Japanese Films at the Cannes Film Festival 2013 Critical Reactions and Awards

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The 66th Cannes Film Festival came to an end today  and the illustrious jury lead by Steven Spielberg had a tough time picking winners. Apart from Spielberg , the jury included Cannes Film Festival 2013 Posterinteresting names like Japanese film maker Naomi Kawase (The Mourning Forest) who recently had some of her films screened at Rotterdam, Ang Lee (Eat Drink Man Woman), Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained and, uh, Carnage), Nicole Kidman (Stoker) and the fantastic French actor Daniel Auteuil (La Reine MargotHidden).

This year’s Cannes film festival had a wide variety of films in the running for the Palme d’Or. There were a lot of American films getting excellent reviews like Alexander Payne’s Nebraska and the Coen Brothers Inside Llewyn Davis. Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra was also highly rated with Michael Douglas tipped to win the best actor award for his performance as Liberace. Then it seemed that their chances were eclipsed by a French film that was screened on Wednesday called Blue is the Warmest Colour. As a report on the BBC stated Blue is the Warmest Colour was tipped to win the Palme d’Or with many critics were singing its praises and so it proved to be the right tip since it did walk away with the Palme d’Or.

Last year brought us a few treats in terms of Japanese films but no titles in competition to win the coveted Cannes Palme d’Or but this year Japan has made a major impact with two films in competition from two very special directors, Koreeda and Miike. Review are in for their films and it has been a split between love and dismissal for each director respectively.

How did the Japanese films do?

Shield of Straw                           Shield of Straw Film Poster

Japanese Title: 藁 の 楯

Romaji: Wara no Tate

Release Date: April 26th, 2013 (Japan)

Running Time: 124 mins.

Director: Takashi Miike

Writer: Kazuhiro Kiuchi (Original Novel), Tamio Hayashi (Screenplay),

Starring: Takao Osawa, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Nanako Matsushima, Kimiko Yo, Kento Nagayama, Goro Kishitani, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Hirotaro Honda, Masata Ibu

Shield of Straw Screening Cannes Film Festival 2013

Takashi Miike is no stranger to Cannes but the possibility that his latest film Shield of Straw would take the Palme d’Or looked highly unlikely before the critical reviews came in. Let’s be honest, action titles like this just don’t win festival awards regardless of their quality but the critical reaction from western critics has been surprisingly lukewarm and even dismissive.

Japanese reviewer Masaichiro Murayama of the Nihon Keizai Newspaper summed it up the way I figured the movie would perform overall, “Miike’s direction is straightforward, tailored create an enjoyable action movie.” That’s what the trailer promised. On sites like Pia there are a lot of user ratings hanging around 3/3.5 on average.

Then the Cannes reviews came in:

“Though shot in widescreen on a relatively hefty budget, the two-hour-plus thriller makes limited use of its resources, featuring far more talk than action.” Peter Debruge (Variety)

“Sleek and engrossing, though awfully drawn out and short on psychological complexity, this is a straight-up police action thriller that adheres to a very familiar Hollywood template. In fact, its chief enticement outside Japan may be as remake fodder.” David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter)

“It’s hard to immerse yourself in the film’s emotional fabric, however, when your attention is constantly being diverted by the furious pacing and glaring plot holes.” Adam Woodward (Little White Lies)

“It is put together with technical competence, but is entirely cliched and preposterous, and it implodes into its own fundamental narrative implausibility.” Peter Bradshaw (Guardian)

“The script alone could easily inspire a novella detailing all of the plot holes, gaps in logic and insanely repetitive exposition… but the real shame is that the man responsible for some of the smartest, most insane, exuberant, boundary-pushing Japanese movies of the past decade has brought the story to life with such flat, joyless direction…” Brian Clark (Twitch Film)

I wasn’t expecting it Shield of Straw get love at Cannes but I was expecting it to fare better than it did – the 1 star Guardian review is just totally outrageous and an example of what is striking about some of the reviews where more attention is focussed on the implausibility of the script – this is a high concept action film, just enjoy the ride! –  but when the reviews do focus on the action it seems to be lacking.

Overall, it looks like one of Miike’s middling movies like Ninja Kids!!!. Not as extreme as his earlier stuff like his low-budget extreme films Visitor Q and Ichi the Killer and not as accomplished as something like his more recent big-budget mainstream films 13 Assassins or For Love’s Sake. I figure I’d like this film. I did like Ninja Kids!!! more than I thought I would. If it were to get screened in the UK I would head out to see it.

Now we come to the good news. 

Like Father, Like Son                         Like Father Like Son Cannes Poster

Japanese Title: そして 父 に なる

Romaji: Soshite Chichi ni Naru

Release Date: October 05th, 2013 (Japan)

Running Time: N/A

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

Writer: N/A

Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Yoko Maki, Jun Fubuki, Keita Ninomiya, Lily Franky, Jun Kunimura, Kiki Kirin, Isao Natsuyagi

Koreeda and Cast at Cannes

Like Father Like Son looked to be the favourite Japanese film to take the Palme d’Or before the explicit French lesbian relationship drama Blue is the Warmest Colour came onto the scene and wowed lots of people. Like Father Like Son ticked all of the boxes which could give it the win, great drama, great acting and it has a sentimental story which should appeal to Spielberg. Director Kore-eda is a modern day Ozu, able to capture the emotional geography of everyday Japanese people in all sorts of scenarios and Japanese family life.

The Japan Times beat me to the critical reactions round-up but here are some that stood out to me:

“It is a very decent piece of work, although not as distinctive as those two previous movies, not quite as finely observed and frankly a little schematic and formulaic, with life-lessons being learnt by the obvious people. It does however have charm and abundant human sympathy.” Peter Bradshaw (Guardian)

Not only is it the best picture to be shown in competition so far, it also prompted the loudest reactions yet from this habitually noisy crowd: rippling laughter throughout, sustained applause at the close, and a steady refrain of goosey honks as attendees cleared their tear-streaming noses. Robbie Collin (Telegraph)

Kore-eda’s “Like Father, Like Son” is a characteristically low-key but supple treatment of familial bonds, expectations and responsibilities that reverberates with heartrending impact. Maggie Lee (Variety)

With the same restraint and control over plot and the characters that he has always displayed, he leads the story carefully, avoiding unnecessary histrionics and managing to draw out of calm, carefully weighed reactions, much more than other directors would do by unchaining explosions of temper. But all these qualities are partially wasted on a plot that leaves too many issues unsolved. Dan Fainaru (Screen Daily)

A character study of a rare density and undeniable accuracy, not succumbing neither pathos nor the clinical severity, included in a spontaneous narrative, in which each player is shown a disturbing nature. Two hours, LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON leads the viewer to pests territories laughter the most outspoken of the most cathartic tears.  Aurelien Allin (Cinema Teaser)

The reaction of the critic Robbie Collin is what I hoped the film would get. I have yet to review Kore-eda’s films on this blog but I have watched quite a few of them and I feel that each of them has been a carefully crafted drama with so much emotional resonance and humanity that it means so much. They have certainly evoked emotional reactions from me.  Perhaps I’m much more sentimental than I’d like to admit but from the early reviews from critics I’m sure I would have been in floods of tears from another great drama. This one looks exactly like tear fuel to me as the trailer reveals.

Well Like Father Like Son didn’t win the Palme d’Or but it did win the Jury Prize! The success of a Japanese film at Cannes makes me happy especially when it’s by Kore-eda. This gets a release later in the year in Japan and with its subject matter and the critical reaction at Cannes it should do well and hopefully get released in the UK soon.

Koreeda Cannes 2013 Jury Prize Win

Congratulations go out to Hirokazu Kore-eda.

I would like to thank Bonjour Tristesse for doing a great job covering all of the films at the festival! I only focus on Japanese ones and so getting a round-up of what the rest of the world is doing is really great. Check out his full list of winners!

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4 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the Cannes Film Festival 2013 Critical Reactions and Awards

  1. wow…Shield of Straw got knock down pretty hard. it makes curious how bad it is.

    good to hear like father got better reaction.

    Love to see both of then, the first is more luke curiosity

    1. I figure the negative critical reaction says more about the setting and the critic’s own bias than the film.

      Actions films in a setting which is supposed to champion something more art house or intellectual stand little chance of winning awards.

      I’ll still watch Shield of Straw and probably enjoy it. I bet you would enjoy it as well.

      Like Father Like Son is sounding and looking better with every review.

    1. Well hopefully with all of the Cannes buzz and the fact that Koreeda is a known Japanese director amongst UK cinephiles (he had a five minute segment on BBC Radio 4’s Film Programme), the film will be licensed sharpish. Just from the trailer and synopsis alone I know I’ll be crying 😉

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