Hawaii International Film Festival 2021’s J-Fest Film Program (May 13 -23)

Hawaii International Film Festival’s will launch their first ever J-Fest Film Program. This is a 10-day event that will feature 7-8 new Japanese films and Q&As with the films’ directors as well as a special live panel discussion about the evolution of Japanese music using the films as inspiration. Check each of the film’s pages via the festival site to see who gets a Q&A and how to book tickets.

These are all online screenings. Individual tickets cost $8 and a season pass costs $45. This festival is only available to stream in the US and some films are restricted to certain states.

What are the films that have been programmed?

Hotel Royal   Hotel Royal Film Poster

ホテルローヤル Hoteru Ro-yaru

Release Date: November 13th, 2020

Duration: 104 mins.

Director: Masaharu Take

Writer: Yukako Shimizu (Script), Shino Sakuragi (Original Novel)

Starring: Haru, Kenichi Matsuyama, Ken Yasuda, Kimiko Yo, Fukiko Hara, Yui Natsukawa, Sairi Itoh, Amane Okayama, Chika Uchida, Ami Tomite,


Shino Sakuragi’s collection of short stores gets adapted into a film by director Masaharu Take (100 Yen LoveThe Gun). A great set of actors like Yui Natsukawa (Still Walking), Ken Yasuda (The Actor), Sairi Itoh (Love and Other Cults) and Amane Okayama (Poetry Angel).

Synopsis: Hotel Royal is a small family-run love hotel located in Kushiro Marsh, Hokkaido. Masayo Tanaka (Haru) is the only child of the family and has failed to enter an art school so she has now returned home and works at the hotel. She does not show her emotions to anyone but carries a faint love for Miyagawa, a salesperson of an adult goods company. The film follows her and a collection of guests and staff as Masayo’s family deals with various incidents just as her father falls ill. 

The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese   The Cornered Mouse Dreams of Cheese Film Poster

窮鼠はチーズの夢を見るKyuso wa Chizu no Yume wo Miru

Release Date: September 11th, 2020

Duration: 130 mins.

Director: Isao Yukisada

Writer: Anne Horiizumi (Script), Setona Mizushiro (Original BL Manga)

Starring: Tadayoshi Okura, Ryo Narita, Shiori Yoshida, Honami Sato, Miyu Sakihi, Noriko Kijima.

Website IMDB

As of late, the Isao Yukisada films I have seen indicate that he really enjoys getting under the skin of people with broken personalities through lengthy relationship dramas with a touch of mystery to them. The stories withhold everything until a final twist at the end. It’s seen in Aroused by Gymnopedies (2016), Pink and Gray (2015), and Parade (2009). My own favourites are from earlier in his career with Go (2001) and the lost romance Crying Out Love in the Center of the World (2004). His latest film seems as straightforward as it can get.

Synopsis: Kyoichi (Tadayoshi Okura) works at an advertising company and has a beautiful wife but due to his indecisive personality he has affairs with other women. Suspecting this, his wife hire a private detective. This detective is Wataru (Ryo Narita) and it turns out that the two went to the same university together and Wataru even fell in love with Kyoichi. Wataru senses this is his chance to make something happen and tells Kyoichi that he will cover up his infidelities if the two can have a sexual relationship. Kyoichi resists at first, but…


Aristocrats    Aristocrats Film Poster   

あのこは貴族 Ano ko wa Kizoku

Release Date: February 26th, 2021

Duration: 124 mins.

Director: Yukiko Sode

Writer: Yukiko Sode (Script), Mariko Yamauchi (Original Novel)

Starring: Mugi Kadowaki, Kiko Mizuhara, Kengo Kora, Shizuka Ishibashi, Rio Yamashita, Yukiko Shinohara, Kei Ishibashi,

Website IMDB

Based on Mariko Yamauchi’s novel of the same name, it follows two women with different lives who live in Tokyo.

Synopsis: Hanako Haibara (Mugi Kadowaki) is in her late twenties and is from a well-to-do background (perhaps cloistered) in Tokyo and is looking for a man to marry. After getting dumped by her boyfriend Koichiro (Kengo Kora), she hits the dating scene but she questions her path in life. Meanwhile, Miki Tokioka (Kiko Mizuhara) is from a less affluent background having come from Toyama prefecture but studied and worked hard to get to into a prestigious university and, after tough times where she questioned the meaning of everything, she now works at an IT company but is also uncertain about life. These two different women are brought together by Koichiro.


Around the Table  Around the Table Film Poster

青葉家のテーブル Aobake no Te-buru

Release Date: June 18th, 2021

Duration: 104 mins.

Director: Soushi Matsumoto

Writer: Soushi Matsumoto, Yasumi Endo (Screenplay),

Starring: Naomi Nishida, Miwako Ichikawa, Aino Kuribayashi, ShuRaiju Kamata, Haruka Kubo, Miku Uehara,


Synopsis: Haruko (Naomi Nishida) is lives with her son Riku (Uta Yorikawa), her friend Aiko (Haruka Kubo) and Aiko’s boyfriend Sorao (Shugo Oshinari). This is their “family” and their days are filled with food, music, and art. One day, Haruko’s old friend Tomoko (Miwako Ichikawa), a social media star, gets in touch and asks Haruko to let her daughter, 17-year-old Yuko (Aino Kuribayashi), stay during her summer art school program. Their relationship isn’t on the best of terms but Haruko agrees and so begins a summer of self discovery for all involved… 

Ito   Itomichi Film Poster

いとみち Itomichi

Release Date: June 25th, 2021

Duration: 92 mins.

Director: Satoko Yokohama

Writer: Satoko Yokohama (Script), Osamu Koshigaya (Original Novel)

Starring: Ren Komai, Etsushi Toyokawa, Mei Kurokawa, Yoko Nishikawa, Mayuu Yokota, Ayumu Nakajima, Daimaou Kosaka, Shohei Uno,


Winner of the Grand Prix and Audience Award at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021, Ito is the first solo feature film from director Satoko Yokohama since her 2015 drama The ActorHer cinematic return is set in Aomori Prefecture, the birthplace of Yokohama and also of the film’s lead actress Ren Komai.

I saw this as part of the Osaka Asian Film Festival earlier this year. I found it a charming film. You can read my review here and my interview with the director, Satoko Yokohama, here.

Q&A available at the festival.

Synopsis: High schooler Ito Soma (Ren Komai) is gangly girl who hails from Itayanagi, a small town outside Hirosaki city. She has a timid nature and a thick Tsugaru accent which makes her sound a bit like a hick. However, far from being a hayseed, Ito is very knowledgeable about her local culture and dialect and she can also play the shamisen, a three-stringed instrument that is particularly popular in Aomori. This skill is something she picked up from her grandmother (Yoko Nishikawa) and a massive part of the few memories she holds of her late mother, a talented shamisen player in her own right. Alas, Ito refuses to practice and stays silent due to her embarrassment over her country roots and also her melancholy over never having known her mother. However, it is through fully embracing these factors that Ito can eventually unlock her ability to express herself. What puts the girl on the path of self-acceptance and self-expression is an unlikely job at a maid café in Hirosaki City. 


Jazz Kissa Basie: Swifty’s Ballad   Jazz Kissa Basie Swifty's Ballad Film Poster

ジャズ喫茶ベイシー Swiftyの譚詩(BalladJazu Kissa Beishi-: Swifty no Ballad

Release Date: September 18th, 2020

Duration: 104 mins.

Director: Tetsuya Hoshino

Writer: N/A

Starring: Shoji Sugawara, Sadao Watanabe, Hozumi Nakadaira, Seiji Ozawa, Kyoka Suzuki,


Synopsis: This documentary looks at the history of a jazz cafe called Basie (after Count Basie) and gives us five decades of jazz history in Japan. The manager of the cafe is Shoji Sugawara, who goes by the name of Swifty, and he and other interviewees talk about the things they have seen including student protests and performances. The documentary contains footage of live performances at the cafe. Here’s an article from Asahi Shimbun with a great write-up explaining more.


Tengaramon    Tengaramon Film Poster  

天外者(てんがらもん) Tengaramon

Release Date: December 11th, 2020

Duration: 109 mins.

Director: Mitsutoshi Tanaka

Writer: Eriko Komatsu (Script), Takehiko Hata (Original Novel)

Starring: Haruma Miura, Shohei Miura, Aoi Morikawa, Mariko Tsutsui, Takanori Nishikawa, Misako Renbutsu,

Website  IMDB

One of the final films of Haruma Miura who tragically passed away last year.

Synopsis: Spanning the years from the Bakumatsu to the early Meiji Period, ‘Tengaramon’ depicts the life of ‘Godai Tomoatsu’ (Miura). Born in the Satsuma domain at a time when Samurai were still a going concern, the arrival of Commodore Perry awakened the awareness that the world was going to change in the young man. Determined to seize the moment and help his nation, he struggled to learn the way of the outside world and began to work as Meiji government officer before becoming a businessman. A real-life figure, he laid the foundation for Osaka to become a modern commercial city. 

Wife of a Spy Film Poster

Wife of a Spy   

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),

Wife of a Spy Film Poster 2

Starring: Yu Aoi, Masahiro Higashide, Hyunri, Issey Takahashi, Yuri Tsunematsu, Takashi Sasano, Chuck Johnson, Ryota Bando, Minosuke

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 has 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.

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