DVD Review: Map of the Sounds of Tokyo

Hi all!

Sometimes it can be an interesting thought experiment to take a sense we take for granted and remove it from the equation. Consider a day in your life without sight, for example. How would you navigate the streets of a big city? The soundtrack of the city would have to help guide you towards your goals and then placing those sounds on a mental map of an area – on this street, there’s a deli, an office building, and a dry cleaners with distinct audible clues to keep you going the right direction…

I think I was expecting more of that sort of exploration in Map of the Sounds of Tokyo, but instead I saw something completely different. This film, by director Isabel Coixet (Elegy), becomes a meditation on love, loss, grief, and striving to fill the void left behind.

Two stories intertwine in this film. One begins when Nagara (Takeo Nakahara), a Tokyo executive, gets a phone call during a business dinner involving sushi and naked women’s bodies. He is informed that his daughter has committed suicide. And from that moment on, his life is in free fall as you might imagine. Nagara blames his daughter’s boyfriend, Spanish wine shop owner David (Sergi Lopez, Pan’s Labyrinth) and eventually asks his assistant Ishida (Hideo Sakaki) to have the boyfriend killed. This brings in an oddly distant hitwoman – Ryu (Rinko Kikuchi, Babel) – who works nights at the fish market.

We watch as Nagara’s life falls apart and he goes deeper and deeper into a depression that has an adverse affect on his career as well as his assistant Ishida’s. While at the same time we watch as Ryu and David become more and more intertwined as David tries desperately to fill the void left behind by his dead girlfriend. Added to that is a strange sound recording guy (Min Tanaka) who befriends Ryu, adding odd moments of voiceover and silence.

Not since Lost in Translation have I really seen the streets of Tokyo on screen, but with this film I was often struck by the starkly decorated rooms in contrast with the gaudy neon, harsh light, and dark, rainy scenes throughout. It was almost as though the director wanted parts of the story to be viewed in a sterile laboratory offset from everything that goes on around them.

Ultimately I don’t think the movie knew what it wanted to be. It was part thriller, part sex romp, and part tragedy. But it never quite pulled off any of the three very well. I still found myself engrossed in the story however, wanting to see how it ended up, though I suspected from the beginning that it would end poorly for one or more of the characters.

I’m not sure if my interest in the film was due to some of the odd sets used – such as the strange hotel that Ryu and David use for their tryst that used a railway car as a themed room. It was also interesting to see the quiet of Japanese graveyards and how the female models washed themselves clean of sushi smell with lemon juice. Odd choices for me helped keep things interesting at least. And as if to punctuate that feeling of oddness, I was amused by the use of a driving school Ryu could see from her window that appeared several times.

The use of multiple languages and subtitles throughout the film added to the feeling that some of these characters were just thrown together by fate. English, Spanish, and Japanese are mixed throughout with English subtitles where necessary, though all of the voiceovers were done in Japanese with subtitles.

In addition to the film itself, a featurette was included explaining how the film came together. It turns out that part of the story came to Coixet on an earlier trip to Tokyo where she saw a tough female employee working in a fish market who refused to allow her picture to be taken. Beyond that, we hear a bit from the actors about the production but don’t really get much in the way of behind-the-scenes information.

If you’re looking for an odd drama/thriller with the streets of Tokyo as the backdrop, then Map of the Sounds of Tokyo may just be what you are looking for. Check it out on DVD at your favorite rental store counter.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.


p.s. Pick up this DVD and others from Barnes & Noble below!

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DVD Review: By the Will of Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan. Ruler of the Mongol Empire that stretched from China to Eastern Europe. His name alone evokes an image of scores of fierce horsemen working together to conquer most of the Eurasian continent in the 1200s. Even today, tales of his exploits are legendary.

The film By the Will of Genghis Khan follows the story from before his birth to his rise in power. Like many legendary figures, his story is one of heroic highs and tragic lows and this film shows it as such. I was struck by the parallels with other mythic characters in history. His trials present obstacles he must work around and learn from. But like the hero from Joseph Campbell‘s The Hero With A Thousand Faces, his life experiences show him as both being human and more than human with the gift to come back from each trial stronger than before.

When he gets married and his pregnant wife is stolen from him, he begins gathering the forces he will need to find her again. From that point on, he amasses power and friends into a massive force he uses to affect change everywhere he goes. Of course, not everyone is on board with his plans and both politics and ambition get in the way occasionally. Though he fights for peace, he must start and win a war.

Through it all, I felt a humility and a strong sense of honor. The old ways are followed, from sacrifices to the spirits, to marriage ceremonies and honoring the gods after the birth of a son. Rites, rituals, and laws guided the actions of these people from the steppes. The Mongols were a simple people who lived off the land and fiercely defended their way of life.

Directed by Andrei Borissov, the film stars Eduard Ondar, Gernot Grimm, Oleg Taktarov (National Trasure, Bad Boys II) and Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa (TV’s Heroes, Memoirs of a Geisha, and Mortal Kombat).

Shot on location in Russia and Mongolia, the cinematography is simply breathtaking in places. All the seasons are represented beautifully and you can see why the Mongol people would fight for their land.

However, though I appreciate the artistry and intent behind the picture, I have to admit that it felt ultimately like a marketing campaign for Genghis Khan. I wanted to like By the Will of Genghis Khan more than I did, but I’d encourage you to check it out if you’re interested in learning more about this larger than life character from history.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.


p.s. For more about the movie or Genghis Khan, see below:

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DVD Review: Dead Snow

Hi all!

It’s not a secret. I like zombies. Maybe not if one tried to gnaw on me like a piece of fried chicken, but I like stories about zombies whether they’re on TV, in print, or on the big screen. So when I heard about Dead Snow last year after Sundance, I knew it had to go on my “To See” list. It finally comes to DVD on February 23, 2010 and I got a sneak peek!

What’s it about? Take one part traditional horror plot with teenagers or 20-somethings, add a vacation cabin in the Norweigian Alps, and… Nazi zombies? Really!? Yes, Nazi zombies. And these guys aren’t messing around…

As the movie starts, we see a girl running through the trees and snow being chased by something or several somethings. It’s not clear what the “somethings” are, but you know they can’t be good. The music used for the opening sequence was an inspired choice and I only wish I knew what it was, but I can’t seem to find the soundtrack anywhere. We’re then introduced to the
beautiful people – four guys and three girls – heading up into the Alps for some skiing, snowmobiling, and fun. And yes, there’s a girl missing – one of the guys’ girlfriends was meeting them up there.

Everything is happy and cheerful until the obligatory weird local guy comes to the door in the middle of the night one night and regales them with stories of the Nazis and locals who had clashed 60 years before. During World War II, a Nazi company occupying the area were driven deep into the mountains and presumed to have frozen to death. He even has the gall to complain about the coffee he’s given as a guest. Once he leaves, everything gets rolling pretty quickly.

Honestly, I think this zombie movie has everything I could have wanted in a horror movie. Cute girls, humor, a bit of T&A, and zombies with a lot of personality. It even includes a zombie attack in the outhouse. Not only is it a gory, bloody mess, but it pays homage to some of the great horror movies of the past, including two of my favorites – Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2. When I saw the chainsaw come out of the shed, I burst out laughing.

Let’s talk about the zombies a bit. These aren’t your usual slow, brainless variety. For 60+ year old zombies, these guys are darn fast. The makeup artist did an amazing job providing unique faces for each zombie and I felt like each zombie actor provided a bit of personality to their characters which was awesome.

If you’re not into blood and guts, I would recommend staying away from Dead Snow. But I was constantly amazed at the variety of ways that zombies and campers could be killed or mutilated. Until this movie, I have never seen a man’s head get ripped apart. In one scene, they actually had a girl awake as a group of zombies pulled out her intestines. Fake blood was used aplenty in this film, liberally splattered across the landscape and the actors.

Also, I have to say that the subtitles didn’t detract from the film at all for me. Usually the actors weren’t talking during the fiercest action scenes, so you weren’t constantly bobbing your head up and down as you tried to keep track of what they were saying and what was happening on screen.

In my new order of zombie favorites, I’ll have to put Dead Snow in my top 5, along with Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland, Resident Evil, and Army of Darkness. Be sure to check it out at your favorite retailer or rental store when it hit shelves February 23!


p.s. Pick up these monsters at Amazon!

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