Grab a Bowl of Popcorn – It’s Time for Japan Movie Review

By Dominique Flemings

Fall, it seems, is officially here. The sultry days of summer are no more, and as I find myself opting for thick sweaters over short-sleeved blouses more often, I can’t help but grow a bit sentimental. Around my childhood home, fall and winter had a very distinct smell. Surprisingly, it was not the smell of home cooked meals and roaring hearths that most associate with this seasons. There were these smells, but there was one that stands tall among my memories from my childhood – the smell of popcorn. In the spring and summer, my family was an outdoor family – every other weekend found us working in the garden, swimming in a nearby lake, camping, etc. When the cooler months came, however, things changed. All of a sudden, it got dark at six o’clock and the chill never left the air no matter how hard the sun tried to dispel it. As a result, my parents, neither of whom liked the cold weather, would break out the big “popcorn pot,” as we affectionately called the venerable, worn pot reserved exclusively for popcorn popping, and explode a couple hundred kernels. When the house was redolent with the smell of popcorn, we’d gather in the den and watch a movie, snugly ensconced in blankets, as lumbering clouds of snow buffeted the chilled window panes outside.

The tradition followed me through my college days and to here in Japan, as well – popcorn and a movie are as inseparable as yin and yang. Needless to say, my movie habits have changed slightly. My family days gave me a love for the heart-warming classics such as It’s a Wonderful Life and The Empire Strikes Back (of course it’s heart-warming). College introduced me to other oldies like Hard Day’s Night and more modern favorites such as You’ve Got Mail or Titanic. Of course, moving to Japan was a whole different kind of cinematic renaissance for me. Not only were there thousands upon thousands of movies I’d not seen, but there was a whole new way movies were made. It wasn’t unlike working with the subtle nuances of feng shui for a semester and then delving into the bold, unrelenting motifs of art deco. Quite literally, it’s a whole new world.

There are so many movies out there, however, that to even find one to watch can be overwhelming and sometimes take a bit of the fun out of watching a movie. I was fortunate enough to have a Japanese cinema aficionado to start me out, but you might not be so serendipitous. This is when you need a blog like the Japan Movie Review. Of course, there are plenty of different Japanese movie review blogs out there, but quite a few things set this newer one aside and make it worth your while. While the current list of reviews is somewhat limited, I imagine the database to quickly fill with plenty of good insight into equally good movies.

The first distinctive thing is that the site is not your typical, shallow “soundtrack was good but the jokes weren’t funny” movie review website. Japan Movie Review approaches film for the serious art form that it is, and movies are reviewed as such. There is a lot of thought that goes into the reviews on the blog, with the reviewer drawing your attention to the social commentary inherent in the films, social implications of the film itself, and other food for thought that is often missed by the typical reviewer and audience. The reviews often have philosophical commentary interwoven into the reviews themselves, which is a useful reminder that movies are not meant only to be watched, but to provoke and inspire thought as well. It is refreshing to see such thought into what is often considered a thoughtless art.

The effort put into the substance of the writings is only half the reason I enjoyed the website as much as I did. The writing style is the other half. It is a simple, straight-forward writing style that easily explains the rather deep pools of thought that the writer explores. The remarks and asides about a movie that are sprinkled throughout add a unique and refreshing spice to movie reviews. The uniqueness of the writing style is as discernable as the difference between bland movie popcorn and the good kind that they smother in hot butter flavoring. After reading, you’re left wanting to go out and watch the movie and discover it for yourself.

Navigation of the site is simple and intuitive, and some of the reviews are even available in Kanji. Right now the design of the website is a little bare-boned, but this is certainly understandable as the blog began only in May. The only thing that I could suggest is that, after writing these scintillating reviews, the writer at the Japan Movie Review would do well to perhaps provide links to stores online where the movie might be bought. It certainly wouldn’t be hard to locate some of the films in a rental shop, but giving a link to an online store where the films could be downloaded or ordered seems a natural and easily implemented addition to the website.

However, don’t let the current lack of this feature detract from your enjoyment of the blog. The writer has many wonderful insights into the nuances of films that we simply don’t take the time to enjoy anymore. I feel this is best evidenced in the recent review of one of my favorite films, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. The review quickly recognizes the social issues that the director Nagisi Oshima wanted to highlight in the film, while not foregoing the more emotional and heart-felt themes as well. Each facet of the film is deftly picked up and noted, and I commend the writer for his ability in doing this.

As fall turns to winter, I have a long list of books to read, art projects to do and other indoor-related activities that will keep Fritz and I in the warm indoors (though he still insists on the morning walk). However, I also have my insatiable appetite for movies to appease, and I think that, with the assistance of the Japan Movie Review, I will have an easy time finding worthwhile movies to watch on those cold winter nights. Thumbs up to an excellent site.

– Dominique


~ by Japan Blog Review on November 9, 2010.

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