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The Golden Rock - June 6th, 2007 Edition

There’s not much news today, so let’s do a short overdue review:

Took a bit of time to check out Kinji Fukasaku’s classic gangster film Battle Without Honor or Humanity. The 99-minute epic (which easily packs a story double its length) opens right after World War II, where Japan is a recovering nation out of control. We’re introduced to at least 5 characters who would play important roles in the narrative later on. If you’re not taking notes, then just follow one guy: Hirono (played by Bunta Sugawara), whose rise in the syndicates is probably the closest thing to a central plot. As the film rolls along, we are treated to subplots about internal yakuza feuds, assassinations, betrayals - all done in a pseudo-documentary style that tells so much story that even a narrator is needed. And don’t worry if you don’t remember the names, you’ll know who dies from the matter-of-fact on-screen texts.

Needless to say, Battle Without Honor or Humanity can be brutal, but if you can manage to follow Hirono’s storyline, you’ll be treated to an engaging, powerful, and even somewhat affecting story of a man trying live by the code, only to realize his world is changing even before he entered it. The style is revolutionary (almost always shot with a handheld camera at canted angles), and the action is refreshingly real, even though the handheld camera seems to be foreshadowing the current way of shooting action scenes far too closely. If you’re a fan of triad films (I honestly believe the Young and Dangerous series from Hong Kong learned a thing or two from here) or gritty gangster flicks, then this is the one to watch. What a classic.

- Before doing the regular news stuff, another outward shout to Tokyograph, who mentioned The Golden Rock in their blog. They’ve been providing translated Japanese entertainment news that’s certainly far more trustworthy than this blogger’s own translations (trust me, my Japanese isn’t that good), and will remain a very important source of news for all interested in Japanese entertainment. My e-hat is off to you, Tokyograph.

- Time for a look at the Oricon music charts this week. The singles chart is livening up a little bit, as L’Arc~en~Ciel’s latest single sells 112,000 copies to debut at number 1. Aiko follows not too close behind with her latest, selling 70,000 copies at number 2. Chihiro Onitsuka’s comeback single everyhome debuts only at number 9 with 18,800 copies sold. Even more depressing is Aya Ueto’s latest, selling only 8900 copies for a 17th place debut. Next week, expect Kat-Tun to rule the charts.

As reported by the Japan Times, the solo “group” ZARD’s albums are seeing a sales surge following the accidental death of lead singer Izumi Sakai last week. While Mariya Takeuchi’s latest album rules the album chart for the second week in a row by selling 76,000 copies, ZARD’s last album, the compilation Golden Best ~ 15th Anniversary, jumped all the way back up to 3rd place with 41,000 copies sold. Their 1999 compilation also jumped back up to 18th place with 8,400 copies sold. Don’t be surprised if their record company decides to release more compilations in the future. Meanwhile, American pop artist Rihanna fails to duplicate the recent success of other American albums with her latest album, debuting only at 8th place with 24,700 copies sold. Looking at the daily rankings, don’t be surprised if the ZARD compilation shows up on the top 10 again next week.

- Korea Pop Wars is providing us with a mini-version of the box office charts this week, so let’s do some analysis ourselves. This week, seems like Pirates took a 63% drop in Seoul admissions, while Secret Sunshine saw a significant increase in Seoul, probably thanks to Jeon Do-Yeon’s win at Cannes. I was also surprised to see Confessions of Pain debuting at third place, even though it seemed to have done not as well outside of Seoul. Anyway, seems like Pirates is following somewhat close behind Spiderman, and both films will probably pass the 5 million mark.

- The first English review for Takeshi Kitano’s Kantoku Banzai (Glory to the Filmmaker) is out, and with a 3.4 stars out of 5…..I guess it’s good, right?

- Twitch has a link to two more fragmented trailers to Wong Kar-Wai’s My Blueberry Nights. In line with the episodic structure of the film, the first trailer, released just before Cannes, showed the Jude Law subplot, while the second trailer is about Rachel Weisz’s subplot, and the third trailer is on Natalie Portman’s. It still looks pretty, but I’m not so sure about Portman’s country accent myself. By the way, you have to click on the French yellow button under that poster of Wild Hogs to get to the trailers.

- Japanese TV just seems to get in trouble all the time - this time it’s TBS employees trying to put microphones on participants of an amateur golf tournament just to pick up what the new golf teen sensation Ryo Ishikawa is saying. TBS has since apologized for making the request, which was obviously denied.

- After a bit of rescheduling and whatnot, the New York Asian Film Festival finally announces its lineup, and it’s looking real good (so good that I wish I can fly to New York for it).

Looking even better is Japan Society’s own film festival Japan Cuts, which has quite a lineup this year as well, some of which is part of the New York Asian Film Festival.

- I first picked it up here, which somewhat wrongly translated the article. John Cameron Mitchell’s controversial film Shortbus is finally making its way to Japan, but not without a few modifications. According to the director, he personally supervised the placing of mosiac at 100 different places for the Japanese theatrical release due to the watchdog Eirin, who is basically the MPAA of Japan. Still, it’s not exactly the kiss of death, because unlike America, about 100 films are rated R-18 each year, including American Beauty. In fact, this news might even attract more people to see Shortbus in its limited run. Then again, Eirin is kind of weird, because even a violent war film like Letters of Iwo Jima got away with a general rating, while Flags of Our Fathers was a PG-12.

- Because of the size, there are essentially only two free TV stations in Hong Kong - TVB and ATV. They each run a main channel with Chinese programming and another channel mainly for English and foreign television shows. TVB pretty much takes up about 80% of viewership, which in American standards would make them NBC, CBS, ABC, and maybe even FOX combined, while ATV is like the CW with maybe the crappy side of FOX. This means ATV is only struggling to stay alive so TVB doesn’t get sued for monopoly. Lucky for ATV, they just got themselves a new investor. However, and this is from Hong Kong’s Oriental Daily rather than Variety Asia, the Cha family is known for their support of the Mainland Chinese communist government. With that in mind, there was an internal memo issued that promised ATV’s staff that despite the new investor’s political affiliations, freedom of speech and unbiased new reporting will continue to be upheld. And I say I’ll believe it when I see it.

- Good news for Orange Range fans (I am not one of them, by the way) - the Okinawan version of Limp Biskit is putting out two new albums this summer. Bad news for Orange Range fans - they are both compilation albums - one is a singles collection, and the other is a compilation of “fan favorites.”

- Election and Triad Election is heading to LA this weekend, so do go check it out. Me, I missed out on its one-week San Francisco engagement because they played it in a kind of inconvenient location, considering where I live, and they only showed Triad Election without the first film.

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