The 2017 edition of JAPAN CUTS, is the 11th since the creation of the festival and it takes place from July 13th to the 23rd.
It is one of the best places not in Germany (Nippon Connection) or Holland (Camera Japan) to see the latest and most interesting contemporary films with experimental indies programmed alongside big-budget titles, as well as documentaries, shorts and recently restored classics. Not only is this a place to view films, the festival also hosts special guest filmmakers and stars, post-screening Q&As, parties and more. I have covered it in the past to help people get in contact with great films and this year’s edition has lots of great titles on offer that show the diversity of talents operating in the country and reveal that, contrary to what I have felt recently, the Japanese film industry has the potential to tell more than the same stories over and over (if only Japanese financiers could see beyond adapting manga and anime and take risks). Here’s more from the organisers of the festival:
“For ten years, JAPAN CUTS’ richly diverse slates have offered audiences a window into the breadth and depth of contemporary Japanese cinema. This eleventh installment of JAPAN CUTS presents a wide-ranging selection of films across each programming section that reveal the multiplicity of identities and layers of culture that shape Japanese film today—including international co-productions and adaptations, new LGBTQ cinema, female directors, and deeply relevant histories of WWII and nuclear trauma.”
I have pulled together a preview of the full line-up from old previews I have written and from the festival’s website to show potential audience members that there is so much worth going to see. Thanks go out to the people at Japan Society New York for making things a easier and creating the event!
I hope this helps inform you about the films and inspires you to go and see some and if you do, please come back and tell me what you think. You might also want to check out the Japanese films screening at the New York Asian Film Festival. After a long period of writing news stories, I will be writing reviews for various films that have screened and will be screening at various festivals and ones in my collection.
Here’s the full line-up:
Introduction and Q&A with director Yoshihiro Nakamura, followed by the OPENING NIGHT PARTY
Running Time: 125 mins
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Writer: Ryo Wada (Screenplay/Original Novel: Shinobi no Kuni)
Starring: Satoshi Ohno, Satomi Ishihara, Ryohei Suzuki, Yusuke Iseya, Yuri Chinen, Makita Sports, Yuna Taira, Jun Kunimura,
Synopsis from the festival site: Raised suckling poison arrows among the sparring Iga ninja factions, Mumon (Satoshi Ohno, of idol group Arashi) is a carefree 16th-century mercenary. When the ninja council makes a power play to defeat the young Nobukatsu Oda struggling to step into his father’s warlord shoes as they expand rule across the country, Mumon jumps into the fray to satisfy his new bride Okuni’s (Satomi Ishihara of Shin Godzilla, Attack on Titan) demand that he make good on his promises of wealth. Yet Mumon soon finds what is worth fighting for beyond money or nation.
SOLD OUT. A waitlist will begin one hour prior to the screening at the Box Office. Being on the waitlist does not guarantee admission.
Running Time: 129 mins
Director: Hideo Sasaki
Writer: Masahi Shimizu (Screenplay),
Starring: Yosuke Kubozuka, Kenji Furuya, Yui Ichikawa, Hiroshi Shinagawa, Elisa Yanagi, Masaki Miura, Shohei Hino,
Highly experienced actor Hideo Sasaki takes the director’s position and casts rising international star Yosuke Kubozuka (Peco in Ping Pong!!!, he also appeared inn Go (2001)) and Kenji Furuya, a musician in the group Dragon Ash.
Synopsis: Hideaki Ashita (Yosuke Kubozuka) is a former champion boxer who quit the sport after sustaining a brutal head injury which has left him with aftereffects including depression. He leads a solitary life, working part-time for a security company and living alone.
Until he finds a stray cat!
He forms a bond with the cat but he isn’t the only one since Ikumi Umetsu (Kenji Furuya), a mechanic, has taken a liking to the wandering feline and takes her for himself, much to Hideaki’s annoyance. The two men join forces to protect single mother Saeko Tsuchiya (Yui Ichikawa) from her ex-boyfriend but when violence enters their lives they head for Tokyo.
Running Time: 78 mins
Director: Sion Sono
Writer: Sion Sono (Screenplay),
Starring: Ami Tomite, Mariko Tsutsui, Asami, Fujiko, Ami Fukuda, Honoka Ishibashi, Yuya Takayama,
Sion Sono is one of the directors who took part in the Roman Porno Reboot and critics liked his insane feminist take on the infamous subgenre of softcore skinflicks.
Synopsis: Celebrity novelist and artist Kyoko (Ami Tomite) is feeling the nerves before an interview with a major magazine and so she decides to take insecurities out on her older eager-to-please assistant Noriko (Mariko Tsutsui), whom she sadistically humiliates through various acts. All is not as it seems in this relationship and the people in the dominant and subservient and voyeur positions switch places… and that includes the audience…
Summer’s Puke is Winter’s Delight
夏のゲロは冬の肴 「Natsu no gero wa huyu no sakana」
Running Time: 3 mins.
Director: Sawako Kabuki
Sawako Kabuki is back with another short film focussed on the vagaeries of relationships as seen from a scatalogical perspective. This is a graduation piece from her time at Tama Art University and the film has been at various festivals around the world and it’s on YouTube. The story is described thusly:
Painful events become memories over time. Still, we vomit and eat again. Life is eco.
Running Time: 90 mins
Director: Junko Emoto
Writer: Junko Emoto, Nami Yoshikawa (Screenplay),
Starring: Saori, Arisa Nakamura, Yuki Sakurai, Suzuka Morita, Mayu Sakuma,
Synopsis: Naoko has just established an all-female theater troupe and is creating her first play whilst hopping into bed with various women. Her behaviour changes when she meets Haru and is drawn by a mixture of sexual desire and admiration of Haru’s acting and a stormy relationship is established amidst the broiling jealousies of the theatre-group.
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,
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 Berlin International Film Festival Site: Mika (Shizuka Ishibashi) works as a nurse by day; by night she works as a bartender in a girls’ bar. Having recently broken up with her boyfriend and lost her mother, she walks the streets of Tokyo and ponders on what she sees as the meaningless of life. Shinji (Sosuke Ikematsu) is blind in one eye and ekes out a living as a construction worker. Manically talkative, he accepts the label of being “weird” in order to cover up a deep sense of alienation. 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?
Terasu ni te 「テラスにて」
Running Time: 95 mins.
Director: Kenji Yamauchi
Writer: Kenji Yamauchi (Screenplay),
Starring: Kei Ishibashi, Kami Hiraiwa, Ryuta Furuta, Kenji Iwaya, Hiroaki Morooka, Takashi Okabe, Atsushi Hashimoto,
Playwright and director Kenji Yamauchi premiered his film At the Terrace during the 2016 edition of the Tokyo International Film Festival where it garnered positive buzz from critics for its mix of sensuous and caustic comedy of manners. Based on one of his plays, Trois Grotesques, Yamauchi refuses to cleave away too far from his source and keeps things simple with a film shot in a single location with a cast of seven actors, all of whom were players in the preceding play itself which explains why their comic performances are so perfect.
Synopsis: The film opens at a lavish house somewhere in the suburbs of Tokyo. The house is owned by Mr Soejima (Kenji Iwatani), the director of a company, and his wife Kazumi (Kei Ishibashi), both of whom are hosting a night-time party which drags on for a small group of guests because the more they drink the more they feel the need to linger behind and explore some bitter feelings and bad behaviour bubbling away underneath their polite Japanese exteriors.
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…
Running Time: 85 mins.
Director: Sora Hokimoto
Writer: Sora Hokimoto (Screenplay),
Starring: Yota Kawase, Lily, Min Tanaka, Ryuto Iwata, Keisuke Yamamoto,
This film was produced by Shinji Aoyama (Eureka) and it is the debut film of Sora Hokimoto. It has been 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. “Avant-garde aesthetics, theatrical artifice, music and humour mix to produce a spherical, tonal narrative reaching catharsis in movement and music on the border of life and death. Produced in the wake of the passing of his stage designer father and featuring a positively electric soundtrack, Haruneko is thoroughly alive.”
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.”
恋とさよならとハワイ 「Koi to sayonara to Hawai」
Running Time: 94 mins.
Director: Shingo Matsumura
Writer: Shingo Matsumura (Screenplay),
Starring: Aya Ayano, Kentaro Tamura, Momoka Ayukawa, Risa Kameda, Aoi Kato
I saw this one as part of the Osaka Asian Film Festival and found it charming enough to write a review. Other critics have lavished praise on it.
Introduction and Q&A with director Shingo Matsumura
Synopsis: Rinko (Ayu Ayano), a bespectacled twenty-something who works in an office. She has been living with her ex-boyfriend Isamu (Kentaro Tamura), a graduate student, for three years. Indeed, the two have chosen to live together even after they broke up because their situation is comfortable. Although they separate their shared bedroom with a rack of clothes and sleep in different futons on opposite sides of the room, they interact with each other like a regular couple. One of Isamu’s classmates is attracted to him and this attraction forces Rinko to analyse whether she wants to stay with Isamu or not…
大和（カリフォルニア） 「Yamato (Kariforunia)」
Running Time: 75 mins.
Director: Daisuke Miyazaki
Writer: Daisuke Miyazaki (Screenplay)
Starring: Nina Endo, Hanae Kan, Reiko Kataoka, Mayumi Kato, Shuya Nishiji, Haruka Uchimura,
Synopsis from the Osaka Asian Film Festival Site: Sakura is a moody teenage girl living close to the US military base in the city of Yamato, a town north of Tokyo. She wants to become a musician like the American rappers she admires, but is held back by stage-fright when faced with performing in front of a live audience. Then she meets Rei, the half-Japanese half-American daughter of her mother’ s American soldier boyfriend. Rei has flown from California to visit for the summer. Sakura dislikes her immediately, but Rei’ s familiarity with American Hip Hop becomes a bridge between the two girls as they spend an unforgettable time together exploring, arguing over and bonding through the mix of Japanese and American culture in the unique landscape of Yamato. Though their adventures and quarrels may lead Sakura into danger, they may also let her face her fears and participate in the city’s music competition.
聖の青春 「Satoshi no Seishun」
Running Time: 124 mins.
Director: Yoshitaka Mori
Writer: Kosuke Mukai (Screenplay), Yoshio Osaki (Original Novel),
Starring: Kenichi Matsuyama, Masahiro Higashide, Shota Sometani, Lily Franky, Tokio Emoto,
Preceded by: Spread (2016) by Yoko Kuno, 1 min.
Synopsis from the: This film tells the true story of Satoshi Murayama, who devoted his life to his two greatest struggles: against shogi (Japanese chess) master Yoshiharu Habu and against an incurable disease. Through his love of shogi he developed an astonishing strength of will, but ultimately, it cost him his life.
Centrepiece Presentation: Joe Odagiri is the recipient of the CUT ABOVE Award for Outstanding Performance in Film
After magnetic performances in television, award-winning actor Joe Odagiri made his breakout film performance in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Bright Future (2002). Earning Newcomer of the Year at the Japan Academy Prize for Azumi (2003), he soon made a reputation for taking on challenging and unexpected roles in Seijun Suzuki’s Princess Raccoon (2005), Sang-il Lee’s Scrap Heaven (2005), and Sion Sono’s Hazard (2007), winning Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor at the Kinema Junpo Awards in 2006 and 2005. A major presence in Japanese film and TV, Odagiri has taken on many ambitious international productions such as Ki-Duk Kim’s Dream (2008), Zhuangzhuang Tian’s The Warrior and the Wolf (2009) and Junji Sakamoto’s upcoming Cuba co-production Ernesto(2017).
オーバー・フェンス 「O-ba- fensu」
Running Time: 113 mins.
Director: Nobuhiro Yamashita
Writer: Ryo Takada (Screenplay), Yasushi Sato (Original Novel),
Starring: Joe Odagiri, Yu Aoi, Shota Matsuda, Yukiya Kitamura, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Shinya Tsukamoto, Yuka,
Introduction and Q&A with star Joe Odagiri, with CUT ABOVE Award ceremony, followed by the Home Run Party!
Synopsis: Shiraiwa (Odagiri) is a recently divorced man and newly arrived in Hakodate, Hokkaido. He attends a vocational college to learn carpentry to continue receiving unemployment benefits. He is trapped in a routine and he is not along as there are other students who are in the same boat as he. This connection leads his classmates to invite him to join them at a hostess club where Shiraiwa meets a strange woman who is passionately imitating the courtship dance of an ostrich. It turns out that she likes Shiraiwa and although he is irritated with her at first, he begins to like him. Her name is Satoshi (Aoi) and the two fall in love.
Running Time: 126 mins.
Director: Kohei Oguri
Writer: Kohei Oguri (Screenplay),
Starring: Joe Odagiri, Miki Nakatani, Ryo Kase, Ana Girardot, Angele Humeau, Marie Kremer, Seiji Fukushi, Munetaka Aoki,
This is a Japanese-French co-production about the real life artist Tsuguharu Foujita. Introduction and Q&A with star Joe Odagiri
Synopsis from JFDB: Paris in the early 1920s: the Japanese artist Tsuguharu Foujita (Joe Odagiri) is the darling of the capital. His very personal style, of naked women in delicate whites, surprises the Montparnasse art scene. In his relationships with many Parisiennes, and his friendships with Van Dongen, Kisling, Picasso, Modigliani and others, he lives a frenzied life in Paris. At the outbreak of WWII Foujita is back in his home country, Japan and producing propaganda. His life and beliefs shaken by the war, he lives modestly in Aomori, a small town in Northern Japan, with his new Japanese wife, Kimiyo (Miki Nakatani). Seeking refuge in the countryside, Foujita discovers a Japan he never knew.
Running Time: 117 mins
Director: Yu Irie
Writer: Yu Irie, Kenya Hirata (Screenplay), Byung-gil Jung (Original Film)
Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Hideaki Ito, Koichi Iwaki, Kaho, Mitsuru Hirata, Anna Ishibashi, Shuhei Nomura,
This is a remake of a Korean movie of the same named from 2012. This one comes packed with stars like Tatusya Fujiwara (Battle Royale), Kaho (Our Little Sister), Anna Ishibashi (Kimi no Tomodachi), Hideaki Ito (Princess Blade) and Shuhei Nomura (who starred with Kaho in Puzzle). It looks good on paper but some critics have accused it of adding nothing but more melodrama to the original story and that melodrama detracts from proceedings.
Elizabeth Kerr over at The Hollywood Reporter has this praise for the film:
“Though Memoirs of a Murderer doesn’t venture into any new territory in its first two acts, Irie manages a respectable level of tension and suspense, helped along by a suitably coiled performance by Ito and an oily one by Fujiwara.”
Synopsis: It is 1995 and a serial killer is on the loose in Japan. Detective Wataru Makimura (Hideaki Ito) is part of a team trying to solve the case but a deadly trap set by the killer leaves some of the team injured and their boss dead. The killer escaped justice.
22 years later, just after the statute of limitations has passed, a mysterious man comes forward with a murder memoir, “Watashi ga Satsujinhan desu” (“I am a Murderer”). Free from the threat of prosecution, the author, the handsome and urbane Masato Sonezaki (Tatsuya Fujiwara), confesses to the crimes and begins a publicity campaign of apologising to the victim’s families. This boosts the sales of his books and he becomes a celebrity which infuriates Makimura who is determined to get justice for the victims…
Running Time: 119 mins
Director: Yuki Tanada
Writer: Hinako Nakazawa (Screenplay/Original Novel),
Starring: Juri Ueno, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Sei Ando, Lily Franky, Tomoharu Hasegawa, Eri Watanabe,
Synopsis: In a perfect example of the saying, “two’s company, three’s a crowd,” this sweetly comic relationship drama features Aya (Juri Ueno), a woman who has a pretty simple life. She works part-time at a bookstore and lives with her 54-year-old boyfriend Mr. Ito (Lily Franky). After driving Aya’s sister-in-law up the wall, her cranky 74-year-old father (Tatsuya Fuji) moves in without warning. He’s not that impressed with her lifestyle or his daughter having a boyfriend nearly his age and isn’t she about criticising her but as the three negotiate living together they begin to appreciate the joys and troubles of their company.
Neko Atsume House / Cat Collector’s House
ねこあつめの家 「Neko Atsume Ie」
Running Time: 92 mins
Director: Masatoshi Kurakata
Writer: Yuji Nagamori (Screenplay)
Starring: Atsushi Ito, Shiori Kutsuna, Tomoro Taguchi, Tae Kimura, Kayoko Okubo, Masahiro Toda,
Synopsis: Novelist Masaru Sakumoto (Atsushi Ito) was once a celebrated hotshot in the literary world but a severe case of writer’s block means he is now forced to churn out a zombie-themed serial novel to make ends meet. Panicked by feelings of failure, he seeks out an old house in the countryside to find inspiration and jumpstart his creativity. He thought he was the only person in the premises but he isn’t alone. One by one, neighbourhood cats start showing up and despite his desire for solitude to work in, well, who can resist cute cats?
疾風ロンド 「Shippu Rondo 」
Running Time: 109 mins
Director: Teruyuki Yoshida
Writer: Teruyuki Yoshida, Hasebe Bakushino (Screenplay), Keigo Higashino (Original Novel),
Starring: Hiroshi Abe, Tadayoshi Okura, Yuko Oshima, Tsuyoshi Muro, Keiko Horiuchi, Yumi Asou, Denden, Akira Emoto, Sayu Kubota, Ayumu Mochizuki, Oshiro Maeda,
Synopsis from the festival site: A secret biological weapon known as K-55 is stolen from a medical research lab by a disgruntled former employee who demands ¥300 million in exchange for its location. Unable to go to the police due to its illegal nature, research scientist Kazuyuki Kurabayashi (Hiroshi Abe) is tasked with recovering the anthrax-like weapon by the lab’s panicked director (Akira Emoto). Going off of a clue that K-55 is buried beneath snow, Kurabayashi heads to the nearest ski resort with his son on the pretense of a short vacation to begin his secret mission, enrolling the unwitting help of the local ski patrol (Tadayoshi Okura and Yuko Oshima). A slapstick comedy thriller with heart, Shippu Rondo delivers big laughs amidst exhilarating chase sequences and dramatic twists and turns.
なつのひかり 「Natsu no Hikari」
Running Time: 83 mins
Director: Jean-Gabriel Periot
Writer: Jean-Gabriel Periot (Screenplay), Yoko Harano (Collaboration),
Starring: Yuzu Horie, Keiji Izumi, Akane Natsukawa, Hiroto Ogi, Mamako Yoneyama,
I stayed in Hiroshima for a time to meet a friend and found the city quite charming. It’s compact but beautiful with lots of greenery and a scenic coast that are all easy to access. Despite being compact, I found myself walking around in circles as I searched for stores to get presents for relatives and friends in… Osaka and Tokyo were easier to navigate! Anyway, I can relate to the protagonist in this story as he gets lost in this city. I did meet a nice young lady who I had the chance to walk around with but I was so focused on getting those gifts… well. Anyway, this is an indie film from a French indie filmmaker who has worked in Europe and Japan and it looks splendid.
Synopsis: Akihiro is a Japanese filmmaker based in Paris. His next project is a documentary about atomic bomb survivors from Hiroshima to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bombing. The interviews are deeply moving and so Akihiro takes a break and wanders through the city during which he meets Michiko, a merry and enigmatic young woman.
Running Time: 118 mins
Director: Akira Nagai
Writer: Yoshihiro Izumi (Screenplay), Usamaru Furuya (Original Manga),
Starring: Masaki Suda, Yudai Chiba, Shotaro Mamiya, Mei Nagano, Shuhei Nomura, Jun Shison, Kotaro Yoshida, Ryoma Takeuchi,
Synopsis from the festival site: Teiichi Akaba (Masaki Suda) has a singular dream: to crush the competition, become prime minister and rule his own country. But first he just has to get through high school. An absurdist satire of Japan’s elitist pathways to the seats of power, Akira Nagai’s adaptation of Usamaru Furuya’s manga finds Showa-era blue-blooded teens battling for the student council presidency. Sabotage, bribery, ritual suicide, fisticuffs and more than a few unspoken crushes charge the boys’ all out warfare, revealing the failures of hierarchical power systems and toxic masculinity. This achingly relevant, hilarious tale comes to a head when a working-class pro-democracy challenger questions the plutocrats’ factional wrangle and Teiichi is forced to recall the pure passion that drove him to his totalitarian bloodthirst.
Running Time: 126 mins
Director: Takuro Nakamura
Writer: Takuro Nakamura (Screenplay),
Starring: Hanae Kan, Sahel Rosa, Yuka Yamauchi,
Synopsis: Kei (Hanae Kan) is a melancholy young woman who works in a cafe in Tokyo cafe and in an uncertain relationship with her girlfriend, a model named Ai (Yuka Yamauchi). When Kei meets an exchange student from Tehran studying art, Naima (Sahel Rosa), they instantly connect despite cultural and religious differences. This connection, however, sparks the jealousy of Ai…
CLASSICS: REDISCOVERIES & RESTORATIONS (IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER)
眠り姫 「Nemuri Hime」
Running Time: 79 mins
Director: Kei Shichiri
Writer: Kei Shichiri (Screenplay), Naoki Yamamoto (Original Manga),
Starring: Tsugumi, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Koji Yamamoto, Saburo Otomo,
Synopsis: Kei Shichiri is an experimental filmmaker who has tackled a manga by Naoki Yamamoto. He has a good cast in Tsugumi (Noriko’s Dinner Table, Exte) and Hidetoshi Nishijima (a big star who I have only reviewed in a lead performance in License to Live). Shichiri crafts a story full of diverse images and sounds and voiceovers that make this an interesting experimental voyage into the life of Aochi (Tsugumi), a woman who sleeps for long periods of time but feels the need to slumber longer.
Running Time: 105 mins
Director: Tai Kato
Writer: Shigeru Nakakura
Starring: Toshio Kawachi, Masafumi Kazama, Kiyoko Obata, Harumi Yamamoto, Chieko Kojima,
Synopsis: I saw this trailer in my first month in Japan and it blew me away. Like, what did I just see, I need to see it. The trailer worked even though I had no idea what was going on. Shochiku had brought back and restored a film by master director Tai Kato (1916-1985), known best for his Toei yakuza films. This was his last film. Japan Cuts describes it as…
” a visually striking and sumptuously colourful documentary about the influential Ondekoza taiko troupe from Sado Island, Japan. Following the physically intense training of the young Ondekoza members and intercut with performance footage shot with gusto within elaborate set-pieces, the film pushes the limits of documentary into the realm of feverish imagination. Upon its completion, Kato had said that it was the first time in his life he was able to make a film exactly the way he wanted.”
Running Time: 145 mins
Director: Seijun Suzuki
Writer: Yozo Tanaka (Screenplay), Hyakken Uchida (Original Novel)
Starring: Yoshio Harada, Naoko Otani, Kisako Makishi, Akaji Maro, Kirin Kiki, Yuki Kimura, Nagamasa Tamaki, Sumie Sasaki,
Seijun Suzuki (1923 – 2917) made a series of films that subverted the yakuza genre through their surreal visuals and irreverent stories. Titles like Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill have gone down as classics but the studio that produced them, Nikkatsu, were royally annoyed and dismissed him from their stable of directors. He successfully sued them for wrongful dismissal but successffully challenging industry figures tends to get a person blacklisted (just ask Kiyoshi Kurosawa after his run-in with Juzo Itami). Suzuki, proving that creativity is everything, made a comeback ten years later and re-established his filmmaking career with his period drama series, the Taishou Trilogy. These films – Zigeunerweisen (1980), Kagero-za (1981) and Yumeji (1991) won critical acclaim and awards from the 1981 Japanese Academy Prize and Kinema Junpo Awards as well as box-office success. These films have been floating around on the net for a while but film fans who want the real deal will want to view this on the big screen at Japan Cuts or get the box set since it will be hi-definition. They are soon to be released thanks to Arrow Films.
Synopsis: A university professor at a military academy, his former colleague-turned-vagabond and an elusive geisha get involved in dangerous sexual games in a small town…
Running Time: 81 mins
Director: Go Takamine
Writer: Go Takamine (Screenplay)
Starring: Susumu Taira, Saburo Kitamura, Misako Ohshirp, Ryuichi Ishikawa, Katsuhiro Kawamitsu, Reiko Hanai, Ikumi Itokazu,
Synopsis: Tarugani and Papajo are two best friends who live in Patai Village in Okinawa, where those who failed to die continue to exist. Living with the undying makes being framed as thieves who stole an illegal substance from the local store seem positively normal and the two ageing friends set out on the road, chased by three dripping wet mysterious women.
Director: Konrad Aderer
Writer: Konrad Aderer
Starring: Roger Daniels, Grace Hata, Satsuki Ina, Tetsuden Kashima, Hiroshi Kashwagi, Sadako Kashiwagi, Jim Tanimoto,
Introduction and Q&A with director Konrad Aderer
Synopsis from the festival site: A dominant narrative of the World War II incarceration of Japanese Americans is that they behaved as a “model minority,” cooperating without protest and proving their patriotism by enlisting in the army. Konrad Aderer’s (Enemy Alien) documentary overturns this history, telling the story of the 12,000 Japanese Americans labelled “disloyal” who dared to resist the U.S. government’s program of mass incarceration at Tule Lake Segregation Centre. Through the voices of contemporary descendants on pilgrimages to the concentration camp memorial site, rare stock footage and photographs, lawyers and historians, and invaluable oral history from those who lived through it, Resistance at Tule Lake brings to surface stories of dissent and noncooperation marginalised for 70 years—ever more vital today amidst new threats to the rights of immigrants and minorities.
Running Time: 89 mins
Director: Kyoko Miyake
Writer: Kyoko Miyake (Screenplay),
Video introduction with director Kyoko Miyake
Synopsis from the filmmaker’s website: “IDOLS” has fast become a phenomenon in Japan as girl bands and pop music permeate Japanese life. Tokyo Idols – an eye-opening film gets at the heart of a cultural phenomenon driven by an obsession with young female sexuality and internet popularity.
This ever growing phenom is told through Rio, a bona fide “Tokyo Idol” who takes us on her journey toward fame. Now meet her “brothers”: a group of adult middle aged male super fans (ages 35 – 50) who devote their lives to following her—in the virtual world and in real life. Once considered to be on the fringes of society, the “brothers” who gave up salaried jobs to pursue an interest in female idol culture have since blown up and have now become mainstream via the internet, illuminating the growing disconnect between men and women in hypermodern societies.
With her provocative look into the Japanese pop music industry and its focus on traditional beauty ideals, filmmaker Kyoko Miyake confronts the nature of gender power dynamics at work. As the female idols become younger and younger, Miyake offers a critique on the veil of internet fame and the new terms of engagement that are now playing out IRL around the globe.
/ふたつのクジラの物語 「Futatsu no Kujira no Monogatari」
Running Time: 95 mins
Director: Megumi Sasaki
Synopsis: Many documentaries, opinion pieces, and news articles have been generated because of the practice of whaling and dolphin hunting by Japanese fishermen but this one is billed as a “finely balanced film essay” that enters “the political fray of environmentalism versus tradition” by avoiding taking sides and focusing on “points of contact and communication between the two sides, foreign activists devoting years to the cause and agricultural workers who have developed a first-name familiarity.” The film aims to give context to the situations and arguments of local people who have grown up with the practice of whaling and those opposed to it by looking at the traditions and the global environmental and economic concerns. The filmmakers are experienced journalists who have worked both in Japan and America so there should be balance here.
SHORTS SHOWCASE (IN SCREENING ORDER)
A programme of wildly inventive and daring narrative short films from up-and-coming and well-established filmmakers from Japan varying in tone, style and genre. (Total running time approx. 84 min.)
Birds (Dir: Koji Fukada, 2016, 8 min)
This charming comedy by Koji Fukada (Harmonium) presents an awkward interaction between a wife, her husband and his lover that reaches an absurd climax.
We Are Shooting (Dir: Raita Minorita, 2017, 26 min)
Among the most stressful and thankless work done on a film set is undertaken by the production intern. It is no different for the plucky Reiko, who is reminded that “Moviemaking is a warzone!”
WHITE-T AND FEEBLE THINGS (Dir: Yun Su Kim, 2017, 30 min)
Takara only wears spotless white T-shirts, but lately can’t seem to keep any of them clean. Meanwhile, he meets a mysterious contract killer and struggles with insecurities about his girlfriend. International Premiere.
Breathless Lovers (Shumpei Shimizu, 2017, 20 min)
Suffering from heartbreak and asthma, 23-year-old Toshiyuki pushes the limits of his body to chase the ghost of his recently deceased boyfriend against the black-blue backdrop of Tokyo’s cityscape.
Running Time: 110 mins.
Director: Sunao Katabuchi
Writer: Sunao Katabuchi (Screenplay), Fumiyo Kono (Original Creator)
Animation Production: MAPPA
Starring: Rena Nounen (Suzu Urano), Daisuke Ono (Akira), Mayumi Shintani (San), Shigeru Ushiyama (Entaro), Megumi Han (Sumi), Minori Omi (Michiko), Natsuki Inaba (Harumi), Yoshimasa Hosoya (Shuusaku),
This is the UK premiere of an award-winning film that I had the pleasure of seeing in Hiroshima, the setting for part of the film, a couple of months ago. It took the Animation of the Year award at the 40th annual Japan Academy and I am not surprised since it is a beautiful and stately film about an absent-minded artistic young woman trying to survive the hardship of war. I wasn’t the only one impressed since the film won the Hiroshima Peace Film Award at the Hiroshima International Film Festival in November last year and the film magazine Kinema Jump named it the best Japanese movie of 2016 and it awarded Katabuchi the Best Director Award.
The film was orchestrated by Sunao Katabuchi who directed the awesome Mai Mai Miracle and the TV anime Black Lagoon. It was animated by the studio MAPPA (Shingeki no Bahamut: Genesis, Terror in Resonance).
Synopsis: Suzu Urano is a Hiroshima girl from a close-knit family but when she marries a naval officer, she has to move from Hiroshima City to Kure, the city which launched the battleship Yamato and the site of one of Japan’s largest naval bases. As a new housewife, she encounters uncertainty in her new family, her new city, and her new world but she perseveres and finds happiness even as the war grinds on and comes closer to home.
Introduction and Q&A with producer Taro Maki
Maki is a film producer and the president of GENCO INC. He studied at Waseda University School of Law, and after graduation, worked at film production company Tohokushinsha. There, he worked on many television and feature animation films. Some of his renowned producing credits include Mamoru Oshii’s Mobile Police Patlabor the Movie (1989), Satoshi Kon’s Millennium Actress (2001) and Tokyo Godfathers (2003), the Sword Art Online TV series (2012, 2014), Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale (2016) and Ryuhei Kitamura’s Downrange (2017). In 2016, he produced In This Corner of the World, which ranked 1st in the Kinema Junpo Awards.