Media. Films reviewed: Late Night, Fly Me to the Saitama

Posted in comedy, Japan, LGBT, Manga, TV, Women by CulturalMining.com on June 14, 2019

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Spring film festival season continues in Toronto. The Japanese film fest is showing great movies at the JCCC (Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre), and the ICFF (Italian Contemporary Film Fest) which started just last night is showing films in Toronto and across Canada.

This week I’m talking about two new comedies, one that closed Inside Out, and another that’s opening at Toronto Japanese Film Fest. There’s a talk show host in New York who might lose her job, and a suburban freedom fighter in Tokyo who might lose his life.

Late Night

Dir: NIsha Ganatra

Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) is a late night talk show host on Network TV. She’s known for her erudite interviews, highbrow topics and funny monologues. She sticks to the tried and true, steering clear of gossip, pop culture and social networks. She’s a highly respected host and the only woman on late night TV.

She’s also tired, boring and tanking in the ratings. So much so, the network chief gives her an ultimatum: get with times or we’ll replace you. An offensive fratboy standup is already being groomed to take her place. What can she do?

In walks Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling), fresh from a chemical plant in Pennsylvania. She has no experience as a writer, but happens to be in the right place at the right time, and is hired to add some spark to a moribund, all-male writers’ room. But she faces a wall of sexist, priveleged white guys, who resent her intrusion. This has been a bastion of male writers for so long they have even co-opted women’s washroom!

And their boss, Katherine – the show’s host – is a petty dictator, who never talks to her writers but demands long hours and absolute obedience. Only the newly-hired Molly is naïve enough to flout the rules. Can Molly fit into an all-male workplace? And can she change Katherine’s mindset enough to set theshow on a new course… before she gets gets fired or the show gets canned?

Late Night is a clever look at late-night TV. While not a slapstick comedy, it does have a enough character jokes, awkward situations and one-liners (some work, some don’t) which keep you smiling if not always rolling on the floor. It follows the dynamics of a cruel but insecure boss trying to change, and the newby who keeps getting herself in trouble.

It also follows the two main characters’ lovelifes. Katherine has a faithful but reclusive husband (John Lithgow). Molly is initially hit on by writers from the show: the womanizer Charlie (Hugh Dancy) and the snobbish Tom (Reid Scott) who both think a woman writer is there to date, but not to take seriously.

Emma Thompson is believable as the talk show host and Mindy Kaling (she’s also the movie’s writer) is fun as the small-town, fish out of water.

I liked this movie.

Fly me to the Saitama (翔んで埼玉)

Dir: Hideki Takeuchi

It’s present-day Tokyo (sort of). It’s actually a feudal version dressed in modern garb, patrolled by violent Robocop storm troopers dressed in clingy, white bodysuits who capture and expell any “outsiders” from beyond the city’s borders. The most reviled place of all is Saitama, a suburban prefecture just to the city’s north. It’s known as Dasai-tama, Urusai-tama, Mendokusai-tama, Ahokusai-tama (meaning out of fashion, inconvenient, noisy… and worse.) Your status is determined by your Urban Index Rating.

Momomi (Nikaido Fumi) is the Student Council President at the prestigious Hakuhodo Academy. He’s an arrogant snob who dresses like Little Lord Fauntleroy with a blonde pageboy haircut. He is the son of the deeply corrupt, hereditary governor of Metropolitan Tokyo and next in line to take the throne. And he is served by his mysterious butler Akutsu (Iseya Yusuke) who anticipates his every move.

But order is threatened by the arrival of an unknown wealthy aristocrat named Rei (Gackt). Rei spent many years in America and can distinguish the various neighbourhoods of Tokyo merely by sense of smell. And his urban rating is higher even than Momomi’s. Momomi is furious and wants to have him killed… until their first kiss. Momomi is swept away in his arms. But Rei has a secret…

He’s actually from Saitama! If the secret is revealed he will be humiliated, expelled from Tokyo, or maybe even killed. Can Momomi accept Rei’s true identity? And can Rei overthrow the powers that be and free the people of Saitama forever?

That’s a very quick and simple sketch of this movie, but it’s actually about so much more. Fly Me to the Saitama is an absolutely bizarre, over-the-top satire of urban culture, based on a gag-style manga from the 1980s. The characters all wear elaborate rococo costumes and multi-coloured, enormous hairstyles. Like in many girls comics (aka shojo manga) both of the main romantic characters are boys, in this one Momomi is played by a woman. And the whole movie is loaded with plays on words, and references to old Japan. Still, with a bit of suspension of disbelief, I think it’s totally understandable.

It’s directed by Takeuchi Hideki, who brought us Thermae Romae, about a Roman centurian who is magically transported through time from a Roman bath to a Japanese sento. This movie is also fantastical and bizarre, and will keep you shaking your head in bewildered wonder. Fly Me to the Saitama is already smash hit in Japan, one of the few local film successes so far this year, grossing over a billion yen. If you’re into Japanese pop culture, this movie is a must-see.

Late Night opens today in Toronto; check your local listings. Fly me to the Saitama is playing at the Toronto Japanese Film Festival.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com.

Daniel Garber talks with Our Little Sister director Kore-eda Hirokazu at #TIFF15

Posted in Cultural Mining, Drama, Family, Japan, Manga, Movies by CulturalMining.com on July 22, 2016

0A7A0280Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 fm.

Three adult sisters — Sachi, Yoshino, and Chika — live together in a spacious, old-fashioned house beside a shady plum tree. They last saw their father years before when he left to shack up with another woman. Their mother also moved on leaving the three girls to function as a family unit. But when they go to their fathers funeral in a far away town, they first meet Suzu their Kore-eda Hirokazu father’s youngest daughter, who is now an orphan. In a sudden decision, they invite her to come live with them, as their new little sister.

Our Little Sister is also the name of a new film premiering at TIFF. It’s directed by Japanese master filmmaker Kore-eda Hirokazu. Kore-eda is known for his subtle but deeply moving dramas looking at life, death, kinship and unusual families. I spoke to him in September, 2015 at the Intercontinental Hotel during #TIFF15.

Our Little Sister opens today in Toronto.

Photos by Jeff Harris

Daniel Garber talks with Sono Sion and Young Dais about Tokyo Tribe at TIFF14

Posted in Cultural Mining, Gangs, Hiphop, Japan, Manga, Movies, Musical, 日本映画 by CulturalMining.com on September 19, 2014

_MG_9585 Sono Sion Young Dais Tokyo Tribe TIFF14 photo © Jeff HarrisHi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Imagine a dystopian future, where Tokyo is divided up into neighbourhoods ruled by rival gangs, that jealously guard their borders. Follow the  train up the east side of the city and you’ll hit places like Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro, and further out Musashino and Nerima.lOpKoJ__tokyotribe_01_o3__8260247__1406658260

Musashino is peace and love; the character Kai just wants to hang with his bros at the local Denny’s (aka Penny’s). But ‘Bukuro is a land of brothels, gangsters, kidnappers and cannibals. Nera, a ‘Bukuro blonde muscleman has it in for Kai. Will this lead to all out war between the Tokyo Tribes?

Z4Wl12__tokyotribe_04_o3__8260377__1406658263Tokyo Tribe is the name of a new movie based on the manga by Inoue Santa. It’s a fantastical epic shot as a hip-hop musical, full of crowds, choreographed fights, a constant beat and more flashing lights than a pachinko parlour. It’s directed by Sono Sion, known for Guilty of Romance, Cold Fish, and Why Don’t You Play in Hell?. He’s always testing the limits of what can be shown in a film… and then _MG_9603 Sono sion and Young Dais Tokyo Tribe TIFF14 photo © Jeff Harrisgoing beyond that limitation. The movie stars Young Dais, well-known Japanese rapper, doing double-duty as a movie star. It opened at The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF14), as part of Midnight Madness. I spoke with director Sono Sion and rapper Young Dais at the Royal York Hotel.

Offbeat Mainstream Movies. Films Reviewed: The Frankenstein Theory, I’m So Excited, Thermae Romae

Posted in comedy, Horror, Japan, Manga, Rome, Spain, Uncategorized, Yukon by CulturalMining.com on July 5, 2013

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies forculturalmining.comand CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, documentary, genre and mainstream films, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

Is it an oxymoron to be both mainstream and offbeat? This week I’m looking at movies conventional in their genres, but unusual in their subject matter, style or location. There’s a horror movie that takes place in the arctic; a campy comedy that flies through the skies; and a manga rom-com that takes place… in a bathtub!

Frankenstein theory posterThe Frankenstein Theory

Dir: Andrew Weiner

John (Kris Lemche) is a young university professor in LA whose pet theory has landed him in hot water. He is convinced – based on some old manuscripts and letters he found – that Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein was not a story. It’s all true. And not only is it true, but Frankenstein’s monster – the man himself — is still alive, hundreds of years later.

And where does he live? All the maps he has point to the far north. So he sets off with a camera crew to Whitehorse, Yukon. From there, with the help of Karl (Timothy Murphy), a chiseled-featured guide with an unplaceable accent, they head up to the sub-zero temperatures of the tundra.

Soon enough they are camped out in a wooden yurt in the middle of nowhere. John is convinced that this where they’ll find frankenstein’s monster. They spend dark nights listening to howling wolves and Karl’s stories of fighting polar bears.

But when they wake to find human footsteps in the snow, they realize that someone with very big feet is watching them. Is it the monster? What will they do if they actually meet him? And is it safe to fool around with modern nature? Soon enough, they realize they may have bit off more than they can chew… and that they might be chewed up themselves.

This Blair Witch-style found-footage horror movie is a bit eerie with some breathtaking arctic scenery (for once, the US is masquerading as Canada, not vice-versa). I like the premise, and there are some neat parts involving a meth-head, huskies, and snow drifts; and the acting is generally pretty good. But the plot is unbelievably predictable.  Most important, for a thriller/horror movie this just not scary enough.

I'm so excited 1 Raúl Arévalo as Ulloa, Carlos Areces as Fajas & Javier Cámara as Joserra. Photo by Paola Ardizzoni & Emilio Pereda © El Deseo, Courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsI’m So Excited

Dir: Pedro Almodovar

A plane flying from Spain to Mexico runs into trouble with its landing gear. After putting the economy class to sleep using muscle relaxants the staff has to deal with the eccentric business class passengers: A bald CEO; a mysterious, moustachioed Mexican; a much-feared female celebrity; a shy psychic who wants to lose her virginity; a young couple on their honeymoon; and a middle-aged actor with marital difficulties. Each one has a secret to be revealed.

Meanwhile the flamboyantly gay flight attendants and their macho pilots trade sexual barbs, innuendos and hidden rendezvous in the cockpit and washrooms, even as the plane endlessly circles airports, still unable to land.

We discover the passengers’ stories via two odd features of the plane. All i'm so excited 6 José María Yazpik as Infante and Cecilia Roth as Norma Photo by Paola Ardizzoni & Emilio Pereda © El Deseo, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classicstelephone conversations are broadcast on the PA system; and one flight attendant Joserra (Javier Camara) always tells the complete truth whenever asked a question.

Like Woody Allen, Almadovar started as a comedy director, only later turning to serious dramas. I’m So Excited is a screwball-style comedy harkening back to his early days. This is comedy at its most camp. The flamboyant flight attendants feel compelled to ogle every man, gossip with every woman, and perform lip-synch dances up and down the aisle.

i'm so excited 2 Hugo Silva as Benito Morón, Lola Duenas as Bruna, Javier Cámara as Joserra and Antonio De La Torre as Alex Acero Photo by Paola Ardizzoni & Emilio Pereda © El Deseo, Courtesy of Sony Pictures ClassicsI really like movies with twisted plots, strange characters and unexpected revelations – there are lots of lots of those. And the plot turns (things like a telephone call followed from the sky to the ground and back again, involving multiple coincidences) were great. And it’s fun to see lots of the old Almodovar stalwarts, like Cecelia Roth.

But at times the humour felt strangely dated, and most of the gags fell flat. (Were they lost in translation? Who knows?) I just wasn’t laughing as much as I expected. So if you plan to see this movie, go for the story, not for the laughs.

Thermae_Romae_posterThermae Romae

Dir: Hideki Takeuchi (Based on the popular manga by Mari Yamazaki)

Lucius (Hiroshi Abe) is an architect in ancient Rome under the reign of Hadrian. He always enjoys a dip in a thermae romae – that is, a roman bath. Mami (Aya Ueto) is an office worker (and budding comic book artist) in present day Japan. She also frequents the local sento or public bath.

But one day, strange circumstances suck the naked Roman down a whirlpool20130312beam and spit him out again into a pool of doddering, elderly Japanese men. Who are these “flat-faced” people who speak no Latin? Pretty but bumbling Mami falls for him, of course, but keeps her passions in check. Handsome Lucius, on the other hand, is fascinated mainly by the advanced technology he finds: the mundane accoutrements taken for granted in modern times. And when he is transported back to ancient Rome he revitalizes his career with his new inventions. They meet up again in a hot springs, in a client’s plumbing display, and other strange places. Can Mami and Lucius find true love in a relationship spanning time and space? And can the relentlessly hardworking nature of the Japanese people rescue Lucius’s Rome in its time of trouble?

Hiroshi-Abe-and-Aya-Ueto-in-Thermae-Romae3This is one of the strangest mainstream movies around, combining the mundane minutiae of  Japanese daily life with outrageous fantasy. This, combined with toilet humour and bathhouse lore, make a very weird but totally fascinating movie. Based on a manga, it has a serial comic book’s plotting, that makes it feel more like a TV sitcom ( a series of episodes with recurring characters who solve problems and then move on) than a traditional movie:. But I thought it was hilarious, and uniquely Japanese in its odd and eccentric ordinariness.

The Frankenstein Theory starts today at the Big Picture Cinema; I’m So Excited also opens today at the Varsity in Toronto – check your local listings; and Thermae Romae is another great movie playing at Toronto’s Italian Contemporary Film Festival which is on right now – go to icff.ca for more information.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website,culturalmining.com.

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