Pink film director Shinji Imaoka delivers a downbeat indie drama that has its roots in the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. Written at the time of the disaster, Imaoka had just made his debut as a film director and wanted to capture the atmosphere and emotions of the situation but no production company would provide backing. It wasn’t until 2016 when Imaoka received funding from one of his fans that he could initiate the project. He began shooting his script in January 2017, finishing it in time for the 25th anniversary of the disaster. The result is a melancholy film that follows the travails of regular people left reeling from tragic caused by the earthquake.
One of the highlights of the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020 was VIDEOPHOBIA, the latest work of Daisuke Miyazaki. A frequent visitor to Osaka, many of his works are youth-focused, with Yamato (California) (2016) and Tourism (2018) being screened at the festival. His films frequently capture the cultural zeitgeist for young people as young women with smartphones navigate various issues to carve out their own niche in the world. Yet VIDEOPHOBIA comes completely out of left-field as it’s an existential horror movie where technology drives a young woman into a fog of paranoia and fear.
Filmed around the less well-known areas of the city of Osaka and shot in black and white, it is a deeply unsettling experience as we witness melancholy 20-something Ai (Tomona Hirota) have a one-night stand with a stranger only to discover that a highly explicit sex-tape has been made of the encounter. It is a shocking discovery that plunges her into a panic that gets worse the more technology manipulates and alters her perception of herself. Things get so bad that she begins to question her own sanity and identity, realizing that the only way to rectify her situation is through total dissolution of her character. The audience is prompted to think about various social issues as Miyazaki pries apart the cracks in contemporary life and how incessant exposure to technology alters how we perceive ourselves. Full review here.
Miyazaki sat down to discuss the making of the film, the real-world topics that form the basis of the story and how he hopes the audience will engage with it amidst the ironies of our always-connected social media landscape.
There are few filmmakers capturing the zeitgeist of youth culture like Daisuke Miyazaki. His characters, often smartphone-wielding young women, make their way through a chaotic world with what little resources have been given to them by society. This scarcity of support engendered a spirit of defiance in Yamato (California) (2016) and an openness for change in Tourism (2018) which helped the protagonists of those films define their own identity. VIDEOPHOBIA is Miyazaki’s darkest work yet, one that shows the shadowy side of technology as revealed through online pornography.
Takeshi Kushida’s feature debut Woman of the Photographs garnered great word of mouth at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020. Taken with Daisuke Miyazaki’s Videophobia, it was one of two films at the festival to tackle the idea of technology and social media connectivity and how they distort our view of ourselves. While the former trod a distinct techno-horror path that won it fans, Woman of the Photographs earned buzz with its kinder, almost comedic love story between two characters stuck in the past.
When misogynistic middle-aged photographer Kai (theatre actor Hideki Nagai) meets a former ballet dancer turned social media star named Kyoko (played by the dancer/actress Itsuki Otaki), a strange relationship develops as he leaves his cloistered life and gets sucked into retouching her images after she gets a particularly nasty scar. This forms the basis of a battle Kyoko engages in as she wrestles with whether to show her true self to the world or maintain a fake idealised image. Scars of the body and mind are literally and metaphorically poked and prodded for icky effect to create a story pertinent to our age, how our truth is eroded for fiction, but a seemingly unlikely love promises to snap the two out of their restrictive ways of thinking and save them.
Imaginative visual and aural design helps to create an atmospheric story. Takeshi Kushida took the time to talk his assured debut at the festival.
Writer/director Takeshi Kushida makes his feature debut with Woman of the Photographs, a story where a middle-aged photographer living a carefully controlled existence finds everything disrupted by the intrusion of a vivacious model whose presence triggers change. At 90 minutes, the film flies by but has depth as it asks questions about how people get mired in the past and confused over how to perceive themselves. With wit, drama and some special effects, the film goes beyond merely being topical and an “opposites attract” movie and becomes an absorbing drama about neuroses and love.
On July 25, at 11am & 6pm (UK time), a special edition of the Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival will be held in honour of its 10th anniversary. The festival will use its YouTube channel to present a free online screening of shorts from an all-female line-up of directors ranging from university students to the current crop of animators working today and an animation industry legend who we are celebrating with a centrepiece presentation featuring an interview we have recorded with her.
Noriko Yuasa is a director who hails from Okayama, Japan. She graduated from Tokyo Metropolitan University with a BA in Architecture before she entered Kinoshita Production, in 1999, to train as a TV Drama Director. In 2013, she went freelance as a director/producer and, since then, she has worked in both TV drama and film, specializing in project planning, directing and producing.
2015 saw her make her theatrical feature film debut, Udagawacho de matteteyo (Wait in Udagawacho), a romance which was released nationwide. This was followed by a brace of short films which showed growing confidence in her visual storytelling and approach to narrative construction, starting with Looking For My Sunflowers(2014), a story of a salaryman experiencing a shot of nostalgia in his hometown. This was followed by Girl, Wavering(2015), which used contrasting colours and poetic imagery to initiate severe tonal changes in a dramatic story of a high school girl’s life. The next film, Ordinary Everyday(2017), was a psychological horror set in downtown Tokyo that used visual and aural tricks like suddenly swathing the screen in vibrant colours to create an off-kilter atmosphere with ambiguous threats that burst out in a bonkers climax.
Yuasa’s works all feature vibrant use of colors and this factors in with her latest work, Coming Back Sunny, a short film about first love as experienced by a color-blind schoolgirl which pops and fizzes with different colors that are used to emotionally expand the story. Yuasa recently raised funds through Kickstarter to help pay for festival fees to bring the film to more audiences around the world but this campaign came at the start of the Covid-19 crisis which saw film production and exhibition around the world postponed, cancelled or forced to go online. This was something of an unprecedented event for the global film industry and so, this interview, conducted by email, was a chance to talk about the film as well as find out how the crisis has affected Yuasa’s project, and the importance of festivals.
At a time when minimalism is trending as a style in Japanese indie cinema, Noriko Yuasa distinguishes herself through adventurous use of color and editing to add to the emotional space of her works. Her colorfulness enriched Looking For My Lost Sunflowers (2014) where the bright yellow of the flowers symbolized the warmth of a salaryman’s hometown nostalgia, the sharply contrasting blues, reds and grays in Girl, Wavering (2015) reflected a teenage girl’s rough adolescence, and the visual tricks of Ordinary Everyday(2017) created a reality that became increasingly fractured until a shock ending. With her latest short film, Coming Back Sunny, Yuasa uses strong colors to visualize the emotions of a high school girl’s first encounter with love.
Coming Back Sunny follows 17-year-old Shiori (Riria Kojima) who lives in the small city of Kawagoe. Shiori suffers from achromatopsia which means she cannot distinguish between the colors red and green, both of which look brown in her eyes. Interacting with the world can be frustrating since she misses the beauty that others see. This frustration has not only left her feeling uncomfortable in social situations but has even made her prematurely misanthropic. One source of relief is her best friend, Yumi (Honoka Yoneyama), who is a constant companion and the person closest to her heart.
Normally, the festival takes place in Udine in the north of Italy, but, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, organisers made the decision to make this year’s edition totally online. The festival runs from June 26-July 4 and the movies will be shown via the streaming services mymovies.it.
This short film is about the night two men and a woman meet at a love hotel. While it sounds like a set-up for an AV film, it turns out to be a blackly comic take on a “reunion” with a bleakish ending rather than some erotic fun. Much like Human Comedy Tokyo(and much of Fukada’s oeuvre), the awkward interactions between humans are the focus of the story.
Tokyo-based rapper SEEDA used his life to inform his hit 2006 album Flowers and Rain and he goes a step further as all of this forms the basis of this autobiographical film which exhumes some painful memories to show how he made his first album which was informed by his life of crime and his sister’s own struggle.
The film begins in media res with the main character beat up pretty bad before he explains how he got to this point.
Isamu Hirabayashi moved from the world of advertising and graphic design to indie films in 2001 and has made a number of shorts that have been selected for festivals like Locarno and Berlinale. Shell and Joint (2019) is his first feature and it is a truly unique title that shines with a visual opulence derived from someone with an eye for framing and a deep consideration for angles and colours, while its script shimmers with a comedic wit that tackles universal themes in a variety of genres and tones in ways that are enhanced by the look and sound of the film.
Opening proceeding are Nitobe (Keisuke Horibe) and Sakamoto (Mariko Tsutsui), two people who have been friends from childhood who now work together at the front desk of a capsule hotel. Nitobe has a particular fondness for philosophy and crustaceans while Sakamoto is fixated on suicide and winding up her friend during their long conversations. They form the manzai duo whose interactions rise in silliness as the film keeps revisiting them while guests come and go.
In 2017, the Japanese word karoshi, death from overwork, entered the global lexicon when news organisations covered the case of advertising firm Dentsu which was fined by a Tokyo court for violation of labour laws following the suicide of an overworked employee named Matsuri Takahashi who had been clocking up 100 hours a month in overtime prior to her death. Her story came out around the same time as the one of NHK journalist Miwa Sado who died two years earlier after she logged 159 hours of overtime in a month. Analysts, public health experts and cultural commentators published articles stating that they are just the tip of the iceberg.
Although karoshi is a term that has been around since the 70s, the unhealthy work culture that results in depression, suicides or strokes amongst workers has been identified as being linked to the post-war economic miracle when employees were asked to dedicate their lives to their jobs. However, in the 90s after the economic bubble burst, things worsened as worker protections were sacrificed on the altar of free market capitalism and people were chewed up by their employers. In response to this, and a falling birth rate, the government has introduced measures to give employees more time off work. Things have yet to get better.
One filmmaker who has been tracking stories of everyday people being sacrificed for the economy is Tokachi Tsuchiya who started out as a freelance videographer and became a documentary filmmaker with his award-winning debut A Normal Life, Please! (2009) where he exposed the exploitation of workers through an average truck driver named Nobukazu Kaikura who was made to work by his company “552 hours a month without benefits or sick pay, a regime that barely affords him time to wash or eat” (source). The film covered Kaikura’s decision to join a worker’s union and the unsavoury characters hired by his company who tried to crush the workers who were simply defending their rights.
Since then, Tokachi has worked for an NPO making films about capitalist exploitation and state oppression while also doing “making-of” videos for Momoko Ando’s 0.5mm and Gen Takahashi’s Court of Zeus. With An Ant Strikes Back, he is back with a story of a worker who fought for years for better treatment at his job after horrendous exploitation and mistreatment and it is a shocking eye-opening insight into unfair labour practices in Japan and how unions protect workers.
An Ant Strikes Back starts with a prologue that introduces some sobering facts about karoshi before introducing the director to viewers and here he relates how his friend “Yama-chan” was a victim a number of years before. We understand that his perspective will be a factor in understanding karoshi. Then we are introduced to the worker “ant” at the heart of the film, Yu Nishimura.
The design and feel of a book is very important. Although it usually takes second place to the ideas in the text when we discuss what we read, elemental things involved in the physical aspects of the book, such as the texture, typography and images, confer a vital character onto the text that captures a reader’s interest by stimulating their senses and placing various demands on their attention. The writer’s intent is being mediated through the perspective of the designers, editors and bookbinders involved in bringing it to the shelf. This is something we might not normally think about but the wonderful documentary book-scissors-paper proves to be an enlightening and enthralling exploration of this part of the publishing process by offering up a portrait of a world-famous book designer and his work to elucidate these ideas.
book-scissors-paper is the sophomore feature of Nanako Hirose, one of the young talents at Bunbuku-bun, the production house set up by Hirokazu Kore-eda. It is where she worked on features such as Like Father, Like Son, Our Little Sister, After the Storm and Miwa Nishikawa’s The Long Excuse, it is also where she made her debut feature, His Lost Name, which recently toured the festival circuit. That she made a documentary about book covers seems like something completely out of left-field until one discovers that her father was a book designer and that the subject of this documentary, Nobuyoshi Kikuchi, was responsible for many of the covers on the books in her parents’ house. From this personal background comes this documentary which is a tribute to the art of book design.
Daigo Matsui is famous as a director who has worked on mostly youth-oriented movies like Afro Tanaka (2012), Sweet Poolside (2014),How Selfish I Am! (2013) andJapanese Girls Never Die(2016) but did you know he is a former manzai performer and has his own theatre company? Matsui takes on the theatre world here with an adaptation of British playwright Simon Stephens’s coming-of-age drama “Morning”. However, instead of simply recording a performance to screen in cinemas, we are delivered into how the original story is translated into a Japanese setting and how universal its message of teenage angst is. What plugs us into this creative space and new and unique understanding of the text is that the film is done in a flawless 74-minute take that gets behind the scenes of the play and shows all the pressures and risks for the actors involved in bringing their roles to life.
In 2017, a stage performance of “Morning” is scheduled to run in a small town. It is a savage play that has been attracting attention in the theatre world for its story of a violent act by two best friends fighting through a rough adolescence. The film starts a month before the opening night. A cast of six young actors are being pushed to their limit by a director who gives out abstract plans and demanding instructions:
“I want to show you all really living on the stage.”
The Yalta Conference Online is, like the title suggests, a re-imagination of the famous meeting that happened on February 04th, 1945, between Stalin (Hiroko Matsuda), Roosevelt (Fumie Midorikawa) and Churchill (Yozo Shimada). There is none of the pomp and ceremony given to these grand old men, this is a Zoom meeting and so they all get online to chat about the post-war world. Pleasantries turn into negotiations over how to finish the fighting, and who occupies where but the writing and performances are done with the flippancy and awkwardness of an online talk and the humour is shadowed with the audience’s understanding of how their plans turned out.
It is based on a Hirata Oriza stage-play which was made expressly for the We Are One Global Film Festival and it works well within the limitations. The historical figures are all played as caricatures with our manner and social mores. The fact that they wear silly costumes and that the gender of the actors doesn’t matter should be a good indication of this being a comedy and the performances ply absurd and ironic laughs from what is a cheeky adaptation of history.
The dialogue comes thick and fast with grandstanding mixed with gossiping and through their talk we see their overblown pride and prejudice and inaccurate readings of the future. Particularly biting is the casual anti-semitism, orientalism and prejudice as well as the sense of western supremacy and superiority which still exists to this day. What steers this from being offensive is that the characters are clearly parodies of the real people and the film allows audiences to critique their ideas so it is able to be viewed as mordantly funny when they are dismissively talking about liquidating a group of officers or their treatment of refugees. Also, having Japanese play these people helps in lessening any offence and adds some interesting subtext in the mocking of the imperial mindset of Japan at the time which adds an interesting dimension of self-awareness.
There are some inconsistencies in the area of dialogue such as a mention of James Bond which Ian Flemyng created after the war and the constant reference to England rather than Britain, but the dialogue is delivered with witty repartee as the actors, all part of the same acting company, have whizz-bang chemistry that gives them brilliant line delivery. Of particular note is Hiroko Matsuda who has worked with director Koji Fukada on Human Comedy Tokyo, Hospitalite, and Au revoir l’ete, I believe. Everyone has perfect timing but she goes up and down the scales of hysteria at different times for added comic oomph.
This is based on a stageplay from Hirata Oriza and the actors all belong to his Seinendan group (some of whom are in The Woman of the Photographs) and they are all pitch-perfect in their parody and are fairly physical despite the limitations of online chats. Ensuring that this isn’t a visually uninteresting talkpocalypse, each person has a prop and costume that fits in with the national stereotype and they move around to fiddle with their computer’s camera, green screens, and Zoom backgrounds for some quick gags. The screens change position and size depending upon who joins the chat and text is used. The way tech is display and characters behave accurately captures the new way we communicate in this era of Covid-19 and that makes the film even funnier.
This post is an offshoot from the earlier this week and it focuses on all of the documentaries that will be screened. Check out each description to see if each film is available for worldwide screening because quite a few of these are.
This section brings together a really diverse range of subjects and themes like art and culture, feminism, workplace rights, mental health, refugees fighting for recognition and a man in a campervan trying to forget a failed love. There are three shorts and 11 features. Book-Paper-Scissors and An Ant Strikes Back are polar opposites in content and ones I want to see. Actually, I want to see all of these films!!!
There are a lot of great films on offer and many of them are available for global audiences to stream. Here are details on the features:
The state of emergency over the Covid-19 pandemic has ended and cinemas have reopened across Japan and I imagine what we see in the video of this tweet sums up the new reality for going to the movies – empty seats between patrons and internet Q&As.
— 映画『タゴール・ソングス』／ Documentary Film "Tagore Songs" (@tagore_songs) June 6, 2020
I know I’ll be going to the cinema to watch Christopher Nolan’s latest, Tenet. This tweet comes from the Twitter account of Tagore Songs which I wrote about on Monday’s trailer post because it was in cinemas. It’s a wonderful documentary.
I finished watching Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind, almost two years after starting it. I came to love the characters in the second half of the show and got a bit emotional at the end. I also watched Inception, Yalta Conference Online, Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops and Tremble All You Want.
This is the second trailer post of the week as the industry tries to get back on its feet and films on the big screen.
The 20th Nippon Connection will take place from June 09th to the 14th and the organisers will take the event online for a Virtual Anniversary Edition. Over the course of six days, Nippon Connection Online will play a total of 70 feature-length and short films from a variety of genres to give a good overview of the trends in Japanese cinema.
The films will each be available to view via the video on demand platform Vimeo in exchange for a small fee. The period of availability lasts for a full 24 hours from the moment they are purchased. They will all be available during the duration of the festival, although some titles will be region-locked, something I will detail below. There will also be the chance to get in contact with the filmmakers behind the titles since they will be in contact with the audience via video messages, discussions and live broadcasts. There will also be a variety of online events, including workshops, lectures, performances, and concerts and a virtual marketplace which will present a wide range of offers related to Japan.
Many of these films will be available for audiences to watch around the world.
Despite the situation with Covid-19, one of the world’s biggest events dedicated to Japanese films is going to launch next week Tuesday. We Are talking about…
Nippon Connection will take place from June 09th to the 14th and the organisers will take the event online for a Virtual Anniversary Edition to celebrate 20 years of screening films. Over the course of six days, Nippon Connection Online will play a total of 70 feature-length and short films from a variety of genres to give a good overview of the trends in Japanese cinema. One of the main thrusts of the festival is presenting a glimpse of new perspectives on women in Japan – Female Futures? – New Visions of Women in Japan – which consists of a slate of dramas and documentaries made by women or featuring women in lead roles. The subjects range in age and political motivations and all look absolutely fascinating.
On to the nitty-gritty!
The films will each be available to view via the video on demand platform Vimeo in exchange for a small fee. The period of availability lasts for a full 24 hours from the moment they are purchased. The films will all be available to purchase during the duration of the festival, although some titles will be region-locked, something I will highlight with the films below. I have had a look since everything is already set up and waiting for the screening date and it looks easy to navigate.
As well as watching films, there will also be the chance to get in contact with the filmmakers behind the titles since they will be in contact with the audience via video messages, discussions and live broadcasts. There will also be a variety of online events, including workshops, lectures, performances, and concerts and a virtual marketplace which will present a wide range of offers related to Japan.
All of the films are special in some way but there is so much to cover. Here are some highlights. I will provide follow-up articles to cover other titles in depth. Click on the titles to be taken to the corresponding Nippon Connection page which has details on dates and times.
Koji Fukada is regarded as one of the leading lights of Japanese cinema and he is someone who I have covered on this blog, from his opener Human Comedy Tokyo(2008) to his Cannes award-winner Harmonium (2016) and other titles. He has the ability to tackle subtle elements in human relationships with black humour and seriousness as well as a light touch. Inabe stands as one of my favourites because of its simplicity and earnestness but more is lurking underneath the honest emotions shared between two siblings who are reunited after years apart.
Tomohiro (Hiroaki Matsuda) is a 30-something guy who hasn’t seen his older sister Naoko (Ami Kurata) in 17 years. He is surprised and suspicious when she returns to their hometown of Inabe with a baby, her son Naoki. Their meeting is out of the blue. She steps off a train, walks to the pig farm he works at, and waits for him to clock off. Initially awkward, they talk as they head to the family home where Naoko reintroduces herself to relatives and soon she is digging into Tomohiro’s current marital woes. This digging gets deeper and more personal as the two wander around childhood haunts.
Newly released after a month’s wait, are these films! Documentaries are the first out of the gate, two of which have similar themes of depopulated places and natural beauty, there’s a quick cash-in horror movie from Takashi Shimizu, a J-horror veteran, an Eisuke Naito, and then there is the next documentary which is brilliant.
This documentary is a bit of a stunner. I had no idea about the poet Rabindranath Tagore or his place in Bengali culture, something I am also ignorant about, but after watching this film I felt I had been educated, a whole culture had been opened up to me and I wanted to learn more.
If you are coming out of lockdown and see one film to free your mind and lose yourself in, choose this one.
Synopsis:Rebindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was a poet and musician from India who created over 2000 poems and songs that have shaped Bengali culture. In 1913, he became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and he also campaigned against British imperial rule. Despite his songs and poems being made nearly a century ago, they are still relevant and impact the lives of people today.
Mika Sasaki and her crew travelled to India, Bangladesh and Tokyo and interviewed people people from different layers of society to learn what the songs mean to them and they get a real cross-section of society from students to teachers and street musicians and randoms on the street who are all able to recite at least a verse and do so with a depth of emotion that shows the songs power for them. Beautiful landscapes and interesting cityscapes and the myriad of people in them paint an evocative picture of the culture of these places as well. Most importantly, it features the poetry and the words are sooooo beautiful!
At the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020 were two veteran pink film directors: Hideo Jojo and Shinji Imaoka. Both had brought dramas far away from what many might have expected of them. The former, a bit of a journeyman director, had made a teen-centric movie centered on baseball and a cast of characters looking to the future while the latter delivered a heartfelt drama about the passage of time.
Reiko and the Dolphin is a film that speaks of the aching loss of a loved-one. Adapted from a scenario Imaoka wrote just after the 1995 Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, it’s Japanese title is even more poignant and direct to the subject-matter: Is Reiko There? The story involves an ordinary couple, Ichiko (Aki Takeda) and her writer husband Tasuke (Hidetoshi Kawaya), who lose their daughter in the earthquake. We track their lives over 25 years as the two experience ups and downs, life and death. Thoroughly normal experiences that run the range from gently amusing to harrowing. Reiko’s presence haunts them but Imaoka handles this downbeat subject matter with grace and a philosophical air.
Shinji Imaoka kindly sat down to talk about the genesis of the movie and how it was made just before the 25th anniversary of the earthquake. This interview was conducted with interpretation from Keiko Matsushita and Takako Pocklington.
Where did the idea come from?
I became a director in 1995. I had been an assistant director for pink films and then became a director in 1995. At that time, it was kind of a trend among pink films to contain actual events and my seniors such as Director Takahisa Zeze and Hisayasu Sato also adapted real events into their films. There was the earthquake that occurred in the same year as I became a director, then I wanted to use it as a theme of a film. That was my initial motive.
You are famous for pink films but this film is dramatic. Why did you choose to making it in a dramatic style?
After the earthquake disaster in 1995, I wrote a scenario and released it to a pink movie company at that time. However, my proposal wasn’t accepted because the company president said that he doesn’t’ like films with a storyline with a child’s death. And over twenty years later, I was offered backing by someone who would sponsor me to make a film on whatever subject I wanted to do. Then, I dug up my old project and rewrote the script for an independent film not for pink film, that’s why I shot this as an independent film.
So this originally started as a pink film, then became a drama.
I had originally written it as a story in the aftermath of the earthquake, but now twenty years after that, I had the idea to depict time from the view point of a married couple who had experienced the earthquake. Like, “What have they been doing for these twenty years?”
Very impressive. You covered so much time. It felt like the actors aged over the film. Was that the only intention, to cover 25 years of their lives?
Yes, but the budget was very little, it was impossible to create production design of the past and the present or take twenty-five years to shoot with the same actors so I tried to shoot in places where things haven’t changed since before the earthquake and have remained as it is. I took a whole year to shoot it in different seasons which would convey the flow of time. I shot it whilst thinking about how to portray time.
Do you think that coming up to the twenty-fifth anniversary since the disaster, was it easier to get the film made?
Well… I thought about what it would mean to depict time. I thought it wouldn’t be like simply using effects by production design. It has also been twenty-five years since I became a director. There are lots of changes in my life as well—like I got married and had children. I didn’t have any intention to make some kind of anniversary film for the disaster. It doesn’t need to be a big historic event. I just wanted to portray the lives of ordinary people who weren’t spotlighted in the history, who just keep getting on with their life after the disaster.
Repetition happens a lot…like Ichiko always marries a writer. It felt like the characters were stuck in a circle. And the dolphins just swam around the circles.
I didn’t even think about it. I did it unconsciously.
What would you describe the theme of the movie as?
I don’t have any strong theme in this film. However, when losing a good friend or someone precious, I would be at loss what to do for the rest of my life. People often say, “Try to forget about her/him and get back on track” but I think that would be wrong. I want to keep remembering her/him forever. The important thing is to keep going with your life without forgetting your loved one.
I felt like, at the end of the film, the characters, the parents Tasuke and Ichiko could finally move on from losing Reiko but only after lots of repetition. There is a different character, Hiroshi, who remains unchanged and seemingly unaffected by events. What is his meaning in the film?
When you depict a long track of time like twenty-five years, you will show how everything has changed, but I thought it would be nice if there is someone who would never change. He is not exactly a fairy but I thought that it would be a great relief for us to have a presence like him. This person has existed since the universe was created and will exist forever. I wish we could have someone like him, it would be fine even having him just passing by. Actually, by the way, he is a friend of mine, I asked him to be in the film.
One of the fun characters. Again it fits in with the idea of repetition.
Wow, you are very observant.
How different is this from pink films you shoot.
Pink films are commercial films. You should shoot a film within a time-frame and in a certain place, and it is very limited so it was challenge for me to express what I like under these limited conditions. On the contrary, I was able to do whatever I want and take plenty time to shoot it this time. Those are the differences of my stance on shooting between this film and pink films. Funny enough, but I found it rather difficult to shoot this, I didn’t know where to start it.
I read a 2014 Japan Times interview for The Woman of Shinjuku. You described the difficulty of working in the Pink film industry. How would you describe the industry now?
It is getting scaled back. There is not much demand for the work, so everyone works on it whilst doing other jobs. It is a pity because pink films are a unique genre, a bit different from adult videos. The industry is declining.
So you are going to move more into dramas?
I am not bothered. Film making keeps changing. I used to shoot films with 35 mm film but now I do it with digital. Like independent films, you could make interesting things with any kind of medium. You could even shoot by iPhone. I would be willing to do whatever if I found something interesting.
Like with the film Tangerine.
And also I like women and like shooting their naked bodies.
There is at least one scene like that in this film. How did you go about casting the film?
I myself live in Tokyo, so I thought it would be very difficult to shoot in Kansai for a year. I thought it would be tricky to take actors or staff from Tokyo to Kansai with me so I decided to cast people who live in the Kanasai area. I put some adverts on the internet and in local notice boards and had a public audition.
Why did you cast the actors for Ichiko and Tasuke?
I auditioned. I met about seven people and had a chat with them and chose those actors. I felt as if they approached me rather than I chose them. I felt like those roles fit them.
You know what I mean? Let me see…when you enter a shop and choose something, you may have a feeling that some items would appeal themselves to you to buy, as if saying “Please pick me”.
Just judging by their energy. What would you hope audiences to take away from the film?
Maybe you will experience ups and downs in your life, but to be alive is a great thing. To live is fun. We all die some time, everyone will die some time and your everyday life won’t always be smooth and fun. Even though I feel like that I still want to speak out loud and say that life is fun. I would like audiences to spend their life with the feeling that it is great just to be alive. The time you watch the film is a great time but also the time you are able to watch it is a great time.
Due to COVID-19, film festivals around the world have had to postpone or cancel events. Then, in April, Tribeca and YouTube announced they were teaming up for a 10-day online festival called We Are One and working together with other festivals to create a digital film festival.
The festival will stream a selection of films online on YouTube for FREE from May 29th to June 07th. There will be 31 features and 72 shorts over 10 days, the titles have been co-curated by over 20 film festivals from across the world, including Annecy, Cannes, London, Venice, Sundance, Berlin, Locarno, Toronto and Tokyo. Viewers can also enjoy virtual talks with directors.
This year’s edition of the Annecy International Animation Film Festival is the 60 anniversary of the fest and it takes place from June 15th to the 30th and, due to the COVID-19 situation, it’s a totally online edition. Unlike last year’s event, which was jam-packed with films, there are about four Japanese animated films and some international co-productions on the roster. The festival welcomes back Masaaki Yuasa, who has directed a Netflix show, and there are some newbie directors.
As per usual, titles contain links to the festival and sources used for information range from the festival site itself to My Anime List (MAL) and Anime News Network (ANN). Let’s start with…
The state of emergency has been lifted in Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo this week but it remains in place in Kanagawa and Tokyo. Movie distributors and cinemas have taken a massive hit in April due to the closure of cinemas with “the total box office earnings of Japan’s 12 largest movie distributors in April totalling just $6.4 million (688.24 million yen), a 96.3 percent plummet from the same period last year, according to the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan (MPPAJ)” (source). As I wrote last week, some cinemas have reopened and the films that are being screened are classics. The number of classics has been updated to include Blade Runner, Rio Bravo, Ben Hur and The Shawshank Redemption. What about new films?
Atsuro Shimoyashiro was at this year’s Osaka Asian Film Festival with The Modern Lovers, a sexually explicit story about two former lovers reuniting, raking over their past relationship and realizing their regrets. His path to the festival is an interesting example of an indie film warrior. After dropping out of college, Shimoyashiro studied at the Film School of Tokyo and has had an interesting career working in music and indie movies. He directed films like Walk in the Room (2016), which was selected for TAMA NEW WAVE and the Kanazawa Film Festival 2017, and Voyage Garden (2018), which was selected for O!!DO Short Film Festival. He has also produced music for films, including two by Shinji Imaoka, Long Goodbye: Private Detective Kurinosuke Furui (2017) and Reiko and the Dolphin (2019).
The Modern Lovers is something else. A hip movie with an atmosphere choked with longing, lust and a little bitterness. Due to the nudity involved and its brief story, it brings to mind the pink films of the Roman Porno genre despite being an indie drama. There seems to be some creative connection since legendary pink film director Shinji Imaoka makes a brief appearance in a bar scene and Shimoyashiro has collaborated with him. It may be tempting to see Shimoyashiro as a new generation of pink film director but he is firmly on the indie side of things, as he explained when he sat down to talk about The Modern Lovers and his inspirations. This interview was conducted with the help of translators Keiko Matsushita and Takako Pocklington.
The dreams we forgo and the promises we break can define our lives as we grow older, a realization that the protagonist of Atsuro Shimoyashiro’s steamy indie drama gradually comes to when he reconnects with an old flame for one last tryst.
This week it was announced Japan is due to ease the lockdown in prefectures least affected by Covid 19. After more than a month of closure, some cinemas will reopen. They are a mix of big chains like Toho Cinemas and Aeon Cinemas and, according to this article by Mark Schilling over at Variety, there are some independent cinemas, too. Looking at the cinema listing for Toho, the titles include recently released titles that were still being screened at the time they were closed like the latest Psycho-Pass movie, Midsommar, Akira 4K , Katsuben and Ossan’s Love Love or Dead (which is massively popular) and some others like The Wizard of Oz.
The reopening comes with caveats such as hand sanitiser and plastic screens to limit interactions between staff and customers and spacing assigned seats to maintain social distancing. One Twitter user, @garamanhall, gave an image of what a concert with social distancing will look like:
So you can imagine a cinema screening might be similar – a seat free either side and the row in front and behind free…
Since Covid 19 is here to stay until a vaccine is developed, it is reasonable to say that this will be the standard operating procedure of festivals for the foreseeable future. At least we can go and see Tenet on the big screen which opens in July.
Since cinemas are closed and I’ve been at home, I’ve watched lots of anime. This last fortnight I watched season four of Haikyu!! and re-watched Bakemonogatari and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind. I posted about the film’s Good-byeand On the Edge of Their Seats and interviewed the directors Aya Miyazaki and Hideo Jojo.
What new film is scheduled to be released this weekend?
Some cursory research into the career of Hideo Jojo will turn up a whole slew of movies that ranging from pink films to V-Cinema. Jojo got his start in filmmaking by producing 8mm movies while studying at Musashino Art University before he entered the industry as assistant director on pink films. His directorial debut, Married Women Who Want a Taste (2003), won the Bronze Prize and New Director Award at the 2003 Pink Grand Prix. To date, he has written and directed over 100 works and won awards and fans in Japan and internationally. His career is as varied as it gets and recent titles include the screenplay for Neko Zamurai (2014), directing the horror movie Corpse Prison (2017) and even a Gachi-ban movie (2008). With such variety, it stands to reason that he would be able to direct a charming youth drama based on a stage play.
On the Edge of their Seats is based on an award-winning stage play created by a theater group from a high school in Hyogo Prefecture. It takes place during a hot summer’s day at a baseball match between high school teams in a tournament that leads to a final played at Koshien Stadium. Being able to play at Koshien in the final is a big dream for all high school baseball players in Japan and it often comes up in films. However, it’s not so much the drama happening on the field of dreams that is the concern of the film but what is going on with five characters in the stands as they work out some dramas that have occurred in their final year of high school. As they interact, they reveal some of their feelings and help each other learn to look at life more positively. The film is a real charmer built around some lovely characters and brought to life by a charismatic cast who are perfectly guided by Jojo’s sharp direction.
Hideo Jojo participated in an interview at the Osaka Asian Film Festival where the film received its world premiere. The interview was conducted with help from the interpreter Keiko Matsushita while the translation was made with the help of the interpreter Takako Pockington.
Journeyman director Hideo Jojo has made everything from pink films to V-Cinema so finding him at the helm an earnest high school drama full of fresh-faced teens shouldn’t be a surprise. On the Edge of Their Seats is a meticulously made movie that, at 75 minutes, flies by with sharp dialogue and performances allowing audiences to get to know the disappointments and desires of a selection of high school students watching a baseball game.
The life of twenty-something woman Sakura (rising star Mayuko Fukuda) changes when she quits her office position and takes a job at a nursery. This impulsive decision puts her in the orbit of a girl named Ai whose father, Shindo (Kohei Ikeue), seems to be struggling to raise her without her mother around. Again listening to her inner impulses, Sakura gets involved with the two as she subconsciously works through various feelings related to her own fractured family. Little does she realize that this process will lead to the reconfiguriation of her relationship with her parents.
A minimalist psychological piece,Good-Byeis the third film from director Aya Miyazaki and it received its world premiere in the Indie Forum section of the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020. One of the youngest directors at the festival, Miyazaki only started making films while studying at Waseda University where she learned under the supervision of Hirokazu Kore-eda and Tamaki Tsuchida. She currently works for a movie company but took time to appear at OAFF to introduce and discuss her latest film.
The interview was conducted with help from the interpreter Keiko Matsushita while the translation was made with the help of the interpreter Takako Pockington.
Aya Miyazaki got the filmmaking bug while studying at Waseda University. She took the video production course in her third year with one of her teachers being Hirokazu Kore-eda. His influence can be felt in her film Good-bye, specifically in how Miyazaki depicts the daily life of ordinary people in a minimalist style.
I went to work again this week and watched a whole lot of films like Twelve Monkeys, Blood on Satan’s Claw, Scream (1981), Wonder Boys. Also, lots of procrastination whilst working on transcripts. I hope you are being more productive than me!!!
Yukari Sakamoto is an indie director who started making films while she was studying Philosophy at Sophia University. Her film Obake was part of MOOSIC LAB2014 and won the Best Actress and Musician awards. After that, she studied editing at the Tokyo University of the Arts, Graduate School of Film and Cinema where she majored in film and directed music videos. Since then, she has been the assistant producer on the the major feature Eating Women (2018) and directed part of the omnibus movie 21st Century Girl (2019).
Sakamoto’s latest work For Rei derives some of its details from the director’s background to create a deeply personal picture of a modern young woman navigating complicated feelings. The titular protagonist (An Ogawa) goes to philosophy class and lives with a kind boyfriend, but the trauma of her parent’s divorce has caused an ambivalence towards the people she should be closest to, and herself. This is a feeling that gnaws away at her over the course of the film which is shot in a subjective style to analyze this young woman’s attempts to understand herself.
Sakamoto sat down at the Osaka Asian Film Festival to talk about the making of the film, how she translated her background onto the screen and some of the design choices she made. The interview was conducted with help from the interpreter Keiko Matsushita while the translation was made with the help of the interpreter Takako Pockington.
Stories of the effects of family breakups on children are hardly a new thing for Japanese cinema with filmmakers like Hirokazu Koreeda and Shinji Somai using it in films such as I Wish (2011) and Moving (1993). Being unique in this field is hard but through nuanced filmmaking, director Yukari Sakamoto creates an intimate, challenging and original portrait of a modern young woman who faces difficult emotions lingering from the trauma of her parent’s split.
The titular Rei (An Ogawa) is our main character. She is a university student who lives a peaceful life with her boyfriend Nakamura (Amon Hirai) but beneath her quiet exterior is a girl struggling to become a woman. She is at the most turbulent period of life as she self-actualises a personality but before that can happen she faces the challenge of cauterising the wound of her parent’s divorce and her father’s absence. This has caused a rupture in her sense of self which has created a conflicted personality reticent to the point of being cut her off from others. Rei seeks to heal this by studying philosophy at university. By wrestling with this complicated subject she seeks to clarify and set to rest her emotions. However, as she studies, the desire to meet her absent father (Seiji Kinoshita), who she hasn’t seen since she was a little child, soon seems like more viable avenue of self-understanding.
I’ve done a heck of a lot of procrastinating between writing reviews and not much in terms of film viewing outside of 70s and 80s American films. At least I am healthy. I hope you guys are all healthy too! Let’s keep it that way.
When I backed director Noriko Yuasa’s Kickstarter for funding the festival run of Coming Back Sunny, I was directed to another Japanese film seeking funding. This one is a romantic musical called Make-Believers which is aims to be, to quote the organisers, “a first-of-its-kind, Hollywood-influenced, musical romance set in Japan.” Here is the Kickstarter link.
Yan is the feature debut by Keisuke Imamura, a cinematographer who began his career by teaching himself to shoot independent films while studying at Nihon University’s Department of Fine Arts. After graduation, he apprenticed with KIYO and made his debut as a cinematographer at the age of 24, first with indies before moving on to bigger titles. An early collaboration with the director Michihito Fujii on Kemuri no Machi no Yori Yoki Mirai wa (2012) proved to be the beginning of a fruitful relationship as they would work together again on Tokyo City Girl (2015), Day and Night (2019) and The Journalist (2019). Imamura’s career has encompassed titles as diverse as the drama Phantom Limb (2014) and manga-extravaganza Teiichi: Battle of Supreme High (2017).
For his feature debut Yan (review here), Imamura retains the glossy look of his big films but uses it to channel the intimate story of a man discovering his roots and making it as sensuous as possible so we feel his emotions. Tsubame (Long Mizuma) is half-Taiwanese, half-Japanese and living a comfortable existence in Tokyo. However, a request from his father to track down his older brother Ryushin (Takashi Yamanaka) leads to the unearthing of painful memories of a family separation and his own alienation due to his dual-heritage status and the departure of his mother (played by the pop star Hitoto Yo). It’s a universal story that sees Tsubame find peace with himself and connect with a mother he never understood. Imamura sat down after the world premiere of the film at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020 and talked about its background.
This interview was conducted with the help of the translators Keiko Matsushita and Takako Pocklington.
I hope everyone is staying safe during these troubled times.
I went back to work this week, the first time since February. I’ve been on something of an extended holiday, first in Japan then in my bedroom as I’ve self-isolated. I’m healthy as far as I know but there is always the worry when being around other people and I hope it stays that way. I hope you’re feeling fine and dandy, as well.
I’ve been writing, catching up on reviews and interviews but my head is in a funny space where I cannot focus on much but piecemeal work. Studying Japanese has gone out of the window. I’m trying to get back into that.
I started watching Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba and I have been impressed by what I’ve seen and Zenitsu Agatsuma is one of my new favourite characters, a golden-haired cowardly lothario with a heart of gold and exaggerated behaviour that makes me laugh a lot.
This week, I watched all Indiana Jones films since the BBC screened them and I’ve always got time for Indiana Jones. I posted about two ways people can help Japanese indie movies. The first post was about the Mini Theater Aid Campaign to save small movie theatres that host indie movies. The second post was about a Kickstarter campaign to help publicise the film Coming Back Sunny run by Noriko Yuasa, the director of the fabulous film Ordinary Everyday (2017).
Just like last week’s one, this trailer post is a catch-up from the one I missed in March. It happened just as the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020 was about to reach its climax so my mind was elsewhere.
Super-talented director Noriko Yuasa has a project on Kickstarter for an independent film she has worked on called Coming Back Sunny. The film is a love story about a colour-blind schoolgirl named Shiori (Riria Kojima) who is suddenly able to see the world around her just in time for fate to draw her on a journey where she will fall in love with someone.
Here is the trailer on Kickstarter:
Noriko Yuasa has been directing films for over 20 years and she has made an impact on the festival circuit. This film is her latest one and was originally part of the omnibus movie Seisyun Kaleidoscope which was released in Japan in August of last year and it is now being developed into a feature. Here is my write up original omnibus film.
This is a quick post just to promote a crowdfunding event to support independent cinemas across Japan during the Coronavirus epidemic.
It’s called Mini Theater Aid and it launched earlier today and lasts until May 15th with a target amount 100,000,000 yen that is hoped to be raised. It was set up by the directors Koji Fukada (Harmonium, Au revoir l’ete) and Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Happy Hour) in response to the closure of small cinemas up and down Japan as the country tries to contain Coronavirus infections.
Due to the recent declaration of a state of emergency, public venues have had to close and this means they will not be able to make money. In the absence of paying customers and any support from the government in paying rent and salaries and so forth, these cinemas may find themselves struggling as the shutdown unfolds. This emergency fund will help guarantee that these establishments, all of which are important to the cinema ecosystem of Japan, can keep going. It’s these cinemas that sustain indie films since they give the movies limited runs across the year as the films tour the country. In short, without these cinemas, indie film directors, film students and audiences would struggle to screen their works and people would struggle to see these films, especially in a community setting.
Yesterday we lost the legend that is Nobuhiko Obayashi. He died at the age of 82, almost four years when he was given just four months to live after being diagnosed with cancer. Even though I wrote reviews for just two films (Hausu back in 2011 and Hanagatamiin 2018), it feels like I wrote about him every year because his films were constantly in circulation. I was even inspired to visit Onomichi in 2018 and photograph some locations he filmed in. Anyway, he was feted around the world and worked to the very end, as evidenced by the large amount of films by him or connected to him at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival.
It feels like the Japanese movie industry is in a gentle decline as adaptations, compilations, TV movies and mediocrities dominate due to production committees who hoover up profits while the artists making content are underpaid and have their creativity stifled. With Obayashi’s passing, the industry has lost some of its magic. He was imaginative and had a creative streak and boyish enthusiasm that made his films charming. We’ll not see an artist like him again so we should treasure the works he created, many of which will continue to be screened.
RIP Nobuhiko Obayashi
Anyway, I was in Japan for a month and I returned to the UK almost a fortnight ago after working at the Osaka Asian Film Festival. I’ve been publishing reviews and interviews I did while there and since returning to the UK, I’ve been in self-quarantine to make sure I don’t have Coronavirus so I’m kind of in the perfect position to keep writing even though the world is in the grip of a medical disaster (prompted by unfettered capitalism and poor governance mostly instituted by governments run by right-wingers).
Anyway, due to being busy, I missed all of March from the trailer posts. Due to Coronavirus, films are being pulled from Japanese cinemas, I can play catch-up.
What is released this weekend and what was released on the first weekend of March?
Japan and Taiwan have the sort of close ties that embody all aspects of the hurt and joy of human relations. From language to politics, Japan’s time as colonial ruler to the post-war economics of industry and tourism, the exchange of people and ideas has been constant. It proves fertile ground for Keisuke Imamura’s feature-length directorial debut Yan, which uses both cultures for a story of one Japanese man’s self-discovery as he finds out more about his mother, his birthplace and, ultimately, himself.
Rae Red was introduced to the world through co-writing Birdshot(2017) with her cousin Mikhail Red. Since then, she has quickly accrued projects, collaborating with Mikhail on the scripts for his features Neomanila (2017) and Eerie (2018). In terms of directing, her debut was the short film Luna (2016) which was screened at the CineFilipino Film Festival while her debut feature, which she co-directed, Si Chedeng at Si Apple (2017), was screened at the Far East Film Festival and Kansai Queer Film Festival. The Girl with the Gun is her solo directorial debut and it displays a distinctive style that marks her out as a director of immense talent.