Japanese Films at the Berlin International Film Festival 2018

The 68th Berlin International Film Festival, running from February 15th to the 25th, has a pretty good line-up of films but I’m super interested in the Japanese contingent. Thanks to the great media communication, the last few weeks have been building up lots of anticipation. I’ve been covering this festival for a while now and this year is as strong as many others.

Here are the Japanese films that have been programmed, just click on the titles to be taken to the festival listing.

Berlinale 2018 Logo

The Arsenal – Institute for Film and Video Art has programmed the Forum as part of the Berlinale, selecting 44 films, 35 of which world premieres. The International Forum of New CinemaForum is a bit like the wild west in the sense that the filmmakers selected come from different backgrounds and practice different forms of cinema from drama to avant garde, experimental works closer to art pieces to to observational documentaries, with subjects like political reportage and drama being given equal importance. There are a huge variety of films and topics few formal limitations when it comes to the selection of films, resulting in even greater freedom.

There are two films from the Pia Film Festival and both are directed by women who seem to have a unique take on tired stories judging by the synopses and trailers.


Our House     Watashitachi no ie Film Poster

わたしたちの家Watashitachi no ie

Running Time: 80 mins.

Release Date: January 13th, 2018

Director:  Yui Kiyohara

Writer: Yui Kiyohara, Noriko Kato (Screenplay),

Starring: Kazuki Kasai, Yukiko Anno, Mari Ozawa,


This film comes from Yui Kiyohara, a graduate student at the Tokyo National University of the Arts and has studied with Kiyoshi Kurosawa. It won the Pia Film Festival Grand Prix and was at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year. Her previous film was A Certain Bagatelle (2015). Our House, Yui Kiyohara. IP. For the Japan Times’ Mark Schilling, Kiyohara depicts “the ways loneliness and alienation can distort the field we call reality until the afflicted start to feel the presence of unseen others and experience what rationally shouldn’t exist. She does this with a quiet assurance, supported by subtly spooky lighting and crisply composed visuals in traditional Japanese spaces, as though she’s been channeling Yasujiro Ozu as well as Kurosawa.”

Synopsis from the festival site: Fourteen-year-old Seri lives with her mother in a small town by the ocean, in a house made of wood, with sliding doors, paper walls and tatami straw floors – a house full of history.

Two women meet while leaving a ferry. One seems confused, and declares that she’s lost her memory. All she can remember is her name: Sana. The other woman, Toko, offers Sana a place to stay. The viewer recognises Toko’s house at first glance: It’s the same one where Seri and her mother Kiriko live, albeit furnished slightly differently.
Any attempt to bring together the two stories that are told in parallel from now on falls short. They unfold in tandem, in parallel universes perhaps, separated by boundaries that are nonetheless permeable. Again and again, the inhabitants of the house sense the eerie, ghostlike presence of the others.

The subtle spookiness of the story, heightened by the ethereal music, is occasionally reminiscent of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, with whom the director studied. But she also cites another influence: At the start of the film, a short burst of Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” is heard. Our House borrows its polyphonic narration from the art of Bach’s fugues.


あみこ Amiko

Running Time: 66 mins.

Release Date: N/A

Director: Yoko Yamanaka

Writer: Yoko Yamanaka (Screenplay),

Starring: Ai Sunohara, Hiroshi Oshita, Mineo Maiko,

This special gem won the Audience Award and Hikari TV Award at the Pia Film Festival Every person would like to be loved and adored by someone but don’t ever forget that the other person is a human and has their own thoughts and feelings.

Synopsis: 16-year-old Amiko is convinced that “the Japanese are unable to dance spontaneously.” She’s just tried it out herself, with some strangers in a Tokyo underground passage. Believing that she’s had more than her fair share of days where she’d do absolutely anything, she’s left behind the provincial city of Nagano to head to the capital and take her heartthrob Aomi to task. A year before, she took a long winter’s walk with him and thought she’d met her soulmate, someone else like her who wonders in which phase of life there’s actually room for being happy. But then he disappeared, headed for Tokyo, together with Amiko’s nemesis Miyako of all people, the very “epitome of mass culture”, quite unlike her anti-bourgeois and wildly romantic self.

As far as creativity and playful levity are concerned, the invigorating directorial debut by 20-year-old Yoko Yamanaka need fear no comparisons. The recalcitrant Amiko could easily be a distant relative of Louis Malle’s Zazie dans le métro. Yet the imaginative and insolent film equally breathes the increasingly rare rebellious spirit of the 1980s “Hachimiri” movement.

There are two Japanese films by veteran directors who are very active to this day.

Yocho  (Foreboding)    Yocho Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha Gekijoban Film Poster

予兆 散歩する侵略者 劇場版  Yocho Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha Gekijoban

Running Time: 140 mins.

Release Date: November 11th , 2017

Director:  Kiyoshi Kurosawa

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

Starring: Kaho, Shota Sometani, Masahiro Higashide, Ren Osugi, Taro Suwa, Yukino Kshii, Eriko Nakamura, Makoto Nakamura, Makiko Watanabe,

Website IMDB

Yocho is an edited version of the WOWOW drama series Yocho Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha and boils down the five 40 minute episodes into a film that lasts 140 minutes. It was shown in cinemas for 2 weeks and was made as a tie-in for the film, Before We Vanish (2017) which I reviewed over at Vcinema last week.

When Etsuko Yamagiwa (Kaho) gets involved in what seems to be an emotional crisis faced by co-worker Miyuki Asakawa (Yukino Kishii), little did she expect she could be facing the end of humanity. One day, Miyuki tells Etsuko that she has seen a ghost in her father, that the way the sky seems to be different and even the way people’s behaviour is changing are all signs of something. Etsuko is worried and arranges for Miyuki to be sent to the psychiatric hospital where her husband Tatsuo (Shota Sometani) works. There, Miyuki receives a diagnosis that she lacks the concept of “family.” It is also there that Miyuki becomes disturbed by the presence of Dr. Jiro Makabe (Masahiro Higashide) and Etsuko also has misgivings because the strangely unemotional man is working with Tatsuo. The growing paranoia may not be unfounded because, one day, Etsuko hears Dr. Jiro Makabe state “I came to Earth to invade.” Before that takes place, he just needs to steal some concepts like “family” and “dignity”…

River’s Edge   River's Edge Film Poster

リバーズ・エッジ Riba-zu Ejji

Running Time: 118 mins.

Release Date: February 16th , 2018

Director:  Isao Yukisada

Writer: Isao Yukisada (Screenplay),

Starring: Fumi Nikaidou, Ryo Yoshizawa, Aoi Morikawa, Shuhei Uesugi, Sumire, Shiori Doi,

Website   IMDB

Isao Yukisada is a familiar face to appear at Berinale since this is his fourth film to appear in the Panorama section. His feature film debut was Sunflower which won the Fipresci Prize at the 2000 Busan International Film Festival. Go is his 2001 teen action film which was nominated for over 50 international awards but his biggest film in Japan is Crying Out Love in the Center of the World ) reached an audience of 6.2 million, making it Japan’s most commercially successful film of 2004. I’ve reviewed two of his works, Parade (2010) and Aroused by Gymnopedies (2016).

Synopsis: This is a film told from a variety of perspectives, all linked up to show a generation and their experiences with extreme emotions. Stories consist of a bulimic model who gorges herself on food every night, a gay highschooler who is bullied by classmates who discovers something gruesome in a polluted river, a girl who pushes the boundaries of rough sex to frightening levels, and an introvert who reads her pregnant sister’s diaries.

There are documentaries from Japan here including one from Kazuhiro Soda:


 港町 Minatomachi

Running Time: 122 mins.

Release Date: April, 2018

Director:  Kazuhiro Soda

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A

IMDB     WebsiteMinatomachi Film Image

Synopsis: Documentarian Kazuhiro Soda has been touring around the world based on films like The Oyster Factory (2015). Here, he brings his camera to the fishing village of Ushimado on the coast between Honshu and Shikoku. It is famous for being the place Shohei Imamura shot two features but now it has an ageing population but fishermen and fish-traders who tour the village and knows the local’s habits and lives. With insiders leading the way, inclduing the film’s producer Kiyoko Kashiwagi whose family hails from the village, many tales emerge.

Yama – Attack to Attack    山谷 やられたらやりかえせ Film Poster

山谷やられたらやりかえせ  Yama Yararetara Yarikaese

Running Time: 110 mins.

Release Date: 1985

Director:  Mitsuo Sato, Kyoichi Yamoka

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A 


山谷─やられたらやりかえせ Film Image

Synopsis: Right from the start, Mitsuo Sato makes clear that this film is not an appeal for pity. Instead, Yama is a film for the workers, meant to function as a weapon in their struggle. Sato paid for this stance with his life: on December 22, 1985 – during filming – he was murdered by Yakuza gangsters whose criminal involvement in the restructuring of the job market Sato intended to reveal with this film. A collective of directors headed by Kyoichi Yamaoka finished the film; Yamaoka, too, was later murdered. The dramatic circumstances of the production reflect the explosive nature of the subject: the film exposes the collaboration between the Japanese elite and police with Yakuza gangs, who gained ever more power in the mid-80s as subcontractors in the booming construction business in Tokyo. Yama accuses those responsible of the resulting brutal exploitation of the types of people Marxists call the “reserve army of labour”: day workers, outcasts, the unemployed, foreigners. Highlighting their dramatic struggle as those exploited and victimised by criminal conditions, the film documents the excesses of a capitalism with fascist undertones.

The Forum section continues to provoke and explore by having a tribute to Keiko Sato. The name may not be familiar to many so here’s the information given by Rapid Eye Movies who are orchestrating this:

The Japanese “pink eiga” films form perhaps one of the most idiosyncratic phenomena in the whole of international cinema. Conceived to entice male audiences with erotic content, the genre also attracted numerous young directors who bent it to their will and created some of the most radical, avant-garde works in Japanese film. A considerable number of the Japanese directors most well-known today took their first steps with “pink film.” What’s less well-known is that one of the driving forces behind the “pinku eiga” genre is actually a woman, who was concealed behind the male pseudonym Daisuke Asakura. With its “Pink Tribute to Keiko Sato”, the Forum is showing three of the producer’s most original films. Atsushi Yamatoya wrote his absurdly titled 1967 film Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands in parallel to his script for Seijun Suzuki’s classic Branded to Kill, to which the former work undoubtedly forms a twin of sorts. For Masao Adachi, 1971’s Gushing Prayer was one last attempt to couch social critique in sexually provocative form, before he turned his attention to political activism. Finally, the most recent work in the series is the debut film by Masayuki Suo, who later landed one of the biggest hits in Japanese film history with Shall We Dance. Abnormal Family from 1984 is his tribute to Yasujiro Ozu, who for all the stylistic similarities would hardly have been pleased by the degree of sexual permissiveness.

Gushing Prayer   

 噴出祈願 15歳の売春婦 Funshutsu kigan: 15-sai no baishunfu

Running Time: 74 mins.

Release Date: August 04th , 1971

Director/Writer Masao Adachi

Starring: Michio Akiyama, Yuji Aoki, Masaaki Hiroaka, Shigenori Noda, Kaoru Miya, Makiko Kim,


Synopsis from the festival site: Yasuko, Yoichi, Koichi and Bill are four high-school students who try to escape their overwhelming sense of alienation from the world around them by indulging in group sex, all to see whether they can forge their own path free of the corruptions of adult society. After revealing she has had an affair with her teacher, Yasuko is made to feel like a prostitute, with sex thus reduced to an economic transaction rather than something about pleasure. She sets out on an odyssey of self-exploration, the final goal being to see whether she can “beat” sex.

The most cryptic and formally extreme pink film from the most politically radical director to work in the field deploys actual suicide notes and a refrain by folk musician Masato Minami to unsettling effect to convey the vacuum left behind in the wake of the failed student movements of the 1960s. The cinematography by Wakamatsu regular Hideo Ito captures the landscapes of Shinjuku through an intriguing blend of the documentary and the cinematic. Real-life scenes of jeeps and tanks crawling through the streets recall just how strong the anti-terrorist police presence was in Tokyo at the turn of the decade.

Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands Film Poster

荒野のダッチワイフ 「Kōya no Datchi Waifu

Running Time: 129 mins.

Release Date: October 03rd , 1967

Director:  Atsushi Yamatoya

Writer: Atsushi Yamatoya (Screenplay),

Starring: Noriko Tatsumi, Yuichi Minato, Miki Watari, Shohei Yamamoto, Seigi (Masayoshi) Nogami, Hatsuo Yamaya, Mari Nagisa,


Here are the opening titles:

Synopsis: When a hitman named Sho is hired to save Sae, the kidnapped lover of a wealth real estate agent from a gang of yakuza, he is set on a collision course with the gang leader, Ko, who was responsible for the murder of his own girlfriend five years before. His only real clue is distorted footage of the woman and as he heads deep into Tokyo, he wonders if the girl really existed in the first place.

Abnormal Family

変態家族 兄貴の嫁さん 「Hentai kazoku: aniki no yome-san

Running Time: 63 mins.

Release Date: July, 1984

Director:  Masayuki Suo

Writer: Masayuki Suo (Screenplay),

Starring: Rara Hanayama, Kaoru Kaze, Ren Osugi, Shiro Shimomoto, Kei Shuto, Miki Yamaji,


Synopsis: The debut film of the future director of hit international comedy Shall We Dance? (1996) follows the antics of the five members of the model middle-class Mamiya family after the latest arrival into the household, the voluptuous new bride Yuriko of the over-sexed eldest son Koichi. Younger brother Kazuo sees his new sister-in-law as a possible source of release from study stress, while his sister Akiko dons her office lady uniform every morning and slips out of her family’s eyesight with a cheery smile, before heading straight to a workplace that offers much more in the way of financial incentive than the office. Meanwhile, their father remains a silent fixture behind his newspaper, nodding sagely at the head of the table, while waxing wistfully about the owner of the local bar who reminds him of his dead wife.
Shooting from his own script, Suo’s only ever pink film is a bawdy pastiche of the works of Yasujiro Ozu, presenting the members of this far-from-typical family through idiosyncratic editing and compositional style of the Grand Master of the Japanese domestic drama. The results are amongst the wittiest and entertaining in the entire history of “pinku eiga”.

In the Culinary Cinema section with have a Japanese-Singaporean fusion served up by Erik Khoo:

Ramen Teh     Ramen Teh Film Poster

Running Time: 89 mins.

Release Date: March 29th, 2018

Director:  Erik Khoo

Writer: Erik Khoo (Screenplay),

Starring: Takumi Saito, Seiko Matsuda, Mark Lee, Tsuyuoshi Iharam Jeanette Aw, Tetsuya Bessho, Beatrice Chien,


Erik Kohoo is probably best known for his animated film, Tatsumi: A Drifting Life but he has achieved other things such as being the first Singaporean to make films that were screened at major festivals including Berlin, Venice and Cannes and making his own production company. His recent projects are inspired by Singapore’s history.

Synopsis: Masato is a young ramen chef in the city of Takasaki in Japan who has just lost his emotionally distant father. His Singaporean mother died when he was ten and he has no idea about his family history so he is completely adrift. After he discovers a red notebook – filled with musings and old photos – left behind by his mother, he decides to head to Singapore and uses it to track down his missing background. With the help of Miki, a Japanese food blogger and single mother, he discovers a whole side of his family including his grandmother Madam Lee who is still alive know more about the story of his parents. Through the power of cooking, Masato gets in touch with his Singaporean family and his own history.

There are seven restored films in the Berlinale Classics section and one of them is a work by Yasujiro Ozu.

Tokyo Twilight   Tokyo Twilight Film Poster

東京暮色 Tokyo boshoku

Running Time: 141 mins.

Release Date: April 30th, 1957

Director: Yasujiro Ozu

Writer: Yasujiro Ozu, Kogo Noda (Screenplay),

Starring: Setsuko Hara, Ineko Arima, Chishu Ryu, Isuzu Yamada, Teiji Takahashi, Masami Taura, Kamatari Fujiwara, Haruko Sugimura,

This is the world premiere of Ozu’s last black and white film. It’s the digitally restored version and it comes in a 4K DCP and a longer running time. It will be presented by Wim Wenders.
It is considered one of Ozu’s darkest films because he unflinchingly looks on characters inflicting tragedy on one another and unable to change the course they take because of the flow of life and desire. To be human is to be flawed. The best of us try to avoid making mistakes.

According to the festival site, “the film was digitally restored in 4K on the basis of the 35mm duplicate negative provided by the Japanese production company Shochiku, managed by Shochiku MediaWorX Inc. Colour correction was led by Ozu’s former assistant cameraman Takashi Kawamata and cinematographer Masashi Chikamori.”

Synopsis: Two sisters find out the existence of their long-lost mother, but the younger cannot take the truth of being abandoned as a child. Abandoned by their mother, sisters Akiko (Ineko Arima) and Takako (Setsuko Hara) live with their father Shukichi (Chishu Ryu). When Akiko falls into desperate trouble, she turns away from her family.

Ryuichi Sakamoto PERFORMANCE IN NEWYORK: async   Ryuichi Sakamoto PERFORMANCE IN NEWYORK async Film Poster


Running Time: 70 mins.

Release Date: January 27th, 2018

Director:  Stephen Nomura Schible

Writer: N/A (Screenplay),

Starring: Ryuichi Sakamoto


Synopsis: Legendary musician Ryūichi Sakamoto played two evenings in the Veteran’s Room, an intimate, 200-seater hall at the Park Avenue Armory in New York and documentarian Stephen Nomura Schible recorded this concert with his camera. If you’re familiar with his work stretching from Yellow Magic Orchestra and Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise, through to The Last Emperor and The Revenant, you will know he mixes instruments so you can witness him use various electronic instruments, a grand piano without a lid, a guitar and a glass panel. The venue also had a huge screen mounted on the ceiling of the room above the grand piano which translated the melancholic, contemplative sounds that floated into the air into black-and-white images, creating a dreamlike space the results of which come across as a paean to life itself, according to critics.

This was released a couple of weeks ago in Japan but with Sakamoto being a member of the 2018 Berlinale’s International Jury, it’s a great way to celebrate a massive talent.

GENERATION 2018: Reflecting Reality

More than 2,000 films were submitted by people from around the world and that huge figure has been whittled down to a total of 65 feature-length and short films from 39 production and co-production countries. All of these were invited to compete in the Generation Kplus and Generation 14plus competitions and tell stories from the perspective of young protagonists who seek love and security in a world full of uncertainty and banal tragedies.

Here’s more from the people who programmed this section:

“Every single selection is an invitation to the audience to experience life from the perspective of youth. They are films with young people, as opposed to about them. An impressive characteristic throughout the programme is not only the deep respect with which the filmmakers paint portraits of their protagonists, but also the immediacy and intimacy with which they approach these very individual world views,” says section head Maryanne Redpath about this year’s programme.

There is one feature-length Japanese film in this section:

Blue Wind Blows    Blue Wind Blows Film Poster

Running Time: 88 mins.

Release Date: N/A

Director: Tetsuya Tomina 

Writer: Tetsuya Tomina (Screenplay),

Starring: Hizuki Tanaka, Yayako Uchida, Tsubaki Tanaka, Masato Hagiwara, Ninon, Kaiji Moriyama, Rumika, Yuya Uchida,

website  IMDB

Synopsis: Ao (Hizuki Tanaka) lives with his mother and younger sister Kii in an industrial coastal village on the Japanese island of Sado. Their father recently disappeared without a trace, but nobody talks much about that. Ao and Kii wander around the island and vent their incomprehension to the expanses of the sea. Then Ao finds a soulmate in the secretive Sayoko. These two daydreamers need only a few words and feel immediately connected to one another.

Neko no Hi / Cat Days

ねこのひ 「Neko no hi

Running Time: N/A

Release Date: N/A

Director: Jon Frickey

Writer: Jon Frickey (Screenplay),

Starring: Kanon Yamamoto, Yusuke Yamasaki, Iroha Sato, Shinobu Sawada, Fumio Okura, Yuna Fujiwara,

 an animated short film directed by Jon Frickey (website)

Synopsis: Jiro, a little boy, feels sick. His father takes him to the doctor’s. She diagnoses a harmless condition. But it shakes the core of the boy’s identity.


Here is past coverage I have offered on the festival:

Berlin Film Festival 2017

Berlin Film Festival 2016

Berlin Film Festival 2015

Berlin Film Festival 2014

Berlin Film Festival 2013

Berlin Film Festival 2012 Competition Results

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