Japanese Film Festival Los Angeles (August 18 – 19)

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:


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



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


The Scythian Lamb    The Scythian Lamb Film Poster

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,

Website IMDB
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… 

One Cut of the Dead One Cut of the Dead Film Poster

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.

Blank 13    Blank 13 Film Poster

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,

Website IMDB

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…

We are X   


Running Time: 99 mins.

Director: Stephen Kijak

Starring: Yoshiki, Toshi, Pata, Hiroshi Morie, Sugizo, Gene Simmons, Wes Borland,

Website IMDB

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. 

Forgive – Don’t Forget   Forgive Don't Forget Film Poster

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,

Website    IMDB

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.

Oh Lucy!   Oh Lucy! Film Poster

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,

Website IMDB

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.

Lost in Ramen   Ramen Kuitee Film Poster

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,

Website IMDB

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.

Hee   hee-kaori-momoi-film-poster

火 HeeHi 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.

Orange County


10:00 AM – The Gift of Memory 1 & 2  うつくしいひと+ うつくしいひと サバ?

11:45 AM – Behind the Cove with director Keiko Yagi

2:30 PM – Bridge over Troubled Water with director Takafumi Ota

5:10 PM – Wake up in America with lead actor Megumi Matsushita


10:00 AM – The Scythian Lamb

12:20 PM – Hana’s Miso Soup Katsuhiko Muraoka

2:40 PM – ITO – Strings Katsuhiko Muraoka

Hana’s Miso Soup   

Hana’s Miso Soup Film Poster
Hana’s Miso Soup Film Poster

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,

Website    IMDB

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.


Behind ‘The Cove’   

Behind ‘The Cove’ Film Poster
Behind ‘The Cove’ Film Poster

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,

Website    IMDB

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.

Bridge to Tomorrow Memories of 1989    Bridge to Tomorrow Memories of 1989 Film Poster

明日にかける橋 1989年の想い出 Ashita ni kakeru hashi 1989-nen no omoide

Running Time: 131 mins.

Release Date: June 30th, 2018

Director:  Takafumi Ota

Writer:  Takafumi Ota (Screenplay), Franz Kafka (Original Novel)

Starring: Anne Suzuki, Misato Tanaka, Itsuji Itao, Akira Takarada, Tomoko Fujita, Haruka Echigo,

Website    IMDB

This was released a couple of weeks ago so it’s a major scoop for the festival.

Q&A with director Takafumi Ota   

Synopsis: Miyuki (Anne Suzuki) is an office lady who works in a provincial town. In 1989, a terrible car accident killed her younger brother Kenta and broke her family, her mother (Misato Tanaka) becoming ill and her father (Itsuji Itao) an alcoholic and a bankrupt when the bubble economy burst. One day, when she crosses Ashitabashi bridge, she remembers the rumour that it can make wishes come true and so she makes a wish to go back to 1989 to prevent the accident and save her family who she meets but she faces various challenges.

The Gift of Memory 1 & 2   The Gift of Memory 1 Film Poster

うつくしいひと + うつくしいひと サバ? Utsukushii hito = Utsukushii hito saba

Running Time: 40 mins. 45 mins.

Release Date: July 22nd, 2017

Director: Isao Yukisada

Writer:  Isao Yukisada, Anne Horiizumi (Screenplay),

Starring: Kengo Kora, Loic Garnier, Rakkyo Ide, Shizuka Ishibashi, Kaori Kobiyama, Yoshihiro Kuroki Hitomi Nakagawa,

Website    IMDB

This one is listed on the site but doesn’t have a link to an individual page so keep checking back with the festival site to see when it goes live.

Synopsis: People connected to Kumamoto came together to make this film to The Gift of Memory 2 Film Posterhelp revive the place following the earthquake which left it damaged. Shooting occurred in areas such as Kumamoto Castle. Aso Bridge and Shrine. A private detective happens upon a foreigner wandering around the area. The stranger cannot speak a word of Japanese apart from “saba” and so the detective helps the man who turns out to have an important and heartbreaking reason to be in the region.

Wake Up in America

アラフォーの挑戦 アメリカへ Arafō no chōsen Amerika e

Running Time: 93 mins.

Release Date: N/A

Director: Junichi Suzuki

Writer:  N/A

Starring: Megumi Matsushita

Megumi Matsushita will be present for the screening

From https://www.jffla.org/wake-up-in-america

Synopsis: This is a documentary narrated by and starring 37-year-old Megumi Matsushita, a young lady who went to America to study English and change her life. She finds a whole lot of adventure and discovers that life is more than just chasing after a husband.

2 thoughts on “Japanese Film Festival Los Angeles (August 18 – 19)

    1. He hasn’t been in any new films since Shoplifters if I’m remembering things correctly.

      He’s in, like four or five films released in a year. I was talking to a friend about his performances and we were wondering which has he done where he has done something totally different. We talked about Fires on the Plain for a bit. Perhaps that is different because it is his darkest role.

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