Japanese Films at the Berlin Film Festival 2013

Genki Berlin International Film Festival Banner

The Berlin Film Festival 2013 was launched yesterday and runs from February 07th to February 17th. The line-up of films looks pretty good with South Korea contributing titles like Nobody’s Daughter and China finally allowing us to see Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster.

I started reporting about the Berlin Film Festival last year and enjoyed it tremendously – cool pictures and awesome sounding films. I always read the Sight and Sound report on the festival and acknowledge its importance in the festival calendar since there is always a great selection of films, particularly from Asia. The Japanese line-up looks very interesting with a mix of classics, recent releases, indie titles and short films. My highlights would have to be the older films from Ozu and Kinoshita and some of the independent titles.

This post is a bit late so apologies for that but the good news is that only one of the film’s starts tonight, the rest start over the weekend or next week and there are multiple chances to view the films.

Capturing Dad (Chichi wo Tori ni) (2012)Capturing Dad Image

Running Time: 74 mins.

Director: Ryota Nakano

Starring: Makiko Watanabe, Nanoka Matsubara, Erisa Yanagi, Kenichi Takito, Satoshi Nikaido, Tomokoi Kimura

Ryota Nakano brings his award winning film Capturing Dad (released next week in Japanese cinemas) to Berlin. Award winning? Yes! It took the award for best film and best director at the 09th Skip City International D-Cinema Festival in Kawaguchi city. The festival is aimed at discovering and rewarding digital filmmakers. I have never heard of it but the trailer looks really good, highlighting a lot of drama and a little comedy in a film about the absence of a father and the creation of relationships from that loss. The film stars Makiko Watanabe (Love Exposure), Erisa Yanagi (A Gentle Breeze in the Village), Kenichi Takito (Fish Story, Fish on Land), Satoshi Nikaido (Guilty of Romance) amongst others. It plays in the Generation section of the festival.

Koharu (Matsubara) and Hazuki (Yanagi) are sisters who live in a rural town with their mother Sawa (Watanabe). The father abandoned the family for a new woman fourteen years ago which has caused huge resentment in Sawa but when she discovers that he has terminal cancer she sends Koharu and Hazuki to the hospital with a camera to take a picture of him. When they arrive at the hospital he s dead and his new family are in mourning. Koharu and Hazuki both discover things about their father and their step-family.

Plays at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Feb 09 – 17:30), CinemaxX 3 (Feb 10 – 16:30), CinemaxX 3 (Feb 16 – 11:30)

The Town of Whales (Kujira no Machi) (2012)Town of Whales Image

Running Time: 70 mins.

Director: Keiko Tsuruoka

Starring: Momoko Tobita, Sui Katano, Sakiko Yamaguchi, Kentaro Sato, Masaru Nakashima

Slow-cinema? Town of Whales is the directorial debut of Keiko Tsuruoka and she has made an observational drama that captures the drifting days spent during a summer holiday by three teens who are discovering the joys of discovering things emotional and physical with something of a fragile love triangle developing. The film apparently lacks dramatic structure but “the film doesn’t need one either. Moments are all that count, and each one has its own special significance”. Japanese women directors performed admirably at last year’s festival with Our Homeland and Just Pretended to Hear being major stand-outs (the latter winning as award) so I am eager to find out how this one plays!

Machi, Tomohiko and Hotaru are high school students Machi’s brother disappeared six years ago and she misses him terribly. The three set off to track him down.

Plays at CinemaxX 4 (Feb 10 – 19:30), CineStar 8 (Feb 11 – 22:00), Cubix 7 (Feb 13 – 15:00), Kino Arsenal (Feb 16 – 20:00)

Cold Bloom (Sakura Namiki no Mankai no Shita ni)

Running Time: 119 mins.

Director: Atsushi Funahari

Starring: Asami Usuda, Takahiro Miura, Yurei Yanagi, Taro Suwa, You Takahashi

Atsushi Funahari was at last year’s Berlin Film Festival with his documentary Nuclear Nation which looked at nuclear power after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tusnami. This drama is another one that deals with the disaster but looks at the economic and emotional impact as felt by a group of workers at a factory. From the synopsis it sounds perfect for an audience who like tough subject matter. Atsushi Funahari has tackled interesting relationship dramas before with the US set Big River, this one looks a lot more local but just as epic due to the subject matter. It stars a collection of new and old actors like Asami Usuda (The Woodsman & the Rain), Takahiro Miura (Ninja Kids!!!), Yurei Yanagi (Boiling Point, Ring) and Taro Suwa (Cold Fish, Himizu). The film will get a release in April 2013.

Ever since the tsunami struck the workers of a metal factory in the industrial town of Hitachi have been in something of a malaise, the only thing keeping them afloat being a skilled worker named Kenji (Takahashi) who has secured them a contract. Then he dies on the first day at the client’s site. His colleague Takumi (Miura) is responsible and the factory worker turn on him, taking sides with Kenji’s widow Shiori (Usuda) but her hatred turns to love.

Plays at Kino Arsenal (Feb 11 – 19:45), Cubix (Feb 12 – 20:00), CineStar 8 (Feb 14 – 16:15), Colosseum 1 (Feb 16 – 20:00)

Roots (Senzo ni Naru) (2013)

Running Time: 118 mins.

Director: Kaoru Ikeya,

Last year’s Berlin Film Festival featured lots of documentaries that used the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami as a subject but the topic will not go away as Japan is still rebuilding after the disaster and for many the destruction ran deeper than material goods as lives were lost. This documentary follows a woodcutter and carpenter named Naoshi whose house managed to withstand a lot of damage wrought by the tsunami. Unfortunately he lost his son. Naoshi is determined to rebuild his house and live the remaining days of his life there. Things are not so simple as his wife has misgivings, local authorities impose construction restrictions and his prostate cancer has only recently gone into remission. The festival page describes it as a “ tender portrait of a quietly stubborn man opens out into a complex study of the many ambivalences the reconstruction process brings with it: a tangled web of family duty, traditional customs, community spirit and municipal legislation.” It goes on theatrical release next week in Tokyo.

Plays at Delphi Filmpalast (Feb 13 – 18:30), CineStar 8 (Feb 14 – 13:15), Kino Arsenal (Feb 16 – 14:45), CineStar 8 (Feb 17 – 16:00)

Tokyo Story (Tokyo Monogatari)     Tokyo Story Film Poster

Running Time: 135 mins.

Director: Yasujiro Ozu,

Starring: Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama, Setsuko Hara

Playing in the Berlinale classics thread of the festival, Tokyo Story is considered one of the all-time great films and it came top of Sight & Sound’s magazine directors’ poll of the greatest film of all time. I have only seen some of Ozu’s films like. This counts as one of the ones I have not seen and it is not because it is bad but because it is brilliant as this review points out and I want to give it the respect it deserves by watching it at the right moment because the ones I have watched have been nothing but brilliant humanist dramas. Anyway, the lucky folks who are at the Berlin Film Festival get to watch it on the big screen. It stars familiar Ozu actors Chishu Ryu and the flower of post-war Japanese cinema Setsuko Hara who both appeared in the wonderfully gentle and touching drama Late Spring. The festival describes it as telling “the story of family estrangement and the isolation inherent in modern society.” This is copious tear fuel if I know Ozu…

When the Hirayama couple travel from their small and quiet hometown of Onomichi to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo they discover that their children consider their presence an inconvenience and uncomfortable truths about the reality of life in Tokyo are revealed. It is only their daughter-in-law Noriko, the widow of their son who went missing in the war, who spends time with them but when the mother of the family is taken ill they stop at Osaka where another of their sons lives. 

Plays at CinemaxX 6 (Feb 14 – 15:00),

Tokyo Family (Tokyo Kazoku) (2013)Tokyo Family Film Poster

Running Time: 146 mins.

Director: Yoji Yamada,

Starring: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Yu Aoi, Jun Fubuki, Masahiko Nishimura, Isao Hashizume, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Nenji Kobayashi, Yui Natsukawa, Shozo Hayashiya, Chika Arakawa, Ryuichiro Shibata

Tokyo Family was released last month in Japan and the festival website describes it as a something of a tribute to Yasujiro Ozu. The director Yoji Yamada who is a very familiar name having helmed The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade and Love and Honour was an assistant on Ozu’s most famous film Tokyo Story. This is an update to the classic but with very few departures so the story is a quiet observation of family, the generation gap and modern life as depicted through an elderly couple who visit their children in Tokyo and find them too busy.  The film clocks in at over two hours and is packed with a variety of names like Yu Aoi (All About Lily Chou-Chou, Mushishi, Hula Girls), Jun Fubuki (Séance, Rebirth), Yui Natsukawa (Shikoku, Still Walking), Satoshi Tsumabuki (For Love’s Sake, Villain) and Chika Arakawa (Apartment 1303).


Shukichi Hirayama (Hashizume) and Tomiko (Yoshiyuki)are an old married couple who live on a small island in the Inland Sea. When they visit their children in Tokyo they see the successful lives they have built for themselves. Eldest son Koichi (Nishimura) runs a hospital, Shigeko (Nakajima) runs a beauty salon and Shuji (Tsumabuki) works in the theatre and plans to marry Noriko (Aoi). The parents find that life in Tokyo is not for them and want to go home but a medical emergency strikes when Tomiko collapses.

Plays at Friedrichstadt-Palast (Feb 13 – 21:15), Haus der Berliner Festspeile (Feb 14 – 21:00), Berlinale Palast (Feb 17 – 14:30)

Keisuke Kinoshita Films

Keisuke KinoshitaLast year the Berline Film Festival ran a retrospective on Yuzo Kawashima One of Kinoshita’s films was at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. It was Carmen Comes Home. Maybe one of the programmers of the Berlin Film Festival watched and liked it because we get a whole bunch of titles here. While I have heard of Twenty-Four Eyes and the Ballad of Narayama I have to admit Keisuke Kinoshita is more or less unknown to me. I have not watched a single film of his but the six films on offer here provide me and others who are new to his work with a chance to see what the chap directed. You never know, maybe Masters of Cinema might pick up some of these titles like they did with Kawashima’s Bakumatsu Taiyoden. Here are the films:

Jubilation Street (Kanko no Machi) (1944)Keisuke Kinoshita Jubilation Street

Running Time:  67 mins.

Starring: Ken Uehara, Mitsuko Mito, Eijirou Touno, Chiyo Nobu, Makoto Nobori, Mitsuko Lida

Ah, a propaganda film made during the war that focusses on the lives of those left at home and how war makes personal needs an emotions redundant as they will have to be lost at some point. The characters all live on a street in Tokyo and each has their tale of tragedy like the wife who lost her husband, the young woman in love with a pilot and the mother who has lost her son.

Plays at Kino Arsenal (Feb 08 – 22:30), Delphi Filmpalast (Feb 13 – 14:00)

Woman (Onna) (1948)

Running Time:  67 mins.

Starring: Mitsuko Mito, Eitaro Ozawa

Woman is a relationship drama that sounds gutsier than some of the stuff that Kinoshita’s contemporaries were making… That I have seen at any rate. This one focusses on Toshiko, a chorus girl who wants to break up with her lover Tadashi, a low-life with a silver-tongue and a violent streak. When the two go to the Atami beach resort and she reveals her feelings he does everything in his power to keep a hold of her while her determination grows and she sets aside all fatalism and fear.

Plays at Kino Arsenal (Feb 09 – 22:30), Delphi Filmpalast (Feb 14 – 14:00)

Engagement Ring (Konyaku Yubiwa) (1950)

Running Time:  96 mins.

Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Kinuyo Tanaka, Jukichi Uno

Toshiro Mifune is the actor most commonly associated with Japanese cinema thanks to his collaborations with Akira Kurosawa. People are highly familiar with his samurai roles but his other roles like in Scandal get less focus. The reason I mention that is because Mifune stars here in a drama with a director that looks to stretch his acting abilities.

Noriko is a married woman who works in her family’s jewellery store. She and her husband have only been married a short time but things are bad. Once an academic, her husband has been bedridden for a while and Noriko has resigned herself to looking after him but when a new young but troubled doctor takes over her husband’s treatment Noriko finds her joie de vivre returning and she spends time with said doctor. The husband notices the change in his wife and begins to despair.

Plays at Kino Arsenal (Feb 10 – 22:30), Delphi Filmpalast (Feb 15 – 14:00)

Farewell to Dream Yuyake Gumo (1956)

Running Time:  78 mins.

Starring: Shinji Tanaka, Yuko Mochizuki, Yoshiko Kuga, Eijiro Touno, Takahiro Tamura, Isuzu Yamada

Yuyake Gumo is a story of disillusionment in post-war Japan which follows sixteen-year-old Yoichi who dreams of becoming a sailor. His life revolves around his cramped house and his close relatives and friends but he loses them one by one, his beloved younger sister given to a childless uncle, the girl of his dreams going out with someone else and his best friend moving away. His resignation with fate is contrasted with his older sister who fights to better herself.

Plays at Kino Arsenal (Feb 11 – 22:30), Delphi Filmpalast (Feb 16 – 14:00)

A Legend or Was It? (Shito no Densetsu) (1963)Keisuke Kinoshita A Legend or Was it

Running Time:  83 mins.

Starring: Shima Iwashita, Mariko Kaga, Go Kato, Kinuyo Tanaka, Yoshi Kato, Bunta Sugawara

This one sounds like a really good film. It is set in the dying days of World War II and is described as a western which looks at the impact of war on people and the untameable group dynamic. A psychological look at how a village turns against outsiders which is reflected in the camera work.

Summer 1945, the Sonobe family have been evacuated from Tokyo to a remote village in Hokkaido and the daughter of Keiko is supposed to marry the village chief’s son Takamori but when her brother reveals that Takamori committed war crimes Keiko rejects him which causes the village to turn against the Sonobe family leading from mistrust to hatred to violence.

Plays at Kino Arsenal (Feb 12 – 22:30), Delphi Filmpalast (Feb 17 – 14:00) 


Berlinale Shorts Competition

The Silent Passenger

Running Time:  15 mins.

Director: Hirofumi Nakamoto Starring: Hirofumi Nakamoto

This short sounds strange. It is set in a hotel on Okinawa. Nakamoto has taken local wildlife and placed them in unusual places. Butterflies in cars, hermit crabs in beds. The website goes on to say,For the man in the mirror – the artist – the animals are the other. But for the animals the artist is the other. Their common space is utopia.” For the audience bemusement? I’d be interested in seeing how this one plays out!

Plays at CinemaxX 3 (Feb 10 – 22:00), CinemaxX 5 (Feb 11 – 16:00), CinemaxX 3 (Feb 13 – 22:00), Colosseum 1 (Feb 15 – 17:45),

Uzushio – Seto Current –

Running Time:  10 mins.

Director: Naoto Kawamoto

A rumination on the nature of film and time itself.

Plays at CinemaxX 3 (Feb 10 – 22:00), CinemaxX 5 ( Feb 11 – 16:00), CinemaxX 3 (Feb 13 – 22:00), Colosseum 1 (Feb 15 – 17:45)

Phew, that was a lot. If you made it this far down then thanks. This post was written while listening to bullet hell OST remixes.

2 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the Berlin Film Festival 2013

  1. HS

    Tokyo Story is favourite Japanese film, which is a completely boring choice but nevertheless true. I’m really looking forward to seeing Yoji Yamada’s take on it – he seems to be off on something of an ‘homage to the old masters’ kick though with this after Otouto 🙂 Chizu Ryu and Setsuko Hara were also in the third film of the Noriko trilogy – Early Summer which is one of my favourite Ozu films 😀

    I’d love to see those Kinoshita’s, maybe they’ll make it into a festival or retrospective over here at some point – I think some of them are on Criterion’s Hulu channel in the US so maybe they’ll release some someday.

    Don’t know I’m I’m that excited by the sound of the newer films but perhaps there’s more to them than the synopses would suggest.

    1. If I were at the festival (one can dream) I would definitely see Tokyo Story and Tokyo Family – I’m going to review The Twilight Samurai soon. I would follow that with Cold Bloom and the Kinoshita films. Actually, if I lived in Berlin I would go see everything! Even The Town of Whales which has potential.

      I really like Late Spring. I think the only Ozu film that I have seen that didn’t leave me emotional was Good Morning. I’m going to get some Ozu box sets and watch the films on them.

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