2009-12-25

Avatar


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

Credits:
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

2009-12-15

Zombieland


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)

Credits:
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

2009-12-09

Ong Bak 2: The Beginning (องค์บาก 2)


Considered as a prequel to Tony Jaa’s Ong-Bak: Muay Thai Warrior, the movie is set in 15th century Thailand, during the conflict between the Ayutthaya kingdom and the Sukhothai kingdom.

Tony Jaa played Tien, the son of Lord Sihadecho who was killed by Lord Rajasena. Tien managed to escape the murder but found himself captured by slave traders. The day he was captured by the slave traders was the day when a group of pirates led by Cher Nung raided the slavers. Tien was freed and decided to follow Cher Nung and his Pha Beek Krut pirates.

During his stay with the pirates, Tien learned many forms of martial arts. This made him the strongest among other pirates in the settlement. Yet, after a while, Tien decided that he must settle the score with Lord Rajasena who murdered his father and mother. And so he left the village and seek vengeance but later must face a bitter truth regarding his father’s killers.


Obviously set as an action movie, the flick features bloody fight scenes and Tony Jaa using various kinds of weapons. The story is very much simple, although the ending is unclear. It is said that the story will be resolved in the third installment, Ong Bak 3 to be released sometime in 2010.

Not much to expect in terms of acting since this is mostly an action movie, so it’s pretty standard performance by the cast. The production set is pretty good, though. In addition, the rural view of Thailand probably added some exotic impression to the movie. Overall, fight movies enthusiasts should be entertained by this one.

Final rating: 6.5

Credits:
Directed by Tony Jaa & Panna Rittikrai
Story by Tony jaa & Panna Rittikrai
Screenplay by Ek Iemchuen & Nonthakorn Thaweesuk
Starring: Tony Jaa, Sorapong Chatree, Sarunyoo Wongkrachang, Santisuk Promsiri
Release year: 2008
IMDB Rating: 6.4

Dean Spanley


Based on the novel My Talks with Dean Spanley written by Lord Dunsany, Dean Spanley explores the relationship between Henslowe Fisk and his father, Horatio, as well as his brother Harrington who died during the Boer War.

Probably one of the most unusual movies that I have ever seen, Dean Spanley begins with the regular visit by Henslowe Fisk to his father’s home, which occurred every Thursday since Henslowe’s mother passed away. On a particular Thursday, Henslowe took his father to attend a lecture about transmigration of souls, where they met Dean Spanley, a local clergyman. After two additional encounters with Dean Spanley, Henslowe invited him to his home by offering him a bottle of Tokay wine.

Later, Henslowe learned that Dean believed that he was a Welsh Spaniel in his previous life. This easily explained why he was attending the lecture about transmigration of souls – or simply said: reincarnation. A conveyancer named Wrather later joined the meetings, as he became intrigued by Dean’s belief of him being a dog during his previous life. Henslowe also met Wrather during the lecture and it happened that Wrather also provided Henslowe the Tokay wine, which is the Dean’s favorite.

The story connects to Horatio when Henslowe learned that Dean had an initial of WAG in his name. Horatio once in a while told Henslowe that he had a dog named Wag, and this made Henslowe set up another meeting with Dean and Wrather at Horatio’s house. It is in this last meeting that the Dean’s story about his previous life relates – in a very peculiar way - to Harrington Fisk who died in the Boer War.


Maybe not everyone would love the story because of its unusual way of telling it, but surely most people would love the performance from Peter O’Toole as Horatio Fisk. This does not mean that the rest of the cast were mediocre. Actually, all of them were great. Jeremy Northam and Sam Neill, even Bryan Brown and Judy Parfitt who played Wrather and Mrs. Brimley, respectively, did very well in this movie. The dogs were also convincing.

Although peculiar, the movie is very enjoyable overall. The story was well told and the cast were remarkable. A combination that I would naturally expect from a British movie. As for the set and the shots, they were equally good. Note that the film is set during the Edwardian era in England.

Final rating: 9.0

Credits:
Directed by Toa Fraser
Screenplay by Alan Sharp
Based on a novel by Lord Dunsany
Starring: Jeremy Northam, Peter O’Toole, Sam Neill, Bryan Brown, Judy Parfitt
Release year: 2008
IMDB Rating: 7.1

2009-11-29

Inglorious Basterds

The latest work from Quentin Tarantino tells the story of a group of Jewish-American soldiers called The Basterds. They wreaked havoc in France which was occupied by Germany. Separately, it also tells the attempt of a young woman seeking revenge on the Germans for murdering her family. Upon knowing that her cinema is going to be used to host a premiere of which the guests list consists of high-ranking German officers, Shosanna set up her plan of vengeance. The Basterds were assigned to explode the cinema so that the Allies could win the war. Both sides worked on their plans without knowing each other at all. And in the end, well let’s say that it’s WWII according to Tarantino.

Although Brad Pitt was assigned as the lead actor, I could not help but feel that Christoph Waltz was the one who made the entire movie remarkable. He’s mean, you know. The antagonist of the story. However, I’m not sure that the audience will be able to really hate his character. In fact, Hans Landa is a charming character. Definitely the best in this movie. If some critics believed that Waltz deserves an Oscar for his role in his movie, I could not agree more.

Other notable performances came from Daniel Brühl who played the war hero Zoller, Sylvester Groth who played Joseph Goebbels, and Diane Krüger as the British spy von Hammersmark. Tarantino also made an appearances in the movie, first as a German soldier and then as an American soldier. In addition, Enzo G. Castellari, the director of The Inglorious Bastards, a 1978 movie which was said to be the inspiration of the Inglorious Basterds, also featured in the movie as a high ranking German officer.


Tarantino split the entire movie into several episodes, beginning with the introduction of Hans Landa and briefly, Shosanna. Then the story jumped to the introduction of Aldo Raine and his new recruits later known as “The Basterds”. The third brings the war hero Frederick Zoller, whose exploits were made as a movie by Joseph Goebbels titled “Nation’s Pride”. More characters were introduced in later episodes including Bridget von Hammersmark and Archie Hicox played by Diane Kruger and Michael Fassbender, respectively. The climax of the whole movie takes place in Shosanna’s cinema in Paris where high ranking Nazi officers including Hitler himself, attended the premiere of Goebbels’ “Nation’s Pride”, while The Basterds and Shosanna working on their own plans separately.

Compared to his previous movies, Inglorious Basterds could be said as the best of Tarantino’s. As previously mentioned, this largely owes to Waltz remarkable acting. Choosing some German-speaking actors in the movie is also an excellent choice and in turn, makes this movie a lot more realistic. Tom Cruise’s Valkyrie should have been made in German instead of using English as the language. In fact, Operation Kino in the Inglorious Basterds eerily resembled Operation Valkyrie. Of course Operation Kino is a lot more fun to watch.

Final rating: 9.0

Credits:
Directed by Quentin Tarantino
Written by Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Brad Pitt, Christoph Waltz, Diane Kruger, Mélanie Laurent, Daniel Brühl, Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Til Schweiger, Sylvester Groth, Martin Wuttke, B.J. Novak, Omar Doom, and many more.
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 8.5

2009-11-25

Mary and Max


Adam Elliot’s fourth clayography tells the relationship between penpals Mary Daisy Dinkle and Max Jerry Horowitz that spans from 1976 when Mary was 8 years old and Max was 44 years old until 1994. Through their letters we are pulled into their worlds.


Mary lives in Australia in Mount Waverley while Max is a New Yorker. The relationship began when Mary picked up a random name from a phone book and it happened to be Max Horowitz. They both share the same situation that they are both lonely people. While Mary lives with her parents, both of them were too busy with their own businesses. Mary’s father was too busy with stuffed birds, while her mother was too busy cooking sherry and listening to the radio. Max on the other hand, lives with his fish, cat and parrot, and also his imaginary friend Mr. Alfonso Ravioli.

Max suffers from Asperger syndrome and as time passes by, Mary grows up and eventually enters college where she study Asperger syndrome with the purpose to help Max. The relationship between them got its ups and downs but no matter what, both finally got what they have always been looking for: a friend.

According to Adam Elliot, the movie was based on a true story about his relationship with his penpal in New York for over twenty years who also suffered from Asperger syndrome. Regardless of this fact, the movie itself is great. It has the drama, but it could be considered as a dark comedy. Despite it’s a claymation, it is PG-rated. Scenes are nicely shot, and the voice acting is good. But don’t expect colorful scenes like in Coraline because the world of Mary and Max is painted in brown and black and white.

Overall, this is easily one of the best movies that I’ve seen this year, a very recommended movie with great humour and excellent storytelling. Although visuals are mostly in monotonous set of colors, they are still captivating. I am sure that most people will enjoy this from start to finish.

Final rating: 10.0

Credits:
Directed by Adam Elliot
Written by Adam Elliot
Starring: Toni Collette, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Bethany Whitmore, Eric Bana, and Barry Humphries
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 8.3

2009-11-24

9


This animated movie is based on a short movie 9 by the same director Shane Acker. It tells the story of a bunch of rag dolls in post-apocalyptic earth facing the menace of a machine which accidently reactivated by 9.

Set in a world where humans do not exist anymore due to, of course, their own stupidity, 9 is visually enjoyable. The story is rather predictable actually and voice acting is rather standard for an animated movie.

It begins when 9 got activated by his creator known as the scientist in a lab somewhere in what’s left of earth itself. As 9 wanders the world, he met with another rag doll named 2. Unfortunately, soon afterwards they encounter a cat-like machine and after some time managed to snatch 2 and a device found by 9 just before he left the scientist’s lab. Suffering from the damage inflicted by the cat beast, 9 collapsed and got rescued by yet another rag doll named 5. Soon after he met with other rag dolls 1, 8 and 6. Later, disobeying 1’s order, 5 and 9 set out to find and rescue 2. This takes them to an old factory where they met 7 which was thought to had died long ago. It is in this factory that 9 accidently reactivates a giant construction machine which could fabricate anything out of scrap metals. Now, the rag dolls must figure out a way to deactivate the machine and put the world in peace once and for all.


Visuals are great, and become the strongest point of this movie despite its average storyline and voice acting. Filling the voices are Elijah Wood as 9, Jennifer Connelly as 7, John C. Reilly as 5, Martin Landau as 2 and Christopher Plummer as 1. 6 and 8 are played by Crispin Glover and Fred Tatasciore, respectively. Nobody needs to fill in the voices of 3 and 4 because the twins are unable to speak. As the scientist, Alan Oppenheimer plays the role.

Final rating: 7.0

Credits:
Directed by Shane Acker
Written by Pamela Pettler (Screenplay) and Shane Acker (Story)
Starring: Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Crispin Glover, Martin Landau, Fred Tatasciore and Alan Oppenheimer.
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 7.1

2012


Perhaps one of the most overhyped movies of the year, 2012 tells the story about how mankind faces the mega disaster hitting earth due to the impact of solar flare. Yes, this version of ‘end of the world’ is not caused by global warming due to greenhouse effect whatsoever. So, those who love to litter the street with garbage would not be blamed because the culprit is the sun itself.

Watching this movie reminds me of Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen. Lots of destructions throughout the movie, and a crap storyline with so-so cast performances.

People will see giant tsunamis, devastating earthquakes, volcano eruptions, and assassinations too to spice up the plot. As always, there’s a family caught up in the middle of all these pandemoniums – a not-so-ideal family to be precise – and also some scientists involved to perhaps, bolster the scientific ground of the plot. This too, reminds me of Deep Impact, Armageddon, The Day The Earth Stood Still, and probably lots of other disaster movies. Afterwards, we are presented by a seemingly impossible luck of the main characters while enduring the entire catastrophic events. Watching Jackson Curtis dodging one calamity over another is like watching Neo dodging the bullets, minus the slow motion. Overall, it got the same template like most other disaster films which definitely failed to impress me.


Cast performances are average because acting doesn’t seem to be what the movie was trying to sell. Just look scared, look sad, look desperate, a bit of nasty and mean (like Carl Anheuser), and everything will be sufficient.

In the end, the producer wins. The movie has been pretty successful at the box office and a TV series is even planned to well, be the sequel following the events in 2012. To me, this is just another disaster movie, and personally, I doubt that such solar flares would be able to create such a mess on this planet. Even if it will, nobody will remember what I say because people probably busy running around trying to save themselves.

Final rating: 6.0

By the way, I’d rather the earth demolished by the zap from Vogon Constructor Fleet to make way for a hyperspatial express route. It’s tidy and efficient with minimal visual effects (and minimal moments of sufferings, too).
Credits:
Directed by Roland Emmerich
Written by Harald Kloser & Roland Emmerich
Starring: John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Oliver Platt, Danny Glover, Woody Harrelson.
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 6.4

2009-11-15

The Founding of A Republic


Chronicles of the events leading up to the birth of the People’s Republic of China were told in this epic movie which features lots of cameo appearences of famous stars like Andy Lau, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Zhang Ziyi and many other stars. Ironically, none of them took the lead role in the movie that was made to mark PRC’s 60th anniversary.

First of all, there are opinions that consider this movie as a mere propaganda for the Communist Party, but this review will look at this movie as a movie, not more, not less.

The scale of this movie was remarkable. Events were illustrated impressively and the sets and costumes were awesome. Added with excellent cast and their performances, this is actually a movie worth watching.


Leading the cast was Tang Guoqiang who filled the role as Mao Zedong perfectly. Other lead cast that featured frequently throughout the movie were Zhang Guoli as Chiang Kai-shek and Liu Jin as Zhou Enlai. Noticeable performances were also delivered by Chen Kun (as Chiang Ching-kuo) and Xu Qing (as Soong Ching-ling or Madame Sun Yat-sen). Cameo appearances by famous Hong Kong actors/actresses were Andy Lau (as Yu Jishi), Jet Li (as Chen Shaokuan), Donnie Yen (as Tian Han), Jackie Chan (as a reporter), Eva Huang (as a Xinhua News Agency broadcaster), Tony Leung (as one of the CPPCC members), and Zhang Ziyi (as Gong Peng).

Perhaps the weak point of this movie is the pace of the storyline which is too fast. Yet, this is not surprising since there are too many events to be told in a very limited time (the movie itself is 138 minutes in length). It is too easy to get lost in the details for about two-third of the movie, especially when the viewer does not able to understand the language and must rely on the English subtitles. The pace slowed down a bit later in the final third of the movie, but probably too many details were already lost.

Despite its weak point, this is a grand movie that should be able to entertain the audience with its remarkable production sets and exceptional acting from its star-studded cast. I believe this movie deserves a 9.0 after all.
Credits:
Directed by Huang Jianxin and Han Sanping
Written by Baoguang Chen & Xingdong Wang
Starring: Tang Guoqiang, Zhang Guoli, Liu Jin, Chen Kun, Xu Qing, Wang Xueqi, and many, MANY others
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 5.6

Coco Chanel


Not to be confused with Audrey Tautou’s Coco Avant Chanel, Coco Chanel was broadcast by Lifetime Television. Starring as the older Coco was Shirley MacLaine. Barbora Bobulová starred as the younger Coco.

The story of the legendary fashion designer Coco Chanel started with Coco reminiscing her past as she was coming under pressure from her manager Marc Bouchier to sell her business and go into retirement. Through a series of flashbacks, Coco’s past was revealed to the audience. From her time when she was left behind by her father with her sister, her acquaintance to Étienne Balsan which later led to the introduction to Arthur ‘Boy’ Capel, and throughout her early rise of her fashion empire. This movie focused on the romantic relationship between Coco and Boy Capel, which ended in Capel’s death in an automobile accident (Hey, this is no spoiler because it is a historical fact).
Although the story was great, the choice of language was, I believe, to be a bad move. It is cleary evident that the dialogues became awkward whenever the scenes set in France came up. I believe that Barbora did an awesome performance here and would have been a lot better if the dialogues were in French. McLaine did an equally great performance too, but unfortunately the dialogues seemed awkward when spoken in English. I saw some clips on Youtube about interviews with Coco during her later years, and they were in French, not English. This made the realism factor as the weakness of this movie. The flaw was not in the acting, but in the chosen language. Other than this, Coco Chanel is an good movie.

The cast did well, including Olivier Sitruk who played as Boy Capel, and also Valentina Lodovini as Adrienne. Still, the spotlight should be for Barbora and Shirley. Both did very well. Shirley MacLaine was nominated for Best Actress in Golden Globe Awards, also as the Outstanding Female Actor in Screen Actors Guild award, also in Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie in the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards.

For final rating, I give it a 7.5. The set was great, the acting was also great, the story was interesting and enjoyable, but the killing factor was the choice of language (it reminds me of Valkyrie).

Credits:
Directed by Christian Duguay
Written by Ron Hutchinson, Enrico Medioli, and Lea Tafuri
Starring: Shirley MacLaine, Barbora Bobulová, Olivier Sitruk, Valentina Lodovini, and Malcolm McDowell
Broadcast year: 2008
IMDB Rating: 6.9


2009-11-08

Komyo Ga Tsuji <功名が辻>


The 45th NHK taiga drama tells the story of Chiyo, the wife of Yamauchi Kazutoyo, a general from the Sengoku period who served under Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and later Tokugawa Ieyasu. As one of the generals that survived the turbulent era, Kazutoyo later became the Lord of Tosa (Tosa-no-kami) on the island of Shikoku, replacing its previous lord, Chosokabe Motochika. As Kazutoyo’s wife, Chiyo supported his husband’s rise from a mere soldier to a lord of a castle and later the ruler of Tosa.

Although not as famous as Maeda Toshiie and his wife Matsu (see also the NHK series Toshiie to Matsu), the rise of Kazutoyo was described as full of hardship, starting his rise with merely two loyal vassals: Goto Kichibei (Takeda Tetsuya) and Sofue Shinemon (Maeda Gin). In the movie, Kazutoyo believed that he owed his success to his loyal wife, Chiyo. To have her on his side unlocked his fortune and brought him luck and successes.

Described as lively and intelligent, Chiyo was told in the series to have influenced most of Kazutoyo’s key decisions throughout his carreer. One of them was his decision to side with Tokugawa Ieyasu at the Battle of Sekigahara. Her intelligence impressed both Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and later Tokugawa Ieyasu. Of course, all these might not necessarily historically accurate, but at least that is what the series implied.

Cast as Chiyo is Nakama Yukie. She played as both Yae and Koto in NHK’s other taiga series Musashi, and most recently, her role as Yamaguchi Kumiko in Gokusen. Kamikawa Takaya played as Yamauchi Kazutoyo, while Kagawa Teruyuki played as Rokuheita, a shinobi loyal to Chiyo. Teruyuki played as Toyotomi Hideyoshi in Toshiie to Matsu and Ukita Hideie in Aoi Tokugawa Sandai. Veteran actor Tsugawa Masahiko filled the role as Chiyo’s uncle Fuwa Ichinojo. Masahiko was the lead actor in Aoi Tokugawa Sandai, playing as Tokugawa Ieyasu. From the same Aoi series, Nishida Toshiyuki played as Tokugawa Ieyasu. Reprising his role in Toshiie to Matsu as Maeda Toshiie, Karasawa Toshiaki appeared in several late episodes of Komyo ga Tsuji. Other notable casts are Emoto Akira (Toyotomi Hideyoshi), Asano Yuko (Nene/One), and Hasegawa Kyoko as Hosokawa Tama or Gracia.

Despite a solid cast, the story was less interesting when compared to Toshiie to Matsu’s, probably the result of being heavily focusing on the relationship between Chiyo and Kazutoyo throughout most of the series. The emotional side was also easily beaten out by the one seen on Atsu-Hime. Regardless of the weakness in the storyline, the performances from the cast were enough to balance it out, making it enjoyable to watch, especially Nakama Yukie who was well chosen as Chiyo, as perfect as Matsushima Nanako was chosen as Matsu.

As a whole, I give the series an 8.5 out of 10 after weighing other factors such as the set and the music.

Credits:
Directed by Ozaki Mitsunobu
Based on the original writing Komyo ga Tsuji by Shiba Ryotaro
Starring: Nakama Yukie, Kamikawa Takaya, Takeda Tetsuya, Maeda Gin, Hamada Manabu, Kagawa Teruyuki, Hasegawa Kyoko, Emoto Akira, Asano Yuko, Tachi Hiroshi, Tsutsui Michitaka, Nishida Toshiyuki.
Broadcast period: January 8th 2006 – December 10th 2006.
IMDB Rating: 8.6

2009-10-23

The Damned United


The Damned United tells the story of Brian Clough’s days while managing the Leeds United in 1974. His tenure lasted for 44 days before he was sacked by the Leeds’ board of directors on September 12th 1974.

The cast was remarkable. Playing as Brian Clough was Michael Sheen, while Timothy Spall played as Peter Taylor, a longtime assistant to Brian Clough. Then there was Colm Meaney portraying Don Revie and also Jim Broadbent as Sam Longson, the chairman of the Derby County.

While it is said to be inaccurate in some facts, this movie is a good one to watch. I believe the performance of the cast was the main strength of this movie, particularly of Michael Sheen and Timothy Spall. The story was actually a good one too, as it inserted flashbacks to weave the whole story of Brian Clough’s early rise to popularity.

It began when Don Revie was appointed as England’s manager to replace Alf Ramsey in 1974. Revie’s departure left the manager position in Leeds vacant. The board of directors then appointed Brian Clough who at the time had just accepted a job offer with the Brighton and Hove Albion along with Peter Taylor. Taylor refused Leeds’ offer and stayed with Brighton while Clough accepted the offer and thus parted ways with Taylor.



There were flashbacks towards Clough’s and Taylor’s days when they both managed the Derby County, focusing on how much they depended on each other in bringing successes to their club. Much of it also explained why Clough disliked Revie. At Leeds, Clough managed to win just one game out of six, sending Leeds to the 19th spot on the league table. It was the worst start for Leeds in 15 years.

Brian Clough later became one of the most successful England’s managers when he brought Nottingham Forest to win promotion to Division One, winning the League Cup and were champions of Division One. He and Peter Taylor also brought the Forest to win two consecutive European Cup championship. His winning streak with the Forest of 42 league games were beaten only by Arsenal with Arsene Wenger at the helm. Brian Clough died on September 20th 2004 at the age of 69. His son, Nigel Clough now managed the Derby County, a club where Brian Clough started his rise to later become one of the most successful managers in English football yet never appointed to manage England.

Final rating is 8.5, thanks to Michael Sheen and Timothy Spall who made the film, regardless of some discrepancies in it, looked great.

Credits:
Directed by Tom Hooper
Written by Peter Morgan, based on David Peace’s novel The Damned Utd
Starring: Michael Sheen, Timothy Spall, Colm Meaney, and Jim Broadbent
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 7.6

2009-10-18

Departures (おくりびと (Okuribito))


Shortly after finding himself unemployed when his orchestra got disbanded, Kobayashi Daigo decided to return to his hometown at Sakata. There, he responded to a job advert which described the job as “assisting departures” only to find out later that it was to prepare the dead before the body is being placed in the coffin.

At first, Daigo struggled to adapt to his new job while also trying to hide it from his wife, Mika. As he learned more about the nature of the job and as he became more and more proficient with the skill, Daigo began to enjoy doing the job. When later Mika found out the truth about his job, Daigo must decide which one to choose: his job or his wife.

Departures is a very beautiful drama that focuses on several issues. One of them is about how people deal with the departures of their family members. Another is how some professions such as Daigo’s could have some difficulties in finding public acceptance. While initially rejecting Daigo just because of his job, Yamashita (Daigo’s childhood friend) in the end accepted him after witnessing Daigo performing the encoffinment ceremony for his deceased mother.

To me, this is a unique and yet beautifully made film with outstanding performances from the cast. Motoki Masahiro played well as Daigo. Hirosue Ryoko also successfully portrayed Mika, Daigo’s supportive wife which found herself struggling to accept Daigo’s new job. Even the supporting cast played so well such as Yamazaki Tsutomu who played as Sasaki Shōei, Daigo’s boss; Yo Kimiko as Uemura Yuriko, the employee at the NK Agency.

Scenes where the encoffinment ceremonies were performed were beautifully shot. Added with a great storyline, it is not surprising to see this movie won many honours, including the 81st Academy Awards as the best foreign language film. In Japan, the movie won the 32nd Japan Academy Prize for best film. Motoki Masahiro, Yamazaki Tsutomu, and Yo Kimiko won best actor, best supporting actor and best supporting actress categories, respectively. The director, Takita Yōjirō also won the best director award.

Overall, this is a very recommended movie. Well played, well executed, and excellent story. While it’s a 2008 film, it’s so far one of the few great films that I’ve watched this year. Final rating: 10.0.




Credits:
Directed by Takita Yōjirō
Written by Koyama Kundo
Starring: Motoki Masahiro, Hirosue Ryoko, Yamazaki Tsutomu, Yo Kimiko, Yoshiyuki Kazuko, Sasano Takashi, Sugimoto Tetta.
Release year: 2008
IMDB Rating: 8.2

2009-08-25

Gake no ue no Ponyo (崖の上のポニョ)


Directed by Hayao Miyazaki
Written by Hayao Miyazaki
Voice acting: Yuria Nara, Hiroki Doi, Tomoko Yamaguchi, George Tokoro, Kazushige Nagashima, Yuki Amami
Release year: 2008
IMDB Rating: 8.0

When a goldfish stranded off the shore of small fishing town, a little boy named Sosuke rescued it and named the goldfish Ponyo. He made a promise to protect Ponyo forever of which made Ponyo fell in love with Sosuke. Accidently, Ponyo came in contact with Sosuke’s blood, and this later enabled her to transform her into a human. Sosuke lost Ponyo for a while when Fujimoto who apparently is Ponyo’s father, took her back into the ocean. Despite her father’s attempt to keep Ponyo in his underwater castle, Ponyo managed to escape and with the help of her sisters went out to find Sosuke. This however, created a great imbalance and threatened the very survival of earth.



Gake no ue no Ponyo (or Ponyo of the Top of the Cliff) from Hayao Miyazaki may not be as good as Spirited Away nor the 2004 Howl’s Moving Castle, but it still impressive enough to captivate the audience throughout the course of the film. As usual, the environmental issue was raised and this time regarding how humans have been polluting the ocean. The plot is simple and light but very much enjoyable. The visuals were great as usual and the voice acting by the seiyus were also impressive (sorry to Disney, but I always prefer to watch Japanese version rather than the dubbed version of any anime movies). Finally, at the end of the movie, the audience will surely enjoy the theme song performed by Fujioka Fujimaki and Nozomi Ohashi (NOT the version performed by Frankie Jonas and Noah Cyrus).

In Japan, Ponyo won the 8th annual Tokyo Anime Awards, including Anime of the year and the Best domestic feature. Hayao Miyazaki himself won the best director and best original story. Additionally, Noboru Yoshida won the best art direction for this movie. As from me, I award the movie the rating of 8.0 out of 10.0 for its beautiful animation, captivating plot, excellent voice acting and great theme song. Oh and you don’t have to be a child to love this movie.

State of Play


Directed by Kevin Macdonald
Written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy, Peter Morgan, and Billy Ray
Based on State of Play, BBC One miniseries by Paul Abbott
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren, Robin Wright Penn, Jason Bateman and Jeff Daniels.
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 7.5

Based on the BBC One series by Paul Abbott, State of Play is a political thriller which attempted to condense a six one-hour shows to a 127 minutes feature film. While the original took place in England, the feature film was set in Washington DC.



Washington Globe reporter Cal McAffrey investigated a story about robbery and a shooting which left one man died and another one in comatose which was then followed by the death of a woman who worked as an aide to McAffrey’s former roommate Congressman Stephen Collins. Initially thought as a suicide case, the death of Sonia Baker eventually developed into a more complicated case which involves PointCorp, a private defense contractor which was under investigation by the congress, of which Stephen Collins had a place in the investigation committee. Cal was later joined by Della Frye, his colleague at the Washington Globe in his investigation and both later uncover an even bigger case than what was previously expected.

For a political thriller, State of Play surely offers some interesting twists in the story. Still, however baffling the final truth is, it was rather poorly delivered. It’s probably due to rather average performance by anyone other than Crowe. Sure, Helen Mirren and Jason Bateman were fantastic, but Ben Affleck, Robin Wright Penn, and Rachel McAdams which have more important roles in the flick were not able to deliver equally superb performances. It is clear that Crowe dominated nearly the entire movie.

This movie reminds me to All The President’s Men which starred Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. Unlike Hoffman and Redford who were impressive, both McAdams and Affleck were unable to match Crowe’s performance. Nevertheless, despite this shortcoming, State of Play is still an interesting movie to watch. For the rating, I give it a 7.0.
2009-08-21

Banlieu 13 - Ultimatum


Directed by Patrick Alessandrin
Written by Luc Besson
Starring: David Belle, Cyril Raffaelli
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 6.8

When I watched Banlieu 13 which was released in 2004, the first impression was: “Wow!” The action-packed movie was filled with parkour, or the art of movement. Thus what I saw back then were not computer generated tricks. How the fight scenes were performed by the lead actors David Belle (especially) and Cyril Raffaelli made the original Banlieu 13 a joy to behold, offering something unique in the action genre. Of course, the story was practically simple and the ending was easy to predict.



The sequel takes place in 2013, three years after the first movie. The corrupted DISS set up a scheme to frame the citizens of the Banlieu 13 so that it would provide a reason for the government to completely demolish the district filled with gangster factions. To ensure the smooth execution of the plan, Captain Damien Tomaso was set up and sent to prison for possession of drugs. Later, Damien managed to contact Leito asking for help. Now Leito must find a way to free Damien while dodging the chase from the DISS, and prevent the annihilation of Banlieu 13.

Compared to the first movie, B13-U was a disappointment. Sure, there were still parkour scenes in the movie, but after seeing the first movie, there’s barely anything feels new in the sequel. The story was even more simple than the first and this made the film even less appealing. Acting was not the main strength of the first movie and it wasn’t as well in the second one.

Overall, B13-U was a mediocre action movie, completely unsuccessful in picking up the success of its predecessor. For this movie, I give a 5.0.
2009-08-20

District 9


Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
Based on a short film Alive in Joburg by Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 8.8

Set in Johannesburg, South Africa, District 9 is based on Alive in Joburg, a short film also directed by Neill Blomkamp. Sharlto Copley played as Wikus van der Merwe, an MNU (Multinational United) agent who was sent to work on the non-humans relocation from District 9 to District 10. The non-humans (sometimes referred to as the prawns) arrived in Joburg 28 years ago in a spaceship which still hovers above District 9 in the present day.



During the relocation process, Wikus came into contact with a substance that apparently transforming his left hand into an arm similar that of a non-human. MNU then did some tests on him, including the use of non-human weaponry. Later MNU decided to harvest Wikus’ organs in order to replicate them. Wikus however, managed to escape and went back to District 9 to hide there.

From start to finish, the plot unfolded in a fast-paced manner. Although some questions arise in my mind regarding the plot, this sci-fi thriller is surely exceptional. It is however, missing from the plot on how the non-humans and humans managed to establish communication given that the words coming from the non-humans are barely recognizable in the movie. Another oddity is the fact that the spaceship remained hovering over District 9 for 28 years. Looking at how fast the folks at MNU came to the decision to harvest Wikus’ organs, how come they haven’t harvest the spaceship? They could bust into the ship, why not disassemble it altogether for scientific study? Nevertheless, despite these questionable details, the film managed to deliver the message regarding greed and discrimination (after all, why do you think it was set in Joburg?).

It is not without reason why I list only Sharlto Copley in the cast. The movie is singlehandedly focused on Wikus that it made everyone else’s performances insignificant. Copley’s performance however, was outstanding and made as if the movie is actually a documentary. He managed to portray the transformation of Wikus’ character from a jovial fellow to a … well, not so jovial fellow, perfectly. I’ve seen character transformations before but this one is surely one of the best that I’ve seen.

Overall, I consider this movie as a great sci-fi thriller. The acting was dominated by Copley, but he did it superbly. The plot itself provided a thrilling ride from start to finish, but with some questionable details. For District 9, I give it a 9.0 for giving me an awesome entertainment.

Oh, by the way, given the success of the movie, I expect Christopher Johnson will return as promised in 3 years. Since at the end of the movie the District 9 was demolished, he’ll bound to arrive at District 10.

Here's the Alive in Joburg. I thought this could be a good supplement for this post. Enjoy!




2009-07-11

Coraline

Directed by Henry Selick
Screenplay by Henry Selick
Based on a novella by Neil Gaiman
Voice acting by Dakota Fanning, Teri Hatcher, Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French, Keith David, John Hodgman, Robert Bailey Jr. and Ian McShane
Release year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 8.0

Based on a novella by Neil Gaiman, Coraline is an animated stop-motion 3D film directed by Henry Selick, director of The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach.

The horror-fantasy-themed Coraline begins when Coraline Jones and her parents (Mel and Charlie Jones) move into the Pink Palace Apartments. As her parents get too busy with their works, Coraline wanders around and outside the house. She meets Wybourne Lovat who lives with his grandmother, and then she encountered The Cat which later in ‘the other world’ can speak with her. She also meets with her other neighbors such as Miss Spink and Miss Forcible – both are retired actresses – and also a retired gymnast Mr. Bobinsky.

Her adventure starts when she discovers a small door covered by wallpaper which turns out to be bricked up. Later that night, upon following a mouse which appears in her room, she finds out that the door is no longer bricked and it actually leads to another world of her life. There she meets her Other Mother and her Other Father, as well as her other neighbors.

Life in the other world is so perfect for her, just the opposite of her real world where her parents just got too busy with their activities. In this other world however, the characters have buttons instead of eyes. Coraline later encountered The Cat which can speak in the other world. After some visits to this other world, she is offered the chance to stay forever there on one condition: to have buttons sewn over her eyes.

A captivating movie, Coraline is full of wonderful scenes. In addition, the theme is rather unusual for a child movie. Yet, the story is impressive despite its similarities to Alice in Wonderland. The difference is that Coraline has a darker settings that sets an eerily spooky atmosphere throughout the film. Its plot is based on the real-life fact that there are many Coralines out there who feel neglected as their parents got too busy with their jobs. Some venture away to find their perfect world to live in but only face great risk in the end. In the end, the moral of the story is that there’s no better place like your real home and there are no better parents than your real parents.

With its beautiful scenes, unique atmosphere, and great plot, this is a must-see movie. I give it a 10 out of 10 for the final rating.

2009-04-28

Watchmen

Directed by Zack Snyder
Based on the comic book by Dave Gibbons and Alan Moore
Screenplay by David Hayter and Alex Tse
Starring: Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode, Carla Gugino, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Patrick Wilson
Release Year: 2009
IMDB Rating: 8.0

Another movie based on comic book, Watchmen is set in an alternate timeline when the cold war between United States and the Soviet Union still persists and moving towards the risk of a nuclear war. In this timeline, the United States won the Vietnam War thanks to the intervention from Dr. Manhattan, and that Richard Nixon won his third presidency bid. The story opened with the murder of Edward Blake, or known as The Comedian, long after the government passed the Keene’s Act, a law that outlawed costumed vigilantes. Upon learning the murder of The Comedian, another vigilante Rorschach set out to investigate the case. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking as the confrontation between United States and the Soviet Union escalates, putting the world on the brink of a nuclear war.

While most people who haven’t read the comics may think that this is a superhero movie, there’s only one character with superhuman abilities. The rest of the characters have no superhuman abilities and as shown at the beginning of the story, may die. Another thing that may surprise the audience who expects lots of action scenes and special effects, there are only lots of special effects here, but the action scenes were very few. The movie’s duration of 162 minutes could exhaust some, although I definitely enjoy the entire movie.

The cast were great with the emphasis on Jackie Earle Haley and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Billy Crudup, while mostly contributed his voice rather than his looks, was also played very well even in just voice. Patrick Wilson and Matthew Goode also fit their roles well, although still outshined by Jackie Earle and Jeffrey Dean. The lead actress, Malin Akerman may be the weakest among the cast, and definitely outperformed by Carla Gugino who played Sally Jupiter. The dialogues and expressions were brilliant. With or without his mask, Rorshach was definitely a menacing character, despite being rather short compared to his fellow Watchmen. Unmasked, I could instantly see that Clint Eastwood face on Jackie Earle. Not only the face, but also the voice.

Visuals in the Watchmen are fantastic, especially the costumes and the colors. Again, I haven’t read the comics, but the flow of the story was enjoyable, moving back and forth in order to unveil more information on the characters. This movie exploits not the powers of the heroes inside, but rather it exploits the inner psychology of the characters: the uncomprimising Rorshach; a rather hesitant Nite Owl; the frustrated Laurie Jupiter, the violent and ruthless, patriotic Comedian; and Dr Manhattan that slowly losing his humanity; and the genius Adrian Veidt who would do anything to achieve his goals.

Overall, this is a unique movie about heroes. It doesn’t idolize heroes like Spiderman, Iron Man, or Batman, but it shows a more balanced charaterizations of the heroes. Given that this is a comic book adaptation, I believe I should also credit the series creators Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. One thing for sure, this movie is not suitable for kids for some of the contents. For the final rating, I’d give this movie a 9.0. Yes, this means it beats my ratings on Iron Man and Dark Knight. I guess if you want to make a hero story dark, make it dark all the way, not just halfway.

How To Lose Friends and Alienate People

Directed by Robert B. Weide
Based on a book by Toby Young
Written by Peter Straughan
Starring: Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Jeff Bridges, Megan Fox, Danny Huston, and Gillian Anderson
Release year: 2008
IMDB rating: 6.9

Based on the memoir of Toby Young with the same title, How To Lose Friends and Alienate People is about Sidney Young, a smalltime British journalist that covers celebrities. After crashing a party, he was offered a job in New York by Clayton Harding, owner of the Sharps magazine, who happens to be Sidney’s idol. At Sharps, Sidney was put under Lawrence Maddox and also met Alison Olsen. However, since his arrival at Sharps, Sidney finds nothing but troubles and the only friends he got were Alison and Clayton himself that sees his young self in Sidney.

I enjoy every bit of this movie, from the story (although a bit slow at first) and the acting. The casts were great. For the same genre with Yes Man, this movie is more balanced. Simon Pegg didn’t swallow the entire attention, because somehow Kirsten Dunst was also pretty good in catching the attention. Jeff Bridges and Gillian Anderson, who didn’t get a lot of screentime, also played well. Weaker performances however, were probably came from Megan Fox and Danny Huston.

Just like Yes Man, this is also a romantic comedy, but with less emphasis on romance. There’s no serious theme here, but not all scenes were cheerful. There was a bit of drama when Sidney met his father and some scenes regarding the relationship between Sidney and Alison. This is why I called it a more balanced movie. The end was also predictable, so there’s nothing extra special to it.

For being an enjoyable movie to watch, I give it a 7.5.

Yes Man

Directed by Peyton Reed
Based on a book by Danny Wallace
Screenplay by Nicholas Stoller, Jarrad Paul, and Andrew Mogel
Starring: Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, John Michael Higgins, Rhys Darby, Terence Stamp.
Release year: 2008
IMDB rating: 7.1

The latest comedy from Jim Carrey tells about Carl Allen whose life had been pretty much boring and lonely. Spending most of his time alone and tend to see life in a negative tone. This all changed when he met his friend Nick who invited him to attend a motivational seminar given by Terrence Bundley. After making a promise to Terrence to say yes to every request, he began saying yes to everyone’s request, thinking that breaking the promise will bring him bad luck. Subsequently, Carl met Allison and so a romantic element is introduced in this movie. Carl continued to say yes to everything until in the end he realized that people should say yes only when they want to say it.

It’s been quite some time since I saw a Jim Carrey movie. Yes Man puts Jim Carrey back on his usual acting style. Still, compared to Ace Ventura and Mask, the comical expressions were somewhat very few. The film has a serious message to deliver, but successfully executed in a fun way. From start to finish, despite the misfortunes that struck Carl, the fun remains.

Acting has been fully centered on Carl Allen, leaving hardly any room to expand other characters. Peter and Norman could have received better character depths, but that didn’t happen. As for Jim’s performance, it could be said that he was still good in doing his usual style of comedy, but I still prefer his previous films like Liar Liar. Zooey was also good, although as the lead actress she was also overshadowed by Jim’s part.

Nevertheless, this is a fun movie to watch. The story is good enough, although its end is not hard to predict. The acting is probably mostly credited to Jim Carrey instead the rest of the cast, and the directing is pretty much standard for a romantic comedy. Wrapping things up, I’d give it a 7.0.

2009-04-11

Atsu-hime

Based on the novel Tenshoin Atsuhime by Miyao Tomiko
Screenplay by Tabuchi Kumiko
Directed by Sato Mineyo, Okada Ken, Horikirizono Kentaro, Watanabe Yoshio, Uesugi Tadashi, & Matsukawa Hirotaka
Music by Yoshimata Ryo
Narrated by Naraoka Tomoko


Atsu-hime is the 47th taiga drama depicting the life of Princess Atsu from her birth in until her death. The story is somewhat divided into two phases. The first is involving the childhood of Okatsu, which is filled with family theme. This theme gradually replaced with political theme as Okatsu marries Tokugawa Iesada, although some family-related theme remains. Her marriage was set by Shimazu Nariakira who adopted her in order to push for the reform in the government. Atsu-hime’s task is to persuade her husband, Tokugawa Iesada, to name Hitotsubashi Yoshinobu as successor.


As Atsu-hime moves to Edo, the story is mainly about her efforts to adapt into the Ooku’s everyday life, while political theme gradually rising. Although under pressure by her chief attendant Kikushima who repeatedly reminds her of true mission, Atsu-hime decides to meet with both Yoshinobu and Iemochi. She finally let Iesada to choose the heir, defying Nariakira’s wish. At this point, the shogunate’s power gradually weakens. After the death of Iesada, Atsu-hime takes the tonsure and takes the name of Tenshoin. Hereafter the story shifts towards the prelude to the fall of Tokugawa shogunate.


Tenshoin assumes the leadership at the Ooku after Iesada’s death. Her relationship with Iemochi is close as she often gives the young shogun her thoughts regarding the politics. Still, at the moment the Chief Minister Ii Naosuke wields the power strong enough to mostly control the shogunate, undermining Iemochi’s authority. Yet, the shogunate’s power rapidly declined after Naosuke was assassinated. With no strong political figure in the government, Iemochi faces difficulty in dealing with the Satsuma clan’s intention to reform the government, as well as dealing with the Imperial forces who want to win the power back from the shogunate and return it to the Emperor.


Tokugawa Iemochi then marries Princess Kazunomiya Chikako, who comes from the Imperial family, thus creating a union between the shogunate and the imperial families. At this moment Lady Tenshoin met with Katsu Rintaro, who turns out to be an able politician. Soon after the untimely death of Iemochi, Tokugawa Yoshinobu takes over the lead. Despite he is a stronger leader than Iemochi, he could not win against the Satsuma clan which is led by Nariakira’s brother Shimazu Tadayuki who was appointed as successor after Nariakira’s death. Along with Komatsu Tatewaki, Saigo Kichinosuke and Okubo Shosuke, the Satsuma clan join forces with the Choshu clan, thanks to the mediation by Sakamoto Ryoma, a student of Katsu Rintaro. In the end, the reformation succeeds and Japan enters the Meiji era. Several years later, Lady Tenshoin passed away at the age of 49.


Miyazaki Aoi broke the record of being the youngest artist to take the lead in the taiga drama series at the age of 22 years and 1 month. This record was previously held by Takizawa Hideaki who portrayed Minamoto Kuro Yoshitsune in the 2005 taiga drama series “Yoshitsune”. As shown in the early part of the series, the cheerful Katsu must overcome a lot of hardship as Atsu-hime, even until after she becomes Lady Tenshoin. For portraying this part, Aoi managed to play the role perfectly. Unfortunately, the leading actor seems to be unable to match her performance and the rest of the cast’s performance. Eita, who played as Komatsu Tatewaki, was probably the weakest link in the series. Maybe not bad, but somewhat he was below the others’ performances.


The series has a remarkable cast, doing remarkable job. I cannot put all of the names here, because the list is too long to put on. Still, my favorite is Takahashi Hideki who played Shimazu Nariakira. The actor sparked charisma and able to command respect from the audience. And this was not his only remarkable role. In Yoshitsune, he played Fujiwara Hidehira and in Hojo Tokimune he played as Mori Suemitsu. Another strong performer is Ozawa Yukiyoshi, the man behind Saigo Kichinosuke. He and the others from the Satsuma cast used the local accent throughout the series. This contrasts with his previous role as Kiso Yoshinaka in “Yoshitsune”. His portrayal of the iron-willed man who in the end only yield to his late master, Shimazu Nariakira, was brilliant. The actors who played the last three shoguns were also great. As Tokugawa Iesada, Sakai Masato must play as a man who pretended to be an idiot as a mean to protect himself from assassination. Matsuda Shota portrayed the elegant and soft spoken Tokugawa Iemochi, while Hira Takehiro successfully played the harsh and bold Tokugawa Yoshinobu who, in the end fell into despair after the Emperor branded him as traitor. Some other noticeable characters are Nakamura Baijaku (as Ii Naosuke), Kitaoji Kinya (as Katsu Rintaro), Harada Taizo (as Okubo Shosuke), Hira Mikijiro (as Zusho Hirosato) and Nagatsuka Kyozo (as Shimazu Tadatake). The actresses other than Miyazaki Aoi also delivered impressive performances, starting with Matsuzaka Keiko (Ikushima) and Inamori Izumi (Takiyama). Despite perhaps a popular actress, Horikita Maki who played as Princess Kazunomiya was somewhat less impressive.


Music is definitely where this series also excelled. The soundtrack made the acting more convincing and the story more emotional. Even when listened separately, the soundtrack is top notch. As far as I’ve experienced, Atsu-hime soundtrack is the best taiga soundtrack that I’ve ever heard, toppling the OST from Toshiie and Matsu from the top of my list.

Blessed with great story (although dragging its feet at first) and excellent soundtrack, as well as strong performance from most of the cast, Atsu-hime is truly a series worth watching. Given the content and the fact that the leading role is a heroine, this would be easily preferred by female audience rather than male ones. Still, I enjoyed every bit of it. For the score, I’d give it a 9.5.