6th OKINAWA INTERNATIONAL MOVIE FESTIVAL : MOVIE REVIEWS AND EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEWS
Philomena (Britain-France-US/2013/Stephen Frears)
This year’s Oscar Best Picture nominee (along with three others category incl. Best Actress for Judi Dench, Best Adapted Screenplay for Steve Coogan & Jeff Pope and Best Original Score by Alexandre Desplat) was based on the book ‘The Lost Child of Philomena Lee’ by journalist Martin Sixsmith, about the true story of a woman, Philomena Lee (played by Judi Dench) in a 50 years long search for her son.
Having pregnant but unwed, the teenage Philomena Lee was sent to a convent in Ireland. Forced to work, the nuns of the convent then put her boy into adoption. Now in her late 60s, in her redemption attempt, Philomena turns to a former BBC journalist, Martin Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan), who eager to find an intriguing story, to help her. Against all odds, they trackdown the adoption history to find Philomena’s son.
Not only being a powerfully heartfelt drama of a mother to son lost relationship, ‘Philomena’ also explore the thought-provoking nuns and convent history of the old Ireland. Although cursed by some critics as an organized hate against conventional church and anti-Catholic, beautifully acted by the strong chemistry between Dench and surprisingly, Coogan, this is an affecting drama which made you easily fell in love with.
The Round Table (Japan/2014/Isao Yusikada)
Based on Kanako Nishi’s 2011 famous Japanese novel, ‘Entaku’, ‘The Round Table’ marked Mana Ashida, the little girl from Guilermo Del Toro’s ‘Pacific Rim’ in her first lead performance. Directed by Isao Yusikada from ‘Before The Vigil’ (2013), a director well known learned under acclaimed indie filmmaker Shunji Iwai, the movie tells a story about Kotoko ‘Kokko-chan’ Uzuhara (played by Mana Ashida), a tenacious and sharp-tongued third grade elementary schoolgirl who’s perpetually unhappy and trying to figure out the social life around.
Aiming the unique Kansai dialect from a Hyogo native, which considered harsh to other Japan area, Mana Ashida is Isao’s first choice as she originally comes from Kansai. With the other children’s charming performance and the wonderfully crafted script, Isao Yusikada has succesfully brought Mana Ashida’s acting talent. Played a homeroom teacher of Kokko-chan, Ryuhei Maruyama of the popular boy band Kanjani8 also delivered a fine performance. Using the main character’s unique view of the world, the source’s original message about understanding the concept of normal also comes strong. On the surface, ‘The Round Table’ might be looked just as kids movie, but reminds adults of things they once lost in the coming of age, the movie will easily capture everyone’s hearts.
One Third (Japan/2014/Hiroshi Shinagawa)
Based on the popular novel ‘Sanbunnoichi’ by Hanta Kinoshita, ‘One Third’ is a dark heist comedy directed by Hiroshi Shinagawa from the Japanese smash hit ‘Drop’ and ‘Manzai Gang (Slapstick Brothers!)’. Starred Japanese heartthrob Tatsuya Fujiwara, the movie tells a story about the cabaret club manager Shuu (played by Fujiwara), the worker Koji (Koki Tanaka) and the patron named Ken (comedy duo Black Mayonnaise’s Ryuichi Kosugi) with a bank robbery that runs amok beyond twists and turns.
Also starred Mika Nakashima in its fun ensemble cast, ‘One Third’ has many aspects that made it look much different than the other cliche heist comedies. Along with fast and energetic pace, like the jazzin’ theme song, recently released ‘Triad’ from Japanese jazz duo Pia-no-Jac, Shinagawa’s script and direction – storytelling brought many homage to Quentin Tarantino’s movies, from ‘Reservoir Dogs’ to ‘True Romance’. It has successfully built necessary details in its larger than life but interesting characters. He also dare to cross boundaries with perverted insanity incl. anal rape scene which surprisingly worked to hit even darker comedic tone. A dark comedy with hilarious intensity, and again, who could resist a ‘True Romance’ homage in a movie?
One of the most acclaimed sci-fi last year, Academy Award nominee for Best Picture ‘Gravity’, directed by Alfonso Cuarón is really not a usual one. Introduced new ways of creating atmosphere and effects, which gave Cuarón his first Oscar, this is a thrilling outer space adventure, tribute to moms and truly amazing over the moon experience, made even bigger by the Open Air Screening in the largest outdoor screen for this year’s festival.
Had been in years in development hell, this rather surreal romantic comedy was based on the short story by James Thurber which was also adapted into 1947 movie starred Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo. Now helm by Ben Stiller in his other directorial and acting effort, ‘The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty’ is a strong romance fantasy, built over grand visual design and life metaphors. Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn and Shirley MacLaine also gave a terrific performances along with the score by Theodore Shapiro and remix version of David Bowie’s classic ‘Space Oddity’ feat. Wiig.
Jackass Presents Bad Grandpa (US/2013/Jeff Tremaine)
As a slightly different Jackass film series, the fourth installment ‘Bad Grandpa’ was written by director Jeff Tremaine, Spike Jonze and Johnny Knoxville. Combining Jackass’ stunts and pranks, road movie and hidden camera comedic style, the movie moved around a nasty 86 y.o. man named Irving Zisman (played by Knoxville) and the blunt 8 y.o. grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) as they travels across America to look for Billy’s dad. From supermarket shoplifting, wreck a wedding, male strip club to a child beauty pageant, this is a total show of sick jokes and Jackass’ stunts.
The comedy might be segmented to sick-jokes lovers, and Nicoll obviously stole the show from Knoxville at many times. But surprisingly, it has quite a lot of empathies and also landed in Academy Award nominee for Best Makeup and Hairstyling, becoming the first Jackass series to be nominated for an Oscar.
Antboy (Denmark/2013/Ask Hasselbach)
Centers on 12 y.o. boy Pelle Nehrmann (Oscar Dietz) which was bitten by an ant and delivered super hero strength and abilities under the help of his comic book nerd friend Wilhelm (Nicholas Bro), ‘Antboy’ is the first Danish superhero movie based on their popular children’s book written by Danish author Kenneth Bags Andersen. With the local success and worldwide distribution, the sequel ‘Antboy II’ which will be setup as Danish/German co-production is also coming its way.
But unlike what we’ve seen on the trailer and the truth that it has been shown in some movie festivals since the premiere at Toronto, ‘Antboy’ was actually cliche. We could see that Hasselbach used the original book’s superhero cliche elements to mock them up with quite a fresh energy from the young casts, but the movie still failed to reach wider ages of audience. Then again, as Denmark’s first attempt in superhero genre, this might be something to be celebrated.
Grudge Match (US/2013/Peter Segal)
As a match over 30 years in the making, Peter Segal’s ‘Grudge Match’ marked the reunion of Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro (they paired for the first time in ‘Copland’ ensemble cast) in a show of boxing ring homages, both to ‘Rocky’ and ‘Raging Bull’.
The movie might quite far from what it promised to be, but seeing Stallone and De Niro landed together in a lead role, playing oldcrack boxers came back from their retirement to settle their old grudges, this is still a hilarious comedy match with hearts all over. Kim Basinger, Kevin Hart, Alan Arkin and Jon Bernthal added the power of the ensemble cast.
Miss Granny (Korea/2014/Hwang Dong-hyeuk)
It’s truly hard to believe after ‘My Father’ and even more depressive ‘Silenced’ a.k.a. ‘The Crucible’, South Korean director Hwang Dong-hyeuk came with this wonderful romantic comedy with a glimpse of fantasy. ‘Miss Granny’ tells a story of 74 y.o. widow Oh Mal-soon (played by Na Moon-hee) who magically finds herself in the body of her 20 y.o. self (‘Sunny’s’ Shim Eun-kyung, again shows her huge acting talent) after having her picture taken at a mysterious photo studio.
While the chaotic comedy is very entertaining, as many other South Korean movies, the movie never missed its heartfelt dramatic turns and beautiful lovestories that strongly sparks more serious matters of regrets, memories and family desertion. A heartwarming fantasy that easily peak your mind to an emotional state in a wonderful cinematic experience.
Fukrey (India/2013/Mrigdeep Singh Lamba)
Like some other finest Bollywood’s that went into this festival, this year they brought Japan premiere of ‘Fukrey’ from director Mrigdeep Singh Lamba. Considered as one of Indian sidestream directorial efforts which won several local awards, ‘Fukrey’ is a slacker comedy centered at four nobodies running after their dreams. A fun adventures from school walls to drug cartels, this film also marked an acclaimed performance from Richa Chadda from ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’.
Another noted work in ‘Fukrey’ comes with the music composed by ‘Delhi Belly’s Ram Sampath. It’s not as big as other Bollywood’s showcases with big stars and veteran directors, but ‘Fukrey’ was somehow felt fresh in its own ways.
Suck Me Shakespeer (Germany/2013/Bora Dagtekin)
One of the highest box office hits in German cinemas last year, from director Bora Dagtekin and actor Elyas M’Barek from 2012 smash hit ‘Turkish for Beginners’, ‘Fuck You Goethe / Fack ju Göhte a.k.a. ‘Suck Me Shakespeer’ is a cynical comedy about education problems in Germany. The movie tells a story of an ex convict who becomes substitute teacher to some disturbed high school kids.
Although being fussy and at times too cynical with its rapid-fire dialogues, ‘Suck Me Shakespeer’ surprisingly put the audience in a really good laugh and offers a loud question of moral integrity in screwed educations. Playing with the updated ‘Romeo & Juliet’ school play, the movie also has a wonderful chemistry between the casts. Brassily funny and quite sexy.
Mr. Go (Korea/2013/Kim Yong-hwa)
Based on Huh Young-man’s 1984 popular Korean manhwa, ‘The 7th Team’, about a gorilla who becomes a baseball superstar and his young female manager, ‘Mr. Go’ is a joint production between South Korea and China. When her grandfather dies in the Great Sichuan Earthquake, young circus ringmaster Wei Wei (played by ‘CJ-7’s Xu Jiao) has only Ling Ling, a bat-swinging gorilla to depend against their family’s insurmountable debt. Enters the Korean Baseball League by the materialistic agent, they set to a miraculous winning streak that will win everybody’s hearts.
With the main elements of gorilla, baseball and a young girl, almost everything in ‘Mr. Go’ was a cliche plotting. But one thing that made it really interesting among Korean ways to build a dramatization in a sports comedy were the efforts of special effects, which was never seen before in K-cinema. With almost every single scenes was built in beautifully done CGI and motion capture compositions, produced mostly by local talents over 300 production members over four years and even the first Korean movie to be fully shot in 3D, this is by far the director Kim Yong-hwa’s most ambitious work. Japanese famous star Joe Odagiri also appeared as a cameo.
Bay Blues : 25 Years and 364 Days (Japan/2014/Tomohiro Takayama)
‘Bay Blues : 25 Years and 364 Days’, still a tentative international title from this movie directed by Tomohiro Takayama is a biography of his late comedy partner, Eitoku Kawamoto that closed his life at the young age of 25. Depicts the short but turbulent life that Eitoku lived, this movie also reflect an life anti-thesis to a strive to pursue a carreer in comedy.
While this movie got a potential to be an elaborate portrayal on the real life of a comedian, and so a moving story about friendship and rebirth, unfortunately, it has a serious problems with the pace and acting that made some important points felt a bit too flat.
Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats (Japan/Italy/Taiwan/Germany/2014/Yosuke Fujita)
Known as one of the most renowned and popular Japanese newspaper comic strip boy-character since long and adapted into movies or TV anime, this movie is actually has no straight reference to that character nor any adaptation. But for those who knew the character, this can be quite a reimagining of some elements into a new character. As a resident of the rundown apartment Fukufukuso who lives with his loser-friends, a thirty y.o. housepainter Tatsuo, often called Fuku-chan (played by female comedian Miyuki Oshima) is a shy and goofy chubby-guy with passion for cooking and kites. Everything changed when suddenly his high school crush, Chiho (Asami Mizukawa), now a passionate photographer came back into his life beyond Fuku-chan’s ghosts of the past.
Not only being the first Japanese film co-produced by Third Windows Films from UK, Tucker Film from Italy, Joint Entertainment from Taiwan and Rapid Eye Movies from Germany and to be distributed abroad for Germany, UK, Italy and Taiwan, this rare Japanese comedy directed by Yosuke Fujita, from the smash hit ‘Fine Totally Fine’ (2008), the movie also shared the world premiere in Udine’s Far East Film Festival and Okinawa International Movie Festival.
Playing a young man role, female comedian Miyuki Oshima has done a wonderful job portraying an awkward character of Fuku-chan and building a lovely chemistry with ‘Dark Water’s Asami Mizukawa. It was a comedy, but not the usual one you’ve seen in Japanese Cinema. Also brought lot of hearts into the movie, director Yosuke Fujita has once again proved his distinctive style of movie making. A funny and warmhearted comedy of life.
The Sting (US/1973/George Roy Hill)
In Special Screening’s World Comedy section, the festival offers a chance to ones who never seen this classic in a cinematic treatment. Known as one of the best ever world’s caper comedy, 46th Academy Awards’ Best Picture – Director – Original Screenplay and 4 more Oscars from 10 nominated, ‘The Sting’ starred Robert Redford and Paul Newman in their reunion after ‘Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid’.
Also starred actor Robert Shaw, the movie was also noted for its anachronistic use of ragtime, including Scott Joplin’s ‘The Entertainer’, adapted for the movie by Marvin Hamlisch and became rarely instrumental single to hit the top ten chart at that time.
Cold Fish (Japan/2010/Sion Sono)
As well as the World Comedy, at Japanese Comedy section the festival also offers 2010’s hit ‘Cold Fish’ by director Sion Sono that was premiered at the 67th Venice International Film Festival and won the best screenplay award in Fantastic Fest.
‘Cold Fish’ is an absurd journey of dark comedy about serial killers. Inspired from Tokyo’s real killer Sekine Gen and Hiroko Kazama, the movie tells a story about an owner of tropical fish shop whose life and family are taken over by a fellow fish enterpeneur who happens to be psychopath killer. Like other Sion Sono’s features, ‘Cold Fish’ is a hysterical and gorily twisted and comically cartoonish tour de force.
It’s rarely known that Indian movies doesn’t have to be all Bollywood. Many remarkable talents and extraordinary ideas actually came from the regional film industries. ‘Makkhi’, the Hindi dubbed version of original titled ‘Eega’ in Telugu, also known as Tollywood, where the movie came from, is a groundbreaking effort in their movie industry.
From director S.S. Rajamouli with his previous works, ‘Makkhi’ was conceived with all the Indian’s pop movie signatures. It’s mostly cheesy and comical, but made bigger by the technology they’re using to create the visual effects. The best thing about ‘Makkhi‘ is they could translate every aspects of their fantasy into mindblowing visual works. Combining live action animation and visual effects which was never used in any Indian movies by Rahul Venugopal, Adel Adili and Pete Draper from Makuta FX, ‘Makkhi’ was not only received positive critics, becomes a high grossing blockbuster, but also travel around many international film festival among the market section from Cannes, Shanghai, Madrid and Puchon Fantastic Film Festival.
Kim Yong-hwa (director of ‘Mr. Go’)
Q : ‘200 Pounds Beauty’ and ‘Take Off’ was a huge success in Korean domestic box office. You made a film in quite a long period of time, like once in every 3-4 years. Is it becoming your standard of success?
A : I actually always want to make more movies, but I guess everytime I develop a movie, it’s the necessity. Both ‘200 Pounds Beauty’ and ‘Take Off’ has more technical matters. Mostly in ‘Mr.Go’, I need more and more time to conceive the special effects.
Q : I can see that ‘Mr. Go’ is by far your most ambitious project, and it was based on a popular Manhwa. Why you picked that one?
A : ‘Mr. Go’ is a very famous comic and I found it a bit of a challenge. It was so hard to make that no one decided to take it as a project before.
Q : The visual effects in ‘Mr. Go’ is actually a never before seen efforts in Korean cinema. How was the difficulties creating all of the effects in the process?
A : We first offered it to ILM (Industrial Lights And Magic) but the budget is way too much. I still wanted to make it happen, though, so I decided to find a way, to do it with local talents. I even put my own money and that was a huge decision for me. I first hired like 200 employees, most of them are Asians and some has worked in well known blockbusters like ‘Man Of Steel’ and ‘Pacific Rim’ but it’s still not easy. We also wanted the movie to be fully shot in 3D. There was many challenge to make it smoother, like the gorilla’s hair which you’ve seen in the movie. We had to do some visual effects tricks like duplicity to make it better but financially cheaper.
Q : And how far is the helping efforts from Rhythm & Hues (visual effect company) ?
A : We have some of their engineers to partially supervised, but mostly we’re like doing it by ourselves
Q : ‘Mr. Go’ is a co-production with China, and you even put Japan’s Joe Odagiri in a cameo role. Is there something you want to achieve in this joint production between Asian countries?
A : I think so. Many Hollywood movies was collaborated with Europe companies. In Asia, we rarely have that kind of collaboration. I guess this is the time where Asian countries can collaborate in more movie productions, and the distributions also could be wider.
Q : Is casting Xu Jiao as the lead was also a demand in that collaboration? Have you seen her debut in ‘CJ-7‘ before?
A : Not particularly, but yes, Huayi Brothers (China producers of ‘Mr. Go’) first recommended her for the part. I saw CJ-7 after our meeting then went to Hangzhou, where the girl lived, and a bit surprised with her visions. She’s only 15 year old but instead just look, she has a strong spirit and great heart.
Q : ‘Mr. Go’ has created a huge box office in China, but it’s actually didn’t do so well in Korea. What did you think about the factors?
A : Yeah, I think maybe China audience is more attracted to special effects and positivity in children’s movies. The idea of baseball and gorillas elements in ‘Mr. Go’ might be a bit unusual to Korean audience.
Q : How do you see Korean movies these days?
A : It could be changing, but right now, Korean movies has created a great success everywhere, mostly in Asia, and domestically our audience were very supportive to go see a movie in cinemas. Many asians choose to see more asian movies and this is like a culture that also becomes a part of the improvement that push the growth of local markets.
Q : One last question is a bit cliche. What is your impression to Okinawa International Movie Festival?
(Laugh) I’m having a really great time here. Japanese people are very nice, very kind supports and Okinawa has a different warm feeling. The festival itself has a size that’s not too huge which is very comfort for me. And that the movies wasn’t all arthouses, I think it’s better to reach audience from all ages.