Japanese Films at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival

Genki Japanese Films at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival

Cannes is THE film festival that everyone (even people with no interest in films) knows because of all the gossip about movie stars and the fashion stuff that newspapers report on instead of serious film business like who licenses what for distribution. For people more interested in films, we get to speculate about which directors and what films will be programmed by the selection committee. Well speculate no more! The announcements have been made… and I only care about the Japanese films that have been selected. Let’s go!

The Cannes Film Festival (68th Festival de Cannes) takes place in the middle of May and we now know the names of quite a few of the films that will be screened at the festival which will run from Thursday, May 13th– 24th.

There are no real shockers as far as I can see since there is a familiar line-up of directors, festival favourites who keep getting invited back to Cannes like Nanni Moretti, Apichatpong Weerasethakul and plenty of French auteurs like Jacques Audiard. The one big change from previous years is the higher number of female directors and that’s probably down to the criticism the festival committee got last year about the paucity of female talent getting their work shown. The opening night film is Emmanuelle Bercot’s Standing Tall (La Tete Haute), the first time that a film directed by a woman has opened Cannes (which is mind-boggling considering the high number of female directors in France and their high quality of work).

As far as the Japanese contingent goes we get familiar names like director Naomi Kawase and Hirokazu Koreeda as this preview will show. The usual suspects…

The question this festival raised for me is where are the newer directors? Shuichi Okita, Yuya Ishii? Is nobody really interested in them? Do they not make films festivals want to screen? Are their films too nice, gentle, polite, and amusing and relaxing to make the headlines that more dramatic and experimental films do? Maybe, maybe not. What I have noticed is that the real show-stoppers from the newer generation of Japanese directors seem to come from female directors who fearlessly tackle all sorts of social issues and tough relationships.

All of the interesting titles that get picked up are directed by a new generation of women! Hear that Cannes selection committee? Two birds, one stone. Women. Japanese. Japanese women. Screen films by directors like Lisa Takeba!

Anyway, what are the Japanese films getting screened at Cannes?

Our Little Sister (International Title) / Umimachi Diary   

Umimachi Diary Film Poster
Umimachi Diary Film Poster

Japanese: 海街 Diary

Romaji: Umimachi Diary

Release Date: June 13th, 2015

Running Time: 126 mins.

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

Writer: Shin Adachi (Screenplay), Akimi Yoshida (Original Manga)

Starring: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose, Shinobu Otake, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Ryo Kase, Jun Fubuki, Ryohei Suzuki, Oshiro Maeda, Lily Franky, Kirin Kiki

Our Little Sister is the English-language title for Umimachi Diary which is based on an award-winning josei manga series created by Akimi Yoshida and published in 2006. The ever-popular Hirokazu Koreeda is bringing this live-action adaptation of the manga Umimachi Diary. Many film-critics and fans know his work even if they don’t know that much about Japanese cinema.  If I were to be cynical I would say it is because  for many critics he is the one contemporary director closest in style to Yasujiro Ozu. His films with Kiseki, and Like Father, Like Son proving very popular with international audiences (Kiseki, especially). Koreeda has won an award at Cannes with his film

So yeah, Hirokazu Koreeda is a regular at Cannes with four films getting presented there and he won the Jury award for Like Father, Like Son. He brings back a lot of collaborators from previous films like Lily Franky (Judge!) and Jun Fubuki (Like Father, Like Son), Kirin Kiki, Oshiro Maeda (the cuter younger brother in Kiseki), and Haruka Ayase (Real). It looks like a solid drama and it’s in the main competition category.

29-year-old Sachi Kouda (Ayase), 22-year-old Yoshino Kouda (Nagasawa), and 19-year-old Chika Kouda (Kaho) live in a house once owned by their grandmother in Kamakura. Their parents are divorced, their father having left them fifteen years ago. When they learn of their father’s death they decide to attend his funeral where they meet their 14-year-old sister Suzu Asano (Hirose) who has nobody to care for her. Sachi invites her to join them in Kamakura.


Journey to the Shore   

Journey to the Shore Film Poster
Journey to the Shore Film Poster

Japanese: 岸辺の旅

Romaji: Kishibe no Tabe

Release Date: July 25th, 2015

Running Time: 128 mins.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Shin Adachi (Screenplay), Kazumi Yumoto (Original Novel)

Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Eri Fukatsu, Masao Komatsu, Yu Aoi, Akira Emoto,

The second film is Journey to the Shore, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. I’m a big fan of his work. I have seen 12 out of 17 of his features and 3 of his 13 straight to DVD features (I wrote a biography about the chap). After the critical success of Tokyo Sonata and years as a teacher at Tokyo University of the Arts he has moved from being a horror auteur creating scary and intelligent movies like Pulse and Cure to respectable mainstream titles. His last two projects were Real and Seventh Code. The first was a pretty dull psychological adventure that wasted some great actors while the second was a quirky adventure/promo for the idol Atsuko Maeda. He has considerable form with Cannes considering four of his films have been presented there and Tokyo Sonata won the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard category in 2008.

Kurosawa is adapting the 2010 novel Kishibe no Tabi by Kazumi Yumoto and to bring to life the characters he has two actors who should be familiar to Japanese film fans. Taking the male lead is Tadanobu Asano, star of Vital, Ichi the Killer, and Gohatto. More recently he has picked up awards for acting in the film, Watashi no Otoko. Eri Fukatsu is a great actor who will be a little less well-known but a star turn in the crime drama Villain put her on the radar. She has also cropped up in fun Koki Mitani comedies like The Magic Hour and Ghost of a Chance. Journey to the Shore plays in the Un Certain Regard category.

Journey to the Shore Film Image
Journey to the Shore Film Image

No trailer.

Mizuki’s (Fukatsu) husband Yusuke (Asano) disappeared for three years. Then one day, he comes back and asks Mizuki to go on a journey with him visiting all of the places he went to and all of the people he met while he was travelling. Mizuki begins to understand why Yusuke went on his journey.



Yakuza Apocalypse: The Great War of the Underworld   

Yakuza Apocalypse Film Poster
Yakuza Apocalypse Film Poster

Japanese: 極道大戦争

Romaji: Goku dou dai sensou

Release Date: June 20th, 2015

Running Time: 125 mins.

Director: Takashi Miike

Writer: Yoshitaka Yamaguchi (Screenplay),

Starring: Hayato Ichihara, Riko Narumi, Lily Franky, Reiko Takashima, Kiyohio Shibukawa, Sho Aoyagi, Mio Yuki, Pierre Taki, Denden, Yayan Ruhian, Yuki Sakurai,

The third film is Yakuza Apocalypse: The Great War of the Underworld, and it is part of the Director’s Fortnight which is a section for directors who have already competed at Cannes to get their film screened. It has already generated considerable buzz amongst Asian film fans. Well, those of us who grew up watching Japanese cinema during the ‘90s and delighted in Miike’s weird titles like Gozu, The Happiness of the Katakuri’s, and Visitor Q, because it looks like it is a return to form! After years producing big-budget titles like 13 Assassins and Ninja Kids!!! he is fulfilling a promise and returning to his roots making wacky and action-packed films. Here’s the quote from Twitch:

“Take a hike, boring Japanese productions! Against everyone’s wishes, I’m going back to my roots on this one, and plan to go on a real rampage with Yakuza Apocalypse… I hope my cast and crew, and even myself make it out alive.”

That’s what I like to read, a filmmaker willing to die in order to make something awesome, and judging by the trailer he is as good as his word. Miike has been to Cannes three times so far with Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, For Love’s Sake, and Shield of Straw, this looks like his best offering so far.

Akira (Ichihara) is inspired the by fearsome reputation of the so-called “invincible” yakuza boss Genyo Kamiura (Franky) to become a yakuza himself. What he finds is not what he expected. His fellow gangsters don’t play by old-school rules of loyalty and honour. Even worse, they treat him like a fool and his sensitive skin means he cannot tattoos. Things change when Akira gets caught up in an assassination attempt on Genyo and he discovers that Genyo is a VAMPIRE! After being made to drink Genyo’s blood, Akira takes on his powers…


Sweet Red Bean Paste   

An Film Poster
An Film Poster

Japanese: あん

Romaji: An

Release Date: May 30th, 2015

Running Time: 113 mins.

Director: Naomi Kawase,

Writer: Naomi Kawase (Screenplay), Tetsuya Akikawa (Original Novel),

Starring:  Masatoshi Nagase, Kirin Kiki, Kyara Uchida, Etsuko Ichihara, Miki Mizuno, Taiga, Wakato Kanematsu, Miyoko Asada.

I can claim to have a good understanding of all of the directors I have written about so far because I have seen a lot of their work but Naomi Kawase is a complete unknown to me but she has achieved a lot in her career, more than many of her male contemporaries in the Japanese film industry.

Naomi Kawase Director Image
Naomi Kawase, Director

She has been to Cannes five times. In 1997, her first visit, she won the Caméra d’or for her feature Moe No Suzaku and since then she has been a regular guest. In 2007, her film The Mourning Forest won the Grand Prix at that year’s Cannes film festival.

After getting released from prison Sentarou (Nagase) worked hard to become the manager of a dorayaki bakery store. An older woman, Tokue (Kiki), is hired to work at the store, making the sweet red bean paste that fills the dorayaki. Her sweet red beans become popular and the store flourishes, but a rumour spreads that Tokue once had leprosy.


Cannes Classics

The Cannes Classics section was established in 2004 and this is the section of the festival where rediscovered and restored classic films are screened. The big title her is Battles Without Honor and Humanity and this marks the first time that a Toei production has screened in the programme and will probably be the first festival in a long tour.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity   

Battles Without Honor and Humanity Film Poster
Battles Without Honor and Humanity Film Poster

Japanese Title: 仁義なき戦い

Romaji: Jingi Naki Tatakai

Release Date: January 13th, 1973 (Japan)

Running Time: 99 mins.

Director: Kinji Fukasaku

Writer: Kazuo Kasahara (Screenplay), Koichi Iiboshi (Original Newspaper Reports),

Starring: Bunta Sugawara, Hiroki Matsukata, Kunie Tanaka, Eiko Nakamura, Tsunehiko Watase, Goro Ibuki,

Kinji Fukasaku is famous for two films. A younger generation will know him from Battle Royale, cinephiles and an older generation will say it is Battles Without Honor and Humanity, a bleak crime story shot in a documentary style. It’s pretty famous for signalling the end of traditional yakuza films by having gritty violence, hypocrisy, betrayal, and assassinations instead of chivalry and heroic bloodshed like older films in the genre. It’s because it is based a screenplay which adapted a series of newspaper articles by journalist Koichi Iiboshi and his work was based on a manuscript originally written by real-life yakuza Kozo Mino who gave away lots of secrets from his world.

Battles Without Honor and Humanity became part of an award winning series and the prestigious Kinema Junpo magazine named it fifth on a list of the Top 10 Japanese Films of All Time in 2009. According to the Cannes film festival website, the film has been “restored from 4K 35mm print original negative into 2K digital by TOEI LABO TECH.”  Find out more from Wikipedia to discover the fascinating history of the film.

It is 1946 and in the teeming open-air black markets of post-war, bombed-out Hiroshima, a young ex-soldier and street thug named Shozo Hirono (Sugawara) and his friends find themselves in a new war between different yakuza factions. After joining boss Yamamori, Shozo is drawn into a feud with his sworn brother’s family, the Dois.

Zangiku Monogatari (The Story of the Last Chrysanthemum)   

Zangiku Monogatari Film Poster
Zangiku Monogatari Film Poster

Japanese Title: 残菊物語

Romaji: Zangiku Monogatari

 Release Date: October 13th, 1939 (Japan)

Running Time: 143 mins.

Director: Kenji Mizoguchi

Writer: Yoshikata Yoda, Matsutaro Kawaguchi (Screenplay), Shofu Muramatsu (Original Novel),

Starring: Shotaro Hanayagi, Kokichi Takada, Gonjuro Kawarazaki,Yoko Umemura, Tokusaburo Arashi, Kakuko Mori,

Kenji Mizoguchi, the genius behind Ugetsu Monogatari and Sansho Dayu (two of the greatest films I have ever seen), helped popularise Japanese films in the west. This is one of his works from the middle of his career and the info on Wikipedia makes it sound like a real treat for cinephiles. That Tony Rayns called it “the peak of Mizoguchi’s art,” makes this sound really impressive to me since Ugetsu Monogatari had an extremely profound effect on me as a teen since it cemented my love of cinema and want to learn more about it. It’s available in the UK as part of a box-set courtesy of Artificial Eye!

Zangiku Monogatari Film Image

No trailer, alas. Image from this page.

Kikunosuke (Hanayagi), the adopted son of a famous kabuki actor (Kawarazaki) and is being groomed to follow in his theatrical footsteps. It all goes wrong when he falls in love with Otoku (Mori), his stepbrother’s wet nurse, and is forced to cut ties with the kabuki troupe and make his own career with only Otoku willing to help.


Ran Film Poster
Ran Film Poster

Japanese Title: 乱

Romaji: Ran

 Release Date: May 31st, 1985 (Japan)

Running Time: 162 mins.

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Writer: Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Masato Ide (Screenplay), William Shakespeare (Original Play “King Lear”),

Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu, Mieko Harada, Yoshiko Miyazaki, Hisashi Igawa,

Adding to the sense that the newer generation of directors can’t get a look in with festivals, we have golden age directors alongside Koreeda and Miike! Anyway, Ran, I must admit I have seen a lot of Kurosawa’s films but I have not watched Ran… It gets lots and lots of praise from many critics. Kurosawa has adapted Shakespeare plays into movies set in Japan before (most famously with Macbeth which is used in Throne of Blood) and this looks like an epic take on King Lear. People can now see it on the beach at Cannes.

According to the Cannes website, the original negative was “scanned in 4K and restored frame by frame in 4k by Éclair. Image and sound restoration under STUDIOCANAL supervision with Kadokawa (Japanese co-producer). Color grading approved by Mr. Ueda (cinematographer), Akira Kurosawa’s close associate on the film.”

Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (Nakadai) has reached the age of 70 and wants to divide his domain amongst his three sons with Taro (Terao), the eldest, ruling with his other sons’ Jiro (Nezu) and Saburo (Ryu) given different castles but they don’t like the way that power has been divided and start plotting against each other…

So yeah, that’s a great line-up of Japanese films whatever the complaints about the lack of youth and women! Newer Japanese filmmakers seem to have a more receptive arena in places like Rotterdam, Berlin, and Vancouver as well as Nippon Connection, Sitges and Locarno which is why I cover the first three. I’ll try and keep you posted about reviews of some of the features in a follow-up post!

8 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival

    1. Tokyo Sonata is one of my all-time favourite films so I’m eager to see the trailer for Journey to the Shore. That written, I’m keeping hype levels in check.

    1. It’s a better line-up than I’ve seen in many a year! If the festival wanted to be taken really seriously then it would allow Yakuza Apocalypse to win everything! 😛

  1. GKwst

    Will attend Nippon Connection this year. They will screen a couple of your “FILMS RELEASED IN 2014 I WILL HOPEFULLY SEE IN 2015” films. Are there any other films at Nippon Connection you are curious to see?? I’m including some of your films you are looking forward to see.

    1. That. Is. An. Awesome. Line-up. Of. Films. This is the first Nippon Connection I want to be at!!!

      I can definitely recommend Zatoichi and Kanako. Watashi no Otoko is one you’d need a strong stomach for.

      As for the rest I’d definitely want to see Chasuke’s Journey, Blindly in Love, and Fires on the Plain, Kabukicho Hotel, Seven Weeks, Over Your Dead Body, The Voice of Water, Solomon’s Perjury parts one and two.

      Hold Your Breath Like a Lover, Chigasaki Story as well. Typhoon Club, Moving… There’s too many to choose but these are the ones I’d pick. I’m going to have to write a post about this festival!!!

      1. GKwst

        Now I’m looking forward to your post 🙂
        Thanks for the quick response. I’ll try to build a plan around your suggestions where I still have time to eat and enjoy Frankfurt 😉

      2. If I could go then I would. There are so many directors/actors worth watching and that’s without the big budget movies being mentioned. I’ll get around to posting about it the week after next… You’ll have to tell me what you think about some of these films!

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