I’m careening from one thing to another. I started the week writing aboutthe Udine and Cannes film festivals before posting a news article and interview with the curator of a season of documentary films made by Kazuo Hara/Sachiko Kobayashi which are available to stream in North America via Japan Society. I’ll be reviewing these films over the next week. I also posted trailers yesterday.
This week I watched Assault on Precinct 13, Ronin, and the first half of Psycho-Pass Season 3. I also watched the Hara/Kobayashi films Goodbye CP and Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1984.
The first film was highly enjoyable up until the extended (and overly long) finale and I felt that it captured the manga perfectly. The trailer indicates that the stunts and action have grown even more grandiose!
Synopsis:Akira Sato (Junichi Okada) is the legendary killer known as The Fable. He is continuing to keep a low profile in Osaka with his partner Yoko (Fumino Kimura) as they pretend to be ordinary siblings. He maintains his part-time job at a design company called Octopus where his boss, Takoda (Jiro Sato), and colleague/love interest, Misaki (Mizuki Yamamoto), are unaware of his hidden life of assassinations. The team at Octopus become the target of extortion when a seemingly innocent NPO run by a seemingly nice guy named Utsubo (Shinichi Tsutsumi) brings in a contract killer Suzuki (Masanobu Ando) to get money out of them. Akira must step in and use his skills.
Currently underway at the Japan Society is a season of films made up of the works of Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi, all of which can be streamed in the US (and in some cases, Canada) via their virtual cinema.
Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi are a husband-and-wife team of filmmakers who emerged out of the Japanese New Wave.
Both started out as photographers with an interest in disability, Hara working at a school for disabled children and Kobayashi living with the effects of polio. They met when Hara had his first photographic exhibition in Ginza in 1969 with the subject being the pupils at the school he worked at. Their relationship grew quickly from being acquaintances to becoming artistic collaborators with the founding of Shisso production and the making of their first film – with Hara as director and Kobayasi as producer – before culminating in their marriage in 1973.
Influenced by the social unrest at the time and inspired by New Wave figures such as Shohei Imamura and Nagisa Oshima, Hara and Kobayashi began to explore the lives of the underprivileged and iconoclasts through deeply humanist and challenging documentaries done in cinema vérité style. Their films are a realm where the camera not only documents what is going on but also acts as a tool to render their subject more open to intimate involvement with the filmmakers. The end result is that the “protagonists” expose their private lives in moments that move the film away from any sense of objectivity and moral judgements. Boundaries of various kinds disappear and viewers are left with a document that is quite revealing on both a personal and societal level but also challenging in how we regard the subjects and their position in society.
The film of Hara and Kobayashi have gone on to be highly regarded around the world with many documentary filmmakers citing them as inspirations. To understand the impact of their works, Japan Society has put together a career-spanning online retrospective that celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the founding of Shisso Productions. This retrospective series includes nearly all of the pair’s films, starting with their first production, Goodbye CP (1972) and culminating in their latest, MINAMATA Mandala (2020).
Highlights include The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, which follows a veteran named Kenzo Okuzaki who enlists his wife and some others to join him in a crusade to expose war crimes that took place in World War II; Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 sees Hara turn the camera on his own life and document the fallout of his marriage/divorce with radical feminist, Miyuki Takeda; and the rarely-seen The Many Faces of Chika—the pair’s only narrative feature. Also featured are their most recent works such as Reiwa Uprising, which charts the political fortunes of candidates in a newly established leftist political party, and MINAMATA Mandala, which was shot over 15 years and documents the legal and medical battles endured by the residents of Minamata, a city where some of the populace suffered the infamous neurological disease due to industrial wastewater from a chemical factory causing severe mercury poisoning.
In order to get a better sense of the season, the curator, K. F. Watanabe, gave an interview.
Following last year’s Covid-19-forced cancellation, the Cannes Film Festival will return as a physical event and run from July 06-17. Although we are still in the middle of a pandemic, screenings will be allowed to operate at full capacity. One safeguard in place is that people present a vaccination certificate or a valid health pass via a PCR test.
As for the festival and its films, the event features over 63 films from around the world, with Oliver Stone’s JFK Revisited: Through The Looking Glass getting it’s premiere alongside In Front Of Your Face by Hong Sang-soo and Jane Par Charlotte by Charlotte Gainsbourg.
Following on from last year’s edition which was totally online, the Udine Far East Film Festival takes place at the end of the month and it is a hybrid event with an online portion leading off before the physical portion. The organisers will screen a total of 63 films from 11 countries and territories as well as host workshops, webinars, and other industry events.
The digital portion of the festival will open with explosive Hong Kong action film Shock Wave 2, from veteran director Herman Yau, while the on-site opening film will be the international festival premiere of Zhang Yimou’s Cliff Walkers, a historical espionage thriller.
The information for online screenings is already up and quite a few titles are available for people to stream worldwide. Check this website for more information on the films and this page for more information on how to participate.
I’ve only covered a couple of films prior to this edition – Keep Rolling and Ito, both of which I’d recommend. I’m going to list the Japanese films in this post:
Despite knowing that low-budget films are often shot very quickly, when I saw that Shinji Imaoka was going to be at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021, I was surprised at how quick his return was since he was at the 2020 edition with the drama Reiko and the Dolphin for which I had interviewed him. Of course, since he has a background in making pink films he knows how to do a quick turnaround on a production but an even bigger surprise lay in the subject of his film: a divorce as seen through the eyes of a child done by way of the musical genre. That and it was one of at least four(???) films he made in 2020!
The film is a star vehicle for starlet Yuune Sakurai who takes on the role of Haruka, an 11-year-old girl who is navigating experiencing the sensation of love for the first time while her parents Nobutaka (Ryujyu Kobayashi) and Kumiko (Yuri Ogino) are about to divorce. The sweetness and bitterness come together over one weekend spent with the fractured family at a campsite. The emotions come out when people burst into song and dance. A musical about divorce? I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it before but it works. However, it is a title that may prove divisive as Sakurai gives the sort of beyond-her-years performance that some people will be bowled over by while others may find too artificial to take seriously. Also, girls that age don’t act like that. It depends upon your perspective, ultimately. You can read my review here and also a playfulness as music video sequences and cute on-screen text and images are used.
While working on the review and interview, three other films by director Imaoka were discovered and two were released: Yome wa, Toriatsukai chuui! Part 1 & 2 and Aoi-chan wa yarasete kurenai. It’s all very impressive and so I wanted to find out more about the background of A Rainbow-colored Trip and how director Imaoka worked with his talented cast, getting some great performances from newbie actress Yuune Sakurai and veteran Yuri Ogino (East of Jefferson and Human Comedy in Tokyo) and also get some insight.
This interview was done with the help of Takako Pocklington, the talented interpreter who worked on the Reiko and the Dolphin interview and most of my other interviews.
There were two films by actor/writer/director Yutaro Nakamura at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021. They shared actors such as An Ogawa (For Rei) but wildly diverged stylistically. The first, Sweet Bitter Candy, was a standard-issue drama of bad romance and schoolgirls while A New Wind Blowsfeatured a storyline that was wayward and dreamy and clearly shot guerrilla style in the suburbs. It was punctuated with scenes that offer visceral emotions, surprising twists, and a eccentric-cum-humanistic bent that made it stand out.
The film introduces us to a set of characters – Yujiro (Yujiro Hara), Hikari (Hikaru Saiki), Takaya (Takaya Shibata), Anzu (An Ogawa), and Kotaro (Yutaro Nakamura, the director himself) – who are cycled through in a number of stories where they get together and alternately torment and fall in love with each other, first as high schoolers and then as young adults later, before returning to them as high schoolers. Mental illness, prejudice, and literal bed hopping take place and there are extremes of emotions that go from normality to very dark. However, as scenes and sequences slip by, there is a sense of care and comfort and possibility. You can read my review here and also a playfulness as music video sequences and cute on-screen text and images are used.
Yutaro Nakamura took time out of his schedule to answer questions relating to A New Wind Blows.
This interview was done with the help of Takako Pocklington, who translated between English and Japanese to help bring director Nakamura’s answers to this blog.