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. ]

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This is how much I love bad hair.

5 03 2012

[ Spoileralert! Spoileralert! I am withholding nuttin’. Be warned, but be open-hearted. Watch this series with an open mind. It will do your soul great favours <3 ] 

There is not a single thing I would change about this series. Not even Eita‘s hair.

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Soredemo, Ikite Yuku ( FujiTV, 2011) is the most beautiful series I have ever seen, and trying to put together a post that would even come somewhat close to matching its flawless sensitivity, is a mission near impossible. This is my third attempt from scratch. And to be honest, I still don’t entirely know what I am doing.

While many a J-doramas that portray such heavy subjects tend to end up getting preachy and/or a little blahblah corny, Soredemo, Ikite Yuku never, ever came close to even going down that route. The story existed but it merely served as a backdrop to the characters. From beginning to end, the focus was on the two families and how each and everyone of them were dealing with the tragedy of their past, and the repercussions of everybody’s choices and actions. What was it that they were feeling today and what would they become tomorrow? What would tomorrow bring Soredemo really was the ultimate study of character and life.

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The year is 1996 and a young girl’s body is found murdered, dead, floating in the middle of a lake in a rural town in Japan. Fifteen years onwards, the brother of this little girl runs into the sister of the murderer… a chance meeting…  was it for the better?

The power of this drama would not have reached us had it not been for the glorious acting from the super stellar cast. My personal surprise was Mitsushima Hikari, who in my opinion should’ve reaped home a whole bunch of awards and accolades for her performance as the quietly unbreakable Futaba. My previous encounter with the actress was in Bloody Monday, so, acting-wise, I wasn’t so sure what to expect. But in Soredemo, she was quite simply breathtaking. From the end of episode two, where she broke down on her knees in the poppy field, wailing, the hail stabbing down on her back, she had me breathless. Her emotions were so raw, I felt like I was watching someone I love in front of me crying. I wanted to help so badly but I did not know what it was that I could do.

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Her brother, the gutless, stone-hearted Kenji, played chillingly by Kazama Shunsuke, was nothing short of a hollow shell failing to dig up any speckle of life. It was tormenting trying to work out how I felt about his character, someone who didn’t see any hope, someone who had absolutely nothing to look forward to. There was no light in Kenji‘s life. Fifteen years onwards, he was still that same ruthless teenager who had casually put an end to another child’s life. He had not learned any remorse, any regret. He had not progressed, not moved on, not looked at anything any differently. Yet it was damningly evident he was petrified of facing the past. We saw this black and blue in episode 5 during the heart-pounding scene when Aki‘s mother confronts him about Aki‘s death, physically beating Kenji down to the ground. On any other occasion, Kenji probably would’ve retaliated, but in this moment, it’s as if all he wanted to do was run away. This was a guy with a traumatised childhood but the writers never moulded it into an excuse for his sins. As you watched Kenji, you learned he was plain and simply, a chicken sh*t, soulless beast. His life served no purpose. It saddened me to see him so helpless as I realised it was unbendingly obvious Kenji would be forever stuck within his futureless self. Forever a murderer. That was what he was. What I struggled with most was this thought exactly— was it right that I felt sorry for such an animal?

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On the other hand, I had no trouble acknowledging my burning sorrow for the father, Mizaki Shunsuke. As a parent, I’d imagine that there couldn’t be too many things worse than seeing your child sick or unwell. Perhaps seeing your sick child take away another child’s life? Seeing another parent have a chunk of their heart ripped out because of your child? Waking up every day knowing clear and well it was your son’s crime that shred another family’s life apart? Waking up every day realising that it was not all a dream? It’s unfair to even have to imagine surviving like this but this was Mizaki san‘s living hell. It didn’t matter that he was his own good person, it didn’t matter how different he was to his son, it didn’t matter where he was or what he did, he could not escape from it. He would always and forever be perceived as a murderer’s father.

Veteran actor Tokito Saburo more than expressed these gut-wrenching struggles of the character, gradually provoking more and more of our compassion as the days evolved. If there was a way I could’ve helped shed mercy on his soul, without a second thought, I would’ve done it. During episode 8, after failing to capture KenjiMizaki san ends up bleakly wandering along a very busy road. A vehicle almost hits him before Hiroki (Eita‘s character) rushes out to save him. At this point, you could see the desolation in his eyes— he wanted to give everything up. If we were going to talk pain, Mizaki san would not have hurt less than any other person.

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Naturally, you would expect to feel the most sympathy and heartache for Nomoto Kyoko sanAki‘s mother (played movingly by Otake Shinobu,) and I don’t doubt the accuracy of her words at all in epsiode 8: “If a woman has her child taken away, she doesn’t stop being a mother— she stops being a human.” I seriously have no doubt. No doubt at all. But Nomoto san had every prerogative to unleash her grief, to scream out her pain, to cry and to violently protest her disgust at the Mizaki family. Had she perpetrated revenge, nobody probably would’ve passed a single ounce of judgement on her at all— nobody. Rightfully so. This woman had lost something more precious than her own life. It would take more than a lifetime for her to get over it, if she ever could at all.

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But compare this to Mizaki sanwho was there to listen to his cries ?

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This is where the series will grab your heart and leave it crying a river. It will get you wondering, when tragedy befalls, how easy it is for people on the outside to just sit there and form their own judgements, and just how impossibly hard it is for the people involved to go about life as if nothing ever happened. Life really can be cruelly unfair. But do we let it devour us? How far do we let the pain go? Are human beings as resilient as we want them to be?

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Then of course, we have Eita. Oh my darling Eita. His performance as Hiroki in Soredemo left me no doubt that the actor is best when there is no jazz and pizazz around him, no clichéd plot weighing him down— he shines when he is freely allowed to just be. I believed every inch of Hiroki‘s torment severed deeply in his heart, his solitude, his battle to find an outlet for his emotions over the last fifteen years. I believed him. I believed his lust for revenge, I believed the remorse he had for his sister’s death, I believed he truly missed her. I believed if he could go back in time to that afternoon fifteen years ago where his sister begged him to play with her, he would. He would do so much more than that for his family.

But above all, I believe he truly cared for Futaba, and that they were really perfect for one another in the most Romeo and Juliet of ways. They were two broken souls who didn’t need words to understand each other. They helped unbury and conquer each other’s demons and nursed each other’s hurt— meeting each other was by far the best thing that ever happened to them, and the fact that they didn’t end up together does not take away from it. It was inspiring and rejuvenating to watch them work out how to live on, and they will make you realise that love goes far beyond something between a man and a woman. I don’t think I’d be alone when I say the scene after their first and final date together where Hiroki asks Futaba to stay, was quite possibly one of, if not, the best, moment:

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“Maybe you’ll find a Miss Universe one day. You will have to show me her crown,” jokes Futaba. Hiroki replies, “I don’t want a Miss Universe. I have no interest in crowns. I’d be happy with the crownless Toyama san.”

She goes to wave goodbye but he is just standing there, dead still, looking at her as if he never wanted to forget her face.

While there was an inexplicable amount of the most tender sadness, at the same time, although they were parting, it didn’t feel like things were ending. Somehow, things felt like they were beginning for the better. To me, them letting go of each other felt like them letting go of their past, and without a doubt, the new morning would bring new hope. It was the most surging sense of renewal.

Futaba‘s decision to become Yuri‘s guardian after her brother viciously sent Yuri‘s mother into a permanent coma forced Hiroki and Futaba apart but whether it was an attempt to repent her brother’s sins, or a form of redemption for her family’s name, or even to satisfy other people by seeing her make the sacrifice, it was something Futaba felt like she needed to do. Whatever your opinion was didn’t matter.

Soredemo gave you every freedom to form your own judgements, if you wanted to at all, but it never set out to shape any character to be the good guy, and while Kenji was indefensibly the criminal, the writers also never really inflicted the typical dorama villain complexion on him either. The series simply portrayed human beings the way we are. The storyline, the precise fact that Aki chan was murdered by Kenji fifteen years ago, was essentially irrelevant. What was most important was watching these human beings deal with the heartache, and the shame. It wasn’t about who was right or who was wrong, or even what was right or what was wrong, but ultimately it was about figuring out a way to live with each other’s existence. Wounds can heal and scars do fade, and when everything is said and done, life, still goes on.

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I was watching Norwegian Wood and a quote came up from Matsuyama Kenichi‘s character Watanabe in the latter half of the film:

“Nothing can treat people who have lost loved ones. Not truth, not sincerity, not power, not mercy. All we can do is continue to live and accept the tragedy. Know that with everything new, the pain will become smaller.” 

For the characters in Soredemo, there sincerely are no better words.

I only hope they live on the best they can.

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In the meantime, please [ CLICK HERE ] for a Soredemo Ikite Yuku video on YouTube, featuring the most gorgeous instrumental from its OST. If you can make it through the whole thing without shedding a single tear, you can have my Yamashita Tomohisa DVD collection~~





Still, life goes on.

30 08 2011

I love this vid. I love this vid. I love this vid.

Mitsushima Hikari seems like she’s breathing the character and Eita…oh… my darling, Eita… I… have… no… words… <3333333333…

I’m yet to see a single eppy of this currently-airing series, Soredemo, Ikite Yuku (I’m the “Wait til it’s all released and hit it all in one go” kinda gal~~) but watching this beautiful fan-made MV is already giving me an overwhelmingly inexplicable sadness. I don’t know why, but I feel like I’m drowning in their longing, their tenderness, their unspoken affinity… it’s as if these two are meant to be together but they just can’t be.

Can’t wait to watch the series (even if it turns me emo T_T)

(Personal disclaimer: Just in case anyone is wondering, don’t fret, I am still pro Juri+Eita all the way, baby. And also, you bet my ass I will be reviewing this series when I am done xDD)