If Cats Disappeared From the World (世界から猫が消えたなら, Akira Nagai, 2016)

If Cats Disappeared from the worldWhat would you give to live another day? What did you give to live this day? What did you take? Adapting the novel by Genki Kawamura, Akira Nagai takes a step back from the broad comedy of Judge for an Iwai-inflected tale of life thrown into sharp relief by impending death. Less a maudlin meditation on the will to life, If Cats Disappeared from the World (世界から猫が消えたなら, Sekai kara Neko ga Kieta nara) is an existential journey into the mind of a man who believed himself an irrelevance, beloved by no one and living an unfulfilling existence, only to rediscover his essential place in the world at the moment he’s about to vacate it.

An unnamed 30 year old postman (Takeru Satoh) has a freak bicycle accident and is subsequently informed that he has an aggressive brain tumour which may take his life at any moment. Following this traumatic news, the postman returns home to discover his own doppelgänger there, waiting for him. The doppelgänger tells him that he will die tomorrow, unless the postman accepts the offer the doppelgänger is about to make him. There are too many unnecessary and irritating things in the modern world, in return for postponing the postman’s death sentence, the doppelgänger will erase one thing from human society – if only the postman will agree.

As in many similarly themed films of recent times, memories are stored not on hard drives or even in notebooks but in seemingly irrelevant objects with unexpected sentimental value. Quite literally “material culture”, it is the objects which provide the path back to the past and their destruction represents not only the severing of a connection but a kind of erasure of the past itself.

The doppelgänger sets about deleting various items at will which might previously have seemed irrelevant to the postman but turn out to have fundamental connections to the most important aspects of his life. The first item to go is phones (all phones, not just mobiles) which reminds him of his first love (Aoi Miyazaki) whom he met after she dialled a wrong number and recognised the score to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis which he happened to be watching at the time. Phones and movies – the second item on the doppelgänger’s hit list, brought the two together but it couldn’t have happened without the cinephile best friend (Gaku Hamada) the postman met at university who has been his movie mule ever since.  Delete the phone and the movies and the postman loses his first love and best friend to win the right to live on alone for just one day. Cats turn out to have an even more essential role in the postman’s life, one which is painful for him to consider but impossible to ignore.

The protagonist’s occupation, which becomes his name and defining feature, is an ironic one. A mere conveyor of items charged with other people’s memories. he feels like an empty vessel, trapped in an existence devoid of meaning. Yet his strange doppelgänger pushes him to reconsider his place in the world, re-entering a sphere he had long absented himself from. Remembering long forgotten yet life changing holidays with the love of his life or finally coming to understand the silent signs of devotion in his emotionally distant father (Eiji Okuda), the postman finally writes his own letter, the first and last of his life, answering the questions he never wanted to ask.

Finally learning to accept his fate, the postman rediscovers the meaning of life. He may leave with regrets and dreams never to be fulfilled, but wants to believe his life has made a difference, meant something at least. Only as he’s about to leave it does the postman feel himself connected to the world, finally noticing the beauty all around him.

On learning of his condition, the postman’s first thoughts turn to all the movies he’ll never see and the books he’ll never read. The doppelgänger’s determination to delete the movies provokes a quietly passionate defence of the arts but, apparently, they are not worth dying for. Nagai films with a low-key dreaminess as magical realism mixes with wistful nostalgia in the melancholy world of a man who has no future finally falling in love with the past. A celebration of the interconnectedness of all things in a world of increasing isolation, If Cats Disappeared from the World advises you make the most of your time, making the difference only you can make before it’s too late.


Hong Kong trailer (English subtitles)

Rurouni Kenshin 3: The Legend Ends (UK Anime Network Review)

RK3_01jpgThe Legend Ends (for now?) but it certainly goes out in style! Review of the final part of this fantastically awesome trilogy up on UK Anime Network. I really did love these even if part 3 is the weakest part (can I have a Saito spin-off series, please?!).


To state the obvious, this review contains a fair few spoilers if you’ve yet to see Rurouni Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno so please bear that in mind before reading on.

All things must end and the legend of Rurouni Kenshin is coming to a close, for this chapter at least. Continuing on directly from the dramatic cliff hanger ending of Rurouni Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno we’re once again right in the middle of the battle between two former government assassins – the fearless killer Battosai, now rehabilitated and known as Kenshin Himura, and the crazed villain Shishio who narrowly survived being burned on a funeral pyre by the very government who once employed him. Shishio is still hell bent on bringing down the nascent Meiji government, preferably with as much damage as possible and the only one who can stop him is Kenshin – with a little help from his friends, of course!

At the end of the last film, Kenshin found himself washed up on a beach and carried off by a mysterious figure (played by big name actor Masaharu Fukuyama – Like Father Like Son and star of the 2010 Taiga drama Ryomaden also directed by Ohtomo, in a secret cameo). In not quite the biggest coincidence of the film, this figure just happens to be Kenshin’s mentor Seijuro! Which is handy because Kenshin really needs to learn the ultimate swordsmanship technique before he’ll be able to take on Shishio and win. That’s not to mention facing off against Aoshi who just wants to kill Battosai so he can be the number one badass and become today’s prettiest face on all the wanted posters around town. Kenshin certainly has a lot on his plate, but the future of the new Japan rests on his reverse bladed sword alone.

Kyoto Inferno and The Legend Ends were filmed back to back and released with only a short interval between them in Japan – you could argue it’s more one sequel in two parts than two separate films. Picking up right where Kyoto Inferno left off, The Legend Ends maintains the first film’s high production values and impressive action sequences though, it has to be said, with a lengthy lull in the earlier part of the film. Were the two films watched back to back, this “cooling off” period may feel a little more necessary to provide a bit of breathing space between the frenetic ending stretch of Kyoto Inferno and the lengthy battles towards the end of The Legend Ends but when the second film is watched in isolation it can’t help but feel a little slow to get going. Nevertheless, when the battles come, they come thick and fast and display some of the best swordplay sequences of any recent film. Often breathtaking in the fluidity with which it captures these beautifully choreographed sequences, The Legend Ends only improves on the promise of the first two films when it comes to the action stakes.

Unfortunately, this does lead to other aspects of the story being sidelined somewhat. This is really the Kenshin vs Shishio show – not a bad thing in itself but it does mean there’s less time for everyone else. Even big stars like Yu Aoi (Megumi) wind up with one scene only while Emi Takei’s Kaoru is relegated to looking pained in the background. Fan favourite character Sonsosuke gets the most airtime providing his trademark comic relief, and Saito still gets to smoke and look cool with his Drunken Angel era Mifune-like floppy hair to bring his characteristic powerful indifference to every single scene he’s in. Still, fans of the manga in particular may feel disappointed as their favourite scenes and characters get short shrift – especially given the speed at which some of the much feted Ten Swords are met and dispatched in the final battle.

It may be way too long, but The Legend Ends is a fitting finale to this exciting saga. Packing in a number of fantastically choreographed action sequences the film also makes sure to bring Kenshin’s internal story to a satisfying climax (though leaving room for a return to his world should the opportunity arise). Engaging performances, interesting direction and high production values all ensure this trilogy of Rurouni Kenshin live action films has been one of the most successful Japanese mainstream efforts of recent times. Another sterling effort from this expert team, The Legend Ends may not be the strongest entry in the series, but remains a fantastically enjoyable treat!


Out in (very) selected cinemas from today, 17th April 2015

Here’s where it’s on (good luck!):

  • Cineworld Bolton
  • Cineworld Cardiff
  • Cineworld Crawley
  • Cineworld Enfield
  • Cineworld Glasgow Renfrew St.
  • Cineworld Sheffield
  • Cineworld Stevenage
  • Cineworld West India Quay

Rurouni Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno (UK Anime Network Review)

ruruoni_kenshin_the_kyoto_inferno_still(saito’s just so cool!)

Review of the first Rurouni Kenshin sequel, Rurouni Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno up at UK Anime Network.


At the end of the first Rurouni Kenshin live action film, you might have been forgiven for thinking that this once wandering warrior had finally found a place to hang up his (reverse blade) sword for good. As fans of Nobuhiro Watsuki’s much loved manga and its anime adaptation will know, there’s no such luck for Himura Kenshin or the long suffering Kaoru as once again Kenshin will be called upon to put his unique skills to use and this time the very survival of Japan’s new era of modernism and equality is at stake!

Having successfully seen off would be drug baron Kanryuu and the false Battosai Jin-e, once remorseless killer Kenshin (Takeru Satoh) has moved into the dojo run by Kaoru (Emi Takei) and made a seemingly joyful life alongside Kaoru’s only pupil, the boy Yahiko (Kaito Oyagi), the doctor Megumi (Yu Aoi) and loud mouth Sanosuke (Munekata Aoki). However, the happy family’s peace is about to be rudely interrupted as an envoy from the Home Minister arrives and requests a private meeting with Kenshin. It seems an old enemy once believed dead has been discovered to be alive and currently plotting terrible vengeance against the new government in Kyoto. Shishio’s skills are matched only by Kenshin and so the government wishes to make use of his services once again to stop this new threat to the development of the modernising Japan. However, Kenshin has laid down his sword and dedicated his life to atoning for the lives he took as a warrior – will he really return to the life of a wandering swordsman? Originally reluctant and very much against the wishes of Kaoru, a tragic event finally convinces Kenshin he has no choice but to stop Shishio whatever the cost!

Even more so that the first film, Rurouni Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno is set against the backdrop of a Japan in the middle of earth shattering cultural shifts. The age of the Shogun is over, there are no more samurai or feudal loyalties to fulfil. This fresh new world of possibilities has no place left in it for the men who fought so bravely to bring it into being. Some, like Kenshin, hung up their swords and set themselves into atoning for the violence of the past by vowing to build a better, kinder, future. Others, however, like Shishio, were left with nothing other than the desire to return to a world where their skills mattered – the familiar world of lords and castles and glorious battles. Kenshin and Shishio are two sides of the same coin – light and shadow. Having been assassinated and thrown on a funeral pyre before miraculously surviving thanks to a fortuitous fall of snow, Shishio has made fire his very own symbol and primary weapon of attack. This new world is a hell for him and along with his bandage clad gang of followers, he’s about to plunge all of Japan into a fiery abyss too.

The first instalment was also notable for its fairly high production values and if anything, Kyoto Inferno even improves upon the original film’s impressive aesthetics. Fire in particular has often proved something of a bug bear for the modern action film and as you might expect from the title Kyoto Inferno is jam packed with flaming action. From its extremely striking opening scene, Kyoto Inferno lays on some of the most complex and beautifully filmed action sequences to be seen in a Japanese film in quite some time. Where it falls down slightly is bound up with its nature as the first part of a two part film as it is does begin to pile on the sub plots and risks becoming overloaded while the original gang (and particularly Yu Aoi’s doctor Megumi) end up with relatively little to do. Likewise, as with the first film the more manga-like elements such as some of the overly broad comedy or a couple of characters who are just the wrong sort of outrageous don’t quite fit with the otherwise classical feeling of the film though fans of the manga franchise may appreciate this attempt at remaining faithful to the source material.

In many ways the Rurouni Kenshin movies are just fluffy mainstream action films (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but Rurouni Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno is that rarest of beasts in that it manages to build on the foundations of the first film to become something greater with the result that it even helps to elevate the original. Of course, this largely hinges on how well the last part of the trilogy, appropriately entitled The Legend Ends will fare but suffice to say the first two thirds have stood it in very good stead. Action packed but with a tightly plotted storyline, convincing characters, good performances and high production values Rurouni Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno offers everything that’s good about blockbusters without any of the drawbacks. In fact the only real problem that the film presents is the likely long wait until The Lengend Ends finally arrives!


 

This is out in UK cinemas from Friday 28th November 2014 when it’ll play all these cool places:

  • Cineworld Enfield
  • Cineworld Crawley
  • Cineworld Sheffield
  • Cineworld West India Quay
  • Cineworld Glasgow RS
  • Cineworld Cardiff
  • Cineworld Stevenage
  • Cineworld Bolton
  • Vue Piccadilly (London)

Well worth seeing on the big screen, might even be better than the first one!