The Japanese Film Festival Ireland takes place throughout April and visits many cities across the Emerald Isle: Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, Waterford, Sligo and Dundalk. Each venue will play a different selection of films from a list packed full of excellent and diverse stories.
This is the eighth year that the festival has run but the first I have covered. With 22 films across 45 screenings in seven locations there’s a lot to see but one thing is for certain: whoever programmed this festival knows what they are doing with indie titles like Three Stories of Love and Sanchu Uprising side-by-side with anime hits like The Boy and the Beast, and mainstream comedies like The Apology King. I’ve previewed many of these for trailer posts and added them to reports on film festivals and while I have not seen many of these I have heard and read critics praising them at various points like end of year top ten lists. I’ve highlighted what I think are the more interesting titles at the top (plus Hana and Alice at the end) and I’ll admit there’s a drama bias. Talk to the version of me from five years ago and it would be Sion Sono all the way. Tastes change but this is also a great chance to catch some great dramatic acting from some of the best actors in Japan and a chance to see and support indie films!
The festival starts on April 03rd and lasts until April 21st. To find out more of what’s on offer including venues, times and dates, trailers (and how to purchase tickets, head on over to the festival website.
100 Yen Love
百円の恋 「Hyaku-en no Koi」
Running Time: 113 mins.
Director: Masaharu Take
Writer: Masaharu Take (Screenplay),
Starring: Sakura Ando, Hirofumi Arai, Miyoko Inagawa, Saori, Shohei Uno, Tadashi Sakata, Yuki Okita,
100 Yen Love stars Sakura Ando in a career-best performance as a woman who goes from zero to boxing hero with all of the genre tropes expected but done brilliantly and in a rather gritty way. It’s a film with a lot of heart thanks to Sakura 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.
Duration: 140 mins
Director: Ryosuke Hashiguchi
Writer: Ryosuke Hashiguchi
Starring: Atsushi Shinohara, Toko Narushima, Ryo Ikeda, Ken Mitsuishi, Lily Franky,
Three Stories of Love was topping the end of year lists for many critics who specialise in Japanese films. Strong writing grounds a drama that gives audiences 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.
Japanese Title: ペタル ダンス
Romaji: Petaru Dansu
Running Time: 90 mins.
Director: Hiroshi Ishikawa
Writer: Hiroshi Ishikawa
Starring: Kazue Fukiishi, Sakura Ando, Aoi Miyazaki, Shiori Kutsuna, Shunsuke Kazama, Mariko Goto, Hanae Kan, Masanobu Ando, Tsutomu Takahashi
Hiroshi Ishikawa is the writer and director of popular films like Tokyo Sora and Su-ki-da and I have read good things about Petal Dance – it has gotten a good review at the Japan Times and I thought it was a great drama with strong performances from a top group of actors, some of the most recognisable leading ladies in Japan right now.
Four women who have suffered sorrow in life are on a road trip lasting one night and two days and full of memories and hope of a new start. Jinko (Miyazaki) and Motoko (Ando) have been friends since they attended the same university and it is they who start this road road trip when they hear that a former classmate named Miki (Fukiishi) ran into the sea. The rumour ends with Miki getting out safely but is that all there is to it? Haraki (Kutsuna) met Jinko at the library she works at and joins the trip as a driver.
Love and Peace
Running Time: 117 mins.
Director: Sion Sono
Writer: Sion Sono (Screenplay),
Starring: Hiroki Hasegawa, Kumiko Aso, Tohiyuki Nishida, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Eita Okuno, Makita Sports, Erina Mano, Megumi Kagurazaka, Miyuki Matsuda
Love and Peace is supposedly based on a script that Sono wrote many years ago, around the time of Suicide Club. 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. The film distributor Third Window Films will release it on DVD later this year but I have heard that it’s worth catching in a cinema for the visuals and audio.
Ryoichi (Hiroki 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 (Kumiko 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…
3泊4日、5時の鐘「3-paku 4-nichi, 5-ji no kane」
Running Time: 89 mins.
Director: Takuya Misawa
Writer: Takuya Misawa (Screenplay),
Starring: Kiki Sugino, Haya Nakazaki, Ena Koshino, Natsuko Hori, Juri Fukushima, Shuntaro Yanagi
Chigasaki Story was at this year’s Rotterdam International Film Festival but was on the festival circuit back in 2014 where it garnered reviews as being a drama but one done in the style of Ozu and from a director who is new to the game and it’s produced by Kiki Sugino who is becoming an. The Hollywood Reporter review makes this one sound like another film to watch:
Tomoharu (Nakazaki) works at a traditional Japanese inn called Chigasakikan Hotel. This is where the film master Yasujiro Ozu retired to write his screenplays.He works with Karin (Koshino) and Maki (Sugino). Risa (Hori), the daughter of the inn’s owner, is set to have a wedding in 3 days and various people show up each with repressed feeling for each other that soon come out just before the wedding…
Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn
新しき民「Atarashiki tami 」
Running Time: 117 mins.
Director: Junichiro Yamasaki
Writer: Junichiro Yamasaki (Screenplay)
Starring: Kano Kajiwara, Naohisa Tanaka, Keiko Furuuchi, Yota Kawase,
This played at Japan Cuts last year and its inclusion here is a surprise because it is an indie title.
Synopsis from Japan Society New York: 1726, Sanchu, Okayama Prefecture: farmers negotiate with the feudal domain in order to seek exemption from rising taxes before infighting leads to suppression by the samurai class, and the farmers band together for battle. It’s a moment of injustice, setting the stage for bravery and sacrifice. However those daring characters remain largely offscreen in Juichiro Yamasaki’s brilliant film. Instead, the cowardly protagonist Jihei (Naohisa Nakagaki) weighs the risks of rebellion and its aftermath, a tale resonating with our contemporary moment. In this rare independent jidaigeki, Kenta Tawara’s beautiful digital B&W photography channels and refigures luminaries of classical Japanese cinema, boasting rapturous animated sequences by Tomomichi Nakamura and an experimental score by Ayako Sasaki.
Tag (リアル鬼ごっこ, 85 mins. Dir: Sion Sono)
There were four feature films made by Sion Sono released last year and the biggest buzz was centred on this. It is based on a novel by Yusuke Yamada but it’s a case of only the premise being used and that premise is the death game… Female highs school students, including Mitsuko, Keiko and Izumi, become involved in a fatal game of “tag” and are the targets of ghosts with various appearances including a groom with a pig’s face and female teacher with a machine gun.
Tamako in Moratorium (もらとりあむ タマ子, 78 mins. Dir: Nobuhiro Yamashita) comes from director Nobuhiro Yamashita and writer Kosuke Mukai. They have collaborated on a lot of excellent films like Linda Linda Linda, No One’s Ark and My Back Page and this was a collaboration between the two from 2013. The film’s genesis started with short film segments on the TV channel MUSIC ON! TV. The story involves Tamako (ex-AKB48 Team Leader Atsuko Maeda), a university graduate who lives with her father. She spends her days lazing around but is soon forced to get her act together.
I Am A Monk (ボクは坊さん。, 118 mins. Dir: Yukinori Makabe) Susumu is shocked by the death of his grandfather, a priest at a local temple. This event makes him reassess life so he quits his job at a bookstore and becomes a monk at a temple. He must learn a way of life he had hoped to forget but the challenge has its brighter aspects in this drama with comedy inflections.
Artist of Fasting (断食芸人, 104 mins. Dir: Masao Adachi) is a film by left-wing firebrand Masao Adachi. It’s a true indie and a surprise turn-up for this festival. Adachi adapts a story by Franz Kafka where a nameless man sits down in a busy shopping street and says nothing and people are sucked into his mysterious display, or should that be non-display. People interpret his silence in different ways and as the film continues a crowd representing different elements of Japanese society begins to gather around him and play out their own political and social grievances and ambitions. The film played at this year’s Rotterdam and Osaka film festivals.
The Emperor in August (日本のいちばん長い日, 136 mins. Dir: Masato Harada) is a World War II drama that tells the story of how a few officers and politicians debate whether Japan should accept the Potsdam Declaration. General Korechika Anami and Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki are negotiating what will happen and whether the Emperor Hirohito of Japan should announce the nation’s defeat but a cadre of young commissioned officers, who are against Japan surrendering, intend to occupy the palace and a radio broadcasting station and stop the announcement.
The Apology King (謝罪の王様, 128 mins. Dir: Nobuo Mizuta) is a surreal comedy from 2013 starring Sadawo Abe as Ryoro Kurojima runs a Tokyo apology centre where he teaches others to apologise. He can teach students how to apologise for minor misdemeanours all the way through to more serious issues but when he gets caught up in an international crisis he may need to come up with something special…
Assassination Classroom (暗殺教室, 98 mins. Dir: Eiichiro Hasumi) is based on a manga by Yusei Matsui and it has been turned into an anime. The film has been a hit and a sequel was released last weekend. What of the one at the festival? The story starts with the destruction of the moon has been destroyed! It’s the work of an alien octopus named Koro with bizarre powers and super strength and he promises that the Earth is next. However, before we get to that, he has some demands and that is he becomes the homeroom teacher at a junior high school and is given the chance to teach a class of misfits! The situation seems pretty bizarre and it gets weirder for the kids because his students must destroy him to save the Earth. However, Koro proves to be a great teacher and very popular…
Joy of Man’s Desiring (人の 望みの 喜びよ, 85 mins. Dir: Masakazu Sugita)
was at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival, where it was awarded a Special Mention — i.e., second prize — by the children’s jury in the Generation Kplus competition. It was on many top ten lists coming from various critics and it looks strong – review from the Japan Times). The story revolves around two siblings, a young boy named Sotha and his older sister Haruna, who lost their parents after a major earthquake. Despite finding a safe home with their aunt and uncle the two children find it hard to fit in with their new lives not least because Sotha doesn’t know that their parents are dead and Haruna wants to tell him.
Little Forest: Summer & Autumn (リトル フォレスト 夏編 秋篇, 111 mins. Dir: Junichi Mori) stars the luminous and talented Ai Hashimoto as a woman named Ichiko she leaves big city life behind to head back to the mountains where her hometown of Komori is located and she takes to living off the land. The food she makes changes with the seasons and helps her come to terms with troubles in life and get in touch with her true self. There’s a sequel to this but I guess a mere taster is good enough.
Initiation Love (イニシエーション ラブ, 110 mins. Director: Yukihiko Tsutsumi)
is a film I am dying to see. It’s directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi who is a great director and it has a killer plot twist, apparently.
It is some time in the late 1980’s in Shizuoka and the character we are following is a college student named Suzuki or Takkun to his friends (Matsuda) who is attempting to find a job. He goes on a blind date and meets Mayu (Maeda), a dental hygienist, and the two hit it off and begin dating. Takkun is forced to move after he gets a job in Tokyo and heads off to the capital leaving Mayu behind. Madness…. Their long distance relationship may collapse as another woman named Miyako (Kimura) enters the picture… Oh no, romance broken… but then something is said and the film becomes a mystery in the final five minutes as a twist is revealed!!!
Joukyou Monogatari (上京ものがたり, 109 mins. Dir: Toshiyuki Morioka) is a drama about a girl named Natsumi who moves to Tokyo to study at a fine arts university where she meets the kind-hearted Ryosuke (the great up young actor Sosuke Ikematsu) and falls in love with him. Unfortunately he doesn’t have a job and spends his days lying around while Natsumi has to work at a bar. Soon the two grow apart from each other and decide to break up just as her manga is published.
There is one classic on offer and it appeared at this year’s Berlin International Film Festival. It’s Ozu so it’s a must-see by default:
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…
In terms of anime, there’s a really strong line-up of contemporary titles most of which are in the supernatural/fantasy genre. There is strong praise for The Boy and the Beast (バケモノの子, 119 mins. Dir: Mamoru Hosoda), Mamoru Hosoda’s latest film. If you are a fan of Hosoda’s 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 is worth watching what with the excellent animation, voice actors, and more.
A lonely boy named Kyuta is on the run from his family in Tokyo’s Shibuya ward following the death of his mother. 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 who takes the boy under his wing and renames him Kyuuta.
When Marnie was There (思い出のマーニー, 103 mins. Dir: Hiromasa Yonebayashi) is the latest film from Studio Ghibli and it 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 which was published in 1967. The setting has been updated and it has moved from Britain to modern Japan.
The story centres on a twelve-year-old girl named Marnie who 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 to hee and the two become friends but Anna has a dark secret…
Empire of Corpses (屍者の帝国, 120 mins. Dir: Ryoutarou Makihara) is the first of three films from Project Itoh, a concerted effort to adapt novels by late author Project Itoh who died in 2009. The three novels are being turned into films by different directors and studios. The Empire of Corpses comes to us courtesy of WIT Studio (Attack on Titan, Hoozuki no Reitetsu) and is directed by Ryuotarou Makihara (Hal).
The film takes place in 19th Century London at a time when “corpse reanimation technology” has been developed, rendering the dead useful for basic physical labour. Brilliant medical student John Watson is invited to join the UK government’s secret society, the Walsingham Institution where he gets involved in a clandestine mission to search for the legendary writings of Dr. Victor Frankenstein, reputed to detail the technology behind a more sophisticated reanimated corpse – the original – that could speak and even had free will. His mission will send him across the world fighting agents and the undead of other empires.
The highlight of the anime section has to be The Case of Hana & Alice (花とアリス 殺人事件, 100 mins. Dir: Shunji Iwai). This is the prequel movie to Shunji Iwai’s wonderful 2004 coming-of-age film Hana & Alice, the film which was the break-out title for two totally talented actors Yu Aoi and Anne Suzuki who respectively starred as Alice and Hana, two school girls in an intense friendship who both experience love for the first time. The Case of Hana & Alice tells the story of how the girls first met and it is apparently through the world’s smallest murder case. I really like the look of the animation and the character designs as I made clear in my preview for the film.
Synopsis: Newly arrived in small-town suburbia with her divorced mother, middle-school age transfer student Tetsuko Arisugawa (Arisu or ‘Alice’ for short) finds herself the victim of bullying by her classmates and seeks solace through dance. She soon learns of an urban myth about a mysteriously vanished former student called Yuda (Japanese for ‘Judas’) who was allegedly murdered by four of his classmates. Hana, a reclusive girl who lives in a house bedecked with flowers next door, seems to hold the key to the mystery, and together the pair soon embark on a wild and unpredictable series of suburban escapades.