Movie Reviews

  • Godzilla & Kong. A titanic pairing not on the big screen together in nearly sixty years returns with a climactic clash available in theaters and the comfort of your own home. Does Adam Wingard’s vision for Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) succeed in capturing the spirit of the 1962 original? I’d say it does and even exceeds expectations in a few areas but not without a few stumbles.

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    Movie Reviews // May 4, 2021
  • Over the last few years, I was teaching a class I called Japan and World Cinema, and in that class I introduced to my students many movies from around the world based on Japanese cultural properties while examining issues like Japanese stereotypes, yellow-face, whitewashing, etc—as well as just looking at how different countries and their particular cultural outlook might affect how a story is told. I made it a point last year in this class to delve deeper into movies based on Japanese video games, and thus caught up on the Street Fighter movies, the Silent Hill films, and even lesser-known fare such as the (very, very bad) King of Fighters film and Tekken: Kazuya’s Revenge (also terrible). Unfortunately, most movies based on Japanese video games (or rather video games in general) tend to be quite poor, with weak stories, cheesy special effects, and an insulting slapdash quality to them. Still, recent entries like Detective Pikachu (which I reviewed) and Sonic the Hedgehog have garnered some level of financial and critical success, combining some impressive special effects with charming (if still somewhat pedestrian) plots. While I was not ecstatic about either of the above films, I enjoyed each for what they were—the Pokemon film obviously had a lot of love and care put into its fantasy world and characters, and the Sonic film showed an astonishing degree of humility and a sense of responsibility towards the fanbase when the studio actually caved-in to fan demands calling for the Sonic design to be reworked. There was, then, reason to hold onto some hope for a higher level of quality in video game adaptations moving forward based on these successes.

    Then along came Monster Hunter, and much of that hope was dashed. The film was released in the USA back in December of 2020, but not here in Japan until March 26, 2021, so I was well aware of its negative reputation before I had my chance to see it. And, even though I can say that the film has its charms, the bad reputation is deserved.

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    Movie Reviews // April 24, 2021
  • Released in 1958, Toho gives another shot at something topical for their science fiction inspiration. In this case, the subject is once more the March 1954 incident around the “Lucky Dragon” (Daigo Fukuryu Maru – 第五福龍丸). This is where the fishing vessel ended up being too close to a nuclear test site, despite being in a designated “safe” area. The radioactive fallout caused symptoms of radiation poisoning in the 23 crew-members, with one passing away as a result. The incident sparked news coverage and anger that led to the creation of an anti-nuclear movement in Japan. Famously, Toho tied aspects of the March incident to the original Godzilla (1954), with scenes that hit close to home for Japanese viewers of survivors later succumbing to the effects of radiation poisoning after encountering Godzilla at sea. For this 1958 movie, the company took things a step further, producing a film that’s much more overt in its topical inspiration. The end result by director Ishiro Honda is one of his better movies, something that works as a horror film mixed with a crime drama that takes the subject matter seriously while being aided by great special effects. It does falter though from especially weak characters in the narrative, which stop the movie from reaching its true potential.
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    Movie Reviews // July 3, 2020
  • Although superheroes are often considered a particularly American creation what with Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man originating from the land of red, white, and blue, superheroes have appeared in comics and other media all over the world, from Mars Ravelo’s comic universe in the Philippines to Super Inframan in China to the masked wrestlers of Mexico. Japan, too, has become well-known for their slate of superheroes, and indeed, with Golden Bat, Japan arguably created the first comic book super hero, having appeared in the paper theater kamishibai well before Superman debuted in 1939. Of course Japan has had many superheroes since then, including such notables as Ultraman, Kamen Rider, and the Super Sentai series, but more recently a super hero series largely inspired by Western hero trends—the My Hero Academia franchise, which started as a serialized manga in the Weekly Shonen Jump manga magazine, and blossomed out into an animated television show, movies, and more. The particular focus of today’s review is the second My Hero Academia movie, My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising, which was released in 2019 in Japan and is receiving a run in theaters in the USA courtesy of Funimation Studios. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // April 15, 2020
  • Over the last few years I have seen a BUNCH of Toho films that I never got around to reviewing, which seems like a lost opportunity as Toho still releases a lot of movies each year, and most of them get very little attention—plus a few more famous ones from yesteryear that I watched, but have no plan to write full reviews of. There were quite a few, so let’s get started! (more…)

    Movie Reviews // February 9, 2020
  • One of my favorite moments in Ishiro Honda’s All Monsters Attack is actually a small one focused upon a character we rarely see. It occurs about five minutes in. A railroad engineer played by that wonderful actor Kenji Sahara sits down next to his train for a smoke break with a co-worker. His fellow engineer concernedly asks him if he’s noticed anything out of the ordinary with his son. They live and work in Kawasaki (one of the most heavily polluted cities in late-60s Japan), and the co-worker’s wondering if the boy’s coming down with asthma. But Sahara’s worried about something else entirely. His son is very shy, reluctant to come out of his shell—a problem no doubt amplified by the fact that he spends most of his afternoons and evenings in complete loneliness. The father is well aware of his son’s plight, but there’s little he or his wife can do about the matter. Extreme poverty, a consequence brought about by Japan’s postwar economic miracle, has forced both parents to take up long hours of work, even though their combined pay only permits them to scrape by with a tiny, cramped apartment in a dilapidated neighborhood. (Sahara admits he’s been saving money to relocate the family, but such a day is long into the future.) When the fellow engineer, reading the newspaper, mentions police have uncovered a getaway car used in a robbery, the impoverished father looks into the distance and comments on the stolen loot—fifty million yen—almost as though secretly envious of the massive amount of cash the thieves acquired. The dialogue is trim and economical, never too explanatory, with Sahara’s humanistic expressions deepening every line. Within these few minutes, he creates a character who, frankly, could have held the lead role in his own movie. Best of all: this is but a minor moment in a lovingly detailed, thoughtful film empowered with a fine streak of social commentary. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // April 15, 2017
  • On October 11th, 2016 I saw my fourth Godzilla movie in an American movie theater: Shin Godzilla. It is a gift to see my favorite fictional character of all time grace the silver screen. In this review, I will briefly summarize the film, but I will mostly be providing commentary on its themes, story, contents, direction, and visual/sound quality. There will be spoilers. So grab your water bottles, have a new shirt on standby, and reschedule all your meetings pronto! It’s time to save the day. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // November 5, 2016
  • Shin Godzilla is the most recent film, Japanese or not, that springs to mind when I think of the auteur theory. (For those who have not done their homework: this is the often-debated idea that the director is the true creative force behind the making of a film, and that everyone else involved—the screenwriters, the cinematographers, the actors, etc.—are, essentially, tools used to manifest his vision for the screen.) I am not a huge enthusiast of this theory, but I willingly consent there is some merit to it: some directors leave such a strong idiosyncratic mark on their films that their names practically become commodities and they stand out from most of their peers. Hideaki Anno, the maker of Shin Godzilla, falls under said category. Though not an authority on Anno’s career (I’m also more familiar with his anime than his live-action work), I imagine I could have walked into this film completely uninformed and still figured out within the first few minutes that he directed it. The first clue would have been the style: slashing jump cuts, artsy long takes, taut close-ups, intertitles. The second clue concerns what happens in the course of the story; it doesn’t take long for things to spiral into the realm of the bizarre. This is especially true of the third act, which, in parts, reminded me of Anno’s celebrated anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. With this new film, Anno has proven himself, for better or worse, one of the more distinctive directors to contribute to the Godzilla franchise. And there is something to be said for that. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // November 1, 2016
  • After an enormous 12 year gap, Godzilla is back at Toho with Shin Godzilla. Gone is almost any remnants of the old guard, including Shogo Tomiyama who championed the series through the 1990’s and the Millennium series. In their place are Hideaki Anno, best known for his work on Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Shinji Higuchi, who rose to prominence after his work on Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995). Together they craft a unique take on the King of the Monsters, bringing the character back to its menacing roots in a way not seen since the 1980’s. The end result might not be the A+ entry that some fans had hoped for, but delivers a memorable take bolstered by a more real world interpretation of events alongside impressive special effects and cinematography work. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // October 16, 2016
  • What do you do when you are tasked with making the 31st movie based on a legendary character with fans worldwide and the crushing expectations of those same fans who have been waiting twelve years for a new Japanese Godzilla film? How do you appeal to those fans, while also creating a piece of entertainment and art that resonates with modern audiences who are not interested in the tokusatsu kaiju legacy built up over the last 60 years? Ever since the announcement of Shin Godzilla it was with mounting expectation that I considered this question, and wondered how director Hideaki Anno (with Shinji Higuchi co-directing) would answer it. Honestly, I was pretty skeptical. I was never a fan of Anno’s most famous creation, the Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise, and despite trying to get into the show a couple times, I was never motivated enough to finish until several weeks prior to Shin Godzilla’s release, in preparation for the viewing (Interesting, eclectic series for sure). I had an impression of Anno as overly pretentious before finishing watching Evangelion (after I was finished the series, I was impressed… but still thought he was a bit pretentious), and my opinion of Higuchi was even worse after seeing the mostly terrible Attack on Titan films last year, despite my love of the Gamera trilogy. My skepticism deepened with the revealing Godzilla’s new design, which looked a bit like a charcoal-roasted zombie lizard with bug-eyes. I also wasn’t happy with the idea of a new Godzilla movie without any secondary monsters, given that in general I enjoy the monster fights more than merely watching an awesomely powerful beast level yet another city while citizens scream and stream in every direction. (more…)

    Movie Reviews // August 30, 2016