A Preview of Japan Cuts 2019 (JULY 19–28)

Japan Cuts 2019 is back with its annual showcase of the latest in Japanese films carefully curated by its team of programmers. It is due to kick off in New York in a month’s time and runs from JULY 19–28. The selection looks good and there’s a handy trailer to build up anticipation by revealing a glimpse of all the films on offer!

There is a distinctly youthful and fresh feeling to the roster of directors and writers as well as the stories they tell. Lots of directors are, or were, making their debuts after cutting their teeth in various production roles or they are at the indie end of the spectrum and under-exposed on the festival circuit. Then there is a lot of youth-oriented stories with a lot of coming-of-age tales. That’s not to say that the older generations are forgotten as a documentary and some legendary filmmakers are also on board with Shinya Tsukamoto in New York to show Bullet Ballet as well as his latest film Killing and there is also a doc called I Go Gaga, My Dear about an elderly couple which is getting a lot of play at different fests so that’s a good sign. I’ve seen quite a few of these films, mostly at this year’s Osaka Asian Film Festival, and so I’ll put links to my reviews if you want to read them.

Some of these films are going to be accompanied by directors and actors and a full list plus bios can be found here. This year’s recipient of the CUT ABOVE Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film is Shinya Tsukamoto, one of the first directors I went and wrote a biography for and reviewed a whole bunch of his films (my favourite being Vital). He is just one of many guests so please check the official website to find out more.

All information comes from old trailer posts and the JAPAN CUTS website.

Here is what has been programmed!

Friday, July 19th

Japan Cuts 2019 opens on Thursday, July 19th, with Dance With Me, a lovely-looking musical number:

Dance With Me    Dance With Me Film Poster

ダンスウィズミー  Dansu Uizu Mi-

Release Date: June 07th, 2019

Duration: 103 mins.

Director: Yuichi Hibi

Writer: Yuichi Hibi (Screenplay),

Starring: Ayaka Miyoshi, Yuu Yashiro, Chay, Takahiro Miura, Tsuyoshi Muro, Akira Takarada,

Website IMDB

Q&A with director Shinobu Yaguchi and star Ayaka Miyoshi

Synopsis: Shizuka is a salarywoman preparing for a big meeting but after visiting a shady hypnotist and left under a spell which causes her to break into song and dance whenever she hears music, even if it’s just a ringtone. Shizuka needs to get her head fixed for the meeting and goes on the hunt for the hypnotist who has disappeared and so starts a road-trip musical!

Saturday, July 20th

The Island of Cats    Neko no Jiichan Film Poster

ねことじいちゃん Neko to Jiichan

Release Date: February 22nd, 2019

Duration: 103 mins.

Director:  Mitsuaki Iwago

Writer: Fumi Tsubota (Screenplay), Nekomaki (Manga)

Starring: Shinosuke Tatekawa, Kou Shibasaki, Kaoru Kobayashi, Tasuku Emoto, Yuki Katayama, Toshie Kobayashi,

Website IMDB

Seasoned thesps such as Kaoru Kobayashi and Toshie Kobayashi work alongside the quietly brilliant Kou Shibasaki here.

Synopsis: Daikichi (Shinosuke Tatekawa) is a 70-year-old widower who lives on a small island with his cat Tama. The island is overrun with cats and mainly populated by the elderly so it’s an easy-going place. Daikichi’s son Tsuyoshi (Takashi Yamanaka), who lives in Tokyo, is worried about his father living alone on the island, especially as his physical condition worsens with age. Daikichi and Tama’s daily life begins to change when a woman named Michiko (Kou Shibasaki) opens a cafe for the island’s mostly elderly residents…

Whole

Release Date: 2019

Duration: 45 mins.

Director: Bilal Kawazoe

Writer: Usman Kawazoe (Screenplay),

Starring: Usman Kawazoe, Aoi Ibuki, Kai Hoshino Sandy,

Website IMDB   OAFF

Bilal Kawazoe’s film, WHOLE looks at as one of the few recent Japanese efforts to look at this issues surrounding being biracial in a homogeneous society. Here’s my review.

The film will be preceded by the short Tokyo Kurds (2018. 20 min.) directed by Fumiari Hyuga, a doc that follows one of a number of undocumented Kurds living in the country.

Q&A with director Bilal Kawazoe and stars Kai Hoshino Sandy and Usman Kawazoe

Synopsis: There are two protagonists living in the pretty cosmopolitan city of Kobe that make the whole of the movie. The first is Haruki, a biracial student from the suburbs who has quit his overseas college course and returned to Japan to find his identity. Unfortunately, this has been something he has long struggled with and having parents who, judging by the dialogue, are mostly absent even if they are there, don’t take the time to support him, he bottles things up as can be seen on his downhearted face. Haruki then meets Makoto, a construction worker raised in the projects of Kansai who is also biracial. Ostensibly more confident, he has two guys he hangs out with and shows less fear when travelling in public, laughing off accusations he is a foreigner and joining in with the “banter”. Although Haruki and Makoto are complete opposites in terms of personality and class, they quickly form a friendship full of understanding and sympathy which helps them bridge the gap across the emptiness of being an outsider so they can go from being half a person to a whole.

I Go Gaga, My DearBokemasukara, yoroshiku onegaishimasu Film Poster

ぼけますから、よろしくお願いします。 Bokemasukara, yoroshiku onegaishimasu

Release Date: November 03rd, 2018

Duration: 102 mins.

Director:  Naoko Nobutomo

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A

Website

Synopsis from Japan Cuts: The first theatrical feature by veteran television director Naoko Nobutomo is a personal documentary chronicling the enduring love, resilience and struggles of her nonagenarian parents in Kure, Hiroshima as her mother’s Alzheimer’s-related dementia gradually worsens. With a great abundance of footage taken over several years, Nobutomo interweaves direct documentation with intimate home movies of her parents, including their support during her battle with breast cancer. A small film that was a surprise box office hit purely through word-of-mouth, I Go Gaga, My Dear opened in one small Sapporo cinema and eventually expanded to 70 screens nationwide for over three months.

Being Natural    Being Natural Film Poster

天然☆生活 Tennen Seikatsu

Release Date: March 23rd, 2019

Duration: 96 mins.

Director: Tadashi Nagayama

Writer:  Tadashi Nagayama, Yuriko Suzuki (Screenplay),

Starring: Yota Kawase, Kanji Tsuda, Natsuki Mieda, Tadahiro Tsuru, Shoichiro Tanigawa,

IMDB

It starts off as a gentle comedy where we follow Yota Kawase’s good-natured lead character and then goes completely off the rails. The ending is absolutely bonkers.

Q&A with director Tadashi Nagayama and stars Yota Kawase and Natsuki Mieda

Synopsis: Taka is a simple chap and lives a quiet life in his rural town in his uncle’s house as he takes care of the old man with dementia. He spends his days playing games when not looking after others but his peaceful life changes when a couple from Tokyo arrive in the area with plans to open a coffee shop.

10 Years JapanTen Years Japan Film Poster

十年Ten Years Japan Juunen Ten Years Japan

Release Date: November 03rd, 2018

Duration: 99 mins.

Producer: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Website IMDB

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 Japan where filmmakers indulge in some quiet and contemplative speculative fiction.

Here, Hirokazu Kore-eda helps produce the stories of five young directors who bring different episodes together into one film.

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.

For 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.

PLAN 75

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.

DATA

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.

Sunday, July 21st

Samurai Shifters      Samurai Shifters Film Poster

引っ越し大名!  Hikkoshi Daimyo!

Release Date: August 30th, 2019

Duration: 120 mins.

Director: Isshin Inudo

Writer: Akihiro Dobashi (Screenplay),

Starring: Gen Hoshino, Gaku Hamada, Yutaka Matsushige, Issey Takahashi, Mitsuki Takahata, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Masahiko Nishimura, Mitsuhiro Oikawa, Yasuko Tomita,

Website IMDB

Synopsis from Japan Cuts because it’s brilliant: In 17th century Japan, the Tokugawa shogunate ensures political dominance by forcing lords to move their clans from domain to domain. When the Echizen Matsudaira clan is called upon to make a particularly tough relocation, the undesired role of relocation officer falls to Harunosuke Katagiri (Gen Hoshino), a socially inept samurai librarian. Under the threat of forced harakiri, Harunosuke takes to the near impossible task with the help of a loudmouth swordsman (Issey Takahashi) and the former relocation officer’s daughter (Mitsuki Takahata).

The ChaplainKyoukaishi Film Poster

教誨師 Kyoukaishi

Release Date: October 06th, 2018

Duration: 114 mins.

Director: Dai Sako

Writer: Dai Sako (Screenplay),

Starring: Ren Osugi, Reo Tamaoki, Setsuko Karasuma, Takeo Gozu, Noboru Ogawa, Kenji Furutachi, Ken Mitsuishi,

Website

This was Ren Osugi’s last film before he passed away in February last year. He produced this project. Can you imagine being one of the actors selected by him to play one of these roles? It would be an honour.

Synopsis: Saeki (Ren Osugi) is a prison chaplain who works with death-row inmates. He is good at communicating with them and uses this skill to try and reform them but he agonises over whether he makes a difference in their lives and whether he is doing the right thing. He also tries to avoid facing an incident in his past…

 

The Kamagasaki Cauldron War  The Kamagasaki Cauldron War Film Poster

月夜釜合戦 Tsukiyo kama gassen

Release Date: March 09th, 2019

Duration: 115 mins.

Director:  Leo Sato

Writer: Leo Sato (Screenplay),

Starring: Naomichi Ota, Yota Kawase, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Kazu, Makoto Nishiyama, Shoji Omiya,

Website IMDB

This is a film to take a risk on. Chances of seeing it outside of a specialist fest like JAPAN CUTS are slim. It was filmed on location in the poorer areas of Osaka and, judging by the trailer, seems to have captured the vibe of the places. You can’t talk about Osaka without mentioning food such as okonomiyaki and takoyaki and the short film Takoyaki Story (2018, 2 min.) directed by Sawako Kabuki will be played before this feature.

Q&A with star Yota Kawase

Synopsis from Japan Cuts: A boisterous comedy produced in beautiful color 16mm following the hard-knock characters stirred up by the theft of a cauldron used in yakuza ceremonial rites. Set in Kamagasaki—home to the working poor of Osaka under constant threat of erasure by local government—Leo Sato’s dramatic debut follows his documentary Nagai Park Elegy (2009) on local people’s struggle against forced displacement. Magnetic character actor Yota Kawase centers this delightful ensemble of professionals and amateurs, a timeless scrappy vision of radical humanism, rendering the neighborhood’s day laborers, sex workers, union activists and street performers with empathy and respect.

Monday, July 22nd

Shorts Showcase: ndjc, vol. 1

Free Entry – first-come first-served

Since 2007, the New Directions in Japanese Cinema scheme has been training new talents by giving them the chance to make films on 35mm film. I had the pleasure of seeing the ones playing at JAPAN CUTS at the Osaka Asian Film Festival earlier this year.

Last Judgement / Saigo no Shinpan    Saigo no Shinpan Film Poster

最後の審判 Saigo no Shinpan

Release Date: March 02nd, 2019

Duration: 29 mins.

Director:  Shinya Kawakami

Writer: Shinya Kawakami (Screenplay)

Starring: Ren Sudo, Miru Nagase, Asuka Kurosawa, Kiyomi Aratani,

Website

Of all the various films produced in this run of NDJC, this was the one that made me sit up and take notice. The use of cinema to convey a story, at once comedic and intensely dramatic, was magnificent as sharp editing and camera movement produced the needed reactions. This one features students who are battling to get past a test and into Tokyo University of Art. It’s a fierce fight with a class full of talented students. Rival students played by Ren Sudo and Hitome Nagase  are full of charm and have great chemistry.

SEE THIS FILM! ESPECIALLY BECAUSE IT IS FREE TO ATTEND!

Hazure Kazoku no Saaya    Hazure Kazoku no Saaya Film Poster

はずれ家族のサーヤ Hazure Kazoku no Sa-ya

Release Date: March 02nd, 2019

Duration: 30 mins.

Director:  Mikiko Okamoto

Writer: Mikiko Okamoto (Screenplay)

Starring: Naho Yokomizu, Mei Kurokawa, Sue Masukoshi, Taijirou Tamura, Yurito Mori,

Website

A girl named Saaya used to live with her mother named Mei but when she remarried and had a child, she moved away. Saaya longs for her mother’s attention and she gets it when she buys an old wooden from a man who sells toys and she discovers it has a mysterious force and…

Kumori tokidoki hare    Kumori tokidoki hare Film Poster

くもり ときどき 晴れ Kumori tokidoki hare

Release Date: March 02nd, 2019

Duration: 30 mins.

Director:  Motoyuki Itabashi

Writer: Motoyuki Itabashi (Screenplay)

Starring: Megumi, Miyoko Asada, Kenji Mizuhashi, Masashi Arifuku,

Website

I had a negative reaction to this one. For the first time in a while I was dismissive of a film. It’s down to the story: a woman named Haruko who lives with her mother discovers that her father, a horrid man who had left home ages ago, is in a hospital. She decides to visit him but wonders whether it is the right thing to do. 

Demolition Girl  Demolition Girl JK Elegy Film Poster

JK エレジー JK Ereji-

Release Date: 2019

Duration: 88 mins.

Director: Genta Matsugami

Writer: Yoshitaka Kasui, Genta Matsugami (Screenplay),

Starring: Aya Kitai, Hiroki Ino, Yota Kawase, Haruka Imo, Yura Komuro,

Website IMDB

Winner of the JAPAN CUTS Award at this year’s Osaka Asian Film Festival, Demolition Girl is a great slice of socially-conscious filmmaking as it shows the lives of working-class people in Japan and the options open to them in terms of social mobility. It has a great lead performance from Aya Kitai who is a natural screen presence. Here’s my review and an interview I did with the director Genta Matsugami.

Q&A with director Genta Matsugami and star Aya Kitai

Synopsis: Cocoa Umeda lives in a small rural city. It feels like a slow and tranquil place where the biggest events are the seasonal festivals but for Cocoa and her friends things are getting intense as they approach their final exams and high school graduation. Cocoa could go on to higher education because she has potential but her options are limited by her financial situation. With a gambler for a father and a lazy brother sponging off her, Cocoa is resigned to spending the rest of her existence in her hometown but when she discovers her mother left her money to go to university, she begins to dream of an escape

And Your Bird Can Sing   Kimi no tori wa utaeru Film Poster

きみの鳥はうたえる Kimi no tori wa utaeru

Release Date: September 01st, 2018

Duration: 119 mins.

Director: Sho Miyake

Writer: Sho Miyake (Screenplay), Yasushi Sato (Novel)

Starring: Shota Sometani, Tasuku Emoto, Shizuka Ishibashi, Makiko Watanabe, Ai Yamamoto,

Website IMDB

A film based on a novel by Yasushi Sato is usually something to take notice of after a series of good to great adaptations. Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Over the Fence is good, while Sketches of Kaitan City by director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri, and Mipo Oh’s The Light Shines Only There are great. The three are set in the author’s native city of Hakodate in the north of Japan but this film was originally set in Tokyo before being relocated to Hakodate. There’s a great cast with Shota Sometani (Himizu), Shizuka Ishibashi (The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue), and Tasuku Emoto (Dynamite Graffiti).

Synopsis: The unnamed protagonist (Tasuku Emoto), simply referred to in the credits as “Boku” is a slacker who works at a bookstore while sharing an apartment with his unemployed friend, Shizuo (Shota Sometani). “Boku” begins dating his co-worker Sachiko (Shizuka Ishibashi) and she gets roped into his hang-about life, but Shizuo soon gets involved and a love triangle develops…

A Step Forward    a step forward bokushi to inochi no gake film poster

牧師といのちの崖 Bokushi to inochi no gake

Release Date: January 19th, 2019

Duration: 100 mins.

Director:  Atsushi Kasezawa

Writer: N/A

Starring: Yoichi Fujiyabu,

Website

Surprise inclusion but a welcome one as it tackles a complex subject.

Q&A with director Atsushi Kasezawa

Synopsis: Yoichi Fujiyabu is a pastor at Shirahama Baptist church in Shirahama Kaigan, Wakayama Prefecture and he works with his church to prevent suicides at a cliff which is a beauty spot. He saves lives and gets people back into society through offering a community to support them. He talks about his experiences and the reasons why people commit suicide such as relationship breakdowns, pressures felt by young people, and a myriad of other things. Through this, he questions the meaning of life.

Tuesday, July 23rd

His Lost Name    his lost name film poster

夜明け Yoake

Release Date: January 18th, 2019

Duration: 113 mins.

Director:  Nanako Hirose

Writer: Nanako Hirose (Screenplay),

Starring: Kaoru Kobayashi, Yuya Yagira, Young Dais, Tsunekichi Suzuki, Keiko Horiuchi,

Website IMDB

Lost Name is the first feature film made by female director Nanako Hirose. She is part of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Bun-buku group and has worked on the films Like Father, Like Son and Our Little Sister as well as Miwa Nishikawa’s The Long Excuse.

Q&A with director Nanako Hirose

Synopsis: Tetsuro (Kaoru Kobayashi) is a widower who runs a woodworking shop. One day, while walking along the riverside, he finds a young man lying collapsed on the ground. Despite knowing nothing of the man, Tetsuro takes him to his home and takes care of him. When the young man awakens he tells Tetsuro that his name is Shinichi (Yuya Yagira). Tetsuro allows Shinichi to stay with him and teaches him skills but when a certain incident happens, the local community become suspicious. It turns out that Shinichi isn’t his real name and he has a secret. Tetsuro also has a secret, too.

Red Snow    Akai Yuki Film Poster

赤い雪 Akai Yuki

Release Date: February 01st, 2019

Duration: 106 mins.

Director:  Sayaka Kai

Writer: Sayaka Kai (Screenplay),

Starring: Masatoshi Nagase, Nahana, Arata Iura, Yui Natsukawa, Koichi Sato, Ken Yoshizawa,

Website

A fantastic cast full of familiar actors (Masatoshi Nagase (Sweet Bean, Vision), Arata Iura, Yui Natsukawa (Still Walking), Koichi Sato (Starfish Hotel) and a story that looks intriguing makes this a film to take a risk on.

Synopsis: A young boy’s brother disappears and his memory of the event leads to a confused investigation. Despite this, the police arrest a local outcast with a pretty bad criminal record so it seems like justice has been done. Not quite. The man is found not guilty. 30 years later, an investigative reporter (Arata Iura) finds anomalies and the boy, now a man (Masatoshi Nagase), has his own doubts. The two meet and are brought into contact with the suspect’s daughter (Nahana) and something unexpected happens…

Wednesday, July 24th

KillingKilling Film Poster

斬、 Zan

Release Date: November 24th, 2018

Duration: 80 mins.

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto

Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto (Screenplay),

Starring: Sosuke Ikematsu, Yu Aoi, Shinya Tsukamoto, Tatsuya Nakamura, Ryusei MaedaZen Killing Film Poster

Website    IMDB

Shinya Tsukamoto is back writing, directing, editing and producing his own films after a short spell acting in features like Shin Godzilla and Over the Fence. I’m a big fan of his works thanks to Nightmare Detective (2007), Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), Tokyo Fist (1995), and Vital (2003) and his film A Snake of June, which was given the Special Jury Prize at the 2002 Venice Film Festival and this one has been impressing critics and audiences on the festival circuit.

Q&A with director Shinya Tsukamoto 

Synopsis: The ronin Mokunoshin Tsuzuki (Sosuke Ikematsu) is alive during the end of the Edo period where many samurai like him are finding their way of life losing its edge as the country exists in a state of peace. He lives in the suburbs of Tokyo where he helps out farmers and is acquainted with one farmer’s son named Ichisuke (Ryusei Maeda) who dreams of being a samurai. Tsuzuki spends his days farming and sparring with Ichisuke but, despite the tranquillity, Tsuzuki’s heart is in tumult because he is concerned about the questions of whether he could follow a lord’s orders and kill a man and, more importantly, passions are brewing as he is falling in love with Ichisuke’s sister Yu (Yu Aoi). Passions from further afield are also growing as the country is on the verge of a civil war when a mild-mannered and skilful ronin Jirozaemon Sawamura (Shinya Tsukamoto) arrives in town looking for warriors to take to Edo.

Thursday, July 25th

Bullet Ballet                                                  Bullet Ballet Film Poster

バルット バレエ 「Barutto Baree

Release Date: March 11th, 2000

Duration: 87 mins.

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto

Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto

Starring: Shinya Tsukamoto, Kirina Mano, Tomorowo Taguchi, Tatsuya Nakamura, Kyoka Suzuki, Hisashi Igawa, Takahiro Murase, Keisuke Yoshida, Hiromi Kuronuma

This release is special because it has been digitally restored by Shinya Tsukamoto, master filmmaker behind the Tetsuo films and Tokyo Fist has personally selected this work to show at Japan Cuts and it will be screened via 35mm.

Q&A with director Shinya Tsukamoto

Synopsis: Goda (Shinya Tsukamoto) is a thirty-something filmmaker. While his work may seem intriguing to some his life is absolutely average – long hours at the office, drinks after work, an equally busy girlfriend, Kiriko, that he’s been with for a decade. No surprises. No detours. No shocks. That is until he returns home one night to find police cars and ambulances surrounding the entrance to his apartment building. When he gets upstairs he’s told that Kiriko has committed suicide. If this wasn’t devastating enough Goda also learns that she killed herself with a gun. With Japan having some of the strictest set of gun control laws on the books not only is Goda left with the yawning, black hole of “why” behind Kiriko’s suicide, but also a whole other set of mysterious “hows”, “wheres” and “whos”. How did Kiriko get a handgun in the first place? From where? And most importantly from who? Goda goes on a quest into the gritty criminal underworld of Tokyo in order to answer these questions, and maybe inhabit the last days of Kiriko’s life.

Erica 38    Erica 38 Film Poster

エリカ38  Erika 38

Release Date: June 07th, 2019

Duration: 103 mins.

Director: Yuichi Hibi

Writer: Yuichi Hibi (Screenplay),

Starring: Miyoko Asada, Miu Suzuki, Kirin Kiki, Nahana, Juri Manase, Hajime Yamazaki, Shizuo Yamazaki, Hinako Saeki, Takehiro Hira,

Website IMDB

This, I believe, is the last role we will see Kirin Kiki after her passing and it’s an interesting looking drama.

Synopsis: Satoko Watabe (Miyoko Asada), a 60-year-old con woman, and her new lover Ikuo Hirasawa (Takehiro Hira) defraud people in an investment scam and make a lot of money but the deceiver is deceived when she discovers that her boyfriend has other girlfriends. Satoko Watabe ups and leaves with the cash and goes to Thailand and passes herself off as a 38-year-old woman named Erica before returning to Japan where she cons an elderly man out of a large house and calls her mother (Kirin Kiki) at a nursing home to live with her but Erica cannot continue her crooked ways…

Friday, July 26th

The day begins with a fascinating panel discussion entitled The Current State of Film Restoration in Japan which goes into detail of how the Japanese film industry are restoring classics.

JesusJesus Film Poster

僕はイエス様が嫌い Boku ha Iesu sama ga kirai

Release Date: May 31st, 2019

Duration: 76 mins.

Director:  Hiroshi Okuyama

Writer: Hiroshi Okuyama (Screenplay),

Starring: Yura Sato, Kenichi Akiyama, Mari Hatsumi, Yuko Kibiki, Masayasu Kitayama, Chad Mullane, Kouichi Nihei, Hinako Saeki,

Website IMDB

This one has appeared at a couple of festivals and is a dark horse. I don’t know anything about it other than the director’s short film Tokyo 21st October (2018. 12 min) will precede it.

Q&A with director Hiroshi Okuyama

Synopsis from the Japan Film Festival Ireland site: When nine-year-old Yura moves from the city to a small town, he immediately feels lonely and isolated in his new environment. All that changes during a school prayer session. Yura opens his eyes, and spots a small, silent Jesus Christ dancing on the altar. The miniature Jesus, who nobody else can see, quickly becomes a regular presence in the young boy’s life. He also starts answering Yura’s prayers – including one for a new friend. However, the miraculous changes in Yura’s fortunes don’t last forever. After events take an unexpected turn for the worse, he finds himself questioning how effective his prayers really are.

Melancholic 

メランコリック  Merankorikku

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 113 mins.

Director: Seiji Tanaka

Writer: Seiji Tanaka (Screenplay),

Starring: Yoji Minagawa, Yoshitomo Isozaki, Mebuki Yoshida, Makoto Hada, Hiroko Shinkai, Keiji Yamashita, Takanori Minagawa

Website IMDB

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) which will play at the New York Asian Film Festival) 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. Here’s my review.

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…

Saturday, July 27th

Experimental Spotlight: Palm of the Hand Cinema is a collection of short films told in different mediums.

The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan   The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan Film Poster

泣き虫しょったんの奇跡 Nakimushi Shottan no Kiseki

Release Date: September 07th, 2018

Duration: 127 mins.

Director: Toshiaki Toyoda

Writer: Ayako Kato (Screenplay), Shoji Segawa (Autobiographical Novel)

Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Yojiro Noda, Shota Sometani, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Takako Matsu, Hirofumi Arai, Kiyohio Shibukawa, Kento Nagayama, Kaoru Kobayashi, Jun Miho, Jun Kunimura, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Itsuji Itao, Shizuka Ishibashi, Yuya Endo, Chihiro Okamoto,

Website IMDB

Directed by Toshiaki Toyoda (Blue Spring) and with a cast to die for, I’ve read a lot about how people really fall for this one’s story.

Synopsis: Shoji Segawa (Ryuhei Matsuda) was on the path from being a quit kid to a Shogi champion butwhen he hits the age of 26, he finds his time might be over and a new generation of shogi players are about to take over. However, with the support of his peers, he makes a comeback and a miracle happens…

Jeux de Plage 

浜辺のゲーム Hamabe no Ge-mu

Release Date: May 04th, 2019

Duration: 77 mins.

Director:  Aimi Natsuto

Writer: Aimi Natsuto (Screenplay),

Starring: Haruna Hori, Shinsuke Kato, Juri Fukushima, Otsuka Nanaho, Donsaron Kovitanitcha,

Website IMDB

I saw Jeux de Plage at the Osaka Asian Film Festival. It is the debut feature of Aimi Natsuto who turns in a Gallic-inspired romantic disasterdy that takes place in a lovely coastal setting. It’s very reminiscent of Eric Rohmer’s oeuvre.

Here’s my review.

Synopsis: Three college students, Sayaka (Haruna Hori), Yui (Juri Fukushima) and Yui’s best friend Momoko (Nanaho Otsuka), head to the seaside town of Shonan (in Natsuto’s home prefecture of Kanagawa) and stay in a large guest house which is where numerous romantic waifs and strays wash up including a louche goofy guitarist named Akihiro (Shinsuke Kato) who tries to bed every girl in sight, a horny film professor, and Korean students Min Jun and the girl he is crushing on, Yona. Things get rather confused as multiple people become attracted to each other…

The Journalist    The Journalist Film Poster  

新聞記者  Shimbun Kisha

Release Date: June 28th, 2019

Duration: 113 mins.

Director: Michihito Fujii

Writer: Akihiko Takaishi (Screenplay), Kosuke Kawamura, Isoko Mochizuki (Original Non-fiction Book)

Starring: Shim Eun-Kyung, Tori Matsuzaka, Tsubasa Honda, Amane Okayama, Tomohiro Kaku, Seiya Osada, Hina Miyano,

Website IMDB

This seems to be based on a real-life scandal involving Japan’s current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, and his right-wing government. Suicide involving public officials and government-funded schools. Do the characters have what it takes to risk their careers for the truth?

Synopsis from Japan Cuts because it’s great: Yoshioka (Eun-kyung Shim) is a Tokyo reporter with truth-seeking zeal haunted by her father’s destroyed journalism career and subsequent suicide. Meanwhile, Sugihara (Tori Matsuzaka) is a bureaucrat on a glide path to promotion who comes upon a shady government-funded school that could point to a historic cover-up. Together, they must decide what to do when doing the right thing feels like self-sabotage. Based on journalist Isoko Mochizuki’s book, Michihito Fujii’s thriller recalls All the President’s Men in its depiction of journalism’s civic duty, replete with bustling newsrooms, late night leak intercepts and whirring printing presses.

Legend of Stardust Brothers / Hoshikuzu kyodai no densetsu    The Legend of the Stardust Brothers Film Poster

星くず兄弟の伝説 Hoshikuzu kyodai no densetsu

Release Date: June 15th, 1985

Duration: 100 mins.

Director: Macoto Tezuka

Writer: Macoto Tezuka (Screenplay), Haruo Chikada (Original Story)

Starring: Ryosuke Miura, Kohei Takeda, Tadanobu Aasano,, Shingo Kubota, Kan Takagi, Kyoko Togawa, Issay, Kiyohiko Ozaki, Miwako Fukushima, Mie Akatsuka, Motoko Arai,

Website IMDB

This one has been licensed by Third Window Films and it has played at a couple of festivals already including Nippon Connection. As the release dates above show, it originally comes from 1985 and got a re-release last year. It was directed by Macoto Tezuka, son of manga legend, Osamu Tezuka.

Q&A with director Macoto Tezka

Synopsis from Third Window Films: In 1985, Macoto Tezuka met musician and TV personality Haruo Chicada who had made a soundtrack to a movie which didn’t actually exist: The Legend of the Stardust Brothers. At the time Macoto was just 22 years old, a film-student with many short experimental films under his belt, but, with Chicada as producer, Tezuka would make his feature-film debut by adapting this “fake soundtrack” into the real movie story of “The Stardust Brothers”.

With inspiration from “Phantom of the Paradise” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show”, Tezuka assembled a cast of some of Japan’s most famous musicians of the time, including such greats as Kiyohiko Ozaki, ISSAY, Sunplaza Nakano and Hiroshi Takano, alongside many famous names in Manga such as Monkey Punch (Lupin the 3rd), Shinji Nagashima (Hanaichi Monme), Yosuke Takahashi (Mugen Shinsi) and even many upcoming film directors of the time such as Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Tokyo Sonata, Cure) and Daihachi Yoshida (The Kirishima Thing, The Scythian Lamb). The resulting film “The Legend of the Stardust Brothers” is the exact definition of a cult film. Despite the huge array of talent on board with a large budget, the film is totally unknown even to this day in both Japan and worldwide. More than 30 years since its release, The Stardust Brothers will finally make itself known worldwide with a new master and a brand new Director’s Cut!

Sunday, July 28th

Night Cruising    Night Cruising Film Poster

ナイトクルージング  Naito Kuru-jingu

Release Date: March 30th, 2019

Duration: 144 mins.

Director: Yuichi Hibi

Writer: Yuichi Hibi (Screenplay),

Starring: Hideyuki Kato, Koichi Yamadera, Nobutoshi Canna, Mamiko Noto, Hiroya Ishimaru, Arno LeGall, Toshimitsu Kokido,

Website IMDB

Q&A with director Makoto Sasaki, producer Miyuki Tanaka and subject Hideyuki Kato 

Synopsis: NIGHT CRUISING follows congenitally blind musician Hideyuki Kato as he pursues the realization of an expansive sci-fi short called Ghost Vision, a film within its own making-of documentary. Working with a media production team and wide range of collaborators—including color experts, facial roboticists, hair stylists, voice actors, fight choreographers and VFX engineers—Kato directs the execution of his story about a non-sighted fighter and a telepath searching for a mysterious ghost in a future world. His pursuit becomes a deep interrogation of how sensory environments are perceived and rendered, offering new ways for viewers to think through their own assumptions about cinema and imagination. Check out the website which has a neat effect: initially black, your cursor will sweep away the darkness and reveal the options beneath.

RANDEN: The Comings and Goings on a Kyoto TramRANDEN The Comings and Goings on a Kyoto Tram Film Poster

嵐電 Randen

Release Date: May 17th 2019

Duration: 114 mins.

Director:  Takuji Suzuki

Writer: Takuji Suzuki, Hiroshi Asari, (Screenplay),

Starring: Arata Iura, Ayaka Onishi, Tamaki Kubose, Satoko Abe, Kenta Ishida, Hiroto Kanai,

Website   IMDB

I saw this at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 and interviewed the director. I enjoyed it a lot as my review shows and I hope others enjoy it as well.

Synopsis: A writer from Kamakura named Eisei Hiraoka (Arata Iura) is researching supernatural stories but finds himself revisiting memories from a previous visit to his wife’s home town. Kako Ogura (Ayaka Onishi), a shy local woman, is asked to help an actor from Tokyo practice speaking with Kyoto intonation and after the lesson, he asks her to show him around Arashiyama. Nanten Kitakado (Tamaki Kubose), a high school girl from Aomori, shows a one-track mind when she falls for a train nerd who sees nothing but trams. The love of three couples is carried along together by the famous trams and a little of Kyoto’s special magic and folklore. The course of true love rarely runs smooth but if fate places you on a Randen tram, then you will at least get a scenic ride amidst the history and wonderful sights of the city in this charming fairy-tale film that breathes the culture and atmosphere of the city.

Shorts Showcase: ndjc, vol. 2

Free Entry – first-come first-served

Quiet Hide-and-Seek    Uchi uchi no men-tachi (tsura-tachi) wa Film Poster

うちうちの面達(つらたち)は。 Uchi uchi no men-tachi (tsura-tachi) wa.

Release Date: March 02nd, 2019

Duration: 28 mins.

Director:  Kan Yamamoto

Writer: Kan Yamamoto (Screenplay)

Starring: Kanau Tanaka, Hiromasa Taguchi, Mari Hamada, Mayu Ogawa, Shun Yamamoto

Website

Mari Hamada has comedic potential that is rarely tapped. An elastic face with a big grin is the thing that first attracts attention and director Kan Yamamoto does his best with this title, a short and simple comedy about a mother who disappears from her family for a break after an argument between a domineering father and a fed-up mother.

Farewell Family      Sayonara Kazoku Film Poster

サヨナラ家族 Sayonara Kazoku

Release Date: March 02nd, 2019

Duration: 30 mins.

Director:  Kohei Sanada,

Writer: Kohei Sanada (Screenplay)

Starring: Hoshi Ishida, Toshie Negishi, Yui Murata, Shiori Doi, Kazuhiro Sano, Yosuke Saito,

Website

I first encountered Kohei Sanada’s work at the 2017 edition of the Osaka Asian Film Festival. The title was, Icarus and Son, and its story of a father reconnecting with his son left me cold because it lacked focus in terms of characterisation and there was zero atmosphere. Sanada continues to mine father-son relationships in this short film which is the first of the five titles to screen for NDJC 2018 which I saw at this year’s Osaka Asian Film Festival. It’s a massive improvement because the atmosphere is heady and macabre and the story better thought out:

A Tokyoite named Yohei (Hoshi Ishida) is plagued by menacing visions of people’s doubles. It is linked to seeing his father die a year ago in the family home in some rural town. As the time to commemorate his father’s passing approaches, Yohei’s visions intensify and he must confront his visions and his father’s death. 

Orphan’s Blues      Orphans Blues Film Poster

オーファンズ・ブルース  O-fanzu Buru-su

Release Date: May 31st, 2019

Duration: 89 mins.

Director: Riho Kudo

Writer: Riho Kudo (Screenplay),

Starring: Yukino Murakami, Takura Kamikawa, Nagiko Tsuji, Sion Sasaki, Tamaki Kubose, Yu Yoshii,

Website

This one has played at the Nara International Film Festival and the Tokyo International Film Festival and has received a strong review over at the Hollywood Reporter after taking the Grand Prize at the Pia Film Festival 2018. It has the actress Nagiko Tsuji who is brilliant in comedic roles. I’m interested in seeing her in a dramatic role.

Synopsis: A young woman named Emma lives by herself and works as a bookseller. Recently she has become forgetful. As her memory loss progresses she takes notes to record every little thing and she also becomes desperate. One day, she gets a painting from her childhood friend Jang, who has been long missing. They grew up together in an orphanage and he was her best friend and possibly more… Emma decides to search for him and encounters various people connected to him all while her memory continues to fade away…

Blue Hour    Blue Hour Film Poster

ブルーアワーにぶっ飛ばす Buru- Awa- ni Buttobasu

Release Date: October 11th, 2019

Duration: 92 mins.

Director:  Yuko Hakota

Writer: Yuko Hakota (Screenplay),

Starring: Kaho, Shim Eun-Kyung, Daichi Watanabe, Denden, Kaho Minami, Kyusaku Shimada, Daisuke Kuroda, Yusuke Santamaria,

Website IMDB

I’ve seen a couple of road-trip movies this year and this one has caught my attention based purely on the trailer and a desire to see what newbie writer/director Yuka Hataoka can turn in.

Q&A with director Yuko Hakota and stars Kaho and Eun-kyung Shim

Synopsis: Sunada (Kaho) is a 30-years-old CM director living in Tokyo. She is unhappy about the direction of her life and decides to return to her hometown of Ibaraki where her grandmother is in hospital. Accompanying her is her best friend Kiyoura (Shim Eun-Kyung).

With summer comes mind-boggling rises in temperature so what better way to keep cool than to sit in a cinema and enjoy a great selection of films!

3 thoughts on “A Preview of Japan Cuts 2019 (JULY 19–28)

      1. Ooh, controversial!! 😮

        Though as one of the few who didn’t think La La Land was the greatest film ever I won’t judge either way… 😛

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.