Japanese Films at the Toronto International Film Festival 2014

Toronto International Film Festival 2014 Post Header

The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival launches in just over two weeks and lasts from September 04th to September 14th. As is usually the case, the line-up of films is impressive. I don’t know how Toronto does it but every year they get a selection of great Japanese films. This year there are four films I desperately want to see from three directors I love. Well, three – Sion Sono, Shinya Tsukamoto, and Takashi Miike. All of them have been or are released this year and all from the top end of Japanese commercial cinema. Here are the films:

Taking part in the Vanguard Category, a place where the films are described as ‘provocative, sexy… possibly dangerous’, are two films which fit the bill perfectly.


The World of Kanako       The World of Kanako Film Poster

Japanese Title: 渇き

Romaji: Kawaki

Running Time: 118 mins

Release Date: June 27th, 2014 (Japan)

Director: Tetsuya Nakashima

Writer: Tetsuya Nakashima (Screenplay), Akio Fukamachi (Novel),

Starring: Koji Yakusho, Nana Komatsu, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Joe Odagiri, Fumi Nikaido, Ai Hashimoto, Miki Nakatani, Jun Kunimura, Asuka Kurosawa,

This is my most anticipated film of the year. I went ape over the trailer when it was released a couple of months ago and I couldn’t contain my excitement when it got its release in June and blathered on about it at length.

The quality of the cast and staff are high. The guy in the director’s chair is Tetsuya Nakashima who was the director of school-drama Confessions (2010), Kamikaze Girls (2004), and Memories of Matsuko (2006). He was also slated to direct the live-action Attack on Titan film, but I think he did the right thing and bugged out to do this movie. The film stars awesome actors like Koji Yakusho (Cure, The Woodsman & the Rain), Satoshi Tsumabuki (Judge!For Love’s Sake), Fumi Nikaido (HimizuWhy Don’t You Play in Hell?) and Ai Hashimoto (The Kirishima ThingAnother).

The trailer is very, very impressive with a lot of action and visual flair but it is also spoilery and I have managed to avoid watching it more than twice since it premiered. I’m also keeping the plot synopsis vague to avoid giving anything away. The festival website is just as vague.

This is getting a release in the west thanks to Third Window Films and people in North America can see it on the big screen at Toronto!


An alcoholic ex-detective named Akikazu (Yakusho) investigates the disappearance of his teenage daughter Kanako (Komatsu), a girl who seemed to be a model student. What he finds leads him into a disturbing situation…



Over Your Dead Body   Over Your Dead Body Film Poster

Japanese: 喰女 -クイメー

Romaji: Kuime

Release Date: August 23rd, 2014 (Japan)

Running Time: 90 mins.

Director: Takashi Miike

Writer: Kikumi Yamagishi (Screenplay), Tsuruya Nanboku IV (Original Kabuki Play)

Starring: Ebizo Ichikawa, Kou Shibasaki, Hideaki Ito Miho Nakanishi, Maiko, Toshie Negishi, Koichi Sato, Hiroshi Katsuno, Toshiaki Karasawa, Kenichi Hagiwara, Kei Sato,

Takashi Miike gets his latest film released and it is in an update of Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan, a kabuki play by Tsuruya Nanboku IV. The new script sees a group of modern thespians bringing to life the play and finding their lives imitating the fiction they are portraying. The film stars kabuki actor Ebizo Ichikawa and Kou Shibasaki, the star of Miike’s J-horror film One Missed Call (2004). The great thing about the film is that it looks to be in the mould of traditional J-horror films thanks to the yurei and the emphasis on atmosphere.

Kosuke Hasegawa (Ichikawa) and his lover Miyuki Goto (Shibasaki) are both cast in a new stage version of the play “Yotsuya Kaidan” which is a ghost story about a man under a family curse that ensures that any relationship with a woman will end in betrayal, supernatural vengeance, and murder. They are both in the lead roles, Kosuke playing the philandering Iemon and Miyuki playing the tragic Oiwa. It seems that fact mirrors fiction as Kosuke is a faithless lover who cheats on Miyuki with other actresses in the same play. Perhaps it is this which makes it hard for Miyuki to separate herself from the character she is portraying as she slowly becomes filled with love, anger and hate. As the two get more involved with the play, reality and fiction become one…



Wavelengths is considered the place for ‘Daring, visionary and autonomous voices. Films that expand our notions of cinema.’ That sounds perfect for Shinya Tsukamoto and his newest film:


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 takes his latest film to Venice and then to Toronto in September. I wrote about it last week and how it may have trouble finding an audience and so appearances in film festivals like this grants it wider exposure and allows cinephiles a chance to see something interesting from a unique filmmaker. Fires on the Plain is based upon the 1951 Yomiuri Prize-winning novel of the same name and that was then adapted into a film in 1959 by Kon Ichikawa. It took Tsukamoto 20 years to bring his adaptation of the film to the screen. it looks like it will star the director, Shinya Tsukamoto, who surrounds himself with interesting actors like Yuko Nakamura Kotoko (2011) and Lily Franky,  Judge! (2014) and Like Father, Like Son (2013). I’m very interested in seeing what he does in the film.  No trailer yet, so here are pictures.

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…



The traditional home of Sion Sono is usually the Midnight Madness strand and he makes a reappearance here. The film will already be screened in Japan when the west gets to see its international premiere.


Tokyo Tribe   Tokyo Tribe Film Poster

Japanese: トーキョー トライブ

Romaji: To-kyo- Toraibu

Release Date: August 30th, 2014 (Japan)

Running Time: 116 mins.

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono (Screenplay), Santa Inoue (Original Manga)

Starring: Ryohei Suzuki, Young Dais, Nana Seino, Ryuta Sato, Riki Takuechi, Denden, Shota Sometani, Shoko Nakagawa, Yosuke Kubozuka, Takuya Ishida, Shunsuke Daito, Yui Ichikawa, Mika Kano,

Sion Sono! All of the directors listed in this post have made great films but Sono is my absolute favourite thanks to works like Suicide Club (2002) and Strange Circus (2005). Last year saw him make an incredibly funny yakuza wars comedy film called Why Don’t You Play in Hell? and it looks like he’s still in the mood for making entertainment films if this title is anything to go by. Tokyo Tribes is a film based upon a seinen manga created by Santa Inoue and serialised in the urban fashion magazine Boon from 1997 to 2005 and judging by the trailer, this film looks like a riot. I covered this film in a trailer post covering the casting and so forth.

The film takes place in the future and five years have passed since the Shibuya riots and different clans called “Tribes” exist in Tokyo. Kai Deguchi is a member of the Musashino Saru tribe led by Tera. When Tera dies at the hands of Bukuro Wu-RONZ tribe leader Mera,   Kai finds himself facing off against a former best friend.


Contemporary World Cinema has a lot of Japanese titles, some familiar, one very, very new.

Still the Water                         Still the Water JApanese Film Poster

Japanese Title: 2つ目の窓

Romaji: Futatsume no Mado

Release Date: July 26th, 2014

Running Time: 120 mins.

Director: Naomie Kawase

Writer: Naomie Kawase (Screenplay),

Starring: Nijiro Murakami, Jun Yoshinaga, Tetta Sugimoto, Miyuki Matsuda, Makiko Watanabe, Jun Murakami, Hideo Sakaki, Fujio Tokita

Still the Water was released last month and at this year’s Cannes film festival where it got mixed reviews, some praising its beauty and atmosphere while others lamenting the heavy handed symbolism used throughout the film.

It is the full-moon night of August and on Amami-Oshima traditional dances take place. A 14-year-old boy finds a dead body floating in the sea. With the help of his girlfriend, the two set about trying to solve the mystery. As they investigate the two grow into adults by experiencing the interwoven cycles of life, death and love.


Kabukicho Love Hotel

Japanese Title: さよなら 歌舞伎町

Romaji: Sayonara Kabukicho

Release Date: January, 2015 (Japan)

Running Time: 135 mins.

Director: Ryuichi Hiroki

Writer: Haruhiko Arai (Screenplay)

Starring: Shota Sometani, Atsuko Maeda, Kaho Minami, Nao Omori, Yutaka MAtsushige, Jun Murakami, Tomorowo Taguchi,

Sayonara Kabukicho Film Image

SURPRISE!!! This is slated for a January release in Japan but Toronto gets the scoop. The film is all about the lives of a group of people connected to a love hotel in Kabukicho such as two lovers, a cleaning woman and her husband, a slarayman, a music producer, a prostitute scout and call girl business manager. It stars Shota Sometani, Atsuko Maeda and Tomorowo Taguchi.



Cruel Story of Youth

Japanese: 青春 残酷 物語

Romaji: Seishin zankoku monogatari

Release Date: June 3rd, 2014 (Japan)

Running Time: 96 mins.

Director: Nagisa Oshima

Writer: Nagisa Oshima (Screenplay),

Starring: Miyuki Kuwano, Yusuke Kawazu, Yoshiko Kuga, Yosuke Hayashi, Fumio Watanabe, Shinji Tanaka,

Playing at TIFF Cinematheque (a place for restored films from around the world), this is Nagisa Oshima’s second feature film and it’s all about two young people, Makoto, a high school student who likes riding in cars and accepts lifts from men, and university student Kiyoshi, who meet after he saves her from a lecherous old man in a car. The two go out and become lovers but their passion is one fuelled by both love and hate and Kiyoshi treats Makoto like an object. Soon, the two use Makoto as a way of extorting money from men who offer her a ride and attempt to get under her clothes but this makes their relationship even more unstable and dangerous.


The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness  Kingdoms of Dreams and Madness Film Poster

Japanese: 夢 と 狂気 の 国

Romaji: Yume to Kyōki no Ōkoku

Running Time: 118 mins.

Release Date: November 16th, 2013

Director: Mami Sunada

Writer: Mami Sunada

Starring: Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Toshio Suzuki, Hideaki Anno, Goro Miyazaki

This is a documentary is in the TIFF documentary strand and is  about the acclaimed anime company Studio Ghibli and the three major figures behind the studio, directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata and producer Toshio Suzuki as they work on Ghibli’s latest film The Wind Rises and The Tale of Princess Kaguya.Director Mami Sunada was prepping to do a fiction film but when offered the chance to do this documentary immediately stepped up. Miyazaki and Takahata have been very complimentary about the title. Here’s another video.



The Tale of Princess Kaguya  The Story of Princess Kaguya Film Poster

Japanese: かぐや 姫 の 物語

Romaji: Kaguya Hime no Monogatari

Running Time: 137 mins.

Release Date: November 23rd, 2013

Director: Isao Takahata

Writer: Isao Takahata, Riko Sakaguchi (Screenplay)

Starring: Aki Asakura (Kaguya), Kengo Kora (Sutemaru), Nobuko Miyamoto (Ouno), Takeo Chii (Okina)

Playing as part of the Masters Section, The Tale of Princess Kaguya is helmed by Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata, writer and director of Only Yesterday, Pom Poko Grave of the Fireflies and Little Norse Prince Valiant, titles which justify the use of the word master in Takahata’s case.

What is he bringing his considerable talents to? An adaptation of a famous ancient Japanese folktale originally called Taketori Monogatari (The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter) which is about a princess named Kaguya who is discovered as a baby inside the stalk of a growing plant by a bamboo cutter and adopted. Joe Hisaishi (The Kids Return, Spirited Away) is composing the film’s soundtrack. Check outAlua Luna’s fascinating post about the different re-tellings of this folk-tale.


There’s also a number of films set in or influenced by Japan such as  the tender comedy Tokyo Fiancee, a film about a Japanophile young Belgian woman who has a whirlwind romance with a Francophile Japanese student. There is also Oh Lucy!, a short from Atsuko Hirayanagi. That’s an absurdist comedy about an office lady who, when wearing a blonde wig, discovers a new identity as a teacher named “Lucy”.

That is the Japanese line-up so far. More films are being added and I will keep checking back. If you have one film you can only see? That’s tough. I’d pick The World of Kanako because it looks to balance entertainment with inventiveness and a great story. There are a lot more films on offer and the Japanese films look to be some of the best!

8 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the Toronto International Film Festival 2014

  1. Tired Paul

    You don’t love Tetsuya Nakashima? I just hope he goes back to something a little lighter after this, I don’t understand why there can’t be room for a little low budget comedy between the seriousness of Confessions and this……even a short would be good occasionally.

  2. Nobi and the documentary with Hayao Miyazaki strike me as the most interesting. I haven’t seen WWII films told from a Japanese perspective except for Letters from Iwo Jima, and I’m curious about the condition of the Japanese army during the last days of their occupation in the Philippines. Of course, I wonder how closely the film maker will adhere to history?

    1. There are lots of Japanese films about WWII. The best ones that I have seen are the ones made directly after the way up to the 70s and questioned the way the Japanese army treated human beings. I have seen quite a few documentaries like The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On that are really shocking. The Japanese have even made documentaries that lionise British commanders like Orde Wingate.

      1. That is pretty interesting. It’s almost as if the Japanese were more willing to admitting the dark side of their prosecution of the war before than they are now. I’ll have to try to find some of those documentaries on Orde Wingate.

  3. Pingback: Nobi – Fires on the Plain (1959) « Medieval Otaku

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