Japanese Films at the Busan International Film Festival 2020 (21st-30th October)

Busan International Film Festival Logo

The full programme for the 2020 edition of the Busan International Film Festival was announced earlier this month as was the format of the festival.

This year’s edition is smaller than previous years where there would typically be multiple screenings of 300 features and shorts. Now there are 192 films from 68 countries and each film will screen only one time.

The reduced format sees all but a handful of physical screenings and events cancelled or moved online. This includes the opening and closing ceremonies, receptions, on-stage greetings, talks and guest meetings. The priority is safety but people can still enjoy films, many of which are available to view online via (Korea only).

So, the fest will take place from October 21st to the 30th and it features a great selection of films from across the world. Titles that I have already reviewed (forgive me for plugging my own writing) are Happy Old Year and Beasts Clawing at Straws. I have not seen any of the Japanese titles, many of which look awesome.

Here’s the line-up:

Closing Film


Josee, the Tiger and the Fish   

Josee The Tiger and the Fish Film Poster

ジョゼと虎と魚たち Josee to Tora to Sakana-tachi

Release Date: December 25th, 2020

Duration: 90 mins.

Director: Kotaro Tamura

Writer: Sayaka Kuwamura (Script), Seiko Tanabe (Original Short Story)

Starring: Kaya Kiyohara (Josee), Taishi Nakagawa (Tsuneo Suzukawa), Chiemi Matsutera (Chizu Yamamura), Kazuyuki Okitsu (Hayato Matsura), Lynn (Kana Kishimoto), Yume Miyamoto (Mai Ninomiya),

Animation Production: BONES

Website ANN MAL

This is an anime adaptation of Seiko Tanabe’s novel of the same name, which was made into a live-action movie by director Isshin Inudo in 2003.

Synopsis: Tsuneo is a university student studying marine biology and working part time. His dream is to see a phantom fish that lives in Mexico. One day, he sees a young woman in a wheelchair plunge down a slope. When he goes to check on her, he discovers she is Josee and she has rarely gone out of the house by herself due to her being unable to walk. She spends most of her days reading and painting and occasionally going out with her grandmother Chizu but her encounter with Tsuneo is the catalyst for her to face the real world. It also helps that Chizu offers Tsuneo a part-time job as a helper.

Gala Presentation


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.

Kurosawa won the Silver Lion – Award for Best Director at the Venice International Film Festival for this film.

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. 


Also in the Cannes 2020 Section is the next film:


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. This was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and San Sebastian 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… 




Minamata Mandala    Minamata Mandala Film Poster

水俣曼荼羅 Minamata Mandara

Release Date: 2021

Duration: 371 mins.

Director: Kazuo Hara

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A

Website IMDB

Kazuo Hara (The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On) follows up his last documentary, Reiwa Uprising (2019) with this look at the people affected by Minamata disease. The origins of this story were turned into a film starring Johnny Depp that was released at Berlinale earlier this year.

Synopsis: In 1932, life for the people of Minamata, Kumamoto Prefecture, would change when a chemical company named Chisso began producing acetaldehyde and dumping methyl mercury in Minamata Bay. By 1956, cases of severe mercury poisoning were occurring amongst people since the locals would eat the sealife in the bay. The prefectural government and Chisso corporation did little to help the community who continue to be affected by the pollution in the bay and the people left with neurological problems stemming from Minamata Disease. Documentarian Kazuo Hara shows the lingering pain by following some of the people affected including an old man in his 90s who has battled in court for more than 20 years, a medical school professor striving to identify the cause of the disease, and a fisherman providing disease samples for medical examinations.


World Cinema


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

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

This one was at Berlinale earlier this year where it was the winner of the Award for Best Film in the Encounters Competition.

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.

A Window on Asian Cinema

All the Things We Never Said    All the Things We Never Said Film Poster

生きちゃった Ikichatta

Release Date: October 03rd, 2020

Duration: 91 mins.

Director: Yuya Ishii

Writer: Yuya Ishii (Script), 

Starring: Taiga Nakano, Yuko Oshima, Ryuya Wakaba, Park Jung-bum, Yuuno Ota, Miyu Yagyu, TOBI,

Website IMDB

According to this review in the Japan Times director Yuya Ishii – The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue (2017), The Great Passage (2013), Mitsuko Delivers (2011), Sawako Decides (2010) – was part of a project created by the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society and China’s Heaven Pictures, which “tapped six Asian directors to make “Back to Basics” features on a meagre budget of about ¥15 million each. Taking advantage of some unexpected downtime after a scheduled shoot in South Korea was postponed, Ishii wrote a script in three days and started shooting a couple of months later.”

Synopsis: Atsuhisa, Natsumi, and Takeda have been close friends since high school. Atsuhisa and Natsumi married and have a daughter who is five years old when we enter their lives. Atsuhisa (Taiga Nakano) returns home, one day, to find that Natsumi (Yuko Oshima) is sleeping with another man. Their marriage begins to collapses and Takeda (Ryuya Wakaba) finds himself caught in the middle…

Living in Your Sky    Living in Your Sky Film Poster

空に住む Sora ni Sumu

Release Date: October 23rd, 2020

Duration: 118 mins.

Director: Shinji Aoyama

Writer: Shinji Aoyama, Chihiro Ikeda (Script), Masato Odake (Original Novel)

Starring: Mikako Tabe, Yukino Kishii, Rie Mimura, Takanori Iwata, Shingo Tsurumi, Nao Ohmori, Masatoshi Nagase, Shingo Tsurumi, Yo Takahashi, Akira Emoto, Hisafumi Iwashita,

Website IMDB

Shinji Aoyama made the film Eureka which is regarded by many as a brilliant title. I have the Artificial Eye DVD release but have yet to unwrap it. Anyway, this new film looks a lot lighter than Eureka with some Exile Tribe members in the cast.

Synopsis: Following the death of her parents, Naomi Kobayakawa (Mikako Tabe) moves into a high-rise apartment building in the city at the behest of her uncle and his wife. She tries to continue with her life, working at a small publishing company and meeting people who care for her, but she lives her life with a sense of loss and loneliness. Then she meets a popular actor who lives in the same apartment building and they develop a romantic relationship which may help her settle down again.

Ora, Ora Be Goin’ Alone    Ora Ora Be Goin' Alone Film Poster

おらおらでひとりいぐも Ora Ora de Hitori Igumo

Release Date: November 06th, 2020

Duration: 137 mins.

Director: Shuichi Okita

Writer: Shuichi Okita (Script), Chisako Wakatake (Original Novel)

Starring: Yuko Tanaka, Yu Aoi, Masahiro Higashide, Gaku Hamada, Amane Okayama, Machiko Washio, Kankuro Kudo, Munetaka Aoki, Tomoko Tabata,

Website IMDB

Shuichi Okita, director of A Story of Yonosuke (2013), The Woodsman and the Rain  (2012), gathers together a great cast to bring to life a story that looks a little like a tear-jerker.

Synopsis: Momoko (Yuko Tanaka) is seventy-five-years old and lives alone in Tokyo. It wasn’t always like this. In 1964, Momoko (Yu Aoi) arrived in Tokyo and met a handsome man named Shuzo (Masahiro Higashide) who she married. An increase in their family soon followed as she gave birth to two children but then her husband dies and Momoko is left bereft in life. Then, she begins to go to a library and finds solace and companionship in the books on offer. These books become the voices in her heart (played by various actors) and they help her change her life. 


Soiree    Soiree Film Poster


Release Date: August 28th, 2020

Duration: 111 mins.

Director: Bunji Satoyama

Writer: Bunji Satoyama (Script), 

Starring: Nijiro Murakami, Haruka Imou, Takashi Okabe, Noriko Eguchi, Kanami Tagawa,


This sounds like it could be a powerful drama that looks at the suffering of the younger generation in a society that crushes people’s spirits. It stars two young talents who are making waves, Nijiro Murakami (The Gun, Destruction Babies) and Haruka Imou (Sayounara).

Synopsis: Shota Iwamatsu (Nijiro Murakami) is a young man who left Wakayama to go to Tokyo to become an actor but he is struggling and forced to make ends meet with his acting skills as part of scams. He is in a theatre troupe but his time there is pretty tough due to a merciless director. When that troupe heads to Wakayama to conduct an acting workshop at a nursing home for the elderly, Shota meets a young woman who works there named Takara Yamashita (Haruka Imou) who is suffering abuse at the hands of a man. The two encounter him on their way to a summer festival and an incident happens…


Your Eyes Tell    Your Eyes Tell Film Poster

きみの瞳(め)が問いかけている Kimi no Me ga Toikakete Iru

Release Date: October 23rd, 2020

Duration: 123 mins.

Director: Takahiro Miki

Writer: Yuichi Toyone (Script), Chisako Wakatake (Original Novel)

Starring: Yuriko Yoshitaka, Ryusei Yokohama, Kyosuke Yabe, Kanna Moriya, Akane Sakanoue, Yoshinori Okada, Jun Fubuki,

Website IMDB

Takahiro Miki is known for doing all those glossy movie adaptation of manga (We Were There, Blue Spring Ride etc.). For this project, he adapts the Korean movie Always, which was the opening film of the 16th Busan International Film Festival. He gets good actress Yuriko Yoshitaka (Noriko’s Dinner Table) in a lead role and BTS to do the movie’s song “Your Eyes Tell”.

Synopsis: Akari (Yuriko Yoshitaka) lost her eyesight and family in a car accident. Despite this, she tries to live her life as cheerfully as she can. Her brightness warms the life of Rui (Ryusei Yokohama), a loner who used to be a kickboxer. They soon develop feelings for each other and it looks like love is on the horizon but an incident from his past connects him to her and when Rui discovers it (he could just watch the trailer), he decides to take part in an underground fight to pay for Akari’s eye surgery.


New Currents


A Balance      A Balance Film Poster

由宇子の天秤 Yuuko no Tenbin

Release Date: November 06th, 2020

Duration: 137 mins.

Director: Yujiro Harumoto

Writer: Yujiro Harumoto (Script), 

Starring: Kumi Takiuchi, Yumi Kawai, Masahiro Umeda, Yuuya Matsuura, Misa Wada, Ryo Ikeda, Hiroki Kono, Yota Kawase, Ken Mitsuishi,

Yujiro Harumoto made waves with his feature debut Going the Distance. He has a great cast of actors for his latest, a social drama as seen through the eyes of a documentarian played by an actreess who is really coming into her own in recent years, Kumi Takiuchi (Greatful Dead, Kamata Prelude, It Feels So Good). 

Synopsis: Yuko returns to her hometown as a documentary filmmaker determined to examine an instance of school violence that resulted in suicides three years ago while she was teaching classes at her father’s cram school. Yuko discovers a hidden truth that makes her become deeply involved in the lives of the families of the stuents and also causes a shock that upends her own life. 

Open Cinema


The Asadas!    The Asadas! Film Poster

浅田家! Asadake!

Release Date: October 02nd, 2020

Duration: 127 mins.

Director: Ryota Nakano

Writer: Ryota Nakano, Tomoe Kanno (Script),

Starring: Kazunari Ninomiya, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Haru Kuroki, Masaki Suda, Jun Fubuki, Makiko Watanabe, Maho Nonami,

Website IMDB

Ryota Nakano is famous for his films Capturing Dad and Her Love Boils Bathwater. Both are dramas and both have netted him awards, the former Best Director and SKIP CITY AWARD at the 9th Skip City International D-Cinema Festival, and the latter many prizes, including an award for Best Actress for Rie Miyazawa at the 40th Japan Academy Prize. This one has star wattage that could power a city with ex-Arashi member Kazunari Ninomiya, actors union-starter Satoshi Tsumabuki (Judge!, Villain), Makiko Watanabe (Love Exposure), Masaki Suda (The Light Shines Only There), and Haru Kuroki (The Bride of Rip van Winkle).

Synopsis: Masashi Asada (Kazunari Ninomiya) is an aspiring photographer who has an older brother Yukihiro (Satoshi Tsumabuki) and parents. He enters a photography vocational school and chooses to reproduce scenes of memories of his family and wins an award. After graduating, he works in pachislot but decides he wants to return to photographing his family again and starts a professional career. Then, one day, the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami strikes…


Wide Angle – Shorts and Documentary Competition


Mishima: The Last Debate    Mishima The Last Debate Film Poster

三島由紀夫vs東大全共闘 50年目の真実  Mishima Yukio vs Tôdai zenkyôtô: 50 nenme no shinjitsu

Release Date: March 20th, 2020

Duration: 108 mins.

Directors: Keisuke Toyoshima

Writers: N/A

Starring: Yukio Mishima, Osamu Kimura, Masahiko Akuta, Masahiro Higashide (Narrator)

Website IMDB

Synopsis from JFDB because it was so good: During the time of mass movement rising in late 60’s all over the world, an internationally acclaimed author, poet, playwright, actor, film director and critic Yukio Mishima, took part in a heated discussion with 1,000 members of the student movement at the University of Tokyo in 1969, just a year before Mishima’s ritual suicide. The original master footage of his last debate with students has been found after 50 years from the filming.

Though they have different opinions to each other, Mishima addressed to and influenced the young audience with respect. Through the restored 4K footage and interviews of the people involved in the discussion, the people who knew Mishima at that time, journalists and authors of our times, the film pursues timeless thoughts of Mishima which appeals to the people even today.

Past coverage:

BIFF 2019

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