Stephen reviews: Vampire Princess Miyu (1988/1989)

737187003622Vampire Princess Miyu [Kyuuketsuti Miyu 吸血姫 美夕, Vampire Miyu] (1988/1989)

Starring Mami Koyama, Naoko Watanabe, Mayumi Shou, Katsumi Toruiumi, Ryo Horikawa, Yuji Mitsuya, Masako Ikeda, Kiyonobu Suzuki, Tesshō Genda, Kaneto Shiozawa

Directed by Toshihiro Hirano


Another series rather than film, Vampire Princess Miyu is one of my old favorites from my high school years. It was refreshing coming back to this series and finding that it still holds up pretty well. This is not the late ’90s TV series, but the decade older direct-to-video mini-series. At only four episodes the entire series is no longer than a feature film, making it easy to watch in one sitting although each episode stands on its own fairly well. They are all interconnected and combine to tell a broader story, but each episode is also a single adventure in itself.

The franchise has a rather oddly translated title. “Princess” is nowhere in the Japanese title. Miyu herself is not, and never was, a princess of anything. One can only wonder what made the translators insert that word. I guess it just sounds better than the more basic Vampire Miyu (though I do wonder if the original title might be a reference to Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat). In any event, the erroneous title is the one by which the franchise is most commonly known in English (the original manga used the literal translation Vampire Miyu when it first came out in the US, but later releases apparently added in the “princess” bit).

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Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 5: The Final Chapter (1988)

uruseiyatsura5_1Urusei Yatsura 5: The Final Chapter [うる星やつら 完結編 Urusei Yatsura – Kanketsuhen] (1988)

Starring Fumi Hirano, Toshio Furukawa, Kaneto Shiozawa, You Inoue, Akira Kamiya, Saeko Shimazu, Yuko Mita, Kazue Komiya, Kazuko Sugiyama, Machiko Washio, Ichirō Nagai

Directed by Satoshi Dezaki


Once Rumiko Takahashi finished the manga of Urusei Yatsura, it of course had to be animated. So The Final Chapter is a perfectly accurate name for the fifth film in the series as it retells that final manga story arc. And finally, after all these films, Urusei Yatsura 5 actually feels like an episode from the series. It does everything that made the series so much fun, and yet it feels like something is missing. I think it’s just that after all these films I’ve come to expect something unique from them. I wasn’t expecting it to suddenly start doing what it was supposed to be doing this whole time. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, and it never did. This film is a perfect rendition of what the series was always about, and that makes it different from all the other films.

What also works against it a bit is that I came to it with the expectation of seeing something major going down. This was supposed to be the conclusion of the series, so I felt like it was going to have a much bigger sense of closure than it does. Compared to the previous films which kept trying to inject drama into the story, this film feels much less momentous. It does work in a great sense of coming full circle, with Ataru and Lum once again playing a game of tag with the fate of the Earth hanging in the balance, just like the first episode of the series. Compared to the TV series, this is a great way to wrap things up, and it does a great job in that respect. Compared to the other films, though, it has less emotional strength, and coming right off of watching those, it felt a little weak.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Urusei Yatsura 5: The Final Chapter (1988) →

Stephen reviews: Birth (1984)

birth_1Birth [バース] (1984)
AKA World of the Talisman; Planet Busters

Starring Miina Tominaga, Kazuki Yao, Ichirō Nagai, Kaneto Shiozawa, Keiko Toda, Noriko Tsukase, Fuyumi Shiraishi

Directed by Shinya Sadamitsu


Sometimes I wonder why I dig through the bottom of the anime barrel, dredging up forgotten pieces of garbage that maybe should have stayed forgotten. But then I stumble upon one of those hidden gems that I never would have seen otherwise. Birth is one of those films that despite its low production quality is just so damn entertaining that all of its flaws are moot. Its rambunctious humor and action-driven narrative kept me in a perpetual state of giddy excitement.

There’s really not much of a plot here. It’s more of a string of intertwined chase scenes without much purpose aside from having a thrilling chase scene full of random sci-fi gadgets and vehicles. It starts with a small alien blob being chased by a slightly more anatomically defined alien critter, then moves on to a spaceship chasing a flying, glowing sword across the solar system, then shows off a cute blonde girl on a hover bike (which was clearly designed for maximum sexy posing and butt shots) getting chased by an asshole biker gang intercut with a guy on foot getting chased by a big robot with swords and guns. This is pretty much the first half-hour of the film, and there hasn’t been any kind of story going on other than “Run for your freaking life!”

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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: 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.

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Stephen reviews: A Time Slip of 10,000 Years: Prime Rose (1983)

553689-primerose_largeA Time Slip of 10,000 Years: Prime Rose [タイムスリップ 10000 年 プライム・ローズ] (1983)

Starring Yuu Mizushima, Mari Okamoto, Junko Hori, Katamasa Komatsu, Kaneto Shiozawa, Shuuichi Ikeda, Yuusaku Yara

Directed by Osamu Dezaki & Satoshi Dezaki


It’s time for another Osamu Tezuka film, and it’s one I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time now. The few images I had seen of it convinced me that it was going to be crazy, and it didn’t disappoint. It’s very unusual for a Tezuka film, and I’m a bit flummoxed on what to think of it. For one thing, it has virtually no cameos of other Tezuka characters. I only noticed one small appearance by Ban Shunsaku, and the cast felt somewhat lonely without the usual ensemble of familiar faces.

The film also has a much more defined narrative flow. The other Tezuka films I’ve reviewed have all bounced between tangents in a manner that anyone unfamiliar with his works would likely find jarring. But Prime Rose rarely deviates from its central course. The comedy elements are also downplayed a bit. It has plenty, but the jokes don’t saturate the film in the same way that they do in most Tezuka stories.

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Stephen reviews: Judge (1991)

JUDGE_1Judge [闇の司法官ジャッジ Yami no Shihosha Judge] (1991)
AKA Magistrate of Darkness: Judge

Starring Kaneto Shiozawa, Keiko Yamamoto, Miki Ito, Shinya Ohtaki, Tomomichi Nishimura, Daisuke Gouri

Directed by Hiroshi Negishi


Often it’s nice to go into a film with no idea what you’re about to watch, and Judge was one of those films that surprised me precisely because I didn’t know what it was. It gave me a sense of mystery and curiosity that would have been shattered if I’d heard about it before. In that sense, I suppose this review is going to ruin things for you, as you might enjoy this film best with as little knowledge as I had. But before you decide to read no further, you should know that the film is only average, and perhaps not worth such lofty concerns. It has its moments of fun, but there’s nothing that makes this some kind of must-see experience. Now on to the explaining.

It starts off with a business man in a swampy jungle, running away from a much more appropriately attired guy with a sniper rifle. This opening is where my expectations were thrown for a loop. It looked like I was diving into one of those films about some rich guy wanting to hunt the ultimate prey. So when it introduces us to the bumbling Ohma, I was expecting him to get dragged into a jungle for sport, only to prove that under his fumbling exterior were stores of unexpected resourcefulness. Obviously, this didn’t quite happen.

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