‘Wolf’s Calling’ Review: The past is a weapon in Toshiaki Toyoda’s new short film

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By Michael B. Murphy

Featuring an impressive lineup of actors, traditional Japanese musical instruments, and elements of chanbara cinema, Wolf’s Calling is a captivating short film/music video hybrid about a gun, a girl and the radical act of remembering. 

In April of last year, director Toshiaki Toyoda (whose previous films include Blue Spring and 9 Souls) was arrested at his home on suspicion of possessing a firearm. Fortunately, the 51-year-old filmmaker was cleared of any wrongdoing and released from jail days later when investigators discovered his gun was actually a World War II-era family heirloom that no longer worked.

Promoted as Toyoda’s response to his arrest, the 17-minute short Wolf’s Calling is a contemplative and political tale about a girl reconnecting to her nation’s past after discovering a long-forgotten gun. It’s also a badass music video scored by the Japanese anti-modernist punk band Seppuku Pistols.

Warning: Spoilers Below

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‘Ghost in the Shell’ Review: Controversy and mediocrity haunt this hollow anime adapation

All style and no substance, Hollywood’s superfluous remake of a cerebral anime classic fails to quell valid concerns of whitewashing.

Created in 1989 by writer/artist Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell was a popular cyberpunk manga which has spawned countless media adaptations, ranging from video games, animated television series and feature-length films. Though the different incarnations of the Ghost in the Shell property have varied in tone and story, one constant has always remained – protagonist Major Motoko Kusanagi. Deadly as she is beautiful, this Japanese cyborg law enforcement agent who commands a counter cyberterrorism task force was ripe with big-budgeted Hollywood potential.

Well, in theory at least.

A live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell certainly had all the makings of being a critical and commercial success – myriad action sequences, timely philosophical themes, a visually arresting setting and a compelling ass-kicking female leading character. Instead, the 2017 Rupert Sander’s directed Ghost in the Shell serves as a sad – albeit pretty to look at – reminder of Hollywood’s disgraceful tradition of marginalizing Asians and Asian-Americans.

(Warning: Spoilers below)

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Takashi Miike to be honored with 2014 Maverick Director Award at Rome Film Festival

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Prolific Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike will be the recipient of the 2014 Maverick Director Award at the upcoming Rome Film Festival, event organizers announced today.

The Maverick Director Award, the festival’s website states, “is dedicated to filmmakers who have contributed to the invention of a new, original, and unconventional cinema.”

Miike was already schedule to appear at the festival, which runs from Oct. 16-25 in Rome, Italy, to world-premiere his latest film, As the Gods Will.

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‘Killers’ invade: Indonesian-Japanese co-produced film added to Japan CUTS 2014 lineup

Already diverse and eclectic, the 2014 Japan CUTS film festival in New York City (which begins July 10th through the 20th) has recently added the psychological-thriller Killers to its lineup.

Co-produced by Japanese film studio Nikkatsu and the Indonesian Guerilla Merah-Films, Killers follows the exploits of a Japanese serial killer named Nomura (played by Kazuki Kitamura) who uploads footage of his tortures and murders onto the internet. Nomura’s snuff films fascinate an Indonesian journalist named Bayu (played by Oka Antara), who in turn begins to kill and upload his murderous acts onto the internet as well. Nomura soon becomes aware of Bayu’s work, leading to a dark and twisted confrontation between both men.

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Japan CUTS 2014 unsheathes a lineup of cutting edge films

 

Photo courtesy of 2013 “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” film partners

Photo courtesy of 2013 Why Don’t You Play in Hell? film partners

Fans of Japanese film, clear your schedules for July 10-20 as you’ll undoubtedly want to attend the 8th annual Japan CUTS film festival held at the Japan Society in New York City.

For 10 days, the Japan Society will become a mecca for Japanese cinephiles as the Japan CUTS 2014 festival will screen 27 films from the Land of the Rising Sun – including works by such notable Japanese directors as Sion Sono, Takashi Miike, Katsuhito Ishii and Hideo Nakata.

Though often difficult to assemble, Programmer for Japan CUTS 2014 Joel Neville Anderson stressed the importance of having a diverse collection of films presented at the festival.

“Curating festivals of a national cinema is necessarily problematic, swinging between exhaustive cultural surveys or limited selections of titles with international arthouse appeal, between a lineup that is representative and one that is exceptional,” Anderson said in a press release issued by Japan Society.

Anderson said the “tactic” at Japan CUTS has always been to place a heavy emphasis on “diversity” in the films they curate.

“This is especially so this year,” he said.

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Film lineup for 16th annual Boston Underground Film Festival has been announced

Bacchus-statueThe fine folks at the Boston Underground Film Festival have announced the lineup for their 16th annual event (BUFF16) and fans of Asian underground cinema are in for several treats.

Japanese director Sion Sono, a Lost in the Miso favorite, will be having his 2013 film Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (Click the link to see the trailer!) screened at the event. Word has it that the film is less like his recent, more serious work (Himizu and The Land of Hope) and more akin to his audaciously over-the-top four hour epic Love Exposure. BUFF16 offers this synopsis of Why Don’t You Play in Hell?:

“A renegade film crew becomes embroiled with a yakuza clan feud in this bloody ode to 35mm cinema, the thirty-first feature film from Japan’s prolific provocateur auteur Sion Sono.”

Japanese cinema will also be represented at BUFF16 with the 1974 cult classic and Japanese exploitation film School of the Holy Beast. BUFF16 says of the film:

“A young nun seeks to uncover the dark secrets of the Sacred Heart Convent in this nunsploitation classic. School of the Holy Beast is as blasphemous and shocking as it is artistically stunning.” 

The writer of the violently schlocky Tokyo Gore Police, Maki Mizui, will have his directorial debut Kept screened at BUFF16.

The Japanese short film The Tale of Love Suicide, directed by Ken Hirata, will also be showing.

The Philippines also gets some BUFF16 love with EDSA XXXthe latest film by Filipino director Khavn. BUFF16 describes the film as:

“Nothing ever changes in the ever-changing Republic of Ek-Ek-Ek. The year is 2030. The place is a Filipino bizarro-future akin to Biff Tannen’s 1985 (but with more palm trees).”

These five films are clearly enough reason for any Boston-area fan of Asian cinema to attend this year’s Boston Underground Film Festival. I’ve personally attended the festival in the past and I can highly encourage anyone in the greater Boston area to support the great work being done by the people at BUFF.
BUFF16 starts Wednesday, March 26 and ends Sunday, March 30, and films are shown at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, MA.
I hope to see you there!

 

‘The Wind Rises’ Review: Miyazaki’s last film before retirement mostly soars

Photo courtesy of www.thewindrisesmovie.tumblr.com

Rating: PG-13

Length: 126 minutes

Director: Hayao Miyazaki 

Stars: 

 Jiro Horikoshi – Joseph Gordon-Levitt (voice)

Honjo – John Krasinki (voice)

Naoko Satomi – Emily Blunt (voice)

The animated film The Wind Rises is a monumental moment in world cinema, as it is not only legendary Japanese animated filmmaker Hayao Miyzaki at the top of his game, but also it being his last film before retirement. Interestingly, The Wind Rises is also his most provocative.

The film has caused a bit of controversy in Miyazaki’s native land as it is a fictionalized WWII-era biography of Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the aeronautical engineer who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane – an aircraft that would be used by the Japanese Imperial Navy to attack Pearl Harbor.

The Wind Rises, which harkens back to the sweeping Hollywood epics of yore, tells the tale of the starry-eyed Horikoshi, whose dreams of one day building elegant and beautiful airplanes come true – a reality that will inflict heartache upon not only himself but the world at large.

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Takashi Miike + Tom Hardy = ‘The Outsider’

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Oh wow…

Oh wow, indeed.

The magnificent English actor Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises, Bronson, Inception, The Warrior and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and controversial Japanese director Takashi Miike (Audition, The Bird People of China, Ichi the Killer, The Great Yokai War and 13 Assassins) are rumored to be teaming up for upcoming film The Outsider. 

Taking place in the aftermath of WWII, The Outsider tells the story of an American G.I. who, after becoming an American prisoner of war, later works his way up into the ranks of the Yakuza.

How can the prospect of such a film not give film enthusiasts goosebumps?

Based on an original story idea by John Linson (executive producer of Sons of Anarchy), The Outsider was scripted by Andrew Baldwin.

Why We Watch (Part 4) Conclusion – Let’s wrap up on what we learned with a little podcast

Above I’ve embedded a podcast where I discuss what I discovered when I asked my fellow film bloggers “why we watch” what we watch.

I want to thank the blogs http://www.genkinahito.wordpress.com and http://www.scumcinema.com for discussing their passion in global cinema with me and for telling me why they watch.

Why We Watch: A Lost in the Miso Exclusive (Part 2) – An interview with Genkinahito’s Jason M.

I begin my series of Why We Watch interviews with Jason M. from Genkinahito.

Jason, a blogger since 2009, tells of how he first get a taste for foreign films (spoiler: a heaping helping of Hong Kong Jackie Chan films and the diverse programming on UK television gave him the bug for global cinema) and what, in his opinion, are the best foreign film distribution companies at the moment. Jason also gives his opinion on the ethics of fan subtitled movies and whether he thinks his studying of the Japanese language has helped him understand Japanese films on a deeper level.

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