Tag Archives: Kazuki Kitamura

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004, Kitamura Ryuhei)

According to Toho, Final Wars is the Godzilla movie for at least ten years. They haven’t been doing to well at the box office. It’s also the 50th anniversary movie (it actually came out last year in Japan, only showing up now on DVD in the US). The film is definitely homage, but not the kind you’d think. Instead of being somber, like the original, or a serious attempt (like Shusuke Kaneko’s Giant Monster’s All-Out Attack–really, it’s a serious attempt), Final Wars is dedicated to the Godzilla movies most people saw on Saturday afternoon TV. It’s the goofy, wrestling Godzilla. There isn’t a serious moment in the whole movie–whether it’s Godzilla fighting his Hollywood incarnation or the American actor who apparently understands Japanese but can’t speak it, it’s all light.

I wasn’t expecting much, of course, but I did think there’d at least be some good Kitamura fight scenes. There are lots of fight scenes, but they’re short and there’s a lot of visible computer assistance. It’s Versus-lite. Kitamura can make a better movie and he has a good time with the straight (as straight as this movie gets with the evil aliens), but the giant monster scenes are sort of without imagination. I can’t tell if he even likes Godzilla movies.

Final Wars clocks in at two hours and two minutes, which probably makes it the longest Japanese Godzilla movie, but Godzilla doesn’t even show until after an hour into the film. The film’s a little bit a remake of Destroy All Monsters and it could have gone further–more Godzilla, less people. It didn’t even have to do it straight, it could still goof, just go further.

There aren’t very many good Godzilla movies–just one, probably (though there’s a slight chance the 1984 Godzilla is all right)–and Final Wars is one of the better ones. Its target audience is actually a lot bigger than any other recent Godzilla film, just because so many people did watch those Saturday afternoon movies….

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kitamura Ryuhei; screenplay by Kiriyama Isao and Kitamura, based on a story by Mimura Wataru and Tomiyama Shogo; director of photography, Furuya Takumi; music by Keith Emerson, Morino Nobuhiko and Yano Daisuke; produced by Tomiyama; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Matsuoka Masahiro (Ôzaki Shin’ichi), Kikukawa Rei (Otonashi Miyuki), Kitamura Kazuki (The Controller of Planet X), Don Frye (Douglas Gordon), Takarada Akira (Daigo Naotarô), Mizuno Maki (Otonashi Anna), Nagasawa Masami and Ôtsuka Chihiro (The Twin Fairies), Sahara Kenji (Jingûji Hachirô), Mizuno Kumi (Namikawa Akiko), Funaki Masakatsu (Kumasaka), Ibu Masatô (The Xilian General) and Takashima Masanobu (Major Kita).


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Azumi 2: Death or Love (2005, Kaneko Shusuke)

So, why when making a sequel to a successful film, do film companies do it on the cheap? This practice is getting uncommon in the US (except direct-to-video sequels), but was prevalent in the 1970s–each Planet of the Apes film made more money and had a drastically lower budget. It’s like the company is assuming they’ll make some money no matter what, so why bother? Azumi 2 does the double injustice of having incredibly shitty villains too. It’s not just the “comic book,” ninja super-villains, the special effects of their powers are awful….

I guess I saw the first film in January, long ago enough that I started remembering it during Azumi 2 and some comparisons were inevitable. Like how much better a director the first film had… Azumi 2 is rather confused. It’s got some action, but not a lot. Too much of the silly super-ninjas, not enough regular ninjas. There’s no budget, so the characters spent all their time walking around the forest. I’m not sure if Japan has forest preserves, they must, but I mean like in the US. Azumi 2 could have been shot in Central Park or something, there’s so little variety. It’s a small movie, filled with small shots–Kaneko can’t get the camera off the ground and so the audience isn’t feeling anything grandiose. It’s not all Kaneko’s fault (I’ll get to what he does right in a minute). It’s the script. There’s a big warning sign for sequels–if the sequel is produced by the producer of the first film and said producer is writing the sequel, that’s a problem. It’s a big neon problem. It doesn’t help that Azumi 2‘s other screenwriter appears to write anime. Anime is… cartoons. Super-villains are okay in cartoons. Super-villains aren’t okay messing up Azumi 2.

With these moronic super-villains, one of these twits is dressed up like a raccoon or something (really), and they all have rubber chest-plates, you’d think that I wouldn’t have anything nice to say. Oh, these super-twits. Can’t act. All the good acting is from people from the first film (more in a second). First, a compliment for Kaneko, and probably the only friggin’ reason I’m giving this film a “1.” I haven’t yet. I hate kind of liking sequels to films I recommend. It’s a personal insult or something. All right, here it is… Azumi 2 does not mess around with dying people. People don’t just go quiet into that good night. They don’t want to die and we don’t want them to die. And Kaneko shows it to us–three or four times–and it hurts. There’s some real human conflict in these scenes, a real sensitivity, that’s totally foreign to the rest of the film. These scenes aren’t short either. I think one of them goes on for a couple minutes. A couple minutes of someone dying… alone, but not exactly, it’s a beautiful scene and it tears.

The acting, from a handful of people, is good. Ueto Aya, as Azumi, is good, though Kaneko doesn’t know how to shoot a bad-ass. In the scenes where people are saying she’s “just a pretty girl” or something, it’s shot from those characters’ perspectives, not from either hers or the third. The first film’s director knew how to shoot bad-ass. Kaneko just doesn’t and it hurts the stand-off scenes. Only a couple actors from the first film return, one’s good, one isn’t. The villains, super or not, are all pretty terrible. Some of the new good guys are okay, certainly okay enough to keep the film going–though the super-villains bring about some jaw-dropping. Who thought raccoon-boy was a good villain?

Azumi is based on a manga series that runs twenty-five volumes, but I doubt there’s an Azumi 3 on the horizon. Oddly, I just found that Azumi is going to be back next year… but on stage. Love that Google. I don’t know if I can recommend Azumi 2 to anyone, even folks who liked Azumi, though if you didn’t like Azumi, I don’t know if you could sit through the super-ninjas in Azumi 2, desperately waiting for a good moment. It’s not a terrible film (got the “1”), but it’s such a disappointment… what can you say? Don’t make cheap sequels or, if you do, hire someone who knows how to direct them.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kaneko Shusuke; written by Yamamoto Mataichiro and Kawajiri Yoshiaki, based on the manga by Koyama Yu; director of photography, Sakamoto Yoshitaka; edited by Kakesu Shuichi; production designer, Inagaki Hisao; produced by Nakazawa Toshiaki and Yamamoto; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Ueto Aya (Azumi), Ishigaki Yuma (Nagara), Kuriyama Chiaki (Kozue), Oguri Shun (Ginkaku), Shishido Kai (Hanzou), Kitamura Kazuki (Kanbei) and Hira Mikijiro (Sanada Masayuki).


Turn (2001, Hirayama Hideyuki)

The modern Japanese drama tends to be emotive. Even when they aren’t good, they succeed in making the viewer care for the characters.

Turn is, ostensibly, a Japanese Groundhog Day. Only not funny. Where Groundhog Day was about Bill Murray interacting with people with no consequence, the character stuck in turnover in Turn is alone. She spends about fifteen minutes with no character interaction.

A character alone is a difficult proposition. She doesn’t have a dog and she doesn’t have a ball with eyes on. She makes some comments–really forced ones for a while–but the first twenty minutes are hard to get through. Without some voiceover, which would have done Turn a great deal of good, you feel too much like you’re watching a movie. It’s hard to identify. The character is a preschool teacher and her experience could have been turned into story for her charges. Turn also provides one with a lot of opportunities to conceive a superior remake (or adaptation, as it’s based on a Japanese bestseller).

The characters and their performers are likeable. There’s the unexplored relationship between the woman’s mother and her sort of suitor. A relationship, I suppose, left for a better film. It’s a fantastic situation, so getting me to care about it–especially considering the film has two principle and two supporting actors–is hard. A film that nullifies itself with its ending has to be careful not sacrifice all that the characters have struggled to achieve. Honestly, Turn was never going to be higher than a one and a half, but when it cut itself off, when it made those struggles secondary to resolving the fantastic situation, it dropped–immediately–to a one. Then the movie ends moments later. It’s not even a twist ending–it’s predictable after a certain point–and Turn manages to suffer most of the downsides of the twist ending.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Hirayama Hideyuki; screenplay by Murakami Osamu, based on a novel by Kitamura Kaoru; director of photography, Fujisawa Junichi; edited by Okuhara Shigeru; music by Micky Yoshino; released by Asmik Ace Entertainment.

Starring Makise Riho (Maki), Nakamura Kanatrou (Youhei), Emoto Akira (Matsubara), Kawahara Ayako (Yukari), Kitamura Kazuki (Kiyotaka) and Baisho Mitsuko (Maki’s mother).