Japanese Films at the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival

Vancouver International Film Festival 2013 Logo

Canada is awesome. Two film festivals and both featuring lots of excellent films! The first Canadian film festival I’m thinking about is the Toronto International Film Festival which had a plethora of great titles and that one finished yesterday. The second film festival I’m thinking about is The Vancouver International Film Festival which kicks off on September 25th and finishes on October 10th. It features a lot of Japanese films and Tony Rayns has written up about them.

As ever, the titles link to the festival pages which have more information such as times and prices and fuller descriptions.

The Features:

Sharing   Sharing Film Image 2

Japanese: Sharing

Romaji: Sharing

Running Time: 94 mins.

Director: Makoto Shinozaki

Writer: Makoto Shinozaki, Zenzo Sakai (Screenplay),

Starring: Asuka Hinoi, Kinuo Yamada, Ryudai Takahashi, Tomoki Kimura, Kumi Hyodo, Takuji Suzuki,

It’s easy to dismiss Japanese entertainment as production committee driven adaptations on novels. This is original and it looks like it could be a great psychological piece what with the festival sites description of being Cronenberg-like. Kinuwo Yamada is an interesting actress who has appeared in Villain (2010), Confessions (2010) and There’s Nothing to Be Afraid of (2013).


Eiko (Kinuo) is a psychology teacher in a university. She lost her husband in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and this pushes her to research cases of individuals who claim to have had precognitive dreams about the disaster. One of her students, Kaoru (Asuka), is a member of the drama club, and is writing a stage a play about the disaster. The two become so engaged in their projects that it pushes friends and colleagues away from them as they become more extreme n their work…


Disconcerto (English Title) / Rhapsody in front of Mahoro Station (literal title)

Japanese: まほろ 駅前 狂騒曲

Romaji: Mahoro Ekimae Kyousoukyoku

Running Time: 124 mins.Mahoro Ekimae Kyousoukyoku Film Poster

Director: Tatsushi Omori

Writer: Tatsushi Omori, Hikaru Kurozumi (Screenplay), Shion Miura (Original Novel),

Starring: Eita, Ryuhei Matsuda, Yoko Maki, Masatoshi Nagase, Kengo Kora, Maro Akaji, Nao Omori, Miku Iwasaki, Shohei Uno, Hirofumi Arai, Masaki Miura, Tomoko Naraoka,

Director Tatsushi Omori had a strong year in 2013 with his film, The Ravine of Goodbye, and switches tones with this laid back title. He reunites with his leading lady from that film, Yoko Maki, and teams her up with two of Japan’s most talented young actors, Eita and Ryuhei Matsuda. This is the sequel film which was the sequel of a television series which was based on the novel of Shion Miura. Tony Rayns calls this, “a package of unsinkable charm!,” and he knows his stuff.

Tada (Eita) runs a “benriya” – a do-it-all service – in front of the fictional Mahoro Station n Tokyo. He is optimistic unlike his friend Gyoten (Matsuda) who is cynical. The two blunder through various assignments but when people and events from Gyoten’s past show up their friendship is pushed to breaking point…


Ow   Ow Film Image


Romaji: Maru

Running Time: 89 mins.

Director: Yohei Suzuki

Writer: Yohei Suzuki, Yukiko Koyama (Screenplay),

Starring: Kaoru Iida, Masatoshi Kihara, Shu Ikeda, Sari Kaneko, Hitomi Karube, Rock Murakai, Shoji Omiya, Shigeko Tanaka

Vancouver usually has at least one strong indie title and this is it. The film is a sci-fi mystery with politics mixed in that comments on contemporary Japanese society.

Tetsuo is unemployed and stuck in his famiy home with his girlfriend Yuriko. Things seem bad when he finds out that his father lost his job a month ago  but they get weirder and even tragic when a mysterious orb descends from the sky, infiltrates the house and starts scrambling the brains of anyone near it. A police investigation ends in chaos and it is left to a reporter named Deguchi to discover just what is going on!


The Furthest End Awaits  The Furthest End Awaits

Japanese: さいはてにてかけがえのない場所

Romaji: Saihate nite – Kakegae no Nai Basho

Running Time: 118 mins.

Director: Chiang Hsiu-Chiung

Writer: Nako Kakinoki (Screenplay),

Starring: Hiromi Nagasaku, Nozomi Sasaki, Hiyori Sakurada, Masatoshi Nagase, Sakurada Hiyori, Kaisei Hotamori, Asami Usuda, Issei Ogata, Jun Murakami, Masatoshi Nagase, Miyoko Asada

The Furthest End Awaits is set in Japan yet and directed by Taiwanese director Chiang Hsiu Chiung. Tony Rayns describes it as “a high benchmark for films about female solidarity.” Chiang has acted in films and worked as an assistant to Hou Hsia- Hsien. This is her first fiction feature. It’s not released in Japan yet and I’m going to see it at the London Film Festival!

Misaki Yoshida (Nagasaku) runs a coffee shop in Tokyo. When she finds out that her father has disappeared, she heads back to her family’s hometown in the Nodo Peninsula, on the Sea of Japan. She finds that he has left an old family boathouse and a lot of debts. In order to clear the debts Misaki decides to turn the boathouse into a café and it attracts many locals such as Eriko Yamazaki (Sasaki), a single mother with two children and a caberet singer. The two women forge a friendship with each other.


The Vancouver Asahi   Vancouver Asahi Film Promo

Japanese: バンクーバーの朝日

Romaji: Vancouver no Asahi

Running Time: 130 mins.

Director: Yuya Ishii

Writer: Satoko Okudera (Screenplay),

Starring: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Kazuya Kamenashi, Mitsuki Takahata, Aoi Miyazaki, Ryo Katsuji, Yusuke Kamiji, Sosuke Ikematsu, Shihori Kanjiya, Eri Ishida, Koichi Sato,

Vancouver scoop the film world again with another film not yet released in Japan and it’s thanks to the fact that they have supported the director, Yuya Ishii since his earliest films. Regular followers of this blog will know that I have reviewed his films Sawako Decides, Mitsuko Delivers, and The Great Passage and found all but one to be wonderful, full of dry comedy based on observational humour. This looks like a mix of that with more serious drama based on the immigrant experience. The screenplay is by Satoko Okudera, scribe for the wonderful The Wolf Children. I bet another reason Vancouver got the film s because it’s set in the city! The lead actor is Satoshi Tsumabuki, a great talent who can completely change his performances with the roles he is given as seen in For Love’s Sake, Villain, Judge! and more. No trailer but here’s a new report with clips:

Vancouver in the 1930’s had a Japantown, a place near the docks where sailors and immigrants lived. The children of these immigrants form a baseball team named Asahi. Despite being beaten by their Caucasian rivals they keep playing and get better. They endure racism and prejudice but things get worse when Japan goes to war with the US…


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.

Director: Isao Takahata

Writer: Isao Takahata, Riko Sakaguchi (Screenplay)

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

The Tale of Princess Kaguya has been touring film festivals since last year. It is by Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata, writer and director of Only Yesterday, Pom Poko, Grave of the Fireflies and Little Norse Prince Valiant. It’s based on a traditional Japanese story where a newborn girl is discovered in a luminous stalk of bamboo and she brings joy to an elderly woodcutter and his wife. She quickly grows into a beautiful and talented young woman but finds the demands of the world too much…




The Horses of Fukushima                     Horse Festival Film Poster

Japanese: 祭の

Romaji: Matsuri no Uma

Running Time: 74 mins.

Director: Yoju Matsubayashi

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A


While filming a documentary, Memories of the Lost Landscape, director Yoju Matsubayashi came across a stable of injured horses in the exclusion zone of Fukushima, this after the Great East Japan Earthquake and reactor meltdown at the power plant.  He became fascinated with a failed steeplechaser named Miller’s Quest and charted the horse’s recovery. Tony Rayn’s states: “Of all the many Fukushima documentaries of the last three years, this is the most unexpected, and probably the most moving.”



The Short Films and Anime:

The one short film is the 28 minute, Niagara, a film written and Niagara Film Imagedirected by Chie Hayakawa and starring Saki Itami Keita Hoshino, Masako Kawachi and Junji Sanechika. The film is “excellent,” according to Tony Rayns, who goes on to state that, “film centres on the moment that a young woman (who has grown up thinking she’s an orphan) learns for the first time to see… and to start living.” It screens with The Horses of Fukushima.

Amazing Anime

As is usually the case with Vancouver there are a lot of animated short films that show indie anime in Japan is alive and well even if the commercial industry is struggling to create new content that can hook more sophisticated and demanding audiences. There is also a lot of female talent on offer, a trend that IS slowly happening in mainstream anime!

The Small Garden Film Image

Titles range from an analysis on the state of old media in Newspaper (dir: Yoshinao Satoh, 7 mins), a documentary which takes a look at The Japan Times, a fantastic resource for news on Japan, to the icky sounding Anal Juice (dir: Sawako Kabuki, 3 mins), is about the dreams the director had when her lover left her – apparently he liked enemas…

Fear not, with the other shorts we are coming back into more normal territory with Rappa (Yuki Nakajima, 5 mins) which promises ninja action during a prison break (not nessarily featuring ninjas), De_Riria_Subasutaimu Film ImageWhite, Heat, Lights (dir: Takashi Nakajima, 11 mins), a series of vignettes about sunrises and sunsets, Soliton  (dir: Isamu Hirabayashi), which featured at this year’s Berlin Film Festival and is a mediatation on the 2011 earthquake and tsunami as told by one man’s journey across varying terrain. There is Waiter (dir: Hajime Takahashi), which is described as A seriously weird animation which plays on two meanings of “wait”: “wait on (someone)” and “to wait (for something).” Yamada himself says “it might be a criticism of nuclear power.”

Jairo Film imageOther shorts include the impressive looking and sounding Gyrø (dir: Yuki Kobayashi), a feminist protest against lazy men with a reggae score. De_Riria_Subasutaimu (dir: Shinsaku Hidaka, 13 mins), which, with its hospital location and a husband visiting his sick wife and going on a mental journey, reminds me of Silent Hill 2. The Small Garden (dir: Shunsuke Saito, 12 mins) is a good-looking sci-fi mystery about the origins of EVERYTHING! Awesome. Flower Bud (dir: Saki Nakano, 5 mins), is a short about touching and feeling and dreaming. Budding, Swelling (dir: Ryoya Usuha, 7 mins) is a CG short about the fine matter of material beings.  Snow Hut (dir: Yoriko Mizushiri, 6 mins) is described as a sensual meditation on the snow in Kamakura and snowing.

That’s a strong line-up!

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