A Preview of Japan Cuts 2020 (July 17th – 30th)

Japan Cuts Hollywood Header

From July 17th – 30th, Japan Cuts will launch for its 2020 edition which is going to be an entirely online experience. There are 30 features and 12 shorts that will be shown across 14 days with filmmaker video introductions, live virtual Q&As and panel discussions for audiences across the entire United States (yes, this fest is geo-locked, much like the upcoming Fantasia festival).

The selection is, as ever, good as it covers indies and mainstreamers, features and shorts, anime and live-action and all covering a diverse array of subjects. I’ve covered all of these in other festival posts and seen quite a few and will be plugging my own reviews and interviews in this highlight post which has been split up into the following sections, all of which, I hope will help people decide what they want to see:

 Opening Film | Centrepiece Presentation | Animation |Feature Films | Shorts | Documentaries | Tora-san

Opening Film

Special Actors    Special Actors Film Poster

スペシャルアクターズ  Supesharu Akuta-zu

Release Date: October 18th, 2019

Duration: 109 mins.

Director: Shinichiro Ueda

Writer: Shinichiro Ueda (Screenplay) 

Starring: Hiroki Kono, Takuya Fuji, Ayu Kitaura, Yosuke Ueda, Yaeko Kiyose,

Website IMDB

Japan Cuts 2020 gets going with the latest film from Shinichiro Ueda, director of One Cut of the Dead, who once again. makes an ensemble comedy with a cast gathered from a workshop.  

This one is only available in the US

Synopsis: Kazuto is a timid young guy who prefers to stay indoors to watch the adventures of the psychic hero Rescueman instead of being stressed outside. He had wanted to be an actor but a certain medical condition that causes him to faint at the first sign of stress affects him. Despite this, thanks to his brother, he joins an acting agency where he takes on small roles such as being a stand-in at a funeral. The stakes are raised when he ends up being recruited for a real life drama when a young woman named Yumi asks for help from the Special Actors to save her family’s inn from being sold to a brainwashing cult and it turns out that the Special Actors devise a complex plan that depends upon Kazuto…


Centrepiece Presentation

Fukushima 50    Fukushima 50 Film Poster

フクシマ フィフティー  Fukushima 50

Release Date: March 06th, 2020

Duration: 122 mins.

Directors: Setsuro Wakamatsu

Writers: Youichi Maekawa (Script), Ryusho Kadota (Original Book)

Starring: Koichi Sato, Ken Watanabe, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Narumi Yasuda,

Website IMDB

This one is available in the US only

Synopsis: Based on reality, when a magnitude 9.0 earthquake strikes the Tohoku region of Japan on March 11, 2011, it triggers a giant tsunami which hits the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The workers struggle to control the situation with the manager Masao Yoshida (Ken Watanabe) doing his best to communicate between the 50 workers on the ground, thee company, the Japanese government and thee military. Can they prevent a devastating nuclear disaster?


Animation

Bath House of Whales (8 mins. Dir: Mizuki Kiyama)

For this award-winning short, Kiyama used a paint on glass technique to render a young girl’s visit to a neighbourhood sento (bath house) with her mother. Available worldwide.

On-Gaku: Our Sound    On-gaku Our Sound Film Poster

音楽  Ongaku

Release Date: January 11th, 2020

Duration: 71 mins.

Director: Kenji Iwaisawa

Writer: Hiroyuki Ohashi (Screenplay), 

Starring: Kami Hiraiwa (Morita), Shintaro Sakamoto (Kenji), Ren Komai (Aya), Naoto Takenaka (Oba), Tateto Serizawa (Asakura), Tomoya Meno (Ota),

Animation Production: N/A

Website ANN MAL

Adapted from the manga by Hiroyuki Osashi, this was seven years in the making with director Iwaisawa doing a lot of the animating himself.

The film won Best Feature Film at the Ottawa International Animation Festival where it won Grand Prize for Feature Animation and this year’s Annecy International Animation Festival where it won the award for Best Original Music. Here’s a review over at the Japan Times has given it 5 out of 5!

Available in the US only.

Synopsis: One summer’s day, three outsider high school students who haven’t touched an instrument in their lives decide to form a band to express their teenage angst and impress girls. Does it matter that Kenji and his friends have never played an instrument before? Of course not – he’s got a guitar at home and his friends have a bass and drums in theirs so in the true spirit of punk, with blind confidence and absolutely minimal effort they start to make friends and influence people.


Feature Films

Extro    Extro Film Poster

Ekisutoro  エキストロ

Release Date: March 13th, 2020

Duration: 89 mins.

Directors: Naoki Murahashi

Writers: Hirohito Goto (Script), Mariko Kikuchi (Original Book)

Starring: Kozo Haginoya, Koji Yamamoto, Yuki Saito, Tatsumi Fujinami, Ryo Kato, Riho Kotani, Nobuhiko Obayashi,

Website

This one is available for thee US only

And here’s a music video:

Synopsis: This is a mockumentary that follows real-life bit-part player Kozo Haginoya (Kozo Haginoya), a man who works as an extra for drama series and movies. He is 64-years-old and while he works as a dental technician and part-time farmer in Ibaraki Prefecture,, his true passion is for acting. The camera follows him around the set of a period drama shot in a film studio and things go slightly awry when two cops on the hunt for a drug dealer go undercover in the same production.

 

Kinta and Ginji    Kinta and Ginji Film Poster

金太と銀次 Kinta to Ginji

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 84 mins.

Director: Takuya Dairiki, Takashi Miura

Writer: Takuya Dairiki, Takashi Miura (Script),

Starring: Takuya Dairiki, Takashi Miura

Here’s my review

Available to watch worldwide

Synopsis: A weird buddy-movie with a cracked atmosphere where Kinta and Ginji, a tanuki and a robot, roam forests and fields. They sometimes like each other, some times hate each other, but always get back on course and chat in their Kansai dialect. As the two friends explore their environment, they encounter other talking entities and situations.

Life: Untitled    Life Untitled Film Poster

タイトル、拒絶  Taitoru, kyozetsu

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 98 mins.

Director: Kana Yamada

Writer: N/A

Starring: Sairi Ito, Yuri Tsunematsu, Reiko Kataoka, Denden, Aimi Satsukawa, Kokoro Morita, War Marui, Aika Yukihira,

Website

This one is only available to view in the US

Synopsis: Based on a stage play by the director, this film stars Sairi Ito (Love and Other Cults) as Kanou, one of a number of young women working in a Tokyo escort service operating from a rundown office where the women all wait for calls and becomes a witness to others between their visits to local love hotels.

Mrs. Noisy    Mrs. Noisy Film Poster

ミセス・ノイズィ  Misesu Noizi

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 98 mins.

Director: Chihiro Amano

Writer: Chihiro Amano (Screenplay), 

Starring: Yukiko Shinohara, Yoko Ootaka, Takuma Nagao, Chise Niitsu, Masanari Wada, Yoriko Doguchi, Raiki Yanemoto,

Website

This one is only available for audiences in the US only

Synopsis: Maki Yoshioka is a novelist and mother. She’s suffering a slump in her work and things get worse when her neighbour, Miwako, begins harassing her by beating her futons at all hours of the day. After an argument, Maki gets inspiration and makes Miwako a character in her novel but that causes the fight between the two to spiral out of control as the media and internet get involved…

Sacrifice    Sacrifice Film Poster

サクリファイス  Sakurifaisu

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 76 mins.

Director: TakTsuboi

Writer: Taku Tsuboi (Screenplay)

Starring: Yuzu Aoki, Michiko Gomi, Miki Handa, Kosuke Fujita, Yasuyuki Sakurai, Hatsune Yazaki, Hana Shimomura, Chieko Misaka,

Website

This is Taku Tsuboi’s directorial debut. He has a background in working with Makoto Shinozaki (Sharing) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Journey to the Shore). It played at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival. Here’s my review at V-Cinema.

Here’s my review on my blog

This one is available in the US only

Synopsis: The film follows Midori, a college student who once belonged to a cult named Shio no kai. She predicted the Great East Japan Earthquake while she was a member but has shaken off her past and is now a college student. When disturbing incidents such as cat killings occur near the college she attends, it draws others in, including other former cultists. One other college student, Toko, suspects that the cat killer is her schoolmate Okita.

Roar    Go-on Film Poster

轟音  Gouon

Release Date: February 15th, 2020

Duration: 99 mins.

Director: Ryo Katayama

Writer: Ryo Katayama (Script), 

Starring: Ryo Anraku, Mie Oota, Shoji Oomiya, Mari Kishi, Takuya Nakayama,

Website

This one is available in the US only 

Synopsis: The first feature film directed by Kei Katayama, it tells two parallel stories in Fukui City. One involves a guy named Makoto (Ryo Anraku) who runs away from home due to horrific family drama when he encounters a tramp (played by Katayama) who gets hired to beat people up. Meanwhile, radio announcer Hiromi (Mie Ota) deals with a sexually aggressive boss by starting a half-hearted affair. The two find the violence in their lives builds up until…

 

Shell and Joint    Shell and Joint Film Poster

Release Date: 2019

Duration: 154 mins.

Director: Isamu Hirabayashi

Writer: Isamu Hirabayashi (Script) 

Starring: Mariko Tsutsui, Keisuke Horibe, Kanako Higashi, Aiko Sato, Hiromi Kitagawa, Kaori Takeshita,

Website IMDB

Well, I really enjoyed this one and reviewed it as part of Nippon Connection 2020. It is visually resplendent and full of cracked stories.

This one is available in the US only

Synopsis: Nitobe and Sakamoto are friends from childhood who now work at the front desk of a capsule hotel. Nitobe has a particular fondness for philosophy and crustaceans. Sakamoto, meanwhile, is fixated on suicide. The capsule hotel draws a variety of guests, including a Finnish mother who has lost her child, a fugitive woman, and a researcher studying Daphnia. None of their lives ever intersect. Nor do any of the lives out of it for that matter. They exist, but never cross, like cells in a capsule hotel. With crustaceans as leitmotif, the themes of life and death are explored through a fragmentary view of the characters’ lives.

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 was selected for this year’s Berlinale where it garnered a Special Mention, Generation 14plus Competition.

Available in the US only

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… 

Labyrinth of Cinema      Labyrinth of Cinema Film Poster

Labyrinth of Cinema=海辺の映画館 キネマの玉手箱Labyrinth of Cinema = umibe no eigakan kinema no tamatebako

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 179 mins.

Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi

Writer: Nobuhiko Obayashi (Screenplay),

Starring: Takuro Atsuki, Takahito Hosoyamada, Yoshihiko Hosoda,

Website IMDB

Nobuhiko Obayashi recently passed away but two films involving him are on the festival circuit. Both were at the Tokyo International Film Festival, the documentary hasn’t reached Europe yet, as far as I know, whereas this one has played at Rotterdam. Labyrinth of Cinema is an anti-war film that mixes in a love of cinema, a subject mix which Obayashi relished with so many of his projects. 

This one is available to view online in the US only.

Synopsis: Three young people at a soon-to-be-shuttered cinema are enjoying the final screening: a marathon of old war films. The three become so immersed in the action that they find themselves time-slipping through the screen to various historical events connected to cinema and war such as witnessing death during the Sengoku period and on a battlefront in China, being in Hiroshima just before the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of the city. This was shot in Obayashi’s hometown in Onomichi and has an anti-war message.

 

My Sweet Grappa Remedies   My Sweet Grappa Remedies Film Poster

甘いお酒でうがいAmai osake de ugai

Release Date: 2020

Duration: 107 mins.

Director: Akiko Ooku

Writer: Jiro (Script), Yoshiko Kawashima (Original Novel)

Starring: Yasuko Matsuyuki, Hana Kuroki, Hiroya Shimizu, Kanji Furutachi, Kozo Sato, Tomoya Maeno,

Website IMDB

Jiro is a member of the manzai group Sissonne and he has written a novel in the voice of a woman named “Yoshiko Kawashima”. The novel is a diary that notes her thoughts and it has been adapted for the big screen. This is Jiro’s second collaboration with Akiko (Tremble All You Want) Ohku after they worked on Marriage Hunting Beauty.

This one is available to watch in the US.

Synopsis: Yoshiko (Yasuko Matsuyuki) is a single woman in her 40s who works in a publishing company and enjoys drinking grappa and writing in her diary. She enjoys her simple life but when she is introduced to a younger guy in his 20s, she falls in love and a new, welcome complexity changes her easy days…

My Identity

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 63 mins.

Director: Sae Suzuki

Writer: Sae Suzuki

Starring: Hinata Arakawa, Kaho Seto,

IMDB

Sae Suzuki made this while at Geidai.

This one is only available in the US

Synopsis: Rei is a Taiwanese-Japanese girl in her mid-teens and also a runaway from a miserable home life. While on the streets she meets Aoi, an office worker who is undergoing her own ordeal with an amorous male colleague. Rei ends up staying overnight in Aoi’s apartment but, the very next evening, the two run away from the city after a traumatic event happens. They head to a deserted rural village and hide away in an abandoned inn where they create a utopian space of female camaraderie which lasts for a little while…

Beyond the Night

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 94 mins.

Director: Natsuki Nakagawa

Writer: N/A

Starring: Saki Tanaka, Kenta Yamagishi, Yasuhiro Isobe,

This one is only available in the US

Synopsis: When Mikiro (Kenta Yamagishi) catches Sotoko (Saki Tanaka) on the verge of an emotional breakdown due to her toxic marriage with the abusive Atsuya (Yasuhiro Isobe), his reality becomes marked by eroticism with a violent edge and an acknowledgement of small-town corruption.

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: Takuya Misawa (Screenplay)

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

OAFF Link

Debuting at last year’s Busan International Film Festival, The Murders of Oiso took the Japan Cuts Award at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020. It is the sophomore feature from director Takuya Misawa who made waves with his 2015 debut Chigasaki Story. He returns with a slice-of-life film shot with a Hong Kong crew in a cut-up narrative that has a noirish atmosphere as he looks at the shadowy side of the titular town and its citizens.

Here’s my review and here’s my interview with director Takuya Misawa.

This is only available to view in the US

Synopsis: Taking place in another seaside town, The Murders of Oiso is a noirish slice-of-life story set in the picturesque location of Oiso. It concerns how small-scale corruption is revealed when four friends, Tomoki (Haya Nakazaki), Shun (Koji Moriya), Kazuya (Yusaku Mori), and Eita (Shugo Nagashima) confront the crimes of the people around them and themselves after the death of an influential man in the town.

Kontora   

コントラKontora

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 145 mins.

Director: Anshul Chauhan

Writer: Anshul Chauhan (Script) 

Starring: Seira Kojima, Wan Marui, Hidemasa Mase, Takuzo Shimizu, Taichi Yamada,

Twitter IMDB

This is a distinct and impressive sophomore feature from Anshul Chauhan after his debut, Bad Poetry Tokyo (2017) with its gorgeous monochrome sheen and absorbing dramatic acting and mysterious story. It won the Grand Prix at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival and it is one I am looking forward to seeing at the Osaka Asian Film Festival n March. 

Here’s my review and an interview with the director Anshul Chauhan.

This one is only available in the US

Synopsis: When Sora’s (Wan Marui) grandfather passes away she loses the last person she feels she can communicate with. Her relationship with her father is very uneasy and so, when Sora discovers her grandfather’s wartime diary which hints at hidden treasure, she hides it in the hopes it can provide some outlet for herself. At this time a mysterious mute vagrant who only walks backwards appears in town and his presence provides a catalyst for change between father and daughter.

It Feels So Good    Kakou no Futari Film Poster

火口のふたりKakou no Futari

Release Date: August 23rd, 2019

Duration: 115 mins.

Director: Haruhiko Arai

Writer: Haruhiko Arai (Script), Kazufumi Shiraishi (Novel),

Starring: Tasuku Emoto, Kumi Takiuchi,

Website   IMDB

Tasuku Emoto ( Dynamite Graffiti) and Kumi Takiuchi (Greatful Dead) take the lead in this drama which is absolutely steamy and sexy but based on some deep drama. Here’s my review.

Available in the US only

Synopsis: When don’t you want to attend an ex-lover’s wedding (seriously, when do you?)? When you are reeling from your own divorce and job loss. Kenji Nagahara (Tasuku Emoto) cannot resist. A bit of a deadbeat with nothing to do, he heads back to his hometown in Akita to attend the wedding of his ex-lover Naoko Sato (Kumi Takiuchi) after she invites him. When she proposes they have a final one night stand, of course, their passion lasts longer than that and we see the depth of their connection to each other as it goes from purely physical to emotional…


Shorts

Wheel Music (14 mins. Dir: Nao Yoshigai)

Available worldwide

Innovative and playful filmmaker Nao Yoshigai made a road movie with her bicycle and her video camera as she documents the aesthetic feeling and social character of Sendagi, an old town in Tokyo under urban development in preparation for the planned Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.

See You on the Other Side (24 mins. Dir: Yoko Yamanaka)

Available worldwide

Three young people living together find their relationship rife with tension following an unexpected turn of events in this film by Yoko Yamanaka (Amiko).

Fuel (16 mins. Dir: Yu Araki)

Available worldwide

A contemplative film that savours the sights and sounds of an expert griller working at one of the oldest robatayaki (fireside cooking) restaurants in Japan in Kushiro, the northeastern port city in Hokkaido.

Birdland

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 previously at 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. It will be introduced by him.

Available worldwide

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.

Wolf’s Calling    Noroshi Ga Yobu Film Poster

狼煙が呼ぶ  Noroshi ga Yobu

Release Date: September 20th, 2019

Duration: 16 mins.

Director: Toshiaki Toyoda

Writer: Toshiaki Toyoda (Screenplay) 

Starring: Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Tadanobu Asano, Kengo Kora, Ryuhei Matsuda, Tetsuya Nakamura,

Website IMDB

A 16-minute short drama inspired by the experience of director Toshiaki Toyoda, who was arrested for illegal possession of a pistol (which turned out to be an antique passed on by his father) in April 2019 when he was held in jail without charge while the police orchestrated a media circus. It stars long-time Toyoda collaborators Kiyohiko Shibukawa and Ryuhei Matsuda who appeared Toyoda’s debut movies Pornostar and Blue Spring and they showed up in his latest movie, The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan.

Available in the US only

Synopsis: A girl finds an old handgun in her house and the history of the gun is traced. A girl finds an old handgun in her attic and the symbolic object conjures a mystical scene of samurai (a stellar cast of actors joined by the 20-person Edo punk band Seppuku Pistols, who also provide the soundtrack) gathering within the moss-grown location of Kasosan Shrine in Tochigi Prefecture.

The Day of Destruction    The Day of Destruction Film Poster

破壊の日Hakai no Hi

Release Date: July 24th, 2020

Duration: 57 mins.

Director: Toshiaki Toyoda

Writer: Toshiaki Toyoda (Script),

Starring: Kiyohiko Shibukawa, MahiToThePeople (of the band GEZAN in his debut film role), Issey Ogata, Yosuke Kubozuka, Ryuhei Matsuda, Itsuki Nagasawa, Shima Onishi, Misa Wada,

Website IMDB

Toshiaki Toyoda (Blue Spring, Porno Star, The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan) teams up with loyal actors Kiyohiko Shibukawa (Porno Star) and Ryuhei Matsuda (The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan) along with MahiToThePeople (of the band GEZAN in his debut film role), Issey Ogata (Tony Takitani), and Yosuke Kubozuka (Giri/Haji), to make a “state of the nation” type of film which would have been the opening of the Tokyo 2020 Summer Games. Corruption and indifference are in the air and Toyoda exhorts people to stand up to it.

Here’s my review

Synopsis: After a mysterious monster is found deep in a rural coal mine, rumours of a plague spread across the country and people experience an unexplainable mental illnesses. A young Shugendo practitioner named Kenichi (MahiToThePeople) is determined to exorcise the monster in all of its forms. 

Bleached Bones Avenue

白骨街道Hakkotsu kaidō

Release Date: 2020

Duration: 16 mins.

Director: Akio Fujimoto

Writer: N/A

Starring: Pu paul pau, Lang Za Khup

OAFF

Screened at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020, Bleached Bones Avenue is the latest title from director Akio Fujimoto and, on the face of it, this short is a curious follow-up film to his previous work, the family drama Passage of Life (2017), which was shown at the festival back in 2018. However, it continues to examine the human links between Japan and Myanmar in its own unique way.

I interviewed the film’s director Akio Fujimoto, cinematographer Kentaro Kishi and producer Kazutaka Watanabe. Also, here’s my review.

Available only in the US

Synopsis: Fujimoto’s latest film takes place in Myanmar’s Chin state and observes the work of a team from the Zomi tribe who recover the remains of Japanese soldiers who died during the battle of Imphal.

 

Documentaries

Blind Bombing: Filmed by a Bat (32 mins. Dir: Kota Takeuchi)

Available worldwide

A doc where the director looks at experimental fire balloons designed to be launced at America during WWII. The director, recreates their flight take-off and flight across parts of America, using a bat’s echolocation as narrative device to place these weapons in history.

Nana (8 mins. Dir: Fumiya Hayakawa)

Available worldwide

This film follows Rosario, a mother and sitter, during a day in her life.

The Sculpture of Place & Time (8 mins. Dir: Tatsuhito Utagawa)

Available in North America

A Khmer dance is captured on film as enacted by Phnom Penh-based dancer Prumsodm Ok—a Cambodian-American and pioneer of the first Cambodian gay dance company Prumsodun Ok & NATYARASA – where the abstract nature of film and the act of dance itself is looked into.

Tokyo Girl (8 mins. Dir: Nebiro Hashimoto)

Available worldwide

A look at a teenage girl at the end of the Heisei era through a “sonic-visual collage that pierces the spirit of the contemporary zeitgeist”.

Sending Off (78 mins. Dir: Ian Thomas Ash)

Available in the US only

Ian Thomas Ash accompanied Dr. Kaoru Konta and a handful of nurses on palliative care house visits across rural Japan as they look after patients who are preparing for death from old age or illness.

 

Seijo Story – 60 Years of Making Films

ノンフィクションW 大林宣彦&恭子の成城物語 [完全版] ~夫婦で歩んだ60年の映画作り~  Nonfikushon W ōbayashi nobuhiko& Kyōko no Seijō monogatari [kanzenhan] ~ fūfu de ayunda 60-nen no eiga-tsukuri ~

Release Date: November 08th, 2019

Duration: 115 mins.

Director: Isshin Inudo, Eiki Takahashi

Writer: Isshin Inudo (Planning),

Starring: Nobuhiko Obayashi, Kyoko Obayashi

Website IMDB

Available in the US only

Synopsis: After meeting as college students in the cinema town of Seijo, husband and wife Nobuhiko and Kyoko Obayashi have gone on to direct and produce acclaimed films together for 60 years. They have created more than 40 films and he remains one of the most famous names in Japanese cinema. This documentary looks back on their youth and their independent films. It comes with testimony from friends and family who talk about the special bond between the two.

Reiwa Uprising    Reiwa Uprising Film Poster

れいわ一揆  Reiwa Ikki

Release Date: 2020

Duration: 255 mins.

Director: Kazuo Hara

Writer: N/A

Starring: Ayumi Yasutomi

Website IMDB

Kazuo Hara (The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On) gave the world premiere of this at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival last year.

This one is available to view in the US only

Synopsis: Kazuo Hara follows Ayumi Yasutomi, a transgender Tokyo University professor and a candidate from the anti-establishment party Reiwa Shinsengumi as she embarks on a national campaign for a seat in Japan’s Upper House.

Prison Circle    Prison Circle Film Poster

プリズン・サークル  Pursizun Sa-kuru

Release Date: January 25th, 2020

Duration: 136 mins.

Director: Kaori Sakagami

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A

Website IMDB

This one is available to view in the US only

Synopsis: A documentary that took six years to authorise and two years to film due to it being set in a prison in Japan. It is set in Shimane Asahi Rehabilitation Promotion Center, a new public-private prison and the only prison in Japan that has introduced a program called “TC (Therapeutic Community)” that seeks out the causes and cures of crime through engaging prisoners in dialogue in a system that encourages rehabilitation. This is one of a number of educational programmes at the prison and one where prisoners must face their past. Audiences of this documentary will see the causes of crime the, bitter memories of childhood, such as poverty, bullying, abuse, and discrimination, as well as the crimes they committed, such as theft, fraud, robbery, injury and death. The camera follows the four prisoners in prison and shows them gaining new values ​​and ways of living through TC. Directed by Kaoru Sakagami, who has worked with American prisoners.

i -Documentary of the Journalist-i -Documentary of the Journalist- Film Poster

i -新聞記者ドキュメント-I – shinbun kisha dokyumento –

Release Date: November 15th, 2019

Duration: 120 mins.

Director: Tatsuya Mori

Writer: N/A

Starring: Isoko Mochizuki

Tatsuya Mori is a documentarian famous for the films A (1998), 311 (2011) and Fake (2016). He also acted as producer on The Journalist (2019) which is based on a book by the real-life female journalist, Isoko Mochizuki. She forms the centre of this film as she pursues the truth.

This one is available only in the US

Synopsis: Traditional news media is in a spin as social media, financial forces and political tribalism batter them around. Maybe film documentary might be the best place for news if not for some of brave journalists still working for newspapers who are unafraid to look for the truth. Isoko Mochizuki of The Tokyo Shimbun is one of them as she asks all the awkward questions that keep those in power on their toes and ferrets out the truth. This in a country which is still patriarchal, in an industry which is male-dominated, in a media environment that prefers not to challenge those in power lest they lose access to government press conferences. Here’s an article about her in The New York Times (written by Motoko Rich) which gives an excellent overview of the environment she works in.

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

This one is available only in the US

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.

book-paper-scissorsBook Paper Scissors Film Poster

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,

Website     IMDB

Bunbuku, the production house set up by Hirokazu Kore-eda, is producing films by younger directors and one of them is Nanako Hirose who follows her critically-acclaimed feature His Lost Name with a documentary on books! It was at the Busan International Film Festival. Here’s my review.

This one is available to watch in the US only

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.

Cenote    Cenote Film Poster

セノーテSeno-te

Release Date: September, 2020

Duration: 75 mins.

Director: Kaori Oda

Writer: Kaori Oda (Script) 

Starring: voices of: Araceli del Rosario Chulim Tun, Juan de la Rosa Mibmay

Website

Documentarian Kaori Oda studied under Béla Tarr in Sarajevo and while in Bosnia she filmed the lives of coal miners (Aragane) and also her own journey as a filmmaker and human in (Towards a Common Tenderness).

This one is available to view in the US only

Synopsis: Kaori Oda travels to the Northern Yucatan in Mexico where she ventures around natural sinkholes called ‘cenotes’ and explores the past, where Mayans used them for water sources as well as sacrifices and saw the cenotes as a connection to the afterlife, and she sees how these memories inform the present of those living around the cenotes. She pushes her style further here in what look like beautiful sequences.

Lost Three Make One Found

フォルナーリャの聖泉 Foruna-rya no Seisen

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 26 mins.

Director: Atsushi Kuwayama

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A

Website

This one is available to view in the US only

Synopsis: A pilgrimage set by a Japanese man with his Indian friend on an old van in search for a sacred spring to heal his heartbreak, explores the tragicomedy of otherness through diverse encounters, offering a glimpse of lives and memories of those in the regions.

Tora-san

There are three of the 50 Tora-san films in the Classics section, all recently restored and all available in the US only:

Tora-san, Our Lovable Tramp (Tora-san #1) (91 mins. Dir: Yoji Yamada)

Tora-san Meets the Songstress Again (Tora-san #15) (92 mins. Dir: Yoji Yamada)

Tora-san, My Uncle (Tora-san #42) (108 mins. Dir: Yoji Yamada)

 

Tora-san, Wish You Were Here    Tora-san Wish You Were Here Film Poster

男はつらいよ お帰り 寅さん  Otoko wa tsuraiyo Okaeri Torasan

Release Date: December 27th, 2019

Duration: 116 mins.

Director: Yoji Yamada

Writer: Yoji Yamada, Yuzo Asahara (Screenplay)

Starring: Kiyoshi Atsumi, Chieka Baisho, Gin Maeda, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Kumiko Goto, Mari Natsuki, Ruriko Asaoka, Chizuru Ikewaki, Jun Miho, Mari Hamada,

Website IMDB

Last year was the 50th Anniversary of the Tora-san series and this is the 50th film. Long-time director Yoji Yamada, returns to the series to  bring back the travelling salesman and his adventure in love but as seen from his family’s perspective.

This one is only available in the US

Synopsis: Mitsuo, Tora-san’s nephew, has arrived at Kurumaya Cafe in Shibamata, Tokyo, on the sixth anniversary of the death of his wife for a memorial service. Tora-san’s family ran the place as a traditional confectionery store before it was turned into a cafe but the living quarters in the back remain unchanged. It is here that the family gather to reminiscence about the past, including Tora-san’s adventures in love up and down Japan. It is now, at Tora-san’s childhood home, that Mitsuo runs into Izumi, his first love.

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