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Top Secret: Murder in Mind (2016)

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Director Keishi Otomo, whose brilliant Rurouni Kenshin trilogy was probably one of the best anime/manga adaptations to hit our screens in the last decade, exhibits an equal amount of mastery over thriller genre mise-en-scène in his latest film Top Secret: Murder in Mind, but it seems in this case he perhaps needed a better screenplay writer. Or maybe Japanese action cinema just has to more seriously consider spanning manga/anime adaptations across more than one movie as a default setting, … (read more)

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Library Wars (2013)

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In a refreshing change of pace (at least lately, it seems) Shunsuke Sato’s (Princess Blade, Gantz 1 & 2) Library Wars looks to something other than terrorism for its narrative inspiration. Based on a relatively recent light novel series by Hiro Arakawa (there’s also a manga adaptation and an anime series produced by I.G.), Library Wars instead addresses the topic of reading censorship.

Censorship is neither an invented issue nor a new one, particularly in Japan. Only … (read more)

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Battle Royale – Director’s Cut (2000)

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If the popularity of The Hunger Games (2012) has sparked thousands of socially-networked Gen-X grumblings about the film just being a sappy version of Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale (as in the “do you know what they call Hunger Games in France/Japan” meme or just superficial nit-picking), there’s at least the consolation that a new fascination with teenage death games has led to Battle Royale re-entering the cultural consciousness, even if only as a point of comparison. This isn’t such … (read more)

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The Great Yokai War (2005)

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There’s a little folklore everywhere you look, especially in Japan, and Takashi Miike, in his charming, slightly left of centre way, has perhaps never looked so closely nor with such relatively gentle nostalgia, at this traditional source of fear.

The Great Youkai War is of course a children’s film, so gentle is a more appropriate term to use than you might have expected from this director, although he does get in a few subtle hair raisers. Mainly, it’s a standard … (read more)

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Shikoku (1999)

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I like my Japanese horror. I like getting the bejeesus scared out of me by some master of total creepiness with a budget in two figures. I even, in a weird sort of way, like the inevitable aftermath of a good horror film: lying wide-eyed and quivering in bed, quilt pulled up to my chin, scanning the darkness for signs of ghosty activity. It’s surprising I’ve got any bejeesus left, in fact.

Shikoku, however, is no threat to anybody’s … (read more)

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Battle Royale (2000)

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When Battle Royale was released in Japan in December 2000 it received a R-15 classification, meaning that director Kinji Fukusaku’s primary audience could not legally see the film. Fukusaku therefore went public with a statement to the effect of “Children! I made this film for you! See it however you can — break the law! Sneak into the cinema! Just watch the film!”

Fukusaku wasn’t just worried about his box office — BR isn’t just for teenagers because it exploits … (read more)

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Scrap Heaven (2005)

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Scrap Heaven is exactly the kind of title that you often see attached to the sorts of horribly angsty indy movies that this one almost is. While the movie certainly goes downhill after its very nifty opening act, it’s above average for what it is.

Singo (Ryo Case) is a meek, disenchanted cop who fantasises about heroism as he drives his desk. One day he finds himself on a bus with a hyperactive and mischievous toilet cleaner, Tetsu (Jô Odagiri), … (read more)

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Kill Bill Vol.1 (2003)

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I was always going to score this film a 10. This is also the hardest review I’ve ever had to write. Not, mind you, because Kill Bill failed to meet my 10-out-of-10 expectations — quite the opposite in fact. Tarantino has made a film that is far better than anything I could have (and did) imagine, and the highest compliment that I can pay his work here is that I had to watch it a second time right away. Unfortunately … (read more)

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