The good stuff
A 70-minute crescendo. Tsutsumi pitches two women against each other. They live in the same house, they don't get along, and they're both after the same acting job. What starts with a little snide and backstabbing quickly escalates into physical violence and rampant madness. A one of a kind film that lost nothing of its appeal since I first watched it.
Tsutsumi's slightly twisted take on 12 Angry Men. The first half hour is spent setting up the mystery, the following 90 minutes are a roller coaster of twists and revelations. Even though the film looks very stylish and the direction is on point, the film is a little too talkative to make a smashing impression. Well recommended to people who dig twisty narratives.
Surprisingly small and understated black and white drama by Tsutsumi. After a bunch of high-profile blockbusters he probably needed to do this, the biggest surprise is that he actually managed to pull it off. This is a sweet, endearing and well-directed film that lingers well beyond its end credits.
Another one of Tsutsumi's crazier films. It feels like a Sushi Typhoon project, only without the excessive gore and made with a slightly larger budget. It's a samurai fantasy with sci-fi elements, aliens and nonsensical lore. And it's all played for laughs, so don't worry about things getting too serious. Tsutsumi was clearly having fun with this one.
Hiroshi Abe is a weird fella and fits perfectly in the role of long-sworded samurai hero. His accomplices are oddballs too, but they're nothing compared to the various creatures they face in their battle to stop an alien invasion. There's more to the story, but even the voice over doesn't seem too bothered with all the details.
The comedy is pretty mad, performances are over-the-top but funny and the cinematography is surprisingly snappy. The CG is quite limited of course, but the camerawork is interesting and the colorful visuals and designs are lovely. Not for everyone, this film, but if you love Japanese weirdness, make sure you give this film a go.
Sometimes I forget how crazy those early Tsutsumi films could be. Around the mid 00s his work became a lot more commercial and accessible, but apparently not without going completely mental one final time. EGG is a film for fans of Japanese weirdness, a little mindbender that defies easy description.
The setting is some nondescript future. A woman starts seeing an egg every time she closes her eyes. It's a little unsettling, but when she goes to a doctor nothing strange is found. But then the egg cracks open and a weird monster starts approaching her, and the woman slowly starts to go mad. But how do you escape a monster on the inside of your eyes?
There's some weird lore here that doesn't make too much sense, luckily the film is weird and intriguing enough to transcend its plot. The camera work is nifty, the effects rather cheap but effective and the mystery is upheld until the very end. EGG is short, quirky and unique, it's a shame Tsutsumi abandoned this type of film.
Early but very agreeable Tsutsumi. It's certainly not the first coming of age drama about a small group of friends, but Tsutsumi finds an interesting angle by focusing on a somewhat insular community within Tokyo: the residents of a small man-made island in Tokyo Bay, connected to the mainland with just three bridges.
The district is like a mini-community within the city. Five kids from different backgrounds hang out to kill time, their dream is to go to Harajuku, where all the cool kids gather. The first two trips they undertook failed horribly, so for their third trip they decided to prepare in advance.
Tsutsumi's style feels young, light and frivolous. The actors do a decent job, the balance between drama and comedy is on point and even though 2 hours is quite long it never really drags or becomes uninteresting. Like most of Tsutsumi's work, it isn't quite distinctive enough to be called a true masterpiece, but it sure is very solid and enjoyable filler.
Keizoku/eiga [Keizoku: Unsolved Mysteries - Beautiful Dreamer] is an extension of a popular Japanese TV drama. Usually these kind of films tend to be a little lame. Easy cash-in on an established brand, dragging out a regular TV episode to full feature length. While this may still be the case with Keizoku/eiga (I never watched the original series), I think that would make the TV drama one of the more interesting productions ever to have aired on TV.
Helming the film is director Yukihiko Tsutsumi, who enjoyed moderate international success when he entered a directing contest with Ryuhei Kitamura and produced 2LDK as a result. Tsutsumi is a rather hard to coin director, continuously on the lookout for new challenges. He isn't really bound to a genre or medium, the only constant is that he's always busy. Keizoku/eiga is one of his earlier projects and it bears all the markings of a young director.
The film follows the adventures of a police squad trying to unravel unsolved mysteries. Perfect material for a TV series of course, with a new case ready every episode. If that sounds a little stale, not to worry, Tsutsumi turned Keizoku/eiga into a surreal and sometimes even absurd mystery. A clash of styles, blending comedy, police thriller and arthouse all into one restless package. The result may not be very subtle or sensible, it sure as hell is amusing.
The color palette is a little dire, with lots of murky greens and blues, but there's quite a lot of visual experimentation to keep things appealing. The plot is convoluted and quite effective, but ultimately the film itself seems to lose interest in the mystery to solve. The big reveal is made almost 30 minutes before the actual ending, with the crazy post-finale eclipsing the entire mystery that was set up before. I'm sure not everyone will appreciate that, but if you're still expecting this to be a basic police flick 90 minutes in, you've probably been dozing off more than a few times.
Tsutsumi never fully manages to bring all the different elements together elegantly, with the comedy and arthouse bits clashing violently from time to time. Like I said before, Keizoku/eiga isn't the most accomplished film, but it's never boring and has plenty of surprises packed to keep you engaged throughout its entire running time. Warmly recommended if you like weirdness and can bare some unevenness in the process, if you want a more solid experience it's better to look elsewhere.
A decent medical drama that tries to touch on some sensitive subjects (i.e. the divide between life and death and the dark side of hope), but turns to sentimentality later on. Tsutsumi is a decent director and keeps his film on the rails at all times, it's just a shame that the potential wasn't used to the fullest.
Pretty standard but amusing blockbuster. A big prototype helicopter is hijacked and stationed above a nuclear plant, with 8 hours of fuel to keep it hanging. The film gets a little too sentimental at times and the plot is quite predictable, but there are some tense scenes and even though the films lasts 2+ hours, it doesn't really get sluggish.
Typical Tsutsumi project. The TV roots of this film are painfully clear, the first hour isn't all that interesting because of it. But then the film goes into overdrive and what follows is almost impossible to describe. It feels pretty cheap and loose, but it's also a lot of fun.
Tsutsumi goes a little crazy. He's a peculiar director with a rich oeuvre, but it's not always easy to predict what he's going to come up with next. The Eight Rangers is a parody on popular Japanese sentai series (think Power Rangers) that comes off a little childish, but is actually quite fun.
A group of eight rejects come together and form a team of masked rangers, trying to stand up for themselves. They'll quickly learn that there's more to it than just just putting on a colored suit though, as their first attempts to fight crime don't end too well. But of course, as time passes, they learn to back each other and fend off the enemies that threaten them.
Don't come into this film hoping to see a real sentai flick, Tsutsumi plays it for laughs, turning it into a full-blown comedy. The performances are decent, the gags are quite funny and the pacing is solid. It's not an outstanding flick, it's a bit too cheap for that, but it's good fun, especially for people familiar with the sentai shows it parodies.
The type of film Tsutsumi can direct with his eyes closed. It's basic movie theater fare, a courtroom drama with mystery and thriller elements, stretched out to hit that 2 hour mark. It's a perfectly fine and entertaining story, but it's not a film you're bound to remember once the end credits start rolling.
A young girl murders her father in cold blood and admits to her crime. Her trial becomes a media sensation, which attracts a psychologist who wants to write a book about the case. She visits the young girl in prison and slowly but surely, the true nature of the crime reveals itself.
The cinematography is polished, performances are decent and the pacing is on point. First Love is a decent flick, but also a film that never surprises, never colors outside the lines. Tsutsumi has made quite a few of these films in his career, and they're perfectly fine filler, but I wish he'd challenge himself a bit more.
A decent enough Tsutsumi, though it does feel like filler to pass the time in between bigger projects. The setup is extremely simple, and while Tsutsumi does his very best to keep things interesting, in the end Wish felt maybe a little too slick and polished to do justice to the film's emotional core.
Kazuto has a wife and two beautiful kids. His life looks perfect, until his son doesn't return after a night out and one of his classmates is found dead not much later. Kazuto's son is either involved as culprit or victim, two polar opposite outcomes that will change the lives of Kazuto's family in very different ways.
Performances are solid, with Shin'ichi Tsutsumi in a stand-out role as Kazuto. The cinematography is polished, the soundtrack is adequate and the emotional cues are timed perfectly. It's just that it all feels a bit overdone. It's certainly not the first film to handle these themes and I think a more subtle approach would've worked better here. Not bad though.
A TV series with strong roots in anime culture finds its way onto the big screen. Director Tsutsumi Yukihiko sounded like a perfect fit, especially since the material isn't unlike the Trick series, but as the focus lies on comedy I think someone like Yuichi Fukuda could've done a better job.
Ranmaru is a detective who solves cases with his tongue. By licking things, he can deconstruct the materials and what happened to them, discovering clues that will ultimately lead him to solve any puzzle. When he arrives in a small mountain village that's suffering from strange phenomena, Ranmara is asked by the villagers to help them solve the mystery.
Performances are well over the top (some fine, not all) and Yukihiko's direction remains close to the film's anime roots (even enlarging people's head from time to time), but the comedy's a bit hit-and-miss. While the premise is fun enough, the film does start to drag during the second half as there's way too much dialog explaining all the clues. Quite fun, but I've seen this type of material handled better.
Worthy but flawed
Pretty much in line with the other Trick movies. They start out pretty fun, but can't really keep the momentum going, and they always end up being too long to keep me fully engaged. It's a shame, because the potential to be something nicer is definitely there and it's not like Tsutsumi can't do better.
The cheap TV look is a big part of the problem. The film simply looks cheap, the special effects are pretty bad and the direction is mostly functional. Luckily the cast is on point, with solid performances by Yukie Nakama and Hiroshi Abe and the comedy is pretty noteworthy too, but it's not enough to elevate it above mediocrity.
When Trick gets pleasantly weird, its potential becomes clearly visible. Sadly these moments are quite rare and stand out compared to to the rest of the film. While it never gets truly bad or boring, I'm always a bit disappointed after seeing one of these films. I can never escape the feeling that this should've been much better.
Live action adaption of one of the Requiem from the Darkness stories. The anime series gathered quite a following, Tsutsumi's adaptation didn't. Not too surprising really, since it's a very functional and bland film that is way too occupied with its plot. The cast is solid, but the rest looks and feels like mediocre TV material.