I’m midway through a 12-day week and I’ve cushioned each day with films – an 80s horror in the morning and a yakuza movie in the evening. I’ve finished writing initial PR for a film festival that will launch in October and now it’s a case of practising Japanese for guests who will be attending.
The L’Etrange Festival runs for its 25th edition from September 04 to 15 in Paris and it continues in its mission to show genre cinema and exult in strange delights from some of cinema’s greatest minds. The Japanese focus features familiar live-action films and some animation, some of which I have reviewed. The biggest film here is the newest Takashi Miike, Hatsukoi, which was at Cannes earlier in the year and will be released in Japan next year, and there’s also Branded to Kill, the super hitman film from Seijun Suzuki.
What Japanese films are programmed at L’Etrange this year?
Katsumi Nojiri has had a long career working as an assistant director on a diverse array of films such as the comedies Seto and Utsumi (2016) and Thermae Romae II (2014) as well as dictionary drama The Great Passage (2013). For his directorial debut he harnesses a touch of comedy to craft a heartfelt film that is sadly inspired by the death of his own brother. In Lying to Mom, he unpacks all of the difficulties surrounding suicide felt by one suburban family and captures some of the difficult dynamics that play in addressing sensitive topics.
The suburban family at the heart of the story are the Suzuki clan which consists of father Sachio (Ittoku Kishibe), mother Yuko (Hideko Hara), son Koichi (Ryo Kase) and daughter Fumi (Mai Kiryu). They seem normal with Sachio being a bit of a hands-off patriarch, Yuko running the household as a devoted mother and Fumi being a university student but Koichi is a hikikomori and, apart from brief spells in odd jobs, has struggled to step outside of his room after graduating from university. One day, whatever is weighing him down finally becomes too much to bare and he hangs himself in his room.
Summer has been flowing nicely and it is now stormy and rainy. I’m at the end of a 12 day work week so I can relax a little. I’ve posted news on the Japanese films playing at the Venice Film Festival this year and a review for the action film The Fable.
Katsuhisa Minami’s seinen manga The Fable has been serialised in Weekly Young Magazine since 2014 and it won the general category of the 41st Kodansha Manga Awards in 2017. Its straight shooting story of a hit-man’s travails is mostly down-to-earth in art style and narrative for a manga. Its hard-boiled nature is supported by characters drawn with natural proportions engaging in fisticuffs and gunfights, the seriousness subverted by dashes of satire thanks to unique personality traits harboured by different people. A movie version is a natural progression but to make it engaging it will need a cast and crew to capture the comedic and action parts of the story.
The Fable (Junichi Okada) is actually the name of a contract killer operating in the Tokyo underworld. His ability to kill is almost preternatural and it is shown with visual pizzazz in the bombastic opening where he takes out two gangs in a fancy sky-rise restaurant. Efficient shooting and movement, short and sharp physical strikes and an aura of something unstoppable is what defines him and overpowers his opponents. All tumble down before him in action scenes excitingly delivered by director Kan Eguchi who favours quick editing, kinetic camerawork and exploding sets to bolster the slick action choreography. Eguchi doubles-down on the style by showing the mental calculations Fable makes through cute on-screen text and illustrations that get shattered by the bullets the killer sends flying.
The Venice International Film Festival is here for its 76th edition and it will run from August 28th to September 07th. There are a couple of features and four VR experiences as Venice continues to go down the VR route. Without further ado, here are the films!
My coverage of some of the festival films screened in New York is over so I’ve got time to do other things like read books and practice Japanese. Well, instead of doing that, I watched a bunch of Seijun Suzuki films!
Masaharu Take has a knack of making good character-driven dramas as exemplified by 100 Yen Love (2015) which cemented Sakura Ando as a real headlining acting talent after she spent years impressing auds with steady work in smaller semi-comedic roles (For Love’s Sake, Love Exposure) and indie dramas (Our Homeland, 0.5mm). This film, an adaptation of a novel, offers Nijiro Murakami (Destruction Babies) a meaty role to make a name for himself.
“Last night, I found a gun.”
The film opens with what appears to be a suicide one rainy night. Blood pours out of a shattered skull onto a rain-sodden riverbank. The titular gun, a .357 Magnum Lawman Mk III, is lying next to the body. The camera caresses its smooth, short, shiny and curved form and soon someone will lavish the same attention on it.
Naomi Kawase¹ (website) is in London in September for the Open City Documentary Festival 2019 where she will take part in three screenings and will introduce a selection of her works and take part in a Q&A and extended talk. Called, “Naomi Kawase: In Focus”, this particular festival strand, organised with the help of the Japan Foundation, is a unique opportunity to see some of the early films that helped make Naomi Kawase a major presence in world cinema as these self-documentaries show her nascent skull which developed while she recorded some of the most intimate details of her life as she searched for her identity on screen. Most prominent amongst the films is the influence of her adoptive mother, Uno Kawase, which is a bond that is put on screen in a moving set of films which have been highly lauded.
Here are the details. Just click on the titles to access the festival page and booking information:
If you travel to Kyoto then it is recommended you try travelling from scenic Arashiyama to the bustling city centre by the Randen trams. They cut through many areas and they prove to be the perfect setting for three intersecting stories in a film.
Randen: The Comings and Goings on a Kyoto Tram (review) features a writer named Eisei Hiraoka (Arata Iura) has travelled from Kamakura to Kyoto to research supernatural stories but, instead, relives memories of time spent in Kyoto with his wife; Kako Ogura (Ayaka Onishi), a shy local woman helps an actor from Tokyo named Fu Yoshida (Hiroto Kanai) practice speaking with Kyoto dialect; Nanten Kitakado (Tamaki Kubose), a high school girl from Aomori, who falls for a local train otaku (Kenta Ishida).
Quite unlike many other films screened in 2019, Randen revels in creating a magical atmosphere of heightened romance and folktales that could only take place in Kyoto. It was the opening film of the 2019 edition of the Osaka Asian Film Festival and it will play on the final day of Japan Cuts 2019 in New York. I had the chance to interview the director of the film, Takuji Suzuki, at Osaka and he revealed how the film was a put together with love and care by his team which included Kyoto University film students and local people living along the Randen line.
We’ll start the post with some sad news: Dutch actor Rutger Hauer has died. I came to know of his work through his roles in Blade Runner and The Hitcher when I was a teen and I can quote lines from both movies. It is as Roy Batty that I’ll always remember him as he gave his replicant character a fierce humanity and a black sense of humour and played him so hard he ended up being more human than the humans.
A week has passed since the deadly fire at Kyoto Animation and I’m trying to arrange a special screening of some kind for the anime fest I work for to pay tribute to the studio and those harmed on that awful day. I’ve also donated to one of the funds set up to help Kyoto Animation heal after the disaster – here are two links, one to Anime News Network and a report on a way to do direct bank transfers to Kyoto Animation and another to Sentai’s GoFundMe campaign.
Festival coverage will continue for both Japan Cuts and the New York Asian Film Festival and that will take me into the autumn festival season. Expect a post about Venice, and the Open City Documentary Festival rather soonish.
Considering Toshiaki Toyoda made his entry into Japanese films with low-budget punk titles about outsiders like Pornostar (1998) seeing him take on a film about shogi, or Japanese chess, is something of a surprise until you find out that he initially trained in shogi as a child. That, and the lead character of this biopic, the titular crybaby Shoji (Shottan) Segawa, was an outsider and trailblazer himself when he became a shogi professional well past the age when it is acceptable.
Kamagasaki is a slum-like part of Osaka’s Nishinari district which is notorious for having a high concentration of day labourers, homeless and a history of civil unrest, not to mention its proximity to the Tobita Shinchi red-light district. When I lived in Japan and moved from Tokyo to Nishinari I was given warnings and advice from friends. The way some people talked about the history of Kamagasaki made it sound anarchic and dangerous. By the time I got there things had become tamer thanks to gentrification driven by the boom in tourism and my experience was positive. Indeed, as soon as I was off the train a day worker with a sunny disposition struck up a conversation and offered to buy me a drink before my landlady rescued me from the surprise invitation and showed me around the district. They were the first of quite a few residents who took the time to talk to me and dispelled myths by telling me different stories of a poor but proud community who have had to fight for their human rights and dignity. The history and feel of Kamagasaki is strong and director Leo Sato has managed to bring it to life in his debut feature fiction film which creates a feel for the place.
I want to start this trailer post by offering my condolences to the people at Kyoto Animation studio for the terrible tragedy they suffered with the arson attack.
It sounds so awful. I’ve used artwork from series made by them on this blog since it started and I work for an animation festival so I’ve come to watch and appreciate their works. One of the best screenings we had was for A Silent Voice where the audience was profoundly moved by the human drama on screen. Near all of us were in tears at the end. I think back on that screening and want to thank the folks at Kyoto Animation for making films and shows that help people connect with their shared humanity and I hope they can recover as best they can.
New Directions in Japanese Cinema (NDJC) is a programme that has been in operation since 2007, it’s purpose being to help foster talented young filmmakers through workshops and the production of 30-minute narrative shorts, shot on 35mm film, with the help of experienced professionals. The resulting works are given screenings across Japan and at major festivals. I had covered their films in old trailer posts¹ but had never seen a whole programme until this year…
It was coming up to the end of the 2019 edition of the Osaka Asian Film Festival and there was a screening of this year’s NDJC titles early one morning. I was quite eager to see them and was truly thrilled by the final title, Final Judgement (Saigo no Shinpan) by Shinya Kawakami which is, hands down, the best of the bunch.
Inaba (Ren Sudo) is a talented artist who has tried and failed the entrance exam to Tokyo Art University many times. He is on his sixth attempt and has decided to make this year his final challenge. As he prepares to paint a portrait to pave his way into the institution, a very gifted rival named Hatsune (Miru Nagase) appears amidst the students and her unconventional methods and tremendous vision creates a work which roars with energy and snares the attention of everybody including their tutors. Inaba is incensed by this girl (who is still in school, no less!) but, at the height of his anger he takes a left turn and invites Hatsune to a cafe to find out how she is such a great artist…
Nobuhiro Yamashita is a director who has a particular forte for downbeat stories, whether they are slacker comedies or dramas, most of which contain misanthropic and misaligned characters who make for uncomfortable yet interesting leads (think The Drudgery Train). Here, he adapts an obscure manga from the early 90s by writer Marley Carib and illustrator Takashi Imashiro where the characters and the story are sometimes bizarre, sometimes sorrowful but secretly gentle, all of which plays out in a slow and uneven story.
Over the past month, a number of indie films have been played at Theatre Shinjuku. I have placed them in various trailer posts and have now rounded them up into this one because they all look interesting and will hopefully turn up at other festivals. They are part of the Tanabe Benkei Film Festival 2019 screenings where notable titles have been selected for more screenings and there are two films left for screening and they are the first two in this post:
I have reached the end of another 12-day work run and I’m finally catching up on my rest. In that time, I am watching Japanese films!
My review for Lying to Mom(2018) was published over at V-Cinema which wraps up my coverage of the New York Asian Film Festival there, however, it continues on this blog. I posted reviews for the Sabu film Jam(2018) and the Japanese drama 5 Million Dollar Life (2019). Expect more film reviews soon as I catch up with other titles.
Moon Sung-Ho was first mentioned on this blog in 2014 with his NDJC film Michizure. Originally from Hiroshima, after graduating from high school, he studied film-making in South Korea and then returned to Japan to shoot commercials and short films according to the NYAFF biography. This is his debut feature based on an original screenplay by veteran writer Naomi Hiruta and it has a weird energy thanks to its dark heart, a story so concerned with death and exploitation, and a light delivery in terms of direction and the script/actor’s as well the sunny daytime action.
Sabu’s films frequently feature hapless heroes thrown into dangerous circumstances where they are subject to spates of seemingly random encounters, weird coincidences and serendipitous occurrences that all eventually fit together like a jigsaw to reveal smartly constructed narratives that seem free-form but actually tease the idea of fate guiding everything. Jam (2018) features this, however, unlike Sabu’s earlier titles like Dangan Runner (1996) and Postman Blues (1997) which are high tension bounce-about thrillers complete with adrenaline fuelled chases, this one follows the trend of his latest works like Mr Long (2017) and Miss Zombie (2013) by being more contemplative and downbeat. Jam still has time for an awesome chase.
I am writing that at 2:20 on Saturday morning because I have woken up super-early. I think it was drinking at a friend’s leaving party. I have chocolate, a slight headache and writing to keep me company in the dark.
What is released this weekend? Lots. The best-looking titles for me are Fukansho ni natte iku korekara no bokura ni tsuite, Me Singing, Me Fall in Love because I like indie films and they look the most interesting. How about you?
The Japan Foundation and British Library are working together to put on a series of film screenings for Japan Foundation’s annual Summer Explorers season in London. I posted about the fantastic line-up for Pre-Summer Explorers! last month and now audiences can enjoy another series of over the top, offbeat narratives featuring psychic shenanigans and epic high school politics in a collection called:
Summer Explorers 2019 : Manga Comes To Life – Live Action Japanese Film Based on Manga
These films are taken from manga and brought to life in highly cinematic ways – apart from Setoutsumi which looks like one extended conversation but I have been informed that it is absolutely hilarious.
Presented and Curated by the Japan Foundation, in collaboration with the British Library (website for the event), here are the location and date details:
Date: 27 July 2019 – 28 July 2019 Venue: British Library, Knowledge Centre Theatre, 96 Euston Road, St Pancras, London NW1
The Fantasia International Film Festival starts in Montreal next week on July 11th and runs until August 01st. As with last year, the selection of Japanese films is great with titles with many titles that have graced screens at fests like the New York Asian Film Festival and Annecy (and soon, Japan Cuts) appearing here in one place. The animation selection is incredible and there are some choice live-action titles to get behind.
This is the 23rd edition of the festival and it has become a focal point for filmmakers, festival programmers, journalists, and audiences eager to see a diverse slate of films before they hit DVD or the internet and cinema screens. There are recent releases and ones that won’t get released in Japan until next year. There is also the chance to take part in film culture and meet film-makers and fellow film fans. There are lots of guests and great experiences to be had and a chance to get involved with dictating which films get the hype behind them, so please choose Japanese, and try some of the titles listed here. All information has been compiled from IMDB, this festival’s site and other festival sites.
So what’s lined up? Click on the titles to be taken through to the festival page for each film.
It’s not often that Korean animation gets screened so the “Dreaming Korea Animation” animation event is a special one and it takes place really close to Ikebukuro Station!
“Dreaming Korea Animation” is a one-day event held on July 27th, 2019 at Cine Libre Ikebukuro and there will be a number of films and music videos screened across three programmes. There are guest animators in town to do talks with two from Japan and three from Korea so this makes the event a brilliant chance to see some of the creativity on offer from Korea.
Programme A – 12:20 – 13:50 Film Screening and Director Talk
Ahn Jae-Hoon is one of the directors of the Korean animation studioMeditation With a Pencil. They released their first feature length film Green Days in 2011. Their subsequent feature film projects were animated adaptations of Korean short literature titles, The Shower being their latest work. It receives its Japanese premiere at this event.
Welcome to another weekend of badly translated trailers. I’m at the end of another 12-day work period so this weekend is going to be savoured. My spare time has been spent watching films and writing about them while listening to podcasts.
I started this week on a high with a post about the Kanazawa Film Festival and I ended it with the last of my Osaka Asian Film Festival coverage for this year – a review for Demolition Girl and an interview with that film’s director Genta Matsugami. I may do a round-up post and a comment on the awards ceremony but the New York Asian Film Festival has started and I have material to release for that, specifically reviews for Samurai Marathon and The Fable which have already been published. That written, I have a couple of posts about different festivals to release next week… Also, I got some Japanese beer from a friend in work so that helped me survive an evening of the heatwave that has struck Britain…
Born in Hiroshima in 1981, Genta Matsugami is a film director who operates the creative production-house16 bit.inc. He graduated from Osaka University of Arts in 2005 and his graduation work won a prize in the Pia Film Festival Award of that year. Demolition Girl is his debut feature. It has already distinguished itself on the festival circuit, first at its world premiere at the Slamdance Film Festival in Utah in January, where lead actress Aya Kitai won an honourable mention for her performance, and then at the Osaka Asian Film Festival in March where it scooped the JAPAN CUTS award. This means it will receive a screening at the JAPAN CUTS festival in New York in July. It has easy to see how the film has impressed audiences as it presents a refreshingly honest and concise depiction of working-class life in Japan.
The story of Demolition Girl focuses on a high school student named Coco (Kitai), who seems trapped in her small-town existence because of her poor background and a family who drag her down. Despite being working-class, she aspires to go to university in Tokyo, seeing this as a way out of poverty. University is tough to enter and expensive so she needs to work hard whether by studying or dabbling in the fetish industry by making illicit “crush videos”. The audience will root for her as they see the obstacles she faces and her determination not to give up and audience engagement is hooked by a persuasive performance from Kitai in her acting debut (she had previously won the MissiD 2017 Fantasista Sakurada Prize).
A man’s get up and go is what defines him, according to the writer Yukio Mishima. If that’s the case then Cocoa, the main protagonist of Genta Matsugami’s debut film, has a lot going for her. Super-smart and determined, she seems like a student who can be anything she wants but she faces a tough challenge in escaping the poverty of her background in a film that mixes class analysis with a coming-of-age story.
Cocoa Umeda lives in a small rural city. It feels like a slow and tranquil place where the biggest events are the seasonal festivals but for Cocoa and her friends things are getting intense as they approach their final exams and high school graduation. Cocoa could go on to higher education because she has potential but her options are limited by her financial situation.
This is a very badly translated series of film synopses of really obscure indie films but I find that there may be some value later. Sometimes, when doing trailer posts, I find myself linking to the Kanazawa Film Festival post from 2017 because directors may have had their works screened there and since I want to explore indie films, posts like this work out pretty good because it fulfils my general goal with this blog. Right, I hope you and I get some use out of this information and from the images, all of which have been taken from the film festival’s website.
Here is a run-down of the films that will be screened:
I conducted a number of interviews at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 and they were published over at VCinema. This one was published on June 06th and it is with the director and star of the film Sisterhood.
With inequality on the rise worldwide and identity politics a hot topic issue, filmmakers everywhere have their work cut out trying to keep up with the changes in their respective societies and there is a desire on the part of this writer to see films that tackle these issues from Japanese creatives. More social realist dramas and politics, to be blunt, especially in an era where the rise of individualism and poverty unbalances traditional notions of collectivism. Takashi Nishihara is a name that has cropped up quite often in this regard. Born in 1983 in Toyama, he is a graduate from the Department of Arts and Film at Waseda University in Tokyo. His filmography flits between documentary and drama but he usually focuses on those who find themselves made outsiders by the status quo of society and does so with a social realist bent.
I interviewed a number of people at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and these interviews are being published over at V-Cinema. This one was the first to go online on April 23rd.
Akiyoshi Koba is a graduate of Taisho University’s Japanese Language and Literature course. He now works as a part-time lecturer at Nagaoka Zokei University and indie filmmaker. His oeuvre is a series of titles that my be low on budget but are big in heart and invention. Koba strives to find what is special in small-town locations, collaborates with actors who feel like they are drawn from everyday life but have some unique feature, and uses set dressing and costuming that exudes a DIY aesthetic. Works like Slippers and Summer Moon (2015), Psychics Z (2016), and Tsumugi’s Radio (2017) typically mix comedy and sci-fi as well as drama. They have a charming simplicity and a love for their characters.
His latest title, Nunchaku and Soul (2019) is a continuation of this lo-fi storytelling and it is his best work to date. It features a mismatched pair of middle-aged guys, a nerd named Numata (Masahiro Kuroki) and a soul man named Soma (Atsushi Takahashi), who are determined to change their lives for the better by entering a dance competition. The differences in character and their reasons for entering are mined for low-key drama and lots of belly laughs. It also features a funky soundtrack. Nunchaku and Soul was recently screened at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 in the Indie Forum section. Despite its humble origins, it proved to be a hit with most of the audience who were treated to post-screening nunchaku demonstrations by lead actor Masahiro Kuroki and dancing given by director and cast.
The films that come from Japan range from an exciting-looking jidai-geki based on real history to adaptations of manga based in contemporary times. A lot of films are currently on the festival circuit but there are a couple that have yet to be released anywhere, even Japan. The styles and stories are all varied and seem to give a good idea of what mainstream Japanese cinema is creating.
It’s exciting to see that two of SABU’s latest films, jam and MR LONG, are on the programme as both films have idols but put them through their acting paces in action-packed and dramatic tales. Fly Me to the Saitama is said to be a heck of a lot of fun as it mixes great comedy and theatricality with a satire of Japanese society. There is a noir with The Gun which took a top prize at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival. Then there is The Fable which looks absolutely bananas – an adaptation of a hitman manga which is worth reading!
There are also guests coming from Japan such as Nana Komatsu who is the joint recipient of the Screen International Rising Star Asia Award so do make sure to make them feel welcome.
Also programmed are a selection of films from across the rest of Asia and these include some great titles like Maggie(South Korea) – winner of the Audience Award and the Grand Prix at the Osaka Asian Film Festival – and its director Yi Ok-Seop will be in New York. Still Human(Hong Kong) also plays at the fest and lead actress Crisel Consunji is attending. Also, legendary action choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.
This weekend’s trailer post is an epic one as lots of titles are released on Friday and Saturday. My week in blog posts started with a review of the Korean film The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil(2019) and then a review of Whole(2019) which I wrote back in March and then a preview of the films that have been programmed for Japan Cuts 2019 – a great selection!
Japan Cuts 2019 is back with its annual showcase of the latest in Japanese films carefully curated by its team of programmers. It is due to kick off in New York in a month’s time and runs from JULY 19–28. The selection looks good and there’s a handy trailer to build up anticipation by revealing a glimpse of all the films on offer!
There is a distinctly youthful and fresh feeling to the roster of directors and writers as well as the stories they tell. Lots of directors are, or were, making their debuts after cutting their teeth in various production roles or they are at the indie end of the spectrum and under-exposed on the festival circuit. Then there is a lot of youth-oriented stories with a lot of coming-of-age tales. That’s not to say that the older generations are forgotten as a documentary and some legendary filmmakers are also on board with Shinya Tsukamoto in New York to show Bullet Ballet as well as his latest film Killing and there is also a doc called I Go Gaga, My Dear about an elderly couple which is getting a lot of play at different fests so that’s a good sign. I’ve seen quite a few of these films, mostly at this year’s Osaka Asian Film Festival, and so I’ll put links to my reviews if you want to read them.
Some of these films are going to be accompanied by directors and actors and a full list plus bios can be found here. This year’s recipient of the CUT ABOVE Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film is Shinya Tsukamoto, one of the first directors I went and wrote a biography for and reviewed a whole bunch of his films (my favourite being Vital). He is just one of many guests so please check the official website to find out more.
All information comes from old trailer posts and the JAPAN CUTS website.
This review was first published on V-Cinema on March 14th
In recent years, the rise of mixed-race Japanese has become a hot topic with “hafu”, a word which is taken from the English word “half”, becoming more visible thanks to sports and entertainment personalities like tennis champ Naomi Osaka and 2015’s Miss Universe Japan Ariana Miyamoto. Even if Japan is pretty ethnically mixed, hafu are visibly different and are often presented as glamorous and fashionable by advertising execs. This ignores the reality of discrimination and ostracisation they face, something which Bilal Kawazoe’s film, WHOLE examines as one of the few recent Japanese efforts to look at this issues surrounding being biracial in a homogeneous society.
“Don’t let the devil win!” reads the tag-line of the film and it’s down to two bad guys to catch the worst man in this glossy thriller where a gangster and a loose-cannon of a cop team up to catch a serial killer.
Apparently based on a true story, the film is set in 2005/6 (best shown by the flip-phones and stubby cameras) and opens with the Devil (Kim Sung-Kyu) cruising the streets of Cheonan city looking for a victim for his murderous impulses. We see his M.O. of rear-ending cars on lonely roads and viciously knifing the unsuspecting driver when pretending to check on their safety. The narrative then shuffles him into the background to quickly sketch out the rivalry between two rogues, hulking gang boss Jang Dong-Su (Ma Dong-Seok aka Don Lee) and loud-mouth Detective Jung Tae-Seok (Kim Moo Yul). Jang Dong-Su is seen amidst business negotiations and turf rivalries, usually settling things with his boulder-like fists, while Jung Tae-Seok is a brash character who refuses bribes and has keen detective skills as evidenced by the fact he is the only one to sense that a serial killer is on the loose.
I’m starting the post with a great AMV. I used to make those, once upon a time.
We had big news at the start of the week with the marriage of Yu Aoi to the comedian Ryota Yamasato. It caught everyone off-guard because their dates went under the radar but they’ve known each other for a long time. Her smiles say a lot so let’s hope they continue to be happy.
The Japan Foundation in London have set up their annual Summer Explorers films season with a fun build-up of titles that feature titles from masterful directors both old – Takeshi Kitano and Seijun Suzuki – and new – Masaaki Yuasa. There is even a fun indie film thrown in. It’s really diverse and totally free! All you need to do is book your place!
Here’s some hype and information from the Japan Foundation:
“From wacky time-travel to ancient Rome (Thermae Romae) and a musical extravaganza set in feudal Japan (Princess Raccoon), to a slapstick twist on the film noir genre of the 60’s (Murder Un-Incorporated) – our annual Pre-Summer Explorers season aims to make you shake and cry with laughter while presenting the multi-faceted and unique sense of humour in Japanese cinema!”
Dates: 26 June 2019 – 30 June 2019 Venues:
Screen 1, The Soho Hotel, 4 Richmond Mews, W1D 3DH London
Prince Charles Cinema, 7 Leicester Place, WC2H 7BY London
See the Japan Foundation website for more information or click on the links below.
The Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place between 19th and 30thJune. There are around 121 new features from 42 countries across the globe. Japan makes up a tiny fraction, perhaps the smallest. It could be that I have missed titles in the line-up but I did scour the catalogue. The films do look good, though.
“If I had to name one country with a true culture of animation, it would definitely be Japan.”
This quote was made by French director Georges Lacroix in 1999, the year when the Annecy Festival celebrated Japanese animation for the very first time. Since then, the fest has been packed with Japanese animation, many of which have often taken awards, and now, twenty years later, Annecy celebrates Japan again by packing in classics and new titles and giving space for much of the talent working today to shine.
The Annecy International Animation Film Festival is back from June 10th to the 15th and it’s packed with anime feature films, TV anime, and conferences because the organisers have chosen this year to celebrate 100 years of Japanese animated films (1917 – 2017). This celebration spans classic shorts never before seen outside of Japan to forthcoming works that are being pitched to producers and distributors around the world. Netflix has a presence here thanks to their positive contribution to anime and the student graduation works look equally enticing. With WWII propaganda films, adaptations of classic western novels, animated documentaries, 80s sci-fi, and more going to be screened, festival-goers are in for an exceptional and exciting collection of films that shows what Japan can do.
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…
I have just completed a 12-day work week and have two days off so I’m going to spend this weekend watching films. I went out with work colleagues/friends to a Chinese restaurant and a bar, the first time I’ve done that in months, and it felt good. I’ll be going out more now that proofing work has died down and film work has gone back to various things I have watched although I still have reviews and interviews from the Osaka Asian Film Festival to go. No films watched this week, just a review for Shinjuku Tiger and an interview with its director, Yoshinori Sato.
I interviewed a number of people at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and these interviews are being published over at V-Cinema. This interview was the first to go online on March 28th.
Yoshinori Sato was born in Aichi, Japan on February 1975. After graduating from high school, he travelled to the US to study filmmaking at the University of Southern California. Since graduating, he has worked as a director in Japanese television while also making independent films. His film credits include Bad Child (2013) and Her Mother, which played at international film festivals including the 21st Busan International Film Festival and the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2017.
Sato returned to Osaka to give the world premiere of his documentary, Shinjuku Tiger, a fascinating look at a flamboyantly dressed and inspiring man who wears a tiger mask and, since the 70s, has practically lived in the bars and cinemas of Shinjuku as he pursues good films, beautiful woman, and delicious sake. It is all part of a fiction he has created to “spread love and peace” and the film shows the character in action as he works his normal job in newspaper delivery and goes on epic bar crawls that rope in celebrities and friends. This films borders on hagiography but gains depth as Sato uses the life of the man to examine the changes and events that Shinjuku has seen through the decades so we get some sense of the culture of one of Tokyo’s most famous wards.
Sato kindly gave an interview after the Q&A that followed the second screening of Shinjuku Tiger at the festival. The interview was conducted in English but we were joined by interpreter Keiko Matsushita who offered some interesting questions and insights.
Receiving its world premiere at the Osaka Asian Film Festival (OAFF) 2019, Shinjuku Tiger (2019) is a return to the world of documentary filmmaking for director Yoshinori Sato. Although he has a background in television documentaries, he will probably be best known for his 2016 sophomore feature about capital punishment and guilt, Her Mother, an intense film where the mother of a murder victim seeks to prevent the execution of the murderer. It won plaudits for the acting at different festivals including Busan 2016 and OAFF 2017. After a fairly bleak and heavy drama about coming to terms with murder, Sato steps back into documentaries with a film about a flamboyant guy who is all about spreading love and happiness.
I’m in the middle of a 12 day week after going back to doing fun overtime in work but I managed to do a lot of writing as well. I posted about a special screening of animated documentaries by female directors – World Animation Theatre 2019 – and also a preview for Nippon Connection 2019.
Nippon Connection returns to the German city of Frankfurt from 28th May to 2nd June and the organisers have programmed around 100 feature and short films as well as many cultural activities. It is a veritable feast of things to do and see and eat so I’m going to list things and offer some highlights, films that might be to find outside of the festival. Tickets are already on sale so, without further ado, here are the films on offer.
13 animated documentary films by female directors from Japan, Korea and Sweden will be screened in a number of venues across Japan, starting in Tokyo before heading west throughout 2019/20. The stories cover a wide range of experiences from the deeply personal to global politics.
Time to watch films. I have four Korean titles lined up for this weekend, one of which I watched well over a decade ago (The Host). I tried watching some films earlier in the week but didn’t get far into them before turning them off due to other demands. Anyway, a news story and an interview I did were published over at Anime UK News at the tail end of last week and two reviews I wrote for V-Cinema were also published – Minidoka and Alternative Facts: The Lies of Executive Order 9066. I also posted a review of the short film Slowly here and then an interview I did with the director and producer of that film, Momoko Fukuda and Jumpei Inoue.
I interviewed a number of people at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and these interviews are being published over at V-Cinema. Here was the first to go online on May 04th.
Momoko Fukuda hails from Ibaraki City, Osaka Prefecture. After studying at the Japan Institute of the Moving Image, her graduation work Goodbye Mother (2014) was selected by a number of Japanese festivals including the Yubari International
Fantastic Film Festival. In 2015, she took part in the New Directions in Japanese Cinema (NDJC): Young Filmmaker Development Project run by the Japanese government’s Agency of Cultural Affairs. It is designed to foster a new generation of directors who can bring new life to the Japanese film industry and Fukuda seems truly unique in her tastes. The resulting film, Dad’s Marriage (2016) (here’s my trailer post), was screened at international festivals such as Camera Japan in Holland where it stood out for its unique pacing and a story that challenges the norm of what people consider to constitute a family. She is turning it into a feature film, Oishii Kazoku, due for release in 2019. Her most recent works have been shorts, one a part of the omnibus film 21st Century Girl (2019) which appeared at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, and the other is the a rather offbeat Slowly which appeared at the 2019 Osaka Asian Film Festival.
Slowly is a slice out of the lives of two old friends. After their high school reunion, they drive back to some unspecified point, their conversation awkwardly hovering around questions about their past and future and the changes to their hometown. Their journey is stopped by a tennis umpire’s chair, which lies on the road. The two suddenly find themselves helping a third person carry the chair away and we watch as they lug the thing through a beautiful series of pastoral scenes and mundane small town shots while still talking about their lives. The film seems aimless and has a laidback rhythm because not much happens. But through conversation and behaviour, we can read a lot and it is interesting to wonder over the images and actors.
It reminded me of my 1990s childhood when a variety of European films from Rohmer or Aki Kaurismaki and stageplays by Beckett were on terrestrial television in the UK rather than squirreled away on some satellite channel. I ended up watching the film a few times and felt quite moved by the experience, sensing a certain longing, acknowledging the nostalgia for my past and some gaps in my present as I identified with the characters.
There were two screenings at OAFF and I caught the film’s first screening where the audience seemed to appreciate the experience. I was due to interview Fukuda and her producer Jumpei Inoue after the second screening. When I arrived at the cinema, I was told that one person had reacted negatively to the film at this second screening but, despite this, Fukuda and Inoue, along with two of their team, sat down with me. Undaunted and thoughtful, they kindly spent over 30 minutes talking about the making of the film and their inspirations.
Help with translation was provided by Keiko Matsushita while translation of the transcription of the interview was overseen by Takako Pocklington.
Momoko Fukuda is a director going places and quickly. Originally from Ibaraki City, Osaka Prefecture, she studied at the Japan Institute of the Moving Image and her graduation work Goodbye Mother (2014) was selected for big festivals such as the Yubari. In 2015 she took part in the NDJC: Young Filmmaker Development Project, a hotbed for young directors to grow in terms of their skills, and she made Dad’s Marriage (2016), a story where a make-up artist returns home on the occasion of her mother’s memorial to discover her father (played by actor and comedian Itsuji Itao) wants to become the bride of a local handyman. This was screened at international festivals and she is currently turning it into a feature. Recently she was tapped to create a short for the high-profile female led omnibus film 21st Century Girl (2018) and she appeared at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 with the world premiere of her film Slowly, a short drama which goes in a totally different aims to use absurdity to examine the human condition.