The Raindance Film Festival has announced the feature films that will be screened and it contains a lot.
I like to think I do a decent job shining a light on a lot of the Japanese films released every year, compiling information on the actors and filmmakers and trying to translate plot synopses and link to IMDB pages and websites. This is a bit of a hobby but it also helps when I write about film festivals because I have all the information on hand, the only difficulty I face is in how I present it. With specialist festivals like Japan Cuts and Nippon Connection I highlight films but with UK festivals where the programme isn’t as loaded I can show everything and so with Raindance 2015 I can preview all of these titles for you.
Asleep, Rolling, Fires on the Plain, That’s It, Slum-opolis, Out of My Hand, The Birth of Sake.
It’s a respectable list and that doesn’t include the short films. My own highlights (as in, the ones I hope to watch) are Rolling, Fires on the Plain, and Asleep. They come from great filmmakers like Shinya Tsukamoto and have great actors like Sakura Ando, and they have stories that grab my imagination like in the case of Rolling. Here are the trailers and information on the films:
白河夜船 「Shirakawa yofune」
Duration: 91 mins.
Director: Shingo Wakagi
Cast: Sakura Ando, Mitsuki Tanimura, Arata Iura, Guama, Maki Izawa, Aya Takekou, Yoshiaki Takahashi,
Originally released in April, this one is based on a book by Banana Yoshimoto is a slow moving drama and according to a review by Mark Schilling the acting by Sakura Ando and Arata Iura is fantastic. Sounds and looks like a character-driven film to get absorbed in.
Synopsis: 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?
Duration: 87 mins.
Director: Shinya Tsukamoto
Cast: Shinya Tsukamoto, Lily Franky, Tatsuya Nakamura, Yuko Nakamura, Dean Newcombe,
Shinya Tsukamoto is a legendary director and yet he spent ten years bringing this remake of Kon Ichikawa’s seminal war film to the big screen. He produced, directed, and did so much more for this film which was originally released in July but has featured at film festivals around the world since last year where it has garnered all sorts of reviews. It is a visual tour de force thanks to Tsukamoto’s imagination bringing to life the scary sequences of the lead character’s nightmarish disease-fuelled experiences as a rogue Japanese soldier trying to survive World War II as everything falls apart around him.
Synopsis: 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…
お盆の弟 「Obon Otouto」
Duration: 107 mins.
Director: Akira Osaki
Cast: Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Ken Mitsuishi, Aoba Kawai, Makiko Watanabe, Yoji Tanaka, Koki Okada, Erika Yanagita, Yumi Goto,
Originally released in July, this one has a lot of great actors in it with indie film leading man Kiyohiko Shibukawa working with the great character actors Ken Mitsuishi and Makiko Watanabe. The trailer reveals that it is talky and small in scale but the emotions and storyline give a wide range for these great performers to show off their stuff. It is destined to be released in the UK thanks to film distributor Third Window Films.
Synopsis: Takeshi is a struggling film director, with a fractious home life. That’s an understatement, actually, since he has been kicked out of his house by his wife and forced to move in with his ill brother. Can Takeshi turn his life around and save his marriage?
Duration: 93 mins.
Director: Masanori Tominaga
Cast: Takahiro Miura, Elisa Yanagi, Yohta Kawase, Reiko Mori, Hirohiko Sugiyama,
When I saw Fires on the Plain was playing at Raindance I was delighted but I am really, really interested in Rolling, a black dramedy of sorts from Masanori Tominaga, director of the rather good Vengeance Can Wait (2010). When it was originally released in June it seemed like a breath of fresh air in the sense that it dared to be original and dark with its story of a pervert trying to blackmail an idol. The film is probably the most interesting in the festival to me and stars Takahiro Miura, a rising talent. If you’re not convinced, how about this article by Don Brown at the Asahi Shimbun website.
Synopsis: The story takes place in a city called Mito and it concerns a former teacher named Gondo (Yohta) who was bounced from his job when it was discovered he secretly filmed his own students. At rock-bottom and ditched by his girl Mihari, he bumps into a student named Kanichi (Miura) who tells him that one of the girls in his video is now an idol. Gondo hatches a blackmail plot with an illicit recording at its centre.
Duration: 112 mins.
Director: Ken Ninomiya
Cast: Horyu Nishimura, Hidenobu Abera, Ryoko Ono
Due to be released on September 26th in Japan, this one is an unknown quantity since no critics have covered it but it is that underused genre in live-action Japanese films – sci-fi. It’s Escape from New York-esque setting has potential to be fascinating.
Synopsis: Slum-Polis is an island cut off from the rest of Japan because of the high levels of violence. The death of a powerful gangster creates a dangerous atmosphere as people vie for power. However a group of friends, all artists, wish for a better life and use their talents and dreams to escape their brutal reality… until it catches up with them.
90 110 mins.
Director: Gakuryu Ishii
Starring: Shota Sometani, Erina Mizuno, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Jun Murakami, Gou Ayano,
Originally released in May,
it looks like twenty minutes have been shaved from its running time. I was interested in this one when it was first released but critical reaction has been mixed. Apparently Gakuryu Ishii martials some great actors into a story that degenerates into shouting and mindless action. Is that the case? The film will be available for people to find out.
Synopsis: Samao Daikoku (Sometani) is searching for his identity whilst battling the criminal underworld and trying to save the woman he lovesm Ami Nanmu (Mizuno). Mean gangsters like Daikichi Ebisu (Shibukawa) and Kan Senju (Ayano) stand in his way.
Here are two American films, one from Japanese filmmaker and the other from a Japanese-American:
Duration: 90 mins.
Director: Takeshi Fukunaga
Cast: Bishop Blay, Zenobia Taylor, Duke Murphy Dennis
Synopsis: A former Liberian rubber plantation worker named Cisco (Blay) risks everything to discover a new life as a Yellow Cab driver in New York City.
Duration: 90 mins.
Director: Erik Shirai
Cast: Tereyuki “Toji” Yamamoto, Yasayuki Yoshida, Chikahiro Yamazaki
Synopsis: Japan’s Yoshida Brewery was founded more than 140 years ago and is one of the last places to still practice the traditional method of creating sake which means that workers, eat, sleep and live together for half of the year, working long hours to create the liquor. Director Erik Shirai looks into the process of making sake, the skill and effort of the people involved including Toji Yamamato, the head brewmaster who has worked at Yoshida for more than 55 years, and a new generation of people at the brewery, and looks at the sake itself showing why it is an internationally famous beverage.
Shabu Shabu Spirit