This short film is about the night two men and a woman meet at a love hotel. While it sounds like a set-up for an AV film, it turns out to be a blackly comic take on a “reunion” with a bleakish ending rather than some erotic fun. Much like Human Comedy Tokyo(and much of Fukada’s oeuvre), the awkward interactions between humans are the focus of the story.
Tokyo-based rapper SEEDA used his life to inform his hit 2006 album Flowers and Rain and he goes a step further as all of this forms the basis of this autobiographical film which exhumes some painful memories to show how he made his first album which was informed by his life of crime and his sister’s own struggle.
The film begins in media res with the main character beat up pretty bad before he explains how he got to this point.
Isamu Hirabayashi moved from the world of advertising and graphic design to indie films in 2001 and has made a number of shorts that have been selected for festivals like Locarno and Berlinale. Shell and Joint (2019) is his first feature and it is a truly unique title that shines with a visual opulence derived from someone with an eye for framing and a deep consideration for angles and colours, while its script shimmers with a comedic wit that tackles universal themes in a variety of genres and tones, as brought out in a series of stories that are enhanced by the look and sound of the film.
Opening proceeding are Nitobe (Keisuke Horibe) and Sakamoto (Mariko Tsutsui), two people who have been friends from childhood who now work together at the front desk of a capsule hotel. Nitobe has a particular fondness for philosophy and crustaceans while Sakamoto is fixated on suicide and winding up her friend during their long conversations. They form the manzai duo whose interactions rise in silliness as the film keeps revisiting them while guests come and go.
In 2017, the Japanese word karoshi, death from overwork, entered the global lexicon when news organisations covered the case of advertising firm Dentsu which was fined by a Tokyo court for violation of labour laws following the suicide of an overworked employee named Matsuri Takahashi who had been clocking up 100 hours a month in overtime prior to her death. Her story came out around the same time as the one of NHK journalist Miwa Sado who died two years earlier after she logged 159 hours of overtime in a month. Analysts, public health experts and cultural commentators published articles stating that they are just the tip of the iceberg.
Although karoshi is a term that has been around since the 70s, the unhealthy work culture that results in depression, suicides or strokes amongst workers has been identified as being linked to the post-war economic miracle when employees were asked to dedicate their lives to their jobs. However, in the 90s after the economic bubble burst, things worsened as worker protections were sacrificed on the altar of free market capitalism and people were chewed up by their employers. In response to this, and a falling birth rate, the government has introduced measures to give employees more time off work. Things have yet to get better.
One filmmaker who has been tracking stories of everyday people being sacrificed for the economy is Tokachi Tsuchiya who started out as a freelance videographer and became a documentary filmmaker with his award-winning debut A Normal Life, Please! (2009) where he exposed the exploitation of workers through an average truck driver named Nobukazu Kaikura who was made to work by his company “552 hours a month without benefits or sick pay, a regime that barely affords him time to wash or eat” (source). The film covered Kaikura’s decision to join a worker’s union and the unsavoury characters hired by his company who tried to crush the workers who were simply defending their rights.
Since then, Tokachi has worked for an NPO making films about capitalist exploitation and state oppression while also doing “making-of” videos for Momoko Ando’s 0.5mm and Gen Takahashi’s Court of Zeus. With An Ant Strikes Back, he is back with a story of a worker who fought for years for better treatment at his job after horrendous exploitation and mistreatment and it is a shocking eye-opening insight into unfair labour practices in Japan and how unions protect workers.
An Ant Strikes Back starts with a prologue that introduces some sobering facts about karoshi before introducing the director to viewers and here he relates how his friend “Yama-chan” was a victim a number of years before. We understand that his perspective will be a factor in understanding karoshi. Then we are introduced to the worker “ant” at the heart of the film, Yu Nishimura.
The design and feel of a book is very important. Although it usually takes second place to the ideas in the text when we discuss what we read, elemental things involved in the physical aspects of the book, such as the texture, typography and images, confer a vital character onto the text that captures a reader’s interest by stimulating their senses and placing various demands on their attention. The writer’s intent is being mediated through the perspective of the designers, editors and bookbinders involved in bringing it to the shelf. This is something we might not normally think about but the wonderful documentary book-scissors-paper proves to be an enlightening and enthralling exploration of this part of the publishing process by offering up a portrait of a world-famous book designer and his work to elucidate these ideas.
book-scissors-paper is the sophomore feature of Nanako Hirose, one of the young talents at Bunbuku-bun, the production house set up by Hirokazu Kore-eda. It is where she worked on features such as Like Father, Like Son, Our Little Sister, After the Storm and Miwa Nishikawa’s The Long Excuse, it is also where she made her debut feature, His Lost Name, which recently toured the festival circuit. That she made a documentary about book covers seems like something completely out of left-field until one discovers that her father was a book designer and that the subject of this documentary, Nobuyoshi Kikuchi, was responsible for many of the covers on the books in her parents’ house. From this personal background comes this documentary which is a tribute to the art of book design.
Daigo Matsui is famous as a director who has worked on mostly youth-oriented movies like Afro Tanaka (2012), Sweet Poolside (2014),How Selfish I Am! (2013) andJapanese Girls Never Die(2016) but did you know he is a former manzai performer and has his own theatre company? Matsui takes on the theatre world here with an adaptation of British playwright Simon Stephens’s coming-of-age drama “Morning”. However, instead of simply recording a performance to screen in cinemas, we are delivered into how the original story is translated into a Japanese setting and how universal its message of teenage angst is. What plugs us into this creative space and new and unique understanding of the text is that the film is done in a flawless 74-minute take that gets behind the scenes of the play and shows all the pressures and risks for the actors involved in bringing their roles to life.
In 2017, a stage performance of “Morning” is scheduled to run in a small town. It is a savage play that has been attracting attention in the theatre world for its story of a violent act by two best friends fighting through a rough adolescence. The film starts a month before the opening night. A cast of six young actors are being pushed to their limit by a director who gives out abstract plans and demanding instructions:
“I want to show you all really living on the stage.”
The Yalta Conference Online is, like the title suggests, a re-imagination of the famous meeting that happened on February 04th, 1945, between Stalin (Hiroko Matsuda), Roosevelt (Fumie Midorikawa) and Churchill (Yozo Shimada). There is none of the pomp and ceremony given to these grand old men, this is a Zoom meeting and so they all get online to chat about the post-war world. Pleasantries turn into negotiations over how to finish the fighting, and who occupies where but the writing and performances are done with the flippancy and awkwardness of an online talk and the humour is shadowed with the audience’s understanding of how their plans turned out.
It is based on a Hirata Oriza stage-play which was made expressly for the We Are One Global Film Festival and it works well within the limitations. The historical figures are all played as caricatures with our manner and social mores. The fact that they wear silly costumes and that the gender of the actors doesn’t matter should be a good indication of this being a comedy and the performances ply absurd and ironic laughs from what is a cheeky adaptation of history.
The dialogue comes thick and fast with grandstanding mixed with gossiping and through their talk we see their overblown pride and prejudice and inaccurate readings of the future. Particularly biting is the casual anti-semitism, orientalism and prejudice as well as the sense of western supremacy and superiority which still exists to this day. What steers this from being offensive is that the characters are clearly parodies of the real people and the film allows audiences to critique their ideas so it is able to be viewed as mordantly funny when they are dismissively talking about liquidating a group of officers or their treatment of refugees. Also, having Japanese play these people helps in lessening any offence and adds some interesting subtext in the mocking of the imperial mindset of Japan at the time which adds an interesting dimension of self-awareness.
There are some inconsistencies in the area of dialogue such as a mention of James Bond which Ian Flemyng created after the war and the constant reference to England rather than Britain, but the dialogue is delivered with witty repartee as the actors, all part of the same acting company, have whizz-bang chemistry that gives them brilliant line delivery. Of particular note is Hiroko Matsuda who has worked with director Koji Fukada on Human Comedy Tokyo, Hospitalite, and Au revoir l’ete, I believe. Everyone has perfect timing but she goes up and down the scales of hysteria at different times for added comic oomph.
This is based on a stageplay from Hirata Oriza and the actors all belong to his Seinendan group (some of whom are in The Woman of the Photographs) and they are all pitch-perfect in their parody and are fairly physical despite the limitations of online chats. Ensuring that this isn’t a visually uninteresting talkpocalypse, each person has a prop and costume that fits in with the national stereotype and they move around to fiddle with their computer’s camera, green screens, and Zoom backgrounds for some quick gags. The screens change position and size depending upon who joins the chat and text is used. The way tech is display and characters behave accurately captures the new way we communicate in this era of Covid-19 and that makes the film even funnier.
This post is an offshoot from the earlier this week and it focuses on all of the documentaries that will be screened. Check out each description to see if each film is available for worldwide screening because quite a few of these are.
This section brings together a really diverse range of subjects and themes like art and culture, feminism, workplace rights, mental health, refugees fighting for recognition and a man in a campervan trying to forget a failed love. There are three shorts and 11 features. Book-Paper-Scissors and An Ant Strikes Back are polar opposites in content and ones I want to see. Actually, I want to see all of these films!!!
There are a lot of great films on offer and many of them are available for global audiences to stream. Here are details on the features:
The state of emergency over the Covid-19 pandemic has ended and cinemas have reopened across Japan and I imagine what we see in the video of this tweet sums up the new reality for going to the movies – empty seats between patrons and internet Q&As.
— 映画『タゴール・ソングス』／ Documentary Film "Tagore Songs" (@tagore_songs) June 6, 2020
I know I’ll be going to the cinema to watch Christopher Nolan’s latest, Tenet. This tweet comes from the Twitter account of Tagore Songs which I wrote about on Monday’s trailer post because it was in cinemas. It’s a wonderful documentary.
I finished watching Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind, almost two years after starting it. I came to love the characters in the second half of the show and got a bit emotional at the end. I also watched Inception, Yalta Conference Online, Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops and Tremble All You Want.
This is the second trailer post of the week as the industry tries to get back on its feet and films on the big screen.