The Wolverine

The Wolverine has everything a summer blockbuster needs to have: Epic battles! Cool effects! Menacing villains! Triumphant (despite flaws) heroes! Asian characters! Robots! 3-D!

Bonus points to The Wolverine for also having arrow-wielding Ninja warriors!

The Wolverine has a relatively complex plot involving a Japanese family’s internal rivalries. Logan, the Wolverine himself (Hugh Jackman, in a non-singing role), meanwhile, is fraught with haunting memories of past horrors and of Jean Grey (Famke Janssen), fellow mutant and former squeeze.

The film opens with the Nagasaki A-bomb explosion in 1945. As the bomb’s fireball approaches, prisoner Logan takes Japanese soldier Yashida into the hole where he has been confined. In so doing, he saves the soldier’s life.

Decades later, as Yashida, now a wealthy industrialist, lies on his deathbed, he summons Logan to Tokyo to thank him for saving his life. (The elder Yashida is played by Hal Yamanouchi.) Logan is delivered there by Yukio (Rila Fukushima), a feisty woman with unnaturally bright red hair, who seems to pop up at opportune times throughout the movie.

Yashida has willed his empire not to his son but to his granddaughter Makiro (Tao Okamoto). Yashida asks Logan to protect Makiro from her father and his henchmen.

Among Yashida’s employees is another mutant, Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova) whose intentions are not always clear. Hers is not the only character whose motives and allegiances seem to shift during the course of the movie.

The Wolverine has one of its epic battles atop a bullet train. Train top face-offs are nothing new, but this one is memorable, in part because of the train’s apparent high speed.

The ultimate epic showdown happens within a multi-story mountainside lair, where a shiny metal creature jumps into the fray. Is it a robot or is this a spectacular suit of knightly armor?

The Wolverine meets all the requirements listed above. It features (according to many) the most popular of the X-Men. Hugh Jackman is excellent in the role, as usual.

But the movie has some pacing issues. It gets a bit bogged down in the middle, only to provide an awesome payoff with first, the Ninjas, and then, the finale. In a summer full of action blockbusters, The Wolverine ranks near the top of the heap.

Emperor

Emperor gives Matthew Fox of TV’s Lost fame a lead movie role alongside heavyweight actor Tommy Lee Jones. Happily, Fox is up to the task in a movie that examines Japanese culture and American attitudes toward postwar Japan.

Emperor is a dramatization of real life events following the Japanese surrender. The title character is Hirohito and the story revolves around whether the victorious US should hang him for war crimes.

General Douglas MacArthur (played by Jones) orders General Bonner Fellers (played by Fox) to investigate and determine whether the emperor sanctioned the attack at Pearl Harbor or was not involved in decisions made by the country’s political leaders.

Adding an element of interest to the story is Fellers’ old flame, a Japanese woman named Aya (played by Eriko Hatsune) who was an exchange student as his college. When he was stationed in the Philippines in the months before the war, Fellers visited the woman in Japan and fell more deeply in love with her and the country. She is introduced via flashbacks. Fellers has hopes of finding her alive, despite the devastation brought on by US bombing attacks.

Emperor demonstrates a strong respect for Japanese people and shows the devotion the nation’s citizens had for the emperor in 1945. Some of the Japanese characters also acknowledge that they committed barbaric acts during the war. The film presents occupying American military personnel, led by MacArthur, as people intent on helping Japan climb out of the rubble. But first, there are wrongs to be righted.

Upon setting up in Tokyo, the Americans quickly make simultaneous surprise raids on the homes of 29 suspected war criminals. 26 are detained; the others commit suicide. Then after some intense detective work comes Fellers’ report of Hirohito, which leads to a surprising action by MacArthur.

Director Peter Webber does an efficient job of retelling a little-remembered chapter from 20th century history. The characters and the story are interesting and compelling. Emperor is an entertaining, well-made, occasionally emotional, movie for grownups.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi—–(Raw Talent)

Jiro Ono is a man with amazing talent and dedication. His sushi bar in Tokyo has three Michelin stars. He’s 85 years old and still going strong.

This movie is a “must see” for chefs and foodies. You will be impressed by the intense labor that goes into sourcing and preparation of what, when plated, appears to be simple food.

Fans of Japanese culture will love JDOS because we get a look at real Japanese people in their real lives. The film, directed by American David Gelb, is in Japanese with subtitles.

The movie, like the sushi, is presented simply. We see the work in the sushi bar, a visit to the fish market, the training of apprentices and an octopus massage. In the movie, we learn that you should massage your octopus for 40-45 minutes to make it taste right, not 30 minutes, which is apparently enough for some sushi sellers.

Jiro’s story is told by Jiro himself, his two sons, a former employee and a Japanese food writer.

Jiro recalls being on his own from a very early age. His work ethic is not unlike that of Americans raised during the Depression. (Except my father retired in his early 60’s. Jiro works on.) And, yes, Jiro admits that he does have dreams about sushi.

Jiro’s older son works in his father’s shadow, waiting for the day when he will take over. His younger son has his own sushi place, but still receives supervision from his father.

The food writer points out the qualities necessary to excel in the food biz and does not find Jiro lacking in any way. He mentions Jiro’s high level of excellence, which, through numerous meals he’s eaten there, has never fallen short.

JDOS is punctuated by glorious shots of the various sushi dishes being served, with a nice lingering shot of each piece on the plate, clearly identified.

I recommend buying the movie house popcorn or other snacks because this movie will make you hungry. It opens Friday, April 13, at the Tivoli in University City.