The Japanese Film Festival Ireland is back for its 10th year and the event kicks off on April 08th and lasts until the 21st as a diverse programme of films made in Japan over the last year and a half are screened. This list features some of the best films to have been given a release including two titles by Masaaki Yuasa, the hottest talent in anime right now, and also, The Sower, a finely controlled human drama that is both beautiful and haunting. It made me cry every time I watched it. I have watched it around five times! That shows you its power!
A selection of the films will be hosted at each of the venues stretching from Cork, Galway, Limerick, Tipperary, Dublin, Sligo, Waterford and finally to Dundalk over the next month so check out the website to see which venues have which films.
Here are the films programmed:
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,
I had the pleasure of watching this as part of the Osaka Asian Film Festival where I also met its director, Yosuke Takeuchi. It’s a fine film, one of the best I have seen in recent years. Its genesis comes from the personal life of the director and also the life of Vincent van Gogh and how the artist lived a humble and naive existence to the full despite the treatment he faced from society. That story is reflected in not just one of the main characters, the titular “Sower”, but also the people around him. Through their story, a wider one about the treatment of outsiders occurs. This is a remarkable drama that I have seen five times and I am impressed by it which is why I am highlighting it as part of this festival.
Here’s my review for V-Cinema for The Sower.
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.
彼らが本気で編むときは、 「Karera ga Honki de Amu toki wa」
Running Time: 127 mins.
Director: Naoko Ogigami
Writer: Naoko Ogigami (Screenplay),
Starring: Rinka Kakihara, Toma Ikuta, Kenta Kiritani, Mimura, Eiko Koike, Mugi Kadowaki, Lily, Kaito Komie, Shuji Kashiwabara, Misako Tanako,
Naoko Ogigami is one of Japan’s interesting female directors, quietly working away making good films and many people are familiar with them. Yoshino’s Barber Shop (2004), Kamome Diner (2006), Glasses (2007), and Rent-a-Cat (2012) could be described as quirky dramas that pack a powerful emotional punch but Close-Knit is a lot more serious as Ogigami looks at LGBTQ issues in Japan, a country that is still conservative in some ways.
Close-Knit may be serious but it features many well-rounded characters that will suck you into the world of the characters and show you that love is everything when it comes to family and through this you will definitely get you to understand the issues. Here’s an interview involving Naoko Ogigami which goes through the film a bit more. Here’s my review of the film Close-Knit.
Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Tomo is pretty much left to her own devices by a mother who is flighty, to say the least. Unwashed dishes are piling up in the sink and supermarket onigiri are all there is to eat again. Tomo’s single mother usually comes home late, and drunk. When she leaves her daughter for good one day the girl has to rely on help from her uncle, who takes in Tomo to live with him and his girlfriend Rinko. At their first meeting Tomo is flabbergasted to discover that Rinko is a transsexual. Rinko immediately sets about taking care of Tomo; not only does she lovingly prepare meals but she also succeeds in creating a new home for the girl. But before long cracks appear in their perfect nest.
夜は短し歩けよ乙女 「Yoru wa Mijikashi Aruke yo Otome」
Running Time: 93 mins.
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Writer: Masaaki Yuasa, Reiko Yoshida (Screenplay) Tomihiko Morimi (Original Novel),
Animation Production: Science SARU
Starring: Kana Hanazawa (Kurokami no Otome), Gen Hoshino (Senpai), Kazuya Nakai (Seitarou Higuchi), Yuuko Kaida (Ryouko Hanuki), Nobuyuki Hiyama (Johnny), Aoi Yuuki (Princess Daruma), Junichi Suwabe (Nise Jougasaki),
The Night is Short, Walk on Girl is the latest film from anime auteur Masaaki Yuasa and his studio Science Saru. One of two award-winning movies he released in 2017 (the other being Lu Over the Wall which took top prize at Annecy), this film is the very definition of the word exuberant in terms of story and style and should cement Yuasa as one of the best anime directors around. This is my second recommendation for the film festival. It was programmed at a fest I work for and I can say, without a doubt, that the audience has a riot of a time! Here’s my review!!!
Synopsis: The narrative is simple: A black haired girl (voiced by the ubiquitous and super-talented Kana Hanazawa) is attending the wedding reception of a friend. As far as she is concerned, the party doesn’t have to end there and she walks around the streets of Kyoto at night from the alleyways and izakayas of Pontocho to the university campus, following the Komagawa river and making detours along the way. She is pursued by a male admirer, Sempai (voiced by the musician Gen Hoshino who also played the hapless lover in Why Don’t You Play in Hell?), who tries to catch her attention by appearing before her as often as possible. As this rather one-sided romantic dance unfolds, they experience surreal magical-realist moments that grow increasingly absurd thanks to a cast of unique characters, all of which tests Sempai’s resolve in love and the girl’s capacity for drink and fun because all the while, everyone keeps drinking and having a good time.
夜明け告げるルーのうた 「Yoake Tsugeru Lu no Uta」
Running Time: 112 mins.
Release Date: May 19th, 2017
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Writer: Masaaki Yuasa, Reiko Yoshida (Screenplay)
Animation Production: Science SARU
Starring: Kanon Tani (Lu), Shota Shimoda (Kai), Akira Emoto (Grandfather), Minako Kotobuki (Yuuho), Shinichi Shinohara (Lu’s father), Souma Saitou (Kunio),
Lu Over the Wall was released in Japan on May 19th and it has picked up awards since then including at Annecy, where it took the “Cristal for a Feature Film” award. It is directed by Masaaki Yuasa with a script written by Reiko Yoshida, a woman who has written many different anime such as A Silent Voice, Yowamushi Pedal, and Shirobako. It was produced by Yuasa’s protege (and a highly talented animator) Eun young Choi, and animated by Science SARU and these folks are the geniuses behind Mind Game, Ping Pong: The Animation, and The Tatami Galaxy amongst other great artistic titles.
It has the look of the 2009 Ghibli film Ponyo if I were to make a glib comparison but the animation and style are pure Science SARU, a studio finally picking up fans in the mainstream. The film has been picked up for UK distribution by Anime Limited.
Synopsis: Middle school student Kai finds himself forced to move from Tokyo to the declining fishing town of Hinashi to live with his father and grandfather following his parents’ divorce. For a kid from the big metropolis, there’s little for him to do besides composing music and sharing it on the Internet. One day his classmates Kunio and Yuuho invite him to join their band, and when he reluctantly accompanies them to practice on Mermaid Island, the three of them meet a mermaid named Lu. Through meeting her and playing music, Kai is slowly able to open up about his emotions but calamity soon strikes the town and he must find a way to avert it with his new-found friends and community!
幼な子われらに生まれ 「Osanago Warera ni Umare」
Running Time: 127 mins.
Release Date: August 26th, 2017
Director: Yukiko Mishima
Writer: Haruhiko Arai (Screenplay), Kiyoshi Shigematsu (Original Novel)
Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Rena Tanaka, Kankuro Kudo, Shinobu Terajima, Sara Minami, Miu Arai, Raiju Kamata, Shingo Mizusawa, Narushi Ikeda,
This is a solid drama from rising star Yukiko Mishima. Here’s my review.
Synopsis: Dear Etranger is based on a novel by Kiyoshi Shigematsu and tells the tale of 40-year-old Makoto Tanaka (Tadanobu Asano), an assistant manager at a company trying to balance two families and be an ideal father at a time when others give him or are going through crises. Free from melodrama and idealism, it paints a believable picture of the stresses and strains of maintaining a loving family unit built from the scraps of past relationships.
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,
I saw this at the recent Osaka Asian Film Festival. It comes from Akio Fujimoto, a first-time feature film director, who has worked with non-professional actors in this drama. 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.
サバイバルファミリ 「Sabaibaru Famiri」
Running Time: 117 mins.
Director: Shinobu Yaguchi
Writer: Shinobu Yaguchi (Screenplay)
Starring: Fumiyo Kohinata, Eri Fukatsu, Yuki Izumisawa, Wakana Aoi, Masashi Arifuku, Mickey Curtis, Norika Fujiwara
Synopsis: It’s not a normal day in Japan for the Suzuki family when, in the blink of an eye, the world goes dark in a catastrophic power outage. They decide to up sticks and leave the struggling megalopolis of Tokyo and learn to survive in the Japanese countryside.
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 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. Here’s my review of At the Terrace.
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.
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 Japan Cuts 2017 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.
東京喰種 「Tokyo Guru」
Running Time: 119 mins.
Director: Kentaro Hagiwara
Writer: Ichiro Kusuno (Screenplay), Sui Ishida (Original Manga)
Starring: Masataka Kubota, Fumika Shimizu, Nobuyuki Suzuki, Yo Oizumi, Yu Aoi, Kai Ogasawara, Shunya Shiraishi, Shoko Aida, Hiyori Sakurada,
This one is a foray into live-action for UK distro Anime Limited and it seems to do a decent job of trying to capture the manga it is based on apart from some dodgy CG. It was at the Abertoir Horror Festival.
Synopsis: The story takes place in an alternate reality where ghouls, people who eat human flesh to survive, live amongst humans and are hunted by the government. Ken Kaneki is a normal college student who goes on a date with the beautiful and sophisticated Rize. Turns out his potential girlfriend is a ghoul-friend and he finds that out firsthand when she brutally attacks Ken with the intention of devouring him. He escapes due to a freak accident but his injuries are life-threatening. After being taken to a hospital, discovers that he underwent a surgery that transformed him into a half-ghoul thanks to doctors transferring Rize’s organs into his body, and now, like normal ghouls, he must consume human flesh to survive. It’s a struggle to adapt to his new life as he is taken into ghoul society but tries to keep contact with his human friends…
三度目の殺人 「Sandome no Satsujin」
Running Time: 124 mins.
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,
Hirokazu Koreeda’s murder mystery 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! It’s currently on general release in the UK thanks to Arrow Films but this festival is a great way to see it.
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)…
メアリと魔女の花 「Meari to Majo no Hana」
Running Time: 102
Release Date: July 08th, 2017
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Writer: Riko Sakaguchi, Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Screenplay), Mary Stewart (Original Novel),
Starring: Hana Sugisaki (Mary), Ryunosuke Kamiki (Peter), Yuki Amami (Madam Mumblechook), Fumiyo Kohinata (Doctor Dee), Hikari Mitsushima (The Red-Haired Witch), Eri Watanabe (Miss Banks), Shinobu Otake (Great-Aunt Charlotte),
Animation Production: Studio Ponoc
Mary and the Witch’s Flower, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Arrietty, When Marnie Was There) and animated by many talented people from Studio Ghibli, recently received a theatrical release in the UK as part of the Glasgow International Film Festival and then a limited screening run.
Synopsis: When Mary is sent to live with her great aunt in the countryside she had no expectations about going on a magical adventure but when she ventures into the woods with her loyal cat Tib, she discovers a mysterious blue flower that only appears once every seven years, and an old broomstick which can fly. Soon Mary is soaring through the sky and deposited at the door of the Endor College of Magic which is run by the mysterious Madam Mumblechook. It seems like a nice place at first but she discovers dark experiments and Tib’s life is in danger!
Running Time: 115 mins.
Release Date: February 24th, 2018
Director: Mari Okada
Writer: Mari Okada (Screenplay),
Starring: Manaka Iwami (Maquia), Miyu Irino (Ariel), Misaki Kuno (Medmel), Tomokazu Sugita (Izol), Hiroaki Hirata (Barlow), Yoko Hikasa (Dita), Rina Satou (Mido),
Animation Production: P.A. Works
The film is the directorial debut of anime screenwriter Mari Okada (Anthem of the Heart, The Dark Maidens) and it was animated at P.A. Works. It appeared at the recent Glasgow Film Festival and will get a home format release in the UK courtesy of Anime Limited. Mari Okada will also be in British Isles for the Irish Premiere of the film at the Lighthouse Cinema in Dublin on Saturday 14th April at 18:00 as part of this film festival and then a few days later on Monday 16th April for a special screening of the film at the Prince Charles Cinema in central London at 18:00. Please make her feel welcome! Details.
Synopsis from ANN: The story begins with Maquia, who is from a family where all the members stop aging in their mid teens. She has no parents and, although her days are peaceful, she feels lonely. Their peace is shattered when an army invades, seeking the secret to her people’s immortality. Leilia, the most beautiful girl in her clan, is taken away, and the boy Maquia has secret feelings for disappears. Maquia is able to escape, but she loses her friends and her home. Wandering alone in the forest, she finds Erial, a baby boy who has lost his parents. The story follows the changing relationship between the two as Erial grows up and Maquia does not.
心が叫びたがってるんだ。「Kokoro ga Sakebitagatterun Da.」
Release Date: September 19th, 2015
Running Time: 88 mins.
Director: Tatsuyuki Nagai
Writer: Mari Okada (Script),
Starring: Inori Minase (Jun Naruse), Kouki Uchiyama (Takumi Sakagami), Sora Amamiya (Natsuki Nido), Yoshimasa Hosoya (Daiki Tazaki),
Tatsuyuki Nagai is a director and Mari Okada is a writer who specialise in telling dramatic stories in anime. Their greatest collaboration is arguably anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day but this film toured more widely around the world appearing at the prestigious Annecy festival dedicated to animation and numerous other festivals and getting released on home formats around the world.
Synopsis from the official English-language website: Jun is a girl whose words have been sealed away. She was once a happy girl, but because of a [certain thing] she said when she was very young, her family was torn apart. One day, the egg fairy appeared in front of her and sealed away her ability to talk in order to stop her from hurting anybody else. Since this traumatic experience, Jun lives in the shadows away from the limelight. But, one day she is nominated to become an executive member of the “community outreach council.” On top of that, Jun is also appointed to play the main lead in their musical…
雪女 「Yuki Onna」
Running Time: 95 mins
Director: Kiki Sugino
Writer: Kiki Sugino, Mitsuo Shigeta, Seigan Tominomori, (Screenplay), Lafcadio Hearn (Original Story)
Starring: Kiki Sugino, Munetaka Aoki, Kumi Mizuno, Shiro Sano, Mayu Yamaguchi,
This is an updated and atmospheric retelling of an ancient Japanese ghost story which was collected by Lafcardio Ahern about the titular Snow Woman. Rising star Kiki Sugino wrote, produced and directed this film and also takes on the lead role as the ghostly snow woman. It was at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2016 and last year’s Edinburgh Film Festival. Here’s my review of Snow Woman.
Synopsis: The story sees a hunter (Munetaka Aoki) and his mentor encounter the snow woman (Kiki Sugino) during a snowstorm, with her frostbite-inducing breath killing the mentor, but sparing the hunter. He later meets the mysterious Suki (also Sugino), who resembles the snow woman and marries her. But the supernatural world haunts them, and spirits and superstition eventually impact on their rural idyll.
パパのお弁当は世界一「Papa no Obento wa Sekai Ichi」
Running Time: 76 mins.
Release Date: June 10th, 2017
Director: Masakazu Fukatsu
Writer: Toshitsugu Ono (Screenplay),
Starring: Toshimi Watanabe, Rena Takeda, Sho Kiyohara, Hikaru Tanaka, Yura Someno, Eriko Kumagai,
Synopsis: Based on a true story, or should that be a Tweet which was re-Tweeted by 80,000 people and liked by 260,000 people on Twitter, this is a tale of a father (Watanabe Toshimi) who made a bento lunch for his daughter Midori (Takeda Rena) every single day of her time in high school. It’s bad at first but as his skill grows, so does her appreciation and the two busy people bond over this important meal.