Chicago Japan Film Collective is the first Japanese film festival in Midwest. From May 25 to the 31, they will stream nine films, a mixture of dramas and documentaries, many of them highly acclaimed by critics and audiences alike – you can read some of my reviews and interviews with two of the directors via links below!!! – that give you a good insight into what contemporary indie films in Japan look like.
An early-bird ticket is available and costs only $13 until the 15th. I cannot emphasise how much value for money this is considering you get nine high-quality films. Tickets are handled by Eventive and it looks easy to register with. I’m assuming that this is region-locked and probably only available in America.
What plays at the festival?
眉村ちあきのすべて（仮） 「Mayumura Chiaki no subete (kari)」
Release Date: July 17th, 2020
Duration: 75 mins.
Director: Hajime Matsuura
Writer: Hajime Matsuura (Script),
Starring: Chiaki Mayumura, Eri Tokunaga, Makoto Shinada, Getto, Sara Ogawa, Ikuo Minewaki,
Synopsis: Chiaki Mayumura is an actual idol who makes her own music and creates her own image and runs her own business. She has made a semi-autobiographical film with different styles and elements melded together. It won the Audience Award, Jury Special Award, Best Musician Award, and Actress Award at MOOSIC LAB 2019.
ナオト、いまもひとりっきり 「Naoto, Ima mo Hitorikkiri 」
Release Date: N/A
Running Time: 95 mins.
Director: Mayu Nakamura
Starring: Naoto Matsumura, Daisuke Matsumura, Shinichi Hangai, Toshiko Hangai,
Synopsis: This is a sequel to the 2015 documentary Alone in Fukushima which was about a man named Naoto Matsumura who, in the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, stayed behind to care for abandoned animals in his deserted town which lies in the no man’s land area surrounding the Fukushima nuclear reactors. This film shows “Matsumura’s efforts to resist the pressures forcing him to leave his hometown and the nuclear power plant that he helped build.”
Release Date: December 11th, 2020
Duration: 80 mins.
Director: Kaizo Hayashi
Writer: Kaizo Hayashi (Script),
Starring: Masatoshi Nagase, Shiro Sano, Hirohito Goto, Kazuhiko Kanayama, Kaito Yoshimura, Masami Horiuchi, Shima Ohnishi, Sarara Tsukifune,
An omnibus film where Masatoshi Nagase takes the lead role in each story.
Following an earthquake, a bolt in a nuclear power plant comes loose and radioactive cooling water begins to leak from a pipe. A group of men volunteer to stop the leak by tightening the bolt.
Two men go to a house in an area 20 kilometres away from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. It is in an area designated as evacuation zone, but an elderly person refused to leave and so when that person dies, these two men are assigned to clear out their belongings.
A woman who has abandoned her family on Christmas night travels to a factory where a man is creating something.
素敵なダイナマイトスキャンダル 「Suteki na Dainamaito Sukyandaru」
Running Time: 138 mins.
Release Date: March 17th, 2018
Director: Masanori Tominaga
Writer: Masanori Tominaga (Screenplay), Akira Suei (Autobiographical Essay)
Starring: Tasuku Emoto, Atsuko Maeda, Toko Miura, Machiko Ono, Kazunobu Mineta, Yutaka Matsushige, Jun Kunimura, Motoki Ochiai,
Here’s my review!
Synopsis: The autobiographical film of magazine editor and essayist Akira Suei, it documents his strange upbringing in which his mother and her younger lover killed themselves with dynamite in a forest, his work at a factory during the day and studying design at night school, and his battles against censorship as an erotic magazine editor.
もみの家 「Momi no Ie」
Release Date: March 20th, 2020
Duration: 105 mins.
Directors: Yoshihiro Sakamoto
Writers: Ayako Kitagawa (Script),
Starring: Sara Minami, Naoto Ogata, Misato Tanaka, Aoi Nakamura, Makiko Watanabe, Satoshi Nikaido, Seina Nakata, Miho Kanazawa,
Synopsis: Ayaka (Sara Minami) is a 16-year-old girl who has trouble at school. Things get so bad that she refuses to go. Her mother decides to send her to Momi’s House, a free school that teaches kids how to be self-reliant. The place is run by Yasutoshi (Naoto Ogata) and his wife Megumi (Misato Tanaka) and it is while staying there that Ayaka begins to change.
漫画誕生 「Manga Tanjo」
Release Date: November 30th, 2019
Duration: 118 mins.
Director: Moe Oki
Writer: Moe Oki, Kousuke Wakaki (Script) Taro Arai (Original Work)
Starring: Issey Ogata, Tomoe Shinohara, Takuo Inari, Mika Akizuki, Gouichi Mine, Sakura Enomoto, Manaka Kinoshita,
Synopsis: Rakuten Kitazawa (Issey Ogata) is considered the first professional manga artist of the modern era. He won great acclaim for his comic strips which ran in magazines and newspapers like ‘Tokyo Puck’ from the late Meiji period through the early Showa period. This film dramatises his career.
プリズン・サークル 「Pursizun Sa-kuru」
Release Date: January 25th, 2020
Duration: 136 mins.
Director: Kaori Sakagami
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.
Release Date: October 24th, 2020
Duration: 88 mins.
Director: Daisuke Miyazaki
Writer: Daisuke Miyazaki, Naoto Akiyama (Script),
Starring: Tomona Hirota, Shugo Oshinari, Sumire Ashina, Masahiro Umeda, Sahel Rosa,
This is the latest film from Daisuke Miyazaki, director of Yamato (California) (2016) and Tourism (2018). VIDEOPHOBIA is Miyazaki’s darkest work yet as I detailed in my review, as it shows the shadowy side of technology as revealed through online pornography which he went into more with his interview.
Synopsis: Ai (Tomona Hirota) is a perpetually exhausted young woman living in Osaka. Having bottomed out after an attempt at living in Tokyo, her life seems to be dominated by her nocturnal habits of smoking, browsing the net and venturing to pornographic websites. She is online but disconnected from reality. Her daily is wrecked when she meets a guy, goes back to his apartment, sleeps with him and finds a sex tape of her midnight tryst on the internet the very next day. This plunges the girl into a pool of paranoia and, with every action she takes to rectify the situation and remove the video, she is dragged deeper into a feeling of terror. Events become uncontrollable, technology more intrusive and Ai loses control of her image which exists online.
燕Yan 「Tsubame Yan」
Release Date: June 05th, 2020
Duration: 86 mins.
Director: Keisuke Imamura
Writer: Noriko Washizu (Script),
Starring: Long Mizuma, Takashi Yamanaka, Yo Hitoto, Ryushin Tei, Mitsuru Hirata, Yoji Tanaka, Satomi Nagano,
Keisuke Imamura is a cinematographer but he made his feature-length directorial debut with Yan which I saw at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020 where I reviewed it and interviewed him. It’s a beautiful film about rediscovering family history and intercultural relations.
Synopsis: 28-year-old Tsubame Hayakawa (Long Mizuma) has seemingly achieved everything. He has his dream job at an architectural firm, a girlfriend and lives comfortably in Tokyo. Yet on the inside, he has a history of self-doubt, which is revealed when he is asked by his father to hand-deliver a document to his older brother Ryushin (Takashi Yamanaka) in Taiwan. Tsubame is reluctant. It has been 23 years since they last saw each other after their mother, Toshie (Hitoto Yo) disappeared with Ryushin one night and left Tsubame behind. He has never forgiven them for leaving him but his father’s request is a final and so Tsubame reluctantly accepts this task and heads to Taiwan to search for Ryushin.