2013 has ended and I haven’t published my best ofs yet. I better start now. I have to admit that 2013 year has been rather excellent in terms of my experience with Japanese films considering I saw so many in their year of release, played a small part in helping bring one over to the UK and interviewed a few directors and yet, and yet… There were a few releases that I wish I had seen. Every trailer post always brings up a few titles I wish I could see in a cinema and so here’s a list of 14 Japanese films released in 2013 I hope I get to see in 2014!
Japanese Title: しんしんしん
Romaji: Shin Shin Shin
Running Time: 135 mins.
Release Date: January 12th 2013 (Japan)
Director: Kouhei Sanada
Writer: Kouhei Sanada
Starring: Ikeda Houshi, Miwako Wagatsuma, Kazuhiro Sano, Yuya Okutsu. Megumi Kagurazaka
Shin Shing Shin is a film which was directed by Kouhei Sanada who was mentored by Kiyoshi Kurosawa at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. That same university played a massive part in another title below, Fairy Tale. The film’s title comes from a song of the same name by the folk rock band Happy End who hail from the 70’s. Is this it and it is a road movie which stars Miwako Wagatsuma who was in Sentimental Yasuko and End of Puberty and Megumi Kagurazaka who was in Cold Fish and The Land of Hope.
Tomoyuki (Ishida) is a high school student who lives with the Tekiya family, a group of strangers with no other place to go. A girl named named Yuki (Wagatsuma) joins the group but when their home is demolished they head off on a journey that leads them from town to town with no particular destination in mind.
Japanese Title: あるいは佐々木ユキ
Romaji: Aruiwa Sasaki Yuki
Running Time: 79 mins.
Release Date: January 12th 2013 (Japan)
Director: Kenji Fukuma
Writer: Keiko Fukuma (Screenplay),
Starring: Saori Kohara, Akira Yoshino, Hideyo Sengoku, Makiko Kawano, Yumi Fuzuki
This was a victim of my bad translation skills… The first in a long line of victims… Anyway this is written and directed by the poet Kenji Fukuma, a man with two other directorial efforts to his name – Summer for the Living (2011), which starred Saori Kohara, and My Dear Daughter of Okayama (2008). He reunites with the actress Kohara for this fantasy drama about the emotions of a 20-year-old Tokyoite which interweaves interviews, poetry and dances so that the film blurs dreams and reality.
Watashi wa Sasaki Yuki. Hatachi desu.
20-year-old Yuki Sasaki who lives by herself in Tokyo. One day she chances upon a poetry reading by poetess Yumi Fuzuki and the experiences makes her lose sight of her purpose in life. In the process, another Yuki (Kawano) appears before her. We see her reality and dreams in a series of interviews and performances like dancing and poetry that are captured on film.
Japanese: もらとりあむ タマ子
Romaji: Moratoriamu Tamako
Running Time: 78 mins.
Release Date: November 23rd, 2013
Director: Nobuhiro Yamashita
Writer: Kosuke Mukai (Screenplay),
Starring: Atsuko Maeda, Suon Kan, Keiichi Suzuki, Kumi Nakamura, Yasuko Tomita
This one stands a better chance of getting an international release than the above two since director Nobuhiro Yamashita is pretty well known and the film can appeal to a broad audience. This stars Atsuko Maeda, former AKB48 superstar and lead actress in Yamashita’s 2012 film, The Drudgery Train and her international reputation should also help.
Tamako (Maeda) is a university graduate who lives with her father. She spends her days lazing around.
Japanese: ジ、 エクストリーム、 スキヤキ
Romaji: Ji, Ekusutori-mu, Sukiyaki
Running Time: 111 mins.
Release Date: November 23rd, 2013
Director: Shiro Maeda
Writer: Shiro Maeda (Original Novel and Screenplay),
Starring: Arata, Yosuke Kubozuka, Mikako Ichikawa, Kana Kurashima, Kengo Kora, Shuichi Okita, Daisuke Kuroda, Toru Okada
This one piques my interest as a cinephile because I enjoy the films based on Shiro Maeda’s scripts. The Story of Yonosuke and Isn’t Anyone Alive? are two favourites. The Extreme sukiyaki is his directorial debut and it stars a selection of top acting talent, mot of whom have appeared in films penned by him. Names include Arata and Yosuke Kubozuka, both of whom starred in the hilarious comedy Ping Pong. Other notable talents are Mikako Ichikawa (Tokyo Oasis), Kana Kurashina (Dreams for Sale), Kengo Kora (The Drudgery Train), and the director Shuichi Okita (The Woodsman & the Rain, The Story of Yonosuke). I want to see how good his directorial talents are, how one does extreme sukiyaki (and on a beach!) and what is the secret that the main character, Horaguchi has?
Horaguchi (Arata) is a failure. 15 years after leaving university he has achieved nothing and let time pass. Time to give up. He tries to commit suicide but even that fails. For Horaguchi his best days were at uni and so he yearns for those days. Yearns for them so much that he finds an old friend from university Ohkawa (Kubozuke). Things are a little awkward between them because of an incident in their past but they soon warm up to each other and plan a trip to the sea. Ohkawa’s girlfriend Kaeda (Kurashina) and Horaguchi’s ex Kyoko (Ichikawa) join them and bring a sukiyaki pot. They start to get along on their trip but Horaguchi has a secret reason for seeing his friend…
Japanese Title: ハフ
Release Date: October 05th, 2013
Running Time: 87 mins.
Director: Megumi Nishikura, Lara Perez Takagi
What’s it like growing up in Japan, a country that is mono-cultural when you are visibly different? It is a question rarely addressed in Japanese cinema until this documentary which is about mixed-race people in Japan which looks to have a wide variety of faces and voices that reflect their increasing number of people born to parents from Japanese and international backgrounds. There are different ages represented so we can see how perceptions of mixed-race people have changed over the course of time.
Japanese Title: 不安の種
Romaji: Fuan no Tane
Running Time: 87 mins.
Release Date: July 20th, 2013
Director: Toshikazu Nagae
Writer: Masaaki Nakayama (Original Manga), Toshikazu Nagae (Screenplay)
Starring: Anna Ishibashi, Kenta Suga Koudai Asaka, Kanji Tsuda
This is a horror manga adaptation and I have the manga! This omnibus movie comes from Toshikazu Nagae (Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night) who is adapting Masaaki Nakayama’s horror manga collection. It stars Anna Ishibashi (Milocrorze – A Love Story), Koudai Asaka (The Kirishima Thing, Lesson of the Evil) and Kanji Tsuda who has worked with great directors like Beat Takeshi, Takeshi Miike and SABU.
When a motorbike accident occurs it unleashes a series of strange phenomenon which Yoko (Ishibashi) can see.
Japanese Title: サカサマ の パテマ
Romaji: Sakasama no Patema
Running Time: 99 mins.
Release Date: November 09th, 2013
Director: Yasuhiro Yoshiura
Writer: Yasuhiro Yoshiura (Screenplay/Original Creator)
Starring: Yukiyo Fujii (Patema), Nobuhiko Okamoto (Age), Shintarou Oohata (Porta), Shinya Fukumatsu (G), Masayuki Katou (Lagos),
This film is guaranteed a UK release thanks to Anime Limited so I will get to see it. Why am I excited by it? The film’s director is Yasuhiro Yoshiura who is the director/creator of the wonderful Time of Eve, a futuristic drama about androids in a café and the humans that visit them. It was a whimsical show full of great details and gorgeous animation and do you know what was best of all? The characters were relatable and funny. This is his latest film and it looks to be just as good, just as charming and witty and well animated. The reviews have been uniformly excellent.
The story takes place in an underground world where the inhabitants exist in tunnels and confined spaces and must wear protective clothing. Despite this, these underground people still enjoy life, especially Patema, the princess of her underground village who loves to explore. Her fascination with exploration leads her to a forbidden area where she meets a boy named Age who operates under different gravitational circumstances. The two may come from very different societies but will face strange situations together!
Running Time: N/A
Release Date: November 09th, 2013
Director: Shutaro Oku
Writer: Shutaro Oku (Screenplay)
Starring: Ikuyo Kuroda, Fabien Prioville, Fusako Urabe
Seiza is the collaboration between Shutaro Oku, a man who has filmed stage plays like Kuroneko (2008) and the interesting looking Cain’s Descendant (2006), and Ikuyo Kuroda a leading figure in the world of dance. I was sceptical about and this film is full of dancing and drama but my tastes are changing, less horror and more drama because a certain woman has civilising influence on me. I’m curious about this one.
It’s a story of a deaf-mute woman who falls for an illegal immigrant who may be a criminal. The police are after him but will she give him up?
Japanese Title: GFP BUNNY タリウム少女のプログラム
Romaji: GFP Bunny Tariumu Shoujo no Puroguramu
Running Time: 82 mins.
Release Date: July 06th, 2013
Director: Yutaka Tsuchiya
Writer: Yutaka Tsuchiya
Starring: Yuka Kuramochi, Kanji Furutachi, Makiko Watanabe, Takahashi,
Why has this not been picked up yet? My mind and body have been ready for this since I first read about it on Midnight Eye ages ago. I guess it’s too controversial and won’t sell. Or maybe it’s not that good. I don’t care, I need to see for myself because it sounds so twisted and it seems to push the medium plus it has some great actors. It has appeared at the Rotterdam International Film Festival and is directed by Yutaka Tsuchiya, who is considered one of the more interesting names amongst indie film makers in Japan and scored major kudos with his film Peep “TV” Show (I almost bought that but after watching clips of it, changed my mind), and it stars great actors like Kanji Furutachi who has appeared in trashy genre piece Dead Waves and the great films The Woodsman & the Rain and Dreams for Sale. He is supported by Sion Sono regular Makiko Watanabe (Himizu, Love Exposure).
Apparently based on a true story (with some key facts changed), we follow the actions of Thallium Girl (Kuramochi) who is slowly poisoning her mother with thallium and records her detached world view in her diary. It is clear she has some mental problems which are exacerbated by bullying at school. This just causes her to retreat from reality into a darker place which includes extreme body modification…
Japanese Title: 桜姫
Romaji: Sakura Hime
Running Time: 95 mins.
Release Date: June 29th, 2013
Director: Hajime Hashimoto
Writer: Hajime Hashimoto, Masahiro Yoshimoto (Screenplay)
Starring: Kyoko Hinami, Munetaka Aoki, DenDen, Yuma Asami
Forget art, I’m in this for the hot women, sensual action and the fun. This is a period drama directed by Hajime Hashimoto, director of big screen blockbusters that cross genres and run from yakuza wars, police investigations, coastguard duties. The plot sounds silly but it is based on a kabuki play called Sakura Hime Azuma Bunsho by Kabuki/kyogen author Tsuruya Nanboku IV called Sakura Hime Azuma Bunsho which was written by Nanboku Tsuruya back in 1817. The gorgeous girl on the poster and in the title role is Kyoko Hinami who is a new actress but she is very beautiful and will probably feature in more films. Munetaka Aoki (Fly with the Gold), Denden (Cold Fish) and the AV actress Yuma Asami (Siren X).
When daughter of a high-ranking family, Sakura Hime (Hinami Kyoko) is attacked and raped by a mysterious assailant she falls in love with him. The only way she can identify him is a tattoo on his body. In order to find the chap she gets the same tattoo and gives up her former life as a princess to work as a prostitute… Unbelievable, right? Anyway, the man who caused the princess to lose her mind is called Gonsuke (Aoki) and he is the target of assassins because he stole a scroll.
Japanese Title: 太秦ヤコペッティ
Romaji: Uzumasa Jacopetti
Running Time: 83 mins.
Release Date: June 22nd, 2013
Director: Moriro Miyamoto
Writer: Moriro Miyamoto, Toshihiko Matsunaga (Screenplay)
Starring: Shinji Wada, Kiki Hanaka, Masaki Kitahara, Shishimaru Ozawa, Seizo Fukumoto, Donpei Tsuchihira
Uzumasa Jacopetti featured in Third Window Films’s Top Ten Japanese films of the year. The plot and the trailer look crazy fun, what with gore, sex and the possibility of black comedy of epic proportions.
The story is set in Uzumasa, Kyoto and it follows Shoji Hyakkan (Wada), a man who gives up his job to make a house held together by magnets for himself, his wife and son. When he’s caught stealing and killing a cow for its hide by a police officer (Kobayakawa) he isn’t locked up. No, in fact he’s given an interesting offer involving his dismemberment skills and local hoodlums. It’s an indie production from first-time director Moriro Miyamoto. Please someone, release this in the west!
Romaji: Basaumasan to Biggumausu
Running Time: 119 mins.
Release Date: November 02nd, 2013
Director: Keisuke Yoshida
Writer: Keisuke Yoshida
Starring: Kumiko Aso, Shota Yasuda, Yoshinori Okada, Maho Yamada, Yutaka Shimizu, Yoko Akino, Jun Inoue, Yoneko Matsukane
This is another film that featured in Third Window Films’s Top Ten Japanese Films of the year and it stars a bespectacled Kumiko Aso (Pulse, License to Live) as a hard working writer trying to make it big as a screenwriter. Aso is too beautiful to be plain (but that’s just me and my taste) but she gets involved in an ‘opposites attract’ relationship with the big mouth portrayed by Shota Yasuda (Eight Ranger). Apparently it’s unconventional. The two are supported by Yoshinori Okada (Fine, Totally Fine), Maho Yamada (For Love’s Sake, Rent-a-Cat) and Yutaka Shimizu (Love Exposure).
Michiyo Mabuchi (Aso) is thirty-four and a member of a screen-writing class which is also attended by twenty-six year-old Yoshimi Tendo (Yasuda). Michiyo is a hard worker who has earned the nickname Basyauma (work horse) but she doesn’t see a future for herself in the industry. Meanwhile Yoshimi is a bigmouth who doesn’t put any effort into his work. Apparently, proving the idea that opposites attract is correct, the two fall in love.
Japanese: ナゾトキネマ マダム・マーマレードの異常な謎 出題編
Romaji: Madamu Marmalade no Ijo na Nazo: Shutsudai Hen
Running Time: 105 mins.
Release Date: October 25th, 2013
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura, Norio Tsuruta, Daiki Ueda
Starring: Haruna Kawaguchi, Atsuko Takahata, Hajime Yamazaki, Narushi Ikeda, Shiro Namiki Tamae Ando, Koko Mori, Noriko Nakagoshi,
This film is a two-parter (so I’m cheating) that will never get released outside of Japan because the conditions and audiences and interactive elements would be absent. It is an omnibus film with a wrap-around story about the search for a film inside the films in the omnibus film…. Still with me? The two films are split between a Question version which sets up the mystery in the plot for the audience to answer via a sheet of paper and the Answer version where all is revealed. People who answered correctly got their names in the credits. Things like this rarely get made in the west so I want to see how it works.
The film brings together some good (most of the time) directors who handle a different film which a detective scours for a secret. So we have Yoshihiro Nakamura (The Foreign Duck, See You Tomorrow, Everyone) probably doing drama, Norio Tsuruta (Ring 0: Birthday, Dream Cruise) probably doing horror and an unknown in Daiki Ueda.
There is a group of decent actors including Haruna Kawaguchi (P.O.V. – A Cursed Film) who plays the super car driving fox Madame Marmalade, Atsuko Takahata (Bunny Drop), Tamae Ando (Noriko’s Dinner Table, April Bride), and Hajime Yamazaki (Swallowtail Butterfly, Crime or Punishment?!?).
30 years ago, Shunnosuke Todo, the master of the film world revealed to his wife that there is a secret in three shot films which contained a love story before he passed away. Now his wife is on the verge of death so she hires Madame Marmalade (Kawaguchi) to find the secret!
Japanese Title: ショート ピース
Romaji: Sho-to Pi-su
Running Time: 68 mins.
Release Date: July 20th, 2013
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo (Hi-no-Youjin), Shuhei Morita, Hiroak Ando (Gambo), Hajime Katoki (Buki yo Saraba), Shuhei Morita (Tsukumo)
Writer: Shuhei Morita (Tsukumo), Katoki (Buki yo Saraba), Katsuhito Ishii, Kensuke Yamamoto (Gambo) Katsuhiro Otomo (Hi-no-Youjin),
Starring: Gambo: Daisuke Namikawa, Mutsumi Tamura Hi-no-Youjin: Masakazu Morita, Saori Hayami, Tsukumo: Aoi Yuukim Takeshi Kusao, Buki yo Saraba: Akio Otsuka, Issei Futamata, Ryotaro Okiayu
Short Peace is an omnibus film which collects four short films directed by four different directors. The biggest name is Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira, Steamboy) who also directed Mushishi.
The stories are all about the theme of Japan and stretch across time:
Tsukumo (Possessions), about a man in 18th Century Japan who loses his way in montains and stumbles into a shrine which transforms into a strange place.
Hi-no-Youjin (Combustible) where the emotions of a tragic and controversial marriage engulf Edo. Gambom where a girl encounters a terrible demon during the Sengoku period. Buki yo Saraba (A Farewell to Arms) set in a devastated Tokyo in the near future where a platoon of soldiers encounter a mysterious weapon.
One of the shorts, Tsukumo, has been short-listed for an Oscar.
Well I hope I get to see all of these in 2014. Only time will tell.