It wasn’t until I finished the series that I found out there was a movie, oh boy. The gang is back together, so who knows where this takes place chronologically. Terrorists have a sort of Dreamcatcher/Prometheus plot to grow the nanobots up in the water supply, killing the world, and only our heroes can put the pieces together in time. The movie’s focus on sub-Garbage 90’s technopop music or visual fx is never impressive, but the compositions and characters always are.

Right after watching the season of Search Party with the incest-twink, everyone in this movie is in love with their relatives. Masuo (Kenzô Kawarasaki of Shinoda’s Himiko) is a flailing weakling at the center of a powerful doomed family. In his late 20’s his family picks a bride for him, she runs away and they make him go through the wedding ceremony alone, since all the guests had arrived. His friend and his aunt die, and bestie Terumichi (Atsuo Nakamura of Kwaidan and Kill!) leaves his wife Ritsuko then sails off and kills himself. I like Oshima’s anarchist youth movies better than the late prestige dramas – the voiceover is excessive and slows everything down.

“Our tolerance was a mistake.” After the poisoning death of a martial arts master, a brown-suited dude is sent to insult and challenge his disciples during the memorial service, a crass move that earns the wrath of disciple Bruce Lee. This starts out way better than The Big Boss by pitting Bruce against forty guys early on instead of waiting for the second half – “Next time I’ll make you eat the glass.”

The titular fist:

Lee’s confuse-o-vision technique:

This is Shanghai, and all the villains are Japanese. Not a master of history, I’d forgotten that the Japanese colonized parts of China throughout the 1930’s and I was amazed at their nerve. Bruce goes on a righteous rampage through the city, smashing racist Japanese in their jerk faces, then in case we’re tempted to feel bad for them, the Japanese massacre all of Bruce’s friends (including poor James Tien again). There is a love interest, just barely, and a couple of fun disguises. The big boss sports an absurd long mustache and has hired an English-speaking Russian tough who fights in a bow-tie – Bruce punches a guy’s dick off before taking them on, the action in this movie always great. Same as The Big Boss, the army closes in on Bruce post-killing-spree. Must see Lo Wei’s New Fist of Fury, a sequel starring Jackie Chan in his first major role.

love interest Nora Miao:

the big boss Chikara Hashimoto:

Hardworking family lives on hostile island with no water, so they ferry buckets across the sea from the next island. Life just sucks, is hard and unforgiving, then their oldest son dies, but they have to keep going to survive. Beautiful looking movie with really good music, flutey themes that the Criterion calls “modernist,” so I am sure I don’t know what that word means. The first non-ghost story I’ve seen by Shindo, although the Criterion essay calls it a ghost tale out of habit.

50 sword deaths in first couple minutes, a good sign, as unstoppable mustache man slays all his rivals then returns home to slay his hot girlfriend. He turns out to be our narrator Kageyama’s boss. We know he’s gonna gradually introduce K to his elite life, glimpsed when the two visit the boss’s bar, where the blood bartender runs a basement prison forcibly teaching captured yakuza to abandon their tough-guy ways – but the boss comes to an untimely end when a cowboy-hat coffin-backpack outsider shoots him with a chintzy lightning gun then kickboxer Kyoken beheads him.

The badly wounded K is revived by a bite from his vampire boss’s severed head, and not knowing how his new hunger works, he bites a townsperson which quickly unleashes a vampire plague on the town – the vamps act like yakuza and band together to torment (but not bite) the mortal yakuza. Meanwhile, kickboxer and coffin-backpack are joined by a kappa goblin and a frog furry with its own theme song. This is one of Miike’s high-energy crazypants movies, and it’s extremely fun, up there with Blade of the Immortal and Zebraman 2.

Let’s see… there’s also a tough woman named Captain whose head fills with water… K loves a hospitalized blind girl who turns out not to be blind… a sad kid whose father died turns into an enraged revenge-vampire… and there’s a bloody showdown between K and the kickboxer at the end as the frog furry grows city-sized and threatens to destroy the world.

K is Hayato Ichihara, lead/bullied boy in All About Lily Chou-Chou, has grown up to have a cool, severe face. The unblind Riko Narumi was a teen in The Great Yokai War, is also in notably bonkers movies Why Don’t You Play In Hell and Labyrinth of Cinema. The late boss has starred in a few Kore-eda films and Tsukamoto’s Fires on the Plain. The kickboxer is from Java, and The Raid movies.

A really cleverly constructed movie, would be fun to watch again. Either I never read much about this, or I’d forgotten, but I assumed the first half of the movie was the entire movie, so the end credits appearing halfway through came as a surprise, and the second half was pure joy.

Starts out with a film crew making a zombie movie, which is already going badly when they’re invaded by actual zombies and have to fight to survive – all in a single take. The young leads are struggling as the director unloads on them for being inauthentic. They chill with the makeup artist (who happens to be studying self-defense) when the crew outside begins to get attacked. The director is so excited – finally, something real – and runs around in manic glee with a handheld camera. A rooftop showdown ends with the female lead killing her costar and the director with an axe. The single-take idea is cute, and it’s all timed well, but the movie has poor color and lighting…

But the second half has normal editing, and reveals that this isn’t even a horror movie… the director is really a director, taking on an assignment for a one-take zombie horror, the lead actress and makeup artist from the first half are actually his family. On shoot day for the movie, the table read goes badly, lead actress refuses to do anything gory, two actors are in a car accident and can’t come to set, and the cameraman gets uselessly drunk. So, family and crew fill in as actors, and everyone improvises new lines and situations while it’s all being filmed live. All the cameras and identity shifts (an actor plays an actor playing a zombie who becomes a zombie) must have been hard to keep straight.

This was barely even supposed to be a movie – a low-budget workshop film shot in 8 days that turned out amazing. Hardly anyone has seen Ueda’s other features, though Matt Lynch saw his follow-up Special Actors and called it disappointing. The Director followed up with a kids movie, and his daughter did a voice in that Xenoblade game I’m always playing.

This stupid year is trying to kill my blog, but it still lives.

Movie follows tantrummy four-year-old boy Kun, voiced very unconvincingly by an 18-year-old girl, as he gradually learns simple lessons. He resents his new sister Mirai until she visits from the future and shows him scenes from their family history. He becomes the family dog, goes on a motorcycle ride with his post-WWII grandpa, flies around with the swallows, and gets Christmas Caroled into being nicer to his baby sister. I never got over Kun’s voice – maybe the English version is better.

Now I’ve seen all of the 2018 animated feature oscar nominees – the worthy winner, an all-time fave, two disappointing sequels, and… this. We’re following Hosoda’s career but seeing diminishing returns.

Cool train station agent, tho:

Rotterdance! Premiered at Cannes 2018, showed up at Rotterdam at the end of its festival run, opened in NYC in May then slid onto video in November.

Cute girl Asako meets shaggy guy Baku. He’s a bit quiet and mysterious, and she hardly says anything, just looks curious. They hang out together with her friend Haruyo and his friend Okazaki. They are sweet and young and that’s all there is. “Six months later, Baku said he was going to buy shoes and never came back”

Two years later Asako works at a coffee place and spots Salaryman Ryohei, who looks just like Baku, but is no Baku, neither quiet not mysterious. They hang out with her actress roommate Maya and his amateur acting critic friend Kushihashi, who just tears her apart after they watch one of her performances. Asako is drawn to this fake Baku but torn about the whole thing, runs away, comes back the night of the March 2011 earthquake. I’ve got nothing but plot description, but it’s unusually gripping for this sort of dramatic film – every scene is good. It’s no wonder Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour popped up on decade-best lists.

Five years later, he’s moved up at work, she’s still at the coffee shop, and they’ve been together since the quake, when Haruyo shows up, and the movie takes a flying leap into melodrama (my notes during this section just say “holy shit this can’t be happening”). Baku comes back for her, the night before she and Ryohei are moving into a house together, in the middle of a farewell dinner, and she goes with him – then changes her mind along the way, but Ryohei might never trust her again. “I always had a feeling this would happen. That guy with the same face keeps haunting me.”

Baku I & II:

Would watch Asako III & IV. Cowritten with one of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s regular screenwriters, and Baku/Ryohei Masahiro Higashide starred in his Creepy (as the detective’s ex-partner) and Foreboding. Haruyo was in Lesson of Evil, and Kushihashi was in some Ju-on and Ring sequels. In competition at Cannes the year of Shoplifters and Burning and Ash Is Purest White – tough crowd.

Hamaguchi summarizes his career to date in a Filmmaker interview.

Lawrence Garcia: (I thought the autotune song was horrendous, but this is still good)

Like Karata’s unexpected performance, the film is opaque in ways both confounding and thrilling, as if internalizing one character’s advice not to over-interpret. Equally adept with subtle, naturalistic sketches (a visit to a seafood festival in a far-flung town) and well-timed bursts of emotion (an offered hand and a rising auto-tuned anthem to stop your heart)…

Josh Cabrita, who compares it to Rohmer’s Winter’s Tale:

Asako I & II sets up and throws out stylistic paradigms faster than you can grab hold of them. As if to maximize the frustration of viewers who prefer to distinguish the fantastic from the “real,” Hamaguchi’s amorphous aesthetic — blending naturalistic and affected performances, unobtrusive and flashy editing — renders inseparable inner and outer and public and private forms of experience.

Hamaguchi, who adds that Baku/Ryohei’s accents were different:

Employing [genre] conventions allowed the film to move a lot faster than usual without losing the audience. Those who don’t really understand those conventions might feel what is happening to be a little strange or even grotesque — or maybe a better expression is absurd, surrealist, or illogical. But one of the things I wanted to do was to have realism and surrealism coexisting: allowing something real to come out of this absurd situation, or to have some absurd quality rooted in the reality that we crafted.

Another supernatural teenage love story from the Your Name creator, this time involving weather-control instead of time/body-swapping. Shinkai is terrific with light and cloud and sky, so this was lovely on the big screen – we watched one of the few subtitled screenings before the GKids dub opened wide.

In a future Tokyo where it rains constantly, Hina is the sunshine girl who can clear the clouds with a prayer, but every time she uses her powers she gets closer to losing herself forever to the skies, a human sacrifice who will fix the weather imbalance, the countdown marked on her body like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. The boy who likes her, Hodaka, works with a couple of gruff-but-generous reporters (Crows Zero star Shun Oguri, and The Mole Song 2‘s Tsubasa Honda), and would rescue her from the clouds even if it meant dooming the city to an existence of small cubes. Too much side-plot involving cops and guns and gangsters, but I forget all that stuff when staring at the pretty clouds on the poster hanging next to my laptop.