Japanese Films at the Rotterdam International Film Festival 2014

The 43rd International Film Festival Rotterdam launches on January 22nd and finishes on February 02nd. The line-up of Asian films has been revealed and there are strong titles from Japan. A lot of these have played at other festivals but there are some really great indie titles. There are quite a lot and the choice is so great! Enough from me, here’s the selection!

Rotterdam Film Festival 2014

The Pinkie

Running Time: 65 mins.

Director: Lisa Takeba

Writer: Lisa Takeba (Screenplay),

Starring: Ryota Ozawa, Miwako Wagatsuma, Haruka Suenaga, Kanji Tsuda

Wow, this looks like a lot of fun which is why I put it first. It comes from Lisa Takeba who was at last year’s festival with a short film about an alien private detective who is wandering around earth. If that sounds a little random, this one reads a lot more interesting as it looks like a mash-up of anime, film and Japanese pop culture and fashion where a female stalker has her way with the guy of her dreams. Lisa Takeba has a background in advertising and writing videogames so she’s got a lot of experience with different styles to work with! It stars Miwako Wagatsuma who is an actress worth tracking because she is taking on interesting roles as can be seen from her filmography which includes Guilty of Romance, The End of Puberty, sentimental Yasuko, Kuro and Shing Shing Shing.

Since they were both five, Ryosuke has been stalked by Momoko – the ugliest girl in the village. Momoko’s love for Ryosuke is so boundless that she has her face surgically altered to suit his taste – but still he wants nothing to do with her. Ryosuke is more interested in the girlfriend of a gangster boss. But when the boss finds out about their affair, he has Ryosuke’s little finger hacked off. Magically, the finger falls into Momoko’s hands, and she uses it to clone Ryosuke, so she can finally have him (or almost him) for herself – and that’s the first five minutes.


The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji

Japanese Title: 土竜の唄 潜入捜査官 REIJI

Romaji: Mogura no Uta Sennuu Sosakan REIJI

Running Time: 130 mins.

Director: Takashi Miike

Writer: Kudo Kankuro (Screenplay), Noboru Takahashi (Original Manga)

Starring: Toma Ikuta, Ren Osugi, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Riisa Naka, Takayuki Yamada, Mitsuru Fukikoshi

When I first read the synopsis I thought of the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs but this is based on a manga by Noboru Takahashi. The trailer is crazy but that’s par for the course with Takashi Miike (For Love’s Sake). The film has a great cast of characters like Shinichi Tsutsumi (Why Don’t You Play in Hell?), Ren Osugi (Exte) and Mitsuru Fukikoshi (Cold Fish).

Reiji Kikukawa (Ikuta) has a strong sense of justice but graduates at the bottom of his class from the police academy. He is so useless his superiors send him on what should be a suicide mission. First the police chief fires him for disciplinary issues and then sets him up as a mole in the Sukiyaki gang, the largest crime group in the Kanto area. His target is Shuho Todoroki, the boss, and so Reiji goes through hell to get his man!

R-100                                         R100 Film Poster

Japanese Title: R-100

Romaji: R-100

Running Time: 100 mins.

Director: Hitoshi Matsumoto

Writer: Hitoshi Matsumoto (Screenplay)

Starring: Nao Omori, Mao Daichi, Atsuro Watabe, Shinobu Terajima, Hairi Katagiri, Ai Tominaga, Eriko Sato, You, Suzuki Matsuo, Hitoshi Matsumoto, Gin Maeda, Naomi Watanabe, Haruki Nishimoto

R100 comes from Hitoshi Matsumoto (Big Man Japan) and stars Nao Omori (Mushishi), Atsuro Watabe (Love ExposureHeat After Dark), Shinobu Terajima (Kitaro and the Millennium CurseVibrator), Eriko Sato (Crime or Punishment?!?), You (Nobody Knows, Still Walking). This one was playing at the Toronto International Film Festival last year and reviews I have read have been mixed but I reckon it looks good and if nothing else, seeing a guy get hounded by dominatrixes sounds funny.

Takafumi Katayama (Omori) is a mild-mannered father who escapes the pressures of everyday life by joining a mysterious S&M club where the dominatrix will visit the client in real life settings. At first the pinch and tickle treatment he receives from these girls in leather is fun but it becomes relentless. He is now at the mercy of a gang of dominatrixes who torment him!


Real                                                                                 Real Film Poster

Japanese Title: リアル 完全なる首長 竜の日

Romaji: Riaru Kanzen’naru Shuchou Ryuu no Hi

Running Time: 127 mins.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Screenplay), Rokuro Inui (Original Novel)

Starring: Takeru Sato, Haruka Ayase, Jo Odagiri, Miki Nakatani, Shota Sometani, Keisuke Horibe, Kyoko Koizumi, Keisuke Horibe, Yuki Kan

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s early horror films like Pulse and Cure found a receptive audience at the Rotterdam Film Festival and helped kick off his international recognition so it comes as no surprise that his two latest films show up. Real is the film he made after the TV drama Penance. It was a big-budget sci-fi thriller based on the 2011 novel Riaru Kanzen’naru Shuchou Ryuu no Hi, written by Rokuro Inui and it stars a mixture of new and familiar actors like Takeru Sato (Rurouni Kenshin), Shota Sometani (Himizu), Haruka Ayase (Ichi), Miki Nakatani (Loft, Zero Focus), Joe Odagiri (Adrift in TokyoMushishiRetribution and Bright Future) and Kyoko Koizumi, (Tokyo SonataSurvive Style 5+). I have heard that it is not very good but I reckon any Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a good film.

Koichi (Sato) and Atsumi (Ayase) are childhood friends who have become lovers. Despite this closeness when Atsumi attempts suicide Koichi is at a loss as to what the reason that drove her to do such a thing could be. Now she is in a coma and Koichi needs to find out the reason. Since Koichi is a neurosurgeon he has access to the latest studies and so he takes part in a medical procedure that will allow him to enter Atsumi’s subconscious through her central nervous system.

When he arrives she asks him to find a picture of a plesiosaur she drew as a child. It is the key to a suppressed memory connected to a childhood trauma. Finding this picture will allow Koichi to truly get close to knowing his love.


Seventh Code  Seventh Code Film Poster

Japanese Title:  Seventh Code

Romaji: Sebunsu Kodo

Running Time: 60 mins.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Starring: Atsuko Maeda, Ryohei Suzuki, Hiroshi Yamamoto, Aissy

The second Kiyoshi Kurosawa film at the festival is an award winner since it took away two prizes at the Rome Film Festival last year for best director and technical contribution. It stars former AKB48 leader Atsuko Maeda who is in another film at this festival.

Akiko (Maeda) travels to Vladivostok to track down Matsunaga (Suzuki), the man she is convinced, who is the love of her life. When they meet Matsunaga claims not to remember her and tells her not to trust anyone in a foreign country. He then leaves. When Akiko tries to find Matsunaga again she is attacked by the mafia and thrown into a wasteland with no money.

Tamako in Moratorium         Tamako in Moratorium Film Poster

Japanese: もらとりあむ タマ子

Romaji: Moratoriamu Tamako

Running Time: 78 mins.

Director: Nobuhiro Yamashita

Writer: Kosuke Mukai (Screenplay),

Starring: Atsuko Maeda, Suon Kan, Keiichi Suzuki, Kumi Nakamura, Yasuko Tomita

Atsuko Maeda is back and with another great director in the form of Nobuhiro Yamashita who she worked with on The Drudgery Train. The film’s genesis started with short film segments on the TV channel MUSIC ON! TV.

Tamako (Maeda) is a university graduate who lives with her father. She spends her days lazing around reading manga, watching television and bemoaning the fate of modern Japan.

Anatomy of a Paperclip                

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 is a droll, deadpan story about a man named Kogure who 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. Through this relationship he finds his life improving and liberation is not far away.

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

I saw this at the BFI London Film Festival and recommend it. Although a little on the long side it is still a fantastic low-key character based comedy typical of Yuya Ishii (Sawako Decides). It stars Ryuhei Matsuda (Nightmare Detective), Aoi Miyazaki (Eureka), Joe Odagiri (MushishiAdrift in Tokyo). My review is complete and will be coming out in the near future. For now, here’s a trailer.

Mitsuya Majime (Matsuda) has the talent to comprehend different languages and so he is roped in to helping create a new dictionary called The Great Passage. He soon becomes the most important member of the editorial team of the dictionary but he struggles to find the words to tell Kaguya Hayashi (Miyazaki), a cook and the granddaughter o the owner of Majime’s boarding home, how he feels about her.


Japanese Title: 女島

Romaji: Mejima

Running Time: 79 mins.

Director: Tomonori Izutani

Writer: Takahisa Yamaguchi (Screenplay)

Starring: Ban Michio, Satsuki Okazaki, Ronkik

Mejima is the feature film debut of director Tomonori Izutani who has created an atmospheric crime film about the differences between Japan and China and a melancholy reflection on the meaning of life as a Chinese gangster, a Japanese butcher and a sex worer find themselves questioning all of their values when they encounter each other.

“Mejima is a young Japanese man who earns his living in a small slaughterhouse. He is very proud of not having any goal in life, even though his eyes sometimes give the game away. Sex worker Mon thinks she was made for her job, as she never gets her period and so cannot become pregnant. Her Chinese boss, Lee, is a young criminal – the opposite of Mejima in every way. The illegal Chinese community in Tokyo see him as their saviour, and Japanese Mon also admires him. When Mejima encounters the pair, his indifference starts to make way for romantic desires and jealousy, and his smouldering resentment finally explodes.”

Strangers When We Meet

Running Time: 45 mins.

Director: Masahiro Kobayashi

Writer: Masahiro Kobayashi (Screenplay)

Starring: Yuko Nakamura, Kikuo Honda, Masahiro Kobayashi

Masahiro Kobayashi was at last year’s festival with Japan’s Tragedy and he’s here again but with a short. Alas, no trailer but the festival describes it as “a sensitive observation of a couple who, tormented by loss, blame and guilt, adhere rigidly to their daily routine. Will they ever find each other again?”

Au revoir l’ete                              Au revoir lete Film poster

Japanese: ほとり の 朔子

Romaji: Hotori no Sakuko

Running Time: 125 mins.

Director: Koji Fukada

Writer: Koji Fukada (Screenplay)

Starring: Fumi Nikaido, Mayu Tsuruta, Kanji Furutachi, Taiga, Ena Koshino, Makiko Watanabe, Kiki Sugino

This is due for release over this weekend in Japan but it sneaks into the festival now. It has a selection of great actors so it is a must-see especially for fans of rising star Fumi Nikaido. She takes the lead as a girl named Noriko who is preparing to take her university entrance exam and on the advice of her aunt Kie (Tsuruta) stays over at a relative’s house where she meets her aunt’s childhood friend Usagikichi (Furutachi), his daughter Tatsuko (Sugino) and his nephew Takashi (Taiga) who is from Fukushima. A great cast of actors and an intriguing trailer have me interested in this one.

The Day She Commits Suicide

Running Time: 8 mins.

Director: Yuichi Suita

Writer: Yuichi Suita (Screenplay)

Starring: Reika Miwa

Yuichi Suita’s short is about the final moments from what might possibly be a young woman’s last day alive and it focusses particularly on her daily activities. Not the greatest trailer but the page has more intriguing images.

It Has Already Been Ended Before You Can See the End

Running Time: 8 mins.

Director: Arikawa Shigeo

Writer: Arikawa Shigeo (Screenplay)

Starring: N/A

The trailer is a bit disturbing but mysterious and maybe a little fun at the same time. This short comes from Shigeo Arikawa and it is about our experiences with time. “A window opens, but the perspective never really moves outside. This universe is created solely indoors with some insects, cacti and the movement of light.”

The Lake

Running Time: 44 mins.

Director: Shinichi Miyakawa

Writer: Shinichi Miyakawa (Screenplay)

Starring: N/A

This short film is a collection of video letters  sent between two filmmakers. The festival info elaborates on the form, “ These generally feel real and honest, like journals, and are very serious, but that is not the case here. Here the genre is lampooned. Film about film, but then as satire.” This short screens before the film The Pinkie.

2 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the Rotterdam International Film Festival 2014

  1. Real is a middling film (ridiculous at times). Watchable, but forgettable. Seems quite ‘late’ for it to pop up at a festival, shouldn’t it have played last year already?

    Au revoir l’ete is the one I would want to see the most here. Surprising there is nothing in terms of animation though – but I guess Anima, in nearby Belgium, is close enough for those who want to see Kaze Tachinu.

    1. Rotterdam is a home away from home for Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Japanese directors from his era because the festival is the place a lot of them got international exposure so it’s like reaffirming links plus the film was released in the middle of last year. Penance was programmed for last year’s festival.

      Au revoir l’ete and The Pinkie look like the strongest titles especially the latter which, I must say, looks like a heap of fun and my kind of film and that would be the one I’d make an effort to see.

      How common is anime at this festival? There were none screened last year.

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