Japanese Films at the BFI London Film Festival 2019

BFI London Film Festival Logo

This year’s London Film Festival runs from October 02nd to the 13th and they have announced their selection of films. It’s a solid slate of films which has Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s latest, To the Ends of the Earth and Takashi Miike’s latest work, First Love! There are a couple of left-field titles such as 37 Seconds and Family Romance LLC, the latter from Werner Herzog. There’s also the American film Earthquake Bird which is set in Tokyo. There’s also the Korean film Maggie which I saw in March and reviewed here.

Here’s what is programmed:

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.

37 Seconds   37 Seconds Film Poster

Release Date: 2019

Duration: 115 mins.

Director:  Hikari

Writer: Hikari (Screenplay),

Starring: Mei Kayama, Makiko Watanabe, Yuka Itaya, Shunsuke Daito, Misuzu Kanno,

Website IMDB

This one looks really interesting. It is a drama about people with cerebral palsy that is stacked with good actors like Makiko Watanabe (Love Exposure) and it goes a step further by having people with the condition portray characters. It mixes drama and humour and the 37-second teaser promises it will be worth watching. That was my blurb from the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year and, guess what… it won the Berlinale Audience Award.

Synopsis from Berlinale: Yuma is a 23-year-old woman from Tokyo. When she commutes by train to her job in a manga studio, her face is at hip height to the other passengers standing up. Yuma uses a wheelchair on account of cerebral palsy. Her deformed limbs only allow her to crawl – and to hold a pencil. The fact that her boss, a successful comic artist and blogger named Sayaka, who has a penchant for garish Fairy Kei attire, passes Yuma’s drawing ideas off as her own, dismays the talented ‘mangaka’. Even worse, her overprotective mother hardly lets her out of her sight and refuses to talk about her father. As Yuma attempts to live a more independent life, she stumbles across adult comics – manga porn – and toys with the idea of drawing some herself. The publisher advises her to gain some personal experience first. But what happens when a woman in a wheelchair asks a tout in Tokyo’s red light district to fix her up with a sex date?


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.

To the Ends of the Earth      To the Ends of the Earth Film Poster

旅のおわり世界のはじまり Tabi no Owari Sekai no Hajimari

Release Date: June 14th, 2019

Duration: 120 mins.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Screenplay),

Starring: Atsuko Maeda, Ryo Kase, Shota Sometani, Tokio Emoto, Adiz Rajabov,

Website     IMDB

Kiyoshi Kurosawa teams up with a great cast to make a movie which is a co-production between Japan and Uzbekistan to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Two of the leading actors have worked in his films, Atsuko Maeda being the lead in Seventh Code and Shota Sometani having a supporting role in Real.

Synopsis: Yoko (Atsuko Maeda) is a reporter for a TV variety program and her assignment is to find a mythical fish in a huge lake in Uzbekistan, a country that once flourished as the centre of the Silk Road. Things don’t quite go according to plan for Yoko and her crew and, one day, drawn by a mysterious voice, she departs from their company and loses herself in the wonders of the country…

That’s it for now. I’ll update it if any other films are added.

Here’s past coverage of the London Film Festival:

London Film Festival 2011

London Film Festival 2012

London Film Festival 2013

London Film Festival 2014

London Film Festival 2015

London Film Festival 2016

London Film Festival 2017

London Film Festival 2018

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