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.

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Stephen reviews: Paprika (2006)

paprika-movie-poster-2006-1020689313Paprika [パプリカ] (2006)

Starring Megumi Hayashibara, Tohru Furuya, Akio Ohtsuka, Daisuke Sakaguchi, Katsunosuke Hori, Kouchi Yamadera, Toru Emori, Akio Ōtsuka, Hideyuki Tanaka

Directed by Satoshi Kon


The final film of Satoshi Kon’s is something of a combination of all his previous ones. It has the reality warping confusion that characterizes his usual style, and it blends both the lighthearted cheer of Millennium Actress with the despondent terror of Perfect Blue, then adds in quirky-but-loveable characters like Tokyo Godfathers.

The standout feature of Paprika is its sci-fi premise. The plot revolves around a new device that lets you jump into other people’s dreams (just like the later film Inception would do). It was developed by a psychiatric research team for treating patients, but someone stole the thing and is using it for mysterious terrorist activities. But the science in this film is just there to trick you into thinking Paprika is a science fiction film. Once you peel back the layers, however, you find that it’s actually compete fantasy, and the weird stuff going on by the end of the film just can’t be explained by the device alone.

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Stephen reviews: Riding Bean (1989)

ridingbean_1Riding Bean [ライディング・ビーン] (1989)

Starring Hideyuki Tanaka, Naoko Matsui, Mami Koyama, Kei Tomiyama, Megumi Hayashibara, Chieko Honda

Directed by Yasuo Hasegawa


Another relic from my high school days, Riding Bean is about as action packed as you can make a movie without becoming a simple montage of action scenes. It’s short, but full of shootouts and car chases and shootouts during car chases leavened with plenty of lighthearted humor. It’s all about Bean Bandit, the Roadbuster, the best and craziest getaway driver in Chicago with a scar on his face and a jawline to make Jay Leno jealous. He’s a lot like a ’90s anti-hero, and his badassery oozes off the screen. His partner is a sexy gun expert named Rally Vincent, who knowledgeable anime fans might recognize as the main character of Gunsmith Cats, though here she is blonde instead of brunette.

Bean will take on any job as long as he gets paid, and while Rally is more of a good guy, she is still pretty much in it for the money and has no qualms about the illegal nature of their jobs. As with any rebel car chase story, there are plenty of car crashes and incompetent police for Bean to make fools out of. And trust me, these are some flat-out ridiculous car chases that could only have been brought to life in an anime. His car may not be as tricked out as James Bond’s, but has Bond ever had a car that can drive sideways? And of course it has the requisite “driving off an unfinished overpass” scene as well; you can’t have a car chase film without one of those.

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Stephen reviews: GoShogun: The Time Étranger (1985)

goshogun_1GoShogun: The Time Étranger [戦国魔神ゴーショーグン 時の異邦人(エトランゼ)  Sengoku Majin Goshōgun: Toki no Étranger] (1985)
AKA Time Stranger

Starring Mami Koyama, Daisuke Gouri, Hideyuki Tanaka, Hirotaka Suzukoi, Kaneto Shiozawa, Shojiro Kihara, Funio Matsuoka, Yumi Takada

Directed by Kunihiko Yuyama


40 years ago Remy Shimada was part of a team that saved the world from destruction. Now she is old and dying. She’s only got two days left to live. And as she lays unconscious in a hospital bed, her comrades stay with her, hoping that she will recover. In between these hospital scenes are spliced a story from the days when Remy and her friends were adventuring around the galaxy, and a smaller story from Remy’s childhood. Or perhaps they are really just fever dreams as Remy comes to terms with her impending death. This movie is very metaphysical; what is real and what is illusion will largely be up to the viewers to decide for themselves.

The bulk of the story takes place in an unknown city on an unknown planet at an unknown point in time. Remy and her pals were just passing through, but while staying at a hotel they all receive letters that predict their deaths. Mirroring the frame story in the hospital, Remy is scheduled to die in two days. The team naturally decides this is all a bunch of bullshit and tries to prove the predictions wrong. The townsfolk, however, are greatly offended by these foreigners ignoring the city’s traditions, and form massive lynch mobs to put the heroes in their place.

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Stephen reviews: Big Wars (1993)

bigwars_1Big Wars [Big Wars: Kami utsu akaki kouya ni ビッグ・ウォーズ 神撃つ朱き荒野に] (1993)
AKA Daisenki

Starring Hideyuki Tanaka, Kouji Tsujitani, Isshin Chiba, Yumi Touma

Directed by Issei Kume & Toshifumi Takizawa


Big Wars starts out with a really big wall of text scrolling across the screen. This might have had the benefit of providing an epic feel like Star Wars, except it is much longer and races by much faster, so you can’t read it unless you pause the film. That’s OK though, you don’t really want to read it anyway. It’s pretty drab stuff, and it won’t give you any special insight into the film, so it’s best to just ignore it. Besides, who needs a history lesson when we’ve got flying saucers to shoot down? The opening dogfight is fantastic enough to make you forget all about boring text on the screen.

The war in question is an alien invasion. Humans have colonized Mars, and it looks like some aliens didn’t care too much for that. They shoot lightning bolts and they can brainwash people to be their slaves. But despite the title, Big Wars takes a small-scale look at the war. It focuses on Captain Akuh and his assignment to the super-secret new warship the Aoba. It’s a big mission that could change the course of the war, but we don’t get to see much of the war as a whole. Instead, we’re treated to a lot of spy drama with Akuh’s sexy, and excessively horny, girlfriend in the intelligence department. After all, it’s a pain in the butt to track down those brainwashed terrorists.

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Stephen reviews: They Were 11 (1986)

2010-02-16_11They Were 11 [11人いる! Jûichi-nin iru!] (1986)

Starring Akira Kamiya, Michiko Kawai, Hideyuki Tanaka, Hirotaka Suzuoki, Kōzō Shioya, Michihiro Ikemizu, Norio Wakamoto, Tesshō Genda, Toshio Furukawa, Tarako, Tsutomu Kashiwakura

Directed by Satoshi Dezaki & Tsuneo Tominaga


I’m not all that familiar with the mystery genre. It’s not one of the more common anime genres to bump into. But the basic premise of They Were 11 is just that. It’s not a murder mystery mind you, but it’s still an odd sort of whodunit. It is also a science fiction film, and in this area, I’m on more familiar ground.

The story starts off with a space station somewhere in the universe. It’s a great big university that cranks out the best educated people in the galaxy. The main character of film is Tada, a young man going through the entrance exams. He gets sent on to the final test, as one of a crew of 10 potential students on a derelict spaceship, hoping to survive for 53 days without dying or otherwise screwing things up. But, of course, the film is called They Were 11, and that’s where the mystery comes in.

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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.

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