Japanese gang-war rap musical, opens with an epic long take, then blonde gang boss Mera (Ryôhei Suzuki of Kurosawa’s Seventh Code) explains the local gangs and neighborhoods to a noob cop he has stripped and threatened with a knife, and we already know what the movie is like: it’s gross and loud and sexist, and kinda fun as hell.

Mera ambushes his hated rivals, the peaceful gang Musashino led by Kai, and kills a guy, and his body is wheeled back home with a new girl in tow (Nana Seino). Meanwhile, Mera ally Lord Buppa (played by a pop-eyed Riki Takeuchi, a classic Miike star I haven’t seen since Battle Royale 2) is sent two elite fighters by the High Priest to recover HP’s missing daughter Erika (the new girl, obvs), and previously unknown gang the Waru is activated.

A holographic message from the wise High Priest:

Kai bands together all the Tokyo tribes, including the Gira Gira Girls and Neri Muthafuckaz and probably a couple more, to fight this new threat. It all looks impressively choreographed and real, neon lights and stunt fights, then a super-fake CG tank comes along and blows it. Still, for a full two hours of rap mayhem, this doesn’t lose steam. I’d been avoiding Sion Sono since Noriko’s Dinner Table, but this and Why Don’t You Play In Hell were fun, so maybe I should watch his four-hour masterpiece Love Exposure sometime.

For a two-hour movie it sure starts fast – there’s a “sea eruption” as the coast guard examines an abandoned craft, and a gushing leak in an undersea traffic tunnel, then a flurry of government workers reacting to the news, each worker rapidly introduced via subtitle, and this is all in the first two minutes. Little did I realize we’d mostly stick with these government workers for the next 118 minutes – this is a Godzilla movie told from the POV of the bureaucrats trying to devise a solution to the kaiju problem. I meant to watch this two years ago as part of a double-feature, but was so disappointed by the American remake, I cancelled. Should have carried on with the plan – despite its insistent focus on meetings, this is unique and excellent.

While the government works on their undersea-volcano theory, Godzilla’s tail shows up on the TV news, then as the PM is assuring the public there’s no danger of it coming onshore, it comes onshore. The fate of humanity may depend on the government’s response, but the higher-ups only listen to high-ranking officials, not anyone with actual knowledge or ideas. A scrappy young voice-of-reason deputy cabinet secretary named Rando (Hiroki Hasegawa, lead Fuck Bomber of Why Don’t You Play In Hell?, also in Before We Vanish) forms an impromptu committee of underrated functionaries to brainstorm solutions the old-guard leadership isn’t coming up with, making this the most Colonel Blimp-like of Godzilla movies.

Back to the giant monster movie at hand, the thing that comes onshore is… not Godzilla? I thought it might be a monster that G ends up fighting, but after struggling through the city and splashing blood everywhere, it collapses then suddenly evolves into the G we all know. Every time it stops and then rises again, it’s more powerful with new abilities – the fin-glowing, fire-breathing, purple-energy-releasing sequence is especially impressive.

When purple energy beams destroy the prime minister’s chopper, a know-nothing with seniority is made PM, and pretty easily convinced by the U.S. to let them nuke Tokyo. Sure he feels awful, but he has no ideas or power of his own, so it’s up to Rando, his team and his negotiations with the talented half-Japanese daughter of a U.S. senator. The movie is obvious about its politics and complaints – and again, it’s mostly meetings – but it’s also excellently paced and has outstanding monster-devastation scenes.

There are a million actors in this, each introduced with onscreen name and title, and I only kept track of a few. The PM is Ren Osugi, who shows up in every other Japanese movie I watch, and died last year. Kayoko is Satomi Ishihara of the Ring sequel Sadako 3D. Rando’s team includes Mikako Ichikawa of Anno’s live-action cartoon Cutie Honey, and Shinya Freakin’ Tsukamoto.

Not really horror, a disaster movie – made in response to the American version, which wasn’t good at all. This got a limited release in the US, where it mostly appealed to nerds on fansites, while in Japan it won best film and best director and was only outsold by Your Name. Hideaki Anno made this as a mental break between Evangelion films, the fourth of which is now five years delayed. Codirector Shinji Higuchi made Attack on Titan with some of the same cast, and directed sfx for the 1990’s Gamera movies. Anno might be following up with an Ultraman movie, and if he never finishes making the theatrical Evangelion series, I’m never gonna start watching it.

After an accident, Hiroshi (Tadanobu Asano of the Thor movies, star of Bright Future and Ichi the Killer) wakes up uncommunicative, barely knowing who he is. He returns to med school and begins a four-month class where he dissects the body of his girlfriend Ryoko who died in the crash, while he experiences lucid dreams (or returning memories, or a split consciousness) in which he spends time with Ryoko.

So it’s another trauma movie from Tsukamoto, about pain and memory and body horror – though this is a quiet and restrained movie, and we hardly see any surgery, so it’s not so much a horror movie as the poster would have us believe. This was made before two of my faves, Haze and Nightmare Detective. Employing crossfades and slow zooms into splotchy patterened walls, it effectively represents Hiroshi’s dark, blurry mindset without going into the usual Tsukamoto shaky-cam histrionics.

Ryoko:

Her parents:

Hiroshi’s own parents had apparently given up on his future before the crash and are warily glad that he’s back in med school – dad is Kazuyoshi Kushida of Oshima’s Sing a Song of Sex, and mom is Lily of Oshima’s Dear Summer Sister. Hiroshi makes the odd decision to contact the girlfriend’s parents and let them know that he’s cutting her up. They take this news better than I would’ve figured, and as the mom (the cinematically named Hana Kino of Ôbayashi’s Beijing Watermelon) is dying of cancer, dad (Jun Kunimura: the unlaughing lord in Scabbard Samurai, lead gangster of Why Don’t You Play In Hell?) seems to appreciate Hiroshi’s company. There’s also another emotionally disturbed med student, Ikumi, who blames herself for a professor’s suicide, and seems to exist in the movie mostly as an audience surrogate to stare in disgusted wonder at Hiroshi as the other students slowly abandon him.

Ikumi:

Spends a significant amount of time with a makeshift family who adopt/kidnap a neighbor from an abusive home. Their daily life and care for each other is seen up close for the first hour, until just like in yesterday’s movie Too Many Husbands, the decision of how to arrange their own family is taken out of their hands when the Morality Police show up and straighten it out according to the Law. Suddenly each member of our close movie family is revealed as a low-class criminal, reduced to a mugshot and named by their crime (thief / murderer / kidnapper / fraudster). It’s an extremely effective sympathy tactic – a moving film even though I could see the gears turning.

The first Kore-Eda I’ve watched since Nobody Knows, 15 years ago, even though the eight he made in between were variously acclaimed, making top-ten lists and Criterion blu-rays… I guess the Palme d’Or finally got me. Sakura Andô (Love Exposure) won Japan’s top acting award as the mother. One of the final films by Kirin Kiki (Suzuki’s Zigeunerweisen and Pistol Opera) as the grandma.

Kazuko (Tomoyo Harada, later narrator of the 1997 version) has known flower-obsessed Kazuo (Ryôichi Takayanagi of a couple other Obayashi films) since childhood. They’ve always been close, and once drank each other’s blood after a broken mirror incident. So she confides in him after passing out in a science lab and waking up with the barely-controlled ability to jump back in time, saving people from tragedies she’s seen occur from falling roofs and zooming bikes.

But it turns out these two met just recently, and Kazuo is a time traveler from the year 2660, collecting plants from the past for scientific research since the future world is barren, and he has psychically manipulated people into believing they’re friends with him, stealing Kazuko’s memories of her childhood friend Goro (Toshinori Omi, star of gender-swap comedy I Are You, You Am Me). The movie plays all this straight, just 1980’s teen drama to the point that even 1980’s-teen-drama-loving Katy, who loves the animated version, got bored and wandered off, but there’s some fun crazy stop-motion towards the end as she hurtles through time.

It’s a pretty good animated period drama, but if you watched if before the others, you’d say what’s the big idea with this Ghibli thing, their movies aren’t so hot. At least “pretty good” puts it above what I’ve heard about Tales From Earthsea from the number one Goro hater in my office. But it’s missing something, the smoothness and refinement of motion. When people turn their heads it doesn’t look so much like a person turning their head as it does progressive images of a head turned at different angles – the flow is wrong. Or I dunno, maybe my blu-ray was bad, but this came out after Ponyo, and some of the stuff in Ponyo is leagues beyond. The old timey piano music on the soundtrack was different, anyway.

It’s the ol’ story of kids saving their clubhouse from demolition by fatcats – in this case it’s a creaky old multi-story house on a high school campus where all the boys run their after-school organizations, and the school board is demolishing it to build a nicer one, so the girls pitch in to clean the place up and show off its value. Shun runs the school paper, Umi runs a boarding house, and they think they might be in love, but then see photos of each other’s dead fathers and it’s the same guy so they’re worried they might be siblings, then this gets resolved and it turns out their fathers were just friends so they are free to do whatever.

Maybe the grungiest, most lo-fi, handheld Oshima movie I’ve seen, with some apparently documentary segments. Also maybe more sexual violence than usual. Some nice closeups on hands, like in other thief movies. Whole movie looks dubbed, with some cool troubadour songs (not as funky as the ones in Izo).

Longhaired anarchist book thief Hilltop Birdman (Tadanori Yokoo, a minor role in Mishima) is nabbed by employee Umeko (Rie Yokoyama of Wakamatsu’s Ecstacy of the Angels), to the delightful indifference of her boss, who tries to give the thief more free books. But it’s the late 1960’s and if anyone’s gonna embrace the revolution in the air, it’s Oshima. The movie goes off on tangents about sex and psychology, turns from black-and-white to color, plays with poetry and literature and theater, and makes cool images and tries to freak out the normies. “I do feel something like rage toward nothing in particular.”

It’s all crying out for some explanatory blu-ray features – for instance, it’s been a minute since I watched Death By Hanging, so I didn’t realize that movie’s primary male cast appears in a roundtable discussion as themselves – but I tend to love Oshima films even when I’m confused by them.

A few days after Rashomon, we took a whole class to the Alamo for this one, all of our first times seeing it. A version of Macbeth that is plenty enjoyable on its own, through its great atmosphere and unique variations on the story, and even more so after reading about some of the design elements and historical context.

From Stephen Prince’s Criterion essay:

Noh shows up everywhere in Throne of Blood, making the project a real fusion of cinema and theater… Noh elements include the music (that assertive flute, for example), the bare sets, and especially the stylized performances by Mifune and Isuzu Yamada … Actors in Noh use masks, and while Kurosawa doesn’t do anything so blatantly artificial here, he does have Mifune and Yamada model facial expressions that resemble popular Noh masks (a strategy he extended in Yamada’s makeup) … Kurosawa strips all the psychology out of Macbeth and gives us a film whose characters are Noh types and where emotions — the province of character in the drama of the West — are formally embodied in landscape and weather. The bleached skies, the fog, the barren plains, and characters going adrift against and within these spaces — this is where the emotion of the film resides … Kurosawa wants us to grasp the lesson, to see the folly of human behavior, rather than to identify or empathize with the characters.

Toshiro Mifune’s ninth Kurosawa film, with Isuzu Yamada (landlady of The Lower Depths) as his Lady, and Minoru Chiaki (the priest in Rashomon, also Hidden Fortress and The Face of Another) as his friend-turned-rival. The three witches are replaced by a single spinning-wheel ghost, with a neat single take when the spirit house vanishes while the warriors (and camera) are distracted.

An aged film actress relates her life story to an interviewer and cameraman at her house. She draws them into her memories so they appear to be watching/filming her life from the sidelines, as she starts by explaining she only went into acting to locate a cute revolutionary artist she once met. Chiyoko’s transformations and the stagings and transitions of the flashbacks are wonderful, sliding through Japanese history and cinema – the movie could’ve happily gone on like this for another hour. Instead it has to wrap up, Chiyoko explaining that she didn’t need the boy, she just loved the pursuit, and the interviewer confessing that he’s a stalker from way back, and returns a memento he found during her studio years. Satoshi Kon’s second feature after Perfect Blue; I’ve also seen Paprika, and feel like his movies are good, but not getting why people think they’re the most amazing things in the whole world. A few years after this movie, Kon made the series Paranoia Agent, which is the most amazing thing in the whole world.