2012, TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System), 146 min, Japan, Dir: Shinji Higuchi, Isshin Inudo

In 1590, powerful warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Masachika Ichimura) seeks to unify all of Japan under his rule. One of the last holdouts is Oshi Castle - often referred to as the Floating Castle – which is surrounded by an enormous lake. Hideyoshi sends his right-hand man, General Ishida (Yusuke Kamiji), and 20,000 soldiers to take the castle, which is defended by only 500 men. The death of his father leaves control of the castle with Narita Nagachika (a bravura Mansai Nomura), but the clumsy child king fails to gather the support of any of the other samurai except childhood friend Tanba (Koichi Sato). But Nagachika refuses to acquiesce to Hideyoshi’s army, and through a mix of self-deprecating humor and unconventional tactics, he is slowly able to connect with the people and fight alongside the hardened samurai who once doubted him. Half David-and-Goliath, against-all-odds jidaigeki and half broad slapstick comedy, FLOATING CASTLE pays tribute to films like Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI (or even 300) while also being cheeky enough in its homage to have fun with its character archetypes. While the film packs in the action and laughs (especially from Nomura’s wild antics), there is also a rather stunning flood sequence that was the cause of an 18-month delay to the theatrical release. When viewed in light of the tragedy of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, it makes for one of the most somber and powerful scenes in Japanese cinema this year. In Japanese with English subtitles.

2006, Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, 139 min, USA, Dir: Mel Gibson

The decline is near for the Mayan civilization. Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) lives a peaceful existence in the jungle, which is brutally interrupted when barbaric Mayans pillage his village and he is captured for sacrifice with many of his fellow tribesmen. Determined to take back his ancestors’ way of life, he makes a harrowing and bloody escape in director Mel Gibson's kinetic, gore-filled spectacle. Taking cues from THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME and THE NAKED PREY, among other "survival of the fittest" chase films, Gibson crafts a truly apocalyptic action masterpiece. In Yukatek (Mayan) with English subtitles.

2011, Wrekin Hill/Row 1, 145 min, China, Dir: Zhang Yimou

Based on the novel 'The 13 Women Of Nanjing,' this epic war drama is set in 1937 during the second Sino-Japanese War. Oscar-winner Christian Bale plays John Haufman, an American missionary at a Catholic church in Nanjing, China. When the Japanese invade, a group of schoolgirls and local prostitutes seek sanctuary on the church grounds and Haufman becomes their protector. One of the most expensive productions ever mounted in China, THE FLOWERS OF WAR expertly balances terrifying battle sequences with intimate personal moments as the world closes in on these young women and their priest. In Mandarin and English.

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