Fans of Asian films in America will be spoiled for choice in July because on the east coast of America there is the 8th annual Japan CUTS film festival which will be held at the Japan Society in New York City. Meanwhile, down south the 13th Asian Film Festival of Dallas will run from July 10th to July 17th with a selection of titles from Japan and Korea, Hong Kong and elsewhere.
The programme for the festival has been finalised and a trailer revealing the films available for cinephiles who want some awesome Asian big-screen experiences has been released:
To see the trailers for the films, click on the titles. See something you like, then click here for the full programme where you can find out the times and how to buy tickets. There are a lot on offer so here’s the run down with some comments from me!
Starting with Japan, we have a lot of titles that have been featured on this blog and some that I have seen. If I had to make recommendations then there are four titles here: The Castle of Cagliostro, Patema Inverted, Sansho the Bailiff, and Why Don’t You Play in Hell? while the rest look really strong.
We’ll start with Zombie TV (2013), a horror comedy from Yoshihiro Nishimura (Helldriver, Tokyo Gore Police), that looks so bad it’s good. The public in Japan really doesn’t have the level of zombie awareness that the west has where George A. Romero’s zombies have defined the game and so Japan pumps out weird little films like Tokyo Zombie and this which is a collection of sketches, short anime, instructional videos and more as we see the evolved face of zombies in the 21’s Century. See the moral, spiritual, and physical problems of people and zombies co-existing such as relationships between the living and the dead, zombie gods, zombie exercise, zombie pop idols and zombie sex.
Next up is Bushido (2013), a serious samurai film written directed and self-financed by former industrialist Yasuo Mikami and a remake of a 16mm film of the same title which he produced when he was 24 years old. It is set after a time of famine when the Shogunate was cracking down on potential unrest by sending warriors to different clans to check on their loyalty.
Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (2013) was the second best film I saw last year. It’s from the filmmaker extraordinaire Sion Sono (Cold Fish, Strange Circus). It’s an insane combination of yakuza wars, mad-cap chases, blood-shed, and crazy cinephiles filming everything, all with the ultimate femme fatale taking centre stage. It was a smash hit in Japan for Sono and it’s easy to see why because it is a hilarious and over-the-top love-letter to those violent genre pics from the 70’s and films at large.
Ku_On (2013), a neat little indie sci-fi film I saw at the Raindance Film Festival last year (here’s my review) which involves a cast of characters who have the ability to transfer their consciousnesses into different bodies. The only downside is that they are easy to track due to a unique mark and there’s a serial killer hunting them down. The focus is definitely on the action and not on character building but the plot is fun and the film is pacey so it remains fun.
Lupin III: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) is the classic anime from Hayao Miyazaki and it’s an absolute blast to watch. In short, it’s a fun adventure that the whole family can enjoy. Whenever it is aired on television in the UK I make tie to watch it. The story follows Lupin and best-pal/partner in crime Jigen as they search for a counterfeiter who has rendered their latest casino heist a waste of time. They discover that the counterfeiter is in the secluded country of Cagliostro and that he is a wicked count who is holding a beautiful and innocent princess prisoner in one of the towers of his castle…
Samurai Hustle (2014) or Mission Impossible Samurai is a historical comedy and it has only been released in the last few weeks in Japan and has become a box-office hit. The story starts in the Yunagaya Domain in the Tohoku region. It is small but it has a gold mine that some in the Shogun’s government want. Masaatsu Naito is ordered to perform Sankin-kotai which means that his daimyo, the feudal lord, must visit the Shogun in Edo. Unfortunately the cost is high and the time limit of 8 days is short. Could this be a plot to steal the gold mine? Masaatsu has to get the Sankin-kotai done!
Killers (2014) is a co-production between Indonesia and Japan and judging by a review on Twitch it’s a rumination on violence and death. It seems very violent and very serious. The film starts with Nomura, a wealthy ex-pat back from the US who is a serial killer who records a murder of a woman and places it on the internet. Bayu, an honest political journalist in Jakarta who finds his life wrecked by a corrupt politician stumbles upon the video and becomes attracted to what he sees as the beauty in the cruel visuals. When he kills a robber in self-defence he records the robber’s dying moments and uploads his own video. Nomura sees the video and a connection is made! A competition is initiated. It’s also screened at Japan Cuts.
Black Butler (2014) is the live-action movie adaptation of Yana Toboso’s hugely popular manga. It deviates considerably since the original was set in 19th Century England and this one is set in the present day but the characters are still the same. The year is 2020 and the place is an Asian city where western and Asian cultures mix. In this society exist the ancient English aristocratic Phantomhive family and it’s a very traditional one (especially for 2020!) where only men can run the family business. Alas, the only person available for the job is a woman named Shiori (Gouriki) who dresses as a boy and takes the name Kyoharu and takes on the job of solving cases for the Queen who now rules the Western nations and also wants to unify the world. Cases like a “Serial mummified murder spree” and the disappearances of women mean that Shiori is busy tracking down evidence and she links the two together but it means she’s put in danger and requires the help of her demonic butler Sebastien (Mizushima) who is awesome in every aspect from cooking to good looks but comes with the downside of devouring Shiori’s soul!
Kenji Mizoguchi is one of the legends from the Golden Age of Japanese cinema. While not as famous as Kurosawa or Ozu, his films Ugetsu Monogatari and Sansho the Bailiff (1954), which screens at the festival, are two masterpieces that have to be seen. In fact, I’d rate them higher than anything by Kurosawa and possibly Ozu (but that’s just personal taste). It’s based on an ancient legend, as recounted by celebrated author Mori Ogai (in his short story of the same name, written in 1915) and it’s an utterly tragic tale about an aristocratic family torn apart due to feudal tyranny. We follow the lives of each family member including two children sold into slavery. Please watch it and take plenty of tissues.
It seems like a crime to go from something so perfect to something so silly but Danger Dolls (2014) is next. Japanese cinema is really diverse and has so many awesome aspects to it. Awesome aspects like Rina Takeda who kicks guys in the head and looks good doing it! It’s an action sci-fi about a group of girls who protect Earth from alien invaders with their martial arts and sword skills.
Kept (2014) is the directorial debut from Maki Mizui, a former protégé of Sion Sono and Yoshihiro Nishimura. It had its premiere at the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival. Based on actual events in the director’s own life, Kept is dedicated to the unnumbered survivors of sexual assault and abductions every year who go unreported and tells the story of a woman who survived a brutal abduction and rape. It looks absolutely tough and seems to signal a new voice in Japanese cinema, perhaps the next Masahiro Kobayashi?
Reset (2014) is an indie film that tells the story of a guy who is losing interest in his girlfriend. When time starts running backwards, he approaches the moment he first met her. What will he think at that point? Such a simple premise could lead to a very unique film and the trailer points to a solid title at the very least.
Be thankful that the sky is above our heads because what would you do if your gravity were reversed and you could plunge into the blue? Patema Inverted (2013) has a simple story with much emotional depth and a bravura display of intelligent directing that thrillingly explores how two kids deal with this mind-blowing situation. It’s a lot of fun to watch and with lots of sweet emotional moments and one I would recommend for all of the family. The director, Yasuhiro Yoshiura (Time of Eve), is one of the most exciting voices in Japanese animation and this is a great calling-card.
Seven Souls in Skull Castle (2013) is the kick-ass looking stage production filmed live on stage in Tokyo and starring some of Japan’s best new actors. One of Japan’s leading theatrical troupes, Geikdan Shinkansen performs a story set in the year 1590, the 18th year of the Tensho era just after the demise of warlord Nobunaga. Toyotomi Hideyoshi wants to unify Japan but Tenmaoh (Mirai Moriyama) stands in his way. He and his troops, the Kanto Skull Clan, an armed group hiding in Skull Castle are prepared to fight. A man named Sutenosuke (Shun Oguri) gets caught in the middle when he rescues Sagiri, a woman who has been chased by Tenmaoh. To hide and shelter the woman, he meets Mukaiya Ranbe (Taichi Saotome) at a brothel district. Manipulated by magical fate, people congregate in the Kanto region. When the shared past between Sutenosuke and Ranbe, and their relation to Tenmaoh, come to light, the dark ambition of Tenmaoh is revealed. Without regrets, Sutenosuke and his seven souls head for Skull Castle, though it is surrounded by 20,000 soldiers, to destroy it and stop Tenmaoh’s dark ambition.
ーThe film runs at just over 3 hours and includes one intermission and this synopsis was taken directly from the YouTube video.
We now slide to other regions…
Korea is always good for great looking films and there’s a real diverse range on offer like the indie title Late Spring (2014), a romance that starts with a sculptor who is gradually losing control of his body and finds himself losing his will to create and even live. His loyal wife seeks to inspire him and hires a model, a widow with two children. The sculptor is inspired, alright. Inspired enough to fall in love.
Horror Stories 2 (2013) is an omnibus collection of weird and strange tales. I can’t say that Korea makes very many scary movies but they are usually intelligently written and well-shot. The wrap-around story for this movie is an insurance agent who works with a woman who has supernatural powers to detect fraud in mysterious cases such as two friends who are stuck on a mountain with only on candy bar and a schoolgirl who sends her teacher to hell.
Go, Stop, Murder (2013) sees the popular card game Go, Stop’ turn into a deadly dance with death as a group of players begin to die. Is the game haunted?
Boomerang Family (2013) is a hit comedy licensed in the west by Third Window Films. It’s all about a dysfunctional family, two brothers – one a failed director, the other a criminal – and a sister – who has a daughter – who find themselves living with their mother after their failed careers and marriages.
The King’s Wrath (2013), also known as The Fatal Encounter, is a big-budget historical epic about an assassin named of Eul-Soo who has been forced to stalk and strike the newly installed king of Korea. The person who wants the king dead just happens to be the queen! The stakes of his mission are high. If he fails, his love Wol-Hye will be killed.
If historical epics are not your thing then The Five (2013) might be the answer. It is a revenge thriller, something that the Korean film industry does rather well and this one looks gritty as heck. The main protag lost her family to a serial killer and is mentally and physically destroyed. The only thing that keeps her going is the thought of revenge and so she enlists the help of four outsiders including a North Korean defector, a former gangster and a person deeply in debt. All of them need organ transplants and it seems their best option is to fulfil the revenge mission!
There’s an animated Korean adventure film called Satellite Girl and Milk Cow (2014), astory about a satellite that transforms into a Girl and a shy songwriter who is turned into a cow and their battle against an evil machine known as Incinerator who chases them.
The Attorney (2014) is about an ambitious money-hungry tax attorney who suddenly gets a change of moral viewpoint when he meets a student activist and decides to free him from a prison where he’s being tortured.
Hong Kong and China are well represented with a variety of titles.
There is the world premiere of the Chinese film Fall in Love (2013) about Bei, a department store designer, who has never been successful in her search for love and Song, a dentist, who is an ideal boyfriend – handsome, compassionate, and supportive – whose girlfriend, Lily, leaves him when she is offered a job in France. Presumably the two find happiness together.
As the Lights Go Out (2014) offers an explosive story about firefighters who are gearing up for a party to celebrate their chief’s retirement when a fire in a liquor warehouse threatens to spread to a power plant that, if it blows, could take out a chunk of Hong Kong. The guys need to overcome the politics and rivalry in the station and on the island and learn to work together to save the day.
Rigor Mortis (2013) shows that Hong Kong can do horror and it comes from Juno Mak, a man who has appeared in Revenge: A Love Story (2010) and Dream Home (2010) some pretty horrific (as in scary) films about the dark side of human nature. Rigor Mortis is very much a supernatural treat that pays tribute to classic HK horror flicks like those hopping vampires. Produced by Takashi Shimizu (the genius behind Ju-On and Reincarnation) it looks like a lot of fun. The story is about a failed and suicidal actor who moves into a haunted apartment block where his neighbours are ghosts, ghouls, ghost hunters, and taoist exorcists.
Overheard 3 (2014) is about revenge and greed. It’s plot is full of complex and corrupt land dealings is very topical for the island state which is fast running out of space and it’s politicians and big business types are constantly in court for dodgy dealings.
Dante Lam has an impressive track-record of films and people get to watch one of his latest, That Demon Within (2014), which is all about the chaos that ensues when a police officer unwittingly saves the life of a psychopath and the guilt which sends him off into a world of madness of his own.
Taiwan is represented by three features all of which look to have different tones.
Touch of Light (2012) tells the real life story of Huang Yu-Siang who stars also takes the lead as himself. We see his story he used his skill as a blind piano prodigy to escape from rural Taiwan and make a career for himself. He also starts a relationship with Xiao Jie, a young woman who dreams of becoming a dancer.
Stray Dogs (2013) sees heavyweight world cinema director Tsai Ming-Liang return to the big screen with a tough looking drama about an alcoholic man who works as a human billboard and his two young children who survive on free food samples from supermarkets barely surviving in the urban wilderness of Taipei, their home being an abandoned building with a strange mural that the father is obsessed with. When a woman enters their lives, it seems that her arrival signals that things might change…
If the heavy drama is a little too much then Sweet Alibis (2014) might be the thing. It’s a slick-looking police comedy where a cowardly and thus inefficient veteran detective named Chi-yi and his overzealous rookie partner (who just happens to be the daughter of the head of the National Police Agency) Yi-ping, are teamed up to fight crime. Alas, Chi-yi’s poor record and the possibility of anything bad happening to Yi-ping, means their chief gives the pointless cases such as one involving a puppy dying after eating chocolate… Investigating this leads to the duo uncovering a series of mysterious deaths…
The USA has a number of films with Asian themes such as the cultural changes felt between generations and genders but there are some really good looking genre pictures here as well.
Man From Reno (2014) is an indie film fresh from a successful Kickstarter campaign and co-produced between America Japan. The story begins when a Japanese bestselling crime novelist visits San Francisco and finds herself embroiled in a real life mystery after a night with a handsome stranger, a Japanese man supposedly from Nevada, who disappears the next morning, after which increasingly strange and dangerous events begin to occur. Said lady finds herself plunged into a noirish thriller… The trailer looks very intriguing.
Pretty Rosebud (2013) is a dark looking drama about the divide between an Asian-American woman and her husband, her traditional parents and the pressure she feels over the need to be the good wife and employee and also to become a mother.
The creators of Kumu Hina (2014) offer a documentary which explores LGBT issues. A transgender Hawaiian teacher who inspires a girl to lead the school’s male hula troupe.
Innocent Blood (2013) has a familiar premise – an academic with a law enforcement background turns into a sleuth to solve a crime, the kidnap of his son. He finds the police and criminals are going to oppose him as he desperately tries to rescue his boy.
White men going out with Asian girls is pretty familiar territory but with A Leading Man (2013), the trend is reversed as a Chinese American actor attempts to salvage his career by entering into a romantic relationship with a successful casting director. So, an Asian-American taking the lead in a sensitive drama that depicts him as a human being while commenting on entrenched cultural stereotypes. Hollywood, take notice.
Fresh from Vietnam is Funny Money (2014), a black comedy centering on a guy named Lucky Loc, a fraudster who makes his money producing high-end fake ghost money. He soon runs into some bad luck which he believes came from giving a torn bill to a girl who had ransomed it, Loc must now go on a dangerous search to get back his luck with disastrous results.
India is represented with Monsoon Shootout (2014), which tells the tale of a rookie cop who traps a dangerous killer in an alley and has to decide whether to shoot. What makes it notable is that it has a Run Lola Run quality to its script as the film explores three different scenarios that follow the decisions he could make.
There are two titles from Bangladesh, both from director Mostofa Sarwar Farooki.
Ant Story (2013) is all about a struggling graduate named Mithu who wishes to make it big in Dhaka but feels that he doesn’t have the skills to do so. He comes to the conclusion that, if the world won’t change to meet his expectations then he’ll fake, lie, and fantasize his way to the top. What starts out as fun becomes a dark game full of lust and danger…
Television (2012) takes place in a traditional rural community presided over by Chairman Amin, a deeply religious man who bans images and even claims imagination is sinful. He finds his grip on the people of the village and his own views changing with the increasing power of technology. The presence of a television brings colour and life to the populace and even saves Amin.
Aaaaand that’s it!
That’s a huge selection of titles on offer and with something for everyone, young and old, gorehounds and lovebirds. Entertainment and fun, important issues and some neat thrillers.
On top of the many films on offer, festival attendees will be able to meet a wide selection of filmmakers who are travelling from Japan, Vietnam, Korea and other parts of the US. Those who have been confirmed for the festival are:
Man From Reno: Dave Boyle (Director), Ayako Fujitani (Actress), Mye Hoang (Associate Producer)
Innocent Blood: James Jeffrey Caldwell (Actor and producer),
Reset: Takeshi Matsuura (Director), Koutaro Hayashi (Actor), Tomomi Kouni (Actress),
Go, Stop, Murder: Joon Kwon (Director),
Ku_On: Takayuki Hatamura (Director), Naomi Toyama (Editor),
Funny Money: Thien Do (Director)
A Leading Man: Steven Kung (Writer and Director), Pat Tsao (Actress and Executive Producer),
Pretty Rosebud: Chuti Tiu (Actress and Writer), Oscar Torre (Director)
Meeting filmmakers is always fun and it’s great to show appreciation for their work make them feel welcome. Getting the chance to talk with Takayuki Hatamura and Naomi Toyama about the way they manage to create a fun and exciting film in Ku_On, a lesson in great editing and direction on a small budget, would be fascinating.
This looks like an awesome festival.