Japanese Films at the Toronto International Film Festival 2017

The Toronto International Film Festival takes place from September 07th to the 17th and I intend to keep providing coverage of this particular festival because there is usually a good line-up of Japanese films. This year, there are two. Or, two that have been announced so far. In previous years which I have covered (Toronto 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011), there have been many more programmed so it might be the case that more will be announced at a later date but the festival organisers cut up to 20 per cent (60) films that will be screened (source). What has resulted is that Asian films have been hit very hard. See the update for some exciting additions!

I may be missing something so I’m making this post a sticky and will update it if anything crops up. For now, two films, one feature and one short. One horror and one drama.

UPDATE: 16/08/2017

I spoke too soon about there being too few Japanese films! Radiance, Birds Without Names, and The Third Murder have been added! This year’s slate of Japanese films at Toronto is shaping up to be a nice bunch!

Here are the details on the Japanese films:


RadianceHikari Film Poster


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 veteran filmmaker whose works are finally leaving the festival circuit and becoming widely available in the West via home distribution. Her latest was at the 2017 Cannes film festival and it radiates with some glowing praise. Her latest film sees her reunite 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. 

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 impairedThe 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.

Birds Without NamesBirds Without Names Film Poster

彼女がその名を知らない鳥たち Kanojo ga Sono Na wo Shiranai Toritachi

Running Time: 123 mins.

Release Date: October 28th , 2017

Director: Kazuya Shiraishi

Writer: Taeko Asano (Screenplay), Mahokaru Numata (Original Novel)

Starring: Yu Aoi, Yutaka Takenouchi, Tori Matsuzaka, Eri Murakawa, Sadao Abe, Masaaki Akahori, Mukku Akazawa,

Website  IMDB

Kazuya Shiraishi has moved from heavy crime dramas like The Devil’s Path and Twisted Justice on to the light-hearted Roman Porno Dawn of the Felines in terms of his career as a director. This one looks like a return to the drama and it stars Yu Aoi and Sadao Abe (Dreams for Sale) among others.

Synopsis: Towako (Yu Aoi) is in a relationship with an older man named Jinji (Sadao Abe). She hates him because he has a deadend job and no social grace but she needs him because of the money. However, she pines for an ex-boyfriend despite the fact he physically hurt her badly. When she meets Mizushima, a married man with a kid, he reminds her of Kurosaki and they begin an affair. Then the police visit Towako and tell her that Kurosaki has vanished…

The Third Murder    The Third Murder Film Poster

三度目の殺人Sandome no Satsujin

Running Time: N/A

Release Date: September 09th, 2017

Director:  Hirokazu Koreeda

Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda (Screenplay),

Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Koji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose, Yuki Saito, Kotaro Yoshida, Mikako Ichikawa, Izumi Matsuoka,

Website IMDB

Hirokazu Koreeda’s murder mystery will be travelling from the Venice Film Festival to Toronto (and hopefully on to London). This one sees him bring together a great cast, some of whom he has worked with before. Suzu Hirose was the eponymous little sister in Our Little Sister and Masaharu Fukuyama was one of the fathers in (Like Father Like Son) and there’s also the masterful Koji Yakusho who has worked with most of the great modern directors like Juzo Itami (Tampopo), Takashi Miike (Thirteen Assassins), and Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Cure) and Tetsuya Nakashima (director of the still totally mind-blowing film The World of Kanako. There is also the wonderful underused actor Mikako Ichikawa who took the lead in the utterly charming Rent-a-neko!

Synopsis: Shigemori (Fukuyama) is a hot-shot lawyer on a mean winning streak but when he is compelled to take on defending a man named Mikuma (Yakusho) he finds the first case which could cause the wheels to fall off his career.

Mikuma is accused of a murdering the president of a company and setting fire to the corpse. It looks like an open and shut case since Mikuma has confessed and he was convicted of a murder that took place 30 years ago. The death penalty is almost a certainty but the more Shigemori investigates and the more he talks to Mikuma, the less certain he becomes of the man’s guilt and the case itself.

The truth lies with the daughter of the murdered president, Sakie (Hirose)…


Oh Lucy!   Oh Lucy Film Poster

Running Time: 95 mins

Release Date: N/A

Director:  Atsuko Hirayanagi

Writer: Atsuko Hirayanagi, Boris Frumin (Screenplay),

Starring: Shinobu Terajima, Josh Hartnett, Kaho Minami, Koji Yakusho, Reiko Aylesworth, Casey J. Adler, Megan Mullally, Calvin C. Winbush, Kayano, Kimie Tanaka, Leni Ito,

Website IMDB

Atsuko Hirayanagi attended NYU Tisch School of Arts in Asia and holds a black belt in karate. She came out with a number of short films including the award-winning short Oh Lucy! (2014) which was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and was developed into this project that was screened at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Critics gave the film praise. Now, it’s travelling the festival circuit and it’s the opening film for this year’s Raindance. You can read more here but it’s an inspiring story and the resulting film looks great. Here are two clips and the trailer:

Synopsis from the filmmakers: The drama-comedy tells the story of Setsuko Kawashima (Terajima), a lonely, chain-smoking office lady in Tokyo who is past her prime. After deciding to take an English class, she discovers a new identity in her American alter ego, ‘Lucy,’ and falls for her instructor, John (Hartnett). When John suddenly disappears, Setsuko earnestly sets out on a quest to find him, eventually leading her to the outskirts of Southern California.

Vampire Clay

血を吸う粘土Chi wo su nendo

Running Time: N/A

Release Date: August 19th, 2017

Director:  Soichi Umezawa

Writer: Soichi Umezawa (Screenplay),

Starring: Asuka Kurosawa, Kanji Tsuda, Ena Fujita, Ryo Shinoda, Kyoka Takeda, Yuyu Makihara, Momoka Sugimoto,

Website IMDB

Vampire Clay is the feature-length film debut of writer/director Soichi Umezawa, a man who has had a long career as a special make-up effects artist on many doramas and films like those of the Tomie franchise, low-budget horror like the truly awful Alien vs Ninja and Dead Waves and the rather excellent Kiyoshi Kurosawa film Bright Future. This one looks more in line with his horror films and the special effects look pretty good – gooey and creepy dolls made from clay and some even creepier paintings!!!

The cast are mostly young newbies but they are held down by some really experienced actors such as Asuka Kurosawa who has worked with Shinya Tsukamoto when she gave a powerful lead performance in A Snake of June and she has also worked with Sion Sono on Cold Fish as a truly memorable sexy psycho. She has also appeared in two highly rated Tetsuya Nakashima films – The World of Kanako and Memories of Matsuko.

Kanji Tsuda is her co-actor and he has worked with great directors like SABU, Ryuichi Hiroki, Takeshi Kitano (Sonatine, Kids Return, Dolls) Shunji Iwai (April Story), Takeshi Miike (Audition) and Takashi Shimizu (Ju-on: The Grudge) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Tokyo Sonata). He also has a lot of experience with low-budget horror such as Shibuya Kaidan and Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl as well as a number of unspeakably gory Sushi Typhoon films. Survive Style 5+ is another one and I highly recommend seeing it.

The trailer I found is a compilation one for a horror film festival with films like Jeepers Creepers and The Fog and a couple of other titles. The third film featured is Vampire Clay.

Synopsis: The students of a rural art school are hunted and eaten by a scary vampire clay demon. It looks like they also turn on each other.

Vampire Clay Film Image 2


Running Time: 13 mins.

Release Date: August 05th, 2017

Director:  Kei Chikaura

Writer: Kei Chikaura (Screenplay),

Starring: Yulai Lu, Tim Ellrich, Laurence Midori Ohta,

Website IMDB

The director is Kei Chikaura and he is new to me. He grew up in Germany and Japan and studied economics and cinema at Osaka University before founding “Creatps Inc”, a media production company based in Tokyo. In 2012, he started a career directing movies with music documentaries and live concert films forming much of his filmography. Signature is his third short film and it has already been at the Locarno Film Festival (source).

Synopsis: An anxious young man from China is in the middle of the noise and crowds of Shibuya searching for something that will change his life…

Director’s statement: This film is about the sadness of youth in the age of international migration.

In Japan, there is a training program for other Asians called Technical Intern Training Program. Originally, its objective was assisting Asian developing countries. However, nowadays the situation has changed a lot. Some companies use it just for hiring a lot of young foreign workers under extremely low wage; not providing them any education. In this background, more than 5,800 trainees a year escape from the companies they belong and eventually become illegal overstayers or workers.

In this film, I wanted to look closely into an innocent young man from China, and find in me some connection with him. (Source)

Wolf Guy

ウルフガイ 燃えろ狼男Urufugai moeru roudanWolf Guy Film Poster

Running Time: 108 mins.

Release Date: April 05th, 1975

Director:  Kazuhiko Yamaguchi

Writer: Fumio Konami (Screenplay), Kazumasa Hirai (Original Manga)

Starring: Sonny Chiba, Haruki Jo, Kenji Kawai, Kyosuke Machida, Etsuko Nami,


Wolf Guy comes from Kazuhiko Yamaguchi who made his name with b-movies like Sister Streetfighter and Karate Bear Fighter. As the title suggests, lots of action and adventure in a horror/sci-fi film that has the legendary Sonny Chiba as a wolfman with mean karate moves plus a psychedelic musical score befitting a film from the ‘70s. This film was, until recently, never released outside of Japan until Arrow Films put out a fantastic package with extras and a lurid cover to die for.

Synopsis: Akira Inugami (Chiba) is the only survivor of a clan of ancient werewolves. He now solves crimes with his supernatural powers but the latest spate of wrongdoings might be too much: a series of bloody killings perpetrated by an unseen force leads to a conspiracy involving corrupt politicians and spies to harvest his blood in order to steal his wolf powers! At the same time, Inugami also discovers the truth behind his family heritage, and that he may not be the last of his kind.


Running Time: 96 mins.

Release Date: N/A

Director:  Verena Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor

Starring: N/A

IMDB Unifrance

Not a Japanese film but there is a Japanese person at the heart of this documentary, Issei Sagawa, a man infamous around the world for killing and then partially eating fellow student Renee Hartevelt at the Sorbonne in 1981. Due to his father’s intervention with a lot of money and a top lawyer, he managed to avoid jail time and was declared insane. He may have avoided one type of prison but he lives in another: having to live his life with everyone knowing he is a cannibal. Since nobody wants to work with him in a regular job, he can only get work recounting his horrific crime in manga, pink films, and magazine article. He claims that it is a terrible fate. This documentary doesn’t condone his deeds or the media-circus around him but seeks to explore his life, especially his connection with his brother Jun, who now acts as a carer of sorts. I’ve added this to various film festival posts because I read a really good review of it – very well-written.

Here is a clip and an interview with the filmmakers:

The film won the SPECIAL ORIZZONTI JURY PRIZE at the Venice International Film Festival

And that’s it…

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