Close-Knit 彼らが本気で編むときは (2017) – Movie Review

The Japanese movie Close-Knit (彼らが本気で編むときは) was on TV Japan the other day, and it looked interesting (and is subtitled) so I watched it, even without knowing much about it. I just knew that a Johnny’s member was portraying a transgender person in it. Today happens to be Transgender Day of Remembrance, so I thought I would write a bit about it.

Well, I will start by saying the movie was excellent. The acting, plot, dialog, and overall feeling was sensitive and heartfelt. The story is told through the eyes of Tomo (柿原りんか), an 11-year old girl, who is forced to move in with her uncle, Makio (桐谷健太), and his girlfriend, Rinko (生田斗真), who is transgender. Over the month that the three live together, a wonderful relationship develops amongst them and many issues are discussed. There aren’t any plot twists, but the story doesn’t need any. It’s straightforward and compelling without needing to resort to gimmicks.

It was refreshing to see issues that many people often wonder about being asked and discussed so openly and without taboo. Maybe it’s because the 11-year old girl is at an innocent age where she hasn’t been influenced so much by grown-ups and can look at people with a more open mind. Her inner questioning of the beliefs of others is palpable, and she ponders on what makes something “wrong” and what makes something “right”. And because of this, I felt she was one of the wisest people in the story. Maybe it’s important to keep a young, non-judgemental mindset throughout life.

************* Possible spoilers below *************

Another important part of the story was about Tomo’s classmate, Kai, and the struggles he has when he realizes he is gay. The discrimination and teasing from his classmates were sickening. One of the most powerful scenes was when he talked to Tomo about what he was feeling and how he didn’t understand it all. It was so moving! There was a similar scene in which a young Rinko also breaks down as she deals with being a girl in a boy’s body. But the difference between the two was that Rinko had a completely supportive mother (田中美佐子), while Kai’s mother (小池栄子) is threatened by “strange people” and Kai fears coming out to her. It’s kind of simplistic situationally, but I imagine that these are common scenarios.

Lastly, the story brings up the subject of child abandonment, since Tomo’s mother doesn’t come home for a month, which is why Tomo moves in with her uncle Makio and Rinko. The mother (美村里江) is set up to be the villain, but in one of the climactic scenes, we find out a little about her own insecurities and flaws, and the strong bond that exists between mother and daughter, however strained the relationship might be. When she broke down, I just about lost it! 😭 That was an incredible scene. I have to point out that the acting was superb in the film, of course from the starring roles, but also the supporting cast like Tomo’s mother.

You know, I admit not really thinking much about transgender issues in the past, but I’ve always been supportive of equal rights for all people. I guess I haven’t given it much thought because I think people are people… I don’t care about gay, straight, transgender, etc. People can be good or not-so-good, whatever their lifestyle. However, watching Close-Knit just reminds me that people deal with issues that might not involve me personally, nor be readily apparent, but that I should try to be empathetic towards everyone.

If you have the chance to watch Close-Knit, I recommend doing so. I for one gained some insight into the struggles of LGBT people, and transgender in particular, and I think I have become a better person for it. I think you will too.

My rating: 8.5/10

Diva (1981) – Movie Review

"Diva" Austin, 2018
Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/2.5, 1/15 sec, ISO6400
“Diva” Austin, 2018

こんばんは。Tonight Bay and I went to see my all-time favorite movie in the theater. Diva (1981) was showing at the AFS theater so I just had to see it… in fact, this is my first time to see it on the big screen. The first time I watched Diva was probably around 1985 on VHS, and I was immediately captivated by the beautiful visuals, atmospheric soundtrack, and the coolness of Paris. It really made a huge impression on me. The following year, I traveled to Paris with my dad and we visited some of the same places that were in the movie. It was like a dream! ❤️🇫🇷

Watching Diva on the big screen was just as awesome as I thought it would be. Since I have seen the film many times, I didn’t discover any new details, except the subtitles were different from the version I grew up with so a couple of the nuanced jokes had a new angle. But my favorite scenes (sentimental walk, subway chase, and driving to the castle) were amplified by being in extra-large format. It was surreal.

Tonight’s viewing re-affirmed Diva as being my favorite movie of all-time. It was funny, but I overheard the couple behind us after the movie ended, and the woman asked, “Still good?” and her partner said, “Yes, still in the top five.” 👍

Diva is based on the book of the same name, by author Delacorta. He wrote a series of six books featuring the adventures of Gorodish and Alba. I read the first three, which were super-difficult to find in the pre-Internet age, but I enjoyed them quite a bit. I’m going to have to hunt down the entire series now, so I can finish up reading about the two characters. Something to look forward to!

And lastly, for some reason this particular scene is one of my favorites of any movie. It’s just magical! If you haven’t watched Diva yet, please give it a viewing. 😀

My rating: 9.5/10

Lady Snowblood 修羅雪姫 (1973) – Movie Review

"Lady Snowblood" Cedar Park, 2018
Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/2.8, 1/100 sec, ISO800
“Lady Snowblood” Cedar Park, 2018

This evening I watched Lady Snowblood – 修羅雪姫, a 1973 manga-based movie about a woman named Yuki whose purpose in life is to avenge her mother, who was raped and whose husband was murdered. The mother died shortly after giving birth to Yuki in prison, and the baby was taken by one of the mother’s prison-mates to be raised by a monk. This monk taught her how to be an assassin in order to hunt down and kill the four criminals who were responsible for her mother’s sad fate.

Lady SnowbloodMeiko Kaji (梶 芽衣子) stars as the beautiful Lady Snowblood and is amazing in the role. Not only is she cold and mysterious, but her action sequences are convincing in their straightforward manner. There aren’t any marathon fight scenes, nor over-the-top acrobatics, but rather, quick and deliberate fight scenes.

But what makes the film special is that there are copious amounts of blood. I’m definitely not a fan of horror movies or grotesque imagery, but Lady Snowblood isn’t a typical gore movie. The blood gushes and sprays fountains in such exaggerated ways, that it’s not disturbing at all. The blood is also a bright red color, and thick like tempera paint. Because of this lack of realism, I didn’t mind the gory scenes (of which I am usually easily disturbed). In fact, I found it very entertaining, and I was looking forward to more of it! 🤪

Lady Snowblood

Another special aspect of the movie is that the hairstyles of the 1970s are ever-present throughout (especially for the male actors), even though the time period of the movie is the late 1800s. That crazy juxtaposition makes it all the more fun for watching it in the present day. Coupled with the 1970s music, it’s a unique feeling!

Lady Snowblood

I enjoyed Lady Snowblood quite a bit and am looking forward to seeing the sequel, Lady Snowblood: Love Song of Vengeance, which apparently came out just a year after the first.

Lady Snowblood

An interesting note is that Lady Snowblood was the inspiration for Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies. It’s easy to see why he would be so taken by the film. The movie, and the assassin character, are very compelling!

My rating for Lady Snowblood is 7.5 out of 10.

Tokyo Twilight 東京暮色 (1957) – Movie Review

"Tokyo Twilight" Cedar Park, 2018
“Tokyo Twilight” Cedar Park, 2018

This evening I watched the 1957 film Tokyo Twilight (東京暮色), directed by the famous Yasujirō Ozu. Even though the pace of the movie is slow, I was completely engrossed within the first 10 minutes. I guess I am fascinated by what life in 1950s Japan was like, so I was both following the story, and looking at all the details.

It was neat to see that the streets in the movie were all dirt, even though it was Tokyo, and seeing the fashionably-dressed (to my eyes) characters exit a nice café or bar and then walk with their heels on a dirt road surrounded by buildings was odd. In other cases, the technology was pretty advanced. The train system seemed good and everyone used telephones (even though they were rotary). In fact, all of the scenes still have modern counterparts. The bar, neighborhood restaurant, and mahjong parlor could all be used in a modern movie or television show with just a few adjustments. The pachinko parlor and bank would need technological updates, but those places still are relevant in today’s society. I thought that was pretty cool to know that 6o years didn’t change these places too much.

The story revolves around a family of an older father, his two grown daughters, and their mother who abandoned them from a very young age but has reappeared in Tokyo. The most compelling character was the youngest daughter played by Ineko Arima (有馬稲子), who is struggling with an unwanted pregnancy, her relationship with her father (to whom she doubts she is related), and the reappearance of her biological mother. With so much to deal with, her behavior, whichever way it turns, would be understandable. I suppose it’s this plot point and character that kept the story engrossing to me.

I loved the acting from most of the characters, with the exception being from celebrated actor Chishū Ryū (笠 智衆). It was puzzling to me that he seemed like he would be the best actor of the cast, but I found his facial expressions were stiff, unchanging, and unemotional. It was actually really awkward. The other actors, however, were fantastic, especially Setsuko Hara (原 節子). She was one of Japan’s most famous actresses and you can see why. Although the younger daughter had more obvious motivations, Setsuko Hara’s portrayal of the older daughter needed to be more subtle and nuanced, and she excelled in the role. It’s no wonder that Hara was one of the premiere actors of the era.

I enjoyed Tokyo Twilight quite a bit and am looking forward to watching Ozu’s other films, including his most famous work, Tokyo Story (東京物語), which also stars Setsuko Hara and Chishū Ryū.

My rating for Tokyo Twilight is 8.5 out of 10. Highly recommended!

Your Lie in April 四月は君の嘘 – Movie Review

こんばんは。Tonight Your Lie in April (四月は君の嘘) was on TV Japan so Koa and I watched it together. Surprisingly, Koa said he had already seen it on the plane when we traveled over Christmas break. I guess he enjoyed it enough to want to watch it again. I’m not sure if it is because there is a lot of musical performance in it, or if he’s now interested in girls/romantic stories, but whatever! I was happy to have his company while I watched it.

******* SPOILERS FOLLOW – YOU MAY WANT TO SKIP DIRECTLY DOWN TO THE TRAILER *********

I’m a fan of Hirose Suzu 広瀬 すず (Anone, Umimachi Diary) and will watch anything that she stars in, so it was great to find a movie of hers on TV Japan, and in HD with English subtitles! w00t! I didn’t know much about the story beforehand except that it’s an adaptation from a manga and I was expecting it to be a very light teen romantic comedy, but it turned out to have a deeper story, and was actually kind of a tear-jerker! I’d categorize it as a “teen romantic musical tragedy”. 😆

Your Lie in April follows the main characters, Kaori (Hirose) and Kōsei (Yamazaki Kento 山﨑 賢人), two musically talented high school students who team up to perform in a musical recital. Actually, Kaori convinces Kōsei, who has quit piano years earlier, to be her accompaniment. Her carefree yet determined attitude helps him overcome his fear of performing, and it seemed like the story will follow the formula of boy meets girl, boy loses girl, both confess their love for each other and they reunite with a triumphant concert performance.

Well, things take a big turn when Kaori falls seriously ill and Kōsei, Kaori, and their two close friends Tsubaki and Watari confront their feelings and confess to their love interests. However, things get complicated and the confessions didn’t make complete sense to me so I was wondering if there was some kind of hole in the plot.

Anyways, the story continues on, with Kōsei telling Kaori in the hospital that he has decided to enter a regional piano competition and that he wants to perform together with her in the future. With this in mind, Kaori decides to undergo a risky operation to cure her terminal illness.

Soon after, she goes into surgery while at the same time Kōsei is performing in the concert. This musical performance was probably the most touching scene in the movie because while he plays, Kaori’s image appears and accompanies him on violin. However, towards the end of the song, she stops playing, lowers her violin, and, shedding tears, fades away, signifying the fact that she did not survive the operation. 😭

"Your Lie in April" Cedar Park, 2018
Photo info: FUJIFILM X100T, 23mm, f/2.2, 1/100 sec, ISO250
“Your Lie in April” Cedar Park, 2018

The story picks up a few months later, with Kōsei reading a letter that Kaori had written to him before she had her operation. In it, she reveals how she had known of Kōsei since they were small kids when she saw him at a piano recital. It was then that she decided to play violin in hopes that she could play with him one day. Years later in high school, as her illness became more serious, she decided to live the rest of her life to the fullest and made an effort to become closer to Kosei and his friends in order to make her dream come true. The lie she told (to which the film’s title refers) was that she said she loved Watari (in order to go on a double-date with Kōsei and Tsubaki). The truth was that she was actually in love with Kosei. 😭

I enjoyed the movie a lot more than I thought I would, mainly because the plot made complete sense after Kaori’s letter was read by Kōsei. And Hirose Suzu’s acting is always charming and she can seemingly let the tears flow on command. Yamazaki Kento probably had the most challenging role and did a good job expressing his inner struggles, especially during his piano pieces. Speaking of the musical performances, I read that both Hirose and Yamazaki spent 6 months practicing their instruments before filming. It really shows because they certainly seemed convincing (at least to me).

I really loved the setting of Your Lie in April (movie version) – the Shonan coast. Their high school sat on a hill, with a view of the ocean and Enoshima island. There was even a cool river heading to the ocean that they jumped into from a high bridge. It looked like a great area to live in. I’ve actually taken a couple of day trips down there when I lived in Japan, and it has a really cool, laid-back beach vibe. I loved it.

Although not a truly amazing film, Your Lie in April is a solidly entertaining story with good acting and some touching scenes. And the musical performances are great as well. I recommend it!

My rating is 7.5/10.