Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Japan-uary XII Quick Picks and Pans

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes Poster

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2020) In this clever sci-fi/comedy, Kato (Kazunari Tosa), a coffee shop owner, inadvertently discovers the means to see events two minutes in the future via his home computer. Soon, his friends and plucky co-worker attempt to   delve further into the mysteries of accidental time travel. But as they continue to monkey around with the new experience, events begin to cascade, and they’re sucked into a loop of correlation and causality, replete with paradoxes. Director Junta Yamaguchi confines the action to one building, but this limitation never seems restrictive or redundant, in a story that milks the concept for all its worth.   

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Amazon Prime and Tubi


The Legend of the Stardust Brothers Poster

The Legend of the Stardust Brothers (1985) Writer/director Macoto Tezuka’s lively musical/comedy ponders the ephemeral nature of fame and the fickleness of fandom. Rival musicians Shingo (Shingo Kubota) and Kan (Kan Takagi) strike a Faustian bargain with a shadowy producer to become the manufactured pop duo, the Stardust Brothers. Their chaotic rise and fall is told through a string of music videos. The results are an inspired combination of The Monkees, Get Crazy, and Phantom of the Paradise (in case you missed the copious references, the film is dedicated to Winslow Leach). It’s at once a pastiche of music star movies and a self-aware parody of pop music, but even that description is selling it short. You almost need a license to appreciate this much fun. 

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Tubi


Passing Fancy Poster

Passing Fancy (1933) In this charming silent comedy/drama from Yasujirō Ozu, middle-aged layabout Kihachi (Takeshi Sakamoto) helps Harue (Nobuko Fushimi) a young woman down on her luck get a job at a local tavern. Although Kihachi is smitten by her charms, it’s clear that Harue prefers his younger, cynical companion Jiro (Den Ôhinata).  Passing Fancy features nuanced performances by its talented cast, including Tomio Aoki as Kihachi’s crafty son Tomio, and Chôko Iida as the cheery but world-weary tavern owner Otome. It’s a bittersweet study of humanity during trying times, as only Ozu can present it.   

Rating: ****. Available on DVD (part of the Eclipse Silent Ozu collection)

The Ghost of Yotsuya Poster

The Ghost of Yotsuya (1959) Iemon (Shigeru Amachi) is a brash rōnin, who lusts after Oiwa (Katsuko Wakasugi), the daughter of a nobleman. After he’s denied Oiwa’s hand in marriage, Iemon kills her father in a fit of rage. It all goes downhill from there, when he murders Oiwa so he can marry another woman. Iomen soon discovers, however, that what goes around comes around when Oiwa’s bloody ghost exacts her terrible revenge. Director Nobuo Nakagawa‘s (Jigoku) Edo-period supernatural film provides ample thrills, with oodles of atmosphere and genuinely chilling imagery. 

Rating: ****. Available on DVD (Region 2)

Black Cat Mansion Poster

Black Cat Mansion (1958) In another excellent horror fantasy from director Nobuo Nakagawa (based on a novel by Sotoo Tachibana), Yoriko (Yuriko Ejima), a woman suffering from tuberculosis, is brought to her ancestral mansion to convalesce. She starts experiencing a number of disturbing occurrences, including a strange old woman who seems committed to her destruction. Things are complicated by her husband (and physician), Dr. Kuzumi (Toshio Hosokawa), who thinks it’s all in her imagination. In a flashback, we learn the mansion is the site of an old curse, targeted against the cruel samurai who once lived there. There are some nice creepy moments, as a cat spirit takes revenge on the samurai’s descendents (including Yoriko), although the film’s conclusion is a bit too abrupt. 

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD (Region 2)


Nightmare Detective Poster

Nightmare Detective (2006) Kyoichi (Ryûhei Matsuda) is a deeply troubled man with the ability to enter people’s dreams. He reluctantly assists Keiko (Hitomi), a young police detective, to help solve a case involving people who have suddenly been driven to suicide. The deaths are linked to a mysterious phone message by someone named “O.” In her quest for the truth, Keiko enters a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the suspect, in the twisted world of her dreams. Director/co-writer Shin'ya Tsukamoto’s supernatural horror film drags a bit in the middle, but the slow build-up leads to an energetic finale.   

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD

Bright Future Poster
Bright Future (2002) Yuji (Joe Odagiri) and Mamoru (Tadanobu Asano) are factory workers/friends with a relationship not unlike George and Lenny from Of Mice and Men. Emotionally stilted Yuji is unable to pick up on social cues, while his friend guides him through the complexities of human interaction. One day, Mamoru is arrested for the vicious murder of their employer, leaving his pet jellyfish to Yuji. The venomous jellyfish serves as a metaphor for Yuji’s emancipation from his codependence – like the creature, he’s suddenly out in the world on his own, opening himself to harm and harming others. Writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s film works best as a character study with poetic flourishes, rather than a linear narrative with a redemptive character arc.  

Rating: ***½. Available on DVD

Ocean Waves Poster

Ocean Waves (1993) Tadanobu Asano’s coming-of-age drama (based on a novel by Saeko Himuro) follows two high school friends, Taku and Yutaka who gradually drift apart over a new girl in town, Rikako. While the film takes pains to illustrate Rikako’s fractured home life, it does little to engender much sympathy for her character, who comes across as shamelessly manipulative and self-centered. It’s also hard to feel sorry for Taku, who continues to go along with her schemes. This Studio Ghibli television production is a step down from its theatrical releases, lacking the meticulous attention to detail and enjoyable characters we’ve come to expect from the animation house. It might be worth a look if you’re a Ghibli completist, but compared to the studio’s best, it rings hollow. 

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray and DVD


Killer Car Poster

Killer Car (aka: Ju-on Car) (2008) A more accurate title for this derivative horror flick would probably be Cursed Minivan, but that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it. A group of 20-somethings take a road trip to a secluded waterfall in a second-hand Nissan Elgrand. Unfortunately for the new owner and his passengers, the vehicle once belonged to a serial killer (established in an unnecessarily grisly prelude), and one of the victims now haunts the car. None of it makes a lot of sense, but Killer Car’s worst flaw is that the ensuing attacks seem completely pointless (why would the victim’s ghost attack innocent people instead of the man responsible for her death?). There’s a quick nod to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but that’s about the extent of what passes for inspiration in this movie. 

Rating: *½. Available on Tubi  


  1. A great list of short reviews, Barry, with maybe the exception of the last couple of films.

    I'm impressed that you can restrain yourself when writing about films that sound so awesome that they deserve a longer look. Such as beyond the infinite 2 minutes and the legend of the stardust brothers! Both of which I am very curious about and may have to look into to see if there's an English dub!

    1. Thanks, John! I hope you get to see them! Pure fun. :)

  2. I enjoyed your reviews and can recommend The Ghost of Yotsuya and Black Cat Mansion. Looking forward to checking out the others!

    1. Those two are massively entertaining. Thanks for stopping by!