Japan Film Festival in Los Angeles will run on August 18 to 19 at the Japanese American National Museum and then at Orange County’s Newport Beach Higashi Honganji.
It’s an event that has been running since 2003 and it’s stated aim is to strengthen understanding of Japanese culture through screening films for Japanese and American people to watch together. It’s laudable and it highlights the power of cinema: to take us into the lives of others. As such there are many different films programmed each year and in doing research for trailer posts, I’ve stumbled upon this festival and want to support it.
The films selected are really eclectic and run the gamut from largeish commercial feature to indie titles that hit the festival circuit. If you’re in the LA area, this could be the best chance to catch these films on the big screen.
Here are the details:
SATURDAY, AUGUST 18TH
11:00 AM – blank 13 with a video Message from Takumi Saitoh
1:00 PM – Oh Lucy!, the short film version plus other short films
3:20 PM – Scythian Lamb
5:50 PM – One Cut of the Dead
SUNDAY, AUGUST 19TH
11:00 AM – Lost In Ramen with Dir. Yuki Kumagai
1:20 PM – Forgive – Don’t Forget with Dir. Brad Bennett
3:05 PM – We Are X
5:20 PM – Hee Q&A with Kaori Momoi
羊の木 「Hitsuji no ki 」
Running Time: 126 mins.
Release Date: February 03rd, 2018
Director: Daihachi Yoshida
Writer: Masato Kagawa (Screenplay), Tatsuhiko Yamagami, Mikio Igarashi (Original Manga),
Starring: Ryo Nishikido, Fumino Kimura, Kazuki Kitamura, Yuka, Mikako Ichikawa, Shingo Mizusawa, Min Tanaka, Ryuhei Matsuda, Tamae Ando,
Daihachi Yoshida of The Kirishima Thing fame us back with this gripping drama that mixes murder mystery with a moral quandary over whether anyone can be forgiven for being a killer. It has doses of drama and comedy. I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. Here’s my review.
Synopsis: Thanks to a government program, the small seaside town of Uobuka gets six strangers into the community. They include a scary fisherman (Kazuki Kitamura), a methodical cleaning woman (Mikako Ichikawa), and a simple-minded deliveryman (Ryuhei Matsuda). All are under the supervision of local government official Hajime Tsukisue (Ryo Nishikido) who gets reports of suspicious behaviour. When he finds out who these people are and their criminal backgrounds, a body is discovered in the harbour and Tsukisue suspects one of the newcomers committed murder…
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 so if you missed it at the New York Asian Film Festival, you can catch it in Montreal.
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.
ブランク１３ 「Buranku 13」
Running Time: 70 mins.
Release Date: February 03rd, 2018
Director: Takumi Saitoh
Writer: Mitsutoshi Saijo (Screenplay), Koji Hashimoto (Original Story)
Starring: Issei Takahashi, Mayu Matsuoka, Takumi Saitoh, Misuzu Kanno, Lily Franky, Jun Murakami, Riku Ohnishi, Sairi Itoh,
We all know Takumi Saito as an actor from roles such as Ai to Makoto / For Love’s Sake but how about as a director? He has worked on two short films and this is his feature-film debut. It is based on the true story of a journalist named Koji Hashimoto who found out about the life of his estranged father 13 years after the man went missing.
See it with a video message from Takumi Saito
Synopsis: A father (Lily Franky) disappears from his wife and two sons. 13 years later, he shows up. However, his life expectancy is short since he has cancer. With only 3 months left to live, the father and his family must come to terms with their short reconciliation. It’s not enough time but at the funeral ’13-year blanks are filled up by a number of fathers’ friends and acquaintances who all have tales to tell…
Running Time: 99 mins.
Director: Stephen Kijak
Starring: Yoshiki, Toshi, Pata, Hiroshi Morie, Sugizo, Gene Simmons, Wes Borland,
Synopsis: This is a rock documentary about X-Japan, one of the biggest bands working today. The group started out as childhood friends who formed a musical unit in 1982 and survived over thirty years of hard rock, death, cults, and stratospheric fame to continue today. With a worldwide fan-base, their rock music has captivated audiences worldwide thanks to the awesome music and their stylish costumes and stage sets and the doc ends with a show at Madison Square Garden. Yoshiki, leader of the band, guides us through the history.
Running Time: 70 mins.
Release Date: July 2018
Director: Brad J. Bennet, Jonah Guelzo, Austin Journey, Paul D. Ufema
Writer: Austin Journey (Screenplay),
Starring: Glenn D. Frazier, Federico Marcon, Kazuaki Kato, Yoji Koda, Paul D. Ufema, Alex Bennet, Yujin Yaguchi,
See it with one of the directors, Brad Bennett
Synopsis: American forces confiscated many swords following Japan’s defeat and surrender in World War II and some made their way back to the US. A documentarian took it upon himself to return one of these swords to its original owner in the hopes of understanding the past and building a bridge between cultures in the present.
Running Time: 22 mins
Release Date: April 28th, 2018
Director: Atsuko Hirayanagi
Writer: Atsuko Hirayanagi, Boris Frumin (Screenplay),
Starring: Shinobu Terajima, Josh Hartnett, Kaho Minami, Koji Yakusho, Reiko Aylesworth, Casey J. Adler, Megan Mullally, Calvin C. Winbush, Kayano, Kimie Tanaka, Leni Ito,
Director Atsuko Hirayanagi attended NYU Tisch School of Arts in Asia and holds a black belt in karate. How’s that for awesome. She made a number of short films including the award-winning short Oh Lucy! (2014) which was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and was developed into this feature-length title that was screened at the Cannes Film Festival last year. You can read more here about the making of the film. It’s an inspiring story and the resulting film looks great. The Japanese Film Festival LA are screening the short so you can see where it all began.
Synopsis: Setsuko Kawashima (Terajima) is a lonely, chain-smoking office lady in Tokyo who is past her prime and watching colleagues get retired. When her neice gives her the chance to take an English class, she meets a charismatic American instructor named John (Hartnett) who gives her a new lease of life through a new identity in her American alter ego, ‘Lucy’. Just as Satsuko falls in love, John suddenly disappears with her niece and Setsuko sets out on a quest to find him, eventually leading her to the outskirts of Southern California.
ラーメン食いてぇ！ 「Ramen Kuitee 」
Running Time: 106 mins.
Release Date: March 03rd, 2018
Director: Yuki Kumagai
Writer: Yuki Kumagai (Screenplay), Akiteru Hayashi (Original Manga),
Starring: Renji Ishibashi, Reiko Kataoka, Yurika Nakamura, Kenji Mizuhashi, Wakana Aoi, Takayuki Takuma, Matsumi Fuku, Jin Katagiri, Yumi Morio,
Ramen is life for the people in this film. It looks slight based on the premise but the trailer shows a well-shot film with some heartfelt acting from new talents like Reiko Kataoka and Yurika Nakamura, who have been paired up with the highly experienced Renji Ishibashi. I had a go at making soba noodles and the training sequences are no lie: it’s a skill that you have to spend time cultivating.
See it with director Yuki Kumagai
Synopsis: Marie (Yurika Nakamura) has attempted suicide. Akahoshi (Jin Katagiri) has had an accident in the middle of the Xinjiang Uygur province of China and ramen master Akashi (Renji Ishibashi) has just lost his wife. The desire for perfect ramen keeps them going through tough times.
火 Hee「Hi Hee」
Running Time: 72 mins.
Director: Kaori Momoi
Writer: Kaori Momoi, Miyuki Takahashi, Daisuke Kamijo (Screenplay) Fuminori Nakamura (Original Story)
Starring: Kaori Momoi, Yugo Saso, Ayako Fujitani, Brian Sturges, Melody Thi,
Director Kaori Momoi is a trailblazer in Japanese film if this interview is anything to go on. She has worked with Akira Kurosawa (Kagemusha), Takashi Miike (Sukiyaki Western Django), Shunji Iwai (Swallowtail Butterfly) and others and has appeared in all sorts of films. She is making films (writing, directing) all around the world as well as in Japan.
Q&A with Director Kaori Momoi after the screening
Synopsis: The film’s story involves a psychiatrist named Dr. Sanada (Yugo Saso) investigating an old patient named Azusa (Kaori Momoi) who thinks she is crazy and blames herself for the death of her parent’s in a fire. The reason he is investigating is because he has come into contact with her again after he is called to Los Angeles where she is a prostitute accused of murder. Sanada must decide whether Azusa is mentally ill or not and whether he failed her.
はなちゃんのみそ汁「Hanachan no Misoshiro」
Release Date: December 19th, 2015
Running Time: 118 mins.
Director: Tomoaki Akune
Writer: Tomoaki Akune (Screenplay), Shingo Yasutake, Chie Yasutake, Hana Yasutake (Original Book)
Starring: Ryoko Hirosue, Kenichi Takito, Emina Akamatsu, Mahiru Konno, Kiwako Harada,
I saw this one at a free screening at a food festival in Tokyo. Even though the story is predictable, I cried a little before helping myself to some delicious food. The first 50 viewers in the cinema for this screening will get miso soup.
Q&A with producer Katsuhiko Muraoka
Synopsis: Chie (Ryoko Hirosue) is a happy woman. She has a boyfriend named Shingo (Kenichi Takito) and her life seems idyllic but when she is diagnosed with breast cancer her world is rocked. Shingo steps up to the plate and marries her. Despite having to undergo treatment the two try for a child and they succeed in having one: Hana. Chie is determined to pass on memories of time spent together with her daughter and that includes making miso soup.
ビハインド・ザ・コーヴ 捕鯨問題の謎に迫る「Bihaindo za ko-bu hogeimondai no nazo ni semaru」
Release Date: January 30th, 2016
Running Time: 105 mins.
Director: Keiko Yagi
Writer: Keiko Yagi (Screenplay),
Starring: Keiko Yagi, David Hance, Joji Morishita, Richard O’Barry, Katsunori Horihata, Louis Psihoyos,
Q&A with the director Keiko Yagi
Synopsis: This is a rebuttal to the 2010 documentary “The Cove” which looked at dolphin hunting in Taiji, Japan, and director Keiko Yagi, in her debut, aims to give both sides of the story instead of an anti-hunting message. She was inspired after “childhood memories of whale meat dishes inevitably led her to the town of Taiji” and she documents her experiences there to show a comprehensive picture of dolphin and whale hunting.