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.
Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Feisty Food Challenge! (Toradora! SOS)

Completing the awesome Toradora! airing series experience, its follow-up OVA, Toradora! SOS fills in with more gut-busting comedy as the Toradora! bunch, this time with their crazy antics - Ryuuji, Taiga, Minori, and Ami pig out (despite the girls' self-proclaimed status as 'diet warriors') on challenges to find out the best on Jonny's (their friendly neighborhood famiresu) menu, and the three stalk Ami on her eating habits. And Kitamura? Well he's got a lot to say but so much for that. LOL

Ryuuji, Taiga and Ami, crash Jonny's as they test their taste buds on food, so good they never knew it existed as per Ryuuji's invitation. Each time, they find Minori inside, pigging out on food similar to Ryuuji's choice and usually ends up having a contest between them on whose recommendation tastes better.

Toradora! SOS features your regular Toradora! bunch in a different and crazier setting (well, not as much as Minori was in the series LOL) with loads of comic relief to go around, packed in four 5-minute short episodes. For the first three episodes, the bunch raids Jonny's as they see for themselves which of Ryuuji and Minori's pick of similar specialties on Jonny's menu are better. For the last one, Ryuuji, Taiga and Minori stalk Ami in order to find out her eating habits having them end up following her in a convenience store where she buys copious amounts of corned beef.

The usually modest, feminine and diet and figure-conscious Ami, who grumbled about the nonexistence of such a delicious Tarako Spaghetti lets out a waterfall of drool at the sight of one.

The ladies let loose their wild cravings as soon as the food is served and the contest begins. On the second episode, they try to see which one's better, Ryuuji's extravagant Custard Pudding or Minori's simple Puccini Purin. 

After presenting her favored Jonny's Meat Spaghetti, Minori discusses in rapid fervor the great mystery which is the homophony of the word "meat" and "meet". How much more deeper and interesting can it get eh? Everytime Ryuuji or Minori presents a new food they discuss topics of "such relation" that Taiga and Ami stare at with puzzled and annoyed snarls painted on their faces.

Third episode really cracked me up. The wafting aroma of Jonny's Super Spicy Curry got Taiga's eyes watery and swollen red as a baboon's rear.

And much worse after everyone tasted it.

Minori, being the "diet warrior" she claims herself to be, examines the suspicious growth of flabs on Ami's waist. She, Taiga and Ryuuji then hatched a plan on an operation to stalk Ami and find out what caused such a catastrophe.

After getting caught red-handed after buying loads of canned corned beef, Ami blasts the three with her "uguu~" and "kawaii" powers as she tries to persuade them to try her...

...Corned Beef Tower. Piled raw corned beef dressed with what seems to be mayonnaise. Although her persuasion seemed more like coercive duress as the three huddled terrified as she offered her peculiar specialty.

Though, most viewers I believe would rate this short quite low for the lack of relation to the series' story (might have given some viewers who were expecting it to be a side-story arc a bit of disappointment) or a lack of a proper story in itself, I'd think otherwise. I think the OVA served its purpose of giving audiences a good laugh or enough breather to balance things out with the dramatic and touching series with the characters just fooling around. As for me, it was very satisfying, definitely a great follow-up extra to the awesome TV series.

Oh yes, Kitamura. well, his lengthy rhetoric was ignored most of the time in the series but he did catch my attention when he mentioned his confusion with corned beef as a mixture of corn and beef. I did ask myself that question before. Why is there no corn on corned beef? And what's with Ryuuji on this screenie? I assure you guys, its not what you think it is. LOL
Friday, January 21, 2011

One Wild Christmas Eve (Tokyo Godfathers)

Movie marathons have always been a part of my Christmas break activities. This past holiday season I had loads to watch but only a few of them really did stood out. Among these was the anime movie Tokyo Godfathers. For certain reasons - It was Satoshi Kon's (Paprika, Perfect Blue, Millennium Actress) masterpiece, one of the best he was known for, and it was very timely (I had no idea at that time). The entire story happened on one Christmas Eve, the same time I watched the movie.

Tokyo Godfathers poster. The tagline: "Meet the ultimate dysfunctional family." Well, it's not that dysfunctional I think. Having a drag queen as your mother, a middle-aged hobo as your old man and a tomboyish runaway girl as your sister ain't that bad right?

Tokyo Godfathers tells the story of three homeless people and their one-of-a-kind Christmas Eve meeting with a lost angel. Surely, one could say the worst Holidays are possibly those of the homeless. They barely have anything and probably won't be receiving anything but to Gin, Hana and Miyuki, this Christmas Eve was the beginning of something life-changing and something they would never forget for the rest of their lives.

Meet the terrific trio of Tokyo Godfathers: (left to right) Hana the drag queen, Miyuki the runaway and Gin the smelly hobo. It seems that teeth gaps are "in" for the middle-aged drifter.

One seemingly ordinary and boring normal Christmas eve for the homeless trio turns into something exceptional as Hana discovers an abandoned baby in a basket while rummaging for Miyuki's Christmas present in a pile of garbage. Along with it was a letter to the finder to take care of the baby, a locker key and some other clues to the parents' identity. Instantly delighted, Hana names the baby "Kiyoko" meaning "pure child", as she puts it, Christmas Eve is the purest night of the year. Although Hana wanted to keep the baby since according to her it was God's gift and it made her feel more like a woman and a mother, Gin and Miyuki thought it'd be best to bring it to the police for them to return the child to its real parents. Hana had no choice then but to agree with the two despite her desperate efforts to convince Gin and Miyuki. They then settled on looking for the baby's real parents on their own with the help of the clues the child came with. With that begins the wild adventure that would definitely touch and change lives of the three. A train of events that link to each one's dark past happen one after the other eventually leading to miracles, realization and resolutions.

Getting beaten up by street punks, Getting caught in a crossfire between Yakuza and a group of hispanic hitmen and going on a wild car chase with a coerced taxi driver and one bad mother, all for the sake of finding a lost child's parents. It just couldn't get any crazier than this.

Gin, Hana and Miyuki wwere surprised by a shrill cry coming from a heap of garbage. To their surprise they found an abandoned baby surrounded by piles of rubbish. Hana names her "Kiyoko" meaning "pure child" from the "purest of nights" which is Christmas eve - the night they found her. What they don't know is the string of strange yet beautiful events the child would bring to them.

Within the train of unlikely events, each of our three heroes/heroine/s had a confrontation with their past lives which led to their becoming homeless. Gin, our smelly hobo, claims to have been a bicycle racer but due to a series of unfortunate events which led to the death of his wife and child, again, as he claims to have happened, had since lost interest in life and became what he is.

Hana was led back to her old workplace - a night club. Apparently, he used to be a singer and entertainer in the club but due to the untimely and unlikely (slipping on a bar of soap) death of her boyfriend following her attacking a rude customer who called him an old geezer, he was left jobless and penniless and ended up on the streets. Crap, how many times did I mess up on the pronouns? LOL

Miyuki ran away from home after she had stabbed her father over a missing cat. Well, I guess it can't be helped. It did wonders for her weight though.

Gin, Hana and Miyuki stumbled upon and saved an old guy who was in danger of getting ran over by his own car. Now how did that happen? Turns out, the guy they saved was a Yakuza lord and wants to pay them back for owing his life. Luck or more trouble?

The movie packs some awesome action as well. Gin hangs on to his dear life while a stolen delivery truck driven by a baby thief tries to shake him off while Hana, Miyuki and a bewildered taxi driver who had no choice but to shut up and drive remained in pursuit.

Of course no movie would be perfect for me without all the humor. Gin lectures Miyuki (while beating the crap out of each other), kids should show some respect to elders. Miyuki stresses she's not a kid anymore then Gin grabs her by the chest and says: "With little things like these?" This plus the crazy situations and facial expressions really brings out one hell of a laughtrip.

I've seen Satoshi Kon's work before through Paprika but that was a long time ago and at that time I wasn't even the least bit interested in the real beauty in the art of movie-making but after watching this I felt I definitely have to watch Paprika again and the rest of Satoshi Kon-sensei's work. Tokyo Godfathers truly exemplified the reality of the hardships that lead to the loss of many important things in life. Despite the drama, it never failed to give me sudden bursts of laughter with such comic scenarios and faces and with an awesome storyline to boot. Truly the perfect combination of entertainment material I was looking for and it never failed to carry out its message of hope that even the lowliest of people can hope for miracles and change to happen.

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. :)

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