The Udine Far East Film Festival 2019 runs from April 26th to May 4th and has a lot to offer audiences eager for the latest in Asian cinema. This year’s edition has a special on retrospective on Korean cinema entitled ‘100 Years Of Korean Cinema’, which has 23 films programmed, and organisers are also going to hand Hong Kong star Anthony Wong the Golden Mulberry Award for Outstanding Achievement. Two of his film, Wong’s debut My Name Ain’t Suzie (1985) and the recent Still Human (2018), will also be screened.
Indeed, there are a few films I’ve already seen as part of work in Osaka with The Crossing and Still Human being my absolute must-recommends. From Japan, there are nine films in total, a few from the festival circuit such as a collection of political dystopian tales, Ten Years Japan, and Melancholic, an acerbic workplace comedy involving onsen and contract killers.
On top of film screenings, there’s also the industry side of things and Focus Asia 2019, a section where 15 projects are mainlined for international co-productions by a group of judges, has selected two Japanese projects, the first an offshoot of Ten Years Japan, Plan 75, by Chie Hayakawa and produced by Eiko Mizuno-Gray, and the second looks totally new. The Convenience Store features the film critic Mark Schilling (Japan Times), producer Emi Ueyama (Wasted Eggs, At the Terrace) and director Satoshi Miki (Adrift in Tokyo).
That was an unwieldy paragraph. On to the trailers!
Here is what on offer:
日日是好日 「Nichinichi Kore Kojitsu」
Running Time: 100 mins.
Release Date: October 13th, 2018
Director: Tatsushi Ohmori
Writer: Tatsushi Ohmori (Screenplay), Noriko Morishita (essay)
Starring: Haru Kruoki, Mikako Tabe, Kirin Kiki, Shingo Tsurumi, Mayu Tsuruta, Mayu Harada, Saya Kawamura, Chihiro Okamoto,
Synopsis: Noriko (Haru Kuroki) is a 20-year-old university student who has lost her way in life. Noriko’s mother suggests that she attends a Japanese tea ceremony near her house with her cousin Michiko (Mikako Tabe). Michiko is enthusiastic about it but Noriko doesn’t seem so certain. However, once there, Noriko learns from the teacher, Takeda (Kirin Kiki) and experiences a whole new world. It stays with Noriko throughout her life, during frustrations while job hunting, moments when she suffers a broken heart, and during the death of someone important. The tea ceremony always offers her something to return to…
止められるか、俺たちを 「Tomerareruka, Oretachi wo」
Running Time: 119 mins.
Release Date: October 13th, 2018
Director: Kazuya Shiraishi
Writer: Junichi Inoue (Screenplay),
Starring: Mugi Kadowaki, Arata Iura, Hiroshi Yamamoto,Soran Tamoto, Katsuya Maiguma, Shinobu Terajima. Sousuke Takaoka, Kisetsu Fujiwara,
Synopsis: Political/pink film director Koji Wakamatsu died six years ago but his presence is still felt in the Japanese film industry as acolytes and collaborators still operate. This film takes a year of his life but frames it through the eyes of someone else, 21-year-old Megumi (Mugi Kadowaki), who joins Wakamatsu Production in the hope of becoming someone worthwhile. There, she meets Wakamatsu (Arata Iura) who has a cadre of young talents dedicated to movie making. Megumi’s world opens up…
鈴木家の嘘 「Suzukike no Uso」
Running Time: 133 mins.
Release Date: November 16th, 2018
Director: Katsumi Nojiri
Writer: Katsumi Nojiri (Screenplay),
Starring: Ittoku Kishibe, Hideko Hara, Mai Kiryu, Ryo Kase, Nahoko Yoshimoto, Shohei Uno, Chiaki Kawamo, Nao Omori, Kayoko Kishimoto,
Synopsis: The Suzuki family is pretty modest. There is father Sachio (Ittoku Kishibe), mother Yuko (Hideko Hara), son Koichi (Ryo Kase) and daughter Fumi (Mai Kiryu). Koichi is a hikikomori but at least he’s alive. Then, one day, he isn’t. Without the least warning he drops dead and throws everyone into confusion. Yuko is so shocked by her son’s death she loses her memory which leads Fumi to lie to her in order to preserve her sanity. That lie is pretty big, “Koichi stopped being a hikikomori, got better and now works in Argentina”. How does one keep up that story???
Running Time: 102 mins.
Release Date: December 01st, 2018
Writer: SABU (Screenplay),
Starring: Sho Aoyagi, Keita Machida, Nobuyuki Suzuki, Shintaro Akiyama, Mariko Tsutsui, Yuta Ozawa, Kanta Sato,
Synopsis:Members of the entertainment group EXILE take the lead roles in a film. The first is Hiroshi (Sho Aoyagi), an idol who wows his fans on the stage and feels empty inside. One fan named Masako (Mariko Tsutsui) is so obsessed she captures him and takes him home. Then there is Takeru (Keita Machida) whose partner was involved in a shooting. He prays for her recovery and performs good deeds every day in the hopes she will wake up. Last but not east is Tetsuo (Nobuyuki Suzuki), a man who wants to take revenge on the yakuza who sent him to prison. Due to the fact that they live in the same city, their stories will cross from time to time.
ハード・コア 「Ha-do Koa」
Running Time: 124 mins.
Release Date: November 23rd, 2018
Director: Nobuhiro Yamashita
Writer: Kosuke Mukai (Screenplay), Takashi Imashiro (Original Manga),
Starring: Takayuki Yamada, Takeru Satoh, YosiYosi Arakawa, Kei Ishibashi, Suon Kan, Takako, Matsu, Kisetsu Fujiwara,
Synopsis: Deep in the hills and mountains of Gunma Prefecture dwells a pure hearted man by the name of Ukon Gondo (Takayuki Yamada). Ukon has a handsome brother, Sakon (Takeru Sato), who works for a trading company but Ukon prefers to be free from society and tries to make a living by mining for gold. He finds it difficult to communicate with others apart from another man who joins him in his excavations, Ushiyama (YosiYosi Arakawa). They are soon to be joined by a third teammate, a robot they discover at an abandoned factory that Ushiyama lives in. Once their team is complete, they resolve to change their lives.
Running Time: 113 mins.
Release Date: N/A
Director: Seiji Tanaka
Writer: Seiji Tanaka (Screenplay),
Starring: Yoji Minagawa, Yoshitomo Isozaki, Mebuki Yoshida, Makoto Hada, Hiroko Shinkai, Keiji Yamashita, Takanori Minagawa
Seiji Tanaka’s debut feature Melancholic won him a share of the best director prize in the Japanese Cinema Splash section at last years Tokyo International Film Festival (Masaharu Take also won for his film, The Gun (2018)) and one can see why as it manages to combine a number of tones and genres to create a film that feels fresh and original as well as socially conscious. It’s a real treat with a great lead performance from Yoji Minagawa.
Synopsis: Kazuhiko (Yoji Minagawa) graduated from the prestigious halls of Tokyo University you would expect him to be in some high-flying job but since leaving academia he has moved back home with his parents and lived the life of a slacker. A chance encounter with a girl he knew at high school at a bathhouse leads to him taking a job there as an attendant and he quite likes it, not least because he can talk to the girl. However, what seems like a normal onsen turns out to be a killing space for yakuza-ordered hits and when Kazuhiko stumbles upon this he ends up getting dragged into the criminal underworld…
翔んで埼玉 「Tonde Saitama」
Running Time: 107 mins.
Release Date: February 22nd, 2019
Director: Hideki Takeuchi
Writer: Yuichi Tokunaga (Screenplay), Mineo Maya (Manga)
Starring: Fumi Nikaido, Gackt, Yusuke Iseya, Masaki Kyomoto, Kumiko Aso, Haruka Shimazaki, Naoto Takenaka,
Synopsis: Tokyo is where all the beautiful people live and it is run by the father of Momomi Hakuhodo (Fumi Nikaido), a male high school student who looks like a girl. Saitama is where all the peasants live, as we all know, and people from there are persecuted. However, one day, Momomi meets mysterious male transfer student Rei Asami (Gackt) and they fall in love but Asami is from Saitama Prefecture…
十年Ten Years Japan 「Juunen Ten Years Japan」
Running Time:99 mins.
Release Date: November 03rd, 2018
Producer: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Three years ago, we had the award-winning indie omnibus film 10 Years Hong Kong (wikipedia) which offered some speculative fiction about the island territory’s future 10 years in the future. It was made at the time of student protests over the encroaching power of Mainland China so the stories have a mostly dystopian setting. Other Asian countries have got in on the act with Thailand and now Japan being up next.
Here, Hirokazu Kore-eda helps produce the stories of five young directors who bring different episodes together into one film that will be released in November.
The Air We Can’t See (Sono Kuki wa Mienai その空気は見えない)
Director: Akiyo Fujimura
Writer: Akiyo Fujimura (Screenplay)
Starring: Chizuru Ikewaki
Akiyo Fujimura was at the 2016 Osaka Asian Film Festival with Eriko Pretended (2016), a drama that got great reviews. I saw one of her short films recently and was impressed by the drama. Her story is about a girl named Mizuki who has been forced to relocate underground with the rest of the population of Japan due to pollution. She dreams of the surface world when one of her friends goes missing.
Four Our Beautiful Country (Utsukushii Kuni 美しい国)
Director: Kei Ishikawa
Writer: Kei Ishikawa (Screenplay)
Starring: Taiga, Hana Kino
Kei Ishikawa is probably famous for Gukoroku – Traces of Sin (2017), a disturbing crime drama. Here he is examining a Japan with conscription into the military is compulsory for everyone and the moral dilemma an advertising agency worker named Watanabe has when he is given the assignment of designing a poster.
Director: Chie Hayakawa
Writer: Chie Hayakawa (Screenplay)
Starring: Satoru Kawaguchi, Kinuwo Yamada, Kazue Mitani, Motomi Makiguchi,
This story takes place in a Japan struggling to cope with the elderly. The government implements Plan 75 whereby elderly people who are sick or poor are recommended for death by public officials. One man, Itami, struggles with this while his wife is dealing with her own mother who has Alzheimer’s.
Mischievous Alliance (Itazura Domei いたずら同盟)
Director: Yusuke Kinoshita
Writer: Yusuke Kinoshita (Screenplay)
Starring: Jun Kunimura, Seiya Okawa, Bako Tsujimura, Ryu Nakano,
A group of schoolboys living in an area that has been transformed into a special IT zone play a prank on an old horse that is about to be put down.
Director: Megumi Tsuno
Writer: Megumi Tsuno (Screenplay)
Starring: Hana Sugisaki, Tetsushi Tanaka, Oshiro Maeda, Masaki Miura,
A girl inherits the digital memories of her mother and discovers a different side to her.
ジェイケイ☆ロック 「Jeikei Rokku」
Running Time: 92 mins.
Release Date: April 06th, 2019
Director: Shunji Muguruma
Writer: Kaori Tanimoto (Screenplay),
Starring: Shodai Fukuyama, Ryuosuke Yamamoto, Ryota Kobayashi, Kaito Kumagai, Masahiko Nihimura, Yuina, Chihiro Hayama, Yukino Miyake,
Synopsis: Jyo Kaieda (Shodai Fukuyama), Jyo Kodukai (Ryosuke Yamamoto), Harunobu Syoji (Ryota Kobayashi) and Subaru Jinbo (Kaito Kumagai) hit the big time with their rock band JoKers but the group mysteriously broke up.
A year later and Jyo Kodukai is a rock star in America while Jyo Kaieda gave up on music to study law at university. Harunobu and Subaru hope to revive the band and turn to rock cafe owner Teruo (Masahiko Nishimura) who hatches a plan to get Jyo Kaieda inspired with music again: turn him into the tutor of a newbie rock outfit called Drop Doll, a three-piece consisting of female high school students Sakura (Chihiro Hayama), Mao (Yuina) and Rina (Yukino Miyake). Far from being a bunch of pretty faces, these girls are talented and Jyo trains them hard. He clashes with Sakura but gets the best out of them but just as he gets along with the girls before their big concert, Jyo Kodukai returns to Japan and the reasons for the JoKers break up are revealed…
初恋～お父さん、チビがいなくなりました 「Hatsukoi Otoosan, Chibi ga inakunarimashita」
Running Time: 104 mins.
Release Date: May 10th, 2019
Director: Syoutaro Kobayashi
Writer: Yuka Honcho (Screenplay), Eiko Nishiki (Original Novel)
Starring: Chieko Baisho, Tatsuya Fuji, Mikako Ichikawa, Ryuji Sato, Katsuya Kobayashi, Mio Yuuki,
Synopsis: Masaru (Tatsuya Fuji) and he and his wife Yukiko (Chieko Basho) are an elderly couple living with their cat, Chibi. Yukiko feels he has been a cold husband who has not returned her love and dedication and when Chibi dies and Masaru doesn’t express any feelings at all, it seems that that is the final straw as she demands a divorce. This demand triggers Masaru to confess a secret he has kept for years.
Kampai! Sake Sisters
カンパイ！日本酒に恋した女たち 「Kampai! Nihonshu ni Koishita onnatachi」
Running Time: 104 mins.
Release Date: N/A
Director: Mirai Konishi
Writer: Mirai Konishi
Starring: Miho Imada, Chizuko Hane, Hiromi Yamagami, Maysaki Kobayashi, Kosuke Kuji,
Synopsis thanks to Nine Film (European distributor) website: Journalist-turned-filmmaker Mirai Konishi made the documentary Kampai! For the Love of Sake back in 2014 and he has returned with another doc and this one is dedicated to showing three of a new generation of women involved in making sake and changing this once male-dominated world. Together, their stories offer captivating insight into how women in Japan are transforming ancient traditions and contribute to shaping a new era of sake.
And that seems to be it! I hope you find something you like!