Kamata Prelude is the brainchild of Urara Matsubayashi (lead actress in The Hungry Lion) who produced as well as took a lead role. She gives a portrayal of a struggling actress named Machiko who lives in the Kamata area of Tokyo. A four-part omnibus film, each section revolves around her in some way and aims to depict what it means to be a “woman” and an “actress” in society, but they are done in the unique style of each of the four directors.
Two of the directors are guys you may have heard of if you follow film festivals. Book-ending the film are Ryutaro Nakamura, whose works like Plastic Love Story and Silent Rain are full of lyrical imagery, andHirobumi Watanabe, who has built a filmography based on his stories all being set in his native Tochigi prefecture and shot with distinct monochrome visuals while being shot-through with dry humour. The newer directors are two young women, Yuka Yasukawa, one of a number of emerging talents tapped to helm a section in the omnibus film 21st Century Girl, and Mayu Akiyama, whose debut work, Rent a Friend, won the MOOSIC LAB Grand Prix and was screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2018.
While Watanabe and Nakamura made sections that are delightful reveries about life and a love of movies/culture (albeit, tinged with melancholy in Nakamura’s case), Yasukawa and Akiyama provided subjects that feel more keyed in to the thorny issues of life as a young woman. Yuka Yasukawa gives a #MeToo story wherein Machiko goes to a casting call and finds herself facing a grossly exploitative panel of guys alongside a defiant fellow actress played by Kumi Takiuchi (It Feels So Good,Greatful Dead). Meanwhile, Akiyama’s section felt like a realistic depiction of a get-together of girls wherein false masks and the anxieties that women bear in society are exposed in an onsen in Kamata. This section is full of great actresses who are making waves in the entertainment world like Mayuko Fukuda (Good-Bye) and an especially acerbic Sairi Ito (Love & Other Cults).
Sat with Matsubayashi and Akiyama at a rooftop bar, I enjoyed a lively talk with two intelligent and resourceful creatives who I felt would be making big things in the future. Their film is a refreshingly hip and contemporary set of stories where its unique approach to style and subject-matter rendered their address of important issues enjoyable, nuanced, and relevant for our age.
This interview was done at the festival and via email with their help and the invaluable help of Takako Pocklington who translated and added some interesting comments.
2020 has knocked everyone sideways, not least film fests across the globe, many of which went virtual to protect audiences from Covid-19. This year’s London Film Festival follows many others in being a virtual event as well as having physical screenings in Loondon. It runs from October 07th to the 18th and viewers across the UK will be able to access all of the films wherever they are. Reflecting the other tumultuous events of this year, specifically the long-ignored issue of racial justice, there is a substantial presence of black filmmakers, a traditionally under-served demographic, that is finally getting their chance to shine.
In terms of Japanese films there are none. We get the first episode of a TV show. This lack of films is rather ironic considering 2020 is the year that the BFI is going all in on its Japanese movie coverage to leverage any and all interest in the now-postponed Tokyo Olympics but I guess it’s another sign of a Covid-19 casualty.
Here’s what is programmed (click on the title to be taken to the corresponding festival page):
The Vancouver International Film Festival 2020 (VIFF) runs from September 24th to October 07th and it is packed with over 100 feature films from around the world. This year’s fest is going to be available for people to view online so this means that viewers in British Columbia can watch from the comfort of their homes via VIFF Connect, VIFF’s new online streaming platform. There will be talks and conferences that are open the everyone around the world to tune into on top of that.
I’ve been trying to get my life in order by writing schedules down for myself with achievable goals. Normally, I just have a bunch of things I want to do and get around to them eventually but I have to push myself harder. That also means practising Japanese again.
Ryushi Lindsay is a British-Japanese filmmaker based in Japan and the UK. Even with just a couple of shorts to his name,he is beginning to carve out an interesting filmography as he works across genres and approaches subjectswith an eye forthe politics that underlie things.
Lindsay’s debut film, the experimental baseball documentary Kokutai (2019), finds uncomfortable parallels with the pomp and circumstance of fascistic events of the past and the current martial aesthetics of Japan’s popular national high school baseball tournaments. His latest, Idol, is a drama set in the world of girl groups.
Long a ubiquitous facet of Japanese entertainment, pop idols present a broad range of issues ripe for examination, from the objectification of performers to their role in the mass media in defining femininity and gender relations. These issues were looked at in Kyoko Miyake’s 2017 documentary Tokyo Idols. Idol uses it as background for a dark drama but focuses on the economic drivers that make the parents push their children to perform as we get front row seats of one parasitic parent’s extreme behaviour.
Taking place over two nights in Tokyo, the story enters at the point of crisis for a young single mother named Miyabi as her child idol daughter Kasumi is unceremoniously dropped from the line-up of a stage act just minutes before a performance and replaced by someone more popular. At first Miyabi argues against her daughters firing, then begs with the managerfor another chance, all to no avail. She won’t give up and this sets in motion a foolish plan involving another child idol named Ami that will have viewers tensing up with a sense of foreboding.
Tthe 31st Tokyo Student Film Festival runs from October 15th to October 17th in Shibuya Eurospace and 19 have been selected for audiences to enjoy. The line-up consists of films produced by students from across Japan and they are submitted to the festival which is run by a small team of students who have created a space where the free-flowing and unique ideas people have in their student days can thrive. Some of these films go on to the international festival circuit so this is a good way to check out future talent.
This event is the largest student film festival in Japan with the longest history and people who have cooperated in the past include Nobuhiko Obayashi, Mamoru Oshii, Yuya Ishii, Satoko Yokohama, Yoshihiro Nakamura Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Shinji Aoyama, Kazuo Hara and more. This being a student festival, funds are tight so organisers have arranged a crowdfunding campaign to help with the venue cost and the printing cost of flyers and pamphlets.
Here are the films with information pulled from the festival site and the YouTube pages for the trailers as well as other resources I discovered (badly translated):
Some time in the near future, Japan has suffered a major economic collapse that has resulted in an explosion in unemployment and the attendant fraying of society as increasing numbers of kids cease to respect adults, classrooms are abandoned and teachers face escalating violence. The Japanese government decide that the only way to control this new generation of disruptive teenagers is to punish them and so they issue the Battle Royale act, an ultra-violent attempt to stop juvenile delinquency whereby, every year, a random class of 15 year olds is kidnapped and dumped in a remote area with nothing but a stockpile of weapons and they are forced to fight until only one survivor is left.
The film follows the 42 students and two transfers of class 3-B of Shiroiwa Junior High as they go through the Battle Royale challenge on an abandoned island just off Shikoku.
Crime thriller Beasts Clawing at Straws is the debut feature of director Kim Yong-hoon and while he may be new name on the scene what is on the screen has all of the narrative slickness and stylistic panache associated with Korean cinema to ensure it stands with the best of his nation’s crime films.
Based on a Japanese novel byKeisuke Sone, it’s hard to imagine a director from Japan, outside of Takeshi Kitano or Tetsuya Nakashima, being able to do this hard-boiled story with the grit, the grue, the darkness,the bouncy pacing and the wry sense of humour that seems more natural for modern Korean film-makers and Kim applies these elements to acollection of morally compromised characters colliding with each other as they all chase a Louis Vuitton Boston bag stuffed to the brim with cash.
September is going to be very busy in terms of this blog as I aim to cover a grip of festivals and also release reviews. I’ve got one post planned for tomorrow. So far this week, I’ve posted a review for Beneath the Shadowand Miyamoto and, over at Anime UK News, an article about the Inter-College Animation Festival 2020, a showcase of the talent in the Japanese university system, and how it is possible to watch it via the internet.
After spending the 90s working in TV, director Keishi Otomo moved into film and has built a filmography stacked with adaptations of novels and manga. He is best known for the internationally successful Rurouni Kenshin trilogy, a big-budget samurai series with a visual sheen of intense action, dizzying stunt work and exquisite period details that swept viewers away. He reigns everything in for his latest work, Beneath the Shadow, Eirin in Japanese.
This is based on a same-named 2017 Akutagawa prize-winning novel by Shinsuke Numata and is set in the director’s hometown of Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, both before and after the 3/11 disaster. It features a slow-burn character-driven drama that teases audiences with a light mystery that hinges on the idea that our interpretations of people’s behaviour can be wrong if our emotions get in the way but also, that all of us have something we keep in the shadows.
Miyamoto is based on a seinen manga by Hideki Arai that ran from 1990 to 1994 in the magazine Weekly Morning. This slice-of-life story, based somewhat on Arai’s background, detailed the maturation of Hiroshi Miyamoto, a young man from Yokohama who is uncertain of himself as he is fresh out of college and new to living life in Tokyo. Scenes of work and romance are tied to his struggle to establish himself as a man and start a family and everything is given the gaman/gambarimasu treatment with some shocking moments of violence and lots of hot-blooded emotions as he holds true to ideals of love and honour even if it puts him in a world of hurt.
For many international audiences, this 2019 movie adaptation will be their first contact with the franchise. It is a direct continuation of a 2018 drama. Both the drama and film were written and directed by Tetsuya Mariko, the man who helmed the absolutely bleak portrait of lost youth Destruction Babies (2016). Indeed the movie version of Miyamoto was filmed from September 09th to October 30th after the TV show finished airing in the summer of 2018, and so, a director with a strong vision reunites with a cast of great actors as they adapt the middle part of the manga and the main character, the titular Miyamoto, moves on to romancing a new woman, Yasuko.
Dancing MaryDir: Sabu (2019) – a fun genre mash-up movie where a supernatural romance meets a road trip with yakuza action and Kurosawa style atmospherics. Sabu uses familiar themes of fate and finding a purpose whilst utilising a similar structure to some of his more recent films by having an extended flashback tie everything up. My review is over at V-Cinema
One Night Dir: Kazuya Shiraishi (2019) – it started off promisingly with a uncomfortable yet believable depiction of people dealing with domestic violence and the insidious ways that it can destroy and reshape people, but a let crime-fuelled subplot used to ease the characters into a cathartic ending was too contrived to be believed. My review is over at V-Cinema
A Beloved WifeDir: Shin Adachi (2019) – a stellar comedy that is both hilarious and uncomfortable about the dysfunctional relationship between a lazy sex-mad writer and his long-suffering wife. The writing was pure perfection as these two angular characters clashed as she pushes him to be a better guy and he focuses on getting laid. A late redemption for everyone feels earned and highly rewarding. One of my favourite films of the year. Here’s my review.
I watched some non-Japanese films including Grizzly Man Dir: Werner Herzog and Taxi Dir: Jean-luc Besson.
Writer/director Shin Adachi really grabbed the attention of the cinema world with his script for 100 Yen Love (2014) which charted one female loser’s rise from zero to hero via boxing. Following that he returned to writing scripts and made a number of hits but soon directed his debut film, the warmly received 1980s-set nostalgic comedy 14 That Night (2016). For his sophomore feature, A Beloved Wife, he adapted his semi-autobiographical novel and the old adage that “it is better to write what you know” turned out to be true as it won Best Screenplay at the 2019 edition of the Tokyo International Film Festival. A painfully funny and awkward comedy about marital disharmony, one hopes that this isn’t too close to reality.
The famous proverb, “Behind every great man is a great woman” applies to A Beloved Wife as it gives audiences ringside seats into a painfully funny dysfunctional marriage between a sex-obsessed writer and his long-suffering partner.
While every marriage has its peaks and troughs, for the Yanagida’s, the troughs have been longer and much deeper and it is all linked to the husband Gota Yanagida (Gaku Hamada) for he is a pompous and lazy scriptwriter running on the fumes of past successes. Suffering writer’s block, he has been living off his wife Chika (Asami Mizukawa) for the last 10 years. Contenting himself to occasionally doing cooking, cleaning and childcare and always promising to write a hit, he has forced her to her turn into the family breadwinner and so she is constantly working, constantly tired and very unhappy about their situation and has no problem loudly denouncing her husband because of it. Meanwhile, their daughter Aki (played by the adorable Chise Niitsu) is a cheerful poppet concerned mainly about having fun.
This year’s San Sebastian International Film Festival runs from September 18th to the 26th and they have announced their selection of films. Due to the Covid-19, the festival has reduced what it will show and created a mixed programme of physical and online activities (details here). There are three Japanese films, as far as I am aware and they are detailed below. Take a look!
I have been back in work on the regular this week but, despite that, I managed to get some writing done. I’m covering some titles at the New York Asian Film Festival. I covered the Toronto International Film Festival and L’Etrange Festival (a post I enjoyed writing) and I have a few more things planned. In terms of films that I watched, Jackie Chan featured heavily with Police Story 1 and 2 and The Protector. I am struggling to read The Bonfire of the Vanities but storming through the game Front Mission 3.
The L’Etrange Festival is set to run at Forum des Images for its 26th edition from September 02 to 13 as a physical event and it comes during the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, rules have been put in place (read them here) to ensure everybody’s safety so they can enjoy some masterful cinematographical delights on a big screen. The Japanese focus features three familiar films from Seijun Suzuki, a fanciful delight from the son of manga genius Osamu Tezuka and a short film from new young star Nao Yoshigai.
What Japanese films are programmed at L’Etrange this year?
This year’s Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 10th to the 20th and they have announced their selection of films. Due to the Covid-19, it is a reduced festival with just 50 titles but there are works from major directors as well as plenty of new talents. In terms of attending the fest, there are some in-person events like drive-ins, outdoor screenings and some indoor screenings, that will be mixed with online screenings and virtual press conferences talks. There are two Japanese films and they are both by leading ladies in the industry. Take a look!
Summer of Horror Hiho is running for another year and goes live from August to September in Tokyo: Kineka Oomori (August 21st – September 03rd) in Shinagawa ward; Nagoya: Cinema SKHole (August 29th – September 18th) in Nakamura ward; Osaka: Theater Seven (August 27th – September 04th) in Yodogawa ward. The main features of this fest are new Japanese horror movies, a celebration of director Mario Bava with a screening of four of his films and a revival screening of The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974).
I have included the two Japanese films from the fest in this trailer post.
Milocrorze: A Love Story is a film all about love. How it shows love in its many-splendoured forms is what makes it a treat as its endlessly inventive and surprising visual execution has maximum impact and much fun.
Milocrorze follows three stories about love from the perspective of three characters and they are done in varying styles. The perspectives audiences are given include a one-eyed ronin named Tamon who inhabits a warped samurai drama, an unconventional relationship therapist named Kumagai Bresson, and Ovreneli Vreneligare, a man-child at the mercy of a mysterious woman’s whims.
All but one of the characters is played entirely by Takayuki Yamada and he approaches the roles as caricatures through which he displays loud emotions.
The Venice International Film Festival is going to take place from September 02nd to September 12th. It is the 77th edition and the first big film festival to take place physically since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is one Japanese feature and two VR experiences with a Japanese connection. Without further ado, here are the films!
The Fantasia International Film Festival will be celebrating its 24th edition as a virtual event due to Covid-19. A variety of film screenings, panels and workshops will be accessible to viewers across Canada from August 20th through to September 2nd, 2020. There is a decent Japanese contingent of contemporary films and some recent titles stretching back 10 years.
The festival, like many others, will deliver its to audiences films via the internet rather than through any physical screenings and the fest is only open to people in America. The method of watching the films is via an app called Smart Cinema which can be installed on smartphones and tablets. This means that people have the chance to watch the films safely in the comfort of their own homes.
As of writing, there is no indication of any Q&As or introductions but there are a LOT of films for people to enjoy. I will highlight the Japanese films and a range of other titles that I have covered at the Osaka Asian Film Festival (OAFF) so, hopefully, it can help you when you are making a choice about what to watch.
If I were to tell you just some of the many different things going on in Fish Story, you would say that the title must be a perfect fit for such an outrageous yarn and that it cannot possibly work in a movie. But the film’s story gracefully ties a huge range of things together to make an unconventional and warmhearted tale that shows how no struggle is fruitless and everything in life can go on to have great meaning.
Fish Story is based on Kotaro Isaka’s same-named novel and consists of many distinctly different and seemingly unconnected storylines taking place at different points over 77 years to explain how a punk rock song nobody bought saves the world from an asteroid on a collision course with the Earth.
This week I posted about the upcoming Blu-ray release of Fish Story on August 10th (review coming soon) and the Japanese films at the Locarno Film Festival. I watched Life, Kajaki, Two Days, One Night, Heroic Purgatory, Wild Geese, and I played more of Front Mission 3.
The Locarno Film Festival runs from August 05th to the 15th and they have announced their selection of films. Like last year there are two Japanese films (well, one’s a US-Japan co-production and the other’s a France-Japan co-production) but these are both shorts and were subjects of crowdfunding campaigns. Apparently, you can watch the films online when the festival goes live. Here they are!
This week I went to work. Lots of Covid-19 infection prevention material has been left, waiting to be installed. Other than that, I visited relative and did gardening.
I finished off the novel Battle Royale by Koushun Takami and watched a whole load of horror movies like Black Christmas, Silent Night, Deadly Night, Night Killer. I also re-watched Columbus and Frankenstein.
Released on July 24th, what would have been the opening day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, The Day of Destruction would have been a slice of counter-programming that rages against the ills of society while it basked in the aura of Olympic spectacle. Even in the absence of the games, the film still retains its power as a unique “state of the nation” address thanks to its director compiling issues into a unique story.
Toshiaki Toyoda has long made films about people on the fringes and struggling to find their way, criticising the state and its treatment of citizens. He himself has been subject to violations of his rights when he was arrested on suspicion of possessing a firearm and held without charge. It later turned out to be a family heirloom from World War II but the police turned it into a media spectacle. Japan continues to be rocked by numerous government corruption scandals, incompetent handling of Covid-19, and the silencing of political dissent by the increasingly fascistic LDP. It must feel that the country is on the highway to disaster and this film picks up on that sense of impending doom.
Welcome to the friendship between Kinta and Ginji, the titular duo of an indie film written, edited, scored, performed, and co-directed by Takuya Dairiki and Takashi Miura. Friends since childhood, for their 12th film together these native sons of Osaka have concocted a warmhearted and whimsical experience that you probably won’t see outside of a film festival but it bears the charms of a well-worn friendship.
Kinta & Ginji follows the daily lives of Kinta, a raccoon who wears a red cap, and Ginji, a boxy robot with a shiny silver sheen. They are played by the directors, in their simple self-made costumes, and they are portrayed living in an unremarkable forest where they spend their time chatting with the comedic patter of Kansai dialect which we hear in winding conversations as the two wend their way through the woods. This wryly funny buddy movie doesn’t really have any structure to it other than most scenes have circular conversations and some conversations are iterative as they get circled back to later during the friend’s perambulations.
Recently, I’ve been watching lots of non Japanese films with lashing of 70s, 80s and 90s horror movies (Slumber Party Massacre trilogy, some David Cronenberg stuff) and some German films by Werner Herzog. Also catching up on or re-experiencing Hollywood movies I have seen like Inceptionand The Cabin in the Woods, thanks to Amazon Prime. I did watch The Day of Destruction by Toshiaki Toyoda as part of Japan Cuts 2020.
Definitely dug “The Day of Destruction” by @toyodatoshiaki. It's stylishly filmed and acted, has awesome music by GEZAN and feels relevant for our age as it gives a heartfelt call to action to change the world. It’s still available as part of #JAPANCUTS
The story is simple. Two 30-something friends meet in Akita on the eve of one’s wedding and they rekindle the flames of passion they shared for each other when they were younger. An agreed one night stand becomes five nights of sex and, in the moments between intercourse, they confess their less than stellar present lives and rake over their history to find some way to face an uncertain future.
It Feels So Good is the third film from veteran writer Haruhiko Arai. His last one was a rather staid drama called This Country’s Sky (2015) but he got his start writing Roman Porno titles like Woman with Red Hair (1979). He worked with Ryuichi Hiroki and adapted books for films in Vibrator (2003) and It’s Only Talk (2005). He adapts another book, this one by Kazufumi Shiraishi, but, like his work with Hiroki, he brings about another film full of complex adults having adult relationships.
Following working with with Makoto Shinozaki on 3.11 psychology/premonition drama Sharing and Kiyoshi Kurosawa on haunting ghost story Journey to the Shore, Taku Tsuboi made his directorial debut with Sacrifice as part of his work at Rikkyo University. He draws upon the aforementioned films and uses a murder mystery narrative mixed with a doomsday cult context to make an interesting low-key thriller that is heavy on contemplation as three teens ponder their place in the world while dark forces swirl on the edge of their reality.
We are first introduced to Midori (Michiko Gomi), a young woman who once belonged to a cult named Shio no kai (Golden Wave) when she was a child. She predicted the Great East Japan Earthquake while she was a member but escaped their clutches and is now a university student keeping a low profile lest the cult’s followers find and kidnap her for her much coveted powers of premonition. However, when a serial cat killer near the campus graduates to offing a student, Midori is reluctantly drawn to the case. Already investigating is a pretty, and pretty deceitful, student named Toko (Miki Handa) who seeks to enliven her dull reality by toying with the person she suspects is the culprit, her seemingly affable classmate Okita (Yuzu Aoki) who might be hiding a dark side behind his nice smile. All the while, graduation looms and the violence of the adult world and natural disasters presses upon the three.
We start off with the tragic news of the passing of Haruma Miura who has died in what appears to be an act of suicide. This has been a shock that has reverberated around the world since he was steadily working in dramas and films, some of which will air later this year and next, and he was quite popular. Whatever the reasons, let us hope he has found peace.
Earlier this week, I posted a review of Kontoraand an interview with its director, Anshul Chauhan, and Japan Cuts 2020 (preview) started so a whole bunch of reviews I worked on were posted on V-Cinema and I am currently writing one.
My final interview at this year’s Osaka Asian Film Festival (OAFF) was with director Anshul Chauhan. We had first met at OAFF 2018 when he participated an interview following the Japanese premiere of his debut feature Bad Poetry Tokyo. This year, he was back with his sophomore feature Kontora, which came to Osaka after having won the Grand Prix for the best film and the award for Best Music (for composer Yuma Koda) at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival a few months earlier.
Kontora was one of the stand-outs of OAFF 2020. Majestically shot in black and white, it’s bursting with feelings of discontent felt by the main character, high school girl Sora (Wan Marui). Drifting away from her distant father (Taichi Yamada) and living in a dull town, she finds hope in her recently deceased grandfather’s wartime diary after her beloved relative passes away as she finds clues to some “treasure” buried in a forest. Just as a treasure hunt starts, a mysterious vagrant (Hidemasa Mase) appears in town. Mute and walking backwards, he is a strange sight but his presence forces a change in the relationship between daughter and father. A strange family drama unfolds with a tone halfway between elegiac and angry with a sheen of mystery and history linked to the “treasure” and family dynamics that rope in a greedy uncle (Takuzo Shimizu) and a cousin named Haru (Seira Kojima).
Chauhan and his wife, the film’s producer Mina Moteki, sat down to talk about the film and explain more about its creation, the work put in by the actors and his wider film career. This interview was first conducted at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and then via email and has been edited for length.
A lonely teenage girl enduring adolescent turmoil amidst a fractured family’s feud, finds the arrival of a mysterious mute man in her small town allows her to communicate with others. This is the story for Anshul Chauhan’s sophomore feature following his woman-on-the-verge-of-a-breakdown indie drama Bad Poetry Tokyo (2017). Kontora has different atmospherics thanks to its look, raw performance of its lead actress, its generation-spanning story and its touch of the supernatural, so that this film stands distinct from what is normally churned out in Japan in its depiction of contemporary girlhood.
Well, I’ve managed to regain my concentration after a couple of months of it going astray and so, this week, I watched a few Japanese films that will be screened at Japan Cuts 2020 and finished off editing two of my interviews from the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020 with one involving Anshul Chauhan for Kontora (here’s the link) and one with the creative team behind Bleached Bones Avenuewhich I published. I also posted reviews for Bleached Bones Avenueand Hammock. I also published my preview piece on Japan Cuts 2020.
From July 17th – 30th, Japan Cuts will launch for its 2020 edition which is going to be an entirely online experience. There are 30 features and 12 shorts that will be shown across 14 days with filmmaker video introductions, live virtual Q&As and panel discussions for audiences across the entire United States (yes, this fest is geo-locked, much like the upcoming Fantasia festival).
The selection is, as ever, good as it covers indies and mainstreamers, features and shorts, anime and live-action and all covering a diverse array of subjects. I’ve covered all of these in other festival posts and seen quite a few and will be plugging my own reviews and interviews in this highlight post which has been split up into the following sections, all of which, I hope will help people decide what they want to see:
Bleached Bones Avenue is director Akio Fujimoto’s follow-up to his drama Passage of Life (2017). It is another film that looks at the shared links between Japan and Myanmar but this time, instead of a family drama, it is unearthing history.
Deep in the hills of Myanmar’s Chin state, Fujimoto and his crew met with a group of people who are dedicated to recovering the bones of Japanese soldiers who died during the Imphal campaign. It was a reckless attack by poorly supplied soldiers who were forced into a gruelling retreat through tough terrain and severe monsoon rains. Beset by malaria and dysentery, a lack of food and medical supplies, many men became sick and many perished, their bodies decomposing in the places they fell. The route they took became known as Hakkotsu Kaido, Bleached Bones Avenue in English. The local hill tribes who experienced these events have passed on their memories to their descendants who Fujimoto and his crew observe for this 16 minute film that connects past and present in a unique way.
The film’s director Akio Fujimoto, actor and cinematographer Kentaro Kishi and producer Kazutaka Watanabe sat down to discuss their work and went into fascinating detail.
This interview was conducted with the help of Kazutaka Watanabe’s lively interpretation.
Screened at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020, Bleached Bones Avenue is the latest title from director Akio Fujimoto and, on the face of it, this short is a curious follow-up film to his previous work, the family drama Passage of Life(2017), which was shown at the festival back in 2018. However, it continues to examine the human links between Japan and Myanmar in its own unique way.
Fujimoto’s latest film takes place in Myanmar’s Chin state and observes the work of a team from the Zomi tribe who recover the remains of Japanese soldiers who died during the battle of Imphal. We watch as these men, each clad in simple tracksuits, hoodies and t-shirts, prepare for their work then travel by SUV to some remote area. A stream of sequences flow by where the action consists of the team traversing steep mountains, dense with trees, where they dig with simple tools. The only sounds are of bird cries, the voices the men and the tools they use as they gouge out chunks of earth in the hope of bones surfacing from the past. Although the environment looks as if it has remained untouched by human hands, the scars of war are gradually unearthed. This is most potently evidenced in the memories of wartime atrocities passed on from older members of the team to the younger ones and the wreckage of a tank which forms the focal point of a valley. As with the digging, human connections resurface from the river of time and the natural landscape.
Kentaro Kishi is a multi-hyphenate talent who works as a writer, director, cinematographer and actor and his efforts stretch across genres, from splatter movies like Tokyo Gore Police and The Machine Girl (2008) to indie dramas The Sower (2016), Noise and Passage of Life (2017). As a director, his credits include Record Future (2011) and Hammock (2018), the latter of which played at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020 where it won the Housen Short Film Award. Here, Kishi takes on many roles and recruits his family to create an intimate 30-minute short drawing on the different perceptions in their relationship to examine how the act of looking can reinforce the connections between people.
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.
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.