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Archive for Reviews & Interviews

New at Japan Flix: ‘Three String Samurai’ [review]

The fresh-faced JapanFlix has been selecting the tastiest flicks from all genres of eiga and giving them a much deserved US release. With all of them available to rent or buy through iTunes, it couldn’t possibly be easier to get a flavour of what we here in the States have been missing. I was given a special treat preview of the 2005 comedy Three String Samurai (オーバードライヴ in Japan), now available through the JapanFlix website.

There has always been a special place in Japan’s heart for the shamisen, both because of it’s native folk music connections and the peculiarly ancestral depths that it evokes.  The sound evolved around the late 1990’s, with the addition of multicultural instruments an expansion of the repertoire. In particular, the focus has strongly favoured the Tsugaru-jamisen native to northerly Aomori prefecture – which just happens to be where the story of our hero takes place.

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The Day I Embarrassed Tomorowo Taguchi. [video]

I didn’t realise there was video of this until just now. Looking through the NY Japan Society’s Youtube channel (check it out for some great interviews and their new show), I noticed some of the Q&A’s from 2010’s JapanCuts festival.

Any readers who saw my original post on this Q&A will recognise my embarrassing question (at about 5:30 in the video below). In my writeup, I had to combine his answer to me with a few others just to make it fit into context. He had already talked about his friendship with Jun Miura and the kind of boys-night-out that he usually had with his mates. This roughly gave a clue into how my question’s response came about.

Watching this back, I don’t feel quite so bad because Taguchi is clearly smiling and joking. At the time – as my sister was silently dying of laughter next to me – my heart was slowly sinking into my stomach, thinking I’d come across as…well, I didn’t quite know what he thought!

Two things I love about this response:

1. The way that Taguchi prepares himself by wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

2. Poor Daichi Watanabe not hearing my original question, and absolutely cracking up at Taguchi’s answer.

Did my question make sense?? I didn’t mean to suggest…uhm…not that I…what?

Let me just say that I am all for male friends kissing and cuddling in bars, even if they don’t go home and shag each other! That is all.

‘Oh, My Buddha!’ w/Tomorowo Taguchi & Daichi Watanabe @Japan Society

[I’ve been rather torn about this writeup, because I was the one who asked the question which caused the embarrassment. Hence the extremely belated publish date. Read on to decide if maybe my question got lost in translation?]

Few would think there was anything that could make  actor/director Tomorowo Taguchi blush. Yet the man who has acted the full spectrum of psychopaths, miscreants, and weirdos, is fully capable of of being sweetly abashed.

Even at the second screening of his Oh, My Buddha! 「色即ぜねれしょん」 [Actual release title “Shikisoku Generation”] at the Japan Society, Taguchi was clearly delighted at the fresh round of praise for his second directing effort. He and leading man Daichi Watanabe gave an enthusiastic opening to the film, and afterward expressed their affection for a project celebrating the sweetness (and gentle disappointments) of youth.

The natural question was raised: how an actor well known for his iconic subculture status – especially for characters on the decidedly less savoury side of life – could turn out a film so affectionately portraying understated, middle class innocence? Oddly enough, this proved to be a rather difficult and embarrassing for the director to answer.

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‘Parade’ @Japan Society w/Isao Yukisada and Tatsuya Fujiwara

warning: this post contains spoilers (labelled)

“A horror movie disguised as a teenage slacker flick”

Such was director Isao Yukisada’s summation of his 2009 film Parade「パレード」. Speaking during a Q&A at New York’s Japan Society on July 10, Yukisada was surprisingly talkative and candid considering the deeply subversive film he had given to his audience.

Of course, there were likely many who had either sussed out the mystery earlier on, or simply read Shuichi Yoshida’s 2002 novel (though the collective gasp indicated that a fair few had not). Yet for a film that manages to successfully be two genres at once, and focuses on 5 different individuals, the ending loses none of it’s potency.

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‘Blood of Rebirth’ w/Toshiaki Toyoda @Japan Society

For those in New York of the 日本 persuasion, the 4 July holiday has been a mere sidenote. The main events have been courtesy of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) and Japan Cuts. These sacred days of summer have offered long-awaited premiers of films still fresh off the reels in Japan, as well as rare opportunities to see The Best of Unreleased Naughties on the big screen. Spring may have had it’s cherry blossoms, but NYCJapan is in full bloom.

click to see my Flickr shots

A prize moment for devotees of cult films Aoi Haru and 9 Souls was the guest appearance of director Toshiaki Toyoda, who attended both screenings of his comeback film Blood of Rebirth 「蘇りの血」 for the film’s introduction and Q&A session afterward.

Saturday’s New York premier was akin to greeting a lost hero’s return for the packed audience, who applauded and cheered as he entered the stage doors. While almost all would have been acquainted with his very public arrest in 2005 – and the tarnishing of Hanging Garden‘s release – Toyoda’s life after prison until the announcement of Rebirth had remained a mystery. The movie itself only proved to deepen the mystery even more.

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Silent Auction: Music and Art at NYCoo gallery

Nobuko Miyazaki played softly during bidding and conversation

NYCoo gallery held an evening of music and fine art to accompany their silent auction on 19 March. There was a bustling mixture of artists and aficionados and I met/hassled a lot of interesting people. Again, I deplored my 日本語 deficiency and there were so many questions I wish I could have asked. じゃおない, as I believe they say in Osaka.

All forms were available for bidding, from large oil paintings to tiny sculptures. Among the teapots, lanterns, and ceramics, exquisite antiques mingled seamlessly with modern Japanese craftsmanship. My sister and I went on an imaginary shopping spree where we could casually outbid anyone for one-of-a-kind ceramic dishes or paintings of cigar-smoking rabbits (more on that in a moment).

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Film Review: White On Rice

Considering that I was quick to demand this movie in NYC, I am late as hell getting this review up.

Hajime "Jimmy" and his nephew Bob

White On Rice is the second effort from Japanese-fluent director/actor Dave Boyle. I had seen the title of his first film – Big Dreams, Little Tokyo – in recommended movie lists before but always assumed it was another youth-orientated Japanese flick. My attention was definitely grabbed when I found out that Boyle is an American Mormon fluent in Japanese and filming primarily in Japanese. As a whitey Japanophile, I nearly jumped for freaking joy!

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