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Japanese Cinema
War in Space
War in Space (1977)
Japanese Cinema Review

If you like your cheeeze with an extra helping of CHEEEZE, then "War in Space" is just for you. While this 1977 Japanese Sci-Fi adventure was obviously funded in response to Star Wars (although "Message from Space" is more clearly in that realm), it actually takes it's plotline more from the anime classic Space Battleship Yamato (Starblazers), except this time the space battleship is armed with the drill missile and not the wave motion gun (shhh! You're giving away the secret plot twist!)

War in Space - Japanese film from 1977This movie has it all; a romantic triangle, heroic sacrifices, monsters, aliens, things that explode, plastic models on strings, blue space backdrops, a wise and honorable captain, a rash upstart combat leader, and spaceplanes that launch from a giant revolver (we are not kidding)... You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll kiss 5 bucks goodbye! This is party-movie-night fodder with popcorn and coke.

Wonderfully transferred to DVD from Discotek Media (who is rapidly becoming my favorite source of Japanese films), they've done a bang-up job giving us a clean "toho-scope" (widescreen) print with the subtitles thankfully in the black bars above or below the onscreen action, so it never interferes with the image (except for rare occurrences where there's a huge amount of dialog).

So, if making your own "Mystery Science Theater 3000" sounds like your thing, War in Space is a wonderful addition to your collection of movies that are so good, they are badass.

War in Space - Japanese film from 1977

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, July 2012

Battle Royale
Battle Royale (2000)
Japanese Cinema Review

Have you seen "The Hunger Games" yet? Or read the book? Now you should see the film that may be its inspiration, or at the very least, what may be considered it's cultural predecessor.

"Battle Royale" is a Japanese film from 2000 based on a novel by the same name by author Koushun Takami, which tells essentially the same story as the Hunger Games, and certainly features EXCATLY the same premise; teenagers forced by an oppressive government to fight to the death. And of course, this being a Japanese action film, you can bet this version is considerably more violent, with lots more gunplay and sword-slashing, and certainly more gore (definitely not for the younger ones, who may find that they are going to have nightmares afterwards).

Battle RoyaleForty-two students, three days, one deserted Island: welcome to Battle Royale. A group of ninth-grade students from a Japanese high school have been forced by legislation to compete in a Battle Royale. The students are each given a bag with a randomly selected weapon and a few rations of food and water and sent off to kill each other in a no-holds-barred (with a few minor rules) game to the death, which means that the students have three days to kill each other until one survives--or else they all will die.

The movie focuses on a few of the students and how they cope. Some decide to play the game like the psychotic Kiriyama or the sexual Mistuko, while others like the heroes of the movie--Shuya, Noriko, and Kawada--are trying to find a way to get off the Island without violence. However, as the numbers dwell down lower and lower on an hourly basis, is there any way for Shuya and his classmates to survive?

Battle Royale

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, May 2012

Sayonara Jupiter
Sayonara Jupiter (1984)
Japanese Cinema DVD Review

If you've ever wondered how the Japanese would rip-off, remake, regurgitate, or otherwise recycle Stanley Kubrick's iconic 2001: A Space Odyessy, here it is in all it's wacked-out glory. First, a warning: when you go to play this DVD, make sure you set it up for English subtitles. It's not set automatically, and you won't know until more than 15 minutes into the film, as all the American Actors speak English, while the Japanese Actors speak Japanese, which makes the whole film even *more* confusing.

Sayonara JupiterThe plot surrounds a black hole headed for Earth (sound familiar Yamato fans?), but the solution here is to try and blow up the planet Jupiter to deflect the trajectory (where's Bruce Willis when you need him?). Meantime, an ecological terrorist organization wants to preserve Jupiter, so they plot to put a stop to whole thing. There are a zillion tanget subplots just to mix things up and make the film as incomprehensible as it can.

Part of the fun of watching Sayonara Jupiter is picking out what SciFi films they are paying homage to, and what Hollywood blockbusters have ripped off elements from this back at them. How I wish I had Tom Servo to provide commentary. It may also be the first SciFi flick with a legitimate zero-G sex scene, which would be pretty erotic if it wasn't so incredibly cheeezey. However, no expense was spared to make the special effects as eye-popping as possible and that's the only portion of this film that has aged well. However, I suspect that Stanley is still trying to sue the producers, even from the grave.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, July 2011

GUNHED (1989)
Japanese Cinema DVD Review

Hey... wanna watch a REALLY, REALLY BAD MOVIE? If Mystery Science Theater 3000 ever makes a comeback, we nominate this for their first episode. It's literally one of those "so bad that it's good" films, which ironically, makes this film a recommended pick.

For one, it looks GREAT, even for a 20-yr old movie, secondly, it's like the last of the "models on wires" Kaiju-type films before computers came along and changed the landscape of special effects forever. And thirdly, I've got a stack of anime magazines from 1989 that hyped this film shamelessly, so I personally was dying to see it at some point.

GUNHEDGunhed ranks up there as a true cyberpunk film, like Freejack and Hardware -- in that you have very little idea of what's going on for half the film, and then the other half of the film never makes any sense in relation to the first half. Of course, Hollywood has made mistakes like that even on big-budget flicks (Alien IV, anyone?), so we're going to cut Gunhed some slack, even though Bandai and Sunrise probably spent a bloody fortune making this thing.

GUNHEDWith a bucket of popcorn and a 2-liter bottle of coke, you're ready to take on this film as it moves quickly (too quickly, half the cast gets killed before you ever even learn their names!) and never stops being a rollercoaster ride of pure action. It still doesn't make the least bit of sense, and can be downright corny (Texmexium? Come on!) but who cares? Stuff blows up and that's really all I ever need in a film.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, December 2010

A Hundred Years of Japanese Film
A Hundred Years of Japanese Film
Japanese Cinema Book Review

Donald Richie is one of the foremost authorities on Japanese cinema. After serving as Curator of Film at MOMA, Richie moved to Japan, where he immersed himself in the Japanese film world, eventually producing several classic works, including books on the world-renowned directors Kurosawa and Ozu.
A Hundred Years of Japanese Film
In this book, Richie offers a highly-readable insider's look at the achievements of Japanese filmmakers. He begins in the late 1800s when the incipient industry took its inspiration from the traditional stories of Kabuki and Noh theater, and finishes with the latest award-winning dramas showcased at Cannes.

For the movie-going reader, a selective guide in Part Two provides capsule reviews of the major Japanese films available in VHS and DVD formats, as well as those televised on standard and cable channels.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, August 2003

Buy from Amazon
TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion
Japanese Cinema Book Review

There are quite a few books out there if you want to know a lot about Godzilla or Akira Kurosawa, but if you want to know about yakuza films, or great actors like Sonny Chiba and Bunta Sugawara, or Kinji Fukasaku, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, thenTokyoScope is worth adding to your collection.

One of the cooler facts we found in this book was that Samuel L. Jackson's Biblical speech in Pulp Fiction was borrowed from the brain-damaged Sonny Chiba karate flick "The Bodyguard". TokyoScope is a densely packed and illustrated volume full of trivia, biographies, poster art, and reviews of some 100 of the top films to see. It provides an attractive and accessible introduction to the world's most notorious movies and is an indispensable reference that belongs in the library of any true cult film fan.

Reviewed by Michael Pinto, October 2002

The Machine Girl
The Machine Girl (2008)
Japanese Cinema DVD Review

Yes, that's really a Vulcan Canon attached from her elbow down.

For those of you who loved Grindhouse, this fantasy-fest of gore, non-stop action, ultra-violence, flying bullets, and the wackiest collection of weapons you've ever seen (a drill bra?), will either have you howling with laughter or cheering at the exploits of the heroine. Either way, you'll be entertained, and that's what counts!

The Machine GirlSporting the largest amount of blood *ever* in a live-action film (characters are literally being firehosed with the stuff), Machine Girl is the tale of unrelenting revenge when Ami's brother and friend are killed by ruthless bullies. Although she makes a decent effort to avenge them, she soon finds herself in over her head, and minus her left arm. Barely surviving, she makes her way to two friendly mechanics who stitch her up and fit her with a high powered machine gun.

After that, well, things just get really, really, incredibly wacky. Let's just say that no matter how much you think you've seen everything, you won't be expecting this.

Chock-full of everything that makes killer movies like this only come out of places like Japan or Hong Kong, this film is not only sure to become a cult-classic, but may set a new standard for absolute schlock! It's a new high point for low!

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, June 2008

Ringu (1998)
Ringu (1998)
Japanese Cinema DVD Review

Perhaps you remember the 2002 blockbuster "The Ring", which supposedly scared audiences from Coast to Coast. In Japan, however, the film was a yawn — because they'd already seen it.

Ringu (1998)This is the ORIGINAL film that "The Ring" was based on. Fans of the U.S. version will find a less elaborate storyline and more primal fear in the original; the basic plot, however, still has a worried reporter (Nanako Matsushima) tracking down the meaning of the video—and, having watched it herself, she has only a week to uncover the mystery of its origin. With a smaller budget, but a far more artistic flair, this film builds up the suspense and becomes much creepier than the American remake. It will have you unplugging the TV set at night so you can go to sleep.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, January 2004

Returner (2002)
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Returner (2002)
Japanese Cinema DVD Review

In yet another victory of style over substance comes this wonderfully derivative live-action anime film. Combining elements of The Matrix, E.T., The Terminator, and Independence Day, plus a dash of Back to the Future, director Takashi Yamazaki throws it all into a blender and hits frappe!

Returner: Live action anime...Returner is every sci-fi movie you've ever seen, plus a few more, and yet, it's vastly entertaining, and in an odd way, fresh. Miyimoto, played by the stunning Takeshi Kaneshiro, is really a live action anime character – perfect good-looks, a tough, brooding attitude hiding a sweet heart, brightly colored hair streaks, and volatile temper. Not for kids (due to excessive violence), but definitely cool.

Reviewed by Brian Cirulnick, December 2004

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