The Rotterdam International Film Festival has started and lasts from January 28th to February 07th and there is a large contingent of Japanese films programmed, quite possibly the largest I have seen in the few years I have been watching the event. There are a lot of great titles, some of which are considered the best films to be made in 2015 and there is a diverse range of stories. The festival plays host to animation from a range of artists and there are shorts from Takeshi Kitano. Some of these are red hot international premieres while some of the films have been screened at Canadian film festivals already, some in 2014 (so there’s a bit of copy and paste from previous festival trailer posts). As well as contemporary film, there is also a retrospective for the director Masao Adachi who worked during the 1960s.
Here are the films:
百円の恋 「Hyaku-en no Koi」
Running Time: 113 mins.
Director: Masaharu Take
Starring: Sakura Ando, Hirofumi Arai, Miyoko Inagawa, Saori, Shohei Uno, Tadashi Sakata, Yuki Okita,
100 Yen Love is a genuinely great film. It stars Sakura Ando in a career-best performance as a woman who goes from zero to boxing hero with all of the genre tropes but done brilliantly and in a rather gritty way. It’s an entertaining and tough watch with a lot of heart thanks to Sakura (one of the best actors in Japan) Ando’s performance.
Synopsis: Ichiko (Sakura Ando) is a borderline hikikomori who lives at her parents’ home but that situation changes when her younger sister divorces and moves back with her child. Ichiko and her sister’s relationship is pretty rocky and so following a fight Ichiko decides to move out and find a place of her own. She takes up a job in a 100 Yen shop but is still pretty miserable with her new life and stuck with unpleasant people for co-workers but while working at her store she keeps encountering a middle-aged boxer (Hirofumi Arai) who practices at a local boxing gym. She is attracted to him and the two start a relationship but after a series of horrible experiences she becomes more interested in boxing, a sport which will fuel the continuing change in her life.
下衆の愛 「Gesu no Ai」
Running Time: 120 mins.
Director: Eiji Uchida
Writer: Eiji Uchida (Screenplay),
Starring: Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Denden. Masahiko Arai, Masato Arai, Kanji Furutachi, Yumi Goto, Aki Hiraoka, Nanami Kawakami,
Lowlife Love was brought to life through the owner of Third Window Films selling valuable records from their personal collection and helping to organise a crowd-funding campaign that targeted Western people who like Japanese films (like me, which explains why I backed the Kickstarter). The cast are the type who regularly appear in the releases of Third Window Films so if you like The Woodsman and the Rain and so on, you will dig this. Lowlife Love was at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival and Rotterdam is its international premiere.
Synopsis from IMDB: Tetsuo (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) is a lowlife. A film director with a small indie hit many years back, yet he has never gotten any further as he refuses to go against his ‘artistic integrity’. He’s a real loser. Despite being in his late 30s, he still lives with his mother and sister, borrowing money off them and scrounging from all he comes in contact with. This includes his best friend Mamoru (Yoshihiko Hosoda), who makes porn films with him for dodgy characters in order to make money, as well as the film actors’ school they’ve setup to exploit their students as well as for him to sleep with wannabe actresses. He’s a real jerk. Then one day two new students come to his school: Minami (Maya Okano), a naive and fresh girl from the countryside who wants to be an actress and Ken (Shugo Oshinari), a scriptwriter who has been living overseas. Tetsuo sees something in Minami and feels she has what it takes to be a real star and Ken has a brilliant script which could be the fantastic new project…
Running Time: 94 mins.
Director: Makoto Shinozaki
Writer: Makoto Shinozaki, Zenzo Sakai (Screenplay),
Starring: Asuka Hinoi, Kinuo Yamada, Ryudai Takahashi, Tomoki Kimura, Kumi Hyodo, Takuji Suzuki,
I first saw this at the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival and then it disappeared. I am happy to see this crop up again since it looks interesting and was described as psychological Cronenberg-like film which is a description that you almost never see to describe contemporary Japanese films. It’s different and different is good. The lead is played by Kinuwo Yamada and she has appeared in Villain (2010), Confessions (2010) and There’s Nothing to Be Afraid of (2013).
Synopsis: Eiko (Kinuo Yamada) is a psychology teacher in a university. She lost her husband in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and this pushes her to research cases of individuals who claim to have had precognitive dreams about the disaster. One of her students, Kaoru (Asuka Hinoi), is a member of the drama club, and is writing a stage a play about the disaster. The two become so engaged in their projects that it pushes friends and colleagues away from them as they become more extreme n their work…
Running Time: 89 mins.
Director: Yohei Suzuki
Writer: Yohei Suzuki, Yukiko Koyama (Screenplay),
Starring: Kaoru Iida, Masatoshi Kihara, Shu Ikeda, Sari Kaneko, Hitomi Karube, Rock Murakai, Shoji Omiya, Shigeko Tanaka
This sci-fi mystery was also at the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival.
Synopsis: Tetsuo is unemployed and stuck in his famiy home with his girlfriend Yuriko. Things seem bad when he finds out that his father lost his job a month ago but they get weirder and even tragic when a mysterious orb descends from the sky, infiltrates the house and starts scrambling the brains of anyone near it. A police investigation ends in chaos and it is left to a reporter named Deguchi to discover just what is going on!
TOO YOUNG TO DIE! 若くして死ぬ「Too Young To Die! Wakakushite Shinu」
Running Time: 125 mins.
Director: Kankuro Kudo
Writer: Kankuro Kudo
Starring: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Tomoya Nagase, Machiko Ono, Rie Miyazawa, Nana Seino, Aoi Morikawa, Arata Furuta, Kenta Kiritani, Yoshiyoshi Arakawa,
This one gets released in Japan this year so it’s a big scoop for the festival.
Synopsis from Rotterdam: Even before the bus in which he was sitting falls into the ravine, 17-year-old Daisuke (Ryunosuke Kamiki) has already put in an appearance in hell. There, the singer of a local rock band made up of three demons with black-lined eyes and horns on their heads, lists all the sins he has committed. For instance he once borrowed a cable and gave it back all knotted up. And he committed suicide: a deadly sin.
Kankuro Kudo, who also made a name for himself with several bizarre scenarios for his compatriot Miike Takashi (Zebraman), portrays the Buddhist underworld in this frenzied and absurdist comedy as a theatrical mud bath in which rock musicians battle to be allowed back to their earthly existence. So it’s a demonic musical since Daisuke signs up to a band, because above all else, Daisuke wants to kiss his great love, if need be reincarnated as a sea lion.
Running Time: 89 mins.
Director: Yoshifumi Tsubota
Writer: Yoshifumi Tsubota (Screenplay), Anthony Doerr (Original Short Story),
Starring: Lily Franky, Ai Hashimoto, Sosuke Ikematsu, Shinobu Terajima.
The Shell Collector is released at the end of this month. It has a great cast and positive critical buzz
Synopsis from Rotterdam: Based on the short story by Anthony Doerr, with The Shell Collector Tsubota Yoshifumi sketches the life of a blind shell collector who can only survive in solitude. He doesn’t meet any people. Only one man visits occasionally to bring him shopping in exchange for money. Occasionally the shopping is also accompanied by letters from his son, but they remain unopened for now. Just like the shellfish he collects so obsessively, the man doesn’t want to know anything about the world outside his own surroundings.
Tsubota, however, slowly introduces uninvited changes in the man’s life: a contagious disease, a woman washed ashore looking for another life, a new kind of shellfish with a poisonous sting that is sublimely hallucinogenic. All these changes not only put the survival techniques of the collector to the test, but also our own ideas about the relationship between man and nature.
Running Time: 141 mins.
Director: Yosuke Okuda
Writer: Yosuke Okuda (Screenplay),
Starring: Nao Omori, Ken Mitsuishi, Asami Usuda,
Synopsis from Rotterdam: Roishin is an unpleasant sort. He chats up young women, puts something in their drinks and then sells them on to pimps. He’s a perverted little gangster, that Roishin, played by filmmaker Okuda Yosuke himself. One day he falls into the trap of a man who traffics women. He finds a woman in his home and trades her, but it turns out that the woman belonged to the Yakuza boss Hideo. Now he has to pay a huge debt to Hideo.
Okuda is obviously a lover of old Yakuza films – as shown by his Tiger competition film Tokyo Playboy Club (IFFR 2012). But he also gives his films his own hallmark. The stylised violence of the genre films is more unpleasant and real here. Reports about how realistic that violence was spread from the set through Japan by Twitter. There’s one scene in which Roishi breaks a bottle on his forehead and what we see is not make-up or digital effect. Okuda is obviously a filmmaker who is willing to sacrifice a lot to make his films a success.
ひそひそ星「Hiso Hiso Boshi」
Running Time: 100 mins.
Director: Sion Sono
Writer: Sion Sono
Starring: Megumi Kagurazaka, Kenji Endo, Yuto Ikeda, Mori Kouko,
The Whispering Star was originally created and screened as part of an art exhibition which had the theme of dystopia running through it. The film was shot in different locations in the Fukushima prefecture, turning depopulated and irradiated areas into a futuristic landscape that speaks of hopelessness, pollution, and abandonment. It stars people who live in the areas and Sion Sono’s wife.
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.
Duration: 140 mins
Director: Ryosuke Hashiguchi
Writer: Ryosuke Hashiguchi
Starring: Atsushi Shinohara, Toko Narushima, Ryo Ikeda, Ken Mitsuishi, Lily Franky
Three Stories of Love has been topping the end of year lists for many critics who specialise in Japanese films. It looks like a heady combination of comedy and drama rooted in strong writing that gives us the everyday lives of three people experiencing romance and frustration.
Synopsis: Three protagonists, a bereaved bridge-repairman, an unhappy housewife with creative ambitions and an elite gay lawyer live lives full of love and loss. Their lives are largely separate, but briefly intersect.
GONIN サーガ「Gonin Sa-ga」
Duration: 130 mins
Director: Takashi Ishii
Writer: Takashi Ishii
Starring: Masahiro Higashide, Kenta Kiritani, Masanobu Ando, Koichi Sato, Anna Tsuchiya, Naoto Takenaka, Rila Fukushima,
Gonin Saga is another film that has been on the top ten lists of film critics. It has a good pedigree since it comes from Takashi Ishii, a veteran manga artist and filmmaker who specialises in hardboiled crime stories. Gonin Saga is a continuation of one of his best films as we revisit the story but through the eyes of the children of the original characters. The cast includes a range of talented young actors like Masanobu Ando, Masahiro Higashide, and Anna Tsuchiya.
Synopsis from the Vancouver International Film Festival’s website: Ishii Takashi’s Gonin (VIFF 1995) set the standard for neo-noir yakuza movies with its tale of five down-on-their-luck men taking on a powerful yakuza gang, the Goseikai—and facing deadly reprisals. Twenty-years-later, the sequel Gonin Saga brings this story up to date. Some of the original mavericks had families: Hisamatsu, for example, left a wife and son. Hisamatsu’s son Hayato (new star Higashide Masahiro) has an honest, crime-free life but is best friends with Ogoshi’s son Daisuke, who’s still working as a bodyguard for the gang. It all kicks off when a reporter asks Hayato’s mother to reveal the truth about the original attack on the Goseikei—and soon history is threatening to repeat itself.
Running Time: 112 mins.
Director: Koji Fukada
Writer: Koji Fukada, Oriza Hirata (Screenplay),
Starring: Bryerly Long, Hirofumi Arai, Geminoid F, Makiko Murata, Yuko Kibiki, Nijiro Murakami,
The first ever movie with an android as one of the stars. It is a collaboration between Japanese playwright Oriza Hirata and the leading robotics scientist Hiroshi Ishiguro who works at Osaka University and the film was directed by Koji Fukada (Hospitalité, Au revoir l’été).
Synopsis: The population of Japan is being evacuated due to radioactive contamination. Tanya (Bryerly Long) is a foreign refugee with an illness so she will be among the last to leave while healthier Japanese escape. She has an android named Reona (Geminoid F) who supports her in her final days as everyone around her leaves.
Running Time: 317 mins.
Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Writer: Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Tadashi Nohara, Tomoyuki Takahashi (Screenplay)
Starring: Rira Kawamura, Hazuki Kikuchi, Maiko Mihara, Sachie Tanaka, Shuhei Shibata, Ami Kugai, Sachiko Fukunaga, Reina Shiihashi,
Happy Hour is a strong drama that uses its long running time to allow the audience to get absorbed in the minutiae of the everyday lives of a group of thirty-something female friends. I would be interested in hearing about people’s experiences with it.
Synopsis: Fumi (Maiko Mihara), Akari (Sachie Tanaka), Sakurako (Hazuki Kikuchi), and Jun (Rira Kawamura), are four friends. These ladies are in their late 30s and are in relationships of varying sorts but not everybody is happy and so when Jun reveals that she is getting a divorce, well, this kicks off a train of dramatic events that make the women re-evaluate their lives.
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.
Synopsis: 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.
トイレノピエタ「Toire no Pieta」
Running Time: 120 mins.
Director: Daishi Matsunaga
Writer: Daishi Matsunaga (Screenplay), Osamu Tezuka (Part of an Original Manga that inspired script),
Starring: Yojiro Noda, Hana Sugisaki, Lily Franky, Saya Ichikawa, Shinobu Otake, Rie Miyazawa,
From the festival website: The story about the dying young artist is based on the diary kept by the famous comic strip/manga artist Tezuka Osamu (creator of Astro Boy) in the last weeks of his life. Tezuka also died of stomach cancer, but not at a very young age (61).
Synopsis: Hiroshi (Yojira Noda) once had ambitions of being a painter but has given up and now works cleaning office windows. That’s not the worst thing that has happened to him because he has found out that he has three months left to live because he has stomach cancer. It is during these final months that he meets a high school student named Mai (Hana Sugisaki) who believes in him and his art and refuses to give up on him…
Masao Adachi was making films around the same time as other new wave directors like Nagisa Oshima and Koji Wakamatsu, writing for them at times and collaborating in other ways. He also he made political and experimental movies. His politics led him to join the Japanese Red Army and travel to foreign countries for a while. Nine of his films are on offer at the festival.
AKA Serial Killer is a fact-based investigation into the a killing spree that took place in 1968 when teenager Nagayama Norio murdered four people with a shotgun stolen from a U.S. Army base.
Artist of Fasting is an absurdist comedy stabbing at the heart of contemporary Japanese society. The story involves various people taking advantage of a man’s unexplained hunger strike.
Galaxy is all about a man who is involved in a car crash which sparks a sepia-tinted cinematic journey into the turbulent mind of the nameless protagonist who summons and distorts figures from his past, present and imagination. Bowl is one of Adachi’s student films and will be screened before Galaxy.
Female Student Guerrilla is considered Adachi’s “pink film” and about ie high-school students who want to stage a revolution.
Gushing Prayer is also about high-schoolers only it’s their use of sex as protest. It descends into violence the story seems set to end with a suicide…
Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War is about Masao Adachi and Koji Wakamatsu’s political journey. On their way back from Cannes Film Festival in 1971, they visited Lebanon to meet the Japan’s Red Army faction and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to shoot a propaganda newsreel film promoting the Palestinian resistance.
Sex Game is another film about sex and radicalism.
The Prisoner/Terrorist is about a Japanese terrorist who is caught and locked up in prison.
There are also two shorts from that unique auteur Takeshi Kitano which he created for his latest television show – Asa (4 mins) is about an old man taking a walk in a park and News (5 mins) is about two cops in a car mulling over evidence. If that sounds boring, they become surreal.
Cinéma Concrete (23 mins) directed by Takashi Makino explores the tenuous links of memory and thoughts as he combines musique concrete with imagery that plays with screen depth through layering and superimposing images and shadows
The Throwing Shadows: Short Films programme sees veteran animators brought together to screen their classic short films. Keiichi Tanaami is in town with two shorts, “Why” and “4 Eyes” where he experiments with screening films over each other much like Toshio Matsumoto who sees “For the Damaged Right Eye” screened. Both men deal with the past, Tanaami looking at psychedelia and Matsumoto looking at contemporary, as in ‘60s, Japan. Mako Idemitsu challenges the patriarchal power structure of Japan as she brings “Inner-Man” and “At Any Place 2” to the festival. Tatsuo Shimamura “Illusion City” which is another animation from the 1960s. Masanori Oe is last but not least as he showcases “Great Society” which sees six simultaneous 16mm projections that mixes newsreel footage into a collage that captures 1960s United States at a fever pitch.
Sound//Vision is a late night programme dedicated to innovative and experimental audiovisual experiences. More from the festival site:
sound//vision kicks off with the expanded cinema performance Throwing Shadows (in collaboration with Tate Film), consisting of Rikuro Miyai’s Phenomenology of Zeitgeist with live soundtrack by Floris Vanhoof, three performances (including Human Flicker) by Jun’ichi Okuyama and the collaboration between filmmaker Makino Takashi and the Belgian improvisation musicians Dirk Serries (guitar) and Teun Verbruggen (drums) to perform Action Direct.
All of these films except in this programme Sound//vision screen tomorrow, the rest over the duration of the festival (apologies for being late). There’s still time to make a selection and see some great titles. To buy tickets and get more information, click on each of the links to visit the pages for each film. This is a fantastic selection as is usually the case with Rotterdam so let me know if you go and see anything and what you think.