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1778 Stories of Me and My Wife

Boku to Tsuma no 1778 no Monogatari
2011 / 140m - Japan
Drama, Comedy
1778 Stories of Me and My Wife poster

The film looks and sounds amazing, the characters are extremely lovably and while 140 minutes is quite a demanding length for an upbeat film like this, I can't remember checking the clock once.

Tales of the Unusual

Yo ni mo Kimyo na Monogatari - Eiga no Tokubetsuhen
2000 / 126m - Japan
Comedy, Fantasy, Horror
Tales of the Unusual poster

Yo Ni Mo Kimyo Na Monogatari (Tales of the Unusual) is one of the many Japanese anthology films out there, though it's not just your average horror anthology. Instead the stories focus more on mystery and weirdness, at times resembling a condensed version of The Outer Limits (if anyone still remembers that series). Masayuki Ochiai (Kansen) and Mamoru Hoshi ((Boku To Tsuma No 1778 No Monogatari) are the directors to keep an eye on, Masayuki Suzuki (GTO) and Hisao Ogura complete the quartet.

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Ochiai kicks off this anthology with "One Snowy Night", a pretty straight-forward horror short about a small group of plain crash survivors stuck high up the mountains. With a fierce blizzard running wild and only a small cabin to protect them from the cold, it doesn't take too long before cabin fever takes over. Or at least, that's what seems to be happening. Ochiai is clearly in his element here and delivers a moody, somewhat twisted short that serves as a good introduction for the anthology.

The second short is Suzuki's "Samurai Cellular", a rather odd tale about a samurai who one day finds a cellular phone. The man on the other side is a desk clerk burdened with the task to verify the accuracy of certain historic events. As he walks the samurai through the events, history is being shaped. A bright and funny short, Samurai Cellular makes it clear that this isn't just a horror anthology, but directors were given enough room to take the concept wherever they pleased.

With Chess, Mamoru Hoshi delivers the best of the bunch. His short is high on concept, sharply executed and boasts an impressive finale. A lauded chess champion loses his championship match against a computer, in front of a large, dismissive audience. He can't cope with his defeat and falls in a dark void. Until one day a wealthy businessman kidnaps his wife and forces the champ to play against him. Hoshi flaunts his skills and demonstrates just why I like watching these kind of anthology films.

The final segment is Ogura's The Marriage Simulator, a more romantic take on the concept. The title pretty much gives it all away. A young couple who's about to get married is offered a unique chance. They can peak at their own future using a special machine, giving them a glimpse of their married life. Of course things turn out sour when the bluntness of everyday life hits the young couple, the question is whether they can survive the coming hardships. Ogura's attempt isn't half bad, but the romance never really catches fire and it's probably the weakest offering of the anthology.

Still, Yo Ni Mo Kimyo Na Monogatari is definitely worth a gander if you can handle these type of anthology films. Hoshi's Chess alone is worth the gamble, but the other ones aren't find behind and offer a nice variety of styles and genres.

University of Laughs

Warai no Daigaku
2004 / 121m - Japan
University of Laughs poster

University of Laughs presents an epic battle between a grumpy censor and a spirited play writer. The censor doesn't understand comedy at all and wants to see a more upright play, while the play writer is working against a deadline and is doing his best to please the censor as well as his theater group.

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Most of the film is set in a single, bleak and uninviting room, where the back and forth between these two characters happens. There are some scenes outside too, yet they are scarce. Hoshi really didn't make it easy on himself, but some cinematic tricks help him to keep the film from becoming stale, even though it still ends up being a little too long.

Yakusho and Inagaki both turn in very solid performances, Yakusho in particular is clearly having a lot of fun here. The pacing is slow but the film never really lags or gets boring, even when the story and outcome are quite predictable. If only it could've been a bit shorter, but as it is, it's still a solid, entertaining film.