Tag Archives: Ryuhei Kitamura

Battlefield Baseball (2003, Yamaguchi Yudai)

Japanese manga adaptations tend to be absurd–at the same time amateurish and sublime, as all the actors in Battlefield Baseball keep a straight face throughout. The movie’s low budget, so very few of the punches connect and waiting for Versus’s Sakaguchi to have similar, beautifully choreographed fight scenes (even with Kitamura producing) is in vain. Most of the fight scenes are slow motion, absurdly stylized. Battlefield Baseball, while keeping (I imagine) the manga’s plot line, is also a very well-conceived rip on sports movies. Not being a fan of that genre, I didn’t notice any direct references, but the overbearing, sappy melodramatic music as the characters embrace or realize baseball’s all about friendship… it works beautifully.

There’s a significant problem with the film’s structure though. It’s split in to three parts, the lengthy introduction–complete with Sakaguchi singing about himself (one of two great musical sequences)–the baseball game, then the attack on the enemy team’s “Invincible Hell Island,” or something to that effect. The movie’s best when it’s dealing with the absurdities in a mildly realistic setting (the obsessive school principal), the pseudo-sappy moments and so on. The rest doesn’t quite work (particularly the running gag of a constantly reincarnating villain turned hero)… it’s sometimes cute, sometimes funny, but it doesn’t actually work… much like the film’s frequent saunters into misogyny.

Sakaguchi is more of a screen presence than a good actor and he carries the film quite well (though, like I said… keeping a straight face through this one is a sign of some acting quality). The best performance is from the principal, whose name I can’t find online (IMDb is useless for Japanese films).

The director shoots the locations, for the first half hour, rather well and it makes it rather unfortunate the film doesn’t stick to those settings. Good cinematography, a little flat, but good.

I was expecting a lot less from Battlefield Baseball, but it has some good laughs in it–and it knows how to build a joke, particularly the big reveal at the end.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Yamaguchi Yudai; screenplay by Kiriyama Isao, Takatsu Ryuichi and Yamaguchi, based on the manga by Man Gatarô; edited by Kakesu Shuichi; produced by Kitamura Ryuhei and Satani Hidemi; released by Klock Worx Co.

Starring Sakaguchi Tak (Jubei), Ito Atsushi (Megane) and Sakaki Hideo (Hôichi).

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Sky High (2003, Kitamura Ryuhei)

Sky High has got to be one of the stupider movies I’ve ever seen. There are other factors contributing to it being bad, as stupidity doesn’t necessarily undo a film, but it’s real stupid. Shockingly, the screenwriter worked on Kitamura’s perfectly fine Azumi. Sky High‘s a prequel to a TV series, which is an adaptation of a manga. I imagine the terrible, stupid story starts in the manga, though it’s possible this filmic adaptation is at complete fault. Kitamura, as director, is solely responsible for this garbage… in fact, as I started watching the film and it appeared to be poor (not unspeakably dumb as it turned out), I consoled myself with the knowledge, eventually Kitamura would get around to a really good fight.

Guess what?

There are no really good fight scenes in Sky High. At the end, it seems like there finally might be one, but no… it’s just a mediocre sequence with promise, as opposed to the rest of the film, where mediocre would be a sterling achievement. I suppose Kitamura’s composition is all right throughout, but not really anything special. There are some good muted special effects but they’re overshadowed by the scenes in the afterlife, at the gate to hell, heaven, and Monster Island, where much of the film takes place. This set appears a deserted warehouse and the set decorator only seems to have spent a half hour getting it set up. The big scary door looks like something out of a Roger Corman direct-to-video from the 1990s. It’s embarrassing and painful to watch.

The performances range from mediocre (and borderline acceptable) to terrible. Kikuchi Yumi is terrible. Her performance is the worst thing I can remember seeing. She’s constantly acting poorly, whether through dialogue or expression. Oh, and her sword fight scene (it rips a lot of the choreography from Azumi) is lame. I never thought I’d see a lame Kitamura sword fight. The bad guy is played by Osawa Takao, who’s not a bad actor… except in this film. It’s so stupid I’m sure he had nothing to work with. As the good guys, Shaku Yumiko and Tanihara Shosuke are both fine. They actually have a wonderful scene at the beginning, when I thought this film was going to be an action-packed remake of Seven, not a demonic possession slash big dumb, stupid, bad cop movie, but not really a cop movie. It’s a remake of Ghost. Someone thought taking a bunch of Ghost and putting it in Japan–oh, and when Kitamura tries to reference Versus, it’s desperate and sad–I don’t know who had that terrible idea, but I imagine they also had a hand in writing this terrible film.

I mean, I kept watching it because I figured there had to be a good fight scene….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kitamura Ryuhei; screenplay by Kiriyama Isao, based on a manga by Takahasi Tsutomo; director of photography, Furuya Takumi; edited by Kakesu Shuichi; music by Morino Nobuhiko and Yano Daisuko; produced by Endo Hitoshi, Deme Hiroshi and Yokochi Ikuei; released by Toei Company.

Starring Shaku Yumiko (Mina), Tanihara Shosuke (Kohei), Osawa Takao (Kudo), Uotani Kanae (Rei), Taguchi Hiromasa (Kishi), Toda Naho (Aoyama), Kikuchi Yumi (Kamiina) and Shiina Eihi (Izuko).


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Versus (2000, Kitamura Ryuhei), the ultimate version

I’m worried I’m tired. The last time I watched Versus, I gave it one. This time I give it three. There’s a slight difference in the version I watched–this time I watched the “Ultimate Version,” which has about the same running time, but ten minutes of reshot scenes. I guess there were some music changes, which might have to do with the incredible quality bump. It’s such a fantastic experience–Kitamura’s direction is beautiful, the editing–between circling shots and tightly cut fight scenes–wonderful stuff. Versus is a boring kung fu zombie movie, absolutely in love with what the camera can do. As far as self-indulgent projects go, it’s near the best.

For the first hour and change, there’s almost no story beyond the chase through the woods, the zombies, and the little suggestions there’s something else going on. During that hour, Matsuda Kenji rules the movie. He’s broad and funny and easily the film’s most interesting character. The hero, played by Sakaguchi Tak, is reserved, not allowed to show any feeling during the first three quarters of the film. Still, the scenes with him and the girl–Misaka Chieko, who’s good–do work; the rest of the time he’s usually killing zombies, so it’s fine.

Then Sakaki Hideo shows up, as the bad guy, and the film changes completely. Matsuda becomes a liability, an enormous mistake on Kitamura’s part, turning an amusing character into an annoying one, so annoying you feel bad you liked him in the first place. The pace speeds up, the story actually comes into existence–it’s kind of like Highlander, only with a damsel in distress (wait, Highlander had a damsel in distress… a reincarnated damsel in distress). Kitamura runs three story-lines through Versus the whole time, switching when Sakaki appears, letting him take over Matsuda’s story. There’s also the comedic story-line, which follows funny stuff more than a specific character. The comedic stuff, which leaves the main story after the first half hour, is a nice breather. There’s some really good stuff there.

But the second half of Versus is really all about Sakaki. Even when he’s doing something stupid, he’s great. His scene with Misaka, where they talk about being reincarnated or immortal or something, absolutely great. It doesn’t dwell on setting up the goofy story, which the zombies help, but only so much… Maybe all the references (like the Robocop one) distracted me and it bothered me less. I don’t know.

I do know the last fight scene is succulent, self-indulgent and a joy. It’s a long and boring fight scene, beautifully directed. Some of Versus‘s strengths lie in not being able to figure out how Kitamura can make it work the way he does. Some stuff–guys running through the forest–it works for everyone, but his approach to action scenes in this film, no one else ever does anything like he does.

I might just be tired though.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kitamura Ryuhei; written by Kitamura and Yamaguchi Yudai; director of photography, Furuya Takumi; edited by Kakesu Shuichi; music by Morino Nobuhiko; produced by Nishimura Hideo; released by napalm FiLMS.

Starring Sakaguchi Tak (Prisoner KSC2-303), Sakaki Hideo (The Man), Misaka Chieko (The Girl), Matsuda Kenji (Yakuza Leader with butterfly knife), Arai Yuichiro (Motorcycle-riding yakuza with revolver), Matsumoto Minoru (Crazy yakuza with amulet), Ohba Kazuhito (Yakuza with glasses), Katayama Takehiro (Red-haired assassin), Yoshihara Ayumi (Long-haired female assassin), Masumoto Shoichiro (One-handed cop), Kamiaka Toshiro (Samurai warrior), Tanikado Yukihito (Cop with Barrett), Asai Hoshimi (Short-haired female assassin), Watabe Ryosuke (Yakuza zombie in alligator-skin coat) and Komiya Motonari (Other prisoner).


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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).