Japanese Films at the Venice Film Festival 2014

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Venice FIlm Festival Poster 2There are two Japanese films at Venice this year. It is possible that I have missed a few films but I have checked on the website at least a few times a week since the line-up of the 71st Venice Film Festival was announced. Anyway, the festival takes place from Wednesday 27th August to Saturday 06th September and despite having only two Japanese films, one of them looks absolutely fascinating enough to entice me even without a trailer at this stage and that’s because it is a film by Shinya Tsukamoto dealing with the story of a Japanese soldier in the Philippines in the dying days of World War II as he fights to stay alive by doing depraved things… before I go into further detail, there’s also a classic screening as well.

Only She Knows

Japanese Title: 彼女だけ知っている  

Romaji: Kanojo Dake ga Shitteiru

Release Date: February 02nd, 1960

Running Time: 63 mins.

Director: Osamu Takahashi

Writer: Takeshi Tamura, Osamu Takahashi (Screenplay),

Starring: Akiko Koyama, Fumio Watanabe, Chishu Ryu, Koji Mitsui, Kazuko Chino, Kappei Matsumoto, Mitsuko Mito,

This is one of a number of restored classics that are being screened at the festival. Information is easy to find in Japanese but not so much in English apart from an entry found on IMDB thanks to ace cinephile and cineblogger HS. My translation skills are rubbish so here’s what I think it’s about. The images are from IMDB.

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Only She Knows is a film that takes place around Christmas in Tokyo. Chishu Ryu, legendary actor and regular Ozu collaborator, plays Lieutenant Natsuyama, a detective in charge of an investigation into a series of rapes and murders. He breaks off an engagement with his daughter Ayako for a night out due to a meeting at the station. She heads to a cinema alone and on her way back home she is attacked…Fortunately, a passer-by prevented things from getting worse but the impact is massive for both Ayako and Natsuyama and it is exacerbated by the police requesting her help with their investigation.


Fires on the Plain

Japanese Title: 野火

Romaji: Nobi

Release Date: N/A

Running Time: 87 mins.

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto

Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto (Screenplay), Shohei Ooka (Original Novel)

Starring: Shinya Tsukamoto, Lily Franky, Tatsuya Nakamura, Yuko Nakamura, Dean Newcombe,

Shinya Tsukamoto is back writing, directing, editing and producing his own films after a short spell just acting. I’m a big fan thanks to Nightmare Detective (2007),  Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), Tokyo Fist (1995), and Vital (2003). All of these are visually intense stories that delve deep into psychopathology, alienation, love, life, and death and are films that are truly cinematic due to their visual entertainment and intelligence in engaging with the audience. What he will do with this title, I have no idea but I am very, very interested in seeing the results. Here are some pictures to entice you…


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The film Fires on the Plain follows a demoralised Japanese army in the Philippines. We see how bad things are for the Japanese troops through the desperate struggle of a conscript named Tamura who is sick with TB and forced into the field by a commander who cannot waste resources on a dying man. Tamura doesn’t want to give up so easily and clings to life but it is a struggle that will lead him down a dark path that hint at some of the atrocities carried out by soldiers…

Fires on the Plain has been selected to compete for the Golden Lion at the 71st Venice International Film Festival. It is based upon the 1951 Yomiuri Prize-winning novel of the same name and it was then adapted into a film in 1959 by Kon Ichikawa. Apparently, it took Tsukamoto 20 years to bring this new film to the screen and one can see why judging by the subject-matter. It’s the Second World War and I suspect that few in Japan want to talk about what happened during that time period. Investors weren’t interested and so this is a labour of love for Tsukamoto which is why I don’t think he is going to dodge any of the difficult issues presented in the book. Just the fact that he’s bringing a film is commercially unviable to Japanese cinema screens says a lot about his passion. A review for the original film can be found here.

The film stars Shinya Tsukamoto, who looks to take the lead judging by the pictures, Yuko Nakamura Kotoko (2011) and Lily Franky, an actor I only discovered last year but who is rapidly becoming one of my favourite stars in Japan thanks to performances in Judge! (2014) and Like Father Like Son (2013). I’m very interested in seeing what he does in the film. British actor Dean Newcombe seems to be carving himself a career in Japan and this is a step up from his last film, Fly Dakota! Fly! (2013), and now this.


Both Shinya Tsukamoto’s film, Nobi (Fires on the Plain) and Takashi Osamu’s film, Kanojo Dake ga Shitteiru (Only She Knows) are screened on September 02nd.

That’s about it. Keep checking back for trailers and more information.

4 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the Venice Film Festival 2014

  1. HS

    Oh wow, I’ve never even heard of Only She Knows – it has an IMDB page under the romaji title http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2069821/?ref_=nm_flmg_dr_2 but there’s nothing on it other than a few photos. The director had quite a long list of credits on (Japanese) wikipedia which obviously didn’t make it to imdb but it looks like Takahashi was an AD on Tokyo Story too which is kind of interesting though it looks like he was more active as a novelist later on http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/高橋治. Shame it only comes up as an OOP VHS on amazon – looks really interesting.

    Very excited about the Tsukamoto though (thank you for the link 🙂 )! Can’t wait to see what he does with this! 😀

    1. Ah, I thought I might have missed something when searching for Only She Knows. Thanks for the link which I’ll use in the write-up. Finding images was hard and it looks like the film is only available on VHS in Japan which you’ve mentioned. Could this be a genuine almost-lost classic? The Tokyo Story link explains why he managed to cast Chishu Ryu.

      Tsukamoto’s film will be seen at Toronto after Venice which leads me to wonder… Will this screen in the UK in the coming months…? 😉

  2. I’m curious about the original Nobi by Kon Ichikawa now. Imdb gives the movie four stars out of five, and it seems to have won several awards. However, I’ve never heard of that director, despite the fact that he seems to have directed scores of films!

    1. Kon Ichikawa is considered one of the greats of the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema. Alas, I must admit that I haven’t seen any of his films but Nobi would be a good place to start since he made a few anti-war films and these have been released in the UK and US.

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