Japanese Films at the Berlin International Film Festival 2017

This year’s edition of the Berlin International Film Festival takes place from February 09th until the 19th and it features three really interesting directors in the shape of Naoko Ogigami and SABU and Yuya Ishii, all of whom brings their latest films. It’s a nice mix of drama and action from these three. Yuya Ishii is growing as a director and Naoko Ogigami is always one to watch. There is a classic special effects movie and a classic anime and so there’s lots for audiences to take in. It’s another good year for Japanese films in Berlin and SABU’s is really exciting because it looks like one of those great crime films from the ‘90s that used to get ranked out by the likes of Takashi Miike and it is a Japanese-Hong Kong co-production.

Let’s take a gander at the films:mittsu-no-hikari-film-image

Yozora ha itsu demo saikou mitsudo no aoiro da    yozora-wa-itsudemo-saiko-mitsudo-no-aoiro-da-film-poster

夜空はいつでも最高密度の青色だ Yozora wa Itsudemo Saiko Mitsudo no Aoiro da   

Running Time: 108 mins.

Director: Yuya Ishii

Writer: Yuya Ishii (Screenplay), Tahi Saihate (Original Poet)

Starring: Shizuka Ishibashi, Sosuke Ikematsu, Ryo Sato, Takahiro Miura, Mikako Ichikawa, Ryuhei Matsuda, Paul Magsalin, Tetsushi Tanaka,

Website   IMDB  

Yuya Ishii was one of the first directors I started tracking on my blog thanks to his films getting UK releases thanks to the bravery and good taste of Third Window Films. Sawako Decides (2010), Mitsuko Delivers (2012), and The Great Passage (2013). He has gone from indie kid to award-winning adaptations and kept a certain level of quality in his incisive look at human nature, regardless of genre and who the stars are. Here, he works with newbie actors like Shizuka Ishibashi and Ryo Sato. He pairs them up with the more experienced Sosuke Ikematsu (How Selfish I Am!), Mikako Ichikawa (Rent-a-neko), Tetsushi Tanaka (Exte, One Missed Call, Quirky Guys and Gals, Cure), and Ryuhei Matsuda (Nightmare Detective, My Little Sweet Pea) who was the lead in The Great Passage. The actors all portray characters caught up in the brutal world of Tokyo, alienated, stressed, failing to cope and looking for relief from the everyday grind. It is shot with “lightness,” “enchanting visual ideas,” and “candour.” It’s only 108 minutes as well, so it shouldn’t drag. I’m definitely interested in this one.

Synopsis from the Festival SiteMika (Shizuka Ishibashi) works as a nurse by day; by night she entertains covetous men at a girls’ bar. Shinji (Sosuke Ikematsu) is blind in one eye and ekes out a living as a construction worker. Young and grown-up at the same time, they both lead a lonely existence, but somehow their paths keep miraculously crossing under the Tokyo sky. Can loneliness be experienced together?


ミスター・ロン Misuta- Ron   

Running Time: 129 mins.

Director: SABU

Writer: SABU

Starring: Chen Chang, Sho Aoyagi, Yiti Yao, Runyin Bai, Masashi Arifuku, Taro Suwa, Tetsuko Okusa, Shiiko Utagawa, Yusuke Fukuchi, Tetsuya Chiba,

When you mention the director SABU to me, I immediately think of his acting role in Ichi the Killer (2001) and the recently reviewed Don’t Look Up  (1996). I actually have some of the films he has directed but I have not reviewed them yet which is a shame because I’d like to talk more about his work which strings together crime tales like Dangan Runner and Monday with sentimental comedies like Usagi Drop. He’s versatile and a great director and this one is exciting since he’s working with Jet Tone/BLK 2 pictures, Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai’s outfit. This one is described as, “Seamlessly stringing together the rugged vernacular of gangster films with the tender moments of a burgeoning love story, his new work combines perfectly choreographed outbreaks of violence with contemplative cooking scenes and surprising moments of slapstick comedy.

It looks a heck of a lot more interesting than the average release and it seems that SABU has found a new home in Berlin since he premieres his films there.

No trailer but here’s an image. You can watch a clip on the festival page.


Synopsis from the Festival SiteProfessional hitman Long takes on an assignment in Japan. When things go awry, he has to flee. Badly injured, he takes refuge in a deserted part of a small town. A young boy brings him water and clothing. Long installs himself in one of the dilapidated houses where he prepares simple meals for the eight-year-old Jun. Jun’s mother Lily is a drug addict and, like Long, comes from Taiwan. The news of Long’s tasty cooking quickly spreads throughout the neighbourhood, and Long’s neighbours organise a mobile food stall for him. Soon, people are queuing up for Long’s noodle soup. Lily manages to kick her habit with Long’s help and, for a while, it looks as though this could mark the beginning of a new life for this community which fate has thrown together.

Three Lights 

三つの光  Mittsu no Hikari   

Running Time: 100 mins.

Director: Kohki Yoshida

Writer: Kohki Yoshida (Screenplay),

Starring: Ryo Ikeda, Hiroshi Suzuki, Kazuha Komiya, Emi Maki, Natsumi Ishibashi, Takenori Goto, Yumi Torigoe, Satoshi Morishita, Ryuzo Tanaka,

This is an unknown. Little information and few images save what is found on the Berlin International Film Festival site. Normal channels of information (IMDB, Eiga.com, JFDB) turned up nothing and yet Kohki Yoshida has works to his name and I’ve written about them before. This is his fourth feature and it’s an exciting premiere. Lots of unknown elements despite the experience of cast and crew. The story is another one about broken people in Tokyo and it sounds enticing if the festival site is anything to go by:

“….Kohki Yoshida precisely dissects the mechanisms of creative energy: personal frustrations, vanities, egotism. He asks why the joint creative process is linked to such pain. With elegance and keen perception, Mittsu no hikari shows how harm can lead to ambition – and ambition to harm.”


Synopsis from the Festival SiteAoi is a young nursery school teacher whose fiancé leaves her. Her friend Michiko works in a call centre and has ‘lots of free time, but little freedom’. She no longer interacts with her husband, aside from the occasional sad blow job. Then there’s her attractive tennis teacher Masaki, with whom she’s having an affair that’s conducted when they’re pulled up in parking lots. And finally there’s his friend K., a self-proclaimed genius with authoritarian tendencies. Four people in the vast city of Tokyo united by their love of music. Fate brings them together in a remote abandoned warehouse to work on experimental sounds in an improvised recording studio. Yet the important thing is not the piece itself but the path they take to get there, which means working on one’s psychological issues in creative fashion, even as they generate friction with those of the others.

Close Knit   karera-ga-honki-de-amu-toki-wa-film-poster

彼らが本気で編むときは、  Karera ga Honki de Amu toki wa   

Running Time: 127 mins.

Director: Naoko Ogigami

Writer: Naoko Ogigami (Screenplay),

Starring: Rinka Kakihara, Toma Ikuta, Kenta Kiritani, Mimura, Eiko Koike, Mugi Kadowaki, Lily, Kaito Komie, Shuji Kashiwabara, Misako Tanako,

Website   IMDB  

Naoko Ogigami is one of Japan’s interesting female directors, quietly working away making good films one after the other. She has international recognition but I might have missed her if two friends of mine hadn’t recommended her works, Yoshino’s Barber Shop (2004), Kamome Diner (2006) and Glasses (2007). The only one that I have reviewed is Rent-a-Cat (2012) and I adored it so I’m looking forward to seeing what she has to offer with this one which takes a look at gender roles, family norms and alternative family units. It all centres on a transsexual bonding with her step-daughter, so to speak.

Synopsis from the Festival SiteEleven-year-old Tomo is pretty much left to her own devices. Unwashed dishes are piling up in the sink and supermarket onigiri are all there is to eat again. Tomo’s single mother usually comes home late, and drunk. When she leaves her daughter for good one day the girl has to rely on help from her uncle, who takes in Tomo to live with him and his girlfriend Rinko. At their first meeting Tomo is flabbergasted to discover that Rinko is a transsexual. Rinko immediately sets about taking care of Tomo; not only does she lovingly prepare meals but she also succeeds in creating a new home for the girl. But before long cracks appear in their perfect nest.

The Retrospective strand of the festival is a showcase of science fiction films that show an imperfect future. The themes run heavy on somewhat dystopian views of human society and all present interesting questions about how we live now and how we will live in the future. Read through the information and it becomes clear that many of these films foretold or tapped into nascent fears and trends like social media, paranoia, pollution, police brutality, over-population, and corporate greed to such an amazing degree that it’s worth re-watching them again to see how right the writers’, directors’, and other creatives were and if there are any answers to be found.

In this programme lie three Japanese films and a whole host of classic British/American sci-fi including classics like Blade Runner and Alien, two examples of why Ridley Scott is a great director, and classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There’s also the Kathryn Bigelow film Strange Days, which I have a soft spot for. There are a couple of notable anime omissions such as Akira and Paprika but it’s still a mighty fine retrospective, especially when one considers that there are two obscure Japanese films from years gone by.

Ghost in the Shell   

攻殻機動隊  Koukaku Kidoutai   

Release Date: November 18th, 1995

Running Time: 83 mins.

Director: Mamoru Oshii

Writer: Kazunori Ito (Screenplay), Shiro Masamune (Original Creator)

Starring: Atsuko Tanaka (Motoko Kusanagi), Akio Ohtsuka (Bateau), Tamio Ohki (Daisuke Aramaki), Kouchi Yamadera (Togusa),

Website    ANN    MAL

The 1995 classic Ghost in the Shell is brought back to big screens yet again because it never gets old. Director Mamoru Oshii is arguably one of anime’s greatest voices and this is one of his greatest films. I say this because it is now being adapted into a big-budget Hollywood movie and it has the sort of cultural cachet that doesn’t often get applied to anime not directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Ghost in the Shell (GitS) was and still is a trend-setter, inspiring a wave of ‘90s films tat dabbled in the same sorts of stories that looked deeply at the philosophical and existential questions that might be raised in a highly technological future where humanity and technology begin to merge. Few films ask as many deep questions or present them in such a memorable way and as a result, Ghost in the Shell is highly regarded by cineastes. With gorgeous visuals and moody music from the great composer Kenji Kawai (Patlabor, Ringu), you owe it to yourself to see it on a big screen. Manga Entertainment provide the copy.

Synopsis: The story is set in the year 2029. The world has come through a brutal world war and science has advanced by leaps and bounds giving humanity the choice to prolong life and reduce suffering with the use of sophisticated cybernetics. With all of humanity linked into one system of minds and personalities known as ghosts, the biggest threat to civilization is the cyber terrorists capable of hijacking people’s bodies and memories. Public Security Section 9 of Newport City (a fictional setting inspired by Hong Kong) helps police people with cybernetic modifications. They are a diverse team of AI, cyborgs and unmodified humans who must investigate cases of corruption and terrorism. Their leader on the field is Major Motoko Kusanagi. She has full-body prosthetics, owing to a childhood accident. In this film, her loyal squadmates Batou and information specialist Ishikawa have been assigned an important task: to investigate a hacker known only as “The Puppetmaster” who “ghost hacks” other people’s minds and manipulates them. When the security team captures him, a rival government agency also lays claim to the body in which the Puppet Master was operating. To trace its origins, Kusanagi “dives into” the other shell and their two personalities merge …

Hyakunengo no aruhi   

百年後の或る日   Hyakunengo no aruhi   

Running Time: 11 mins.

Director/Writer/Animator: Shigeji Ogino


Shigeji Ogino (1899 – 1991) is unknown to me but according to the festival site he was “Japan’s leading amateur filmmaker” and made more than 400 films between 1929 and 1976. Hyakunen-go no aruhi was made in 1933 and features a scenes that predict the precise timing of the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific. The film is delivered via a montage of animation and live-action footage and the director “appears in one short scene, wielding his narrow-gauge Pathé camera.” There are also other sci-fi things included such as robots and rockets. Ogino is not wholly unknown as the IMDB filmography attests and his work has been resurfacing in various places like this festival. No trailer but here’s an image.


Synopsis from the festival site: In 1942, shortly after the start of a new World War, the filmmaker-as-soldier is killed by a bomb. In the year 2032, one of his descendants brings his spirit back to Earth. Tokyo, as nameless “Central City”, has become a megacity. The time traveller is deeply impressed by the technological progress that is proudly on display, so he agrees to take part in a trip to Mars. But on the trip, the instruments suddenly go haywire. Because the spirit of a deceased person is on board, the missiles choose their own target …

Uchuujin Tokyo ni arawaru / Warning from Space    uchuujin-tokyo-ni-arawaru-film-poster

宇宙人東京に現わる  Uchuujin Tokyo ni arawaru   

Running Time: 83 mins.

Director: Koji Shima

Writer: Hideo Oguni (Screenplay), Gentaro Nakajima (Original Creator)

Starring: Toyomi Karita, Keizo Kawasaki, Isao Yamagata, Shozo Nanbu, Bontaro Miyake,


The success of Godzilla (1954) sparked a trend amongst Japanese film studios for monster movies. They invariably feature the theme of atomic weapons but in this the weapons can be used for good to save humanity from Earth suffering a collision with another planet (another common theme of the time). The only question stopping that from happening is whether humans will come to use them and to do that, they must overcome their fear of strange-looking aliens designed by the artist Taro Okamoto. Wikipedia has been a goldmine of information for this movie but be careful, the plot is spoiled in the first paragraph!

According to the site, it did pretty badly in Japan despite it being the first colour sci0fi film. Not only that, but it has fallen into the public domain so finding a copy online is easy. Be careful because it leads from one B-movie to the next such as War of the Insects, a Japanese title that addresses American racism as well as giant bugs.

No trailer, just an image.


Synopsis: Aliens from the planet Paira travel to Earth to warn humanity of the imminent danger of planet R. It is a fiery planet that is on a collision course with the Earth. To prevent all life from being extinguished, they ask humanity to use A and H bombs to destroy planet R. Unfortunately, the aliens are huge starfish-like creatures. Will humanity listen to these visitors or will there message be understood too late?

Ten Mornings Ten Evenings and One Horizon (Dir: Tominari Nishikawa, 10 mins.)


Director Tomonari Nishikawa filmed a series of bridges that span the Yahagi River, his home prefecture, at different times of the day: morning and evening. The exposure of the morning and evening shots were subtly altered and the results will be presented in this film.

4 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the Berlin International Film Festival 2017

  1. Hayley Scanlon

    OMG Warning From Space! The Pairans are so cute, it’s amazing. Not as much fun as some of the other B-movies of the time though.

    1. That’s a rabbit hole. I started watching a couple of those B-movies and had to stop lest I waste an evening. I like how this B-movie has friendly aliens that turn into idols. Japan: more positive about technology and aliens than the West.

  2. humbledaisy1

    As a fiber artist, I love it when filmmakers use the fiber arts to express the tangles of human emotion. I already had Close Knit on my list of to-be-watched. There is a newish Japanese drama that also uses shibori dyeing as a plot point – Ito Oshikute – although from the one episode I’ve seen, it looks a lot more like a romance drama than a slice-of-life story.

    1. Dealing with wool and other fibres. That’s a unique way to get into a film. That’s also a Google search to perform: Western Movies with Wool/Knitting.

      I’m not even checking dramas, even.

      The trailer was really quiet and might be underwhelming for some but the director and studio have a good track record. I also had to edit the post to but the trailer back in…

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