Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Spirit of Ed Wood is Alive and Well

The Viz theater screened Sakura Sakura during the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival. Sakura is the Japanese word for cherry blossom.

Sakura Sakura starring Masaya Katô and Naomi Grace; directed by Tôru Ichikawa; Japanese with subtitles; (2010) - Official Website

Sakura Sakura is, hands down, the worst film I've ever seen the Viz. I wasn't big on Battle League Horumô but at least it seemed like it was made by professionals. Sakura Sakura is startling for its ineptitude in every facet. Sakura Sakura is a biopic of Jokichi Takamine. Who is Takamine? I'll get to that later. Set in the 1890s and 1900s, Sakura Sakura is laughable for its quality. The costumes, wardrobes, haircuts, speech patterns and locations look modern day rather than 100 years old. Partly set in the United States, some Japanese and European actors were cast in the roles of Americans. When Takamine (Katô) meets his future mother-in-law, a Southern belle, at the New Orleans World Fair, I clearly recognized her as a Japanese woman. The actress was credited as "Caiya" and I think she was half-Japanese.

Anyway, this may have been forgiven if the plot was interesting enough. Takamine invented crystallized adrenaline and Takadiastase, an enzyme which aids digestion. Takamine lived for extended periods in the US and married an American woman in the early 1900s. All this should have made for an amazing movie but instead, we get a bloated and nonsensical plot. Takamine careens from one project to the next (each time failing) before hitting upon Takadiastase. How he achieved such a discovery working in primitive conditions (and wearing ugly vest that looked like was from the 1980s) is beyond me. His American wife (Naomi Grace) looks half-Asian like her on-screen mother. Towards the end of the film, her Japanese sounds more natural than her English. That may be because Naomi Grace is a popular jazz singer in Japan. I hope she sings better than she acts because her performance was stiff and laughable. I shouldn't criticize Grace too much because the dialog she was given was stiff and laughable.

I can't really articulate how horrible this film was. The closest film I can remember that was on this level was a SF IndieFest film from nearly a decade ago called Bettie Page: Dark Angel - another fascinating topic rendered sleeping inducing by a weak plot and unskilled director. I'd rate this film a 9 as in Plan 9 from Outer Space. New People should be deeply embarrassed to have screen this film. Here's the scary part, if you look up director Tôru Ichikawa's credits on IMDB, it appears he released a sequel to Sakura Sakura earlier this month. The film is called Takamine and has Katô and Grace reprise their roles as Mr. & Mrs. Takamine.

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