Shinjuku has never been short of movie theaters. The heart of Tokyo’s downtown has everything from multiplexes to fleapit cinemas but nothing that came before quite compares to the arrival last month of one of the cities greatest foes. Godzilla, King of the Monsters, has appeared across the city’s skyline to take permanent residence and mark the opening of the area’s first IMAX cinema. The full-scale model of the cinematic icon’s head gazes down from the adjacent Godzilla-themed hotel as patrons get to enjoy the biggest and best screen in the city. Check out the newest cinema in town this May and the fine selection of deliciously dark fantasy, sci-fi and more that are accompanying it.
Chappie—Out May 22
South African director Neill Blomkamp has returned to the mean streets of Johannesburg, where he started his film career with breakthrough hit “District 9,” to tell the tale of robot cop CHAPPiE. This time around instead of tackling issues of social segregation and shrimp-faced immigrant aliens, we have a police force who have decided to deploy mechanized droids in an effort to combat escalating crime. One such robot is stolen and reprogrammed by its creator only to be hijacked by a group of gangsters just as it develops the ability to think and feel like a human. The higher-ups aren’t impressed with this new perceived threat and set out to ensure CHAPPiE is the world’s first—and last—freethinking droid. The film features Blomkamp’s old “District 9” pal Sharlto Copley behind the voice and motion-capture of the lead robot, with human roles for Dev Patel, Sigourney Weaver and Hugh Jackman. Music fans will want to check out the first feature film appearances of Yolandi and Ninja, members of the South African zef rap-rave group Die Antwoord. With “District 9” and follow up “Elysium,” the writer/director proved himself adept at creating gritty, dystopian sci-fi worlds with a socially conscious edge and CHAPPiE looks set to continue that trend.
The Zero Theorem—Out May 16
Like Neill Blomkamp, veteran director Terry Gilliam also has an eye for satirically dystopian sci-fi. With the likes of “Brazil” and “Twelve Monkeys,” Gilliam crafted unique visions of some pretty dark, Kafkaesque worlds and he’s going back to the future with his latest, “The Zero Theorem.” The film stars Christoph Waltz as eccentric programmer Qohen Leth, a man living alone in a burnt out church and tasked with discovering the meaning of life—or its lack of one. His isolation is interrupted by a series of visits from an assortment of oddball characters including his boss Management (Matt Damon), therapist Dr. Shrink ROM (Tilda Swinton) and love-interest/possible spy Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry). What’s more, while attempting to solve the enigmatic Zero Theorem, the angst-ridden Qohen is plagued by nightmares involving a black hole. Waltz has won two Best Supporting Actor Oscars for his work with Quentin Tarantino in “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained” and it’s good to see the actor take a much-deserved starring role. Despite the existential dread, you can expect a darkly comic thread to run throughout this work from idiosyncratic director and former Monty Python-man Gilliam.
Horns—Out May 9
At one point it seemed certain Daniel Radcliffe would forever be known as Harry Potter but the young actor has done an impressive job kicking against his fate by taking a series of interesting roles in a diverse set of films. After starring in excellent period horror “The Women in Black” and Beat poet biography “Kill Your Darlings,” Radcliff has returned with supernatural fantasy comedy “Horns.” Director Alexandre Aja seems to delight in subverting our impressions of ever-boyish literary heroes: his last film, “Maniac,” saw doe-eyed former hobbit Elijah Wood star as a perverted murderer. In “Horns,” Radcliffe is Ig Perrish, the prime suspect for the rape and murder of his girlfriend. After awakening one morning after a night of heavy drinking, Ig finds a pair of horns beginning to sprout from his head. The horns appear to make people want to reveal their most secret desires to Ig, a useful tool for the young man to track down his girlfriend’s killer and exact revenge.
Lost River—Out May 30
The directorial debut of celebrated actor Ryan Gosling, “Lost River” is a neo-noir fantasy involving a woman swept into a sinister underworld and her teenage son’s quest into the mysterious origins of their hometown. Unsurprisingly for one of the finest young actors around at the moment, Gosling has assembled a stellar cast of up-and-coming talents for his film. Iain De Caestecker, currently the best thing about Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” TV show, takes the lead as teenage son Bones, “Mad Men” femme-fatale Christina Hendricks plays single mother Billy, former Doctor Who Matt Smith is gang boss Bully, and “The Lovely Bones’” Saoirse Ronan plays young runaway Rat. Gosling’s wife and “The Place Beyond the Pines” co-star Eva Mendes also appears. Despite its stellar cast and interesting premise, critics have not been kind to the film, which premiered at last years Cannes festival. Nevertheless, fans of the actor’s work with Nicholas Winding Refn in “Drive” and “Only God Forgives” may find something to enjoy in this unique and macabre world that hints at good things to come from Gosling.
Miss Hokusai—Out May 9
With legendary animation studio Ghibli currently on a break in production, it’s time for other studios to step up and fill the void left in its wake. Production I.G. have been a front-runner in the anime world for years, having produced such classics as “Ghost in The Shell” and “The End of Evangelion” while showing a softer side with recent hit “A Letter To Momo.” The company’s latest, “Miss Hokusai,” continues in a similar vein. Based on the manga “Sarusuberi” by Hinako Sugiura, the film is set in Edo-era Tokyo, a place of samurai, merchants, peasants and courtesans. Into this world steps O-Ei, the third daughter of short-tempered yet astoundingly talented artist Tetsuzo. The 23-year-old has inherited her father’s stubbornness but also his talent, which she uses to paint on his behalf—though she is uncredited for her work. This is the untold story of the young woman who greatly contributed to a master who decades later would achieve fame beyond the shores of Japan for his magnificent art. There’s a wealth of talent in the team behind the film, including award-winning director Keiichi Hara; chief animator Yoshimi Itazu, who worked on Miyazaki’s swan song “The Wind Rises”; and background artist Hiroshi Onohose whose credits include “A Letter to Momo” and “The Wolf Children.”
Deadman’s Inferno—Out May 16
Premiering at this year’s Okinawa International Movie Festival, “Deadman’s Inferno” (Japanese title: “Z-Island”) is a zombie action-comedy from Director Hiroshi Shinagawa. Having won the festival’s top prize last year with box-office hit “One Third,” Shinagawa returns with a story of aged yakuza taking on the undead with the obligatory high-kicking schoolgirls thrown into the mix. Popular actor Shô Aikawa (Dead or Alive series) leads the charge as an ex-yakuza forced into the quiet life years ago when rival gang members took out his gang in a bloody street showdown. When loyal subordinate Takashi is released from jail, the pair team up and head to an island to retrieve the jailbird’s wayward daughter, only to discover the island is now overrun by the living dead. While locating the girl and battling the zombie menace in order to get off the island the retired yakuza may just get a stab at revenge, as their old enemies also turn up on Z Island. A top cast of Japanese stars and comedians partake in the bloody fun in this zombie vs. gangsters action-fest.
Best of the Rest
Make Room: Revealing what goes on backstage at an adult video shoot, real-life Japanese AV actresses take on the leading roles to show the highs and lows behind the curtain of the porn industry. (May 9)
The Maze Runner: Continuing Hollywood’s trend in adapting young-adult fiction, this latest effort sees a boy awaken in a strange land with no idea how he got there and a deadly maze preventing any escape. (May 22)
An: Sweet natured drama starring veteran actress Kirin Kiki (“Still Walking”) as an elderly woman who helps revive the business of a small bakery thanks to her secret sweet red bean paste recipe. (May 30)
Dying of the Light: Paul Schrader directs Nicholas Cage as a CIA agent on the hunt for a terrorist who tortured him years earlier. (May 1)
Shinjuku Swan: The latest from one of Japan’s leading auteurs, Sono Shion (“Suicide Club,” “Cold Fish”), is set in the world of the scouts who prowl Kabukicho looking for women to lure into the sex industry. (May 30)