Welcome to the last post of 2020 and the first Japanese films of 2021.
After the plague year of 2020, I’m sure we’re all eager to start afresh. I know I am. We can look at this year and see what needs to be improved and it may come down to having a greater regard for the people we live with and our wider society/environment and to be more active in fighting hate and suffering. Treat other people, creatures, and our world with respect and try to display empathy. We need to work together to solve problems.
I need to change my life and I’m sure there are many others out there who feel the same. I hope we can all do it in 2021 and make the world a better place to live in.
Wow, I had no idea that 2020 would turn out like this when I wrote last year’s end post. We’re a few days away from the end of what has been a plague year. I almost got caught out at the start when I was in Japan and the borders were going to be closed, back at the end of March, but I escaped with the help of some friends. Since then, I have been in work on reduced duties or at home waiting to be called in for odd jobs. When not working, I was doing shopping with my mother and checking in on my grandmother.
During this time of waiting, I watched a lot of films, some as part of the Osaka Asian Film Festival, Nippon Connection, Japan Cuts and the New York Asian Film Festival, a lot just for pleasure. I took part in a physical film festival in Japan and I helped organise and execute an online film festival twice and during all of this I wrote a lot of reviews. Probably more reviews than in previous years. On top of it all, I also helped start a podcast about Asian films called Heroic Purgatory where I discuss films with fellow writer John Atom (the Christmas special is already out and the second season coming in 2021!).
When I was able to go to the cinema I watched a wide variety of things. In the UK, the last film I watched was Parasite with my mother. In Japan, I went to numerous screenings at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and an animation festival at the Yujiku Asagaya (just before Tokyo’s lockdown). At home with a lot of time on my hands I got into the cinema of Mario Bava and re-watched lots of Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento movies. I waded through hours of 70s and 80s horror movies from America and I went back to some tried and trusted Japanese classics. Most of all, I tried to get more Japanese indie films out there and so I think this is reflected in my list of top films from 2020.
The landscape of Japan is caught in all of its resplendent beauty during the four seasons in The Tale of Iya, a drama shot in a remote valley in Shikoku about life in the countryside. While a sense of nostalgia is movingly evoked over the course of the narrative it also remains clear-eyed about how tough such an environment can be and where its future may lie.
Our first view of this environment comes in a fairy tale-like opening in the middle of a blizzard one winter. A man (Min Tanaka) in traditional clothes that look like something out of a jidaigeki is hunting in the snowy forests around the valley of Tokushima Prefecture’s Iya valley. He adheres to the old ways and avoids the modern world but that intrudes into his life when he stumbles upon a crashed car and discovers a dead woman on the bonnet and, in what could only be described as a miracle, a baby girl lying unharmed on the frozen sparkling surface of a lake. The man takes her in and gives her the name Haruna. For the next 15 years, they live in harmony with nature in the mountains in a cottage without electricity or running water, surrounded by vegetable plots and verdant forests.
I hope you are all well and full of festive cheer.
I’ve had the good fortune to have been given lots of Japan and writing-related gifts from my mother and sister with a collection of books about Japanese cinema (like the phenomenal first edition of Tom Mes’s Agitator. The Cinema of Takashi Miike), a bonsai tree and more. During this week I posted reviews of Hold Your Breath Like a Lover, GFP Bunny and also a news article about the Himeji Cinema Club’s annual festival Animation Runs! which I’ve updated with videos that will last until the end of this week.
This has been a film that has haunted me ever since I first saw the trailer back in 2014 and it was one of the films I was hoping to find in 2020. Well, I did. I ended up viewing it a couple of times. My initial impressions from the trailer was that this felt like it had “shades ofPulse(2001)” and an “apocalypse angle” but it turned out to be something else entirely, a subtle, gorgeous and melancholy take on the anxiety felt on the path of adulthood and a gradual maturation of its characters. It’s story is simple, perfect for allowing the powerful atmospherics to wash over me and pull me along.
Not for the faint of heart, GFP Bunny is the third film directed by media activist Yutaka Tsuchiya. Following on from his debut The New God (1999) and sophomore feature Peep “TV” Show (2003), GFP Bunny is a continuation of his exploration of alienated youth using media to shape their personalities. It finds its troubling story in a real-life criminal case from 2005 where a 16-year-old girl poisoned her mother with thallium and documented the act online.
Crowned winner of the Best Picture Award in the Japanese Eyes section of the 2012 Tokyo International Film Festival, GFP Bunny is challenging viewing in both story and style. It opens confrontationally with the stomach-churning sight of a frog being dissected before deluging audiences with scientific research, scenes of bullying and near-murder and a girl’s search for identity but, instead of a straight retelling of the case via a lurid drama or factual documentary, director Yutaka Tsuchiya opts for a metafiction that is delivered through a docu-drama format which he uses to address ideas of “Surveillance in a Marketing-orientated Society”, “Characterisation of Identity” and “Biotechnology” (Source).
Animation Runs! is an annual event hosted by Himeji Cinema Club where people can enjoy a variety of short films created by indie animators. Due to Covid-19, the event will be going online via a YouTube channel which will host 19 films across four programmes, all of which are listed on the official website.
The films announced are a mixture of narrative and non-narrative with music videos thrown in, all done in a variety of styles like 2D anime (闘え!!ハクマイダーフォー), beautiful illustrations (MELVAS), abstract images (LFL) and stop motion (City Has a Hill/Case of ONOMICHI) and even an animation using LINE stamps and the memo function of the iPhone (memo anime). Furthermore, there will be a short talk given by each of the directors following the screening of each film.
You can get a taste of the films with City Has a Hill/Case of ONOMICHI with the embedded video below.
At the time of writing, the YouTube videos have not been released but what has been confirmed is that the films are all available to view for free on the channel and people from around the world can watch them from December 25 – 28:
25(Fri) 18:00 in JP/9:00, 25th in UK
28(Mon) 6:00 in JP/21:00, 28th in UK
To find out more, please visit the site and follow the Twitter account to get more information such as info on the animators and the screening links.
I hope you are all well and getting hyped for Christmas.
Since I last did a trailer post I recorded the Christmas episode of the Heroic Purgatory podcast where I spoke with John Atom about films we associate with Christmas. As with previous years, I will have a film review lined up for the big day which is a week away. I have been watching lots of short films and a handful of features and I posted review for An Actor’s Revenge (1963) and Matango (1963).
This is the first of a two-part trailer post asking a very important question… What is released in Japan this weekend?
While Ishiro Honda may be better known as the man who directed Godzilla and numerous other kaiju eiga, he has an extensive filmography that covers different genres. Quite interestingly, he even worked as second unit director on Akira Kurosawa’s later films like Madadayo (1993), Rhapsody in August (1991), Dreams (1990), and Ran (1985). This is a rather long-winded wind up to say that Honda’s a bit of a filmic renaissance man who jumps around genres and roles but the first film of his that I will review on my blog is not anything obvious but Matango (1963), a merciless horror flick that takes a slow-burn approach to its telling.