First Love (2019)

Young boxer Leo (Masataka Kubota) has just had some very bad news. He’s been told he has a tumour and it’s not operable. Whilst taking a walk, lost in thought, he bumps into a girl called Monica (Sakurako Kanishi), who is on the run. Together they get caught up in a shady drug deal gone awry, and must try to survive the night, all while dodging Yakuza, Triads and a dirty cop.

‘First Love’ is a mixed bag. It has flashes of the old Takashi Miike, but I felt that it was very sanitised compared to movies like ‘Ichi the Killer’, ‘Audition’ or ‘Gozu’. Chunks of the movie are slow, and I felt too much time was spent on Monica’s hallucinations, rather than the bag of drugs which was what was supposed to be moving the story forward.

For me the output of Miike of late has been hit and miss. ‘Blade of the Immortal’ was brilliant, where ‘Yakuza Apocalypse’ was a bit haphazard. At times this did feel like the old Miike, particularly in the final act, but it felt too little too late. Takashi Miike is one of the hardest working directors in Japan, but I feel his work is starting to become a case of quantity over quality. Not a film I’d rush to buy….probably rent it digitally first.

‘First Love’ is available digitally now, and will be released on Blu Ray on March 2nd 2020.

3/5

JM

The World of Kanako (2014)

  
Akikazu Fujishima (Kôji Yakusho) , an ex-cop, is contacted by his estranged wife to find their daughter Kanako (Nana Komatsu) who has gone missing. Akikazu agrees to help, believing that the return of his daughter can help repair the damage to his family. However the majority of Akikazu’s familial problems stem from his aggressive mental state. 

  
As Akikazu begins his investigation, he gets to know some of Kanako’s ‘friends’. They paint a completely different picture of the girl Akikazu thought he knew. It soon becomes apparent that Kanako was not the person he thought, and is the focus point for many people’s misery. The deeper Akikazu treads into the investigation, the more dangerous it becomes, leaving no chance of redemption for Akikazu. 

  
The opening credits were very 70’s, with a mixture of Saul Bass art and funky exploitation music.  This is a supremely dark movie however, and there is barely a ‘likeable’ character amongst the cast. All of them having some sort of problem in their lives and not leaving you many people to root for. That said, Yakusho is great as Akikazu, portraying a very Raymond Chandler-esque sort of character. A man with many faults of his own and desperate to get back a life he never really had to begin with. 

  
The violence, when it happens, is brutal and very harsh. There are scenes that some may not have the stomach for, but it’s done in a way that serves the story. All of the actors portray their respective characters brilliantly and you believe the story that is being told. It is a very good movie and one I recommend you see. 

4/5

JM

  

 

Black Rain (1989)

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God I love this movie! One of Ridley Scott’s most underrated movies in my opinion. Nick Conklin (Michael Douglas) is a cop in New York City who is under investigation from Internal Affairs for his part in a bust where drug money went missing. Nick and his partner Charlie Vincent (Andy Garcia) are in a cafe when some Japanese men enter and begin to hassle some mafia members. One of them, Sato (Yusaku Matsuda), steals a wooden box and kills the men. Nick and Charlie give pursuit to Sato and his men. Nick manages to catch up to Sato and over powers him.

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Nick is told that Sato is wanted in Tokyo and that he is to be brought back immediately. Nick tells his superiors that he wants to be the one to bring Sato back and that Charlie is to accompany him. Nick, Charlie and Sato reach Tokyo where they are met by a group of policemen who have been ordered to collect Sato. Nick and Charlie hand Sato over and begin to get off the plane. Another group of policemen show up and say they are there to collect Sato, Nick realises that he’s been duped and gives chase. After losing Sato, Nick tells the chief of the police in Tokyo that he wants to retrieve Sato. Nick is told that he is not a Japanese policeman and that it will be left to Masahiro (Ken Takakura), a detective in the Tokyo police force, to catch Sato.

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Not willing to accept to simply be an idle bystander, Nick teams up with Masa and they both work together to catch Sato. Also helping them is an American working girl in Japan called Joyce (Kate Capshaw). As the case goes on, things happen that cause it to be more personal to Nick, giving him a chance at redemption.

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I really do love this movie. Tokyo looks like such a brilliantly vibrant city, I would love to visit one day. Everybody is on top form. Michael Douglas is brilliant as Nick, Andy Garcia brings a level head as Charlie and Ken Takakura is fantastic as the honourable Masa. However Kate Capshaw feels wasted in her role as Joyce, not really contributing anything to the story that I felt was needed. Yusaku Matsuda is menacing as Sato, bringing a real intensity to the role. Sadly he was dying of cancer during the making of this movie. Definitely worth a watch if you dig 80’s action with a kick ass synthy score.

4/5

JM

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Zatoichi (2003)

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This film is up there in my top five, hell it may even be number one. Takeshi Kitano who created Takeshi’s Castle and who was a big TV comedy star, writes, directs and stars in this sublime movie. He plays Zatoichi the blind swordsman. He travels across the country posing as a masseuse, but is also an expert fighter. He shuffles along lulling would be bandits into a false sense of security, but can strike like a cobra when the occasion calls for it.

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Zatoichi comes across a town which is run by two warring gangs. He meets a load of different people all with their own problems and agendas, who need Zatoichi’s help. As he goes about helping the townsfolk he becomes the focus of a mysterious gang boss who hires a ronin to kill Zatoichi, not realising what Zatoichi is capable of. The characters in the movie are just brilliant. All have their own quirks and Takeshi Kitano manages to infuse the film with humour and warmth, all while keeping the tension bubbling till the final showdown. Zatoichi finds himself unwittingly causing problems because of his keen senses and apparent calm demeanour.

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The action in the movie is simply breathtaking. Many have moaned about the CGI blood in the movie but it honestly didn’t bother me. The way Zatoichi dispatches a group of bandits with ease really has to be seen to be believed. There is so much happening in the movie, be it the little musical beats that the workers in the field work to, or the banter inside the gambling den. It is a movie that can be enjoyed time and again.

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Every person I have showed the film to loves it. The final showdown is amazing and gets me giddy every time I see it, it’s just fantastic. To top it off there is a fantastic tap dancing sequence after the movie has ended. It has nothing to do with the story but it works so well, it really is just an astonishing feat in film making. You owe it to yourself to see it.

5/5

JM

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