Just when you thought that the Japanese Film Festival couldn't possibly get any bigger or better, The Japan Foundation Sydney have announced another wave of titles which are sure to delight. Whether you're a cinema purist, an indie-film lover, anime or manga fan, there's something included in this new wave that you're sure to love.

Following on from Adelaide, Canberra, Brisbane, Perth and Auckland, the Japanese Film Festival (JFF) 2014 continues its international tour with stops at Sydney’s Event Cinemas, George Street, and for the first time in Festival history, Event Cinemas, Parramatta from 13 – 23 November. In Melbourne, it will stop at Hoyts Melbourne Central and ACMI Cinemas, Australian Centre for the Moving Image from 27 November – 7 December. Over 50 titles will feature in the program with early bird tickets going on sale from 1 October in Sydney, and 15 October in Melbourne. Tickets are available for purchase via www.japanesefilmfestival.net or from the participating venue’s box office.

JFF opens its 2014 program with the Australian Premiere of Lady Maiko, a musical comedy directed by Masayuki Suo (Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t; Shall We Dance?) based loosely on the Audrey Hepburn classic, My Fair Lady.

Yuya Ishii, the director of last year’s award-winning opener The Great Passage, returns with his latest offering, The Vancouver Asahi, set pre-WWII when Japanese immigrants were migrating to Canada. Based on the true story of the Japanese-Canadian baseball team of the same name, this sporting tale of underdogs overcoming racial discrimination, shows that baseball and life are not about winning – it’s about how well you play the game.

Drama: In Tokyo Refugees, director Kiyoshi Sasabe brings the growing social issue of homelessness in Tokyo to light, while The Light Shines Only There is an often dark and moody film directed by Mipo O, who recently won Best Director for this film at the Montreal World Film Festival. The hard-hitting My Man, based on an award-winning novel, is about an innocent relationship that develops into a controversial love affair. It won Best Film at the 36th Moscow International Film Festival and was the first Japanese film to win in 15 years.

Cult: Fresh from wild-child director Sion Sono, the ultra-cool hip-hop musical Tokyo Tribe takes you down to the underbelly of Tokyo for a surreal night of turf wars. Also from Sono is Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, a bizarre showcase of gangster violence taken to comic extremes. Those in favour of horror can look forward to the chilling JU-ON – The Beginning of the End, voted by Japanese viewers this year as the most frightening of all horror series.

Action: Enter the world of heists and hijinks in the live-action rendition of Lupin the Third, based on the long-running manga series by Monkey Punch that has also spawned anime series, animated feature films, live-action remakes and video games.

Mystery: Social media goes haywire in The Snow White Murder Case, a compelling commentary on a
media-obsessed world in an atypical who-dunnit mystery.

Anime: Osamu Tezuka’s Buddha 2 is an animated retelling of Buddha’s journey to enlightenment, a
continuation from its prequel Buddha, shown at JFF 2011.
JFF Classics is a satellite program consisting of fine films from the Japan Foundation’s 35mm collection. This year, JFF Classics 2014’s overarching theme pool the talents of critically acclaimed directors and actresses of the 1950s and 1960s. Mikio Naruse, Kon Ichikawa and Kenji Mizoguchi are amongst the current selection of internationally renowned directors, alongside leading actresses of the time, Hideko Takamine, Ayako Wakao and Machiko Kyo. One highlight is Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Woman in the Dunes that received two Oscar® nominations for Best Director and Best Foreign Film. It also won the Special Jury Prize at Cannes at the time of its release.
In Sydney, as a teaser ahead of the main program, JFF Classic 2014 will debut at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from 15 – 19 and 22 – 26 October. In Melbourne, it will be a part of the JFF’s main program from 27 November – 7 December and will be held at ACMI Cinemas. Entry to JFF Classics is free.
All films are in Japanese with English subtitles.
Adult $18 | Concession $15 | 5-Film Pass $75
Early bird tickets available for the first 2 weeks when tickets go on sale:
Sydney (1 – 14 Oct) and Melbourne (15 – 28 Oct) at Adult $16 | Concession $14
Sydney 13 – 23 November Event Cinemas, George Street Event Cinemas, Parramatta
JFF Classics 2014 (15 – 19 & 22 – 26 October) Art Gallery of New South Wales
Melbourne 27 November – 7 December Hoyts Melbourne Central ACMI Cinemas, Australian Centre for the Moving Image
Adelaide 10 – 12 & 17 – 19 October Mercury Cinema
Canberra 15 – 19 October Capitol Cinemas Manuka
Brisbane 22 – 26 October | Event Cinemas, Brisbane City Myer Centre 
Perth 29 October – 2 November Hoyts Carousel & Hoyts Millennium
Auckland 6 – 12 November Rialto Cinemas, Newmarket
Japanese Film Festival’s official channels
Website: japanesefilmfestival.net
Facebook: japanesefilmfest
Twitter: @japanfilmfest / #JFF2014AU

Thanks to a superbly executed marketing campaign, Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla was one of my most anticipated blockbusters this year. The film’s initial trailer showcased the standout set piece of the film: the soldiers skydiving into what looked like a desolated city with that unmistakable droning score from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It was simply breathtaking. This is possibly where it all started going wrong: the trailer set a tone which was sadly at odds with the final product. However, I was a fan of this film upon first watch and feel like I’ve been defending it ever since. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s got its fair share of issues, but with Godzilla hitting stores and VOD services this week, it was a good chance to revisit the film to see how those issues played out on a second viewing.

Ryan summed up Godzilla quite eloquently in his review upon its theatrical release, and I don’t cavil with much of what he said. Just recently, I caught Gareth Edwards’s Monsters (2010), which Godzilla could arguably be considered a massive budget remake of, in that they feel strikingly similar despite being at polar opposite ends of the budgetary spectrum. Monsters is a beautiful little film which manages to be both character-driven drama and believable monster flick. (If you haven’t seen it I highly recommend you track it down). Given the meagre budget of Monsters, Edwards is forced to convey the threat and terror of the creatures by way of suggestion and interesting set design, instead of relying solely on CGI imagery. This style seems to have bled into Godzilla, as if Edwards hadn’t quite adjusted to the larger playing field he found himself on. He ended up making a rather a self-conscious blockbuster which never seemed comfortable in its own skin.

Performance-wise, Bryan Cranston has the showiest and criminally shortest appearance in the film, checking out within the film’s opening act. A shame, really, since he brings gravitas to the material (and few people can match the conviction of Cranston when they scream). I'm guessing it was his commitments to Breaking Bad which restricted further involvement in the film. In a similar vein, Juliette Binoche doesn't feature nearly as much as I'd have liked, but her role is only there to give the story some emotional thrust, which it succeeds in doing. Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins chime in as the world's dumbest scientistic duo, who always seem to be several steps behind the action and look completely bewildered by the very facts that they are supposed to be experts on. Neither of them seem overly challenged and they are only really around to spew clunky exposition when it's required.

Aaron Johnston Taylor does a serviceable job as the lead of the film, without ever being memorable. He's yet to really wow me in anything outside of Kick-Ass, but he seem to be improving with each outing. Interestingly, the film also features Elizabeth Olsen who will be reuniting with Johnston-Taylor in next year’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Olsen is under-utilised here. The film would have benefited by a significant bulking out of her role, because she gets lost in the mayhem. That said, she's outstanding in the few scenes where she gets to show off her craft. I suggest you check out Martha Marcy May Marlene to see what she's capable of.

One of my major gripes with the film is the lack of its titular monster. Forgive me for thinking that a film called Godzilla should prominently feature Godzilla. Glimpses were so scarce that the film could spawn a spin-off childrens book titled ‘Where’s Godzilla?!’; we’d arrange several key sequences from the film and get the kids to try and spot the big fella. Just as he did in Monsters, Edwards went for a slow burn, tension-building approach leading up to the reveal, but Godzilla is so entrenched in popular culture that he could have sped it up considerably and achieved the same effect. Unlike JJ Abrams’ Super 8, where the creature’s reveal was so utterly unsatisfying, here the ends completely justify the means, since Godzilla does look truly majestic when we finally get to see him throwing down.

I’ll happily concede that Godzilla never reached the dizzying heights of my expectations, but for those of you who missed it the first time around, it’s definitely worth catching up with. For those of you who weren’t blown away when they saw it originally, I’d suggest giving it a rewatch; this is one of those films which will only improve with subsequent viewings.

- Stu 

Whenever I go to conventions I always try my best to support local artists and pick up some independent comics. Admittedly, this is a task that gets harder and harder every year, with more talented artists and writers selling their wares what I can afford to pick up is, sadly, just a drop in the ocean. That said, what I do pick up I try my best to review and promote, so for your reading pleasure please find below some brief reviews of the some of the indie comics I've checked out this year.

A Brigand's tale
Written and drawn by Daniel Tribe

If you're looking for a fun and action packed all ages romp, A Brigand's Tale might just be the book for you (or that younger comic reader in your life). Featuring a cast of lovable weapon-wielding anthropomorphic animals, A Brigand's Tale brings all the fun of long-form series like Spider-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and packages it in a self-enclosed 24 page story.

What the comic lacks in colour, Tribe's art makes up for in detailed shading. Plus there is undeniable energy to his art that almost leaps off the page.

That said what particularly impressed me was Tribe's skilful world building. Although the issue is set in the small town of Treelocke, Tribe wastes no time in using snippets of dialogue to hint at a larger, interesting world with its own unique lore. Indeed, A Brigand's Tale felt like a brief, but enjoyable sojourn into the fantasy world of Huntenprae; a setting I hope he writes more stories in soon.

I think young boys especially will really get a kick out A Brigand's Tale. There's humour, plenty of action and magic powers. Seriously, what more could you possibly want out of a single issue?

You can pick yourself up a physical copy of A Brigand's Tale from http://boltcomics.bigcartel.com/products

The Adventurers #1
By Andrew Tribe

Another all ages book, The Adventurers is a heartfelt read filled with cute characters and subtle moral lessons. This first issue introduces us to Ellie, a young dragon eager to leave her sheltered home of Haven to visit the exciting world of the humans. 

Unfortunately the leader of Haven, an elderly dragon by the name of Greyash isn't too keen on this idea, convinced that all humans are selfish and dangerous. What follows is a simple yet enjoyable story about finding your own way, that I think primary school age readers in particular will enjoy. 

Andrew Tribe delivers functional artwork with a cartoon feel and great character expressions. Although quite simple at times, it always reflects the fun and playful tone of the story Tribe is trying to tell. 

You can pick yourself up a physical copy of The Adventurers #1 from http://boltcomics.bigcartel.com/products

Morlok Issue #1 and 2
Written and drawn by Daniel De Lafoix

Morlok is a passion project in its purest form. Melding together myth and actual historical events from European History, to call this book a labour of love would be an understatement. It's beautifully drawn, immaculately researched and ambitious, to say the least. In Morlok, De Lafoix is attempting to tell the century spanning story of two immortals, the Count de Saint-Germain and The Wandering Jew, and their battle against the mysterious evil known only as Morlok.

It's historical fiction with a generous helping of horror and fantasy as our two immortal protagonists fight their way through all manner of demonic nasties and creatures of horror. In addition to the twenty plus pages of comic-goodness, each issue contains a timeline and historical background to help give the reader some context to the unfolding events. This really shines a light onto just how much work goes into researching each issue as well as the effort taken to make Morlok feel like an organic part of the historical world it is set in.

Admittedly it's dense read, and I'm not too proud to admit I will have to give the issues a couple more reads before I fully understand what De Lafoix is setting up, but for those feeling adventurous I highly recommend picking up a copy.

You can pick yourself up a physical copy of Morlok from http://morlokcomic.com/

Princess Princess
Written and drawn by Katie O'neil

When I picked Princess Princess at SMASH this year I had no idea that this pretty little book would have so much to say. Sure, it was O'neil's charming art that initially caught my eye but it was her unique voice as a writer that kept me smiling cover to cover. Make no mistake, Princess Princess is a very special book, and hands down one of my favourite books I have picked up this year.

This simple tale opens with a Rapunzel-type scenario, only instead of the usual handsome prince, an adventurous young princess by the name of Amira comes to the rescue of the trapped princess, Sadie. What follows is a fairy-tale inspired adventure filled with wicked sorceress', dragons, unicorns and a dancing ogre.

Although relatively simple in terms of plot, Princess Princess is a book that has a lot to say about female empowerment, body image, LGBT rights and the importance of finding your own path. It's a thematically rich read but never once did it feel preachy or heavy handed.

O'neil's masterful writing and storytelling is matched by her vibrant art which is somewhat reminiscent of Faith Erin Hicks combined with a bright color palette that reminded me of shows like Adventure Time.

I had an absolute blast reading Princess princess and cannot recommend it enough. You can purchase a physical copy here http://strangelykt.storenvy.com/products/9490669-princess-princess-book or read the digital version for free here http://strangelykatie.com/princessprincess/.

Anime is an amazing medium due in no small part to the extremely varied subject matter which gets tackled from series to series. Many paint-by-numbers titles are perfectly enjoyable while those which throw caution to the wind with story lines which are a little more left of center have a tendency to surprise, thrill and leave an indelible mark on anime fandom. The Severing Crime Edge (断裁分離のクライムエッジ), based upon the manga series of the same name Tatsuhiko Hikagi, certainly delivers a novel story, but flounders a little in its execution.

Obsessive hair-lopper, Kiri Haimura, inexplicably finds himself drawn to Iwai Mushanokoji, a young lady whose hair has never been cut... until now. With his mysterious pair of cursed scissors, he embarks on a mission to protect Iwai who is identified as the "Hair Queen" from a constant barrage of attackers who all possess crazy-arse, serial-killer soul-filled implements of their own.

Yeah. That's kinda the story in a nutshell made of human hair. The universe is far more rich than this blurb may have you believe, but while it's hinted at on many occasions, it's never fully explored. It felt as though this should have been a 26 episode series instead of the short, and somewhat abrupt, 13 that we get. Luckily the characters who get the lions share of screen time are entertaining and diverse. It's also fortunate that the exploration of Kiri and Iwai's relationship is deep enough to give weight to the threats against her life (and hair).

Animated by the relatively unknown Studio Gokumi, founded by former members of Gonzo, The Severing Crime Edge looks pretty good across the board. Character designs are distinct, backgrounds are diverse and realistic and the battles are probably the stand out element to the entire series. If you're expecting a super-serious bashfest, you'll be bitterly disappointed because these battles are, for the most part, ridiculous. The very first battle involves a pair of scissors and a syringe but instead of just trying to jab each other, these 2 combatants go all out like champions of the realm.

The Severing Crime Edge isn't particularly confusing in terms of plot, but it is very confused in itself. It struggles to to decide which sandpit it wants to play in and while this can sometimes be a treat if handled well, this series comes across as being a little convoluted. The universe which is created feels quite rich and probably would have benefited from an extra 13 episodes, especially considering how abrupt the ending is. After enjoying the hell out of the final installment of Gundam Unicorn, it's rather disappointing to sit through a whole series just to have it cut short. I can't help but feel that if I were to watch this series for fun instead of analysing it, I may have enjoyed it a great deal more. For any complaint, it's still enjoyable at times but there are many other series out there worth your time.

- Ryan
Guillaume Vincent's directorial debut Land of the Bears is an impressive documentary set in the pristine wilderness of the Kamchatka, Russia. An almost magical land; unaltered by mankind and ruled by 20,000 brown bears. The region endures winters which last up to eight months, which the bears hibernate through. But once summer rolls around, man these bears spring to life and descend upon a nearby network of rivers to gorge on thousands of salmon which swarm to the region to lay their eggs and ultimately perish. Perhaps a touch circle-of-life esque, but easily forgiven since the visuals are so jaw dropping gorgeous.

The film follows the escapades of five brown bears of various ages as they emerge from their slumber and seek out their salmon buffet. We meet a three year male who's experiencing his first summer without his mother, a 600kg twelve year old male and a mother with her two adorable cubs. Through a series of montages we observe the different approaches to making the most of summer by the various bears take. The three year old is rather inexperienced whereas the older bears possess an immense amount of patience and skill at hunting and preparing for the long winter which is looming right around the corner. The film also shows the struggles shown by the females who have to hunt not only for themselves but must feed their young and ward off other bears who are keen to poach their fishies.

This is easily one of the most satisfying 3D experiences I’ve had for some time. The cinematography maximises the 3D effects through the use of slower tracking shots of the bears and ample fixed camera angles of the bears going about their business. I've found 3D seems to get lost in the mix when it’s used in conjunction with rapid movements and multiple objects on screen, which thankfully this film avoids for the most part. Trust me you haven’t seen the full effects of 3D until you watch a 600kg brown bear rolling around in a ditch thoroughly enjoying his first moments of summer after a long sleep,  because it’s honestly just downright adorable.

Land of the Bears is definitely worth making the effort to get out to see. I wish we were were treated to documentaries of this calibre more often. The films opens this Thursday at Dendy Newtown and Dendy Quays. If you see the film and agree or disagree with my thoughts feel free to drop a line below or come over to our Facebook page to join in the fun.

- Stu

The first two acts of Antoine Fuqua’s The Equalizer are imbued with a certain patience and solid direction, which is ultimately undone by its uninspired third act. In a similar vein to Liam Neeson’s Non-Stop earlier this year, the film gradually comes apart at the seams once the basic premise is expanded upon. Having said that, there is plenty to enjoy in this film, it was simply weighed down heavily by what I didn’t like. With dwindling returns at the box-office, it would seem that the market agrees.

The Equalizer is a reimagining of an 80s television show by the same name. Denzel Washington plays Robert McCall, a mild-mannered hardware store employee who maintains an highly-regimented Spartan lifestyle. Robert’s hobbies include helping others, reading, insomnia and roaming the streets of Boston as a vigilante out for justice. Bob is drawn into the deadly world of international Russian gangsters (yes, really) when he befriends underage prostitute Teri (Chloe Grace Moretz), whose disappearance causes Robert to return to a life he thought he had left forever …

Antoine Fuqua is a perplexing director. I haven’t really liked any of his films (and, in fact, I despised Olympus has Fallen) but it’s rarely the direction that I have a problem with - its more the lack of originality. In this case, the first forty minutes of The Equalizer shares a lot in common with Ben Affleck’s The Town, possibly because of the Boston setting but mostly the style and shot selection is quite similar. Fuqua is very good at establishing the world and tones of his films, but it’s the back-end where the issues always creep in. This film sees him reuniting with Denzel Washington after the success they shared with Training Day (again, another film I wasn’t enamoured with but definitely had its own personality). I’d be interested to see Fuqua tackle a more intimate story, perhaps with a lower budget, to really see what he can do. The most impactful moments in this film were the quieter scenes, which were focused on the character development rather the choppy action shenanigans.

In terms of performances, Denzel Washington basically does what he always does: playing a character that’s usually the smartest guy in the room, one step ahead of the rest, but plagued by inner demons. There’s nothing particularly challenging for him here, although he really impressed me during the fight scenes. Chloe Grace Moretz’s character basically bookends the story and she’s clearly paying homage to Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver. (Perhaps I’m getting old, but I’m not ready for Ms Moretz to be playing ‘sexy’ on screen just yet.) Marton Csokas plays the chief antagonist, Teddy, aka big and bad Russian psycho, who only exists to inflict copious amounts of pain as he searches for the elusive Robert McCall. His motivations are way too cliche, resulting in a stereotypical moustache-twirling villain, for the most part.

If you’re hankering for a helping of Denzel Washington playing it cool and killing Russian bad guys then this may soothe those cravings. The Equalizer opens in theatres everything from this Thursday. If you see the film and agree or disagree with my thoughts feel to drop a line below.

- Stu

Nine years ago, Robert Rodriguez's Sin City hit theatres, heralding a new era for comic book films due to its unique visual design and darker, true-to-comic content. But my how things have changed since then. Just think, now we’ve got a vast library of Marvel films, an immensely successful Batman trilogy and a handful of highly entertaining adaptations (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Kick-Ass, RED etc) under our belts. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is not only an excruciating experience to endure but harbours some deeply disturbing traits. 

The story is separated into three sub-plots which kind of overlap and weave through one another. There’s nothing particularly noteworthy about any of the stories: they are simple variations on one revenge trope or another. Eva Green plays the titular ‘dame to kill for’ Ava, who entraps Dwight (Josh Brolin) in a plot to kill her husband, which leads to Dwight engaging the services of heavy hitter Marv (Mickey Rourke) when things start looking a little hairy. At the same time, Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is exercising his daddy-issue demons by playing high stakes poker against his deplorable father, Senator Roarke (Powers Boothe). And finally there’s stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold Nancy (Jessica Alba), who hates the Senator for past sins and blah blah blah all very generic and boring. Sorry, but when the story is so paint-by-numbers simple it’s really not worth going through.

In yet another poor offering, serious questions should now be asked about Rodriguez's relevance as a director. There's been a rather steady decline in his work for the past few years. His uber-cheap, indie-slapdash approach echoes a certain charm, yet sadly that echo is getting awfully faint and boringly predictable. His over-reliance on ultra violence is more cartoonish than I'm guessing he's intending it to be. Rodriguez supporters over the years have claimed that a subtle social commentary underpins his work, but that commentary is now undetectable. His style is at best a day late and a buck short. I'll happily steer clear of future films with his name attached.

Like the river of slime in Ghostbusters 2, this film has an appalling amount of misogyny-fuelled aggression towards women, constantly flowing just beneath its surface, masquerading as a homage to film noir. This films relishes violence against women like a maladjusted child pulling the wings off a fly. In this messed up corner of the world, apparently women can only be whores, strippers or devious vixens out to con every man in sight. This is sending out a very poor message to the film’s target audience, which I'm guessing will be males aged seventeen to thirty: precisely the age bracket that can help change misogynistic attitudes in pop culture and society in general. Sure, the women get their moments to shine in this film, but they have to do it clad in either ridiculous S & M inspired costuming or stark naked. The treatment of the female characters is so offensive it’s almost laughable.

It’s time for Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez to sit down and watch The Hunger Games or revisit Alien and wake up to the fact that women have bucket loads to offer when it comes to playing characters who are required to kick ass and take names. Please don’t waste your time with this film. The quicker this comes and goes, the better off we’ll all be.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is in theatres now, if you see the film and agree or disagree with my thoughts, feel free to drop a line below.

- Stu