Japan Cuts is North America’s largest festival dedicated to contemporary Japanese cinema and the 2015 edition of the event will be its ninth year since it first began. The dates for this year’s festival have been announced and it takes place in New York from July 09th to the 19th. Also confirmed are the films that have been programmed and the stars attending, all of which can be found on the site as well as details on special offers on tickets which go on sale today.
When I think of New York I think of the New York-set anime Baccano! so here’s some music to listen to while you read the rest of this.
There’s an awesome amount of films on offer, a great selection with some of this year’s big releases and some that have not been screened in Japan yet, so international premieres are plentiful and there are guests invited over to take part in Q&As and parties! In some way this can be called the Sakura Ando, Fumi Nikaido and Sosuke Ikematsu festival because films there are so many films that they stars or feature in. This is a great way to get introduced to three of Japan’s hottest young actors. Alternatively you could read my long-winded reviews of films they have appeared in but that probably wouldn’t be as much fun…
Overall, there are lots of films to list so like I did with the Nippon Connection post I choose highlights. Some of these will be available on DVD but others will be harder to track down especially the indies and documentaries (believe me, I’ve tried with older titles) so I would suggest getting to screenings of the one’s highlighted. Of course, it’s all down to what you want to see and I have included all of the titles plus links so you can make a selection.
Here’s the list of films which I think looks brilliant:Thursday, July 09th
The festival opens with a double-bill of World War II all action spy adventure Joker Game and 2014’s rock and roll comedy Hibi Rock: Puke Afro and the Pop Star which stars Fumi Nikaido. Both films are directed by Yu Irie and he’s present to take part in Q&A’s and will be at the opening night party that follows the screening of the two films.
Friday, July 10th
Friday sees the festival continue with Round Trip Heart, which stars former AKB48 member Yuko Oshima.
The story concerns the limited express “Romancecar” railway service (a real thing) which links Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station with tourist destinations such as Odawara, Enoshima, and Kamakura and every day it carries twenty-something train attendant Hachiko Hojo (Oshima) back and forth. One trip sees her meet a sleazy movie producer passenger who helps her rediscover the gorgeous Hakone of Kanagawa prefecture and get past some memories that have been holding her back from following her own path.
There is an introduction and Q&A with director Yuki Tanada directing her first original screenplay since the rather good 2008 drama One Million Yen Girl.
That film is followed up by an award-winning indie:
Makeup Room メイクルム Meikurumu
Running Time: 86 mins.
Director/Writer: Kei Morikawa
Starring: Aki Morita, Beni Itoh, Riri Kuribayashi, Nanami Kawakami, Mariko Sumiyoshi,
Makeup Room gets played on Friday and it’s a good way for American audiences to get acquainted with vibrant and daring indie films that we see coming from Japan. This title was the big winner of Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival’s Grand Prix earlier this year and has been picked up by Third Window Films for UK distribution (so you could import it but seeing things at a cinema with a receptive audience is much more fun). It’s a low-budget comedy that looks like a similar deal to Be My Baby in the sense that it was originally designed for the stage, has a limited set and lots of actors talking. Director Kei Morikawa draws from his experiences as a former adult video director for this comedy which stars some real life AV actresses.
The comedy revolves around a porn shoot and the antics that happen in the make-up room. Make-up artist (Morita Aki) does her best to keep things running and her actors looking good as cast, staff, and agents invade the room.
Belladonna of Sadness 哀しみのベラドンナ Kanashimi no Beradonna
Running Time: 89 mins.
Director: Eiichi Yamamoto, Writer: Jules Michelet (Original Novel)
Starring: Aiko Nagayama, Takao Ito, Tatsuya Nakadai.
This is what festivals are for, seeing titles you may never find elsewhere and on the big screen. Audiences get a sneak preview of this animation which has just undergone 4K restoration based on the original negatives and it is the third and last of the adult-oriented Animerama trilogy produced by the “Godfather of Manga” Osamu Tezuka and directed by his long-time collaborator Eiichi Yamamoto (Astro Boy). It is based on the book Satanism and Witchcraft by French writer Jules Michelet. Synopsis straight from the festival site plus a clip from an older version of the film:
Young and innocent Jeanne is ravaged by the local lord and makes a pact with the Devil himself. The Devil–voiced by legendary actor Tatsuya Nakadai (Ran, The Human Condition)–appears in phallic forms and, through Jeanne, incites the village into a sexual frenzy.
Saturday, July 11th
The day starts with a comedy and it’s one that will ease you into the drama of the rest of the day. And the Mud Ship Sails Away initially starts off as a talky Jim Jarmusche-esque dry comedy which goes in some very weird and wonderful directions for a patient audience. You really won’t see what’s coming.
That is followed by the big-budget wartime drama The Vancouver Asahi is about Japanese immigrants in 1930s Canada carving a place for themselves through baseball. It played at last year’s Vancouver International Film Festival where it won the audience award.
That film is followed by one from a New York resident! Hokkaido-born, Brooklyn-based filmmaker Takeshi Fukunaga is proving himself a truly international filmmaker with his feature Out of My Hand which was shot in Liberia and tells the tale of some Liberians trying to struggle out of poverty and seek a better life in New York City. It has an introduction and Q&A with director Takeshi Fukunaga and writer/producer Donari Braxton.
After a day packed with movies from new talent, sit back and watch on directed by a master!
Seven Weeks 野のなななのか No no Nanana no Ka
Running Time: 106 mins
Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi, Writer: Nobuhiko Obayashi, Tadashi Naitoh (Screenplay), Koji Hasegawa (Original Novel)
Starring: Yumi Adachi, Kazunari Aizawa, Akane, Toshiaki Chiku, Christine, Satoshi Hara, Tokie Hidari, Natsuki Harada, Minam Inomata
This is the latest film from Nobuhiko Obayashi and is based on a novel by Koji Hasegawa and it concerns the gathering of family and friends in Sapporo. They are drawn together by the death of an old man. As the film delves into memories of the old man the story expands and spans many decades from the Pacific War and the Soviet invasion of the Sakhalin islands all the way through to 3.11.
Sunday, July 12th
Sunday starts with a film aiming straight for the female market and it comes from Ryuichi Hiroki’s fine ensemble drama Her Granddaughter which is all about a magazine editor (played by the charming Nana Eikura) nursing some heart break and the recent death of her grandmother. She heads to her grandmother’s house and meets a handsome older guy (the smouldering Etsushi Toyokawa) at the picturesque place.
If that film proves to be uplifting be prepared for some fiery drama with the next selection:
Cruel Story of Youth has been released in the west before and version are floating around but this a restored version of the film and it has been doing the rounds at festivals such as Toronto. It is famous as the film that introduced Nagisa Oshima to the world. It was his second feature film and it took as its subject two young people and the darkness of the world. The story concerns the guy using his high school girl to extort money from lecherous old men. They live on the grimy side of life and are in an unstable relationship that could explode.
The next film and the final one of the day looks like a real treat!
I Alone この世で俺／僕だけ Kono yo de ore/boku dake
Running Time: 109 mins.
Director: Sho Tsukikawa, Writer: Akihiro Murase (Screenplay)
Starring: Makita Sports, Sosuke Ikematsu, Shiro Sano, Akina Minami, Taku Suzuki, Masako Chiba, Tsutomu Takahashi, Toru Nomaguchi,
If you don’t see Sosuke Ikematsu in the drama, The Vancouver Asahi then you can choose this one which sounds like a real riot.
Hiroshi Ito (Makita) is a middle-aged salaryman. Koga Kuroda (Ikematsu) is a high school delinquent. The two inadvertently intervene in a case of a kidnapping of a baby and find themselves fighting to save their town from corrupt government officials and yakuza.
But if I’m being honest, the hottest title of the festival for me is the delightfully zany-looking…
Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory 春子超常現象研究所 Haruko Chojo Gensho Kenkyujo
Running Time: 76 mins.
Director/Writer: Lisa Takeba
Starring: Aoi Nakamura, Moeka Nozaki, Fumiyo Kohinata, Sayaka Aoki, Takumi Saito, Yumiko Takahashi,
This, out of all the indies looks to be the most fun. Take one look at the trailer and tell me that it’s not fun! People who attended last year’s Japan Cuts will have seen The Pinkie (2014) and know that Lisa Takeba is a director who can combine all sorts of genres and filmic techniques to create a weird and exciting brew. I’ve long been interested in Lisa Takeba’s works ever since seeing them a Rotterdam International Film Festival some years ago so I am very jealous of people getting to attend this festival. It looks like so much fun!!!
Haruko (Nozaki) is a lonely oddball who has longed for a“real paranormal phenomenon” since childhood and is in the habit of bitching at her television. It’s an old, analogue set, which one day breaks down – then starts talking back to her. It seems her wish has been granted. 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 art and absurdist comedy, drawing on cult TV shows and romantic children’s television. Beneath all the craziness, however, a love story unfolds in this strange movie which contains romance and pokes fun at contemporary Japanese culture.
The day ends with Experimental Spotlight: Mono no Aware, a series of avant-garde and experimental films produced by, to quote the festival page, “the New York-based Mono No Aware, and Tokyo-based [+] (Plus). Some of the featured films and videos emphasize elements of collaboration and transnational exchange, and influence between artists, spaces and technologies in Japan and the U.S. Juxtaposing works by artists loosely associated with the creative networks of Mono No Aware and [+] produces a visually and aurally stimulating 90+ minutes of unexpected connections and discoveries.” There will be an introduction and reception with filmmakers Steve Cossman, Akiko Maruyama, Tomonari Nishikawa, Joel Schlemowitz, Ted Wiggin.
The second week of the festival starts with some sword-swinging action with…
Snow on the Blades 柘榴坂の仇討 Zakurozaka no Adauchi
Running Time: 119 mins.
Director: Setsuro Wakamatsu, Writer: Yasuo Hasegawa, Kenzaburo Iida, Hironobu Takamatsu (Screenplay), Jiro Asada (Original Novel),
Starring: Hiroshi Abe, Kiichi Nakai, Ryoko Hirosue, Kichiemon Nakamura, Masahiro Takashima, Sei Matobu, Eisaku Yoshida, Tatsuya Fuji,
A Japanese film festival would not be complete without a jidaigeki and this one is based on the events of the Sakuradamon Incident of 1860. It has a set of big actors with Hiroshi Abe taking the lead and support being given by Ryoko Hirosue and Tatsuya Fuji. The trailer looks gorgeous.
It is 1860 and Japan is transitioning into the Edo period and samurai culture is losing its importance. A samurai named Kingo Shimura (Nakai) is facing the shame of failing to protect is his lord from brutal assassins and in order to restore his honour he must break and search for the killers. After 13 years, he kills them one by one and he is on the verge of finding the last one, a mysterious samurai named Jyubei Sahashi (Abe)!
That film is followed by Pieta in the Toilet which was released last weekend!
Two heavy-hitting films for today with one documentary and one very fine drama!
Nani wo osoreru Feminizumu wo ikita onnatachi 何を怖れる フェミニズムを生きた女たち Nani wo osoreru Feminizumu wo ikita onnatachi
Running Time: 120 mins.
Director: Hisako Matsui
Starring: Mitsu Tanaka, Chizuko Ueno, Kimiko Tanaka, Tomoko Yonetsu, Keiko Higuchi,
I think this documentary will be useful and extremely fascinating for Japanophiles, and people interested in social aspects of the country, listening to actual Japanese feminists from Japan who give an insight into what it is to be a woman and a feminist in Japan from the 1970s onwards and what they are fighting for. It looks like it will provide valuable insight into a society we find so intriguing.
A (her)story told through the very people involved in the women’s liberation movement beginning in Japan in the 1970s, filled with personal accounts of why they joined the movement and ideas about work that is still left to be done. Female director Hisako Matsui draws out episodes from these torch-bearing women, touching on a wide range of subjects from gender inequality, marriage, social structures, women’s studies and journalism to aging. A testament to feminism in different forms, the film serves as both a powerful introduction to those unfamiliar with the history and a celebration of the women who paved the way and continue to work for a better future.
The Light Shines Only There そこのみにて光輝くSoko nomi nite
Running Time: 120 mins.
Director: Mipo O, Writer: Yasushi Sato (Screenplay), Ryo Takada (Original Novel)
Starring: Gou Ayano, Chizuru Ikewaki, Masaki Suda, Kazuya Takahashi, Shohei Hino, Hiroko Isayama
I reviewed this a fortnight ago and I think it is a flawless drama and, while not being too showy in terms of camera angles and special effects, it is extremely beautiful and the impact of seeing the action unfold on the big screen makes the drama hit home hard. It stars two brilliant actors, Gou Ayano (Rurouni Kenshin, The Story of Yonosuke) and Chizuru Ikewaki (Shokuzai), and it introduces Masaki Suda to the world through his fantastic performance.
Tatsuo Sato (Ayano) is suffering from some trauma in his past and does little with his days except wander around bars and pachinko parlours, getting drunk and sleeping. That is until he meets Takuji Oshiro (Suda) at a pachinko parlour and strikes up a friendship. Takuji invites Tatsuo back to his ramshackle home where he lives with is sick father, a stressed mother and an older sister named Chinatsu (Ikewaki). Tatsuo becomes attracted to Chinatsu, who has profound problems of her own but she still shines even in her difficult situation. Can Tatsuo and Chinatsu find happiness?
Thursday, July 16th
The Centrepiece Presentation
The big news so far is that the Centerpiece Presentation is dedicated to Sakura Ando who will be picking up the CUT ABOVE Award for Outstanding Performance in Film. Festival attendees will get the chance to see her in these films:
100 Yen Love 百円の恋 Hyaku-en no Koi
Running Time: 113 mins.
Director/Writer: Masaharu Take
Starring: Sakura Ando, Hirofumi Arai, Miyoko Inagawa, Saori, Shohei Uno Tadashi Sakata, Yuki Okita,
Released at the tail-end of 2014, this has picked up all sorts of awards and Sakura Ando has won a lot of plaudits for her performance which is the backbone of the film
Kazuko (Ando) is a hikikomori who lives at her parents’ home but that situation changes when her younger sister divorces and moves back with her child. Kazuko and her sister’s relationship is pretty rocky and the two fight which makes Kazuko move out and find a place of her own. While working at a 100 Yen shop she keeps encountering a middle-aged boxer (Arai) who practices at a local boxing gym. She is attracted to him and the two start a relationship which will fuel the continuing change in her life.
Asleep 白河夜船 Shirakawa yofune
Running Time: 91 mins.
Director: Shingo Wakagi, Writer: Shingo Wakagi, Kai Suzumoto (Screenplay), Banana Yoshimoto (Original Novel)
Starring: Sakura Ando, Arata Iura, Mitsuki Tanimura, Guama, Maki Izawa, Aya Takekou, Yoshiaki Takahashi,
This one was released in 2015 and looks like a solid drama.
Terako (Ando) sleeps a lot. She only wakes when she gets a call from her married middle-aged lover, Iwanaga (Arata), a controlling man. She wants to break it off and her life is made even more confused because she is mourning the suicide of her close friend Shiori (Tanimura), whose unusual occupation was sleeping with strangers – no sex just a comforting presence for when they wake – for pay. Every day she falls into a deep sleep, Iwanaga calling her, unsure over whether she wants to continue. Is she depressed?
If you aren’t already familiar with Ando, she is a mainstream and indie actor who you need to check out!
Joel Neville Anderson, the festival curator, has stated: “For her breathtaking performances and work ranging from indie to studio productions, she is perhaps comparable to Chloë Sevigny or Scarlett Johansson in the American context,” says Anderson. “Combine these two and multiply by ten in terms of intensity and ingenuity of performance and diversity of roles to get a sense of her place in the pantheon of contemporary world cinema.”
She has earned her award, believe me. She is often the highlight of a film even when she isn’t the star.
Friday, July 17th
A great way to start the day (and recover from some heavy films) is this funny-looking broad comedy which might be your thing A Farewell to Jinu. It has a lot going for it considering it has a great director (Suzuki Matsuo) and cast (Ryuhei Matsuda! Fumi Nikaido, YosiYosi Arakawa!).
And back to the drama…
The Voice of Water 水の声を聞く Mizu no Koe wo Kiku
Running Time: 129 mins.
Director/Writer: Masashi Yamamoto
Starring: Hyunri, Shuri, Natsuko Nakamura, Jun Murakami, Takashi Oda, Gen Sato, Akahiro Kamataki, Eiko Nishio,
I have mentioned this workshop film a number of times so here we go again. It comes from Cinema Impact, a workshop set up by Masashi Yamamoto in 2012 which has produced features and shorts like Be My Baby (2013). This particular feature film is based on a series of shorts about Zainichi (Koreans living in Japan) who are exploited by a religious sect. If it sounds serious there’s some comedy to have but what’s valuable here is that it’s another indie film plus it’s one about Zainichi and takes a respectful look at the culture. The director is in town to talk about the film!
This one takes place in Korea Town in Tokyo where yakuza roam and is all about a Korean-Japanese woman named Minjon (Hyunri) who comes from a long line of shamans who speacialise in hearing messages from the water. She listens to people who are mostly outcasts and gives them a response in Korean which they are unable to understand. Believers keep seeking her out but she has misgivings about how she is exploited by businessmen who use her to found the God’s Water sect and wring money out of people. This group has built up around her and she is ready to leave it behind and do so through her Korean ancestry.
Saturday, July 18th
There’s a real mix of subjects today with the documentary The Wages of Resistance: Narita Stories taking the lead covering the heyday of student and worker protests and a battle between farmers and big business/corporations, topics that regularly come up in films and anime. That’s followed by a drama set in the past…
Undulant Fever 海を感じる時 Umi wo Kanjiru Toki
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, this looks like a steamy drama and it stars Sosuke Ikematsu so if you still haven’t seen him in a film this will be your best chance! The film is directed by Hiroshi Ando who has made pink films so I guess that’s why it’s steamy!
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.
This Country’s Sky この国の空 Kono Kuni no Sora
Running Time: 130 mins.
Director: Haruhiko Arai, Writer: Yuichi Takai (Original Novel)
Starring: Fumi Nikaido, Hiroki Hasegawa, Youki Kudoh.
This is the world premiere and it was an introduction and Q&A with director Haruhiko Arai and star Youki Kudoh. It’s an adaption of Yuichi Takai’s prize-winning 1983 novel of the same name, This Country’s Sky. It is described as a nuanced drama and with Fumi Nikaio in a lead role you can bet it’s going to be good!
Synopsis from the site: The film is set in Suginami, Tokyo towards the destitute final years of WWII. Satoko (Fumi Nikaido) is a 19 year old girl falling passionately in love with her older married neighbor (Hiroki Hasegawa), who has been spared combat due to his failing the military physical examination. Even away from the battlefield, as they grow closer their feelings are caught up in the violence of war.
The film finishes with Neko Samurai 2: A Tropical Adventure, which if the first film was anything to go by, looks like it will be a barrel of laughs!
Sunday, July 19th
It wouldn’t be a Japanese film festival without a gentle coming-of-age school romance story which is why the final day starts with the sweet high-school romance Forget Me Not. Things kick into higher gear with the North American premiere of …
Strayer’s Chronicleストレイヤーズ・クロニクル Sutoreiyazu Kuronikuru
Running Time: 126 mins.
Director: Takeshi Zeze, Writer: Takayoshi Honda (Original Novel)
Starring: Masaki Okada, Shota Sometani, Riko Narumi, Yuina Kuroshima, Mayu Matsuoka,
This one sounds just like the anime Zankyou no Terror what with people who are former victims of Japanese government experiments who now have super powers they use to fight for justice or chaos. Let’s hope it doesn’t have a badly mishandled ending…
The final film of the festival is Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn, an independent jidaigeki shot in black and white:
That’s it for this festival. I hope this has proven quite useful to you and you make some great choices and have fun watching these great-looking films.
Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and M subway at Lexington Avenue). For more information, call 212-832-1155 or visit www.japansociety.org.