The Promised Land
Why is it that films referring to promised lands (or Shangri-Las, or utopias, or whatever they call it) always use the reference in an ironic manner? I hadn't heard a thing about Zeze's latest, but at no point did I expect this film to be a pleasant, heartwarming drama about a place that feels like an actual promised land.
The titular promised land is a small community in rural Japan. A sunny village hidden between the mountains that does look like an idyllic place, at least from afar. Of course these communities hide a lot of toxicity too and when a young girl goes missing a long feud begins, one that will make its fair share of victims.
Performances are solid, the film looks pretty nice and the mix of drama and thriller elements works very well. There's little wrong with this film, but it also doesn't really set itself apart from many others. It's a solid, memorable and at times impressive drama that further underlines Zeze's talent, but never quite dazzles.
My Friend 'A'
A bleak and dark drama that deals with childhood trauma. Zeze takes a less typical approach by zooming in on the perpetrators, kids who screwed up at a young age and are forced to live their lives knowing they've committed irreparable damage not only the victims, but also their own families and friends.
Masuda is an aspiring journalist who isn't really cut out for the job. He goes to work in a small factory where he meets Suzuki, a silent and reclusive kid who shies away from his colleagues. Masuda and Suzuki grow close, but Masuda is a little too intrigued by Suzuki's past and starts digging for information, which puts a strain on their friendship.
Performances are strong, the cinematography is fitting and the film has several gripping moments. It's just a little too safe. Zeze's films tend to miss that little extra polish, that tiny bit of personal signature that would elevate them to real masterpieces. Even so, well recommended for fan of grim Japanese dramas, but not quite best in class.
Despite the subject matter, Takashi Zeze made a very tender and subdued drama that follows the life of a couple of women directly and indirectly impacted by the adult entertainment industry. The actors do a great job, the presentation is solid and the drama works well. A fine drama that is sure to please the fans.
Surprising Zeze. An X-Men vs X-Men story that pits too groups of youngsters with superpowers against each other. Not really the kind of film you'd expect Zeze to direct, but he does surprisingly well. Not all the actors were on point and the film needed a few more spectacular scenes, but overall this was pretty interesting.
No doubt one of Zeze's most ambitious works. A four and a half hour long drama that doesn't pull any punches. It's the kind of film that requires the right state of mind (and some familiarity with Japanese dramas will also come in handy). When those requirements are met though, there's a lot to like here.
The story is quite convoluted and hardly worth detailing, but it spans several years and a handful of main characters, centered around a plot of murder and revenge. It's not really a thriller or crime film though, Zeze focuses squarely on the characters and the emotions that they're trying to process.
The camera work is effective, the soundtrack is beautiful and the performances are top-notch. There are also quite a few stand-out scenes and a fair amount of memorable moments, but 270 minutes was a bit too much for my liking, especially for a film that is tonally consistent for its entire running time. A must for fans of Japanese drama, just make sure you're ready for it.
A Gap in the Skin
This was a pretty bitter drama. Two mentally unstable characters try to flee the country after one of them stabbed his own mother. They don't quite succeed, but while they're together an unlikely romance blossoms. An interesting enough setup, but don't expect any relief or silver lining, Zeze piles drama on top of drama.
It makes for a pretty inaccessible film. The motivations of the characters can be very tough to decipher, which makes it hard for people who need to fully empathize with them to enjoy the film. Luckily A Gap in the Skin isn't too long, so the negativity remains bearable, but it's certainly a challenge and you best be in the right mood for this one.
Visually there are some remarkable scenes, though Zeze relies a bit too much on green filters. The soundtrack isn't too memorable, but decent enough, while the performances are strong yet somewhat of an acquired taste. Not Zeze's easiest film, but if you like your drama to cut to the bone, it's a pretty solid choice.
A rather grim and often impenetrable mix of drama and thriller elements that would make a nice companion piece to Imamura's The Eel. Zeze uses the pinku format to his advantage, honouring the rules of the format but not letting it interfere with the drama. Well acted, properly shot and a decent kick in the gut. This is quite the calling card.
I never really pegged Zeze as a horror director, so I was quite curious to see how Kokkuri would turn out. The Japanese horror wave had been budding since the early 90s, but wouldn't become an international success until the release of Ringu in '98. From that perspective, Kokkuri is pretty impressive.
Zeze's film differs in the sense that it doesn't follow the less-is-more approach that was gaining popularity around that time. Instead, Kokkuri plays more like a traditional drama, only with horror elements added. The curse that follows school kids is already present though, so is the creepy little girl that appears out of nowhere.
The pacing is deliberate, Zeze does a good job building up the tension and the underlying drama is strong, which is a bit unusual for a horror film. On the other hand, don't expect this to be very scary. It's mostly just very atmospheric, with a strong dramatic base and solid styling. Better than I expected it to be.
The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine
A strange mix of politics and sumo wrestling. It's a solid drama and Zeze's maverick style vies the film some extra appeal, but it's not enough to fully support the 3+ hour running time. Properly acted though and there's plenty of intrigue, but the film starts to drag a little in the final hour. Not quite a Wakamatsu successor.
The 8-Year Engagement
Not what I expected from Zeze. The 8-Year Engagement is the kind of film that got very popular in the second half of the 00s. Suddenly every Japanese drama was about a romance tripped up by disease. While these films proved to be solid crowd pleasers, the cinematic quality of this niche was rather limited.
Zeze does his best, but he too gets stuck in some of the genre's pitfalls. While performances are solid and the cinematography is decent, the film ends up being a bit too sappy and there's very little to balance out the sentimentality of the story. It's also quite long for a film that spoils its entire plot in the title.
That's not to say it's a terrible film. Takeru Satoh has some nice scenes and the easy-going pace of the film allows for a few nice breathers in between. The story itself (based on a true story, with credit-pics to prove it) is sweet too, but I've seen too many of these films to be truly touched by them.
A pretty decent drama by Zeze, though not as edgy as you might expect it to be. I also don't think Zeze's style is particularly well-suited for these more subdued dramas, but the film itself has its moments. It's a little uneven in places, nothing everything works as well as intended, but fans of the genre should be able to get something out of it.
Etsushi Toyokawa and Ryo Ishibashi make a fun duo here, Haruka Igawa's part felt less confident. The story, about a dog turned human who ends up with his former owner is a tad cheesy though, the soundtrack borders on the verge of kitsch and the runtime is a bit long for a film of this caliber.
Luckily Zeze knows to balance this with some solid drama, the kind that is quite typical for those early millennial Japanese films. Important events are almost shown like static manga panels, focusing more on the aftermath than on certain faithful events. It's a bit dry, but it helps to contrast the sappier bits elsewhere. Overall a pretty solid film in other words, but not a real highlight.
The Cold-Blooded Trap
On paper a pretty basic serial killer film, but both Aikawa and Nishijima are on a roll and Zeze's subdued direction helps a lot to make this film stand out from the crowd. It's not a true classic, for that it's still too much of a typical genre exercise, but it's very solid filler that underlines Zeze's talent as a director.
Worthy but flawed
Moon Child offers a pretty wild combination of themes and genres, it's almost like watching 10 films at the same time. It's definitely an ambitious project, sadly it's not all that consistent. Zeze does it best to keep everything together, but not everything works as well as it should and the constant jumps in quality become tiring after a while.
Performances are pretty poor, but that's not too surprising considering there's quite a few pop idols (like Gackt) taking up the lead roles. Some better actors in secondary parts, but their roles aren't big enough to make a difference. The bits of drama and romance aren't too successful either, getting in the way of the fantasy and action and putting a break on the pacing.
On the other hand, the action scene are pretty slick and there's some visual trickery that is quite entertaining. The setting too is pretty intriguing, with some novel multicultural and fantasy elements that set it apart from other films. Zeze may not have been in full control of his film, at least it's a pretty cool train wreck.
The Dream of Garuda
Not the most interesting Zeze. A pretty static and slow pinku that feels like it was dragged down by the strict rules of the genre. It lacks the creativity of its more infamous peers and offers little in the way of drama or story. As a springboard for young directors the pinku genre deserves respect, but it didn't always result in good films.
Tokyo X Erotica
There's a pretty interesting film hidden in between the pinku scenes, sadly they overshadow the entire production. Because of the format it's all very stop-and-go and the pinku scenes feel bland and lifeless. It's pretty difficult to keep yourself engaged when the film itself can't even manage that.