The 16th edition of the Japanese film festival Nippon Connection will take place in Frankfurt, Germany, from May 24th to the 29th. Over the course of six days audiences will get the chance to watch more than 100 short and feature films and this incudes indies, anime, blockbusters, and documentaries. This is the biggest festival dedicated to Japanese films and so filmmakers are going to attend the event to present their works.
On top of the films there are guests who are coming over from Japan so that means there are also workshops, lectures, panel discussions, performances, exhibitions, and there is also a Japanese market with food on sale. It’s a huge event with lots to see and do.
What is on the programme, then? I’ll break it down into sections:
This section features a healthy collection of contemporary titles from 2015 with two stand-outs in the pack based on critical reception which I highlighted with the full preview format:
花とアリス 殺人事件「Hana to Alice: Satsujin Jiken」
Running Time: 100 mins.
Director: Shunji Iwai
Writer: Shunji Iwai (Screenplay/Original Creator),
Starring: Yu Aoi (Tetsuko Arisugawa), Anne Suzuki (Hana Arai), Ryou Kazuji (Kotaro Yuda – a man who holds the key to the murder mystery), Haru Kuroki (Satomi Hagino-sensei – Hana and Alice’s homeroom teacher), Tae Kimura (Yuki Tsutsumi – the ballet classroom teacher),
This film is a joy to watch and from the reaction of critics it seems like it will be a sure fire hit with audiences. It’s the prequel to Hana and Alice (2004), a live-action film directed by Shunji Iwai. He wanted to go back to when the two titular teens met to tell the story of the beginning of their friendship and it all happens through the world’s smallest murder case. Iwai chose to animate the original actors through the power of rotoscoping and it creates a unique look.
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.
Harmony + Q&A
Running Time: 120 mins.
Director: Michael Arias, Takashi Nakamura
Writer: Koji Yamamoto (Screenplay), Project Itoh (Original Novel),
Starring: Miyuki Sawashiro (Tuan Kirie), Akio Ohtsuka (Asaf), Reina Ueda (Miach Mihie), Shinichiro Miki (Elliya Vashirof),
Harmony is the third film from the Project Itoh trilogy, a concerted effort to adapt the three novels by late author Project Itoh (real name Satoshi Itō) who died in 2009. It is directed by Takashi Nakamura (Fantastic Children) and Michael Arias (Tekkonkinkreet), at Studio 4°C (Berserk). The director Michael Arias (Animatrix, Tekkonkinkreet) will take part in a Q&A at Nippon Connection and so this is a great chance to get the behind-the-scenes info on the animation process.
Synopsis from My Anime List: In the future, Utopia has finally been achieved thanks to medical nanotechnology and a powerful ethic of social welfare and mutual consideration. This perfect world isn’t that perfect though, and three young girls stand up to totalitarian kindness and super-medicine by attempting suicide via starvation. It doesn’t work, but one of the girls—Tuan Kirie—grows up to be a member of the World Health Organization. As a crisis threatens the harmony of the new world, Tuan rediscovers another member of her suicide pact, and together they must help save the planet…from itself.
When Marnie Was There「思い出のマーニー, Dir: Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 99 mins.」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 features the familiar mixture of fantasy and reality where a lonely twelve-year-old girl named Anna travels to a small town to better cope with her asthma and makes a new friend, a mysterious blonde girl named Marnie who lives in a Western style house…
Miss Hokusai 「百日紅 ～Miss HOKUSAI～, Dir: Keiichi Hara, 90 mins.」 is the latest film from Keiichi Hara (Colorful). It’s a big blockbuster treatment of the story of the story of Katsushika Hokusai’s third daughter, the outspoken 23-year-old O-Ei. It takes place in 1814 in Edo, a place which is teeming with peasants, samurai, townsmen, merchants, nobles, artists, courtesans, and perhaps even supernatural things. O-Ei helps her father with his art and very often she would paint instead of him, though uncredited. She made art of her own and this is the untold story of O-Ei, Master Hokusai’s daughter: a lively portrayal of a free-spirited woman overshadowed by her larger-than-life father, unfolding through the changing seasons.
Empire of the Corpses「屍者の帝国, Dir: Ryuotarou Makihara, 120 mins.」is one of three films from Project Itoh and it comes to us courtesy of WIT Studio (Attack on Titan, Hoozuki no Reitetsu). It takes place in 19th Century
London at the height of the British Empire only in this universe “corpse reanimation technology” has been developed, rendering the dead useful for basic physical labour. Brilliant medical student John Watson is recruited by the British to search for the legendary writings of Dr. Victor Frankenstein which allegedly detail the technology behind a more sophisticated reanimated corpse – the original – that could speak and even had free will. Watson will go on a globe-trotting mission, fighting enemy agents for those papers.
There are numerous animated shorts, a rich area for seeing invention and ingenuity and surprises:
A Wild Patience – Indie Animated Shorts By Women contains recent works by indie female artists who have animated using a number of different styles. These have been curated by film scholar and journalist Dr. Catherine Munroe Hotes.
Tokyo University of the Arts: Animation is a programme that contains 14 of the best titles from students at the prestigious university and they will be presented by Hiromitsu Murakami, a professor in the animation department. Some of these are at the Annecy International Animation Festival but this looks to be a much more comprehensive programme.
JVTA Presents: Twilight of the Cockroaches 「ゴキブリたちの黄昏, Dir: Hiroaki Yoshida, 105 mins.」was first released in 1987 and went to various film festival. The Nippon Connection website calls this film “one of the most audacious stylistic experiments in anime history, featuring a society of cockroaches fighting to survive in modern Japan. The sophisticated combination of animated images and live-action footage is still an eye-catcher today. The film was provided with new subtitles for the festival by the Japan Visualmedia Translation Academy (JVTA).”
There is an 8 minute film called Macky and Eucki in Midnight Galery directed by Rushio Moriyama playing at this screening.
Kiyoshi Kurosawa, one of the greatest living Japanese directors, will be at Nippon Connection where he will receive the Nippon Honour Award, which was created to honour people who have made a significant contribution to Japanese film. Well, Kurosawa has made a significant contribution to film and he’s one of the few contemporary Japanese directors working today that an international audience may be familiar with.
He will accept this award and be present for a screening of Journey to the Shore「岸辺の旅 , Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa. 128 mins.」which is an adaptation of the 2010 novel Kishibe no Tabi by Kazumi Yumoto. It is a film about a woman named Mizuki (Eri Fukatsu) whose husband Yusuke (Tadanobu Asano) disappeared. 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. The film earned Kurosawa the Best Director prize at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival.
Kurosawa’s latest film also gets screened so GET HYPED!
クリーピー偽りの隣人 「Kuri-pi- itsuwari no rinjin」
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,
I call this a comeback because Kiyoshi Kurosawa has strayed away from horror films and gone into supernatural inflected dramas. This has coincided with a lull in quality from the man. Well he’s back in psychological horror and he has brought in great actors he has worked with before: Hidetoshi Nishijima (License to Live) and Teruyuki Kagawa (Tokyo Sonata). Early reviews from this has suggested that Kurosawa is back on form.
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…
The day after the screening of Creepy is the screening of Cure 「キュア Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 111 mins.」 which originally came out in 1997 and still scares today. For many, this is the first Kurosawa film they encounter and it’s a really intense serial killer movie were a detective named Takabe (played by regular Kiyoshi Kurosawa collaborator Koji Yakusho) tracking a mesmerist named Mamiya. What makes it memorable is the bleak atmosphere and psychological ambiguity. Here’s my review from year and years ago. I really like this film!
Kiyoshi Kurosawa will also be around for the film breakfast. This is an event where audiences can enjoy a buffet and a film with a filmmaker present. The film that is getting screened is:
Tokyo Sonata 「トウキョウソナタDir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 119 mins.」which, in my opinion, is one of the best dramas to have ever come from Japan. The story is about the fallout when the patriarch of a typical middle-class Japanese family loses his job but maintains the façade in the face of a family who are going through their own changes.
The Whispering Star 「ひそひそ星, 100 mins. IMDB」 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 Fukushima prefecture, turning the 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.
Love and Peace「ラブ＆ピース , 117 mins」 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. It’s getting a release in the UK at some point thank to the film distributor Third Window Films.
Synopsis: The story is about a put upon salaryman who once had the dream of being a punk-rocker. 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…
This section features the newest or unreleased films. Full write-ups for these for anyone interested although I have copied and pasted the synopses from Nippon Connection for many to hurry up this preview and ensure greater accuracy. There are a lot of great looking titles here.
A Cappella 「無伴奏, Dir: Hitoshi Yazaki, 132 mins. 」 is a drama which stars Riko Narumi (Shindo) as a high school girl named Kyoko living in 1969, a period when there was change in the air what with Japanese students involved in campus riots, anti-war rallies, and the growth of subcultures in music, cinema, literature, and theatre. Kyoko becomes influenced by these things and joins a rally at a university which gets violent. After she is wounded she shelters at a club called “A Cappella” and meets and falls in love with a college student, named Wataru (Sosuke Ikematsu). She undergoes a sexual awakening but the politics of the age puts their love in great danger…
Running Time: 100 mins.
Director: Keisuke Kondo
Writer: Akihiro Mima (Screenplay)
Starring: Chikara Honda, Mahiro Sugiyama, Tomomi Ishikawa, Haruka Nakano, Soichiro Yoshimoto, Riku Tokimitsu, Shingo Kawaguchi, Yoshio Shin,
The Man Who Was Eaten is a cynical sci-fi comedy and a true indie film considering it has come from a production team composed of current students from Osaka University of Arts. The director will be present at the screening.
Synopsis: Following an alien invasion, humanity has been turned into cattle for the invaders to devour and children are educated from an early age about how much it is an honour to be chosen as food for aliens. Miserable middle aged divorcee Murata Yoshio is an isolated loner but when he is selected for alien food he is given a week-long heroes send-off which makes him ponder the question, “Do you think I am delicious?” He spends his final days trying to right mistakes…
Hakodate Coffee 「函館珈琲, Dir: Hiroshi Nishio, 90 mins.」Synopsis from Nippon Connection: Eiji, a struggling writer who wants to open a second hand bookstore in Hakodate (Hokkaido), moves into a house which he shares with several artists. As it turns out, all of the residents, including Eiji, seem to struggle with problems. But soon they begin to have a positive impact on Eiji’s life. The actor Tony Nakajima will be in attendance.
Running Time: 87 mins.
Director: Ichiro Yamamoto
Writer: Ichiro Yamamoto (Screenplay), Sakunosuke Oda (Screenplay)
Starring: Hidenori Ono, Naohiko Washio, Ajiho Sugiyama, Boiru Nakajima, Takako Ueno, Seizo Fukumoto, Anna Kawashima,
Synopsis: In a film where the past and present mixes we see the daily lives of four young soldiers who are raising the orphaned son of their commanding officer. As they each decide to go working in munitions factories, it is up to four women to take care of the boy as they wait for the men to return. It is based on a script from 1944 and shot in long black-and-white takes but it takes place in a strange present where clothes, locations and other things are familiar but the war still rages on.
ひつじものがたり 「Hitsuji monogatari」
Running Time: 97 mins.
Director: Ken Kawai
Writer: Ken Kawai, Sho Ishii (Screenplay),
Starring: Keisuke Horibe, Ryutaro Ninomiya, Akiko Ishikawa, Kana Kita, Shinji Imaoka,
This is so indie I can’t find anything on it beyond the trailer and Nippon Connection’s page and yet this one looks like fun! And no, this isn’t a sequel to the anime Bakemonogatari.
Synopsis from Nippon Connection: Chronicling the adventures of a young man and his sheep as well as the exploits of a middle-aged man who’s running after his first love, this film juxtaposes youthful spirit and nostalgic longing. While the two episodes range from cartoonish to melancholic, they both share a lot of warmth and humour depicting their sometimes fallible, but ultimately very lovable characters.
The director will be in town to introduce the film!
ケンとカズ 「Ken to Kazu」
Running Time: 98 mins.
Director: Hiroshi Shoji
Writer: Hiroshi Shoji (Screenplay),
Starring: Shinsuke Kato, Katsuya Maiguma, Kisetsu Fujiwara, Shuna Iijima, Haruki Takano
Search for this drama and you will find old entries dating back to 2011 and that is because the director Shoji Hiroshi made a short film of the same name and it travelled to different film festivals. From that short came this feature about two friends who deal in drugs. This has been picked up by Third Window Films for world sales.
Synopsis from JFDB: Ken (Kato Shinsuke) and Kazu (Maiguma Katsuya) are partners in crime who use a car repair shop as their front for dealing stimulants. Ken tries to make a clean break after his girlfriend Saki (Iijima Shuna) gets pregnant, but Kazu has a secret…
Running Time: 93 mins.
Director: Atsushi Urabe
Writer: Atsushi Urabe (Screenplay),
Starring: Toshie Negishi, Mitsuru Yamazaki, Takashi Irie, Takuya Matsunaga, Manabu Yazaki,
Synopsis from Nippon Connection: After a long prison sentence, Yoko’s father is released and placed in his daughter’s care, since no nursing home is willing to take him in. However, looking after her father every day gradually becomes a heavy burden for Yoko. Atsushi Urabe presents this story in a challenging reductionist style. Here, looks convey more than words do – and they can convey a simple yet deeply humanistic message.
Episodes 1 – 3 Running Time: 150 mins.
Episodes 1 – 3 Running Time: 380 mins.
Director: Ryuichi Hiroki, Kazuya Shiraishi, Shuichi Okita, Shinji Kuma, Ysutaka Mori,
Writer: Masato Kato, Miyuki Takahashi, Yuiko Kato (Screenplay), Naoki Matayoshi (Original Work),
Starring: Kento Hayashi, Kazuki Namioka, Mugi Kadowaki, Shota Sometani, Tomorowo Taguchi,
Ryuichi Hiroki served as main director for the adaptation of Naoki Matayoshi’s bestselling novel – the first Japanese Netflix series, presented at Nippon Connection as a world premiere prior to its official release.
Synopsis from Nippon Connection: Tokunaga is an aspiring comedian who becomes the apprentice of veteran Kamiya. But while Tokunaga rises to fame, Kamiya starts to lose his shine.
This screening will take place in the presence of the leading actors Kento Hayashi and Kazuki Namioka as well as director Shinji Kuma.
Running Time: 119 mins.
Director: Yukiko Sode
Writer: Yukiko Sode (Screenplay),
Starring: Akiko Kikuchi, Ayumu Nakajima, Asami Usuda, Juri Ibata, Itsuki Sagara,
Synopsis from Nippon Connection: Midori’s and Masao’s relationship has almost reached its end, when Midori realizes that she is pregnant. The couple unenthusiastically decides to marry, and over the course of the preparations they slowly begin to reconcile. In her second feature film, director and screenwriter Yukiko Sode shows her talent for telling a charming love story with memorable characters in an everyday setting.
The director Yukiko Sode will be in town to introduce the film!
Familiar films is a section dedicated to titles I have written about for trailer posts and previews of other festivals countless times. There are a many films that get their international premiere at Nippon Connection and some which have played at film festivals this year such as Osaka. The ones I think are the most interesting or worth watching to get the breadth and depth of Japanese cinema will be given full previews:
俳優亀岡拓次「Haiyuu Kameoka Takuji」
Running Time: 123 mins.
Director: Satoko Yokohama
Writer: Satoko Yokohama (Screenplay), Akito Inui (Original Novel)
Starring: Ken Yasuda, Kumiko Aso, Shohei Uno, Yoshiko Mita, Shota Sometani, Hirofumi Arai, Youki Kudoh,
This small character-driven drama was one of the more interesting looking films from last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival. It’s directed by Satoko Yokohama and it’s her second feature film after a career of shorts which has taken her to film festivals around the world. The film stars Ken Yasuda a man who many Japanese will recognise as a character actor with a colourful career but now he is coming into his own as a lead actor. The film has earned good reviews.
Synopsis from the Tokyo International Film Festival: Takuji Kameoka (Ken Yasuda) is a 37-year-old bachelor whose occupation is a “miscellaneous actor”. His only interest is drinking. One day he falls in love with a bar owner (Kumiko Aso) and his boring life begins to change. The film is based on the book “Actor, Takuji Kameoka” by Akito Inui, a five-time nominee for Japan’s most prestigious literary prize, the Akutagawa Prize. Satoko Yokohama, a much-admired up-and-coming newcomer, directs the film and we can immediately tell that she is a special talent, with a unique understanding that flows through to her actors and crew.
The Ark in the Mirage 「 蜃気楼の舟, Dir: Yasutomo Chikuma, 99 mins.」is about a man who works at a homeless shelter for old men. He exploits the people he looks after for their welfare payments. He was abandoned by his father after his mother died and has a cynical attitude but one day, he finds his father among the homeless men.
Being Good「きみはいい子, Dir: Mipo O, 121 mins.」 Mipo O is a director/writer who tackles tough subjects as seen in The Light Shines Only There. Her latest film is the adaptation of the book Kimi wa ii ko (You’re a Good Kid). The book is by Hatsue Nakawaki which won the 2012 Tsubota Jōji Literature Award. The book is a collection of five stories about child abuse and people trying to prevent it, each story occurs in the same town and on the same rainy afternoon. The film adapts two stories into one: Santa no konai ie (The House where Santa Doesn’t Come) and Beppin-san (Pretty Girl). The first story sees Tasuku (Kengo Kora), an idealistic primary school teacher struggling to deal with his class and their parents especially when he discovers that one of his pupils is being abused by his parents. The second story is about Masami (Machiko Ono), a woman who appears to be a good mother, can’t help lashing out at her own child because of traumas she suffered as a child…
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. See this to watch a good crime drama from a master of the form.
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.
The Inerasable 「 残穢–住んではいけない部屋–, Dir: Yoshihiro Nakamura, 107 mins」 is a horror/mystery film from Yoshihiro Nakamura (The Snow White Murder Case) which is based on an award-winning novel. Both the film and novel are told in the first person as the main character investigates a haunted apartment and the fates of all the people involved in previous investigations, deaths and hauntings. Ai Hashimoto stars in this!
Her Father, My Lover 「友だちのパパが好き, Dir: Kenji Yamauchi, 105 mins.」 stars Mitsuru Fukikoshi (Cold Fish 2011) who plays the object of affection for his daughter Taeko’s best friend at university Maya who takes extreme measures to get her man. He’s not an entirely innocent party as he has been having an affair with another woman. The truth will come out and it will get even more ridiculous as Taeko can only watch…
Lowlife Love 「下衆の愛 , Dir: Eiji Uchida, 110 mins.」comes from Eiji Uchida (Greatful Dead 2013) and takes a cunical look at the film industry in Japan through its leading character, a young indie director named Tetsuo (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) who had one big hit and, well… not much else. He now lives with his mother and scrounges off anyone he can. A potential second shot enters his life when he meets a talented scriptwriter and a girl fresh from the countryside who wants to be an actor. He thinks he can make something special…
Kiyohiko Shibukawa and the film’s producer Adam Torel (owner of Third Window Films) will be at the screening.
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: Bridge inspector Atsushi is grieving for his wife, the victim of a cruel murder, housewife Toko is longing to escape her unsatisfying marriage, and gay lawyer Shinomiya fails to be as successful in his love life as he is in his job.
Ryuzo And The Seven Henchmen 「龍三と七人の子分たち, Dir: Takeshi Kitano, 111 mins.」 is Takeshi Kitano’s latest film and it is about an old yakuza gangster named Ryuzo and his seven former henchmen who have all retired and live quiet lives as regular old men until, one day, Ryuzo becomes the victim of a phishing scam and is outraged. He calls his seven men together to reform their criminal society.
Pieta in the Toilet 「トイレノピエタ, Dir: Daishi Matsunaga, 120 mins.」is about a dying young artist who has stomach cancer. He gets the will to live again in his final three months after meeting a high school girl who believes in his art. This is based on the diary kept by the famous manga artist Osamu Tezuka (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). The director will be present for the screening.
Sore Dake That’s It 「それだけ that’s it, Dir: Gakuryu Ishii, 110 mins.」is a crime film starring a whole host of great actors – Shota Sometani, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Gou Ayano – and it sees them fight to get back their stolen identities from criminal organisations. The title of the film “Soredake” was inspired by the 1999 song “Soredake” by Japanese rock band Bloodthirsty Butchers. The band’s music is also feature in the film. This is the German premiere and audiences can watch it in the presence of actor Kiyohiko Shibukawa (only on May 24).
Running Time: 107 mins.
Director: Takeo Kikuchi
Writer: Noriaki Sugihara (Screenplay),
Starring: Yuri Nakamura, Koji Kiryu, Yoichiro Saito, Rinko Kikuchi, Shota Sometani, Wakana Matsumoto, Yurei Yanagi,
Synopsis: When three siblings named Fujio (Koji Kiryu), Yoshio (Yoichiro Saito) and Akiko (Yuri Nakamura) were children, they lived in a mountain village and saw the elusive “Ryoumou Deer,” but nobody believed them. As adults their paths have diverged. The eldest child Fujio still lives in the same village and runs small factory but he is in serious debt. The middle child, Yoshio is living in the psychiatric ward of a hospital. The youngest child, Akiko, lives Tokyo, having fallen in love with a man and ran away there. When their father becomes ill the three siblings reunite in their mountain village.
Pink and Grey「 ピンクとグレー, Dir: Isao Yukisada, 119 mins.」is a film about the dark side of fame and acting. In this story, Rengo Shiraki (Yuto Nakajima) and Daiki Kawata (Masaki Suda) have been friends since childhood and they both love movies so they go into acting. Rengo becomes popular and Daiki gets left behind. When Rengo dies he leaves six letters and Daiki has to decide which one to publish. Questions arise as to whether Rengo committed suicide or if he was murdered and now that Daiki is becoming popular due to the scandal, people are asking if he had something to do with it…
The director will be present when the film is screened.
Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn 「新しき民, Dir: Junichiro Yamasaki, 117 mins.」 is an indie film with ambition since it’s a jidaigeki! It’s based on a real life historical incident: in 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 off-screen as we follow the cowardly protagonist Jihei (Naohisa Nakagaki) who weighs the risks of rebellion and its aftermath. Synopsis part taken from Japan Cuts which aired it last year.
Their Distance 「 知らない、ふたり, Dir: Rikiya Imaizumi, 106 mins.」stars a group of Japanese actors and Korean popstars. In this tale, Leon, a young man who earns his living as a shoemaker, is shy and keen to avoid others. He spends his days working although he does go out to a park he loves. This is where he sees a Korean woman named Sona (Hanae Kan) passed out and sleeping on a bench. This is a case of love at first sight because Leon keeps thinking about the girl but his co-worker at the shoe shop, Kokaze (Fumiko Aoyagi), has feelings for him… The director will be at the screening.
If you want to see the film but cannot make the festival then you can purchase or rent it online on YouTube.
Nagasaki: Memories of My Son 「 母と暮らせば, Dir: Yoji Yamada, 130 mins.」Yoji Yamada is a stalwart of the Japanese film industry having worked with Yasujiro Ozu as an assistant director and then becoming a director himself. His films win awards and tend to feature family stories. This one is described as a sad but hopeful one. Its story sounds hard. Nobuko (Sayuri Yoshinaga) lives in post-war Nagasaki and works as a midwife. She survived the atomic bomb which killed her son Koji (Kazunari Ninomiya) three years earlier. She had already lost another son and her husband so she is alone. Then, one night, Koji appears again and gives comfort to his mother and they reminiscence about her painful past as well as pleasant times.
ビリギャル 「Biri Gyaru」
Running Time: 117 mins.
Director: Nobuhiro Doi
Writer: Hiroshi Hashimoto (Screenplay), Nobutaka Tsubota (Original Novel),
Starring: Kasumi Arimura, Atsushi Ito, Shuhei Nomura, Rie Minemura, Ken Yasuda, Airi Matsui, Yo Yoshida, Tetsushi Tanaka,
The film is based on the novel “Gakunen Biri no Gyaru ga 1 nen de Hensachi o 40 Agete Keio Daigaku ni Geneki Gokaku Shita Hanashi” by Nobutaka Tsubota (published December 26, 2013 by Kadokawa) and the novel is based on the true story of the author Nobutaka Tsubota, who runs a cram school, and his student Sayaka Kobayashi who went from academic zero to hero in the space of a year. This is a fun and revealing look at the Japanese education system with characters you come to love!
Synopsis: Blonde-haired “gyaru” Sayaka has always been more interested in fashion than her studies. Because of this, she now has the scholastic aptitude of a 4th grader as a second-year high school student. However, when she visits a cram school, lecturer Mr. Tsubota recognizes her innate intelligence. After an informal discussion, and with the support of her family, Sayaka becomes determined not only to improve her grades, but to spend her final year of high school working hard toward getting accepted into prestigious Keio University.
モヒカン故郷に帰る「Mohikan kokyo ni kaeru」
Running Time: 124 mins.
Director: Shuichi Okita
Writer: Shuichi Okita (Screenplay)
Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Atsuko Maeda, Akira Emoto, Jun Miho, Miu Tomita, Yudai Chiba, Masako Motai,
This one was at the Osaka Asian Film Festival which I wrote about back in March. It has a great cast which includes Atsuko Maeda (Seventh Code) and Ryuhei Matsuda (The Great Passage, My Little Sweet Pea) and it’s directed by Shuichi Okita (The Story of Yonosuke, The Woodsman and the Rain).
Synopsis: Eikichi Tamura (Ryuhei Matsuda) left his hometown of Hiroshima and headed for the bright lights of Tokyo in the hopes of being a rock musician. While he made it as the lead singer of a death metal band, fame didn’t happen. Eikichi returns home several years later and tells his mother Haruko (Masako Motai) and father Osamu (Akira Emoto), that his girlfriend Yuka (Atsuko Maeda) is pregnant. His parents are simultaneously upset over the lack of preparation and excited to have a grandchild but things get difficult when Osamu collapses and is taken to hospital…
My Technicolor Girl 「夢の女 ユメノヒト, Dir: Rei Sakamoto, 71 mins.」This was one of a number of films at Nippon Connection that was at the Osaka Asian Film Festival which I wrote about back in March. It stars Kazuhiro Sano as a man named Nagano who has been hospitalized at a mental hospital in Fukushima. However, during the evacuation when the Great East Japan Earthquake hit on March 11, 2011, knowing that he’s already completely healed, he makes his way back out to into the world. Having been hospitalized from when he was in his teens until his fifties, his story is like that of Urashima Taro, the Japanese fisherman who went beneath the sea as a young man and returned to an unfamiliar world. Nagaon’s strongest desire is to meet the woman he loved and so he sets out on a bike headed for Tokyo.
Cinéma Concrete (23 mins) directed by Takashi Makino explores the tenuous links of memory and thoughts as he combines musique concrete composed by Dutch musician Machinefabriek with imagery that plays with screen depth through layering and superimposing images and shadows. This is played with Action Direct, which is described as “an homage to the late music critic Teruto Soejima and will be accompanied live by Makino and British jazz musician Hilary Jeffery.” Both films can be viewed in 3D.
Skip City International D-Cinema Festival Present features three short films from 2015 and the titles are The Afterimage 「あの残像を求めて, Hiroki Kumamoto, 25 mins.」, Girl, Wavering 「空っぽの渦, Noriko Yuasa, 25 mins.」and Ondine’s Curse 「オンディーヌの呪い, Dir: Sayaka Kai, 30 mins.」.
This section is dedicated to scary Japanese ghost stories. These stories usually revolved around women used and abused by samurai who came back from the dead (NEVER, EVER underestimate women). Each of these films is a classic and so they are introduced by film critics and scholars. Full write-ups because I have watched around half of these and can confirm they are worth tracking down.
雨月物語 「Ugetsu Monogatari」
Running Time: 97 mins.
Director: Kenji Mizoguchi
Writer: Akinari Ueda (Original Story), Hisakazu Tsuji (Idea), Matsutaro Kawaguchi (Adaptation), Yoshitaka Yoda (Screenplay)
Starring: Machiko Kyo, Mitsuko Mito, Kinuyo Tanaka, Masayuki Mori, Eitaro Ozawa, Kikue Mori, Shozo Nanbu
Kadokawa and Cineric Laboratories worked together to restore this classic Jidaigeki from Kenji Mizoguchi. This is considered one of the best Japanese films from the Golden Age period of filmmaking (and ever as far as I’m concerned). It won Ugetsu the Silver Lion Award for Best Direction at the Venice Film Festival in 1953 and audiences get to see a version which has restored visuals. Martin Scorcese and cameraman/cinematographer Masahiro Miyajima (Ran) acted as consultants. Here’s a trailer from the Masters of Cinema release put out by Eureka in 2012.
Synopsis: The story is set in the Sengoku period and follows a potter named Genjuro and his brother-in-law who leave their loyal wives to become famous samurai only for tragedy to strike Genjuro when he comes under the spell of Lady Wakasa and the ghosts she is surrounded by.
Running Time: 182 mins.
Director: Masaki Kobayashi
Writer: Yoko Mizuki (Screenplay), Lafcadio Hearn (Original Novel)
Starring: Michiyo Aratama, Misako Watanabe, Rentaro Mikuni, Ranko Akagi, Fumie Kitahara, Otome Tsukmiya, Kenzo Tanaka, Tatsuya Nakadai
Kwaidan consists of four tales are adapted from Greek-born Lafcadio Hearn’s classic collection Japanese ghost stories about mortals caught up in forces beyond their comprehension when the supernatural world intervenes in their lives. The film has gone down as a classic and is widely available in the west. With striking cinematography and surrealist hand-painted sets, Kwaidan’s look is a unique abstract mix of luminescent colours that seemingly come from another world.
An introduction by Tom Mes precedes the screening.
Running Time: 103 mins.
Director: Kaneto Shindo
Writer: Kaneto Shindo (Screenplay),
Starring: Nobuko Otowa, Jitsuko Yoshimura, Kei Sato, Taiji Tonoyama, Jukichi Uno
Synopsis from Nippon Connection: During a civil war in medieval Japan, an old woman and her daughter-in-law lure warriors into traps, then kill them and sell their goods to make a living. But soon, the girl’s affair with a neighbor ends the partnership with her mother-in-law, with fatal consequences. Shot in deeply aesthetic black and white, ONIBABA combines grim realism, erotic elements, and subtle horror to tell a parable about the terrors of war.
亡霊怪猫屋敷 「Borei kaibyo yashiki」
Running Time: 69 mins.
Director: Nobuo Nakagawa
Writer: Yoshiro Ishikawa, Jiro Fujishima (Screenplay), Sotoo Tachibana (Original Work)
Starring: Toshio Hosokawa, Yuriko Ejima, Ryuzaburo Nakamura, Fujie Satsuki, Noriko Kitazawa,
Synopsis from Nippon Connection: A doctor and his wife must face a vengeful ghost and an old curse that is tied to their house. Nakagawa’s use of both stark black-and-white imagery and gorgeous colour photography shows his masterful ability to create suspense and atmosphere. He would follow up with two milestones of Japanese horror cinema: The Ghost of Yotsuya and Jigoku.
Running Time: 101 mins.
Director: Nobuo Nakagawa
Writer: Nobuo Nakagawa, Ichiro Miyagawa (Screenplay),
Starring: Shigeru Amachi, Yoichi Numata, Torahiko Nakamura, Fumiko Miyata, Utako Mitsuya,
Synopsis from Nippon Connection: Shiro and his ominous fellow student Tamura kill a man in a car accident. Conscience-stricken, Shiro is drawn into a seemingly inescapable vortex of dramatic events, leading him into the most horrible depths of hell. With his surrealistic masterpiece Jigoku, Nobuo Nakagawa created an atmospheric and unique vision of a bleak world (and terrifying underworld) filled with sins and suffering.
東海道四谷怪談 「Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan」
Running Time: 76 mins.
Director: Nobuo Nakagawa
Writer: Masayoshi Onuki, Yoshihiro Ishikawa (Screenplay), Nanboku Tsuruya (Original Kabuki Play)
Starring: Shigeru Amachi, Noriko Kitazawa, Katsuko Wakasugi, Shuntaro Emi, Ryuzburo Nakamura,
Arguably the most famous Japanese ghost story of all time, Yotsuya Kaidan has been remade multiple times (30 times!!!) with the most recent example being Kaidan directed by Hideo Nakata. This one is the 1959 version directed by Nobuo Nakagawa, the man who would later go onto to film Jigoku (also at this festival). It is based on a Kabuki play written way back in 1825 and follows the misfortunes of two families locked in a deadly curse. According to Nippon Connection, this one is considered one of the finest versions because of its focus on the psychological aspects of the story.
Other adaptations of the film are available at this festival such as…
新釈四谷怪談 (前篇/後篇)「Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan」
Running Time: 159 mins.
Director: Keisuke Kinoshita
Writer: Eijiro Hisaita (Screenplay), Nanboku Tsuruya (Original Kabuki Play)
Starring: Ken Uehara, Kinuyo Tanaka, Osamu Takizawa, Keiji Sada, Haruko Sugimura,
Synopsis from Nippon Connection: Influenced by an old friend, down-and-out masterless samurai Iemon forges a plan to murder his obedient wife Oiwa and marry the rich and beautiful Oume. However, plagued by his guilty conscience, he is soon destined for doom. Keisuke Kinoshita reinterprets the classic horror story as a human tragedy. Instead of malice and hate, he depicts weak souls sealing their own tragic fate.
and this one…
四谷怪談 「Yotsuya Kaidan」
Running Time: 76 mins.
Director: Kenji Misumi
Writer: Fuji Yahiro (Screenplay), Nanboku Tsuruya (Original Kabuki Play)
Starring: Kazuo Hasegawa, Yasuko Nakata, Yoko Uraji, Mieko Kondo, Hideo Takamatsu,
Synopsis from Nippon Connection: Kenji Misumi’s Yotsuya Kwaidan is presumed to be the first coloured film version of the famous play. Deviating heavily from the original source, Fuji Yahiro depicts cold blooded protagonist Iemon as a tragic hero. The “righteous revenge” for his ruthlessly murdered wife leads to the redemption of her evil spirit. The visionary finale is without a question the apex of this underrated masterpiece.
牡蠣工場 「Kaki kouba」
Duration: 145 mins
Director: Kazuhiro Soda
Starring: Shinsuke Hirano, Koichi Watanabe, Yukiko Watanabe
This two hour plus documentary ostensibly looks at life inside an oyster factory in the small harbour town of Ushimado on the Japanese Inland Sea but takes in the lack of young people entering the works, the generational divide and Chinese-Japanese relations as Chinese workers are brought in to help keep an oyster factory running.
Synopsis from the film’s website: In the Japanese town of Ushimado, the shortage of labor is a serious problem due to its population’s rapid decline. Traditionally, oyster shucking has been a job for local men and women, but for a few years now, some of the factories have had to use foreigners in order to keep functioning. Hirano oyster factory has never employed any outsiders but finally decides to bring in two workers from China. Will all the employees get along?
Daku (Hug) / A Lullaby Under the Nuclear Sky 「抱く, Dir: Tomoko Kana, 69 mins.」 The director Tomoko Kana turns the camera on herself and her pregnancy. After the 3/11 Earthquake and Tsunami she visited the evacuation zone around the Fukushima nuclear disaster and found out that she was pregnant. From that moment on, she investigated the fear of radiation.
The Birth Of Saké 「Dir: Erik Shirai、90 mins.」is a documentary that looks at Japan’s Yoshida Brewery which was founded more than 140 years ago and is one of the last places to still practice the traditional method of creating sake which means that workers, eat, sleep and live together for half of the year, working long hours to create the liquor. Director Erik Shirai looks into the process of making sake, the skill and effort of the people involved including Toji Yamamato, the head brewmaster who has worked at Yoshida for more than 55 years, and a new generation of people at the brewery, and looks at the sake itself showing why it is an internationally famous beverage. Audiences at the screening will get a bento box, apple wine, and sake!!!
Doglegs 「Dir: Heath Cozens、89 mins.」features a pro wrestler with cerebral palsy named Shintaro. The story revolves around his desire to retire after twenty years and he wants to go out with a bang with a match against his more able-bodied mentor and nemesis, Kitajima. There’s another film called Budding, Swelling (Dir: Ryoya Usuha, 7 mins.) that plays with this doc.
Under the Cherry Tree「桜の樹の下, Dir: Kei Tanaka, 91 mins.」 is about a group of elderly people who live in a public housing complex in Kawasaki city reveal their tough lives complete with laughter and tears and now they face retirement in an inhospitable building.
Live Fashionably or Die「神様たちの街, Dir: Yukio Tanaka, 75 mins.」 looks at a project that was set up to help people overcome the disastrous earthquake in January 1995 in Kobe and that project helps elderly people through a fashion show where they walk the runway as models. The short film, The Girl Who Never Knew War 「Dir: Yoshimasa Jimbo, 20 mins.」is screened with this one.
Katabui – In the Heart of Okinawa「Dir: Daniel Lopez, 80 mins.」is all about the islanders struggle to keep their identity whilst living with the U.S. military bases in Okinawa and the dominance of Tokyo.
Landscapes After 3/11 features two documentaries:
Nature and Its Manifestations: From Four Poems「自然と兆候/4つの詩から, Dir: Takamasa Iwasaki, 50 mins.」 travels to the ghost towns and depopulated landscapes to see how nature reconquers the space freed from human presence and does so through the eyes of three fellow artists who explore the poetic chronicle of life, death, and rebirth.
Close but Distant 「ちかくてとおい, Dir: Yui Okubo, 53 mins.」 looks at the town of Otsuchi in Iwate Prefecture and its reconstruction. What makes this a personal story is that this is the director’s home town and he involves his niece who has never known what it looked like before the disaster.
Dryads in a Snow Valley 「風の波紋, Dir: Shigeru Kobayashi, 99 mins.」 follows a family who moved from Tokyo to a remote mountain village in Niigata prefecture to join a few other people making a new start. The family built their own house and grow their own rice and endure the tough climate. This documentary captures their day-to-day lives to try to understand the motivation behind the choice to leave cities behind.
Daisuke Hosaka Special
Daisuke Hosaka made his feature film directorial debut with Be the World for Her (2005) which won him the Special Jury Award at the 2005 Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival. Since then he has worked in the television industry as a director as well as writing scripts. His movie comeback is Thank You, Mom (2015). Both films mentioned are played at the festival and the director plus the actor Shigeo Osako will be in attendance.
Thank You, Mom
お母さん、ありがとう 「Okaasan, arigatou」
Running Time: 37 mins.
Director: Daisue Hosaka
Writer: Daisuke Hosaka (Screenplay),
Starring: Yumiko fujita, Shigeo Osako, Han Arai,
Synopsis from Nippon Connection: As an unmarried salaryman, Shugo still lives with his dad and can hardly believe his “luck” when a “robotic mom” moves in with the two men. The entertaining family short film was produced under the artistic auspices of Daisuke Hosaka in the context of a seminar at the Film School of Tokyo.
Be the World for Her
世界は彼女のためにある 「Sekai wa kanojo no tame ni aru」
Running Time: 96 mins.
Director: Daisuke Hosaka
Writer: Daisuke Hosaka (Screenplay),
Starring: Hiroki Sakanoshita, Kaori Fuseya, Taro Suwa, Kei Horie, Kanji Tsuda,
Synopsis from Nippon Connection: Hiroki and Kaori seem like two normal Japanese high school teenagers involved in the usual disasters of everyday life. When Hiroki mysteriously disappears, Kaori discovers a conspiracy of incredible proportions. Daisuke HOSAKA’s teenage-sci-fi-parable became the surprise hit at the 2005 Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival.
You can stream the film via the Loadshow website if you cannot attend the festival but remain interested.