REVIEW: ドライブ・マイ・カー [Doraibu mai kâ] [Drive My Car] [2021]

Those who survive keep thinking about the dead. The film starts with Yûsuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and Oto Kafuku (Reika Kirishima) naked in bed, him half asleep and her relaying the latest lightning struck plot bouncing around her subconscious. It’s about a teenage girl who’s so infatuated with her crush that she breaks into his house when no one is there, taking small tokens amongst his possessions and leaving some of her own in the hopes that the transfer would somehow indelibly bond them. The next morning sees the couple in…

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REVIEW: Gûzen to sôzô [Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy] [2021]

Maybe it’s the loss of someone I believed was mine. Everyone lives through a series of choices. Some are buoyed by the happiness of having always chosen correctly (or at least the privilege of never having to wonder if the other choice would have provided greater happiness) and some weighed down by regret. There are other times too, however, that people may find themselves existing in a moment where happiness becomes inextricably linked to regret. Perhaps it’s only through pushing yourself to the brink of self-destruction that you finally realize…

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FANTASIA21 REVIEW: Sukutte goran [Love, Life and Goldfish] [2021]

It was uplifting to some extent. There are two types of people in this world. Those who find a ninety-minute romantic comedy musical with a ninety-second song serving as an intermission break twee and those who find it charming. Middle ground doesn’t exist in this equation and director Yukinori Makabe rightfully refuses to pretend otherwise. His film Sukutte goran [Love, Life and Goldfish] (adapted by Atsumi Tsuchi from Noriko Otani‘s manga of the same name) wears its idiosyncratic feel-good sentimentality on its sleeve to provide the dreamlike environment Makoto Kashiba…

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FANTASIA21 REVIEW: Droste no hate de bokura [Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes] [2021]

I don’t know why. The logistics behind Droste no hate de bokura [Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes] are mind-boggling to fathom since time-travel stories are often confusing enough to keep straight when they aren’t filmed as a one-shot. The Europe Kikaku theatrical troupe embracing that extra challenge is thus wild. Group director Makoto Ueda admits he wouldn’t have written the script that way if he didn’t already trust his actors and know they could handle the experiment. Not that having them at his disposal necessarily made his and director Junta…

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REVIEW: バトル・ロワイアル [Batoru rowaiaru] [Battle Royale] [2000]

It’s not my fault. The idea that a totalitarian government would target children as a means to subdue opposition wasn’t a far-fetched concept even before such YA-fare like The Hunger Games arrived over a decade later. You don’t have to look further than twentieth century wars wherein teens were drafted to serve as cannon fodder while the adults in charge sought to destroy the world. Transform draft dodgers during Vietnam into bratty fifteen-year-old punks rebelling against high school authority and you have your unwitting band of so-called “disrespectful counter-culture” types…

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REVIEW: アーヤと魔女 [Âya to majo] [Earwig and the Witch] [2020]

I shall give you the worms. Those familiar with Diana Wynne Jones‘ children’s book Âya to majo [Earwig and the Witch] will be surprised to find Gorô Miyazaki‘s cinematic adaptation beginning with a chase scene pitting a red-headed woman on a motorcycle against a yellow Citroën on her tail. They weave in and out of traffic with impossible speed and maneuvering before we see the first bit of magic used to create some extra distance. That’s when a cut occurs for us to watch the unknown redhead walk through a…

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REVIEW: ウィーアーリトルゾンビーズ [Wî â Ritoru Zonbîzu] [We Are Little Zombies] [2019]

Reality is too stupid to cry over. Hikari (Keita Ninomiya) has always been a “single player.” That’s what happens when you’re raised in an affluent household by parents who substitute gifts for affection thanks to them never being around. Videogames became the boy’s only outlet. They gave him comfort when bullies at school put him in lockers and when he found himself microwaving yet another vacuum-sealed bag of spaghetti-for-one within his perpetually empty apartment. They’re also the medium by which he interprets reality’s framework for everything that happens to him…

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REVIEW: Family Romance, LLC [2020]

We can only do what we really are. Leave it to the Japanese to create an industry where you hire actors to fill-in for every occasion. The father of the bride can’t attend the wedding due to illness? Hire a performer to take his place so the absence isn’t noticeable (no sitcom antics a la headsets via “Arrested Development” or motorized computers via “The Big Bang Theory”). Unable to relive the excitement you felt upon winning the lottery? Pay someone to randomly surprise you as though you’ve won again to…

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REVIEW: プロメア [Puromea] [Promare] [2019]

Oil and water as one! Its mechs vs. monsters storyline starts pretty straightforward. The latter are born from a mysterious mutation that gives a select percentage of the Earth’s population combustion powers that they simply couldn’t control at the time of the “Great World Blaze” en route to causing a mass genocide it’s taken three decades to overcome. The former are the creation of a new scientific law enforcement entity that goes by the name Foundation. With popular billionaire Kray Foresight (Masato Sakai) as its CEO, newly crafted high-tech resources…

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TIFF19 REVIEW: Tenki no ko [Weathering with You] [2019]

Or maybe not not. Teenagers get plenty of flack these days with derogatory labels thrust upon them by older generations refusing to truly look outside their window at how much the world has changed. They’ve a lot to shoulder with the pressure of living up to impossible and antiquated expectations, confusion as to a future and identity they can’t quite decipher yet, and the crippling reality that the world around them is literally crumbling via war, genocide, and climate change. Kids used to run from home as a means of…

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FANTASIA19 REVIEW: Sadako [2019]

That new girl is creepy. Director Hideo Nakata brought novelist Kôji Suzuki‘s Ring series to the big screen two decades ago and spawned a laundry list of sequels, American remakes (one of which he helmed), comics, and television remakes that each put their own unique spin on central “monster” Sadako Yamamura’s history until fluidity of mythology became a veritable franchise hallmark. Things got muddled fast too as the initial follow-up to Ringu fared so poorly (with a different creative team at the lead to release the same year) that it…

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