Japan Foundation’s “Pre-Summer Explorers!” Free Film Screenings in August

The Japan Foundation are running their Summer Explorers full of anime and live-action films that are set during the summer. This is a free event which you have to register for. I repeat, this is a free event. Free films!!! To find out more about it, visit the Japan Foundation’s website.

Saturday, 4 August 2018: Soho Hotel Cinema
4 Richmond Mews (via Richmond Buildings), London, W1D 3Dh


A Tale of Love & Honour: Life in Gion
Dir. Maki Kubochi, 2017, 49min

Take a peek into the distinct district of Gion in Kyoto and witness the proud and wistful stories of people belonging to this secret world in this fascinating documentary from NHK WORLD-JAPAN.

Living Ninja Legend Masaaki Hatsumi
Dir. Fuyuhiko Nishi, 2016, 41 min

Masaaki Hatsumi, 84 years old, is a living ninja in modern times. What is the essence of his astonishing art? This documentary investigates the hidden power of this ninja master.

House    House Film Poster

ハウス 「Hausu」

Released: July 30th, 1977 (Japan)

Running time: 88 mins.

Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi,

Writer: Nobuhiko Obayashi, Chiho Katsura (Screenplay),

Cast: Kimiko Ikegami – Oshare,  Miki Jinbo – Kung-Fu, Kuniko Oba – Fantasy, Ai Matsubara – Prof., Kiyohiko Ozaki – Mr. Togo, Yoko Minamida – Auntie,


The highlight, in my opinion. This film is a riot of fun and good music with a haunted house setting to die for as a bunch of girls will find out. It comes from Nobuhiko Obayashi and his daughter and features so much imagination and flair for visual spectacle and cool music that it is a delight to watch. I highly recommend it. Here’s my review.

Synopsis: The summer holidays have arrived and for seven high school girls named Melody, Prof, Sweetie, Kung-fu, Mac, Fantasy and Oshare (Kimiko Ikegami) they have the chance to go camping with their teacher Mr. Togo. Oshare declines because her father is back from Italy and she’s looking forward to staying at a villa with him. Her plans are ruined when he introduces her to his potential new wife. Oshare is upset at the presence of the woman and decides to visit an eccentric spinster aunt, inviting her friends along for the trip. After a long journey the girls arrive at the aunt’s house but find their presence has triggered a hostile force that immediately attacks them, picking them off one by one while the eccentric aunt watches.

Sunday 5 August 2018: Courthouse Hotel Cinema
19-21 Great Marlborough Street, London, W1F 7HL

Summer Wars    

サマーウォーズ Sama- Wo-zu

Release Date: August 01st, 2009

Running Time: 114 mins.

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Writer: Satoku Okudera (Screenplay),

Starring: Kenji Koiso (Ryunosuke Kamiki), Kazuma Ikezawa (Mitsuki Tanimura), Sumiko Fuji (Sakae Jinnouchi), Nanami Sakuraba (Natsuki Shinohara), Ayumu Saitou (Wabisuke Jinnouchi),

Animation Production: Madhouse

MAL ANN Website

Mamoru Hosoda is riding high with the release of Mirai in Japanese cinemas and I think it would be fair to say that his career has been full of hits that mix the fantastical with the mundane much in the way some Ghibli films do. This particular title is set in Ueda in Nagano Prefecture which is close to the director’s birthplace. It earned him the Japanese Academy Award for Animation of the Year in 2010. It’s a lot of fun.

Synopsis: Kenji Koiso is a 17-year-old maths genius and part-time moderator for the world of OZ, a globally popular online world which many people use to regulate aspects of their daily lives from shopping to social media. One summer, he is invited by his secret crush Natsuki on a summer trip to Nagano where he will stay at her family’s estate. They are preparing for her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday but he suddenly receives a mysterious, coded message on his cell phone from an unknown sender who challenges him to solve it but his maths skills might just put the world in danger…


My Small Steps from Hiroshima
2016, 50min

Kaoru Ogura dedicated his life to telling the world about Hiroshima, where the first atomic bomb was dropped. This documentary recounts the life and work of Ogura and his fellow anti-nuclear activists.

The Phone of the Wind: Whispers to Lost Families
2016, 49 min

On a hill overlooking the sea in northern Japan is a phone booth known as the “Phone of the Wind”. It is connected to nowhere, but many people come here to “call” their loved ones lost in the 2011 tsunami…

Kikujiro   Kikujiro Film Poster

菊次郎の夏「Kikujiro no Natsu

Release Date: June 05th, 1999 (Japan)

UK Distributor: Third Window Films

Running Time: 121 mins.

Director: Takashi Kitano

Writer: Takashi Kitano (Screenplay),

Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Yusuke Sekiguchi, Kayoko Kishimoto, Yuko Daike, The Great Gidayu, Rakkyo Ide, Fumie Hosokawa, Beat Kiyoshi,


This film is just great. It features Beat Takeshi’s absurd sight-gags and edgy humour in what turns from a road movie featuring a mismatched pair to a heartfelt story of two people learning to face the issue that hampers their lives and causes them heartache. Here’s my review.

Synopsis: It’s summer and little Masao (Yusuke Sekiguchi) has no one to play with. Soccer practice has been suspended and his friends are far away at the beach. Living alone with his grandmother, summer seems even less fun for this nine-year-old boy. With address and photo in hand, Masao decides to take off in search of the mother he’s never met. But with little money and even less sense of direction, Masao can’t go alone. A friend of his grandmother volunteers her husband Kikujiro (Takeshi Kitano) to accompany the boy on his quest.

Kikujiro hardly seems an ideal companion for anyone, let alone for a boy as sensitive as the sullen Masao. Brash, loudmouthed and always on the lookout for easy money, the irresponsible Kikujiro doesn’t even appear to be overly fond of children but by the bittersweet trip’s end, both will have experienced heart-warming lessons and lots of adventures.

Saturday, 11 August 2018: Soho Hotel Cinema
4 Richmond Mews (via Richmond Buildings), London, W1D 3Dh

Only Yesterday Film Image 2


Only Yesterday (Literal Title – far superior – Memories Come Tumbling Down)   Only Yesterday Film Poster

おもひでぽろぽろOmohide Poro Poro

Release Date: July 20th, 1991

Running Time: 111 mins.

Director: Isao Takahata

Writer: Isao Takahata (Screenplay), Hotaru Okamoto, Yuuko Tone (Original Manga)

Starring: Miki Imai (Taeko), Toshiro Yanagiba (Toshio), Youko Honna (Taeko (child)), Mayumi Iizuka (Tsuneko), Mei Oshitani (Aiko), Megumi Komine (Toko),


While I prefer the more fantastical side of Studio Ghibli’s output, I recognise that Isao Takahata’s realistic dramas are pretty powerful due to the way he treats his characters, offering them complexity and humanity and a space to grow. I cried hard when watching them and Only Yesterday, a film aimed at evoking nostalgia in Japanese women. The ending had me in tears. Apparently Takahata had troubled adapting the episodic stories of the source manga and so he created the framing narrative of the main character travelling to Yamagata Prefecture and falling in love. Here is a trailer to give you a taste as to why audiences loved it:

Synopsis: A 27 year old office worker, Taeko Okajima (Miki Imai), leaves the city for her first extended trip outside of Tokyo.

Visiting her sister in rural Yamagata, she daydreams about her younger self and is forced to reflect on her hectic life when she meets a handsome young farmer.

Napping Princess Ancien and the Magic Tablet Film Poster

ひるね姫 ~知らないワタシの物語~ Hirune Hime: Shiranai Watashi no Monogatari」 

Running Time: 110 mins.

Release Date: March 18th, 2017

Director: Kenji Kamiya

Writer: Kenji Kamiya (Screenplay),

Animation Production: Signal.MD

Starring: Mitsuki Takahata (Kokone Morikawa), Arata Furuta (Watanabe), Hideki Takahashi (Isshin Shijima), Shinnosuke Mitsushima (Morio),

IMDB Website MAL

Production I.G has been the creative home to director Kenji Kamiyama and he directed the TV anime Eden of the East, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and Moribito – Guardian of the Spirit. Napping Princess is an original anime from Kamiya and it was produced by Signal.MD. a subsidiary studio of Production I.G. The film was made as a response to a question Kamiyama had for himself: could he make a film for his teenage daughter. The result is an always beautiful film which is fun adventure that soon becomes a mess as it mishandles the switches between dream and reality and the lines become so blurred and the narrative goes awry. Stay during the credits for a heartbreaking sequence.

Synopsis: Days before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Kokone, a high school girl who spends more time sleeping than studying, has the same strange dream filled with futuristic warring machines which seem to be connected to her family in some secret way. She will soon uncover the truth after her mechanic father is arrested and she travels to Tokyo and between dreams and reality to rescue him.

Mitsuko Delivers                                                      Mitsuko Delivers Poster

ハラ が コレ なんで 「Hara Ga Kore Nande」

Release Date: November 05th, 2011 (Japan)

Running Time: 109 min.

Director: Yuya Ishii

Writer: Yuya Ishii

Starring: Riisa Naka, Aoi Nakamura, Ryo Ishibashi, Shiro Namiki, Miyoko Inagawa, Miyako Takeuchi, Momoka Oono, Yoshimasa Kondo, Yukijiro Hotaru, Keiko Saito,


I personally wanted more from the narrative, especially the issue surrounding the baby’s complex parentage but that’s just me. Other reviewers like this a lot. Here’s my review. I think Yuya Ishii has come along brilliantly as a director after this film with The Great Passage and The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue being two absorbing and detail/character rich dramas.


Synopsis: Mitsuko (Naka) is nine-months pregnant, broke and alone in Tokyo. Her parents (serial failed entrepeneurs) think that she’s in America with the baby’s GI father but she’s actually in dire straits as she is forced to move out of her apartment. Despite all of this she remains positive and believes that things will turn out alright. She doesn’t know where she will go but decides to hop into a taxi she cannot pay for and follows a cloud back to the ramshackle working-class alley where she grew up. This place is a relic from the past and it has had the life sucked out o it with the departure of many of its residents, but Mitsuko’s infectious get-up-and-go attitude soon compels the remaining locals to roll up their sleeves and restore the alley to its former glory.  Mitsuko has so much to do and so little time before her baby arrives but she will find a new assertiveness and help those floundering around her.

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