The 24th Helsinki International Film Festival

Just like last year, I recently attended the biggest film festival in Finland, Helsinki International Film Festival. It’s held annually in September and this time it started on the 15th and ended on the 25th. My stay at the festival was limited to 5 days, but I managed to see 10 films before I left. I’ll do my best to summarize my thoughts on each film in this article. Read more of this post

Spotlight on Japan: A temporary break

There’ll be no Spotlight on Japan this week and I can’t guarantee anything about its future either. For a few weeks now I’ve been quite “burn out” on writing film reviews and it’s beginning to affect my writing so I decided to take a break now. However, I know I’ll restart Spotlight on Japan sooner or later as I’ve never been able to stay away from reviewing for more than 6 months.

Spotlight on Japan: My Neighbour Totoro

No matter how many Japanese films I see and write about, I find myself returning to Studio Ghibli’s work – more specifically Hayao Miyazaki’s films. After two adventure-driven films, Nausica√§ of the Valley of the Wind and Laputa: Castle in the Sky, he engaged on a different kind of adventure. My Neighbour Totoro depicts the wonders of real life through the eyes of two cheerful kids. The sheer energy of the film and the honest depiction of childhood have earned the film many fans – it has become one of the most beloved “kids’ films” which also offers genuine entertainment for all ages. The titular character was even included in Ghibli’s own logo. Read more of this post

Spotlight on Japan: The Happiness of the Katakuris

Only Takashi Miike would be crazy enough to make remake a grim Korean film as a satirical musical. That’s what he set out to do with The Happiness of the Katakuris and, believe it or not, succeeded incredibly well. With one of the most unforgettable opening sequences I’ve ever seen Miike leads the audience to a bizarre yet strangely moving story of a desperate family trying to make a living with a remote guest remote house. The father is obsessed with maintaining the business. The mother is a loving housewife who sacrifices herself for the family. Their daughter is a love-struck single parent and their son a rebellious ex-thief. The grandfather shows great dedication in protecting the family from all sorts of trouble while killing birds by throwing wood planks. Yes,¬†wood planks.¬† Read more of this post

Spotlight on Japan: Electric Dragon 80000 V

While I’m worried about Japan’s recovery from the terrible earthquake and tsunami, I can do nothing but continue my daily routine that consists of watching films and reading. I was looking for something that would set my senses on fire and something that would go together with my need for escapism. As I was going through my DVD collection I spotted Sogo Ishii’s Electric Dragon 80000 V. Watching it a month ago was one hell of an experience as it is certainly one of the most baffling and polarizing films I can even think of. It is practically a screenplay full of camp value played completely straightly with a noise soundtrack and bizarre characters. Read more of this post

Spotlight on Japan: EM Embalming

As the opening sequence of Shinji Aoyama’s EM Embalming states, embalming was commonly used in Ancient Egypt to preserve corpses in a beautiful state. But why is that wanted in the first place? That is the question Japan’s one of most unpredictable directors asks from the audience. Despite setting the film firmly in contemporary Japan he handles timeless questions which must have troubled even Egyptians a few thousand years ago. Miyako is a young embalmer who – after her embalming of an important person is sabotaged – has to face a strange cult, the troubled history of her family and serious questions that could alter her world view. Read more of this post

Spotlight on Japan: An Obsession

Having enjoyed Wild Life I set my expectations higher for An Obsession, the next film in the Shinji Aoyama box. It sees Aoyama taking an entirely different path: genre is replaced with a more poetic and free-flowing approach, but it doesn’t come without its own set of overwhelming problems. A familiar face from Sion Sono’s Suicide Club and Takashi Miike’s Audition, Ryo Ishibashi plays a cop, Saga, who sacrifices his personal life for work. One day he’s helping with the arrest of a notorious cult leader when things go awry. The cult leader is murdered, Saga is wounded and the worst of all, he loses his own gun. The premise might remind one of Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog, but the similarities end right there – even if both films involve the main character looking for his lost gun to save face. Read more of this post