Stephen reviews: The Five Star Stories (1989)

geroi_pjati_planetThe Five Star Stories [ファイブスター物語] (1989)

Starring Ryo Horikawa, Maria Kawamura, Hideyuki Tanaka, Norio Wakamoto, Ichiro Nagai, Kazuhiko Inoue, Rei Sakuma, Run Sasaki

Directed by Kazuo Yamazaki


The Five Star Stories starts off with a brief description of the Joker Galaxy, which contains only four stars, making it the smallest galaxy I’ve ever heard of. So why does the title talk about five stars? No idea. The four stars we do get to hear about have the rather unusual names of Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western. I suppose the film takes place in one of these solar systems, but I can’t remember if it bothered to say which one. Maybe it even takes place on that mysterious fifth star. This confusing description of the galaxy actually mirrors the film which is also bizarre, mismatched, and very incomplete.

Clearly a highly condensed adaptation of a longer work, Five Star Stories suffers the usual problems of these types of films, but magnifies the problem by also being very short. Even a full two hours or more can leave adaptations such as Fist of the North Star or Dagger of Kamui feeling like half the story was left out. Five Star Stories is only one hour long, and it is nowhere near enough time to do the original story justice. What’s left is a confusing hodgepodge of poorly explained events told with an air of epic mythology.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: The Five Star Stories (1989) →

Stephen reviews: Wrath of the Ninja: The Yotoden Movie (1989)

wrathoftheninja_1Wrath of the Ninja: The Yotoden Movie [戦国奇譚妖刀伝 Sengoku Kidan Yōtōden] (1989)
AKA Legend of the Enchanted Swords; Yotoden: Chronicle of the Warlord Period; Wrath of the Ninja – The Yotoden Chronicles; Blade of the Ninja

Starring Keiko Toda, Kazuhiko Inoue, Takeshi Watabe, Tomomichi Nishimura, Masami Kikuchi, Kazuki Yao, Kaneto Shiozawa, Norio Wakamoto, Reizo Nomoto, Shōzō Iizuka, Ritsuo Sawa, Eken Mine

Directed by Osamu Yamasaki


Ninja action is awesome, right? Especially when there are lots of demons and illusions, and martial arts showdowns scattered around, right? The more the better, right? Well, sadly that’s not the case for Wrath of the Ninja which proves that you can indeed have too much ninja action in a movie, as hard as that is to believe. I think (hope) that this is the result of compressing down the longer original story into oblivion. The film version of Wrath of the Ninja is a compilation of the series, and it’s got all the usual problems of such a film cranked up to eleven.

The plot, what’s left of it anyway, revolves around three ninjas from different clans who each own a special weapon with a legend attached to it. They’re up against the commonly used historical figure of Oda Nobunaga, who was also the villain of Black Lion as well as other anime. Here, as is common in stories set in feudal Japan, Nobunaga is a demon bent on conquering the world. I think. I’m actually not sure what he’s after. The story doesn’t have enough time to bother with something as trivial as the objectives of the main villain. But whatever he’s trying to do, it involves the massacre of the protagonists’ hometowns, which obviously unites them in an unstoppable ninja team-up out for revenge.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Wrath of the Ninja: The Yotoden Movie (1989) →

Stephen reviews: Bagi, the Monster of Mighty Nature (1984)

bagi_1Bagi, the Monster of Mighty Nature [大自然の魔獣 バギ Daishizen no Majyuu Bagi] (1984)
AKA Baggy

Starring Saeko Shimazu, Kazuhiko Inoue, Kazuteru Suzuki, Tomie Kataoka, Masaru Ikeda, Yuzuru Fujiki, Kousei Tomita, Katsuji Mori

Directed by Osamu Tezuka


It seems impossible to overstate the influence Osamu Tezuka had on anime. When I began watching Bagi and it not only featured a sexy, furry catgirl, but then had her attacked by a tentacle monster, my immediate thought was, “Man, there’s nothing in anime that Tezuka didn’t do first.” I hasten to add that this tentacle attack was in no way sexual. That particular depravity wouldn’t appear in anime for several more years, but looking back from today it’s hard not to immediately think of the ickier applications. While I have no supporting evidence that Bagi spawned the sexy catgirls and tentacle monsters that would later ingrain themselves in the anime industry, I don’t know of any earlier uses of either. Though that may only be because this and previous eras of anime are poorly represented in the west (nor would it surprise me to find out that it was simply an earlier Tezuka story that did originate the ideas).

Bagi also surprised me by being an even further departure from Tezuka’s usual style than Prime Rose. While Tezuka’s trademark humor, pacing, and cameos were much reduced in that film, Bagi almost entirely discards them. I’m not sure if this was some fluke of design, or if his style was just evolving. Either way, Bagi feels very little like a Tezuka film. His earlier films, even in their most serious moments, were joyful romps, filled with fun and adventure. Most of that has been filtered out in Bagi. I was a bit sad to lose the zany approach of older Tezuka productions, but this was balanced out by the fact that Bagi is a very well-made film. Due to the more focused narrative, it has a much weightier and more dramatic feel.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Bagi, the Monster of Mighty Nature (1984) →

Stephen reviews: Battle Royal High School (1987)

BRHSBattle Royal High School [真魔神伝 – バトルロイヤルハイスクール Shinmajinden Batoru Royaru Haisukûru] (1987)

Starring Kazuki Yao, Kazuhiko Inoue, Hideyuki Tanaka, Chieko Honda, Mari Yokoo, Sakiko Tamagawa

Directed by Ichiro Itano


Despite the similar title and high school setting, this is not to be confused with Battle Royale. They are two very different stories. Battle Royal High School starts off like a martial arts film, with a protagonist that beats the crap out of a karate class and aspires to conquer every dojo in the country. But it quickly transitions to a demonic invasion and accelerates into the realm of pure absurdity.

The plot is tricky to pin down. It’s convoluted and low on explanation, but I’ll try to sum it up. Ryoudo, martial arts champion of his school, gets possessed by a demon trapped on Earth. After that, a demon hunter tries to kill him. Then add in the sudden arrival — from space, I guess — of a space-time continuum inspector who’s searching for the source of a “hyper-psycho-kinetic-wave.” He’s also tricked out with an awesome suit of robot armor. Obviously. And apparently fairies are trying to take over the world by mutating people into hideous monsters. Somehow all of that gets twisted into a plot that actually makes a good deal of sense in the end, as long as you don’t question it.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Battle Royal High School (1987) →

Stephen reviews: Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)

children_who_chase_lost_voices_from_deep_belowChildren Who Chase Lost Voices [星を追う子ども Hoshi o Ou Kodomo] (2011)
AKA Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below, Journey to Agartha

Starring Hisako Kanemoto, Kazuhiko Inoue, Miyu Irino, Junko Takeuchi, Funiko Orisaka, Sumi Shimamoto, Tamio Ohki, Rina Hidaka

Directed by Makoto Shinkai


After watching the luscious visuals of 5 Centimeters Per Second, I just couldn’t keep away from Makoto Shinkai’s latest film any longer. The allure of a fantasy world seen through Shinkai’s visual style was just too strong. I certainly got some wonderful fantasy world visuals, and I loved those quite a bit even if they weren’t the best Shinkai has produced.

Unfortunately, the promotional art that reminded me so much of a Studio Ghibli production proved a little too true. The spunky female lead was certainly reminiscent of any number of Ghibli films, and her jittery cat bore a definite similarity to the squirrel-foxes of Nausicaa and Laputa. Inspiration is one thing, but this crosses that fine line into rip-off. And when the scene from Princess Mononoke of Ashitaka saying goodbye to his sister was copied almost exactly, it was nothing short of depressing.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011) →

Stephen reviews: The Place Promised In Our Early Days (2004)

The Place Promised In Our Early Days [雲のむこう、約束の場所, Kumo no Mukou, Yakusoku no Basho] (2004)
AKA Beyond the Clouds, The Promised Place

Starring Hidetaka Yoshioka, Masato Hagiwara, Yuuka Nanri, Kazuhiko Inoue, Risa Mizuno, Unshou Ishizuka

Directed by Makoto Shinkai


Even after watching Shinkai’s earlier short, Voices of a Distant Star, I never expected this film to be science fiction. The posters, promotional art, and even the visuals of the film itself all seem like an everyday setting without anything bizarre. I did expect the same emotional focus that Voices had, and it certainly delivers on that front. For the first few minutes of the movie, my expectations held true. The main character, Hiroki, narrates the opening, looking back at his high school days when he shared two things with his best friend, Takuya. The first was a crush on the same girl in their class, Sayuri. But when he gets to their second common interest, I realized this film was not going quite where I had expected.

Their shared dream was to build a plane that would take them across the border, to the massive tower of Ezo which stretches up into the sky and out of sight. It’s a tower so tall that until the climactic reveal at the end of the film you never see the top. It stretches up like the Tower of Babel, and even in faraway Tokyo the tower can be seen, still looming above everything. It’s a symbol of the characters’ aspirations, and a reminder of the dreams they never realized. Beyond simple symbolism, the tower is also a science lab to research alternate realities; that was when I realized this wasn’t just a love story. It is every bit as fantastical as Voices, taking a scientific concept and combining it with very human emotions to tell an intriguing story.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: The Place Promised In Our Early Days (2004) →

Stephen reviews: X (1996)

X (1996)
AKA X/1999, X: Their Destiny Was Foreordained 1999

Starring Tomokazu Seki, Ken Narita, Yūko Minaguchi, Atsuko Takahata, Junko Iwao, Tōru Furusawa, Masako Ikeda, Kazuhiko Inoue,Mami Koyama, Rica Matsumoto, Kotono Mitsuishi, Issei Miyazaki, Jōji Nakata, Yukana Nogami, Toshihiko Seki, Emi Shinohara, Hideyuki Tanaka, Kōichi Yamadera

Directed by Rintaro


No, the title X has nothing to do with the film’s rating. It is in fact rated R. There’s no sex anywhere, and the only nudity is in the incredibly creepy opening scene where the main character, Kamui, confronts his naked mother. Before Kamui can do much of anything, his mother rips open her own stomach with her bare hands and pulls out a massive sword, which she then stabs into Kamui’s stomach. And just to end the scene on a confusing note, because it wasn’t confusing enough apparently, Mommy dearest spontaneously explodes in a spray of blood and severed limbs. Things like this are why Japan has cornered the WTF market. It certainly grabs your attention, but even after watching the film I’m not sure whether that scene was a dream sequence, or literal event. It doesn’t matter much though, as there isn’t much difference between the two in this movie. People travel through dreams, and the film is filled with apocalyptic visions.

The movie is about the end of the world, and the two groups fighting over it: the Dragons of Heaven who want to preserve modern civilization, and the Dragons of Earth that want to return the world to its natural state. Each side has six members in addition to the two fortune-telling sisters that lead them, and that means there’s obviously going to be some limits on how well we get to know them. Many characters have a sort of “Hi! Bye!” feel to them, just getting enough time to show off their stuff before dying. This film is an adaptation of a comic book series, and the problem of condensing a longer story will always be present. Rintaro has learned a few things in the decade since he directed The Dagger of Kamui, though, and the pacing in X is smooth throughout the film, giving a balanced focus to as many characters as it could.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: X (1996) →

Subscribe via Email!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 73 other subscribers

Ongoing Series

Top Posts & Pages