10 December 2012

JFF16 - Bunny Drop

うさぎドロップ Sabu (Hiroyuki Tanaka), 2011

As I wrote before, this year’s Japanese Film Festival program boasted an abundance of tear-jerking dramas and love stories. During volunteer shifts I had to opportunity to test the limits of my endurance with several of these films, but Bunny Drop was one I actively went after (as did many: it sold out), for no other reason than it stars Japan’s most famous child actress Mana Ashida. The unbelievably adorable Mana-Chan was all over Japanese TV when I was there this time last year, singing, dancing and charming everyone on variety shows and New Year’s specials. Her acting resume continues to snowball, both on TV and in film, and I was surprised to learn, she actually is a pretty amazing actress.

Adhering to the Japanese Film Industry’s now unshakeable Manga-Anime-Live Action sequence of adaptation, Bunny Drop is about a family who discovers that their recently deceased Grandfather had a six year old daughter that none of them knew about. How they failed to notice this (for six years, at that!) is either a testament to Mana-Chan’s hide-and-seek skills, or more likely, a damning comment on how we should all visit our grandparents more often. Anyway, with the six year-old Rin now fatherless and the mother seemingly out of the picture, thirty year-old, single office worker Daikichi, much to his family’s shock, volunteers somewhat naïvely, to raise his six year-old Aunty.

It’s a pretty conventional story, filled with coming-of-age/suddenly-a-parent/odd-couple plot devices and clichés, but I thought the film was a satisfying little one, thanks mostly due to the main actors, Mana Ashida and Kenichi Matsuyama. They work together very well, but it’s Mana-Chan who steals the show. Her performance, growing from quiet, shy orphan to bright and lively youngster is a strong and quite believable one, which for me, was never too sickly sweet (although I’m sure some would argue against that). The film was however, surprisingly free of conflict. It feels very “Safe” the whole time. It’s made clear that Daikichi makes sacrifices at work, but these don’t seem to affect him negatively at all. In fact, giving up his desk job to work in the shipping warehouse results in him making friends who are more fun and reliable than the suits upstairs. Rin has trouble making friends at kindergarten, but it’s almost an annoying inclusion, as we know that no-one could resist that face for long. And if that wasn’t enough, Daikichi even manages to get reasonably cosy with a young model love interest, without even trying! It’s almost like this movie comes equipped with a free safety net. Sub plots that would normally carry huge weight, including a visit from a Child Welfare worker and the tracking down of Rin’s biological mother are dealt with quickly and without mess, and surprisingly even without tears. The underdone nature of such sub-plots results in an exceedingly linear film with very few peaks and troughs. Rin and Daikichi’s relationship is one of unnaturally constant understanding, with little to no scolding, discipline or even “I’m never speaking to you again!” or “You’re not my real father!” moments, which could easily be expected in this type of film.

While this might all sound like huge criticism, I never actually found myself bored while watching the film. It’s definitely not perfect, it’s not particularly original, and it won’t change your life, but it’s just an easy, nice, heart-warming story. And it is for these reasons which I’m sure just as many people will hate it as those who love it. Maybe I’m just star struck by the pint-sized Mana-Chan, whose screen presence is undeniable, but I still enjoyed this movie and I don’t care who knows it.

6 December 2012

JFF16 - Rurouni Kenshin

るろうに剣心 Keishi Otomo, 2012

Rurouni Kenshin is without a doubt, THE blockbuster of JFF16. The first screening in Sydney quickly sold out, with a second announced to meet demand. And wouldn’t you know it, the exact same thing happened in Melbourne. There is some serious buzz around this movie, most likely a combination of the fact that it was a huge smash hit in Japan and is also an adaptation of the Manga and Anime series. As usual, I had never read, seen or in this case even heard of the source material. So I went along to watch it just to see what all the fuss was about… And I’ve gotta say I have no problem whatsoever in dumping this one in the “Big, Boring Blockbuster” category, along with other 2012 entries The Dark Knight Rises and The Hunger Games (that’s right, come get me).

Himura Kenshin (Takeru Sato) is an assassin of legendary skill who leaves behind his violent ways upon the advent of Japan’s Meiji Era. Wandering the land as an itinerant samurai, Kenshin offers protection to Kaoru Kamiya (Emi Takei, who we last saw in Takashi Miike’s For Love’s Sake), a young girl whose Swordfighting Dojo is being threatened by a bunch of local bullies. Other characters then start turning up, including Megumi Takani (Yu Aoi) who has managed to escape evil villain Kanryu Takeda’s clutches and opium manufacturing operations. The underdeveloped and uninteresting characters come thick and fast; with Kenshin the quiet, softly spoken hero at the centre. I had to look up their names again, because they really weren’t interesting enough to remember. The main story however, is centred on Kenshin, who is haunted by the violence of his past, in the form of a big violent bad guy who is out to kill him for some reason.

Maybe if I had read the Manga or seen the Anime, I would understand the story better, or appreciate some of the inclusions of characters that otherwise felt completely unnecessary. But if this adaptation can’t stand on its own merit, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s a failure. Two or three characters in the supporting cast offered a few desperately needed laughs, and even received an uproarious applause from the sold out crowd, but I found the acting to be completely bland across the board. Takeru Sato was clearly cast for his good looks, as close ups of his handsome yet emotionless face and impossibly perfect skin are frequent. I found him completely unbelievable as a samurai, and he seemed to wander through the film dazed and confused, like he’d walked onto the wrong set. Teruyuki Kagawa as the cigar-smoking criminal mastermind is agonizingly bad, letting his lower jaw carry him through his scenes, and pretty much everyone else isn’t given enough screen time to actually do anything, thus resulting in a cast of pretty faces and not much else, in a film that takes itself way too seriously.

The fight scenes also failed to deliver for me. Some of the jumping and spinning around in was fun, particularly in the scene with Kenshin and the swaggering Street Fighter, but frenzied camerawork ensured that I tuned out almost completely until the fight ended. Although I quite enjoyed some of the dark, more modern music that underscores the action scenes, the swordplay would have been much more effective had the camera simply stayed in one place. The storming of the villainous estate in the film’s final act was the most successful part of the film, due to being one of pure spectacle. Like a classic kung-fu film or video-game, Kenshin and co’s progression through each room and villain, until they finally reach the big boss at the end, was a reasonably exciting ending to a film that is otherwise constantly flat-lining.

I don’t have much else to say. What you’ve got here is just a classic case of shiny but lifeless blockbuster. Of course the huge budget ensures that the locations, sets, costumes etc. are all perfect, but you can’t hide a shit movie behind that. I really was quite bored by this film. It didn’t make me want to read the Manga or watch the Anime, and there are plenty of “Lone Samurai” films out there with much more interesting characters, more heart and better action. Maybe if the film had spent less time trying to squeeze in all the characters I’m assuming have big fan bases thanks to the Manga, they could have created a film more accessible to causal viewers. But of course, this film’s success will no doubt ensure we see a plethora of equally dull sequels. Unless you’re a fan of the original stories, I wouldn’t bother with this one.

5 December 2012

JFF16 - Tenchi: The Samurai Astronomer

天地明察 Yojiro Takita, 2012 

When I first looked over this year’s film festival program, one film jumped out at me before any of the others. Tenchi: The Samurai Astronomer. The reason being that it is Yojiro Takita’s latest film. Takita directed the hugely popular and successful 2008 film Departures, which ended up winning the Academy award for best Foreign Film. It’s a brilliant movie, and one that has become something of a fail-safe recommendation for me. Everyone I know who has seen it enjoyed it, thanks in part to its combination of universal themes as well as its insight into less-seen aspects of traditional Japanese culture. After such a runaway hit, I was very interested to see how Takita’s next film would fare.

The film is set in 17th century Japan, during the country’s period of self imposed isolation from the world. This relatively peaceful time means that our hero Yasui Santetsu (The titular “Tenchi”, a name by which he is never referred…confusing) is a samurai in name only. Santetsu prefers to spend his time solving puzzles; studying mathematics and playing Go (think Japanese Chess). His mathematical prowess sees him selected by local Shoguns/retainers/other political types (I’m clearly not an expert on Japanese feudal hierarchies) to help reform the calendar, which despite being in use for over eight hundred years, has gradually revealed discrepancies in its predictions of lunar cycles.

Santetsu is not without his detractors however; as smug political bigwigs in Kyoto make it their business to stifle Santetsu’s efforts, because challenging the emperor and his decisions is just not on. As far as I can tell, the film is based on a true story, and it’s quite interesting seeing a more scientific and political side of feudal Japan. However the peaceful era results in a film that is just a little bit too cute. Smiling and sighing is an annoying mainstay throughout, and the vast majority of the characters are polite, hardworking noblemen. Very few swords are drawn here. I realised not long after the film started that I had seen main actor Junichi Okada playing a very similar not-quite-samurai role in Hana Yori Mo Naho, an almost unbearably boring film by the otherwise proficient Hirokazu Koreeda. Okada has a bit more to do here, but I fear his typecasting may have already begun.

Highlights of a large supporting cast were prolific, veteran actors Takashi Sasano and Ittoku Kishibe. Their roles as mentors to Santetsu on his first expedition to chart the stars were for me, the most memorable of the entire film, capturing a real camaraderie of old mates out on a camping trip, bantering along while ensuring their job gets done. This section of the film is shot on some of the most amazing locations I’ve ever seen in a film; an untouched, rural Japan that will take your breath away. The “boys on a mission” style of the film is maintained quite well, with developments and discoveries concerning the mysteries of the calendar often quite exciting. Takita’s use of montage for these scenes is also brilliant. Simple, classic Hollywood style montage- the kind you don’t see very often anymore, is suddenly new and exciting again when applied to an obscure chapter of history and accompanied by Joe Hisaishi’s score, which is nice, and as usual, effective, but just sounds exactly like Joe Hisaishi (someone buy this guy a synth or something).

In between these effective “business” moments, there is unfortunately quite a bit of dead time. My aforementioned favourite characters didn’t make a further appearance in the film’s two and a half our run-time, and quite a few of the supporting actors felt unnecessary. Aoi Miyazaki is fine as the token female in what certainly is a Man’s world, giving a good performance as Santetsu’s devoted partner and love interest. But I think many small subplots could have been removed in order to tighten this picture up. The political oppression from Kyoto never really feels like a threat (thanks in part to their outlandish yet historically accurate makeup), and the resolution of the film’s final scene can be seen coming a mile off. Santetsu is just too nice a character in a representation of the past just that bit too rose-coloured, for us to believe that anything truly bad will happen to him. I was glad however, that even though the film was quite long, it at least ended where it should have, rather than churning out epilogue after epilogue as is so common in historical films.

It’s an interesting story, and a Takita remains a strong director, but unlike Departures, this is the kind of movie you’ll only need to watch once. Some melodramatic moments will make you wince, and while glimpses of beautiful humanness are achieved, Tenchi: the Samurai Astronomer doesn’t reach the emotional heights or life affirming beauty of Departures. Which is fine really, as it’s a completely different style of movie, but I daresay Tenchi won’t receive a general release here due to his more limited appeal.

3 December 2012

JFF16 - AKB48: The Show Must Go On

少女たちは傷つきながら、夢を見る Eiki Takahashi, 2012

I’ll be honest. This was the film I was looking forward to the most; the documentary of the unbelievably popular J-pop girl group AKB48. But let’s get one thing straight first; I am most definitely not a fan of this music. The idea of 48 young girls dancing around in skimpy schoolgirl outfits squeaking like Anime characters isn’t really something that appeals to me. But it’s undeniable, the group is a stroke of marketing genius, and has become a worldwide phenomenon. I was hoping this documentary would shed some light on the inner workings of the group, to see beyond the “let’s dance around in our underwear” music videos and to maybe better understand the appeal of this musical monstrosity.

(Please note, while the film does contain many talking heads and insights into individual members of the group, I will be referring to very few, if any at all, by name. Purely for the fact that there are just too many of them and I can’t keep up.)

The film opens with a recounting of the March 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami disaster. Concerts were cancelled as a result, and trips out to affected areas to perform for locals were scheduled. Various members of the group speak about their feelings at the time and how they wanted to do something to help, while footage of the girls on buses captures their shocked expressions at the destruction around them. At first I was worried that the whole film would be centred around these young idols meeting affected locals, weeping and marvelling at their unshakeable perseverance in the face of adversity, but these visits and small charity concerts are only one part of the documentary, and I was quite glad it avoided descending into what could have easily become a skewed perspective of a national tragedy. Although I did scoff at the some of the girls’ sentiments, there is no denying the faces of their fans, many of them little kids, singing along in the rain in front of the makeshift concert stages.

I found the inclusion of these charity drive scenes to be a bit problematic. Sure, such a popular group is obviously going to be a huge morale boost, but to me it just seemed a bit exploitative, like it was more for their own publicity… But anyway, let’s not get into politics. After the first charity scene, we started getting to the good stuff.

Ok. So from what I understand (which is very little), there are actually way more than 48 members. All the girls are split into different groups, and each group has its own team captain. When the time comes around to record a new single and music video, the 48 girls are decided on by the fans, who vote for their favourites. The girls attempt to increase their popularity with fans by appearing in magazines, landing roles in TV series, and appearing on talk shows, among other things. Ultimately, one girl will become the “centre girl”, achieving the ultimate popularity, while other rises and falls in rank throughout are commonplace. If this all sounds like some sick hierarchical meat market thinly veiled with musical pretence, that’s because it is. The “election” is held in a massive stadium, with a booming crowd carrying on like spectators in a Roman coliseum awaiting first blood. As the results are announced, the girls take to the stage to accept their trophies. This bizarre atmosphere quickly got even freakier when one girl, so overwhelmed at having been chosen, began hyperventilating on stage. I could only laugh in shock/disbelief. It was just all so serious that it became scary. I quickly realised that this was but the tip of the iceberg. Nearly every girl who was announced broke down and began crying their eyes out, while acceptance speeches with sentiments like “Even though I was selected I’m sure there are many people who hate me. But please don’t ever stop loving AKB” kicked the scene into another level of terrifying. Another brilliant election scene is included later in the film, again taking the form of a ridiculously overblown spectacle: A stadium game of “Rock, paper, scissors”. Sure, I mean, let’s face it, apart from maybe an Iron Chef cook off, this has got to be the fairest way to decide such important matters.

But we were just getting started. A large middle section of the documentary is devoted to the group’s sold out concerts at Saitama’s Seibu Dome. After the first concert is described as one that “Totally sucked” both by team captains and the group’s illustrious director/producer Yasushi Akimoto (a figure who is interestingly, largely absent from the film), the girls take it upon themselves to work harder and put on the best show they can for their fans.

However, they nearly kill themselves in the process.

One girl describes backstage as “war… pandemonium”. She’s not kidding. Hyperventilation is back with a vengeance, crew members console and apply ice packs, girls start dropping like flies, collapsing from exhaustion or heat, wander around backstage, delirious and speaking incoherently, clutching their oxygen cans for fear of ceasing to breathe altogether. Centre girl Atsuko Maeda is carried away on a stretcher, putting the show’s final number in jeopardy. With 20 seconds til stage time, she makes it out, but her exhaustion is obvious. It was like being unable to look away from a car crash. The hard work these girls put in is astonishing to the point of being ridiculous, and you must keep reminding yourself that the average age is only 17.

The film covers a lot of ground, probably too much even. Less engaging side stories I haven’t mentioned include the formation of a new, smaller team, and the subsequent suspension of its captain (she broke the “No dating rule” tsk tsk.) and the arrival of a new member from the earthquake stricken area. The film is driven by interviews with many individual girls, which is great, as it helps to make such a massive group seem a lot less faceless. Their thoughts on a wide range of issues including popularity and success range from hilariously naïve to surprisingly insightful. I really enjoyed seeing a certain couple of girls who admitted that they would never become the most popular, but were perfectly content to be extras in video clips, observing the higher ranked girls from afar, while hanging out together just having fun on the set.

There were many moments in this film where I thought, this can’t be real. It was both fascinating and terrifying at the same time, with many freaky “only in Japan” moments. Focusing on the girls as individuals was the best choice for director Takahashi, and I was glad there were no songs performed in their entirety (go buy a CD if you want that). In the end, the film is a fascinatingly compelling documentary, equal parts fairy-tale, musical, comedy and horror, with an almost non stop flow of tears. Everything I had hoped for and more.

Can’t wait for the hilariously titled 2013 follow up: “No Flower without Rain”

"Show Must Go On" Trailer. No subtitles, but you hardly need them.

1 December 2012

JFF16 - Love Strikes!

モテキ Hitoshi Ōne, 2011
First film up, chosen purely for the reason that I wasn’t rostered on to do any volunteering this night. Love Strikes! is an adaptation of a Manga and TV drama series (surprise, surprise) about thirty year old Yukiyo Fujimoto. A typical slacker/loser/man-child who has zero skills with the ladies. The film follows the commencement of his “Moteki” a Japanese slang word that refers to a time in one’s life in which you receive a surge of interest from the opposite sex. The awkward and self loathing Fujimoto finds himself suddenly surrounded by women and does his best to navigate his way through this terrifying new chapter of his life.

Fujimoto’s pop-philosophical voice over tirade gets the film off to a strong start. His musings on famous quotes about love, as well as himself and his failings are fast, funny and intelligent, and are a welcome element through the film. It is his bouncing between rapid-fire antics and depressed moping that drives this film, and actor Mirai Moriyama has really got his pathetic self-deprecation down pat. Fujimoto is at his most interesting when he is thrown into awkward situations, whether it be with his vast array of work-mates (a great supporting cast) or awkwardly cracking onto a girl, it was great fun to see whether he would sink or swim. Scratch that, it was great fun to see him sink. Often.

Sex comedy tropes including drunken nights out, misunderstood text messages, sleazy bosses and awkward sexual encounters give this film some genuinely funny Judd Apatow style moments, while also remaining grounded in a very contemporary setting. Social media, particularly Twitter is the communication method of choice and source of many a joke (“You have 34,000 tweets but only 3 followers??”), and characters frequent music festivals and work jobs writing for blogs and websites while managing their online identities. This representation of hip young things with minimal responsibility was something I haven’t seen a lot of in Japanese movies (J-Dramas aren’t my thing) and gave this film a certain freshness for me.

Given its youthful characters and modern setting, music also plays a big role in the film, just as it does in many American rom-com equivalent films like Reality Bites or even 500 Days of Summer (Yuck). Fujimoto’s favourite tracks are waiting on his iPhone to comfort him, the character of Rumiko frequents Karaoke alone, and I was pleasantly surprised at the inclusion of a full song and dance number by Perfume, the one J-Pop band that DOESN’T make me want to go Reservoir Dogs on my own ears. In fact, idol groups are critiqued in a hilarious scene where the rejected Fujimoto regains his confidence after listening to J-Pop girl bands on YouTube. Another character derides him for his ignorance, explaining that the sugary lyrics are written for the sole purpose to fool idiots like him into confessing their love. Little moments like this strengthen the script and really deliver on the laughs, but the most successful comedic device is the use of karaoke style lyrics superimposed onto the screen. An ordinary scene is transformed into one of those terrible slow motion video clips that accompany karaoke. This is an ingenious gag that is used to great effect on more than one occasion.

Unfortunately, all the things that make this film so funny and enjoyable are almost completely absent from the second half of the film. You can almost pinpoint the exact moment when well written comedy is replaced for clichéd melodrama and laughs are replaced with tears. It was like watching a completely different film! Characters I had been enjoying became repulsive, and a film I had been regularly laughing out loud in became a dreadful chore. By the end, I really didn’t care who ended up with who or how they got there. Some might argue that it was just logical character development, but for me it was more like character regression. The karaoke gag doesn’t make a comeback, fun pop culture references are discarded, and the film meanders around in circles until it finally reaches its very unsatisfying and predictable conclusion. I was quite dumbfounded actually. Where did the tongue-in-cheek song and dance scenes go? Was the first half the funny half; the second half the serious?

It’s a shame that a film that could be so fun could so quickly become so painful. Director Hitoshi Ōne surely faced challenges cramming an extended manga/drama story into a shortened form, but by cramming all the good stuff in the first half, he just dropped the ball. I ended up having trouble sitting through it, wishing the overly long two hour run time would hurry up and wrap already. There is lots of stuff to like here, but it’s unevenness makes this quite a mixed bag, unfortunately.

16th Japanese Film Fest!

It certainly has been a long time between posts, something that will no doubt be replaced with a fast and furious barrage of writing thanks to the 16th Japanese Film Festival, which started its Melbourne leg last Thursday. What would ordinarily mean lots of movie watching (a record 40+ films are being screened this year) will be augmented by the fact that I am volunteering, and as such, will be watching/sitting through a whole bunch of films I wouldn’t ordinarily go out of my way to see.

A festival as big as this is obviously aiming to reach the widest possible audience, so the program is focused mainly on box office successes and crowd pleasers from the past year. Unfortunately for me this means that horror movies and bizarre cult oddities have been more or less abandoned in favour of dramas, weepies and chick flicks.

What has me incredibly excited however is the Melbourne exclusive retrospective of 50s/60s director Yasuzo Masamura. Six of his films will be screening FOR FREE at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Federation Square, and is going to be a great opportunity to check out some stuff that may otherwise be unavailable outside of Japan.

Opening night kicked off with a number of speeches and a pretty much sold out screening of Thermae Romae (テルマエ・ロマエ), which was actually much more enjoyable than I was expecting. Hiroshi Abe’s comedic performance had some brilliant moments in this far fetched, time travel tale of Ancient Rome/Modern Japan crossover. Throw in some hilarious use of opera, a self-aware sense of humour and the super cute Aya Ueto and you’ve got a filmic love letter to the power of the bathhouse- and a pretty spot on choice for an opening night screening.

I have my tickets booked for six or seven films, and have decided to only write about the ones I actually sit down and watch from start to finish, rather than simply sit in on as a volunteer, which will make it easier on me in that there will be less to write and will save me from voicing the many reasons why Until the Break of Dawn (ツナグ) was the biggest load of melodramatic claptrap I have seen in a long while.

So stay tuned for some thoughts and musings on a bunch of upcoming films; which at this stage are looking like they will range from comedy, drama, action, documentary and one film I’m hoping will deliver at least a little bit of some much needed horror!

And grab ticket info from http://www.japanesefilmfestival.net/

29 September 2012

Berserk: Egg of the King

ベルセルク覇王の卵 Toshiyuki Kubooka, 2012
ReelAnime 4/4

I was saving Berserk for last. Right off the bat, I had a gut feeling it would be the one I would enjoy the least. It just looked like a mindless medieval battle movie adapted from a mindless medieval battle manga/anime. It seems to me like Berserk has never really been as popular as it is in Japan, I had never really heard of it, except through the music of Susumu Hirasawa, who provided soundtracks for the anime series (his sounds are amazing and body of work staggering, check him out), and I rarely get into anime series anyway because they usually tend to drag on a bit for me. At least this Berserk movie would be bearable because they will condense it into film length and drop all the filler right?

The film is set an unspecified kingdom/land, but a blind man could see the medieval Europe inspiration. From the get go then, we have knights in shining armour on horseback, battling with swords - all the while yelling and carrying on in Japanese like it’s nobody's business. But this is no off putting anachronism; in fact, it’s kind of fascinatingly that this works. The question of believability never really enters into the equation and we are swept up into this bizarre east-meets-west alternate history. The hero of our tale is a swaggering warrior named Guts. I thought for a while that this was a joke, but no, his name is actually GUTS. He is an arrogant brawn over brains style fighter with a sword quite literally as long as he is tall (paging Dr. Freud…?). Guts appears to be working for some kind of clan/guild, but doesn’t really seem to have any strong allegiances. After his gratuitous display of power is spotted by some skilled warriors during a siege upon an enemy castle, Guts is ambushed, bested in battle and persuaded to join their crew. The leader of this group is called Griffin, a mysterious “dude looks like a lady” warrior with an equally mysterious egg necklace. It is from this McGuffin that our film takes its name and not much else.

I didn’t really understand just what all these warriors are actually doing. They are battling each other, but the reasons why are unclear. I thought maybe Griffin and his gang were a bunch of bandits, fighting the powers that be, but this theory was quickly dashed with a scene in which Griffin meets with the king and cracks onto his incredibly clichéd “I detest violence” princess daughter. From what I gather though, Griffin ropes Guts into his team so as to remove him as an obstacle from his quest to seize the throne. Over time, Guts is played by his friend, as he begins to learn of Griffin’s true nature. The film only runs for about an hour and twenty minutes, so just when the plot started not only thickening but taking some twists and turns, and I really found myself getting interested in the story, it was over! By that stage I was quite surprised at myself to think that I would have happily sat through another hour and a half of this blood and swords bonanza. Gutted. 

I think this fast and furious duration is what detracted from the film a little. It almost felt like it wasn’t intended for the cinema. The aforementioned Susumu Hirasawa only gets a few minutes of opening credits theme song, and the cheesy “tune in next time” style trailer add to make this film more of a glorified TV episode. Of course, the battle scenes won’t have the same effect on the small screen, but 80 minutes? At least give me a double bill! Some of the animation also didn’t work for me. The film makes extensive use of CGI animation, and it really sticks out like a sore thumb. Many of the figures clunk around the screen like bobble-headed polygons from a 90s computer game cut-scene. It also feels like the CGI director and the drawn-animation director went for a “you do one scene, I’ll do the next” approach. The difference between the two is striking, giving the film a completely uneven visual feel.  

I’ll be honest; the film contains a lot of macho-bullshit. Women are relegated to supporting roles (classic dark ages, I guess), there is plenty of buckets-of-blood gore and painfully contrived attempts at human emotion. All this is layered with a thick coating of swaggering badassery, thanks mainly to Guts. I wanted more of the lone female warrior whose name escapes me, (and I’m not referring to her jarringly awkward and wholly unnecessary nude scene) she was definitely the most interesting character, maybe we‘ll be seeing her later. The film takes itself quite seriously, like it’s trying to be an animated Game of Thrones or something. But then, maybe it is more self aware than I’m giving it credit for. I mean, Japanese voice actors pronouncing names like Charlotte and Julius is pretty hilarious. I would have liked to have seen a bit more mystical junk though. Dragons, spells, that sort of thing. There was only really one battle with an evil monster, and it was a great scene. I hope that director Toshiyuki Kubooka has more in store for the sequels.

As I said, by the end of Berserk, I really was quite involved in the story. I was not expecting this at all, thinking it would be just a silly exercise in violence aimed at teenage boys. Of course, that’s exactly what it is… but the cliff-hanger that ended this movie is killing me, and I genuinely want to know what happens next! Sure, it’s mindless entertainment, and the characters and their animation have their weak spots, but it’s surprisingly well written. If the giant Warner Brothers logo that preceded the film is anything to go by, we can probably expect to see the rest of these movies in the west. And of course, as Madman was responsible for bringing us ReelAnime, they will no doubt do their damndest to bring them to Australia.

And so ends a bloody ripper ReelAnime, 4 great little movies direct from Japan. Melbournites make sure you catch WolfChildren; its stay has been extended at Cinema Nova, (where I just may see it for a third time, it’s that good) and where From up on Poppy Hill will be rejoining it later in the year.