The Japan Foundation’s Touring Film Programme 2013

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The second film festival of the year which I am covering is a roving one! The Japan Foundation’s Touring Film Programme

The festival’s name and theme for this year is “Once Upon a Time in Japan: Reinventing the Past Through the Eyes of Japanese Contemporary Filmmakers”. The festival programme has works from notable directors who “all share the same aspiration to reinterpret and relive moments of times gone by through a variety of genres, styles and tones.” Said notable directors include Takashi Miike, Koji Wakamatsu, Lee Sang-il who has two films screened with Hula Girls and one of the four sections of Kaidan Horror Classics. The other two sections are directed by Hirokazu Koreeda and Shinya Tsukamoto. There will also be anime in the form of Mai Mai Miracle which is directed by Sunao Katabuchi.

Before I get into that, here are the locations:

London – Institute of Contemporary Arts: February 1-7,
Sheffield – Showroom Workstation: February 8-17,
Birmingham Mac Birmingham: February 18-27,
Belfast – Queen’s Film Theatre: February 22-28,
Edinburgh – Filmhouse: March 1-7,
Newcastle Upon Tyne – Tyneside Cinema: March 3-24,
Bristol – Watershed: March 9-16,
Nottingham – Broadway: March 22-27,

What I like about this festival is that it covers a lot of the major periods of Japanese history through different genres and it has a variety of talent in each film. I will be attending the London part of the tour and I am hyped up. Tickets have been ordered. Supplies and transport have been arranged. Where are the films???

Rebirth                                                                                   Rebirth Film Poster

Japanese Title: 八日目 の 蝉

Romaji: Youkame no Semi

Running Time: 147 mins.

Director: Izuru Narushima

Writer: Mitsuyo Kakuta (Novel), Satoko Okudera (Screenplay)

Starring: Mao Inoue, Hiromi Nagasaku, Eiko Koike, Jun Fubuki, iwako Ichikawa, Yoko Moriguchi, Kimiko Yo

This sounds like an intriguing mystery/drama and it comes from Izuru Narushima who had a hit at the end of 2011 with Admiral Yamamoto. This is totally different and much more feminine by the look of things. It has a script by Satoko Okudera (The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki, Kaidan, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time) and there is a strong female cast with names like Mao Inoue (Kaidan), Hiromi Nagasaku (Doppelganger), Eiko Koike (2LDK, Penance), Yoko Moriguchi (Key of Life) and Jun Fubuki (Séance).

Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust        Bubble Ficiton Boom or Bust Film Poster

Japanese Title: バブルヘ GO!! タイム マシン は ドラム 式

Romaji: Baburuhe GO!! Taimu Mashin ha Dorama Shiki

Running Time: 116 mins.

Director: Yasuo Baba

Writer: Ryoichi Kimizuka

Starring: Hiroshi Abe, Ryoko Hirosue, Hiroko Yakushimaru, Kazue Fukiishi, Yuko Ito, Naoko Jijima, Hiroko Moriguchi, Masahiro Sugisaki

Okay, this looks like the most fun at the festival and I won’t be seeing it! Darn! The film looks at Japan in the 80s at the height of its economic bubble. It was a time when it reigned supreme thanks to its mega-corporations, technology and so forth. Just before it came crashing down thanks to its poorly managed banking system which doled out huge amounts of money at low interest rates to all and sundry. I think that about sums it up in a slap-dash way (I’m probably over-simplifying things to death). Anyway this helped start a recession. The story starts out in the present day but thanks to time travel we get to see the glitz and glamour of the 80’s as one character aims to stop the recession from happening! It has a ridiculous plot and lots of physical humour and it stars a hell of a lot of actors I am love like Hiroshi Abe (Survive Style 5+), Kazue Fukiishi (Noriko’s Dinner Table) and Ryoko Hirosue (Key of Life), it is written by Ryoichi Kimizuka (Infection, Parasite Eve, Bayside Shakedown 4: The Final). I love a good time machine story like Day of the Tentacle and Back to the Future and this one looks good.

Mayumi Tanaka (Hirosue) is a debt-ridden bar hostess. Her mother Mariko (Yakushimaru) is a brilliant research scientist. When Mariko turns an ordinary washing machine into a time-machine and she disappears, the Japanese government turn to Mayumi to head back to 1990 and prevent the announcement of a landmark fiscal policy that sparked the recession. Why Mayumi? It just so happens that this ill-qualified time traveller is the only other person the machine accepts. She agrees and so hilarity should ensue, right?

The Blossoming of Etsuko Kamiya          The Blossoming of Etsuko Kamiya Film Poster

Japanese Title: 紙屋 悦子 の 青春

Romaji: Kamiya Etsuko no Seishun

Running Time: 111 mins.

Director: Kazuo Kuroki

Writer: Kazuo Kuroki, Masataka Matsuda, Hideki Yamada (Screenplay)

Starring: Tomoyo Harada, Manami Honjou, Kaoru Kobayashi, Shunsuke Matsuoka

This is the only Second World War story in the festival it was the last film of Kazuo Kuroki and received its theatrical release a few months after his death. It stars Tomoyo Harada (The Summer of Ubume, Tokyo Oasis) is a tragic romance about a navy officer who arranges a marriage between his girlfriend and a friend before taking part in a kamikaze attack.

Castle Under Fiery Skies          Castle Under Fiery Skies Film Poster

Japanese Title: 火天 の 城

Romaji: Ka Ten no Shiro

Running Time: 139 mins.

Director: Mitsutoshi Tanaka

Writer: Kenichi Yamamoto (Novel)

Starring: Kippei Shiina, Toshiyuki Nishida, Shinobu Otake, Saki Fukua, Tokuma Nishioka, Taro Yamamoto, Renji Ishibashi

A lavish costume drama with a large cast by a director who specialises in such things. It looks epic.

1575, Oda Nobunaga (Shiina) defeats Takeda Katsuyori in the Battle of Nagashino after an epic siege. 1576, Nobunaga builds a lavish new castle named Azuchi castle. It must be seen from the capital city of Kyoto and defend the city and it must symbolise the unification of various factions and intimidate rival clans. This is the story of the carpenters led by Okabe Mataemon (Nishia).  

Mai Mai Miracle                                        Mai Mai Miracle Film Poster

Japanese Title: マイマイ新子

Romaji: Mai Mai Shinko

Running Time: 93 mins.

Director: Sunao Katabuchi

Writer: Nobuko Takagi (Autobiography), Sunao Katabuchi (Screenplay)

Starring: Mayuko Fukuda (Shinko Aoki), Nako Mizusawa (Kiiko Shimatsu), Ei Morisako (Nagiko Kiyohara)

Sunao Katabuchi has quite an eclectic filmography. He directed the explosive first season of the awesome anime Black Lagoon and was assistant director of the equally awesome and magical Kiki’s Delivery Service. This is a title that comes highly recommended by Alua from Otherwhere so I made this one of my choice. Plus it’s anime and I love anime!

1955, Hofu City, Yamaguchi Prefecture. One thousand years ago during the time of the Heian Period it was the site of the ancient capital Suo no Kuni (Province of Suo) and ruins are still dotted around the rural city. Shinko is a tom-boyish elementary school student from a venerable local family. She loves dayreaming about the past and wishes to travel back to the days of the Heian period. When a transfer student from Tokyo named Kiiko appears in Shinko’s class, Shinko invites her to time travel by the power of imagination and the two form a deep friendship.  

Kaidan Horror Classics

Japanese Title: 怪しき 文豪 怪談

Romaji: Ayashiki Bungou Kaidan

Kaidan Horror Classics was a four episode TV show that played on NHK back in 2010. It allowed modern directors like Lee Sang-il, Hirokazu Koreeda (After Life, Still Walking) and Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: Iron Man, Tokyo Fist), Masayuki Ochiai (Infection) to give their own interpretations of classic ghost tales written by renowned writers like Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Osamu Dazai, Yasunari Kawabata and Saisei Muro. From what I can tell, although there are ghosts present the focus seems to be more on the emotions of the characters.

Episode 1: One Arm

Japanese Title: 片腕

Romaji: Kataude

Running Time: 22 mins.

Director: Masayuki Ochiai

Writer: Yasunari Kawabata

Starring: Mitsuru Hirata, Sei Asina

Mitsuru Hirata (The Woodsman & The Rain) takes the lead as a man who falls for a young woman’s beauty and convinces her to let him have her arms. If that sounds strange wait until you get to the bit where the arm starts talking!


Episode 2: The Leafy Cherry Tree

Japanese Title: 葉桜 と 魔笛

Romaji: Hazakura to Mateki

Running Time: 22 mins.

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto,

Writer: Osamu Dazai

Starring: Eri Tokunaga, Jun Kunimura, Aoba Kawai

Jun Kunimura (Vital), Aoba Kawai (Blazing Famiglia) and Eri Tokunaga (Hula Girls) takes the lead in an adaptation of Osamu Dazai’s novel of forbidden love, terminal illness and extreme jealousy in a family drama full of high running emotions.


Episode 3: The Nose

Japanese Title: 鼻

Romaji: Hana

Running Time: 22 mins.

Director: Lee Sang-il,

Writer: Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Starring: Yutaka Matsushige, Haruka Igawa

Haruka Igawa (Tokyo Sonata) and Yutaka Matsushige (One Missed Call, Eureka, Ringu) star in one of my least favourite Akutagawa stories! There are plenty of others that could have been adapted so what is so good about this? Well this is a straight adaptation of a tale set in medieval times about a monk with a huge disfigured nose who hides his face. When the taunting goes too far he causes the death of a young boybut when he brings the boy back to life people worship him. The boy has other ideas.


Episode 4: The Days After

Japanese Title: 後 の 日

Romaji: Nochi no Hi

Running Time: 22 mins.

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda,

Writer: Saisei Muro

Starring: Ryo Kase, Yuri Nakamura, Takeru Shibuya

Ryo Kase (Outrage, SPEC, Bright Future) Yuri Nakamura (The GrudgeL Girl in Black, Sakuran) and Takeru Shibuya (Rabbit Horror 3D) star in Koreeda’s tale of a grieving couple visited by what they think of is the ghost of their son.


Hula Girls             Hula Girls Film Poster

Japanese Title: フラ ガール

Romaji: Hura Ga-ru

Running Time: 82 mins.

Director: Lee Sang-il

Writer: Lee Sang-il, Daisuke Habara (Screenplay)

Starring: Yu Aoi, Etsushi Toyokawam Yasuko Matsuyuki, Shizuyo Yamasaki, Ittoku Kishibe, Sumiko Fuji, Eri Tokunaga, Ami Ikenaga, Shoko Ikezu, Daikichi Sugawara

Lee Sang-il (Villain) became a major name on the Japanese movie scene after this film which is based on a true story from 1964. It stars a whole gamut of good actors including Yu Aoi (Tokyo Family, All About Lily Chou-Chou, Welcome to the Quiet Room), Etsushi Toyokawa (Loft) and the brilliant Ittoku Kishibe who was a major player in Survive Style 5+ and Vital as well as appearing in Thirteen Assassins and having a hilarious walk on part in Adrift in Tokyo.

Iawaki City lies in the north of Japan and is sustained by the Nakago mine but demand for coal is falling and the mine is about to close which means 2,000 jobs will be lost. The company that run the mine face criticism for the planned closure but what they have a plan to replace jobs: use the local hot springs to make a Hawaiian themed resort and the coal miner’s daughters as Hula dancers. If the plan is to go ahead then the girl’s parents will have to be convinced and the girls will have to learn hula dancing!

Ninja Kids!!!                                              Ninja Kids!!! Film Poster

Japanese Title: 忍たま 乱太郎

Romaji: Nintama Rantaro

Running Time: 100 mins.

Director: Takashi Miike

Writer: Soubee Amako (manga), Yoshio Urasawa (Screenplay),

Starring: Seishiro Kato, Roi, Hayashi, Futa Kimura, Mikijiro Hira, Susumu Terajima, Anne Watanabe, Takahiro Miura, Arata Furuta, Koji Yamamoto, Renji Ishibashi, Yusuke Yamamoto, Rei Dan, Akira Emoto

Takashi Miike flits from genre to genre. He has made musicals (Ai to Makoto), samurai films (13 Assassins), horror films (Audition, One Missed Call) and yakuza films (Gozu). This is his children’s film and it is based on Soubee Amako’s popular manga and as far as I can remember it performed well in the charts. Well enough that a sequel is planned for release soon. Despite reading some lukewarm reviews and being an adult I am going to watch this as I am a major fan of Miike and I want to try and see most of his filmography. The names I recognise in the cast are Renji Ishibashi (The Woodsman & the Rain, Outrage), Akira Emoto (Villain, Starfish Hotel) and Susumu Terajima who has worked on numerous Takeshi Kitano films. The lead is taken by Seishiro Kato who was the young Makoto Taiga in For Love’s Sake.

Rantaro (Kato) is from a low-class ninja family but aims do well at the ninja academy and to be an elite ninja. He and his friends Shinbe (Kimura) and Kirimaru (Hayashi) are now Nintama (future ninjas) and will soon prove their worth when assassins from the Usetake clan approach a fellow student named Takamura (Mizoguchi) who want to kill his father Yukitaka (Kaga) for leaving their clan.

United Red Army              United Red Army Film Poster

Japanese Title: 実録・連合赤軍 あさま山荘への道程(みち)

Romaji: Jitsuroku Rengōsekigun Asamasansō E no Dōtei (michi)

Running Time: 190 mins.

Director: Koji Wakamatsu

Writer: Koji Wakamatsu, Masayuki Kakegawa

Starring: Arata, Maria Abe, Anri Ban, Kenji Date, Megumi Ichinose, Yuki Fujii, Shoichi Honda, Shiro Sano, Tak Sakaguchi, Maki Sakai, Nao Okabe,

Koji Wakamatsu had one of the fiercest political voices in Japanese cinema and kept on working well up to his death last year. United Red Army is one of Koji Wakamatsu’s more recent works but it deals with themes and ideas he has long had an interest in namely the hypocrisy and brutality exhibited by people in group situations during the politically tumultuous 1960’s.

A group of radical left wing students raid a police box and gun shop to get firearms in order to start a revolution by force. They take to snow-covered mountains to evade authorities but get cornered in Asama lodge in Nagano prefecture where a protracted battle with police unfolds. We witness their start and the fracturing of the group as they mete out beatings to those deemed not to be full of revolutionary fervour and their eventual fates.

Zero Focus                                    Zero Focus Film Poster

Japanese Title: ゼロ の 焦店

Romaji: Zero no Shuten

Running Time: 131 mins.

Director: Isshin Inudo

Writer: Seicho Matsumoto (Novel), Isshin Inudo, Kenji Nakazono (Screenplay)

Starring:Ryoko Hirosue, Miki Nakatani, Tae Kimura, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Takeshi Kaga, Tetta Sugimoto, Hiromi Sakimoto, Toru Nomaguchi, Fukumi Kuroda, Hirotaro Honda, Hana Matsumoto, Yoshie Ichige, Shunta Watanabe, Kansai Eto

This is the last of the films I am going to see. Part of the reason for my selection is the fact I like a good mystery, especially a Japanese one and I am familiar with most of the cast. I also love the look of the setting. It is directed by Isshin Inudo who had a major commercial hit at the end of 2012 in the shape of The Floating Castle. He has also worked on a small indie feature by the name of Josee, the Tiger and the Fish) A star studded cast includes Ryoko Hirosue (Departures, Go, Masao!, Key of Life), Miki Nakatani (Memories of Matsuko, Loft, Ringu/Ringu 2: Spiral, Keizoku) Tae Kimura (After Life, Survive Style 5+, Infection, Starfish Hotel, Kaidan) and Tetta Sugimoto (Blonde KwaidanDepartures, Dororo, Outrage, Reincarnation). Korean TV special.

Sadako (Hirosue) has just married Kenichi Ubara (Hishija) after meeting him through a matchmaker. A week after their marriage, Kenichi departs for a business trip to Kanazawa but never returns. Sadako follows after him and meets two women. The first, Sachiko Murota (Nakatani) is helping a woman become the first female mayor of the city. She married to a businessman who owns the comany Murotanae Yeolgiwa and who once worked with Kenichi. The second woman is Hisako Tanuma (Kimura) who works at Murotanae as a receptionist. She comes from a poor background and lacks education but she secured the job through the owner of the company. As Sadako meets these people she learns that they are connected to Kenichi and that there is a serial killer on the loose.

I cannot wait to see some of these films!

2 thoughts on “The Japan Foundation’s Touring Film Programme 2013

    1. I figured you might like that one! This is an interesting line up and the type of films that would most probably never get a western release so now is a good chance to see them and see more of Ryoko Hirosue and Tae Kimura who strike me as being great actresses.

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