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Tokyo Disneyland and the success of Frozen prove that Japan is a key market for the House of Mouse, but there’s never been a Japanese hero in a Disney film. That will change with Big Hero 6, set in the futuristic city San Fransokyo. The animated adventure centers on teenage tech whiz Hiro Hamada, who builds a robot and leads a misfit team of crime fighters. Hiro is voiced by 18-year-old Ryan Potter, who was born in Oregon but spent his early childhood in Tokyo, where his mother was studying Japanese. Returning to the States, Potter picked up martial arts, which helped him land the lead on the Nickelodeon show Supah Ninjas. Despite a 60-year age difference, he bonded with co-star George Takei over a shared interest in all things Japanese. The older actor also instilled in Potter, who is half Japanese, a sense of responsibility in representing Asian Americans, which he took with him to his Disney role. Potter was a surprise guest at last month’s Comic-Con in San Diego but didn’t stick around for the clip he introduced, explaining he wants to wait until the whole film is finished. Big Hero 6 will have its worldwide premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival, and if its young star attends, he can finally see it then.

The Tokyo International Film Festival will run October 23-31 at Roppongi Hills and other venues. http://2014.tiff-jp.net/en/

By: Kevin Mcgue | Aug 18, 2014 | No Comments | 133 views

“There have been a lot of Japanese zombie movies, but they have all been comedies or parodies,” director Norio Tsuruta tells Metropolis. “I wanted to make Japan’s first proper zombie film.” That’s a tall order, but Tsuruta was the right person for the job, having cut his teeth on the TV series Scary True Stories and installments of the Ring franchise. The result of his ambition is Z: Hate Naki Kibo, with “Z” being the term the authorities use for the undead in the film and the rest loosely translating as “undying hope.” The story starts with two high school girls discovering that Japan is being taken over by flesh-eaters. They team up with a teenage sword master and hole up in a hospital where a few people are determined to make the human race survive. The summer release of the film is no coincidence. “Japanese summer is so hot and humid, so people would listen to ghost stories to give themselves goosebumps and forget the heat,” Tsuruta says. “Another factor is obon, when spirits of ancestors are believed to return home. It isn’t celebrated so much today, but it is a century-old tradition, and Japanese people still associate summer with ghosts.”

Z: Hate Naki Kibo opens at Cinemart Roppongi and Cinemart Shinjuku July 26.

By: Kevin Mcgue | Jul 25, 2014 | No Comments | 958 views

Studio Ghibli is known not only for its award-winning animation and engaging storytelling, but also its careful selection of pop songs from hit makers such as Yumi Matsutoya. For its upcoming film When Marnie Was There, the studio tapped Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Priscilla Ahn for the job, and the half-Korean musician provided her single “Fine on the Outside.” The track will be the first in English to appear in both the Japanese and international versions of a Ghibli film. Ahn’s acoustic guitar and ethereal vocals suit the look of the film, and the song she wrote while still in high school gels with the teenage alienation found in the source novel by Canadian writer Joan G. Robinson—about a lonely girl who makes a rather mysterious friend. “I feel like this will be a very good film for everyone to see, especially young teens,” Ahn said during a recent “Ask Me Anything” event on Reddit. “But I feel like anyone who’s ever felt alone before can relate to this film.” The singer got to tour the Tokyo studio when animators were putting the finishing touches on the film. “All the backgrounds of the film are painted by hand,” she says. “I know this, because I saw them actually painting them!” When Marnie Was There (Omoide no Marnie) opens nationwide July 19.

By: Kevin Mcgue | Jul 17, 2014 | No Comments | 224 views

With Blu-ray quickly overtaking DVDs and 4K Ultra HD TVs creating the need for yet another format, most people hardly remember VHS tapes. Not so the fanatical collectors in Rewind This!, a documentary on the cultural impact of the invention that allowed people to watch movies at home and control their own TV schedules. It was a worldwide revolution that started in Japan. “I wanted to have an international element to the film, and Japan seemed the best place to go,” director Josh Johnson told Metropolis after the Tokyo premiere. The doc uses archival ads to recount the history of  two Japanese companies, Sony and JVC, as they fought the war of  Betamax vs. VHS (for those who missed it, Sony lost). After a Kickstarter campaign to raise airfare to Tokyo, Johnson interviewed Tom Mes, a writer for the Japanese film site Midnight Eye. Mes recounts how Japanese filmmakers embraced direct-to-video films, called “V-Cinema.” “It is interesting that Japanese directors would go back and forth between V-Cinema and major films,” Johnson says. “In America, if a film goes directly to video that is a real stigma.” Prolific performer Shoko Nakahara, who’s interviewed in the doc and attended the premiere, made a more personal statement: “If it weren’t for VHS, I would never have been an actress.” Rewind This! will screen at at Uplink in Shibuya from July 27.

By: Kevin Mcgue | Jul 9, 2014 | No Comments | 114 views

When preparing a film on a volcanic eruption, Japan is the place to turn to for research, as Paul W.S. Anderson learned while working on his film Pompeii, set in the ancient city destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius. “For visual effects, I like to work from reality as much as possible, and there was quite a lot of good footage from Japan of volcanic activity,” he told Metropolis after attending the Japan premiere with his wife Milla Jovovich. Volcanologists have praised the resulting level of realism. In the film, Game of Thrones star Kit Harington plays a Celtic slave who squares off against a corrupt Roman senator (Kiefer Sutherland) as the sky starts falling in around them. A fan of Roman history since his school days in England, the director says the lesson of the historical disaster is that “no amount of technology can stand against nature, but what can really triumph over it is the human spirit.” In this regard, he again turned to Japan for inspiration. “Everyone was very impressed by the Japanese reaction to what happened here,” he says of the March 11 disasters. “The response was immediate and everyone helped each other. The nation really rose to the challenge. As the film shows, some people rise to the challenge and others don’t, and we all hope we would be like Kit and not like Kiefer.” Pompeii is now playing nationwide. Kevin Mcgue

 

By: Kevin Mcgue | Jun 16, 2014 | No Comments | 106 views

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