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Jiro Dreams of Sushi-Movie Review *** 02/12/2015

Posted by Films to consider in Documentary, Japanese language film, Movies, Online Film Critics Society Awards, Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards, San Diego Film Critics Society Awards, St. Louis Film Critics Association.
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Jiro Dreams of Sushi (Japanese) 2011 ***

Directed By David Gelb
Starring Jiro Ono, Yoshikazu Ono, and Takashi Ono

Check out the list of one win and eight nominations on IMDB.

Jiro Ono has devoted his life to sushi. At the time of filming he is age 85, but not yet ready to hand the reins of his famous, award-winning Tokyo restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, over to his elder son. Yoshikazu, who is in his fifties, has been his father’s apprentice for many years, but is still not skilled enough to take over his father’s business. Jiro’s younger son Takashi has opened a second successful sushi restaurant based on his father’s principles.

For anyone who thinks they love sushi: Jiro Ono will show you what a true passion for it is. Whether his control of the fate of his sons–however well-meaning–is an admirable quality is, for me, something to ponder.

Writing this review makes me want some well-prepared sushi, and I know just where to get some. But (sorry, Jiro) sometimes nothing makes me happier than opening the refrigerator and seeing some leftovers that I just have to heat up! 🙂

Highly recommended. ***
81 min. Rated PG.


Tokyo Sonata-Movie Review 01/01/2013

Posted by Films to consider in Asian Film Awards, Cannes Film Festival, Chicago International Film Festival, Drama, Emotional Drama, Japanese language film, Kinema Junpo Awards, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Movies.
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Tokyo Sonata (Japanese) 2008

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Starring Teruyuki Kagawa, Kyoko Koizumi, Yu Koyanagi, and Kai Inowaki

Among other awards and nominations:
WINNER, Best Film; Best Screenwriter, Asian Film Awards
WINNER, Un Certain Regard Jury Prize (Kurosawa), Cannes Film Festival
WINNER, Silver Hugo, Grand Jury Prize (Kurosawa), Chicago International Film Festival
WINNER, Best Actress (Koizumi); Best New Actor (Inowaki), Kinema Junpo Awards

Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is usually known for horror films (which I don’t usually watch), but here he provides his version of modern life in Tokyo. The four members of the Sasaki family deal with problems separately. The father Ryuhei (Kagawa) loses his job but chooses to conceal his loss of honor from his wife and sons when he can’t find suitable employment. Megumi (Koizumi), the wife and mother, appears to be happy performing her domestic duties but feels close to suicide. Older son Takashi (Koyanagi) wants to escape his troubled past by joining the American army. Younger son Kenji (Inowaki) secretly uses his lunch money to take piano lessons against the wishes of his parents.

As we watch the family structure slowly begin to disintegrate, all is not totally bleak, however, and moments of humor do appear. And Kai Inowaki is perfectly suited for the role of the younger son: his piano playing is superb.

120 min. Rated PG-13.


The Idiot-Movie Review 05/14/2012

Posted by Films to consider in Based on a novel, Classic film, Drama, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Japanese language film, Psychological Suspense, Setsuko Hara.
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The Idiot (Japanese) 1951

Adapted from the novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Starring Masayuki Mori, Setsuko Hara, Yoshiko Kuga, and ToshirĂ´ Mifune

From director Kurosawa’s postwar series, this adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s novel features Kamuda (Mori), a man recently released from an asylum and branded an idiot as a result of his war injuries, and his volatile friend Akama (Mifune). Both are loved by Taeko (Hara), but even after the innocent and trusting Kameda makes a life with Ayako (Kuga), Akama cannot let go of his jealousy.

The film, set in a stark and snowy environment, stars many of Kurosawa’s favorite actors, most notably Setsuko Hara in the lead female role. It was originally 265 minutes long, but Kurosawa was forced to cut it to a still-lengthy 166 minutes.

Black and white.
166 min.


Kabei: Our Mother-Movie Review *** 07/09/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Based on true story, Drama, Emotional Drama, Japanese language film, Movies.
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Kabei: Our Mother (Japanese) 2008

Among other nominations:
NOMINATED, Best Actress (Yoshinaga), Asian Film Awards
NOMINATED, Best Actress (Yoshinaga); Best Director (Yamada); Best Screenplay (Emiko Hiramatsu and Yoji Yamada) and several other nominations, Awards of the Japanese Academy
NOMINATED, Golden Berlin Bear (Yamada), Berlin International Film Festival

Directed by Yoji Yamada
Starring Sayuri Yoshinaga, Tadanobu Asano, Mirai Shida, Bando Mitsugoro, Rei Dan, and Miku Sato

In Tokyo in 1940, writer and scholar Shigeru Nogami (Mitsugoro) is arrested and accused of “thought crimes.” His wife Kayo (Yoshinaga) must take care of their two daughters, the thoughtful Hatsuko (Shida) and the spunky Teruyo (Sato). As war begins and her husband remains in prison, Kayo tries to keep a cheerful home and optimistic attitude for the girls.

A touching and uplifting story, with some lighthearted moments. Highly recommended.

Director Yoji Yamada previously worked with famed Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa. Kabei is based on the memoirs of Japanese novelist Teruyo Nogami, who also worked with Kurosawa as script supervisor on some of his earlier films.

133 min. Unrated. Adult themes, but suitable for older children.


Departures-Movie Review*** 01/09/2011

Posted by Films to consider in Dark Comedy, Emotional Drama, Japanese language film, Movies.
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Departures (Japanese) 2008

Among other awards and nominations:
Winner, Best Foreign Language Film, Academy Awards
Winner, Best Director, Award of the Japanese Academy
Winner, Best Film; Best Director; Best Actor (Motoki), Kinema Junpo Awards
Winner, Best Actor (Motoki), Asian Film Awards; Japanese Academy Awards

Directed by YĂ´jirĂ´ Takita
Starring Masahiro Motoki, Ryoko Hirosue, and Tsutomu Yamazaki

Diago (Motoki), a young cellist, loses his job when the orchestra he plays in folds. He decides he is not talented enough to get another such position and moves back to his hometown with his wife Mika (Hirosue). There he takes the first job he can find without having a clear idea what his duties are. Feeling led by fate, he starts working as the assistant to a “Nokanshi,” the person who prepares a dead body for burial. Diago doesn’t tell Mika what he does, knowing that she, like others, would not respect his choice. Eventually his work allows him to resolve an emotional hurt from his boyhood.

There is a certain amount of dark humor about the subject of death, especially with the attitude of Diago’s boss (Yamazaki), but overall this is a very moving story that shows great respect for the traditions of Japanese culture.

130 min. Rated PG-13


Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles-Movie Review 12/14/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Chinese language film, Drama, Emotional Drama, Japanese language film, Movies.
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Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (Japanese/Chinese) 2005

Winner, Best Foreign Language Film; Best Actor (Takakura), San Diego Film Critics Society Awards
Winner, Best Asian Film, Hong Kong Film Awards

Directed by Zhang Yimou
Starring Ken Takakura, Li Jiamin, and Yang Zhenbo

When Japanese father Gouichi Takata (Takakura) learns that his estranged son has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, he tries to meet with him but the son still refuses. To make amends, the father feels compelled to travel to China to complete the work his son, a documentary filmmaker, spent years on, the filming of a folk opera called Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles.

The story starts out slowly but picks up as Gouichi travels to the remote countryside of China, where the scenery is strikingly beautiful. Trying to deal with an unknown country and an unfamiliar culture, he begins making decisions that are led by his heart rather than his head. While trying to help Li Jiamin (Jiamin), the jailed star of the mask opera, patch his relationship with his five-year-old son Yang Yang (Zhenbo), Gouichi receives news that his own son has died, leaving behind a letter of forgiveness.

Director Zhang Yimou, who is usually known for more action-oriented films such as House of Flying Daggers, handles the emotional journey undertaken by an old man very well. Adding to the cultural authenticity, many locals were used, including the translator Jasmine, tour guide Qui, and folk opera artist Li Jiamin.

107 min. Rated PG

For more about Zhang Yimou

Ran-Movie Review 10/11/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Drama, Epic, Japanese language film, Movies.
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Ran (Japanese) 1985
The Japanese character for the film’s title means “Chaos” or “Revolt.”

Winner, Best Foreign Language Film, BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai)
Starring Tatsuya Nakadai as Lord Hidetora


In a story inspired by Shakespeare’s King Lear as well as Japanese legends, famed director Kurosawa sets his epic film in the tumultuous and power-hungry warlord world of 16th century Japan. Lord Hidetora’s family has three sons. When the father decides to step aside and put each son in control of one of his castles, greed and jealousy tears the family apart. As Hidetora descends into madness, destruction ensues throughout his kingdom.

From conception to finished product, this film, which was one of Kurosawa’s last, was ten years in the making. Amidst all the plotting and treachery that was going on, I found that of Lady Kaede (played by Mieko Harada) especially malicious, starting with her vengeful seduction of eldest son Taro.
The many battle scenes are elaborate and bloody, the eventual burning of the third castle realistic (it was built on location solely for that purpose).

Although nominated for several awards at the time of its release, for various reasons the film won few. It has since received critical acclaim as one of Kurosawa’s best.

Please note that the DVD from the Criterion Collection receives better reviews than other versions in terms of quality of transfer from the original film. The special edition comes with a second disc containing interviews and documentaries, including a very informative selection on the making of Ran.

160 min. Rated R. Violence.

Criterion Collection

Tokyo Story-Movie Review 09/02/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Black & white, Drama, Japanese language film, Movies.
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Tokyo Story (Japanese) 1953

Directed by Yasujiro Ozu and Kazuo Inoue
Starring Chishu Ryu and Setsuko Hara

A quietly powerful story of an elderly couple who leave their rural village to visit their adult children in postwar Tokyo during the early 1950s. The busy children have no time to spend with them, and the parents realize they will not have the visit they hoped for. When the mother falls ill, the couple quietly returns home. The children must soon follow and share grief when their mother dies.

Famed and prolific director Yasujiro Ozu often used themes involving relationships and family issues. A very technical and exacting director, he expected a lot from his actors, many of whom appear in film after film. Check out his page on Wikipedia.

136 min. Unrated.

Criterion Collection
Restored digital version of original black & white film.


Letters from Iwo Jima-Movie Review 07/27/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Japanese language film, Movies, World War II.
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Letters from Iwo Jima (Japanese) 2006

Among other awards and nominations:
Winner, Best Foreign Language Picture; Nominated, Best Director, Golden Globes
Winner, Best Sound Editing; Nominated, Best Picture; Best Director; Best Original Screenplay, Academy Awards

Directed by Clint Eastwood; Companion film to Flags of Our Fathers
Starring Ken Watanabe and Kazunari Ninomiya

In 1944, as Japanese soldiers prepare to defend the rocky island of Iwo Jima from an American assault, General Kuribayashi (Watanabe) arrives to take command. Officers are soon informed that the island is isolated and there will be no help coming. Still, the men prepare to defend it, knowing they will be called upon to sacrifice their lives. Death with honor is paramount, and for some that means choosing suicide. Even under these circumstances, fights and differences of opinions take hold.

One of the soldiers observing all this is the young Saigo (Ninomiya ); with a wife and new baby waiting for him back home, he provides a touching emotional connection. The Japanese soldiers are fighting for their country, the same way our American soldiers fight for ours. Letters meant for home continue to be written by the men, even when they know they will never be delivered.

140 minutes. Rated R. Bloody violence.

About Kazurnari Ninomiya (Saigo), who is also a Japanese pop star :

High and Low-Movie Review 07/08/2010

Posted by Films to consider in Black & white, Japanese language film, Movies, Mystery, Suspense.
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High and Low (Japanese) 1963/1998

Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Starring Toshiro Mifune
Based on King’s Ransom: An 87th Precinct Mystery, a detective novel by Ed McBain

Shot in black and white. A ruthless businessman is in the middle of a stealthy takeover deal when his young son is reported kidnapped. But the son’s friend was taken mistakenly, and the kidnapper still demands an outrageous ransom, one that will bankrupt the businessman.

The film follows the behind-the-scenes work of local police detectives as they methodically unravel the kidnapper’s motive and whereabouts. The businessman, meanwhile, openly struggles with doing the right thing for himself vs. others. The result is a satisfying mix of the rational approach of the police and the emotional effects on the family.

143 min. Unrated.
Digitally restored black and white film.