Japanese Films at the Berlin International Film Festival 2016

The Berlin International Film Festival takes place from February 11th to the 21st and it features a distinct Anglo-American presence thanks to some high-profile heavyweight Hollywood stars on the screen and gracing the red carpet with the likes of George Clooney and Meryl Streep getting involved from the opening night. There is also a planned tribute to Alan Rickman and David Bowie. While the festival features a mix of mainstream and more socially conscious sights to be seen on screen what we really want to know is…

…what Japanese films are playing at the festival?

There are many great-looking films (trailers as well) so if you want to know more such as dates and times and how to buy tickets, click on the titles/links. All films have subtitles and look great!!!


Creepy Film Poster
Creepy Film Poster


Running Time: 130 mins.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Chihiro Ikeda (Screenplay), Yutaka Maekawa (Original Novel)

Starring:  Hidetoshi Nishijima, Teruyuki Kagawa, Yuko Takeuchi, Masahiro Higashide, Haruna Kawaguchi, Toru Baba, Misaki Saisho,

Website IMDB

This has the potential to be good based on the actors alone. Kiyoshi Kurosawa (a genius film director!) has worked on great films with lead actors Hidetoshi Nishijima (License to Live) and Teruyuki Kagawa (Tokyo Sonata) and the two actors have collaborated on great doramas together (Mozu, Double Face). There’s also Masahiro Higashide (The Kirishima Thing) and Haruna Kawaguchi (POV: A Cursed Film). Things get better when you look at this teaser trailer and see the high production values. I’m hyped for this one. This one is released in Japan in June.

Synopsis: Detective Inspector Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) decides to quit the force after a psychopath almost kills him. He takes up work as a university lecturer in criminal psychology and delves into cold cases, one involving a missing family where only one person survived, Saki (Haruna Kawaguchi). Life changes when Takakura and his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) move house and introduce themselves to their next door neighbour Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa) who hides his wife and daughter from the outside world. Nishino is suspicious enough as a person but when his “daughter” confronts Takakura and tells him that she has no idea who her “father” is, things get really dangerous…


A Road

あるみち「Aru michi 

Running Time: 85 mins.

Director: Daichi Sugimoto

Writer: Daichi Sugimoto (Screenplay)

Starring:  Daichi Sugimoto, Yuta Katsukura, Rika Sugimoto,

Website IMDB

Director Daichi Sugimoto is currently studying at Tokyo Zokei University, Department of Design as a film major but his film A Road has won a major award in the shape of the 2015 PIA Fim Festival’s Grand Prize. It sounds like a fascinating dive into a person’s memory.

Synopsis: Daichi Sugimoto stars as himself, so to speak. His character is studying film at university but he misses the joys of childhood when he and his friends used to catch lizards. A university assignment in documentary film making leads him to look for the point when his childhood ended but despite his camera being able to capture the world, he finds that his memories of life, lizards and those he knows/knew and love/loved are harder to nail down.


While the Women are Sleeping   

While the Women are Sleeping Film Poster
While the Women are Sleeping Film Poster

女が眠る時「onna ga nemuru toki 

Running Time: 103 mins.

Director: Wayne Wang

Writer: Michael Ray, Shinho Lee, Mami Sunada (Screenplay) Javier Marias (Original Story)

Starring:  Beat Takeshi, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Sayuri Oyamada, Lily Franky, Shiori Kutsuna, Makiko Watanabe, Hirofumi Arai,

Website IMDB

This is another film with a stellar cast – Hidetoshi Nishijima, Beat Kitano (Hana-bi), Lily Franky (Like Father, Like Son), Makiko Watanabe (Love Exposure) – and it has an interesting story which I think you can read on the New Yorker magazine website. The trailer looks great and the story involves obsession, lust, love, danger and all those good things that make thrillers. Ghosts, too, apparently!

Synopsis: Kenji (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and Aya (Sayuri Oyamada) are spending a week at a hotel over the summer and they encounter a strange couple amongst the other guests. There is the considerably older man, Doctor Sahara (Beat Takeshi), and a there is a younger woman, Miki (Shiori Katsuna). Sahara records Miki every night with his video camera and while the women are asleep, he discusses Miki’s life and death with Kenji who is sucked into Sahara’s weird fantasies and concerned about Miki’s safety. Is it all a game or something deadlier?



HeeHi Hee 

Running Time: 72 mins.

Director: Kaori Momoi

Writer: Kaori Momoi, Miyuki Takahashi, Daisuke Kamijo (Screenplay) Fuminori Nakamura (Original Story)

Starring:  Kaori Momoi, Yugo Saso, Ayako Fujitani, Brian Sturges, Melody Thi,


Director Kaori Momoi is a trailblazer in Japanese film if this interview is anything to go on. She has worked with Akira Kurosawa (Kagemusha), Takashi Miike (Sukiyaki Western Django), Shunji Iwai (Swallowtail Butterfly) and others and has appeared in all sorts of films. She is making films (writing, directing) all around the world as well as in Japan.

This is her latest work and it’s story involves a psychiatrist named Dr. Sanada (Yugo Saso) investigating an old patient named Azusa (Kaori Momoi) who thinks she is crazy and blames herself for the death of her parent’s in a fire. The reason he is investigating is because he has come into contact with her again after he is called to Los Angeles where she is a prostitute accused of murder. Sanada must decide whether Azusa is mentally ill or not and whether he failed her.

It’s an actor’s piece which challenges the audience to delve into the character if the festival site is to be believed. Momoi’s performance is said to be “incomplete, one-sided, contradictory, with an actress directing herself in a ruthlessly self-deconstructive manner, an actress that forces us to listen, to watch, to doubt.”



Hachimiri Madness: Japanese Indies from the Punk Years

This part of the programme is dedicated to some of the earliest works from some of the best directors of this generation back from when they were operating in the ‘70s and ‘80s as student filmmakers wielding 8mm cameras and young indie directors. We’re talking about Sion Sono, Shinya Tsukamoto, Sogo Ishii and more. Few of their early films are available legally in the West and when they do appear it’s always fascinating to see the sheer amount of imagination and raw talent on display. With film archives and distributors digitising and releasing these films, now’s the perfect moment to collect them together for a festival.

A Man's Flower Road Film Image
A Man’s Flower Road Film Image

Sion Sono is the big highlight here with two films getting screened. The first is I Am Sion Sono!!  (1984, 37 min) which was made when he was 22-years-old. It’s an uncompromising self-portrait/introduction to the man and it is described as “a disarming, sometimes funny, sometimes raunchy, hugely energetic self-portrait which became the manifesto of a wild, uncompromising, uninhibited cinema.”

The second Sono film is his first feature A Man’s Flower Road  (1986, 110 min) and it is split into two parts. The first sees him running around Tokyo in a red rain cape while being pursued by men in white before he encounters a Kappa in a park. The second is more   autobiographical as it details his family life and struggle to become an adult. He roped in his family for this part.

The Adventure of Denchu-Kozo Film Image
The Adventure of Denchu-Kozo Film Image

The Adventure of Denchu-Kozo by Shinya Tsukamoto (1988, 47 min), I have reviewed on this blog thanks to its inclusion on the Tetsuo: Iron Man/Body Hammer DVD set. It’s a great little cyberpunk time-travelling story where a schoolboy with an electricity pylon on his back must save humanity from vampire.

Isolation of 1/8800000 (1977, 43 min) is by Sogo Ishii (Angel Dust, Isn’t Anyone Alive?) and is a story about an isolated sexually frustrated young student burned out from his university entrance exam is on the verge of exploding in a violent mess.

UNK (1979, 15 min) is by Makoto Tezuka (grandson of legendary manga-ka Osamu Tezuka) and the short film is a remake of Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He also directed High-School-Terror  (1979, 6min) which sees ghosts haunt some schoolgirls.

Akira Ogata’s cult film Tokyo Cabbageman K (1980, 59 min) imagines what happens when a young man named K wakes up one morning to find is head has been replaced by a giant cabbage.

The Rain Women (1990, 72 min) by Shinobu Yaguchi looks really interesting. It is described as a melancholy film and is split into two parts with the lives of two women on the screen, the first showing madcap adventures like racing bikes through convenience stores while the second sees the dynamic duo suffering tragedies. When the rain returns, the fun starts again.

The Rain Women Film Image
The Rain Women Film Image

Director Katsuyuki Hirano originally wanted to be a manga artist but when he picked up an 8mm camera he made Happiness Avenue (1986, 93 min) and thus began his career in films. His film is based on a manga by Katsuhiro Otomo and features fellow director Sion Sono amongst a group of friends roaring around town and rebelling against their more staid fellow citizens in a small town in Shizuoka.

Hanasareru Gang Film Image
Hanasareru Gang Film Image

Masashi Yamamoto brings a tale of violence and disillusion from 1980s Japan in Saint Terrorism (1980, 127 min) where the main character, a school girl, shoots random people and hooks up with a poisoner with whom she terrorises a building full of people in Shinjuku.
Last but not least is Hanasareru Gang (1984, 85 min) which is by Nobuhiro Suwa which looks like a substantial one since it’s inspired by French New Wave director Alain Renais’s film Hiroshima mon amour. It’s about a gang of petty criminals with a car full of cash and the tone changes from slapstick comedy to tragedy as these disengaged kids go on an adventure.

There is one classic on offer and that is…

Early Summer   

Early Summer (1951) Film Poster
Early Summer (1951) Film Poster


Running Time: 124 mins.

Director: Yasujiro Ozu

Writer: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu (Screenplay)

Starring:  Setsuko Hara, Chishu Ryu, Chikage Awashima, Kuniko Miyake, Ichiro Sugai, Haruko Sugimura, Chieko Higashiyama,


Ozu is one of the titans from the golden age of Japanese cinema and his tales of Japanese families experiencing changes such as people leaving home, parents ageing, and new technology are full of details and atmosphere to create beautifully made stories we can all relate to. This is the world premiere of a digitally restored version.

Here’s a scene from an older version of the film:

Synopsis: Noriko (Setsuko Hara) is 28-years-old and lives in her parents’ house, along with her brother, his wife and their two children. Some people around her think she should get married and her boss goes one further and introduces her to an old friend of his who might be a “good match”… The mere idea of Noriko facing the prospect of a possible marriage starts a wave of friction amongst her relatives…


Theirs are two short films:

Xénogénèse (1981, 7 min), is an experimental film that, according to the festival website, focuses on the duality of its medium. The director takes the lead role as a man dressed in shirt and tie walking around what appears to be a junkyard. Then, the director adds scratches to the surface of the image and employs “tactics of trompe-l’œil to comically allude to the circular nature of human life and, in its function as the artist’s self-portrait, gently mocks the home movie genre.”

The film was first shown in Berlin at the 1984 International Forum of New Cinema and now the festival gets a digitized version of the film.

Vita Lakamaya (2016, 8 min) is a lot more conventional. This animated film follows two creatures in a meadow and the other lifeforms around them (beetles, butterflies) that take part in a life-cycle. The festival website has a 29 second preview which is pretty good-looking.

12 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the Berlin International Film Festival 2016

    1. He’s really something and if he continues I can see Western film critics name-checking him in every review they write from now on. 😉

      In all seriousness, a lot of work from Ozu and other Golden Age directors is getting restored and Berlin seems to be the place to see it all. Look back at previous articles on the festival I have written and you’ll see retrospectives. I wonder if any of these films are ever screened in the UK…?

  1. Those short films sound incredible. Creepy looks like it’ll be a solid film. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse was pretty good so this was looks like quite a step up judging from the trailer you posted.

    1. Berlin has an awesome line-up of films and the shorts look really, really interesting. I’d definitely book a ticket to see them legally and on a big screen. It’s the lesser known ones that have my attention. The Rain Women, Saint Terrorism, and Hanasareru Gang are the types of things I’d love to see.

      Yeah, Kiyoshi Kurosawa seems to be back with Creepy judging by the teaser. I also liked Pulse a lot and gave it a review full of praise around four years ago. I watched it again recently and found it still impressed me!

    1. There’s a screening of The Man Who Fell to Earth (what a melancholy film!) which should preclude any renditions of Life on Mars… but I suspect that Clooney is on the promo tour for Hail Caesar which is all about the laughs.

      1. I might see that one, although I hate the man. … that sounded terrible …

        I liked “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” a lot though … and that night was one of my best movie nights.

        Man, was I wasted when I saw TMWFTE in the 1970s. Still drunk again when I saw it on video in the 80s. There is this really cheesy part where a character falls out of a high building and is killed. They so obviously used a rag doll – it was not even to scale! One of those movie moments, when the viewer thinks “They were not even trying …” — it made me laugh at the rest of the film.

        LucasFilm should come in and re-image it — out of respect for David Bowie.

      2. My favourite Clooney film is Michael Clayton. That’s really good. I’ve seen it three times.

        I haven’t watched The Man Who… since I was a teen. The last Bowie film I watched was Labyrinth – once last year and once this year. It holds up well.

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