Japanese Films at L’Etrange Festival 2019

The L’Etrange Festival runs for its 25th edition from September 04 to 15 in Paris L'Etrange Festival 2019 Posterand it continues in its mission to show genre cinema and exult in strange delights from some of cinema’s greatest minds. The Japanese focus features familiar live-action films and some animation, some of which I have reviewed. The biggest film here is the newest Takashi Miike, Hatsukoi, which was at Cannes earlier in the year and will be released in Japan next year, and there’s also Branded to Kill, the super hitman film from Seijun Suzuki.

What Japanese films are programmed at L’Etrange this year?

Takashi Miike features in the International Competition!

First Love  Hatsukoi Early Film Poster

初恋 Hatsukoi

Release Date: 2020

Duration: 108 mins.

Director:  Takashi Miike

Writer: Masaru Nakamura (Screenplay)

Starring: Becky, Masataka Kubota, Jun Murakami, Nao Omori, Sakurako Konishi, Sansei Shiomi, Seiyo Uchino, Shota Sometani,


There are reviews out for this one from when it played at the Director’s Fortnight in Cannes but I’m avoiding them so I can go into the film fresh. The actors include Masataka Kubota, who worked with Miike on 13 Assassins (2010), Nao Omori, the titular Ichi in Miike’s classic Ichi the Killer (2001), Shota Sometani, who appeared in Miike’s As the God’s Will (2014) and Lesson of the Evil (2013). Forget those recent films, from the details and the trailer this one looks to harken back to his late 90s/early 2000s output of the man. Here is the trailer and some extracts:

Quinzaine des Réalisateurs (Director’s Fortnight)

Synopsis: Leo (Masataka Kubot) is a boxer whose career and life have hit the rocks. Losing fights and with a developing brain tumour, he is almost out for the count but then he meets his ‘first love’ Monica, a call-girl and an addict who is unwittingly caught up in a drug-smuggling scheme. Fate places them at the centre of a night-long chase where the two are pursued by a corrupt cop, a yakuza, his nemesis, and a female assassin sent by the Chinese Triads.

Mondovision has some incredible-sounding films such as The Lighthouse, which I am eager to see. There are two Japanese films and one American film directed by Werner Herzog which is set in Tokyo.

Family Romance, LLC     

Release Date: May 18th, 2019 (Cannes)

Duration: 100 mins.

Director: Werner Herzog

Writer: Werner Herzog (Screenplay)

Starring: Yuichi Ishii, Mahiro Tanimoto,

Website IMDB

Werner Herzog (Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Nosferatu, Bad Lieutenant Port of Call: New Orleans) filmed this during a brief stop in Japan. His film is about people who rent themselves out to play roles in life: work colleagues, friends etc. It’s something seen in Sion Sono’s film Noriko’s Dinner Table (2006). A lot of reviews for this hype up the “weird Japan” angle but it seems like a perfectly normal service for a society that is becoming atomised. Anyway, this service and the man in the film was featured on a funny bit for Conan O’Brien.

Synopsis: Yuichi Ishii is the focus of the film. He is one of the actors employed by an agency called Family Romance. We see him on various jobs but the one role that is shown throughout the film is pretending to be the missing father for a teenage girl named Mahiro Tanimoto. Their interactions in this fantasy provide ground for the moral quandries he feels which he voices between jobs.

The Fable    The Fable Film Poster

ザ・ファブル  Za Faburu

Release Date: June 21st, 2019

Duration: 123 mins.

Director: Kan Eguchi

Writer: Yusuke Watanabe (Screenplay), Katsuhisa Minami (Original Essay)

Starring: Junichi Okada, Fumino Kimura, Koichi Sato, Mizuki Yamamoto, Kai Inowaki, Jiro Sato, Sota Fukushi, Ken Mitsuishi, Yuya Yagira, Ken Yasuda,

Website IMDB

I have been reading the manga of The Fable on and off for a year and I was sceptical that the film version would live up to the hard-boiled story it does with the actors capturing the look of the characters and piling on the action. The movie version is led by a strong performance from Junichi Okada taking the lead and a great supporting cast with the likes of Ken Mitsuishi, Koichi Sato (Starfish Hotel), Ken Yasuda, Yuya Yagira (Destruction Babies) taking roles. There’s also Sota Fukushi. He starred with Okada in the Library Wars live-action adaptations.

This film was screened at the New York Asian Film Festival. Here’s my review.

Synopsis: Fable is a legendary contract killer who was trained to be a killer when he was a young boy. He is ordered to lay low for one year and tries to live a normal life in Osaka as an ordinary person with the name of Akira Sato but there’s always someone ready to drag him back…

Diner    Diner Film Poster

ダイナー  Daina-

Release Date: July 05th, 2019

Duration: 114 mins.

Director: Mika Ninagawa

Writer: Hirohito Goto, Yoshikazu Sugiyama, Mika Ninagawa (Screenplay), Yumeaki Hirayama (Novel)

Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Tina Tamashiro, Masataka Kubota, Kanata Hongo, Shinji Takeda, Takumi Saito, Erika Sato, Shun Oguri, Anna Tsuchiya, Miki Maya, Eiji Okuda,

Website IMDB

Director/fashion photographer Mika Ninagawa makes her return to the screen following Helter Skelter and Sakuran with this film with a cast list rich with stars and it looks super camp and full of a variety of over-saturated colours based on the post alone.

Synopsis: Kanako Oba (Tina Tamashiro) was looking for a decent paying job but didn’t use the usual channel of Hello Work so she ends up being sold to the owner of a diner called Diner. This fancy place with an anonymous name is has a clientele consisting of colourful contract killers and Kanako has no choice to provide good service or she will be killed. The place is run by the rather flamboyant Bombero (Tatsuya Fujiwara). Impeccable manners are demanded from all, especially Kanako who has to serve the sometimes extreme needs of the customers…

In terms of animation, in the Special Sessions is a new entry in the filmography of the Quay Brothers. Mirai Mizue’s The Dawn of Ape plays in the Short Film Competition. In the New Talents strand are two short films by Saku Sakamoto – Fisherman and Makafushigi – and his debut feature animation:

Aragne: Sign of Vermillion      Aragne Sign of Vermillion Film Poster

アラーニェの虫籠Aragne no Mushikago

Release Date: August 18th, 2018

Duration: 75 mins.

Director: Saku Sakamoto

Writer: Saku Sakamoto (Screenplay),

Starring: Kana Hanazawa (Rin), Ayana Shiramoto (Nasuha), Yosuke Ito (Tokiyo), Fukujuurou Katayama (Saion), Shuogo Batari (Mikaya)

Animation Production: zelicofilm

Website   ANN Kickstarter

Saku Sakamoto has taken on direction, writing, composing the music, CG and more roles to get this film made. It’s an epic undertaking that looks different from the usual anime.

Synopsis: Rin (Kana Hanazawa) is an 18-year-old university student who is shy and anxious and a new arrival at her apartment complex. It’s a rundown and unfriendly place where crimes are occurring. There’s something darker stirring in the place, something supernatural and sinister and Rin begins to investigate instead of moving the heck out.

Branded to Kill will be screened on September 11th as part of Carte Blanche – 25 Years, 25 Choices – it’s a classic!

Branded to Kill    Branded to Kill Film Poster

殺しの烙印 「Koroshi no rakuin

Release Date: June 15th, 1967

Duration: 91 mins.

Director:  Seijun Suzuki

Writer:  Hachiro Guryu, Mitsutoshi Ishigami, Takeo Kimura, Chusei Sone, Atsushi Yamatoya (Screenplay),

Starring: Joe Shishido, Annu Mari, Mariko Ogawa, Koji Nanbara, Isao Tamagawa, Hiroshi Minami,


Seijun Suzuki is a real artist. Instead of cranking out familiar films, he went all arty and it cost him his job at Nikkatsu. The film that finished him was Branded to Kill (1966), a title regarded as Suzuki’s best and a real hoot as he films gun fights and double-crosses with panache and has a fantastic performance from Joe Shishido to power everything.

Synopsis: The story follows an assassin named Goro Hanada (Joe Shishido), the No. 3 killer in Japan, who is tasked with assassinating a foreigner by the mysterious and death-obsessed Misako Chujo (Annu Mari). It goes wrong and he finds himself hounded by other killers including the No. 1 killer in Japan, a scary figure who nobody knows anything about. Goro goes on the run, fighting for his life, getting betrayed and looking for a chance to save Misako who is also in danger as mind games and bullets wear down his resolve.

Here’s my coverage of last year’s event: l’etrange 2018

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