Japanese Films at the Toronto International Film Festival 2015

Toronto International Film Festival 2015 Banner Logo

If you are in Canada you have three film festivals with Japanese films playing a significant part. Montreal (which I am not covering) has around twenty Japanese titles while Toronto has nine programmed and Vancouver has yet to announce any. I’ll be sticking to Toronto for the most part in this post.

I think the first thing I want to say is that the website is wonderfully designed and looks stylish. The information is easy to access unlike some other festival websites which are cluttered and hard to navigate and the use of images and white space is great.

In terms of the films on offer, the actual content of the festival, an early glimpse shows that Montreal has films from the lesser known talents of Japan, the indie side of the game, but the subject-matter is challenging. Toronto has quite a few titles that played at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and is once again screening films from familiar fan favourites like Takashi Miike, Sion Sono and Hirokazu Kore’eda. There are some gems particularly the anime The Wolf Children and the Sono film The Whispering Star. There are a few intriguing international co-productions as well.

To find out more and to order tickets on any of the films, click on the titles and you will be taken through to the festival page.

What’s playing at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival?


The Boy and the Beast Film Poster
The Boy and the Beast Film Poster

The Boy and the Beast   

バケモノの子 「Bakemono no Ko

Running Time: 128 mins.

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Starring: Koji Yakusho (Kumatetsu), Shota Sometani (Kyuuta – Teen), Aoi Miyazaki (Kyuuta – Young), Haru Kuroki (Ichirohiko – Young), Yo Oizumi (Tatara), Lily Franky (Monk Momoaki), Mamoru Miyano (Ichirohiko – Old),


This was premiered at the Annecy International Animation Film Festival and released in July in Japan and has gone on to amass a lot of money at the box office where it stayed in the top ten films for quite a while. In my preview for this film I highlighted many aspects of the production that were impressive, not least the voice actors for the boy Aoi Miyazaki (Eureka) and Shota Sometani (Himizu) who both worked with Hosoda in The Wolf Children. They are acting alongside Koji Yakusho, (13 Assassins, Licence to Live) who is voicing the beast. There is also veteran voice actor Mamoru Miyano who can carry entire television shows by himself but he’s in a supporting role here. Of course, the biggest name will be Mamoru Hosoda who crafts heartfelt films that remind us of the finer emotions in life and the importance of family as seen in previous works like The Wolf Children, Summer Wars, and The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. I think it would be safe to say that this one looks like it will deliver action and adventure for the whole family.

A lonely boy named Kyuta is on the run from his family in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward following the death of his moter. He finds that there is another world, the bakemono realm, Jutenkai. Typically, the human world and Jutenkai do not meet and humans aren’t welcome in the world of the monsters but the boy gets lost in the bakemono world and becomes the disciple of a lonely bakemono named Kumatetsu (Yakusho) who takes the boy under his wing and renames him Kyuuta (Miyazaki/Sometani).



ひそひそ星 Film Image
ひそひそ星 Film Image


The Whispering Star

ひそひそ星Hiso Hiso Boshi

Running Time: 100 mins.

Director: Sion Sono

Starring: Megumi Kagurazaka

This is one of six films Sono is tagged as having directed that is/has been released this year. Well, that’s not quite true. This one was screened as part of an art exhibition and not a theatrical release (that’s next year). The exhibition had the theme of dystopia running through it and it was shot on different locations in the Fukushima prefecture, turning depopulated and irradiated areas into a future landscape that speaks of hopelessness, pollution, and abandonment. It stars people who live in the areas and Sion Sono’s wife. No trailer but here’s a glimpse of the art installation.


Synopsis: A spaceship shaped like a Japanese bungalow careens through the galaxy. It carries a humanoid robot named Yoko (Megumi Kagurazaka), a sort of interstellar UPS delivery person. Her job is simple: to distribute packages to human beings scattered across sundry planets. But with so much spare time between deliveries, Yoko begins to wonder what’s in those packages.



かくれんぼ Film Image
かくれんぼ Film Image

Hide & Seek


Running Time: 22 mins.

Director: Kimie Tanaka

Starring: Masaki Miura, Kuniaki Nakamura, Sachiko Matsuura, Hiroko Ninomira, Matsumi Fuku, Kaori Takeshita, Tadashi Mizuno,


This is a short film with international backing which is reflected in the make-up of the crew. The writing and directing is done by Kimie Tanaka who, like a few other female directors I have read/written about, started out in one career (banking) and then made the shift into filmmaking. This is her second short film.


Synopsis: Shoichi, a Japanese male nurse living in the city, returns home to the countryside after his mother’s sudden death to deal with younger brother Kotaro, who hasn’t left his room in over a decade. However, disappointment from the local bureaucracy leads Shoichi to a radical decision.


Imbisibol Film Poster
Imbisibol Film Poster



Running Time: 132 mins.

Director: Lawrence Fajardo

Starring: Allen Dizon, Ces Quesada, Bernardo Bernardo, Ricky Davao, JM De Guzman,


Filipino’s sometimes crop up in contemporary Japanese films such as Permanent Nobara but this is the first film I have seen which is set in Japan and is directed by a Filipino with the cast/staff made up of his countrymen and women. It looks like a powerful drama about relationships of family and nationality being put to the test by the realities economic migration and deportation…


Synopsis (from the festival page): Lawrence Fajardo’s stark and heart-wrenching film incorporates several different narratives about unlicensed Filipino workers in Japan. Benjie and Edward are two middle-aged men who fell for each other in Japan, a secret they keep from the loved ones they’re supporting back home. Manuel is an aging gigolo who’s past his prime and finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. And the seemingly saintly Linda is there legally, but constantly fights with her Japanese husband because she rents rooms to undocumented Filipinos.


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

Journey to the Shore   

岸辺の旅 「Kishibe no Tabe

Running Time: 128 mins.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

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


Kiyoshi Kurosawa is one of the best film directors working in Japan right now and while he may never make a horror film like Pulse or Cure again, he has settled into making dramas pretty well.

This one is an adaptation of the 2010 novel Kishibe no Tabi by Kazumi Yumoto and while it is no Tokyo Sonata it earned him the Best Director prize when it screened at Cannes. The film is an elegiac drama and has earned a reputation that suggests an audience might come away feeling this is profound or dull. I await the moment I finish watching the film before I make judgement but it has a great cast such as lead actor Tadanobu Asano, star of VitalIchi the Killer, and Gohatto and Watashi no Otoko. Eri Fukatsu is the leading lady who put in a star turn in the crime drama Villain.

Synopsis: 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.


Umimachi Diary Film Poster
Umimachi Diary Film Poster

Our Little Sister

海街 DiaryUmimachi Diary

Running Time: 126 mins.

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

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 (I prefer the title Umimachi Diary which sounds more evocative) was at this year’s Cannes Film Festival where it impressed critics and audiences alike with its sensitive drama that focusses on the relationship between a group of sisters and their new step-sister. It was then released in Japan in June where it did respectable box-office. It is based on an award-winning josei manga series created by Akimi Yoshida and the film is directed by Hirokazu Koreeda, the auteur behind KisekiNobody Knows, After Life, Still Walking, and Like Father, Like Son, films which prove very popular with international audiences and Our Little Sister one has all the familiar hallmarks of those films.


Synopsis: 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.



Yakuza Apocalypse Film Poster
Yakuza Apocalypse Film Poster

Yakuza Apocalypse: The Great War of the Underworld   

極道大戦争 「Goku dou dai sensou

Running Time: 125 mins.

Director: Takashi Miike

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


Yakuza Apocalypse: The Great War of the Underworld was at this year’s This first appeared at the Cannes International Film Festival where it was given a theatrical release in Japan back in June of this year where it was given mixed reviews even by fans of Takashi Miike’s films.

Synopsis: 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…


An Film Poster
An Film Poster




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.


Naomi Kawase was at this year’s Cannes film festival with this film where it was used by critics as a whipping boy in their criticism of the festival always programming the same directors (it was Kawase’s sixth appearance) no matter how mediocre the films (this one seems to be generally considered dull by international critics). I don’t know. Perhaps there was more of an agenda at work in these reviews as well as criticism of the quality of the film. An was released in Japan at the end of May.

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.

That’s it for the Japanese films. Tickets are already on sale.

4 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the Toronto International Film Festival 2015

    1. I think this one is getting released in 2016 but yeah, that’s a lot of films to make in the span of a year or two. I think that it will be interesting to see what sort of quality they are but chances of seeing The Whispering Star in the UK are flat this year. Perhaps next year at Raindance?

      1. Some chap I was chatting with on Twitter was a bit more positive about a European release, citing the fact that Nikkatsu Corporation was “handling it”.

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