When the Rain Falls

Yuri no Amaoto
2022 / 84m - Japan
When the Rain Falls poster

Nikkatsu's Roman Porno revival has been relatively successful, so it's no surprise they're doing their best to keep the momentum going. They've done a good job attracting famous directors, with Shûsuke Kaneko they hooked another interesting name. When the Rain Falls didn't disappoint.

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Hazuki has a tough time coming out of the closet. An early romantic experience hurt her deeply, which makes her hesitant to approach people. She is in love with her supervisor, and when their paths cross one evening they begin a secret affair. But her supervisor also sleeps around with the CEO of the company, trying to land a promotion.

The performances are solid, the drama and romance work well and the cinematography is pleasantly refined. It's still a pinku film of course, so there are quotas that have to be met. But even the nudity is pretty graceful, though, in the end, it does take up too much time compared to the dramatic scenes. Quite a bit better than I had expected.

My Back Page

Mai Bakku Pêji
2011 / 141m - Japan
My Back Page poster

A decent enough drama, but My Back Page is a bit long in the tooth, and feels a bit safe for a film about the student protests. If you've seen a couple of Wakamatsu's films, you know stories like these deserve a slightly cruder edge. It's not a bad film, it's just that it doesn't quite line up with its subject matter.

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Sawada is a spirited journalist who starts working for a small, left-leaning publication. When Sawada interviews Umeyama, a leader of the student uprising, he somehow doubts the claims of the man before him, but he is attracted to his personality. The two start hanging out together on a regular basis.

The performances are solid and the presentation is clean, though both are also a little on the safe side. The political situation of '69 has been covered many times before, My Back Page doesn't really add anything substantial, which is a little disappointing for a film that crosses the 2-hour mark. Still, there's enough quality there to keep things interesting.

Sad Tea

Saddo Tî
2013 / 120m - Japan
Comedy, Drama
Sad Tea poster

A quirky Japanese indie drama. It took me a little while to warm up to Sad Tea, but that's because it plays with a subtle balance that needs a bit of time to surface. About halfway through I had a handle on the peculiar mix of drama, romance, and comedy. From there on out it's a fun build-up to a worthwhile finale.

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Several friends are struggling to commit to their romantic relationships. A former idol wants to visit a lifelong fan, even though she's about the marry. A writer has two girlfriends but loves neither of them, and a young boy dumps his girlfriend when he falls in love with the girl that sold him her birthday present.

The film is quite slow and leans heavily on familiar drama elements, but there are a couple of coincidences and little twists that betray a darker sense of humor. The finale is really on point in that regard. Solid performances, fun characters, and simple but pleasant styling make this a nice discovery. It's not the most remarkable film, but it does have its own signature.

The Fallen Idol

1948 / 95m - UK
Thriller, Crime
The Fallen Idol poster

Another Reed noir. These old British films can feel a bit crusty, The Fallen Idol is no exception. For a film that tries to have a darker edge, it's all a bit too prim and proper, which makes for a somewhat awkward vibe. It's a shame, as Reed is capable of a little visual refinement, which goes to waste that way.

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Philippe is a young boy in awe of his Butler, Baines. The Butler becomes a suspect when his wife accidentally falls to her death, Philippe wants to help him but only arises more suspicion when he tries to fool the police. But then Philippe too begins to doubt the good intentions of his lifelong pal.

The performances are dire, the plot is a pretty big drag and even though the film only lasts 90 minutes, it felt almost twice as long. The cinematography is the only perk here, but the rich detail and fine framing don't do much to elevate the whole. Not Reed's best film, but not the worst noir I've seen either.

Apartment 1303

2007 / 96m - Japan
Apartment 1303 poster

Basic J-Horror, with an above-average finale. I watched the remake years ago, but never really managed to get a hold of Oikawa's original. He's certainly not the most gifted director of his generation, but he can turn out a proper horror film, and that's exactly what you should expect from this film.

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A young girl is finally ready to live by herself. On her first night in her new apartment, she has some friends over. Halfway through the evening, she starts acting weird and commits suicide. Her sister can't believe she wanted to end her life and she wants to know what really went down. With the help of an interested detective, she uncovers the dark past of the apartment.

The setup and backstory are very basic, the scares in the first hour are pretty generic and the performances are rather weak. It's not terrible, just very expected. But then the finale kicks in and the quality really ramps up. Not that it is a Japanese horror classic, but if you're looking for some fun horror filler, Oikawa delivers.

Legend of the Ancient Sword: Sorrowsong Conspiracy

2021 / 70m - China
Fantasy, Mystery
Legend of the Ancient Sword: Sorrowsong Conspiracy poster

A cute little whodunit that mostly scores points with its lush production design. The film offers a mix of fantasy, action and comedy wrapped up in a mystery plot and served in a 70-minute bite-sized package. These Chinese straight-to-streaming films have their formats down, the only thing missing are directors able to elevate these films to be slightly more than prime genre filler.

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Two demon hunters are called to investigate some eerie murders. One is a bit of a clumsy fighter but is excellent at finding and reading clues, the other is a little dim but handles herself extremely well when things get hairy. When they arrive in the village it quickly dawns that there is no demon, but someone lured them there.

The sets are amazing, the cinematography is lovely, the fantasy and martial arts elements are well-executed and even though the whodunit aspect of the plot wasn't all that exciting, the film is so short it simply couldn't be dragged out unnecessarily. Not a masterpiece by any stretch of the word, but more than solid entertainment.

The Firemen's Ball

Horí, Má Panenko
1967 / 73m - Czechoslovakia
The Firemen's Ball poster

Forman's final Czechoslovakian film before he moved his career to Hollywood. It's a somewhat loud and messy comedy, quite hit-and-miss and often stretched to its limits, but thanks to the short runtime and a handful of amusing setups scattered throughout the film, it was a pretty easy watch.

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A small town thinks big when organizing its yearly firemen's ball. They want to hold a beauty contest while having the ball, but that is easier said than done, and soon enough things start going haywire. The party becomes quite unruly and the outcome is pleasantly ironic.

There's a lot of hustle and bustle, which at times is quite funny, but it can get a little annoying and grating. The performances aren't great and the score is somewhat annoying, the film does get better in the second half when the party spirals out of control. A decent enough Forman, but nothing too spectacular.

Tabu: A Story of the South Seas

1931 / 86m - USA
Romance, Adventure
Tabu: A Story of the South Seas poster

Murnau's final film. What separates Tabu from films of its time is the exotic setting (filmed on location too). It's a nice little perk, but it's also a bit cheesy and it feels a little exploitative. It's certainly not the worst film though, thanks to proper pacing and a pleasant romance that forms the heart of the film.

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Matahi is a pearl diver on Bora Bora. He falls in love with Reri, the two are clearly made for each other. But then someone from a neighboring island arrives and brands Reri a holy virgin, meaning no man is allowed to touch or be with her. Reri and Matahi flee the island to save their love.

I was happy to see Tabu wasn't filmed on a set, but the early filming equipment doesn't do justice to its exotic environment. The plot is relatively simple and the romance is very expected, but the short runtime makes it bearable. Not the best Murnau, but I'd expected worse going in.

Tales from Earthsea

Gedo Senki
2006 / 115m - Japan
Fantasy, Adventure - Animation
Tales from Earthsea poster

A film that has been fighting an uphill battle since the day it was announced. Directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of legendary animator Hayao Miyazaki, expectations for this were completely unrealistic from the get-go. And yet, I've always liked the film, in part because of the way it set itself apart from his father's work, and other Ghibli films. Goro did find his own voice, rather than trying to mimic what people have come to expect under the Miyazaki name. The result is a darker, more mysterious fantasy film set in a world that is left for the viewer to be explored and is supported by Ghibli's quality animation, a lovely score, and tremendous voice work. This holds up very well on rewatch.

Hell Target

1987 / 50m - Japan
Sci-fi, Horror - Animation
Hell Target poster

A nifty little surprise. Hell Target is a pretty generic-sounding title that failed to impress when it was originally released on VHS. The remaining copies are not of the best quality, but it's not difficult to see that this could be a major hit if someone would clean it up and re-release it. Fans of horror and sci-fi would do good to seek this one out.

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A space crew is on their way to a forbidden planet, in search of a lost vessel. When they arrive on the hostile planet, it quickly dawns on them that monsters are lurking in the shadows. The crew isn't prepared to fight off these intergalactic foes and only one of them survives. Knowing that a new ship will be sent if nothing is heard from them, he'll have to figure out a way to prevent the next ship from falling into the same trap.

The animation is really good, the art style is detailed and the horror elements are pretty effective. The plot is simple, then again the film is only 50 minutes long, so it's not a big surprise this film chose genre execution over an elaborate plot or well-developed characters. This is exactly the kind of film I hoped to find when I started my quest to catch up with some of the older/shorter anime films I've missed.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Valerie a Týden Divu
1970 / 77m - Czechoslovakia
Fantasy, Horror
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders poster

A pleasant surprise. Sure enough, my expectations were quite low going in, but sometimes that can be a blessing. Valerie and her Week of Wonders offers a playful and creative mix of fantasy and horror elements, no doubt wrapped in several layers of symbolism. How much of it you want to unpack is up to you.

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Valerie is a young girl who lives with her grandmother. She falls in love with a boy who gives her earrings, but she won't have much time to explore her feelings. A traveling carnival is in town and Valerie's dreams begin to mingle with reality. She worries that her grandmother may be a vampire and that she's the daughter of the bishop.

The cinematography, costumes, and sets are pretty cool, the music isn't the greatest but doesn't detract either, and the fantastical elements keep things interesting. The short runtime certainly helped too, as my attention did start to wane a little right before the finale kicked off. This was a lot better than expected.

Blues Harp

1998 / 107m - Japan
Drama, Crime
Blues Harp poster

A fine mix of crime and drama, where Miike is allowed to showcase his versatility. It's a film that would've felt at home in the Young Thugs trilogy, but it stands well enough on its own. It did feel slightly less special watching it again 15 years later, having seen more films along the same vein.

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Chuji is a capable bartender who does a little dealing on the side. One day he rescues Kenji from the Yakuza gang he works for. Kenji appreciates the gesture and they become close friends. As Kenji rises through the ranks of a competing Yakuza gang, their friendship becomes a liability.

The performances are solid, Miike's direction is playful and the pacing is slick. Blues Harp shows that Miike doesn't need all the weirdness and quirk to make a good film, on the other hand, he has a tougher time distinguishing himself from other directors working in the same space. Not one of Miike's all-time classics, but a pretty lovely film regardless.

Kisaragi Station

Kisaragi Eki
2022 / 82m - Japan
Drama, Horror
Kisaragi Station poster

A fun take on Japanese horror. While the setup feels quite familiar, the execution is decidedly more modern. It's a film that seems to deliberately distance itself from the style of horror that people have come to expect from Japan. If it hadn't been for some slight structural issues, this might've been a bona fide contemporary horror classic.

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A young woman is investigating paranormal stories. When she hears a tale about a train that takes you to an abandoned station, she seeks out a survivor who is willing to tell her the entire story. The train supposedly takes you to an alternate world, where six people come together and only one can escape from the clutches of an evil spirit governing this world.

The setting is moody and the cinematography is surprisingly polished, the only thing that bugged me was the cyclical structure of the plot, where the entire second half is basically just a variation of the first part. Sure enough, it comes with a good twist, but it still left me a bit wanting. I am looking forward to Nagae's next film as Kisaragi Station shows a lot of promise.

Torture Chronicles: 100 Years

Gômon Hyakunen-shi
1975 / 62m - Japan
Drama, Horror
Torture Chronicles: 100 Years poster

70s Wakamatsu is an entirely different beast from 60s Wakamatsu. He became fascinated with torture throughout the ages and directed some films vaguely relating to this concept. Torture Chronicles is one of them, a disjointed series of torture and rape scenes with little or no connection.

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This is basically a mini-anthology, of four different torture scenes set in different eras (over a span of 100 years). The first story tells of the persecution of Christians in the 18th century, the second is about a man punishing his cheating wife, the third story handles war atrocities, and the final one deals with three female traitors.

The presentation is poor, there's little to no connection between the segment and while the torture scenes are pretty vile and unpleasant, they're never quite as uncomfortable to watch as you'd expect them to be. A pretty forgettable Wakamatsu film, I'm not surprised his career took a nosedive during the 70s.

The Offering

2022 / 93m - USA
The Offering poster

A decent but simple horror film. What sets this film apart is the Jewish/American setting, drawing from their cultural/religious lore to serve a slightly more original haunting. The creature isn't quite as scary as it was supposed to be though, and once you take the cultural elements away, what remains is a template horror flick with decent production values.

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Art returns home to reconcile with his father, who runs a Jewish funeral parlor. Things are looking up, but then a new body is brought in. A mysterious knife and pendant are hidden on the body. When Art accidentally destroys the pendant he sets a dangerous demon free that was sealed away inside the body.

The build-up is pretty decent and Park's direction is fine, but the demon is a little underwhelming and the film lacks real tension or dread. It's a perfectly fine horror film, but with a tad more care and focus on the horror elements this could've been a minor genre classic, now it's just pleasant filler.

My Broken Mariko

Mai Burôkun Mariko
2022 / 85m - Japan
My Broken Mariko poster

A nice but expected Japanese drama bound to fade in a sea of similar films. Tanada has been consistently releasing good films, but something is missing to push her work to the next level. While the drama is solid and the performances are on point, the emotional outbursts scattered throughout take away from the solemn experience.

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Shiino and Mariko were best friends growing up, but they slowly drifted apart. One day Shiino is eating lunch when she hears a news report about Mariko's suicide. She visits Mariko's parents to pay tribute to her childhood friend, but once there she remembers how Mariko's father abused her. She takes Mariko's remains with her and goes on a little trip to reconnect with her old friend.

The best scenes are when Shiino and Mariko are together, not speaking but just being there for one another. Japanese drama is at its best when it's subtle and subdued, which is why the loud emotional outbursts of Shiino feel a little out of line with the rest of the film. I guess Tanada should look for some ways to set her films apart if she wants to stand out from the crowd, but fans of Japanese dramas will find a good film here.

To Our Loves

À Nos Amours
1983 / 99m - France
Drama, Romance
To Our Loves poster

A French drama that starts off pretty nicely, but loses itself in endless dialogue. That's not an enormous surprise, France has a tendency to produce chatty dramas, and To Our Loves fits that tradition perfectly. I wish Pialat had cared just a bit more about the presentation, as the first half shows the potential for a better film was definitely present.

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Suzanne is a young girl exploring her femininity and sexuality. She sleeps with various men, but she cares for none of them. The only boy she refuses is Luc, who has deeper feelings for her. When her father leaves the family, Suzanne can't really cope with the drama that suddenly surrounds her.

Bonnaire does a decent job and the slightly more slice-of-life approach of the first half is solid, but the tilt to straight-up drama feels off and the conversations in the second half are pretty dry. I slowly lost interest in the characters and their ordeals, which isn't what you'd expect from a good drama. This could and should've been better.

Play Dead

2022 / 106m - USA
Horror, Thriller
Play Dead poster

A surprisingly capable film from Patrick Lussier. His track record isn't the greatest, with some pretty poor horror remakes messing up his oeuvre, but Play Dead is a nice change of pace for him. Not that it is a very original or remarkable film, but as a horror/thriller mix it does just about everything right.

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When a robbery goes wrong, one of the perps ends up in the morgue. The other one escapes and seeks help from his sister. When they run through the events, they quickly realize that his mate's iPhone can be used to implicate him, so their only option is to sneak into the morgue and retrieve the phone.

The first half is built on tension, with some fun (but somewhat predictable) reveals to keep things interesting. The finale adds a touch of horror to the mix. The performances are solid, the build-up of the tension is on point and while a tad long, the film never drags or gets dull. Prime horror filler.

Phoenix: Space Chapter

Hi no Tori: Uchû-hen
1987 / 48m - Japan
Sci-fi, Adventure - Animation
Phoenix: Space Chapter poster

Kawajiri takes on Tezuka's Hi no Tori manga with Rintaro acting as a producer. It's a pretty impressive array of names, and they were able to deliver. I'm a bit surprised this short anime isn't better known among anime fans, as Kawajiri does a stellar job building up the story within the short amount of time that was given to him. Fans of sci-fi and fantasy won't be disappointed.

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Four astronauts find themselves stranded on a ruined spaceship. Their pilot, Makimura, is found dead in his chair, an apparent suicide. The only option for the four is to board the escape pods and hope for the best. When it transpires that Makimura was killed, everyone needs to worry for their own safety.

The plot is a best-of of sci-fi/space cliches, but Kawajiri packages them well, and the addition of fantasy elements makes it a little less predictable. The animation is fine, the art style classic Tezuka and the pacing is just perfect. Short and sweet, then again, why doubt Kawajiri?

Bandit Queen

1994 / 119m - India
Bandit Queen poster

There's life outside of Bollywood. Bandit Queen is a film with a pretty hefty reputation, though it appears that's mostly because of political reasons. Not that it's a very happy or pleasant film, but people who are used to watching darker and/or more shocking cinema will have little trouble coping.

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The film tells the story of Phoolan Devi (though its accuracy has been questioned by Devi herself. Devi comes from the lowest caste, when she is just 11 years old she is married off to an adult man. Tired of the injustices and the cross she has to bear, she flees and joins a group of bandits.

The performances are pretty weak, and the cinematography isn't great. The fact the main character has criticized her depiction doesn't really work in the film's favor either, but there are some gripping moments and it's nice to see something that's not a three-hour barrage of kitsch coming out of India.

The Crying Game

1992 / 112m - UK
Drama, Crime
The Crying Game poster

A peculiar film that takes a while to show its true face. It's not a film that stood out to me for any other reason than being unsure where it would go next, but somehow that was enough to keep me entertained. I'm sure a better director could've done more with the material at hand though.

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Jody is a British soldier who is apprehended by the IRA. Fergus has to stand guard and keep an eye on him, but he is only an IRA volunteer and the two men develop a bond. Jody makes Fergus promise that should anything happen to him, Fergus is to seek out Jody's wife to tell her about his fate.

The performances are decent but nothing too special and the presentation is pretty bland. It's a shame, as there are some fun twists and turns that kept me guessing what else the film would have in store. The result is an easy watch, but it could've been a lot better in the hands of someone with a more distinct vision.


2022 / 113m - Austria
Corsage poster

A costume drama with (slightly) more contemporary elements. It's a film that offers a more down-to-earth and sobering take on a famous historical figure, not unlike Larraín's Spencer. While Kreutzer's intentions were good, I don't think the result is quite as strong or outspoken as it could've been.

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Empress Elisabeth of Austria turns 40. She is beloved by everyone, but at 40 she is considered an old woman and she struggles to maintain her public presence. She is very fickle and feels that the respect and love she once received from the people around her are starting to fade.

The more contemporary score was a lovely surprise and the cinematography is solid. Vicky Krieps did a pretty good job too, but somehow the drama and Elisabeth's plight didn't quite hit me the way it was supposed to. It's certainly a step up from most costume drama, but I'd hoped for something a little extra.