Shogun the miniseries (1980) starring Richard Chamberlin, Torisho Mifune, John Rhys-Davies and others. One of the great miniseries of all time.

I was getting a lot of static about the number of Japanese films I’ve been watching lately so I decided to relent.  But I still wanted to enjoy the Japanese tales of the samurai then it occurred to me: Shogun the miniseries.  I was still a child when I remember when my parents watched it and I liked it back then.  So I obtained all 12 hours of the series and watched it without complaint from other because the main language was English though there was lots of Japanese spoken in it.  One of the neat film devices used in the episodes what the lack of subtitles whenever Japanese was spoken as it was from the main characters point of view (Richard Chamberlin as an English ship pilot).  I also decided to get the book and the author (legendary James Clavel) also provided no translation from the Japanese “spoken” in the novel.

During the original airing, the network ran the episodes five days in a row.  The first and last episodes (each three hours) and the three in the middle (each 2 hours) garnered about 24-25 million viewers—an average of about 32-33 nielson rating.  Talk about a marathon, I don’t think the networks would have the guts to run a series like that again.  By that I mean they would probably do one episode a week and break it up into one hour segments.  If that were to happen I believe it would totally take away from the flavor of the series.  The book (about 1200 pages) is even better than the series though both in my opinion are legendary works especially for their time.

The cast:  Richard Chamberlin, who needs no introduction, went on to make the Thorn Birds after this epic, Torisho Mifune, Japans legendary film star for probably 40 years prior to Shogun and anyone who watched Star Trek Voyager knows John Rhys-Davies (cast as Da Vinci in Voyager an often seen guest in Capt. Janeway’s hologram fantasies) playing the flamboyant Portuguese ship pilot Vasco Rodrigues.  There are more of course but these three are the best known.

After his Dutch trading ship Erasmus and its surviving crew is blown ashore by a violent storm at Injiro on the east coast of Japan, Pilot-Major John Blackthorne, the ship’s English navigator, is taken prisoner by samurai warriors. When he is later temporarily released, he must juggle his self-identity as an Englishman associated with other Europeans in Japan, namely Portuguese traders and Jesuit priests, with the alien Japanese culture into which he has been thrust and now must adapt to in order to survive. Being an Englishman, Blackthorne is at both religious and political odds with his enemy, the Portuguese, and the Catholic Church’s Jesuit order. The Catholic foothold in Japan puts Blackthorne, a Protestant and therefore a heretic, at a political disadvantage. But this same situation also brings him to the attention of the influential Lord Toranaga, who mistrusts this foreign religion now spreading in Japan. He is competing with other samurai warlords of similar high-born rank, among them Catholic converts, for the very powerful position of Shōgun, the military governor of Japan.

Through an interpreter, Blackthorne later reveals certain surprising details about the Portuguese traders and their Jesuit overlords which forces Toranaga to trust him; they forge a tenuous alliance, much to the chagrin of the Jesuits. To help the Englishman learn their language and to assimilate to Japanese culture, Toranaga assigns a teacher and interpreter to him, the beautiful Lady Mariko, a Catholic convert, and one of Toranaga’s most trusted retainers. Blackthorne soon becomes infatuated with her, but Mariko is already married, and their budding romance is ultimately doomed by future circumstances.

Blackthorne saves Toranaga’s life by audaciously helping him escape from Osaka Castle and the clutches of his longtime enemy, Lord Ishido. To reward the Englishman for saving his life, and to forever bind him to the warlord, Toranaga makes Blackthorne hatamoto, a personal retainer, and gifts him with a European flintlock pistol. Later, Blackthorne again saves Toranaga’s life during an Earthquake by pulling him from a fissure that opened and swallowed the warlord, nearly killing him. Having proved his worth and loyalty to the warlord, during a night ceremony held before a host of his assembled vassals and samurai, Lord Toranaga makes Blackthorne a samurai; he awards him the two swords, 20 kimonos, 200 of his own samurai, and an income-producing fief, the fishing village Anjiro where Blackthorne was first blown ashore with his ship and crew. Blackthorne’s repaired ship Erasmus, under guard by Toranaga’s samurai and anchored near Kyoto, is lost to fire, which quickly spread when the ships’ night lamps were knocked over by a storm tidal surge. During a later attack on Osaka Castle by the secretive Amida Tong (Ninja assassins), secretly paid for by Lord Ishido, Mariko is killed while saving Blackthorne’s life, who’s temporarily blinded by the black powder explosion that kills his lover.

As Shōgun concludes, Blackthorne is supervising the construction of a new ship, The Lady; it is being built with funds Mariko left to him in her will for this very purpose. Blackthorne is observed at a distance by Lord Toranaga; a voice over reveals the warlord’s inner thoughts: It was he who ordered the Erasmus destroyed by fire, not from a tidal surge, in order to keep Blackthorne safe from his Portuguese enemies who feared his actions with the ship; Blackthorne still has much to teach Toranaga. And, if need be, the warlord will destroy the ship Blackthorne is currently building. He also discloses Mariko’s secret but vital role in the grand deception of his enemies, and, as a result, how she was destined to die gloriously in Osaka Castle and live forever, helping to assure his coming final victory. The warlord knows that Blackthorne’s karma brought him to Japan and that the Englishman, now his trusted retainer and samurai, is destined never to leave. Toranaga also knows it is his karma to become Shōgun.

In the miniseries epilogue it is revealed that Toranaga and his army are triumphant at the Battle of Sekigahara; he captures and then disgraces his old rival, Lord Ishido, and takes 40,000 enemy heads, after which he then fulfills his destiny by becoming Shōgun.

The story has most of the elements of the warring states period and the rise of Tokugawa Ieyasu to Shogun.  He was one of the lords who pledged to take care of the Taiko, he also won the Battle of Sekigahara so anyone who is even slightly versed in this area of history can see the parallels.  It is a great series, take the time to watch it you won’t regret it.

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Posted by on November 12, 2015 in Movie Reviews


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I can’t believe it’s been 30 years since Back to the Future (1985) where did the time go? Simple back to the future.

I just watched a documentary about Back to the Future and boy did that bring back some memories.  I was all of 13 years old when I saw this film in the theater (grossing 390,000,000) and of course there was the Delorean with all of its glory and gull-wing doors.  The stainless steel body, rear engine car with all of its gadgets and tubes has become a cultural icon.  Michael Fox stars with Christopher Lloyd as the lead roles and Huey Lewis and the News composing the theme song “The Power of Love” and Lewis having a cameo in the film as a judge in the battle of the bands dismissing Fox’s band (the Pinheads) from the high-school contest.

I showed this film to my step daughter a couple of years ago they were ages 13 and 7 both were literally on the edge of their seats throughout the movie—illustrating the timeless qualities of the film.  Another great feature of BTF was the non-computer generated special effects that were all done manually so to speak right down to the 1950’s store fronts, cars and costumes.  It is said that when Fox’s “mother” appeared as the depressed overweight boozer at the start of the movie it took three hours for her make-up to be done.  The film still retains its popularity as on the 21st of October of this year there was a one day viewing in the theaters.  Only Star Wars boasts that kind of longevity and staying power.

The writers, producers (Spielberg) and director (Robert Zmeckis) had the film in the making for almost 7 years shopping to every movie studio including Disney who turned it down because they didn’t want the Disney banner associated an incestuous theme.

The story, a mad scientist makes a time machine out of a Deloran motor car, but is hunted by Libyan terrorists that he sole plutonium from.  Fox escapes by jumping into the car and hitting 88 mph which triggers the “flux capacitor” to control time travel.  The time machine preset for 30 years in the past takes Fox back to the 1950’s when his parents were in high school.  The question is can the son get along with his parents while they were kids?  Having to set up his parents to date so he can be born Fox discovers that his mother was actually quite the player despite her prostrations to the contrary in 1985,  The picture of the parents as straight arrow nerds is dispelled throughout the middle and end of the film.  Eventually Fox coaxed his father into punching a bully giving him the self-confidence needed to become a success in the future so when Fox returns to the future of 1985 he finds his life changed, his parents are successful and his friend Doc the inventor of the time machine escaping death by wearing a bullet proof vest heeding the warning of Fox that he would be shot on the night when the time machine was successfully tested.

Normally I don’t like these kind of films, but this one from my childhood as wildly successful as it is (was) has passed every test it could have encountered.  Just a fresh as it was in 1985, anyone can watch this movie at any time and enjoy it like some of us did in the theater, and my proof was watching my step daughters appreciate it as much as I did when I was their age.

Note in the first clip the reference to the CRM 114—the radio device in Dr. Strangelove talked about by Slim Pickens.

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Posted by on October 31, 2015 in Movie Reviews


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JPFmovies, SEJ and EJ discuss Kagi no Kakatta Heya or Locked Room Mysteries (2012). A great little Japanese mini-series involving a nerd, some lawyers and locked room murders.

Based on the mystery novel “Kagi no Kakatta Heya” by Yusuke Kishi (published by Kadokawa Shoten, July 26, 2012) here is another great example of an Asian mini-series (11 episodes) with an original theme a bit of a surprise ending and knowing when to quit.

Enomoto Kei is a security “otaku” (Japanese slang loosely translated as geek or nerd but more pejorative than in the West) working for a firm who devoted to improving security systems on a daily basis.  He is not an easy person to deal with, stoic, unapproachable, a maniac in Physics, Science, Architecture and profound in other basic theoretical sciences.  Enomoto is convinced and proud of the fact that there is no key which he cannot unlock.

Enomoto’s abilities are initially put to the test when a young idealistic legal associate, Junko Aoto (Erika Toda), locks her boss, Serizawa Gou, in a bank vault on a Friday afternoon and because of the vaults timer can’t be opened until Monday morning.  Within 17 minutes he opens this a seeming impenetrable vault door while explaining to the young associate that there are more than 100,000,000 combinations.  That day, Enomoto is asked to help reveal a mystery behind a “locked room” murderer.  While he lacks any interest in solving the mystery, he is inevitably intrigued by the term, “Locked Room” and decides to take on the case.  Enomoto works side by side with Aoto Junko and Serizawa Gou, who are lawyers working at a major law firm.  Because of Enomoto’s abilities to solve the “locked room” crimes, Senzawa is given all of the credit and becomes known as a locked room experts-though the real brains behind the mysteries is Enomoto.

I really enjoyed the series because of its unique premises and surprise ending (the good guy goes bad).  It is well cast and the number of episodes is right for a movie binge.  I may even read the novel assuming it has been translated into English.

SEJ and EJ of course have their own interesting take:

Both have a lot to say about this series starting with the opening credits which they describe as both “clever” and “weird.” EJ in particular enjoys the suspense filled music and the graphics used to open the show.

SEJ specifically says “this series is overly dramatic and at times even corny but has a clever starting sequence and great music.  The characters are mostly likable and pause for too long but overall it is a great film.”  As for the ending of the series “. . . HE CAN’T!”  But he did.

The clips should give you the flavor of the music and Enomoto’s demeanor sorry about the cut off subtitles they were difficult to hard-code.

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Posted by on October 30, 2015 in Movie Reviews


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God Damn it WordPress why aren’t my clips playing? I paid you in full now I expect full service!

WordPress what the heck is your problem?  You made me upgrade my site with a nice price tag to boot and now the clips that have been on your servers whether for a week or 5 years now only play for a few seconds then they crap out.  What is the deal?  I am well below my maximum storage limit and even if that was the case it should not be an issue.

I’d love an explanation at least nut more importantly I’d like it to work as advertised.

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Posted by on October 29, 2015 in Movie Reviews


SP A/K/A Security Police—Japan’s version of the Secret Service—an Asian drama based on a real unit that was so popular they made 2 movies based on the series and one of them was a “prequel.”

I stumbled on to this series simply by downloading from one of my favorite Asian movie websites.  Well I have to say for another of Japan’s shows that became a manga it is not bad.  As I said in the title SP was a big hit in its native country Japan.  Given Clint Eastwood’s very popular film “In the Line of Fire” SP might be appreciated with western audiences but of course we will never know.  I am not saying this is the end all be all of TV drama’s it certainly isn’t crap though.  If you like Asian TV or films you will probably like SP.

SP, also known as Security Police is based on the real life security police unit of Japan which is responsible for protecting domestic and foreign VIPs.  The series script was written by famed GO author Kazuki Kaneshiro and marks his first time writing for a television drama.  This drama centers on the newly recruited SP officer named Kaoru Inoue has such sharp senses that his able to conduct his duties by using some form of ESP to take down threats before they materialize.

The franchise consists of the TV series, two film adaptations of the series released in 2010 and 2011 with a manga adaptation.

Inoue is recruited by veteran SP officer Sōichirō Ogata after being impressed with his training under Section 4 of the SP division.  Inoue works with Eri Sasamoto, one of the few women serving in the division while another officer, Takafumi Yamamoto, who is the only known SP officer to have MMA experience with a preference to use the 7:3 hairstyle ratio (whatever that is) and of course there is the divorced Mitsuo Ishida who is the only known SP officer in the section who had been previously married.  The series shows these men and women working in unison to protect the VIPs assigned to them from being killed by assassins.

I think one of the things that factors into the deserved success of SP is that it that its makers limited the number of episodes even in the face of its native popularity.  In the west, a show that was as popular as SP would have been dragged out by the producers until it died a dog’s death—something I can’t stand.

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Posted by on October 28, 2015 in Movie Reviews


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I can’t believe this film took in over $100,000,000 Vacation 2.0 (2015)

Vacation 2.0 means well but tries too hard, and is ultimately just another pale imitation of the original. The memory of this film will likely not endure beyond one or two gags.  Well I am not surprised that Vacation 2.0 is an awkward film that doesn’t deserve the name Vacation.

According to the box office statistics, this movie grossed $103 million dollars and I simply can’t believe it.  There are only three things that are good about this film.  One is, they kept the original credits and theme song; two Ron Livingston from office-space has a small role in the movie and three I like Christina Applegate who should’ve been more utilized because of her comedy experience going back to Married with Children.  Otherwise, this movie simply sucks.

Vacation 2.0 just tries too hard to remake its predecessor.  There are way too many crude jokes that are contrived, which signals the type of movie technique that is episodic; that is, they try to build the story around the gags and simply use filler for the rest of film.  Clearly, the writers and directors of Vacation 2.0 simply don’t compare to the team of Harold Ramis and John Hughes working in their heyday.

The story starts with a grown up Rusty Griswold who is an airline pilot for some econo-airline.  He has a very estranged relationship with his wife, Debbie (Christina Applegate), and their two sons, the shy and anxious older teenager, James (Skyler Gisondo), and the cruel and mindless younger kid, Kevin (Steele Stebbins).  Envious of the vacation the family of his friends, Jack (Keegan-Michael Key) and Nancy (Regina Hall), had in Paris, Rusty decides to change his family’s annual trip to their cabin in Cheboygan, Michigan and instead drive cross country to Walley World, just as he had done years before with his parents and sister, Audrey Griswold (Leslie Mann) Chevy Chase (father) and Beverly De Angelo (mom) as seen in the original Vacation film.

Of course, using the basic plot techniques that Vacation 1.0 did, the family runs into many mishaps and “comic” stops along the way.  It is as if every conceivable joke was thrown at the wall, and the ones that seemed to stick best were swept up and glued together as the plotline.  I understand it is very difficult to follow such an iconic movie as Vacation 1.0, but they could have done a much better job.


Posted by on October 22, 2015 in Movie Reviews


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