Kou Shibasaki

Battle Royale (2000, Fukasaku Kinji), the director’s cut

Battle Royale has to be seen to be believed. It shouldn’t work–a film about teenagers killing each other (under a government mandated law) played as a sweeping melodrama, but it does. It’s somehow brilliant, all thanks to director Fukasaku. The action takes place on this tropical island and Fukasaku fills it with beautiful shots and beautiful music (Strauss, Verdi, Schubert, Bach) and it feels peaceful. Not even the violence can ripple the calm the film presents.

The story’s high concept in a lot of ways and the film never deals with it (there’s a major plot hole because of that avoidance), instead, it’s this overblown teen movie. It’s the teen melodrama taken to the nth degree–this film (which is a comedy a lot of the time) is the one John Hughes never could have made. Apparently there’s going to be an American version at some point. I can’t even imagine how neutered it’s going to be (or would be, I can’t believe it’ll get made).

The acting in the film is solid, without any real standouts. It wouldn’t work with standouts. Yamamoto Tarô is probably the closest thing to one, just because he’s got the fullest role. In some ways he’s the main character, but not really. The film takes itself incredibly seriously and Fukasaku never lets the violence get fetishized. Given the film’s ludicrous proposition, it’s singular he was able to pull it off.

The conclusion has ups and downs and then finishes on a big up.



Directed by Fukasaku Kinji; screenplay by Fukasaku Kenta, based on the novel by Takami Koushun; director of photography, Yanagijima Katsumi; edited by Abe Hirohide; music by Amano Masamichi; production designer, Heya Kyôto; produced by Fukasaku Kenta, Fukasaku Kinji, Kataoka Kimio, Kobayashi Chie, Nabeshima Toshio and Okada Masumi; released by Toei Company.

Starring Fujiwara Tatsuya (Shuya), Maeda Aki (Noriko), Yamamoto Tarô (Kawada), Shibasaki Kou (Mitsuko), Ando Masanobu (Kiriyama), Kuriyama Chiaki (Chigusa), Takaoka Sosuke (Sugimura), Tsukamoto Takashi (Mimura) and Kitano Takeshi (the teacher).

Go (2001, Yukisada Isao)

Go opens with an unbelievable shot. Pimples. It opens with the bad skin of the protagonist’s forehead. Once my initial reaction–ick–was over, I started watching Go wrap itself into a drug-free, fighting-heavy Trainspotting homage. Then it started reminding me of True Romance, if only because the theme sort of sounds like it (the one from Badlands). Then, nicely, Go did something different. It got really good.

Go‘s the first film I’ve seen that discusses Japanese racism. The main character is a Korean living in Japan and, apparently, Japanese people don’t like Koreans very much. This external conflict slowly becomes important in the film, as it becomes important to the protagonist, which is a nice way of doing things.

There’s so much good stuff in Go–the romance is all right, but easily the least, except some of the comedic scenes–particularly the family relationship and the friendships. Go features a father and son beating the shit out of each other to show each other how much they love each other. It’s a stunningly great scene, but there are a few others. So, if you do get ahold of it (Nicheflix has it), don’t give up during the derivative first act… stick with it. Even with denouement problems, it pulls itself into something damn good.

Oh. I never went anywhere with the Badlands thing. Later, the romance reminds me of Badlands. Not in the killing folks sort of way, but the loving people sort of way.



Directed by Yukisada Isao; screenplay by Kudô Kankurô, based on the novel by Kaneshiro Kazuki; director of photography, Yanagishima Katsumi; edited by Imai Takeshi; music by Kumagai Yôko and Urayama Hidehiko; production designer, Wada Hiroshi; produced by Kurosawa Mitsuru; released by Toei Inc.

Starring Kubozuka Yôsuke (Sugihara), Shibasaki Kou (Sakurai), Ootake Shinobu (Michiko), Yamamoto Taro (Tawake) and Yamazaki Tsutomu (Hideyoshi).

Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World (2004, Yukisada Isao)

Boy meets girl, boy woos girl, boy gets girl, girl gets sick.

Crying Out Love has a frame too: boy never gets over it and still hasn’t, twenty years later, when he’s engaged to be married. The engagement actually doesn’t set off the story, some of the silly plot contrivances do, but it doesn’t really matter. Crying Out Love succeeds where most films of its sort fail–it creates a good teenage love story. It does it small and it does it with good acting. The kid in it, whose name you can find on IMDb if you care (he hasn’t been in anything else), is fantastic, so’s the girl. Even the acting in the modern day is good, it’s just that the character never worked himself out, so it’s sort of unbelievable that anyone would want to marry him. It’s adapted from a romance novel and I’ll bet the fiancée has a limp in it too–but I bet she isn’t supposed to be so good-looking.

Of course, the film falls apart once the girl gets sick, mostly because it’s no longer from the kid’s perspective. The perspective just loafs around after that point and there’s something at the very end that’s bad, but I don’t even remember what now and I just finished watching it five or six minutes ago. It’s also incredibly predictable.

The director is a complete champ, however, and that alone would make the film worth watching. But, it’s got the good acting to top it off.



Directed by Yukisada Isao; screenplay by Yukisada, Sakamoto Yuji and Itou Chihiro, based on a novel by Katayama Kyouichi; director of photography, Shinoda Noboru; edited by Imai Takeshi; music by Meyna Co.; produced by Haruna Kei and Ichikawa Minami; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Osawa Takao (Sakutaro), Nagasawa Masami (Aki), Moriyama Mirai (Teenage Sakutaro), Shibasaki Kou (Ritsuko), Yamazaki Tsutomu (Shigezou) and Takahashi Issei (Ryunosuke).

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