Japanese Films at the Vancouver International Film Festival 2013

Genki Vancouver International Film Festival 2013 Banner

Canada has two awesome film festivals at this time of year. The first is the Toronto International Film Festival and the second is the Vancouver International Film Festival. The line-up for Vancouver looks pretty good although a lot of the films have already been screened at events like London. I didn’t cover the Japanese films at Vancouver last year but I did follow the coverage (Amusing! Insightful!) from great cinebloggers Goregirl and Bonjour Tristesse so check in on them every day of the festival to see what they thought. There are some little gems here in terms of the Japanese line-up so let’s take a look.

Like Father, Like Son                          Like Father Like Son Cannes Poster

Japanese Title: そして 父 に なる

Romaji: Soshite Chichi ni Naru

Running Time: 119 mins.

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda (Screenplay)

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

Hirokazu Koreeda’s Like Father Like Son won an award for Cannes and was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival will be screened at the BFI London Film Festival. Awesome. It’s worth making a trip out not just because of the awards buzz but the fact that Koreeda is a great filmmaker. A modern-day Ozu with his interest in family life. The film stars Masaharu Fukuyama (Suspect X), Machiko Ono (EurekaThe Floating Castle), Yoko Maki (InfectionThe Grudge), Lily Franky (Afro Tanaka), Jun Fubuki (SéanceRebirth) Kirin Kiki (Kiseki) and Jun Kunimura (OutrageVital) and Isao Natsuyagi (The Land of HopeWarm Water Under a Red Bridge).


Successful architect Ryota (Fukuyama) and his wife Midori (Ono) have a happy family life with their six-year-old son Keita (Nonomiya) but a phone call from the hospital informing them of the fact that their child was mixed up with another at birth shatters their happiness. Their birth-son Ryusei has been raised by a poorer but more easy-going family run by Yudai (Franky) and Yukari (Maki) Saiki. Ryota and Midori must decide whether to hand over the son they have carefully raised for the last six years and take back their biological son or not.



The Great Passage                We Knit Ship Film Poster

Japanese Title: 舟を編む

Romaji: Fune wo Amu

Running Time: 133 mins.

Director: Yuya Ishii

Writer: Shion Miura (Original Novel), Kensaku Watanabe (Screenplay),

Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Aoi Miyazaki, Joe Odagiri, Haru Kuroki, Misako Watanabe, Kumiko Aso, Shingo Tsurumi, Chizuru Ikewaki, Hiroko Isayama, Kaouru Kobayashi, Go Kato, Kaoru Yachigusa, Ryu Morioka, Shohei Uno, Kazuki Namioka

Yuya Ishii is great at low-key character based comedies where roles are flipped as I discovered with Sawako Decides. This is his mainstream debut what with the star cast but he is still reaping warm, good-natured comedy from the small details in life and quirky characters. It stars Ryuhei Matsuda (Nightmare Detective), Aoi Miyazaki (Eureka), Joe Odagiri (MushishiAdrift in Tokyo), Haru Kuroki (The Wolf Children), Kumiko Aso (PulseLicense to Live), Kazuki Namioka (Thirteen Assassins), Chizuru Ikewaki (Josee, the Tiger and the FishThe Cat Returns) and Shohei Uno (The Drudgery Train).

Mitsuya Majime (Matsuda) is has the talent to comprehend different languages and is the most important member of the editorial team of a dictionary but he struggles to tell Kaguya Hayashi (Miyazaki), a cook and the granddaughter o the owner of Majime’s boarding home, how he feels about her.


The Ravine of Goodbye             The Ravine of Goodbye Film Poster

Japanese Title: さよなら渓谷

Romaji: Sayonara Keikoku

Running Time: 118 mins.

Director: Tatsushi Omori

Writer: Shuichi Yoshida (Novel), Tatsushi Omori (Screenplay)

Starring: Yoko Maki, Shima Onishi, Nao Omori, Arata, Hirofumi Arai, Anne Suzuki, Jyo Hyuga

When this was released on a weekend months ago, I had little idea it would be travelling outside of Japan this extensively but it’s going to be at the BFI London Film Festival It is based on a novel by Shuichi Yoshida, the man who wrote Villain and The Story of Yonosuke. It is directed by Tatsushi Omori, brother of the actor Nao Omori (Mushishi) who stars in this.


In a valley dense with trees a baby is killed and it’s mother, Satomi Tachibana (Suzuki) is the primes suspect. As the police are investigating the murder they are informed that Satomi is romantically involved with her next door neighbour Shunsuke Ozaki (Onishi), a man who seems to be happily married to his wife Kanako (Maki). Magazine reporter Watanabe (Omori) digs into the case to find out the real story and discovers that a strange connection exists between Kanako and Shunsuke which changes his perception of the truth.

The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki                           The Wolf Children Poster

Japanese Title: おおかみ こども の 雨 と 雪

Romaji: Okami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki

Running Time: 117 mins.

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Writer: Mamoru Hosoda, Satoko Okudera (Screenplay)

Starring: Aoi Miyazaki, Takao Osawa, Yukito Nishii, Haru Kuroki, Amon Kabe, Momoka Oona, Shota Sometani, Kumiko Aso, Mitsuki Tanimura,

I loved this film when I saw it at last year’s BFI Film Festival and I think my affections were communicated in the writing because a number of other bloggers have picked up on the title including Goregirl. I hope it lives up to expectations. Just for a bit of background, it is directed by Mamoru Hosoda who is frequently called the next “Hayao Miyazaki” who likes to mix realism with fantasy. Prior to this, Hosoda had two films, his debut  The Girl who Leapt Through Time which was brilliant and bittersweet and the rather dull (at least I found it dull) Summer Wars which made me cynical about all the hype surrounding him. The Wolf Children revived my interest in Hosoda’s work.

A story of love between parents and children that takes place over thirteen starts when a university student named Hana falls in love with Ōkami who is a “wolf man”. The two marry and have children named after the weather on the day they were born – Yuki (snow) the older sister and Ame (rain) the younger brother. The four live quietly in a city concealing the true existence of their relationship until an incident happens and Hana decides to move to the country…

Flashback Memories 3D                                                   Flashback 3D Film Poster

Japanese Title: フラッシュ バック メモリーズ 3D

Romaji: Furasshu Bakku Memori-zu 3D

Release Date: January 19th 2013 (Japan)

Running Time: 72 mins.

Director: Tetsuaki Matsue

Writer: N/A

Starring: GOMA, Kosuke Tsuji, Kenta Tajika, Kyoichi Shiino

This is an interesting choice and as soon as I saw it on the festival website I couldn’t help but smile because I remembered writing about it back in January. This film is about the didgeridoo musician Goma who was hit from behind by a car which resulted in traumatic brain injuries resulting in his medium- and short-term memories and emotional responses. In this music documentary we hear his account of the car accident, his near-death experience, see the damage done to the brain through prismatic 3D recreations and his subsequent recovery and how he copes with the loss of a fully functioning memory and his new take on life. We are also allowed to listen to his music and view past performances dating back to the 1990’s and his comeback concert which was performed just after the 3/11 disaster.

The short My Socks (Dir: Ikuo Kato, 7 mins.) will be screened before this film.

Zentai                zentai_main_visual_b1

Japanese Title:  ゼンタイ

Romaji: Zentai

Running Time: 61 mins.

Director: Ryosuke Hashiguchi

Writer: Ryosuke Hashiguchi (Screenplay),

Starring: Atsushi Shinohara, Noriko Iwasaki, Ellen, Koji Yamashita,

I would never have thought that this little number released a fortnight ago would get to a big festival like Vancouver but it did. Why didn’t I think it would? It’s about full-body-suit fetishists, normal men and women and the freedom they feel when they don those body hugging uniforms and masks. It’s a low-budget omnibus film with six episodes full of impromptu performances such as one where same-sex groups are in conversation and we have to guess which person is a zentai fetishist and one in a karaoke bar where one room has a zentai group and the other has housewives.

My First Love               My First Love Film Image

Japanese Title:  初恋

Romaji: Hatsukoi

Running Time: 82 mins.

Director: Keiko Tsuruoka

Writer: Keiko Tsuruoka (Screenplay),

Starring: Kazunari Yanagitani, Rio Tomita, Ikuya Motoki, Akemi Takeda, Rino Oikawa

This one is totally new to me so here’s the info on the festival page as written by expert film critic Tony Rayns:

Ivan Turgenev’s much-filmed novella First Love was proposed by Kurosawa Kiyoshi as a challenge for students on the Masters program at Tokyo University of the Arts. Each of them adapted the story into a script, and Tsuruoka Keiko’s was the one chosen for production; it was shot, with her classmates as crew, over 14 days in January-February 2013.

Tsuruoka stays pretty close to Turgenev’s characters and plot, but transposes the story to Tokyo in 1994. Tamiya Kyoichi is an 18-year-old who moves to Tokyo with his mother and stepfather after the death of his grandmother—to sort through her effects and dispose of her assets. Those assets include an old building with a derelict piano studio upstairs and a small bar on the ground floor, and it’s when Kyoichi first lays eyes on Murasaki Megumi, one of the two sisters who run the bar, that he’s smitten. He’s too shy to even speak to her at first, but before long he’s drinking in the bar and neglecting his cramming for the university entrance exams. Megumi seems aware of his growing infatuation and half-encourages it, but Kyoichi gradually realizes that she’s becoming close to someone else…

Tsuruoka presents the story in flashback (the older Kyoichi is pushed into reminiscing) and directs with a keen sense of telling glances, gestures and compositions.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa backs this? Intriguing! Haven’t read the novel it’s based upon but I am interested. It is proceeded by the short film Shisso Love Letter which has something to do with sperm as represented by these guys in white shirts…

Kids Return: the Reunion            Kids Return the Reunion Film Poster

Japanese キッズ リターン 再会 の 時

Romaji: Hatsukoi

Running Time: 82 mins.

Director: Hiroshi Shimizu

Writer: Takeshi Kitano (Screenplay),

Starring: Yuta Hiraoka, Takahiro Miura, Kana Kurashina, Akiyoshi Nakao, Bengal, Tetta Sugimoto Hiroyuki Ikeuchi, Hisahiro Ogura

Have you watched Kids Return? If you have, can you remember the end when Shinji (Ando Masanabu) and Masaru (Ken Kaneko) are riding on the bike and the music kicks in? I remember it well. The two have been bruised by life but they still face the world with smiles and as Joe Hisaishi’s wonderful theme kicked in. It was the perfect ending. A great summation for a film which made me feel like I had seen a beautiful reflection of life as Takeshi Kitano The Kids Returnlived by real people but told with a little poetry and highly stylised visuals to make it more interesting.

That film was by Takeshi Kitano.

This is the sequel. Director Hiroshi Shimizu has been an assistant director to Takeshi Kitano for such great projects like Sonatine, Kids Return, Hanabi, and Kikujiro. This doesn’t look like anything special despite the presence of Kitano as script-writer and it misses the soundtrack from Joe Hisaishi which played a major part in the original film. Maybe that’s my affection for the first talking… This is the sequel where we follow Shinji and Masaru as they try to navigate their chosen paths again.

Anatomy of a Paperclip               Anatomy of a Paperclip Film Image

Japanese Title:  山守クリップ工場の辺り

Romaji: Yamamori Kurippu Koujou no Atari

Running Time: 99 mins.

Director: Akira Ikeda

Writer: Akira Ikeda (Screenplay),

Starring: Sakae Tomomatsu, Kazutoshi Kato, Yukari Hara, Toshiyuki Takahashi, Akiko An, Hirofumi Shiba, Wani Kansai, Shu Ono.

This one looks very interesting. Tony Rayns again:

Ikeda Akira says that his starting point was his wish to create the modern equivalent of a Japanese folk tale… which must mean that any resemblances to Eraserhead are purely coincidental. 

This is a droll, deadpan story about Kogure, a sad-sack loner who finds himself living through—or perhaps imagining—a relationship with a butterfly in human form. Kogure has a McJob on the production line of a small workshop which makes paperclips by hand. His boss is a bully, and Kogure is also bullied by two thugs, one tall, one short, who keep ambushing him on the street and routinely steal his clothes. The butterfly shows up in his room one night, and when he releases it back into the wild it returns as a woman speaking an unknown language and consuming unknown food and drink. To tell more of the story would be to spoil the film’s surprises, so let’s just say that Kogure moves slowly towards a kind of liberation: it’s a neo-folk-tale with a kind-of happy ending. Even better, it has a moral: stay away from the kanage juice!

 Ikeda’s control of imagery, mood and patterns of repetition and variation is impressive; he’s a striking new voice on the Japanese indie scene.

This will be preceeded by the six minute short Mirror (Dir: Hirotoshi Iwasaki) which is described as a disturbing animation about dualities.

The shorts Ninja & Soldier (Dir: Isamu Hirabayashi, 10 mins), Maze King (Dir: Kim Hak-hyun, 7 mins.), and Futon (Dir: Yoriko Mizushiri, 6 mins) will also be screened.

6 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the Vancouver International Film Festival 2013

  1. goregirl

    Great post Jason! I am afraid the only film from your list I will be seeing is Wolf Children. I wanted to see Zentai but it only has September dates and my VIFF viewing won’t begin until October 2. I really am looking forward to having a couple weeks off to enjoy the festival properly this year!

    1. The same thing happens with me and festivals. So many great movies but using up holidays is a tricky business! I’m going to see most of these at the London Film Festival. Anatomy of a Paperclip looks good but that’s the only one from this list that I regret not getting the chance to see. I really hope you enjoy The Wolf Children! And be honest and let me know if you get emotional 😉

  2. Caught an early screening of ‘Ravine of Goodbye’ last week. Good little twisted mystery. I plan to also see ‘Like Father, Like Son’, ‘The Great Passage’, and ‘My First Love’; and I have ‘Paperclip’ and ‘Wolf Children’ tentatively penciled in. Look forward to trading thoughts with you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.