Japanese Films at the Cannes Film Festival 2017

Cannes Film Festival 2017 Poster

This year’s Cannes Film Festival (17th – 28th May) is the 70th edition of the event and the festival head Thierry Fremaux announced the Official Selection of films programmed last week. Critics are salivating over the fact that there are two Netflix films: the monster movie Okja by Bong Joon-ho (The Host) and The Meyerowitz Stories by Noah Baumbach (writer on The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and director of Mistress America). There will be two TV series for audiences to watch: David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and Jane Campion’s Top Of The Lake and lots more familiar faces such as Sofia (Somewhere) Coppola’s The Beguiled, Michael (Code Unknown/Cache) Haneke’s Happy End (knowing Haneke, it’s probably an ironic title…). More importantly, there are also nine first-time filmmakers getting their works screened.

Why is that important?

The Cannes Film Festival comes into 2017 with a need to find fresh blood and this is seemingly strong selection because may be it. Since this is the 70th anniversary of the festival and the fact that, last year, organisers faced fierce criticism last year for their lack of female directors, commentators identified that they needed to do a couple of things: broaden out its programme so that there are filmmakers other than the old guard (Campion, Haneke, Kawase, Haynes, the Dardennes brothers etc.) and increase the number of female-centric stories and female-led films across the programme. The old guard are back but just by glancing at the lists of announced films, it is clear that the festival has achieved some of its goals and will probably avoid the criticism it faced last year – hopefully, no high-heels and breast-feeding baby incidents will crop up). Things are a bit of a mixed picture when it comes to the Japanese films.

So far, there are four Japanese films programmed, and three come from festival regulars: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Naomi Kawase, and Takashi Miike. Two of the four are adaptations while the other two are original dramas. Out of the dramas, one is made by a seasoned professional while the shorter one at 45 minutes is from a student. The presence of a fresh director is always something to cheer when it comes to Japanese films at international festivals and this director is a lady to boot: Aya Igashi. She is a graduate from Toei Gakuen Film College’s movie production department and is already working on her third film.

So, while we can all sigh and shrug our shoulders at the lack of original content, we can take comfort in the fact that Aya Igashi is on the radar of people who programme the festival.

What are the films playing this year?

Before We Vanish (English Title) / Strolling Invader (Literal Title)   Before We Vanish Film Poster

散歩する侵略者 Sanpo suru Shinryakusha

Running Time: 129 mins.

Release Date: September 09th , 2017

Director:  Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Screenplay), Tomohiro Maekawa (Original Stageplay),

Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Masami Nagasawa, Mahiro Takasugi, Yuri Tsunematsu, Hiroki Hasegawa,

Website IMDB

In between teaching the next generation of filmmakers at Tokyo University of Fine Arts, Kiyoshi Kurosawa has regularly been making films himself and his latest is based on a stageplay by Tomohiro Maekawa which was first performed in 2005. Its story has the feel of something like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and its poster looks innocuous enough. It stars Ryuhei Matsuda (Nightmare Detective, The Great Passage, My Little Sweet Pea), Masami Nagasawa (Our Little Sister) and Hiroki Hasegawa (priceless as the mad director in Why Don’t You Play in Hell?). It has been selected to be screened in the Un Certain Regard section of the festival and it looks decent from the teaser.

Synopsis: Narumi (Masami Nagasawa) and her husband Shinji Kase (Ryuhei Matsuda) are having problems of the marital sort. Things may be bad but are they bad enough to justify Shinji disappearing for seven days? Masami is left wondering, especially because after his disappearance and return he seems like a totally different person, a kinder and gentler man who likes to go for a walk every day. This just happens to coincide with strange events in town and the brutal murder of a family. Masami begins to piece things together but Shinji surprises her again by telling her that he came to Earth to invade.

Hikari   Hikari Film Poster

Hikari

Running Time: 129 mins.

Release Date: May 27th , 2017

Director: Naomi Kawase

Writer: Naomi Kawase (Screenplay),

Starring: Masatoshi Nagase, Ayame Misaki, Tatsuya Fuji, Chihiro Ohtsuka, Kazuko Shirakawa, Saori Koide, Nobumitsu Onishi, Mantaro Koichi,

Website IMDB

Naomi Kawase is a native of the city of Nara and shot her latest film there in October and November. It seems she is also a native of Cannes since she is constantly either having a film screened or one of the judges. She reunites with the actor Masatoshi Nagase who worked with her on An (2015), a film that appeared at Cannes 2015 and a whole host of other festivals before getting released in the UK and US amongst other foreign territories. I have been told that her films are good and I have met people who have worked with her and so I really need to check out her work.

Synopsis: Masaya Nakamori (Masatoshi Nagase) is a genius photographer. He meets Misako Ozaki (Ayame Misaki), a woman who is involved in a voice acting project for the visually impaired. The two initially don’t get on because Masaya has a cold attitude but when Misako sees a photograph of a sunset shot by him, she is inspired to look into Masaya’s life and discovers that he is losing his sight and their relationship changes.

Blade of the Immortal / The Inhabitant of Infinity (Literal Title)   Blade of the Immortal Film Poster

無限の住人 Mugen no Juunin

Running Time: N/A

Release Date: April 29th , 2017

Director:  Takashi Miike

Writer: Tetsuya Oishi (Screenplay), Hiroaki Samura (Original Manga),

Starring: Takuya Kimura, Hana Sugisaki, Sota Fukushi, Hayato Ichihara, Erika Toda, Kazuki Kitamura, Chiaki Kuriyama, Ichikawa Ebizo XI, Min Tanaka,

Website IMDB

Warner Bros. Japan have been cranking out live-action adaptations of anime and manga in recent years in order to capitalise on existing fan-bases and sell known names to audiences¹ and one of their go-to Japanese filmmakers is Takashi Miike who follows up the grisly and stupid Terra-Formars (2016) (based on an even more grisly and stupid manga) with a fantasy jidaigeki based on a manga by Hiroaki Samura. His next film is, wait for it, based on a manga. It’s Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable and it is released in August. Jojo’s fans everywhere let out a scream when the announcement was made because nothing will capture the manga but you never know, it may be good.

Miike has great form when it comes to jidaigeki considering he made 13 Assassins (2010) and Hara-Kiri Death of a Samurai (2011). Warner Bros have the financial muscle and a crew experienced in that genre considering they were behind the excellent Rurouni Kenshin (2012), Rurouni Kenshin Kyoto Inferno (2014) and Rurouni Kenshin: The Legend Ends.

Blade of the Immortal was shot in Kyoto from November, 2016 until January of this year. It stars Takuya Kimura (I Come with the Rain – a decent yet rather unheard of serial killer film – and 2046), Hana Sugisaki (Pieta in the Toilet), Chiaki Kuriyama (Shikoku, Exte: Hair Extensions), Min Tanaka (Maison de Himiko, Haruneko, and the Rurouni Kenshin films) and the charisma vacuum that is Sota Fukushi (almost entirely forgettable based on the performance I saw him give in Library Wars – I have a hard time remembering anything specific about him other than he was in the cast and made no impression on me and it looks like he’s just taking up space in this film).

Synopsis: Manji’s (Takuya Kimura) is a wandering swordsman. That’s nothing special but what makes him different is the fact that he was given eternal youth and immortality by a mysterious woman after his sister was killed in front of him and he was left for dead but came back from the brink to kill their attackers. During his journey he encounters Rin Asano (Hana Sugisaki) whose parents were killed by a group of swordsmen belonging to “Itto ryu.” She desires revenge for her parents’ death and after seeing Manji in action she asks him to be her guard as they take on the “Itto ryu.”  

TOKERU (MELTING is its Literal Title)

溶ける Tokeru

Running Time: 45 mins.

Release Date: N/A

Director: Aya Igashi

Writer: Aya Igashi (Screenplay),

Starring: Rio Michida, Utoyuma, Rina Koyama, Masako Sakamoto, Kazuki Akase, Yuko Masuda, Mina Aoki,

IMDB

Cannes came in for a lot of flack last year for its lack of inclusion for female filmmakers but 2017 is set to redress the balance somewhat. This film comes from Aya Igashi and it is her sophomore effort but it has already won the Pia Film Festival’s Special Jury Award for 2016 and it has been screened in cinemas across Japan. That’s no mean feat considering this director from Hokkaido is in her early twenties!

A lot of the more interesting Japanese films of recent years tend to have been made by women. Not only that but female directors tend to base their work on original scripts. It’s important that festivals support female filmmakers because of the gender imbalance in films and also because women will bring fresh and unique voices to tired old industries. The West would do well to learn from Japan and South Korea which have a better track record of producing female talent. Supporting it is another matter entirely but one hopes to hear of Aya Igashi again in the future for her feature films. The trailer is immediately more visually interesting than the others and so I am eager to see more work from her. Here’s an interview she gave at the Nara Film Festival (in Japanese).

Synopsis: Mako is a high school student who lives in a stiflingly small rural town. She feels the stress of school life, the secrets garnered from close friendships, and simply maturing. To relieve the stress she secretly jumps into a local river, something she is not supposed to do. One day, she is seen doing this by her older cousin Kotaro who is from Tokyo. His presence her her pent up ambitions fuse together to make her answer the question of whether she can be free if she leaves from her home town.

And that’s it as far as the films go. If I missed any then I will update this post!

Update (04/05/2017) there are two classic Japanese films at Cannes:

Ballad of Narayama   Ballad of Narayama Film Poster

楢山節考 Narayama bushiko

Running Time: 130 mins.

Release Date: April 29th , 1983

Director:  Shohei Imamura

Writer: Shohei Imamura (Screenplay), Shichiro Fukazawa (Original Novel),

Starring: Ken Ogata, Sumiko Sakamoto, Tonpei Hidari, Aki Takejo, Shoichi Ozawa, Fujio Tokita, Seiji Kurasaki, Junko Takada, Mitsuko Baisho,

IMDB

Shohei Imamura is one of the New Wave directors that came after the golden age of Kurosawa and Ozu. Indeed, he worked with Ozu on a number of films such as on the films Early Summer (1951), The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice (1952) and Tokyo Story (1953) before he blazed a trail of his own with fiction and documentary films that offered a critique of Japanese society – Pigs and Battleships (1961), The Profound Desire of the Gods (1961) and Vengeance is Mine (1979), and Black Rain (1989). He won a Palme d’Or for this film and The Eel (1997). My personal favourite of his works is the more laidback and funny, Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (2001).

Synopsis: The film is set in poor rural Japanese village some time in the 19th century. It is tradition that everyone who reaches the age of 70 has to climb a nearby mountain to die. An old woman named Orin resolves not to be a burden on her family and spends a year wrapping up affairs and helping her family before she makes her own journey. We see her efforts.

In the Realm of the Senses   In the Realm of the Senses Film Poster 2

愛のコリーダ Ai no Kori-da

Running Time: 109 mins.

Release Date: September 09th , 2017

Director:  Nagisa Oshima

Writer: Nagisa Oshima (Screenplay),

Starring: Tatsuya Fuji, Eiko Matsuda, Aoi Nakajima, Yasuko Matsui, Meika Seri, Kanae Kobayashi,

IMDB

Nagisa Oshima was one of the key figures to emerge from the Japanese New Wave. He died back in 2013 but left an incredible legacy of films that challenged audiences to face social issues. Death by Hanging (1968), Boy (1969), and more stand as a testament to his concerns but it is his historical dramas that he is best known for, especially Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (1983), Gohatto (1999), and this film, In the Realm of the Senses which went on to scoop him awards at many festivals including Cannes.

Synopsis: This is based on the infamous real life case of Sada Abe, a hotel worker who fell in love with her married employer. The two fled their normal lives and descended into a whirlwind of passionate sex and love, debauchery and desire, and, ultimately, violence…

Here’s a list of my reviews of some of those films Warner Bros films that I have reviewed if you’re interested:

Berserk: Golden Age Arc The Egg of the King

Berserk: Golden Age Arc The Battle for Doldrey

Berserk: Golden Age Arc The Descent

Wild 7

Black Butler

Rurouni Kenshin

Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno

Ninja Kids!!!

Tajomaru

Higanjima

I am writing this on a coach heading from Hiroshima to Osaka. I am eating cookies and tired but happy that I can travel and write, meet new people. And eat cakes and biscuits. That’s also important!

Tokeru Film Image

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3 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the Cannes Film Festival 2017

  1. Kurosawa’s latest film with that stellar cast is the one I look forward to the most.

    Thank you for the details on these new films. We shall continue to anticipate as to when Cannes will give opportunities to new Japanese filmmakers. It seems they know only 5 or even less.

    I thought one of the purposes of sites like us, and entertainment portals and even film distributors are to promote new films from upcoming directors. Perhaps the Cannes organizers are not savvy enough to make use of them?

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      Even if Cannes brings in more talent, there’s so much out there to discover that sites like ours will always have a place. Our passion and discoveries can bring joy to many and there’s so much to find! It’s always exciting!

      1. Very true!

        I’m just beginning to watch the classics and I can understand why a lot of the ‘old guys’ who watched them many years ago say, the old Japanese films are the best. Plus the new releases including the ones above make me very excited and look forward to discovering more.

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