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Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends gets refreshingly in-your-face following the unfortunately expository first half of this two-part conclusion to the Kenshin story (see our first-part review here). When it’s not unfurling innovative one-on-one brawls, however, the film plummets directly into the Dragonball abyss of story stagnation. Makoto Shishio (Tatsuya Fujiwara) has assembled an army——and a massive ironclad battleship——to overthrow the new Meiji government. The only thing standing in his way is a bunch of screenwriters who’ve realized they’ve let the villain win in the first act, and he must be stalled at all costs. Enter the Pause Zone—. For some characters, it’s literal. Kaoru Kamiya’s (Emi Takei) entire contribution to the film is to be asleep and then wake up. Sanosuke Sagara’s (Munetaka Aoki) job is to watch her be asleep and then wake up. Meanwhile, the titular Kenshin Himura (Takeru Sato) retreats to the Japanese version of Dagobah to up his game under the tutelage of his former master, Hiko Seijuro (an effective Masaharu Fukuyama). This extended, artfully choreographed stick-vs-sword pummeling leads to some well-earned character development—, and could have formed a strong core for the story—if the filmmakers had only been able to restrict themselves to a single central character. Instead, they introduce a hodgepodge of goodies and baddies with implied depth that we have to divine as much from their fashion sense as from the handful of lines they’re allowed. After making much hay in the first half of this two-parter of Shishio’s terrifying intellect and brutality, the setup for the final act unfolds like a bad punchline. The scenario involves so many implausibilities that a boatload of cops rowing up to a battleship unnoticed—in broad daylight, over open water——is the least of the sins committed. And then, at the height of this logic-free lunacy, the final ten minutes of The Legend Ends unleash the most dynamic four-on-one fight ever to grace the silver screen. An expanding cast of psychos, heroes and hellraisers piles on, not one after another in clichéd actioner fashion, but in fully choreographed five-directional fury. It’s brutal, gripping and hilarious—almost enough to excuse the awkward, semi-stagnant experience that got us there. Almost. Japanese title: Rurouni Kenshin: Densetsu no Saigo-hen

Sep 19, 2014 | One Comment | 320 views
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While the story may seem overused by today’s standards, its history is fascinating. The novel this flick is based on (of the same name, which literally translates as When I Sense the Sea) was released...

Sep 11, 2014 | No Comments | 84 views
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Sono Sion has been the go-to Japanese auteur for twisted, cooler-than-thou violent, sexual and sexually violent flicks for a while now (eat your heart out, Takashi Miike). Last year, his Why Don’t You Play in...

Sep 4, 2014 | No Comments | 164 views
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Cinematographer Masaki Tamura is something of an icon in the Japanese film industry. He has lensed everything from legendary cult films (like two of the Lady Snowblood series, starring Meiko Kaji) to cutting-edge work for...

Aug 20, 2014 | No Comments | 856 views
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2012’s Rurouni Kenshin made judicious cuts to its manga-and-anime source material to deliver a tight, cohesive (if somewhat spoiler-laced) narrative that built to a satisfying conclusion. 2014’s follow-up, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno, the first half of a...

Aug 15, 2014 | No Comments | 799 views
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Adapted from the Joan G. Robinson novel of the same name and directed by Studio Ghibli’s Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty), When Marnie Was There follows the story of Anna, a lonely girl...

Aug 5, 2014 | No Comments | 2,503 views
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Sweet coming-of-age films from Japan tend to be saccharine and unbearable, but this Taiwanese-Japanese co-production strikes a nice balance. Shot primarily in the former nation, this bicycle road trip movie offers idyllic scenery, a charming,...

Jul 25, 2014 | No Comments | 1,319 views
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What are often called “samurai films” by the casual watcher outside this country are a major genre in the film industry here known as chambara. Uzumasa Limelight focuses on the latter days of a swordfighting...

Jul 12, 2014 | No Comments | 1,129 views
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Sad Tea is another film which had its premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year. It addresses the vagaries of romance for a host of different primary characters each trying to figure out...

Jul 6, 2014 | No Comments | 804 views
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Hiroshi Okuhara’s avant-garde feature Kuroi Shikaku originally screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2012 but it has taken until now to get its theatrical release in Japan. This is one of those films...

Jun 18, 2014 | No Comments | 556 views
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It’s not often in film that you come across a premise that hasn’t been tried before—or at least, not in the same vein. Michihito Fujii’s latest feature centers around handsome high-schooler Yukio (Masaki Okada), who’s...

Jun 1, 2014 | No Comments | 332 views
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It’s not often three iconic entities come together in one hyper-violent Japanese high school bad boy beat-em-up. But that’s what we have here. This film is based on the popular 1990s manga series, Crows, by...

May 20, 2014 | No Comments | 301 views
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You may be familiar with this time slip franchise by now (a theme Japan seems to love). The hit manga by Mari Yamazaki, Thermae Romae, has won many awards, including the prestigious Tezuka Osamu Cultural...

May 2, 2014 | No Comments | 493 views
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So many thrillers these days try to hide the fact they want to be a Tarantino film but have nothing new to say or add to his oeuvre. The latest joyride by comedian, novelist and...

Apr 17, 2014 | No Comments | 505 views
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To call the popular culture around legendary ninja thief Goemon Ishikawa a franchise doesn’t do justice to the social phenomenon of this pop marvel. His 16th century story of Robin Hood like pilfering and daring...

Apr 2, 2014 | No Comments | 963 views
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Occasionally, Japanese films will take up a serious social issue. The challenge is whether the work can examine the problem in a realistic and non-manipulative way. The results with Tokyo Nammin, a movie about being...

Mar 5, 2014 | No Comments | 497 views
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Manga by Osamu Tezuka, the legendary innovator and popularizer of the genre, have been made into films for many years now. The current film series is based on his grand comic book run (1972-1983) on...

Feb 21, 2014 | No Comments | 1,550 views
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Koji Fukada is seen by many as the crème de la crème of the young Japanese filmmakers. His Hospitalité picked up the Japan Eyes award at the 2010 Tokyo International Film Festival (despite being overtly...

Feb 6, 2014 | One Comment | 1,896 views
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I feel it’s the mission of this column to search out lesser-known filmmakers in Japan if they show promise and creativity. Ryutaro Nakagawa fits the bill perfectly. This twenty-something auteur is part of the Tokyo...

Jan 24, 2014 | No Comments | 1,023 views
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When it comes to entertainment, Japan is huge on franchises. The all-time leader is Otoka wa Tsurai yo (It’s Tough Being a Man) with 48 feature films, a TV series and an animated run. There...

Jan 9, 2014 | No Comments | 2,181 views
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