Writer-director Takashi Koizumi has gone on to a stellar career [After the Rain (2000), Best Wishes for Tomorrow (2008)] after his role as Akira Kurosawa’s assistant director for many of his later works and ended up making his unproduced scripts and hiring much of his team. It’s a good thing Koizumi is up to the gigantic task. Higurashi no Ki is a samurai tale told without a false note, and with much quiet intensity. Danno (Junichi Okada) is a young, highly skilled samurai who is forced to scuffle with another of his rank on palace grounds. The punishment for such an infraction is death—but he is spared that fate by the magistrate. Instead, Danno must watch over Toda (Koji Yakusho), an older samurai writing a history of the province who has been ordered to commit seppuku in three years due to an alleged indiscretion. When Danno goes to live with Toda and his wife (Mieko Harada), daughter (Maki Horikita) and son (Haruto Yoshida), he learns the man is truly a beacon of wisdom and justice, and has simply taken responsibility for a scandal so the province could save face. Danno attempts to clear Toda, sliding deeply into in palace politics, while falling in love with his daughter. It’s a rare Japanese film these days, realized with so much grace, insight and subtle emotion and power. (English title: A Samurai Chronicle; 128 min.)

Sep 24, 2014 | No Comments | 43 views
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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,...

Sep 19, 2014 | One Comment | 678 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 | 114 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 | 185 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 | 868 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 | 841 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 | 2,544 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 | 1,322 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 | 1,140 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 | 814 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 | 560 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 | 335 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 | 310 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 | 501 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 | 510 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 | 967 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 | 500 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 | 1,559 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 | 1,909 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 | 1,037 views
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