Tenchijin <天地人>

Ten no toki, chi no ri, hito no wa – or the blessings from the heavens, the benefits of the earth, and the harmony among the people, is a phrase that should always be kept in the mind of every ruler. The emphasis is on the harmony of the people, because it is the pillar of a strong nation. Without it, natural resources will be wasted and opportunities for advancement will be missed. In the 48th NHK Taiga drama, such principle of governance, that is the governance for the people, is demonstrated by Naoe Kanetsugu, the Chief Councillor of the Uesugi clan during the Sengoku period.

Born as Higuchi Yoroku, Kanetsugu became the vassal of the clan at the age of five. Separated early from his family, Yoroku studied along with Kiheiji, later known as Uesugi Kagekatsu. The inseparable bond between them is said to be as the Big Dipper to the North Star, meaning that Kanetsugu (the Big Dipper) will always stay beside Kagekatsu (the North Star). Kanetsugu himself proved to be loyal to Kagekatsu, even when he was approached by the Taiko himself.

After the death of Uesugi Kenshin, Kanetsugu helped Kagekatsu to defeat Uesugi Kagetora. Shortly after, he was appointed as the Chief Councillor of the clan at a very young age. Kanetsugu married Osen, who supported him later throughout his turbulent life. Although Kanetsugu refused to serve Toyotomi Hideyoshi, he and Ishida Mitsunari forged a close friendship that supported the Toyotomi, even after the death of Taiko Hideyoshi. Uesugi clan was spared from the Battle of Sekigahara where Mitsunari’s side was defeated by Tokugawa Ieyasu after Kobayakawa Takakage defected to Ieyasu’s side. It was Naoe’s Letter that Kanetsugu wrote which was said to be the trigger to the decisive Battle of Sekigahara.

Mitsunari’s death began the weakening of the Toyotomi rule, as Toyotomi’s loyalists were stripped off their territories and incomes, including the Uesugis. Formerly holding the Echigo, the Uesugi was transferred to Aizu by Hideyoshi to watch over Tokugawa and Date clans. After Sekigahara, Ieyasu transferred the Uesugis to Yonezawa to limit their resources. Despite all the problems faced by the clan, Kanetsugu continued to work hard for his people. Thus, the people of Yonezawa enjoyed the benevolent rule of the Uesugis just like the people of Echigo and Aizu.

Kanetsugu’s Kabuto of Love reflects his love for the people and along with Kagekatsu’s principle of Justice inherited from Kenshin, both steered the clan to survive the violent Sengoku period.

Tenchijin is based on the novel of the same title by Hisaka Masashi. The central theme of the series is Kanetsugu’s loyalty and love towards his clan and his people. Tsumabuki Satoshi played the lead role as Naoe Kanetsugu while Kitamura Kazuki played as Uesugi Kagekatsu. Uesugi Kenshin is portrayed by Abe Hiroshi and Tokiwa Takako was cast as Osen. As always, the performances from the entire cast are great, although Oguri Shun seemed to be too soft to play as Ishida Mitsunari. Other notable performances come from Kikkawa Koji (Oda Nobunaga), Takashima Masanobu (Higuchi Soemon), Matsuda Ryuhei (Date Masamune) and Shirota Yu (Sanada Yukimura).

The set is pretty much standard for a Taiga drama, while the storytelling is not as impressive as similar Sengoku series such as Toshiie to Matsu or Aoi Tokugawa Sandai. Perhaps the plot was too much spread across many issues while not giving too much emphasis on Kanetsugu’s way of governance which reflects the meaning behind Techijin. For Sengoku period enthusiasts however, this is surely another fair addition to the overall genre.

Final rating: 7.0

Directed by Kataoka Keiji, Takahashi Yoichiro, Noda Yusuke, and Ichiki Masae
Screenplay by Komatsu Eriko
Based on the novel Tenchijin by Hisaka Masashi
Starring: Tsumabuki Satoshi, Tokiwa Takako, Kitamura Kazuki, Abe Hiroshi, Oguri Shun, Matsuda Ryuhei, Sasano Takashi, Kikkawa Koji, Takashima Reiko, Matsukata Hiroki, Shirota Yu, Nagasawa Masami, Higa Manami, Takashima Masanobu.
Broadcast year: 2009



While some see this movie as a dark comedy addressing war in Iraq and the dot com bubble burst, I prefer to see it as a reminder that a person should be valued only based on his/her professional capacity, wealth or socialibity, but rather based on his/her kindness to others.

Sure, at first we may laugh at how Salman (played by Scott Prendergast), being incapable of staying at his jobs finally gets a job as a mascot to an ailing dot com company. His job is to hand out flyers while having to wear a huge blue costume (I wonder if the blue mascot design got the inspiration from Marvin the paranoid android whose feels that life is depressing). For some, such job may look silly, but for a person like Salman, it’s not. At least it gets him money after all, although being stuck in the costume all day surely not an enjoyable experience.

Aside from doing his job as a mascot, Salman must also babysit his brother’s kids. One of which even threatening to kill him. His sister-in-law, Leslie (played by Lisa Kudrow) had no choice but to ask Salman because she herself must work to support the family while waiting for his husband (Salman’s brother) to return from a tour of duty in Iraq. Eventually, one day while at the office, Salman discovered that Leslie is involved in an affair with her boss.

This is a great comedy that does not exploit silly slapstick to ignite laughter. Actually, everything that happens in the movie is quite natural. We may laugh at Salman misfortunes, but such things are there in our society and I bet that people like Salman don’t think that their misfortunes are supposed to be laughed at. This very natural story is what makes me love this movie. It tries to tell us that mediocrity happens, but it does not mean that a mediocre person is useless and deserved to be a laughing stock. A person like Salman excels in one thing only, but it’s the most important trait that everyone should have: kindness.

Although it has a simple storyline, it’s great enough to watch. In addition, Scott Prendergast did very well portraying Salman. Barely smiling, seemingly hopeless, but managed to endure. Scott’s play looked very natural and this may not be the same had the role was given to someone else (like Adam Sandler, for example). Lisa Kudrow also equally good in portraying a desperate wife, trying to support two kids while her husband is somewhere in Iraq who may or may not survive the tour. Imagine the uncertainty felt every day that she may suddenly receive the bad news. Her affair with her boss may not be justifiable, but it was likely driven by her frustration.

Overall, it is more like a drama rather than a comedy, but it’s up to the audience where they want to put it. Great plot and fine performance made this film one of my favorites.

Final rating: 10.0

Directed by Scott Prendergast
Written by Scott Prendergast
Starring: Scott Prendergast, Lisa Kudrow, Christine Taylor, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Conchata Ferrell, Teri Garr, Chirs Parnell, Angela Sarafyan
Release year: 2007
IMDB Rating: 6.7

Dorian Gray

Would you like to sell your soul in exchange for eternal youth and beauty? The latest adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray, tells how innocence could be manipulated into monstrosity and how beauty and youth are worshipped at the expense of moral values.

Set during the Victorian era London, Dorian Gray was initially an innocent, handsome young man. Soon after his arrival in London, he got introduced to Lord Henry Wotton by Basil Hallward. Basil, who admired the youthful beauty of Dorian, made a painting of him which proved to be his best artwork ever. Upon completion of the painting, Dorian was so fascinated by it that he vowed to give anything to maintain his youthful look. Slowly but surely, Dorian got manipulated by Henry who preaches hedonism although he don’t seem to be very much a hedonist himself.

Later, Dorian met and fell in love with Sibyl Vane, a young actress. After a fight with Dorian, Sybil committed suicide by drowning herself and this begins the transformation of Dorian Gray. Sybil’s death led Dorian to increasingly involved in a hedonist lifestyle. For each immoral thing that he committed, the picture of Dorian aged instead of Dorian himself. The peak of it was when Dorian killed Basil after an argument. Afterwards, Dorian left England to travel around the world for years. By the time he returned to London, everyone he knew aged, while he remained youthful. It was by that time that Sybil’s brother, James, planned to avenge his sister’s death.

The cast was great. Ben Barnes perfectly played the innocent, yet charming Dorian Gray. Even after his transformation into an immoral individual, Dorian still looked innocent instead of menacing. The supporting cast such as Ben Chaplin and Colin Firth also performed well as Basil Hallward and Henry Wotton, respectively. The most significant performance from the actresses came from Rebecca Hall, mostly because other actresses did not get enough screen time to be considered significant.

The set is great, capable of putting in the gothic look on London. Dark, menacing alleys out in the streets, but shiny inside the mansions showed the wide gap of the society during that era. There were variations from the novel, but essentially they were not too significant to alter the original story. As a whole, I believe this is a great adaptation of the novel. As an additional note, even at the present day, people still looking for ways to preserve the youthful beauty even if that means they must pay a price for it. As for the society, society never changes. It is always the society to blame for corrupting innocence and turning it into monstrosity.

Final Rating: 8.0

Directed by Oliver Parker
Written by Toby Finlay
Based on the novel The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Starring: Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, Ben Chaplin, Rebecca Hall, Rachel Hurd-Wood, Emilia Fox
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 6.7


Sherlock Holmes

The legendary detective is back and under Guy Ritchie’s interpretation, Sherlock Holmes is more like of a fast-paced action movie rather than a detective drama. Hardcore fans may not be appreciative of this movie but those less devout to Holmes may find this reboot as entertaining.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson must race against time to thwart Lord Henry Blackwood’s plan to take over the British Empire and restore the glory days of England. They are joined by Irene Adler who works for the mysterious man that had a great interest in the device owned by Lord Blackwood.

For devout fans, the portrayal of Holmes by Robert Downey, Jr. is probably strayed out from what’s been told in the books, from the clothes to the physical appearance and as well as characterization. Jude Law’s portrayal of Watson is also different than that of the books. Law’s Watson is a lot more resourceful and clever and skillful in martial arts. Law’s also taller than Downey, which made me think whether the roles should be reversed. Irene Adler is played by Rachel McAdams which suits the character well. Charming and elegant as well as smart, she is indeed a worthy rival of Holmes. Although Inspector Lestrade’s relationship with Holmes could have been explored more thoroughly, the plot prefers to focus on the Holmes’ relationships with Watson and Adler. Eddie Marsan however, played his part well in portraying the Scotland Yard inspector. I did however, imagined that Lestrade is a much taller and bulkier man than Marsan.

Production set and the visuals were great, as they managed to portray London as a somewhat dark place where crimes could have popped out of anywhere. The only mismatch was probably Holmes’ clothes which according to Guy Ritchie was intentionally made to be different. So, you won’t see Holmes in a long overcoat and wearing a deerstalker in this movie.

Overall, Sherlock Holmes is an entertaining movie in terms of fast-paced plot, great performance by the cast (Robert Downey,Jr. is nominated for Oscar for his role as Holmes), and Ritchie’s directorial style – although I still like Ritchie’s style in Lock, Stock and Snatch. Loyal fans of Holmes may be disappointed with the new interpretation of their favorite characters, but other than the fans probably going to enjoy this movie.

Final Score: 7.0.

Directed by Guy Ritchie
Screenplay by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham, Simon Kinberg
Story by Lionel Wigram, based on the characters by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 7.7

The Invention of Lying

Have you ever imagined a world where no lies exist? Well, in The Invention of Lying it’s a world where movies are simply a person reading out a script, no religion, and advertisements are well, honestly delivered. When Mark Bellison suddenly finds himself capable of ‘speaking something that wasn’t’, he inadvertently discovers ‘religion’.

While some people may be a bit offended, moderately offended, or outraged by this movie, this is somewhat a hilarious comedy with some romance in it. Unfortunately, I personally think that this flick could do better without the romantic element and rather focus on being a religious satire. Ricky Gervais stars as Mark Bellison who discovers lying when he told a bank clerk that he had $800 in his account instead of $300 just to avoid being evicted by his landlord.

The major lie that he did was when his mother was dying and scared of what would happen after death, which is eternal nothingness. To comfort her, Mark told her that after a person died, he/she will get a mansion and will have the chance to meet the people that had been dead and be together for eternity. Somehow, the medical staffs and the doctor heard about this, and hence the concept of “the man in the sky that controls everything’ was born.

As things develop further, Mark also struggling in his effort to pursue his love interest, Anna who somewhat cares more about the genetic makeup of a man rather than his character. She finds a perfect genetic match in Mark’s rival, Brad instead of choosing Mark.

Ricky Gervais played well here, although the rest of the cast were somewhat average for this sort of film. Notable cameos were Jason Bateman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stephen Merchant and Edward Norton. Gervais’ portrayal of Mark was somewhat similar to his portrayal of Bertram Pincus in Ghost Town, a single, middle aged man, living alone, with an additional impression of a loser.

Overall, it’s a hilarious movie. Unique in its main story but as I wrote earlier, would have been better of without the romantic element. This movie simply shows that a world without lies is probably a lame place to live in. No imaginations other than truth and of course, probably no concept of ‘the man in the sky who controls everything’.

Final rating: 8.0

Directed by Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson
Written by Ricky Gervais & Matthew Robinson
Starring: Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Christopher Guest, Rob Lowe, Tina Fey, Jeffrey Tambor, Jason Bateman, Stephen Merchant, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Edward Norton.
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 6.6 



The latest from James Cameron took around 15 years in the making from script to finish and the film is probably opening a new chapter in filmmaking with its ability to blend live-action and computer-generated objects.

Set in Pandora where humans actively mine the highly prized unobtanium, a diplomatic effort is initially worked on to peacefully relocate the indigenous Na’vi who live around the unobtanium deposit. Genetically engineered Na’vi bodies able to be remotely controlled by humans are used to blend with the indigenous in order to gain the trust of the Na’vis so that the people will be willingly relocate to avoid more hostile efforts. One of the operators of these avatars (the genetically engineered Na’vis) is Jake Sully who takes over the job from his dead brother. Another is Dr. Grace Augustine, the head of the Avatar Program, a scientist who has been studying both Pandora and its people for some time.

Contrary to the initial expectations, Jake managed to adapt to the lifestyle of the Na’vis and gains the trust from them, while his relationship with Neytiri, the daughter of the Na’vi chieftain Eytucan, grows deeper. It is when the administrator of the miners, Parker Selfridge decided that the time for the diplomatic approach has ran out that Jake must choose whether to side with the miners or with the Na’vis.

This movie has its strength in the visuals rather than the plot or the acting. As previously noted, a new chapter of filmmaking has opened with Avatar, something that is likely to be utilized by other filmmakers. The remarkable blending between virtual and live objects in the film actually made everything seems to be so alive. In addition, the design of Pandora itself is amazing, from the plants to the wildlife, to the landscapes, including the floating mountains. The war machines wachines however, are limited to several ships and a mini-mech model like from Matrix.

Acting is not the main point of the movie, but it’s pretty good nonetheless, although most of the facial expressions are captured with cameras designed specifically by Cameron for this movie. Sam Worthington may not be a famous actor before Avatar, but I’m sure he is now. With the success of Avatar, it is likely that Cameron will follow it up with two sequels as he had told the press before.

The theme itself is a criticism on real-world situations where the strong used to prevail over the weak with the help of technology. From the ancient history of United States when the indians were driven out up to the modern imperialism where oil resources are being fought over. One line from the movie was evidently a total joke when the leader of the mercenaries Col. Miles Quaritch said that ‘terror must be fought with terror’.

We may be awed by the beauty of the nature in Pandora, but let’s not forget that we also have such beautiful landscape and wildlife here in the real world, gradually deteriorating due to human’s exploitation of natural resources. If we want to have such Pandoran beauty, we probably ought to scale back on our own exploitation of our beloved planet.

Overall, Avatar is a wholly remarkable movie in terms of its visuals. Cameron’s success in designing Pandora and visualizing it on screen (including designing its language) is what make this movie worth watching (in 3D if available). It seems that Avatar is already a candidate for the best movie in the next Academy Awards, which I believe highly probably. Along with it, Cameron probably grab the best director award as well.

Final rating: 9.0

Directed by James Cameron
Written by James Cameron
Starring: Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver, Zoë Saldaña, C.C.H. Pounder, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, Stephen Lang, Wes Studi, Laz Alonso.
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 8.8



Welcome to the post-apocalyptic America where zombies roam the streets, searching for fresh meat. Well, actually there were just a few zombies spotted on the streets. To survive in Zombieland, several rules ought to be followed such as rule #1: Cardio. Fat people are easy targets in Zombieland because the zombies always outrun them. Another rule is rule #2: Double Tap. Always hit them zombies twice in head, just to make sure.

The movie follows the journey of a college student of which name remains unknown even after the film ends, but assigned as “Columbus”, based on his hometown. He met a man whose name also remains unknown, but designated as “Tallahassee” because he’s from Tallahassee. Later, two sisters Wichita and Little Rock conned them and took their car and guns, although later all four travelled together towards California to visit Pacific Playland. En route, they met Bill Murray who apparently managed to survive by disguising himself as a zombie.

Categorized as a horror-comedy film, I feel that we can drop the horror stuff, because it’s not a scary movie. Not unless you are afraid of zombie makeups. The story itself is never scary, but instead, it is fun. Columbus is a hero but with lack of hero mentality, while Tallahassee is more like of Yosemite Sam without a moustache just as stated by Columbus himself. As for the sisters Wichita and Little Rock, well they lack the specific characterizations. Overall, it’s a very entertaining film, despite its simple story. It reminds me of Simon Pegg’s Shaun of the Dead which I believe was also a very entertaining movie.

Acting is pretty standard here, but the main strength of the movie is in its storytelling. While Shaun of the Dead was rather made as a spoof to Dawn of the Dead, Zombieland is no spoof at all but it’s quite fresh for a zombie flick. A sequel is already thought of, although not yet scripted. It would be interesting to see how the next adventure will be. Will it be able to resume the success or will it fall short of expectations? Nevertheless, for fresh entertainment, I recommend you to watch Zombieland.

Final rating: 8.0 (Yeah, I still think Shaun of the Dead is slightly better)

Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Written by Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 8.0