Fans of Japanese films will know that one of the biggest and best film festivals in the world for such delights is held every May in Germany. It’s called Nippon Connection and this year’s event marks the seventeenth edition.
The Nippon Connection Film Festival takes place from May 23 to 28, 2017 and it will be held in Frankfurt am Main. Exactly a month ago today, the organisers teased some of the 100+ short and feature length films that will be screened. You can count on there being a whole host of premieres and these will be shown in the presence of many directors and actors who will introduce their works to the audience for the first time. According to the organisers, this year’s focus is on documentaries but there are many great dramas that have already been announced.
Here is what has been released so far:
A Silent Voice
声の形 「Koe no Katachi」
Running Time: 129 mins.
Director: Naoko Yamada
Writer: Reiko Yoshida (Screenplay), Yoshitoki Ooima (Original Manga)
Starring: Miyu Irino (Shouya Ishida/Mayu Matsuoka), Saori Hayami (Shouko Nishimiya), Aoi Yuuki (Yuzuru Nishimiya),
I have been surprised by the power of this one as it tears through UK cinemas and earns lots of critical acclaim. There are many anime movies released in Japan but this one looks far more interesting than the rest of the pack. It is a story about a bully who tries to redeem himself by asking for forgiveness from his target, a girl who is deaf. This comes from Kyoto Animation (watch Hyouka, an awesome TV anime, to get to know them) and it’s directed by Naoko Yamada, one of the most promising female directors going. It has toured the UK as part of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme and it was at the Glasgow International Film Festival. I hope it’s programmed by the festival I work for.
Synopsis from the Japan Foundation festival site: Shoko, a young Deaf student, transfers to a new school where she is bullied by Shoya for her hearing impairment. While Shoya originally leads the class in bullying Shoko, the class soon turn on him for his lack of compassion. When they leave elementary school, Shoko and Shoya do not speak to each other again, but Shoya, tormented by his past behaviour, decides he must see Shoko once more to atone for his sins – but is it already too late?
湯を沸かすほどの熱い愛 「Yu wo wakasuhodo no atsui ai」
Running Time: 125 mins.
Director: Ryota Nakano
Writer: Ryota Nakano (Screenplay),
Starring: Rie Miyazawa, Hana Sugisaki, Taro Suruga, Aoi Ito, Tori Matsuzaka, Joe Odagiri, Yukiko Shinohara,
This was at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year and reviews like this one paint a picture of a great family drama thanks to the actors Rie Miyazawa (Pale Moon, Twilight Samurai), Joe Odagiri (Bright Future, Mushishi), and Hana Sugisaki (Pieta in the Toilet).
Synopsis: Futaba and her daughter Azumi live in a house connected to their family-run bathhouse in a small town. Their used to be three people in their family but husband and father Kazuhiro left them for another woman and since then, the bathhouse has been closed. Everything changes when Futaba is diagnosed with terminal cancer, giving her only months to live. The approach of death fires her up to make the most of her remaining time. She develops a head of steam and becomes determined to reunite her family, reopen the bathhouse, and take care of her daughter. Her journey will uncover new friends and secrets as she makes peace with the world before leaving it.
永い言い訳 「Nagai Iiwake」
Running Time: 123 mins.
Director: Miwa Nishikawa
Writer: Miwa Nishikawa (Screenplay/Original Novel),
Starring: Masahiro Motoki, Eri Fukatsu, Pistol Takehara, Maho Yamada, Haru Kuroki, Tamaki Shiratori, Kenshin Fujita,
Miwa Nishikawa is one of the best directors working in Japan. Look at her filmography and you will find stand-out films like Wild Berries, Dear Doctor, Sway, and Dreams for Sale. Her latest one is on offer at Nippon Connection and it earned praised from critics. Just as exciting as seeing the film is seeing the director and Miwa Nishikawa will attend the festival!
Synopsis: Sachio is a very successful but arrogant writer who is cheating on his wife Natsuko. During a trip away, Natsuko and her friend Yuki are killed in a bus accident. Sachio – whose celebrity status has led to media interest in the tragedy – initially finds himself unable to grieve. Ultimately, however, his life begins to fall apart as the reality of his wife’s absence hits him. During the public inquiries into the crash, he encounters Yuki’s husband Yoichi. Yoichi’s job as a truck driver has left him in a tight spot, unable to stay at home with his two young children. Sachio cautiously agrees to look after the kids while their father is out of town.
The trailer works, it just has no thumbnail:
ダゲレオタイプの女 「Dagereotaipu no onna」
Running Time: 131 mins.
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Screenplay), Cattherine Paille (adaptation) Eleonore Mahmoudian,
Starring: Tahar Rahim, Constance Rousseau, Olivier Gourmet, Mathieu Amalric,
This one was Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s first feature-length film shot outside Japan takes place in France but he returns to the realm of the supernatural which his early work mined for great stories such as Cure, Seance, and Pulse. His lead actor is Tahar Rahim who got his big-break in film with A Prophet. He is supported by good actors like Mathieu Amalric (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).
Synopsis: Jean (Rahim) is a Parisian who stumbles into a job in a crumbling manor on the outskirts of Paris as the assistant of reclusive photographer named Stephane (Gourmet). After the death of his wife, Stephane lives with his 22-year-old daughter, Marie (Rousseau), an otherworldly blonde who bears a spitting image of her mother. She poses for her father as he takes photographs of her using the daguerreotype process – models must spend hours standing still with the aid of metal bars behind their back and limbs to help her keep their body in place. As Jean falls for Marie, he discovers that her father is obsessed with taking life-sized daguerreotypes and it may be connected to resurrecting the spirit of his dead wife…
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 latest film 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+) who has won awards thanks to his performance in this psychological mystery which has gripped critics from around the world. Want a sign of its quality? Harmonium received the Jury Prize in the section “Un certain regard” at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival.
Synopsis from IMDB: Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) and Akie (Mariko Tsutsui) and their daughter Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa) live a quiet life operating a workshop that is part of their house. Their routine is disrupted when Toshio’s old-friend Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano) shows up at the place without a home or a job. What’s the reason? He has just been released from prison. You would think that Toshio would consult Akie before hiring Yasaka and letting him stay in the place but it seems that the two men have history together and Yasaka wants something from Toshio. He begins to meddle in Toshio’s family life and threatens everything…
ディストラクション・ベイビーズ 「Deisutorakushon Beibi-zu」
Running Time: 108 mins.
Director: Tetsuya Mariko
Writer: Tetsuya Mariko, Kohei Kiyasu (Screenplay),
Starring: Yuya Yagira, Masaki Suda, Nana Komatsu, Nijiro Murakami, Sosuke Ikematsu, Denden,
Destruction Babies is a disturbing and bleak film all about male violence. It offers no easy answers and lead actor Masaki Suda gives a chilling performance as a teen ready to destroy anything in his path. It was released in the UK thanks to Third Window Films earlier this week and I hope to have a review up soon. It has a cast worth watching since it stars award-winning actors Yuya Yagira (Nobody Knows), Nana Komatsu (The World of Kanako), Denden (Cold Fish), Sosuke Ikematsu (How Selfish I Am!) and Masaki Suda (The Light Shines Only There, Princess Jellyfish).
Synopsis from Third Window Films: Taira, an unnervingly quiet delinquent teen, mysteriously leaves town right before the coming of age festival. His disappearance doesn’t worry anyone except for younger brother Shota, his only remaining family, who sets off to look for him amidst the faded downtown neon lights.
Taira aimlessly wanders through a nearby city, provoking fights with random bystanders. His violent streak intrigues high schooler Yuya who rallies him to beat up more people. As the night progresses, street-side scuffles soon turn into a sinister game, becoming even more mindless and indiscriminate. The two leave behind a trail of blood and mass confusion.
Reboot of Nikkatsu Roman Porno films
In the 1970s and 1980s the so-called Roman Porno films from the Japanese film studio Nikkatsu served as a field of experimentation and a stepping stone for young directors and a way of sustaining Nikkatsu in an age where television was threatening the old studio system. Nikkatsu gave directors a small budget and tight shooting schedules of about a week, and freedom to make a film about what they want so long as they came with plenty of sexy softcore scenes. I’ve only reviewed one, A Woman Called Abe Sada, but the series is fondly remembered in Japan and abroad by many. For the 45th anniversary of that genre, the Nippon Connection Film Festival shows two instalments of the recent “Roman Porno Reboot Project” as German premieres.
風に濡れた女 「Kaze ni nureta onna」
Running Time: 78 mins.
Director: Akihiko Shiota
Writer: Akihiko Shiota (Screenplay),
Starring: Tasuku Nagaoka, Yuki Mamiya, Ryushin Tei, Takahiro Kato,
This one was at the Locarno Film Festival where it collected reviews like this one that paint this as an entertaining film to watch!
Synopsis: Kosuke Takasuke (Tasuku Nagaoka) is a former playwright who has fled Tokyo to live a quiet life in the country after becoming romantically burnt out. His wish for a quiet life is soon interrupted when he is targeted for sex by Shiori (Yuki Mamiya) and a theatre troupe decamp at his place…
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, 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.
At this year’s festival a special attention will be directed at documentary films. Among others, Atsushi Funahashi will present his film Raise your Arms and Twist, in which he observes the everyday life of Japanese pop idol singers of the group NMB48. The director skillfully combines social and media critique without degrading the stars or their fans. In her film 95 and 6 to Goyoung American filmmaker Kimi Takesue explores the history of her Japanese ancestors who emigrated to Hawaii, taking the conversations with her grandfather as a starting point. Steven Okazaki’s Mifune: The Last Samurai portrays the life and work of legendary actor Toshiro Mifune, who has written film history through his cooperation with Akira Kurosawa.
Running Time: 80 mins.
Director: Steven Okazaki
Writers: Stuart Galbraith IV, Steven Okazaki
Starring: Keanu Reeves (Narrator), Toshiro Mifune, Kyoko Kagawa, Haruo Nakajima, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Koji Yakusho, Shiro Mifune,
Synopsis: Keanu Reeves narrates a documentary about one of the most famous, if not the most famous Japanese actor in the history of cinema: Toshiro Mifune. People who have watched him in Yojimbo and Throne of Blood will attest that he is a massive screen presence and we get to see what made him special through archive footage as well as enjoying the reminisces of collaborators and fans from around the world.
Raise your Arms and Twist DOCUMENTARY of NMB48
道頓堀よ、泣かせてくれ！DOCUMENTARY of NMB48「LOVE! LOVE! SING! Ikite itoshite utau koto gekijouban」
Release Date: January 29th, 2016
Running Time: 100 mins.
Director: Atsushi Funahashi
Starring: NMB48 Girls
The director is Atsushi Funahashi and he has directed films about the fallout from Fukushima like the drama Cold Bloom and two documentaries under the Nuclear Nation title. Atsushi Funahashi will present his film Raise your Arms and Twist, in which he observes the everyday life of Japanese pop idol singers of the group NMB48, the sister group of AKB48. NMB48 are based in Osaka but I never saw that much evidence of them while roaming around.
Synopsis: NMB48 is based in Namba, Osaka and it has been six years since their debut at Osaka Castle Hall. Atsushi Funahashi uses his skills as a documentarian to observe the everyday struggles, efforts, and successes of the idols and their fans and offers a critique of the whole social and media world that surrounds the group.
Running Time: 86 mins.
Director: Kimi Takesue
Starring: Tom Takesue
Director Kimi Takesue has made many documentaries and short films since the ’90s and this is her latest, an intriguing film that combines her family history with the filmmaking process.
Synopsis from the website: Filmmaker Kimi Takesue turns her camera on her resilient grandfather who has lived in Honolulu for nearly a century. As she captures the cadence of Grandpa Tom’s daily life he takes an interest in her stalled romantic screenplay and offers advice that is as shrewd as it is surprising. This advice turns into him sharing his story of immigration, love, love and endurance. Shot over six years, this intimate meditation on family and absence expands the vernacular of the “home movie” to consider how history is accumulated in the everyday and how sparks of humor and creativity can animate an ordinary life.
As well as the films, there is a diverse and extensive supporting cultural program gives visitors the chance to delve into the multi-faceted culture of Japan. Audiences will be able to take part and engage with a wide variety of workshops, lectures, and exhibitions such as participating in the manufacturing of kyogen masks in a wood carving workshop and learning about vital points of the human body and their application in the martial arts in the kyusho jitsu workshop. For the more literary-minded, the festival will be the venue where Ursula Gräfe, known as a translator of the works of Japanese star author Haruki Murakami, will give insight into various aspects of her work.
Children are also catered for with the Nippon Kids section where the puppet animation film Chieri and Cherry by Makoto Nakamura will be shown as a children’s film with German live dubbing and kids can have a go at traditional Japanese drums in the taiko workshop. Taruto Fuyama, professor at Tokyo University of the Arts in Yokohama, will show in his workshop how to create handmade painted animation films. Japanese food is glorious, as everyone knows (including many festivals who attach a Japanese food section to the programme), and children attending Nippon Connection can try out preparing tasty Japanese sweets in the panda dango cooking class.
The complete program as well as tickets will be available from April 29, 2017 at the festival website: www.NipponConnection.com so stay tuned to this site because I’ll do one of my mammoth previews.