Japanese Films at the Venice Film Festival 2013

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The 70th Venice Film Festival is due to take place at the end of this month (August 28th – September 07th). Last year saw a neat but small selection of Japanese films and a drama. This year there seem to be even more on offer but they include some of the latest titles. Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises gets its world premiere and as a result is in competition at the festival. Out of competition we see the likes of Kim Ki-Duk returning after his win last year. He has stiff competition from Lee Sang-il who brings his Japanese remake of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and Shinji Aramaki’s rather nice looking Captain Harlock movie. Here’s the line-up:

The Wind Rises                              Kaze Tachi Nu Film Poster

Japanese Title: 風立ちぬ

Romaji: Kaze Tachi Nu

Running Time: 126 mins.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Writer: Hayao Miyazaki (Screenplay)

Starring: Hideaki Anno, Miori Takimoto, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Masahiko Nishimura, Steven Alpert, Morio Kazama, Keiko Takeshita,

Miyazaki’s latest film was recently released in Japan where it has done good numbers at the box office. It has been five years since Hayao Miyazaki’s last film, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. Since then he has written scripts and manga. He’s back with a new film which tells the story of Jirou Horikoshi, the designer of Japan’s famous Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane of World War II. We witness his upbringing and his struggles with poverty, an earthquake and war and his relationship with a woman named Naoko Satomi who is suffering from tuberculosis. Jirou Horikoshi is voiced by Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno. The mecha anime maestro is surrounded by live-action film actors like Hidetoshi Nishijima (Zero Focus) amd co-star Miori Takimoto (Sadako 3D 2Rinco’s Restaurant).

Space Pirate Captain Harlock                         Space Pirate Captain Harlock Film Poster

Japanese Title: キャプテン ハーロック

Romaji: Kyaputen Harokku

Running Time: 115 mins.

Director: Shinji Aramaki

Writer: Harutoshi Fukui (Screenplay), Leiji Matsumoto (Manga)

Starring: Shun Oguri, Haruma Miura, Yu Aoi, Arata Furuta, Ayano Fukuda

Leiji Matsumoto is a big deal in Japan and his manga/anime keep getting remade. This year sees the big budget CG movie adaptation of his 1977 manga¹/1978 TV Asahi anime. The film is directed by Shinji Aramaki who has been in the anime industry for a long time with involvement in titles like Bubbegum Crisis, Megazone 23, Wolf’s Rain and Gundam. He knows how to make CG films hacing directed the recent Appleseed movies. He does have some awful titles to his name but he at least knows how to make a pretty picture and bring sci-fi designs to the big screen. The seiyuu (voice actors) are impressive with live-action film stars Shun Oguri (The Woodsman & the Rain) voicing the heroic Harlock, Yu Aoi (Penance, Hana and Alice, Mushishi), Arata Furuta (Thirteen Assassins, Ninja Kids!!!) and Ayano Fukuda voicing some of Harlock’s crew and Haruma Mirua (Tokyo Park) voicing an assassin. There are also fullt-time seiyuu like Maaya Sakamoto, Chikao Ohtsuka and Kiyoshi Kobayashi on the cast.


In the year 2977, mankind has become complacent and stagnant because machines perform all manner of tasks while humans indulge in entertainment. This is the moment when mysterious invaders from space invade the Earth. Rebelling against Earth’s inept government, Harlock (Oguri) and his crew of 40 use his space battleship to fight for humanity. This fight comes with risks beyond space battles as a young man named Yama (Miura) is ordered to kill Harlock.

Unforgiven                                                Unforgiven Japanese Film Poster

Japanese Title: 許されざる者

Romaji: Yurusarezaru Mono

Running Time: 119 mins.

Director: Lee Sang-Il

Writer: Lee Sang-Il  (Screenplay),

Starring: Ken Watanabe, Jun Kunimura, Eiko Koike, Yura Yagira, Koichi Sato, Akira Emoto, Shiono Kutsuna, Kenichi Takito, Youkiyoshi Ozawa, Takahiro Mirua, Sjiori Kutsuna

This is the remake of the 1992 Clint Eastwood film of the same name. It swaps out the US and cowboys for Japan in the late 1800’s and samurai. I have reviewed one Lee Sang-Il film and that was Villain where he got a fantastic performance from lead actor Satoshi Tsumabuki. This is his first film since Villain and he gets a star-studded cast with Ken Watanabe (Letters from Iwo Jima, Inception, Tampopo), the grizzled Akira Emoto (A Woman and War, Starfish Hotel), Koichi Sato (Infection), and two of my favourites, Eiko Koike (Rebirth, Penance, Kamikaze Girls, 2LDK) and Jun Kunimura (Outrage, Vital, Audition).


Jubei Kamata (Watanabe) was once a loyal samurai for the Edo shogunate government. Famous for being a skilled and deadly fighter he killed many and became infamous in Kyoto but disappeared during the battle of Goryoukaku. Ten years later and he is living with his child, looking after his wife’s grave in peace after vowing never to pick up his sword again but being in poverty forces him to do just that as he accepts the assignment of being a bounty hunter. 

The film goes on theatrical release in Japan on September 13th.

Why Don’t You Play in Hell?           Why Don't You Play In Hell Film Poster

Japanese Title: 地獄 で なぜ 悪い Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

Romaji: Jigoku de Naze Warui Why Don’t You Play in Hell?

Running Time: N/A

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono (Screenplay),

Starring: Jun Kunimura, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Fumi Nikaido, Tomochika, Hiroki Hasegawa, Kotou Lorena, Gen Hoshino, Tak Sakaguchi

Why Don’t You Play in Hell? Gets its international premiere at the Venice Film Festival. I’ve posted about this trailer three times and I even mentioned about its premiere at Venice but I forgot to include it here. I scoured the Venice Film Festival site and didn’t see a listing… Thanks to Tired Paul for alerting me to the massive oversight.

Muto (Kunimura) and Ikegami (Tsutsumi) are rival gangsters who despise each other but there’s a catch for Ikegami… he loves Muto’s actress daughter Mitsuko (Nikaido). Part of the reason she’s an actress is because it is the dream of his loyal wife Shizue (Tomochika) who was sent to prison after taking the fall for him.

Muto is out to make that dream happen. Enter Koji (Hoshino), a timid passer-by who is mistaken for being a film director. When dealing with gangsters you don’t mess about so Koji gets a cinephile friend named Hirata (Hasegawa) who casts Mitsuko in a fictional gang war but it soon goes wrong when it turns real.


The cast contains Jun Kunimura (VitalOutrage), Shinichi Tsutsumi (One Missed Call), Fumi Nikaido (Himizu), Tomochika (Quirky Guys and Gals) and Gen Hoshino (Blindly in Love) who wrote and performed the song that can be heard around the one minute mark. Ive watched this trailer about a dozen times and now I’m singing along with the actors at the end. I want to see this now!

The film goes on theatrical release in Japan on September 28th.

Equinox Flower                          Equinox Flower Film Poster

Japanese Title: 彼岸花

Romaji: Higanbana

Running Time: 118 mins.

Director: Yasujiro Ozu

Writer: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu (Screenplay), Ton Santoni (Original Novel),

Starring: Shin Saburi, Kinuyo Tanaka, Yoshiko Kuga, Ineko Arima, Keiji Sada, Miyuki Kuwano, Fujiko Yamamoto

Last year, Venice showed Keisuke Kinoshita’s Carmen Comes Home (1951) which is Japan’s first colour film. This year Venice shows Ozu’s first colour films originally released in 1958 as part of his Eclipse Trilogy. It is one of only six films he made in colour but he still retains an interest in the ways Japaese society is changing. Here it is the issue of marriage.

Wataru Hirayama (Saburi) is a successful businessman who seems fairly in tune with modern people’s choice to let romance be the basis of marriage rather than letting an arranged marriage be their fate. His tune quickly changes when Setsuko (Arima) his own daughter chooses a man for a husband without asking him and he is so furious he refuses to attend the wedding. While staying at an inn in Kyoto he is persuaded by the owner’s daughter to visit Setsuko.


Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence                   Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence Poster

Japanese Title: 戦場 の メリークリスマス

Romaji: Senjou no Meri- Kurisumasu

Running Time: 123 mins.

Director: Nagisa Oshima

Writer: Nagisa Oshima, Paul Mayersberg (Screenplay), Laurens van der Post (Original Story)

Starring: David Bowie, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Takeshi Kitano, Tom Conti, Jack Thompson, Yuya Uchida

Originally released in 1983, this UK/Japanese co-production is most famous for Ryuichi Sakamoto’s soundtrack. It’s a relationship drama played out between four men, two of them portrayed by great actors and one by Ryuichi Sakamoto! Takeshi Kitano (Hanabi, Boiling Point, Battle Royale) plays a brutal and jovial cam guard while David Bowie proves he can be a great actor as well as a great musician. It’s one of Oshima’s more famous films and more readily available. Reading about the way it was shot makes him sound almost cavalier! To be honest, I haven’t watched my DVD version ever but I remember being enraptured by the whole thing.

Major Jack Celliers (Bowie) was captured on a chindit raid and is now a POW. Captain Yonoi (Sakamoto) is the camp commandant. The two feel drawn to each other as kindred spirits because they both carry guilt from past incidents they were/weren’t involved in. Lieutenant Colonel John Lawrence (Conti) and Sergeant Hara (Kitano) both witness and question the bond of the two men. All four find themselves caught up in the vagaries of a cruel war.

The Shape of Night

Japanese Title: 夜の片鱗

Romaji: Yoru no Henrin

Running Time: 106 mins.

Director: Noboru Nakamura

Writer: Toshihide Gondo (Screenplay), Kyoko Ohta (Original Novel)

Starring: Miyuki Kuwano, Mikijiro Hira, Keisuke Sonoi Tayo Iwamoto, Misako Tominaga, Koji Matsubara, Shinji Tanaka,

One of the problems about older Japanese films is that finding a trailer and poster can be impossible as is the case here. It was made in 1964 but I guess it’s not famous enough or maybe it’s a rediscovery… Anyway, it’s about women who work as hostesses in a bar and a love affair that cannot be…

That’s about it, I think. I missed out a few on the initial post but I think I’ve got them all now. I look forward to the reviews.

¹I’ve actually got some of those original manga after buying them from a friend a few years back and despite struggling with the Japanese, the designs were impressive and Matsumoto draws cool characters. I have reported about this film a couple of times for Anime UK News and each trailer and teaser leaves me even more impressed. The film goes on theatrical release in Japan from September 07th.

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7 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the Venice Film Festival 2013

  1. Tired Paul

    I get the feeling that we’ve seen everything worth seeing in the trailer for Captain Harlock……Kinda looks like an extended cut scene from a game.

    1. Thanks! If I didn’t read this reply I wouldn’t have gone looking for the film and found out that I missed a few others! I like the look of the Harlock film, all shiny and full of gunfights and considerably better looking than the Final Fantasy/Starship Troopers/Dragon Age Origins CGI films, but that theme tune needs to go. To be honest, that, The Wind Rises and Why Don’t You Go Play in Hell? would be my priorities.

    1. I’m not too interested in a remake of Unforgiven but that’s only because I’ve watched the original and know all of the dramatic/traumatic bits ;_;

      Still, I guess it would be interesting to see how the makers of the film change things.

  2. Well, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and the remake of The Unforgiven look like films I definitely need to see. It’s always curious to see a western where the characters are Asian!

    Hayao Miyazaki has made an interesting choice for the story of his latest film. I’m not sure if I can get into it. The prior movie, Ponyo, was a terribly disappointing movie. Beautiful animation, but a very dull story overall.

    1. You shoud definitely check out Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence. I think you would be interested in its themes of guilt, sacrifice and honour plus it’s a great film overall.

      I’m generally of the opinion that after Spirited Away/The Cat Returns, Ghibli films haven’t been all that great. They are still better than 90% of the rest of the stuff that gets released but nothing compares the those two titles mentioned or any of their earlier ones. I’d like to see a film with as much verve and cheekiness as The Castle of Cagliostro.

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