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Ok JPFmovie fans here is Part 2 of Heaven and Earth (1990).

In part one of the Heaven and Earth review we talked about how equally matched these 2 warlords were.  Now we are going to look at what is probably a pretty authentic recreation of the battle formations used during that period of Japanese history.

Kenshin’s “Winding Wheel” vs. Shingen’s “Crane.”

We briefly discuss to the “Winding Wheel” employed by Kenshin and Singen’s “Crane” technique.  According to Japanese historian Stephen Turnbull the “Kuruma gakari” (wheel) this formation, drawn like a spiral, envisages successive units of an army being brought against the enemy ‘as the wheel winds on’.  It is famously described in the Koyo Gunkan as being the formation adopted by Uesugi Kenshin for his dawn attack against Takeda Shingen at the fourth battle of Kawanakajima in 1561. It is essentially an idealized representation of a tactical move that replaces tired units by fresh ones without breaking the momentum.

Singen’s The Woodpecker pecks at the tree, and the vibrations scare the insect out so he can eat it. Kansuke (a Singen General) suggested sending a garrison up the mountain by a round-about route late at night to “peck” at the Kenshin’s troops in the early hours, flushing them down to the plain below where the bulk of the Takeda forces would be waiting!

The plan was approved, and troops went up the mountain, however when they arrived, the Uesugi, whether through having guessed the maneuvers or from having been tipped off by spies, had moved down the opposite side of the mountain in the darkness, and positioned themselves on the plain where the Takeda would not be expecting them for a another few hours.  This did not help Takeda’s cause at all.

Kenshin’s tactics for so effective that they broke through Singen’s lines and were able to personally attack the Takeda himself who received some cuts until some of his bodyguards were able to come to his aid and help fight of Kenshin himself as well as other in cadre.

The battle was costly for both sides.  a costly battle for both sides. Kenshin had lost 72 percent, or roughly 12,960 men, while Shingen, although taking 3,117 enemy heads as trophies, had lost 62 percent, or 12,400 men. In one of the largest battles ever fought in Japanese history, the “Crane’s Wing” formation, when executed by well-disciplined troops, could only temporarily stop that of the “winding wheel.”

Once again, these two rivals managed to fight to a stalemate—nothing ever being settled between the two they even died within months of each other.

The JPFmovie staff all recommend this film.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Two equally matched daimyo (warlords) one concerned with heaven the other concerned with earth. Part 1 of the Japanese film Heaven and Earth (1990).

JPFmovies is excited to get back to quality Asian films.  There is a reason Heaven and Earth was Japan’s number one film in 1990: it is one hell of a flick.  Most Japanese films of this genre look at the battle of Sekigahara; for those of you that don’t know this was the bloodiest battle in Japan’s history and finally united the country.  Heaven and Earth, however, centers around the battles of Kawanakajima which was series of 7 battles over 20 years between two equally matched rivals Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin that lasted until 1564.

Shingen and Kenshin could not have more contrasting leadership personalities and styles.  Kenshin fought wars “to bring peace to his people” versus Shingen who wanted to expand his empire “to the seas.”  Shingen (the more famous of the two) is often portrayed as some sort of liberator treating his people well but in truth, he was a cruel as many of the other warlords of the time-routinely massacring peasants and prisoners of war unlike Kenshin who took a higher road.

One of the main reasons Shingen wanted the lands occupied by Kenshin is because the were very fertile which was a precious commodity in Japan that does not have much agriculture.

Back to the film.  Heaven and Earth also presents the audience with two interesting items.  The first is a letter that survives to this day that Kenshin sends to his allies asking for men, equipment and other items necessary for war.  The second are two very accurate formations from each side:  Kenshin’s “Winding Wheel” vs. Shingen’s “Crane.”  The film does a great job of recreating the relatively complex fighting formations.  The winding wheel was an offensive maneuver allowing units that had become exhausted or depleted to be replaced with a fresh unit, thus enabling the attacker to maintain the force and momentum of the attack. A very carefully organized and complex maneuver, its use indicates that Kenshin’s troops must have practiced it to the point of perfection. Kenshin’s vanguard was commanded by his younger brother, Takeda Nobushige, and as Kenshin’s winding wheel fully engaged the Takeda front ranks, Nobushige was killed in the desperate close combat.

Kenshin’s leading units were mounted samurai, and as the “wheel” wound on, the pressure on Shingen’s force began to tell as unit after unit was driven back from its position. Shingen’s “crane” was an offensive formation and not designed for the defense, but the troops executing it were well disciplined and the formation was managing to hold its own.  The momentum of the “wheel” brought Kenshin within reach of the Takeda headquarters where Shingen had been fervently trying to control his hard-pressed army.  This resulted in a rare face off between the two leaders.  Shingen was personally attacked by none other than Kenshin himself.  Unable to draw his sword in time, Shingen, rising from his camp stool, was forced to parry Kenshin’s mounted sword strokes with his heavy wooden war fan. Shingen took three cuts on his body armor and a further seven on his war fan until one of his bodyguards charged forward and attacked Kenshin with a spear. The spear thrust glanced off Kenshin’s armor and struck his horse’s flank, causing the animal to rear. Several other samurai of Shingen’s guard then arrived and together they managed to drive Kenshin off.

Exciting?  Yes! And by all accounts as historically accurate as one can really get looking back hundreds of years.  Stay tuned for part 2 of the Heaven and Earth review.  Next time we’ll look at the Wheel vs. the Crane too!

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2019 in Movie Reviews

 

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Yes only 6-8 months late we finally get the Hero review written by none other than Bonnie! Savor this review we had to file suit to get this review done.

Hero is a movie so rich in content that I almost can’t bear to watch it.  In my opinion, nobody should sit down and watch Hero from beginning to end in one sitting.  What you should do is get the DVD of Hero and watch a section at a time.  Better yet, watch each section several times.  This isn’t the kind of movie in which the plot slowly unfolds.  Though yes, it is one of those movies where the plot line is gradually revealed to be radically different than the way in which it was previously presented, even that isn’t the point of Hero.  What is the point?  Visual art painted in motion, the artful juxtaposition of cinematography with not only martial art but also the art of etiquette, ritual and ceremony.

Here is the story.

As the movie opens, we meet Nameless, a Prefect (the lowest rank in the kingdom of Qin).  He has come to let the Qin Emperor know that he has defeated, and killed, the emperor’s three legendary assassins, Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow.  The Emperor, naturally, wants to know how Nameless managed to defeat such peerless warriors.  As Nameless tells the story, we see it unfold — first his telling, then the version told by the Emperor, who is shrewd enough to read between the lines, and then Nameless’ correction of the details overlooked by the Emperor.  The question is, did Nameless truly defeat Sky, Broken Sword, and Flying Snow — or did he conspire with them, convincing them to lay down their lives in order to give him the opportunity to get close enough to the Emperor to have a chance at slaying him?  Or was there a conspiracy, but one in which there was dissension in the ranks?

The answer to all these questions, the real crux of the matter, lies in the question of whether or not it was possible for Sky and Flying Snow to throw their matches with Nameless so skillfully that the Emperor’s own troops could be made eyewitnesses to testify on Nameless’ behalf.  Likewise, was Nameless skillful enough to defeat Sky and Flying Snow by apparently, but not actually, killing them — with a sword stroke so precise that it appears to kill, but allows one’s opponent, later, to be revived?

I’m not going to tell you the rest of the plot, because it is so convoluted that, frankly, you should just watch the movie and see it unfold for yourself.  Let’s move on to the actors, who are incredibly awesome.  This is a star-studded cast.  We have Jet Li (five time Wushu gold medalist) as Nameless.  Donnie Yen, who often stars in films with Jet Li, plays Sky – and these two incomparable martial artists deliver what I consider to be the best scene in the film, the duel between Nameless and Sky.  Broken Sword is played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, who you should recognize if you have seen Red Cliff, in which he played Zhou.  (If you have not seen Red Cliff, you are excused from the rest of this review – please take four hours RIGHT NOW to go watch Red Cliff.)  Maggie Cheung, an actress who from the age of 18 has been handed role after role in Hong Kong films without even having to audition, plays Flying Snow.  Because Hero unfolds several different plots for your consideration (and the Qin Emperor’s), each of these actors essentially played at least three different roles.

I can’t speak in any kind of an educated way about the cinematography of this film – I’m not an artist – but I have to bring it up, because it literally makes the film.  Hero’s director, Yimou Zhang, should join the ranks of Kurosawa in film history.  Each scene is Hero is up to Kurosawa’s standards – and that is saying a lot.  These scenes also bring to mind the duel between Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu in Kill Bill (another Quentin Tarantino film, though I am puzzled about Tarantino’s role in Hero – the credits mention him somewhat ambiguously).

Each scene has a color theme, and the actors wear different colors depending on the plot variation that is being acted out.  The use of color in Hero can only be described as exquisite, and it is something that you almost never see in American films.  (Or rather, I have almost never seen it – but I don’t watch as many movies as the rest of you JPFMovies fans.)

And then there are the truly sweet parts of the film.  Nameless and Sky stopping their fight to give coins to the blind Biwa player, asking him to play on as they duel.  The calligraphy teacher telling his students to keep practicing even as arrows rain down through the school’s roof and walls.  Broken Sword’s decision not to block Snow’s fatal sword thrust, just because he needs to make a point.  The lesson being taught again and again here – let’s not miss it, please – is that it’s not about WHETHER you live or die.  It’s about HOW you live or die.  That’s the point of all the etiquette.  It’s not some cute cultural reference or cinematic device – not ultimately – what it’s about, is dignity.  

Some movies are all plot. Some are all about the character development – and/or the cast. Some movies focus purely on cinematography.  Some movies push a strong moral. This movie does it all.

Finally, I know JPFmovies has been waiting a long time (probably more than six months) for this review.  But now do you see why?  Any sort of proper consideration of this movie takes a person in a million different directions.  How can it even fit in a blog post?  In 800 words or so all I have done is to sketch the outlines of Hero for you.  Can you blame me for taking so long to write this?  (JPFmovies can!)

Go forth and watch this rose of a movie, but just a little at a time, as if you were eating a box of chocolates – I know it’s Christmas, but that’s no reason to stuff yourself.

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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That is right the co-founder of JPFmovies DT comes in from out of the cold and looks at 13 Assassins (the 2010 version) Or Vigilante Justice—Samurai Style.

The film is a remake of Eiichi Kudo’s 1963 black-and-white Japanese film of the same name, Jûsan-nin no shikaku and is based on a true story.  The film opens up with a bang as a nobleman commits seppuku to make an appeal to the Shogun (it sure must have been an important appeal) because the younger brother of the current Shogun (the equivalent of a prince) is roaming the country committing atrocities against his own people.

The Shogun’s administration goes to any length to cover up the prince’s behavior to prevent embarrassing the Shogun and his lineage.  But the prince goes too far, he rapes a young lady while staying at an inn and when his deed is discovered by her newlywed husband, the prince kills him and out of shame she kills herself.  To make matters worse, to protect himself from any revenge and against direct orders from the Shogun, the prince murders all of the victims’ relatives—including women and children—save one, a women whose limbs were cut off and tongue taken out that the prince left alive as a “toy.” The senior advisor to the Shogun shows a friend of his (who was also victimized by the prince) what is left of the prince’s handiwork and gives his tacit behind the scenes directive to kill this maniac.

 

The samurai begins his mission by recruiting ten men from his own clan to volunteer for what looks like a suicide mission and even convinces his lay about nephew to join the cause (so we are at 11 assassins at this point).  After assembling these 11 warriors from within, he hires one ronin for 200 ryo (the currency at that time) and in a rather ballsy move goes to meet with his former classmate who is in charge of protecting the sadistic prince and in a roundabout way says they will soon meet on the road under combat conditions.

 

The band of assassins begins preparing themselves to carry out their mission.  They know that the prince is in transit to his home province and realize that their only chance to kill him is before the prince makes it to his castle.  While the prince’s procession is en route, they try to take a different road through the territory of another clan, but the procession is stopped at the border and told to turn around because the lord controlling the province will not have anything to do with the prince and his procession. 

 

So the procession is forced to take the conventional route which passes through a village the assassins had engineered to maximize their chances of killing the sadistic prince.  On the way to the village, the samurai get lost and come across a mountain man trapped in a tree.  They free the trapped man because they find out the man has been tied up simply for hitting on his lords wife.  To thank the samurai the mountain man offers to be their guide and get them back to the village.  Once they arrive at the village the mountain man expresses his distaste for samurais and their arrogance as well as their adherence to some abstract outdated code.  The procession begins to arrive shortly after the tongue lashing and the samurai tells the mountain man that this is not his fight and he is free to go.  The mountain man retorts that the samurai are not god’s gifts to warfare and that he is going to stay and fight to show them a thing or two by using his sling and rocks.  Because they have no time to argue, the mountain man becomes the thirteenth assassin.

 

As the battle begins the prince’s soldiers begin to die left and right, but the odds are still against the assassins as it is thirteen against 200 and they make a tactical mistake by not fully utilizing their own defenses and start to fight hand to hand before they need to.  Just watching these guys get through obstacle after obstacle to get to the prince is exciting but exhausting.  Eventually, two assassins corner the prince and kill him.  Then the mountain man (who has a short sword stuck shear through his throat) shows up and the remaining three of the 13 left leave the scene.

Back at the ranch, word of the prince’s death reaches the castle.  The administration needs to save face so they put out the official story explaining that the prince died of an illness rather than being killed by vigilantes.

Over all I think the movie kicks ass and is an all-around excellent film.  The movie not only has great martial arts action, but the story engages you to the point of making you wanting to revolt with the 13 assassins as well.  On a different level, the film relays problems of the samurai way of life, showing the huge self-imposed burdens samurais carry on their shoulders and does a very good job of depicting the amoral aspects of the samurai code.  For instance, the prince’s protector always justifies and rationalizes his conduct by saying it is not his place to question but only to obey.  The movie shows how the samurai fall because there is no room for that way of life in the modern age—because the samurai used words like honor and duty to defend the indefensible, their way of life needed to come to a close.  The irony really hits home at the end when the slacker nephew is told by his dying uncle to drop the way of the sword and seek a new way of life.  The mountain man asks the nephew what he is going to do and the nephew replies that he will become a bandit and take a boat to America. 

 

This movie also distinguishes its self because in today’s typical Hollywood film all of the loose ends would have been tied nice and neatly with the good guys winning over the evil prince and everyone goes home happy.  13 Assassins, however, does not leave you with the typical good triumphed over evil feeling.  Instead, it is more of a tragedy because all of the truly righteous samurai have died during the mission while the amoral (even corrupt) samurai depicted by the nephew survives drops the way of the sword and wants to become a bandit outside of homeland Japan.  I think the final line of the movie was brief but powerful with lots of layers that comment on the state of Japanese society.  What may look like on its face as a simple samurai ninja movie is actually a complex commentary on the inevitable changes in Japanese whether they be for better or worse.   

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Punishment Park—A “Mock-Documentary” that Easily Passes for a Real Documentary.

Peter Watkins made this movie in 1971, when I was born, but it is startling to see Watkins’ prophecy of deprivations of freedom in today’s context — as our country’s civil liberties are flushed away under the Homeland Security and “Patriot” Acts.

The film starts with a reading from the The Internal Security Act (a.k.a the Subversive Activities Control Act, McCarran Act – after Pat McCarran – or ISA) of 1950, a United States federal law that required the registration of Communist organizations with the United States Attorney General and established the Subversive Activities Control Board to investigate persons suspected of engaging in “subversive activities” or “otherwise promoting the establishment of a ‘totalitarian dictatorship, fascist or communist.’” Members of these groups could not become citizens, and in some cases, were prevented from entering or leaving the country. Citizen-members could be denaturalized in five years.  This abomination was passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress, which actually overrode President Harry S. Truman’s veto to pass this bill.  Truman called the bill “the greatest danger to freedom of speech, press, and assembly since the Alien and Sedition Laws of 1798.”

Specifically the film narrator begins:

“Under the provision under Title II of the 1950 Internal Security Act, also known as the McCarran Act, the president of the United States of America is still authorized without further approval by Congress to determine an event of insurrection within the United States and to declare the existence of an internal security emergency. The resident is then authorized to apprehend and detain each person as to whom there is reasonable ground to believe they probably will engage in certain future acts of sabotage.”

The Act was activated by Nixon during the civil unrest as the controversy in Vietnam escalated.  Luckily over the next 20 years, many of the Act’s provisions were declared unconstitutional and almost totally repealed by 1990, only to be replaced by the Patriot and Homeland Security Acts recently enacted into law.  These facts make Punishment Park, in my opinion, just as relevant and powerful today as they were almost 40 years ago.

The film had a total budget of $66,000, with an additional $25,000 when the film was converted to 35 mm and is shot as a typical documentary.  It was so believable that Dr. H and I had to assure a third party that this was in fact a mock-documentary and not historical footage.

The film is made from the perspective of a British news crew — the U.S. has created a network of detention centers called Punishment Parks to deal with prison overcrowding and help train law enforcement.  At this particular Punishment Park in the California desert, arrested dissidents are tried by a truly kangaroo court and when they are all found guilty, they have a choice between lengthy imprisonment in the federal prison system or three days in the park.  Once released into the park, the recently convicted are released in bunches as numbered ‘Corrective Groups’ – and given three days to make it 50 miles through a deadly desert to an American flag.  But they must  evade police capture; they have a two-hour head start. It’s left somewhat up in the air as to what will happen if they reach the flag.  They are assured that they will not be killed if they surrender when caught.

As the dissidents (ranging from black power extremists to pacifists and draft dodgers) are brought into the kangaroo court, nothing more than an army tent set up in the desert, they are grilled by the multifarious group of conservative civilians. The defendants are rarely allowed to state their positions and law, due process and a fact finding jury are not even a pretense in the proceedings.  Each defendant is bound and gagged at some point and forcibly removed from the kangaroo court.
While the film is of the vicious kind, it is skilled and wise enough to (initially) leave room for doubt here.  Punishment Park is not just a horror film illustrating the potential for fascism in America; more importantly the mock-documentary shows us how opposing sides harden themselves against each other, how misunderstandings mixed with prejudice build to tragedy.  The police and soldiers hunting the Corrective Group down are shown as a rough bunch, but even they are given the benefit of the doubt.  After an unarmed prisoner is shot, the camera charges in on the Guardsman who did it, the filmmaker screaming bloody murder while the wide-eyed stammering 18-year-old kid in a too-big uniform looks not evil but just terrified and sick at what he’s done.

The ending is also tragic.  Those who made it through the desert to the American flag are met by a squad of the authorities who execute them on site to prevent them from going free, refusing to live up to their part of the bargain.

Many of the reviews I read about this movie called the premises “thin” — perhaps, but why then do many people believe that Punishment Park is a real documentary not a mock-documentary?

An excellent film you should see particularly if you are concerned about the erosion of freedom and civil liberties in this or any other country.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Mike C Comes in With Some Thoughts on Red Cliff.

Red Cliff Part 1 & 2:

I’ll say this much about the movie – I hope they recycled those arrows. No wonder we worry about the green house effect and global warming! How many trees did the battle scenes take to produce all those arrows?

If this is based on a true story, then this event certainly reduced the human population of China and saved all of us from over population! I mean, if that many soldiers died, imagine what the world would be like today if they hadn’t!

Overall great movie. I don’t often like reading subtitles, but I gave it a shot. Lots of action. Lots of arrows.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2010 in Movie Reviews

 

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