Japanese Films at the Busan International Film Festival 2019 (03rd-12th October)

Busan International Film Festival Logo

This year’s Busan International Film Festival is the 24th in the series and it runs from October 03rd to the 12th. This is the first time that I have covered Busan but it has been on the cards for a while because, much like Tokyo and Osaka, it’s a good place to scout out Asian films. There is a great slate of titles from some soon-to-be-released mainstream films to indie movies and there are familiar titles featured at other festivals.

Here are the titles!

The Opening Film is:

The Horse Thieves. Roads of Time    The Horse Thieves. Roads of Time Film Poster

オルジャスの白い馬Oruhasu no Shiroi Uma

Release Date: January 18th, 2020

Duration: 84 mins.

Director: Yerlan Nurmukhambetov, Lisa Takeba

Writer: Yerlan Nurmukhambetov (Screenplay),

Starring: Dulyga Akmolda, Madi Minaidarov, Mirai Moriyama, Samal Yeslyamova,

Website IMDB

This road movie/western is a co-production between Kazakhstan/Japan and brought to the big screen via Tokyo New Cinema. It is the work of two directors, Yerlan Nurmukhambetov who won the New Currents Award in Busan International Film Festival 2015, and Lisa Takeba. Yes, that Lisa Takeba with the fierce imagination who made The Pinkie (2014) and Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory (2015). In his first overseas role, Mirai Moriyama (The Drudgery Train) takes one of the lead characters amongst a predominantly Kazakh cast.

It looks like an ambitious and fresh new movie production for Japan as it follows To the Ends of the Earth to new territories and stories. 

Synopsis: We are in the plains of the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, a world where horse thieves operate under vast skies and on huge grass plains. A family man is murdered by those thieves as he heads to a town market to sell his horses. This leaves his wife a widow and his children fatherless. The village comes together to help the wife hold the man’s funeral and then the wife decides to return to her family with her children. Then, another man who vanished from her life eight years ago appears and helps the woman move and takes one of the children, the son, under his wing, teaching him how to ride horses. The son of the wife resembles that man. The man and the boy go out on horseback together and track down the horse thieves…

Sisterhood    Sisterhood Film Poster

シスターフッド  Shisuta-fuddo

Release Date: March 01st, 2019

Duration: 88 mins.

Director: Takashi Nishihara

Writer: Takashi Nishihara (Screenplay),

Starring: BOMI, Manami Usamaru, Nina Endo, Ryo Iwase, Mika Akizuki

Website IMDB

Inspired by the #MeToo movement and the salience of identity politics in current political discourse, director Takashi Nishihara, who I interviewed, has created this semi-fictional work which looks at the lives of young women in Tokyo. Here’s my review from the Osaka Asian Film Festival.

Synopsis: To capture the shifts going on in gender relations in Japan, Nishihara blurs the bounds between fiction and reality by merging footage from a documentary he has been shooting over the last few years and casting real life actors and models such as Nina Endo and Mika Akizuki, SUMIRE and Manami Usamaru, and the musician BOMI, and making them play fictional variations of themselves. Each gives a portrayal of a young woman going about their lives. We see them modelling, studying, performing concerts, each desiring to be treated fairly as they chase their dreams and question their role in society. These questions emerge thanks to a link character, a middle-aged male documentary film director named Ikeda, played by Ryo Iwase, who interviews people for a documentary about feminism.

It Stopped Raining   /A Quiet RainIt Stopped Raining Film Poster

静かな雨  Shizukana Ame

Release Date: February 07th, 2020

Duration: 99 mins.

Director: Ryutaro Nakagawa

Writer: Eiji Umehara, Ryutaro Nakagawa (Screenplay), Natsu Miyashita (Novel)

Starring: Taiga Nakano, Misa Eto,


Ryutaro Nakagawa has been making films for a while now (I first wrote about him with a Kickstarter for Plastic Love Story) and each has been a quiet success on the festival circuit. He has two out this year and this one isn’t listed on IMDB.

Synopsis: Bio-archaeology sounds like hard thinking work and one bio-archaeology research assistant named Yukisuke (Taiga) often buys taiyaki (a fish-shaped pastry) at a taiyaki store near his university to power his brain. He is served by the owner, s young woman named Koyomi (Misa Eto) and the two build up a rapport as they begin to talk regularly but, one morning, Koyomi gets into a traffic accident and falls into a coma. Yukisuke continues to visit Koyomi at the hospital and, eventually, Koyomi regains consciousness, but she soon realises that she has problems with her memory. She remembers everything up to the accident, but her short term memory can’t remember anything beyond the present day.

Talking the Pictures    Katsuben Film Poster 1

カツベン!  Katsuben!

Release Date: December 13th, 2019

Duration: 129 mins.

Director: Masayuki Suo

Writer: Shozo Katashima (Screenplay)

Starring: Ryo Narita, Yuina Kuroshima, Masatoshi Nagase, Kengo Kora, Mao Inoue, Naoto Takenaka, Eri Watanabe, Fumiyo Kohinata, Yutaka Takennouchi, Shoji Masui, Motoi Sasaki, Takao Tsuchimoto, Kazuhito Amano,

Website IMDB

Synopsis: It is the era of the silent movies and benshi (narrators who appear live in the cinema) are in demand. Shuntaro lives in a small town and he has had dreams of becoming a benshi ever since he was a child and his dreams are about to come true just as (it gets better) he is also reunited with his first love. He is, however, tasked with pleasing tough crowds as well as doing the chores and he also gets involved in a police case where they are tracking thieves and political activists…

The Murders of Oiso

ある殺人、落葉のころに  Aru satsujin, rakuyo no koro ni

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 79 mins.

Director: Takuya Misawa

Writer: N/A

Starring: Koji Moriya, Haya Nakazaki, Yusaku Mori, Shugo Nagashima, Natsuko Hori, Ena Koshino, Chun Yip Lo, Toko Narushima,

Director Takuya Misawa was responsible for Chigasaki Story, and he’s back with a noir-like film.

Synopsis: Oiso is the seaside town where this film is set and the protagonists are Four young people, Tomoki, Shun, Kazuya, and Eita, who have been friends since their childhood but when Kazuya’s uncle, their former teacher, is found dead, their relationship is threatened as a hidden figure emerges along with the truth of the killing.

The Promised Land      The Promised Land Film Poster

楽園  Rakuen

Release Date: October 18th, 2019

Duration: 129 mins.

Director: Takahisa Zeze

Writer: Takahisa Zeze (Screenplay) Shuichi Yoshida (Novel)

Starring: Gou Ayano, Hana Sugisaki, Koichi Sato, Nijiro Murakami, Reiko Kataoka, Asuka Kurosawa, Shizuka Ishibashi, Toshie Negishi, Akira Emoto,

Website IMDB

This is based on the short stories “Aota Y Jiro” and “Yorozuya Zenjiro” by Shuichi Yoshida. His novels are popular for adaptations with Rage, The Ravine of Goodbye, The Story of Yonosuke, Villain, and Parade already getting the big screen treatment.

Synopsis: A little girl is kidnapped and the only witness, Tsumugi (Hana Sugisaki), is left traumatised. With the kidnapper never having been caught, paranoia runs high and it breaks out when, 12 years later, a girl goes missing along the same road. Takeshi (Gou Ayano) is a lonely young man who sells recyclable products with his mother and he is suspected of the kidnapping. Fearing the situation, he flees.

One year later, another man named Zenjiro (Koichi Sato) is accused. He lives with his pet dog near the road where the two kidnapping cases took place but is he guilty? Horrifying revelations soon emerge from the case…

My Identity

Release Date: 2019

Duration: 63 mins.

Director: Sae Suzuki

Writer: N/A

Starring: Hinata Arakawa, Kaho Seto,

Not much is known about this film apart from Sae Suzuki made it while at Geidai.

Synopsis: Ray is a girl in her mid-teens and also a runaway from home. While on the streets she meets Aoi and ends up staying overnight in her apartment but, the very next evening, the two run away from the city after Rei kills someone trying to hurt Aoi and they head to a deserted rural village…


緑の雪  Midori no Yuki

Release Date: 2019

Duration: 20 mins.

Director: Takeshi Kogahara

Writer: Takeshi Kogahara (Screenplay) 

Starring: Shin Furukawa, Natsuko Fuji

Website IMDB

Takeshi Kogahara was at last year’s OAFF and Japan Cuts with his short film, a visually and aurally resplendent tale of first-love named Nagisa. This is his latest short and it looks to be equally moving.

Synopsis: An old man near the end of his life spends his days on his bed, occasionally visited by a carer. When he sees snow outside the window, he contemplates certain strong memories from his past.



つつんで、ひらいて  Tsutsunde, Hiraite

Release Date: 2019

Duration: 94 mins.

Director: Nanako Hirose

Writer: N/A

Starring: Nobuyoshi Kikuchi, Isao Mitobe,


Bunbuku director Nanako Hirose follows her critically-acclaimed feature His Lost Name with a documentary on books!

Synopsis: Nanako Hirose spent three years (2015-18) following a world leading book designer named Nobuyoshi Kikuchi. He has been active for more than 40 years and has worked on more than 15,000 books. By following Kikuchi and the way he designs books by touching and understanding physical materials, the film looks at the manufacture and status of paper books in the digital age.

Vulnerable Histories (A Road Movie)

Release Date: 2018

Running Time: 79 mins.

Director/Concept:  Koki Tanaka,

Starring: Woohi Chung, Christian Hofer


I first saw wrote about this one for my post about the Rotterdam Film Festival and it has remained in my memory despite me not having watched it. I like the concept  and really want to see it.

Synopsis: Ethnic and cultural nationalism, xenophobia, and other racist and discriminatory sentiments are on the rise around the world as we build walls and shout angrily at each other. Kyoto-based film-maker Koki Tanaka made this film to challenge the trend of increasing hatred with the idea that people need to talk to each other to overcome differences.

In this film, Koki Tanaka and a camera crew follow two people living in Japan who are different from the norm: Christian, a half-Swiss, half-Japanese-American man and Woohi, a Japan-born third-generation Korean (zainichi) woman. We see them travel to various places and discuss the rise of prejudice and hate speech as well as the lack of protection for people who are targets for hatred. The subjects dictate the course of the conversation and through hearing their experiences and ideas on identity politics, we begin to understand that Japan isn’t simply a homogeneous country and that there are many issues not discussed in public.

This has been screened in art galleries and there were workshops connected to the film so audiences are encouraged to voice their views. 

What Can You Do about It    What Can You Do About It Film Poster

だってしょうがないじゃない  「Datteshou ganai Janai

Release Date: 2019

Duration: 120 mins.

Director: Yoshifumi Tsubota

Writer: N/A

Starring: Makoto Oohara, Yoshifumi Tsubota, Machiko Kimura, Yoshinori Kimura, Tatsuyoshi Tsubota, Yoko Tsubota, Masako Tsubota, Miharu Seki, Naoko Misawa, Hiroo Shibata,

Website IMDB

Synopsis: The filmmaker, Yoshifumi Tsubota (The Shell Collector), who has suffered from mental illness, records what happens when he is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at a psychiatric hospital. He tells his mother who informs him that he has an uncle who has Pervasive Developmental Disorder and lives alone. Tsubota goes to see him.

First Love First Love Film Poster

初恋 Hatsukoi

Release Date: 2020

Duration: 108 mins.

Director:  Takashi Miike

Writer: Masaru Nakamura (Screenplay)

Starring: Masataka Kubota, Becky, Jun Murakami, Nao Omori, Sakurako Konishi, Sansei Shiomi, Seiyo Uchino, ShotaFirst Love Film Poster 2 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. 

Synopsis: Leo (Masataka Kubota) 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.

The Truth    The Truth Film Poster

真実  Shinjitsu

Release Date: October 11th, 2019

Duration: 106 mins.

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda (Screenplay),

Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche, Ethan Hawke, Clementine Grenier, Ludivine Sagnier,

Website     IMDB

Following on from his win of the Palme d’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival with Shoplifters, Kore-eda graces the Competition Section of this year’s Venice Film Festival with a film based in France and starring some of the luminaries of French cinema with Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche and Ludivine Sagnier as well as Ethan Hawke, a truly talented American actor. This is the director’s first work set outside Japan but it features the sort of family narrative he is famous for as a clan is reunited in Paris and go through a cycle of lies, resentment, love and reconciliation.

Reviews have painted this one as another good Kore-eda film.

Synopsis:  Fabienne (Catherine Deneuve) is a star of French cinema with the power to charm the men around her. When she publishes her memoirs, her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche) returns from New York to Paris with her husband (Ethan Hawke) and their young child and a reunion between mother and daughter kicks off a confrontation that leads to truths being told, accounts settled, loves and resentments confessed.

They Say Nothing Stays the Same    They Say Nothing Stays the Same Film Poster

ある船頭の話  Aru sendou no hanashi

Release Date: September 13th, 2019

Duration: 137 mins.

Director: Joe Odagiri

Writer: Joe Odagiri (Screenplay),

Starring: Akira Emoto, Ririka Kawashima, Nijiro Murakami, Masatoshi Nagase, Haruomi Hosono, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Mitsuko Kusabue, Isao Hashizume,

Website     IMDB

This is Joe (Mushishi, Adrift in Tokyo) Odagiri’s sophomore feature film as a director and he has hired a good team in getting Christopher Doyle – Wong Kar-Wai’s frequent collaborator – working cinematography and Emi Wada designing costumes – she won an Oscar for her costuming on Akira Kurosawa’s epic Ran and is responsible for costumes in lush historical dramas such as Samurai Marathon 1855, Hero, Gohatto, and House of Flying Daggers

Synopsis: Toichi is a boatman who ferries people across a river. Despite ferrying people across, the only person he really communicates with is his young neighbour Genzo. When a large bridge begins to be constructed to help people cross the river it looks like Toichi will be made redundant but then he meets a mysterious young girl who appears to be an orphan. Toichi takes her in and from that moment, his life begins to change…

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

4 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the Busan International Film Festival 2019 (03rd-12th October)

  1. Hello there
    I am like you a seasoned fan of Japanese culture and film, specifically. I gather you are now in Busan? Out of curiosity, what are you watching today (Friday)?

      1. Andrey

        Hello Jason!

        BIFF was a busy affair. The two films I wanted to see probably the most (Kim Ki-young’s _Housemaid_ and its remake, _The woman of fire_) were sold out, as were quite a few others! There were long queues at the last minute box office, just like in Berlin (the idiosyncrasy I’d rather they did not copy). So I only saw 3 Japanese films in total:

        _Talking the pictures_
        a pleasant light comedy with a few nods to Cinema Paradiso that should endear most card-carrying cinephiles. Nothing serious, and not taking itself seriously, which is a plus.

        _The Murders of Oiso_
        a confused number, mixing a mundane, uneventful slice of life (good) with repetitive flashbacks or flashforwards, which for me were distracting non sequiturs (not so good). The whole felt unfocused as a result. Still, this is better than titles like “It’s Boring Here, Pick Me Up” trying hard to act out the obvious and the trivial.

        _The Promised Land_
        Kind of pizza by the meter film, which could have been cut shorter, or expanded by more episodes. Too obvious in places (harassing immigrants is bad, misery can befall anyone at any time, etc), falling back on familiar tropes in other. I’d say lacking overall concept and structure.

        The non-Japanese films:

        _Not in this World_ (as expected of the director) is so earnest and selfless, it earns your appreciation. Jungbum Park is a bit like modern day Werner Herzog with his belief in achieving grace through hard (also physical) labour.

        _The Long Walk_ — supernatural time loop about attending other people’s death, also solid cinema, where the story is told by images not spelled out in dialogue. The previous crowd-funded film by Mattie Do was also good viewing.

        Among the classics I managed to watch _Late Autumn_ ( 1981 version, which turned out to be one of 4 remakes of the 1966 original… intriguing ) and _Mandara_ (devoid of artifice, pure film).

        I did not care much for _No 7 Cherry Lane_, which was touted as animation masterpiece, but to me this “rendered in 3D before being hand-drawn in 2D” looked a lot like rotoscoping — kind of disappointing.

        _Our village_ — a low budget indie, idiosyncratic and amusing in a low-key way, though I would not go out of my way to watch it.

        From the biggies, I coaxed myself to go see _Parasite_ (as it was screened outdoors, in a drizzle, which added to the allure), but the film (predictably for a big studio commercial release) was nothing memorable. Entertaining at times, but homogenised and sterile like “blended” supermarket wine.

        What I did find offensive to the eye, was the _Garden of Evening Mists_. It was like a cheese fountain outpouring. Poor judgement, Hiroshi Abe!

        De wa, o-genki de

      2. Hi Andrey,

        Thanks for coming back and letting me know about what you saw.

        Even if I didn’t get to go to Busan, you brought it here, films and organisation and all!

        Not surprised about your opinions (which are very insightful) but a little disappointed that The Murders of Oiso didn’t stack up thanks to the structure of the screenplay. Still, it sounds like it has good points that make it worth watching.

        I can imagine Talking the Movies will do a long festival tour.

        I’ve not watched any Laotian films so a good place to start would be The Long Walk. It looks like something I’d be into. The clip drips with atmosphere and I like the sound of a film asking the audience to engage with what they see rather than holding their hand.

        I’d heard a subdued response to Parasite from a very trusted source but I’ll still see it when it gets a UK-wide theatrical release next February.

        The Korean indies sound good, Not In This World and Beasts. I’ll be keeping an eye out for these and the ones you’ve evaluated. I appreciate it!


        Stay genki!

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 )

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.