The team behind the Osaka Asian Film Festival has released the entire programme of films that will play at this year’s edition and it’s a mighty cinematic feast spread across a Competition and programmes dedicated to Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, and other territories from elsewhere across Asia as well as Special Screenings, an Indie Forum, and films supported by the Housen Foundation.
These films cover a huge range of stories from dramas involving people finding karate giving meaning to their lives, to a melancholy animated title about dogs to Taiwan. There are lots of fantastic Japanese short films and box-office hits and an appearance from Hong Kong’s king of comedy, Chapman To. He is the recipient of the Osaka Asia Star Award and will be at the festival to talk about his career. A new talent on the American indie-scene, Kogonoda, will get his film screened at the festival and there are up-and-coming female directors from Asia. More pertinently, there is a whole slew of fantastic Japanese indie films that have some of the best drama and settings. Most if not all of these films have English subs which makes this festival the best place in Japan to see films.
The entire programme and all details, times, and dates are online at the festival’s site and tickets are already on sale. Here is a preview covering the Japanese films:
The Osaka Asian Film Festival opens on Friday March 9th at Hankyu Umeda Hall with the Japanese premiere of the Korean film “Anarchist from the Colony”, directed by Lee Joon-ik (“The Throne” and “Dongju: The Portrait of a Poet”). The Closing Film is the Word Premiere of Akihiro Toda’s “THE NAME (名前)” which will play at the ABC Hall on Sunday, March 18th.
In between the opening and closing films there are many sections:
This section will present 15 films chosen from films completed on or after 1st October 2016 and unreleased in Japan. There will be a team of international jurors will choose the winners of the Grand Prix and Most Promising Talent Award.
There are a variety of films here from all across Asia with protest and romance films from Hong Kong and the Philippines, a revenge drama set in 80s Taiwan full of lust and land-grabs that result in murder and an animated film about dogs and their owners from Taiwan and so much more. There are many highlights but I’m interested in the Japanese and American film on the bill.
東京不穏詩 「Tōkyō fuon uta」
Running Time: 114 mins.
Release Date: 2018
Director: Anshul Chauhan
Writer: Anshul Chauhan, Rand Colter (Screenplay), Anshul Chauhan (Original Story)
Starring: Shuna Iijima, Orson Mochizuki, Takashi Kawaguchi, Nana Blank, Kohei Mashiba, Kento Furukoshi,
“Bad Poetry Tokyo” looks to be a stunning human drama with a style reminiscent of “The Light Shines Only There” (2014). It looks like it is lead by a powerful performance from lead actress Shuna Iijima who has to deal with heavy issues but the style suggests it is done with a grace.
Synopsis: Jun Fujita is 30 years old. She majored in English at Tokyo University. That is the lie she tells people when she applies for acting jobs. In reality, she works as a hostess at a shady club. Life hasn’t turned out the way she wanted when she escaped home back in Nagano Prefecture five years ago. Still, she dreams of being an actress and is about to touch her dream when she is betrayed by her lover and things go wrong at the club. Broken and made savage by the experience, she heads back to her sleepy hometown in the countryside to lick her wounds. Things haven’t changed much there and she reconnects with an old flame but there are ugly truths about her past that lurk beneath the surface …
The next film is American but it looks super special.
Running Time: 114 mins.
Release Date: August 04th, 2017
Writer: Kogonada (Screenplay)
Starring: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin, Eren Allegretti,
The word about this indie film is strong. Director Kogonoda began life as an academic and video essayist covering the likes of Yasujiro Ozu and Richard Linklater. He then decided to pick up the camera to make this film. Inspired by themes in the works of Yasujiro Ozu and modernist architecture, Kogonada’s film is a visual tour de force that combines the two, taking the location and using visual design to an exacting degree to create an environment, splendid to see, full of a wealth of characters given depth to their relationships as we see their troubles, complexities and growth and it all hinges upon the architecture of the town of Columbus, Indiana.
Synopsis: Prepare to take a trip to Columbus, Indiana, a small mid-western town famous for its Modernist structures designed by I.M. Pei, John Carl Warnecke, and Richard Meier. It is here that a Richard Linklater-like drama unfolds between two strangers, both of whom are architecture buffs.
Korean-American Jin arrives in town to look after his estranged father after the respected architecture professor falls into a coma. While there, he runs into Casey, a librarian looking after a troubled mother instead of pursuing her own dreams. The two slowly form a connection and through each other and find a way to build a new lives.
Again, there are lots of films here including what seems to be a political comedy set in the jungle of one of India’s out of the way states where Maoists are trying to derail a democratic vote. That one looks worth seeing. There are two films of note for the J-film fan, both are views of Japan from a foreigner’s perspective.
Running Time: 100 mins.
Release Date: November 25th, 2017
Director: Akio Fujimoto
Writer: Akio Fujimoto (Screenplay)
Starring: Kaung Myat Thu, Khin Myat Thu, Issace, Htet Myat Naing, Yuki Kitagawa, Kanji Tsuda,
Japanese film-makers have built an impressive catalogue of titles that depict the effects of disaster and tragedy on children. Filmed with social realist style and with fantastic performances from untrained child actors, “Passage of Life” presents the uncomfortable reality of life as a refugee in Japan.
Fujimoto, a first-time feature film director, worked with non-professional actor and their efforts ensured the film won the Spirit of Asia Award, given by the Japan Foundation Asia Center at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival.
Synopsis: “Passage of Life” is based on reality and shows the lives of a Burmese family that immigrated to Japan with no visa. Khin and her husband Issace have an uncertain home with their two boys, 7-year-old Kaung and his younger brother Htet. The boys were raised in Japan and are happy. Their parents are not.
Without the proper paperwork, a secure life is impossible and all hope lies with obtaining political refugee status which seems impossible to get in Japan. However, the stress is too much for Khin who is hospitalised with depression. She decides to take the kids back to Burma which is when the film switches focus to depict the inner struggles of Kaung who struggles with a great change in his environment and longs for the place he calls home: Japan.
あなたの宇宙は大丈夫ですか 「Anata no uchuu wa daijoubudesuka」
Running Time: 110 mins.
Release Date: 2018
Director: Baek Jae-ho, Lee Hee-seop
Writer: Baek Jae-ho, Lee Hee-seop (Screenplay),
Starring: Kang Doo, Haruna Hori, Ji Dae-han, Snou. Nagiko Tsuji, Takashi Sato, YOUKI, Olu Togun,
Japan and Korea don’t always have the best diplomatic relations but the recent Winter Olympics and a whole bunch of films see creatives and sportspeople unite. This film sees the two nations work together thanks to music as friendship sprouts between Korean directors and Japanese actors.
Shot in many neighbourhoods in Osaka and featuring Japanese and Korean artists such as Lucid Fall, Soul Cry, Kandu, Lee Jong-on, and Hero-Sway, the film looks to have a lively and lovely soundtrack and pleasant characters who are a joy to be around. This is an excellent example of how a film and a festival can unite two countries.
Synopsis: When his boss Daejung goes missing in a ship accident, the company sends Woozoo to Osaka to finish his business. On his last day in the city, Woozoo chases someone who looks exactly like Daejung to Taisho, an area in Osaka. He ends up losing him, but the sound of a guitar draws Woozoo to a small bar, Pier 34. Its owner, Snou, somehow reminds him of Daejung, and listening to his music brings back memories. After passing out right there, Woozoo ends up missing his flight back to Korea. He quits his job on a whim and soon meets Haruna, who is learning how to play the guitar from Snou. Woozoo decides to stay at Pier 34 until he finds Daejung and so begins an unlikely vacation for him.
This is where the wealth of Japanese films are located. This program will present 14 films (7 features and 7 shorts) by new innovative and challenging talents. The JAPAN CUTS AWARD will be bestowed by Japan Society to one selected Japanese film from this section. There are so many fantastic-looking shorts in this section and some powerful features. Indeed, judging by the trailers, everything looks and sounds awesome. Storywise, there’s everything from romance to feminist dramas. Let’s go!
優しい日常 「Yasashii Nichijou」
Running Time: 27 mins.
Release Date: February 03rd, 2018
Director: Noriko Yuasa
Writer: Noriko Yuasa, Rie Mashiko (Screenplay),
Starring: Shin’nosuke Abe, Tamae Ando, Karin Ono, Motohiko Kawano, Eito Suda,
This special gem was originally part of the omnibus movie “Kuruibana” (2017) but has taken on a life of its own and it is filled with shocks and fantastic style. This has to be one of the highlights of the festival. Director Noriko Yuasa has used inventive sound and visual design to create what looks to be a great thriller!
Synopsis: Mr Tsuda is a handsome teacher who is coaching a dance club. Concerned about one injured member, Ami, he visits her home in the middle of Tokyo. What he finds is a bright and bubbly schoolgirl with a seemingly perfect family living an idealised ordinary everyday life. She lives in a well-furnished home with Kanako, her lovely-looking mother, and Sho, her cute brother. Ami’s father is missing but nobody talks about him.
Everyone has smiles on their faces. Tsuda finds the mother’s smile is especially inviting and pretty soon his thoughts start straying to parent-teacher relations. What he doesn’t realise is that this is a two-faced family who lead anything but a very ordinary life.
アイニ向カッテ 「Ai ni Mukatte」
Running Time: 76 mins.
Release Date: 2018
Director: Kohei Takayama
Writer: Kohei Takayama (Screenplay),
Starring: Ippei Tanaka, Yumi Mukai, Mika Dehara, Suzuka Minagawa, Koichi Sakaguchi,
The word minimalist could be used with this trailer. There are no big dramatics and with a combination of subdued but powerful lighting and set design, one character’s battle with alcoholism will be powerfully told through encounters with the human wreckage he leaves behind.
Synopsis: Shosuke could be a promising manga artist but his alcoholism pushes away his desire to work. It also pushed away his ex-girlfriend Sawako and threatens his relationship with his current partner Yasuko. Perhaps it is an escape from a deeper question he has: whether love is real or not. Haunted by his failings with these two women, he drifts along in life but when he gets a call from his sister in his home town that their mother is ill, Shosuke must confront whether the questions and problems he has are all an excuse for his selfishness. Perhaps the potential absence of the ones who care for him will force him to walk a path leading to love…
スティルライフオブメモリーズ 「Sutiru Raifu obu Memori-zu」
Running Time: 107 mins.
Release Date: July 21st, 2018
Director: Hitoshi Yazaki
Writer: Masa Asanishi, Akira Ito (Screenplay), Inuhiko Yomota ‘Eizo Yori’ (Original Novel),
Starring: Masanobu Ando, Natsuko Haru, Rima Matsuda, Vivienne Sato, Kiyomi Ito, Inuhiko Yomota,
Hitoshi Yazaki will probably be most familiar to Westerners for his last film, “A Cappella” which appeared at places like Nippon Connection and Japan Cuts. I first encountered him with this clip for “March Comes in Like a Lion” (1991):
He is an indie veteran whose return is being greeted with anticipation and his latest film will get people hot under the collar since it is all about a photography shoot which may, or may not, be erotic. It is inspired by Henri Maccheroni’s scandalous relationship with his lover/muse which became the collection of work, ‘Cent photographies choisies dans la serie Deux mille photographies du sexe d’une femme’.
Synopsis: Haruma is an up-and-coming photographer who is getting full exposure at a photo exhibition in a Tokyo photo gallery. Rei, a beautiful curator at the Yamanashi Prefectural Art Museum, is fascinated by the photos she sees and calls Haruma to request a photo-shoot with an intimate part of herself as the subject. The only rules to this shoot are that no questions must be asked and Rei will be given the negatives. Haruma is initially surprised but goes along with the job, however, Haruma’s pregnant girlfriend Natsuki grows frustrated over being kept in the dark about their work and jealousy develops in their relationship as passions blow up.
CYCLE-CYCLE 「Dir: Junichi Kanai, 18 mins, 2017」 This is a comedy about two high school boys who start a bicycle trip around Japan on a tandem before splitting up. One of the pair, Junpei, decides to keep going and picks up a hitch-hiker named Mitsuru. They both head to Mitsuru’s grandfather’s house but what they find is a dead body in a room…
The Garden Apartment
ガーデンアパート 「Ga-den Apa-to」
Running Time: 77 mins.
Release Date: 2018
Director: Umi Ishihara
Writer: Umi Ishihara (Screenplay),
Starring: Yukari Shinomiya, Kaori Takeshita, Kiyoshiro Ishida, Yu Suzumura,
Umi Ishihara is an artist whose award-winning work has been featured around the world from Brazil to Australia and Japan. Some words straight from her website:
“The major themes of her work centre around love, personal memories and society. Her work adopts a mix of documentary and fiction, muddying the waters of believability.”
The trailer looks punkish and her themes are perfect fodder for drama.
Synopsis: Hikari has just gotten pregnant with Taro who is cohabiting with her. Their relationship seems to be floundering because, since both have graduated from university, they have had trouble finding employment. As financial problems emerge, so do further relationship problems. Taro has a secret. He relies on his aunt Kyoko who has been acting strangely since she lost her husband at a young age. When Hikari meets her for the first time, it seems they may not get along but Hikari starts to visit Kyoko in secret and is introduced to a world where young people are free to act out their wild side. This could spell doom for her relationship with Taro…
Who Knows about My Life 「Dir: Teppei Isobe, 27 mins, 2017」Ever wondered what the pressures of being single at 40 is like? Visit Junko Takarada, a beautiful and intelligent woman who was having a fruitless affair with her boss until he turned his attention to Rika, Junko’s cuter and younger subordinate. With bleak romantic prospects haunting her, Junko gets relief from a surprising source… a paper airplane comes flying into her life. When she opens it she sees a marriage notification but with only the side containing the male column filled in. Junko thought that a strange man had written the notification out and sent it flying, hoping to rely on destiny to connect him with someone. Gathering up all of the courage in her heart, she visits the address written in the marriage notification…
Running Time: 77 mins.
Release Date: 2018
Director: Daisuke Miyazaki
Writer: Daisuke Miyazaki (Screenplay),
Starring: Nina Endo, Sumire, Takayuki Yanagi,
Nina Endo, one of the stars of Daisuke Miyazaki’s last film “Yamato (California)” takes the lead once again with SUMIRE, a popular fashion model and the daughter of Tadanobu Asano. They look like they make a cute double-act allowing Miyazaki to show an unseen side of urban Singapore not often witnessed by tourists. The trailer has a weird other-wordly feel to it thanks to the music and there’s a slight documentary feel thanks to direct to camera interviews.
Synopsis: Nina and Su live uninspiring lives in Yamato City, Kanagawa Prefecture but when the two best friends win a free trip abroad, a different locale might usher in some excitement. They use their tickets to head to Singapore, a cosmopolitan city not too different from Japan. At first, the girls travel around famous sightseeing spots on a typical itinerary, but when Nina loses her smartphone, she finds true freedom as she explores unfamiliar places, sees unfamiliar sights, and hears unfamiliar sounds. Her unforgettable adventure in Singapore starts.
種をまく人 「Tane o maku hito」
Running Time: 117 mins.
Release Date: 2016
Director: Yosuke Takeuchi
Writer: Yosuke Takeuchi (Screenplay)
Starring: Kentaro Kishi, Suzuno Takenaka, Tomomitsu Adachi, Arisa Nakajima, Ichika Takeuchi,
Yosuke Takeuchi is something of an artist and his story was inspired by elements from his own life such as a niece with special needs and his thoughts on how society treats people who are different. His biggest inspiration, however, is the life of Vincent van Gogh and how the artist lived a humble and naive life to the full. That story is reflected in one of the main characters, the titular “Sower”.
Reviews for this paint an incredibly strong drama.
Synopsis: Mitsuo was one of those brave souls who answered the call for volunteers to clear out the debris left behind by the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. The strain of the task proved to be too much and he spent three years in psychiatric care. Upon his release, Mitsuo finds solace in reuniting with his brother and his nieces Chie and Itsuki. But a tragic accident soon disrupts the newly found happiness when the two girls are left in his care and Itsuki is killed. Though he had no direct involvement in the incident, Mitsuo is blamed and this causes him and the people around him to deal with the burden of guilt and the struggle for atonement.
Running Time: 68 mins.
Release Date: 2018
Director: Moët Hayami
Writer: Moët Hayami (Screenplay),
Starring: Miyuki Ono, Tomona Hirota, Yayoi Inamoto, Ikumi Satake, Suguru Onuma,
The trailer for “Kushina” shows a visually and aurally beautiful drama which is just fantastic to look at. The story has elements of feminism that offers a vision of an idealised community with doses of realism over the workings of the world and gender relations to provide tension as we see whether a female-only community fragments or not and what will happen to the titular character.
Synopsis: Deep in the mountains, hidden in a forest, there is a village populated only by women who ran away from home to commit suicide in the area. It was founded by Onikuma, a strong-willed yet kind-hearted mother and village head-woman who fled from the city with her daughter, Kagu who was 14-years-old and pregnant with the titular Kushina.
Kagu is now 28 and Kushina is 14.She was born and raised in a very simple, sparse and isolated environment where the women they live with survive off the land and harvest cannabis to sell to the outside world. This contact is mediated by Onikuma who protects the place and all who dwell in it. All is well until an anthropologist named Soko Kazano and her male assistant Keita discover the village. Their presence causes disruption and promises the change all of their lives forever.
Girl Returned 「Dir: Satoru Hirohara, 44 mins, 2017」deals with what could be quite a horrific situation as it tells the story of 15-year-old Misaki Fujino who was kidnapped when she was out jogging and held imprisoned in the apartment of a man for two years. Following her rescue by the police, she is allowed back to her home but the experience has left her not knowing what to do except go out jogging again. The film goes to lengths to show the impact of the crime on the girl and her family and those who were connected to her and offers audiences a realistic and maybe hopeful resolution because life carries on and one must not be beaten down.
Running Time: 18 mins.
Release Date: June 17th, 2017
Director: Takeshi Kogahara
Writer: Takeshi Kogahara (Screenplay),
Starring: Kenshin Endo, Himeka Asami,
Explorations of first love are a dime a dozen but each can be special and the trailer hints at it.
Synopsis: Do you remember your first love?
Conversations happen all the time but some are unforgettable. Such is the case for Fuminao, a teenage boy in love with the titular Nagisa. It is the height of summer and the two sit on the edge of the school pool, Fuminao, sensitive and quiet, his classmate, the playful and coy Nagisa. As they watch their classmates swim, they begin to talk. She coaxes feelings out of the boy but remains illusive as he struggles to verbalise them. Their conversation may be as brief as the cicadas but the feelings he has for her will dominate his thoughts and she will stay with him forever.
Running Time: 20 mins.
Release Date: 2017
Director: Yoshimasa Jimbo
Writer: Yoshimasa Jimbo (Screenplay),
Starring: Heo Rynn, Heo Min-kyung, Lee Yoon-sun, Lee Hae-soon,
Busan, the city famous for its film festival, becomes a star in its own right in this short film from Yoshimasa Jimbo as we follow a pregnant woman around on her job as a magazine reporter. We experience the daily beats of the city, riding subways to cinemas and from down-town markets to the suburbs with their temples. Our focus is one woman but the life around her fills the frame as well as the city and its many residents are given a chance to shine.
Synopsis: Mina is a writer for a magazine and, despite being seven-months pregnant, she is stomping the streets of Busan for an article. Her assignment is collecting people’s first memories through a series of interviews. Behind her smiles, she is anxious about what giving birth feels like. Through her work meeting the people of Busan, maybe her fears will be settled.
As we follow Mina around, director JIMBO Yoshimasa allows us to experience the daily beats of the city, riding subways to cinemas and from downtown markets to the suburbs with their temples. Our focus is one woman but the life around her fills the frame as well and we see a celebration of Busan.
Based in Osaka, the Housen Cultural Foundation supports film study and production in graduate schools. This program will show the films supported by the Housen Cultural Foundation. One of the films, “Girl Returned,” has been selected for the Indie Forum section. I reviewed all but one of last year’s Housen films (that’s an overview article with links to everything) and this year’s titles are interesting.
湯気満ちて 「Yuge michite 」
Running Time: 30 mins.
Release Date: 2018
Director: Rina Tanaka
Writer: Rina Tanaka (Screenplay),
Starring: Ayako Mizuno, Takehito Sato, Yoko, Shigeru Harihara, Hisato Hayashi,Synopsis: Midoriko Ito works at a flower shop and is married to Daisuke but this couple live separate lives without realising it. Daisuke isn’t the salaryman he pretends to be while Midoriko is visiting a dubious “pregnancy classroom” without telling him. They are unable to talk to each other and as time goes on their relationship becomes stifling. When the two are forced to confront the various secrets fraying the bond of their intertwined lives, what will be the result?
The gap between a fantasy and reality is analysed here as a seemingly happy young couple look at the substance of their relationship in this bittersweet dramedy.
Running Time: 30 mins.
Release Date: 2018
Director: Yasutaka Tajiri
Writer: Yasutaka Tajiri (Screenplay),
Starring: Kentaro Taura, Rei Murakami, Yui Suzue
Synopsis: A man appears in a Protestant church that exists in a certain rural town in Japan. He states, “After the death of my mother, the voice of God has come to be heard”. What is his deal? The pastor of the church will have to find out.
The festival will come to an end with the closing film:
Running Time: 114 mins.
Release Date: 2018
Director: Akihiro Toda
Writer: Yusuke Moriguchi (Screenplay), Shusuke Michio (Original Story)
Starring: Kanji Tsuda, Ren Komai, Miho Kanazawa, Mako Komaki, Akari Kakimoto, Noriko Kijima, Yohta Kawase, Mayuko Nishiyama, Mariko Tsutsui,
Synopsis: Moriya city in Ibaraki is a quiet place with residents who lead simple lives. Everyone, apart from a lonely angst-ridden bachelor named Masao Nakamura. Since losing his business and becoming penniless, he has adopted multiple identities to get by: Yoshikawa, a big businessman, Suzuki, the happy family man, Okubo, the doting husband who quit Tokyo to look after a sick wife. When his ruse about the sick wife is about to be exposed as a lie at work, a schoolgirl named Emiko Hayama steps in from out of nowhere and pretends to be his daughter.
Emiko is another person who loves to lie. Instead of facing a lonely home run by a single-mother, the girl hangs out with Masao and the pair strike up a friendship. It fills a gap in their lives but their lies hinder them from overcoming inner-turmoil. At some point a fake dad and a fake daughter will have to face their suffering in order to move on.
“THE NAME” is a gentle dramedy film by the director Akihiro Toda who is known for “Neko ni mikan” He is active as a theatre director, scriptwriter and producer. The film’s script was adapted from a story by Naoki Prize-winning author MICHIO Shusuke Michio and the film stars Kanji Tsuda, a veteran actor who appears
in both the mainstream and independent film industries, and Ren Komai, “kokoronifukukaze”. The cinematographer is Kenichi Negishi, who is a regular collaborator with Koji Fukada.
This is a strong line-up of films from Japan which I hope to review so stay tuned. I also hope to see you there at the event. Say hi, if you happen to meet me!