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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Category: CULTURE

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.


Category: CULTURE

Movie adaptation of “The Idolmaster” premieres January 25th

Written by: William on January 15, 2014 at 8:47 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

Movie adaptations of video games rarely work.

For every Silent Hill and Resident Evil there’s a Final Fantasy, Super Mario Bros. or Prince of Persia.

But things go better when Hollywood isn’t meddling with the Japanese source material.

And so it is we wait with bated breath for the upcoming film version of The Idolmaster, the mega successful Namco Bandai Xbox game that sees players become Yasushi Akimoto-type idol producers. If you’ve ever wanted to be in charge of your own idol group, this is the game for you.

he Idolmaster Movie: Kagayaki no Mukogawa e! The Idolmaster Movie: To the Other Side of the Light

The Idolmaster Movie: Kagayaki no Mukogawa e! (The Idolmaster Movie: To the Other Side of the Light) is a brave choice. Although the franchise is immensely successful as a game and anime series, how do you turn such a subject matter into a feature-length film?

And without the interaction element of the game and the digestible length of the TV anime, will it be as interesting for the general public, enough to justify the larger budget?

There is always the problem of the fine line between satisfying the hardcore fans and also bringing in new audiences.

he Idolmaster Movie: Kagayaki no Mukogawa e! The Idolmaster Movie: To the Other Side of the Light

Here’s the trailer.

We will find out on January 25th when it premieres in Shinjuku.


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Category: CULTURE

Japan’s Disposable Workers: Lost in the Global Unemployment Crisis

Written by: William on January 7, 2014 at 7:41 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Happy New Year, readers.

2014 is the Year of the Horse and while we are still in the grips of the cold winter, things aren’t nearly as chilly as they are in parts of America right now.

We wanted to start off the year with a little write-up of this interesting-looking and very timely documentary we heard about.

Japan’s Disposable Workers: Lost in the Global Unemployment Crisis is directed by photographer and multi-media journalist Shiho Fukada and focuses on the workers who have no social safety net.

Japan's Disposable Workers: Lost in the Global Unemployment Crisis shiho fukada precariat film documentary

Often dubbed the Precariat overseas, the growth of this new generation of workers without lifetime employment was originally deplored as a post-Bubble, Heisei-era phenomenon. Needless to say, that was a gross simplification, as the economic heyday was built on the back of day laborers and others whose situations were very uncertain. Homelessness didn’t started in 1990.

Japan's Disposable Workers: Lost in the Global Unemployment Crisis shiho fukada precariat film documentary

The film looks at three main areas:

Overworked to Suicide
After the recession of the 1990′s, Japan’s white collar salarymen increasingly must work arduous hours for fear of losing their jobs. This often leads to depression and suicide.

Net Cafe Refugees
Internet cafes have existed in Japan for over a decade, but in the mid 2000’s, customers began using these spaces as living quarters. Internet cafe refugees are mostly temporary employees; their salary too low to rent their own apartments.

Dumping Ground
Kamagasaki, Osaka, Japan used to be a thriving day laborer’s town. Today, it is home to approximately 25,000 unemployed and elderly men, many of whom are also homeless.

Japan's Disposable Workers: Lost in the Global Unemployment Crisis shiho fukada precariat film documentary

As someone who used to live near Kamagasaki, I am particularly interested to see that section of the film.

It already screened in Washington DC last September at the Pulitzer Center Film Festival.

Japan's Disposable Workers: Lost in the Global Unemployment Crisis shiho fukada precariat film documentary

Here Shiho Fukada talks about her project in 2012 before she had finished making it.

It’s a cold time of year to be hopeless or poor in Japan (or anywhere). Here’s hoping the final film gets screened in Tokyo to raise awareness of the issues.

Go to for the trailer.


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Studio Ghibli’s latest film “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” blends realism and fantasy folktale

Written by: Mina on December 2, 2013 at 5:04 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

On November 23rd, Studio Ghibli’s latest film Kaguyahime no monogatari (The Tale of Princess Kaguya) was released in all theaters across Japan.

Kaguyahime no monogatari The Tale of Princess Kaguya

I have already seen a number of reviews so far, most of which are specifically focused on how different the film looks, compared to other Ghibli works from the past. But I would like to take a different approach.

Director Isao Takahata is famous for his depiction of real life, while his longtime friend and another Ghibli guru Hayao Miyazaki uses fantasy as a basic setting of his stories.

“The Tale of Princess Kaguya” is based on a Japanese folktale from the tenth century called Taketori monogatari – or  ”The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter”. It’s a story about an old bamboo cutter who finds a tiny baby girl inside a bamboo stalk and together with his wife raises the baby as his own. The girl grows up to be a woman of ordinary size and of extraordinary beauty. She is approached by a number of suitors, but she somehow manages to reject all proposals. Finally, she reveals her biggest secret to her parents that she was sent from the moon as a result of some “promise” that she made and must return there. In the end, an emissary from the moon takes her back to where she belongs, leaving everyone in tears. It definitely doesn’t sound like a happy ending, doesn’t it?

Kaguyahime no monogatari The Tale of Princess Kaguya

One could easily argue that this film might be the most “fantastic” of Takahata’s all past works. Yet the primary focus of the story is not the encounter between humans and aliens but answering many questions of why. Why was she sent from the moon in the first place? Why was she sent to earth? Why was she so sad when she left earth? Why did she need to return?

The tag line reads “The crime and punishment of a princess”, which implies that this is not a simple feel-good story of a lunar princess who comes down to experience life on earth. Takahata says in one interview that the earth and the moon stand opposite from each other: while the moon might represent sanctitude but without any color or life of its own, the earth is full of life, hardships – and joy.

If the earth was considered ultimate hell where all sinners are sent to serve their sentence, Princess Kaguya would be happy to return home, which is obviously not the case here. Perhaps this is where he portrays realism over fantasy, in an imaginative story setting where he suggests that life on earth might at times be too cruel, yet it does have something that even heavenly beings from above envy.


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Category: CULTURE

“The Wind Rises” box office surpasses $100 million

Written by: William on September 13, 2013 at 8:55 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Studio Ghibli’s The Wind Rises, the final film of director Miyao Miyazaki, in spite of the controversy over its extensive use of smoking scenes, has surpassed all box office expectations for the decidedly uncommercial story of an airplane designer.

It has now taken over 10 billion yen ($100 million) at the domestic box office, the first Japanese film to achieve this feat since Miyazaki’s Ponyo in 2008. Overall it is the first movie to take this much money since Toy Story 3 in 2010. Distributor Toho is expecting the film’s receipts to slow as the summer holidays end but it may well come close to Ponyo‘s final take of 15.5 billion yen by October. By comparison, Monsters University has taken $88 million in Japan since its release in early July and remains in the top ten.

the wind rises hayao miyazaki

While Miyazaki and Ghibli might well be box office genies, with the unusual story and premise of the film (and a title that is a reference to Paul Valéry!), its success was anything but certain. However, controversy over Miyazaki’s pacifist rhetoric and the anti-smoking lobby’s campaign, have likely done nothing to harm interest in the picture. It was also announced amidst a media frenzy that it would be the last feature film that 72-year-old Miyazaki would direct (although he has said this before). Miyazaki’s shock announcement at a September 1st press conference at the Venice International Film Festival led to a box office boost as domestic audiences were keen to catch his final film on the big screen. Audience numbers jumped 134.5% the following week.

the wind rises kazetachinu hayao miyazaki

On September 11th, in 54 days since it opened it had been seen by around 8 million people (of course, some may well have seen the film more than once). It was released on July 20th and is still being shown at 454 screens. This is far less than newer releases like Man of Steel (611) or Captain Harlock (578), and yet last week it took four times their grosses. It has been the number one film at the Japanese box office for eight straight weeks. If it can do this for two more weeks it will surpass another Miyazaki film, Howl’s Moving Castle, which managed nine consecutive weeks. The Wind Rises will be released in US in February 2014 in two versions — one with subtitles and one dubbed.

We only hope that Miyazaki, having gone out on a high, can be persuaded to come back and make a contribution to the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. We couldn’t stand it if it’s just mascots and AKB48!


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Category: CULTURE

Japanese sento public bath movie blockbuster to get sequel

Written by: William on January 31, 2013 at 11:18 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

There are some things that, no matter how long I say here, I still just can’t get my head around.

The preference for natto. Honey on pizza. The appeal of SMAP.

Japanese people have some idiosyncratic tastes and this is reflected in their cinema. Surely no other country could make a film called Udon: The Movie (2006) and it be a hit.

Kamome Shokudo (Kamome Canteen). Nankyoku Ryorinin (The Chef of the Antarctic). Almost every week there seems to be yet another film or TV series opening about a restaurant, a cake shop, a cafe or some other such cuisine-connected locale. We even blogged earlier this week about a food-themed manga tackling the Fukushima disaster.

thermae romae japan movie sento bath

The biggest movie blockbuster in Japan last year was Thermae Romae, telling the “hilarious” story of an ancient Roman who gets sucked through a portal in a bathhouse to arrive in modern day Japan.

The premise is a familiar fish-out-of-water-cum-time-travelling tale with lots of obvious jokes about how the “foreigner” does things differently to the locals.

The comedy may well be universal. But much more impenetrable might well be the fundamental appeal of a film about, well, bathing. (Arguably it is more a film about bathing than about outsiders in Japan.)

The movie, based on a bestselling manga, rests on the idea of a Roman architect tasked with designing a bath, who is then able to travel to present day Japan and experience the wonders of local sento (public baths). What can he learn from the delights of modern day facilities? And there you have a box office smash.

thermae romae japan movie sento bath

Starring Hiroshi Abe and Aya Ueto, the film was so popular that the makers have just announced a sequel will appear to be shot in Bulgaria later this year.

It goes without saying that a film catering to such esoterically local tastes will never travel much beyond these shores. What does that mean for the industry as a whole?

Category: CULTURE

Trailer released for Takashi Murakami’s first film Jellyfish Eyes

Written by: William on December 19, 2012 at 8:29 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

A teaser trailer has been released for artist (and uber-businessman) Takashi Murakami’s first film, a fantasy movie called Jellyfish Eyes (Mememe no kurage) that is set for release in April 2013 in Japan.

A tight lid has been kept on details of Murakami’s first feature, which blends CGI characters with live film footage. Apparently over ten years in the making and originally intended as a straight anime, the story is a science fiction based his childhood fantasies.

The eponymous wide-eyed title character shares a name with the wallpaper installation by Murakami that has been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, among other places.

takashi murakami film jellyfish eyes poster

Directed and produced by Murakami, the screenplay is by Jun Tsugita, and assistant directing and special effects by Yoshihiro Nishimura.


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Tokyo International Film Festival 2012 opens Saturday

Written by: William on October 19, 2012 at 11:00 pm | In CULTURE | No Comments

(With apologies for the second film-related post in as many days.)

Kicking off tomorrow is the 25th Tokyo International Film Festival.

25th tokyo international film festival 2012

This year’s line-up includes everything from Cirque du Soleil and a preview of the new Jamese Bond movie to a biopic about Hannah Arendt. Now that’s what I call catholic programming.

If you search through the long, long schedule of diverse showings, there is actually a competition being held, though TIFF isn’t known for picking difficult films for its winners. There is also a rather corporate-y “eco” theme as in previous years, with a green carpet (natch) and well-meaning slogans galore. However, sorry to sound cynical but this is being held in Roppongi of all places, hardly a Mecca for self-restraint or ecology.

25th tokyo international film festival 2012

The line-up includes American entries like Yellow from director Nick Cassavetes and the latest Clint Eastwood starrer, and a Japanese film like Flashback Memories 3D, about Didgeridoo performer and higher brain dysfunction sufferer Goma.

25th tokyo international film festival 2012

There has been a hint of controversy due to the recent Japan-China relations crisis. No one seems sure whether the film Feng Shui will be screened or not.

To quote the TIFF website:

It has been announced through some media channels that “Feng Shui”, a Competition section Film, will be canceling its screening at the 25th Tokyo International Film Festival. However, the screening of “Feng Shui” will take place as scheduled as Tokyo International Film Festival office has not received any official notice to this matter from the production side of the film.

25th tokyo international film festival 2012

It may not have the budget of the Busan International Film Festival or the kudos (or even the celebrity power) of the European ones, but Roppongi will still be graced with a touch of much-needed glitz this weekend.

TIFF runs from October 20th to 28th.

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