Tokyo Family x Tokyo Story

Ozu Yasujiro (小津 安二郎) is one of the greatest Japanese film directors of all time. It saddens me that many of my Japanese friends have not seen his films, not even the internationally acclaimed Tokyo Story, 1953 ( 東京物語).  I spent hundreds of hours watching and analysing his films at Uni, so when I saw that Yamada Yoji (山田 洋次) had done a modern take on Tokyo Story, I was naturally very curious. To be honest, I had no idea Tokyo Family 2013 (東京家族), was a remake before I watched the film and I am glad I waited until afterward to see what others had said about it.

It would seem that many reviewers thought Tokyo Family was a flop. I never think it’s a good idea to compare originals to remakes, as it doesn’t allow the new film to be judged on its own merits.  That said, I’m torn as to how I feel about the film, regardless of it being an homage to Ozu or not.  Yamada adds Ozu-esque touches, such as long takes, where the camera rarely moves; using head-and-shoulder shots of characters looking and speaking directly at the camera; or low-angle shots of two characters sitting side by side, but something seems mismatched or not entirely fluid. The shots of the elderly couple and the shots of their youngest son and his girlfriend — Japan’s past and Japan’s future — don’t seem to flow very well together. It almost feels like the various scenes are from two different films slapped together.

The story varies slightly to reflect the uncertainties of Japan, post 3/11.  But the mentions of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami are so fleeting and serve only to superficially bring us into the present that it comes across as an afterthought and therefore, rather insincere. The taxi scene where the driver navigates the elderly couple through the suburbs of Tokyo via GPS works well but the rest doesn’t seem to work for me. Perhaps Yamada does this intentionally, as his focus is on conveying that despite changing times, some things still remain the same. Children will always be too busy for their elderly parents until it’s too late.

So where do I stand with Tokyo Family? Despite my criticisms, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy the film. I blubbered away despite knowing how the film would end — it’s sad to lose a loved one, especially a mum so sweet, no matter what times we live in. All in all, I would recommend the film, if not only so that you will want to learn more about Ozu and because I absolutely adore Tsumabuki Satoshi (妻夫木聡). And being that I seem to be drawn to period dramas these days (still struggling to cope with having to wait an eternity for the return of Downton Abbey and Mr. Selfridge) I am also keen to see Yamada Yoji’s newest film, The Little House 2014 (小さいおうち) in the hopes that we’ll get to see some of Yamada’s own unique style, and because I’m a huge fan of Matsu Takako (松たか子).

Rating: 3.8/5

Which Earl Grey Are You?

I’ve been busy sipping tea and taking note of all the different Earl Grey blends Twinings has to offer. I was a bit surprised that the original Earl Grey didn’t quite tickle my fancy (I suppose I’ll always compare it to Fortnum and Mason’s more refined blend) and if I were to choose any cup of Twinings Earl Grey tea, I’d have to say Lavender Earl Grey wins. Which Earl Grey are you?

Twingins Earl Grey VarietiesEarl Grey

Rating: 3.8/5

Light, fragrant and with a distinctive bergamot and lemon flavour, or so it should be! This Earl Grey is good, but I still find that Fortnum and Mason’s Earl Grey to be much more fragrant and refined. I like the bergamot to be a bit more distinct, but not overpowering. That said, proper Twinings Earl Grey is much better than the tea distributed by Twinings International (which I’ve had the misfortune of trying), which tastes stale and flavourless!

Jasmine Earl Grey

Rating: 3/5

“There’s nothing like the fresh aroma of Jasmine” — I agree, but if only you could taste it! I love Jasmine tea and love Earl Grey as they are both incredibly fragrant teas so was excited to try this. In a word — disappointing. The Jasmine was too faint and in the end the tea tasted like a slightly bitter Earl Grey and was not what I’d hoped it to be. It wasn’t bad, but I was looking forward to the lovely scent and taste of jasmine and came away empty handed so I unfortunately cannot rate it any higher than a 3.

Lavender Earl Grey

Rating: 4.3/5

What a lovely refreshing floral tea! You can definitely smell the scent of lavender and like Rose Garden, the tea tastes as it smells so there are no false expectations. This tea would make a great after dinner tea or anytime you need a refreshing cuppa. While I did thoroughly enjoy every sip of the Lavender Earl Grey, Rose Garden still remains my favourite among the floral tea range.

Blossom Earl Grey

Rating: 4.2/5

Having no expectations of Blossom Earl Grey, and as odd as it may sound, I approached this cup of tea with great excitement and curiosity. The aroma of the blossom wasn’t too overpowering and tasted as it smelled — I think that’s a bit part of the test for me, if something tastes as it smells. A lovely blend of sweet orange blossom flavour and citrus bergamot, this tea passed with flying colours!

Floral Tea: Rose Garden

Rose Garden TwiningsRating: 4.5/5 

Rose Garden is a black tea lightly flavoured with rose petals and not only does it smell beautiful it actually tastes wonderful — a rare occasion where scent matches taste. I must admit I was rather skeptical before I opened up the packet but now I just want more.  I was utterly amazed by how fragrant the tea is, not to mention also extremely refreshing and soothing. It’s no wonder it  won the Great Taste Award 2012.  I’m relieved to know that Rose Garden is no longer a limited edition tea and is now permanently available, which is good news for me!

Do you have a favourite brand of rose tea that you reckon is better than Twinings?

My Bloody Valentine: Not Everyone’s Cuppa Tea

I’m really not sure what all the fuss was about when My Bloody Valentine finally released their album m b v, 22 years after predecessor Loveless.  MBV’s music isn’t everyone’s cuppa tea and it certainly is not for me.  I think you need to be on drugs to really appreciate the racket that come out of the band. Their song, Who Sees You sounds like a broken record and makes me want to slit my wrists. It’s eerie and depressing, like many others. In Nothing Is, I wonder if anything is going to happen but nothing does. It’s like someone recorded a riff, put it on repeat and let it play out for 3 minutes. Hardly musical genius.

I tried very had to appreciate the music (can we even call it that?) that was thrust forth and devoured by so many eager fans but I simply could not wrap my head around it. Perhaps my opinion will be like a voice in the wilderness but I’m not alone in my feelings as you’ll see on the Guardian’s poll of the album. Right. So 94% of people who have listened to the new album are obviously people that like the band to start and the 6% are either unimpressed fans or people that simply loathe their music (i.e., moi). But don’t take my word for it.  Have a listen to the entire album below and let us know what you think!

Rating: 2.7/5

The Day Is Dark

The fourth book in the crime novel series by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir features Thóra Gudmundsdóttir and the return of Matthew Reich. It is set in a remote and completely dreadful part of Greenland.

Nothing about the way Greendland is described in the book would entice most ‘normal’ people to visit but it seems incredibly fascinating and spiritual to me. Not to mention, it makes for a perfectly atmospheric crime novel setting. Perhaps due to the bizarre events leading up to the discovery of the truth, I didn’t find the premise of The Day is Dark as believable as the previous books. That said, Yrsa, as always, does a fantastic job at building up the suspense and keeping readers in the chilling dark until the very end. I was also happy to finally see Matthew back in Thóra’s life!

Yrsa’s first three books moved at a quicker pace but I still enjoyed this one just the same. I look forward to reading her next book, I Remember You, which is available at Amazon for pre-order.

Rating: 4/5

Ashes To Dust

Ashes To Dust is the third book of the crime novel series by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir featuring the beloved heroine, Thóra Gudmundsdóttir. In this enthralling book we follow her to Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands) where bodies are discovered, along with a severed head, in the basement of a house that is part of of an excavation project to uncover houses that were buried during the eruption of Eldfell volcano. While trying to prove her client’s innocence, she ends up bringing to light the truth about murders that had practically gone unnoticed for decades.

Having recently seen a documentary about the 1973 eruption on Heimaey at Volcano House in Reykjavik (which I highly recommend), vivid images of the eruption served as a gripping backdrop to the story as I quickly turned page after page to find out what really happened on that fateful day.  Yrsa, in a word, is a genius! She kept me guessing the entire time and it wasn’t until the very end of the book that we find out the shocking truth.

Like with Yrsa’s other books, I highly recommend this one, either as a stand alone or continuation of an incredibly well written series. They just get better and better! That said, if you’ve read My Soul To Take and Last Rituals you may be disappointed to find that Matthew Reich doesn’t feature alongside Thóra this time and we still don’t really know what will become of their relationship. Not that their romance is key to Thóra’s crime solving but it adds more colour to the story and to her likeability.

I’m now looking forward to finishing Yrsa’s fourth book, The Day Is Dark, which has oddly inspired me to visit Greenland someday!

Rating: 5/5

My Soul To Take

Do you believe in ghosts? You may start to after reading Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s second book, My Soul To Take, which follows Thóra Gudmundsdóttir (the heroine of Last Rituals) to West Iceland where a murder is committed at a health resort on a newly renovated farmhouse. Her investigations lead to the discovery of some disturbing truths from the past in addition to another murder nearby the resort.  I literally could not put this book down and stayed up to the wee hours of the morning to finish it.

There seem to be so many more possible murder suspects in this story, and with all its twists and turns, it may be helpful to write out a list of characters as they appear.  You don’t necessarily have to read the books in order as they can easily hold their own as stand alone books, but if you haven’t read any of Yrsa’s books before I would recommend starting with her first. As silly as it may sound, I am kind of glad that I read this book after we visited West Iceland as I may have been a bit spooked to explore the towns near Borgarnes and the Hvalfjörður Tunnel.

Matthew Reich also reappears in the second book and I was hoping something more would become of his relationship with Thóra, but it seems we will have to just wait and see what happens!  If you thought Last Rituals was good, you’ll definitely want to read My Soul To Take as it’s even more dark and chilling, well-written, pacey and incredibly convincing. I could have sworn I heard a child crying when I went to bed last night.

Rating: 5/5

Last Rituals

While browsing for gifts in IÐA, a display of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s novels caught my eye . I flipped through a few of the books and was intrigued. Due to space limitations in our luggage I decided to purchase them upon our return home. I was looking forward to reading my first Icelandic crime novel, or anything Icelandic for that matter, and was keen to find out what all the hype was about as Yrsa is arguably the most famous contemporary crime novelist from Iceland (not to mention a successful civil engineer and acclaimed children’s novelist as well).

I thought it fitting to start with Yrsa’s first novel, Last Rituals (Þriðja táknið), which turned out to be a surprisingly funny book given the dark subject matter.  It was exciting to follow Thóra Gudmundsdóttir and Matthew Reich on their investigation of Harald Guntlieb’s murder as it took us throughout the southern coast and passed through places like Hella, Hekla and Skálholt, all familiar spots from our recent South Iceland adventure. The Blue Lagoon even made an appearance toward the end!

You don’t necessarily have to have been to Iceland to appreciate the setting but it certainly does make it more engaging when you’re able to conjure up images of all the places in your head. And if you haven’t been to Iceland yet I hope that this novel will inspire you  to go! This is a great mystery with so many unexpected twists and turns and as I was reading I kept thinking this would make a great film!  Intensely disturbing, yet sprinkled with the right amount of humour to lighten the story. Not to mention, Thóra and Matthew are incredibly likeable and make a funny duo.

Not that it’s a problem for me, but my only criticism might be that the translation is very British and it might not be easy for non-Brits to follow, on top of all the Icelandic names.  But hey, it is an Icelandic novel so I guess it’s a non-issue after all.  I look forward to reading more of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s works.

Rating: 4.5/5

The Hunger Games (2012)

The world was certainly watching as fans took to the cinema at the weekend to see the film adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ enthralling Hunger Games trilogy. According to ReutersHunger Games (2012) gorged on a $214 million global debut, setting records for highest opening of a non-sequel film and biggest debut outside the summer blockbuster season.

The film did rather well in keeping with the original storyline, but it lacked so much attention to detail that in the end, and perhaps not surprisingly, I felt it didn’t do the book justice.  While some felt the film was overlong, I felt the entire story was rushed and it might be better portrayed in a three part mini-series. The characters were underdeveloped and I felt Gale Hawthorne (Liam Hemsworth) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) were miscast.  And I can’t believe I’m saying this, but the film seriously lacked in blood and gore.

All in all I can’t say the film was awful but I can’t say it was good either, even without comparing it to the book.  I didn’t feel connected to any particular character and I can’t really blame the kiddy rating for it either.  Perhaps HBO might do an adult remake of it as the premise of the story really does make for good entertainment, and it’s such a shame that the film lacked so many key elements.

Rating: 3/5

The Final Book: Mockingjay

“Fire is catching! And if we burn, you burn with us!”

                                                                       -Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

I’m not quite sure where to begin with this. I was so excited to read the final book of the amazing Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I tried so hard to like it, but unfortunately I was left disappointed by Mockingjay.

Perhaps I felt emotionally drained by all the fighting that was going on in the story–death after gruesome death and I was sick of picturing the muttations. I was also thoroughly fed up with Katniss’ inability to grasp her own feelings for Peeta or Gale.  Not to mention, she’s a bit thick. She seemed forever clueless about how to help the rebels’ cause and many unnecessary deaths occurred as a result of her lack of good judgement.

Perhaps such strong emotions should be the sign of a good book, but the writing got progressively worse and I simply wasn’t impressed. That said, I still think everyone should give the entire trilogy a read, perhaps best in one fell swoop. Be sure you have all three books handy when you begin. I can at least guarantee after completing The Hunger Games you’ll be left craving for more.

Rating: 3/5