Review: Still the Water (Japan: 2014): A teenage love story for adults

Still the Water (2014)

Still the Water (2014)

Naomi Kawase’s Still the Water accomplishes something rare: a romance about young people that is clearly targeted to a more sophisticated adult audience that doesn’t rely on melodramatic tropes.  The nuanced characters, verdant natural scenery and rich themes could make this a film worth watching, but it is marred by pacing issues. I wouldn’t blame you if you checked your watch now and again. 

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Fish Story (Japan: 2009): A cult hit song creates a cult

Atsushi Ito finds inspiration from an obscure text

Yoshihiro Nakamura’s Fish Story appears to be most noteworthy for its non-linear narrative.  But syuzhet chutzpah aside, the story about a punk rock band saving the world comes together in the end to relay a clever story about the origins of belief, myth-making and finding religion in unexpected places.

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Library Wars (Japan: 2013): Tales of war, stacks and romance

Library Wars is one of those Japanese pop phenomena that appears in all formats in rapid succession. It started its life as a light novel series, then a manga, then an animated TV series, then an anime feature film two years ago, followed by the live action film that I am reviewing today. If the process goes on, there will be a live action 10 part drama, followed by a live action film of that drama, followed by another TV series. I guess we do something similar here in the USA with comic book heroes and Star Wars, but we really don’t have the habit or process in place to release the same story in various formats so swiftly. When this rapid fire process happens in Japan, it usually means that we are dealing with a product aimed at younger audiences, and in this case, younger female audiences. With that in mind, I will review the Library Wars live action movie with a bit of caution. Not being Japanese, a teenager, or a woman of any sort, I’m not the target market. Is this a movie worth watching?

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Why Don’t You Play in Hell (Japan: 2013): A light comedy served with 1,000 gallons of blood

Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell traces its roots back to yakuza films, kung fu classics and light romances. It tells the story of a group of guerrilla film-makers fated to make one masterpiece together. That the film is about two yakuza gangs fighting a final battle with each other would not be noteworthy, except that the film is financed by the one of the gangs and involves an actual raid and fight to death. Beyond the buckets-of-blood stylings of the film, there is a little something for everyone, and as far as Japanese comedies go, it is accessible to western audiences.

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The Great Passage (Japan: 2013): Love and Loss for Lex·i·cog·ra·phers

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Yûya Ishii’s the Great Passage was Japan’s submission for Best Foreign Language film last year. It received a very limited release in the US one weekend and has played a few film festivals. I couldn’t find the name of a US distributor for the film and ended up ordering a copy of the Hong Kong version from Yesasia.com so that I could finally see it. It’s a shame, really, that the film hasn’t been picked up. I could see people adding it to their list of beloved films. It is a very easy film to like. It sums up the hopes and dreams of all of us-that we will find a task that we can be devoted to and share that devotion with others. It is an optimistic film, not lofty enough to be awe inspiring, but the world it offers up is as much a fantasy dream world as the most magical love story or futurist utopia. It’s a world worth believing in.

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