Sunday, 26 February 2017

A Silent Voice Review 2016 Japan 聲の形

A Silent Voice 聲の形
Year: 2016
Director: Naoko Yamada
Writer: Reiko Yoshida
Cast: Miyu Irino, Saori Hayami, Aoi Yūki, Kenshō Ono, Yūki Kaneko, Yui Ishikawa, Megumi Han, Toshiyuki Toyonaga, Mayu Matsuoka
Running Time: 129 minutes

One of the most emotionally charged anime films ever made.

A Silent Voice revolves around elementary school student delinquent Shoya Ishida. When a hearing impaired girl Shoko Nishimya transfers to the school, she starts to get bullied, especially from Ishida. Several years later he meets her again and sets himself on a path to redemption by trying to make it up to Nishimya and to help reconnect her with her old classmates that she never had the chance to befriend.

A Silent Voice is an anime adaptation of the manga of the same name, sometimes translated to The Shape of Voice. The film is produced by Kyoto Animation and directed by Naoko Yamada who brought us K-On! and Tamako Market. On release in Japan the film opened at #2, directly behind mega hit 'Your Name'.

Tackling many different subject matters such as bullying, suicide, redemption, friendship and love. A Silent Voice is one of the most ambitious anime films ever made, without using giant robots or time travel or any type of fantasy, it achieves it's praise by focusing just on raw human emotions. Bullying is the main subject of the first act. Often shown lightly and during montages, some of these scenes are actually surprisingly amusing. But you soon realise that this poor girl is being bullied, and it's really not funny at all. Any feeling of amusement you had quickly changes to anger as Nishimya is tormented by her classmates. It's hard to think of an anime film that brings out so much feelings of outrage while you watch on helplessly. And that is ASV's main achievement, it captures and plays on your emotions to the fullest.

Yamada directs her film is a polarizing way with many subtle story telling elements which really need your full attention. There are many characters whose stories aren't fully spelled out or explained. There are choices such as the characters communicating in sign language which don't have any subtitles or voice overs. This leaves the viewer trying to piece together what the characters are expressing and how they feel. A Silent Voice also looks like it's going to be a romance. The posters and trailers make it look like a romance drama, but that's not the case at all. It's there if you look. But it's not the theme of the film. These are all elements which have divided critics and fans with many giving it paradoxical reviews.

The films main shortcoming for me is the amount of underdeveloped characters. Without reading the manga, I can't compare the differences. But there are a few supporting characters who don't receive enough screen time or character development to the point you don't really understand their purpose. Apparently in the manga these characters are more developed, so one can assume these were trimmed for time constraints. But I couldn't help feel some of these characters could have been cut out completely. That being said, a real highlight is Tomohiro Nagatsuka, the loveable loser that Ishida befriends when his classmates isolate him. Nagatsuka offers some real comic relief to the sombre tone of the film. He seems hilariously overprotective of his friend which delivers some laugh out loud moments. And one scene with him smoking a french fry left my cinema audience roaring with laughter.

The animation style of the characters and backgrounds are completely stunning. Although there are animes out there with higher production values which might look technically better, A Silent Voice is bright and sparkling and beautiful to look at. The film's soundtrack is subtly perfect. It might open with a bang as My Generation by The Who kicks off the opening. The audio then transitions in to a lighter soundtrack with piano and soft musical scores which suits the underlying themes.

A Silent Voice is a must see for anime fans. It's not as rewarding a watch as recent emotional anime film hits like When Marnie Was There and Your Name, it's also not as accessible. But it does deliver something much deeper. It's one of the most powerful animations dealing with a subject that is more important than any film, life.


See this if you liked:
Your Name
Only Yesterday
Tamako Love Story

Coming to the UK from 15th March. Look for screening locations and dates on their official website here or check Anime Limited on Facebook.

I attended the screening of A Silent Voice at the Glasgow Film Festival on the 23rd February.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Headshot Review 2016 Indonesia

Year: 2016
Director: Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto (The Mo Brothers)
Writer: Timo Tjahjanto
Cast: Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Chelsea Islan, David Hendrawan, Epy Kusnandar, Zack Lee, Sunny Pang, Very Tri Yulisman
Running Time: 118 minutes

If you take The Raid, multiply the violence by 100 and chuck in some Kill Bill and Jason Bourne. You get Headshot!

A young man with a head wound (Uwais) washes up on the shore of a small Indonesian village. He’s taken to a local hospital and cared for by kindly doctor Ailin (Chelsea Islan), who dubs him Ishmael after the book she’s reading, Moby Dick. When he wakes up two months later, he has no memory of his real name or past life. Ailin suggests they go to Jakarta to get the bullet fragments removed from his skull, and she goes ahead of him on a bus ride. However, gang members working for the sinister Lee (Sunny Pang) ambush the bus and kidnap Ailin to draw out “Ishmael”. Ishmael then goes on a rampage to rescue Ailin while flashes of his past life begin returning to his memory.

Directed by Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto(Mo Brothers) this is their follow up release to their 2014 hit 'Killers'. The plot is relatively thin in Headshot, but it's enough to keep you emotionally invested. The story is actually more compelling than The Raid, although it is almost your typical damsel in distress plot. There's also a cheesy love story between the leads which surprisingly almost always works. They even manage to deliver some sentimental moments between Ishmael and Ailin which gives some key scenes a better emotional payoff.

The violence is on another level from any action film in years, it actually puts The Raid to shame. While Gareth Evan's action films have shock moments or "punchlines" during fight scenes to break it up, Headshot seems to have fight scenes to break up the shock moments and gore! No object is safe as bus seats, windows, bullets, chopsticks and even typewriters are used as weapons during extremely bloody brawls. There is definitely more than one moment that will leave you wincing in your seat! In fact, there is probably about 10!

The Mo Brothers use a different style of filming action from most Asian directors which has its positives and negatives. During the tightly choreographed fight scenes the handheld camera is often shaky or spinning around the actors which can actually mask how intricate the Silat fight scenes are and it doesn't let you digest every move you see. However, sometimes these unconventional camera techniques work in the action's favour to deliver exciting scenes such as Iko jumping out of a window while doing a somersault and the camera follows him by also doing a somersault...

Iko Uwais delivers a really good performance, taken out of his comfort zone he has some emotive acting to do this time which he performs effectively. Julie Estelle and Very Tri Yulisman who are more commonly known as Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man from The Raid 2, show up as a pivotal part of the story and both deliver great fight scenes against Iko. Sunny Pang stars as the main villain Lee and although he manages to be chilling and intimidating, some of his dialogue scenes are odd as he talks in English and Iko replies in Indonesian. Chelsea Islan is decent as the love interest in her butter-wouldn't-melt role, and she even manages to get you rallying behind her when she is in distress.

Being an action film there are a fair few silly moments. The villains appear to have a very bad aim, even when they are close to an unarmed Iko Uwais they still manage to miss him. There are also some characters surviving punishment which doesn't seem humanely possible. The love story seems a little contrived at times with Ailin seemingly falling for Ishmael rather quickly and under odd circumstances. These can be overlooked though as the plot takes a backseat to the action!

This new Indonesian martial arts thriller can't quite match The Raid, but it does come incredibly close!
Will certainly entertain fans of the action and martial arts genres, although if you are squeamish be prepared to cover your eyes.


See this if you liked:
Merentau Warrior
The Raid

Headshot is getting a limited release in the UK and USA on March 3rd 2017. So hunt this one down!
If you are in Scotland, it will be shown at the Glasgow Film Theatre from the 3rd to the 9th of March.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Mifune: The Last Samurai Review 2016

Without them there would have been no Magnificent Seven. Clint Eastwood wouldn't have a Fistful of Dollars. And Darth Vader wouldn't be a Samurai.

Mifune: The Last Samurai, a new film by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Steven Okazaki, explores the accidental movie career of Toshiro Mifune, one of the true giants of world cinema. Mifune made 16 remarkable films with director Akira Kurosawa during the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema, including Rashomon, Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. Together they thrilled audiences and influenced filmmaking around the world, providing direct inspiration for not only The Magnificent Seven and Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood’s breakthrough, A Fistful of Dollars, but also George Lucas’ Star Wars. Weaving together film clips, archival stills, and interviews with such luminaries as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. Narrated by Keanu Reeves.

Mifune: The Last Samurai is a chronologically told portrait of one of the most important and influential actors to ever grace the big screen. Mifune as an actor and a person left an undoubtedly large impression on the world, but can an 80 minute documentary do his legacy justice.

Starting off with a brief introduction to Chanbara cinema, the audiences is treated to the foundations of early Samurai films traced back to the earliest days of cinema while viewing a collection of clips from extremely rare or long forgotten films. 'Chanbara' is the Japanese word for “sword fighting films” and is derived from the sound of two swords crashing together. A real highlight is the only surviving scene from a 1926 film ‘Chokon’ in which a Samurai takes on multiple enemies on his own, while licking the blood off of his sword to give him strength.

The documentary goes through his life from being born in China, to getting drafted to fight in World War II, to returning and trying to make a living as an assistant camera-man to then accidentally becoming an actor. All the way until his untimely death. Drawing the attention of Akira Kurosawa at Toho studios, a fierce collaboration between the actor and director started which would stretch over 16 films. Kurosawa left many choices up to Mifune and allowed his to create and mold his own characters, ultimately allowing him to create his own heroes. 

There are many intriguing interviews from big name Hollywood interviews like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg who offer their own praise on Mifune’s work and how it inspired them. But it's the candid interviews from his family, friends and Co-stars that are the real heart of the film. Kanzo Uni was his frequent fight choreographer and takes great delight in telling you he was killed by Mifune onscreen more than 100 times. His daughter explains why Mifune turned down the role of playing Obi-Wan Kenobi after George Lucas himself sought him out.

One of his Co-stars explains a hilarious yet scary situation while shooting the finale of ‘Throne of Blood’ were Mifune’s character is bombarded with hundreds of arrows. What people don't know is that these were all real arrows being shot towards Mifune which he actually had to dodge… and it was college students firing the arrows… and they also had no insurance for this scene. Stories like that show how dedicated to his art that Toshiro Mifune was. And just how crazy he could be.

The main problem with The Last Samurai is it is just too short. It's never really a problem to leave you wanting more. However, appearing in almost 170 feature films, the majority of these films aren't touched upon and some of the big ones are alluded. They also hint at why Mifune and Kurosawa stopped collaborating without really giving any detail. The same can also be said for his documented affair. Although, these could have been avoided because the documentary is more a celebration of his life and career and these issues might bring the tone down.

Mifune: The Last Samurai is still a very well constructed informative picture which will open eyes to newcomers of his work and the Samurai genre. And for his already established fans it offers a great intimate insight into his life with many details and stories they won't be aware of.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Glasgow Film Festival 2017

15th - 26th February

Yesterday marked the first full day of this year's Glasgow Film Festival. Showing over 100 films, the GFF is one of the leading UK film festivals. It's guaranteed to be a fun and welcoming event which breathes life in to the already bustling city and nightlife, it's an event that really shouldn't be missed.

This year there is umpteen world cinema screenings at the event including many new releases as well as some bona-fide classics! 

Some of the main highlights include the new Korean Thriller 'Age of Shadows' directed by Kim Jee-woon(I Saw The Devil/A Bittersweet Life). There is also screenings of the new Indonesian action film from the team that brought you The Raid and starring Iko Uwais 'Headshot'.

Some promising Independent films will be screened such as the 2014 Korean film How To Steal A Dog based on the novel by Barbara O'Connor. There is a Canadian/Chinese production Old Stone which will have the director Johnny Ma in attendance. And one that I am extremely excited about is a new anime release A Silent Voice directed by Naoka Yamada(K-On!).

For fans of the golden age of Japanese cinema, there is a retrospective on Toshiro Mifune. Including screenings of the 2015 documentary Mifune: The Last Samurai, there is also some of his classic work being shown including Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Rashomon. What's even better is that they fall under the Festival for A Fiver category. Which means you can see Seven Samurai on the big screen for £5! 

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are many reasons to visit Glasgow Film Festival 2017. For a list of all their screenings and more information visit their official website. Have fun! 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Perhaps Love Review 2005 Hong Kong 如果·愛

This year the world fell in love with La La Land. Why not also fall in love with Perhaps Love.

Acclaimed director Peter Chan takes the helm for this lavish, award winning musical concerning the love triangle between a handsome actor, his beautiful co-star, and a talented film director. Lin (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and his ex-lover Sun (Zhou Xun) are shooting a movie for celebrated director Nie Wen (Jacky Cheung) when the flames of their former passion are gradually rekindled. A charismatic director who has poured his entire heart and soul into making a movie about a passionate love triangle, Nie finds his entire production about to collapse as Lin does everything in his power to win back the ravishing Sun.

Perhaps Love was marketed as the first Chinese musical for 40 years, which is highly surprising when you consider how many talented pop stars and singers work in the Hong Kong Film industry. This film definitely plays up to those strengths with the singing being on a much higher level than something a Ewan McGregor or Ryan Gosling could deliver.

A compelling movie-within-a-movie story that works extremely well with disguising the fact it's actually a musical. Rather than random outbursts of songs as a main character casually walk down a street, we are treated to the musical numbers happening as part of the movie the characters are filming. This is genuinely a breath of fresh air for people who aren't usually invested in the musical genre as it comes across less jarring.

The cinematography is exquisite! The locations and sets are remarkable! The costumes are dazzling! Perhaps Love really looks like a big budget film. It plays up to it's strengths and remarkably it's one of the most ambitions Chinese productions ever.

The songs are incredibly powerful and compliment the heart-wrenching love story perfectly. One of the main songs is a haunting number by Jacky Cheung with stunning operatic vocals accompanied by grand orchestral music backing it. The songs and moments like this are what take the film to another level!

There is a few missteps along the way. The general feel comes across rather depressing and some joy or humour injected throughout wouldn't go a miss. The story also gets somewhat muddled towards the end of the third act. But these are minor criticisms on the whole.

Brilliant performances all round from the main cast of Takeshi Kaneshiro, Zhou Xun and Jacky Cheung, fortunately there is no weak link in sight. Another great outing from legendary Hong Kong go-to director Peter Chan(Comrades: Almost A Love Story, Dragon, The Warlords).

For the best experience I would highly recommend this blu-ray release from Tai Seng, it delivers stunning picture quality and fantastic sound, and it is region free!


25th Hong Kong Film Awards
Won: Best Actress (Zhou Xun)
Won: Best Art Direction (Chung Man Yee, Pater Wong)
Won: Best Cinematography (Peter Pau)
Won: Best Costume & Makeup Design (Chung Man Yee, Dora Ng)
Won: Best Original Film Score (Peter Kam, Leon Ko)
Won: Best Original Film Song (Peter Kam, Jacky Cheung)

43rd Golden Horse Awards
Won: Best Actress (Zhou Xun)
Won: Best Cinematography (Peter Pau)
Won: Best Director (Peter Chan)
Won: Best Original Film Song (Leon Ko)

See This if you liked:
Moulin Rouge
Comrades: Almost A Love Story
La La Land

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Conman In Tokyo Review 2000 Hong Kong 中華賭俠

A very average Hong Kong Film which doesn't really offer anything new to the genre but it's still a fairly entertaining ride mostly due to the cast.

Jersey is the self proclaimed King of Gamblers in Hong Kong. When he hears the story about his idol, Cool, disappearing for 3 years, he hopes to one day find him. After winning big his girlfriend, Banana, decides that they should go to Tokyo for shopping. One night, they go to a Chinese restaurant, where the owner turns out to be Cool. Cool was betrayed by old friend Yeung Kwong, who married Cool's girlfriend Nancy. Cool wants revenge but first, he must deal with the #1 Asian Gambler, Tetsuo.

Nick Cheung and Louis Koo star and both deliver fine performances but not enough to elevate this beyond gambling movie mediocrity. There are some great special effects for its time with Louis Koo's character Cool being able to throw cards and use them as a weapon, which will be repeated in gambling films for years to come. Cheung often over acts and becomes a bit hammy, but his character is usually used for silly fun.

There are actually some decent action pieces through-out with some good gimmicky fight scenes which help pad out the running time. Nick Cheung actually delivers some fun Kung Fu scenes which was unexpected for this film and role.

However, it's not enough to save this film from being generic fluff. Wong Jing is the producer and it has his name all over it. If you enjoy the crazy Hong Kong gambling films, I'm sure you'll enjoy this. Otherwise it's just an extremely average time waster.


See this if you liked:
God of Gamblers
Poker King
From Vegas To Macau

Note: This film is a sequel in name only to the 1999 film The Conman in Vegas starring Andy Lau.