Japanese Films at the Rotterdam International Film Festival 2015

The 2015 Rotterdam International Film Festival launches in just over a week and it will take place from January 21st to February 01st. Rotterdam has always been good for Japanese filmmakers with many like Sion Sono, Takashi Miike and Kiyoshi Kurosawa getting their films screened and receiving support. This year’s line-up of titles has some of their latest projects programmed as major films come to the end of a long festival run including Toronto which is where I got some of the trailers from. Of note is the appearance of Lisa Takeba who was at last year’s festival with The Pinkie. Her projects strike me as interesting and it seems that the programmers at Rotterdam agree because she is back with the world premiere of her latest, Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory!

The line-up features a real variety in topic and tone making this Rotterdam a good one for fans of Japanese films. There are a lot that have toured other festivals but more which have not been widely seen so it’s worth looking at all of them to see if there are any that catch your eye!

Here’s the line-up of films:


Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory

Japanese: 春子超常現象研究所

Romaji: Haruko Chojo Gensho Kenkyujo

Release Date: N/A

Running Time: 76 mins.

Director: Lisa Takeba

Writer: Lisa Takeba (Screenplay),

Starring: Aoi Nakamura, Moeka Nozaki, Fumiyo Kohinata, Sayaka Aoki, Takumi Saito, Yumiko Takahashi,

No trailer but the festival page pretty much describes the film (spoilers, anyone???) and that’s where I got the image from.

Haruko's Paranormal Laboratory Film Image

Angry girl Haruko (Nozaki) is in the habit of bitching at her television. It’s an old, analogue set, which one day breaks down – then starts talking back. The television set becomes a man (Nakamura). Haruko names him Terebi and soon falls in love with him. Absurd situations stack up in colourful images in a startling mix of pop absurdism, drawing on cult TV shows and romantic children’s television. Beneath all the craziness, however, a love story unfolds.

Haruko can’t believe her TV man is real. She thinks he must be a Yokai (a Japanese poltergeist) and that she must have paranormal talents. Haruko would prefer to keep her lover at home, but one fine day he goes out in search of work. It turns out he has a striking talent: he speaks twelve different languages. His manliness also proves to be more than satisfactory. He gets a role in a TV show but he attracts the attention of less than savoury characters.


Undulant Fever (International Title)/Umi wo Kanjiru Toki (When I Sense the Sea)  (Literal Title) Umi wo Kanjiru Toki Film Poster

Japanese: 海を感じる時

Romaji: Umi wo Kanjiru Toki

Release Date: September 13th, 2014 (Japan)

Running Time: 118 mins.

Director: Hiroshi Ando

Writer: Haruhiko Arai (Screenplay), Kei Nakazawa (Original Novel)

Starring: Yui Ichikawa, Sosuke Ikematsu, Masaki Miura, Kumi Nakamura, Sakiko Takao, Madoka Sakai,

Based on a famous novel by Kei Nakazawa which she wrote when she was only 18 years old in 1978. The film is directed by Hiroshi Ando who has made pink films.

Emiko (Ichikawa) and Hiroshi (Ikematsu) are both members of their high school newspaper club and run into each other in the club room during a break. Emiko loves Hiroshi but he is only interested in sex. Even so Emiko originally gives herself as a slave to Hiroshi, but years later, the roles are reversed.


La La La At Rock Bottom / Misono Universe    Misono Universe Film Poster

Japanese: 味園ユニバース

Romaji: Misono Yunibasu

Release Date: February 14th, 2015 (Japan)

Running Time: 103 mins.

Director: Nobuhiro Yamashita

Writer: Tomoe Kanno (Screenplay),

Starring: Fumi Nikaido, Subaru Shibutani, Akainu, Sarina Suzuki, Shohei Uno, Shinji Imaoka, Takumi Matsuzawa, Suon Kan,

This one is a bit of a scoop for Rotterdam. It seems that they have developed a taste for Nobuhiro Yamashita after screening his film Tamako in Moratorium (2013) last year and they want some more. This is his latest and it sounds like a romantic comedy with a bit of darkness in its heart. The festival page for the film describes it as such:

This is not the usual run of romantic comedies; it avoids clichés and occasionally comprises bizarre moments, but also tender ones.

The trailer looks promising and suggests this has the potential to be different, sharper and harder than a lot of films and then we come to the fact that Nobuhiro Yamashita has assembled a cast with a lot of range. We’re talking about Fumi Nikaido (Himizu) who can do beautiful, dark as well as comedic characters, Shohei Uno who can play deluded losers, cool murderers and fools and then there are a few wild cards. Subaru Shibutani is an idol and part of the boy band Kanjani Eight. He’s starred in super sentai parodies, can he do drama? Nobuhiro Yamashita has also drafted in the pink film directing legend and regular writing partner Shinji Imaoka (the two worked together on The Drudgery Train). I’m very curious about this one. Apparently, there will be a live performance by Subaru Shibutani after the screening on Thursday 22 January. Here’s the trailer:

During a band’s performance at a square in Osaka, a young man (Shibutani) suddenly rushes onto the stage, grabs the mic and begins to sing. The audience is initially stunned by the man’s actions but they are soon enraptured by the man’s voice. The band are also blown away and the band’s manager, Kasumi (Nikaido), who was in the audience, approaches the man to ask him who he is. He tells her that he doesn’t know because he has lost his memory. Kasumi nicknames him “Pochi Man” and takes him into her care, letting him live with her and her grandfather and work in the studio. The young man soon becomes the singer for the band, but when his memories start to return, he isn’t happy…


The World of Kanako                         

Japanese Title: 渇き                    

The World of Kanako Film Poster 2
The World of Kanako Film Poster

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,

If you’re attending the festival then take the time to see this one. It comes from Tetsuya Nakashima, director of Confession, and like that film it is a highly stylised and dark title. As I stated in my review, it’s an intense experience both intellectually and emotionally. The quality of the cast and staff are high. 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) and taking the lead as Kanako is a new actress, Nana Komatsu, who I think we will be seeing a lot more of.


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 which has been adapted into film over thirty times. The new script from Miike looks like an atmospheric slow-build in the way his magnum opus, Audition was. It 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. The festival site describes the film in such tantalising terms:

The revolving stage has been beautifully lit and the soundtrack is dark and minimalist. The tension simmers out of sight and only explodes at the end – atypically for Miike, who is known for his bloodthirstyness. And it remains unclear what is real and what is imagined.


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…


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 is one of my absolute favourite directors thanks to works like Suicide Club (2002) and Strange Circus (2005) and the super extreme violent comedy Why Don’t You Play in Hell?. 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 have heard lots of praise for it so this will be one to watch.

The film takes place in the future. 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.



As the Gods Will       As the Gods Will Film Poster 1

Japanese: 神さまの言うとお

Romaji: Kami-sama no Iutoori

Release Date: November 15th, 2014 (Japan)

Running Time: 83 mins.

Director: Takashi Miike

Writer: Hiroyuki Yatsu (Screenplay), Muneyuki Kaneshiro, Akeji Fujimura (Original Manga)

Starring: Sota Fukushi, Hirona Yamazaki, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Mio Yuki, Shota Sometani, Nao Omori, Lily Franky

Looking even better is this!!! Takashi Miike is back to his bloody best with a series of horror films released in the second half of this year. Kami-sama no Iu Toori translates as Just as God Said but it’s also known under the title As the God’s Will. It is based on a horror-survival manga series written by Muneyuki Kaneshiro and illustrated by Akeji Fujimura and taking part in the horror show are an amazingly talented bunch with experienced actor Nao Omori, star of The Ravine of Goodbye (2013) and Lily Franky, a supporting actor and a hilarious one at that in Judge! (2014). They are providing support for a new generation of actors like Ryunosuke Kamiki, one of the standouts in the ensemble school drama, The Kirishima Thing (2012) and Hirona Yamazaki, one of the star of Lesson of Evil (2012). I started reading the manga recently and it’s pretty good! For more images and trailers, see my post about its trailer.

Shun Takahata (Fukushi) is a high school student who lives an ordinary life until he finds himself forced to participate in a series of children’s games which turn extremely deadly as is seen in the first one when his teacher’s head explodes and is replaced by a daruma doll! Shun has to play the games and win to survive otherwise he will die. It gets complicated because his friend Ichika Akimoto (Yamazaki) is also playing. Nobody knows who or what has caused this bizarre game but a fellow student named Takeru Amaya (Kamiki) is enjoying seeing his classmates die…


When Marnie Was There    When Marnie Was There Film Poster

Japanese: 思い出のマーニー

Romaji: Omoide no Mani

Release Date: July 19th, 2014 (Japan)

Running Time: 103 mins.

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Writer: Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Keiko Niwa, Masashi Ando (Screenplay), Joan G. Robinson (Original Novel)

Starring: Kasumi Arimura (Marnie), Sara Takatsuki (Anna), Hitomi Kuroki (Hisako), Susumu Terajima (Kiyomasa Oiwa), Yo Oizumi (Dr. Yamashita), Nanako Matsushima (Yoriko), Kazuko Yoshiyuki (Baaya),

This film is from Hiromasa Yonebayashi, director of Arrietty (2010) and while it didn’t set the world on fire, it looks good. The film is an adaptation of a book written by British novelist Joan G. Robinson’s and published in 1967 but the setting has moved from Britain to Japan, More specifically, to a small coastal town in Hokkaido. This is the location for a strange tale involving a twelve-year-old girl named Anna who travels from Sapporo to the village to cope with her asthma. She is staying with relatives and leads a solitary existence because she finds it hard to deal with other children due to a dark incident in her past. One day, she sees a western-style house that the villagers refer to as Marsh House and spies a mysterious blonde girl named Anna in the windows. She heads over there and the two become friends but Anna has a dark secret…


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.


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 bringing the fire to Japanese cinema audiences with his challenging films. The fire I mentioned is Fires on the Plain which 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 stars 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). Fires on the Plain has come away from many film festivals with critics praising it so if you’re looking for a challenge, this might be for you.

Clips from the film:

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…

Here are images from the film:

As well as these Japanese features, there are a number of co-productions. A Midsummer’s Fantasia (JP-KOR) is directed by Jang Kun-Jae and it is described as having scenes reminiscent to Richard Linklater’s film, Before Sunrise (1995). It is about a “Korean director who, in black-and-white, prepares a co-production in a remote area of Japan. The second half shows the results in colour: a moving retrospective of a possible love between a guide and a female Korean visitor.”

A Midsummer's Fantasia Film Image

The Screen Daily review I checked just before posting this preview makes this one sound like a treat for cinephiles who love a good rambling and realistic film: “what makes Jang stand out compared to many of his contemporaries is his talent to capture moments in life and create something that is layered and rather profound.”

The other co-production is…


Chigasaki Story   

Chigasaki Story Film Poster
Chigasaki Story Film Poster

Japanese:  三泊四日、五時の鐘

Romaji: Sanpaku Yokka Goji no Hitomi

Release Date: N/A

Running Time: 88 mins.

Director: Takuya Misawa

Writer: Takuya Misawa (Screenplay),

Starring: Kiki Sugino, Haya Nakazaki, Ena Koshino, Natsuko Hori, Juri Fukushima, Shuntaro Yanagi

Another drama but one done in the style of Ozu and from a director who is new to the game. The Hollywood Reporter review makes this one sound like another film to watch:

Boasting a complex narrative of intertwining relationships, vibrant performances from its young cast and a colorful setting which will appeal to international audiences hungering for a slice of bucolic Japan

Tomoharu (Nakazaki) works at a traditional Japanese inn called Chigasakikan Hotel. This is where the film master Yasujiro Ozu retired to write his screenplays.He works with Karin (Koshino) and Maki (Sugino). Risa (Hori), the daughter of the inn’s owner, is set to have a wedding in 3 days and various people show up each with repressed feeling for each other that soon come out just before the wedding…



Short Films

There are two short films from Japan, the first is named Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars (Dir. Tomonari Nishikawa) and for that one 35mm colour negative film was buried under fallen leaves near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in an attempt to “visualise invisible radioactivity. The result is a frenzy of flickers of light and scratches.”

The second film is Get Closer (Dir. Maki Satake) and the festival page describes that one as a “Stop-motion collage of scraps of photographs of three children all taken at the same table in 1989. At the end, the pieces fall into place revealing a photo of the same kids in 2008. Intimate, moving reflection on time’s inexorable progression.”

There are also a number of shorts on the festival YouTube page such as Columbos which is a stop-motion animation about the famous fictional detective. Check out the YouTube channel for more shorts including one by Lisa Takeba:

14 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the Rotterdam International Film Festival 2015

  1. Quite a lot of these look really good.

    And, wow, Marnie!

    As the Gods Will… really wonder why Miike cast Fukushi Sota? But then again, he has cast other “it” actors that are bland before as well.

    1. This is a really good line-up, far better than many other festivals I have covered. Miike and Sono are usually a fixture at the festival and their latest titles just happen to be three of the most exciting from Japan in terms of mainstream films but I feel the smaller ones might have more going on.

      Fires on the Plain looks like a film to experience and both Chigasaki Story and A Midsummer’s Fantasia look to be meandering dramas that might be highly rewarding. I’m also pretty desperate to see films by Lisa Takeba. She’s already had one short (available on the IFFR YouTube channel) and two features at Rotterdam.

      If I had to pick any I’d go for Over Your Dead Body, Fires on the Plain, Undulant Fever, Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory, Chigasaki Story and A Midsummer’s Fantasia. That’s a nice spread of genres and directors, (mostly) indie and mainstream. A real adventure:

  2. I do like the look of When Marnie was There. Would defo fancy watching it.
    We’ve been watching the rest of the Studio Ghibli films that we’d not previously seen – last night we watched the Secret World of Arrietty – the Borrowers! Who knew. It was good. And Nausicaa which I really enjoyed. I never realised just how many films Ghibli made until I saw the exhibition – I will eventually catch up!!
    Lynn 😀

    1. Nausicaa, Porco Rosso, Whisper of the Heart, The Cat Returns, Princess Mononoke, The Castle of Cagliostro, Spirited Away… All of those ones are my favourites and when Film4 screens them I stop what I’m doing and watch them! Or at least have them on in the background… 🙂

      What’s your favourite so far?

  3. Rachel Amandus

    No way! These selection are too good to be true. Even the lesser known movies seem so interesting. Why can’t this fesival be in london?
    Most excited for Marnie maybe because I wasn’t expecting it to show outside Japan so soon. Not a big fan of Fukushi but when you have sota sometani AND Kamiki Ryunosuke, I do really want to As the Gods will. Do you think that these movies will probably get screened anytime soon in London?

    1. That was my reaction as well 😉

      Rotterdam usually has a good line-up of Japanese films but the programmers have outdone themselves this year. I don’t see any festival in London being able to compete with that set-up.

      In terms of the mainstream titles getting screened in the UK, Tokyo Tribe, The World of Kanako and The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness have already been screened in London.

      I wouldn’t bet against Over Your Dead Body getting a screening at a festival but As the Gods Will might be a little too far out for some festival programmers. The manga it is based upon is good but it has zero exposure in the UK but Takashi Miike is the director and cinephiles know/have heard of him thanks to his history of “extreme” films like Audition.

      Sota Fukushi didn’t impress me in Library Wars but he’s willing to take on a totally different role here so I’m willing to see him again. Of course, Ryunosuke Kamiki has the more interesting role.

      The indies look sooo good. I’ll say her name again, Lisa Takeba. I’m glad that the festival is supporting her because all of her projects look enjoyable, entertaining, and imaginative. I’m desperate to watch Haruko’s Supernatural Laboratory and the last one, The Pinkie. Chigasaki Story and A Midsummer’s Fantasia and Fires on the Plain also look too good to miss! We can only hope that they appear at this year’s Raindance or Terracotta Far East Film Festival. It might be worth keeping an eye on the East End Film Festival and Pan Asian Film Festival to see if one of these titles appears.

      I don’t think we’re going to be seeing Marnie in the UK in the first half of this year (or maybe not this year at all) because Studiocanal tend to release Ghibli films a year later.

      1. I could see As the Gods Will potentially pop up at Terracotta…

        Kaguya will be released in February, so there’s no way we’re getting Marnie in the first half of the year. I think most likely we’ll have to wait till next year (i.e. a Studio Canal release because I don’t see any of the festivals picking it up). Unless… is the biennial BFI Anime Showcase weekend this year or next?

      2. I don’t know about As the Gods Will, I think Over Your Dead Body has a better chance of being screened at Terracotta and even the London Film Festival.

        Next year sounds about right when you take into account that StudioCanal UK like to release things late. I won’t complain too much because at least they do wide theatrical releases and with good times.

        I haven’t seen, heard of read anything about the next BFI Anime Showcase. Since it’s biennial, they may not do anything this year.

      3. Rachel Amandus

        Seriously considering just going to Rotterdam to see the films. However I don’t think a student budget would suffice for this trip. Why can’t London get it right like Rotterdam?

        I would think As the Gods will might have a chance due to it being a Takashi Miike film.Who knows, just waiting for the next festival.

        Lisa Takeba is definitely on my to watch list thanks to this movie and the Pinkie (which I thankfully discovered through this site). I can’t find it anywhere and the premise sounds amazing, so does Haruko’s Supernatural laboratory. Her work seem to me to represent everything weird and wonderful Japan is. Hoping for her films to be screened in London soon.

      4. The Rotterdam International Film Festival has a long history of showcasing films from Asia and Japanese directors like Sion Sono and Kiyoshi Kurosawa have gotten their international exposure there. London film festivals seem more broader in their approach to content.

        I would definitely welcome any of the new Miike films. Like you say, we just have to wait for the announcements.

        I totally agree with you about Lisa Takeba. She makes films that are imaginative and look fun. Just from the trailers alone it’s clear she makes use of the cinematic medium and fearlessly goes beyond cliches and conventions to include all sorts fun things. I go to the cinema to watch films like that and I’m with you in hoping she makes an appearance at some point – Raindance???. Why isn’t she a bigger name in the west, I wonder?

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