Here’s a brand new festival for North America that is totally dedicated to Japanese films. It’s called the BATSU FILM FESTIVAL and it runs from August 03rd to 05th at the Alamo Drafthouse in Denver Colorado. It’s aim is to go beyond the films of familiar names that tend to make the rounds on the festival circuit and get releases and expose the hidden talents in the Japanese film industry. With this mission, the festival programmer has dived into indie films as well as commercial features that weren’t given a wide distribution or shown outside of the bigger festivals to bring audiences in Denver a great selection of films all in one weekend in August.
There are many highlights amongst the 12 features and 4 shorts that have been selected and I have trailers for them all and links to reviews. I have watched (and reviewed) some but haven’t published any info yet so check out the notes above the trailers for some thoughts. As always, click on the titles to be taken to the festival page to see more info:
0.5ミリ 「0.5 miri」
Release Date: November 08th, 2014
Running Time: 196 mins
Director: Momoko Ando
Writer: Momoko Ando (Screenplay)
Starring: Sakura Ando, Junkichi Orimoto, Toshio Sakata, Masahiko Tsugawa, Akira Emoto.
This one comes from Momoko Ando, sister of the super-talented Sakura Ando who takes the lead in this film. In the era of #MeToo, this offers an interesting look at gender roles as well as inter-generational differences and despite its long running-time, it doesn’t drag.
Synopsis: Sawa (Sakura Ando), a home helper for a middle class family with an elderly infirm grandfather, is forced to stretch her morals to keep her job. As a result, she finds herself broke and out on the street. She survives her first night by striking up an ambiguous friendship with a kindly old man, gaining access to a portion of the immense wealth held by Japan’s ageing population. She continues with similar encounters, and while these begin as scams or revenge on rampant sexism, they ultimately become vulnerable inter-generational exchanges.
Running Time: 100 mins.
Director: Jun Tanaka
Writer: Jun Tanaka
Starring: Hironobu Yukinaga, Hiromi Nakazato, Misaki Tsuge, Toshi Yanagi, Yuki Katsuragi,
This was one of the highlights of the 2017 run of the Osaka Asian Film Festival and many critics have picked up on its unique take on horror and relationship dramas. It’s interesting looking back on it because I focused on the horror element and its use of atmosphere which reminded me of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, one of my favourite directors, but the actual emotional disconnect between the central characters and the dead atmosphere it produces is the more interesting aspect of the film to explore. Beautiful and excellently composed, it will stick in your mind. Here’s my review of Jun Tanaka’s Bamy (2017). I hope you get to see it.
This film will be preceded by the short Pacalien.
Synopsis: One day, Fumiko (Hiromi Nakazato) runs into Ryota (Hironobu Yukinaga), an old acquaintance from her college photography club. They would have missed each other had it not been for a mysterious red umbrella tumbling from the skies causing them to lock eyes. Soon enough they are making plans to get married. They seem like an ideal couple but, unfortunately, their relationship slowly ruptures because Ryota is troubled by a secret ability… he can see ghosts. Fumiko cannot and the two find themselves being torn apart by Ryota’s ability. Things get even more complicated when he encounters Sae Kimura (Misaki Tsuge), a woman with the same ability. She seems like a perfect match and Ryota leaves Fumiko but the bonds of destiny cannot be broken by the will of a mere mortal.
全員死刑 「Zenin Shikei」
Running Time: 98 mins.
Release Date: November 18th, 2017
Director: Yuki Kobayashi
Writer: Yuki Kobayashi (Screenplay), Tomohiko Suzuki (Original Novel)
Starring: Shotaro Mamiya, Katsuya Maiguma, Naomasa Musaka, Kanako Irie, Hazuki Shimizu, Motoki Ochiai, Kisetsu Fujiwara, Miyuki Torii,
This film will be preceded by the short Crying Free Sex.
Synopsis: This is based on a real-life criminal case that happened in 2004 in Omuta City, Fukuoka Prefecture. The story is specifically based on the memoir of one of the sons caught up in the crime. Four members of a family deep in debt decide to rob a wealthy family who run a loan-shark and tax evasion operation. The robbery goes wrong and someone dies. When it rains for these guys it really pours because eventually things escalate until they kill more people.
エミアビのはじまりとはじまり 「Emiabi no Hajimari to Hajimari」
Running Time: 88 mins.
Director: Kensaku Watanabe
Writer: Kensaku Watanabe (Screenplay)
Starring: Ryu Morioka, Tomoya Maeno, Haru Kuroki, Hirofumi Arai, Mari Yamachi,
Emi-Abi is a film marked by death but it is incredibly life-affirming. Written and directed by Kensaku Watanabe (he adapted the novel The Great Passage into a script for the big screen), it tells the tale of artistic endeavour in the face of disaster and comes up trumps with a happy ending in a film that perfectly balances tragedy and comedy through the use of inter-cutting scenes and sequences to keep it from pitching over into one emotion more than the other. I really liked this film and I highly recommend it. Here’s my review.
Synopsis: The story begins at the end of the manzai act Emi-Abi. The duo has lost its funny-man Unno (Tomoya Maeno) in an accident. All that remains is the handsome straight man Jitsudo (Ryu Morioka) and his dutiful manager Natsumi (Haru Kuroki) who has a comedy streak funnier than her remaining charge. With Unno’s funeral in the past and an uncertain future as a mere pretty-boy performer in a pretty crowded field, Jitsudo is on his way to his comedy sempai Kurosawa’s (Hirofumi Arai) home to pay respects and to get advice.
みんな～やってるか！ 「Minna~ Yatteru ka」
Running Time: 108 mins.
Release Date: February 11th, 1995
Director: Takeshi Kitano
Writer: Takeshi Kitano (Screenplay),
Starring: Dankan, Moeko Ezawa, Takeshi Kitano, Susumu Terajima, Kanji Tsuda, Yurei Yanagi, Ren Osugi, Taka Guadalcanal, Hakuryu, Yojin Hino, Yoneko Matsukane,
Takeshi Kitano’s out-and-out zany comedy was made when he was suffering an existential crisis between being the popular comedian and an auteur. It is funnier at the start with its short and snappy sex-themed jokes and threatens to wear out its welcome when it gets to the tokusatsu and kaiju eiga stuff but when one considers this is Kitano lobbing a molotov cocktail at the Japanese film industry, the daringness of the film is something to admire. Here’s my review.
The trailer does work but there’s no thumbnail.
Synopsis: Acclaimed director Takeshi Kitano may be hailed for his films like Hanabi, Kikujiro, and Dolls but go back to earlier in his career and witness a never-ending series of bizarre, over the top comedy full of silliness and daring gags. This is a satire of Japanese society and popular cinema in the 90s as it embraces the spirit of Kitano s early stand-up and television work and as such it offers a genuine inside look into his true personality.
The story follows middle-aged layabout Asao (DANKAN), a professional daydreamer, whose one and only goal in life is to get laid. Asao embarks on a series of slapstick adventures to impress a woman enough to get some action. The harder he tries, the more absurd the situations become as the film ramps up the nonsense vignettes from robbery schemes, and breaking into big movie productions, to taking part in yakuza gang wars and scientific experiments.
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 the treatment of women in Japan and it gives us a chilling existential portrait of people driven mad by that issue as they try and climb the social ladder. It features a great performance from Satoshi Tsumabuki (who gives a fantastic performance in RAGE, another film at the BATSU FILM FESTIVAL) and another from Hikari Mitsushima. Here’s my review.
It is preceded by the short film Matou.
Synopsis: 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 in 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, Tanaka decides to dig into it through interviewing the family’s friends and acquaintances. The deeper he digs, the more the stories of their true nature unfold and it becomes apparent that the family was not as ideal as it appeared to be. In turn, the interviewees unveil their own hidden natures, revealing a disturbing portrait of social elitism.
Running Time: 129 mins.
Writer: SABU (Screenplay)
Starring: Masatoshi Nagase, Orakio, Hiroki Suzuki, Tetsuya Chiba, Arisa Nakajima,
This is a sucker-punch of a film that will catch you off-guard. It’s primarily down to the mysterious performance of Masatoshi Nagase and the master writer-director SABU’s twisting narrative that asks how fine the line between happiness and sadness is and if anyone should be allowed to manipulate it.
Synopsis: A mysterious man named Kanzaki (Masatoshi Nagase) arrives in a quiet small town. He brings with him a strange invention: an odd-looking helmet that he claims is a happiness machine. To prove it works, he uses the helmet on an elderly shopkeeper and as soon as he activates the device, the woman remembers long forgotten happy memories and becomes much more cheerful. The mayor becomes enthusiastic about the machine and asks Kanzaki to stay. Soon, the entire town is allowed to experience the machine, but why does Kanzaki look so sad and what is his true agenda?
Running Time: 74 mins.
Release Date: 2018
Director: Daigo Matsui
Writer: Daigo Matsui (Screenplay),
Starring: Taketo Tanaka, Guama, Yuzu Aoki, Kokoro Morita, Jotaro Tozuka, Kazumasa Kadoi, Mimori Wakasugi, Reiko Tanaka, Momoha,
Daigo Matsui or How Selfish I Am! (2013) and Japanese Girls Never Die (2016) fame showed this at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year and travelled on to Nippon Connection. I don’t know too much about this film so see it and find out more!
Synopsis: In 2017, a stage performance is scheduled in a small town. The young actors are to present British playwright Simon Stephens’ “Morning” for the first time in Japan only they are asked to use their real names instead of the ones in the play so they can draw upon their own frustrations and experiences. The savage play has been attracting attention in the theatre world for its story of a violent act by two best friends. The performance is suddenly cancelled, but one actress suggests they continue rehearsing. For a month, the young actors struggle between reality and fiction, as well as between film and the stage, and their story is captured in a single 74-minute shot.
カメラを止めるな！ 「Kamera wo tomeru na!」
Running Time: 96 mins.
Release Date: November 04th, 2017
Director: Shinichiro Ueda
Writer: Shinichiro Ueda (Screenplay),
Starring: Kazuki Nagaya, Manabu Hosoi, Tomokazu Yamaguchi,
This film has been earning a lot of hype on the festival circuit where it picked up the audience award at the Udine Far East Film Festival and wowed critics and audiences alike. So if you missed it at the New York Asian Film Festival, you can catch it in Montreal and here.
Synopsis: A film crew are dragged to an abandoned warehouse in the mountains by a super-dedicated director to film a zombie movie. Rumour has it that the place was used for military experiments so that adds to the atmosphere of the film but the cast and crew find that their work turns real when honest to goodness zombies start showing up and chowing down on people. Does the director stop? Hell no! He keeps on shooting and the results are captured in one 37 minute take.
Running Time: 142 mins
Director: Sang-il Lee
Writer: Sang-il Lee (Screenplay), Shuichi Yoshida (Novel),
Starring: Ken Watanabe, Hikari Mitsushima, Mirai Moriyama, Aoi Miyazaki, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Gou Ayano, Suzu Hirose, Hideko Hara, Pierre Taki, Takahiro Miura, Mitsuki Takahata, Chizuru Ikewaki, Akira Emoto, Eri Fukatsu, Kirin Kiki, Kenichi Matsuyama,
The film is based on a novel by Shuichi Yoshida and he has had many of his books turned into films. You may have seen A Story of Yonosuke (2013), Villain (2010), Parade (2010) The Ravine of Goodbye (2013) or at least heard of them. Rage is arguably the most ambitious due to it’s scale as it takes in a horrible crime and its effect on three different communities in different places in Japan. Sang-il Lee who handled the big-screen adaptation of Villain (2010) and crafted a good drama works with a stellar cast to bring this powerful tale to life.
Here’s my review.
Synopsis: A married couple is brutally murdered by someone. The only clues are that the murderer is a man and he wrote the word “Ikari” (“Anger”) with the blood of the couple. The killer undergoes plastic surgery and flees and Japan is gripped by the crime and whenever a male stranger appears in a community, the people there suspect that the stranger might be the murderer.
People such as Yohei Maki (Ken Watanabe) who works at a harbour in Chiba. He is concerned that the man his daughter Aiko (Aoi Miyazaki) is dating, Tetsuya Tashiro (Kenichi Matsuyama), might be the killer, because Tetsuya is not his real name.
An advertising executive named Yuma Fujita (Satoshi Tsumabuki) falls for a man named Naoto Onishi (Gou Ayano) and they begin to live together but Yuma soon develops suspicions that Naoto is the killer.
Izumi Komiya (Suzu Hirose) and her mother (Urara Awata) move to an isolated island in Okinawa and Izumi meets a backpacker named Shingo Tanaka (Mirai Moriyama) who is hiding a secret.
Three different communities across Japan, three different stories involving different people, all linked by one murder.
たまゆらのマリ子 「Tamayura Mariko」
Running Time: 65 mins.
Director: Koji Segawa
Writer: Koji Segawa (Screenplay)
Starring: Chise Ushio, Keita Yamashina, Hide Miura, Hikari Goto, Tomoko Kato,
I saw this psychological chamber piece at the Osaka Asian Film Festival earlier this year. It’s an interesting title which won over a lot of the serious critics who viewed the film. It all hinges on the central performance of lead actor Chise Ushio and the cruel world that Koji Segawa crafts for her. Don’t worry, it’s not all bitter and angry. There’s black humour and a neat ending. It’s surprising to see how far this film has travelled but that’s a sign of its quality. Director Koji Segawa will be present for the screening so please make him feel welcome!
Synopsis: Mariko, a seemingly normal housewife, has been together with her younger husband named Tomoharu for six years and has been dissatisfied every day. Despite having a son together, Tomoharu is often absent from home and she suspects he might be having an affair. Her workplace, a batting center, is also a miserable environment because the sleazy manager chases after her and the customers are rude. With constant pressure bearing down on her in public and private, Mariko becomes dominated by a certain obsession that eats away at her perception of reality.
Running Time: 117 mins.
Release Date: December 23rd, 2017
Director: Akiko Ooku
Writer: Akiko Ooku (Screenplay), Risa Wataya (Original Novel)
Starring: Mayu Matsuoka, Daichi Watanabe, Takumi Kitamura, Anna Ishibashi, Kanji Furutachi, Hairi Katagiri,
A person obsessed with ammonites? How quaint. However, I can’t ready the synopsis for this and not think about the Junji Ito manga Uzumaki. This one was at the Tokyo International Film Festival where it won the Audience Award and has stayed on the festival circuit because of its quality writing and a fantastic performance by Mayu Matsuoka.
Synopsis: Yoshika (Mayu Matsuoka) is 24-years-old with a fairly unique hobby: she likes researching ammonite fossils and collects them. Perhaps this explains why she doesn’t have a boyfriend in her life. Or maybe the lack of a man is down to the fact that she pines for her first love, a guy from school named Ichi. One day, Ni, a guy who works at the same company, confesses his feelings for her.