Japan Now: Muses of Japanese Cinema 30th TIFF to Celebrate Four Iconic Actresses: Sakura ANDO, Yu AOI, Hikari MITSUSHIMA, Aoi MIYAZAKI

May 18, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Japan Now: Muses of Japanese Cinema

30th TIFF to Celebrate Four Iconic Actresses: 
Also: Artist and Director Mika NINAGAWA Creates 30th TIFF Visuals

The Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) is pleased to announce that we will be highlighting the work of four iconic actresses in this year’s Japan Now section. This is one of the special programs planned to celebrate our 30th anniversary.  Sakura ANDO, Yu AOI, Hikari MITSUSHIMA and Aoi MIYAZAKI have been chosen as the Muses of Japanese Cinema in honor of the powerful sparks they generate on screen, their collaborations with renowned directors and their increasing international stature.In addition to the Muses of Japanese Cinema screenings, panel sessions with special guests will also be held.

TIFF is also pleased to unveil striking anniversary visuals by creative director Hiroshi SASAKI and art director Akihiro HAMABE — who served as the creative supervisor and chief art director, respectively, of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics performance at the Rio closing ceremony — in collaboration with acclaimed photographer and film director Mika NINAGAWA, known for her brightly colored photographs.

TIFF is dedicated to discovering and cultivating new filmmakers from around the world, whose work is highlighted in our Competition section, as well as to presenting internationally acclaimed titles during our 10-day festival.The 30th TIFF will take place from October 25 – November 3, 2017 at Roppongi Hills and other venues in Tokyo.

Smuggler (a J!-ENT DVD Review)

April 20, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 


Director Katsuhito Ishii manages to bring his staple of creativity, unusual but yet stylish flair to “Smuggler”, while also making sure the film stays consistent with Shohei Manabe’s wild and violent storyline and its crazy characters. An enjoyable yet extremely violent film that may not be for everyone, if you are looking for a film that is gritty, dark, violent with a lot of humor, then”Smuggler” is a film worth checking out!

Images courtesy of © Shohei Manabe-Kodansha Ltd./2001 “Smuggler” Film Partners. All Rights Reserved.

DVD TITLE: Smuggler

DURATION: 114 Minutes

DVD INFORMATION: 16:9, Japanese 5.1 Dolby Digital, Subtitles: English



AVAILABLE ON: April 1, 2014

Directed by Katsuhito Ishii

Based on the manga “Smuggler” by Shohei Manabe

Screenplay by Katsuhito Ishii, Masatoshi Yamaguchi, Kensuke Yamamoto

Music by Toshiro Nakagawa, Tatsuo Yamaguchi

Cinematography by Hiroshi Machida

Edited by Katsuhito Ishii, Sayaka Noji

Art Direction by Yuji Tsuzuki

Costume Design by Ikuko Utsunomiya


Satoshi Tsumabuki as Kinuta Ryosuke

Masatoshi Nagase as Joe

Yasuko Matsuyuki as Yuki Yamaoka

Hikari Mitsushima as Tanuma Chiharu

Tsuyoshi Abe as Bukutadashi Kabashi

Masanobu Ando as Verterbrae

Tatsuya Gashuin as Jijii

Ryushi  Tei as Viscera

Hitoshi Kiyokawa as Takahashi Yoshiharu

Fumiyo Kohinata as Kenji Nishio

Kinuta’s life is at a crossroads. His acting career hit the skids, and his gambling addiction just landed him in major debt to the mob. Bad guys with itchy trigger fingers want to put the kid six feet under until a mistress of the underworld scores him a job smuggling corpses. But death is nasty business, and Kinuta soon crosses paths with Vertebrae and Viscera, an insanely deadly duo of ninja assassins. These lethal psychopaths kill everyone in sight, drawing the vengeful wrath of a demented Mafioso. What ensues is cinematic sequence almost too extreme for American audiences. Kinuta accidentally springs Vertebrae from a harrowing death march, landing himself in the unenviable position of having to impersonate a psycho killer – or end up dead. This heinous game of cat and mouse becomes a splatterfest of guts and gore as a diaper-clad madman puts Kinuta’s will to live to the ultimate test!

In Japan, Shohei Manabe has been known to create wild, crazy and violent and creative stories such as “Yamikin Ushijima-kun” “The End” and “Smuggler”.

But who can bring this wild story to the big screen, if there was one person suitable in those type of adaptations, Katsuhito Ishii can!

From the director of wild and crazy films such as “The Taste of Tea” and “Funky Forest: the First Contact”, for those of you who are familiar with Katsuhito Ishii’s work, then you know this man can do crazy!

And with “Smuggler”, the story plays out like a manga featuring an ensemble cast.

The film begins with a college graduate named Kinuta Ryosuke (portrayed by Satoshi Tsumabuki), a carefree guy who has always failed in life, has not done much in pursuing his goal of becoming an actor and is often playing pachinko.  One day, he is told by gang leader Zhang (portrayed by Tsuyoshi Abe) that he can earn a lot of money using rigged pachinko machines if he beats up a guy.

While Kinuta does what Zhang tells him to do, he is caught by police and the victim he beat up and is ordered by Zhang and his gang to pay 3 million in damages.

Because he has no money, Kinuta is forced to go to the banker Yuki Yamaoka (portrayed by Yasuko Matsuyuki) who pays off his debt but now she is indebted to her.

Kinuta must work a job of being and underground smuggler along with Jo (portrayed by Masatoshi Nagase) and Jijii (portrayed by Tatsuya Gashuin).  One day they are called by Yuki to prepare for a major smuggling job.

Meanwhile, we are taken to a scene featuring the Tanuma gang who have stolen drugs from a Chinese gang.  As the Tanuma gang plots to make money from the stolen drugs, two top-notch Chinese assassins – Vertebrae (portrayed by Masanobu Ando) and Viscera (portrayed by Ryushin Tei) arrive and slaughter everyone.  The banker Yuki Yamaoka sends her cleaning team to take care of the place, while calling her smuggling team to dispose of the bodies.

Vertebrae takes gang leader Tanuma’s head to send it back to their gang and while at a convenience store to send the package, both men come into contact with Jo and nearly get into a fight.

As Jo and his team are told that they must pickup the delivery and take it to another location, Kinuta opens a bag thinking there may be something cool inside but instead, finds a headless body.

As Jo and his team goes to deliver the bodies to an incinerator, the Tanuma gang receive the delivered head of their boss and now, hotheaded Seiji Kawashima (portrayed by Masahiro Takashima) and the more cool-headed Kenji Nishino (portrayed by Fumiyo Kohinata) want revenge and are now after Vertebrae and Viscera and they will do anything to capture them by any means necessary.


“Smuggler” is presented in 16:9 and in Japanese 5.1 Dolby Surround.

“Smuggler” looks very good on DVD and I’m a bit surprised it did not receive a Blu-ray release.  But for the most part, picture quality is as good as you can get with DVD and dialogue and musical soundtrack is clear and understandable.

Subtitles are in English.


“Smuggler” comes with the following special features:

  • The Making of Smuggler – (17:23) Behind-the-scenes of the making of “Smuggler” and interviews with the cast.
  • Original Trailer 1 & 2 – Original Japanese theatrical trailer for “Smuggler”.


“Smuggler” comes with a slipcover.

Having reviewed Katsuhito Ishii films before, I admit that they are not easy films to describe.  There is a level of creativity, humor and unusual nature to his films that will make you laugh or at least amuse you.

But now that he has done an adaptation for Shohei Manabe, a wild and crazy mangaka who creates violent, humorous manga, in many ways, this is a collaboration that balances itself out because both are creative people.

So, while it’s hard for me to describe the film without too many spoilers, what I loved about the film is its sheer craziness.

The characters are the main key to this storyline!

Kinuta is somewhat of the protagonist but he is a kind-natured guy who is often a failure or to carefree that his life is turned upside down when he is forced to become a smuggler.  He must team up with the cold and stoic Jo and the 70’s dressed old man, Jijii.  And their older, Harajuku lolita dressed banker, Yuki.

Meanwhile, you have the Chinese mafia with the supernatural Vertabrae (who is like watching Spider-Man, Flash and Bruce Lee as one man) who talks to the dead and ponders about death, his partner Naizou who is wanting some guy-on-guy action, especially with Zhang (who wants to climb the Chinese gang ladders).

Then for the Tanuma gang, you have the violent, wild and crazy Seiji Kawashima, the more calm Kenji Nishio and the “my girlfriend is not ugly” Yoshiharu Takahashi.  And Tanuma’s golddigger and blunt wife, Chiharu.

All of these characters are in search of something, may it be answer, may it be money or may it be something which includes squid, suffice to say its efficacy is that it is a film that manages to incorporate violence and humor.

There are many times in the film that you want to laugh but then the violence gets over-the-top and possibly a bit too extreme.

And while I enjoyed the film for its characters and unpredictability, it’s low point are the torture scenes.  I felt the torture sequence went way too long for my taste but I suppose to showcase the brutality of Shohei Manabe’s manga series in full effect, the film had to become extreme and so some may enjoy those scenes, other may feel it was too much.

As for the DVD, picture quality was good as one can expect on DVD.  I am surprised there was no Blu-ray release for this film but picture quality was good, dialogue and music were crystal clear and you get a few special features included.

Overall, director Katsuhito Ishii manages to bring his staple of creativity, unusual but yet stylish flair to “Smuggler”, while also making sure the film stays consistent with Shohei Manabe’s wild and violent storyline and its crazy characters.   An enjoyable yet extremely violent film that may not be for everyone, if you are looking for a film that is gritty, dark, violent with a lot of humor, then”Smuggler” is a film worth checking out!


Death Note Collection (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

September 2, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Compelling, dark, twisted and awesome! Both “Death Note” films get the Blu-ray treatment in HD and lossless audio.  If you love the manga and anime series, you’re going to enjoy both films.   Slightly different than the original series but the films yet manage to capture the thrilling spirit of the series.

Images courtesy of © 2006 “DEATH NOTE” FILM PARTNERS © 2003 Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata . All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Death Note Collection


DURATION: 120 Minutes (Death Note), 140 Minutes (Death Note II)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Japanese and English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Subtitles: English


RATED: Not Rated

RELEASE DATE: August 24, 2010


Directed by Shusuke Kaneko

Based on the Bestselling Japanese Comic by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

Screenplay by Tetsuya Oishii

Music by Kenji Kawai

Cinematography by Hiroshi Takase

Lighting by Koichi Watanabe

Production Design by Hajime Oikawa

Produced by Takahiro Salute, Toyoharu Fukuda, Takahiro Kobashi

Executive Produced by Seiji Okuda


Directed by Shusuke Kaneko

Based on the Bestselling Japanese Comic by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

Screenplay by Tetsuya Oishii

Music by Kenji Kawai

Cinematography by Kenji Takama

Lighting by Masamichi Uwabo

Production Design by Hajime Oikawa

Editor: Yusuke Yafume

Produced by Takahiro Salute, Toyoharu Fukuda, Takahiro Kobashi

Executive Produced by Seiji Okuda


Tatsuya Fujiwara as Light Yagami

Kenichi Matsuyama as L

Asaka Seto as Naomi Misora

Shigeki Hosokawa as FBI Agenty Ray

Erika Toda as Misa Amane

Sujui Fujimura as Watari

Takeshi Kaga as Soichiro Yagami

Nana Katase as Kiyomi Takada

Michiko Godai as Sachiko Yagami

Hikari Mitsushima as Sayu Yagami

Yu Kashii as Shiori Kashino

Shido Nakamura as the voice of Ryuk

English Dub Voice Actors:

Christopher Britton as Soichiro Yagami

Shannon Chan-Kent as Misa

Brian Drummond as Ryuk

Brad Swaile as Light Yagami

Matt Lagan as Lind L. Taylor

Death Note
Law student Light is upset with the justice system and when he finds the Death Note dropped by a death god, he vows to rid the world of evil. Any human whose name is written in the notebook dies. As criminals all over the world begin to mysteriously die, a world-renowned detective known only as “L” is put on the case to stop this serial killer that the public calls “Kira.”

Death Note 2: The Last Name
The battle between Light and L continues as Light joins the investigation team. L suspects Light of being Kira while Light attempts to learn L’s real name. Time becomes even more crucial with the appearance of a second Kira. Whose name will be the last written in the Death Note?

Both films are compelling, dark, twisted and awesome!

Based on the popular manga and anime series that has captured the attention of viewers worldwide and the live action “Death Note” films (including the third, “L” film) have been popular among fans who have enjoyed this film featuring a battle of wits between Light Yagami and L.

With the “Death Note” films previously released on DVD from Viz Pictures in the U.S., many have wondered if there would be a Blu-ray release due to the films being released on BD in Japan.

“Death Note” is an adaption of the popular manga series written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata and stars Tatsuya Fujiwara (known for his work in the popular “Battle Royale” films), directed by Shusuke Kaneko (known for the 2006 hit film “Gamera”) and the theme song “Dani California” (for “Death Note”) and “Snow (Hey Oh)” (for “Death Note II: The Last Name”) by the popular rock band RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS.

The film focuses on Light Yagami (Fujiwara), an intelligent student who wants to work in criminal law and follow his father’s footsteps and catch criminals. But one day after hacking into the police department’s computer system, Fujiwara is just sickened to know that the police has released criminals who should be incarcerated. One night, Yagami discovers a notebook called “Death Note” that has specific rules:

-The human whose name is written in this note shall die.

-This note will not take effect unless the writer has the person’s face in their
mind when writing his/her name. Therefore, people sharing the same name will
not be affected.

-If the cause of death is written within 40 seconds of writing the person’s name,
it will happen.

-If the cause of death is not specified, the person will simply die of a heart

-After writing the cause of death, details of the death should be written in the next 6 minutes and 40 seconds.

-This note shall become the property of the human world, once it touches the
ground of (arrives in) the human world.

-The owner of the note can recognize the image and voice of its original owner,
i.e. a god of death.

-The human who uses this note can neither go to Heaven nor Hell.

Anxious to test this book out, Light writes the name of a criminal, thinking that the book is a joke. That is until the person’s name that was written actually dies. Thus Light finds a way to get justice and does what he can to rid the world of all evil and become “the God of the new world”.

He also meets the owner of the Death Note, a shinigami (God of Death) named Ryuk, who is fascinated by Light of his ways of killing the criminals but the way his mind works.

Light who uses the name “Kira” starts writing the names of criminals in the Death Note and each die by heart attack and thus causing a frenzy in the media and the police force who now need to go after the person killing the criminals. But Kira is not your average criminal, as he is quickly generating a large fandom of people who support Kira’s goal of eliminating criminals.

Of course, the police force led by Light’s father, Soichiro Yagami, has no idea of how to go after this criminal but unbeknownst to them is a mysterious person that goes by the name of L. An intelligent detective who has an unorthodox way of catching criminals and so far, has been very succesful with his cases worldwide.

The cat and mouse chase has begun as L goes after Kira and Kira realizes his greatest enemy is L and thus the battle begins.

The film stars an all-star cast with “Battle Royale” actor Tatsuya Fujiwara as Light Yagami, Kenichi Matsuyama who starred in films “Linda Linda Linda” and “NANA” as the mysterious detective L.

Joining the two is one of Japan’s most popular actress, Asaka Seto as Naomi Misora, a former FBI agent who’s fiance is killed by Kira. Model and actress Yu Kashii as Light’s girlfriend Shiori Akino. Shigeki Hosokawa as FBI Agent Raye who is hot on the trail of catching Kira, actress Erika Toda who plays the character of pop star Misa Amane and Takeshi Kaga, best known for the host of the original “Iron Chef”, who plays the role as Light’s father and head of police, Soichiro Yagami.

In the second film, “Death Note II: The Last Name”, we learn that another individual has the “Death Note”.  Her name is Misa Amane, a pop star and TV talent who has shortened her life span for the eyes of the shinigami.  This allows her to see the names of the individuals and thus easy to write them down on the Death Note.  She is a follower of Kira and all she wants is to be with him.  And thus, she murders innocent people in order to get the attention of Light.

Upon meeting Misa, Light realizes that with her “eyes”, he can use her to finally kill his nemesis L. But with L and the police suspecting Light as Kira and Misa as Kira II, Light devises a plan.  With Misa Amane captured by the police force, he submits himself to being captured and being held by the police.  But he has given Misa’s Death Note to another person.  A newscaster named Kiyomi Takada who also idolizes Kira and his mission and is willing to further his plan of eliminating criminals.

Now the police force who has both Light and Misa in custody in order to find out if they are both Kira now have a new threat in the outside world.  Who can outwit the other and who will become the victor – Kira or L?

The film is 140 minutes long, pacing was indeed well done and overall, despite being different from the manga and anime series, both Shusuke Kaneko and Tetsuya Oishii managed to come up with a thrilling, dark and gripping storyline that remains faithful to the overlying theme of the film.


“Death Note” and “Death Note II: The Last Name” are presented in 1080p High Definition and everything about these two films on Blu-ray looks much better and more vibrant than its DVD counterpart.

You can see the detail for example on the wooden grain of Light’s bedroom doorway, the metallic finish of his cell phone to the pixels of the screen on his cell phone and the strands of Light’s hair much clearly.

The film features a fine layer of grain, Colors pop out much more especially during the day light sequences, blacks are nice and deep and I don’t recall seeing any major compression artifacts or DNR.

Probably only one scene where I felt there was a bit of low-light noise seen on the blacks and reds (a scene before the ending credits of “Death Note II”) but for the most part, the picture quality for both films are very good.

My main interest was to see how the CGI would be for the shinagami Ryuk and Rem. And how that would translate on film and the two shinigami look exactly like it does in the anime and manga series but Rem seems to look more less detailed than Ryuk. But overall, the CG works with the film.  It’s important to note that the CG was created in 2005-2006, so one should not compare this to 2009 “Avatar” or Pixar-based animation with heavy detail.


“Death Note” and “Death Note II: The Last Name” are presented in Japanese and English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.   As for the lossless audio, this is another highlight of the Blu-ray version as I found the dialogue and musical soundtrack to be crisp and clear through the front and center channels.

The gunshots and crowd and overall ambiance (doors latching, stairs being climbed, etc.) is well-featured throughout the film through the surround channels.  I was pretty impressed of how much the audio stood out through the surround channels versus when I watched both films originally on DVD.  Ryuk and Rem’s voice echoes through the surround channels, certain movements can be heard through the surround channels and also certain parts of the musical score are played through the surround channels as well.

I found that “Death Note II: The Last Name” had a bit more surround sound usage with vehicles crashing, thunder, gun shots and a bit more destruction utilized in the sequel.

As for LFE, I didn’t really catch any major booms through my subwoofer during the more action-based scenes but mainly during the bass sequences of the music-filled sequences or during a sequence when Light had touched a Death Note.

I typically dislike English dubbing of Asian language films but what brought a smile to my face was that VIZ used the original voice actors of the anime series (which had great English dub work) on this series.

So, for those who are fond of Brandon Swaile’s Light, Alessandro Juliani’s L, Brian Drummond’s Ryuk, Shannon Chan-Kent as Misa and the other English dub voice actors will be happy to know that they did the English dub for the live film.That surprised me and definitely major kudo points for Viz Media for keeping things consistent in the voice acting


The “Death Note Collection” comes with the following special features:

  • Making of Death Note – (50:00) Featuring the making of “Death Note” and interviews with the director, talent and behind-the-scenes of the making of various scenes from the original film.  A weekly video journal of various scenes and how they were shot.
  • Making of Death Note II: The Last Name – (50:00) Featuring the making of “Death Note II: The Last Name” and interviews with the director, talent and behind-the-scenes of the making of various scenes from the sequel. A weekly video journal of various scenes and how they were shot.
  • Viz Pictures Presents – Featuring trailers for upcoming and currently released Viz Picture films.

First, let me say how happy I was to find out that both “Death Note” films were coming out on Blu-ray and even happier when I found out that they would be bundled together.  I enjoyed both films when they came out and although different from the manga and anime series (as you can only fit so much into two 2-hour films), the writers managed to craft two films that were fine on its own despite its difference from the original storyline.

But even with the slight changes, everything worked out. The pacing was well done, the CGI of Ryuk was well done. But those changes from the original series is what gives the film it’s own life.

Unlike the manga and anime series, Naomi Misora (Seto) has a slightly different role, as does Shiori Akino (Kashii) that plays a major pivotal role early in the series of how demented Light has become, even with a followup comment by Ryuk. Fantastic!

But the plus for this film was the talent involved. Tatsuya Fujiwara is such an impressive actor that it was great to see him take on the role of Light Yagami. To see Fujiwara’s acting show the believable and caring Light Yagami evolve into the killer known as Kira was just fantastic. Kenichi Matsuyama as L was also well done.

But of course, the addition of other talents such as Asaka Seto. She’s such a popular TV drama and film star that it was great to see her as the vengeful Naomi Misora and it’s great to see Mr. “Iron Chef” Takeshi Kaga as Soichiro Yagami.

I was extremely pleased with the first live action film and the treatment it has received on DVD. I enjoyed watching it in Japanese but watching it again with the voice actors of the original anime series. Again, I’m not fond with English dubbing for a lot of Asian films but VIZ was smart in utilizing the voice actors for the anime series on this live film. Well done!

“DEATH NOTE II: The Last Name” was extremely popular in Japan. Having been #1 in the box office for five weeks and earning 5.5 Billion yen in Japan, the film was a major success.

I enjoyed the film a lot and the pacing was much better with the second film but if anything was amazing, it was Tetsuya Oishii’s screenplay.

It is challenging to get so much storyline from the manga and making a live action film.  There is so much story in the “Death Note” manga that it would be difficult to translate all that in two films.  So, there had to be major differences in the live film versus the manga and unfortunately, for many films based from a long manga series, they don’t succeed because they try to condense everything into one film.

As for “Death Note II: The Last Name”, Oishii manages to create a new storyline that is so different from the manga series but yet manages to stay within the confines of the main focal point.  Kira vs. L and finding a right conclusion. Having the storyline so different from the manga, I was pleasantly surprised by it but by the film’s end, I was rather pleased.  Both Kaneko and Oishii pulled it off.

What I love about this film is that Kira and L are two individuals who are intelligent and the way they try to outdo each other, is always amazing.

In a way, it’s like a chess game between these two as they do what they can to outwit each other. Also, I enjoyed seeing how many other characters were integrated into the overall storyline.  And knowing how different this film is from the manga and anime series, I was satisfied with the conclusion of the film and overall, I really enjoyed the sequel.  Good storytelling by Oishii and managing to pull of a storyline that is just as satisfying as the manga but yet quite different.

If you enjoyed the first live film, then you will definitely want to pick up the sequel.  “Death Note II: The Last Name” is a thrilling, suspenseful and enjoyable film.

Overall, this collection is pretty awesome because you do get both films in one set, you also get the films in HD and lossless English and Japanese audio as well.  And you also get the special features in a third disc and there was no skimping by Viz Pictures for their first major Blu-ray release.

It’s important to note that the special features that were on the original DVD release are not the same.  The special features on the Blu-ray are longer and actually feature the making of, whereas the first “Death Note” DVD featured only the interview with the director and “Death Note II” DVD featured a 23-minute interview with the director and talent of the film.

I know there are some people who wish the “L” film was included with this set but this collection focuses primarily on “Death Note” especially the psychological battle between Light Yagami versus L.  And although not as heavy on the details like the manga or animated series, these two films turned out quite well on its own and is definitely recommended!