It’s a grey day in Osaka and pretty cold but I’m staying indoors for most of it since I am cleaning video game consoles. Anyway, The Rotterdam International Film Festival starts later this month and it features a plethora films from Japan that range from the familiar to the new, plus there’s some interesting little shorts. It’s a programme packed with Japanese films but actually using the website to find them was irritating due to the search options, the way information was hidden and the overall look. I’m not a fan. I searched for it so you don’t have to.
Enough of my whining, there are many great films on offer from Roman Porno to yakuza comedy and this is another great year for Rotterdam.
Here’s what’s on offer (click on the titles to be taken to pages with more information):
Running Time: 85 mins.
Director: Sora Hokimoto
Writer: Sora Hokimoto (Screenplay),
Starring: Yota Kawase, Lily, Min Tanaka, Ryuto Iwata, Keisuke Yamamoto,
One of the most frustrating things about my time in Japan (and there have been few frustrations) has been my lack of Japanese practice and my lack of movie-watching. I just haven’t done much of either and there’s so many great things going on that I am missing out on such as this film which came out in December and was screened in Tokyo when I was still there. I’m now in Osaka and I haven’t watched it but people in Rotterdam are getting the chance to see it. The film looks great, genuinely interesting and beautiful based on what is shown in the trailer.
It’s produced by Shinji Aoyama (Eureka) and it is the debut film of Sora Hokimoto. It’s described as a “feverish musical dream that recalls Shuji Terayama” so if you have seen Grass Labyrinth you kind of get an idea of what this will be like. I really want to see it. Let me know what its like. Maybe I can pick it up on DVD/Blu-ray if it gets released.
Synopsis from the festival site: Deep in a forest is a café run by The Manager, an elderly woman and a boy called Haru. The café is a refuge for everyone who wants to die. People go there and are taken by The Manager to a misty place deep in the woods, where they gradually disappear and are transformed into sound waves.
Who exactly these people are is left largely to our imagination, although brief bursts from their pasts are shown during a strange magic lantern show, which is always concluded by a musical act – including a children’s choir and pop band wearing white cat masks. Because, as the film decrees: “All that is left for us is to sing and dance.”
Roman Porno and Roman Porno Reboot
The original Roman Porno series was a slate of films produced by Nikkatsu that feature the same genesis; inspired by the rise of pink fims, Nikkatsu gave directors a small budget and tight shooting schedules, and freedom to make a film about what they want so long as they came with plenty of sexy softcore scenes. These films saved the studio from bankruptcy at a time when people were drawn away from movie screens by television and they were the first rung on the movie ladder for many directors. I’ve only reviewed one, A Woman Called Abe Sada. The director of that film is represented here with an earlier one from his career. Here’s more information about the latest films from Nikkatsu.
The Roman Porno series is back and Rotterdam screens an original and its spiritual successor.
牝猫たちの夜 「Mesunekotachi no yoru」
Running Time: 112 mins.
Director: Noboru Tanaka
Writer: Akira Nakano (Screenplay),
Starring: Tomoko Katsura, Ken Yoshizawa, Hidemi Hara, Keiko Maki, Akemi Yamaguchi, Tatsuya Hamaguchi,
Synopsis: The sex lives of a variety of people, from yakuza to salarymen, in Tokyo are seen through the eyes of three sex workers in a bathhouse who experience fleeting relationships and different emotions.
牝猫たち 「Mesuneko Tachi」
Running Time: 84 mins.
Director: Kazuya Shiraishi
Writer: Kazuya Shiraishi (Screenplay),
Starring: Juri Ihata, Satsuki Maue, Michie, Takuma Otoo, Tomohiro Kaku, Hideaki Murata,
Having lived in Ikebukuro, I recognise some of the locations shown in the images and the trailer so it’s pretty exciting. The director is less interesting to me. Kazuya Shiraishi worked on The Devil’s Path and Twisted Justice.
Synopsis: Masako, Yui, and Rie are three prostitutes who service all sorts of people from hikikomori to widowers. Through their eyes we see a variety of men from Tokyo and how prostitution has changed from the first film to this with the impact of the internet in what turns into character studies of the women.
海よりもまだ深く 「Umi yori mo mada fukaku」
Running Time: 117 mins.
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda
Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda (Original Story, Screenplay)
Starring: Hiroshi Abe, Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Sosuke Ikematsu, Yoko Maki, Satomi Kobayashi, Isao Hashizume, Taiyo Yoshizawa
Hirokazu Koreeda (Kiseki) is one of the most consistently brilliant storytellers in modern Japanese cinema. His last film, Our Little Sister (2015) proved very popular and earned a worldwide release and followed up the also equally adored Like Father, Like Son.
Synopsis from IMDB: Dwelling on his past glory as a prize-winning author, Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) wastes the money he makes as a private detective on gambling and can barely pay child support. After the death of his father, his ageing mother (Kirin Kiki) and beautiful ex-wife (Yoko Maki) seem to be moving on with their lives. Renewing contact with his initially distrusting family, Ryota struggles to take back control of his existence and to find a lasting place in the life of his young son (Taiyo Yoshizawa) – until a stormy summer night offers them a chance to truly bond again.
仁光の受難 「Ninko no junan」
Running Time: 70 mins.
Director: Niwatsukino Norihiro
Writer: Niwatsukino Norihiro (Screenplay)
Starring: Masato Tsujioka, Miho Wakabayashi, Hideta Iwahashi, Yukino Arimoto, Tomoko Harazaki, Kyoko Kudo,
This is the debut movie of Norihiro Niwatsukino and it premiered at last year’s Vancouver international Film Festival before moving on to Tokyo FILMeX. It’s billed as a hilarious take on ancient Japanese history with many comedic and visual surprises.
Synopsis: Ninko is a virtuous Buddhist monk in ancient Japan. Because of his holy vows, he suffers something many men would love – he’s irresistible to many women (and some men). In order to “purify” himself and learn how to rebuff sexual advances, he goes on a journey during which he meets a samurai named Kanzo and hears of a village decimated by the rapacious mountain goddess Yama-onna, who kills men to absorb their energy. Ninko sees defeating her as part as part of his quest.
深田晃司 「Fuchi ni Tatsu」
Running Time: 118 mins.
Director: Koji Fukada
Writer: Koji Fukada
Starring: Mariko Tsutsui, Tadanobu Asano, Kanji Furutachi, Taiga, Takahiro Miura, Momone Shinokawa,
Koji Fukada’s stars Kanji Furutachi (au revoir l’ete, The Woodsman & the Rain) and the awesome Tadanobu Asano (Watashi no Otoko, Vital, Bright Future, Survive Style 5+).This is a psychological mystery where audiences try to understand the characters.
Synopsis from IMDB: Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) and Akie (Mariko Tsutsui) and their daughter Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa) live a quiet life which is disrupted when Toshio hires old-friend Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano) to work in his workshop. This old acquaintance, who has just been released from prison, begins to meddle in Toshio’s family life with a threat of violence but Toshio owes Yasaka a large debt.
アズミ・ハルコは行方不 「Azumi Haruko wa yukue fumei」
Running Time: 100 mins.
Director: Daigo Matsui
Writer: Mariko Yamauchi (Original Novel), Misaki Setoyama (Screenplay)
Starring: Yu Aoi, Mitsuki Takahata, Shono Hayama, Taiga, Kanon Hanakage, Ryo Kase, Motoki Ochiai, Tomiyuki Kunihiro, Akiko Kikuchi,
This was the hot ticket at the Tokyo International Film Festival, a couple of months ago and the reviews at Variety and The Japan Times paint a compelling film full of Japanese pop-culture tropes and cultural criticism about the position of women in society. It was directed by Daigo Matsui (How Selfish I Am!).
Synopsis: Cryptic graffiti, featuring information from a missing person poster, begin to appear all over a suburban town. Haruko Azumi is the subject and she has gone missing. Her dissapperance goes viral across the news and social media. After the disappearance of Haruko, a mysterious group of high school girls begins attacking men at random. These two incidents overlap. Are they connected? Witness scenes from the lives of Japanese girls.
リップヴァンウィンクルノ花嫁 「Rippu van winkuru no hanayome 」
Running Time: 180 mins.
Release Date: March 26th, 2016
Director: Shunji Iwai
Writer: Shunji Iwai (Screenplay/Novel),
Starring: Haru Kuroki, Gou Ayano, Cocco, Soko Wada, Nana Natsume, Hideko Hara,
Shunji Iwai has made many films across many genres but many of them deal with loneliness and this one is little different as it details the situation of a painfully shy teacher who finds her life becomes intertwined with actors who people hire to play family and friends. It was a great character piece which I reviewed on VCinema.
Synopsis from the Festival Site: Nanami is an introverted teacher with a sweet voice. On her blog, she writes under a pseudonym about how she met Tetsuya in her hometown of Tokyo with one mouse click. Later she will marry and then divorce him. While setting the table in preparation for the wedding, it becomes obvious that Nanami has a small family. Ashamed, she hires the actor Yukimasu and his colleagues to fill the empty chairs during the ceremony.
Later these scenes are repeated, but then with Nanami herself acting the part of a relative. After this, the question keeps returning: are the people in Nanami’s life (only) playing a role? This is a metaphor for today’s Japan, where on the internet you can temporarily assume a more exuberant role. In this moving mystery story with surprising turns, Nanami ends up in the role of a maid servant in the house of the actress Mashiro, with whom she builds a special bond in their joint battle against loneliness.
The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio
土竜の唄 香港狂騒曲 「Mogura no Uta Hong Kong Kyousoukyoku」
Running Time: 128 mins.
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Tomma Ikuta, Eita, Riisa Naka, Tsubasa Honda, Nanao, Shinichi Tsutsumi Yusuke Kamiji,
I remember being sat in a cinema in Urawa talking to a friend while the trailer for this played on a loop. I wasn’t particularly interested in the first one and the sequel looked dire but the reviews for it have been pretty good as seen in this one from Variety.
Synopsis: Reiji is back for a second film and finds himself re-infiltrating the yakuza gang from the first movie and acting as a bodyguard for the boss and his sexy wife and daughter. Reiji has to watch his rampant libido but he also has to watch out for the police who think he has turned traitor and a girlfriend who suspects he’s not being faithful. Worse still are the Chinese syndicate trying to take over the gang’s territory. Reiji will find his priorities split as he heads to Hong Kong for a showdown.
Running Time: 109 mins.
Director: Tatsuya Mori
Starring: Mamoru Samuragochi
Synopsis: A couple of years ago the deaf musician and composer Mamoru Samuragochi made the headlines when it was revealed that he wasn’t as deaf as he claimed after a series of articles drew doubts about his deafness and it was revealed that a man named Takashi Aragaki had served as a ghost writer for 18 years. This documentary looks at the man at the centre of the uproar and how he dealt with the press coverage. Here’s a fascinating article on the Japan Times website in which the director talks about the film.
Running Time: 80 mins.
Director: Fiona Tan
Writer: Fiona Tan
Starring: Hiroki Hasegawa
Mount Fuji is stunning and I passed it three times in the space of two days. I got some great pictures. Always get a window seat and sit on the right side of a shinkansen when travelling to Osaka/Kyoto/Atami. Trailer on Cineuropa
Synopsis from the Festival Site: Behind grey shreds of mist in fairytale landscapes, we keep seeing Mount Fuji, the Japanese volcano with its great symbolic significance, in ordinary family snapshots. All the shots in Ascent are real, but the story is fictional. After History’s Future, Fiona Tan again investigates the possibilities of film. Here the departure point is a montage of thousands of photos of the volcano, collected from sources ranging from the Izu Photo Museum to amateur photographers. On the expressive soundtrack, we hear the voices of fictional protagonists.
Thousands of miles from Japan, an English woman receives a package with the photos and notes of her dead Japanese partner. His account of his conquest of Mount Fuji evokes a stream of thoughts and associations. The higher he gets, the broader the perspective of this reflection on photography and film, reminiscence and mourning, eternal change, the essence of cherry blossoms and how some things can best be seen from afar.
XÉNOGÉNÈSE (1981, 7 mins. Dir: Akihiko Morishita), 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.”
REPLY; REPEAT REPEATED; DELETE; FAVORITE FAVORITED (2014, 5 mins. Dir: Rieko Ouchi) From the festival site: An illustration of an internet landscape in which typical images of sex and violence flash across the screen. Junk emails and banners stretched end-to-end across websites are like the bill-boarded roadsides of the internet. The irritation is skilfully depicted in this animated work.
Delete Beach (2016, 7 mins. Dir: Phil Collins) The British artist Phil Collins collaborated with the anime creatives at Studio 4°C to create this sci-fi tale where a schoolgirl joins an anti-capitalist resistance group in a society in which carbon-based energy is illegal.
Conversation with a Cactus (2017, 45 mins. Dirs: Elise Florenty, Marcel Turkowsky) Synopsis from the festival site (because it’s too good a story for me to mangle up with a rewrite): In the 1970s, the Hashimoto husband-and-wife team tried to teach a cactus the Japanese alphabet, using a lie detector to turn the plant’s reactions into sound and thereby give it a voice. The goal was to use plants as potential witnesses in murder investigations. Elise Florenty and Marcel Türkowsky were granted access to the archive and were the first to translate the experiments into English. Mr Hashimoto, a former Fuji director, contributed to the development of the Giant LED and Neon Panel technology.
Technology and cultural traditions combine throughout the film, such as in the fictional story set in Tokyo’s suburbs, an environment known for its animist traditions, ultra-technology and the ‘politics of silence’. The film is an airy, dreamy exploration of the self and the other, of myth and history, truth and lies, in relation to the Hashimoto experiment.
Birds (2016, 07 mins. Dir: Koji Fukada)
Starring: Minako Inoue, Kaneko Takenori, Yuko Kibiki ,
Koji Fukada is on a hot streak as a director with his last two feature films getting international tours of film festivals and winning awards and his back catalogue being picked up. He’s back with a new short film about a man confronting his wife about her lover. Don’t worry, it’s billed as a comedy.
This screens before Harmonium
Oral History (2015, 30 mins. Dir: Meiro Koizumi)
This video installation involves the artist Meiro Koizumi asking people on the streets of Japan, “What happened in and around Japan between 1900 and 1945? Please tell us in as much detail as possible.” To help get honest answers, he shot the mouth of every respondent who spoke in an extreme close up to preserve anonymity and save people from embarrassment, thus allowing them to give a range of answers that vary from insightful to the ignorant. The idea behind the installation is to brings to bear a nation torn in how to reconcile with their own imperialist past as people reveal what the artist calls “the image of void in the collective memory.”
To quote the festival site some more, “what is revealed is at best willful ignorance and at worst clouded judgements based on a distrust of facts. As post-truth politics appears to be taking over the world, Koizumi’s work is a timely reminder of the importance of memory in bringing together a nation no matter how painful it is to remember.”
Norio Imai was born in Osaka in 1946 and has grown to become an artist whose works cover a range of mediums from painting to printmaking, sculpture to photography and films. His works tend to be monochromatic and minimalist with white space being his avourite subject sine it allows him to analyse notions of modernity in Japan by creating works about collapse, mutation, and absence, and dissonance. This is the first international showcase of his work.
Time in Square (1984, 9 mins.)
Pizza Time (1983, 10 mins.)
On Air (1980, 6 mins.)
Floor (1972, 3 mins)
That’s it for this year and it’s another great selection of films. I normally say that I wish I could be at the festival but I’m currently in Osaka and I’m helping out at the Osaka Asian Film Festival. I’m looking forward to it!