Japanese Films at the San Sebastian International Film Festival 2020 (September 18th-26th)

san sebastian film festival 2020 Logo

This year’s San Sebastian International Film Festival runs from September 18th to the 26th and they have announced their selection of films. Due to the Covid-19, the festival has reduced what it will show and created a mixed programme of physical and online activities (details here). There are three Japanese films, as far as I am aware and they are detailed below. Take a look!

Official Selection

True Mothers    True Mothers Film Poster

朝が来る Asa ga kuru

Release Date: October 23rd, 2020

Duration: 139 mins.

Director: Naomi Kawase

Writer: Naomi Kawase, Izumi Takahashi (Script), Mizuki Tsujimura (Original Novel)

Starring: Arata Iura, Hiromi Nagasaku, Miyoko Asada, Taketo Tanaka, Ren Komai, Go Riju, Hiroko Nakajima, Reo Sato,

Website IMDB

True Mothers is the latest movie by Naomi Kawase (Sweet Bean (2015), Radiance (2017)) and is based on a novel by Mizuki Tsujimura. It was turned into an eight-episode series based on broadcast in 2016 and has now been given a feature film treatment so fine that it was going to be screened at Cannes 2020 but the fest was cancelled due to Covid-19. It will also be screened at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Synopsis: Kiyokazu Kurihara and his wife Satoko had given up trying for a baby after years of struggle but were talked into a special adoption by a company. Since then, they have spent six happy years with their son, Asato, but when a young woman named Hikari appears and claims to be the one who gave birth to him, she shakes the family to its core. Satoko decides to confront Hikari… 

Any Crybabies Around?    Any Crybabies Around Film Poster

泣く子はいねぇがNakuko wa ineega

Release Date: November 20th, 2020

Duration: 95 mins.

Director: Takuma Sato

Writer: Takuma Sato (Script), 

Starring: Taiga Nakano, Riho Yoshioka, Kanichiro, Takashi Yamanaka, Yoki Miko, Toshiro Yanagiba, Kimiko Yo

Website IMDB

Takuma Sato has four films to his name so far, all original stories, with two released last year (link to a trailer post), and he has worked with Taiga Nakano (Au revoir l’ete, Harmonium, Japanese Girls Never Die). For this film, he draws upon the Namahage festival that takes place in Akita Prefecture and uses this ancient tradition to tell a story depicting young adults in contemporary society.

Synopsis: Tasuku (Taiga Nakano) isn’t the best husband around, as proven by the fact that it is New Year’s Eve and he is out drinking with his friends while his wife Kotone is pregnant and about to give birth. Deciding to turn over a new leaf, he declares he will go home. But not before a last sip of sake. This sends him over the edge and he tears off his clothes and tears out into the street. This being Oga, it is the time of Namahage – an ancient tradition where men wear costumes and go door-to-door to scare kids. A naked Tasuku crashes this event and it is caught on television. This shameful moment causes a national uproar that causes Kotone to divorce him and Tasuku to flee to Tokyo.

Two years later, Tasuku returns after he discovers that Kotone is now working in a red-light district and raising their daughter alone but the situation is more difficult than he anticipates…

PERLAK – Opening Night Film

Wife of a Spy    Wife of a Spy Film Poster

スパイの妻Supai no tsuma

Release Date: October 16th, 2020

Duration: 115 mins.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Tadashi Nohara (Script),

Starring: Yu Aoi, Masahiro Higashide, Hyunri, Issey Takahashi, Yuri Tsunematsu, Takashi Sasano, Chuck Johnson, Ryota Bando, Minosuke    Wife of a Spy Film Poster 2

Website IMDB

This is the theatrical cut of the NHK drama of the same name which aired on June 06th, 2020. Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and scripted by Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Happy Hour) and Tadashi Nohara, the film is a period piece that reunites the central couple of Romance Doll Yu Aoi (Hana and Alice) and Issey Takahashi (Shin Godzilla). This is the second time that Yu Aoi has worked with Kurosawa, following Penance and it is the second time for Masahiro Higashide following Creepy

To differentiate it from the television version, the movie version will have a new screen size and colour tone. This will be shown at the Venice International Film  Festival.

Synopsis: Japan in the 1940s is very dangerous if you have an opinion that dissents from the wartime rhetoric of the government. As the nation gears up for the Pacific War, a businessman from Kobe named Yusaku (Issey Takahashi) risks everything when he tries to tell the world of a barbaric act he witnessed while on a business trip to Manchuria. For this choice in exercising his right to speak out, he is accused of being a traitor. His wife Satoko (Yu Aoi) swears to stand by her beloved husband whatever the cost. This is her story. The story of Satoko as the wife of a spy. 


New Directors

In the New Directors section of the festival is this Japan-Vietnam production by a familiar name.

Along the Sea    Along the Sea Film Poster

海辺の彼女たちUmibe no Kanojotachi

Release Date: 2021

Duration: 88 mins.

Director: Akio Fujimoto

Writer: Akio Fujimoto (Script),

Starring: Hoang Phuong, Anh Huynh Tuyet, Nhu Quynh

Website IMDB

Akio Fujimoto has, so far, specialised in telling Asian stories that reveal profound connections between Japan and its continental neighbours. He previously travelled to Myanmar to make Passage of Life (2017), a film about a family dealing with the pressures of emigrating to Japan, and Bleached Bones Avenue (2019), which shows the process of recovering Japan’s war dead from the Battle of Imphal. I interviewed him about that film. With this movie, he re-assmebles his team, including cinematographer Kentaro Kishi, and looks at the fate of three Vietnamese women who are in Japan on a technical intern programme but go on the lam.

Synopsis: Phuong, An, and Nhu are Vietnamese women in their early 20s. The three become illegal residents in Japan after escaping from their workplace as technical trainees. An contacts a broker to help them find work. The broker takes them to a fisherman’s ice-covered hut where they can stay in exchange for labour. They are happy because, as well as finding a job, they have also doubled their salary. As they start their work, Phuong suddenly falls, stricken with severe pain. Worried, An and Nhu take Phuong to a hospital, but they are refused admission for not having an ID card. Second feature film by its director.

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