Sunday, February 3, 2008

Genghis "Sharkskin Zombie" Khan

Bug recently showed me the trailer to Sergei Bodrov’s "Mongol," a movie about Temujin (Genghis Khan) on Twitch. Yet another movie to add to my list of Tadanobu Asano films that is surely to be awesome.

If you went to the Twitch link above and clicked on "Launch the video player," you will likely not be automatically linked to the preview of "Mongol." Click on the 2nd letter "M" tab, and you should see the movie listed.

The trailer that played when I went there was a Thai movie, Prachya Pinkaew’s "ช็อคโกแลต" (Chocolate) (2008). From the trailer, it looks like Rain Man meets Neo (Matrix)/Ichi (Ichi the Killer) meets Ong Bak...packaged in a girl's body. Looks entertaining and painful!

From what I've been able to glean in various write-ups of the film, "Mongol" is not centered around Genghis Khan's battles that secured him the largest empire our world has known, but focusing on how he rose to power.

Mongol (2007)

I love Tadanobu Asano because he plays varied roles and does quirky really well. He is an expressive actor who doesn't have to speak to convey the moment. To parallel him with an actor in American cinema, he is reminiscent of Johnny Depp.

My favorite films of his are "Tokyo Zombie," "Hana Yori mo Naho" (Hana), and "Samehada-Otoko to Momojiri-Onna" (Sharkskin Man and Peach Hip Girl).

Sakichi Sato's "Tokyo Zombie" falls into many categories, being a funny, sensitive, quirky, cultural, socio-political zombie movie that anyone can watch and take something away after seeing it.

The movie is set in modern day Tokyo before a backdrop of Black Fuji, a mountain-sized heap of rubbish of all sorts imaginable. Asano and his co-worker/sempai/buddy (Sho Aikawa) are obsessed with jujitsu and spar often at work with mats laid out. One day, their boss comes around quite annoyed with them and our duo accidentally kill him. The two set out to get rid of the body at, of course, Black Fuji - this quest is hilarious and disturbing. Soon, all the bodies that have been dumped there become zombies.

One of my favorite scenes in this film is when the two drive their work truck, headed to Russia, to get away from the zombie infestation and stop by an empty convenience store. The older and wise Aikawa tells Asano what to get - a list of [real] food to take on their journey - as he waits in their getaway truck. In Asano fashion, he sees a display of Chipple (snack) and stands there almost in awe - a Homer Simpson donut moment. Of course, Aikawa is enraged when he finds that all Asano returns with are bags of Chipple.

Despite the zaniness, like zombie wrestling that reaches celebrity status on national tv, this is a great story about friendship, our environment, and obsession.

Tokyo Zombie (2005)

On the surface, Hirokazu Koreeda's Hana is a somewhat light-hearted samurai film sprinkled with humor. A samurai is killed so it is the son's (Junichi Okada) duty to avenge his father's death, despite his lack of skill with the sword. While in search of his father's killer (Asano), he experiences life in a different world as a result of living in a tenament and observes his father's killer under a different light. The killer isn't a grotesque monster that one would expect.

While Asano's character is crucial to this movie, he is woven into the fabric of the film rather than being the film; even the 47 ronin from Ako make an appearance. It is interesting to see Okada's honor-bound duty of revenge taking a back seat. The review on Twitch does a stellar job in summarizing the movie.

Hana Yori mo Naho (2006)

Katsuhito Ishii’s Samehada is an action-comedy based on a manga by Minetaro Mochizuki. Asano plays Kurou Samehada, a stylish and hip gangster who is being hunted down because he has taken some liberty with yakuza money. While on the run, he bumps into straight-laced Toshiko Momojiri, who is trying to escape from her uncle's perversions, while working at his hotel.

There are other storylines that are interlaced with our couple's adventure. There is a scene at the end that reminded me of the end of "12 Monkeys" (1995).

The arc of this movie is oft produced in print and film. I feel it is the cast, larger than life characters, and execution that makes this more enjoyable than the next romantic action flick on the shelf.

Samehada-Otoko to Momojiri-Onna (1998)

"Rampo Jigoku" (Rampo Noir, 2005) [jigoku = hell] is interesting, some may say disturbing (it's Rampo, duh!), 4-story anthology. Each story is directed by a different director - Suguru Takeuchi ("Kasei no Unga"), Akio Jissoji ("Kagami Jigoku"), Hisayasu Sato ("Imomushi"), and Atsushi Kaneko ("Mushi"). Asano plays a character in each, from the meticulous Holmes-like investigator, Akechi Kogoro, to an obsessive-compulsive hypochondriac sociopath. The ending of the last story was rather grotesquely funny - to me. I doubt anyone will dispute that it's memorable. Rampo is not a movie one would typically watch on a first date or during a family function.

The polar opposite, Katsuhito Ishii’s "Cha no Aji," (Taste of Tea, 2004) is a simple movie about the daily life of a family of 5 in a village near modern-day Tokyo over a summer. The family consists of a hypnotherapist father, animator mother, elementary school-aged daughter, teenaged son, and grandfather, a retired animator. Asano plays a relative, a music producer in Tokyo, who stops by for an extended visit. Maya Banno, the daughter, certainly steals the show!

This movie allows you to voyeuristically watch a teenager's crush on a girl; a father consumed by his work; a mother struggling to break back into the field of animation; a little girl on a quest to find a way to make her alter ego (giant version of her) go away; and a quirky grandfather observing his family at the sunset of his life.

The movie's greatness is a result of its utter simplicity. It makes no claims of being the coolest, loudest, goriest, fastest, smartest, ..., it just is.

Cha no Aji

I suppose I should stop here...

- Cassaendra

Samehada-Otoko to Momojiri-Onna - movie intro

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