows Zero” with characters condensing events from the first film. It has allot more characters and even less characterization to prevent them from being engaging. A huge chunk of the film is spent seeing Genji attempting to unite all of Suzuran under his leadership. Since the film is focus on showing Genji ineptness as a leader having to earn respect among different internal cliques. Tendency to jump around from character to character to fill it run time is common. Making its intention unclear and the meaning of the story becomes muddle among its many subplots. In particular the one subplot that receives the most attention revolves around a teenager who is desperate to become a gangster which has no bearing to the main story line. If it has nothing to do with the main story chances are what occurs in a subplot will not affect course of the main story. Another narrative departure is it being more grounded compare to the previous entry. Whereas the first entry occasionally had zany scenes like human bowling “Crows Zero 2” has none of that. However, the story has it merits in that it’s easier to follow who is in what faction because this time it two schools going against each other instead of many faction within the same building fight each other. The subplots generally don’t play much into how the main story plays out, but what occurs in them do have complete character arcs brought together by a central theme. New and old characters are given simple to understand motivation to easily grasp their position in this whole “war” between schools. While it feels similar because of repeating issues it does tell a new story and a central theme that reassures things are moving forward. Whereas the first one was carry by ego the sequel is carry by putting away differences for a singular threat. Character growth, what little there is in this franchise is very much appreciated, even if you do question how in the world these teenagers graduate from high school when never once do they attend classes.

Behind the camera Takashi Miike delivers a solid direction that restraints his usual techniques. Since the film the is more grounded so is his direction so there’s no odd camera movement or editing techniques that would tell you Miike directed the film. Given the story direction it’s rather fitting Miike delivered the story the way intended without ego. Maintaining the mindset of its character through rock heavy soundtrack that fuels the desire to see a fight unfold. His energy best demonstrated in the fight scenes that are bigger and in particular the last twenty minutes is nothing but fighting. The fight choreography is not complex with fighters mostly punching opponents hardly ever using their legs for kicks. Miike makes up for the simple choreography with exaggerated durability as a single student can successfully defend himself against an army of students. Thanks to exaggerated durability each actor is given something to do in the background. In fight scenes there’s always something going on even if the actor the camera is focus on is looking for the next person to beat up. While it lacks the diverse location of the first entry it’s compensated with the climax which starts out on the outside of Hosen high school and eventually goes inside until the protagonist reaches the top. It does look like there fighting in a high school with the fight visually appearing as big as they are. Occasionally tight close up will show just how crowded a hall of fighters feels like, but won’t sure the whole picture. Although, Miike makes sure to use wide shot to show everything going on in a fight when deemed appropriate. Fighters are also distinguishable due to opposite color in school uniforms so who’s fighting who is never lost. Actors from the first film return and their performances are limited to a couple facial expressions. Mostly recycling their mannerism, movement, and line delivery from the first time they played the role. Appearance wise none of them look or act like high schoolers, but given the film theme is slightly forgivable.

Crows Zero 2 feels the same like the first entry in many ways. It’s attempts to tell a story and developed characters, but with too much going on at once all emotion becomes lost and coherent meaning gets jumble as it plays out. This in part results in the sequel containing significantly less fight scenes that are bigger mostly suffer from repetitive choreography mostly with forward punches. For every wrong it does it takes two steps forward for creating a better film. It will feel like you’re watching the same movie due to both entries sharing similar problems, but delivers a difference experience that matches the entertainment provided in the original. The story side of Crows Zero 2 is sloppy, but Miike delivery of the messy story and technical prowess reassures another solid film is made under his direction.

7/10

Cinema-Maniac: Crows Zero (2007) Review

Takashi Miike adaptation of “Ichi the Killer” stirred a lot of controversy for it depiction of exaggerated violence securing it popularity would be greater than the source material that inspired it. In contrast Takashi Miike’s take on the manga simply titled, Crow, is more accessible while maintaining all of Miike’s signatures traits. Once again, Miike’s adaptation of a manga outdoes it source material.

Crows: Episode Zero takes place in Suzuran High School, an all boys school full of delinquents and gangsters. Focusing on newcomer Genji Takaya plan to take down reigning school gangster Tamao Serizawa. Populated with a large cast of two dimensional characters there is a lot of story threads that it needs to slowly get across before the promised big finale. Some characters especially if their female get delegated to the background until needed. It setup is over the top with numerous factions all fighting for supremacy in high school Suzuran. None of the characters resemble real people rather are testosterone filled and anime-like teenagers. Adults never pay much attention to the violence with some supporting the characters to continue on with their everyday activity. Characterization is thinly sprinkle throughout to show the characters softer side. All the characters might love to fight, but the film is not afraid to show them to take a breather from using their knuckles. Showing both Genji and Tamao recruiting members to grow their numbers in various ways. From a double date to giving or receiving a good beating to prove their worth to faction leaders. There is neither a define “good” or “bad” among the characters. Allowing opportunity for humor ease the mostly serious characters and drama to add more meaning to the conflict. Embracing the silliness of its plot the characters never once make it apparent how goofy it all is. Playing up the angle there is more meaning to becoming top dog where your status is literally an everyday fight for survival. Where it does fail is giving a single character to emotionally invest in. This is a result from episodic pacing that has a tendency to loose sight of who to follow and when to follow them. Given the serious tone and wild nature of its character the episodic pacing is rather fitting too. Ensuring small ounces of chaos before the all out brawl consisting of (according to the film) over one hundred students.

Takashi Miike demonstrates a masterful understanding of the aesthetic required to perfectly adapt it chaotic material. He’s straightforward with the delivery of his story while visually amps up the look that perfectly suits it. Miike introduces a leather jacket mentality to the costuming that helps the actors to triumphantly peacock around, showing off their outlandish hairstyles and detailed costuming, generating attitudes and levels of threat without a line of dialogue needed to be uttered. The school building and other sets exemplifies the chaos with its several graffiti paintings around it dirty, clutter, and decaying environments going along with the mood. Switching between brightly lit locations when things are at an ease or comedic and becomes darker whenever a serious fight ensues. Standing in strong contrast is the humor, of course, which is handled by the characters in a dead-pan way. At times the talking can be quite strong and crude, at others we are presented with human bowling pins that Tamao just kicks away with a giant ball in best manga manner when he has nothing else to do. The fight scenes are a technical highlight for Miike who uses slow and fast motion techniques to stylize fights. He then uses bone breaking sound effects to get across the impact while with his camera he connects the throw of the punch. Every fight scene always looks clean with the choreography being nicely performed. Even if the fight scenes aren’t intricate beyond some basic back and forth punching and kicking they are large in scale. Editing adds to the episodic feel of the film that sometime goes back and forth between unrelated scenes. The most prominent one being in the climax which cuts between the big brawl, a hospital operation, and a musical performance. The soundtrack switches between fun, easy listening J-Pop to punk-rock soundtrack does its share to make the testosterone getting hammered through the viewer’s veins.

The acting in the film is superb all around while the physical appearance of the actors is questionable. They all deliver good performances, but for a film about teenagers most of them look their more in their late twenties high school students. Shun Oguri and Takayuki Yamada get the most screen time as the leaders of opposing factions. Takayuki Yamada is more lay back and cocky with his appearance painting him deceptively different than from what he actually is. Yamada appearance adds to his aura of being the seemingly invincible tough guy when he’s beating up several teenagers like it is a mundane activity. Shun Oguri is his exact opposite appropriately coming across as a wannabe tough guy. His spiky hair and punk-rock clothing hide an emotional demeanor with no confident. Oguri gets more opportunity to show more varied emotions for those he care for. Ken Ichi Endo is the last actor who actor gets an equal presence with the leading actors. Spending most of his scenes playing off Shun Oguri. As Oguri legitimately becomes more tough, Endo becomes more human with his transformation. Supporting cast are also good making the characters feel real with their closing plot threads ending satisfactory. Actresses do fine in their role even if they serve nothing more than plot convenience. Meisa Kuroki is the only one of the few actresses that receive a fair amount of screen time, but is not given much to do from token damsel in distress.

Crows: Episode Zero is over the top, loud, contains great fights with a large scope, and benefits from Miike well defined direction. Miike gives artistic value to a loud, over the top, and violent film that otherwise would not have had them. While the story isn’t on par with Takashi Miike masterful execution and great acting. It great qualities turns the prosperous story of “Crows: Episode Zero” to an enjoyably loud, straightforward, and violent film succeeding in its goal of delivery pure entertainment.

7/10

Cinema-Maniac: Ace Attorney (2012) Review

Capcom’s “Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney” video game franchise has a small, but devoted fan base. The game themselves are known for being strong adventure games, having great presentation, music, and dialog, while at the same time criticized for being too linear, lacking replayability, and little in the way of innovation with each installments. What makes this adaptation questionable is this being director Takashi Miike second video game film adaption. His first was “Yakuza: Like A Dragon” which as a fan of the Sega franchise nailed the look, but failed in the story department. For Ace Attorney, Miike learns from some of his past mistakes to craft a decent film that can appeal to both fans of the video game franchise and the uninitiated.

Ace Attorney plot follows rookie Defendant Phoenix Wright, as he tackles a series of cases that slowly unfurl to reveal a twisted plot that stretches back several years ago. One thing that translates to the big screen successfully are it court cases and mysteries. As the further it moves along the more plot thickens while keeping you guessing. Throwing you off with twists and short usage of light supernatural elements. In the opening, we see a women being possessed and get introduced to a character be possessed by ghosts for a job profession whose only in used whenever it plot needs a push. Court trials are always high in creativity. Without being set into the real world trials are depicted like large sport events with a highly reactive crowd, CRT monitors that show evidence with holograms, and the varied personality of the witnesses. These trails session bring to center all the evidence gathered for a battle of wits between attorneys that goes back and forth in whose favor the case is in. Having five court cases these kind of scenes supply the film finest moments of writing even if some odd elements are in play. The weakest area is characterization being slim. Some backstory is given on why Phoenix Wright became an attorney and the relation between some of his friends. However, such moments become buried as the film thickens the mystery and court cases it forgets about its characters. They are likable characters, but not won’t leave as much of an impression as the court cases and mysteries do.

Takashi Miike is very faithful to the visuals of the game while making necessary changes. This is the very reason for one of the film’s most obvious additions, the holographic evidence windows. Ostensibly made to emulate the game’s court record, they do far more by creating a way to make even the most mundane piece of evidence exciting and engaging. They also serve to set the time period, with comically large CRT monitors being used in flashbacks. Everything from the game is captured from the clothing, the locations, down to the varied hairstyles. The distinguishing hairdos get embellished right out of the realm of the possible, and are even used for some of the best jokes. But despite the spoofy approach the drama surrounding these characters still gets treated with a lot of respect, and the film retains a lot of heart because of that. Hiroki Narimiya gives a terrific comedic performance underneath the awesomely aerodynamic haircut. He creates a great contrast between a look that’s supposed to evoke the slick, confident attorney and the knowledge that he is in way over his head. Akiyoshi Naako is a good foil as Wright’s junk-dealer friend Larry Butz, while Takumi Saito plays Phoenix’s opposite number as an ideal combination of smugness and dedication. There are a lot of other great little supporting turns, too, from Mirei Kiritani’s charming Maya to Mitsuki Tanimura’s brash Lotta Hart and Ryo Ishibashi’s intimidating Von Karma. Music wasn’t one of traits that translated into the adaptation. Granted they adds a lot in making courts trails far more exciting than most films do, but aren’t as memorable for most tracks go for being loud over having a building rhythm.

Ace Attorney translates the video game series onto the big screen emulating the appeal of the series. Not only does it closely resemble the game series visuals, but also written in a way that will satisfy fans of the game and is accessible for newcomers. It’s a step forward for video adaptations that shows respect to both the material and its fan base without alienating its audience.

7/10

Cinema-Maniac: Koroshiya 1 (Ichi the Killer) (2001) Movie Review

Ichi the Killer is a live adaptation of the seinen manga (a subset of manga that is generally targeted at a 15-24 year old male audience) which I haven’t read. This film (like the cannibal genre) came to my attention through extensive reading on controversial films. Capturing my attention for being known to be heavily edited in several countries because of its depiction of violence. The controversy warrant towards “Ichi the Killer” is debatable given the whole film is comically over the top, but is an interesting odd film even if it is a mess.

Ichi the Killer is about sadomasochistic yakuza enforcer Kakihara searching for his missing boss when he comes across Ichi, a repressed and psychotic killer who may be able to inflict levels of pain that Kakihara has only dreamed of. The general idea plot is easy to track, but the pieces in between are told awkwardly. Pacing is not this film best friend simultaneously providing long scenes that move the plot and poorly establishes a large cast of characters and their background. While the main character of Kakihara and Ichi have a bizarrely interesting personality secondary characters leave plenty to be desire when the only two interesting character aren’t on screen. With the exception of one secondary characters bridging the plot most of them present something and then disappear leaving viewer interpretation to fill the blank. Given the nature of the film to be comical the acts of the yakuza and the anti-hero might not end up being a laughing matter to some. Instead of playing things for laugh in self awareness it play things over the top. One of those of moments being the anti-hero killing a rapist, leading to a misunderstanding in which he tells the woman he just saved to beat her up instead of her husband, and ending in a bloody result. Dark comedy is tricky to pull off and in this there are situations in which a dark moment can easily be mistaken for crucial drama. Where it suffers most is the climax which overstays its welcome. While narratively interesting it’s not strong enough to support itself making the final stretch of the film hard to sit through. Here’s a story whose tone, humor, and commentary no less provide a series of good and bad feelings that makes the journey interesting to see unfold.

Takashi Miike direction is comparable to Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers”. The beginning of “Ichi the Killer” employs a lot of extended cinematographic techniques in rapid succession ala Oliver Stone–different film speeds, stocks, tinting and processing methods, and so on. While these are interesting, Miike forgets about them quickly as he works his way into the story. They pop up occasionally later in the film, as do a couple shots in the vein of Dario Argento, such as a tracking shot through someone’s ear. Both also aimed to view violence in a sophisticated way; however, whereas “Natural Born Killers” intentions were clear in its discussion of glamorize and commercialism of violence “Ichi the Killer” is the confused little brother unsure on how make his statement. Miike establishes scenes with stoic emotions. For example, in the beginning of the film Ichi sees a woman getting rape and does nothing about it. Similar scenes are done throughout the film that demand the viewer to input their interpretation of the scene. Interpretations and reaction will differ, but the substance to work on by itself is not evident. Asking the audience to fill in too much giving the film an artificial feel to it. Not everything feels like it belongs for every gory scene there will an out of nowhere comedy that challenges what the last scene was attempting to do. Style and narrative is cohesive, but not so much the director intention. Grabbing you when it attempts to say something, but gives up half way through on saying anything at all. Making the film aim inconsistent in whether or not its wants a position in its own purpose.

Tadanobu Asano is brilliant as Kakihara. His performance is charismatic and terrifying, he does a great job of making the role his own. Nao Omori plays Ichi perfectly. Tormented, childish, and merciless all in one scene is a sight to watch. Balancing comedy and drama transitioning smoothly in between tone despite the script failing to do the same. Alien Sun is is good in the way she speaks more than one language in an almost random fashion adding further mystery to this film. Shinya Tsukamoto is also very good as Jijii. His character is unravelled throughout the film and Tsukamoto is very convincing in his portrayal of what turns out to be a very complex character. Gore hounds will be impressed with the practical effects with the gore. There’s a scene early in the film in which Kakihara cuts off his tongue in one shot and another scene when a criminal is hanging on fish hooks while being tortured. Sadly most of the gore appears spontaneously exiting the film quickly, though when there is gore it never fails to deliver a memorable moment.

Ichi the Killer is bizarre, interesting, contains spontaneous gore, and a mess of a film that’s hard to look away from. There’s so many things wrong about enjoying a dark comedy in which people’s death are played for laughs in a stoic direction. Yet there’s hardly many films like it taking an wholly unique to its material that makes it standout. One thing is for certain while the director emotions aren’t clear yours will be on a film that’s rarely like many other.

7/10

Cinema-Maniac: 13 Assassins (2011) Review

13 Assassins is a truly epic movie and one of the best samurai movie ever made that can easily be compared to the classic Seven Samurai in terms of story, direction, and greatness.

The basic plot is a group of assassins come together for a suicide mission to kill an evil lord. I found the story to be both involving and intense as we’re quickly introduced to our heroes and learned about their them. I will say on story alone it does a spectacular job of giving us a brutal and heartless villain, our heroes and there motivations, and a sense of realism from the story. It’s well pace to, I thought it would be a disaster to balance a 40 something final battle sequence, but somehow it has enough story before the epic battle start and ends that were left satisfy with the story.

Now on to what must have been one of the greatest epic battle i’ve ever seen captured on camera, there’s a body-count of over 150 and it’s entertaining to watch. The battle of course is 40 something minute and you would expect for the action to get tiring, except it doesn’t. The story gave us our characters, add emotional weight to them, and somehow it made the epic battle that much more intense and epic. It’s Asia cinema at it finest when comes to capturing something like this. The final shot before it fades to black will leave you with an impression on how truly bloody, epic the battle was and you’ll realize what you just saw is one of the best Samurai movie ever made.

13 Assassins is a great movie I would personally recommend to any movie lover. 13 Assassins is a movie that will give you a incredible and memorable experience.

10/10