World Cup 2022 Preview: Group E

I must admit when I look at the team’s rosters, I often forget that most nations have not officially declared their World Cup teams. Every time I look at Wikipedia with the team information, it lists a lot, but very rarely the official cut. So I’m dealing with teams as I type along. In this group, Spain have not officially their team for Qatar 2022 and Germany only declared theirs on Thursday!.

Without further ado, here is my look at Group E of World Cup 2022:

-Spain (7): La Furia Roja are an interesting team. For so long they’ve been known as “football’s greatest underachievers.” Then starting in the late noughts, they had an amazing run winning Euro 2008, World Cup 200 and Euro 2012. Then they went back to their underachieving ways going out in the group stage at World Cup 2014, the Round of 16 at Euro 2016 and the Round of 16 at World Cup 2018. However Spain has shown progress as they made the semifinals of Euro 2020.

The coaching staff of Spain’s team is completely of Spaniards. Head coach Luis Enrique won Olympic gold in 1992, participated in three World Cups and in Euro 1996. Most of Spain’s players play for La Liga with some playing in England and France. Recent results have they’ve had both wins and draws against Portugal and Czechia. They achieved wins against Sweden and Greece, but they’ve also endured a loss to Switzerland. Qatar is the scene for them to try and achieve another World Cup.

-Costa Rica (31): If there’s one thing to learn about Los Ticos, it’s you don’t count them out of World Cup play. They often come with low expectations, but can surprise, like when they made the Round of 16 in 1990 and the quarterfinals in 2014. As they prepare for their sixth World Cup, they again come with low expectations. At the last CONCACAF Gold Cup, they only made the quarterfinals. On top of it, they’ve never had a win against any of their World Cup opponents.

Most of the coaching staff are Costa Rican, but the head coach is a Colombian – Luis Suarez – who has managed five previous Latin American teams. Most of the team including captain Brian Ruiz plays for the Costa Rican league. In recent play, they’ve won against Nigeria, United States and New Zealand. They’ve had recent draws to South Korea and Mexico, and losses to Panama and Canada. Qatar is another chance for Costa Rica to prove to the world how well they can play.

-Germany (11): It almost seemed like a given. If the Mannschaft doesn’t win the World Cup, they would at least be guaranteed to go as far as the quarterfinals. Their past record seemed to sum it up well. That all changed during Russia 2018 when they appeared to be under the alleged “curse of the defending champion.” Their failure in the group stage was their first World Cup opening round ouster since 1938. It was after Euro 2020 and their exit during the Round of 16 that they knew it was time to fix things.

Germany’s coach since Euro 2020 is Hansi Flick. He was assistant coach to the German team from 2006 to 2014 and was head coach of Bayern Munich from 2019 to 2021. Most of the players of the World Cup squad play for Germany’s Bundesliga with four playing for the Premier League and two playing for Spain’s La Liga. Since Euro 2020, they’ve had mixed results including a win and a draw against Italy, two draws against England, a draw against the Netherlands, and a draw and a loss against Hungary. Qatar 2022 is the stage for Germany to redeem itself.

-Japan (24): Since they made their World Cup debut in 1998, Japan has competed in every World Cup since and Qatar will be #7 for them. One thing they will hope to do is go past the Round of 16, which the Samurai Blue have never done. Their most recent feat is making it to the finals of the 2019 AFC Asian Cup.

Since their Round of 16 exit in Russia 2018, they’ve returned to having Japanese coaches. The entire coaching staff is Japanese with Hajime Moriyasu as head coach. Interestingly enough, Moriyasu was part of the last Japanese team that failed to qualify for a World Cup (back in 1994). The team mostly play for European leagues with a few players that play for the J-League. In recent play, they’ve achieved wins against the US, Ghana, Australia and their top Asian rival South Korea. They’ve also had draws against Ecuador and Vietnam, and losses to Tunisia and Brazil. It could be here in Qatar that Japan could pull a surprise.

My Prediction: It’s not easy to make a prediction here as all four teams have known strengths and weaknesses. Nevertheless I predict the qualifiers to be Spain and Germany. I predict Japan to have the best chances to upset.

And there you go! Another review of another World Cup group. This time it’s Group E. Eagerly awaiting the start. Hard to believe it’s coming this soon! Hard to believe it will be this late in the year!

VIFF 2022 Review: Riverside Mukolitta (川っぺりムコリッタ)

Riverside Mukolitta is the story of an unlikely bond between a young man who just lost his father and a group of strangers he encounters along the way who end up helping him in the end.

If you get tired of all the intense dramas during the film festival, Riverside Mukolitta may be the drama-comedy that you’ll want to see. It touches on a touchy subject, but makes light of it.

A train arrives in the Hokuriku Region of Japan. A young man arrives into town. His name is Takeshi Yamada and it’s unclear why he’d be coming to a fishing village. Over time, he finds a job at a fishing plant where he cuts freshly-caught seafood for a processed dinner. The boss doesn’t expect him to last long; most people only last two days. Through the boss, he is given a place to live in an old run-down village nearby where he works called Mukolitta Heights. It’s a quiet run-down place full of people one normally wouldn’t hang around. Takeshi is comfortable being there, but he’s disinterested in making new friends.

Soon one of his neighbors, Kozo, meets him and wants to use his bath. The heat does not work where he lives. Takeshi doesn’t want to, but he reluctantly gives in. To thank him, Kozo gives him fresh vegetables from his own garden. This is very helpful as Takeshi is down to his last yen. Soon he learns of his other neighbors. One is a door-to-door headstone salesman who sells with his young son, and hardly gets a customer. Another is Shiori, the landlady, who lost her husband years ago and still mourns his death. Takeshi finds her a calming presence. Takeshi also learns from Kozo of a monk who is not hired to do anything. So he does his own religious ceremonies himself.

Soon, Takeshi gets a reminder of his dark past. He learns that his father had died. Takeshi never knew his father as he left his mother when Takeshi was a small child. He learns from a city official in a town close by that his father was found dead in an apartment and the official asks him to claim the ashes. When Takeshi arrives at the city hall, the official is insisting Takeshi take the ashes and the cellphone his father was found with. Takeshi is reluctant but soon accepts. Returning back to the village, he doesn’t know what to do with the ashes of a man he never really knew. On top of it, he notices his father’s last phone calls were to a single number. He’s tempted to toss them anywhere, but Shiori stops him.

Over time, Takeshi continues with the squid job. The boss is surprised that he’s willing to stay with it longer than usual. One day, an earthquake happens. The earthquake causes the ashes to fall off the top of a bookcase. Takeshi is distraught. That becomes his first real emotion towards his father. Over time, the salesman’s son makes friends with the young daughter of the landlady. They find themselves making music over by the village’s pile of refuse. We learn that Shiori still has a bone of her deceased husband to maintain some type of connection and to keep from feeling complete loss. We learn Kozo himself has experienced loss of some magnitude. In addition, the salesman makes a sale, his first in six months, to a rich woman who wants a headstone for her dog.

Eventually Takeshi warms up to his neighbors and they all have one big dinner together. Soon Takeshi goes near the river where he crushes his father’s cremains to make a powdery ash. Shiori sees him and the two have a conversation. Additionally over time, Takeshi learns more about his father of the way he lived and the way he was found dead. He also discovers that the last number his father tried to call continuously is a suicide hotline. Takeshi eventually admits truths about himself. That he was abandoned by his mother when he was 16. That he eventually turned to a life of crime. That before he came to the village, he was in jail for a lengthy term. It’s after coming to terms with his past and the father he never knew that he can finally have the ash-scattering ceremony near the river with the monk leading and his neighbors being part of the march.

At the beginning of the film, the audience is told that a Mukolitta is a unit of time in Buddhism equal to 1/30 of a day: 48 minutes to be exact. The film features a lot of themes of Buddhism. There’s the monk who can’t be hired for anything, but is still prayerful, even if he is the only participant in any of his ceremonies. There’s the brief prayer Takeshi and the others have before eating their dinner. Outside of religion, the biggest theme of the film is about death and loss. People have their own way of dealing with the losses of loved ones. There’s Shiori who still has a bone from her husband and does something bizarre with it. There’s Kozo who also has a bizarre way of dealing with death. And there’s the headstone salesman who may try to make death lucrative for him and his son, but his value would be evident over time. It could be assumed the message of the film is the common Buddhist message that all lives and deaths matter. Even the most humble and those of the estranged. That was something Takeshi would eventually learn over time.

The film is not just about death and loss, but also coming to term with one’s own failings. The film just starts with Takeshi coming to a fishing village, but it’s not clear what the purpose is. Time would eventually tell that Takeshi moved to the village to escape his hard childhood and criminal past. The news of the death of his estranged father and the ashes he reluctantly accepts are possibly seen to him as ugly reminders of the past he wants to leave behind. It’s over time as Takeshi meets other misfit people like the neglected monk, Kozo the eccentric self-described “minimalist,” the headstone salesman, and the widowed landlady that Takeshi comes to terms with his own failings. He’s ready to see his late father as a failure of a person, but he learns over time that his father was another troubled person. Just like him. Takeshi may be a misfit but over time, he learns there’s nothing wrong with it.

The film does touch on a lot of dark themes like loss, abandonment and personal failure. However the film succeeds in doing it in a light manner. It manages to tug at one’s heart without trying to pull it. It also adds humor along the way without it being insensitive. Over time, the film that could have gone the direction of being dark turns out to be a light-hearted and even enjoyable film about loss and failure. Takeshi may see himself as a misfit and may have moved to escape his misfit label, but a village of misfits are successful in helping Takeshi come to term with himself as well as his late father. At the end, Takeshi had his own way of honoring his late father and does it with the help of the misfit neighbors he befriends along the way. The scattering ceremony at the end appears more to be a happy ending than a sad ending.

This is an excellent work from director Naoko Ogigami. Born in Japan, she studied at USC and did work in American productions for a few years before returning to Japan. Since her return, she has written or directed one short film, three television series’, and eight other feature-length films. Her most renowned film is 2017’s “Close-Knit” of a close-knit family coming to terms with one of their members outing themselves as transgender.

In this film, which is based on a novel she wrote, she touches on a subject that’s less controversial, but still causes discomfort to many. The subject of death is still something people are nervous about touching on or talking about. Even personal failures are something one would not want to talk about, especially since we live in a society that stresses success. She succeeds in taking a touchy topic and turning it into a parable about dealing with ones failures and coming to terms with family who left them behind in the past. Even though the Mukolitta is a religious element, the film is a good parable of the Buddhist belief of valuing all lives without stressing the religious aspect of it too much. The film also has excellent acting from Kenichi Matsuyama. He does a good job of portraying a young misguided man with a past he wants to keep secret from all he meets, but comes to term with it thanks to the help of his neighbors. Also excellent are the supporting roles of the actors playing the supportive neighbors. Hitari Mitsushima, Tsuyoshi Muro and Naoto Ogata were all good at playing their characters and owning their moments.

Riverside Mukolitta is a surprising film. It touches on life’s hurts, sorrows, and failures, but it adds comical elements to it. It’s a film that does all the right moves in telling its deep story in a humorous way.

And there you have it! This is the last of my reviews of films I saw during the 2022 Vancouver International Film Festival. Wrap-up blog coming soon!

VIFF 2021 Review: Spaghetti Code Love (スパゲティコード ラブ)

Thirteen different young people in Tokyo. Thirteen different dreams, desires and heartache make for the story of Spaghetti Code Love.

I’ve seen films that have involved multiple story lines strung together. The Japanese film Spaghetti Code Love is a film that takes the genre to new heights.

The story begins as a brief introduction of the thirteen characters just after a woman tends to a young boy screaming hysterically in a Tokyo arcade. We have a young couple hurting about life, a street singer who sings self-composed songs about down feelings, a photographer from another city who is looking for his big break, a model from a privileged family he’s about to photograph but has a prima donna attitude, a social media influencer he’s interested in who is coming to Tokyo to meet with him and pursue her dream of stardom, a call girl seeking her own success, a lonely man who lives daily in capsule apartments unsure of his ambitions, a delivery man on a bicycle hoping to achieve enough money to meet with his girlfriend, a housewife who wants to be the perfect wife to her husband even though she works part-time at a restaurant, a young woman in an apartment seeking post-breakup advice from an online fortune-teller and her next-suite neighbor who deals with her own breakup by eating jars of peanut butter. In the middle of it all is a high school student given a written assignment where he’s to plan out what to do with his life even up to his 60’s and 70’s.

All of them go after their goals or live life as they routinely do. The photographer sets up his set, but the model is disgusted with it and labels it ‘amateurish’ out loud. The boy fills in his assignment, but erases his writing when he gets a new idea. The delivery man has a target goal of 1000 total deliveries before quitting and reuniting. The couple decide on a suicide, but undecided how. The two young women continue on with their post-breakup habit, but never really meet. They just think whatever judgmental thought of the other. The housewife is thinking of quitting her waitress job at the restaurant to be with her husband after dealing with a rude customer. The call girl is heartbroken by the way she’s treated. The singer is affected by a laugh at a song from a passer-by.

Then all of a sudden, and simultaneously, something sudden happens to all 13 that causes them to say ‘shit!’ The deliveryman misses his target at his intended time at 999. The housewife doesn’t have the chicken ready for her dinner. The peanut-butter girl accidentally spills all her empty jars of peanut butter down the apartment stairs. The model finds out her outburst went viral on social media. The high school boy accidentally tears his sheet upon erasing a response. And the woman trying to settle the screaming boy can’t do it after such a long period of time.

Then all of them either come across something life-changing or heartbreaking during the night. The two apartment neighbors finally meet and talk. They learn about each other. The social media star finally meets with the photographer and has sex. He is disinterested in a relationship, but she makes him face the fact of the job he’s to do. However she can’t return back to her home city because returning after trying to make it big in Tokyo is regarded as failure. The housewife learns her ‘husband’ is actually a married man with a wife and children in another city and plan to move back this night. The suicidal couple contemplate jumping off a roof, but the girlfriend is undecided. The singer decides to quit as a musician. The model is confronted by her agency and is faced by an angry agent at a face-to-face meeting. The peanut butter girl is at a grocery store stocking up on more peanut butter, but changes her mind. The delivery man does achieve delivery 1000 after a long wait and he’s in tears after his accomplishment.

At the end of it all the next day, things change for all when they see a ray of hope. The two neighbors start up a friendship and drop their habits of online fortune telling and peanut butter eating. The woman who hoped to be a housewife tells her heartbreak to a cab driver and he responds in a caring way. The photographer decides he does love the social media star after all and they become a pair. The suicidal couple decide not to jump after all. The bratty model decides to quit and pursue her dream of interior design. The singer changes her mind about quitting and gets back to playing. The woman does succeed in stopping the screaming boy from screaming. The delivery boy finally quits and meets with his girlfriend. And the high school boy writes on his assignment in big letters ‘No Plan’ and heads back home on his skateboard.

For those that don’t know, the term ‘spaghetti code’ is based on a computer term for a source code that’s unstructured and difficult to maintain. You can say at the start this film is a spaghetti code. Up until I saw this film, the film with the most plots strung into one story that connects has to be 1999’s Magnolia. I remember it well. Many different stories, few times people intersect with each other, but they’re connected somehow. This is one of those complex stories. Thirteen characters in total! You will first feel confused at the beginning. You’ll wonder who’s the lead character? What’s this to be about? Will this story make sense? Over time the characters do connect despite few intersecting. We get the first sign of it right in the middle when all thirteen have a sudden incident where they all say ‘shit.’ Then we see them all as they go through something that hurts them or sets them back. Then in the end, many see a brighter road ahead or a resolution, while some get their comeuppance. You could rightfully say this film does the impossible!

The film shows thirteen individuals with hopes and dreams. Some are simple like being a good loving housewife or making enough money to be able to see his girlfriend. Some are dark, like the couple’s desire to commit suicide. And then there are some that are basic, like the two apartment neighbors who just simply long to just be happy again after their break-up. It shows how each of them with their dreams hit a sudden bad incident that causes friction in their ambition. It also shows how for many, things don’t turn out as they want it, or they all learn a hard lesson. Then it ends with either a radical decision they make or a ray of hope sending the message that it will all work out in the end. I believe that was the point of the story. To send the message that things may look difficult, but it’s not the end of it all. Things can and do work out.

The film isn’t just about being a young adult with dreams and ambitions and then things changing or falling apart. It’s also about how other people see others. There are scenes of some intersecting for a split second and thinking one thing about a person, but their mental words show another side of them. Like the singer who comes across as depressing, but it’s just her inspiration. Also the peanut butter girl thinking one thing about her neighbor at first, unaware of her own post-breakup bad habit. Even the bratty model who comes across as arrogant, but has this believe that achieving mammoth success is completely about looks and popularity, and it affects her self-esteem.

This story is also about it happening in the city of Tokyo. For many of the young adults, they came to Tokyo to pursue their dreams. For some of the young ones, Tokyo is where they’ve lived their daily life. Life in a big city like Tokyo is fast and tough and can be frustrating. However for a lot of them, Tokyo is seen as the place to make it. As one put it, once they arrive in Tokyo, they can’t head back home. If they arrive back to their home city after attempting to pursue their dreams in Tokyo, they are regarded as a failure. You can understand the pressures for a lot of them. I think that’s the overall message of the film. That just because your dreams don’t go as planned, it doesn’t mean total failure and it’s all over.

This film is an accomplishment not just for the genre of multi-plot stories, but also for director Takeshi Maruyama. Maruyama’s previous accomplishments include music videos, commercials and documentaries. This is his first feature-length film and he does it as if he’s very well-experienced in film directing. The film is also an accomplishment for scriptwriter Naomi Hiruta. Hiruta is well-experienced in writing for a TV mini-series, a teleplay, and two other feature-length films. She creates a complex screenplay and successfully makes it work from start to finish. You think when you first see the beginning it won’t work out, but it does in the end! Excellent work from the many actors involved in this film. Even long after the film is over, you will be left questioning who is the main protagonist in the film? Or is there even one? I’ve decided the main protagonist to be the high school boy. He has an assignment where he has to plan his life while the others that are either young adults or teens close to the adult ages showcase their dreams and plans. I just have a sense he’s the one whom they all revolve around.

Spaghetti Code Love is not just a film with multiple plots revolving around characters. It’s a film that will will surprise you not just of the multiple stories in the film, but how they’re successfully strung together and with a message that unites all the plots. It’s an achievement of a film and entertaining to watch at the same time.

VIFF 2021 Review: Drive My Car (ドライブ マイ カー)

A young Hiroshima chauffeur (played by Toko Miura) and the director she drives around (played by Hidetoshi Nishijimi) form an unexpected bond in the Japanese film Drive My Car.

Drive My Car is one of two Japanese films I saw at the VIFF on Saturday the 9th. It’s a film that turns out to be more than what one expect of it.

The film begins with Yusuke Kafuku and his wife Oto. They appear happily married at the start. Oto is a housewife while Yusuke is a stage actor, and doing very well. Oto frequently gives Yusuke story ideas which he could one day adapt and direct, even while they both have sex! They were parents to a daughter, who died at a young age 20 years earlier. They still hold a religious memorial for her on the anniversary of her death. He has just finished doing a play with rising young Japanese actor Koji Takatsuki. Soon after, he is given an assignment to do a directing job in Russia. Just before he is to board the plane at Narita, he’s told of a one-day delay. He goes back to his house, only to find Koji having sex with Oto, which they don’t notice. Days later, Yusuke has a car accident and learns of glaucoma in his right eye. Yusuke tries to recover, but soon, Oto dies of a hemorrhage.

Yusuke needed two years to recover from this all. It started affecting his work as he had trouble dealing with his first role after her death: the role of Vanya in Uncle Vanya. His first project is to co-direct a multilingual adaptation of Uncle Vanya with a Korean director names Lee Yoon-a. It is to be staged in Hiroshima during a theatre festival. One thing is that Yusuke meets a young woman named Misaki. She is to be his driver from hotel to theatre. Yusuke doesn’t like the idea of a driver. He wants to do his own driving. However festival insurance rules means having a driver for the directors is a must. One of their directors from years past died in a car accident during production. That’s why directors for this company have drivers. Yusuke reluctantly agrees to allow her to drive his Saab.

The drives to and from the theatre start without conversation. Misaki simply drives Yusuke to the theatre. Some friction starts when Yusuke wants to use the car’s tape player to recite his lines: something he commonly does as he rehearses shows. It starts with friction, but she complies. Yusuke and co-director Lee start the auditions for the play. They audition many actors from various parts of Asia and other countries. The languages vary from Japanese to Korean, Taiwanese and even Korean sign-language. One of those auditioning is Koji. Koji switch from television to theatre after his career was one tabloid scandal after another. You can tell Yusuke has feelings of contempt for him. Yusuke declines to be an actor himself in the production because of how emotional Chekhov’s works are too emotionally draining.

The film starts read-through rehearsals. Most are Japanese-speaking, but there’s also Korean-speaking, a Taiwanese-speaking American and the woman who does Korean sign-language. Koji has also been cast in the play. Both Yusuke and Lee go through the rehearsals. The friction is no bigger than your typical friction on a theatre set. Misaki continues to drive Yusuke and the two start to develop conversation. Misaki is a chain-smoker and just briefly tells Yusuke of the death of her mother in a landslide disaster.

As the play starts progressing to the physical rehearsals, where an LED screen above flashes the dialogue in many languages to the audience, the play gets its common friction. If there are any hostile feelings between Yusuke and Koji, Yusuke keeps it to himself. He has to get along with Koji as they are producing. One night, the director Lee invites Yusuke to dinner at his house. Misaki is also invited. Lee meets the wife, who is the actress who is performing in sign-language. It’s a happy marriage.

One night Yusuke and Misaki go into the town for drinks. They come across Koji. Koji is at the bars hoping to get away from it all. However people trying to get his photo annoys him even to the point he gets violent with one. Since Koji is too drunk to drive, he gets a ride with Yusuke from Misaki. During the time, Koji confesses his affair with Oto. He tries to give Yusuke words of comfort of what a wonderful woman Oto was. He even tries to suggest that it was through Oto they meet by fate here.

Just a week before the show is about to start, it was learned that Koji is under investigation for committing manslaughter from that night at the bars. The play continues rehearsals despite the temporary detainment of Koji. After the rehearsal, Yusuke allows Misaki to go to the area where the landslide that took her mother happened. They go to the area. Misaki starts letting out her feelings and breaks into tears. There, Yusuke also confesses his failings to Oto after the death of their daughter. He too is in tears and they embrace together. Uncle Vanya is then staged with Misaki watching from the audience. She watches the ending scene with intensity where the actress playing Sonya signs about the need to stoically carry on living in the face of crushing disappointment. The film ends in a questionable way.

This is a rare story. This is a case of a director of theatre being escorted by a young driver who’s the same age his late daughter would be. We don’t notice it at first, but both are hurting inside and both need healing. Over time, they are mostly silent. Then over time, they strike up an unlikely friendship that eventually takes them to where they grieve together. One is first tempted to think around the middle of the film, Yusuke would soon be romantically interested in Misaki, but that’s for you to judge for yourself.

It’s not just about Yusuke and Misaki. It’s also about Yusuke trying to make peace with himself as the husband who failed. Maybe he blames himself for Oto’s premature death. It’s also about making peace with Koji, Oto’s ‘other man.’ In a lot of ways, it’s about Yusuke criss-crossing with a lot of people as he’s on his journey to heal and make peace. He’s a man trying to heal from his failed marriage and his driver is trying to heal from her mother’s death which she blames himself for. Yusuke is a television actor who quit television for theatre after his daughter’s death. Koji, the ‘other man,’ quit television for theatre with the scandals of his behavior plaguing his life. Yet they find themselves working together in the film. It could be a case where the fates are a case where Oto brought them there to forgive each other, as Koji suggested.

The mixing in of the story of Uncle Vanya being done in multilingual fashion adds into the story. I think that’s the point of the story. I believe it’s to show how art is universal in its feelings and connections. Art transcends language barriers to deliver the feelings of love and hurt we all share. Even the detail of the play that’s being staged in Hiroshima has a bearing of importance in this story.

This is a smart film about a director who is trying to make peace over the sudden death of his adulterous wife. The inclusion of a ‘chauffeur’ who herself hasn’t fully come to terms with her mother’s death in a disaster and the young actor in his play who was one of his wife’s ‘other men’ adds to the story of the healing process for both the director and the driver. One glitch about the film is that it goes for a long period of time. Possibly too long. Even at the start, forty minutes of story go by before the opening credits roll. The story in itself is almost three hours long. It’s a very good story that deals with universal human emotions intertwined with art, but it is drawn out for too long of a period of time. You’re left wondering if all that time was really worth it.

This is a very good film for director/writer Ryusuke Hamaguchi. He’s had renown before for his filmmaking like Wheel Of Fortune and Fantasy and Happy Hour. Here he creates a smart film of three people that need healing and how it’s through the power of art that they are able to make it happen and be given the will to live despite all that’s happened. There are some noticeable mistakes like the length of the film and the ending that gets you wondering, but it’s still a good film to watch. Hidetoshi Nishijima does a great performance as Yusuke being a man that needs healing, but doesn’t show it on the outside. Toko Miura is also very good as Misake. Just like Nishijima as Yusuke, she does a good job of playing a character with hurts she tries to keep hidden until it all comes out that moment together. Masaki Okada is also very good as the troubled Koji. You can tell despite the ego on the outside, he has some personal feelings underneath.

This film has already won an excellent amount of awards. The film won the Best Screenplay Award and the FIPRESCI Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was a nominee for the Palme d’Or. The film was also a nominee for the Best Feature Award at the Chicago Film Festival and a nominee for the Audience Award at the San Sebastian Film Festival. The film was recently selected as Japan’s entry in the category of Best International Feature Film for this year’s Oscar race.

Drive My Car is a film of two individuals who meet by fate, but help each other heal. It does a good job of mixing the story line with the art of theatre and the mixing of languages, but it’s too long of a film. A good story, but too elongated nevertheless.

VIFF 2019 Review: Children Of The Sea (海獣の子供)

Children Of The Sea
A young girl meets two ‘boys of the ocean’ who give her a summer to remember in Children Of The Sea.

Very rarely do I see animated films at the VIFF. It’s usually off my radar or I catch it by chance. I was fortunate to see Children Of The Sea from Japan. This is an excellent film to watch.

The film begins in the summer. 14 year-old Ruka is not happy spending it at home as her mother just drinks beer. She finds a break from it as she spends the days as part of her school’s camp. There she’s able to let out her energy. During a game of field handball, Ruka performs aggressively and suddenly trips, skinning her knee. The girl that tripped her did it by accident, but laughs at her. This infuriates Ruka to the point she gets her in the face in the next tackle. Ruka is taken off the game and the leader of the sports camp takes her out of the camp for the rest of the summer. Now there’s nothing for Ruka to do before summer’s end.

Ruka’s father, who is mostly away, takes her and bring her to the marine biology lab she works at. Ruka is blown away from all the sea animals that she sees there. However she notices a human. He’s a boy of dark skin and he seems to live in the waters and treat them like it’s his playground. His name is Umi. Her father tells her Umi was raised at sea by a dugong. Soon Ruka starts swimming with Umi during her summer days. The two develop a close friendship. Umi has a light-skinned blond-haired blue-eyed brother named Sora who’s also a boy of the sea. The boys of the sea are studies at the aquarium. Some of the scientists are concerned for their life, while other scientists at the research facility selfishly hope the boys will lead them to the Birth Festival– an underwater festival celebrating sea life — and hope to study it in order to advance oceanic sciences.

One day, Ruka is swimming with Umi and Sora in the ocean with one of the workers carefully supervising them shipside, while the more selfish scientists watch from the coast in curiosity. Ruka soon learns from Umi that they don’t know how much longer they will live and she is shocked. During her time with the two boys, the three decide to pursue a shooting star-like ‘will-o-the-wisp’ and it’s an experience like no other. She even kisses one of the boys.

However as summer is nearing its end, the day soon comes of the Birth Festival. Ruka fears this could be the day Umi and Sora die. Nevertheless the three enter into the water as Umi and Sore feel they have to be a part of this. The festival is deep in the ocean and begins in spectacular fashion. It is a celebration for the eye to behold. Even Ruka is able to swim with whale sharks. However as it ends, Umi and Sora are nowhere to be seen and Ruka is heartbroken. even the selfish scientists regret their pursuits. Ruka meets with her father and he promises to patch things up between him and her mother. Summer ends with a heartbroken Ruka walking to school. But just as she sees a handball, her newfound courage is very visible.

Anime is a very popular version of animation. It has a worldwide following in the way it does animation and for the way it tells stories. Usually on the internet, there’s a lot of celebrating of anime with some of the darker more disturbing stories. It’s very rare that the tamer more family-friendly stories get their notice, as well as their acclaim. This film may have some mature themes and wouldn’t entirely be 100% family friendly, but it is a film that will deliver an entertaining and mesmerizing story for people of various ages. The film is also a reminder of the qualities 2D-animation still possesses. We may live in a time where 3-D animation is the norm for feature films right now, but the film shows that 2-D animation is just as captivating and is also able to take the audience to another world. I did notice some imperfections in the film that are common in anime and wouldn’t be allowed in 3D animation. Nevertheless this film had the right images, the right story and the right effects to take you to another world: the mystical world of the ocean.

One thing about animation is that for it to succeed on screen, it has to have a top-notch story from start to finish. The story itself is very good. A lonely girl from an uneasy family background finds herself meeting two boys of the sea. Both boys were born to live in the sea, but have trouble on land and their time may be short. Here the girl has a summer experience of a lifetime as she learns of the beauty around them and learns how to be a friend. The story succeeds in having a consistent beginning, middle and end with characters that are either relatable or mystically captivating. I know that anime is not for everybody, but this film has such a lovely story with such spectacular dazzling animation effects, I feel it’s very much worth seeing.

This is an excellent film by animator Ayumu Watanabe. Children Of The Sea is actually a Japanese comic book series drawn by Daisuke Igarashi. I am not familiar with the series but I will say that the on-screen adaptation with the animation by Studio 4°C Co. made for a great mesmerizing story. The vocal talent from the voice actors is excellent, but it leaves me wondering if it gets a North American release, will it be in subtitles like I saw it or with English voice-overs? The music from Joe Hisaishi also fit the film excellently. Hisaishi has composed scores for many feature-length anime films like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo. He does an excellent job again.

Children Of The Sea is as much as great story as it is dazzling to watch. It’s an anime film that’s as mystical as it is entertaining.

2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup Group D Focus

Group D makes for an interesting lot: England and their opponents. First Scotland because I’m sure there’s some rivalry. Plus there’s talk of a possible Great Britain team for women’s football at the 2020 Summer Olympics. But before any talk of possibility, one of the two teams will have to be among the Top 3 UEFA teams at this Women’s World Cup in order to earn an Olympic berth. Then start talking! Also the opponent of Argentina, mainly because of the ‘hands of God’ goal. Hmm. Do qualms of men’s football get transferred to women’s footfall? I can’t say. Then there’s Japan. If you remember at the semifinals at the last WWC, defender Laura Bassett accidentally scored a last-minute own goal in the English net to send Japan to the 2015 final. Bet that still bites.

Anyways it could turn out Group D is not all about England. All four teams have their own qualities. Here’s my review of Group D:

England fixed-England (3): England is a country that has long seen football as a man’s game. The women’s team is changing that and they have made a lot of improvements in recent years. At the last Women’s World Cup, despite Laura Bassett’s costly fumble, they won the bronze-medal match. They made it to the semifinals of Euro 2017 losing to eventual champions Netherlands. This year, they won the She Believes championship in the United States.

The Three Lionesses have had a lot of ups and downs since March 2018. They’ve won matches against France, Spain, Brazil, Denmark and Japan. However they’ve also lost to Sweden, Canada, United States and New Zealand. 2019 could end up being their best Women’s World Cup ever if they deliver each and every time.

Scotland Flag-Scotland (20): Scotland is a team that is just starting to get experience and starting to make a name for themselves. However there are a lot of signs that bigger and better is yet to come. This may be their first WWC, but they had their first Euro in 2017. They didn’t advance past the Group Stage, but they did beat Spain. Also they finished 5th in this year’s Algarve Cup.

Scotland even topped their WWC qualifying group, beating out Switzerland who qualified for 2015. These past twelve months Scotland have had losses to top teams like Canada, Norway and the United States, but they’ve also had wins against Iceland, Brazil and Jamaica. Scotland could end up being one of the surprises of France 2019.

argentina-Argentina (37): Argentina may have one of the most legendary men’s team but football for women is slow to progress. They’ve only been in two Women’s World Cups, 2003 and 2007, and lost all their games. They also lost all their games at their only Olympic appearance in 2008. Argentina’s first win of the Copa America Feminina was back in 2006. There are signs of future improvement as Argentina finished 3rd at the Copa Feminina last year.

In the last twelve months, Argentina’s wins have all been against national teams from South America. They’ve had losses to Australia, South Korea and Brazil. Argentina comes as one team with low expectations. This Women’s World Cup could be a learning experience for them, or they could pull some of the biggest surprises this WWC. Only time will tell.

Japan-Japan (7): A lot of the talk in this group is about England. You should not ignore japan. Japan won the 2011 Women’s World Cup and was a finalist at the last WWC. They also won Olympic silver and two straight Women’s Asian Cups during that time. However they did have some setbacks as they failed to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.

In the past twelve months, Japan’s play has had a lot of ups and downs. They won matches against Brazil, Norway, New Zealand and South Korea. They even had draws against Spain, Germany and the United States. However they’ve also had a loss to the United States as well as to Brazil, Australia and France. This Women’s World Cup will be a chance for Japan to add another chapter to their team’s story.

MY GROUP PLAY PREDICTIONS:

This was not an easy guess. I predict England to top Group D. Second will go to Japan. Third is tough to decide but I feel I best go with Scotland.

And that completes my look at Women’s World Cup Group D. Just two more groups to review. I guess I’m doing better than I thought!

 

VIFF 2018 Review: One Cut Of The Dead (かめら お とめる な)

One Cut Of The Dead
A zombie show and its making make for an entertaining movie in One Cut Of The Dead.

Every VIFF I make the effort to see some of the later shows, including the latest during the weekends at the Rio. The first I saw was the Japanese movie One Cut Of The Dead. It turned out to be a hilarious time.

The film begins with us seeing a young girl about to kiss her zombie boyfriend before killing him. Then Director Higurashi yells ‘Cut!’ This is a scene from a zombie movie being shot. However this is the 42nd take. The director is obviously frustrated. He berates the actress Chinatsu by telling her she lives a lie. He even abuses the actor Ko as he scolds him for his performance. However Nao, a middle-aged make-up lady, recommends a thirty-minute break to overcome the stress, to which the director accepts begrudgingly.

During the break, the two from the scene drink and talk with Nao while the crew and director go outside. Nao talks of how this used to be a water filtration during World War II and even demonstrates to them her hobby of learning self-defense. She even tries to teach them the Pom method for when being attacked by the back, but suddenly a severed arm comes flying in. Then we see the best boy Kazahara is a zombie. One of the techs has become decapitated. They’re all freaking out. But Higurashi likes this. Now that there are real zombies happening, he feels he can get some real acting out of them and calls action as the zombies are around.

It’s up to the three to flee their way out of this zombie mayhem. They leave the water site and try for the van. It doesn’t work out. Chinatsu goes into hiding, but is soon spotted by a zombified man. Ko tries to protect her, but time is running out as all zombies are after them. Meanwhile Higurashi is seizing each moment to shoot their parts. As they run for their lives, they head to the top of the facility.  Chinatsu senses Ko is a zombie and that is the case. In the meantime, she has to deal with Nao who’s on the attack. At the end of it all, Chinatsu battles Nao and has no choice but to kill Ko in passion. Higurashi complains she didn’t do the scene right but she kills him on the spot. Chinatsu then goes to the area of the building where she stands in a star made of blood in triumph as the credits roll…

…and then we go back to a month earlier. There’s a channel in Japan that’s about to be launched: The Zombie Network. The channel has called Higurashi to direct an uncut zombie show as part of the channel’s opening. Higurashi has never really done zombie movies, but the network accepts him because of his motto of his films being ‘fast, cheap, but average.’ Elsewhere his daughter Mao has developed a reputation as a crew person. Frustrated with the junk she gets at work, she wants to develop into a career of filmmaking of her own. The mother Nao used to be an actress until she met Higurashi. Her marriage and the birth of Mao led her to forget about her dreams. She didn’t mind it, but now it’s become mundane as she tries to kill her time with hobby after hobby, including video lessons of self-defense.

Higurashi meets with the people to do with the script of the film entitled One Cut Of The Dead. The first rehearsal is crazy because Chinatsu brought her baby and they can’t rehearse well. Chinatsu also has issues as she is a major heartthrob and her agent says that being in a movie with too much blood can interfere with her star status. Also at the first rehearsal is nerdy Kazahara, a crewman whose stomach doesn’t go well with hard water, and a man with a drinking problem. Mao is originally disinterested in the project until she learns major teen idol Ko will be a part of it. This comes as moody Mao is about to move out of the house. Higurashi tries to forget about Mao’s move out until he talks with one of the men playing a zombie and he talks of how he misses his daughter. However when the actor who plays the director doesn’t show, people recommend Higurashi play the lead. Before Mao leaves, she talks with her mother Nao about her ambitions. Nao asks Higurashi to be a part of it.

Then comes shooting day. You can bet this could be a big break for Higurashi. First trouble is the crew man with the stomach issue drank hard water and the portaloos for the film and crew aren’t here! Secondly the man that’s supposed to play the zombie drank a whole bottle of sake and is drunk on the floor! The director tries to continue with shooting with the crew trying to help out however they can. Then the craziness. When it comes for the zombie’s part, Higurashi has to carry the drunken man to make him move into his part. Then comes the crew man with the stomach problem. He has to go outdoors and… you know. The crew try to help as much as they can. Mao tries to step in to save what she can. The network people are in an area away watching everything that is happening live and they don’t know what to make of what’s happening. Then Nao really gets into her part. The director knows she has to be controlled but she’s able to Pom her way out. She requires sedation! Then there’s the camera crane required to do the ending shot. It feel from the roof and is broken. So Mao and Higurashi organize a human pyramid for that long final shot. After a lot of misses, it finally happens with Mao being the camera girl on top. The whole insane craziness works to perfection. The show is a success!

The film is very creative and very fun. The film starts out as a zombie movie which we first think is a simple short film. Just for reference, the VIFF is known for showing a short film of 20-30 minutes before the actual feature. Most features with a short before the start list the short in the program. I myself thought that was the case. It was a short film meant to be shown before the actual feature. Then it became evident that it was a case of the short zombie show followed by the making of the zombie show from start to finish. That was very smart of them to do such a thing. Plus they make the story work. The making of the film is a story of its own in how this director is placed with this demand from the network, they try to get things ready for a month, the rehearsing starts out shaky, and then the director and his wife find themselves actors. Then there’s the hairiness of shooting as one actor got himself drunk on sake and one crewman has a bad stomach because of the hard water and one camera breaks. It’s like from start to finish, it looks like something that would fail or fall apart, but it works in the end.

Funny thing about the film is that it includes the family element of it all. The director has a reputation of being “fast, cheap, but average.” The daughter has earned her own experience on the set and feels she can establish herself. She feels it’s time to move out. The father doesn’t take the move-out well at all. Meanwhile the mother is a former actress who quit to become a full-time mother and housewife. She killed her time by adopting hobby after hobby, but her daughter gives her a chance to be an actress again by recommending her for the film. In the end, it helps bring the family together.

The film has been known for its surprise success in Japan. I don’t know about ‘fast, cheap, but average,’ but the film was produced by Tokyo acting and directing school Enbu Seminar at a cost of only $70,000 to make and made by mostly unknown actors. The film made its debut at the Udine Far East Film Festival in April where it won the second-place audience award. It has since been invited to 60 film festivals. Back in Japan, it made a box-office run starting in June. The film had modest expectations. Enbu Seminar hoped that 5,000 tickets would be sold during its box office run. Instead it became a big hit in Japan already amassing $24.4 million and is now the 13th-highest grossing film in Japan right now. When I went to see it for its 10:45 showing at the Rio, the theatre was surprisingly packed. Word has gotten around.

Top kudos to writer/director Shinichiro Ueda for inventing the story and making it come alive. His two-shows-in-one was fun to watch and very winning. The whole cast also has to get top kudos for helping to make this story come alive in a very entertaining way. They have as much to do with the movie’s surprise success as Ueda. You have to admit that it’s very rare to have a film within a TV show within a film. Excellent job!

One Cut Of The Dead proves to everyone who sees it why it’s the surprise hit in Japan. It’s the ‘guilty pleasure’ movie you won’t feel guilty about enjoying!

World Cup 2018 Preview: Group H

Hard to believe it’s finally about to start. The very first World Cup game starts at 8:00 on Thursday June 14th in Luzhniki Stadium and it ends there too on Sunday July 15th. And at the end of it all, only one country is left smiling! Anyways on with my last group review: Group H. How do they stack up?

Poland fixed-Poland (10)- Poland has a football success that usually is strong one quadrennial, weak another. This time around, it looks like Poland has its strongest team in decades. They topped their World Cup qualification en route to Russia. They’ve even produced a superstar in Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski.

Poland is not just Lewandowski. There’s also midfielder Jakub Blaszczykowski and defender Lukasz Piszczek. The team features a good mix of young and older talent. They were very impressive in World Cup qualifying. The team has had some notable wins in the past year against Lithuania and South Korea, but they’ve also had 1-0 losses to Nigeria and Mexico. Russia 2018 is yet another chance for Poland to seize the moment.

Senegal flag-Senegal (28)- 2002 seems like a memory. It was Senegal’s first World Cup and they surprised defending champions France in the opening game of that World Cup and en route to going to the quarterfinals. They’ve failed to return to the World Cup scene until now. They hope to show the world they still have what it takes.

After 16 long years, The Lions Of Teranga come back via coach Aliou Cisse who played for that Senegalese team in the World Cup. Most of the players play for teams with the Premier League or France’s Ligue 1 or Ligue 2. Senegal have had some noteworthy wins in the last year such as to South Africa and South Korea. However they’ve also lost recently to Croatia 2-1 and also had a scoreless draw against Bosnia. Senegal returns to the World Cup stage here in Russia with lots to prove.

Colombia-Colombia (16)- This appears to be a new era in Colombian football. They first had a chance in the 90’s to make a name for themselves at the World Cup, but poor performances marred by political strife in their country prevented that from happening. Then they made a return to the World Cup scene in 2014. There they made it to the quarterfinals for the first time ever. On top of that, striker James Rodriguez won the Golden Boot for scoring six goals.

Rodriguez is back, along with midfielder Carlos Sanchez, striker Radamel Falcao and Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina. Colombia has had some recent noteworthy wins such as 3-2 against France and 4-0 against China. However they’ve also lost 2-1 against Paraguay and 2-1 against South Korea. Chances are Colombia can go further than they ever have here in Russia 2018.

Japan-Japan (60)- Japan is one Asian country that has been struggling to show how talented their team is. The Samurai Blue have made it to the Round of 16 in 2002 (which they co-hosted) and 2010, but that’s as far as they’ve ever gotten. Japan has produced a boom in football back with the boost of the J-League in the 90’s but they’re still waiting for their big moment. Sure, they’ve won many AFC Asian Cups in the past, but they feel they have more to prove internationally.

This past year has had its ups and downs for Japan. They recently won against Paraguay 4-2 and won against Australia 2-0. However they’ve had some notable losses to Brazil 3-1, Switzerland 2-0 and Belgium 1-0. Remember anything can happen in World Cup play and Japan could just surprise everybody during Russia 2018.

So that’s my summary of the Group H teams. As for the two I feel will advance, I will have to go with Poland and Colombia.

STADIUM SPOTLIGHT

ST. PETERSBURG: Krestovsky Stadium (Saint-Petersburg Stadium)Krestovsky

Year Opened: 2017

Capacity: 67,000

World Cup Groups Hosting: A, B, D, E,

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, Semi-final, bronze-medal match

Situated on Krestovsky Island in St. Petersburg, this stadium is not just known for its design, but its enormous cost to construct: an estimated $1.1 billion! It is considered one of the most expensive stadiums ever built. The high cost had a lot to do with a delayed civic loan, wind damage and flooding to materials and a withdrawal of a major corporate funder. Its opening in 2017 is nine years later than expected. The design of the stadium is based on Japanese designer Kisho Kurokawa’s ‘ Spaceship’ design. The stadium is situated where the old Kirov Stadium used to be. After the World Cup, the stadium will be the host venue for FC Zenit St. Petersburg.

MOSCOW: Luzhniki Stadium Luzhniki

Year Opened: 1956

Capacity: 80,000

World Cup Groups Hosting: A, B, C, F

Additional World Cup Matches Contested: Round of 16, Semi-final, Final match

This stadium has an immense amount of history with it. Actually during the days of the USSR, it used to be known as Central Lenin Stadium. After the collapse of the USSR and the doing away of Communism, the stadium has been named after the Luzhniki district it’s situated in. During the days of the USSR, the stadium was the centrepoint of the national Spartakiad sports celebrations. It was also the host venue for the 1980 Summer Olympics, 1973 Summer Universiade and 1986 Goodwill Games. Since the fall of Communism and the emergence of the Russian Federation, the stadium has hosted the 1999 UEFA Cup Final, 2008 UEFA Champions League Final and the 2013 World Championships In Athletics.

RUSSIA-LANDSCAPE-ARCHITECTUREThe stadium has had three renovations in the past. The most recent being before the Confederations Cup in preparation for the World Cup. World Cup renovations include a demolishing of the old stadium to have a new stadium with enclosure. The self-supported wall and facade of Lenin Stadium was maintained. New construction allowed the stadium to be connected to a main building. After the World Cup, the stadium will be the host venue for the Russian national team.

And that does it! This is the last of my group previews for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Hard to believe the opening ceremonies are 24 hours away, give or take. One thing for sure is that it will deliver a full month of excitement and surprises.

DVD Review: Silence

silence
Adan Driver (left) and Andrew Garfield are Portuguese missionaries in Japan whose mission is a huge test of faith in Silence.

Learning of Martin Scorsese doing Silence caught my intrigue: Scorsese doing a film about Catholic missionaries. The big question would be how would it turn out? Would it be pro-Catholic or anti-Catholic? Or something else entirely?

It it the 17th Century. Portuguese Jesuit priests Rodrigues and Garupe  are sent to Japan to spread the faith and to find Father Ferreira. Ferreira was sent as a missionary from Portugal, but has been forced to watch the brutal executions of people he helped convert to the faith and has since apostatized. In their first stop in Macau, they came across one of the converts who himself watch executions happen. He’s now a paranoid alcoholic.

Once they arrive in Japan, they arrive in the village of Tomogi. They learn that Catholics have resorted to an underground church. The people are relieved to see they have a full priest available but the priests learn of the samurai searching out Christians to execute: commonly called ‘The Inquisitor.’

Both priests go to different islands. Garupe goes to Hirado Island to avoid having the village threatened and Rodrigues goes to Goto Island in search of Ferreira. He comes across the man from Macau who betrays him in front of an old samurai. The samurai has Rodrigues and the Catholic converts arrested and taken to a prison in Nagasaki. The samurai warns Rodrigues to renounce his faith or else the other captured Christians will be tortured. The samurai give the Christians a chance to step on a rudely-carved crucifix to renounce their faith. One man refuses and he’s beheaded on the spot. Rodrigues has to witness this from his prison cell. Later, Rodrigues is taken to a shoreline where three Christians from Hirado and even father Garupe are to be executed by drowning. Even though Garupe refuses to apostatize, Rodrigues is horrified by what he witnesses.

Finally Rodrigues gets to meet up with the apostate Ferreira. Ferreira tells him after 15 years in Japan, Christianity is futile in Japan. It’s best that he apostatize. They day before Rodrigues goes on trial, he hears the torture of five Christians who had apostatized. Then the day comes. Rodrigues is brought to trial by the shogun and is presented the chance to step on the crude carved crucifix to apostatize. Rodrigues appears to hear permission from Christ and steps on it. He is distraught. Rodrigues spent his remaining years in Japan married and searching out goods from ships incoming from Europe. His job was to identify Christian items from non-Christian items. The ending will definitely lead to a lot of conversation.

We should keep in mind this is not exactly a true story. Instead this is a film adaptation of a book of the same name written in 1966 by Japanese author Shusaku Endo. Whatever the situation, this is a film that presents a huge challenge to one’s faith. Even one with the strongest of faith and convictions can find themselves questioning what they would do in a situation like this. We should remember this is not a case of Christian martyrdom where the priest is the first to be executed. The followers are executed first as a pressure to get the priest to apostatize. The methods of execution are also horrific such as slowly dousing prisoners in hot spring water slowly and painfully to burning them alive wrapped in grass. I’m sure some would ask what would they do in this situation? Is it a selfish thing to hang on to one’s faith while the others are tortured and killed?

I’m sure a lot of people would be suspicious of a film like this coming from Martin Scorsese. Scorsese has had a reputation of a lot of negative and even blasphemous depictions of Catholicism and the Catholic faith. The biggest controversy was in 1988 when The Last Temptation Of Christ hit the theatres and there were protests galore. This film does not give a negative depiction of the priests. Instead it presents the challenges of faith such as the pressure to apostatize or the treatment of sacred images. One thing about the film is that the ending of the film is sure to give a lot of discussion of the final fate of Rodrigues. They say endings should have you asking questions rather than give you answers. It sure worked here as a lot of debate of the ending has sure come about. Even the end scenes after Rodrigues apostatized prompted a discussion between me and another person. This film will have you talking.

One thing it goes to show about this film is that it shows just how difficult it is for a director to make a labor-of-love film. No matter how many hit movies a director may produce, they still have stories deep in their heart they can only dream of putting on film. Even a renowned director like Scorsese would face such challenges. It’s not just in the amount of time it would take to develop such an idea on film– this film is 25 years in the making– but also the willingness of executives to allow it. We forget that film making is a business first and foremost, and business is ruthless. Even after all is completed, it’s then up to how the general public will receive it. In the end, Silence became Scorsese’s lowest-grossing film since 1997’s Kundun. It is a shame because the film is wonderful to watch and showcases a lot of excellent aspects. The film did make the AFI’s annual Top 10 list of the best films as well as the Top 10 list of the National Board of Review.

Martin Scorsese does another good job of directing, even if it’s not his best. He works the film very well and presents it well without his usual trademark of over-the-top blood-and-guts. Sure, there were torturous scenes, but they were a far cry from what you’d normally see in Scorsese film. I feel the adaptation he wrote along with scriptwriter Jay Cocks included the right parts and right moments from the novel as none of the scenes seemed pointless. Also he did a good job of maintaining the dignity of the priests and of the Catholic faith. Maybe this is a change in Scorsese.

Andrew Garfield did a very good job in his portrayal of Rodrigues. This was one year where Garfield played roles of people with strong faith. First was Hacksaw Ridge and now this. He did a very good job in presenting a man with a huge spiritual struggle. Adam Driver was given less screen time and it didn’t allow well for his part to develop. He did do well with what he had. Lia Neeson was also good in his part despite how brief and how limited it was. If there was one supporting actor who could steal the film from Garfield, it’s Issey Ogata as Inquisitor Inoue. He came off as cartoonish at the odd time but he succeeded in making you hate him. Other great works in the film include the cinematography from Rodrigo Prieto. He did a lot of good shots in creating the drama and even capturing the beauty of the scenery. Also worth noting is the excellent production design from Dante Ferreti in both the natural and man-made settings and the costuming also by Ferreti which were top notch.

Silence will most likely go down as Scorsese’s most overlooked masterpiece. It was a labor of love of his that didn’t pan out at the box office. Nevertheless, it’s a good think he made this film as it features a lot of cinematic qualities and gives a lot to marvel at.

VIFF 2015 Review: 100 Yen Love (百円の恋)

Ando sakura plays Ichiko: a slacker who suddenly has a desire to succeed at something in 100 Yen Love.
Ando Sakura plays Ichiko: a slacker who suddenly has a desire to succeed at something in 100 Yen Love.

Every VIFF I hope to see at least one film that’s a country’s official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the Oscars. I had my first chance when I went to see 100 Yen Love: Japan’s official entry. It was not what I expected for a Japanese film. Nevertheless I was very impressed.

The story starts with Ichiko, a 32 year-old slacker. She became a downer with an I-don’t-care attitude since she dropped out of university. She lives at home with her mother who owns a restaurant and her yet-to-be-divorced sister and young son. For the heck of it, she applies for a job at the 100 Yen Store. During her nightshifts, she deals with her boss, a talkative creepy co-worker named Noma and a homeless woman who comes frequently in the back area to take food past the best before date.

Ichiko doesn’t expect much to happen but walking to work, she passes a boxing gym and there’s a man training there that catches her eye. His name is Yuji and he also visits the store frequently to buy bananas to which Noma calls him ‘Banana Boy.’ Yuji can sense Ichiko’s interest in him. One night Yuji buys the bananas but instead of paying, he gives Ichiko and Noma tickets to the fight. They go with Noma being a creepy partner and Yuji loses. At the dinner after the fight, Noma lies to Yuji claiming he’s her boyfriend. Then Noma goes all berserk overnight on as he rapes Ichiko and takes money from the 100 Yen Store till.

Ichiko changes after the rape. Still an employee at the 100 Yen store, she’s now Yuji’s girlfriend and she takes an interest in the boxing gym Yuji is no longer a part of as he had passed the maximum age of fighting at 37. At first she just goes there for the exercises. However things change after Yuji gets a job with a tofu delivery company and has an affair with a female carter. That infuriates Ichiko to move back with her mother and take her boxing lessons seriously. It even gives her a desire to want to be a fighter herself and even a hunger to win.

She’s given her first and possibly only fight as the maximum age for females is 33. She uses this as an opportunity for Yuji to prove his love to her. At the fight, family gather and Ichiko is hungry to win. However her opponent is one who’s already won four fights with a KO. This sets up for an ending that’s unexpected, bittersweet but positive and humorous.

I know I’ve talked a lot about foreign ‘movies’ being shown at this VIFF and other VIFFs. This goes to show that other countries are in the stage where they want to move away from strictly making films and move onto making movies that delight crowds. And not just movies of anything or something too simple, movies with something. I’m sure I was like a lot of people that think that when they go to see a film from Japan, we expect it to come from a director that wants to be the next Akira Kurosawa. I didn’t see anything in the film that made me think Masaharu Take wanted to follow in Kurosawa’s foot steeps. Guess I should adjust my expectations.

One thing that makes this film succeed as a movie is that there a lot of themes that are universal. There’s people that are slackers. There are slackers that ‘gave up’ because they slipped below expectations, including their own. There are jobs in which they hate doing and are ‘dead ends.’ There’s love and the complicated love triangles that come with it. And there’s the desire to want to move out of the shell of being a misfit and want to succeed. There’s even the 100 Yen Store which would be Japan’s equivalent to our Dollar Stores. I can see people in many countries, including here in North America, identifying with many of the themes in the film despite it taking place in Japan and in Japanese.

However the thing that grabs me most about the movie is that it consists of a lot of underachieve characters and underachiever scenarios but it’s taking place in Japan. I admit it I’m guilty like a lot of other people who have believed in the stereotype of the Japanese as people of high standards, people determined to succeed, people who go through strict competitive education programs to achieve great things. Here we have a slacker who appears done with life, a single-mother sister who returned to living at home, a convenience store owner, a loser who’s a fail at just about everything including making friends, a homeless woman, a person who sells food on a bike-cart and a person who wants to achieve in sports. These are people contrary to what we expect to see in Japan. It’s a reminder there are people like that in every country, even Japan. Sometimes I think that was the point that Take and scriptwriter Shin Adachi was to show the rest of the world. This is a story consisting of Japanese people we all forgot about.

Take and Adachi did a great job with a script that’s relatable and universal. However it was chancy too as including a rape scene in a comedy is very risky. Nevertheless they pulled it off well. Top nods however go to Sakura Ando for playing Ichiko. The whole story rested on her shoulders. She had to make it work. She even had to transform Ichiko from this 32 year-old slacker who couldn’t care less about the world to a woman with ambition and make it work. It paid off even to the point the sudden transition of Ichiko from the walking dead to a woman with a hunger worked. Sudden transitions like that don’t always work out well but Ichiko made it work. Additional kudos go to Hirofumi Arai as the boyfriend who is in the same boat as Ichiko but is romantically confused, Tadashi Sakata as the creepy Noma and Toshie Negishi as the entertaining homeless woman. The addition of a bluesy-sounding score adds to the story and even the humor.

100 Yen Love is an enjoyable Japanese movie. I didn’t know what to expect at first but I ended up enjoying it.