Buddha Mountain 观音山 (Guan Yin Shan) [2010] • China

By-the-numbers indie. I didn't believe any of the actors made contact with the feelings the characters were supposed to be feeling because everything comes off as an impression, rather than anything of substance. Li Yu, who directed 2007's wonderful Lost in Beijing, doesn't seem to have a story to tell here, as much as simply having a desire to make a film in this style, and feature disillusionment as a theme. The hand-held camera-work didn't bother me, but the framing and composition of shots did. They seemed forced and almost precious, and the actors merely vogued their way through scenes.

Fan Bingbing, who was so good in Lost in Beijing, her first film with director Li, seems to treat this one like it's automatic art-house street cred. The story is uninspired: Three young drifters meet a single mom who is still mourning the death of her only son, and they all have an angst competition. That should be indie grill; it's not in this case. It's just shots of people pensively staring off into space, and scenes of people pensively walking around aimlessly while the fog rolls by and the music meanders. Indie film school 101. It was very hard to finish this film because I didn't care about any of the characters. Caring about characters may not be necessary, although the director clearly hoped for it, so I'm going to make up a word to describe my experience, to differentiate it from not caring. I discared  the characters.

Director: Yu Li
Starring: Sylvia Chang, Bo-lin Chen, Bingbing Fan, Helong Wang


Resurrection 黄泉がえり (Yomigaeri) [2002] • Japan

It's hard to believe this is a Shiota Akihiko film; it's so mainstream sentimental. Compared to the two very independent flavored films about lost teenagers he made just before and after this one—the brutal Harmful Insect and the ennui filled Canary, not to mention his twisted psycho-sexual drama debut Moonlight WhispersResurrection is mall fodder. It's not bad as far as these things go. It just surprised me. The film stars adults instead of teenagers, but in the end it is very much a teen film.

People start returning from the dead. Children to parents, husbands to wives, wives to husbands, and so on. Each of these resurrections gets its own postcard-style short story and they are all meant to pull the heartstrings, nothing more. They have almost nothing to do with one another and they don't build to any big party for the dead. The film is a loosely knit series of vignettes held together by a government bureaucrat who returns to the little town where the events are happening, which also happens to be the town where he was born, to investigate the occurrences. Of course there is a girl there whom he pined for but lost contact with when he moved away. She serves as a love interest and sceptic. There's a twist and then you're supposed to cry.

It's all good. The film is so harmless it's hard to object to anything about it, except maybe the government bureaucrat's haircut. Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, as the bureaucrat, is an odd looking fellow. He'd been a member of the pop group SMAP, which lends more to the mall fodder aspect of the film, and he approaches the role with a sincere earnestness. He has a few well done moments of emotional outburst but is overall pretty flat, although not disagreeable, as an actor. Yuko Takeuchi is wonderful as the tomboyish love interest.

There is, actually, a big party for the dead at the end, but not really. It's a concert, which at first seems to serve only to highlight a couple songs, in their entirety, by pop singer Kou Shibasaki. Then you remember, "oh yeah, that's the girl from the beginning of the movie". It's not that this film is hard to follow, it's just structured in a way which favors feeling over narrative. The vignettes don't come together Altman style. They are all pretty much self-contained units.

This movie was a big hit in Japan when it came out, back when SMAP and Shibasaki were at the top of the charts, and was probably a lot more fun than it is now. What's interesting to me about it is seeing it in the context of Akihiko Shiota's other work. I haven't seen his two most recent films, Dororo and A Heartful of Love, but if this one is any indication, it suggests he is fully capable of making mainstream commercial films if he wants to. I don't know if that is good or bad.

Director: Akihiko Shiota
Starring: Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, Yuko Takeuchi, Yuriko Ishida, Sho Aikawa, Keiichi Yamamoto

Japan Times
Beyond Hollywood

Red Cliff 赤壁 (Chi bi) [2008+2009] • China

A five hour holiday marathon. Period pieces, costume dramas, and films about fighting (physically or with weapons other than the heart) are a few of my least favorite film genres so I don't know how it happened but I loved every minute of this monster. If I had watched the condensed version I wouldn't have liked it. There are two 30 minute fight scenes, and since the cut version is aimed at Western audiences I doubt they would have suffered any loss, which would have then made them be half the movie and I would have been bored silly.

I love the Art of War, men of honor, tea ceremony languid pace of it which allows for fleshing out the characters and slowly developing the gravity of the situation. Sure, it's a little over-the-top at times—it's John Woo—but it's really easy to get into the film's depiction of historically important events and forgive a few personal excesses. The film is remarkably understated for the most part. All the performances are good. All the actors bring you into their world and make you care for them and their concerns. I even rooted for these guys when they went ONE against ONE THOUSAND ... something so silly I've never understood the prevalence nor appeal of it in film.

This film ignited an interest in Chinese historical epics I never thought I would develop. It prompted me to watch The Emperor and the Assassin, and that one is awesome. I've got a couple more in my queue. I think the key is picking the ones that are made for a Chinese rather than a Western audience. The long version of Red Cliff seems to be one of those films. It's slower and more poetic, which is what I like. If it's what you like and you've been keeping this one at bay for fear it's just another big, dumb Chinese historical videogame, give it a shot—and be sure to give it the long shot.

Director: John Woo
Starring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Chen Chang, Wei Zhao, Fengyi Zhang, Shido Nakamura, Jun Hu, Yong You


Moonlight Whispers 月光の囁き (Gekkô no sasayaki) [1999] • Japan

One of those "only from Japan" psycho-sexual dramas which explores adult themes of desire, domination, and twisted mind-fuck games and perversion ... acted out by teenagers. No comment on this peculiar film tradition.

Boy with fetishes meets girl with Dom proclivities. At first the girl, played exquisitely by Tsugumi, thinks the boy's over-zealous displays of desire are perverted, but then she realizes his fetishistic personality gives her great power over him so she makes him do pretty much anything degrading she can think of, from licking her feet, nay, her entire leg clean, to locking him in a closet while she has sex with another guy. He goes along with all of it because he is also madly, sadly, and pathetically in love with her. It's a little harder to tell what her motivation is because, well, she's a girl. Depending on the viewer's orientation to things, the film might seem erotic, but no matter which way the wind blows there's no escaping the film's ominous, eerie, and sad emptiness (in an indie good way). This film just broods along beautifully.

This is Akihiko Shiota's directorial debut and probably his strongest film. The focus is clear and concise. The powerful but flawed Harmful Insect would have benefited from such focus. It was the first one of his films I had seen and it pissed me off for days. Then I saw Canary and wasn't sure what to think. There wasn't much new to it and it seemed less well done. Now that I've seen Moonlight Whispers I have to go back and watch those two films again, and I will be seeking out all of his films. Funny how that works.

Director: Akihiko Shiota
Starring: Kenji Mizuhashi, Tsugumi


Hot Summer Days 全城熱戀 (Chuen sing yit luen - yit lat lat) [2010] • Hong Kong, China

I laughed, I cried. This is a very fun, good looking, popcorn/date flick. Beneath its light-hearted surface there are some teary eyed love happenings. If you like star-studded Hong Kong romantic comedies and sugar-coated sentimentality, look no further.

Hot Summer Days tries to be cross-cultural by setting two of its four main story lines on the mainland but it's more in the tradition of Hong Kong rom-coms than mainland fare. Most of the actors are native Cantonese speakers. I watched this twice, once with the Mandarin audio and once with the Cantonese audio. There is some dubbing in both versions but the Cantonese version has less of it.

The eye candy comes in both flavors: boy and girl. They perspire a lot which leads to some clingy clothing, glistening skin, and probably the PG (or its Chinese equivalent) rating. Vivian Hsu has never been more freakishly cute and Barbie Hsu has never been more tattooed. The most heartwarming and intricate tale is that between Jacky Cheung, as an out of work truck driver cum ice cream salesman, and Rene Liu, as a concert pianist doing foot massage (because it's a job requiring skilled hands), which gets its start from a text message sent to the wrong number. The one that anchors the film and produces the most tears is the one, not given top billing on the poster, between newcomer Xinbo Fu, as an innocent country boy and Angela Baby (that's right, her name is Angela Baby), as a factory worker assembling teddy bears. Daniel Wu, as Master Soy Sauce, and Vivian Hsu, as Wasabi, have the cutest nicknames. Nicholas Tse and Barbie Hsu's story is the most hip and tragic.

There are cameos galore, the highlight being a weepy-eyed monologue from Maggie Cheung spilling her guts to Master Soy Sauce. Blah blah blah. If this is your cup of tea, drink it. It's good (except for some well intentioned CGI maybe). I hope I got all the links right.

Director: Tony Chan, Wing Shya
Starring: Nicholas Tse, Jacky Cheung, Rene Liu, Vivian Hsu, Barbie Hsu, Angela Baby, Daniel Wu


A Blue Automobile (Aoi kuruma) [2004] • Japan

This film has three things going for it: Aoi Miyazaki, Kumiko Aso, and a great soundtrack. Miyazaki and Aso are two of Japan's most talented and popular young actresses, and I'm always happy when a director shows good taste in music and uses it well—although the hip and evocative soundtrack used here sometimes seems a bit at odds with the slow paced art-house stylings of the film.

A Blue Automobile is a good looking film, very bleak, all stark and concrete, and there are a number of creative and interesting directorial choices made by Okuhara but the overall vision of the film left me wanting. That isn't always a problem but this film plays like it wants to be a film with a vision to talk about, an exploration of a heavy theme: pain, as a game changer. Indie actor cool dude Arata does a fine job as a young man who doesn't think much of living because of an accident as a child that has left him scarred around the eyes. He plays an introverted danger-punk guy, and we all know that fetching, young, good-hearted women are attracted to the type, so that's what plays out.

I was intrigued, fascinated even, by the characters as discreet units but wasn't able to engage or be moved by the exposition of the characters' motivations toward one another. It's basically another story about a guy who gets two women. And this time they are sisters, which adds to the oh-so-intense nature of the angst. That there's a big theme of immense suffering lurking in the background all the time doesn't make it much more than that, except it does make it "alternative".

The film has many bright moments and solid acting. It's not mainstream fare by a long shot, but fans of any of the three leads should enjoy watching them do their stuff. The film wants to be more than it is but it really doesn't matter. I enjoyed the experience of the film. It's one of those where you give more points to journey than goal.

Director: Hiroshi Okuhara
Starring: Arata, Aoi Miyazaki, Kumiko Aso, Tomorowo Taguchi, Kenji Mizuhashi

Japan Times

Norwegian Wood ノルウェイの森 (Noruwei no mori) [2010] • Japan

I let myself get over-hyped about this one: Director Anh Hung Tran's The Vertical Ray of the Sun is one of the most beautiful films I've ever seen; Cinematographer Ping Bin Lee, one of my favorites; Jonny Greenwood doing the soundtrack. Almost every publicity blurb about this movie starts off with "Upon hearing the song "Norwegian Wood," Toru remembers back to his life in the 1960s ..."

Well ... that blurb may describe the book but it has nothing to do with this film. I'm not a Beatles fan but I do carry a bunch of love for that song and it does bring with it a great sense of nostalgia. Somebody paid somebody a bunch of money to play that song over the end credits, all for naught. There isn't any real sense of nostalgia in the film except for some of the fashion and the big telephones. I let myself be mislead.

Greenwood's soundtrack might be interesting to listen to by itself but in the film all the lilting strings manage to seem bombastic. I literally muted the film several times it annoyed me so much. I don't think this is Greenwood's issue, though. Tran has been known to over-saturate a film or two with torturing soundtracks (The Scent of Green Papaya). Ping Bin Lee did come through. There are many breathtakingly beautiful scenes in the film, a few of which played silently for me because of the aforementioned soundtrack's habit of shitting all over the film.

I do not like Rinko Kikuchi's acting. I've seen her in a handful of films and while she gets some moments right, she often brings too much of her blonding international star self to roles (even before she had it) and I struggle to see a character beyond her personality. She whispers a lot which is a phony way to be dramatic done by people, strangely, desirous of attention. If they have your attention a little bit they can force you to double it by whispering. Fortunately she is only half the focus of the film. Texas born Kiko Mizuhara is awesome as the main "other" girl, Midori, in Toru's life. She's cute, spunky, forward, sexually confident, and blunt, but comes off as merely an outline of a character. I wish the whole film were about her. Ken'ichi Matsuyama, as Toru, is serviceable as the supposedly nostalgic one but hardly awesome enough to be a guy that three different girls just have to fuck. Gorgeous Eriko Hatsune has a nearly film-stealing scene but that's about all we see of her.

The film contains some rather bold, and funny at the same time, sexual dialog, although it's a little sore-thumbish because the film is only punctuated with it. I loved it, and laughed, when Midori calls up Toru and says "My dad died. Will you take me to a porno film? The most perverse one." She also has a few moments describing to Toru how she'd like to be bedded by him which are entertaining. Kikuchi's Naoko, after letting Toru know that she's too crazy with despair to sleep with him asks him if it's torture to have an unserviced erection: "I can help with that", she then offers. There is a good bit of sadness and mixed up desire in the film but the characters and the story aren't developed enough to see it as more than immature angst.

I think this film will appeal to teenagers and twenty-somethings who've read the Haruki Murakami novel it's based upon because most of the holes in the film will be filled in and the sense of nostalgia might be there. Not that teenagers have a lot of nostalgia for the sixties but the film is about loss, and it is fairly good at presenting that—except the adolescent level of it is pretty thin. The film is NOT about the way things were—the last few wonderful lines of the film and a Beatles tune can't save it. It's just a young-love story which lacks the depth to appeal to those not feeling the same way, i.e., older folks. Young people experiencing the whirlwind of sexual awakening, and or those who've had a friend commit suicide, might love it.

Norwegian Wood is a great looking film but not well written or acted, and since it is also quite slow moving I don't think it will engage general audiences who haven't read the book. It's not sexy enough nor smart enough.

Director: Anh Hung Tran
Starring: Rinko Kikuchi, Ken'ichi Matsuyama, Tetsuji Tamayama, Kiko Mizuhara, Reika Kirishima, Eriko Hatsune


Winter's Bone [2010] • USA

"Here's a doobie for the road". Haven't heard that one in years. I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to sit comfortably through a couple hours of hillbilly meth heads mumbling through their problems, but Jennifer Lawrence's performance doesn't take long to latch onto. Then Uncle Teardrop shows up. John Hawkes, as Teardrop, nails the role of resident scary guy, and he almost steals the show. A young man of slight physical stature, he is nonetheless able to project frightening unpredictability and intimidation. His character is very well written with a broad development arc, from violent to thoughtful to playing the banjo. The film is worth seeing for Hawkes's performance alone, but it's got a lot more to offer.

Winter's Bone, on the surface, is a backwoods family drama about drug culture, but it's also a good mystery thriller. There are some obvious and unnatural "dialog as character development" moments, and a few scenes inserted to show a little down home familial love and bonding which are a slight cause for pause, but the overall pace is fairly swift and they are easily forgiven, especially when the it rolls out one of the saddest, most thought-provoking endings to a film I've seen in a long time ... well, at least since Confessions. And it's John Hawkes who delivers the death blow.

The ending is not ambiguous. The intended scenario seems fairly clear, but it is open to a number of possibilities. It allows the viewer to sidestep the tragedy if they want to. It's brilliantly written, not saying as much as it says, and it sort of retroactively creates another layer of emotional depth to the film as a whole. I might have been on the fence had the ending come with less of an impact. This is a film that could be a big downer, considering its subject matter, but as written and directed by Debra Granik it clings to the hopeful side of bleak, punctuated and allowed for in the end. Such is the nature of hope.

Director: Debra Granik
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, Isaiah Stone, Ashlee Thompson, Valerie Richards


Dream Home 维多利亚一号 (Wai dor lei ah yut ho) [2010] • Hong Kong

Gore-hounds and violence enthusiasts should enjoy this one a lot, except that all the horror plot points are interrupted by a lot of story and social commentary about rising home prices in Hong Kong. Dream Home is a serious and thoughtful drama with a lot of blood.

The flashback narrative technique doesn't serve the film very well except for the fact that it lets the blood start flowing from the opening scene. It feels like a cop out to me when a director doesn't have the confidence to let a film build to its climax, and feels the need to begin with the climax and then retrace the steps that lead up to it.

A few of the kills in this film are fantastic, in a "Really?!?! Holy Shit!" sort of way, especially the coitus interruptus one. The fact that mild-mannered Josie Ho is performing them adds to the effect. The only problem I had is that many of them start off as failures, to build phony tension the wrong way, become successes, and then someone who should have been dead dead dead pops up for another go at it. This produces more bang for the buck by getting, say, a dozen kills out of only seven characters.

There's plenty of nudity and some graphic fucking to round things out but the cognitive dissonance created by mixing deep dramatic story lines with over-the-top bloodletting is likely to leave most viewers sitting on the fence verdict-wise. I recommend the film more to gore hounds than to connoisseurs of fine Hong Kong cinema. The film looks great and the production values are top notch, so ....

Director: Ho-Cheung Pang
Starring: Josie Ho, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Eason Chan, Michelle Ye, Hee Ching Paw, Kwok Cheung Tsang

LoveHK Film

Under the Hawthorn Tree 山楂树之恋 (Shan zha shu zhi lian) The Love of the Hawthorn Tree [2010] • China

Zhang Yimou reportedly auditioned 10,000 girls in search of untarnished, innocent (old school Chinese) beauty when looking to cast the lead in this film.
"These young folks are looking worse and worse with each generation. Pretty girls obviously aren't marrying handsome guys these days. They're hooking up with this sugar daddy and that old lonely bachelor with money. No wonder the kids are lacking in the looks department.

When you look at any picture of young Chinese women from the 60s and 70s period, you'll almost always have an eager face that radiates innocent beauty looking back at you. This is now a thing of the past, young folks rarely have that innocence about them any more."
I read that before seeing this film and it put an awful lot of pressure on the young actress who passed the audition. She's cute, but she's no Gong Li. She's hardly a Zhang Ziyi either, but that may have more to do with the way the film is assembled than anything else.

I'm a BIG fan of Zhang Yimou's common people films. I love his nostalgic looks at the past and his thinly veiled commentaries on the Cultural Revolution and cultural change in general, in China. But Zhang seems to have tossed this one off before finishing a proper script. Title cards are used to fill in narrative gaps (red flag) and to allow for fade-to-black wistful shots of the girl biting her lower lip, pouting, and looking like the innocent beauty Zhang craves. I think the need for fade-to-black wistful shots of the girl biting her lower lip and pouting suggests he didn't find it.

The film is adapted from a popular mainland novel which was based on a true story set during the Cultural Revolution. There's lots of good stuff and great attention to detail concerning the period, and it satisfied my desire for that. There's a pretty standard love story plopped on top of it all, complete with a terminal disease tuggin at your heart strings. But not just any old love story, it's a Japanese styled "pure love" love story. That part is fine as well. A little Korean style melodrama mixed with Japanese pure love stylings works for me most of the time. So why didn't I love this movie?

Honestly, the title cards bothered me. Not just because the girl bit her lip and pouted going into many of them (which got on my nerves as well), but because they gave the film an unfinished quality. It's difficult to remain completely faithful to a novel when adapting it for the big screen, and just as voiceover narration can be used successfully to fill in narrative gaps or it can stick out like a sore thumb, so go the title cards.

"Sun told Jing that he would be waiting for her upon her return"

Sticks out like a sore thumb.

To be fair, dancer and senior high school girl, Zhou Dongyu, from Shijiazhuang in Hebei Province, with “eyes that are clear like the mountain springs”, is pretty fetching as the young girl who is sent to re-education camp and falls in love with an upwardly mobile land prospector. The film's theme of with whom and when one falls in love being up to the discretion of Communist Party leaders is far more tragic than the terminal disease. Shawn Dou Xiao is outrageously handsome and appealing as the young man who falls in love with her.
Under the Hawthorn Tree is delicately shot and filled with wonderful period detail. My final waffling verdict is: It's a beautiful and tragic love story with some distracting blemishes. If Zhang Yimou had spent as much time fleshing out a proper screenplay as he did finding a girl to play the lead character he might have produced another masterpiece. I recommend the film to those who like pure love stories.

Director: Yimou Zhang
Starring: Dongyu Zhou, Shawn Dou, Taisheng Chen, Rina Sa, Xuejian Li


Hear Me 听说 (Ting Shuo) [2009] • Taiwan

Hear Me 听说
This light-hearted rom-com charmed its way into my top ten of the year. It's not a cinematic masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination. It's just a rom-com, delightful and enjoyable for the characters, if not the story. I like fluff as much as the next person, if it's done well.

Boy meets girl. Girl is preoccupied caring for her handicapped sister. Boy gets girl. Handicapped sister wins the Olympics. It's feel-good from head to toe, and it's beautiful that all the love is delivered in sign language.

Xiao Peng is a swimmer in training for the Deaflympics. Her sister, Yang Yang, does everything she can for her and wrestles between being over-protective and neglectful. Tian Kuo sees Yang Yang one day while delivering food to Xiao Peng's swim team facility. He sees Xiao Peng communicating with Yang Yang in sign language and makes an assumption. Take it from there.

Tian Kuo's parents must be a professional comedy team in real life because they have comic timing down pat and an assured sense of what comic relief is.

Hear Me was Taiwan's highest-grossing local movie of 2009. A good time was had by all in this house. I have no further defense.

Director: Fenfen Cheng
Starring: Ivy Chen, Eddie Peng, Michelle Chen, Lo Bei An, Lin Mei Xiu


July 32nd (7월 32일) [2010] • South Korea

I was fooled by the poster for this one. Haha. I like black with bluish-purple highlights, and I thought I detected depth in the young woman's eye(s). I thought it might be a dark independent razzle-dazzle where the filmmakers had discovered some no-name young actress with the charisma to carry a film. I thought it might be something like Shiki-Jitsu (Ritual). In some way, it is.

There are LOTS of marvelously colored and composed frames in the film. The cinematography is almost Ping Bin Lee/Christopher Doyle level awesome. This is how it's like Shiki-Jitsu, but it's also the only compelling thing the film has going for it.

July 32nd wears its character development and plot devices on its shirt sleeve. I can handle a little bit of that, but not a whole film. I don't know if it's the script or the acting, but everything comes off like a daytime soap opera with black and bluish-purple mood lighting.

Eun-Soo Park, as a man who spends his daughter's growing up years in jail and attempts to find her when he is let out, does the best Min-sik Choi he can. He even looks a bit like a softer, smaller-headed version of him. If you see the film, the irony of that will not be lost on you. (She's five when he goes to prison, about eighteen to twenty when he gets out (looking exactly the same), and the whole film is predicated on the two of them not recognizing one another, even when they get uncomfortably close to hanky panky.)

Hye-Rim Seong, as his daughter cum prostitute ... I was wrong.

July 32nd is an eye-roller but it's not offensively bad. The production values are top o' the line. Beyond the unremarkable performances of the father and daughter everyone else acts like the way most cops are portrayed in South Korean films: unattractive bumbling idiots. The film's sought after bleakness (and man, does it seek it) is ruined by all these obnoxious low-level Fredo Corleone wannabe (albeit Korean) character choices. I laughed out loud at the really bad guy who limps through the movie as if as soon as someone yells "Cut!" he's going to say "Is this really how you want me to do this?"

I don't know anything about anyone involved in making this film but if I find out who is responsible for the photography I will look for whatever they do next.

Beyond Hollywood seem to like the film.
Director: Seung-Hyeon Jin
Starring: Hye-Rim Seong, Eun-Soo Park, Jeong-Gyun Kim

Sweet Little Lies スイートリトルライズ (Suîto ritoru raizu) [2010] • Japan

There will be a lot of words written about how this film "makes you think"; how it makes you think about marriages which on the surface appear to be happy ones, and then how it (the film) proceeds to reveal the Sweet Little Lies that go on underneath in order to keep up that appearance. This will not be my approach. The idea has been Twin Peaksed to death. Nothing wrong with that. I'm just one who finds execution more engaging than idea.

Ruriko (Miki Nakatani) and Satoshi (Nao Omori) have been married for a few years and have been sexless for about the same. Satoshi, even though he's a little too grown up to be doing so, likes to sleep in and play video games. He doesn't appear to have any real love for his wife but also doesn't object to her much. It's Ruriko who demonstrates, though she may not necessarily have, all the love in the coupling. She's as dutiful as they come. She cooks breakfast, washes windows, and smiles sincerely. Both of them seem to float through life in a daze of WTF, sort of like the way folks taking a high daily dosage of Valium would. They are both stalked and then drawn into sexual affairs. Ruriko dives into hers the only way she knows how: with detached positivity. Satoshi remains lost in his cloud, but doesn't complain.

For a while I thought this film might fail. Miki Nakatani doesn't strike me as an actress with much range. She's good at contemplative WTF gazes off into space but not much more. Or so I thought. This role is perfect for her and she shines, and director Hitoshi Yazaki does a great job of capturing her in her strength. There are times when Nakatani brings the film into a surreal, Stepford Wives atmosphere with her robot-like gazing, and then she'll bust it wide open with a smile that makes you want to go crawling into her arms whimpering "mommy mommy", even though she exudes zero maternal aspects of personality.

Juichi Kobayashi, as Haruo, the man Ririko has an affair with, is a curiosity. He's a dancer, not an actor, so he's used to being adored but doesn't have any acting chops. Doesn't matter. He's a stalker so he's supposed to be creepy, if only mildly, and his role is to serve as an excuse for Nakatani to get emotional. There's great tension in sitting through the improbability of Ruriko actually falling in love with this guy, not just wanting to have sex with him, because, as unbelievable as it might seem, it's the only way Ruriko knows.

Nao Omori is a pleasure to behold as Satoshi. He's hard to figure out because he's so good at playing a man who doesn't have a clue. He's also lucky to have Chizuru Ikewaki cast as the young woman who innocently, but persistently pursues him. She elevates every film she's in and brings a controlled, mature naivete to her role that works wonderfully alongside Omori's clueless Satoshi. Both of these actors are great casting choices and in many ways, at least as a couple, they are more interesting than Haruo and Ruriko.

Sakura Ando rounds out the cast, in a small role, as Haruo's girlfriend. Yeah, Haruo is a cheater, too.

Hitoshi Yazaki directed one of my all-time favorite films, Strawberry Shortcakes, so I had pretty high hopes for this one. There were moments in the first act where I wasn't sure if things were going to work out but this is a much different film. It's slower paced and takes a while to bring you into its dreamlike world where appearances appear superficial. The brilliance of it is that when confronted with this obvious superficiality we assume it's masking a cauldron of repressed emotions, but there are no revealed emotions in this film. Nakatani's Ruriko appears to show some emotion, and she has a wonderfully teary-eyed "I Love You" scene, but it's not real. She's just executing the rituals she believes are associated with the set of circumstances. I was premature in thinking I would have to punt my suspension of disbelief at the idea of Ruriko falling in love with her stalker. It's not supposed to be believable. It's just another illusion Ruriko will play a role in.

If only Yazaki hadn't included the scene where Satoshi's sister stops Ruriko, as she attempts an abrupt exit from their afternoon tea to go meet Haruo, and says "Ruriko, you're glowing", my theories would make sense. As it stands, I am completely full of shit. Who cares?

Sweet Little Lies is shot in gorgeously austere and misty shades of gray. There are innumerable scenes in the film full of nuanced and subtle discomfort that will make you shiver. The script is smart, the performances are dazzling, and the film will make you think. Feel free to think about whatever you want.

Director: Hitoshi Yazaki
Starring: Miki Nakatani, Nao Omori, Chizuru Ikewaki, Sakura Andô, Juichi Kobayashi

Japan Times

Shanghai [2010] • USA

Solid cast, good production, engaging spy thriller with some illuminating historical context thrown in.

Director: Mikael Håfström
Starring: John Cusack, Li Gong, Yun-Fat Chow, David Morse, Ken Watanabe, Rinko Kikuchi


She, a Chinese [2009] • UK, France, Germany, China

Frustrated with life in a rural village, she's slapped by her mom, groped by her boyfriend, raped by a truck driver, moves to Shenzhen. Fired from a factory job on her first day, she volunteers to work at a Love Salon. Her lover gets killed (good thing he had a pile of money underneath his mattress). She moves to London and gets a job but her first paycheck is taken back because she has no bank account. She goes to work in a massage parlor and marries a wrinkly old white guy with a bank account who reads the newspaper too often and his cat dies. She gets pregnant by an Indian whose cultural identity is calling him home rather than pushing him away, so he leaves her. The quantity of bummers in this film is so thick it skips along too rapidly and loses credibility.

Lu Huang as Mei (The 'She' of the title) does a fine job plowing her way through the endless misfortune (she did the same thing in Blind Mountain—a great film), so props to her. The story, however, which has a heart and good intentions, asks so much of its characters it stretches the limits of credulity creating distance instead of empathy. It begins to suggest that the circumstances "She" gets into are a result of personal selfishness, or stupidity, rather than exposing or exploring the difficult climb from rural Chinese village to downtown London.

I recommend this film because many of the realities and situations it points at are worth considering. I just wish it would have pointed at a few less and explored them more deeply, or with a whisper of hope. I've got nothing against bleak films, but She, A Chinese gives the impression that once the desire to break free of tradition and hopeless circumstances begins, a stream of unrelenting nausea is likely to follow. Which in turn begs the question of whether the scenarios depicted in the film are the result of the personal characteristics of this particular She, in a sense becoming a character study, or if they are some sort of warning siren or social commentary on what a bitch life is if you begin from a certain place, look a certain way, and have unrealistic expectations concerning what can be done about it.

Broken into discreet elements—the film is broken into discreet parts with the use of title cards that offer sometimes whimsical commentary on various events—the execution is pretty good, but the overall impact is diluted. The performances are solid and the director does a good job making things appear realistic so it might just be a case of truth being harder to get on board with than fiction.

Director: Xiaolu Guo
Starring: Huang Lu, Wei Yi Bo, Geoffrey Hutchings, Chris Ryman, Hsinyi Liu


Confessions 告白 (Kokuhaku) [2010] • Japan

When I made my top ten list for 2010 I wrote I was confident that if I had seen this it would have made the list. It's a little late, but now I've seen it and added it to the list.

As par usual, I'm not going to go through a plot synopsis. Click on one of the links at the end of this entry if you want that. 

Confessions is not perfect but it's pretty close. It's dark and gorgeous. It's unsettling. It's got Takako Matsu and Yoshino Kimura; Radiohead and Boris on the soundtrack. It gets crazy and goes by quickly at times (hard to catch all the subtitles), even though a good portion of the film is in slow motion. It's a testament to the skill of the director that everything makes an impression, even fluttering by. A few times, for a moment, it seems like it might lose steam and then whoosh! There it goes again. This is hands-on film making. An audio-visual package right up there with Myung-se Lee's M. It gets physical. And that's what I like about it. Nakashima gets how to manipulate sight, sound, and time moving through time that creates both a sense of being on a rollar coaster and being suspended in time. Like being in a dream or a car wreck.

It's creepy that most of the players in the film are 14 years old, talking about killing people and their mommy problems. The film gets most of its fuel from mommy problems. Shocking that it seems so believable that these kids understand what they are talking about. Tetsuya Nakashima makes these kids smart. It's very refreshing.

The first and last acts are both tours de force. I've seen three different English translations of the last line in the film. Don't google it until after you've seen it. What an ending! Some folks have written that Nakashima throws it all away with the last line but I think it depends on how you take it. I found it eerily ambiguous and evil.

Most commenters on the film will point out the film's "social commentary", i.e., that kids under fourteen years of age can't be punished by the law for anything. I'm not big on social commentary commentating but watching the film I couldn't help but think that any thirteen year old contemplating murder sort of gets a green lit idea. And the bit about the teacher giving the unpunishable kids HIV tainted milk, as part of her revenge, is chilling but it's more that she fills the kids with a fear of their own mortality than attempting murder of her own. You'll see what I mean when you watch the film. It's just one of the many questionable aspects of the script's believability that ....

If you over think this film it can fall apart. If you're the type that does that kind of thing you won't like it as much as I did. But unless you are also sensitive to slow motion or post rock emo soundtracks it's hard not to be overwhelmed by this masterfully crafted film.

Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
Starring: Takako Matsu, Masaki Okada, Yoshino Kimura, Masakazu Ato, Atsushi Ozawa

Japan Times
Beyond Hollywood

The Emperor and the Assassin 荆轲刺秦王 (Jing ke ci qin wang) [1998] • China

EPIC. Long, slow, a little melodramatically meandering but never boring. This is a great film to watch before Hero to get a more standard historical telling of the story of China's first Emperor. It's not stuffy and stilted the way many more formal Chinese historical films can be. Most of the characters are a little wacky. I put off watching this for a long time because I'm not a fan of what I thought it was going to be: wuxia with little plot and a lot of fighting. It's not that at all. It's got palace intrigue, battle plans, and real history behind it.

There is a well-written and very informative review of the film over at Illuminated Lantern. It discusses many of the scenes and compares them to historical document. It can be read without spoiling the film because this isn't a film built on surprises. We know the story for the most part but it helps, especially western viewers who aren't familiar with the source material, to have some grasp of the impact of what is portrayed in the film in terms of shaping Chinese history.

Gong Li is fabulous, but not really the star of the film. Xuejian Li, as the Emperor, balances unhinged with forthright and hits every note in between. Fengyi Zhang goes from badass assassin to homeless bum who's given up assassinating to badass assassin again and then to someone we're not sure of, all convincing. Zhiwen Wang almost steals the show as the eunuch lover of the queen who has a plan of his own. He seems almost a little too contemporary but Kaige has assembled a film that allows for him. This is more than a standard period piece costume drama. It's history done well and it's very entertaining. Most appealing to me is my perception that this film was made for a Chinese audience, not a western, festival-circuit one.

A recent Red Cliff marathon got me in the mood for EPIC so I indulged and was quite happy—not to mention it features Zhou Xun, unquestionably my favorite Chinese actress, in a small but significant role. It's hard not to see this as a parallel to state sanctioned historiography of Mao, but no matter. Chinese unity is paramount, there will be blood.

Director: Kaige Chen
Starring: Xuejian Li, Fengyi Zhang, Gong Li, Zhou Sun, Zhiwen Wang, Chen Kaige

Official site
Illuminated Lantern

Kiss Me, Kill Me 킬미 (Kill Me) [2009] • South Korea

This one's very funny, one of those films in which the director and the actors do a dance of comic timing. Hye-jeong Kang is always good but Shin Hyeon-Jun turns out to be a real comic treat. This is an action flick with lots of humor.

Jin-young (Kang) is devastated after a breakup with her long time partner and wants to kill herself, but she wants to do it with flair so she hires a hit man to take her out. Hyun-jun (Shin) thinks he is hired to kill someone else and is surprised to discover Jin-young has slipped herself into the place of his intended target. Yeah, it's an "assassin falls in love with his target" story but the performances of the two leads makes this one a winner. The script is a little chaotic at times, lots of coincidences that challenge a suspension of disbelief, but if you just go with the flow it's a fun ride.

The film's ending unravels instead of tying things up but it's not a deal breaker. In a way, the whole film can be seen as a series of sketches that just parade by instead of building upon one another to form a cohesive whole, and that may be a valid criticism depending on the angle of entry the viewer chooses. Thriller? Romantic Comedy? Action flick? It's all of those, and it's one of the things I like about South Korean cinema. They do mashups, and they do them well, always playing with expectations and throwing in surprises.

If you are a fan of either of the two leads you will enjoy Kiss Me, Kill Me. It's fun and entertaining precisely because it's full of not what you'd expect.

Director: Jong-hyeon Yang
Starring: Hye-jeong Kang, Hyeon-jun Shin, Hyeon-a Kim, Do-bin Park

Beyond Hollywood 

Cafe Isobe 純喫茶磯辺 (Jun kissa Isobe) [2008] • Japan

This is a funny film built on fine performances and skilled direction. Yujiro Isobe (Hiroyuki Miyasako) acts like a guy who has accidentally dropped his cards face-up on the poker table and thinks he can still bluff. Sometimes he's a little pitiful and some times a little creepy but he never goes over the edge—he just hints at it. He lives with his teenage daughter Sakiko (Riisa Naka). Mature beyond her years, Sakiko puts up with him but doesn't like him very much ... well, until the end when everything gets happy ... but she doesn't hate him. She treats him with the amount of respect he deserves, which is a cautious little. Sakiko's been abandoned by her mother but doesn't hate her either. Her mother didn't fight for her custody because, as she tells Sakiko, "It seemed like your father cared for you more than I did." Ouch!

Yujiro inherits some money and quits his job. After a bit of time doing nothing he decides to open a cafe. When he informs Sakiko of his plans she asks him if he has any service experience; or a business plan; or if he knows anything about food. He says he will work hard at it. Sakiko tells him, rightfully, that he doesn't even know what he's supposed to work hard at. His response is, "You're annoying. So annoying." He's going to bluff.

Yujiro opens the cafe and Sakiko agrees to help out part-time but she's so appalled by the decor her father has chosen she refuses to tell any of her friends where it is for fear they will come visit and laugh. Life at the cafe, and the father daughter relationship, gets complicated when an attractive young woman, Motoko (Kumiko Aso) begins working there. She wears a short-skirted uniform to attract customers, and Yujiro becomes attracted to her as well. Motoko is a strange character, with a lot of baggage. Sakiko is immediately suspicious and doesn't want her father to have anything to do with Motoko, professionally or personally. Yujiro begins dating Motoko and an emotional comedy of errors ensues.

Kumiko Aso is fabulous here. The three main characters are all good, really good actually, but Aso is a favorite actress of mine and she's wonderful in most everything she does, so I'm singling her out. She makes the film funny in a "funny-strange" way more than a "funny-haha" way, but there are many moments that will likely make you laugh out loud. A lot of the laughs are the result of the director's skill in editing for comic timing. This is a well put together film, and it has a heart, too. It's a comedy, and while it gets goofy from time to time, it brings itself together as a mildly touching, chuckle filled, human drama.

Director: Keisuke Yoshida
Starring: Hiroyuki Miyasako, Riisa Naka, Kumiko Aso

Girlfriend • Someone Please Stop the World [2004] • Japan

More Ryuichi Hiroki. This one is love story between a young woman photographer, Kyoko, who gets an assignment to pick a woman off the street and take nude photos of her for a men's magazine, and the woman who turns up as the subject of that assignment, Miho. Kiyoko's professional ethos is one of getting to know her subject deeply, be it a fruit plate or a human being, and as she does this she finds her interest in this particular subject, Miho, turning into fondness. The feeling is mutual, but this isn't a gay-themed film per se. There are just no barriers in the way that might prevent these two wandering souls from exploring each other, trying to find a positive relationship in a world they feel disconnected from, saddened by. The two performances are good enough, but not great, while the underlying drama and psychological trauma seem less satisfying.

I'm never quite happy with films that explore a lesbian liaison by setting up one of the participants as frustrated by bad relationships with jerkball men. It doesn't have to be that way. In this case it's Kyoko, but she has the personality of being frustrated by more than her bad boyfriends. She's a bit frustrated with herself and is trying to find a comfortable compromise between photography as art and photography as commerce. She's idealistic and a bit peculiar. When she meets Miho, who is angry about her father who left her family years ago and hasn't been in contact since, she meets someone who's more bummed out with life than she is so she's able to feel a little bit better about herself, and seems genuinely interested in, listening to Miho's stories. It's not unusual to become attracted to someone that makes you feel better about yourself.

Miho agrees to pose nude for Kyoko partly, well, mostly, as a means of getting back at, and getting the attention of, her father. I'm not sure about that as a method or as a solution but she's hurt and angry and she wants her father's attention. Kyoko and Miho are both presented as empathetic outsiders. Following them is a reasonably enjoyable romp in indie ennui but it doesn't wrap itself up into a grand story.

Girlfriend is part of the Love Collection, a loose series of DV shot features from 2004 with the common theme of love. Other entries include Kihatsusei no onna (A Volatile Woman) by Kazuyoshi Kumakiri, OLDK by Masahiro Hara, Nejirin bou by Tadashi Tomioka, Moon and Cherry by Yuki Tanada and Kokoro to karada by Hiroshi Ando.


Director: Ryuichi Hiroki
Starring: Aoba Kawai, Tomorowo Taguchi, Kinuwo Yamada, Kazuhiro Suzuki, Jason Gray, Aya Sugimoto

Jack Goes Boating [2010] • USA

Phillip Seymour Hoffman fans should be happy with this, his directorial debut. Hoffman is the king of uncomfortable and he directs to his strength here. Beyond directing himself well, a couple other things struck me as far as the direction goes. He uses a lot of music and knows how to pick tunes. The soundtrack is full of Grizzly Bear with a little Evan Lurie sprinkled about. "Rivers of Babylon", by The Melodians serves as a sort of theme song, being played at the beginning, the end, and during a climatic scene in the middle. A couple songs that stand out as beautiful in and of themselves, and at really nailing the mood, are Goldfrapp's "Eat Yourself" and DeVotchKa's "Dearly Departed". You can listen to these tracks at IFC's web page for the film.

I don't want to give the impression that this film is some kind of music video collage, because it's not. Far from it. The other thing that strikes me about the direction is the tendency, reminiscent of John Cassavetes, to let scenes go on for just a little bit longer than you think they should, allowing for moments of tension or discomfort to linger and echo. And there are a lot of moments of tension and discomfort in the film. The silences contrast beautifully with the more musical moments.

The film is adapted from a play about the intermingling relationships of two couples. One is beginning, the other is established and endured, if not enduring. The established couple, Clyde and Lucy (John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega), set up their friend Jack (Hoffman) with Lucy's co-worker Connie (Amy Ryan). The use of contrast at work again. One relationship is about to bloom, while the other fights a season of wither. Hoffman, Ortiz, and Ruben-Vega starred in the stage version and reprise their respective roles here. Needless to say they know their parts inside and out. The film has a playful and slow pace and is filled with sharp dialog, a lot of which seems to jump in from out of nowhere. Half the stuff that comes out of Connie's mouth made me chuckle and think 'Where did that come from? Did she really just say that?' Amy Ryan is fabulous here, as are all the players.

The only weakness is that the climactic scene sort of fails, but it doesn't kill the film. It's just one scene you might wish had been done better or different. Or maybe not. Jack Goes Boating is a wonderful character play with a strong script, great acting, and a moving soundtrack. It's kind of brutal and it's pure Philip.

Director: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Amy Ryan


I Am an S+M Writer 不貞の季節 (Futei no kisetsu) [2000] • Japan

Ryuichi Hiroki released this film and Tokyo Trash Baby on the same weekend!

Kurosaki (Ren Osugi) is an erotic novelist who uses his editor and a hired model to act out scenarios in his living room he will use for inspiration in his writing. His wife Shizuko (Yôko Hoshi) calls him a pervert but we soon learn that what bothers her is that she feels her husband has intellectualized his carnal desires and she feels physically neglected. Shizuko tries to make him jealous, or simply goes after what she desires with someone else. At first she brings home an Caucasian English teacher but soon zeros in on her husband's editor after witnessing his accomplished S&M rope tying technique. Kurosaki's first response is anger, then forgiveness, then he decides to use the affair as inspiration for his current work in progress. He demands that his editor continue the affair and recount all the sordid details to him. He slaps his editor upside the head, then forgives him and offers him a drink each time before they get to work.

I don't think this would be funny if it were an English language film. Part of its charm is feeling like a foreigner watching a Japanese film. Much of the humor is surely lost in translation but some of the translations take on a humor of their own. Often it feels like the words are too blunt and some subtlety of language is being missed, while other times it seems words are forced together into strange combinations to try and convey different shades of something not literally translatable. "Go anal". It's all played very sincerely, if somewhat surreal. 

Speaking of surreal, one thing that puzzled me throughout this film was the house where most of the action takes place. The layout seems inscrutable, a labyrinth of hallways and doors. A character will walk down a hall, turn down another, and then open a sliding door to apparently go into a room. Then the camera is in the supposedly entered room but the door has hinges and no relation to a hallway. Kurosaki will serve his assistant a beer from one direction and then deliver a second one from a different location. There's one scene that appears to have no plot value where the maid exits a door, removes her shoes and plunges off the porch a couple feet to the ground, as if she expected a step of some kind to be present. I assume this scene is meant to convey that even the characters are a bit befuddled by the structure and layout of the house. Maybe I just missed something but this kind of scene does fit in with the overall strangeness of the film.

While this comes off as a small and amusing film, I think it was a big film for Ryuichi Hiroki, somewhat autobiographical, incorporating way more Japanese history and culture than I am privy to, and most importantly served as a great transition for him from a director of pinku films to more mainstream fare, albeit a little arthousey.

Director: Ryuichi Hiroki
Starring: Ren Osugi, Yôko Hoshi, Jun Murakami, Eri Yamazaki, Kiriko Shimizu

Japan Times
Midnight Eye

Asako in Ruby Shoes 순애보 (Sunaebo) [2000] • South Korea, Japan

This one seems a bit of an art-house diversion for director Je-yong Lee. A mildly bizarre, slow moving film that's half Japanese and half Korean. It aims at just the right level and ends up as a nice compromise between indie indulgence and commercial fare.

On the Korean side, Lee Jung-Jae stars as U-in, a bored, anti-social civil servant who passes time surfing porn on the Internet and silently stalking a young punkish girl with fiery red hair. While playing around on the Internet U-in clicks on a link that asks him to describe his ideal woman. He describes the punky girl.

On the Japanese side Misato Tachibana stars as Aya, a young woman who has decided to commit suicide with a twist: she wants to confuse the date of her impending death by holding her breath and suffocating as she crosses the International Date Line. She also desperately wants a pair of Ruby colored shoes. One thing leads to another and Aya is contracted by Internet porn purveyors to play the punkish girl, as described by their client U-in, on one of their webcam sites. Thus the persona of Asako is born.

The two disparate lives meet and wind the film up in a somewhat unbelievable fairy-tale style ending but it's been a strange ride getting there so no giant complaints. It's interesting to see a film that is half in Japanese and half in Korean. Much of the film deals with the theme of belonging and it allows for stretching that theme to something larger than just one culture.

The performances are all pretty solid. Fashionista superstar Kim Min-hee plays the punky girl. It's a small role, as she serves only as the inspiration for Asako, but it's catchy. Lee Jung-jae is spot on as the nerdball stalker. This is a better role for him than the studly type he played in Je-yong Lee's debut film An Affair. He's much better at nerdy innocence with a sense of creepy just below the surface than as a macho guy who is supposed to drive girls wild. Misato Tachibana brings just the right amount of cuteness and individual longing to Aya/Asako. She doesn't seem to have pursued her acting career ambitiously after this film but did well here.

The film has a slow pace and treats some of the edgier elements with a gentle touch. It never becomes darkly uncomfortable and that's it's charm. It's got quirky characters and a subtle, light sense of humor. Not completely art-house fair but certainly not mainstream. Recommended for those who like films slightly off the beaten path.

Director: Je-yong Lee
Starring: Misato Tachibana, Jung-Jae Lee, Urara Awata, Min-hie Kim, Ju-bong Gi

Glasses めがね (Megane) [2007] • Japan

Serenity now. This lovely gem can be dismissed as a new-age tourist brochure for Okinawa (although the locale remains unnamed in the film) if one is feeling rambunctious, or it can be consumed like one of the many bowls of magical shaved ice presented in the film, a spoonful at a time without surprises, savoring the moments that celebrate the simple in life.

The story that will unfold is obvious from the beginning. A harried young city dweller, Taeko, takes a much needed vacation to a remote island inn, meets a few laid back and strange locals which she at first tries to keep her distance from but eventually succumbs to the rhythm of the place and its people. Happiness is attained.

For a film like this to work it needs to look nice, have engaging characters, and not take itself too seriously. It's filmed on Yoron Island, Okinawa, Japan, so director Naoko Ogigami has the aesthetics of location covered. There are plenty of shots of crystal clear waters washing up on pristine beaches that look nice and help set the slow rolling pace of the film. Ogigami has written a witty and sparse script, which drifts along alternating between surreal and a Zen koan, and assembled a wonderful and talented cast to deliver it. Ken Mitsuishi, who's been in 136 films, plays the inn-keeper Yuji with such calm assurance you might think you're watching his biography. Ogigami also brings along two actresses who made an impression in her previous film, Kamome Shokudo (Seagull Diner). Masako Motai plays a mysterious visiting matriarch of the island, Sakura, who makes magical kaki-gori, a dessert made of shaved ice and syrup, and leads the locals in weird morning calisthenic exercises on the beach. Satomi Kobayashi plays Taeko, the vacationing visitor to the island. She seems well suited to Ogigami's style, having played a similar fish-out-of-water character in Kamome Shokudo, a Japanese woman who opens a restaurant serving rice balls in Helsinki. Her performance here shows a slow and subtle transformation that reflects the pace of life on the island. The cast is rounded out with celebrated young actors Mikako Ichikawa and Ryo Kase.

If you enjoy slow, amusing, meditative films with quirky characters this is a winner. If you're looking for slapstick, this is a loser. It's whimsical and slightly bizarre but thoroughly understated. Moments that might seem a little new age tree-huggerish aren't annoying because the tone is not preachy or precious. It's very light-hearted and doesn't take itself seriously.


Director: Naoko Ogigami
Starring: Satomi Kobayashi, Mikako Ichikawa, Ryo Kase, Ken Mitsuishi, Masako Motai
Japan Times
Time Out (an opposing view)

Top Ten Most Enjoyable Films of 2010

A few of these had a 2009 festival (or local) release but were 2010 films for me. Mother, Air Doll, Be Sure to Share, and Night and Fog were on my Best of 2009 list.
  1. The Social Network • USA
  2. Confessions • Japan**
  3. Aftershock • China
  4. Scott Pilgrim vs the World • USA
  5. Greenberg • USA
  6. Catfish • USA
  7. Season of Good Rain • China, South Korea
  8. Hear Me • Taiwan
  9. Closer to Heaven • South Korea
  10. One Day • Taiwan
Two films I'm confident would be on this list if I had seen them are Sono Shion's Cold Fish and Nakashima Tetsuya's Confessions. Most surprising is that four USA films ranked so high, Taiwan has two spots, and there is nothing from Japan, yet.

**[UPDATE] Saw Confessions, and there it is at #2. Wow. What a film.

There are, of course, many films I haven't seen. A handful that I have seen, and that have shown up on many top tens around the Internet, that deserve mention, although not always honorable, are: True Grit, Black Swan, Inception, Shutter Island, Jack Goes Boating, Animal Kingdom, The Ghost Writer, The Fighter, The Town, The American, Please Give, Poetry, Never Let Me Go, I Saw the Devil, Dogtooth, and Enter the Void.