GANTZ Live – January 20th – One Night ONLY!

With all of the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I almost forgot about this!  GANTZ will be showing at select theaters on January 20th, for only day only!  The thought of all of those live-action explosions and intense battle scenes makes me dizzy!  Here’s all the info you need to get yourself a ticket to the pulse-pounding excitement of GANTZ!

You’ve watched the series, you’ve read the manga and for one night on Thursday, January 20 you can see the GANTZ live-action World Premiere on the big screen.

NCM Fathom and NEW PEOPLE invite you to your local movie theatre for the GANTZ LIVE event. Follow characters Kei Kurono and Masaru Kato on their mysterious posthumous mission to eradicate an alien species bent on destroying Earth.

On January 20, find out if the players of this ultimate survival game can save the world and revive themselves. What were originally stunning illustrations translate into explosive action delivered in 5.1 surround sound. GANTZ will be English over-dubbed exclusively for this one night event.

Kazunari Ninomiya and Kenichi Matsuyama, the popular Japanese actors who play Kurono and Kato, will participate in an exclusive live interview following the feature. This Q&A is exclusive to GANTZ theatre audiences nationwide.

For more information, including a trailer, click here.

Tickets are on sale now. Check out www.fathomevents.com to learn more about GANTZ, find a list of participating theatres near you and purchase tickets.

Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler DVD Review

Despite some pacing issues, Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler offers up a suspenseful tale about one man’s struggle to escape some really rotten luck.  Rule Number One of gambling, I always thought, was that if you have craptastic luck, you should probably avoid gambling of any kind.  Especially when the stakes get kind of high, and losing means the end of your life.  Alas, Kaiji is far too impulsive, or perhaps just too unwise, to stop and consider the consequences of his actions until he’s up to his neck in trouble.

Things are rough for Kaiji at the start of the movie.  He is barely able to scrape out a living in Tokyo, and he is struggling to feed himself and keep shelter over his head.  When a bad ass loan collector reminds him of a debt that he guaranteed two years earlier, Kaiji is at the end of his rope.  His friend has skipped out on the loan, and now it’s up to Kaiji to make it good.  To add insult to injury, he had a tantrum that resulted in him kicking in the fender of the loan shark’s car.  So not good!  Now he’s made things personal, and he’s not going to be able to wiggle out of this one.

Endo, the loan shark, offers to send him on a one way cruise to wealth and prosperity.  All he has to do is board Espoir (French for Hope), a gambling ship, and win enough to repay his debts.  It’s that or work for 10 years to pay off the loan, so to Kaiji, it’s a no-brainer.  What he doesn’t know is that he isn’t supposed to win, and the deck is stacked so high against him that it will be a miracle if he ever sees the light of day again.  Ouch.

I thought Kaiji was a tense and suspenseful movie, though it did get painfully bogged down during the incomprehensible Brave Men Road sequence.  The scene was far too long, and far too stressful for me.  It played painfully on my fear of heights, and was difficult for me to watch.  Add in obligatory male bonding, full of dramatic declarations, and the scene became a drawn out episode of bravery and daring do, in the middle of a rain storm on an eletricified beam, high, high in the sky.  Water and electricity usually form an uneasy partnership, but they didn’t even seem to notice each other here.

Kaiji starts out a complete loser, and while I’m not going to say that he performed a complete turn around, he did at least learn how to keep up with the big dogs in the seedy world he finds himself caught up in.  I loved the scenes when he tries to out-shyster the shysters, when he forces himself to put on a brave front and tackle his fear head-on.  Plus, he was pretty cute when he wasn’t crying about how awful his life was.

Despite some flaws, I found Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler to be a fun movie, though a bit slow at times.

Review copy provided by publisher

Honey and Clover Movie Review

Title:  Honey and Clover

Starring:  Sho Sakurai, Yu Aoi, Yusuke Iseya, Ryo Kase, Megumi Seki

Directed by: Masahiro Takata

Viz Pictures

ISBN:  1934244082

May Contain Spoilers

After a trying day of appliance shopping and the goat rodeo that is Lowe’s idea of price adjustments, I was ready for a relaxing evening at home.  Popping Honey and Clover into the DVD player, I settled down for what I hoped would be a diversion from gas installation kits and not so free delivery promotions.  I’m sad to say that the movie didn’t live up to my expectations, and left me disappointed.

Having only read the first volume of the manga so far, I was hoping that the quirky humor from that would be translated to film.  It wasn’t.  One of the aspects of watching a manga based movies that I enjoy the most is seeing favorite scenes acted out on screen.  I didn’t recognize anything here, and it left me very detached from the movie.  Morita didn’t show up after weeks of mysterious absences with a pocketful of money and heaps of discounted food, and comradery between the apartment tenants wasn’t there.  The friendships between the main characters also seemed distant, and at times it seemed that these guys hardly knew each other.  Not to mention that Morita’s frantic race to attend that required lecture, his reason for not graduating for so many years, wasn’t included.  Boo hoo.

Instead, Honey and Clover was a fairly benign movie about a group of art students who bob along like corks in a pond.  They didn’t interact in a convincing way, and they remained removed from each other and their own feelings.  Mayama was creepy with his Wall-O-Rika, Hagu was cute but had the emotional depth of a paint brush, and Morita didn’t seem to do much other than brush his bangs out of his eyes.  Sigh.

Sho Sakurai made a good Takemoto, and was my favorite character.  Yu Aoi’s smile could brighten a cave, but her Hagu didn’t win me over. But I didn’t really dislike any of the casting; instead, I thought the screenplay was flat and not very interesting.  Halfway through, I started glancing at the clock, and that is never a good sign.  The movie dragged on as love was spurned or remained a closely guarded secret, as hearts were broken and friendships tested.  There was a lot of emotional turmoil, but the pacing was too uneven for me to care.

Grade:  C-

Rated for NR

Review copy provided by VIZ

Quick Death Note Movie Impressions

I went to see Death Note last night.  After stuffing ourselves with sushi at Oishi, Jen, Rockstar, and myself headed to the local AMC.  We settled into some seats in the crowded and stuffy movie theater, and waited for the start of the show.  Once the movie began, Rockstar, unhappy with the volume, called the movie theater and asked them to turn up the sound, which they did.  Hey, and he didn’t even have to leave his seat!  Too bad Jen wasn’t as successful getting the guy next to stop breathing so loudly (!)

The movie was pretty good, though I thought the beginning dragged out for too long, as criminal after criminal mysteriously keeled over and died.  It seemed to take forever to get to any mention of the Death Note, which I found a little confusing.  Unlike the manga, Light is a college student, studying law, and he’s become disenchanted with the legal system.  Watching murders and thugs be allowed to walk free, he’s just pitched his law book into a trash heap after a frightening encounter with a murderous maniac when he stumbles upon the Death Note, which claims that once a person’s name is written within its pages, that person will die.  Scoffing at the instructions,  he writes a felon’s name on a whim, only to discover later that the man fell over dead.  Hey, maybe there’s something to this creepy book after all!

The transformation from idealistic young man to emotionless, calculating killer is fascinating.  At first, as his morals kick in, Light attempts to return to book to where he found it, only to meet Ryuk.  Light decides to keep possession of the Death Note, and to rid the world of evil.  He becomes so convinced that what he’s doing is a benefit to society, that it’s good and just, that when he feels threatened, nobody is safe from his pen.  He sneers at lesser mortals, supremely confident in his intellect and his ability to keep several steps ahead of the police.  He begins to experiment with the instructions he writes in the Death Note, honing his skills at murder.  The web he weaves becomes more and more intricate as he toys with the lives of others.

As the strange rash of deaths continue, Light’s police detective father and the eccentric L are introduced.  I loved the casting for most of the characters, especially Kenichi Matsuyama as the clever, sugar loving L. While Ryuk’s perpetually grinning visage was visually compelling, the CG for the rest of the shinigami wasn’t very convincing.  There was a lack of fluidity when he gyrated through the air, which was distracting.  At least he looked kind of scary.  I didn’t like the dub, and would have much preferred to see the movie subtitled, as I usually find  English voice actors stiff and wooden. 

My biggest gripe about the movie was the lack of text translations.  In a movie where writing is so central to the plot, it seems extremely short-sighted that all of text was left an undecipherable mash of kanji and katakana.  Text was constantly flashing across the screen, be it text messages, newspapers, computer screens, or Light’s scribbles in the Death Note.  It was very irritating not being able to read it all.

Overall, I found the movie a good way to spend two hours.  I got caught up in the plot, and was only distracted when one of my companions decided to start throwing chocolate covered peanuts at me.  It was a bummer that everything ended on a cliffhanger, so I’ll be making plans to see the second movie when it’s released.  What I really want to do is watch the DVD when it comes out, so I can see Death Note subbed.  And hopefully all of that pesky text will be translated, too!

NANA Movie Review

Title:  NANA

Starring:  Mika Nakashima, Aoi Miyazaki, Ryuhei Matsuda, Tomomi Maruyama,  Tetsuji Tamayama

Publisher:  Viz Pictures

ISBN:  1934244112

May Contain Spoilers 

This film adaptation of Ai Yawaza’s manga series, NANA, was spot on, and I was delighted to watch some of my favorite scenes from the comic played out on my 42″ LCD. I am huge fan of the manga series, and I was little apprehensive that the movie would leave me disappointed.  While I do have a few minor complaints, overall I found the movie a great way to spend 114 minutes.

My only quibble with the casting was  Hiroki Narimiya as Nobu.  He just didn’t fit the image of Nobu that I had in my head.  He was really kind of minor character in this film, as the Hachi/Nobu romantic mess doesn’t get touched  on here.  Maybe he’ll grow on me if I see NANA 2.  Mika Nakashima was convincingly stand-offish as Nana Osaki, an aspiring singer who meets the talkative Nana (Hachi) Komatsu on a train bound for Tokyo.  Aoi Miyazaki, as Hachi, didn’t really convey her character’s impulsive, flighty nature, but her endless string of crushes weren’t really paraded through the movie, either.  Most of the run-away train episodes of ther personal life were skipped.  Hachi is self-centered and impetuous, always flinging herself headlong into a new endeavor, be it a job or a new love, but her interest soon wanes and turns in another direction.  That aspect of her character wasn’t explored much at all.

The differences between the two Nanas was captured, and their personalities were like day and night.  Hachi is gregarious and passionate about everything, while Nana is reserved, confining her emotions within herself.  She’s so stubborn that she’s willing to let pride stand in the way of her love for Ren, the guitarist for the rival band, Trapnest.  When he tells her he’s quitting their band and moving to Tokyo, she doesn’t let him see her inner turmoil, nor does she ask him to stay.  When he asks her to go with him, her own ambitions won’t allow her to remain with the man she loves.  Though I’d love to tell her to get over herself, I can understand her fear of losing her independence, and her inability to give up her own dreams of singing in her own band.

Painted with melancholy strokes, the story of two strangers becoming close friends is not always a smooth journey.  Nana doesn’t want to get sucked into Hachi’s life – she’s content to remain a loner, distancing herself from her past as she tries to live her dreams.  However, as hard as she tries to put it behind her, she’s unable to move forward.  By not making a clean break from Ren, all she’s done for both of them is leave a painful wound that refuses to heal.  Now Hachi, with her open, gregarious personality, is slowly drawing Nana out of her shell.  Whether the two emerge from their friendship stronger and better for the relationship is yet to be seen, but for now, Nana’s rough edges as slowly being eased away.

The soundtrack was the element of the movie that I felt the most trepidation about.  Could the music ever live up to what I imagined  while reading the manga?  The answer is yes, it can and it did.  The concert scenes were well done, bathing the screen in a wash of flickering lights and jamming guitars.  The soundtrack was catchy, and I especially liked the somber Trapnest song, “Endless Story.”

If you’re a fan of the manga, you’ll be satisfied with this movie version of the NANA.  If you have been avoiding reading the manga, sit down with this movie, and I bet you’ll give in and start flying through those graphic novels.

Grade: A

Not Rated

Review copy provided by Viz

Love*Com The Movie Review

Title: Love*Com the Movie

Starring: Ema Fujisawa, Teppei Koike, Shosuke Tanihara, Nami Tamaki, Yuske Yamazaki, Hiro Mizushima, Risa Kudo, Nankai Candies, All Hanshin Kyojin, Masanori Hata

Directed by:  Kitaji Ishikawa

Based on the series by Aya Nakahara

Format: Anamorphic, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Widescreen

Studio: VIZ Pictures

ISBN:  1-934244-09-0

May Contain Spoilers

Risa Koizumi is the tallest girl in her class, and Atsushi Otani is the shortest guy.  Having been cruelly rejected by shorter guys because of her height, Risa has vowed to only fall for a taller guy.  Otani has also been turned down by girls because of  his diminutive height.  The two discover that they share similar interests, and their friendship grows as they are constantly thrown in each other’s company.  Risa slowly falls in love with Otani, but does she have to courage to confess her feelings?  Will the school’s most unlikely couple ever get together?

I enjoyed this colorful, frantic version of Lovely Complex, and thought the cast was great.  Ema Fujisawa was particularly good as Risa, and Teppei Koike portrayed the incredibly dense Otani convincingly.  Nami Tamaki was wonderful as Nobu, providing some biting advice for Risa, while Risa Kudo and Hiro Mizushima made a cute, slightly dorky couple as Chiharu and Suzuki.  I absolutely loved Shosuke Tanihara as Kuniumi Maitake, and wished just one of my teachers had been as cool as he.  The dialog snapped back and forth between the leads, and was painfully obvious to everyone but Risa and Otani that they are perfectly suited for each other.

The sets were bright and colorful, especially Risa’s room.  The festival scenes were visually appealing, as Risa agonizes about whether or not to tell Otani that she’s fallen in love with him.  Scooping goldfish, stuffing their faces with junk food, and posing for pictures in front of a massive wall of pinwheels, the cheerful backdrop was at odds with Risa’s indecisiveness.  As fireworks blossom above them, she finally musters the courage to bare her feelings to Otani, only to have them brushed aside as a joke.  Yes, Risa certainly isn’t attracted to his high IQ.

The movie follows the basic framework of the manga, at least as far as I have read (Vol 4), meandering here and there to provide a story better suited to the screen.  My favorite parts of the manga were included, including the Christmas Umibozu concert, the less than successful declaration of love, and the rickshaw ride during the school trip.  Added was Risa’s older sister, an incredibly bizarre character who is constantly invading her room and taking over her TV to watch her favorite show, “Hello, Girlfriend,” while munching away at a bag of chips.

Things got a little bogged down near the end of the movie.  After the introduction of the new assistant homeroom teacher, the dreamy Maitake, Otani has some unexpected competition for Risa’s affections.  Tall and handsome, Maitake bears a striking resemblance to Kane, a character from Risa’s favorite visual novel. He soon as a swarm of fan girls drooling over him and cheering him on as the new coach of the basketball team.  Otani’s jealousies are finally kicked into overdrive as he watches Risa’s adoration of Maitake.  In an effort to win back her attention, he challenges the much taller Maitake, a national basketball champion, to a 3 on 3 match, hoping to humiliate him in front of Risa.  I thought the basketball segment dragged on for far too long and it really slowed the momentum of the movie.

Grade:  B

Review copy provided by VIZ Pictures

Hula Girls Movie Review

Title:  Hula Girls

Starring: Yu Aoi, Etsushi Toyokawa, Yasuko Matsuyuki, Sumiko Fuji, Ittoku Kishibe

Directed by:  Lee Sang-Il

Format: Anamorphic, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Widescreen

Studio: VIZ Pictures

ISBN:  1-934244-07-4

May Contain Spoilers

It’s been a long time since I’ve taken the time to sit down and watch anything other than my favorite TV show, Ninja Warrior.  This movie arrived at a good time; it’s my birthday, so I planned for a lazy weekend.  So, stuffed with seafood stew from Mitchell’s Seafood Market, I fired up the DVD player and settled in for the first movie night I’ve had in about, oh, a year.  Buu choose to watch with me; Mr Manga Maniac opted for football downstairs.

Hula Girls is based on the true story of Iwaki, a small mining town in the throes of decline.  When the townsfolk learn that the mine will be letting people go and opening a Hawaiian Center to lure tourists to the town, they feel betrayed and angry.  How can their cold, northern town ever be transformed into Hawaii?  Thinking that the entire idea is hair-brained at best, they are soon divided at the notion of their daughters becoming hula dancers to entertain the Hawaiian Center’s visitors.  As family members and residents squabble amongst themselves, a group of determined young ladies practice relentlessly, intent on saving their humble town and bettering their own lives.  With so many people against them, is it possible for their dreams to come true?

Though the pacing was a little slow in parts, this was a heart-warming, emotionally involving movie.  The cast was very good, especially Yu Aio, who played Kimiko, the lead dancer, and Yasuko Matsuyuki, who played Madoka Hirayama, a down on her luck dancer who has been recruited from Tokyo to teach the girls to dance.  Eri Tokunaga turned in an emotionally riveting performance as Sanae Kimura, the girl first taken in by her dreams of being a professional dancer and escaping the grime of her coal mining town.  The scene between her and her father, after he had just been fired from his job, was heart-breaking.  Taking his frustrations out on his daughter, Sanae learns the hard way that some dreams aren’t meant to be.

Following the girls as Hirayama slowly transforms the clumsy dance troupe into a group of professional hula dancers, they meet with opposition at all sides.  Pitting mother against daughter and even causing rifts in life-long friendships, the movie explores how the girls become a united force to save their families and their town. 

The movie is full of cliches, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.  Hirayama, the teacher, arrives in town drunk, clutching an air of superiority around herself after meeting the girls she’s expected to transform into dancers.  Sporting a barbed tongue and a don’t mess with me attitude, her demeanor is slowly softened as she comes to know and like her students.  Hulking Sayuri, raised by her father, is self-conscious and a klutz, with no grace and no sense of rhythm.  Do we have to worry that she won’t make the cut and step confidently onstage?  No, not in this feel good melodrama.  The film delivers a satisfying conclusion, and we walk away with the hope that young dancers and the town they are fighting to save will all meet with a brighter tomorrow. 

Included Special Features:  Director & cast profile, VIZ Pictures Presents, The Making of Hula Girls, How to be a Hula Girl, Hula Girls: The real story, an interview with Jake Shimaukuro, and original Japanese Trailers.

Grade:  B

Not Rated

Review copy provided by VIZ

Viz Pictures Licenses Four Live Action Films Based on Popular Shojo Beat Manga Titles

Yeah!!!  Viz licensed the Nana live action movies!  Way to go!

HONEY AND CLOVER, LOVE*COM THE MOVIE, NANA And NANA 2 To Be Released Domestically

San Francisco, CA, November 1, 2007 – VIZ Pictures, an affiliate of VIZ Media LLC that focuses on Japanese live-action film distribution, has licensed the live action versions of four films based on popular shôjo manga titles released under VIZ Media’s SHOJO BEAT imprint. These include HONEY AND CLOVER, LOVE*COM THE MOVIE, NANA and NANA 2.

HONEY AND CLOVER will be released theatrically in select cities beginning in December. LOVE*COM THE MOVIE will be released straight to DVD in February 2008 and distributed by VIZ Media. NANA will be released theatrically in early 2008 and NANA 2 will have a theatrical release in the spring of 2008. HONEY AND CLOVER, LOVE*COM THE MOVIE and NANA will have special premiere screenings at the upcoming New York Anime Festival December 7-9, 2007.

HONEY AND CLOVER

Based on the bestselling shôjo manga by Chica Umino, HONEY AND CLOVER is a romantic comedy that focuses on five college students and the art school they attend. When talented painter Hagumi Hanamoto enrolls in the program, her presence and unique approach to art affects the entire school and her new friends. The plot thickens as Hagumi becomes embroiled in a complicated love triangle as she struggles to find her artistic voice. HONEY AND CLOVER showcases the journey that everyone must take to transform from adolescence into adulthood and the long and challenging road these five young people must navigate to balance the demands of school, work, and love. The English version of the HONEY AND CLOVER manga is currently serialized in VIZ Media’s SHOJO BEAT magazine. VIZ Media is set to publish the title as a self-contained manga in March 2008.

LOVE*COM THE MOVIE

Based on the bestselling comic by Aya Nakahara, LOVE*COM THE MOVIE is a high-school romantic comedy centering on two students. Risa Koizumi is the tallest girl in class, and the last thing she wants is the humiliation of standing next to Atsushi Ôtoni, the shortest guy. Fate and the whole school have other ideas, and the two find themselves cast as the unwilling stars of a bizarre romantic comedy duo. But as their friendship develops, so do Risa’s feelings toward Otani. The English version of the manga series is currently available under VIZ Media’s SHOJO BEAT imprint.

NANA, NANA 2

Based on the popular manga by Ai Yazawa, NANA and NANA 2 follow the adventures of two girls both named Nana. While they share the same name, they couldn’t be more different. Nana “Hachi” Komatsu hopes that moving to Tokyo will help her make a clean start and leave her capricious love life behind, while Nana Osaki, who arrives in the city at the same time, is a punk rock beauty who has plans to score big in the world of rock and roll. Although these two young women come from different backgrounds, they quickly become best friends. NANA performed well at the Japanese box office upon its release in 2006, grossing more than 4 billion yen and stayed in the Top 10 for several weeks. The English version of the manga is published under VIZ Media’s SHOJO BEAT imprint.

“We are very pleased to announced the forthcoming North American debuts of these four new films inspired by popular shôjo manga series,” says Seiji Horibuchi, President and CEO of VIZ Pictures. “These films demonstrate how unique stories can successfully make the leap from manga to animation to live action while each depiction remains true to the original story, the live action versions of these titles provide a whole new dimension that fans of all stripes will enjoy. We look forward to audiences discovering HONEY AND CLOVER, LOVE*COM, NANA and NANA 2.”

About VIZ Pictures, Inc.

Based in San Francisco, CA, VIZ Pictures, Inc. distributes Japanese live-action films and DVDs, with particular focus on Japanese “kawaii (cute) and cool” pop culture. VIZ Pictures approaches each release from a J-pop fan’s point of view to serve manga and anime generation in North America. VIZ Pictures titles include TRAIN MAN: DENSHA OTOKO, LINDA LINDA LINDA, THE TASTE OF TEA, and PING PONG. The company will continue to offer the hottest visual entertainment straight from the “Kingdom of Pop” for audiences of all ages in North America. VIZ Pictures, Inc. is an affiliate of VIZ Media, LLC, the San Francisco-based leading U.S. publisher of Japanese manga (comics) and merchandise licensor of Japanese animation such as the popular “NARUTO” animated TV series.

© 2006 VIZ Pictures, Inc

About VIZ Media, LLC

Headquartered in San Francisco, CA, VIZ Media, LLC (VIZ Media), is one of the most comprehensive and innovative companies in the field of manga publishing, animation and entertainment licensing of Japanese content. Owned by three of Japan’s largest creators and licensors of manga and animation, Shueisha Inc., Shogakukan Inc., and Shogakukan Production Co., Ltd. (ShoPro Japan), VIZ Media is a leader in the publishing and distribution of Japanese manga for English speaking audiences in North America and a global licensor of Japanese manga and animation. The company offers an integrated product line including, magazines such as SHONEN JUMP and SHOJO BEAT, graphic novels, videos, DVDs, audio soundtracks and develops and markets animated entertainment from initial production, television placement and distribution, to merchandise licensing and promotions for audiences and consumers of all ages.