The L’Etrange Festival is set to run at Forum des Images for its 26th edition from September 02 to 13 as a physical event and it comes during the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, rules have been put in place (read them here) to ensure everybody’s safety so they can enjoy some masterful cinematographical delights on a big screen. The Japanese focus features three familiar films from Seijun Suzuki, a fanciful delight from the son of manga genius Osamu Tezuka and a short film from new young star Nao Yoshigai.
What Japanese films are programmed at L’Etrange this year?
Release Date: November 2019
Duration: 100 mins.
Director: Macoto Tezuka
Writer: Hisako Kurosawa (Screenplay), Osamu Tezuka (Manga)
Starring: Goro Inagaki, Fumi Nikaido, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Shizuka Ishibashi, Minami, Eri Watanabe, Moemi Katayama,
Macoto Tezka, son of famous manga-ka Osamu Tezuka, turns his father’s novel into a film with Goro Inagaki and top actress Fumi Nikaido taking the lead in the “writer and his muse” story that mixes pink film thrills with weird tales. The cinematography is done by Christopher Doyle and it looks extremely erotic and a little magical. This one is backed by Third Window Films and it has been on the international festival circuit for a while, starting at Tokyo last year and appearing more recently at Fantasia. This was made for the 90th Anniversary of Osamu Tezuka’s birth.
Synopsis: Osamu Tezuka re-imagines The Tales of Hoffmann which creates a series of meetings wrapped up in lust, forbidden love, the occult, art and all-round weirdness for a famous writer named Yosuke Mikura and a mysterious girl named “Barbara” who he meets in an overpass tunnel. When he takes her home, his life takes a bizarre turn.
Release Date: May 23rd, 2019
Duration: 15 mins.
Director: Nao Yoshigai
Writer: Nao Yoshigai (Script), Miyuki Nakajima (Original Inspiration)
Starring: Hanna Chan
Synopsis from Nao Yoshigai’s site: A helpless woman confronts “a black object” with a power greater than hers. The “black object” shoots her questions. The woman has answers to these questions, but can’t say them aloud. She feels up against the wall, and begins to throw up beautiful colorful flowers instead of speaking.
This is a trilogy of independent films that draw heavily on their namesake period for story and aesthetics and were brought to the screen by an iconoclastic filmmaker.
Seijun Suzuki’s (1923 – 2017) career as a director is split into two parts – as one of Nikkatsu studio’s stable of salaried directors, he was tasked with making rather generic low-budget yakuza films but Suzuki’s output was different because he had a keen sense of style and humour that subverted the genre products he was hired to write and direct. Brave use of dissonance in terms of arty visuals, sounds and music, and penning irreverent stories with outrageous twists made his films more memorable for audiences but less palatable for the guys running Nikkatsu who were not so enamoured with creating art and more interested in making a quick buck. This period came to an end with Branded to Kill which proved to be a critical and commercial flop and so the head honchos at Nikkatsu fired him for making, and I quote Suzuki-kantoku himself, “movies that make no sense and no money.” Suzuki successfully sued them for wrongful dismissal but successfully challenging industry figures tends to get a person blacklisted (just ask Kiyoshi Kurosawa after his run-in with Juzo Itami) and so he spent ten years in the movie making wilderness formulating ideas with other creatives.
Suzuki, proving that creativity is everything, made a comebac and re-established his filmmaking career with his period drama series, the Taisho Trilogy – Zigeunerweisen (1980), Kagero-za (1981), and Yumeji (1991). The first two of these films are based on novels from the period, the third an original story, and all capture the sense of an age where modernity and liberalisation brought changes and social advancement, politics hit fever-pitch with anarchists and ultra-nationalists clashing whilst the nation moved heavily into its colonial practices and the arts were struck by highly stylised works defined by lashings of eroticism, grotesquerie, absurdism, the supernatural and violence melded into an artistic movement called ero-guro. Here’s a trailer for the trilogy:
Running Time: 145 mins
Director: Seijun Suzuki
Writer: Yozo Tanaka (Screenplay), Hyakken Uchida (Original Novel)
Starring: Yoshio Harada, Naoko Otani, Toshiya Fujita, Kisako Makishi, Akaji Maro, Kirin Kiki, Yuki Kimura, Nagamasa Tamaki, Sumie Sasaki,
Here’s my review
Synopsis: We see the strange relationship between Aochi (Toshiya Fujita) and Nakasago (Yoshio Harada). Both lead characters are academics who have been friends since their university days but only Aochi continues his job at a military academy where he teaches German and has married Taeko (Kisako Makishi), a Modern Gal who loves hedonistic pleasure. Meanwhile Nakasago strikes out on mysterious journeys involving searching out beautiful women and visions of the grotesque. They meet once again when Nakasago is accused of murder at a small seaside town. Aochi helps his friend out and the two go for dinner where they meet and fall in love with a beautiful geisha named O-ine (Naoko Otani). The two part ways again but six month’s later, meet again and Aochi learns that his Nakasago has married a woman who bears a strange resemblance to O-ine…
The two men and their wives enter into a series of bizarre love triangles full of supernatural twists, doppelgangers, phantasmic illusions told through brilliant period details, wild story telling and imaginary monsters all filtered through Suzuki’s colourful approach to film making.
Release Date: August 21st, 1981
Duration: 139 mins.
Director: Seijun Suzuki
Writer: Yozo Tanaka (Script), Kyoka Izumi (Original Novel)
Starring: Yusaku Matsuda, Michiyo Yasuda, Mariko Kaga, Katsuo Naamura, Yoshio Harada, Eriko Kusuda,
Synopsis: Following the success of Zigeunerweisen, Seijun Suzuki and producer Genjiro Arato worked together on this story which is based on a short story by Kyoka Izumi. It is 1926 and a playwright named Shungo Matsuzaki (Yusaku Matsuda) is haunted by a beautiful but mysterious woman named Shinako (Michiyo Yasuda) who he feels, but cannot quite work out, if he might have a connection to…
Release Date: May 31st, 1991
Duration: 128 mins.
Director: Seijun Suzuki
Writer: Yozo Tanaka (Script),
Starring: Kenji Sawada, Tomoko Mariya, Masumi Miyazaki, Kazuhiko Hasegawa, Tamasaburo Bando, Yoshio Harada, Leona Hirata, Michiyo Yasuda, Kimiko Yo,
From the fest’s own write-up: the movie is freely inspired by the life of the artist Yumeji Takehisa (1884-1934), known for his erotic watercolors.
Synopsis: It is 1917 and we are in Kanazawa. The artist Yumeji (Kenji Sawada), an aesthete and womaniser, is waiting to meet a lover named Hikono (Masumi Miyazaki) but gets involved with a widow named Tomoyo (Tomoko Mariya) whose husband, Wakiya (Yoshio Harada), was murdered by her jealous lover Onimatsu (Kazuhiko Hasegawa). His dalliance with this woman leads him into a dreamy erotic maelstrom involving the artist with the murderer, the ghost and the girl they all desire.
The music you hear in the trailer will remind you of the melody for the Wong Kar-Wai film In the Mood for Love. That is because the it was made by the same composer Shigeru Umebayashi.
Here’s my past coverage of the event: