The good stuff
Collage of Our Life
12 Suicidal Teens
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.
Sanada 10 Braves
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.
Happily Ever After
The Sword of Alexander
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.
Unsolved Mysteries – Beautiful Dreamer
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.
The House Where the Mermaid Sleeps
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.
The Big Bee
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.
SPEC: The Movie
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.
20th Century Boys 1: Beginning of the End
Where the Legend Lives
Memories of Tomorrow
Worthy but flawed
Trick the Movie: Last Stage
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.
Trick the Movie: Psychic Battle Royale
20th Century Boys 2: The Last Hope
Trick the Movie 2
Trick the Movie
Requiem from the Darkness: Kowai
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.