Movie Reviews

  • Celebrated director Makoto Shinkai, with his latest film Suzume, is once again blowing up the box office and causing a massive stir in Japan amongst the filmgoing public. This past quarter I taught a movie class, and when Suzume and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever came out on the same weekend, I asked my class which one they would rather see. Only one or two out of twenty students picked Black Panther, and when I later asked my students if there were any films they wanted to see before the end of the year, once again Suzume was on the lips of nearly every student in my class. The movie has already made an insufferably enormous amount of money, netting the director’s best opening weekend yet (1). With wide-ranging promotional materials and tie-ins with a variety of companies, a best-selling novelization (I even have a copy), and general enthusiasm nationwide, it’s hard not to get caught up in some Shinkai excitement. The film follows many familiar Shinkai tropes, from its unconventional romance to its magical trappings to its exploration of disaster themes, and on a technical level the movie might be his most gorgeous to date… but the familiarities arguably weigh the film down with a sense of been-there, and an uneven script occasionally throws up unfortunate speedbumps that hinder the film from fulfilling its highest ambitions. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // January 5, 2023
  • Recently I have been taking some interest in the idea that art can be used as a tool for healing. The idea isn’t a new one. Many people use art or sometimes art appreciation to deal with their troubled thoughts or to relax, to blow off steam. Many people find meaning and renewed passion when they explore their abilities through art. But are the pleasures of art enough to offer solace to the broken even in the midst of life’s seemingly most senseless tragedies? (more…)

    Movie Reviews // December 28, 2022
  • Takashi Yamazaki is one of my favorite Japanese genre directors working today for his highly entertaining, heartfelt sci-fi and fantasy films. He directed Returner back in 2002 (which I gave a positive review, though I don’t think it’s one of his best), and he is famous for bringing a fully computer-generated Godzilla into the second of his Always: Sunset on Third Street films. He directed two rather good movie adaptations of the Parasyte manga (which I also reviewed), a live-action adaptation of Space Battleship Yamato (2010), and a yokai love story with Destiny: A Tale of Kamakura(2017)—I should revisit that one, as it was a lot of fun. However, especially after he directed the excellent short film for Seibuen Theme Park’s Godzilla the Ride, the kaiju rumor mill has gone into milling overdrive—particularly when it was announced back in February 2022 that he is directing a new Toho kaiju film. Come on, it’s probably some new Godzilla film. It’s almost a foregone conclusion. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // November 3, 2022
  • There have been moments in my life where I’ve regretted not discovering Japanese science fiction until later than most genre fans. On the one hand, I like to think that my not extensively delving into kaiju eiga until adolescence and early adulthood has allowed me to think more critically about this genre: demanding, in most cases, that these films tell a story in addition to splattering effects on the screen. Nevertheless, there exist certain movies and television shows that, despite leaving me cold as I watch them, seem like something my five-year-old self would’ve adored. Sampling various Ultraman shows in my twenties, for example, I couldn’t help but feel how many parents must feel when forced to endure Godzilla movies; and yet the shows’ mix of simplicity and visual zaniness provided a childlike atmosphere I’d probably latch onto—if only there were that element of nostalgia. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // October 5, 2022
  • When Shin Godzilla (2016) was released, no one could have guessed what an enormous impact the film would have upon Godzilla fandom, lore, and cinema. It would be hard to pinpoint another single Godzilla film that has been as influential without stepping back into the Showa era. Even then, given that Shin Godzilla achieved widespread critical acclaim, up to and including receiving SEVEN awards from the Japanese academy award equivalent Japan Academy Prize, including Picture of the Year, Director of the Year, lighting, editing, and more, it’s safe to say that no other Godzilla film has been celebrated quite like this one has, with even the lauded original soundly trashed by many when it was originally released. At the very least, however any individual might personally feel about the film, Shin Godzilla has been enormously successful and influential. The follow up (if we don’t count Shin Evangelion), Shin Ultraman, thus had a lot to live up to. Directed this time again by Shinji Higuchi, with former co-director Hideaki Anno of Neon Genesis Evangelion fame handling writing duties, Shin Ultraman went through the pandemic churn-wheel of delays before finally releasing to financial success and celebration May 13th in Japan. The movie is a work of enormous affection for the source material—but arguably buckles under the weight of the expectations, while nevertheless maintaining a sense of joy riddled with irritating flaws.

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    Movie Reviews // July 4, 2022
  • As we did in 2021, I sit down to do some quick miniature reviews for a few films I saw in Japanese theaters. In this case, the three movies actually came out last year in Japan. Furthermore, this batch is all Anime. The titles are: Belle (2021), My Hero Academia: World Heroes Mission (2021), along with Earwig and the Witch (2020). The last entry has a minor asterisk as even though the movie was released in 2020 worldwide, Toho didn’t distribute it to theaters in Japan until 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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    Movie Reviews // June 28, 2022
  • Capturing the magic of a serialized manga in a movie format is very difficult in the best of circumstances. Shonen manga in particular usually have long, complicated stories with esoteric battle systems and numerous fan-favorite characters, and shoehorning all of the must-see characteristics from any given shonen property into an hour-and-a-half runtime is complicated, balancing the equal dangers of confusing the uninitiated with pleasing the established fanbase and hopefully providing something new and suitably exciting in the higher-budget constraints of the feature film. With the astonishing success of Demon Slayer the Movie: Mugen Train back in 2020 (the highest grossing film worldwide from that year), the pressure is perhaps higher than ever. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // March 15, 2022
  • Yokai, a general term that indicates an entire class of supernatural creatures from Japanese folklore and mythology, have a long history of cinematic representations in Japanese film—most popularly in the west in Ghibli’s Spirited Away. For tokusatsu fans, on the other hand, one of the most enduring renditions has been the Yokai Monsters series of films from Daiei. Heavily influenced by Shigeru Mizuki and his Gegege no Kitaro franchise, the Yokai Daisenso films began as a trilogy of quirky and creepy films back in the 1960s. These movies were period pieces, something like jidaigeki/samurai films characterized by encounters with supernatural creatures and usually laced with humor. The wide variety of yokai that appeared in those films were created mostly through costumes and puppetry, and while those physical effects were rarely very convincing, the movies are exceedingly charming for those open to the workmanlike patchwork feel. One of my favorite yokai is the haunted umbrella, or kasa bakemono, and I am a proud owner of an adult-sized costume which has gotten great mileage at Halloween parties here in Japan. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // September 23, 2021
  • Although we here at Toho Kingdom tend to focus a great deal of our energy on the tokusatsu output of Toho studios, given that Toho is one of the biggest movie studios in Japan, they also are responsible for just scads of anime films of many stripes and colors–some of which get relatively little attention Stateside… and some of which have made massive waves and big bucks around the world. Here are my recent impressions of a number of these films which I personally had the opportunity to watch in movie theaters within the last six or so months. If you have also had a chance to watch any of these movies, share your thoughts below! (more…)

    Movie Reviews // June 11, 2021
  • I’ll be honest, Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) left me disappointed and apathetic toward the future of the MonsterVerse. As a result, I didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm for Godzilla vs. Kong (2021). To be fair, when the trailer hit I was definitely energized, but I had also thought the 2019 Godzilla film had an excellent trailer as well. So, I probably wasn’t alone in approaching the latest Godzilla and Kong movie with cautious optimism. Thankfully, I can say that Godzilla vs. Kong exceeded my expectations, adding another solid entry to the franchise. The film has its flaws, particularly from the characters and the way the plot is divided. The pacing, action and effects, though, are enough to create something that’s solid popcorn entertainment and worth revisiting. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // May 17, 2021