Under The Hawthorn Tree

8 09 2012

[ Spoilermeter: I’m going to talk about one or two memorable scenes here and there but I am not going to tell you what happens in the end. Either way, I am sure you will enjoy the film’s back-to-basics storytelling in the bestest of ways. ]

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Why is it that we are often moved by the simplest things?

For a while, I was concerned with legendary Chinese director and film maker Zhang Yi Mou seemingly really only making Asian movies that the Western audience wanted to see. But then, I watched Under The Hawthorn Tree.

His 2002 martial arts epic Hero is unquestionably one of my favourite movies of all time. ALOT of it has to do with Tony and Maggie, but the film itself is also a breathtaking visual masterpiece, with Zhang executing his trademark obsession with colour symbolism in the most glorious of fashion— it felt practically gluttonous ooh-ooh-aah-aah-ing through each and every single scene. When I look at it though, given the curiosity that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had generated amongst the Western audience, the timing of Hero was undeniably there to attract further international attention to the wuxia genre.

Zhang went on to make House Of Flying Daggers and Curse Of The Golden Flower, both of which were undeniably gorgeous to look at and truly exemplified the director’s impeccable skill in faceting emotions through colour on our screen. However, as grand as the productions were, both films failed to connect with me on any sort of level other than merely being something there to be visually appreciated. The heavy political overtones and the often overworked, lacking-in-chemistry acting (sorry Your Royal Hotness Kaneshiro Takeshi. Oh, and Jay Chou in period costume? *cue John McEnroe‘s vocals* You can’t be serious~~) really created little reason for me to believe that Zhang hadn’t been distracted by the allure of the Hollywood market.

It wasn’t until recently when I heard about his 2010 film Under The Hawthorn Tree that I realised I had been being slightly ignorant. So please, accept my apologies, Director Zhang. In between the aforementioned (IHMO, lacklustre) historical swordplay epics, Zhang did produce and direct a lesser known film titled Riding Alone For A Thousand Miles, an intimate tale about a Japanese father who embarks on a journey on foreign land to rekindle his relationship with his dying son. I am yet to watch it, however I have very solid plans to because from the sounds of things, the film trails back to elements from his earlier works such as The Road Home, encapsulating exactly what I believe Director Zhang is best at doing— depicting the gentlest, most genuine side of humanity, and making us fall for all the vulnerabilities.

This is exactly what Under The Hawthorn Tree did with me.

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Based on the 2007 novel Hawthorn Tree Forever by Chinese author Ai Mi, Under The Hawthron Tree is the story of an ill-fated romance between two young lovers during the Cultural Revolution. The film is delicately shot, with Zhang highlighting the rural beauty of China using the most straightforward of camera work, capturing scenes at wide-angle and allowing the chastity of nature to simply be. The colours, muted, predominately Earth-toned and somewhat grainy, along with the understated but wistful soundtrack, only served to enhance the nostalgia that came along with enjoying the beauty of the film.

This minimalistic backdrop provided the perfect canvas for the actors to do what all good actors do— make us truly see and feel the characters. Having zero acting experience prior to Hawthorn, Zhou Dong Yu (reportedly hand-picked from thousands of teenage hopefuls by Director Zhang to take on the lead role) reaffirms to me that sometimes having “training in acting” really is unimportant. I did have a small beef with the way she would bite her lip (usually when she was crying,) however casting that aside, there is no doubt Zhou Dong Yu is the shining star in the movie. The young actress artlessly delivers an untainted, heartfelt performance that leaves the viewer convinced her character Zhang Jing Qiu is every bit the innocent, dutiful and resilient high school girl (and that skin, wow, youth really does prove invincible!)

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Under Chairman Mao‘s command, Jing Qiu finds herself temporarily relocated from the city to Xi Ping Village in the party’s propagandistic hopes of having her “re-educated.” Within moments of the film beginning, we see Jing Qiu and a group of fellow comrades gathered under a hawthorn tree proudly named by the Communists as “The Tree Of Heroes.” What makes the tree so special is that its blossoms are atypically red, which they claim to be emblematic of the bloodstain of the Chinese martyrs who sacrificed themselves for the country during World War II. Such historical and political allusions aren’t at all uncommon in a Zhang Yi Mou but, while there are several quietly projected symbolisms throughout the rest of the film, this is pretty much as weighty as such affairs go. Hawthorn remains subtle in its social commentary and chooses to focus more on the love between the our lead characters and the obstacles that they face. And while it can be a constant reminder of the unsettling times that our characters were fighting to stay alive in, for me, the tree stands to represent a love and a hope unfulfilled.

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It is in the country where Jing Qu meets our leading man, geology student Sun Jian Xin (who is referred to as Sun in the story,) and as you would have it, there is an immediate attraction (handsome boy + pretty girl = it’s a freaking no-brainer really.) And there’s no turning back. The challenges they face will give any Korean Melodrama Queen a run for their money but unlike some of the K-dramas of yesteryear that come to mind, everything that threatens to force Jing Qu and Sun apart doesn’t make you even slightly question their feasibility. Not once. Their adversities are 100% believable. For the Chinese audience in particular, it works because Jing Qiu‘s scenario rings so true to many girl’s hearts. I know I’m not the only one when I confess that I was personally “banned” from having a boyfriend during high school, just like my mother was in her younger days. Anything that didn’t directly relate to academics was viewed as a distraction to the “future,” and as the way that Jing Qiu‘s mother unbendingly insists on her daughter and Sun not seeing each other shows, this is the reality that many, if not, most, adolescent girls from traditional Chinese families continue to have to abide by.

In possibly what was my favourite scene, Jing Qiu‘s mother, Jing Qiu and Sun are sitting in Jing Qiu‘s home, which was essentially just four walls and very minimal furnishings. Jing Qiu‘s mother had pulled them inside the house after catching them gleefully riding a bicycle through town together, and was now making her intentions for her daughter— and their family— lucidly clear. She wanted Jing Qiu to concentrate on her career to ultimately put their household in a better economic position in society. In her eyes, falling in love would no doubt clutter the ambitions she had for Jing Qiu. She is uncompromising about it, and to be honest, logically, for the sake of survival, it seemed the only choice. But as we all know, the heart has and never will be ruled by logic. Sun agrees not to see Jing Qiu again but before he leaves, he makes one request to Jing Qiu‘s mother— to allow him to re-apply the bandage that had come loose from Jing Qiu‘s over-worked, infected feet (mind you, they had just come from the hospital so this was the bandage work of a professional nurse we’re talking about. My immediate thoughts were: Hontouni ? As if it would’ve unravelled so quickly ? Didn’t you guys ride a bike home as well ? But alas, what comes out of this scene kills any rationale anyone may have for… anything really~) Jing Qiu‘s mother responds, “Our house is small, there isn’t much space to give you privacy here,” and turns her back to return to making batches of envelopes to sell. Jian Xin gratefully replies, “No, that’s not a problem at all!” and leaps out of his seat to tend to Jing Qiu‘s tiny feet. He takes her shoes off and gingerly begins to re-bandage them, not once looking up at her, but gaaahh *heart breaks into a million pieces* Even without seeing his face, you could still feel every drop of his tears, and every inch of the sadness.

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And that’s a beautiful face by the way. Shawn Dou as the undyingly loyal and respectful boyfriend— heck, undyingly loyal and respectful human being— almost too good to be true. He definitely has a new noona fan in me *busty grin* (but why do the cute boys just keep getting younger and younger? O_olll) I’m not going to lie, at some stages I did think his character was borderline creepy (the way that he would just reveal he had been watching Jing Qiu from afar without her knowing for, like, 20million hours >_>;;;) but the actor’s incredible charm (and maybe those chiselled cheekbones,) plus the chemistry between him and Zhou Dong Yu, will simply just sweep you away. Sun does everything for Jing Qiu and says all the things that a girl would want to hear, and the thing is, he actually means them. It’s not merely a testosterone-fuelled strategy to get into the girl’s pants— every bit of Sun‘s heart and soul devotedly cared for Jing Qiu. His vitality depended on Jing Qiu‘s well-being, and he would never violate her into doing something she didn’t feel comfortable with. And Jing Qiu was just as devoted to Sun as well. She was every bit as supportive and went out of her way to do things to show that she appreciated him just the same.

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It was definitely this tender passion between them that fluttered my senses in a way that most of the current crop of movies of the romance genre fail to achieve. Love where holding hands is a big deal, love where simply seeing the other from afar is enough to make you smile, love that doesn’t necessitate sex, love that barely leads to a kiss… it’s not something the younger generation may be accustomed to but for me, the restraint between Jing Qiu and Sun aroused every little bit of my heart. Love doesn’t need to go through triangles and quadrangles and other boys and girls swooping in to test and prove its truth or its worth. It can simply be about two people, and Zhang Yi Mou understands this. For all that I lament on some of his more recent works, Under The Hawthorn Tree reinstates my faith by going back to the basics and reminds me just why I came to like the director in the first place.

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It may not be his biggest box office success, nor is it necessarily his technically most perfectly executed piece of work, but for me, Under The Hawthorn Tree is probably the most beautifully romantic and earnestly touching.

I certainly don’t regret any of the friggin’ tears.

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Now how could I leave you without sharing some well-earned and well-deserved eye-candy (labouring through infinite tumblr pages is a hard job!)? Boy does Mr Shawn Dou scrub up nicely. Some are saying he resembles 2PM rapper boy Taecyeon, which I can definitely see, but at some angles during Under The Hawthorn Tree when he was smiling like a goose, I saw a bit of Ju Ji Hoon. Not too bad of a combination I say. Anyways, I morphed a couple of my favourite photos of him into desktop wallies. Also throwing in a couple featuring shots from the film itself too (simply because I couldn’t resist the panoramic gorgeousness Director Zhang spoiled us with.) Enjoy :)

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Do not watch a Miike Takashi film at the cinemas in 3-D with extreme audio effects.

11 08 2012

If you go against my advice, well, good luck and power to you. And please, bring a barf bag.

[ !!!Spoilermeter!!! Mild discomfort ahead. Nah, I’m going all out. Watch film first, enjoy, try not to chuck, and then come back. Itadakimasu! ]

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I was so absorbed with seeing Eita‘s name in the MIFF guide (Melbourne International Film Festival) that I completely neglected Miike Takashi‘s notoriety in the world of film. I forgot all about the pure gory gruesomeness.

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Eita plays the role of Chijiiwa Motome in the 2011 Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai (aka Ichimei,) a young man pushed to desperate measures and ultimately arriving at a cruel and brutal death. His wish was simple— he needed 3 ryō to save his sick child and wife— but his fate would be nothing short of one heckuva gut-wrenching tragedy. I’m not trying to be a pun-jackass either. I actually fell physically nauseous and contemplated dashing for the restroom. About 30 minutes into the film, Motome is callously forced by the samurai at the House of Ii, headed by the heartless Kageyu (played by Yakusho Koji,) to commit seppuku— ritual suicide by disembowelling himself— with a bamboo sword. The sound effects, reminiscent that of a certain scene in Miike Takashi‘s Audition, coupled with the 3-D viewing, will bring you up close and personal into the extensive barbarity that unfolds inside that pristine, crisp white courtyard. It really felt like it went on for an eternity. Not since those grotesque tongue-related moments in the absurdly dark and magnificent cult classic Ichi The Killer had I wanted any scene to end more. I swear had I succumbed to the aromas at the popcorn stand earlier, without a doubt I would’ve been puking up chunks of kernels right about then.

It would have been sensible to have psychologically prepared myself going into the movie, however, the idea of Eita in a sumo wrestling diaper threw any sense that I may have had out the window. To be fair, the bloodshed in Hara Kiri does pale in comparison to many other Miike Takashi films, however, the sheer brilliant rawness of Eita‘s acting here will have you emotionally and psychologically distraught (come on, you knew I was gonna praise him.) I seriously wanted to put on my invisibility cloak (I’m not silly,) jump into the scene with a sharper blade and put an immediate end to his misery. But as difficult as the scene here was to endure, it was crucial, and burningly irrevocable as it validated our main protagonist’s thirst for revenge. Kabuki actor Ichikawa Ebizo plays the main role of Tsugumo Hanshiro superbly, leading us to follow his heart and soul in challenging just what the label “honour” truly means.

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Once you get out out this bleak and brutal scene, a much more understated and tender stretch of story-telling pursues. But by no means does it leave any less of a mark. We learn that Motome lost his father at a young age and was subsequently taken in by Hanshiro, who was a long-time family friend. Hanshiro, a single father, has a daughter, Miho, who grows up being played by none other than Mitsushima Hikari. That’s right peeps, Eita and Mistushima Hikari, fated to doom epically again. Yay (N.)~! However, compared to the breathtakingly perfect 2011 FujiTV drama, Soredemo Ikite Yuku, I didn’t quite get the same level of chemistry in Hara Kiri between the two young talents, nor did I feel like I witnessed Mitsushima Hikari chan‘s full potential. There was nothing technically wrong with her acting, it just wasn’t as unprocessed or as transparent to the viewer’s heart as her Futaba in Soredemo (I’ve also come to terms with that fact that everytime Eita is paired with an actress who can actually act, there ain’t gonna be a happily ever after~~)

I never felt like Miike Takashi managed to flesh out the young lovers’ relationship in a way that made you see Motome and Miho as intertwined souls either. Their story was almost too simple, albeit the flashback period did take up a considerable length of time, rendering the overall film much less about the spirit of the samurai and more about the destruction and revenge for the poverty-stricken, ill-fated family. I understood Motome and Miho had grown up together, I got that they liked each other and I don’t doubt that they cared for each other— but I would have loved to have seen and felt more passion, more longing. I wanted to feel that they needed each other both physically and emotionally. I wanted my heart to bleed for them.

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Whether or not this was Miike Takashi‘s conscious intention, I don’t know, but I found myself studying and sympathising for them as individuals rather than as a whole. Motome and Miho each carried their own ideals of duty, what it meant to be a husband and a father, what it meant to be a wife and a daughter— they both felt like they had failed the other. As I watched their souls erode away, I wanted to tell them so much to stop the self-guilt. I wanted to tell them, please, stop and love yourself, as only then will you be strong enough to be there for the other. Only then could you both live on. I wanted Miho to realise being sick did not make her a burden, I wanted Motome to not feel like a failure by believing he was not “providing as a man should.” I wanted them to see all that so, so, SO badly. Yet, I could only watch on as they miserably wallowed in their own self-shame. And the more they did that, the worse things became.

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One of my favourite scenes came when Motome, after selling off some of his cherished books, handed over pretty much the last of his pennies in exchange for three fresh eggs. He nests them in his hands delicately and makes his way home, eager to cook a warm meal for his ill wife, but on his way a group of young children accidentally push past him, causing him to drop one of the eggs. The children run off, but Motome continues to stand there, staring emptily at the egg at his feet. Moments later, he falls to his knees and planks his body down, sucking up the egg that was splattered raw on the dirt ground in front of him. Nothing else is happening on screen. There is no soundtrack, no people, no special effects, no words. Yet it is the simplicity of this moment that generates the despair, and that will move even the most rigid of hearts. If there’s any one scene in the film that makes you re-evaluate your priorities in life, this is it. Do things like pride and dignity really get you anywhere? Does it feed you, does it keep you warm? More importantly, what is your definition for these identities, and would it change if you were to be filthy rich or dirt poor? For the sake of his own survival, Motome shows us that he was willing to throw in his dignity. And for the survival of his loved ones, he was willing to give up even more, because for Motome, his family was his pride (and Eita, oh Eita kun… IIIIIII♫ ♪♬♪… can give you Gaatsbyyy ♫ ♪ ♫ ♩ ♬… in return for some nice shu-shu action, ne? *wink* *wink* :) ;D :O )

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The story eventually reaches present day where Hanshiro is gracing the same courtyard before Kageyu and his men, who now realise that our main protagonist isn’t merely here for a ritual suicide as he claims. Hanshiro was here to seek revenge for my baby Eita. That’s right suckers, prepare to have your topknots sliced off. The final 20 or so minutes sees the story take a turn back to what many would come into the film expecting (or hoping) to see. Death of a samurai— is it as literal as it seems? Or is the absence of simple humanity and honour enough to certify the term? Hanshiro basically makes an enslaught through the House of Ii, knowing damn well he is outnumbered but nevertheless does not cower away from challenging their positions as noble warriors. Seeing Hanshiro send one of Kageyu‘s men flying through their grandly armoured statue of worship and all their faces drop to a sullen fright at the sight of the sculpture dispersing into pieces actually made a few people in the cinema burst into hysterics. To me, the laughable nature of this scene suggests the director’s view on honour within the entire story. Honour is not something you can necessarily see or merely talk about but it’s a way of life. You’re kidding yourself if you believe otherwise. While many are raving about this final battle though, I personally feel it didn’t quite match the emotional charge from Eita‘s ritual scene. However, I don’t question that it was majestically shot ( just as the rest of the film is.) It most definitely sustains Miike Takashi‘s reputation as a master of action choreography.

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Even without having seen the 1962 version of Hara-Kiri directed by Kobayashi Masaki, I can still say that I wish Miike Takashi had dedicated more screen-time to the samurai code of honour, or rather, somehow found a way to greater illustrate its weight and significance to society. I wanted to see more of how the samurai were viewed by everyday citizens, and get into the grittiness of the back-of-house corruption— to me, they only scratched the surface of the theme.

I also question the necessity of the 3-D— actually, I’m undecided. Overall, I don’t feel that the 3-D really served to enhance the storyline at all, however I did like the way Miike Takashi integrated the technology to create a visual sensation for the eyes. Quite frankly, the film was glorious to look at. The use of 3-D definitely minimised the distance between the characters and the viewer but then Miike Takashi would contradict this by hiding his characters behind drops of dark, muggy netting during the middle, melodramatic portion of the film. I feel like this added a dimension of guardedness to the characters and their desolate situation, and left you wanting to reach out and uncover the veil to allow the light to permeate their surroundings. I also loved the shots where the vividly coloured, lush Autumn leaves danced off the screens, the dashes of colour only lasting momentarily amidst the dark tonal hues of the film. In a sense, this reminded us that the outside world still remained a beautiful, unpolluted place.

Whether or not this film stands up to the spirit of the original, I can not tell you (at least not now, definitely some day in the future soon) but, for the most part, Miike Takashi‘s Hara-Kiri is certainly an intensely captivating film in its own right. If anything, one thing’s for sure— by the end of it all, you will look at your own life and simply breathe gratitude.

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[ Images used in this post credit to: autumnsoliloguy’s tumblr, nipponcinema, LA Eiga Fest, Genkinahito’s Blog, also screencapping trailer clip on IchimeiMovie on youtube. ]





I rate this scene: The Naked Kitchen (Hong Ji Yeong, 2009)

28 11 2011

I never thought this day would come.

*throws pompoms in air* Shin goon is back!

I probably haven’t talked about the Korean side of things enough on this blog but seriously, Ju Ji Hoon truly does it for me. Like, from the moment I saw him rock those gawd-awful polka dot vests in Goong, he had me. I made one of those subconscious pacts with myself that it didn’t matter what he would do for the rest of his career, I would love and support him forever and always *gags up dinner from three nights ago*

Errrrr but then 2009 rolled around and boy was I about to be tested. Everybody’s favourite modern day Prince of South Korea was all of a sudden a convicted and self-confessed druggie. Okay, okay, okay, mianhaeyo, I exaggerate. Ju Ji Hoon admitted to the use of Ecstasy and Ketamine on two different occasions, which upon hearing at first, left many, many people heavily concerned for the actor’s future. Drugs, period, is not really the best thing to get involved in anywhere around the world but in South Korea? I seriously felt like crawling under a royal tonne of hanbok and crying my friggin’ eyes out until they darn well bled.

But thankfully, he ended up being dealt a pretty lenient 120 hour community service sentence and blessedly escaped time behind the bars. Once that was done though, it was “Off to the military we go!” as us fans flaunted our best baronial wave goodbye to our dearest, most beloved Shin goon (complete with a buzz cut! Speaking of which, please grow your hair back out soon. I much prefer soft wispy bangs in your face^^)

And now, here we stand, one week after Ju Ji Hoon‘s official discharge from the South Korean military and one day after his first post-military meeting with his fans (where apparently he crooned out a couple of my favourite songs— With or Without You by U2 and Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls… plus, he played the guitar, ahmargah gah gah~~~~~~) So I thought, what better way to celebrate than to share this super-duper, “I so wish I was Shin Min A shi !” scene from The Naked Kitchen ? (No, it’s not THAT scene when they meet early on as strangers and get all, ah, canoodley. That said, I probably wouldn’t have minded being in the pretty actress’s underwear, er, I mean, shoes then either. Hmm. If you want to suss it out for yourself, here is the youtube link.)

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And that, is how you sweep someone off their freaking feet <3 (who cares if she’s your hyung‘s wife *twitches left eyebrow*)

Seriously, two years has been too long. I’m so ready to see what Yonsama can do for you, Ji Hoon shi !

X





Quote It: Kanzaki Nao

23 11 2011

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I’d rather be betrayed than suspect people.

-Kanzaki Nao, LIAR GAME: The Final Stage

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Aaaaahhh the eternally innocent, naive-til-no-end, Nao chan. Fair enough. Come to think of it, it would be nice to live in a world where there was no plotting against one another. A world with no hidden agendas. A world where bandmates didn’t talk smack behind one another’s backs and stayed together forever (*puts on Andre 3000 voice* Furrevah-evah?)

It’s hard to play a character as unbendingly honest as Kanzaki Nao and not get on anybody’s nerves buuuuut (confession101!)— I’ve always been a bit of  fan of Toda Erika. To be honest, she isn’t necessarily mindblowingly outstanding but I do think she is a capable actress. The unconditional faith Nao chan has in the herd of swindlers she has found herself entangled with is borderline eyeball-rolling-inducing but I do think Toda Erika made it work— I dunno, there’s just a certain spunk about her. And I like it.

Um, and I also like Matsuda Shota. Alot. But let’s talk about the series a bit more first, shall we?

So about one year after I watched both the two LIAR GAME seasons— which I enjoyed tremendously (I will elaborate slightly in a jiffy)— I finally found my way to its aftermath, the “Let’s milk what we can from the success of the drama series!” film of the same title,  LIAR GAME: The Final Stage.

Although it wasn’t as much of a pointless affair as the Hana Yori Dango Final movie, I do think the franchise would’ve done fine without the film, given that nothing presented to us in The Final Stage was really that out of the ordinary. Most of what we saw in the film we had seen before— heck, most of what we had seen in season 2 we had seen before. To director Matsuyama Hiroaki‘s credit though, he did maintain all the visual elements that made the first two seasons an absolute feast for the eyes (a smouldering Matsuda Shota notwithstanding~~)— the characters looked like they walked straight off an anime storyboard, the set was gloriously grand, the colours were fun, super saturated and lush, and the camera angles made many moments very manga-esque… it all translated onto the big screen very, very well. And the soundtrack banged out high levels of energy that pulled you into their crazy world even more. But the story of the film was, well, again, you wouldn’t find any of it all that fresh or stimulating if you’d seen the drama series before. On top of that, I feel like the super trippy pace that made the two series seasons so fantabulously easy to digest was missing from the film. And don’t even think about any more character development because you ain’t gonna get it (kind of a shame really since I definitely would have liked to learn more about our genius swindler, Akiyama Shinichi san… xDD)

[ BEGIN SPOILER ]

My biggest moment of pleasure came during that extra scene that popped up during the closing credits. Fulfilled every bit of my AkiyamaNao chan fangirly dreams. Loved the simplicity of their conversation.

Oh, I also liked the bit when Akiyama had to leave the game after he sacrificed himself for Nao chan and he went to embrace and reassure her that she’ll do fine without him by gently resting her head on his shoulders :)

AAAND I also enjoyed the part early on in the film where Akiyama leaned right into Nao chan‘s face, softly touching her lips with his fingertips and… asked for some Chapstick, lol.

[ END SPOILER ]

So, okay, I had three moments of pleasure. And yes, they all involved a certain former F4 member. Honestly, for me, the appeal of the whole LIAR GAME franchise has alot to do with Matsuda Shota as The Official Kanzaki Nao Saver. He makes being a jackass look so friggin… beautiful. Don’t believe me? Well, here is some solid proof (stolen from heartwinkle’s tumblr ^^):

  

Yep.

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In unrelated news, I totally finished Soredemo, Ikite Yuku. *insert one thousand trillion love hearts*

Oh. My. Crap. I am still feeling the pain. More on what I thought of the series laterz.





The Man From Nowhere = One Fiiine Looking Piece of Work

5 11 2011

[ !!!!!!SPOILER METER!!!!!! I will talk about a couple of key scenes but I will not be detailing the ending, like exactly what happens to who and who happens to what. So read if you don’t care, avoid if you want to enjoy the movie in all its good flow but whatever it is you choose, please, don’t restrain yourself— perve the crap out of your heart at Won Bin xDDDDDD ]

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Every now and then, you watch a film that shifts the way you look at the cinematic scene just that little bit differently.

And every now and then, you look at Won Bin and you find yourself painfully racking your brain, wondering, pondering, calculating… is it possible for anyone to actually be that freaking good-looking? Even with all that fake blood smeared all over his face?

The answer to that is neh. Hell neh.

But then again, who said I was looking at the man’s face?

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Yeah as if you didn’t grin yourself stoopid when you laid eyes on the above *mops drool from feet* Let’s face it, the, er, visual beauty of this scene is worth the price of admission alone but if you can refocus your mind away from Won Bin‘s abs, this was, without a doubt, a very symbolic and significant turning point in the film. This was the moment we witnessed our hero “shed off” his past. He no longer wanted to carry the weight, he no longer wanted to hide, nor could he. It was the character’s moment of truth, the moment the fire inside him was reignited and a sense of purpose reborn within. Someone needed his help and he was determined to give all that he had to save her. For so long now he had been confining himself to his own world, but now, the outside world had meddled its way in. So what does that mean for the rest of us? Well, let’s just say we are about to be taken in for nothing short of a complete one-man-ass-kickin’ show (complete with THE BEST KNIFE scene ever.) And neh, it is definitely gonna be suupah fiiine-lookin’.

When I first heard that Won Bin was taking on the lead role in Ahjusshi aka The Man From Nowhere, I immediately thought to myself, “Is this guy just making his way around the family? Firstly, there was My Brother, then there was Mother, now we have, er, Ahjusshi… as in Uncle? Can you please just do a romantic comedy already, something a bit more light-hearted that just makes us all girls (and some guys!) WANT to be the leading female in the movie for once?”

But then, every time you watch Won Bin, you simply come away blown away.

What I like most about Won Bin (apart from the physiCAL obvious~~) is that he doesn’t seem to shy away from playing characters that are completely different to his last. He is always on the lookout to challenge himself. And more often than not, he succeeds. If you think about it, there has been nothing that he’s been in that has left you with even the slightest case of “What were you thinking?” (Well, maybe that 2002 joint Korean-Japanese series, Friends, co-starring Fukada Kyoko. As short and sweet as it was, I’m sorry, I just didn’t entirely geddit (´・ω・`)) His filmography isn’t extensive, and post-military, Won Bin seems to be even more selective of his acting jobs, but I believe it just goes to show that he isn’t the type to force himself into just any role. Rather, it seems like he simply waits for the right role to appear before him. And perhaps as a result, we know that he’s not going to churn out crap (unlike a certain other celebrity whom I fell for once upon a time before the army got to him *coughs*So Ji Sub*coughs**chokes*~~…)

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The Man From Nowhere tells the story of a mysterious man who develops an unlikely friendship with a young girl. A drug bust that goes wrong leads the main characters into a dangerous underground world of raunchy jacuzzi activities, human body organ trafficking, child slavery and whack-head criminals— it’s not exactly an excursion you would wanna sign up for. Won “I’d like to see you take a bad photo of me” Bin plays the lead role of Cha Tae Sik, a reticent, enigmatic, dishevelled looking man with a flank of hair permanently attached to the right side of his face (jicks: “Hey! Eita! Eitakun! You’ve rocked that look before haven’tcha?” Eita: jicksy-chan ! Hai ! Hai ! I totally have indeed! But… my hair ain’t as smooth and shiny or anywhere near as healthy-looking as this ah…ju…sshi…” jicks: “Naw, don’t worry Eitakun, your frizz is da shiz! Perhaps one day, you and Won Bin san will end up working in the same film together and Won Bin san will share his hair-maintenance secrets with you then?” *randomly wishes scenario will come true* <<—er, the Eita and Won Bin in the same film sitch that is, not the Eita and jicksy conversation scenario… *cocks left eyebrow & puts pinky to lip, Dr-Evil-style* ;))))))) Within the opening moments of the film, we see Tae Sik solemnly make his way back to an old, uneyecatching building. The camera pans to one of his hands, which we see is delicately holding onto a small bunch of white daisies, and immediately you feel that this man may just not be as gloomy as his façade may convey. There’s definitely an underlying tenderness about him.

As soon as he enters the building, he stops, and while the viewers can not see or sense a single freaking other thing in sight, Tae Sik knows instantly there is someone there. “Come out now. Or I’ll kill you,” he projects softly but authoritatively. In hindsight now, seeing how fine-tuned his senses are,  it is obviously clear— our hero is definitely no ordinary man.

A young girl emerges from the shadows around the stairwell, her hair somewhat unkempt and her face, well, it could do with a good scrubbin’. She follows Tae Sik back to his apartment (which he also uses as a pawn shop,) and essentially invites herself in as they end up sharing a meal together. Although Tae Sik isn’t overly hospitable in his, ah, hosting services, the two do seem to be naturally comfortable in each other’s presence— you get the feeling that Tae Sik has spent alot of time with this girl before. Now before you cringe and worry that this may just turn a little Michael Jackson on us, please, fret a little less (okay, sorry, that was a joke. A little cheap but… it’s all in good fun. Much love to the King Of Pop always. Truly, your art will forever live on <3)

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Soon enough we learn that the girl’s name is So Mi (played brilliantly by Kim Rae Son,) and she may look a little rough around the edges but there is a definite glow of energy about her. It’s not really your typical “Oh my gawsh! You’re so adorable! Lemme pinch your cheeks!” vibe per se but it’s a more of a… wise-beyond-her-years-whilst-maintaining-her-innocence kinda deal happening. Which makes her drug-addict-of-a-mother pretty darn fortunate, because considering the woman’s fitness as a guardian (or lack thereof rather,) let’s just say if they had parent licences going, she would’ve been long stripped of hers. Instead, well, she is stripped, but we’re talking of clothes, as we realise hard and fast that she is the type of woman to bring strange men home, drink to the point of intoxication and on top of that, intervening deep and nastily into narcotics- and just in case you are wondering, no, this is not an ideal combination.

Getting a grip on the hole-of-an-environment that So Mi has to live in every single day of her young life, you can not help but overlook some of the misbehaviours that she may have. At the bottom of it all you can see she just wants to be like any other child— we see her painting her friends’ nails and drawing cute little Asian emoticons on them, we see her patch people’s wounds up with cute little print bandaids, and there is a certain twinkle in her eye and a zestful bounce to her step—  but soon enough, we are confronted with seeing  So Mi take things from other people that don’t belong to her. Things that she hasn’t paid for. There is a scene where our ahjusshi and So Mi are in a small convenience store together and So Mi sneaks outside with a small handful of goods as the harabeoji store-owner keeps his head down reading his newspaper. Tae Sik walks up to the counter and places a few bills down but the harabeoji, still looking down at his paper, simply lets it slide— “Don’t worry about it. Just let her be. It’s her only way for survival. She will learn on herself soon enough.” I’m thinking,”Harabeoji ! You so wise!” *sees stars* But in all seriousness, his words are so right. So Mi isn’t really stealing for attention, she isn’t stealing for fun and she definitely isn’t stealing simply to be a little freaking brat. It’s not the right thing to do by any means but this is the only way she knows how to live. We can see that So Mi is, at the core, a good girl, so we can rest assured that soon enough, it will all become clear to her. We trust that she will eventually work it out for herself.

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One of my favourite moments of the entire film follows the scene where So Mi is accused of stealing the bag of a fellow student, being verbally and physically attacked by the student’s mother. A (pretty much close-to-useless) policeman dabbles in and asks So Mi if her parents are around. She points up across the street and Tae Sik is standing there- he had been watching all this time in silence. “That’s your father?” the policeman asks, but as soon as he does so, Tae Sik turns his back and walks off. The two later meet and So Mi reveals her feelings:

“Ahjusshi… I embarrass you too, right? That’s why you ignored me back there? It’s okay. My teacher and all the kids at school do it, too. Mum said that if I ever became lost, I should just forget our address and phone number. She gets drunk and says we should die. Even though that pig called me a bum… you’re meaner. But I don’t hate you. Because if I do, I won’t have a single person in this world to like. Thinking about it hurts me here *touches her heart.* So, don’t worry, I won’t hate you.”

She leaves and hands him a Yu-Gi-Oh card of The Dark Knight, the caption on it saying ‘Beats everything.’ I mean, Oh EM to the Jee, can we get a hanky here please Y_Y ‘Beats everything’— this is how So Mi saw Tae Sik. He was someone who she looked up to and depended on, someone who she thought was better than anything and anyone she had ever come across in her life because he had always been the only one there when she had nowhere else to go. Whenever So Mi felt like she couldn’t go home, whenever she needed to run away from her mother’s messy antics, Tae Sik never stopped her from seeking shelter in his home- he had embraced her unconditionally. The two had a silent bond and understanding that went beyond words, which is why that even though So Mi‘s heart was breaking, she was still able to forgive the man because what he meant to her outweighed all the pain and hurt she was feeling at that instant . At this very moment, in Tae Sik‘s eyes, we see something glisten. Without a single word being spoken, we could see that Tae Sik had been moved— we felt it. Whether he had planned for it or not, So Mi had innately become an important figure in Tae Sik‘s life. These two had become family.

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The ability to convey emotion without any speech at all was one of the things that really impressed me about Won Bin‘s performance in the film. Through subtle nuances, through body language and most predominantly, through his eyes, Won Bin was able to get you feeling all the melancholy of the character- his losses, his isolation, his subsequent fury and relentlessness. He made you wanna geddup outta ya chair and pounce on him the bad guys slyly attacking him from behind (and protect his beautiful face from scars.) He made you wanna throw pompoms up in the air and cheer on his enslaught towards killing every single last one of those motherf**kers. As one of his long time fans, I know I am not alone when I say this- seeing Won Bin really coming into his own as an actor and picking up numerous awards and accolades for his performance in this film is a true pleasure. And for some silly reason, it kinda makes me proud. Like, “Oh My Gawd, you’ve come such a long way from your beautiful Han Tae Suhk days,” *hearts* *tear* and, “Oh My Gawd, you may remind some of a certain Dorama King from The Land Of The Rising Sun but your cinematic performances are soSO much more diverse and better.” (Memo to SMAP‘s best singer(?,) er, dancer(?,) er, actor(~~)… daisuki desu… to the end of eternity, lol.) One of the best scenes that demonstrated this huge progression is the flashback where we witness his wife get killed in a planned motor collision. Virtually at the same instant as the crash, Tae Sik (who was returning to the car that is now slowly erupting into flames) is shot by an assassin right to the bloody ground. He collapses abruptly, the multiple bullets to his body unquestionably causing him immense amounts of pain but you could see that it was nothing— NOTHING— in comparison to watching his wife die right before him. The smouldering redness in his eyes, the tears brimming, the veins trembling in his face, his quivering hand stretching out to her as he was writhing frenziedly on the ground… The Man From Nowhere more than reaffirms to the doubters that Won Bin doesn’t just rest on all the pretty features the deities gave him— he actually uses them (Oh Mr Solo Superstar YamaPi-Pi? Oh Pi-Pi? Are you hearing us? LOL. Okay, gomen, gomen, another cheap shot from jicks but hey, it would be wrong if I didn’t mention it~~ Bless you Pi, News, and Ryo-chan.. minasan, ganbatte! Ganbatte!^^ lol.)

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Not only does Won Bin prove to us he can be a dramatic actor, the man also transforms into a bona fide action hero movie star, displaying an array of slick fighting moves en route to finding and rescuing So Mi that will make some of us squirm and some of us celebrate at the top of our lungs. But Tae Sik wasn’t the only one splashing other people’s blood around the joint. Make no mistake, this film is violent, brutal and downright graphic in many parts (think close-ups of eyes being stretched open by surgical-like instruments, staple guns shooting at random body parts complete with live sound-effects and hair-dryers not being used to dry hair… *SHIVER SHIVER* *SQUIRM SQUIRM*) I remember sitting next to another girl in the cinema and we were both constantly covering our eyes and/or burying our faces so much to the point that we ended up giggling hysterically at each other at one stage (at least she had her boyfriend/husband in the next seat to protect her though. I, on the other hand… well, I had my small carton of popcorn… that’s right, it wasn’t even a friggin’ large~~ -_-;) but I have to say, the action was superbly-paced and it found a way to climax at the right time. Not once did I think to myself, “Well, this gore-tastic scene is totally pointless” because nothing was. Nothing really felt out of place or overdone (actually, fine, there was one scene, not that there was violence involved though. It was somewhere near the end where Tae Sik and So Mi go to hug each other- all I can say is there was a bit of slo-mo action that I could’ve lived without.)

This is a film that was crafted in a very purposeful, stylistic, neo-noir way but it never winds up suffocating you. It is clear that director Lee Jeong Beom had a vision, and while some may possibly consider it too “thought out,” for me, everything about it just felt right— the film just made sense.  I especially loved the icy, steel blue colour palette that dominated a good chunk of the film because it really accentuated the exile of the characters— their desolation, their pain and their angst. While the film did offset a definite flair, it also ably projected a great deal of grittiness that drew us into feeling as if we were right there during many, many moments of the film. And you sure as damn well could smell the flippin’ blood during that short but glorious knife scene in the final stages of the film where Tae Sik battles one of the more respectable bad guys, Ramrowan (played by Thai actor Thanayong Wongtrakul… yep, Thai actors are so very cool xDD Huh? Mario who? *cough*cough*) Truly lives up the hype (in fact, I want more!)— the intimate, first-hand camera angles; the live, prickling metallic sounds of the knives; the dexterous martial arts moves that made even Jackie Chan look a little clumsy… seriously, you will flinch as if you were the one trying to dodge the sharp, ice-cold blade(s.) I can not say it enough, this scene has it all. And it should be enshrined! It’s totally scene-of-honour material.

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But The Man From Nowhere doesn’t just bank on this one epic moment, as ultimately, the story between our hero Tae Sik and our beloved little So Mi is what keeps us gripped right to the very end. The “Cool badass man saves sweet little girl” plot to the film actually reminds me alot of Man On Fire (where Denzel Washington and Dokata Fanning absolutely killed it- in the best possible way ever~~:D) but Won Bin and Kim Sae Won truly solidified their worth to us as a viable pair of companions you wanted to root for. The two of them bounced perfectly off each other. And it felt effortless, too. By the end of the film, you’d probably wanna have Won Bin‘s babies just because it seems like he would totally make an awesome father xDD

But then again, if being Mrs Won Bin means you have to live your life on knife-edge (lame pun intended,) then I’m thinking I’d rather not. Especially if you have to encounter drug-dealing, organ-trafficking, womanising-sleazebag-loonies like this dude…

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Kinda makes Freddy Kruger look huggable, doesn’t he? (Btw, shout out to Kim Sung Oh for acting his butt off to make us all cringe at his totally deranged character.)

Now,  I couldn’t possibly leave you with a final image like that so may I please share something I found treasured away on my computer:

 

……

 

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Drool, OVER xDD

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[ Image credits: The pictures I used throughout this post were randomly collected from other websites and blogs, however, I failed (!) to record any urls and page names at the time… brain slip? -_- | | | Feel free to leave comment to abuse me as necessary, or, if you believe I owe you a credit… I will endeavour to amend asap :) ]





You know it’s A Crazy Little Thing Called Love when I make the effort to make wallpaper.

8 10 2011

ORRMAHGAWD I have waited all my life (well, not quite, more like, 12months~~) to see this movie xDDDDDD

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Thanks to mud‘s guidance, I was finally able to watch this crazy little gem of a film. To be honest, there were some things about the story that did make me frown (e.g. the way they portrayed fairer skin to be more beautiful, the fact that Nam‘s friends didn’t get themselves makeovers, the fact that Top was a total peanut by making his best friend swear to never hit on a girl who never liked himself anyways… I mean seriously? Would bug-eye Sato Takeru evaah attempt to stop Miura Haruma chan from hooking up with a girl? See? Yeah I didn’t think so… ( ̄□ ̄;))

But what annoyances the film may have projected was more than made up for by the uber-kawaiiness of the star couple (oh Miura dearie, you be’a watch out, lol j/ks. Don’t worry, I’m still, er, looking out for ya ;X ) and the guileless simplicity of their story that so many of us can relate to. You know you had that one person during your high school years who you would go out of our way to catch a glimpse of, that one person who made you go just a teeny tiny bit giddy (or turn into a heffa of a giggling lunatic in my some people’s cases >_>;;;) And we did. We absolutely did do what Nam did. We squealed, we stalked (I’m talking furreal old-school style i.e. pre-facebook assistance,) we looked to the stars and even in the times before the tress-tasticness of Gatsby pots and Fog Bar sprays, when we knew that one special person would be around, we would make sure our hair looked gooood.

If I had to pick one favourite moment from A Crazy Little Thing Called Love, it would have to be… the moment when Chone and Nam are on the bridge and Chone tells Nam that lame joke about the two squids getting married *GRINS ALL KINDSA STOOPID* (then freaking Top comes along and ruins the day ><“”””” If we were back in high school, I so would’ve smeared invisible super-glue all over Top‘s chair and hurled a ping-pong ball at his face… and stolen his lunch MUAHAHHAAHA)

Oh, and by the way, we like apples xDD

Anyways, here are a few wallies I’d like to share. Made from the heart, lol. Enjoy :)

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Extra: I had a last minute urge to add some speech bubbles to the last one. Not sure if it’s everyone’s cuppa tea but here it is nonetheless. P’Chone and P’Nam FTW!





What would Yankumi do?

18 09 2011

[ !!!!!! SPOILERMETER !!!!!! I’m not gonna give away the final twist but I will be talking about the brilliant first 30 minutes of the film where the first “Wow, what the *beeeeeep*?” feeling is shoved down our throats. So either watch the film and come back or I dunno, whatever, but I just want to say that the movie’s full effect is best when you go in there with an utter sense of  unknown. It’s nice to get a gut-check once every now and then :D :D :D ]

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How do you go from this…

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…to this…

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…???

Oh Riko chan, is that really you?

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While I’m sure we’ve all gone through our fair share of East-Asian revenge stories, Confessions (aka Kokuhaku,) the 2010 Japanese movie by director Nakashima Tetsuya is one of those films that manages to kick, baseball-bat and grenade some of your faith back into the whole genre again. It may not have been as perfect as it could’ve been but it still does have something pretty mighty special to offer.

If you’ve ever seen any of Nakashima Tetsuya‘s previous works and if you are one of the ones who know that the guy comes from an advertising background, then the flambuoyant overstyled visuals and the heavy, MTV-like soundtrack in Confessions won’t be so much of What-The-Is-That-Really-Necessary? kinda deal for ya. Or maybe it will, lol. Reading around, those who aren’t so fond of the film- or the director’s style for that matter- claim that Nakashima san‘s visuals are simply too flashy and too overworked. Fine, I can’t argue that. I can’t argue that there is alot going on, alot of the time. I can’t argue that the overstyling does at times disconnect the viewer from the storyline. I also can’t argue that the volume of the background music does kinda, er, not stay in the background. But I will say that it is a style that is individual to him. And compared to his previous works (Kamikaze Girls and Memories Of Matsuko are the only other ones I’ve seen… what? WHAT did you just say? *shakes head* *evil sideways peer* No. NO waaayy. As if I watched the latter purely for some random frizzy-haired dude~~,) Confessions is actually a much less schizoprenically bubbling colourful visual affair, a movie that you can’t deny is meticulously edited, beautifully filmed and has a pretty provoking psychological character study and message to deliver (albeit yes, it’s all a little whacked-out.)

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Matsu Takako plays the lead role of Moriguchi Yuko, a 7th grade teacher who is softly spoken, dresses prim and proper and is groomed neatly to a tee. I wouldn’t typically picture the actress in such a dark and complex role but can I say how amazed I was with Matsu chan‘s performance. Not a single foot put wrong. You can feel every drop of anger, grievance and conflict in her character’s rippled heart. She opens up the film calmly speaking to her class of rowdy, unfocussed students, announcing her resignation because she can no longer cope with the recent death of her young daughter Manami. But this is no “I just need some time to get over it” declaration. She swears the death is definitely not an accident as the police have ruled, it is a homicide. And an unforgivable one in her eyesone that must be avenged.

Mini cartons of milk are being passed around the classroom as sensei writes the character for “life” in kanji up largely on the centre of the chalkboard (hot tip: block your ears as sensei makes that icky scratch-down-the-blackboard noise ‘ere *bites lip* *shudders*) She mellowly continues her words;

“Those who are weak of heart will in turn hurt those who are even weaker than them. If life is hard where you are, why don’t you take refuge in another place?”

Clearly, sensei is just trying to ensure her children are getting their daily calcium intake requirements and wanting to set them up for a Nobel Peace Prize… lol, j/ks, Moriguchi sensei has her own plans~~ She reveals she knows who the killers are, and that they are here- they are right here, sitting in this classroom. Yet, rather than immediately unveiling their names, Moriguchi sensei elects to refer to them as Student A and Student B, and proceeds to describe the social and academic characteristics of the two. She also brings up a man who she and Manami chan were close to, Sakuramiya sensei, and makes mention that he is an HIV carrier. By this time, the entire class, sipping on their milk, is slowly starting to quieten down and pay some freakin’ attention (all I can say is, faiight-o! *fist pump in air* Kidlings, y’all are ’bout to choke on your milk-0! *gargle-gargle* ;-)) As the 29th minute of the film rolls around, our sweet-faced Matsu Takako turns a little unsweet. Moriguchi, with the faintest of smiles, yet still as subdued in her tone as ever, confesses the information of a lifetime. She reveals to the class she has injected Sakuramiya sensei‘s infected blood into the milk of Student A and Student B. She turns around and in one swift motion, swipes the duster across the chalkboard. “Life,” had been erased. If you couldn’t guess who Student A and Student B were before, you could now (hint: look for the ones regurgitating and/or sprinting to the bathroom ( ̄□ ̄;)*yikes*~)

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I have to say this was possibly the best thirty minutes of my recent cinematic life. In fact, at the very moment Matsu chan cleaned off her chalk, I felt an intense urge to bounce up onto my feet, dust my shoulders off then rap “B!-R!-A!-V!-O!-H!” Chilling and absolutely hair-raising, I can not say this enough- this was one brilliantly acted, near-faultless, stunner of an opening.

While what follows is far from a waste of time, the rest of the film unfortunately fails to give us the same punch as the opening 30 minutes, losing some cohesive direction in the middle when they go on to tell us the story of Student A and Student B. If I had to describe the film in one sentence, I would say this- 30minutes of sublime tranquility followed by 60minutes of screaming chaos. Seriously. The last two-thirds of the movie feels like an overload of information. Though it maintains its picturesque, steeley colours and camera shots worthy of art gallery display, the pace and audio levels pretty much switches 180degrees as Nakashima Tetsuya‘s trademark flashy flair begins to kick through- in some ways, it does distract you from earnestly connecting with the characters. And if you have a headache, we can safely say that the soundtrack for Confessions is certainly not going to do you any favours. One minute we have circus-like, music box style music (that’s fine) but then WARRGGHHH(!!!!!!) The next we have Scream-Your-Freaking-Lungs-Out metal, and what, it’s fighting against what sounds like an Eastern-like mantra wail chant. Now some may much prefer to listen to a full-on *air quote open* live *air quote close* JE concert but *tweezes twitches eyebrows*>_>… although I wasn’t in love, somehow, I did find the sounds of Confession working for the film. I did appreciate it was a bit of the old and a bit of the new. In a way it got me thinking that no matter how advanced the new world is, we can never shake off the old world traditions.

It also left me with the more obvious contemplation- can teenagers nowadays really be that unpredictably scary? Like, they pretend to be all fine and dandy and well-behaved to your face but once there’s no one looking, they transform into little monsters that recognise no limits on the carnage they may cause? Director Nakashima Tetsuya has certainly presented us a very stylised, extreme perception but I don’t feel like what he has created is completely whack-a-moly off the track— the undertones are certainly relevant to what we see and hear about today. Kids are growing up much faster these days, they’re exposed to alot more at a younger age and yes, as Confessions suggests, there is the impression that they are causing more and more havoc. But are these so-called troubles apparent because of the way we are raising them? (Btw, no, I do not have children. And after this film, I don’t think I want any either, lol.) Society is fast-paced, competition is non-stop, communicative technology is advancing by the second… but are we really listening to each other? Are we listening to our children? My point is, just as I mentioned in my Gloomy Salad Days review, children don’t rebel just for the sake of it. There has to be something to Student A and Student B we don’t yet know about.

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Student A , or as we now know as Shuya, is a natural-born genius and is a seemingly effortlessly perfect student. Academics has always come easily to him. But for most of his young life, Shuya has struggled with the complex of being abandoned by his mother. Through icy, grainy flashbacks- which Nakashima Tetsuya manages to masterfully present to us as if it were one bad, shiteful dream-  we learn that Shuya‘s okasan was indeed a promising scientist who gave up her career to give birth to Shuya, committing herself to become a stay-at-home mother to raise him. But as the years progressed, the more Shuya‘s mother felt confined and the more she began to regret sacrificing her personal dream. This was not what she wanted her life to be.

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What makes it worse for Shuya is that Shuya‘s mother doesn’t exactly deal with her feelings in a way that would inspire someone to pen a “How To Be A Good Mother And Raise A Good Child Who Won’t Turn Into A Murderer” book as she finds herself constantly verbally and physically abusing Shuya. She would take her dissatisfaction out over and over again on Shuya‘s tiny frame, irrationally and uncontrollably passing blame and guilt on him for where she wasn’t at- as the viewer, you can’t help but feel for poor little Shuya. Before long, the father decides he can no longer cope with the mother’s aggressive behaviour and finally divorces her ass (good work, you say? We’ll see… >>…) Shuya watches his mother leave, and at the same time, a part of Shuya‘s spirit loses its way as well.

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Flash forward to present day, we see Shuya picking up all sorts of academic accolades, the most noteworthy being a prestigious, nationally recognised science award. Is it sheer coincidence Shuya has so much passion for science? Is it sheer coincidence that my favourite Arashi boy’s last three renzokus have sucked hardcore? Earth to MatsuJun: pick up your darn game! (Please -_-;) I think not. Somewhere, somehow, he is aching- dying– for his mother to take notice of him. But what cuts Shuya is that on the day he wins the award, another teenage student erupts over the front page news, overshadowing him, for intentionally poisoning her entire family and then bragging without mercy about it on her blog (what a total waste of your cyberspace, girl ><;) Shuya‘s article was merely a “blink and you miss it” insignificant snapshot somewhere in the middle pages of the newspaper. He mulled to himself, what does it take for the world to notice him? What does he need to do to be remembered?

From their façades, Student B, or Naoki, is much different to Shuya. A little awkward, Naoki has never really excelled at his studies, nor does he seem to have any special talents or be particularly active at the social game. As a matter of fact, the boy hardly raises an eye. Ignored by the other kids, and barely being acknowledged by his teachers, you could essentially label Naoki as “a nobody.” But being a “nobody” doesn’t mean that Naoki was happy simply staying out of the way and being shunned day in and day out. Beneath that silent exterior, he, too, was someone who wanted to leave some sort of impact. He wanted to feel existence just like Shuya— just everybody else.

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And this is where the film challenges the viewer, pushing us to deliberate with ourselves as we are shown scene by scene how these two young boys plot to murder another child. Throw in some extra teen violence where a girl (played superbly by Hashimoto Ai may I add) ends up rather buraddi bloody (Monday! Buraddi Monday! Sorry, sorry, you know I had to say that~~ Falcon me, baby xDD) and you’re left wondering how much more oppressive can this affair get. Is it right that we depict teenagers in such a gruesome light? Shouldn’t we be making films of children all happy, bubbly and drinking chocolate milk that has no, er, additional additives? It certainly isn’t the first film that portrays teenagers engaging in extreme brutalities (think Takashi Miike‘s 2001 Battle Royale, Sono Shino‘s 2002 Suicide Circle, or even the classic 1983 film by Francis Ford Coppola, The Outsiders,) but I guess with Confessions, director Nakashima makes a stronger pose for the following question: to what extent do we accept the wrongdoings of our children as something they should be responsible for versus something that we should be responsible for? Where do we draw that line? Moriguchi sensei states early on in the film that as a teacher, it is her responsibility to guide a student back on the right rack, should they veer off it.  She also makes it vividly clear that she believes if a child is intelligent enough to schematically take another person’s life, then they should receive the same judicial treatment just as an adult would. Whether you are 13 years old or 30, it makes no difference- if you are conscious of your actions, you should be responsible for the subsequent consequences as well, right?

Watching Shuya and Naoki not show an ounce of remorse over Manami‘s death, I did find myself somewhat leaning towards Team Moriguchi sensei. Just a little bit (actually, I really want to sit on the fence for this one, sensei. I really, really do. Please. Do not hurt me..!) I absolutely see where she is coming from- conventional juvenile punishment doesn’t always serve justice. It doesn’t always do the child who committed the crime any good from a disciplinary and behavioural reforming standpoint. And hells yes, the bottom line is, what these kids have done is a blatant crime. It’s just that when they are that young, how much of the big picture of what it is that they are doing can they truly see? We’ve all been their age before— sometimes we really thought we knew it all but in hindsight, we can see we really had no idea (like, Kame and Jinny clearly hated each other all that time along, LOL j/ks. I know! I KNOW it’s still and forever all lurve…) And when children are simply craving attention- from us– is it acceptable for us watch them take all the judicial punishment on their own?

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By law of nature, we are the guardians and they are our children, and Naoki‘s reaction in particular after finding out what Moriguchi sensei had, you know, added sum’ in’ a lil extra to his milk and stuff, truly highlights their delicateness. He recluses himself immediately, locking himself in his bedroom behind shut drapes, coming out not to converse with anyone, nor to eat or bathe properly, but only to vigorously scrub his entire body as if to rid himself of a some sort of skin disease. His face is soiled, his hair is unruly, one look into his eyes and you see a little boy lost. Scared. Terrified. His mother can only cry to herself at what is happening to her child. Waiting to find out if you have been infected with HIV is not something a full-grown, level-headed man could comfortably endure, let alone a 13 year child. As a mourning mother, without question we can and should sympathise with Moriguchi sensei, and perhaps in some ways even root for, but as a teacher, as a living soul, what she is doing doesn’t make the most sense. It makes no sense that anyone- especially a child- has been forced to suffer to this degree.

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This also brings about the following question- just how far does a teacher’s role extend in being a child’s disciplinary figure? I mean, if I were Naoki‘s mother, I would have been mad-peeved at the woman Moriguchi Yuko, so much to the point that I would have seriously considered…… transferring my child to whatever school Yamaguchi Kumiko was terrorising at that point in time ahahahaahhhhem. In all sincerity though, teachers do have alot to do in shaping a child upbringing but at the same time, in my opinion, the parents are just as, if not more responsible. We’ve seen and heard it all before- parents relaying their children’s disrespectful, anti-social behaviour to their teachers and condemning the schools. The blame game is easy to play and in the chaos of today’s society, many of us may even find that we accidentally end up playing it. Confessions goes to show that accounting your happiness to others creates the exact opposite effect as ultimately, you are the one in charge of how you feel.

The plot regains some storytelling strength during the last segment of the film when it turns its focus back on Moriguchi and her relentless determination to avenge her daughter’s death, throwing us one banger of a final twist. We watch sensei‘s plan unfold piece by piece and the layers of her soul eaten away layer by layer by her insatiable obsession to win back what she believes would be justice. In the end though, when everything was said and done, did Yuko manage to find her refuge? Was this really where she wanted to be?

I’m not so sure.

In fact, even now, I don’t think sensei herself is sure.

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BONUS TIME!
A pic I came across on my Matsu-Takako-researching journeys…

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[Picture credit: Treasure JBox]

The memories ^_^ <3