New documentary examines changing face of Shimokitazawa, 2003-2014

Written by: William on February 27, 2015 at 8:56 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Shimokita: 2003 to 2014 is a new documentary charting the changes in the landscape of one of Tokyo’s best-loved areas.

Located just west of Shinjuku and Shibuya, Shimokitazawa (aka Shimokita) is the site of a major redevelopment plan, which is protested by residents.

shimokitazawa documentary 2003 2014 station redevelopment plans

Long a charming chaos of two overlapping train lines and multiple railway crossings, the controversial redevelopment of the station into an underground complex meant we had to say goodbye to some of the most atmosphere arcades and shops and restaurants around the Odakyu railway line. Needless to say, this land won’t be turned over to public use when there’s a buck to be made.

shimokitazawa documentary 2003 2014 station redevelopment plans

shimokitazawa documentary 2003 2014 station redevelopment plans

There have been other redevelopments, such as the large commercial building erected behind the station, full of the generic chains that can be found anywhere in Japan.

It is all connected to a wider, long-dormant local government redevelopment project that, its detractors say, will turn Shimokita into a calm suburban district like nearby Kyodo. Nice for land prices and real estate agents, but not for counterculture. Route 54 will be extended and Shimokita’s trademark narrow alleyways face “rezoning”.

Shimokitazawa is the center of Japan’s fringe theatre scene and is also home to many music venues. Like Ura-Harajuku or Koenji, the neighborhood is a warren of independent shops, restaurants and bars. That being said, there is plenty of chic outlets for the discerning shopper and cool hang-outs for the fussy hipster. Nonetheless, there is a tangible buzz on the streets which you cannot find in major developed centers like Shinjuku or Shibuya.

shimokitazawa documentary 2003 2014 station redevelopment plans

shimokitazawa documentary 2003 2014 station redevelopment plans

shimokitazawa documentary 2003 2014 station redevelopment plans

The 95-minute documentary follows the progress of the redevelopment plans and other contributions to the Shimokita cultural scene.

Shimokita: 2003 to 2014 is screening at Tollywood (a venue in Shimokita, natch) until March 13th.

Take a long look at Shimokita, since it won’t be the same in the near future.

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Stay at the Godzilla Room inside Hotel Gracery, opening April in Kabukicho, Shinjuku

Written by: William on February 25, 2015 at 9:02 am | In CULTURE, LIFESTYLE | No Comments

The new Hotel Gracery opens in Kabukicho in the heart of Shinjuku on April 24th, part of the changing landscape of a district more known for sleaze than sightseeing.

This being a Japanese hotel, they decided to create a special themed room to celebrate the opening. And they chose Godzilla!

godzilla hotel gracery shinjuku kabukicho themed room tokyo

Up on the thirtieth floor, the Godzilla Room will cost you just under ¥40,000 (over $300) for a weeknight, while at weekends and holidays the rate jumps to nearly ¥50,000 (over $400). It features a chamber decked out in items from the Godzilla films, including a large model of the iconic kaiju. Even the restroom is decorated in Godzillas. Best of all, though, is Godzilla’s hand bursting through the wall to grab you while you sleep. Definitely guaranteed to help you get a good night’s sleep.

If you are lucky enough to secure a reservation, you can stay at the Godzilla Room between May 6th and June 30th.

godzilla hotel gracery shinjuku kabukicho themed room tokyo

For a different experience, you can go for one of the two ninth floor Godzilla View Rooms, offering you a vista of Japan’s most famous beast at your window. Staying at one of these will cost you a mere ¥15,000 ($125) per night — pretty much the cost of a regular central Shinjuku hotel room.

godzilla hotel gracery shinjuku kabukicho themed room tokyo

The choice of Godzilla is not merely due to the newly revived popularity of the monster movie series, which has come thanks to a Hollywood film last year and another home-grown live-action reboot scheduled for the future.

godzilla hotel gracery shinjuku kabukicho themed room tokyo

The hotel building also includes a Toho movie theater complex and Toho is, of course, the film studio responsible for the Godzilla franchise. On top of the cinema there is going to be a huge Godzilla head, which, Kotaku says, “will peek out of the Toho Cinema’s roof, looking over the Shinjuku streets below.”

godzilla hotel gracery shinjuku kabukicho themed room tokyo

If you fancy a romantic spot for the evening in Kabukicho, head to the observation deck on the roof to see Godzilla up close.

godzilla hotel gracery shinjuku kabukicho themed room tokyo

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Posters released for live-action film version of Attack on Titan

Written by: William on November 21, 2014 at 10:50 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

The first posters for the upcoming live-action adaptation of Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) have been released, showing the cast in costume as their respective characters.

Regardless of your taste in manga or anime, the posters are pretty awesome just in terms of graphic design.

It also gives fans of the Hajime Isayama series a chance to see how the cast of the upcoming big screen version measure up to the characters as depicted in their previous animated or comic-book incarnations. Oh, and the weaponry and hardware also get a very strong emphasis.

attack on titan shingeki no kyojin film movie live-action poster

attack on titan shingeki no kyojin film movie live-action poster

attack on titan shingeki no kyojin film movie live-action poster

attack on titan shingeki no kyojin film movie live-action poster

attack on titan shingeki no kyojin film movie live-action poster

attack on titan shingeki no kyojin film movie live-action poster

attack on titan shingeki no kyojin film movie live-action poster

attack on titan shingeki no kyojin film movie live-action poster

attack on titan shingeki no kyojin film movie live-action poster

attack on titan shingeki no kyojin film movie live-action poster

attack on titan shingeki no kyojin film movie live-action poster

attack on titan shingeki no kyojin film movie live-action poster

attack on titan shingeki no kyojin film movie live-action poster

The all-star cast includes Hiroki Hasegawa, Haruma Miura, model Kiko Mizuhara, idols Nanami Sakuraba and Ayame Misaki, Jun Kunimura, and Satomi Ishihara.

Kotaku did a nice comparison of the anime, manga and film versions of each main character.

Attack on Titan has become a commerical phenomenon in recent years and this majoro film adaptation is the icing on the cake. Filming on location at Gunkanjima, it will be released in Japan in summer 2015.

If you can’t wait, you can always stage your own mini Attack on Titan battle scenes on your desk with the Tsumikore EVO! Attack on Titan Mania.

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Tokyo International Film Festival 2014 stirs up controversy with nationalist advertising slogan

Written by: William on October 29, 2014 at 7:31 am | In CULTURE | 2 Comments

Tokyo International Film Festival is currently running in Roppongi. Japan’s premier film event always draws crowds and plenty of press attention.

So far this year’s biggest headlines have perhaps been generated by comments by director Takeshi Kitano, who has reached the age where he doesn’t care what people think anymore. He criticized the monopoly of the major Japanese film studios which control movie theaters, and how the local media never writes proper reviews. “The Japanese film industry is going to ruins,” he decried. He also admitted his dislike for anime. “I dislike Hayao Miyazaki the most. But I give credit to his works for earning so much money.”

Meanwhile Hideaki Anno, whose work is being showcased in a retrospected at TIFF, lamented the state of the local anime industry. “The Japanese animation industry has hit a dead end — it will be tough to escape unless we can make animation without commercial considerations.”

Hardly the stuff of a buoyant festival that the organizers were no doubt hoping for.

tokyo international film festival criticism copy advert slogan

However, there has been even more criticism of the festival itself by industry people and the public alike about the way TIFF is presenting itself. TIFF has never been very sophisticated in its PR but this year might be the most crass.

In large print adverts run in major newspapers it has been pushing the country’s “legacy” for producing cinema maestros. This nationalist tendency might well meet the approval of the current government and no one would surely doubt Japan’s pedigree when it comes to past masterpieces, but this is bullishness verging on the right wing.

ニッポンは世界中から尊敬されている映画監督の出身国だった。お忘れなく。

The official English translation of the copy is even worse:

Lest we forget; our nation gave birth to some of the world’s most respected directors.

The “lest we forget” is horribly formal and also sounds like an intonement at a memorial service. It is the kind of phrase you hear uttered after terrible events. And the “our nation” is, needless to say, hardly welcoming to the many foreign visitors to the festival.

It has been harshly criticized by director Tetsuaki Matsue.

Our question is also this: Who has forgotten? Just as no one has forgotten about the great directors of France, America, Germany et al, Kurosawa, Mizoguchi and Ozu have not been blotted out of the public’s mind, as far as we know. Does TIFF need to remind us, especially like this?

tokyo international film festival criticism copy advert slogan

Better alternatives have been suggested:

世界から敬愛される映画監督たちはこの国から生まれた。

Some of the world’s most respected directors were born here.

However, no matter how you adjust the copy, the rightist nuance reminds.

It is also perhaps no surprise that AKB48 producer and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe favorite Yasushi Akimoto was invited to produce the film festival this year. The rather inexplicable appointment by the government has resulted (directly or otherwise) in a nasty taint of politics over the event.

The festival was sponsored by Toyota until 2012 and it was in past festivals that the copy really rankled with us personally. That year the theme was all about ecology and the environment, including even a “green carpet”. This from an international event based in that eco paradise Roppongi, flying in guests and staff from all over the world. And sponsored by the biggest car manufacturer on the planet. “Action! for Earth” [sic] the slogan said. Yes, quite.

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“Princess Jellyfish” exhibition at Shibuya Parco Museum: Male visitors must “cross-dress” in female clothes

Written by: William on October 27, 2014 at 8:47 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

A new exhibition event in Shibuya will turn all male visitors into crossdressers.

All right, let’s qualify that.

The exhibition, held in December and January at Shibuya Parco Museum, is a promo for the upcoming live-action film adaptation of the manga “Princess Jellyfish”.

princess jellyfish kuragehime film live action movie manga higashimura akiko rena nouen exhibition shibuya parco museum

The original, called “Kuragehime” in Japanese, is all about the goings-on at an apartment building populated only by female otaku, such as a girl obsessed with kimono and another with Chinese history. The tenants of the apartment in the threatened “Amamizukan” building are all girls. No boys are allowed, though the main character Tsukimi Kurashita (her mania is for jellyfish, hence the title) eventually allows a cross-dressing politician’s son into her life and of course, we can probably all guess how things turn out between them.

The exhibition will feature props, costumes and more from the world of the film and manga.

princess jellyfish kuragehime film live action movie manga higashimura akiko rena nouen exhibition shibuya parco museum

princess jellyfish kuragehime film live action movie manga higashimura akiko rena nouen exhibition shibuya parco museum

princess jellyfish kuragehime film live action movie manga higashimura akiko rena nouen exhibition shibuya parco museum

As men are “banned” from the apartment building in the story, likewise the exhibition is ostensibly only open to female visitors. Should men turn up, they will be forced to wear “female items” if they want to enter the exhibition. At the time of writing we aren’t sure exactly what these are, though we doubt a mainstream space like Parco Museum would actually force young guys in Shibuya to wear skirts. If you want to see that kind of thing, head over to Shinjuku or Akihabara for the otoko no ko cross-dressing cosplay subculture trend.

princess jellyfish kuragehime film live action movie manga higashimura akiko renna nouen exhibition shibuya parco museum

princess jellyfish kuragehime film live action movie manga higashimura akiko rena nouen exhibition shibuya parco museum

princess jellyfish kuragehime film live action movie manga higashimura akiko rena nouen exhibition shibuya parco museum

Following an anime series in 2010, the live-action film version of Akiko Higashimura’s comic is set for release on December 27th and stars Rena Nounen (of “Amachan” fame) in the gauche lead role.

“Kuragehime Exhibition”
Parco Museum (Shibuya Parco Part 1, 3F)
December 19th to January 12th
Tickets: ¥500

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Descendants of “villain” in Korean box office hit “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” sue over historical inaccuracies

Written by: William on September 16, 2014 at 9:58 am | In CULTURE | 1 Comment

Descendants of a figure depicted as a “villain” in the current Korean box office smash “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” are suing over the film’s alleged historical inaccuracies.

“The Admiral: Roaring Currents” revolves around the 1597 Battle of Myeongnyang, a victory for the Korean Joseon navy despite the odds. The Koreans had only a dozen ships against the invading Japanese’s 133 warships.

the admiral roaring currents korean film lawsuit descendants sue producers historial inaccuracy

The film, known simply as “Myeongryang” in Korea, stars famed Korean actor Choi Min-sik (“Old Boy”) as Admiral Yi, the commander of the Korean last stand. Released in July, it has grossed over $100 million and been seen by over 17 million people. It is now the most successful film in Korean box office history. It received a limited release in America this summer.

Detractors have accused the film of having an nationalistic agenda. Its release and popularity at a time of Japanese and Korea tension over territorial and historical issues is certainly unfortunate for politicians, though the reasons for its success may also be more innocuous. Ordinary Koreans have much affection has for Yi, the underdog protagonist hero, and film’s distribution company is said to have a monopoly over local movie theaters.

Facing incredible odds, Admiral Yi held his ground even when ordered to fall back and devised strategies to hold the Japanese ships at bay. His leadership qualities are greatly admired by Koreans today and a translation of his diary into modern Korean has been a bestseller.

Not everyone feels that “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” is accurate or fair, however.

The suit, filed against the producer and director Kim Han-min, the screenwriter Jeon Cheol-hong, and a novelist, relates to the portrayal of a side character in the film.

“Our ancestor’s name has been defamed for commercialization and we are also suffering from stigma,” say descendants of Bae Seol, a Korean general whom the film depicts as a rival to Yi. Bae is often said to have deserted the battle but alternative theories say he was allowed to leave the battle due to illness. He was later captured and executed.

His modern-day descendants have asked for screenings of the film to be suspended.

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New photos released for new live-action film version of “Lupin III”

Written by: William on June 24, 2014 at 2:03 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

The first set photos have been released for the upcoming live-action film adaptation of the popular TV anime “Lupin”. Starring Shun Oguri, Meisa Kuroki and Tadanori Asano, “Lupin III” will be released in Japan on August 30th.

lupin iii film movie live action 2014 shun oguri

lupin iii film movie live action 2014 shun oguri

We love the look of this latest big screen version (following the 1974 film) of the iconic manga and anime by Monkey Punch (who has been a consultant on the new movie). It is supposed to show how the main characters all meet for the first time but updates the story to a contemporary setting.

lupin iii film movie live action 2014 shun oguri

lupin iii film movie live action 2014 shun oguri

lupin iii film movie live action 2014 shun oguri

lupin iii film movie live action 2014 shun oguri

The big-budget movie has been filmed in Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong and elsewhere, and features an international starry cast. It is directed by Ryuhei Kitamura, who is known mostly for work in the science fiction and horror genres.

lupin iii film movie live action 2014 shun oguri

lupin iii film movie live action 2014 shun oguri

Still no full trailer but anticipation is now super high for this film!

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Catch: A short film by Intel Japan about childhood cancer

Written by: William on March 12, 2014 at 8:54 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Catch is a 15-minute-long short film produced by Intel Japan that tells the story of a boy in Tokyo.

While the whole thing is fictitious, it is a successful example of how to turn sentimentality and careful filmmaking into a memorable ad — without people even realizing they are watching a commercial.

intel japan catch cancer school boy film

The Japanese title translates as “Catchball” and it’s about a young boy’s struggle to come to terms with his classmate’s death from cancer.

Baseball, school, child mortality, cancer… hardly likely subjects for an IT computer to choose for a film to advertise its brand. But director Takuma Takasaki pulls it off, with some help from talented young actors. And it all comes together at the end in a harmony of message, visuals and product.

What’s inside is at the core of what we do every day at Intel, but it’s more than just what we make that counts. It is the passion behind everything Intel does to enrich people’s lives.

intel japan catch cancer school boy film

We don’t want to give too much away. The film also has very good English subtitles.

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New Godzilla movie trailer debuts

Written by: Japan Trends on February 27, 2014 at 12:15 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

After a teaser a few weeks ago, the official trailer has been released for “Godzilla”, the new American film adaptation of Japan’s most famous monster.

Hollywood has a very bad track record when it comes to adaptations of Japanese pop culture. From “Astro Boy” to “Dragon Ball”, “Street Fighter” and “Super Mario Bros.”, the results are typically embarrassing for all concerned and more often than not, box office bombs. They seem to do better with darker video games or horror films. The “Resident Evil” series has its fans and the first “Silent Hill” film was quite a good horror flick on its own merits, while the remakes of “The Ring” and “Ju-on: The Grudge” weren’t so poorly done.

godzilla 2014 hollywood remake monster movie summer blockbuster japanese toho kaiju

Roland Emmerich previously laid waste to the Godzilla franchise in 1998 with a notoriously cringe-worthy and stupid film adaptation. It was a literally a disaster movie.

In these post-Christopher Nolan days, though, Hollywood blockbusters are darker and grittier, so expect more handheld CGI shots. And if the tone is anything to go by in the trailer, lead actor Bryan Cranston will bring a raw emotion to the film that was utterly lacking in the comedic Emmerich film.

The studio sells its new version of Toho’s monster classic like this:

“An epic rebirth to Toho’s iconic Godzilla, this spectacular adventure, from Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures, pits the world’s most famous monster against malevolent creatures who, bolstered by humanity’s scientific arrogance, threaten our very existence.”

Here’s the official trailer.

It will be released in US theaters on May 16th (in other words, the first blockbuster of the summer season) and will be shown in 3D.

Directed by Gareth Edwards, the man who put a micro budget to very good use in his independent cult hit “Monsters”, this time he is working with $160 million, which must have been a bit of a change. With its distinguished cast of Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche, David Strathairn and Sally Hawkins, the film is clearly aiming for serious dramatic elements on top of the special effects. Youngsters get eye candy in the shape of Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen to keep them occupied, while Ken Watanabe flies the Japanese flag for the film.

In the new telling, the A-bomb “tests” in the Pacific were apparently attempts to wipe out the monster. But they failed. And now he is back to wreck havoc on mankind, specifically New York.

After failing so dismally in 1998, we hope Hollywood has learnt its lesson.

What will Japanese audiences make of the new version? Having only moderately flocked to recent Hollywood fare that offered “Japanese” settings like “47 Ronin” and “The Wolverine”, this time the film doesn’t even have that going for it since the action has been transplanted to American soil. Sure, many will be curious what the monster looks like and Ken Watanabe has plenty of local fans, but ultimately the success of the movie in Japan will depend on the quality.

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