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The Golden Rock at the 2011 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival - Day 5

I originally had three films scheduled for today: India’s THE KITE, plus the two I watched. However, an eye exam (plus the subsequent visit to the optical store) caused me to miss the film. So, day five featured only two films, both from Japan:


Tokyo Koen (2011, Japan, Dir: Shinji Aoyama)

I have three cities around the world that I consider home: Hong Kong, San Francisco, and Tokyo. As a result, I tend to be easier on films that can represent these three cities well. That may be why I found the latest Shinji Aoyama film to be more engaging that i had expected it to be. On the surface, the lighthearted drama is about the three women in the life of an aspiring photographer. However, in Aoyama’s hands, TOKYO KOEN breaks through simple Japanese indie aesthetics with its picturesque journey through Tokyo’s parks and an odd sense of humor that only Aoyama can pull off.

While Nana Eikura plays the impossibly cute, perky film buff (LIPSTICK reference!), it’s Manami Konishi that surprised me as the hero’s step-sister. Usually playing withdrawn, quiet characters, Konishi exudes a sexy, seductive vibe that I’d never seen before from her. The film’s too light to attract any attention for her performance, but TOKYO KOEN may be my favorite Konishi performance yet.

On a more personal note, the film has also inspired me to take a journey of my own on my next trip to Tokyo. While going around all of Tokyo’s parks may be a bit much, it would be nice to see parts of the city I’ve never been to. Aoyama’s version of Tokyo is one that overseas viewers rarely see - one with little sense of urbanization and technology (the hero insists on using an old film camera). Tokyo’s parks is as big a character as the four human characters in the film, and I would argue that it’s the most beautiful one.




Karate Robo-Zaborgar (2011, Japan, Dir: Noboru Iguchi)

Nikkatsu’s Sushi Typhoon has mostly been specializing in exporting blood, guts, and projectiles shooting from human bodies from Japan to the world - which means they’ve pretty much been making films for foreigners. However, KARATE ROBO-ZABORGAR finally feels like a Sushi Typhoon film for the Japanese audience, even if it’s a very small amount that can appreciate modern throwbacks to cheesy 70’s superhero shows.

The best way I can describe KARATE ROBO-ZABORGAR is a low-budget version of YATTERMAN - a live-action fantasy superhero adaptation that both recreates and parodies its genre. If you look for video of the original ZABORGAR show (or just watch the credits), you’ll see how hard director Noboru Iguchi (MACHINE GIRL) worked to get the film right. However, when he gets to the second half of the film, which jumps 25 years to present day, into the portion of the story not based on the original show, Noboru struggles to keep the energy up as it starts to overstay its welcome.

Still, KARATE ROBO-ZABORGAR is great, irreverent fun at the movies, except when Noboru had to do his Sushi Typhoon duty by throwing in girls in bikinis, blood spraying, and projectiles shooting out of strange places. The rest of the film is so inspired as parody that I wish it left the Sushi Typhoon label so it wouldn’t have had to give any fan service. But I suppose the film wouldn’t have been made without Sushi Typhoon, so KARATE ROBO-ZABORGAR is what it is.

Tomorrow: Sion Sono looks at post-earthquake Japan.

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