Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Probinsiyano's Journey Through Hell (Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag)

Rarely have I ever been completely mesmerized by local Philippine movies, not that I'm saying the local movie scene sucks, but for three main reasons: One, I rarely watch local movies. Two, and perhaps the reason for the first argument, they rarely make real masterpieces and if they ever do, its usually on the hush-hush, and three because of this movie., Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, which truly sets the bar really high, as expected no less from its director, the late, great Lino Brocka, one of the greatest Filipino filmmakers of all time and of the film itself that claims to be the greatest Philippine movie ever made.

The film is about a "probinsyano" (people from the provinces or somewhere outside the big city), Julio Madiaga as played by the young Bembol Roco (before known as Rafael Roco Jr.) who went to the big city of Manila to search for his lost love, Ligaya Paraiso (played by Hilda Koronel, the character name Ligaya Paraiso literally translates to "Joyful Paradise") who was tricked and taken to Manila by a certain shady old woman named Mrs. Cruz, who came to their province and promised Ligaya and several other women a better life in the big city if they came with her. Out of worry for his lover who hasn't wrote back to her family for months, Julio decided to brave the odds and search for Ligaya despite having no clues of her whereabouts. Little did he know his adventure would take him farther and deeper than he expects into the dark maw of the city's scum. Crime, poverty, injustice are to name a general few but to get keep getting victimized by it is a different story. After all of the city's hostility, will Julio be able to keep his sanity intact until he finds Ligaya? And when he finds Ligaya, will he be able to bring her back and live happily ever after? Or will it be a shock of reality that would land the final blow, turning the kind and meek Julio into a monster of vengeance.

Julio Madiaga, played by Bembol Roco, frequents and stands like a creepy stalker at the corner of Ongpin and Misericordia street, in front of a Chinese merchandise store in which he believes, Ligaya, his missing lover is kept hidden. Imprisoned probably. But honestly, it was a big surprise to see Bembol Roco this young, and with this much hair.

Julio joins a construction company - the easiest job to get into since he has no proper education whatsoever, in order to sustain himself in he big city while he looks for Ligaya. Also his first taste of the city's bigtime injustice. He's supposed to earn 4 pesos a day while the corrupted and cheapskate of a foreman only gives him 2.50, no questions asked. Another surprise for me is the regular wage back in 1975. When I was a kid (around early 90's) 2.50 would only take you a jeepney ride no farther than 4 kilometers, and today, that much earns me only what, two sticks of gum? Amazing how the economy turned out far worse 36 years later. And amazing that that is Joonee Gamboa on the right.

Julio's lost lover, Ligaya Paraiso as played by Hilda Koronel. Ligaya was duped into being given a chance to get educated and live a better life in the big city by Mrs. Cruz (whom Julio described as fat and ugly, like a pig), a shady person who came to their province and promised several other women the same thing. Nowadays, its still the same thing. Illegal recruiters all around, taking advantage of poor citizens' lack of education and awareness, involving them with shady dealings and such. That aside, it never fails to astound me the beauty of women in classic films. Seems they have something in common, I just can't put a finger on it, that puts them a notch above today's pretty faces in show business.

Julio and his buddy, Atong, went to a local market to shop for clothing. I was totally blown away by the price of the buttoned shirt they went for at 9 pesos. And even haggled it down to a price of 6.80 because they thought the cloth was a bit flimsy (these days, the flimsier the cloth, all the more pricey). Nowadays, stuff like that would cost from 300 to more than a thousand pesos depending on the brand and make - a huge evident economic difference from 36 years ago. Today, 9 pesos would only earn you one serving of cooked rice that isn't even enough to hit the bottom.

A scenery from before that still is, and more evident than ever. A distressing slum area, or in more local terms, "squatters area". Usually formed by informal settlers who are mostly composed of probinsiyanos like Julio who ventured to the big city to try their luck at a better chance of moving up in life. Unfortunately, most of them end up stuck in slums like these. In the movie, The squatters area was second home to Julio as he was welcomed to stay there by his friend Atong who lived in one.

Just like the tagline on this show's theatrical poster:

"Sa bawat latay, kahit aso'y nag-iiba.
Sa unang latay siya'y magtataka.
Sa ikalawa siya'y mag-iisip.
Sa ikatlo siya'y magtatanda.
Sa ikaapat, humanda ka!"

Which literally translates to: "For every lash of the whip, even a dog changes thought. Lash him once and he'll start wondering. Lash him twice and he'll start thinking. Lash him thrice and he'll remember it. Lash him for the fourth time, you'd best be prepared!". Julio like the stray dog who unwittingly entered hell, through the vicissitudes of living around and getting victimized by scum, slowly evolves, turning himself into something that scared even himself. The movie, aside from being a perfect mirror of the sad realities of the impoverished sector in the Philippines (perhaps evident in other countries as well), also serves as a dire example on the downfall of man, that even the most meek of humans, once pushed far enough, can and will do the unthinkable.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Chasing Love in the City of God (Michiko to Hatchin)

After seeing and being enthralled with its uniquely music-themed, action-packed, and with an awesome story to boot series of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, I found myself craving and sought for more of Shinichiro Watanabe's work. In doing so, I've come across a couple of great and memorable shows he's had a hand in producing (e.g. Eureka Seven, Ergo Proxy and Escaflowne). Although he only has a handful of shows in which he directed and a bunch of others where mostly he is in charge of storyboard, the two aforementioned shows totally stand out from the rest which sets the bar really high for his work for me. Then I stumbled upon a certain anime image of  Michiko to Hatchin with a gun-toting, brown hottie of a woman with a teasing look, riding a scooter with a seemingly timid blondie kid. What an ironic pair. Seeing the show is produced by Manglobe, the same guys who produced Ergo Proxy and Samurai Champloo and with Mr. Watanabe in charge of the music. For sure I knew, I was in for a treat and boy did Michiko to Hatchin blew me away.

A bronze hottie riding a monster scooter casually jumps through your window and lands on your dining table in the middle of breakfast. Just how badass can this show get?

Set in a fictional country very similar to Brazil, Michiko to Hatchin is the story of a somewhat unlikely mother-and-daughter pair set out to find a certain man who is supposed to be the daughter's lost father. Michiko Malandro, an ex-gangster and a prison escapee who braved the odds, escaping a supposedly inescapable prison facility to search for important people, one f them being Hana Morenos, whom she claims to be her daughter. A few days after her escape she finds Hana under the wing of an abusive foster family whose purpose of having an orphan like her under their roof is to take her government-funded child support for their own. She takes the unwilling yet left with little choice Hana and runs again with more cops in pursuit. The two then set out in a dangerous adventure in search of Hana's father, Hiroshi Morenos, who is also Michiko's ex-lover. Despite being polar opposites, which results in both of them often bickering at each other, beset with obstacles and danger as they travel - rampant poverty, dodging cops and dealing with felonious individuals and gangs, the two eventually warmed up to each other as they held on to their promise of protecting the other no matter what and see their treacherous journey to the end.

Michiko Malandro, the story's heroine, escapes a supposedly inescapable isolated prison facility through wit and sheer badassery, taking down a couple of guys and a police chopper in the process.

Michiko broke out of prison to search for two important people. Holding an artist's sketch of Hiroshi Morenos, her ex-lover, on her left and her own rendition of Hana/Hatchin, who she claims to be her daughter, on her right, Michiko asks people around if they've seen people who looked like such. Despite being a quick-witted escapee, a real badass and real hot stuff, how her hand works with ink and paper is just so funny. 

An orphan since birth and raised by an abusive family, The young and gentle Hana Morenos has braved living a tough life yet deep in her heart, she always wished for someone to come down from that dusty road, pick her up and take her away from her misery. Then, though it wasn't what she was expecting, along came Michiko who claims to be her mother.

 Drama aside, this show also has its plus points for comedy. This episode in particular probably has the most comedy in my opinion, Hana got drunk, surprisingly, on orange juice and the way she acted was really strange. Yes, she does look like a little boy but to top it off with acting like a macho guy and hitting on a chick? Classic.

What made this show even more amazing is the action-packed yet brimming with emotions story. Michiko is constantly on the run from cops all the while dodging bullets and keeping her promise to Hana to protect her no matter what until they find her long lost father and Michiko's long-lost lover, Hiroshi.

Having the hots for tall women with afro hairdo characters, Atsuko Jackson is easily my favorite. Being Michiko's old childhood buddy and partner-in-crime, she unexpectedly became her worst rival as she later grew up to become a police officer, constantly obsessed with hunting down Michiko. Must be an old beef she just has to settle with her.

Looks like the settling of business started earlier than expected. Michiko got cornered by cops, as planned by Atsuko. Not minding being on gunpoint and surrounded by cops, she became blind with rage and grabbed Atsuko by the collar as she insulted her by digging up skeletons of their past. Hmm, I think I know what's running in those guys heads. Catfight!

Like what the title mentions, this show has a striking resemblance to the acclaimed movie City of God with the plot setting, although in this one it happens on a fictional Brazil-like country, in a similar favela district setting. There's also the gangs of violent kids evident in the movie and even in this one, they're still rowdy as ever.

Of course, with the show revolving a lot around gangsters and such, and with similar plot elements found in City of God, I can't just recommend this to younger viewers (also they might not fully understand the greatness of shows like this just yet) and those who aren't used to much violence. Although, the action, gunfights and wild chases, I must say is one of the strongest points of this show.

 But still, the best part about it for me still, is the drama. Michiko hugs Hana as she fell on her knees, crying after her first experience of love and heartbreak. The show deals with the different situations the dysfunctional yet faithful mother and daughter pair as they go the difficulties of love, trust, relationships and living a dangerous life, being constantly on the run.

Being the first in the Josei genre of anime that I've seen, It was quite a new experience. Unlike Shoujo manga/anime, which is of the least possibility that I would go see one, the romance depicted on Josei is definitely more mature and more realistic (even the sad ironies of love and relationships) in which, in my standards, the genre truly succeeds where Shoujo fails. Another noticeable trait in the show (I don't know about other Josei titles if this is evident) is the characters seem to be quite keen on fashion that you rarely see them wear the same stuff on every episode. Not to mention that the stuff they wore seems to have been given a lot of thought too. Unfortunately though, my fave Atsuko Jackson, whose physique comes closest to a real supermodel, (although she lacks quite a lot in the chest department, but what the hell, most fashion models do right?) has to stick most of the time with uniforms.

Having the perfect mix of blood-boiling action, a mature view of romance and relationships (right, I really have to mention mature) and heartwarming drama plus the amazing story, watching Michiko to Hatchin came close to me as watching an awesome action film. And the fact that the show had quite the resemblance to one of my all-time favorites, City of God, easily made it one of the best anime series I've ever watched. I'd recommend this one for those looking for anime with deep substance without losing the excitement and/or those who are tired of the shoujo genre's intended type of mushy romance.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Do you have memories you don't want to forget?" (Ef: A Tale of Memories)

I had quite a hard time finding a fitting romance anime series I could review this month since I've already reviewed most (perhaps the best)of the very few romance anime I have (Toradora, 5 Centimeters per Second etc.) and the rest I have with me borders more heavily on a different genre, drama mostly. (recently, I've learned to enjoy drawing out my emotions on good mixes of hearty comedy and tearful melodrama) So then I settled on this anime adaptation of the two-part visual novel Ef: A Fairy Tale of the Two, which in this review, its first installment of the similarly two-part anime series, Ef: A Tale of Memories.

The story starts off as Hirono Hiro, a high school student and an aspiring manga artist, fails to attend his childhood friend: Shindou Kei's Christmas party as his bike got stolen by a girl who was chasing a purse-snatcher, Miyamura Miyako whom he later found collapsed on the street. Feeling responsible he ends up hanging out the entire night with Miyako without minding he stood up Kei who has deep feelings for him that she has kept hidden for a long time. Meanwhile, Asou Renji, another high schooler walks to his usual relaxing spot, an abandoned train station. He is surprised to find another person on the station's benches, a mysterious girl, Shindou Chihiro, Kei's twin sister. Caught off-guard, he goes into an awkward state and leaves immediately after saying a few words to Chihiro. The next day, he finds her again on the benches but oddly enough, Chihiro asked him a strange question, like she was unable to recall yesterday's events. Ef: A Tale of Memories follows the story of these teenagers as they experience and grow through the hardships of romantic relationships.

Zealous yet indecisive, Hirono Hiro chooses to juggle both his studies and work as a manga artist at the same time. Ultimately he has to choose for his future: continue with his studies to secure his future or pursue his passion, his childhood friend who cares for his future and his well-being or the new girl who supports his work and needs him more than anybody else.

Shindou Kei is our story's "Osananajimi" character archetype. Being a childhood friend to Hiro, eventually she developed strong feelings for him yet unfortunately, she is unable to tell him how she feels. Although her ending is quite predictable for most seasoned viewers of anime (especially of the harem genre), it still is interesting to see how she stirs up drama as she competes with Miyako, desperately trying to "erase" her from Hiro's heart.

Kei spends a lot of time around her "onii-san", Hiro. She even has the liberty to barge in his apartment to wake him up for school. Despite their closeness and Kei's eager attempts to show her feelings and how much she cares for his future, Hiro only sees her as a younger sister.

The lively Miyamura Miyako. Despite her bubbly and playful nature, she hides deep sadness and loneliness ever since her parents have separated and given her the feeling that she has been "erased" from everyone's hearts. She finds comfort in the company of Hiro and wishes him to stay by her side always.

Hiro found Miyako collapsed on the street shortly after stealing his bike trying to pursue a purse-snatcher. Hiro was about to call for medical assistance after seeing his bike thief unconscious until suddenly she woke up like nothing happened. Feeling concerned and responsible for Miyako, Hiro allowed himself to get dragged around and quickly Miyako's lively and outgoing nature made Hiro spend what she called a "romantic Christmas eve" with her until morning.

Hiro and Miyako later found out they were classmates and that they haven't seen each other since they both enjoy skipping school. Miyako also supports Hiro's passion after finding out he was a  budding manga artist. She even cooks for Hiro and goes out with him often in order for her to keep him by his side always. Eventually, they became lovers much to Kei's disappointment and Hiro's confusion, finding out his "sister" has feelings for him and that he had to choose between the two of them.

Hiro's bestfriend, Tsutsumi Kyosuke. He has a strong passion in filming and is an active member of their school's film club. On Christmas eve, he instantly took an interest on a running Kei (although he didn't know it was Kei at that time) and tried to take shots of her but was instantly blocked by a truck that passed by. The thought of the girl lingered in his mind so much that he quit the film club and broke up with his girlfriend. After finding out who Kei was, he instantly asked her to become the main lead to a movie he was making. Kei agrees and ends up with him following her around filming her every emotion with his camera. Eventually, he fell in love with Kei.

Asou Renji, is also a high-schooler who has troubles choosing his career path after graduating. He often stays in an abandoned train station to ease his mind on its peaceful tracks. One day, he was surprised to find another person sitting on the station's benches since he is the only person that comes and goes there.

Shindou Chihiro, Kei's younger twin sister, unknowingly surprised Asou Renji as they met on the abandoned train station which Renji frequents resulting in a quick and awkward first meeting. The following day, Chihiro and Renji met again on the station but this time Chihiro asked him a strange question if they've met before, like she can't recall yesterday's events. This takes Renji's interest in the shy and mysterious eye-patched girl that suddenly popped out of his secret hideaway.

Even in the following days that Renji and Chihiro met, she always asked him if he was Renji from yesterday. Later on, Renji learned that she has a memory defect caused by an accident four years ago that also gave her that eye patch, that her memory lasts no longer than thirteen hours and that she gradually loses an hour's worth of memory every hour after that. Therefore, she makes up for it by religiously writing down her memories for a day on a diary that she reads every morning for her to keep track of yesterday. Renji, who fell in love with her eventually had to face the consequences of her illness. But Chihiro wants him not to since she doesn't want to be a burden to others. Things take a turn for the worst when one day Chihiro, stressed out from keeping track of her days with Renji, passes out for an entire day and loses 24 hours worth of memories and wakes up confused with only her memory of when she was 12 years old. Seeing this, Renji begins to question himself if he can still continue with his relationship with the girl tied down to 12 years and thirteen hours worth of memories.

A mysterious recurring character in the series is Amamiya Yuuko. She appears around Otowa (the story's setting) most of the time inside a Church. Whenever a character in the story contemplates on their problems she appears to them, giving advice and suddenly disappears. It is revealed later that she has ties with Chihiro's guardian, Himura but their story isn't revealed yet in this series. (in the second installment I believe.)

The first thing that really caught my eye while watching previews of this show is the unorthodox style and visual elements used in this series which is very prevalent when portraying character emotions or drawing out emotions on scenes. Shin Oonuma, who directed the series, used certain art styles like unnatural lighting, flat-colored images, scenes in black and white, split screens, strange camera angles and alternating shots. In my own opinion, the art style is superb and definitely accomplished its goal of portraying emotions in different scenes (especially with one certain scene that was really intense) and the character designs and backgrounds were very well drawn. Although, It appealed as a win to me, I believe it may not appeal to some, especially to those who are more used to and prefers the traditional animation style, and might get turned off by the first few episodes.   

This is one of my most favorite parts of the series. What looks like a bunch of crawling japanese characters and a small watermarked silhouette of Miyako is actually a gradual buildup of emotional intensity portrayed, in my opinion,  in the most unusual yet effective of ways.

The thing that excited me the most was the competition that went on between Kei and Miyako. Although I was expecting them to begin pulling at each other's hair, the execution on each one's emotional outbursts (especially with Miyako's) were better. Also I loved the way Chihiro's character was created. It was very different from the clichéd "girl with amnesia" since 50 First Dates and other similar romance stories. All in all, everything was very good, save for some scenes where the characters movements were animated rather awkwardly (especially with Renji). Definitely one of the best romance/drama series you'd ever hope to find.
Friday, February 4, 2011

"If she says she'll kill you, don't take it lightly." (My Sassy Girl (2001))

Years way back, when this movie was still a big hit all around Southeast Asia, I remember having a glimpse at some scenes from this movie, but can't bring myself to watch it because of all the hype and its extreme popularity. I got to thinking, "hmm.. another mushy chick-flick" hence, I overly underestimated the movie's potential and shoved the idea of watching it since romance wasn't even my thing to begin with. Which is something I am in deep regret of after watching the movie just recently. Oh, and the funny thing is, the thing I liked the most about this movie was not the girl. But the guy. I just can't help but burst into fits of laughter just seeing the guy's comic reactions. LOL

The perfect facial expression for disgust. Tae-Hyun Cha plays Gyeon-woo, our main man. Darn, I love how this guy provided so much comic relief in this movie. Definitely the perfect guy to play the role.

My Sassy Girl is based on real-life events portrayed in a series of blog posts written by Kim-Ho Sik and is about a guy's encounter with a drunk girl on a train whom after he saved her life brought him loads of misfortune but entirely changed the course of his life. From Gyeon-Woo's patience and determination to heal the girl's hidden sorrows and a serendipitous reunion emerged a very touching and beautiful yet sadistic and idiotic without being masochistic and stupid story that definitely made me think twice about chick flicks (thats too general of an understatement, romantic comedy is more like it) not having superb potential.

 See "violence" painted all over her face? LOL Ji-Hyun Jun plays the role of the unnamed moody and violent girl, Gyeon Woo's love interest. Their crazy (er.. sick maybe?) chance meeting on the train got me totally hooked on the movie. The drunk girl let loose her stomach demons on a passenger then passed out but not before he called out to Gyeon-Woo, who was checking her out the entire time, and called him "Honey". Right there, he got on the receiving end of the wronged passenger's rambling and was forced to take responsibility. I agree with Gyeon-Woo. Drunk girls are... annoying. :) 

Upon helping the girl, Gyeon-Woo doesn't realize he's dragged into one heck of a ride. Gyeon-Woo carried the passed out drunk girl feeling responsibility that he couldn't leave her like that and brought her to a nearby hotel. For some reasons, (a misunderstanding perhaps) after taking a bath and not finding towels to put on, some policewomen barged in on their hotel room, sprayed mace on Gyeon-Woo's face for not raising both arms while covering his you-know-what and locked him up in the slammer with a bunch of gangsters. After that, the girl called him up in a demanding voice to meet up with her and explain things. While drinking soju, the girl, began to cry and admitted she broke up with his boyfriend the day he saw her drunk and then passed out again sending them back again to the same hotel with Gyeon-Woo carrying a wasted girl on her back again. As Gyeon-Woo watched the girl sleep, he realized that despite the girl's wild tendencies, she carries a deep heavy burden that perhaps caused her to become like that. Entranced by the girl's beauty Gyeon-Woo vows to help heal the girl's sorrow, thus begins his troublesome yet comedic romantic relationship with the girl.

 Gyeon-Woo, despite after putting him into so much trouble, was unable to leave the drunk girl sleeping in a public bench and opts to painstakingly carrying her on his back to a hotel. From my observation, the "back-carry" thing seems to be a visual cue or symbolism in Korean romantic films and TV shows that reveals two characters' soon-to-be relationship in the story. Which is ending up with each other as lovers. Well, that's just me thinking out loud but I just think that might be the thing. :)

 Gyeon-Woo almost became good friends with the same group of thieves after getting locked behind bars twice during his crazy relationship with the girl. Can it get any more troublesome than this?

 Out of impulse, the girl pushes Gyeon-Woo, who doesn't know how to swim, off a pier and into the sea to test how deep the water is. Although saved by the girl, he got traumatized since and tried to get even by getting drunk and giving the girl trouble. The plan backfires and he ends up passing out on the train, getting robbed and again, behind bars and afterwards getting beat up by the girl. Poor Gyeon-Woo.

 How can Gyeon-Woo take so much abuse? Simple. He fell in love. (Masochist perhaps?) After seeing the girl cry, confess her breakup and pass out drunk, he realized she needs somebody. Enchanted by the sleeping mantrap (LOL) he felt, that "somebody" needs to be him, and was determined to mend the girl's broken heart.

Wanting to give the girl a grand birthday surprise, Gyeon-Woo had something prepared for her in a theme park. But when they got there, his plans were ruined as they met up with a disturbed soldier who took Gyeon-Woo hostage. Turns out, it was the soldier's birthday, same with the girl's, but his was the worst day of his life having been dumped by his girl. The girl tried to convince the soldier by lecturing him the importance of letting go. Eventually he frees Gyeon-Woo after having cleared his head. As Gyeon-Woo ran and hugged the girl for saving his life, his surprise for the girl kicked in as the merry-go-round lights up, fireworks fly and the rides play a "Happy Birthday" tune. But instead of elation, the girl got mad again and beat up Gyeon-Woo.
Honestly, I began to lose interest as the girl kept on abusing (most of the time physically) Gyeon-Woo despite his efforts to empathize and stay by the girl's side everytime the girl gets her fits of depression and his efforts in doing favors to please her. Carrying her to a hotel everytime she passes out drunk, throwing him to the sea despite his lack of swimming skills, getting in jail because of her, breaking into a women's university just to deliver her a rose and even running around on heels just to amuse her, even ignoring her parents' pleas not to see their daughter anymore yet Gyeon-Woo still remained steadfast on his determination to ease her pains. Later on though everything made sense as to why the girl was acting so abusive and forceful towards him which surprised me very much, giving the story a beautiful major twist.

This for me is the most touching part of the story. The girl and Gyeon-Woo went on their last date. Once more the girl ordered Gyeon-Woo to do something difficult - go to the top of a mountain across from where they are to see whether he would hear her shouting from there. Gyeon-Woo did so and was waving to her from an insane distance where obviously, Gyeon-Woo won't hear anything she'd exclaim. The girl cried and shouted her true feelings and said sorry for... *snicker*.. spoiler :P

 Before they parted on their final date, they put both their true feelings in letters and sealed them both in a time capsule they buried under a tree in the mountain. They promised to meet up again exactly two years, same time, same place and read their letters. Sadly, two years later the girl was unable to come and only Gyeon-Woo was there to read the letters. Don't worry though. With Gyeon-Woo, it doesn't all end there. :)

From my analysis, perhaps the reason I loved this movie is it doesn't have way too much "mush" unlike the usual chick flick but a lot more substance, astounding twists and downright, gut-busting comic relief (care of Tae-Hyun Cha's face). In my opinion, this sets the bar a lot higher for me since its now the best romantic comedy I've ever seen.

Pardon me, but I just can't get enough of his ROFLOL facial expressions. ><
Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Heart Wakana Matsumoto! (Fujoshi Kanojo/My Geeky Girlfriend (2009))

Since its the Valentine's month, although its not really my thing to watch romantic movies (especially by myself, tch..) but in the spirit of the love season, I'll be featuring movies/anime of romance genre, the entire month, which I've watched and, well.., enjoyed. Usually I only watch romance movies by accident or when odds are inevitable, (why am I so adamant at this?) but I do sometimes watch them by choice only when critics' ratings show it's definitely worth my time OR, when the lead actress is a marvelous wonder of beauty, the latter which is the case I didn't think twice picking up this movie.

Like Suwa Hinata (played by Shunsuke Daito), our lucky guy, I was bedazzled as Shirosaki Yoriko (played by the stunningly beautiful Wakana Matsumoto) introduced herself, and for Hinata, it was love at first sight. Oh, and I must say, for a new actress, I can't help but commend her superb acting skills. Really perfect for the role.

Fujoshi Kanojo (My Geeky Girlfriend in its International English title) is a live-action adaptation of the light novel series of the same name written by Pentabu (the author's pen name I guess) that tells the story of a guy's struggles as he takes on his relationship with a Fujoshi. To keep it short, a Fujoshi is a female otaku and in this context, mostly their main interest is BL or Boys' love - a certain genre in anime and manga culture that deals with male-to-male relationships. Relatively queer, in my humble and honest opinion. LOL. Therein lies the problem. Hinata, our main character who works part-time in a photo studio, has to face the consequences and responsibilities that comes with having Yoriko, his boss and fujoshi girlfriend. Well, it doesn't matter if you ask me, as long as its Wakana Matsumoto. :)

Hinata confesses his feelings for Yoriko. Yoriko accepted his feelings though but gave him a heads-up (which Hinata sholdn't have taken so lightly). Yoriko confessed that she was an otaku. And not just an ordinary otaku. A hardcore Fujoshi. Without even letting her finish explaining, lovestruck Hinata (who had no idea what a fujoshi is) outright told her it doesn't matter.

Then comes Sebsy's (Yoriko's pet name for Hinata which is taken from the butler character in the anime Kuroshitsuji) tour of his "Ojou-sama's" peculiar fujoshi world.

 Instead of the usual "maid café" Yoriko brought Hinata on a date in a fujoshi favorite getaway - a butler café and introduced her to her similar fujoshi friends - a manga artist and BL specialist, Kasumi, and a Miku, professional cosplayer nicknamed "Milk". Due to his submissiveness to Yoriko's weird fujoshi impulses he was compared to Sebastian the butler from the anime Kuroshitsuji, thus his nickname, Sebsy.

 The unwilling yet subservient Hinata accompanied his BL-crazed girlfriend to a manga store and met unusual stares from customers who saw him on the Shoujo and BL section of the store with a girl who cant get a hold of herself after seeing new issues.

Looks like Yoriko's having a ball watching something. While in class, (Hinata is still a university student) Hinata received a call from Yoriko telling him she's at his house. Not surprising. But what surprised him was the strange sounds on Yoriko's end. Turns out she was playing an "eroge" and even defended that it wasn't an eroge she's playing but a world-famous, top-notch eroge. And to top it off, she ordered it online using Hinata's account since she says using hers was quite embarrassing.

Of course, Yoriko gets jealous at times with people Hinata hangs out with most of the time especially with guys and most especially with his guy bestfriend Koji, and was even having fantasies of them making out. LOL 

But the best part is (for me at least) she loves to cosplay too. Here's Wakana Matsumoto as the famous vocaloid character, Hatsune Miku. I second Hinata's comment: "Moe!"

There are a lot of other references to other famous anime in this movie. (which I believe helps it cater to the otaku audience) In this one, Hinata compared Koji to Char Aznable from the grandfather anime series of the Gundam franchise, Mobile Suit Gundam. Then again, Yoriko's crazy thoughts kick in as she fantasized Koji as Char and herself as Artesia or Sayla, Char's long lost younger sister in the said anime. Looks really good on her I must say.

Like most otaku, Yoriko also prefers the world in 2-D rather than real life and even encouraged Hinata to do the same. Hinata then replied that if he fals in love with 2-D characters then he'd forget about her. This depresses Yoriko but Hinata assured her that he'll show her that real life can always be better.

Initially, Hinata had a hard time keeping his gaga girlfriend in check. But eventually, and in the name of love, he grew quite used to Yoriko's "lifework". Reading BL manga, being her personal "Sebastian" and even picking up her ways of creating "queer" stories in his mind while watching other guys having conversations. But of course, at one point in a relationship, there comes the time where a couples' bond of love is truly tested. Unexpectedly, Yoriko's ultimate dream of working in London has come into fruition. Now she is caught between a rock and a hard place as she decides whether to stay with Hinata and forego London or break up with him and pursue her dream. So is Hinata, thinking whether to be selfish and follow his heart's wishes or let go of their relationship for Yoriko's sake.

Yoriko and Hinata had an argument over dinner when after a lot of stalling, interruptions and second thoughts she broke the news to him that she was given an opportunity to work in London. Why must breaking news always come in during dinner?

Even though it was a really simple story, I was quite touched especially on the dramatic parts where the two had to decide in whether to continue with their relationship or not (the part in my opinion where the movie shined the most). But I could simply say, I was satisfied at the very least. I had a good laugh and c'mon, it's Wakana Matsumoto. :)
Monday, January 31, 2011

Shinobi - Heart Under Blade (2005)

Ninjas (otherwise known as shinobi) are very well-known as the Japanese historical (and sometimes legendary) stealth assassin. They have made their mark in history since (I guess) around 15th century as warriors and spies of great prowess in the field of tactical espionage, stealth and assassination. During the Sengoku Era/Period in ancient Japan, ninjas are specially trained assassins-for-hire, rented by warring clans to go past legions of armed samurai and lay defeat on the enemy by taking down the enemy's daimyo (general/governor) like a sitting duck behind enemy lines. To do this perilous yet tremendous feat, ninjas are trained from their childhood with the different specializations of ninjutsu and the art of assassination. Having such dangerous skills, ninjas live well hidden in secret villages deep in jungles or mountainous regions. But like the samurai, they have lost their cause since the beginning of the Tokugawa shogunate, a time of peace where feudal Japan ended.

Christopher Walken? Nope. It's Yutaka Matsushige who plays the role of Hattori Hanzo, Tokugawa Ieyasu's second-in-command who issued the order of a survival battle between the two militant ninja clans.

In this story, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, gathered the two warring Kouga Manjidani and Iga Tsubagakure ninja clans in his castle to showcase their dangerous expertise in killing. Seeing how they easily handled the castle guards, the government then decided since its a time for peace, skills like theirs are no longer needed and would only bring further danger to the upcoming peace. Tokugawa, issued an order to the warring Iga and Kouga ninja clans, to choose five of their best warriors to engage in a fight to the death for the sake of survival of the stronger of the two clans in order to bring about an era of peace and ending the clans' 400-year feud. In the midst of this conflict, two star-crossed lovers are caught and one must kill the other in order for their clan to come through.

Our story's "Romeo and Juliet", the ill-fated star-crossed lovers Gennosuke (played by Joe Odagiri) from the Kouga clan and Oboro (played by Yukie Nakama) from the Iga clan. Fate chose them to lead the five ninja representatives of their clans chosen to fight to the death. Meaning one inevitably has to kill the other in order to ultimately end their 400-year feud with each other's clans.

One of the things I've enjoyed in this movie are the scenic locations especially the hidden villages of each of the ninja clans. Iga Tsubagakure clan's village lies deep within a jungle forest along a river.

Kouga Manjidani's hideaway lies hidden in a mountaintop where their ninjas train in perilous heights.

And of course, the best part for me: the unique kick-ass chosen five of each clan! Introducing first, Kouga Manjidani's elite five:

Muroga Hyoma, the seemingly blind monk, who has extreme ESP abilities that can sense enemies from afar. In the movie, he is also a man of wisdom and seemed like a mentor to Gennosuke and advisor to his father, the late, Kouga Danjou, head of the Kouga clan who died in a battle against Oboro head of the Iga clan shortly after the battle between the clans was issued.

Chikuma Koshiro, one of the most awesome warriors in this movie. Despite his lack of supernatural powers, he makes up for it with his agility and weapon specialty in using a kusari-gama (chain sickle) and throwing multiple darts at the same time. And like a real samurai, he finds no more reason to live once the feudal era ends. You just can't take the fight from the kid.

Of course, an action movie wouldn't be all that great if it weren't for awesome fight scenes like this. Koshiro and Yashamaru from the Iga clan met and crossed swords, er.. wires against steel? and finally got to settle their unfinished business from Edo Castle.

The temptress femme fatale ninja of the Kouga clan, Kagero. Don't be dazzled by this woman's charms. she may look harmless and a lot less of a ninja but she is a lot more capable than it looks. She feeds and breathes poison, and her ultimate weapon?

A kiss of death. Gennosuke almost fell victim to it. Kagero found out her illicit love affair with Oboro from the rival clan and tried to kill him herself. But deep inside Kagero is also in love with Gennosuke and cannot bring herself to do it despite her jealousy. Sadly though for Kagero, she cannot be with anyone since she is a woman fed poison all her life.

The enigmatic character of the group, Kisaragi Saemon. Looks really awesome with that costume with skills of, what seems to me is teleportation

Oops, spoiler. Looks like someone got owned. Another awesome skill of Saemon is his capability to copy other people's faces by literally molding his flexible face. In this scenario, he takes on the face of a defeated Yashamaru, planning to walk with the enemy and strike them behind the back.

Iga clan's elite five:

Yakushiji Tenzen, another one of the coolest in the movie. He reminds me of Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII with that long silver hairdo and a long katana blade for a weapon. (though most of the time he used his dual chakram or bladed hoops), Apart from that, his special ability is his immortality. Whatever ravages of battle or time he takes, the parasitic worms in his body takes care of the issue which is also the reason he has lived for more than 200 years yet remaining 30-ish in his looks.

Yashamaru, who we've seen defeated in the earlier screen sleeping with the fishes, ain't half bad. He uses wires like they were extensions of his body, to tie up, strangle and even cut off limbs of his opponents, and was chosen to demonstrate Iga clan's fighting prowess in Edo castle.

Mino Nenki, the ferocious beastman of the Iga clan. I had high hopes for this wolverine guy but due to his lack of intelligence was taken advantage of and was easily charmed and defeated by Kagero.

Ahh, my favorite. The lovely Erika Sawajiri plays the role of Hotarubi, one of Iga's elite five and a close friend to Oboro. Man, her cuteness is just all over the place. Her skill? She summons butterflies that distract the enemy with gold dust. In the anime adaptation, they're supposed to be pink and glowing. Aww.. So kawaii~. LOL

Hotarubi, being the good loyal friend and comrade, saves Oboro with her life as their group was ambushed by Koshiro and Saemon. But that's not the point. She's just so cute even in dying. LOL

Of course, the most unique and strongest of all abilities belong to our doomed couple.

Oboro is born with a special ability called "Piercing Eyes" where a quick stare can mean instant death by the rupturing of a person's internal body structure. Unlucky enough, only Koshiro in the movie had a taste of this gruesome technique.

These pawn ninjas think they've got strength in numbers. Well, not if they're facing Gennosuke whose eyes have the power to slow down time and make him move at lightning speed.

People who have read the manga or the TV series where this movie was adapted from (Basilisk: The Kouga Ninja Scrolls and Basilisk respectively) might be disappointed since the characters in this one were heavily altered from the original characters. Though many elements in the plot remain in this live-action adaptation, the alteration in the characters  and the plot altogether might have mixed things up just to squeeze a far awesome TV and manga series (although I haven't watched or read both but judging from some reviews) into one movie. Nevertheless, if you haven't seen or read both like me, the movie would appear with its own solid plot and storyline, and with a great romance-tragedy story to boot. Definitely is one great must-see for action, especially, ninja fanatics.

From The Idiot Box

From the screen to your lenses to your brain to your nerves to your heart, lungs and muscles and out. Its a compilation of my take, thoughts and impressions on straight up, good stuff (mostly japanese, anime, music and geek-related) from the idiot box that I like and you might like.

... and idiocy. :)

Popular Posts

Powered by Blogger.


Total Pageviews