‘Dear Etranger’

Dear Etranger

Families are frustrating, confusing, and messy on the best of days. Throw in an angsty step-child, a degenerate absentee father, along with the onset of mid-life crisis, and complicated doesn’t begin to cover it. Director Yukiko Mishima sacrifices her protagonist’s well-being to explore themes dealing with love, affection, and responsibility.

Makoto Tanaka (Tadanobu Asano) is going through a rough patch. His marriage to his first wife, Yuka (Shinobu Terajima), didn’t work out, and now he only gets to see his daughter, Saori (Raiju Kamata), a few times a year. Now Makoto is on his second marriage, has a baby on the way, and his oldest stepdaughter’s (Sara Minami) simmering resentment towards him (for replacing her biological father) is just beginning to boil over. And as if he doesn’t have enough on his plate, he gets demoted from his cushy office job. Now Makoto finds himself working in an Amazon-like company’s warehouse where he tracks down and ships out online purchases to the tune of 700 pickups a day. At 40, we’re supposed to have our life in order, but for Makoto, life is starting to unravel.

Dear Etranger explores some intriguing themes that deal with how we love others and connect with the people around us. The film asks the question: what if we’re loving someone as hard as we can, but the person on the receiving end doesn’t feel that connection? Whose fault is the broken relationship? The person on the receiving end, who misunderstands the giver’s intention, or the love giver for not expressing their feelings in a way that the receiver understands? These questions have no easy answer, and watching Makoto explore try and figure it all out makes for riveting drama.

‘Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield’

Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield

Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield is director Yang Lu’s follow up to his 2014 film Xiu Chun Dao (aka Brotherhood of Blades), and while this new entry has a “II” in the title, it’s actually the prequel to Brotherhood of Blades. If you enjoyed the original film’s combination of action, mystery, and drama, then The Infernal Battlefield is right up your alley.

Set during the Ming dynasty, The Infernal Battlefield tells the story of Shen Lian (Chang Chen), a special investigator who gets tangled up in a government conspiracy and is implicated for a crime he didn’t commit. To prove his innocence and unravel the conspiracy, Shen Lian must rely on his (loyal?) companions, his intellect, and his awesome fighting skills.

Brotherhood of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield is a difficult movie to keep up with, constantly shifting back and forth between being an action flick, a mystery, and a full-on melodrama. Yes, these characteristics are commonplace for these sort of “period-drama-wuxia” films, but I found The Infernal Battlefield particularly difficult to track. Although I haven’t seen part one, I suspect the film’s twisty-turny plot jumps through too many hoops trying to service the “sequel.”

The Infernal Battlefield didn’t impress me in any one area; the characters never won me over, I lost interest in the mystery, and the action beats didn’t blow me away. But altogether, these elements combine for a serviceable film. If martial arts melodramas aren’t really your thing, then you want to give this one a pass. However, if you’re a fan of wuxia films, then you could do a lot worse, and i if you’re dying to learn about the series’ complicated backstory, then you’ll certainly enjoy this convoluted prequel.

Blade of the Immortal
‘Blade of the Immortal”

Blade of the Immortal

Mugen No Jûnin (aka Blade of the Immortal) is the latest batshit insane action flick from prolific director Takashi Miike. If you’re a fan of Miike’s work, then you already have an idea of what you’re in store for. If you’ve never experienced one of the 100 or so films in Miike’s oeuvre, then you should buckle up and prepare for a wild ride filled with solid action beats, healthy doses of melodrama, and over-the-top violence.

Blade of the Immortal is based on the popular Manga series of the same name, and you can feel the source material’s pulpy sensibilities in every frame. Manji (Takuya Kimura) is a badass samurai with supernatural bloodworms coursing through his veins, which are both a blessing and a curse. They make Manji virtually immortal, and although wounds by swords, axes, and arrows cannot kill him, Manji is forced to live with his past sins. He is tortured by his sister Machi’s (Hana Sugisaki) death, and when Manji crosses paths with an innocent young girl (also Hana Sugisaki) who reminds him of his former sibling, he agrees to avenge her family’s death at the hands of master swordsmen Anotsu (Sôta Fukushi).

Blade of the Immortal is easily my favourite film of the three listed here. In typical Takashi Miike fashion, the movie is never afraid to go balls-to-the-wall. Early on, Manji goes full-on The Bride in Kill Bill Vol. 1 as he violently dispatches about a hundred angry swordsmen (the sequence even unfolds in black and white). The action is brutal, fast-paced, and loads of fun. Kimura channels Manji’s fury with a gripping intensity that is thrilling to watch. In spite of the cast’s cartoonish performances, the fights in Blade of the Immortal often carry a dramatic weight. Blade of the Immortal is as fun as it is violent, and a solid popcorn flick.

For a deeper take on Blade of the Immortal check out Thomas O’Connor’s review here.