This is the year when I try and give a little boost to smaller film festivals and the Japannual Japanese Film Festival in Vienna deserves one. The Austrian-Japanese Society is trying to bring some great films to the nation’s capital.
This could turn into a laborious cut-and-paste job from previous festival’s I’ve covered because I have information on all but four films but I’ll spare you by giving the highlights.
The program has a mix of classic titles restored to new and shiny life, to contemporary films still being talked about in film groups. Some of these have been on the festival circuit for a while there are others that pop up rarely. There are indies that need a push and anime that are too good to miss. I’m going to highlight independent cinema and hard to see classics as well as an anime that is guaranteed to put a smile on everyone’s face.
INDIES AND FEATURES
Indie titles come thick and fast with a diverse array of stories and styles on offer from the excessively arty anti-war pic Hanagatami which set out on its festival tour a year ago at Tokyo, to the fresh and fun One Cut of the Dead, an award-winning zombie film where a horror production gets jumped on by real zombies. It is a film which has wowed audiences wherever it has played.
Running Time: 66 mins.
Release Date: September 01st, 2018
Director: Yoko Yamanaka
Writer: Yoko Yamanaka (Screenplay),
Starring: Ai Sunohara, Hiroshi Oshita, Mineo Maiko,
This special gem won the Audience Award and Hikari TV Award at the Pia Film Festival and was featured at the Berlin International Film Festival and it will be at Japan Cuts this month as well. It’s an excellent debut film from Yoko Yamanaka and shows a filmmaker who is unafraid to use the camera and her actors in distinctive and, crucially, fun ways to deliver a quirky comedy about a sucky first love. My review for this film was published some time ago! All I have to say is…
SEE THIS FILM!!!
Synopsis: 16-year-old Amiko is convinced that “the Japanese are unable to dance spontaneously.” She’s just tried it out herself, with some strangers in a Tokyo underground passage. Believing that she’s had more than her fair share of days where she’d do absolutely anything, she’s left behind the provincial city of Nagano to head to the capital and take her heartthrob Aomi to task. A year before, she took a long winter’s walk with him and thought she’d met her soulmate, someone else like her who wonders in which phase of life there’s actually room for being happy. But then he disappeared, headed for Tokyo, together with Amiko’s nemesis Miyako of all people, the very “epitome of mass culture”, quite unlike her anti-bourgeois and wildly romantic self.
わたしたちの家 「Watashitachi no ie」
Running Time: 80 mins.
Release Date: January 13th, 2018
Director: Yui Kiyohara
Writer: Yui Kiyohara, Noriko Kato (Screenplay),
Starring: Kazuki Kasai, Yukiko Anno, Mari Ozawa,
This film comes from Yui Kiyohara, a graduate student at the Tokyo National University of the Arts and has studied with Kiyoshi Kurosawa. It took top prize at the The Pia Film Festival Award Winning Film and was at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year. It looks fascinating and mysterious!
Synopsis from the festival site: A mother named and daughter live on a boat in the city of Kure. They exist in two separate worlds in their house but as the two worlds start to merge, confusion develops.What will happen when they connect to each other?
Running Time: 80 mins.
Release Date: November 24th, 2018
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto (Screenplay),
Starring: Sosuke Ikematsu, Yu Aoi, Shinya Tsukamoto, Tatsuya Nakamura, Ryusei Maeda
Shinya Tsukamoto is back writing, directing, editing and producing his own films after a short spell acting in features like Shin Godzilla and Over the Fence. I’m a big fan of his works thanks to Nightmare Detective(2007), Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), Tokyo Fist (1995), and Vital (2003) and his film A Snake of June, which was given the Special Jury Prize at the 2002 Venice Film Festival. This was at Venice and Toronto earlier this year.
Synopsis: The ronin Mokunoshin Tsuzuki (Sosuke Ikematsu) is alive during the end of the Edo period where many samurai like him are finding their way of life losing its edge as the country exists in a state of peace. He lives in the suburbs of Tokyo where he helps out farmers and is acquainted with one farmer’s son named Ichisuke (Ryusei Maeda) who dreams of being a samurai. Tsuzuki spends his days farming and sparring with Ichisuke but, despite the tranquillity, Tsuzuki’s heart is in tumult because he is concerned about the questions of whether he could follow a lord’s orders and kill a man and, more importantly, passions are brewing as he is falling in love with Ichisuke’s sister Yu (Yu Aoi). Passions from further afield are also growing as the country is on the verge of a civil war when a mild-mannered and skilful ronin Jirozaemon Sawamura (Shinya Tsukamoto) arrives in town looking for warriors to take to Edo.
Bad Poetry Tokyo
東京不穏詩 「Tōkyō fuon uta」
Running Time: 114 mins.
Release Date: 2018
Director: Anshul Chauhan
Writer: Anshul Chauhan, Rand Colter (Screenplay), Anshul Chauhan (Original Story)
Starring: Shuna Iijima, Orson Mochizuki, Takashi Kawaguchi, Nana Blank, Kohei Mashiba, Kento Furukoshi,
Bad Poetry Tokyo is a stunning human drama with a tone reminiscent of The Light Shines Only There (2014). It is lead by a powerful performance from Shuna Iijima who has to deal with heavy issues and does so with a grace that is breathtaking. Her performance won her the Best Actress award at this year’s Osaka Asian Film Festival and I can tell you now that it will keep you riveted to the screen. Here’s my review of the film and an interview with the director and cast. Highly recommended.
Synopsis: Jun Fujita is 30 years old. She majored in English at Tokyo University. That is the lie she tells people when she applies for acting jobs. In reality, she works as a hostess at a shady club. Life hasn’t turned out the way she wanted when she escaped home back in Nagano Prefecture five years ago. Still, she dreams of being an actress and is about to touch her dream when she is betrayed by her lover and things go wrong at the club. Broken and made savage by the experience, she heads back to her sleepy hometown in the countryside to lick her wounds. Things haven’t changed much there and she reconnects with an old flame but there are ugly truths about her past that lurk beneath the surface …
I think people who are paying attention to Japanese cinema would have noticed that Takumi Saitoh is, as well as starring in films, steadily building his experience as a writer and director with writing work on an animated short and directorial work on a live-action short. This time last year, he had his film Blank 13 screened at the London East Asian Film Festival and it has steadily toured the world. That’s a family drama about a man who had been missing returning to his family but in a hospital bed as he’s about to kick the bucket. His family find out what happened to him. Another family drama, and one I can recommend, is Dear Etranger which features some great performances from a cast led by Tadanobu Asano and Rena Tanaka as a couple trying to make their current marriage work while juggling responsibilities and people from past relationships. It doesn’t flinch from showing the selfish side of people and how people have to swallow pride and anger and it doesn’t flinch from showing the rewards that love can bring.
Another film that premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival a year ago is Akiko Ohku’s dramedy Tremble All You Want which has earned plaudits for its relationship shenanigans. There’s also a major scoop for the festival with another Akiko Ohku film that isn’t even supposed to be released until next year!
Marriage Hunting Beauty
美人が婚活してみたら 「Bijin ga Konkatsu Shite Mitara」
Running Time: 93 mins.
Release Date: 2019
Director: Akiko Ohku
Writer: Jiro (Original Screenplay), Arako Toaru (Original Manga)
Starring: Mei Kurokawa, Asami Usuda, Tomoya Nakamura, Kei Tanaka,
Synopsis: Takako (Mei Kurokawa) is a beautiful designer who has hit thirty and is desperate to get hitched. She’s cautious despite this because she has been let down by a guy before but this time will be different! She’s got herself registered on a marriage site. Keiko (Asami Usuda) is in a similar boat and the two end up quarrelling as well as helping each other…
There are supernatural adventures with yokai and a private detective in Destiny: A Tale of Kamakura and a more realistic crime thriller based on a novel by Kanae Minato, Homecoming.
Pumpkin and Mayonnaise
南瓜とマヨネーズ 「Kabocha to Mayone-zu」
Running Time: 93 mins.
Release Date: November 11th, 2017
Director: Masanori Tominaga
Writer: Masanori Tominaga (Screenplay), Kiriko Nananan (Original Manga)
Starring: Asami Usuda, Taiga, Joe Odagiri, Ryuya Wakaba, Koudai Asaka, Ritsu Otomo, Kurumi Shimizu, Ken Mitsuishi, Sario Okada, Emina Kondo,
Masanori Tominaga (Rolling) assembles a great cast with Asami Usada (The Woodsman and the Rain) in a love triangle with Joe Odagiri (Mushishi) and Taiga (Japanese Girls Never Die).
Synopsis: Tsuchida (Asami Usuda) lives with her boyfriend Seiichi (Taiga). He is an aspiring musician but he has no job and is struggling to write new songs. Tsuchida decides to work at a hostess club to support them both but doesn’t inform Seiichi. Things blow up when she gets herself involved with her customer Yasuhara (Ken Mitsuishi) and Seiichi finds out. Arguments ensue and he decides to get a job but around this time, Tsuchida runs into her ex-boyfriend Hagio (Joe Odagiri)…
Other dramas include the motor vehicle insurance drama Recall and manga-inspired Teiichi: Battle of Surpeme High and “aftermath of 3-11”-inspired drama Side Job. There is also Passage of Life, a topical film about immigration.
With the sad passing of Kirin Kiki, auds might be interested in seeing one of her last roles, Mori: The Artist’s Habitat in order to see her talent at work.
I mentioned anime earlier and here it is! It’s freaking awesome! It’s the phenomenal…
The Night is Short, Walk on Girl
夜は短し歩けよ乙女 「Yoru wa Mijikashi Aruke yo Otome」
Release date: April 07th, 2017
Running Time: 93 mins.
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Writer: Masaaki Yuasa, Reiko Yoshida (Screenplay) Tomihiko Morimi (Original Novel),
Animation Production: Science SARU
Starring: Kana Hanazawa (Kurokami no Otome), Gen Hoshino (Senpai), Kazuya Nakai (Seitarou Higuchi), Yuuko Kaida (Ryouko Hanuki), Nobuyuki Hiyama (Johnny), Aoi Yuuki (Princess Daruma), Junichi Suwabe (Nise Jougasaki),
MAL IMDB Website
The Night is Short, Walk on Girl is probably the join-first best work from Masaaki Yuasa (the first being Mind Game). I can guarantee you will have a good time with this one having seen it with an audience of anime fans who were totally absorbed in its fantastic story. Others seemingly agree since it took top awards. The 41st Ottawa International Animation Festival was where it won Best Animated Feature and the 41st Japan Academy Prize Animation of the Year went to the film. This film is the very definition of the word exuberant in terms of story and style and should cement Yuasa as one of the best anime directors around. Here’s my review!
SEE THIS FILM!
Synopsis: The narrative is simple: A black haired girl (voiced by the ubiquitous and super-talented Kana Hanazawa) is attending the wedding reception of a friend. As far as she is concerned, the party doesn’t have to end there and she walks around the streets of Kyoto at night from the alleyways and izakayas of Pontocho to the university campus, following the Komagawa river and making detours along the way. She is pursued by a male admirer, Sempai (Gen Hoshino), who tries to catch her attention by appearing before her as often as possible. As this rather one-sided romantic dance unfolds, they experience surreal magical-realist moments that grow increasingly absurd thanks to a cast of unique characters, all of which tests Sempai’s resolve in love and the girl’s capacity for drink and fun because all the while, everyone keeps drinking and having a good time.
DOCUMENTARIES AND EVENTS
Goh Harada presents his films and a workshop. His works are both narrative and experimental cinema that are, to quote the site:
“equally accessible to audiences interested in practice and theory alike. HARADA does not focus on people as privileged actors or performers, but he does rather on the emotional network of relationships between the elements “technology” and “physical living worlds”. HARADA’s 16mm works captivate his craftsmanship without neglecting the lyrical aspects. If, for example, he makes a black pigment image surface meet a white one, he brings the materials onto the transparent film, image by image, with his fingertips. And exactly this film then chases 17,000 black and white images through the projector, generating feverish movements, not contradicting those films in which HARADA documents an afternoon in Tokyo in the 2000s: cooking a favourite soup, washing dishes, listening to the radio and strolling through the park. His current video works combine different images with non-affiliated sounds (at a first glance), but then synchronize a time lapse within their montage and their interplay.”
There’s a music doc with Ryuichi Sakamoto, Coda, which came out a year ago.
ラーメンヘッズ 「Ra-men Hezzu」
Running Time: 93 mins.
Release Date: January 27th, 2018
Director: Koki Shigeno
Starring: Shota Iida, Kumiko Ishida, Katsuya Kobayashi, Yuki Ohnishi, Tom Takahashi, Osamu Tomita,
Synopsis from IMDB: In ‘Ramen Heads,’ Osamu Tomita, Japan’s reigning king of ramen, takes us deep into his world, revealing every single step of his obsessive approach to creating the perfect soup and noodles, and his relentless search for the highest-quality ingredients. In addition to Tomita’s story, the film also profiles five other notable ramen shops, each with its own philosophy and flavour, which exemplify various different aspects the ramen world. Mixing in a brief rundown of ramen’s historical roots, the film gives viewers an in-depth look at the culture surrounding this unique and beguiling dish. This is a documentary record of 15 months in the lives of Japan’s top ramen masters and their legions of devoted fans.
Running Time: 122 mins.
Release Date: April 07th, 2018
Director: Kazuhiro Soda
This one was at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival.
Synopsis: Documentarian Kazuhiro Soda has been touring around the world based on films like The Oyster Factory (2015). Here, he brings his camera to the fishing village of Ushimado on the coast between Honshu and Shikoku. It is famous for being the place Shohei Imamura shot two features but now it has an ageing population but fishermen and fish-traders who tour the village and knows the local’s habits and lives. With insiders leading the way, including the film’s producer Kiyoko Kashiwagi whose family hails from the village, many tales emerge.
Life Goes On
一陽来復 Life Goes On 「Ichiyouraifuku Life Goes On」
Running Time: 81 mins.
Release Date: March 03rd, 2018
Director: Mia Yoon
Starring: Norika Fujiwara, Koichi Yamadera (Narration)
Synopsis: This is a documentary looking at the people of Iwate si years on from the Great East Japan Earthquake. A farmer who works near a nuclear power plant, a couple who lost their children, and a child growing up in the area.
There are three classics on offer with Kenji Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu and Sansho Dayu appearing. These two are bonafide classics so if you consider yourself a movie fan or a person of culture, get yourself down to them!!! There are also two films by the female director Kinuyo Tanaka, and these are rarely screened!
The Eternal Breasts
乳房よ永遠なれ 「Chibusa yo eien nare」
Release Date: November 23rd, 1955
Running Time: 106 mins.
Director: Kinuyo Tanaka
Writer: Sumie Tanaka (Screenplay),
Starring: Yumeji Tsukioka, Ryoji Hayama, Yuko Sugi, Junkichi Orimoto, Choko Lida, Masayuki Mori, Hiroko Kawasaki
Synopsis: Not only one of Japan’s greatest actresses, Kinuyo Tanaka was also the director of six features, including this powerful, frank film about the poet Fumiko Nakajo, who died of breast cancer aged 31 in 1954. Tanaka brings an unmistakeably female perspective to recounting Nakajo’s life – from divorce through single motherhood, illness and her growing independence in life and love as her literary reputation grows
Running Time: 98 mins.
Release Date: December 13th, 1953
Director: Kinuyo Tanaka
Writer: Keisuke Kinoshita (Screenplay), Fumio Niwa (Original Novel)
Starring: Masayki Mori, Yoshiko Kuga, Jukichi Uno, Juso Dozan, Kyoko Kagawa,
Synopsis: Reikichi Mayumi (Masayuki Mori) is one of many struggling to make ends meet at the end of World War II. He finds a job where he will write love letters for other people but his own love life is far from the beautiful odes he creates for others and we see it when he rediscovers his former girlfriend, Michiko (Yoshigo Kuga), a woman who has also struggled with the war and the US occupation…
I could have included trailers and information for all but three films and Harada’s event but this post is long enough. It’s interesting seeing things I wrote a year ago and even further back and wondering how my writing style has changed. This is prep for a long post that is coming soon…
I hope I haven’t bored you! Thanks for taking the time to read the post.