I have been writing about films here for a decade and ever since I started writing badly translated synopses to highlight interesting films, I have had a list in my mind of titles that I want to watch. I add and subtract films from said list but many listed here have remained in my mind. These ten films I have never forgotten and since it has been ten years since I first started blogging, I want to make an effort and track them down to review them the next time I am in Japan. Which is… SOON!
Will I see any of these films? Who knows, but I want to watch them.
しんしんしん 「Shin Shin Shin」
Running Time: 135 mins.
Release Date: January 12th 2013 (Japan)
Director: Kouhei Sanada
Writer: Kouhei Sanada
Starring: Ikeda Houshi, Miwako Wagatsuma, Kazuhiro Sano, Yuya Okutsu. Megumi Kagurazaka
I actually stood next to the director at two editions of the Osaka Asian Film Festival – we met TWICE – and totally forgot that he made this film and focused on talking to other directors who were stood next to us. If I’d talked to the chap, I might have got a screener for this… Here’s what I wrote at back in 2013:
Shin Shin Shin is a film which was directed by Kouhei Sanada who was mentored by Kiyoshi Kurosawa at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. That same university played a massive part in another title below, Fairy Tale. The film’s title comes from a song of the same name by the folk rock band Happy End who hail from the 70’s. Is this it? This is a road movie which stars Miwako Wagatsuma who was in Sentimental Yasuko and End of Puberty and Megumi Kagurazaka who was in Cold Fish and The Land of Hope.
Synopsis: Tomoyuki (Ishida) is a high school student who lives with the Tekiya family, a group of strangers with no other place to go. A girl named named Yuki (Wagatsuma) joins the group but when their home is demolished they head off on a journey that leads them from town to town with no particular destination in mind.
あるいは佐々木ユキ 「Aruiwa Sasaki Yuki」
Running Time: 79 mins.
Release Date: January 12th 2013 (Japan)
Director: Kenji Fukuma
Writer: Keiko Fukuma (Screenplay),
Starring: Saori Kohara, Akira Yoshino, Hideyo Sengoku, Makiko Kawano, Yumi Fuzuki
I’m just intrigued. It’s about art and creativity and I like meta-narratives so I have wanted to see this for a while.
This was a victim of my bad translation skills… The first in a long line of victims… Anyway this is written and directed by the poet Kenji Fukuma, a man with two other directorial efforts to his name – Summer for the Living (2011), which starred Saori Kohara, and My Dear Daughter of Okayama (2008). He reunites with the actress Kohara for this fantasy drama about the emotions of a 20-year-old Tokyoite which interweaves interviews, poetry and dances so that the film blurs dreams and reality.
Synopsis from JFDB: 20-year-old Yuki Sasaki lives by herself in Tokyo. One day she chances upon a poetry reading by poetess Yumi Fuzuki and the experiences makes her lose sight of her purpose in life. In the process, another Yuki (Kawano) appears before her. We see her reality and dreams in a series of interviews and performances like dancing and poetry that are captured on film.
タリウム少女の毒殺日記 「GFP Bunny Tariumu shojo no dokusatsu nikki」
Running Time: 82 mins.
Release Date: July 06th, 2013
Director: Yutaka Tsuchiya
Writer: Yutaka Tsuchiya
Starring: Yuka Kuramochi, Kanji Furutachi, Makiko Watanabe, Takahashi,
I first saw this when it appeared at the 2013 edition of the Rotterdam International Film Festival and it has never left my mind. I don’t know the quality but I’m thoroughly curious and even made Gifs.
At the time, I wrote this:
It is directed by Yutaka Tsuchiya, who is considered one of the more interesting names amongst indie film makers in Japan and scored major kudos with his film Peep “TV” Show and it stars great actors like Kanji Furutachi who has appeared in trashy genre piece Dead Waves and the great films The Woodsman & the Rain and Dreams for Sale. He is supported by Sion Sono regular Makiko Watanabe (Himizu, Love Exposure).
Synopsis: Apparently based on a true story (with some key facts changed), we follow the actions of Thallium Girl (Kuramochi) who is slowly poisoning her mother with thallium and records the results with her detached world-view in her diary. It is clear she has some mental problems which are exacerbated by bullying at school. This just causes her to retreat from reality into a darker place which includes extreme body modification…
Release Date: September 26th, 2015
Running Time: 73 mins.
Director: Natsuka Kusano
Writer: Natsuka Kusano, Tomoyuki Takahashi (Screenplay),
Starring: Yuri Ishizaka, Asami Shibuya, Kuniaki Nakamura, Tetsu Onji, Seitaro Ishibashi, Mihoko Watanabe,
This is a female driven film with a lady directing and co-writing the film and ladies taking the lead in this drama about two women working on a radio play. They become “frenemies”. It was screened at the 2014 edition of the Osaka Asian Film Festival.
Synopsis: Aya (Ishizaki) is beautiful but self-centered woman who has few friends. While she works in an office her dream is to be a scriptwriter and she attends night school to learn the craft. Her hard work pays off when a radio programme selects her script but there’s one condition: Aya needs to have a co-writer. So close to her dream, Aya thinks hard and selects Sachiko to be the second person. Aya believes Sachiko has a quiet and modest personality but things go awry when Sachiko starts acting and dressing like Aya…
太秦ヤコペッティ 「Uzumasa Jacopetti」
Running Time: 83 mins.
Release Date: June 22nd, 2013
Director: Moriro Miyamoto
Writer: Moriro Miyamoto, Toshihiko Matsunaga (Screenplay)
Starring: Shinji Wada, Kiki Hanaka, Masaki Kitahara, Shishimaru Ozawa, Seizo Fukumoto, Donpei Tsuchihira
Uzumasa Jacopetti featured in Third Window Films’s Top Ten Japanese films of the year when it was released and I’ve not been able to get it out of my memory. The plot and the trailer look crazy fun, what with gore, sex and the possibility of black comedy of epic proportions.
Synopsis: The story is set in Uzumasa, Kyoto and it follows Shoji Hyakkan (Wada), a man who gives up his job to make a house held together by magnets for himself, his wife and son. When he’s caught stealing and killing a cow for its hide by a police officer (Kobayakawa) he isn’t locked up. No, in fact he’s given an interesting offer involving his dismemberment skills and local hoodlums. It’s an indie production from first-time director Moriro Miyamoto. Please someone, release this in the west!
Sturm Und Drang
シュトルム・ウント・ドランクッ 「Shutorumu Unto Doranggu」
Release Date: August 16th, 2014 (Japan)
Running Time: 138 mins.
Director: Isao Yamada
Writer: Isao Yamada, Shinzo Takano (Screenplay)
Starring: Emiko Nakamura, Satoru Jitsunashi, Takashi Akiyama, Takeshi Hirokawa, Mutsuo Yoshioka, Ginpachi Ginza, Yumeji Kobayashi, Morio Agata, Fumiko Arai,
This one is a wild card. Sturm und Drang comes from Isao Yamada, director of Grass Labyrinth (1983) and it is all about a group of artists and anarchists in Taisho era Japan (1910’s – 20’s) who form a terrorist group named “Guillotine Inc.” and plot revolution against the government. Then the Kanto earthquake of 1923 strikes… That was a particularly nasty time in Japan’s history as mobs attacked Koreans who were accused of committing crimes in the aftermath of the disaster and also anti-establishment figures such as the feminist Noe Ito and her partner, the anarchist Sakae Osugi, the two of whom were put into a film called Eros + Massacre by director Yoshishige Yoshida and his actress wife Mariko Okada. The characters in the film are up against a brutal government but amidst the bleakness there seems to be comedy and delightful artistic moments that fit in with the character’s occupations.
Synopsis: Winter 1922, the poet and social activist Tetsu Nakahama has finished searching out his comrades and returns to Tokyo where he and his pals found the anarchist organization “Guillotine Society” in the hope of fomenting a revolution. They plan to assassinate a high-profile target: Prince of Wales who is visiting Japan…
Release Date: August 16th, 2014 (Japan)
Running Time: 145 mins.
Director: Ayumi Sakamoto
Writer: Ryo Nishihara (Screenplay), Ayumi Sakamoto (Original Story)
Starring: Emiko Matsuoka, Ken Mitsuishi, Ryo Nishihara, Seiji Nozoe, Nagisa Umeno
FORMA is an award-winning film directed by Ayumi Sakamoto. It played at numerous film festivals such as Berlin in 2014 where it won prizes and it’s screening there was when I first posted about it and got the following blurb from the fest:
Director Ayumi Sakamoto has been in the film industry for a spell having worked as an actress and in the camera and electrical department of a number of films like Vital and other Shinya Tsukamoto films where she learned directing and cinematography skills. Shot in a muted palette of greys, blacks and beiges in perfect tandem with the colourless lives of its protagonists, Ayumi Sakamoto’s striking debut has a keen grasp of friendship’s grey areas and linguistic cadences. A slow-burning thriller whose long, rigorously composed shots demand closer scrutiny: never disregard the unspoken and the unseen.
I like the dark storyline driving this one but what gets me is the fact that the director is one to watch and from what I’ve read, she employs lots of technically brilliant flourishes and gets the best out of her actors to make this dark and compelling drama come to life.
Synopsis: One day, Ayako Kaneshiro is reunited with her former classmate Yukari Hosaka. She invites Yukari to join her company, and she accepts. However, Ayako begins to treat Yukari coldly and act strangely around her. Yukari feels increasingly pressured, but Ayako has her reasons. The pent-up hatred within her deepens the darkness in her heart. To confirm her own feelings, Ayako confronts Yukari. Their conflicting emotions intertwine… What lies at the end of this cycle of hatred?
水の声を聞く 「Mizu no Koe wo Kiku」
Release Date: August 30th, 2014 (Japan)
Running Time: 129 mins.
Director: Masashi Yamamoto
Writer: Masashi Yamamoto (Screenplay),
Starring: Hyunri, Shuri, Natsuko Nakamura, Jun Murakami, Takashi Oda, Gen Sato, Akahiro Kamataki, Eiko Nishio,
This film came from Cinema Impact, the guys who did Be My Baby (2013). I was intrigued by it when I wrote about it for a trailer. It features a cast of new actors and a very good actor in the shape of Jun Murakami. It’s all about Korea-town in Tokyo and the people who exist in it which could fascinating in and of itself when you think of the cultural issues involved but there’s the story of a cult and a girl at the centre who wants to escape here as well which adds more intrigue.
Synopsis: This one takes place in Korea Town in Tokyo where yakuza roam and is all about a Korean-Japanese woman named Minjon (Hyunri) who comes from a long line of shamans who speacialise in hearing messages from the water. She listens to people who are mostly outcasts and gives them a response in Korean which they are unable to understand. Believers keep seeking her out but she has misgivings about how she is exploited by businessmen who use her to found the God’s Water sect and wring money out of people. This group has built up around her and she is ready to leave it behind and do so through her Korean ancestry.
The Tale of Iya
祖谷物語 –おくのひと– 「Iya Monogatari – Oku no Hito」
Running Time: 169 mins.
Release Date: February 15th, 2014
Director: Tetsuchiro Tsuta
Writer: Tetsuchiro Tsuta, Masayuki Ueda (Screenplay),
Starring: Rina Takeda, Shima Ohnishi, Sachi Ishimaru, Hitoshi Murakami, Min Tanaka, Reika Miwa, Takahiro Ono, Naomi Kawase, Christopher Pellegrii, Keiko Taoka, Shigeru Kimura
Okay, this one is a bit of a cheat because I have it and will watch it soon. Here’s what I wrote back when it hit the festival circuit:
This is another film that I missed and it hurts. Watch the trailer. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. Magical as well, right? Do you want to know why I attend film festivals? To see the little gems that don’t get a home cinema release and to experience films on the big screen, especially beautiful ones. I will forever regret not seeing this at the Pan-Asian Film Festival earlier this year because the trailer is beautiful, mysterious, majestic, and the story sounds so intriguing and the reviews I read were all full of a mind-boggling level of praise.
Synopsis: It is winter. A man (Min Tanaka) finds a baby girl in the snow by a freezing lake in the mountains of Tokushima and takes her in. He gives her the name Haruna and they live far away from other people. The baby grows into a caring woman (Rina Takeda) who looks after the man.
It is summer. A stranger from Tokyo arrived at “Iya”, where the riches of nature still abound. His name is Kudo, and he wants to start a new life in the country to refresh his tired soul. Unfortunately the reality was not as easy as he thought because there is a confliction between a local construction company and a group of nature conservationists.
One day, Kudo meets the old man and Haruna and finds out that they lead lives completely different from his own. The old man is a farmer who climbs up the mountain to go to the little shrine to offer Omiki (sake) to the mountain god and Haruna goes to high school an hour away from home, and after that, helps Grandpa to plow his field. Feeling his heart gradually healing, Kudo thought that he finally found what he was looking for in their calm life but a destructive winter occurs…
Hold Your Breath Like a Lover
息を殺して 「Iki wo Koroshite」
Release Date: June 20th, 2015
Running Time: 85 mins.
Director: Kohei Igarashi
Writer: Kohei Igarashi (Screenplay),
Starring: Goichi Mine, Yusuke inaba, Ran Taniguchi, Koji Harada, Tomomitsu Adachi, Ran Arai, Rina Tanaka, Yuki Inagaki
When I saw the trailer for this I immediately tweeted my film friends about it and they were equally hyped. I have never forgotten this one and watch the trailer from time to time and even searched out the music(!) but couldn’t find it. Here’s what I wrote when it first came out.
Kohei Igarashi studied at the Tokyo University of the Arts which is where Kiyoshi Kurosawa teaches. His film has shades of Pulse (2001) to it what with the apocalypse angle which makes it intriguing but it also looks gorgeous! It was at this year’s Nippon Connection and I’m pretty devastated that I may not get to see it!
Synopsis: It is sometime in the near-future in a seemingly abandoned factory. A handful of workers spend their time playing video games, battling out love conflicts and aimlessly walking through gloomy offices and corridors while haunted by the ghosts of the dead in what seems to be the preamble to the apocalypse.
And that’s it. I hope to find these films this year!