Sunday, October 02, 2011

Movies I watched this week (9/25 - 10/1/2011)

戦国自衛隊/Sengoku Jieitei/G.I. Samurai/Time Slip (1979) 7/10

This is an odd, somewhat hard to find, "high-concept" Japanese film. A squadron of present-day Japanese Self-Defense Forces soldiers is transported back in time to Japan's Warring States period, where they use their tank, helicopter, machine guns, and grenades to battle hordes of samurai warriors.

Even with the goofy premise, I got the sense at times that this could have been a much better movie than it was. To start with the good stuff, it starred Sonny Chiba, star of the 70s "Streetfighter" series and more recently memorable as Hattori Hanzo in Kill Bill. He basically plays the film's Toshiro Mifune role as the squad's commander, who enjoys the whole Waring States thing. (If you want to be a fighting soldier in today's Japan, you're basically out of luck. There's no one for you to fight.)

Of course, Chiba is no Mifune, but he has no problem at all carrying the movie. He's more than a poor man's Mifune -- more like an upper middle class man's Mifune. Reading up on him a little, he always took the craft of acting very seriously, and it shows. He's really good in the part.

The climactic battle scenes, when the squad takes on an entire army of guys armed with swords, bows, and spears, are also quite entertaining. (Although the SDF tactics leave a lot to be desired.) And the movie does try to have some thought to it. It touches on ideas of war and peace and hubris and betrayal and so on, along with some interesting ideas on time travel paradoxes. It's not a brainless movie at all.

Unfortunately, though, the film is deeply marred by a highly intrusive and completely incongruous soundtrack composed mostly of folk-rock ballads. It's hard not to laugh every time one of the cheesy songs comes on. Also, like a lot of older films, it really takes its time getting to the "good part," the pitched battle between the soldiers and wave after wave of samurai. And, like most Japanese action movies of the time, it has a rape scene that's a little hard to take.

Despite all that, though, because of the amusing basic concept, because of Sonny Chiba's performance, because of the big battle scene (once they finally get to it), I think this film is well worth watching if you're into action movies. Just make sure you watch it in Japanese with subtitles, because the English dubbing takes it to an entirely different level of silliness.

Cinema Paradiso (1988) 9/10

Cinema Paradiso, on the other hand, is simply a beautiful movie. It tells a story about the magic of the movies -- though like all great movies, it's really about people -- and in doing so, it becomes magical itself.

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