斉木楠雄のΨ難 (Psychic Kusuo)

Director Yuichi Fukuda’s Gintama broke box office records and became the biggest live-action film for 2017 but his follow up comedy flick failed to repeat the success. Despite claiming the second spot at the box office on its release, Psychic Kusuo earned only 35% of Gintama‘s debut weekend.

Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan (read as Saiki Kusuo no Sainan and literally translated as The Disastrous Life of Saiki K) is a gag manga by Shuichi Asou which started its run in 2012 and officially ended in February 2018. The anime adaptation is currently airing its second season.

The story focuses on a high school boy who was born with every psychic ability imaginable. He’s so strong, he has to put on a pair of antenna-like limiters to avoid disasters like destroying the entire school building with a kabedon or making world satellite signals go haywire.

The live-action film under the English title Psychic Kusuo follows Saiki’s attempts to live as an ordinary student but things get complicated when he’s surrounded by eccentric classmates: Hashimoto Kanna as the angelic beauty Teruhashi Kokomi, Kasahara Hideyuki as passionate sportsman Kineshi Hairo, Hirofumi Arai as idiotic Nendo Riki, Yoshizawa Ryo as the chuunibyou Shun Kaido, and Kaku Kento as former delinquent Kuboyasu Aren.

From Saiki’s pink hair to Nendo’s butt chin, the characters’ costume designs are all on point. Despite having a powerful ESP-er as protagonist, the story isn’t set in a fantasy world like an alien-infested sci-fi version of Edo. It takes place in an ordinary high school (PK Academy) so it’s a bit painful to watch since the slice of life atmosphere doesn’t match the low quality special effects.

This movie also has the same comedic elements as Gintama (fourth wall breaking, pop culture references, and even poop jokes) but the big difference lies in the actors’ execution and delivery.

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Deadpan snarker Saiki Kusuo is a difficult role to portray and Yamazaki Kento has to keep a straight face the entire time. However, acting with inner monologue doesn’t seem like his strong suit. His eyes aren’t as expressive as Kamiki Ryunosuke or Masataka Kubota’s so without the voice over, it’s hard to know what he’s feeling. Moreover, the movie dismissed a notable trait of the original character: Saiki isn’t supposed to speak using his mouth.

Meanwhile, the supporting cast shows some apparent uneven acting. The script requires them to overact but while some are really good at it (like Yoshizawa Ryo), the others are just cringeworthy (like Hashimoto Kanna). Chameleon-like actor Hirofumi Arai transforms into a different person once again as he plays the role of Nendo. On the other hand, Kaku Kento’s exaggerated facial expressions made the supposedly badass yankii Kuboyasu look really weird. Kaidou’s admirer Yumehara Chiyo and pervy spirit medium Toritsuka Reita are MIA but green-haired magician Chono is present in the live-action because someone’s gotta say “Illusion!” every time nonsensical things happen. Tsuyoshi Muro did a great job but the other Fukuda regular, Sato Jiro, is sadly underused.

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The film follows the usual 3 Act Structure but it feels like a very long exposition due to the continuous introduction of characters who are mostly unrelatable and unlikeable for the uninitiated. Saiki is avoidant, Teruhashi is petty and manipulative, Nendo is stupid, Shun is childish, Hairo is too intense, and Aren is strange. Shun Kaidou is the only likeable one but that’s just because I’ve always liked this character and I love Yoshizawa Ryo. His chuunibyou behavior and his face-off against the Dark Reunion will surely baffle the audience who aren’t familiar with the source material.

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Psychic Kusuo reminds me of the Daily Lives of High School Boys movie that was released in 2013. They’re both comedy gems but stories like these that show trivial experiences of high school students aren’t meant for live-action since it’s hard to build the climax and the short running time isn’t enough to make the audience care about the quirky characters. Unlike how Gintama live-action managed to please the fans, followers of Saiki Kusuo no Psi-nan will probably feel disappointed since the trailer and the behind-the-scene NG clips are funnier than the actual film.

 

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花のち晴れ〜花男 Next Season〜 (Hana Nochi Hare: Hanadan Next Season Ep.1-3)

Hana Nochi Hare: Hanadan Next Season is based on the same-titled webcomic by Yoko Kamio, the creator of Hana Yori Dango. The story takes place 10 years after the graduation of the famous F4.  Now that Domyouji Tsukasa, Hanazawa Rui, Nishikado Soujiro and Mimasaka Akira are gone, a new group of highly influential students vows to keep the prestige of Eitoku Academy.

The “Correct 5” conducts a “peasant hunt” every now and then to ensure that all students are offering enough donations for the betterment of the school. The “commoners” who drag down Eitoku’s image are humiliated and immediately kicked out.

Oto Edogawa comes from a well-off family but her father’s business went bankrupt and they lost everything. Her father now works on a fishing boat and she’s left to take care of her ridiculously useless mother. Her wish to go back to the life they once had is possible thanks to her engagement to Hase Tenma from Eitoku’s rival school. However, this engagement comes with the condition that Oto must stay at Eitoku til she turns 18. So she tries to attend school and live her life as quietly as she can. It all changes when Kaguragi Haruto, the leader of the feared C5, finds out that she’s a poor student who’s working at a convenience store.

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The Correct 5 was formed as a result of Kaguragi’s fanboying over Domyouji and his aim to maintain the honor and popularity of Eitoku. The other members are Tatsuomi Hamada who plays the bespectacled genius Kaito Taira, Jin Suzuki as the Soujiro-like character Issa Nurumiya, Keisuke Nakata as the athletic Sugimaru Eibii, and Mio Imada as the spoiled Airi Maya.

Unfortunately, the existence of this group is what makes Hana Nochi Hare seem like a watered-down version of Hana Yori Dango. C5’s name doesn’t have the same impact as F4. Even Gakkou no Kaidan‘s Platinum 8 sounds better. The actors also don’t give off enough elite vibes. Taishi Nakagawa is more charming than all 5 of them combined! If the plot continues to focus on the Haruto-Oto-Tenma triangle, the rest of the C5 can easily be forgotten since the audience aren’t emotionally invested in these characters.

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The plot mostly tackles the female lead’s plight in a school where she doesn’t fit in. Both Meteor Garden’s Barbie Xu and Hana Yori Dango’s Inoue Mao did an impeccable job in their portrayal of San Cai and Tsukushi Makino. Hana Nochi Hare’s Oto Edogawa is just as spunky. Sugisaki Hana, the recipient of Japan Academy Prize’s Best Supporting Actress award last year, showcased her acting abilities right away and she generates great chemistry with both Hirano Sho and Taishi Nakagawa.

Just like the F4 leader that he admires, Kaguragi Haruto comes from the family of one the biggest conglomerates in the country. But despite growing up in great comfort and extravagant lifestyle, all he ever wants is the approval of his perfectionist but ruthless father.  The actor who plays him is Hirano Sho, a member of Kansai Johnny’s Jr. and Mr. King (a unit from the idol group King & Prince). Based on his performance, he’s obviously a novice in the acting field. He comes off a bit stiff and his voice is not that commanding but the good thing is, he’s really charming and his character is less cruel than Domyouji so it’s easy to warm up to him.

Nakagawa Taishi plays Hase Tenma, Oto’s fiance and Momonozono’s Student Council President. He’s already starred in several romantic projects such as Minami kun no Koibito, Kyo no Kira kun, and ReLIFE, it seemed like a bad idea to put him as second lead. After three episodes, the casting actually works since what the show needs is a formidable opponent so that Haruto will have an awful lot of character development to make the story (and the shipping) more exciting. Hase Tenma is probably a bit of a boring character on paper but Taishi Nakagawa surely made him a swoonworthy one on-screen. He’s known Oto for a long time and still likes her despite of her status now. He’s a perfect gentleman and a capable leader, it’s preposterous if a girl chooses another guy over him.

Aside from opening the gates of Eitoku, Hana Nochi Nare revisits the places we’ve missed in Hana Yori Dango such as the Domyouji mansion and Ebisu Garden Place. But the drama’s overall atmosphere seems a bit old fashioned. Momonozono’s classy white and gizmo-filled school looks more modern and impressive.

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Hana Nochi Hare is a generic school romcom that relies heavily on the popularity of Hana Yori Dango and the performances of Sugisaki Hana and Nakagawa Taishi. It doesn’t have the makings of a series that will stand the test of time but since I’m a sucker for nostalgia, I am totally in love with this show for now!

Oto’s father is played by Great Teacher Onizuka Takashi Sorimachi and the show’s theme song is sung by Utada Hikaru. And of course, a trip down memory lane is not complete without the appearance of the original F4. After more than a decade, I just can’t express in words the joy of seeing Matsumoto Jun and Oguri Shun transform into Domyouji Tsukasa and Hanazawa Rui again.

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‘Saint Oniisan’ Live-Action Casts Matsuyama Kenichi and Sometani Shota as Jesus and Buddha

I’ve just ended my short hiatus and started contributing to the Japan Info site once again. My “comeback” article features two of my favorite Japanese actors who will star in the highly anticipated live-action adaptation of Saint Young Men. Click HERE  to read more.

亜人 (Ajin)

After a six-month delay, Ajin live-action finally gets released in our local cinemas. The showing date, however, falls at the time when I’m supposed to leave the country for a quick vacay. Films like this don’t usually last in theaters longer than a week. So after my morning job, I quickly packed my luggage and went to the mall to catch the first screening on the first showing day. It was a Wednesday. 12nn. Once again, I had the entire theater to myself.

The movie starts at the operating (torture) table where Nagai Kei lies to get mutilated, die, and “reset”. As he asks why of all people these horrible things have to happen to him, we get a quick flashback of how he survives a tragic car accident that reveals his identity to the world.

Sato, a highly skilled and influential Ajin, comes to his rescue. He aims to take the government down and wants Nagai Kei to be a part of his revolutionary team. But his ambition and thirst for blood is so off-putting, Kei abruptly rejects his invitation. More so, his refusal to kill his captors makes Sato reveal his true violent nature. 

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So as not to be confused with the lead actor’s name (Sato Takeru) and the antagonist’s name (Sato), let’s address the actor by his first name from hereon.

To match Takeru’s real age, the high school student from the original is changed into a medical intern. Nagai Kei, who is emotionally distant and was even regarded as a sociopath in the manga and anime, becomes more cooperative and less of a jerk in the live-action movie. Thus, giving us a hero worth rooting for. Takeru proves that he is made for shonen and seinen roles. Though he’s also good at other genres, it’s apparent that he totally shines when it comes to more action-heavy scenes. Choreographed by the same action team of Rurouni Kenshin, he puts Ajin on top of the Japanese box-office during its run. 

Sato is the stereotypical bloodthirsty villain but somehow, viewers can sympathize with him since humans aren’t exactly on the moral side either. The government conducts inhumane experiments on Ajins and Sato’s been on that torture chamber for 20 years. Despite being too young for the role, Ayano Go (who appeared as Gein in the Rurouni Kenshin movies and Goemon in Lupin III live-action) shows his versatility as he plays the charismatic but malevolent terrorist.

Yu Shirota is a pleasant surprise since he’s too handsome for the role of Koji Tanaka, the second Ajin discovered in Japan. Not that I’m complaining. It’s a real delight to see his face on the big screen and he has some smashing action scenes together with former AKB48 member Rina Kawaei who plays Yu Tosaki’s loyal bodyguard.

Tosaki, however, is a bit disappointing in the live-action. As a high-ranking member of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, he is a morally ambiguous character who has an ironic working relationship with Kei. Tetsuji Tamayama is a talented actor but the live-action version doesn’t give him the same level of authoritative air as the original.

Yudai Chiba who plays Masumi Okuyama (Sato’s underling who has a weak leg but is an expert when it comes to computers and weapons) is one of the best live-action actors I’ve seen. His babyface allows him to convincingly play student characters despite being 28 years old and it doesn’t matter whether he plays a good genki guy or in this case, a bad expressionless one, he always has a way of totally bringing out cool anime-ish vibes to real life.

Yuki Yamada also looks too cute to play Takahashi. He should’ve played Kaito instead. Sadly, Kei’s best friend gets written out in the film and his absence gives more screen time to Kei’s sick younger sister. I Want To Eat Your Pancreas’ adorable lead actress Minami Hamabe plays Eriko Nagai whose illness was not explained even in the manga. Originally, she harbors some resentment towards his brother but in the live-action, they’re in good terms and they even ran away together.  

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Ajin follows the formula for generic action flicks: garden-variety protagonist with newfound abilities, seemingly invincible antagonist who wants to take over the world, and a sick younger sister who gives the protagonist the motivation to fight. People might say it doesn’t offer anything new to the table but being formulaic is exactly what makes it a good live-action movie. It’s fast-paced, straightforward, and gives a clear a distinction between the good guys and the bad.

Having characters who can revive themselves after death may seem a bit tedious to watch, but their “immortality” only increases the tension since the battle has become more than just a physical one. Kei and Sato are equally incisive.

Directed by Katsuyuki Motohiro, Ajin successfully puts together some exhilarating video game-like action scenes with energetic background music and impressive computer graphics particularly the IBMs. It’s also worth nothing that Kei’s “ghost” is voiced by famous seiyuu Mamoru Miyano (the voice actor of Nagai Kei in Ajin‘s animated series).  

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I was really tired on the day I watched the movie but the suspense (and the eye candies!!!) kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. I chose Ajin over sleep and I don’t regret it one bit. I loved it so much I even bought this “awesome!” magazine at MagFreak when I arrived in Taiwan.

 

 

鋼の錬金術師 (Fullmetal Alchemist)

It’s impossible to be an anime fan and not come across this series. Fullmetal Alchemist is a popular 2001 shonen manga written and illustrated by Hiromu Arakawa. The first anime adaptation came out in 2003, the era of some of the greatest and most timeless animes, a big trigger for nostalgia.

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The story is set in Amestris, a unitary state governed by a parliamentary republic headed by the Fuhrer. Elric brothers Edward and Alphonse live in a town called Resembool. Their father is an alchemist so naturally, the two of them try to practice this science as well. The movie starts on the fateful day when their mother passed away and the brothers decide to use the forbidden human transmutation that they thought could bring her back to life. Scene cuts and goes fast forward to a few years later with a grown up (but not grown taller) Edward chasing a religious charlatan. Meanwhile, Alphonse is now in the form of an enormous empty armor. Carrying the consequences of their ritual gone wrong, Edward vows to obtain the philosopher’s stone to bring his brother’s body and soul back together.

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Fullmetal Alchemist has a continuous plot with interweaving arcs, deep character developments, and epic fights. Writer- director Fumihiko Sori tried to compress several chapters altogether but this is not something that can be condensed into a two-hour flick. Even three or four hours won’t cut it. As a result, the movie writes off some key characters. We get to meet the live-action counterparts of swoonworthy Roy Mustang, mirthful Col. Maes Hughes, and badass Lt. Riza Hawkeye. There’s perfect casting and costumes for the villains Lust, Envy, and Gluttony. The cast also includes Dr. Marco, Shou Tucker, and even Nina and Alexander. It is, however, disappointing that the film is missing Scar, King Bradley, and even my personal favorite Ling Yao/Greed.

The movie uses picturesque European backgrounds and spectacular special effects but despite being visually engaging, it is apparently problematic from the get-go. The flashback scene is a vital part of the story but it’s extremely difficult to find child actors who can convey the strong emotions needed for it: the sadness of witnessing their mom’s death, the desperation in practicing the tabooed alchemy, the pain of losing a part of themselves, and the guilt that Ed’s been carrying in his heart the entire time.

The movie started with the flashback first, cut it halfway through and then continued later in a dream sequence. And in that dream, grown up Ed appeared instead of the child actor. I get that it might be the all-this-time-he’s-been-blaming-himself-for-what-happened-to-Al metaphor but that scene is totally confusing for the uninitiated viewers.

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The reduced cast and lackluster plot can somehow be forgiven if the movie managed to give us the best main trio. HEY!SAY!JUMP!’s Yamada Ryosuke is physically perfect to play the titular character but the costume design team failed to give him a realistic blond mane. He actually got his hair dyed but it still looks like a cheap cosplay wig on screen. Yamada is cute, energetic, and convincingly just as strong-willed and hotheaded as the original Ed but there’s this same issue that I had with him when I watched Assassination Classroom: I feel like his presence and his acting can easily get upstaged.

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On the other hand, the CG work on Alphonse is impeccable. The younger Elric is voiced by Atomu Mizuishi who also filmed the motion capture for his character. Probably due to the difficulty of animating Al, the script’s been tweaked to lessen his appearances.

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So Ed continues his investigations as a State Alchemist sans Al. Instead, he’s accompanied by brown haired Tsubasa Honda who plays Winry Rockbell, the (supposed to be blonde!) automail mechanic. The actress’ forced genkiness is quite annoying and she turned Elric brothers’ vivacious childhood friend into an irritating sidekick.

The live-action film has a lively Harry Potter-esque opening but it ends up being off-kilter due to a drastic tone shift after the first hour. The second half is dreadfully boring. It recreates some iconic scenes from the original but also missed equally important ones. The lack of Scar and King Bradley affected the depth of the storyline. And though we get some stellar acting from the Homonculi, they are sadly underdeveloped and their presence seems unrelated to the rest of the characters.

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I don’t set any unrealistic expectations for live-action adaptations. I don’t even get so worked up about the casting controversy. My only criteria for a decent live-action is its ability to give us likeable characters and a plot that’s coherent enough to be understood by those who haven’t seen or read the source material. That’s why even though Rurouni Kenshin and Gintama also have their flaws, I consider them both as excellent adaptations. You can say all the negative things about the Tokyo Ghoul movie, but I thought it was well-made too. With most of the characters’ colorful hair foregone, the film doesn’t look uneven since it focused on the horror aspect of the story and its protagonist’s main struggle. In the case of Fullmetal Alchemist, its biggest flaw is missing the whole “brotherhood” theme which is supposed to be the very heart of its narrative. There’s a brotherly brawl scene that tries to elevate the drama but it just feels nonsensical and utterly cheesy.

Fans and critics disagree. Every viewer has his/her own thoughts about this movie. Technically, Fullmetal Alchemist is a bad adaptation but compared to the other live-actions on Netflix, at least it’s a tad better than Death Note 2017 and Mob Psycho 100. 

刑事ゆがみ (Detective Yugami Ep.1-2)

Have you ever watched a drama that got you hooked in literally twenty seconds? Well, that’s exactly what happened when I saw Keiji Yugami‘s intense opening between its two powerhouse actors from different generations. The badass staredown proves that there’s no need for over-the-top action to start a pilot episode when the leads have equally fierce eyes. Ichi the Killer’s Kakihara goes face-to-face with Kamisama no Iuutori’s Amaya Takeru. *goosebumps* 

Keiji Yugami (Detective Yugami) stars Tadanobu Asano and Kamiki Ryunosuke in this live-action series based on the same titled manga by Hideo Iura. It follows the usual buddy cop trope that places two extremely opposite characters together. Yukimasa Yugami — a veteran detective with unconventional methods of crime solving — gets paired with Hanyu Torao, an earnest and straight-laced junior partner.

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Episode 1 “It Started on the Train” revolves around their search for the murderer of a Women’s University undergraduate.  Their investigation leads them to some incidents of scamming and train molestation. Guest star Sugisaki Hana plays a rail station officer who brings in some cute shoujo feels with her natural chemistry with Kamiki. However, the budding romance is a fleeting moment as the detectives get closer to uncovering the truth. Despite the predictable ending, the actors gave impressive performances that would make you want to stick around and watch more.

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Episode 2 “Where Two Hearts Meet” is more promising especially with my hopes of seeing Taishi Nakagawa and Kamiki Ryunosuke together. To my dismay, they don’t have any interaction as the mysterious case of an alleged sexual assault puts Taishi’s character in a coma. The female teacher refuses to cooperate with the police but once again, thanks to our loose cannon detective’s lock picking skills, the odd ball duo easily discovers their secret. The case becomes just as predictable as the previous episode the moment the student-teacher relationship gets revealed. I’m a bit uncomfortable with the forbidden romance and the teacher’s insecure character is a tad frustrating but Mizuno Miki’s subtle yet moving performance effectively provides the emotional weight for the episode. On the comedic side, it’s hilarious to see Yugami as he continues to tease his “25-year-old virgin” partner while Hanyu gets himself into some awkward moments with the lingerie search and adult video shopping. More so, Saito Takumi makes a cameo appearance as the pervy underwear thief who keeps saying the infectious word “baka!”. 

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Having seen a lot of procedural dramas can be a disadvantage since the cases in this series are a bit unsurprising especially for viewers who are into this genre but Keiji Yugami remains to be an entertaining show thanks to its charismatic characters and the leads’ top-notch performances. 43-year-old prolific actor Tadanobu Asano has already starred in many films in and out of Japan but he rarely appears in the small screen. It is a delight to see him on television as the scruffy, effortlessly goofy, and crafty detective. He makes his 24-year-old co-star look like a kid but despite their age disparity and height difference, Kamiki Ryunosuke can certainly hold his own in any acting challenge since he’s technically a veteran too. He made his television debut at the age of 6 and won a Rookie Award at the Japan Academy Prize at 13. And although he still looks young enough to continue wearing high school uniforms, it’s refreshing to see him in a mature role while looking debonair in a suit.

Just the fact that Tadanobu Asano and Kamiki Ryunosuke are acting together is enough to make me add this drama to my current watchlist.

 

銀魂 (Gintama Mitsuba Arc)

A day after the release of Gintama live-action movie in Japan, a three-episode online drama spin-off gets streamed through dTV. Named after Okita Sougo’s older sister Mitsuba, this arc focuses on the most notable members of the Shinsengumi.

Okita Mitsuba visits the Shinsengumi headquarters to announce her upcoming marriage. Ever since their parents’ demise, she single-handedly raised Sougo but blames herself for being the cause of her brother’s standoffish character. Around her, the sadistic captain turns into a caring, polite, and vulnerable boy which reveals a side of him that the Shinsengumi members don’t usually get to see. However, while Sougo gives all the affection towards his sister, he shows an equal amount of animosity towards Hijikata. With Mitsuba’s frail body and her fiance’s involvement with illegal activities, the conflict between the two Shinsengumi leaders deepens.

This arc is the first time for Gintoki to appear without Shinpachi and Kagura but then we get to meet the live-action version of Yamazaki Sagaru, a Shinsengumi member who was left out from the movie. Donning his baffling afro hairdo, he narrates the introduction instead of Shinpachi. I personally think that straight characters like him and Shinpachi are the most difficult ones to portray in a live-action adaptation. To my surprise, he exhibited good control of his performances. His comedy is not cringeworthy and his drama is not overacted. Unfortunately, I can’t find Yamazaki’s actor’s name anywhere. I’m not sure if they’re trolling (doing it on purpose) since he’s playing a plain and often ignored character.

The best thing about Gintama live-action is that all the actors aren’t chosen to simply match the physical requirements of the manga characters. They have actual acting abilities that it’s possible for any one of them to take the lead and carry their own spin-offs.

This time, the spotlight is on Shinsengumi, the shogunate’s special police force. Kabuki actor Nakamura Kankurō VI as commander Isao Kondo, 2004 Cannes Film Festival Best Actor Yuya Yagira as demonic vice-commander Toshiro Hijikata, and rising star Yoshizawa Ryo as sadistic 1st Division Captain Okita Sougo all delivered exceptional performances. Their seriousness in this arc is even more impressive especially if you’ve seen their wacky scenes in the live-action movie.

Kie Kitano, who plays Mitsuba Okita, previously starred in a kendo-themed movie called Bushido Sixteen but I haven’t seen any of her other films. She naturally portrayed Sougo’s prim and proper tabasco-lovin’ sister but the role is not enough to completely manifest her acting range since I think many actresses can easily pull off the “yamato nadeshiko” stereotype.

As for the titular character.. well.. Oguri Shun is Gintoki and Gintoki is Oguri Shun. I have nothing else to say about this perfect guy.

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Comedy is Gintama’s trademark. I laughed out loud at the opening scene featuring Gengai, Elizabeth, and Henpeita’s hilarious improv skit but the overall humor pales in comparison to the movie since the gags in the series are exactly the same as what we’ve already seen in the manga or anime. Some of the slapstick moments are also a bit awkward since Hijikata’s going back and forth with tsundere-ness and silliness only works well in anime.

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There also seems to be a bit of an issue with the editing. The transitions happen too abruptly like it just jumps from one scene to another but I guess I’d be lenient about it since it’s hard to cover the entire arc with a limited running time. The series and the movie were filmed simultaneously so it must have been exhausting for the cast and crew but they still managed to complete a decent show. This arc is simply an extra treat for the fans anyway. I doubt that it would attract new ones (unless you’re already a fan of the actors to begin with) since it takes some familiarity and attachment to the characters to really feel for them.

Yuya Yagira and Yoshizawa Ryo’s emotional kendo sword sparring is the highlight of the series. Their performances generated the same level of pathos as the original and they’re both so attractive, I felt like pausing the video every now and then just to take a good look at them.

In spite of some technical shortcomings, Gintama live-action once again proves its understanding of the source material and its actors’ ability to deliver the character-driven stories. I can’t get enough of the eye candies, I think I’ve probably watched this series more than five times thanks to its short running time. Now I can already imagine them bringing the other badass arcs to life. Hopefully, someday, we’d get to see a live-action adaptation of the awesome Shinsengumi Crisis Arc.

銀魂 (Gintama)

Japanese films only run at our local cinemas for a limited time so in spite of my hectic schedule that weekend, I met a friend to catch the screening of Gintama’s live-action movie together. And it turns out to be one of the best viewing experiences I’ve ever had thus far! It felt like a mini-fan gathering as the sound of applause and laughter from the small crowd filled the entire theater. Until now, though it’s already been a couple of days since I watched the film, I still can’t move on from its awesomeness. I was right to put Gintoki as the cover of this article that I wrote. Gintama is this year’s best live-action movie after all.

21687893_1489819551110322_7623854300484892751_nSet in an alternate Edo where aliens rule and samurai swords are banned, Sakata Gintoki tries to make ends meet through Yorozuya, an Odd Jobs business that he runs together with Shinpachi, a bespectacled dojo heir and Kagura, an alien girl with monstrous strength.

After Gintoki and Shinpachi’s iconic first encounter, the movie adapts the hilarious Beetle Hunting episode to introduce the supporting characters followed by the more serious and action-packed Benizakura Arc. This arc features two clients’ requests: one is the search for Kotaro Katsura and the other is the retrieval of the legendary demon sword called Benizakura. Soon, the members of Yorozuya realize that these missions are connected and that they’re in for a more serious danger than expected. 

Creator Hideaki Sorachi had been reluctant to have a live-action film for Gintama while the manga is still ongoing until he met the only man who could change his mind: Yuichi Fukuda! His directorial projects all have the same comic elements that can also be found in Gintama and my favorites are Yuusha Yoshihiko and Mr. Nietzsche in the Convenience Store. As expected, Fukuda achieved a great feat in completely recreating Gintama’s alien-infested Edo. Some viewers might feel a bit disappointed with the CG but the director confessed that he intentionally dropped the computer graphics’ quality to keep the anime-like parody atmosphere and to match it with the colorful characters’ features.

Speaking of characters, the biggest asset of the film is casting the best actors who all look perfect for the part. More than just the spot-on “cosplay”, they have genuine talent to boot.

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Twitter Image: @nana_zawa

Oguri Shun already appeared in the Gintama manga as Shunnosuke Oguri, a parody of himself who made a cameo as a guest in Yagyuu Kyuubei’s birthday party. Who would have thought that the real Oguri Shun would actually end up playing Sakata Gintoki. And not only does he rock that silver hair, he also comes out channeling a mix of his own previous live-action characters- Lupin III’s goofiness, Takiya Genji’s swag, and Rui Hanazawa’s charms- to pull off the perfect Gin-chan.

Shinpachi Shimura is a plain-looking geek whom Gintoki once described as “someone who is 95% glasses, 3% water, and 2% garbage”; but Masaki Suda is no way as ordinary as the character he’s playing. The versatile 24-year-old actor starred in 9 films in 2016 and continues to be a top headline-maker in 2017 with his films,dramas,music, and voice acting.

Hashimoto Kanna, a former member of the JPop idol group Rev. from DVL, breaks out of her “beyond angelic” image and “once in a millennium idol” title to play the show’s unconventional heroine. The cute red-haired alien girl with a voracious appetite likes to pick her nose and puke in public.

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Twitter Image: @nana_zawa

The cast comprised of accomplished actors include:

Masaki Okada as Joui faction leader Kotaro Katsura
Masami Nasagawa as Shinpachi’s fierce sister Tae Shimura
Kankuro Nakamura as Isao “gorilla” Kondo
Yuya Yagira as mayonnaise addict Toshiro Hijikata
Ryo Yoshizawa as sadistic prince Sougo Okita
Tsuyoshi Domoto as Kiheitai leader Takasugi Shinsuke
Yasuda Ken as renowned swordsmith Murata Tetsuya
Akari Hayami as Tetsuya’s sister Tetsuko Murata
Hirofumi Arai as the blind assassin Okada Nizo
Nanao as sexy sharpshooter Matako Kijima
Tsuyoshi Muro as the wacky inventor Gengai Hiraga
Sato Jiro as lolicon strategist Takechi Henpeita
And guess who’s playing Elizabeth? It’s Yuusha Yoshihiko himself! Takayuki Yamada!

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The film covers as much as its running time allows and we get to see most of the characters’ quirks but the seriousness of the arc doesn’t have enough room to reveal Katsura’s oddities. There’s also plenty of eye candies around, I didn’t know where to look first. The actors alone make me want to watch the movie a second time. They all gave amazing performances but as usual, Fukuda regulars (Sato Jiro, Tsuyoshi Muro, Hirofumi Arai, and Yasuda Ken) are the scene stealers. The weakest in my opinion is Tsuyoshi Domoto. His appeal is not on par with Shun and he’s just not as charismatic as the original Takasugi.

The humor is totally on point. Gintama is famous for its irreverent comedy that includes nose picking. vomiting, fourth wall breaking, and parodies. The movie does everything flawlessly by reenacting the exact scenes from the Benizakura Arc while inserting some newer gags and big time references without holding back. It also comes with a rockin’ theme song by Oguri Shun. HAHAHA! Yes but no, the real theme song is UNDECIDED by UVERworld.

The plot, however, is a tad convoluted and fast paced so it is understandable why the uninitiated have some negative reactions about it. Unlike other live-action films, Gintama is difficult to judge as a stand-alone sans familiarity with the original source. It requires knowledge of the manga/anime style, plus some historical and pop culture appreciation to completely get the humor. The action scenes can be used to attract new followers but even though the fight choreography is pretty good, it’s not as impressive as Rurouni Kenshin’s.

Some critics have expressed their disappointment and even disgust but numbers speak for themselves. Gintama earned almost 5 billion yen at the domestic box-office and continues to get distributed in many theaters outside Japan. It’s a proof that success is certain when you please the fans.

東京喰種 (Tokyo Ghoul)

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I got this poster all the way from Cannes Film Festival. ^__^

Tokyo Ghoul is one of this year’s most anticipated Japanese live-action films. However, fans have expressed their unease before its release. It’s hard not to worry considering the erratic results of live-action adaptations, the director’s unfamiliarity with the source material prior to making the movie, and the sudden controversial retirement of its lead actress. The film had several festival screenings before its official public showing in Japanese theaters. Fortunately, the first batch of published reviews were mostly positive.

After a bit of delay, I was finally able to catch the screening of Tokyo Ghoul live-action at a local movie theater. And yes, I’m happy to report that the film did not disappoint.

Based on Sui Ishida’s famous dark fantasy manga, the story is set in an alternate modern-day Japan where humans co-exist with indistinguishable ghouls. Kaneki Ken frequents a coffee shop where he meets Kamishiro Rize, an attractive woman who shares the same interest for books. During their bloody date, Kaneki discovers her real identity way too late. He survives her attack but waking up from the hospital bed just marks the beginning of his real nightmare. Now a half-human half-ghoul hybrid, Kaneki finds solace in Anteiku where he meets friends who help him as he comes to terms with his new life. While Kaneki tries to deal with his insatiable hunger, the clash between humans and ghouls takes place and eventually, he has to pick a side.

Through the use of good lighting and cinematography, director Hagiwara Kentaro successfully recreates the Tokyo Ghoul universe in a more “realistic” tone that’s less comic book but more of a conventional horror flick. With a few tweaks here and there, it manages to cover the first three volumes of the manga and capture its philosophy by making its viewers question about whose actions should be considered as the real monster. Using costume designs by Christian DADA founder Masanori Morikawa, the characters are given their iconic looks without going full ‘cosplay’. No purple hair for Rize or white hair for Kaneki. Instead, we get characters who look like actual people who can exist in real life. Kureo Mado, however, gets to keep his trademark hair and bulging-squinting eyes. 

The lack of the original brightly colored character designs is compensated by the actors’ gripping performances. The movie is easy to follow even for those who aren’t familiar with the source material because aside from its gruesome moments and badass kagune battles, the film remains to be character-driven and the main actors certainly deliver.

Kaneki Ken

After his memorable Death Note stint, Masakata Kubota gives another riveting performance as Kaneki Ken. As he goes from shy and dorky young man to desperate and vicious half-ghoul, he enters a world that no human has ever crossed before and learns the intricacies of having to survive as a flesh-eating creature. The first act focuses on his transformation as we literally see food in his new point of view. While witnessing Kubota’s display of acting range, Kaneki’s struggle to retain his humanity is exactly what keeps us invested in the story. His aberrant existence is relatable to those who feel alone and his iconic mask is a representation of the face that he wishes to show the world.

I’ve been following Kubota’s career and I’ve seen most of his projects so I thought there’s nothing he could do to surprise me anymore BUT he proved me wrong. Kubota even exceeded my expectations. I’ve been telling people that he’s really good at playing crazy characters and this time, he totally went all out to show Kaneki’s mental vulnerability. Some viewers say that his acting is over the top but I personally don’t agree with that idea. Considering the limited time, it’s extremely difficult to physically express the inner struggle of a character as conflicted as Kaneki and I find that Kubota’s “exaggerations” are actually necessary.

Kirishima Touka

Kirishima Touka knocked some sense into the despairing Kaneki by asking him how a cake tastes like. It’s a subtle yet heartbreaking moment when Kaneki realizes that the appalling life he’s cursing ever since he’s been transformed is the exact same life that Touka’s been living ever since she was born.

Touka belongs to the group of ghouls who simply wish to live peacefully. She studies, works, and even chows down disgusting human food for the sake of her friend. She’s a ferocious fighter behind the Rabbit mask but her “tsundere” personality is what makes her even more endearing.

Fumika Shimizu impressively brought Kirishima Touka to life. Too bad the 22-year-old actress has retired from the entertainment industry to devote herself to a fringe religious organization called Happy Science so if Tokyo Ghoul gets a sequel, it’s unlikely to see her reprise her role.

Fueguchi Hinami

Young Hinami, a ghoul couple’s offspring, stands right in the middle of the war between ghouls and humans. Her abilities are awakened by the sight of an injured Touka during her fight against Mado. Despite gaining the power and opportunity to kill the person who annihilated her family, Hinami sticks with her pacifist nature.

Teen actress Hiroyi Sakurada delivered a heart-tugging performance as her character’s actions’ strongly make viewers think about whose behavior is more human-like: Hinami’s warmth and compassion or Mado’s thirst for carnage?

Kureo Mado

Kureo Mado, played by the multi-talented Yo Oizumi, is a veteran investigator who is obsessed with hunting ghouls and making quinques (weapons) out of their kagunes. The movie doesn’t have enough time to provide his backstory and explain his apathetic and sadistic actions towards ghouls but his line, “Why does your kind want to live a life built on sin?”, is enough to stir the philosophical differences between humans and ghouls.

The brief moment that reveals the ring on Mado’s finger tells a bit about his character. If we shift the story’s point of view to the humans’ side, then we can see that this seemingly psychopathic ghoul hunter holds someone dear and is driven by human emotions such as rage and revenge.

Koutarou Amon

Tall, fit, and handsome Nobuyuki Suzuki meets the physical requirements to play the sympathetic First Class Ghoul Investigator Koutarou Amon. The film clearly shows his strong sense of justice and his fear of losing the people around him. We don’t get to see his journey towards earning his position at the Commission of Counter Ghoul but we get to see his physical training in preparation to defeat ghouls and avenge his colleagues.

Viewers who have watched the HiGH&LOW franchise know that this isn’t the first time for Masataka Kubota to go on a one-on-one action face-off against Nobuyuki Suzuki. Though the scene deviates from Kaneki and Amon’s original showdown, the movie’s version of their exciting and well-choreographed CGI-filled fight scene provides the movie’s main tension. More so, it’s an emotional turning point as Kaneki tries to cling to his human side at the last moment while Amon realizes that not all ghouls are completely evil after all.

The other cast members with noteworthy performances are:

  • Yui Aoi as the voracious ghoul Kamishiro Rize
  • Kunio Murai as Anteiku manager Kuzen Yoshimura
  • Shunya Shiraishi as the dangerous teacher Nishiki Nishio
  • Shoko Aida as Hinami’s mother Ryouko
  • Kai Ogasawara as Kaneki’s best friend Nagachika Hideyoshi
  • Minosuke Bando as the mask creator Uta

Fleshing out characters is one of the most challenging aspects to accomplish when a film tries to cover several manga chapters in a span of 119 minutes but in spite of the shared screen time, the actors’ convincing portrayals of their characters’ plight manage to strike a chord. Tokyo Ghoul proves that good adaptations are those that have well-presented narrative and an adequate understanding of character motivations.

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There’s some good flesh-biting horror and humorous martial arts training. However, the biggest hurdle that the film has to overcome is the use of computer graphics for the quinques and kagunes. Due to the live-action’s serious atmosphere, the special effects look a tad out of place — at times even awkward — but not to the point of being completely distracting.

The film does not include my favorite “What’s 1,000 minus 7” line but overall, Tokyo Ghoul live-action is a faithful adaptation and a visually satisfying movie. It comes with a theme song performed by RADWIMP’s Yojiro Noda. Instead of a fast track like the iconic Unravel from the anime, Illion’s BANKA gives off some emotional coming of age vibes.

 

Netflix’ Death Note VS. The Previous Japanese Death Note Adaptations

I attended a three-day ComicCon last month and I queued outside the Netflix booth where I successfully experienced the Death Note virtual reality game. I met Ryuk, held the infamous Death Note, and got to be “Kira” for a few minutes. I know very well how the story goes, but at that very moment my hands instinctively followed my moral compass and hit “Live” instead of “Die.” I burned the page where the hostage taker’s name was written but as I spared his life, I lost mine instead. My friend said she chose to kill the bad guy but she still ended up dying. There was no way to escape death after all. Even though it was just a game, the struggle was real. The idea of dirtying our own hands for the sake of the greater good is not something an average person can handle. Who are we to determine who gets to live and who deserves to die? This philosophical conundrum is what makes Death Note a compelling story and Yagami Light an extremely charismatic, albeit antagonistic, character.

The controversial Death Note adaptation by Netflix took away the Grey and Gray Morality trope that stands at the core of its source material. Director Adam Wingard promised originality but instead, we got an 80% insipid teen melodrama mixed with 20% Death Note elements. The movie, unfortunately, has turned Light and L’s intense psychological battle into a literal chase. Our beloved detective with a sweet tooth goes completely out of character as he runs around whilst holding a gun. From casting choices to character development, from rushed sequences to cheesy background music; Death Note is just so wrong on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin.

Several Japanese live-action adaptations have already spawned from Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s famous supernatural manga. Should Netflix decide to push through with the sequel, here are three points that I think they should learn from the previous Death Note films and series.

Running Time Should Not Be An Issue

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The 2006 Japanese live-action movie was two hours and twenty minutes long. It brought some of Death Note’s most memorable scenes to life that tangible things like apples and potato chips have become even more iconic. The leads, Tatsuya Fujiwara and Kenichi Matsuyama, delivered convincing performances especially the latter who was a scene-stealer for being every bit of how L should be.

The movie also proved that it’s possible to adapt Death Note’s main storyline without taking away the original characteristics and quirks of its protagonists. This adaptation has an exclusive character. Yuu Kashii plays Shiori Akino, Yagami Light’s principled girlfriend. Her existence emphasized Light’s “evil” side when he orchestrated his own girlfriend’s death and used her as leverage to enter the Task Force. In spite of the difference from the original, the addition of such a character still fits the overall narrative. The film is immediately followed by the sequel, Death Note 2: The Last Name.

Netflix’ Death Note has a running time of an hour and forty minutes and considering its vague ending, it’s open for a follow-up. The duration is certainly not enough to cover more than a hundred chapters of the manga but this constraint should never be used as an excuse for lazy writing. The wasted moments on sappy zero-chemistry romance should have been wisely spent on character build-up, emotional conflicts, and mind games. Hopefully, if they ever get another two hours for a sequel, they’d use the entire time to fix the gaffes from the first film.

It’s OK to Start With a Non-Genius Light

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The original Yagami Light is highly intelligent and perceptive. As Kira, he’s a cold and calculating sociopath. Light Turner is a typical angsty teenager. His initial encounter with Ryuk sparked some online outrage not just because of the actor’s hair, his girly scream, and the B-rated horror flick amateurish acting. It’s because of his off-putting initial motivations that include personal revenge and getting laid. Instead of being in total control of his goal to build the “perfect world”, he just seems like a pushover who can easily be persuaded by Ryuk and Mia.

If having a “normal” Yagami Light is an attempt to make him a relatable character then the film totally missed the point. Being relatable isn’t exactly what made him a riveting protagonist. Even with his conceited nature, Light is a victim of the Death Note in many ways that there’s no need to turn him into a beaten-up high school outcast just to make the viewers sympathize with him. If there really is a need to modify the character, then Nippon TV’s live-action television series shows the proper way to do it.

The 2015 Death Note drama also drew some flak for tweaking Yagami Light’s character. Masataka Kubota’s version started out as an average student and had the same histrionic reaction upon meeting Ryuk for the first time. However, as the story progressed, the series was able to flesh out his character. His fascinating transformation from upright to megalomaniac unfolded right before our very eyes and we witnessed how the arrival of a worthy opponent like L has awakened his inner genius. Soon, the harsh criticisms subsided. People eventually realized that it’s refreshing to see a friendly, conscience-stricken Yagami Light even just for a while. The Netflix sequel should also aim to make the viewers retract their initial disappointments by giving Light Turner some traits that would make him more likeable.

Create New Characters Instead of Failing Miserably at Replicating the Original

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The setting is moved to Seattle, the actors are all Americans, and deaths are Hollywood-style gory; there is so much room for carte blanche that they could actually make an entirely different story out of the source material just as Death Note: Light up the NEW World did.

The 2016 movie starring Masahiro Higashide, Sosuke Ikematsu, and Masaki Suda is set a decade after the epic showdown between Yagami Light and L. The world is in chaos and the unexplained deaths indicate that the Death Note is being used once again. Following in the footsteps of Soichiro Yagami, Detective Tsukuru Mishima works together with L’s biological successor Ryuzaki to secure all six Death Notes that have been scattered across the human world. Cyber terrorist Yuki Shien, an ardent Kira worshiper, also vows to acquire the Death Notes in the hopes of fulfilling his mission for the late Yagami Light.

It’s a convoluted three-way battle but fans are more lenient because the film is a decent police procedural and the characters are not Light and L. So instead of a sequel, how about a do-over? Fans have seen the death of the main characters so many times, I bet they won’t mind if both Light and L dies in Netflix’ Death Note and be replaced by a set of new, non-canon characters as long as the film provides a creative and coherent storyline.

Death Note’s Japanese live-action adaptations can’t hold a candle to the original manga and anime series but they’re not as heavily bashed as the Netflix movie because in spite of their flaws, the positive aspects outweigh the negative. They did not leave out Death Note’s knack for puzzles and reveals, the famous battle of wits, and the exhilarating cat-and-mouse chase that provided the main tension of the story. Netflix’ Death Note is visually appealing but with its hackneyed back stories, insufferable characters, and awkwardly placed ’80s classic hits, it exhibits a clear example of how adaptations can go wrong.

Director Adam Wingard said that sequels are never guaranteed. They have to be earned.

“At the end of the day, there are a lot of places to explore where to take Light. And ultimately the series is sort of about almost his downfall as a character. This is sort of the beginning of it or the origin of it. There are definitely lots of places to go, and we know generally where we would take it. Hopefully people will watch it and Netflix will order a sequel. They definitely are ready to. They just need people to watch it.”

The big question is, are people still going to watch it?