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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 has been told in literature, manga, kabuki, animation, video games, TV and film—with numerous incarnations of most. The latter category has seen various productions throughout the history of Japanese cinema, with the illustrious swashbuckling samurai actor Raizo Ichikawa portraying him many times. A major motion picture about Goemon’s adventures was released as recently as 2009 (reviewed in this column) and there has been an ongoing theater presentation since 2008 that has now seen three parts. The third stage play ran from December 2012 to February 2013 and is the focus of this picture. That’s right, the movie is a filming and mastering in post-production (in Hollywood!) of the play, which accounts for the odd title (Geki X Cine means Theater and Cinema) and the extravagant run time. A musical comedy that utilizes slapstick, music and dance more  so than drama and action, the plot follows Goemon (Arata Furuta) as he steals a Buddhist treasure. Female cat burglar Nekonome (Yu Aoi) assists while a young detective (Haruma Miura) is hot on the trail. It’s reasonable fun but films of stage plays always seem to miss both the magic of the theater and possibilities of cinema. (183 min.)  

Apr 2, 2014 | No Comments | 682 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 | 325 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 | 1,346 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 | 1,654 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 | 682 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 | 1,830 views
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There is a long tradition of legendary and renowned butoh dancers doing feature film work in Japan, whether true to form or influenced by it. The dance form’s originator, Tatsumi Hijikata, appeared in numerous films,...

Dec 19, 2013 | No Comments | 473 views
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The Studio Ghibli franchise is mostly associated with superstar director Hayao Miyazaki, but the filmmaker formed the studio back in 1985 with another renowned auteur, Isao Takahata. Takahata was nearly as prolific as Miyazaki for...

Dec 5, 2013 | No Comments | 831 views
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Director Yuki Tanada has a number of feature films under her belt, but nothing she’s done prepares us for the sensitivity and insight of Shijukunichi No Recipe (Mourning Recipe). It unfolds much like any typical...

Nov 22, 2013 | No Comments | 1,184 views
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One of the biggest problems with Japanese film today is its tendency to slip into an idealized and generally overly melodramatic and soppy world that drains any real power from the work. Thankfully, that is...

Nov 8, 2013 | No Comments | 1,717 views
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I know what you’re thinking: Japan couldn’t possibly make yet another romantic drama about a damaged woman who learns to love again, could they? (You were thinking that right?) Well, yes—it could. Toho’s newest “blockbuster,”...

Oct 23, 2013 | No Comments | 2,027 views
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In addition to being one half of the highly successful comedic TV duo Downtown, Hitoshi Matsumoto is a film director with inventive comedic features like Saya Zamurai (“Scabbard Samurai,” 2011) and Dai Nipponjin (“Big Man...

Oct 10, 2013 | 2 Comments | 986 views
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As those of us living here who are not Japanese—or not fully Japanese—know, the insular nature of Japanese society tends to exclude us. This phenomenon cuts deep to those who actually have partial Japanese blood,...

Sep 26, 2013 | No Comments | 1,513 views
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Originally a massively popular manga written and illustrated by celebrated author Leiji Matsumoto, Space Pirate Captain Harlock has become a franchise with a long-running animation series. Now a feature film with a budget north of...

Sep 12, 2013 | No Comments | 649 views
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This film is based upon a much-heralded autobiographical novel by Kappa Senoh that was published in 1999. As such Shonen H has a very personal, emotional and at times, cloying feel to it. Despite this,...

Sep 2, 2013 | No Comments | 726 views
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The fine first feature film by director Ryohei Yoshino (he previously showed a short at the Gay & Lesbian Film Fest), Akaboshi, is also a coming out party for well-known voice actress Romi Park. Park...

Jul 30, 2013 | No Comments | 1,297 views
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The Pokemon industry is one of the best-known international character and animation franchises from Japan. Originally a Game Boy role-playing video game from the giant Nintendo, it has morphed into an anime series, manga and...

Jul 19, 2013 | No Comments | 779 views
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Iconoclastic director Takashi Ishii has been making flicks that provoke the public and present a fantastical, erotic, violent and sometimes nightmarish vision since the early ’90s. His Gonin, Kuro no Tenshi (Black Angel) and Hana...

Jul 2, 2013 | No Comments | 1,836 views
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The uber-hip director Kei Nakata is back with another stylish thriller. His 2009 effort Cool Girls was a political potboiler which garnered good reviews and established Nakata on the auteur scene here.   This effort, supposedly “based...

Jun 17, 2013 | No Comments | 387 views
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Documentary filmmaker Sumiko Haneda is one of the pioneers of the genre in Japan and a groundbreaking visual artist for women in the country. Her films have been showcased around the world, including the prestigious...

Jun 4, 2013 | No Comments | 601 views
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