Japanese Films at the London Film Festival 2015

BFI Film Festival

The programme for the BFI London Film Festival was announced last week and it has a selection of interesting titles. A lot of the features have been in festivals since the start of the year and two of them have gotten mixed reviews from critics which is disappointing if you want to see new work. The chances of some of these showing up on DVD and possibly theatrically is guaranteed which makes me wonder why I should go to the festival but… BUT… There are plenty of Japanese films so I shall refrain from complaining anymore. There are also some quality titles and two surprises. There are films not yet released in Japan and ones that must be seen on the big screen!

The ones that audiences should seek out, in my opinion, are Love & Peace, Happy Hour, Our Little Sister, The Boy and the Beast, and possibly Ghost Theatre.

Here are the films for you to see so you can make up your mind as to what looks good!

Love & Peace      

Love and Peace Film Poster
Love and Peace Film Poster

ラブ&ピース Rabu&Pisu

Running Time: 117 mins.

Director: Sion Sono

Starring:  Hiroki Hasegawa, Kumiko Aso, Tohiyuki Nishida, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Eita Okuno, Makita Sports, Erina Mano, Megumi Kagurazaka, Miyuki Matsuda


Released in June, this was the third film directed by Sion Sono this year and it looks like his best. It has been picked up for UK distribution by Third Window Films so we’re guaranteed a home format release but this looks like one to see on the big screen thanks to the spectacle featured in the trailer. The film has been described as “pure Sono: a bonkers and uproarious one-of-a-kind that simply has to be seen to be believed.” Surely that shoul convince you to go!

Taking the lead is Hiroki Hasegawa, the mad cinephile in the yakuza movie comedy Why Don’t You Play in Hell? and Kumiko Aso, the waif running around in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s horror film Pulse.

Ryoichi (Hasegawa) once dreamed of becoming a punk rocker but he became a timid salaryman at a musical instrument parts company. Life is calm but he has feelings for an office lady (Aso) he can’t express and he feels he wants more from his circumstances which is when fate strikes!

One day, he randomly buys a turtle and names it Pikadon. A series of events occur and Ryoichi’s dreams of being a rock star might be about to come true! However, it might also lead to the end of the world…


Ghost Theatre   

Gekijourei Film Poster
Gekijourei Film Poster

劇場霊Gekijourei」 例

Running Time: 99 mins.

Director: Hideo Nakata

Starring:  Haruka Shimazaki, Rika Adachi, Riho Takada, Keita Machida, Mantaro Koichi,


Hideo Nakata has directed three truly brilliant works – Ringu, Dark Water, and Ghost Actress or, Don’t Look Up, as it is also called. Ghost Actress lasts just over an hour and is a slow-build but the tension and gradual horror is superbly executed. It seems like Ghost Theatre is inspired by that last film and the festival site describes Nakata’s latest as “a deliciously unhinged piece of work, arguably his most satisfying since the acclaimed Dark Water.” This sounds like a return to form to me! A note of caution for fans of his more serious work, the festival page for the film also notes Nakata takes a “a more playful, even slightly tongue in cheek approach” and he has hired an AKB48 idol for the lead role. Is this more fun like POV: A Cursed Film than chills like Ghost Actress?

Synopsis: Sara (Shimazaki) is an actor at a theatre troupe under the direction of Gota Nishikino (Koichi). When the lead actors in the play retire due to strange accidents, Sara is thrust into the spotlight and given the lead role. Sara soon realises that amidst all of the jealousy is a supernatural threat that is haunting the play…

Happy Hour Film Image 2

Happy Hour   

ハッピーアワーHappi- Awa-」 

Running Time: 317 mins.

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Starring:  Rira Kawamura, Hazuki Kikuchi, Maiko Mihara, Sachie Tanaka


Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi made waves with his short film, Touching the Skin of Eeriness and now he is back with a five hour drama about a four women in the city of Kobe. It’s a prize-winning, the four lead actors walked away with the best acting prize at the Locarno Film Festival earlier this year.

Synopsis (from the festival page): Four friends; a nurse, curator, cafe worker and housewife move through the entanglements of their work and romantic lives attempting to find some balance. The women talk frankly, often to the point of social humiliation, and the unfolding of various infidelities feels painfully true, as does the incomprehension of the men who love them.

Update (16/11/2015) – Here’s my review


The Boy and the Beast   

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

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 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.

Synopsis: 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).


When Marnie Was There      

When Marnie Was There Film Poster
When Marnie Was There Film Poster

思い出のマーニー 「Omoide no Mani

Running Time: 103 mins.

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

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


Proving that the UK always gets Studio Ghibli films ages after their Japanese release, this one came out in Japan in July 2014. It is reputedly the last film from Studio Ghibli and is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the chap who helmed Arrietty.  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 modern Japan.

Synopsis: A twelve-year-old girl named Anna has journeyed to a small coastal town in Hokkaido from her native Sapporo to better 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…


Ryuzo And The Seven Henchmen       

Ryuzo And The Seven Henchmen Film Poster
Ryuzo And The Seven Henchmen Film Poster

龍三と七人の子分たちRyuzo to Shinichinin no Kobuntachi

Running Time: 111 mins.

Director: Takeshi Kitano

Starring: Tatsuya Fuji, Masaomi Kondo, Akira Nakao, Ken Yasuda, Hisako Manda, Takeshi Kitano, Toru Shinagawa,


Released in April this year, this is Takeshi Kitano’s latest film about old yakuza gangsters cleaning up the crime world and it has gotten decent reviews. The film stars a lot of actors who have played yakuza and tough guy roles Tatsuya Fuji (he has been in the Stray Cat Rock series, and, more recently, Bright Future).

Synopsis: Ryuzo (Fuji) and his seven former henchmen are all retired yakuza in their 70s who live quiet lives as regular old men (so this is what happens when a yakuza doesn’t die…). One day, Ryuzo becomes the victim of a phishing scam and is outraged. He calls his seven men together to reform their society.


Our Little Sister   

Umimachi Diary Film Poster
Umimachi Diary Film Poster

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: The Great War of the Underworld   

Yakuza Apocalypse Film Poster
Yakuza Apocalypse Film Poster

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, Kiyohiko 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 part of the Director’s Fortnight and it was given a theatrical release in Japan back in June of this year where it was given mixed reviews. This seems like one for the fans!

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 Sweet Red Bean Paste Film Poster
An Sweet Red Bean Paste 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.

There are also three shorts:

Angelo Lives (Dir: Yu Araki)

Shape Shifting (Dir: Elke Marhöfer, Mikhail Lylov)

Sound of a Million Insects, Light of a Thousand Stars (Dir: Tomonari Nishikawa)

That’s it for the Japanese films. Tickets are on sale on September 17th.

2 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the London Film Festival 2015

  1. Looks like an interesting and balanced line-up although “Happy Hour” looks like it could be a slog just from that trailer alone, never mind the 5 hour plus run time! :-0

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