Top 10 Japanese Movies

Greetings, perusers. I’m taking a short break from Watched This Month as I have been quite preoccupied recently, but wanted to take this leisurely day to instead write about some of my favourite Japanese films. If you know me — which you probably don’t — then you’ll know I adore Japanese cinema, which has a fascinating history and a catalogue so very diverse, poignant, compelling and inspiring. Akira Kurosawa alone has inspired numerous contemporary directors, and has largely influenced films from A Bug’s Life to Star Wars. There’s much to be learned from Japanese cinema — thus here are ten films I would absolutely recommend.

Before you grab that battleaxe, I must stress this list is composed entirely in my opinion, and has been compiled with the aim of featuring ten truly dissimilar movies, thus I have chosen not to include multiple films from the same director. Similarly, this list includes just a handful of my most loved movies, and on a different day the order or inclusion of such titles may well differ — so please take this list as ten great movies, rather than a definitive rundown of ‘the best.’ I may well do an expanded list in the future.


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#10. The Man Who Stole the Sun (Kazuhiko Hasegawa, 1979)

Among the hundreds of Japanese movies I have seen, The Man Who Stole the Sun is a real stand-out in terms of its satire, tone and plot. It was penned by Leonard Schrader, an American screenwriter who fled to Japan to avoid conscription. Schrader taught American literature, but subsequently became involved with the Yakuza, with his experiences leading to his foray into filmmaking.

The Man Who Stole the Sun was his fourth feature as a writer and is a very radical piece. It follows science teacher Makoto Kido (played by Kenji Sawada), who decides to build his very own atomic bomb, with which he holds the country to ransom. What ensues is a cat and mouse game between Kido and police detective Yamashita (played by Bunta Sugawara), which culminates in an exhilarating thirty minute showdown, with car chases and set pieces more akin to a Western movie than something from Japan.

It has a steady pace, with characters brilliantly juxtaposed, and cinematography that ranges from experimental to skillful. It’s a real marvel in Japan’s cinematic catalogue and has even been looked to for inspiration by Hideaki Anno.


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#09. The Bird People in China (Takashi Miike, 1998)

Takashi Miike is best known for his outlandish and violent cinema, but is the architect behind over one hundred different movies, some of which completely contradict his reputation as a gratuitous filmmaker. Enter the poetic and wonderful The Bird People in China — a film concerned with ecology, and the mysticism and sacrality of nature.

The film follows a Japanese businessman who is sent to assess valuable minerals in a remote area of China. Along the way, he is accompanied by a member of the Yakuza, who becomes warped by the other-worldly beauty of the distant Chinese province.

Sporting alluring visuals and themes that are still relevant today, it’s a meditative, illuminating and well balanced commentary on technology versus nature, and very poetic and symbolic in its delivery.


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#08. Confessions (Tetsuya Nakashima, 2010)

Confessions is in stark contrast to Tetsuya Nakashima’s preceding feature, Memories of Matsuko — swapping colour and quirks for a bleak palette and feelings of desolation. Confessions opens with high school teacher Yuko Moriguchi announcing her resignation due to the recent death of her daughter, which she attributes to two of her students. She ousts the children, but as they are protected by Juvenile Law, she concocts a twisted plan of revenge.

It’s a stylish and fluently plotted film, which maneuvers between multiple threads with the utmost finesse. The film doesn’t sport a score, with Nakashima instead choosing to compile a soundtrack of previously recorded songs, which includes pieces from Boris, Curly Giraffe and Radiohead, to name a few. These tracks compliment the visuals terrifically, creating a film bursting with artistry and panache.

It’s a movie with both style and substance, that features a comprehensive and wholly satisfying tale of desperation and revenge. The conflict is well paced and competently plotted, with an ending that is both stupendously exciting and terrifically haunting.


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#07. Adrift in Tokyo (Satoshi Miki, 2007)

Adrift in Tokyo is a completely endearing and wholesome piece of cinema. Joe Odagiri plays a loafer named Fumiya, who is in heavy debt. One day he receives a visit from a loan shark named Fukuhara (played by Tomokazu Miura), who makes Fumiya a proposition: If Fumiya accompanies him across Tokyo to a police station, where he intends on turning himself in for an unspecified crime, then Fukuhara will cancel his debt. Fumiya accepts the proposal and thus begins their journey across Japan’s illustrious capital.

The plot is — quite literally — wandering, but at the same time it never loses focus. Fumiya and Fukuhara traverse landscapes, encountering fresh personalities at every turn. With each chance meeting, they learn more about one another and develop a peculiar relationship that is at times jocular, and at others very precious and sentimental. Not only does it display the eccentricities and fascinating characters all around us, but it’s one hell of an advertisement for Tokyo, which is shown in all its beauty. The Japanese capital really is a treasure trove of flourishing neighbourhoods — the film will leave you lusting for your own wayfaring adventure.


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#06. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa, 1954)

Akira Kurosawa is widely regarded for his samurai movies (interestingly, he is himself a descendant of samurai), but the director didn’t feature the popular swordsmen until his 14th picture, which almost needs no introduction.

Seven Samurai is a three and a half hour epic in which a band of ronin are recruited to help defend a small farming village from bandits. The film’s most memorable moments arrive during the fierce, rain-soaked climax, which was — as is usual with Kurosawa — an incredibly gritty shoot to ensure authenticity. Kurosawa refused to use a studio and instead had enormous sets constructed on location, which were stupendously destroyed in the climatic action.

The director ultimately regarded his 1985 film Ran as his finest work, but Seven Samurai has gone down in the history as a defining picture, with stunning technical innovations. It’s a tour de force in filmmaking and storytelling, and one of the most epic, enthralling and impressive of the 20th Century.


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#05. Millennium Actress (Satoshi Kon, 2001)

Satoshi Kon’s second feature is an indelible portrait of Japanese history, a genre extravaganza, an excursion into the art of filmmaking, and a meditative exploration of life and love — undoubtedly my favourite animated picture.

The film — penned by Kon in collaboration with Sadayuki Murai — follows a small documentary film crew, who are on their way to visit an enigmatic actress who withdrew from performing to live a life of seclusion, reminiscent of real-life actress Setsuko Hara. After convincing her to relay her story, Millennium Actress takes audiences on a wondrous voyage across centuries, as the actress’ life is explored through her body of work, with Kon employing his trademark blend of reality and make-believe.

Don’t be lulled by its surface simplicity — Millennium Actress is a sinuous and brooding journey across time, with a narrative that unravels in remarkable ways. Kon was a true master of the medium; a director well attuned with the scope of animation, who would utulise fresh techniques with each production. Millennium Actress employs a unique use of montage and transitions to meld narratives, producing an extraordinary visual flair. Couple this with Susumu Hirasawa’s hypnotising score and you have something quite special.


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#04. Tokyo Sonata (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2008)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is perhaps best known for his horror movies, but I find his 2008 film Tokyo Sonata to be the most poignant and memorable in his filmography. The film examines social constructs and the family dynamic in a modern Japanese setting, as the patriarchal figure looses his job and sole income. He tries to keep his misfortune a secret from his family, but things begin to implode nevertheless, as each member undergoes an introspective journey as they struggle to maintain stability.

It’s a masterfully shot film that is both distinctly Japanese and very universal, with the director exploring crisis within both the family unit and the economy. Kurosawa builds an eccentric tone by forcing his typical family into extraordinary situations, ultimately presenting a darkly comical sequence of events, but nonetheless he doesn’t shy away from heartache and melodrama — there are a number of doleful scenes that are tremendously affecting. It’s a spellbinding feature with many threads and layers, which includes one of the most wistful and lingering endings ever put to film.


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#03. 0.5mm (Momoko Ando, 2014)

Sakura Ando stars as a beguiling enigma in her sister’s sophomore feature (and a feature it is at three and a half hours long). The film is an odyssey of sorts, charting the journey of central character Sawa, who finds herself penniless and alone after losing her job. She reveals a deceptive side when she begins to take advantage of the elderly, blackmailing and forcing herself upon a number of men throughout the runtime in order to obtain money and board, but her cunning machinations turn bittersweet and poignant, as the men begin to reveal their inner pain. Sawa becomes a sort of mischievous angel who unlocks people’s suffering and steers them towards a path of alleviation.

It has that expert blend of wry humour and tender, heart-rending drama the Japanese seem so proficient at, with many powerful and rousing scenes that are skillfully and subtlety employed. It’s transfixing through and through, with Sakura Ando the driving force. We learn little about her Sawa character, but she is endlessly compelling — an inscrutable figure you can’t quite keep your eyes off. It’s twice as long as an ordinary film, but could divide nicely into a series of shorts. It never repeats itself; every section of Sawa’s journey is extraordinary and distinctively alluring. I couldn’t bare to see it end.


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#02. Kikujiro (Takeshi Kitano, 1999)

Mischievous layabout Kikujiro forms an unlikely bond with young Masao, who is on a journey across Japan to locate his mother. What ensues is a road trip of hijinks and escapades, with a seamless blend of slapstick comedy and stirring drama. Kikujiro is Kitano’s eighth film as a director, following perhaps his most renowned work (Hana-bi) and preceding one of his most ignored (Brother).

The ‘road trip’ concept isn’t something explored often in Japanese cinema (I can think of Suicide Bus and Sake-Bomb off the top of my head), but Kitano uses it as a means to explore alienation in a variety of segments. As Kikujiro and Masao travel Japan, they encounter a number of characters who not only assist them on their journey, but also on an emotional and subconscious level. Some of these scenes are very subtle and poetic, aided tremendously by Joe Hisaishi’s sublime score.

Kitano’s deadpan, manzai-inspired humour weaves many endearing moments into the films lasting sentiment, adding a bizarre atmosphere to the pensive vignettes that fill the runtime. Kikujiro is one of Kitano’s most family friendly movies, but is at the same time one of his most poignant and affecting.


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#01. All About Lily Chou-Chou (Shunji Iwai, 2001)

No movie before or since has affected me in ways All About Lily Chou-Chou has — finding it was like unlocking a chest full of elegies from a long lost friend. It’s an enlightening and wholly mesmeric picture, that reveals new layers on every watch.

The film depicts the transformative journey of a group of high school students, some of whom become enamored with a mystical singer named Lily Chou-Chou. In many ways, All About Lily Chou-Chou was ahead of it’s time, and Iwai couldn’t have been more exact in his depiction of netizens, whose ease of connectivity can sometimes foster isolation. He portrays adolescence as a defining period in which some youths lose themselves; as they struggle to find compassion and familiarity in their peers, they turn to the internet and become absorbed with pop culture, which offers them a sort of exclusive comfort.

All About Lily Chou-Chou sports Iwai’s bewitching and hazy tone, and — in addition to the principal score, which includes some enchanting compositions — features a fully arranged album from the titular singer, which offers the enigmatic figure a very real and haunting presence, that almost goes beyond fiction.

Shunji Iwai focuses often on youthful characters who feel misunderstood and forlorn — I am continually impressed by his grasp of adolescence, and the clarity of his vision, and the organic sentiment his work so impeccably exudes. His films are enlightening in the most unobtrusive and delicate of ways; portraying pain and confusion with touches of warmth and repose.

Further to Iwai’s alluring writing and imagery, he seems to share a terrific rapport with the other talent in his work. Japanese Academy winner Yu Aoi debuted in All About Lily Chou-Chou, and Tadanobu Asano and Takako Matsu also established themselves in Shunji Iwai films. He comes across to me as a decided maestro of the art, and is the designer of some truly original, soul-stirring movies. All of his features, and even his short work, are bursting with individual merit, but — to me — All About Lily Chou-Chou is his masterpiece and is, in it’s most basic form, a remarkable voyage concerning loneliness, escapism, and what it is like to grow up during the onset of the 21st Century.

Watched This Month: April 2017

Hello there. Welcome to Watched This Month. May is just around the corner, which means some of the years most anticipated movies are edging ever closer, although May itself doesn’t have too much to offer besides Alien: Covenant. But it’s difficult to gauge a real overview of the year, since there are so many worthwhile films that seem to pop up from nowhere. I wonder what this year’s unexpected hits will be. This month, I managed to squeeze in seven new releases, which include Colossal, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Ordinary Person, The Boss Baby, The Discovery, The Fate of the Furious and Their Finest. On to the commentary!

Previous: March 2017

Film Rating
A Beautiful Mind (Dir. Ron Howard)

A biopic based on the life of John Nash, a Noble Prize-winning mathematician whose theories have influenced areas such as global trade and evolutionary biology. Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly are both mesmeric in this film, but I felt at times it failed as a biography due to certain liberties taken in order to streamline the plot.

It is indeed coherent and engrossing, but seems to follow a rough guideline of events rather than a detailed timeline. It’s more ‘based on’ than straight adaptation, but is nevertheless a fascinating film with performances alone enough to captivate and charm you through the runtime.

★★★☆☆
A Fistful of Dollars (Dir. Sergio Leone)

Sergio Leone’s unofficial remake of Kurosawa’s classic jidaigeki film Yojimbo. It’s a competent feature and Clint Eastwood is always very watchable, but it’s just too similar to Yojimbo to appraise on its own merits.

Here’s a fun fact — after the release of a Fistful of Dollars, Leone received a letter from Akira Kurosawa which read as follows: “I have seen your film and it is a very fine film, but it is my film.” Kurosawa demanded payment from Leone and the case was eventually settled out of court, with Kurosawa receiving 15% of A Fistful of Dollars’ worldwide box office.

★★★☆☆
Collateral Beauty (Dir. David Frankel)

Will Smith, Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Pena operate a successful business, but find themselves in dire straits when Will Smith’s character loses his daughter, forcing him into a deep depression. His co-workers then hire actors in an attempt to alleviate the situation.

Looking beyond the deceptive marketing, I felt Collateral Beauty was a solid, if unremarkable film. It’s not winning any awards, but was in essence a worthy melodrama. It has a terrific cast and a lot of heart, but tries to do and say too much in some roundabout and offbeat ways that don’t play out authentically. If reigned in slightly or honed in a particular direction, it had potential to be far greater.

★★★☆☆
Colossal (Dir. Nacho Vigalondo)

Anne Hathaway plays an unemployed alcoholic who’s forced to return to her home town after being kicked out by her boyfriend. There, she meets up with old pals and finds part time work, but struggles to quit her heavy drinking lifestyle, until she finally gains some perspective after realising she’s responsible for the kaiji currently destroying Seoul.

The first half of Colossal is creative and fun, but as though in an attempt to find purpose, it ventures down a wobbly path, swapping out comedy for heavy drama and messy metaphors. Nonetheless, it’s a very original film and worth watching despite its more off kilter moments. Anne Hathaway is brilliant.

★★★☆☆
Denial (Dir. Mick Jackson)

A historical drama based on the legal case between American historian Deborah Lipstadt and British author and renowned Holocaust denier David Irving, who sued Lipstadt and her publisher Penguin Books for libel.

It’s a classic courtroom drama, with terrific performances from both Timothy Spall and Tom Wilkison. Rachel Weisz was also riveting for the most part, but faded into the background somewhat during the second half. It’s competently shot — with a perpetually rainy London — and remains terrifically captivating throughout its duration, with organic dialogue and some brilliant rebuttals in the court sequences.

★★★☆☆
Destruction Babies (Dir. Tetsuya Mariko)

A nihilistic film about an eighteen year old boy who wanders Japan, picking fights and breaking noses. It’s an interesting premise that doesn’t really go anywhere — the entire film felt like an opening act. The characters are explosive and cynical, but Destruction Babies doesn’t really have a distinctive voice or anything particularly new to add to Japan’s cinematic catalogue of youthful rebellion.

It lacks the heart of the classic taiyozoku films and the impact of something like All About Lily Chou-Chou or Kids Return. I wasn’t a big fan of Nijiro Murakami either, whose performance felt rather stilted, but I applaud its depiction of violence, which felt raw and authentic.

★★☆☆☆
Guardians of the Galaxy (Dir. James Gunn)

Another superhero escapade, this time following a well-meaning group of ragtag aliens as they travel the cosmos in search of bounty and vengeance. I’m terribly burnt out on Marvel movies, but Guardians of the Galaxy was a pleasurable experience.

It does little to leave the mold, but the characters are incredibly charismatic and fun. I like that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, as I feel some of the other Marvel movies have a very awkward tone due to their jarring blend of drama and comedy. Here, the balance between comedy and drama is much more seamless, and all-in-all, it has a consistent and largely compelling pace.

★★★☆☆
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (Dir. James Gunn)

Sequel to the much loved Guardians of the Galaxy, this time following the group as a more firmly established galactic defense force. Old favourites return and the cast expands with the introduction of Quill’s father, along with his companion and a new race.

Sadly, it doesn’t best the first installment, with a weaker villain and a more trying pace. There’s some great action, but also a lot of excessive colour and undue explosions. However, it succeeds in broadening its setting and characters — though there is an abundance of exposition — with Yondu a real stand-out. Ultimately, it’s a worthy sequel, but still doesn’t offer anything challenging or unexpected.

★★★☆☆
May 18 (Dir. Kim Ji-hoon)

Kim Ji-hoon’s decade old debut depicts the Gwangju Uprising, which saw thousands of citizens rise up against a brutal onslaught by South Korea’s government troops in 1980. The film is very evocative in its portrayal of the massacre, focusing in particular on the lives of some key — albeit fictionalised — people within the uprising.

It captures horror and despair, but also displays the unrelenting strength of community. Some circumstances were a little contrived and the romance aspect felt rather artificial, but it is nonetheless a striking film that does its duty as an educative and engaging piece of cinema.

★★★☆☆
Millennium Mambo (Dir. Hou Hsiao-hsien)

A hazy, neon-toned chronicle from Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien, charting the life of Vicky, a young woman floating through a turbulent existence, torn between two men. It’s a lot more unfocused and itinerant than I expected, but was nonetheless a striking picture.

Shu Qi is both captivating and convincing as the leading character, who is introduced and bid farewell as a bit of an enigma. It’s wandering pace was at times hypnotic and at others tiring, but it has an ethereal quality rarely matched. It’s certainly a film I look forward to revisiting.

★★★☆☆
Moving (Dir. Shinji Somai)

A drama about a girl dealing with her parents’ divorce. The mother is thrilled, the father seems indifferent, but the girl is stuck in-between, struggling with emotions and sensibility. The anguish sends her on a rite of passage as she comes to terms with her new reality.

Moving is a remarkable film, with such a fluent and unspoiled pace. Emotions arouse and fester with terrific authenticity as the subject matter is attentively developed and explored. It never lays blame, which allows all characters to retain a degree of sympathy, but Tomoko Tabata who plays the young girl is a real stand-out, both ferocious and fragile. The last thirty minutes are truly spectacular in every sense of the word.

★★★★☆
Nerve (Dir. Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost)

Video technology and connectivity are abundant, thus enter Nerve — a truth-or-dare styled mobile app in which users compete against each other for cash prizes, engaging in increasingly difficult challenges set by their ‘watchers’.

The premise certainly has potential, but ultimately I feel Nerve was just too vague and unfocused to really garner any true investment. An effort has been made to ground the film in reality, but the rules and plausibility of the game are extremely far fetched, making the plot seem too silly to engage with.

★★☆☆☆
One Hour Photo (Dir. Mark Romanek)

I remember first watching One Hour Photo when it was released on DVD in 2003. I was too young and callow to notice its subtleties and finer details then, but every time I have watched it since, Robin Williams’ Sy has stood out as such a terrifically formed character.

He is disturbed and at times frighteningly ominous, but is at the same time, pitiful and misunderstood. He’s a tragic miscreant, a societal outcast who lives his days unnoticed and unloved, with the late Robin Williams bringing such substance and finesse to the role. The actor once said he was drawn to Sy because he wanted to play a character so unlike himself, but he embodies the character with such tenacity and persuasion​, it’s surely one of his finest performances.

★★★★☆
Ordinary Person (Dir. Kim Bong-han)

Kim Bong-han’s sophomore feature tells of government corruption amid South Korea’s impending constitutional reform in 1987. Kang Seong-jin is a hotheaded Police Detective with a loving family, whose morals are questioned and stretched when government officials persuade him to fabricate the country’s first serial murder case.

Ordinary Person is one of those movies with the hardiness to travel down a bleak and desolate path, subjecting its protagonists to brutality and torture that isn’t necessarily warranted nor requited. It’s in this harshness that the film is terrifically organic and raw, with main character Seong-jin sporting a tremendous character arc — the film charting his odyssey with terrific clarity and vehement emotion.

★★★★☆
Rushmore (Dir. Wes Anderson)

Ambitious and well-spoken student Max — who attends the prestigious Rushmore preparatory school — finds himself enamored with new teacher Rosemary. He attempts to win her heart, turning to the father of two of his classmates for advice.

Wes Anderson’s sophomore feature contains all the charming eccentricity and lovable wit audiences have since come to expect. It’s such a pleasing film, with an indelible tone and an expert screenplay, featuring some of Mr. Anderson’s most memorable characters and dialogue. Schwartzman, Williams and Murray form such a humorous and fascinating love triangle, and the supporting cast is comprised of so many engaging, outlandish and memorable personalities.

★★★★☆
The Age of Shadows (Dir. Kim Jee-woon)

A thriller set in Korea during Japanese colonial rule. Lee Jung-chool is a member of the resistance turned police captain, whose allegiances are tested as he’s tasked with rooting out his old comrades.

The Age of Shadows was South Korea’s entry to the Oscar’s last year and finally I can see why. It’s a terrific film — tremendously gripping and cinematic, with fantastic cinematography, employing great use of shadow and light, alongside fabulous set design. It’s also very unpredictable, with some completely unexpected character deaths and the need for a lot of second guessing.

★★★★☆
The Boss Baby (Dir. Tom McGrath)

In a world where babies seemingly come into existence in their own world above the clouds, some find themselves more attuned than others — these are Boss Babies. Their mission is to ensure the love and attention of babykind isn’t being stolen away by other cute things, but recently puppies have begun to gain more prominence.

Thus, one particular Boss Baby is sent to the home of two Puppy Co. employees in order to learn about the unveiling of a new puppy that will surely capture love from the world over. It’s a rather standard animated tale that includes all the usual plot beats and fanciful comedy you would expect. It wasn’t drab, but it wasn’t remarkable. I wish Jimbo was given more screentime.

★★☆☆☆
The Discovery (Dir. Charlie McDowell)

The Discovery is an interesting premise gone wrong. It’s set in a reality where the existence of an afterlife has been scientifically verified, but it’s far from compelling science fiction or intriguing philosophy. It avoids discussions of science and an actual look into the state of society following such a revelation.

Instead, it focuses on an undeveloped love story that feels completely banal compared to its surroundings, with characters that don’t feel particularly organic. The perturbed trailer implied a tone that was completely absent from the actual film, which has led to much disappointment.

★★☆☆☆
The Fate of the Furious (Dir. Felix Gary Gray)

Street racing messiah Dominic Toretto is living the high-life on the lawless island of Cuba, hurtling around in flaming balls of metal by day and making love to his woman by night, until he’s whisked into another tale of conflict and cars, this time himself the adversary.

Definitely leave your brain outside for this one; the plot is wholly contrived and the set pieces — while entertaining — are completely absurd. At this point the franchise has almost become a parody of itself, but it’s a blast for what it’s worth. My major gripe is with the villain, who I found incredibly disengaging and shallow.

★★☆☆☆
The Lobster (Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

The Lobster is set in a reality where single people are stigmatised and turned into an animal if they’re unable to find a new partner within 45 days. In this predicament is David, a sullen middle-age man whose wife left him for another man.

It’s a bizarre film with dialogue and characters intriguingly deadpan despite undertones of psychological horror, making it darkly comical. However, despite the fascinating premise and unconventional performances, I didn’t find The Lobster particularly engaging on first viewing. It’s interesting satire but I expected far more given the acclaim.

★★★☆☆
The Yellow Sea (Dir. Na Hong-jin)

Na Hong-jin’s second feature is a terrifically violent and superbly gripping thriller. Gu-nam, an ethnic Korean living in poverty in the Chinese city of Yanji, is thrown a lifeline after being offered money and passage to South Korea in order to carry out an assassination. It’s a bleak film with a sinuous plot that seems a little too convoluted on first viewing, but it all comes together masterfully in the end.

There are some contrivances and a bit of an over-reliance on shaky-cam (and Kim Yun-seok’s character — who at one point dispatches assailants with some meat on a bone — was absurdly superpowered) but it’s a remarkable and terrifically engaging film, with an incredible performance from Ha Jung-woo, who I find blends into almost every role he tackles.

★★★★☆
Their Finest (Dir. Lone Scherfig)

Set during the early years of World War II, before American involvement, a British film crew attempts to boost morale by making an inspiring picture based loosely on a true story.

All in all, it’s a very competent and watchable film, but I feel it discredits itself towards the end. All fiction is emotionally manipulative to a degree, but certain events in the final act felt terribly forced, abrupt and tasteless. As the result, the climatic drama just didn’t feel particularly persuasive. However, the cast were all very engaging and Bill Nighy is an absolute treasure.

★★★☆☆
What We Do in the Shadows (Dir. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi)

A frequently hysterical mockumentary about a group of vampires who share a New Zealand apartment, which also stars its two directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi.

It’s very naturalistic in its comedy, with the modern setting allowing for some brilliant absurdist humour given some of the vampires are hundreds of years old. The characters — eccentric as they are — feel tremendously authentic, expressing their dialogue and rapport with terrific plausibility.

★★★★☆

Twenty-three films this month, an improvement over last month’s nineteen. I can hardly recall where I found the time. Ninety-six for the year so far — looks like I’ll be reaching my goal in no time.

Firmoo: An Honest Review

Morning, Roo remains a blog based mostly around the consumption of film, but today I wanted to offer some commentary on another matter. I am not blessed with perfect vision and thus sometimes wear glasses. I recently received a new prescription and began the hunt for some delectable frames. Korean fashion trends seem to have rubbed off on me (too much Hello Counselor) and I felt a desire to ditch my usual wayfarer style glasses for some rounded ones. Round frames don’t appear to be particularly coveted in the UK, so I sought out some international suppliers and encountered a website named Firmoo.

Firmoo dub themselves a ‘Global Online Optical Store’ and offer prescription eyewear at reasonable prices across the globe. Though their currency is set by default to US Dollar and they have a New York address, their production is actually based in China. They provide a very consumer friendly service and offer numerous deals, along with select free glasses for new customers and free eyewear for bloggers in return for a review, which means it’s fairly easy to find appraisals of their glasses. However, with the client receiving a free product, it’s difficult to deduce whether these reviews were done in earnest. I have no partnership with Firmoo and thus want to offer an entirely honest opinion of their products and services.


Ordering and Delivery

Firmoo stock hundreds of frames in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I trawled the internet for hours in search of some interesting glasses and while they don’t stock any big brand, designer frames, Firmoo had a tremendously delectable selection. If you aren’t after brand recognition, it’s easy to pick out a couple of favourites.

Though they allow you to upload your own picture, their ‘try on’ service is sadly lacking and is solely for style reference rather than size. However, they do provide precise measurements and weight for every frame and customers are able to upload and embed pictures and videos of themselves wearing their Firmoo glasses, which are included on relevant pages and help to exhibit the frames.

People are also able to review and ask questions about the glasses they have either bought or are perusing and — as with all prescription eyewear services — Firmoo offer numerous extras during check-out, such as tints and a variety of coatings, which may incur additional costs depending on what you choose.

I ordered my glasses on Friday and they were prepared and shipped by the early hours of Tuesday. Delivery from China to the United Kingdom took just three days and was very reasonable at £12 ($15). I was provided with a tracking code and was able to follow my parcel to its destination. With the cost of shipping included, my order was just over £60, but I was not charged any import fees. Once in the country, the parcel was delivered by one of the national couriers and required a signature. Everything was well packed and no damage appears to have been sustained in transit.


Quality

In addition to every pair of glasses, you receive a Firmoo branded case and cleaning cloth, along with an additional slip case, small screwdriver and extra screws, should you need to carry out any maintenance on your glasses. I have bought many prescription glasses before, but this is my first time receiving a specialised screwdriver and replacement screws. Though I hope for lasting durability, it is good to possess such a tool.

The glasses themselves — or at least the ones I bought — vary in quality. My main gripe is with one pair, which doesn’t sit entirely straight on my face. This looks due to one of the temple components being slightly skewed — one side doesn’t open as seamlessly and complete as the other. Such a fault could have occurred during production, or it may have warped after being clamped awkwardly in the case. It’s a slightly vexing issue, but one that may be remedied with some persistent and precise flexing.

Besides a tiny and relatively unnoticeable scratch on one of the other frames, the other two pairs are near faultless. All screws were tightly fastened and thus far, the lenses seem secure and the prescription accurate. The metal components are — as far as I can tell — genuine metal and the frames appear sturdy.

I paid extra to have anti-reflective and anti-radiation lenses, but there is significant glare when compared to my old Calvin Klein frames. If I could change anything about my order, I would not have chosen those coatings as — in this case — they make little difference.


Verdict

All in all, despite some hiccups, I am pleased with my new glasses and hope they will last as long as my previous pair, which have been going strong for four years. I would recommend Firmoo; despite some minor issues with quality and precision, their glasses fit my needs and they have an absolutely wonderful selection of frames. I will update this post in a month or two with some words on the longevity and durability of the glasses and — if they hold up — I would likely purchase from Firmoo again, minus the coating.

UPDATE (29/03/2018) It has been almost one year since purchasing my Firmoo glasses and I’m happy to report no additional issues. I use them daily and they are still in fine working order. As is usual with glasses, the arms have become a little loose over time, but this is easily remedied with the screwdriver included. I purchased another pair of glasses from Firmoo a couple of months ago, this time without any coating, and noticed only a minimal difference, but I don’t live in a country with a particularly high ultraviolet index.

I have noticed that the lenses largely prefer to be cleaned by the cloth provided. I have tried cleaning them with cloths from previous glasses not from Firmoo, and am never able to tidy them to a satisfactory degree. The cloth provided by Firmoo does appear a little more coarse than your typical glasses cloth.

I wasn’t able to remedy my defected pair that was slightly warped and sat wonky on my face. Rather than an issue sustained after production, it appears to have been made imprecisely. Defects do occur, even in well established brands, but it is nonetheless disappointing. With that in mind, you are certainly going to get a better build quality by going with a more established manufacturer, but the variety and price at Firmoo is a major selling point for me. When I receive a new prescription or need a new pair of glasses, I will more than likely return to Firmoo.

firmoo

 

The Strange Library Quotes

94I finished reading Haruki Murakami’s short story The Strange Library a couple of weeks ago. It’s an intriguing marriage of Murakami’s trademark magical realism and illustrations collected primarily from the London Library, which evoke and emphasise sections of the prose. The book is far from Murakami’s best, but still contains some dazzling imagery and wondrous excerpts. Below are my favourites from the English hardback published by Harvill Secker.


Page 4.
I knocked. It was just a normal, everyday knock, yet it sounded as if someone had whacked the gates of hell with a baseball bat. It echoed ominously in the corridor. I turned to run, but I didn’t actually take a step, even though I wanted to. That wasn’t the way I was raised. My mother taught me that if you knock on a door, you have to wait there until someone answers.

Page 14.
“Well, well. Here we are,” said the old man. “In you go.”
“In there?” I asked.
“That’s the idea.”
“But it’s pitch black,” I protested. Indeed, inside the door was as dark as if a hole had been pierced in the cosmos.

Page 17.
Why do I act like this, agreeing when I really disagree, letting people force me to do things I don’t want to do?

Page 25.
“Mr. Sheep Man,” I asked, “why would that old man want to eat my brains?”
“Because brains packed with knowledge are yummy, that’s why. They’re nice and creamy. And sort of grainy at the same time.”

Page 28.
A key turned in the lock, and in came a girl pushing a teacart. She was so pretty that looking at her made my eyes hurt. She appeared to be about my age. Her neck, wrists, and ankles were so slender they seemed as if they might break under the slightest pressure. Her long, straight hair shone as if it were spun with jewels. She studied my face for a moment. Then she took the dishes of food that were on the teacart and arranged them on my desk, all without a word. I remained speechless, overwhelmed by her beauty.

Page 37.
“Please, tell me who you are,” I said.
«I am me, that’s all.»
“But the sheep man said you didn’t exist. And besides—”
The girl raised a finger to her tiny lips. I held my tongue.
«The sheep man has his world. I have mine. And you have yours, too. Am I right?»
“That you are.”
«So just because I don’t exist in the sheep man’s world, it doesn’t mean that I don’t exist at all.»
“I get it,” I said. “Our worlds are all jumbled together — your world, my world, the sheep man’s world. Sometimes they overlap and sometimes they don’t. That’s what you mean, right?”
She gave two small nods.

Page 46.
She didn’t answer. Instead, she came close and planted a small kiss on my cheek. Then she slipped through the door and vanished. I sat there on the bed, dazed, for a long time. The kiss had shaken me up so much I couldn’t think straight. At the same time, my anxiety had turned into an anxiety quite lacking in anxiousness. And any anxiety that is not especially anxious is, in the end, an anxiety hardly worth mentioning.

Page 75.
I lie here by myself in the dark at two o’clock in the morning and think about that cell in the library basement. About how it feels to be alone, and the depth of the darkness surrounding me. Darkness as pitch black as the night of the new moon.

Movie Review: Ghost in the Shell

Title: Ghost in the Shell
Director: Rupert Sanders
Screenplay: Jamie Moss, William Wheeler
Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Pilou Asbæk, Michael Pitt
Released: Mar 2017 (US & UK)


Well, what do you know. They’ve only gone and made a live-action version of Ghost in the Shell. This would have been a dream come true for my teenage self, but sadly the Rupert Sanders film is a far cry from the original manga and its various incarnations.

The main problem with the new Ghost in the Shell is its simplicity. The 1995 film isn’t as philosophical as it’s often remembered being, but it has a meditative ambience and the idea of the ‘ghost’ is well expressed and worth pondering. Here, the ‘ghost’ is reduced to a simple noun — a word for an individual’s consciousness and nothing more. There is no commentary on humanity or singularity; in fact it bares such little weight on the plot, they could have done away with the concept of the ghost and simply given the principal character drug-induced amnesia. Here, the main theme is how actions rather than memories define a person.

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By doing away with the philosophy and changing the film into a mystery-vengeance story, where Motoko is the “first of her kind” and seeks answers about her obvious past, they’ve gone a well trodden and thoroughly uninspired route, which is bolstered by some terrifically mediocre writing that is filled with clunky exposition and many contrivances. At one point, the head of the company behind Motoko’s synthetics orders her to be terminated, after which there’s a disagreement between the head and a cybernetics doctor who clearly cares about Motoko. The company boss then instructs the doctor — the sole person who sympathises with Motoko — to do the honours. Where do you think this is going? It’s painfully predictable and lacks so much of the nuances present throughout the franchise.

There’s also a scene where the cybernetics boss says to one of his creations; “you came close, you freak.” I don’t know if the character is supposed to be a supercilious ass who doesn’t quite realise he made the ‘freak’ or if the writers just don’t think about the implications of certain dialogue. Either way, the dialogue is often heavy-handed, inconsistent and partial on details.

The plot itself is an amalgamation of various Ghost in the Shell products, but namely the 1995 film and the Stand Alone Complex series. There are a couple of shot-for-shot sequences that match well the aesthetic of Mamoru Oshii’s adaptation, along with some subtle references only fans of the franchise are likely to notice, but sadly they serve more as a reminder of better material than a homage. Still, the ‘shell’ is at least present. The world of Ghost in the Shell is fully realised and they include direct reference to the prevalence of cybernetic enhancements, though there is little commentary on transhumanism.

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The visual effects are top-notch and the practical effects and props made by Weta — though utilised far less than I expected — were impressive. I thought much of the cast had a good likeness to their anime and manga counterparts, too. Effort had gone into making Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk and Takeshi Kitano resemble their illustrated equivalents. The performances and the action scenes were satisfying, but nothing particularly applaudable.

One aspect that was tremendously unsatisfactory was the score by Clint Mansell and Lorne Balfe. I generally enjoy Mansell’s music and adore his work on The Fountain, but here the music just isn’t notable. It lacked a presence and was neither emotive nor thrilling. At certain points, it contains tiny fragments of Kenji Kawai’s original Ghost in the Shell score, but does not attempt to hone or replicate the composers enthralling sounds. Then, almost as a joke, Kawai’s prominent ‘Making of a Cyborg’ theme from the 1995 film is played during the credits, as if to say — this is what you could have had.

As a generic action movie, Ghost in the Shell is passable, but relatively unexceptional. However, as an adaptation of such a breathtaking and esoteric franchise, it misses the mark entirely. It is formulaic and devoid of any substantial philosophy — ultimately another great concept dumbed-down for the lowest common denominator. It’s frustrating, as the allusions to the prior material generally translate well to live-action, but the vast alterations and perplexing union of sources hindered what could have been a terrific film. They couldn’t even commit and go whole hog with the ending, which seemed to be going the direction of Oshii’s initial adaptation before fizzling away and becoming completely vapid. It seems the ghost was far too much for them.

Watched This Month: March 2017

Good day to you, wherever you may be. Welcome to Watched This Month. You may have noticed that I have been much more restrained with these posts lately. This is to make them a lot more readable and accessible. When I started Watched This Month over a year go, it was supposed to be concise and informative, but sometimes I would write so much that I felt the posts became unsightly and difficult to discern at a glance. So, from now on, anything I am particularly enamored with or irked by will likely have it’s own review in a separate post, while Watched This Month will return to its intended function as a terse and instructive monthly run-down. Hooray!

Previous: February 2017

Film Rating
20th Century Women (Dir. Mike Mills)

20th Century Women shows that, no matter how old, we are always coming of age, absorbing new traits and moulting others. Continually, we gain fresh knowledge and learn about new things, all the while imparting and perfecting our wisdom as we traipse through a turbulent existence. It is a film about growing and living, depicting the relationships and the fleeting emotions that form our lives.

I feel like I could have sat through many more hours of those wondrous Californian vistas, accompanied by that dreamy principal theme, observing those truthful people, with their routine thoughts and emotions that feel so keen and touching and real.

★★★★★
A United Kingdom (Dir. Amma Asante)

A biopic chronicling the events leading to the formation of Botswana, following the lives of Prince Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, who shook the world by going against their families and culture in order to marry one another. It’s a fulfilling film that is both entertaining and instructive, as biographies should be.

I felt it lacked quite tremendously in the initial development of Seretse and Ruth’s relationship — a proposal is made within what seemed like the first fifteen minutes — but David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike truly embody their characters and make a terrific pair. Nothing seems too manufactured and the film displays well the conflict between emotion, politics and society.

★★★☆☆
Beauty and the Beast (Dir. Bill Condon)

Neither astonishing nor stagnant. Beauty and the Beast tells a complete and mostly content tale that is at times amusing and at others pedestrian, but it doesn’t offer anything you won’t find in the animated fable. Emma Watson was mostly agreeable, but largely forgettable and Dan Stevens as the Beast felt a little hollow to me, but otherwise the cast are the film’s biggest draw and many of the characters are very charismatic and enjoyable to watch.

The songs were neither too sparse nor too abundant, but they seemed to me — like most Disney music — more a show of falsetto and some easy exposition rather than anything particularly creative or even intriguing, though the choreography was quite eye-catching, at times. It’s all very Disney and knows well its target audience, which sadly isn’t me.

★★☆☆☆
Breathe In (Dir. Drake Doremus)

A largely convincing drama about an exchange student who begins to fracture the relationships of her host family by falling for the sullen husband, who dreams of the perceived freedoms of his former life and desires to be whisked away. As wrong and deceitful as their romance is, it was well developed and felt very authentic and sympathetic to a degree.

It explores well the fluctuations and fragility of the heart and though Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones are the clear focal points, their romance doesn’t feel one-sided and the film portrays very keenly the needless despair and anguish inflicted upon loved ones due to betrayal and duplicity. However, there are some coincidences in the plot that feel slightly contrived and the ending leaves a little to be desired.

★★★☆☆
Cafe Noir (Dir. Jung Sung-il)

A colossal three and a half hour film about a man who roams the streets of Seoul after breaking up with his lover, whose husband had just returned from overseas. Some of its imagery is rather pretentious, but ultimately it’s a majestic tale of love and loss, with cinematography and dialogue so captivating I would have gladly watched another hour.

The main character played by Shin Ha-kyun is like the French archetypes of the New Wave, a romantic loner who is rather tragic and almost nihilistic. There are also some tremendously long shots; in one a character charmingly recounts the tale of her past love over eleven minutes. It’s a mesmerising picture with some striking sequences, but certainly not for everybody.

★★★★☆
Chang-ok’s Letter (Dir. Shunji Iwai)

A series of shorts produced by Nescafe, featuring the talents of Bae Doona and Shunji Iwai; two of my favourite people. Bae plays a housewife at the beck and call of her family, who rarely show her their appreciation. Her mother-in-law purposely makes her life difficult, but Bae pushes on regardless, living a selfless existence.

It includes many long takes that exemplify Iwai’s quaint camerawork, as we weave around the cast in fluid and unobtrusive motions. The cast act out these theater-esque scenes with great naturalness, as Iwai builds an understated but nonetheless moving portrayal of an ordinary family divided. It’s masterful, as ever. I loved the final tinges of melancholy.

★★★☆☆
Get Out (Dir. Mike Mills)

A young black man goes with his white girlfriend to visit her family for the first time, only to find them and their acquaintances bemusingly unsettling. Get Out is a movie I watched based entirely on the positive word of mouth — I avoided all trailers and synopsis. Initially I felt the characters were a little too outlandish, which made them seem rather unauthentic, but this was clearly the point as it built a brilliant sense of uneasiness and irregularity.

I felt the film was masterful in its suspense; it was able to maintain a particularly disconcerting atmosphere throughout. It was also well written, with dialogue that plays with your preconceptions, though I do have some gripes with certain character motivations and wasn’t entirely behind the final act. All-in-all a decent thriller with a couple of horror elements, but I didn’t feel it lived up to the hype.

★★★☆☆
Ghost in the Shell (Dir. Rupert Sanders)

As a generic action movie, Ghost in the Shell is passable, but relatively unexceptional. However, as an adaptation of such a breathtaking and esoteric franchise, it misses the mark entirely. It is formulaic and devoid of any substantial philosophy — ultimately another great concept dumbed-down for the lowest common denominator.

It’s frustrating, as the allusions to the prior material generally translate well to live-action, but the vast alterations and perplexing union of sources hindered what could have been a terrific film. They couldn’t even commit and go whole hog with the ending, which seemed to be going the direction of Oshii’s initial adaptation before fizzling away and becoming completely vapid. It seems the ghost was far too much for them.

★★☆☆☆
I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (Dir. Park Chan-wook)

After being institutionalised, a girl who believes she’s a cyborg sets about trying to lose her sympathy so she can wreak vengeance on the white suits who took her grandmother away to a sanitarium. I’m a Cyborg is a very peculiar film that is at times funny and charming, but it was far from as engaging as Park Chan-wook’s other work.

It focuses less on plot and more on its characters and their interactions, and while the characters are quirky and unpredictable, they are essentially caricatures and are compelling mostly on surface level. The film has some great moments of comedy and delight, along with a couple of tender scenes with the two main characters, but it grows tedious and ultimately lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.

★★☆☆☆
Inside Llewyn Davis (Dir. Mike Mills)

A glimpse into the life of a struggling folk musician. In ways, Inside Llewyn Davis reminded me of a Shunji Iwai movie with its meandering plot and expert use of soft focus. It is perhaps the Coen brothers’ most poignant film, with tragic character Llewyn David played with tremendous finesse by Oscar Isaac.

The movie saunters between encounters as Llewyn struggles to subsist, presenting a wandering pace that may deter some viewers, but Llewyn’s life unravels with such terrific emotion and spontaneity that it’s easy to become lost in his world. The dialogue and the characters are very reflective, ultimately forming a splendid film with striking introspection.

★★★★☆
Jack Reacher (Dir. Christopher McQuarrie)

A competent if predictable action movie, in which Tom Cruise stars as the eponymous Jack Reacher — a former Military Police Corps officer hell bent on tracking down a sniper who murdered five innocent civilians.

The action is engaging and there are some terrific surprises within the cast (Werner Herzog plays the topmost villain) but it’s rarely daring and sticks to a very linear, undemanding plot that is full of tropes. Decent for its demographic.

★★☆☆☆
Kong: Skull Island (Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts)

If you want to see a giant ape punching helicopters out of the sky and slamming creepy two-legged lizards into a mountain, then this is the film for you. There is much spectacle in Kong: Skull Island, but sadly not much else. The cast are impressive, but struggle to breathe much life into the undeveloped characters.

Much of the dialogue is woeful, with an eerie tone jarringly interrupted by frequent occasions of comic relief. While the action is thrilling, it is at times gratuitous and oddly out of place, with character deaths included at regular intervals to seemingly appease the lowest common denominator. There’s not much in the way of intelligence and originality here, but there’s a giant ape kicking ass so who cares.

★★☆☆☆
Logan (Dir. James Mangold)

An exemplary send off for both the Wolverine and Professor X characters, with incredibly moving themes of depression and hopelessness, handled with accuracy and care. It’s in stark contrast to the other X-Men movies, with characters weak in body and mind and a lot of very authentic human drama. Jackman and Stewart are the clear stand-outs and have the best characterisation.

The only thing that irked me was the plot concerning the mutants’ safety across the border. It felt very simplified and shallow to grant them immunity from such ruthless villains just because they passed into a different territory. Nonetheless, Logan is a tremendous picture. It likely won’t be the last X-Men movie, but it would be so bittersweet and poignant if it were — that last shot is impeccable.

★★★★☆
Paterson (Dir. Jim Jarmusch)

Paterson is a film with a stunningly pensive ambience. It’s introspective and meditative, not so dissimilar to Inside Llewyn Davis, though the two central characters are opposites. Whereas Llewyn sought fame as a singer-songwriter, Paterson is a talented poet but remains content simply creating art, never sharing it. We follow his life for a week, watching him converse with his wife, meet people walking the dog, and observe the world from the drivers seat of a bus.

Paterson is juxtaposed well with his wife Laura and the character is well articulated and developed through his mannerisms, dialogue and the set decoration — there isn’t any contrived or particularly obvious exposition; the city and its inhabitants uncoil very organically. It’s a leisurely film without an overarching plot, but it has a beautiful and understated message about the creativity of individuals.

★★★★☆
Split (Dir. M. Night Shyamalan)

The apparent resurgence of M. Night Shyamalan. Split is definitely one of his more engaging films, with James McAvoy playing a man afflicted with dissociative identity disorder, whose dangerous alters begin to take over. I felt it started a lot stronger than it ended, with the final act becoming almost comical and more fantasy than thriller.

I also feel it’s a film that suffered from oversaturation — the marketing gave away far too much. Nevertheless, it’s a solid film from a director who proves he has some amount of genius left. The two central performances from Anya Taylor-Joy and James McAvoy were also rather brilliant and very persuasive. The last scene was a little hokey, but also curious at the same time.

★★★☆☆
Spring Breakers (Dir. Harmony Korine)

A group of teen girls can’t afford to go on spring break, so they decide to rob a diner. Armed with sledgehammers and pretend guns, they motivate themselves with rudimentary dialogue about pretending to be in a video game. It’s all so shallow and gratuitous, with characters that barely possess a conscience.

Half the movie is monologue and ambience, with an abundance of intercut shots and a montage here and there — it creates a sort of video diary effect where the film is more a sequence of events rather than anything with substance. It’s horribly pretentious and the characters are irritating and frivolous. I couldn’t wait for it to end.

★☆☆☆☆
Stoker (Dir. Park Chan-wook)

A terrific tale of innocence lost. India Stoker has just turned eighteen, but is met with the news that her father has been involved in a fatal traffic accident. Shortly thereafter, an uncle she never knew existed comes to stay. While initially cold towards him, India grows curious and fascinated by this enigmatic man and his motives. Stoker is gorgeously shot and rich with symbolism — it’s tantalising to observe and enjoyable to interpret.

Chung Chung-hoon continues to offer much allure as Chan-wook’s cinematographer in residence and the script — penned by Wentworth Miller — unravels with tremendous intrigue, never revealing too much or too little. The main cast all hold their own as mesmeric, morally ambiguous characters and a number of scenes are very briskly edited, creating a spine-tingling succession of imagery. It’s bewitching on many levels and feels as though it will charm all the more with every viewing.

★★★★☆
The Wolf of Wall Street (Dir. Martin Scorsese)

A biographical film following the rise and fall of stockbroker Jordan Belfort, who made a fortune through corruption and fraud. It’s a movie absolutely held up by its performances, with both Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill terrifically charismatic and entirely captivating. I thought DiCaprio displayed an even more tremendous calibre here than in The Revenant.

The plot and the dialogue developed and unfurled very naturally, with the lengthy runtime going by in an instant. The characters are crooks and fraudsters, but Scorsese and co. entice viewers through curiosity. It’s a fascinating tale with remarkable magnetism, told with incredible passion, ferocious drama and rapturous wit.

★★★★☆
Undulant Fever (Dir. Hiroshi Ando)

An adaptation of Kei Nakazawa’s early novel When I Sense the Sea. It’s a tale of love, sex, femininity and perversion, with leading actress Yui Ichikawa giving a stellar performance. The narrative swaps between past and present as the central relationship is examined at a rather leisurely pace, with many long takes and static, observant camerawork.

It’s an interesting film, with a great depiction of the struggles and undulating emotions that come with romance, but it isn’t particularly engaging. Though I do admire it’s quiet, watchful moments; there’s less a reliance on dialogue than there is on the visuals and the expression of silence.

★★☆☆☆

Nineteen films this month and over seventy for the year so far. I’m well on my way to that one hundred goal and we’re not even half way through the year! See you next time.

Movie Review: 20th Century Women

Title: 20th Century Women
Director: Mike Mills
Screenplay: Mike Mills
Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning, Greta Gerwig, Lucas Jade Zumann, Billy Crudup
Released: Dec 2016 (US), Feb 2017 (UK)


“My mom was born in 1924. When she was my age, people drove in sad cars to sad houses, with old phones, no money or food or televisions. But the people were real.”

20th Century Women shows that, no matter how old, we are always coming of age, absorbing new traits and moulting others. Continually, we gain fresh knowledge and learn about new things, all the while imparting and perfecting our wisdom as we traipse through a turbulent existence. Never stationary, we come to terms with past experiences and see old memories anew, forever revealing new layers of ourselves. No one is too old nor too young to teach or to learn. 20th Century Women is a film about growing and living, depicting the relationships and the fleeting emotions that form our lives.

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Annette Bening is mesmerising as Dorothea, a single mother attempting to understand and nurture her son in a time that seems so distant from her own childhood. She’s backed by two younger women, each with stunning individuality who are going through their own instability.

The film possesses such a terrific authenticity, which is bolstered by its use of prose and historic footage. It deftly avoids contrivances with a cast of well-written, fully-fleshed out personalities who embody their own thoughts are desires, and the cinematography and production design capture well the ambience of the late 1970s.

The plot unravels with great finesse and fluidity, with dialogue that is tremendously pensive and poignant. It’s depiction of the highs and lows and the confusion and comprehension of life is so fervent and genuine — it’s one of those movies that goes far beyond sole entertainment.

I feel like I could have sat through many more hours of those wondrous Californian vistas, accompanied by that dreamy principal theme, observing those truthful people, with their routine thoughts and emotions that feel so keen and touching and real.

Night on the Galactic Railroad Quotes

91I love to read quotes. Even from books I will probably never peruse. One well-worded sentence can conjure the most beautiful and intricate feelings and imagery. Quotes can offer the most stunning vistas of life — granting clarity, comfort and even enlightenment. Last year I complied and posted my favourite quotations from Haruki Murakami’s novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Today, I want to do the same for Kenji Miyazawa’s most celebrated work — Night on the Galactic Railroad. I finished the book a couple of hours ago and haven’t stopped thinking about it.

Miyazawa lived a fascinating and sadly short-lived life; his outlook on existence and the universe was entirely absorbing and his exploration of two extremities—happiness and death—completely affecting. Below are my favourite quotations from Night on the Galactic Railroad, preceded by the page number they’re located on in the English paperback published by One Peace Books and translated by Julianne Neville. I have also included my favourite excerpts from Miyazawa’s short stories; The Nighthawk Star and Signal and Signal-less, which are also collected in the One Peace Books edition. These can be found below the Night on the Galactic Railroad quotes and are labelled as such.


Night on the Galactic Railroad

Page 54.
Why does Zanelli have to talk to me like that? I’ve never done anything to him. I could easily make fun of him if I wanted to… like about how much he resembles a rat, darting around like that. But I won’t stoop to his level. He’s the fool for being mean for no reason.

Page 56.
The air was crisp and clear that evening and seemed to flow in and out of the storefronts and through the streets like water. All of the streetlights were wrapped with fir and oak branches, and the six plane trees in front of the local electric company were decorated especially lavishly with a number of little lights. Small children, all wearing brand new clothes, were singing songs about the stars and calling out to the constellation Centaurus as they ran along, playing happily and setting off blue magnesium sparklers behind them. In contrast, Giovanni, with his head hung low, seemed almost a foreign object among the celebratory cheer.

Page 59.
The lights of the town below seemed to Giovanni like those of an undersea palace. Even from way up on the hilltop, he could faintly pick up the sounds of children singing. The wind whistled past him, swaying the grass and flowers and cooling the sweat that had soaked his shirt.
Upon hearing the sound of a train somewhere in the distance, Giovanni turned to spy it passing through a field outside of town. As he watched the uniform lights of the train compartments pass by, he imagined the travelers inside, laughing and talking as they peeled apples to eat. This thought made him feel sad, so he turned his eyes back onto the sky above.
So that white expanse up there is really made up of stars?
No matter how long he looked at it, he just couldn’t imagine space being the cold, empty place his teacher had said it was. Actually, the harder he looked, the more he thought he spied a town, farms, and fields, just like the ones around him.
Giovanni watched as the stars within the constellation Lyra flickered faintly in a way that looked as if a leg were being extended before being pulled in again. Finally the lights of Lyra settled into view, while all the other stars in the sky appeared to cluster together to form what looked like a great wisp of smoke snaking down toward the town below.

Page 81.
Suddenly Giovanni was consumed by an intense fondness for the bird catcher. He thought of how joyously the man went about catching the herons and wrapping them up in his parcel, and how childishly surprised and impressed he was upon catching sight of Giovanni’s ticket. Although he had only just met him and didn’t even know his name, Giovanni felt he would do anything for the bird catcher’s sake. If it would bring the bird catcher true happiness, Giovanni wouldn’t hesitate to spend a hundred years catching birds for him in the outer reaches of the Milky Way. Unable to suppress these newfound emotions, Giovanni turned to ask the bird catcher what it was he most desired, though thinking that might seem too direct he was considering a more delicate way to put it. But the bird catcher was no longer in the seat beside him, nor were his parcels in the luggage rack above. Thinking he was outside catching birds again, Giovanni hastily looked out the window, but all he could see was the beautiful riverbed and the white pampas grass, as per usual. The bird catcher’s wide back and pointed hat were nowhere to be seen.
“Where did he go?” Campanella asked faintly.
“I don’t know. Will we see him again? I had something I needed to ask him.”
“So did I.”
“When he first showed up, I felt he was a bother and treated him like one… I regret that now.”
Giovanni had never said such words before, because it was his first time ever feeling this way.

Page 87.
“No one knows what true happiness is, least of all me. But no matter how hard it is, if you keep to the path you deem to be true, you can overcome any mountain. With each step in that direction, people come closer to happiness.”

Page 87.
“To reach the truest happiness, one must make their way through many sorrows.”

Page 93.
Why am I feeling so sad? I want a heart that’s stronger, more pure. If I fix my eyes on those smoky blue flames straight ahead, perhaps I can cleanse my soul.

Page 94.
Is there no one out there willing to be with me for eternity? Look at Campanella, having so much fun talking with that girl. He doesn’t realize how much it hurts me!

Page 95.
What a peaceful place this is… and yet, why is my heart so restless? Why do I feel so alone?

Page 106.
“If it would make people happy, I wouldn’t mind if my whole body burned to ashes.”

Page 107.
“Campanella, let’s…” Giovanni began, but when he turned back toward his friend, he found the seat facing him empty. There was no indication that Campanella had ever been sitting upon the blue velvet upholstery. Giovanni rose from his seat as if propelled by the force of a gunshot, sticking his head out the window and crying out as loud and as hard as he could, enveloped by darkness on all sides.

Page 111.
The water reflected the pattern of the stars above in near perfect clarity, to the point where it almost seemed a second sky had been transplanted onto the earth. Giovanni knew in his heart that Campanella was no longer among them; instead, he was within the cosmos, waiting at the farthest reach.


The Nighthawk Star

Page 13.
“Hey! You home?” the Hawk called out. “I see you’ve yet to change your name. You’re unexpectedly brazen for such a lesser bird! But I’ll have you listen here, now. You and I couldn’t be more different. I can soar anywhere I please within the great blue sky, while you can only come out at dusk, or at best when it’s overcast. And just look at my fine beak and claws! I’m sure you’ll find yours cannot compare.”
“But… Mr. Hawk,” the Nighthawk replied, “how can I change my name? It’s not as if I named myself. My name was given to me, by God.”
“I beg to differ,” retorted the Hawk. “That could certainly be said of my name… that it was given to me by God. But you’ve only borrowed yours — half from me and half from the Night! Now I ask that you return both names to their rightful owners!”

Page 16.
Every night I kill so many insects! And now I am to be killed by the Hawk. Oh, why is it all so trying? So sad… so sad… I’ll stop eating bugs. Let me die of starvation instead. But no… the Hawk will have already slain me. Let me go flying, then… to somewhere far beyond the expanses of the sky.

Page 17.
“Oh, Sun! Great Sun, up above!” he cried out. “Please take me up to where you are! I don’t care should I burn to ashes. Even my ugly body would emit some small sparkle as it burned away. Please… bring me up to where you are!”


Signal and Signal-less

Page 26.
“Signal-less, I have something very important to say. Do take it seriously. For you, I’d do my best to keep my arm from lowering as the ten o’clock train arrived. I’d let it pass clean by.
“You mustn’t!” Signal-less protested.
“Well, of course I won’t. It really wouldn’t be much help for you or for me to do so. The point is, I am willing to, for that is how dear you are to me. You are the most important thing to me in the world. So, please… won’t you love me?”

Page 29.
“Don’t be cruel. How can you ignore me when I might be done in at any moment by either a lightning bolt or an eruption? Or, perhaps, I’ll be knocked over in a grand fashion by a raging storm, or carried away in Noah’s flood… In any case, I’ll be dead. Does that mean nothing to you?”

Manga Talk: I Am a Hero

Kengo Hanazawa’s manga I Am a Hero ended just the other day, after eight years of publication. The ending has divided readers—understandably so—as it leaves many questions unanswered, but I don’t believe it’s as open as it seems.

Warning! Spoilers below.

After the showdown atop the Sunrise building in Tokyo, a group of survivors manage to escape via the helicopter. It’s shown later that they land on the Izu Shichito islands off the coast of Tokyo, which are seemingly unaffected by the zombie apocalypse. Meanwhile, Hideo is engulfed by the monstrous hive mind, but is spared by Hiromi. Thereafter, the hive mind and—presumingly—the Kurusu conglomerate become idle after deciding to spare the final remnants of humanity in Tokyo. Hideo is then left to fend for himself in a post-apocalyptic world, where he believes he is the only survivor.

88

Hideo lives out his days alone, ransacking supermarkets for food and eventually cultivating a small farm. He converses with statues and road signs, but is otherwise sane and healthy, transformed from the beginning of the manga where he was afraid of the dark and experienced numerous delusions. During an earthquake in the penultimate chapter, he even calls out for his imaginary friend Yajima, but he doesn’t appear.

In the final pages, Hideo locates a gun shop and begins making ammo for his rifle, after his crops are eaten by a herd of deer. At some point during this chapter—or perhaps even before—there appears to have been a significant time-skip, as Hideo is shown to be balding when he removes his cap. After shooting, skinning and butchering a deer, he is then shown in winter, tracking a boar, after which the manga ends.

I can sympathise with the dissatisfaction surrounding this ending, as it leaves many aspects unexplained. I Am a Hero is a fantastically involved work, which spanned many years, featuring numerous characters in varied locations — at one point even jumping across the ocean to Europe to depict the pandemic in foreign territory. Naturally, readers expected some sort of conclusion to all the threads and pieces of information we were fed throughout the series.

However, the story had always been about Hideo and his place within the world. When the author took a step away from Hideo, it was more to do with world building and development than it was to introduce new character arcs and plot points. Not everything is essential to the overarching plot and by leaving many aspects vague, Hanazawa was able to maintain a terrific sense of allure and wonder throughout. Also, by building towards a conclusion for Hideo but leaving much of the rest up to interpretation, he breathes a sense of authenticity and perpetuation into the world of the manga.

89

Hideo is a detached character whose life before the pandemic was full of dissatisfaction and emptiness. He wants to be somebody, but he doesn’t have the gumption to try. In the final pages, he laments over these times and ponders what the point of his life was. He had a comfortable routine, but no direction and a bleak future. Now, he is attuned to survival. He has grown from a pathetic, bumbling man-child to self-sufficient hunter, thanks to the numerous ordeals and situations the ZQN have forced him through. He is alone, but he is able to grasp his existence. Finally, he can exclaim: “My life — bring it on.”

The problem with zombie series—especially those that span a lengthy period—is that, naturally, audiences want to know the origins of the world. How did this happen and why? Hanazawa weaves so many fantastical elements into his work, from mutated people to magnificent clusters made from the bodies of thousands of former humans. These aspects are fascinating and it’s difficult not to ponder their place within the story.

  • Why did that walking head turn into a tree?
  • What the heck is up with those weird things in Barcelona?
  • What happened to the man on the boat?
  • What motives did the ZQN have?

There’s a lot more the author could have concluded, but those things don’t matter to Hideo’s story and it’s important to have focus as a writer. Hanazawa never once became lost in his creation and the ending—while it may feel deflated and incomplete given the potential scope of the story—is the most natural for Hideo’s progression.

I Am a Hero is about the small lives of ordinary characters in an extraordinary world. The author delved into this in a Manben episode, explaining how he likes to draw Hideo and the other main characters as part of the background rather than the foreground in order to paint them as ordinary people — quiet members of society who don’t stand out.

Hideo is wonderfully written and his psyche tremendously explored, with the author touching upon themes of introversion, alienation, loneliness, courage and dreams. If you think about the manga in terms of Hideo and his singular place within humanity rather than an all-encompassing zombie saga, it is far more fulfilling.

90

Watched This Month: February 2017

Hello, friends. Welcome to Watched This Month! I managed to be punctual and get through another large and varied assemblage of movies this time. I’ve now accumulated over 20,000 words, writing about more than 140 movies over the course of fourteen months in my Watched This Month logs. I hope you’ve found at least a couple of sentences informative or interesting. Onward to February’s watch list…

Previous: January 2017

Film Rating
All Is Lost (Dir. J.C. Chandor)

A bleak movie about a solo sailor who gets stranded at sea. It captures the harshness of the ocean with remarkable clarity and contains some dazzling visuals. I felt like Robert Redford’s character could have done with some more dialogue, though. He didn’t talk to himself even once and bellowed just a single profanity. He’s eerily clam given the extremity of the situation. Overall, it’s a largely satisfying movie with a couple of marvellous moments. The final imagery is tantalizingly beautiful.

★★★☆☆
As One (Dir. Moon Hyun-sung)

A semi-biographical account of the unification of the Korean team at the 41st World Table Tennis Championships in 1991. As One is a competently shot and superbly performed film, with a fantastic ensemble cast who emulate the look and movement of athletes with keen precision. The plot is a little formulaic and certain details are slightly embellished, but the film maintains a decent level of authenticity where it matters and depicts the remarkable unification with the love and respect it deserves. It ends as an incredibly inspiring tale, displaying fervent compassion and great humanity in the face of division and adversity.

★★★★☆
Assassination (Dir. Choi Dong-hoon)

A historical action-drama detailing an assassination attempt during the Japanese occupation of Korea. It’s a fine film with an interesting historical context that doesn’t seem depicted very often in cinema. However, the plot has a few too many coincidences, which I feel prevents it from becoming great, though it was nowhere near as convoluted as I had read. The characters weren’t particularly nuanced, but I didn’t tire from their company and the action was exhilarating and the ending fulfilling.

★★★☆☆
Bleed for This (Dir. Ben Younger)

A biographical film that tells the story of professional boxer Vinny Pazienza, who was left with a broken neck and serious spinal injuries after being involved in a car crash. After being told he would never fight again, he ignored the doctors instruction and resumed his workout regime despite his limited movement and the huge metal brace screwed into his skull. The film tells a remarkable story, but is as structured and conventional as most boxing movies. Nevertheless, it seems very respectful and accurate in its adaptation and contains some stunning performances. It’s a shame it didn’t reach a wider audience.

★★★☆☆
Cart (Dir. Boo Ji-young)

A drama inspired by true events in which a crowd of retail workers band together to protest after being unfairly laid off. It’s a largely compelling film and the ensemble cast work wonders, but some parts are incredibly dramatised and lose a sense of authenticity. Still, it’s an astounding tale and important social critique — in the real-life story, the dismissed employees protested in front of the supermarket for almost seventeen months before the matter was settled.

★★★☆☆
Enemy’s Apple (Dir. Lee Su-jin)

A short film from the director of Han Gong-ju. Set amidst a showdown between police and violent demonstrators, two men on opposing sides face-off in an alleyway, with neither willing to relent. The film hinges on the interaction between these characters and forces viewers to confront societal structures, as it weaves between desperation and humour. It’s expertly shot and feels very organic, with a lot of intense close-ups and impressive grit.

★★★☆☆
Girlfriend’s Day (Dir. Michael Stephenson)

A bizarre film about a once successful greetings card writer who finds his past talents sought out by numerous competitors when the government introduces a new holiday named Girlfriend’s Day. It’s outlandish and attempts to be quite quirky, but ends up very tiresome and harsh due to a predictable plot and a wobbly tone. I like Bob Odenkirk, but the characters were very unappealing and though it’s a short film at just seventy minutes, it still seemed to drag. It has a decent idea at its core, but the script is very dull and almost inadequate, with comedy that misses the mark entirely.

★☆☆☆☆
I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (Dir. Macon Blair)

A dark comedy from Macon Blair, about a disgruntled woman who takes the law into her own hands after her home is burgled. It has a very snappy, self-contained plot full of amusing cynicism and sharp wit. Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood make a fantastic a duo of humorous oddballs who just want people to stop being so discourteous. After the disappointing Teenage Cocktail and Girlfriend’s Day, there is hope for Netflix movies yet.

★★★☆☆
Il Mare (Dir. Lee Hyeon-seung)

A touching South Korean romance that was remade by Hollywood just a couple of years after its release. A lonely girl named Eun-ju moves out of her extraordinary seaside house and leaves behind a letter asking the new owner to forward her mail, signing it off with the date in 1999. She gets a reply from Sung-hyun, who claims to be the house’s first resident in the year 1997. The two then discover they are able to communicate between time through the house’s elegant mailbox. It’s an inventive romance, with beautifully vivid and poignant depictions of love, loss and loneliness. The more I think about this movie the more I love it.

★★★★☆
It Follows (Dir. David Robert Mitchell)

An interesting idea that was apparently inspired by the director’s recurring nightmares. The film plays out like a nightmare itself, with an unspecified setting and absence of adult characters. It’s stylish, eerie and atmospheric and I enjoyed the feelings of impending doom in the score and central theme, but it’s sadly let down by characters whose motives and decisions feel largely manufactured and present solely to serve the narrative.

★★★☆☆
Jeon Woochi: The Taoist Wizard (Dir. Choi Dong-hoon)

A Korean fantasy blockbuster about a Taoist named Woochi, who winds up in the present day after being accused of murdering his master and subsequently sealed away for five centuries. The mythology was a bit tortuous, but all-in-all it was an entertaining film with some great characters. Kang Dong-won was very likeable as Jeon Woochi and the effects were well implement, with a fine display of martial arts and a playful use of perspective during the action scenes. The culture clash and comedy aspects were also very amusing.

★★★☆☆
My Annoying Brother (Dir. Kwon Soo-kyeong)

After watching Unforgettable, I was interested in seeing more of actor Do Kyung-soo. He plays the dignified sibling in My Annoying Brother, alongside irksome older brother Jo Jung-suk. After Kyung-soo loses his eyesight due to an injury sustained at a Judo competition, Jung-suk is given parole in order to care for him, though he has little intention to do so. What starts off as a sibling rivalry develops into something very tender and stirring. Despite some predictability, it manages to be a rather life-affirming and deeply touching tale, though it’ll likely be too melodramatic for some.

★★★☆☆
My Sassy Girl (Dir. Kwak Jae-yong)

A romantic comedy based on a series of anecdotes by writer Kim Ho-sik, which detailed his relationship with his girlfriend. My Sassy Girl was a huge success when it released in 2001 and is now hailed as a classic of Korean cinema. The movie is a bit skittish and frantic at times, but is enormously funny, with brilliant performances from Cha Tae-hyun and Jun Ji-hyun. Their chemistry is completely addicting and Ji-hyun’s character is a mesmeric enigma, somehow both abrasive and lovable. The last thirty minutes were pure magic — so tender and beautiful.

★★★★★
Night Fishing (Dir. Park Chan-wook and Park Chang-kyong)

A short film from Park Chan-wook and his brother, who had no prior filmmaking experience. It was shot entirely on the Apple iPhone 4 and follows a man who fishes up a dead body that comes to life. It has a clever twist and everything I’ve seen thus far of Korean shamanism has been entirely transfixing. It’s an intriguing short film that goes to show you don’t need specialised equipment to create a competent film.

★★★☆☆
One Perfect Day (Dir. Kim Jee-woon)

A short film that follows a young man through various unsuccessful dates. I stumbled upon this one due to the alluring Park Shin-hye, but was surprised to find it’s directed by the masterful Kim Jee-woon, who is responsible for A Bittersweet Life, I Saw the Devil and last years Oscar submission The Age of Shadows, just to name a few. As such, One Perfect Day is skillfully shot and exquisitely written. The evening sequences were wonderfully mesmeric and it’s equally funny and touching — a fine tale of acute loneliness and unexpected hope.

★★★☆☆
Pained (Dir. Kwak Kyung-taek)

Nam-soon suffers from analgesia and is insensitive to pain, whereas Dong-hyeon has hemophilia and even the smallest of wounds can be fatal. Pained follows these two characters as they strike up an unlikely relationship. It’s a little heavy on the melodrama and certain aspects came across as slightly manufactured and forced, but it’s a well-performed piece and I thought Nam-soon was very well written. It would have been easy to make such an emotionally barren character very stubborn, but I adored his wholehearted embrace at a glimpse of meaning returning to his life. It was a breath of fresh air for such a character to give in to his feelings. There’s a beautiful scene in which he laments all he ever wanted was for somebody to ask him what was wrong.

★★★☆☆
Red Eye (Dir. Wes Craven)

A competent thriller set aboard a red-eye flight with some unintentionally hilarious scenes. Cillian Murphy plays a terrorist who coerces Rachel McAdams in order to facilitate a planned murder of a politician and his family. It doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the genre, but Cillian Murphy is incredibly compelling and it’s amusing to watch the back-and-forth between him and McAdams aboard the flight — apparently every other passenger is too self-absorbed to notice their aggressive jostling and nonchalant talk of murder. The last thirty minutes were tense, but it ends exactly how you would expect.

★★★☆☆
Teenage Cocktail (Dir. John Carchietta)

An enormous waste of time about two high school girls who dream of escaping to New York from their quiet Californian town. To raise money, they resort to streaming sleazy webcam videos before moving on to blackmail. The plot has potential, but it lacks depth and is ultimately very crude and disengaging. It also opens with a snippet of the climax which spoils more than intrigues, essentially making the plot all the more predictable. Furthermore, the dialogue is incredibly uninspired and there are so many conveniences and nonsensical decisions made by the characters that it’s wholly grimacing.

★☆☆☆☆
The Beauty Inside (Dir. Baek Jong-yeol)

Since his eighteenth birthday, every time he wakes up, Woo-jin changes into a different person. The Beauty Inside follows the life of Woo-jin and the struggles that come with his unique situation, especially when he develops feelings for a woman. Initially, I assumed it would be a comedy, but The Beauty Inside takes its fantasy aspects seriously. It’s in the same vein as something like The Age of Adeline, but is much more poignant and melancholic. It’s based on a series of short films commissioned by Toshiba in 2012 that starred Mary Elizabeth Winstead and will be remade this year by Fox, with Emilia Clarke starring alongside the as of yet uncast Woo-jin. In the South Korean film, the character is played by no less than twenty different people.

★★★☆☆
The Tower (Dir. Kim Ji-hoon)

A disaster movie set inside a pair of luxurious skyscrapers on Christmas Eve. Despite containing all the familiar tropes and archetypes of the genre, The Tower is a well-crafted film that manages to be consistently thrilling throughout its two-hour runtime. Once the catastrophe begins, the film juggles between action and melodrama with great tenacity — offering up numerous spectacles in quick succession — but I found the opening very warm and quietly compelling. The skyscrapers made for an intriguing setting; so much so I would have happily watched a movie about the staff and residents preparing for a Christmas party. Though the characters are all rather rudimentary, they’re exceptionally varied and the actors were very engaging.

★★★☆☆
Unforgettable (Dir. Lee Eun-hee)

A drama set on a small island off the coast of South Korea, which follows four friends who return from the mainland for their summer holidays, along with a fifth friend, who isn’t able to venture like the others due to a degenerative disease in her leg. Unforgettable is a bittersweet film with very powerful depictions of love, loss and adolescence. It’s incredibly melodramatic, but for a sentimental person like me it hit all the right notes. I loved it’s raw and desolate depiction of emotional pain — there are no quick resolutions to heartache, only suffering and grudging acceptance. It’s a beautiful portrayal of formative younger years, with some really tremendous sequences.

★★★★☆
Windstruck (Dir. Kwak Jae-yong)

A South Korean romantic comedy from the director of My Sassy Girl, which also stars the sassy girl herself, Jun Ji-hyun. Windstruck is a very peculiar film — it’s like a parody of buddy cop movies with dashes of extreme melodrama. The first half follows the misadventures of police officer Kyung-jin and school teacher Myung-woo, while the second half swaps the comedy for drama, but has a couple of unexpected and oddly disjointed sequences where Ji-hyun’s character becomes a sharp, ruthless criminal hunter. While not as good as its would-be predecessor, Windstruck is still a lot of fun and has a brilliant soundtrack. Ji-hyun is always very entertaining and the references to My Sassy Girl were quite genius.

★★★☆☆

If you’ve made it down here then — as always — thank you dearly for stopping by. Twenty-two movies this month. Keeping up a substantial number! See you again.