The 2018 Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme (February 02nd to March 28th) has had its line-up of films revealed by the organisers and its a veritable feast of excellent contemporary titles with a classic and an anime added which looks/is fantastic respectively. I’ll come out cheering for The Long Excuse which is just fantastic. I cannot recommend this film enough. There’s also Sword of the Stranger which is pure action thrills, and Joy of Man’s Desiring and Room for Let which look exquisite. What’s the theme behind all of these films? Here’s more from the organisers:
Everybody has once told a lie or kept something hidden from others. Whether for good intentions or otherwise, it is a fundamental and intriguing aspect of human nature which has provided inspiration to countless storytellers and filmmakers.
With diverse cinematic voices, The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2018 features some of the best examples of cinema from Japan and will look at how the country’s filmmakers have been drawn to portraying the “(un)true” colours of human nature. The twists and turns of life portrayed in the programme are at times heart-rending, at other times hilarious, but always enthralling.
Without further ado, here are the films!
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. It’s an incredibly moving story of an arrogant widower coming to terms with his own short-comings and it taught me a lot about life. Here’s my review.
Here’s an excerpt from another review:
“Writer-director Miwa Nishikawa’s somber reflection on the strains of marriage and parenthood is punctuated with beautiful existential undertones.” (Maggie Lee, Variety).
As far as I’m concerned, this is the best film at the festival and I hope people go and see it. Please, it’s just so good. Here’s my review.
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.
人の望みの喜びよ 「Hitono Nozomino Yorokobiyo」
Running Time: 85 mins.
Director: Masakazu Sugita
Writer: Masakazu Sugita (Screenplay),
Starring: Ayane Ohmori, Riku Ohishi, Naoko Yoshimoto, Koichiro Nishi
Director Masakazu Sugita, himself a survivor of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, crafts a tender and humane story focusing on orphans affected by natural disasters – a topic he decided to tackle following the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. Sugita’s poetic and tranquilly shot debut film received Special Mention at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival, as well as being nominated for the Best First Feature Award in 2014.
Synopsis: The story revolves around two siblings, a young boy named Shota and his older sister Haruna, who lost their parents after a major earthquake. Despite finding a safe home with their aunt and uncle the two children find it hard to fit in with their new lives not least because Shota doesn’t know that their parents are dead and Haruna wants to tell him.
Running Time: 108 mins.
Release Date: March 04th, 2017
Director: Shinji Azuma
Writer: Shinji Azuma (Screenplay), Asa Nonami (Original Novel)
Starring: Kento Hayashi, Mina Fujii, Kazuyuki Aijima, Katsuhiko Watabiki, Etsuko Ichihara,
Synopsis: Izumi (Kento Hayashi) is a cowardly lowlife thief who targets women and the elderly but when the police are hot on his heels, he runs to the mountains of Miyazaki in southern Japan. Out of his comfort zone, the city boy makes his way along a remote road when he encounters an injured elderly woman, Suma (Etsuko Ichihara) involved in a road accident. He helps her home and she takes him in believing he is a homeless ‘good Samaritan’. As the two spend time together they form a bond much like grandmother and grandson and Izumi begins to settle into a new, more simple life in the village but his past comes back to haunt him. Can he make a clean break or will he fall back on his wicked ways?
アフタースクール 「Afuta- Suku-ru」
Running Time: 102 mins.
Release Date: May 24th, 2008
Director: Kenji Uchida
Writer: Kenji Uchida (Screenplay),
Starring: Yo Oizumi, Masato Sakai, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Tomoko Tabata, Ayumu Saito, Kei Yamamoto, Takako Tokiwa, Masato Ibu, Junichiro Kishi,
Kenji Uchida has racked up a small body work work consisting of normal people thrown into romance or crime through chance and yakuza. Key of Life (2012) was an exceptional film and the very, very diverse crowd I saw it with at the 2012 London Film Festival were in stitches, so it’s great to see one of his other films will be screened at this festival!
Synopsis: Jinno (Yo Oizumi) is an amiable middle school teacher whose friend and neighbour Kimura (Masato Sakai) is a slick accountant with a beautiful, loving wife named Miki (Takako Tokiwa). One the surface, everything looks fine for the couple who are expecting a baby. However, on the day of the baby’s delivery, Kimura suddenly goes missing and pretty soon, Kimura’s company hires a seedy private detective (Kuranosuke Sasaki) who begins digging into Kimura’s past to track him down. Before long, Jinno is press-ganged into looking for Kimura and some shocking facts come to light...
あやしい彼女 「Ayashii kanojo」
Running Time: 125 mins.
Release Date: April 01st, 2016
Director: Nobuo Mizuta
Writer: Tomoko Yoshizawa (Screenplay),
Starring: Mikako Tabe, Mitsuko Baisho, Hiro Honda, Katsuko Kanai, Jun Kaname, Kilt, Takumi Kitamura, Satomi Kobayashi, Yuta Kubo, Yutaka Mishima, Eriko Mikamo,
This one is based on a Korean film called Miss Granny (2014) which has been adapted by film-makers in other countries. I saw the Thai version in Osaka last year.
Synopsis: Katsu (Mitsuko Baisho) is a 73-year-old woman living with a sharp tongue and mean temper. People find her constant hectoring hard to deal with. She wasn’t always this way. She had to make ends meet as a woman raising a daughter alone and was unable to live the life she wished for.
One day, Katsu goes for a walk and stumbles across a photo studio and takes a picture. When she leaves, she finds that she is now 20-years-old (Mikako Tabe) again and so she decides to live life to her fullest, changing her fashion, changing her name to Setsuko Otori, and joining her grandson’s rock band as a singer! Her old-fashioned songs charm crowds and she soon embarks upon a dream career!
暗黒女子 「Ankoku Joshi」
Running Time: 105 mins.
Release Date: April 01st, 2017
Director: Saiji Yakumo
Writer: Mari Okada (Screenplay), Rikako Akiyoshi (Original Novel),
Starring: Fumika Shimizu, Marie Iitoyo, Yudai Chiba, Yuna Taira, Nana Seino, Tina Tamashiro, Riria Kojima.
Here’s my review.
Synopsis: Seibo Maria Girls High School is where the daughters of the elite are sent. When the daughter of the school’s administrator, Itsumi Shiraishi (Marie Iitoyo) falls off the rooftop, rumours fly around the school. Was it an accident, suicide, or possibly murder? The only clue is that she was holding a lily of the valley in her hand and the rumour that someone in the literature club killed Itsumi. The new president of the club, Itsumi’s friend Sayuri (Fumika Shimizu), holds a meeting and asks each member to recount their whereabouts at the time of Itsumi’s death. Who is telling a lie and what really happened to Itsumi?
貸間あり 「Kashima Ari」
Running Time: 112 mins.
Release Date: June 02nd, 1959
Director: Yuzo Kawashima
Writer: Giichi Fujimoto, Yuzo Kawashima (Screenplay), Masuji Ibuse (Original Novel),
Starring: Furanki Sakai, Nobuko Otowa, Ikio Sawamura, Etsuko Ichihara, Takeshi Kato, Chikage Awashima, Chieko Naniwa, Shoichi Ozawa,
This was programmed to celebrate the centenary of Yuzo Kawashima, a master of satire who was little-known outside of Japan until around the 2010s when festivals like Berlin started programming restored prints of his films. The Japan Society in New York also screened a number of his films. Closer to the UK, one film at least, Bakumatsu Taiyoden, has been released in the UK and my memory of this Eureka Masters of Cinema release was of a fantastic picture and a funny film. It’s good to see this get a release. It’s called a rare portrait of Osaka low life and, aside from The Long Excuse, I’m personally excited by this one. I think it’s because I still have dreams of Osaka, walking about the city late at night and seeing the towers with their lights.
This one looks special so here’s a clip via Twitter and synopsis via the Japan Foundation:
Synopsis: When Yumiko Tsuyama, a potter by profession, enters an old mansion overlooking Osaka enquiring about a room to rent, she discovers a bizarre collection of characters dwelling in the humble abode. There’s a low-level gangster and panty thief, an old army sergeant and cabbage roll specialist, and a female illegal liquor vendor – to name a few. The leader of the menagerie is Yoda Goro, an eccentric jack of all trades; his simplicity and naivety, however, leave him susceptible to unscrupulous manipulators.
ストレンヂア －無皇刃譚－ 「Mukou Hadan」
Running Time: 82 mins.
Release Date: September 29th, 2007
Director: Masahiro Ando
Writer: Fumihiko Takayama (Screenplay),
Starring: Tomoya Nagase (Nanashi), Yuri Chinen (Kotarou), Atsushi Ii (Bailuan), Kouichi Yamadera (Luolan Rarou), Junko Minagawa (Mu-You),
Animation Production: STUDIO BONES
It’s great to see the Japan Foundation is still screening anime after starting things with Mai Mai Miracle a few years ago. Sword of the Stranger is getting a new release courtesy of Anime Limited and it’s a fantastic high-quality set. I’d buy it but I’ve owned it on DVD for many years. However, the chance to see it on a big screen is almost too much to miss because this fast and fluid action film features fantastic sword fights that blow away anything in live-action and animated Hollywood films. This is a good old fashioned chambara movie that will get the blood pumping! They don’t make anime like this any more so this is a recommendation! Here’s more from the Japan Foundation website:
A classic animation which celebrates its tenth anniversary, this breath-taking and thrilling action anime features stunningly animated fight scenes and is produced by Studio Bones, the legendary animators behind Fullmetal Alchemist and Cowboy Bebop.
Synopsis from the Japan Foundation: In feudal era Japan, young Kotaro is pursued by the royal army of China’s Ming Dynasty. When his loyal dog Tobimaru is injured in an ambush, Kotaru reluctantly recruits a mysterious, nameless samurai as his bodyguard. However, “No-name” has a guilty past and his own inner demons to battle.
Running Time: 120 mins.
Director: Kei Ishikawa
Writer: Kosuke Mukai (Screenplay), Tokuro Nukui (Original Novel),
Starring: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Hikari Mitsushima, Keisuke Koide, Asami Usuda, Yui Ichikawa,
This is a disturbing film which opens up a can of worms about class and gives us a chilling existential portrait of people driven mad by that issue. It features a great performance from Satoshi Tsumabuki and another from Hikari Mitsushima. Here’s my review.
Synopsis from the Japan Foundation: Tanaka, an investigative reporter who grew up in a troubled family, is going through a tough time trying to support his younger sister Mitsuko (Hikari Mitsushima), recently arrested and held in prison. Meanwhile, he immerses himself into a story about a shocking murder of the ‘perfect’ family – a successful businessman, a beautiful wife and an adorable child – who were brutally massacred the year before, with the case going cold and remaining unsolved. Through interviewing their friends and acquaintances, stories of their true nature unfold and it becomes apparent that the family was not the ideal it appeared to be. In turn, the interviewees unveil their own hidden natures, revealing a disturbing portrait of social elitism.
アズミ・ハルコは行方不 「Azumi Haruko wa yukue fumei」
Running Time: 100 mins.
Director: Daigo Matsui
Writer: Mariko Yamauchi (Original Novel), Misaki Setoyama (Screenplay)
Starring: Yu Aoi, Mitsuki Takahata, Shono Hayama, Taiga, Kanon Hanakage, Ryo Kase, Motoki Ochiai, Tomiyuki Kunihiro, Akiko Kikuchi,
This was the hot ticket at the 2016 Tokyo International Film Festival and it has cropped up at other international film festivals. The reviews at Variety and The Japan Times paint a compelling film full of Japanese pop-culture tropes and cultural criticism about the position of women in society and it’s all true. My review is full of praise because it’s a film that challenges the audience to look at how women construct their identities in patriarchal society and the limits of their freedom. It was directed by Daigo Matsui (How Selfish I Am!).
Synopsis: Cryptic graffiti, featuring information from a missing person poster, begin to appear all over a suburban town. Haruko Azumi is the subject and she has gone missing. Her disappearance goes viral across the news and social media. After the disappearance of Haruko, a mysterious group of high school girls begins attacking men at random. These two incidents overlap. Are they connected? Witness scenes from the lives of Japanese girls.
イニシエーション ラブ 「Inishie-shon Rabu」
Release Date: May 23rd, 2015
Running Time: 110 mins.
Director: Yukihiko Tsutsumi
Writer: Mineko Okamoto (Screenplay), Kurumi Inui (Original Novel),
Starring: Shota Matsuda, Atsuko Maeada, Fumino Kimura, Takahiro Miura, Tomoya Maeno, Tsurutaro Kataoka, Satomi Tezuka,
This is a youth romance story based on a book which is pretty famous for a twist which is on the final page and makes readers re-read the entire novel to see things in a different light. The book has two main parts: “side A” set in Shizuoka when the characters played in the movie by Shota Matsuda and Atsuo Meada meet and strike up a romance. Then there is “side B,” which is set in Tokyo with chapters named after song titles which are representative of what happens in each of them.
Sounds intriguing but how will it play out on the big screen?
It’s directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi (2LDK) who can do tricksy narratives with shifts in perspective. It stars Shota Matsuda and Atsuko Maeda (Seventh Code).
Synopsis: It is some time in the late 1980’s in Shizuoka and the character we are following is a college student named Suzuki or Takkun to his friends (Matsuda) who is attempting to find a job. He goes on a blind date and meets Mayu (Maeda), a dental hygienist, and the two hit it off and begin dating. Takkun is forced to move after he gets a job in Tokyo and heads off to the capital leaving Mayu behind. Madness…. Their long distance relationship may collapse as another woman named Miyako (Kimura) enters the picture… Oh no, romance broken… but then something is said and the film becomes a mystery in the final five minutes as a twist is revealed!!!
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,
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…
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,
Director Atsuko Hirayanagi attended NYU Tisch School of Arts in Asia and holds a black belt in karate. How’s that for awesome. She is a film-maker earning respect and has done since 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 where it was the opening film for last year’s Raindance. You can read more here but it’s an inspiring story and the resulting film looks great.
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.
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.
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, Parade), 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.“
Here’s my review.
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…
Japanese Title: 土竜の唄 潜入捜査官 REIJI
Romaji: Mogura no Uta Sennuu Sosakan REIJI
Running Time: 130 mins.
Release Date: February 13th, 2014
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Kudo Kankuro (Screenplay), Noboru Takahashi (Original Manga)
Starring: Toma Ikuta, Ren Osugi, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Riisa Naka, Takayuki Yamada, Mitsuru Fukikoshi
This is based on a manga by Noboru Takahashi. The trailer is crazy but that’s par for the course with Takashi Miike (For Love’s Sake). The film has a great cast playing the characters like Toma Ikuta (Close-Knit), Shinichi Tsutsumi (Why Don’t You Play in Hell?), Ren Osugi (Exte) and Mitsuru Fukikoshi (Cold Fish).
Synopsis: Reiji Kikukawa (Ikuta) has a strong sense of justice but graduates at the bottom of his class from the police academy. He is so useless his superiors send him on what should be a suicide mission. First the police chief fires him for disciplinary issues and then sets him up as a mole in the Sukiyaki gang, the largest crime group in the Kanto area. His target is Shuho Todoroki, the boss, and so Reiji goes through hell to get his man!
A variety will be screened in the following cities from February 02nd to March 28th, 2018:
Tickets are already on sale! I may see you at the London run!