Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Boys on the Run

One of my favourite series at the moment is Kengo Hanazawa's (花沢健吾) I Am A Hero. And since I'm waiting for issue 12 to be released in the next month or two, I thought I'd check out some of Hanazawa's earlier work.

Boys on the Run tells the story of average guy Toshiyuki Tanishi, and his quest for the love of the new office girl, Chiharu Uemura. Tanishi's rather awkward sexual advances, leads him on mission to win the love of Chiharu by promising to physically beat a more sophisticated rival, Takahiro Aoyama.

The manga also found a movie adaption in 2010, directed by Daisuke Miura (三浦大輔). The movie stars Kazunobu Mineta (峯田和伸) as Tanishi who fills the role perfectly as he has adapted to the niche role of a young guy who overcomes his nerdiness to reach popularity. He played a similar role in 2009's Shikizoku Generation (色即せねれいしょん). Chiharu is played by Mei Kurogawa (黒川芽以). The ever mysterious Ryuhei Matsuda (松田隆平) also perfectly captures the arrogant and self confident Aoyama.

The movie also features music by lead actor Kazunobu Mineta's band, Ginnan BOYZ (銀杏BOYZ).

A TV drama of the series was also released in 2012, but it's heavy reliance on more fashionable actors, pop stars, and models in the main roles, would possibly detract from the charm provided by the actors of the movie.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

2013 Cannes Film Festival

The Cannes film festival starts up this weekend, and there are two Japanese films in the official selection competing for the Palme d'Or.

The first is Shield of Straw (藁の楯) by Takashi Miike (三池崇史). Prolific and hard working, it's hard to describe the work of Miike, as there is no comparable directors in the world of cinema. From the surealism of David Lynch, the violence of Tarantino, it was the shockingly graphic films like Audition and Ichi the Killer that helped develop his cult following in the west.

Miike's latest film features Tatsuya Fujiwara (藤原竜也) of Battle Royale and Death Note fame, Nanako Matushima (松島奈々子) from Ring, Ring 2, the Japanese remake of Ghost (Yes, the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore Ghost), and a long list of Japanese TV dramas, and stage, TV and movie star Takao Osawa (大沢たかお) who recently featured in the main role in the TV adaption of JIN (仁).

The other film up for the Palme d'Or is Like Father, Like Son (そして父になる). Directed by Hirokazu Koreeda (是枝裕和) who has previously featured at Cannes with Air Doll (空気人形), Nobody Knows (誰も知らない), and Distance (ディスタンス). Staring Japanese musician, actor, entertainer, heartthrob, Masaharu Fukuyama (福山雅治), it also features Machiko Ono (尾野真千子), Yoko Maki (真木よう子), and Lily Franky(リリー・フランキー).

Both films will hit cinemas in Japan later in the year.

Shield of Straw (Cannes Film Festival Summary)
Like Father, Like Son (Cannes Film Festival Summary)

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Kirishima Quit Club Activities

It's difficult to capture the nuance of the title in English. The original Japanese title "桐島、部活やめるってよ"  is an unusual title that uses a casual form of Japanese as spoken by the high school students around which the drama unfolds.

The original novel by Ryo Asai released in 2010, features 6 intertwined short stories following 6 students and their inter-relationships. It is probably one of the most accurate depictions of social hierarchy of Japanese high school, and highlights the importance of club activities in defining a students self worth, and sense of belonging.

Hiroki who is close friends with Kirishima, a gifted athlete and popular student. Apathetically avoids training, or being a member of the baseball club, even though he would be the first student picked for the team. Fusuke is the reserve ribero (defensive position in volleyball) who is unexpectedly thrown into the spotlight when Kirishima is absent during an important tournament game. Aya is the leader of the brass band as the band prepares for a big recital. Ryoya is the head of the movie club which commands little respect from the other students begins to gain some recognition after winning a local film award. Mika is a member of the softball club, she is dealing with the death of her father and the effect this has on her and her step mother.

Quite often through out the novel references to music (aiko, Chatmonchy), movies (All About Lily Chou-Chou), fashion and current trends really seems to ground the novel in reality.

The novel was re-released in 2012 with an additional chapter from the point of Kasumi about her relationship with Ryoya, when they were junior high school students. The relationship forms an integral part of Ryoya's story earlier in the novel.

I wrote about the movie adaptation back in March. Directed by Daihachi Yoshida (吉田大八) , it won Best Picture and Best Director at the 36th Japanese Academy Awards. Featuring a superb cast of young actors and actresses including Ryunosuke Kamiki (神木隆之介) as Ryoya, head of the movie club, and Ai Hashimoto (橋本愛) as Kasumi, a member of the badminton club who was the subject of the added chapter in the 2012 re-release of the book. Some of the relationships in the movie have changed from the book, due to pacing. But I think the changes that have been made improve the cohesion of the story as a movie, even if I do prefer the additional insight provided by the more in depth back story in the novel.

The movie adaptation is most noticeable for changing the focus from the characters, to the pacing of the story. The same day's story is told from several characters' point of view before moving on to the next day's events. The complete story builds up slowly as the individual character's motivations and relationships are uncovered. This unusual telling of the story makes this a deserved winner of the Japanese Academy Award.