Japanese Films at the Berlin International Film Festival 2020


The Berlin International Film Festival launches at the end of this week and runs from February 20th to March 01st. There are a fair few films from Japan on display with two classics mixed in with contemporary titles. If there is a general theme, it is the deconstruction of family as each of the titles looks at that topic from a particular angle. There is also a special talk event featuring Ang Lee and Hirokazu Koreeda with the film After Life screened.

What are the Japanese films programmed?

The Phone of the Wind    The Phone of the Wind Film Poster

風の電話  Kaze no Denwa

Release Date: January 24th, 2020

Duration: 139 mins.

Director: Nobuhiro Suwa

Writer: Nobuhiro Suwa, Kyoko Inukai (Script) 

Starring: Serena Motola, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tomokazu Miura, Toshiyuki Nshida, Makiko Watanabe, Shoko Ikezu,

Website IMDB

The review for this one at the Japan Times website makes the drama sound powerful. It has been selected for this year’s Berlinale so expect to see it travel around the world.

Synopsis: Haru is 17 years old and has lived in Hiroshima with her aunt ever since losing her family in the Great East Japan Earthquake. When her aunt (Makiko Watanabe) falls ill, Haru is left with nobody to take care of her and so she goes back to her hometown of Otsuchi in Iwate Prefecture. It is there she hears of the “Wind Telephone” It is a white phone booth with a disconnected black telephone inside. With it, the living can contact the dead. As Haru journeys to the phone, she encounters various people and discovers others who have lost something or someone… 

Seishin 0    Seishin 0 Film Poster

精神0  Seishin 0

Release Date: May 2020

Duration: 128 mins.

Director: Kazuhiro Soda

Writer: Naruhisa Arakawa, Yumi Shimoa (Script), Saburo Yatsude (Original Creator)

Starring: Masatomo Yamamoto, Yoshiko Yamamoto,


Synopsis: Returning to the subject of his film Seishin, Kazuhiro Soda revisits Dr. Yamamoto, a pioneering psychiatrist who is about to give up his practice at the age of 82. We see that his wife, now with dementia, will be the last person he cares for after we see him say goodbye to his patients for the last time and close his practice in this film which documents everybody’s behaviour to paint a humanistic story of people accepting decline.

Cruel Tale of Bushido    Cruel Tale of Bushido Film Poster

武士道残酷物語  Bushido zankoku monogatari

Release Date: April 28th, 1963

Duration: 123 mins.

Director: Tadashi Imai

Writer: Naoyuki Suzuki, Yoshikata Yoda (Script), Norio Nanjo (Original Book: Hiryo no keifu / Genealogy of Slaves)

Starring: Kinnosuke Nakamura, Satomi Oka, Kyoko Kishida, Misako Watanabe, Yoshiko Mita


Cruel Tale of Bushido was awarded the Golden Bear at the 1963 Berlin International Film Festival and the world premiere of the digitally restored version happens at Berlinale 2020.

Synopsis: The attempted suicide of his fiancée prompts a Japanese salary-man to read his family chronicles and look back at the life of his ancestors. The annals stretch back through the reign of the Tokugawa shogunate and he sees that they were samurai who were made to commit horrendous acts by their feudal lords and were duty-bound to do so. The salary-man realises he is repeating history.

The Ceremony    The Ceremony Nagisa Oshima Film Poster

儀式  Gishiki

Release Date: June 0th, 1971

Duration: 123 mins.

Director: Nagisa Oshima

Writer: Tsutomu Tamura, Mamoru Sasaki, Nagisa Oshima (Script), Saburo Yatsude (Original Creator)

Starring: Kenzo Kawarazaki, Atsuko Kaku, Atsuo Nakamura, Akiko Koyama, Kei Sato


Synopsis: The fall of the house of Sakurada after World War II, which Oshima depicts via showing how his protagonist Masuo remembers a series of ritual family gatherings that take place at different points in the past and present. The grandfather pulls the strings of the family, forcing strange situations to arise, most of which damage the younger generation.

Abstracted / Family

Release Date: February 08th, 1971

Duration: 110 mins.

Director: Koki Tanaka

Writer: N/A

Starring: Claudia Shimoji, Ai Nakagawa, Kiyoshi Hashimoto, Naoto Yasuda, Lawrence Yoshitaka Shimoji

Synopsis: The artist/director Koki Tanaka is back exploring nationality, race and, for this one, the idea of a family by questioning what makes a family, whether it goes beyond blood relations. For this film, Tanaka assembles four people of different backgrounds but are native Japanese and gives them a character to act out where they try to work as a group, thus, making reality and fiction mix together.

The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin)  

Release Date: February 27th, 2020

Duration: 480 mins.

Director: C.W. Winter, Anders Edström

Writer: C.W. Winter, Diary entries by Tayoko Shiojiri (Script), 

Starring: Tayoko Shiojiri, Hiroharu Shikata, Ryo Kase, Mai Edström, Kaoru Iwahana

Website IMDB

Synopsis: Shot over a 14 month period in a village populated by 47 people in the mountains of Kyoto Prefecture, it is a depiction of the lives of farmers over five seasons. There will be intermissions in the film.

Also screening are the shorts Akiya (Dir: Jonna Kina, 5 mins.), and Citizens of the Cosmos (Dir: Anton Vidokle, 30 mins.)

Here is past coverage I have offered on the festival:

Berlin Film Festival 2019

Berlin Film Festival 2018

Berlin Film Festival 2017

Berlin Film Festival 2016

Berlin Film Festival 2015

Berlin Film Festival 2014

Berlin Film Festival 2013

Berlin Film Festival 2012 Competition Results

6 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the Berlin International Film Festival 2020

  1. I went to see Kaze no denwa and was a bit disappointed. Although the plot was interesting, the film was too lengthy with repetitive crying scenes. I like the slow pace of Japanese films but this time it really made me impatient…

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      That’s a shame about the film.
      It got a decent review in the Japan Times but this one sounds like it might be tiresome.

      Speaking of tiresome, there’s that 8 hour film set in Kyoto!!! I wonder what that is like.

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