Movie Round-up #4

Time for more mini-reviews… Eight films, ranging from one-star to three-star ratings. As usual, a mixture of English language, Mandarin and Japanese films.

Tenchi Meisatsu (2012) – ★★★
I was very happy to find this (and Rurouni Kenshin) on the list of in-flight movies on the way to London. :D
Considering that this film is about the creation of a calendar, it’s pretty good. Takita Yojirou of Departures fame directs, and the always amazing Hisaishi Joe provides the music for Tenchi Meisatsu (which goes by the English title “The Samurai Astronomer” but I prefer the direct translation “Insight into the Universe”). It isn’t a very riveting film, but Okada Junichi and Miyazaki Aoi inject a great deal of charm into their characters – Santetsu Yasui, member of a samurai family who has an unusual liking for puzzles and stargazing, and En the keen and clever sister of a well-known math teacher (also played charmingly by Sato Ryuta). There’s quite a bit of intrigue as courtiers attempt to assert their power by blocking the adoption of a new, better calendar, and Santetsu tries to defy them. I found the courtly intrigue a little dull, but fortunately it didn’t overwhelm the story.

Nana (2005) – ★★★
Nana is based on a Yazawa Ai manga of the same name, about two girls named Nana who meet on their way to Tokyo. Komatsu Nana (Miyazaki Aoi) has no ambition other than to be with her boyfriend, whilst Osaki Nana (singer Nakashima Mika), a singer in a punk rock band, goes to Tokyo to make it big in the music scene. I’ve never read the manga, so I didn’t judge the movie as an adaptation. It was decent enough. I thought the characters were acted quite well although I didn’t feel any empathy with anyone in particular. With a singer in the cast, there are bound to be songs attached (though they’re more diegetic – Osaki Nana sings when performing on stage, not like musicals where people randomy burst into song) but I don’t really care for that particular type of music and so I wasn’t moved by any of the songs.

Pitch Perfect (2012) – ★★½
A girls’ acapella team faces a boys’ acapella team from the same university. Somewhat rebellious new member in the girls’ choir upsets the status quo – to the benefit of the whole team – and also falls for one of the fellas.
It was an okay movie. There were some amusing lines and though I wished there could’ve been more musical sequences, the sequences that did exist were interesting enough.

Toilet (2010) – ★★
I’ve seen four of Ogigami Naoko’s seven films, and I only dislike one of the four. This is that one. It’s her only English language film (so far) and is something of a departure from her usual style. I don’t think it worked. The story focusses on three Eurasian siblings, who have recently lost their widowed mother. Their Japanese mother brought their grandmother over to North America before she died and now they have to deal with the difficulties of taking care of their grandmother (who doesn’t speak a word of English) in addition to dealing with each other’s idiosyncrasies. It felt as though the movie was torn between a more standard or more American narrative sensibility, and the quieter, calmer style of some Japanese movies (e.g. the other Ogigami films that I like, and Ozu Yasujiro’s films).

Nana 2 (2006) – ½
The sequel to Nana. was not nearly as good. This is largely due to the fact that Miyazaki Aoi and Matsuda Ryuhei (who played Osaki Nana’s boyfriend in the first movie) did not reprise their roles and their replacements – Ichikawa Yui and Nobuo Kyou – were no match in terms of charisma. The script also felt a bit unbalanced and spotty. I thought it was odd that Osaki Nana’s boyfriend hardly turned up in the movie, since their relationship and how fame affects both of them seemed to be quite a big issue. On the other hand, Nobuo Kyou really did not fit the bill (not after seeing Matsuda Ryuhei’s portrayal) so maybe that was for the best…

Happy Feet (2006) – ½
Penguins like to sing. And if you can’t sing, you’re a bad penguin. This is poor little Mumble’s predicament. But of course, it all works out in the end for him and the penguins are no longer prejudiced against him.
Okay, I get that 2006 was a bit of a dry year in animation since the only contenders for Best Animated Feature (in the 2007 Academy Awards) were Happy Feet, Cars and Monster House. But Happy Feet won??? Cars isn’t Pixar’s best but it sure is better than Happy Feet.

Painted Skin: The Resurrection (2012) –
As this starred not only Zhou Xun, but also Vicki Zhao and Chen Kun in the roles of the two lovers, I got a sense of deja vu watching this – Jingle Ma’s Mulan also starred the latter two as (star-crossed) lovers. Here the two begin as a princess with a disfigured face and an imperial officer – her former bodyguard – who never quite got over the fact that he failed to protect her once before. Zhou Xun is a fox spirit that has to consume human hearts in order to stay alive. If anyone offers their heart to her willingly, she will gain immortality. The fox spirit interferes with the lovers, weaving a web of deceit so as to gain a willing heart. On one level, the plot really does thicken quite a bit but somehow… on other levels it’s just a so-so film.

Wu Dang (2012) –
Watched this on the flight back from Germany. It was… zzzzzzz. Something about a bunch of highly skilled kung fu practitioners taking part in a kung fu competition in a monastery/kung fu school in the Wudang Mountains. But their real purpose is to locate an ancient treasure rumoured to be there. Fight choreography was okay, but overall, this was boring. That’s all I have to say.

* I was going to review another Ogigami Naoko film here too, but as I have a little more to say about that I think I’ll write that review separately.

5 stars = “Really really liked it and would watch it again without hesitation.”
4 stars = “Really liked it.”
3 stars = “Liked it.” or “Didn’t really like it, but it was a good movie.”
2.5 stars = “It was ok”
2 stars = “Meh. It wasn’t bad, but I didn’t like it.”
1 star = “Forgettable/Boring/Not interesting.”
0 star at all = “Not even worth thinking about.” Or, “I dislike it so much that I am unable to think rationally about it.”

Got anything to add or say? :D