The 21st Nippon Connection will take place from June 01st to the 06th and there is a roster of 80 films that will be screened online. On top of that, there will be talk sessions with directors and over 40 interactive workshops, talks, performances, and concerts.
The complete program as well as tickets for all films and events were made available on May 22md on the website NipponConnection.com and the films can be accessed from June 1st on Watch.NipponConnection.com – whether a film can be streamed in your region or not can be discovered via here. One film costs 6€ / £5 and can be viewed within 24 hours of it being started. Some titles will be region-locked while others are available to stream worldwide.
This post covers NIPPON VISIONS. Click on the titles to be taken to the corresponding Nippon Connection page which has details on dates and times.
This section is a space for new talents and experiments with indie films and genre cinema getting represented through shorts. The subjects vary but all of the films have individuality and something that will intrigue and entertain audiences. If you want something that really pushes the envelope, this is where it’s at!
アイヌモシリ 「Ainu Mosir」
Release Date: October 17th, 2020
Duration: 131 mins.
Director: Takeshi Fukunaga
Writer: Takeshi Fukunaga (Script), Kaoru Takada (Original Novel)
Starring: Kanto Shimokura, Debo Akibe, Emi Shimokura, Toko Miura, Lily Franky, Masao Nishida,
Synopsis: Kanto (Kanto Shimokura) is a 14-year-old boy who lives in an Ainu village where the main source of income lies in preserving and performing their ancient traditions for visiting tourists. The local teenagers are rebelling against participating in cultural rituals, but, for the sensitive Kanto, they become important following the loss of his father. Kanto is taken under the wing of a family friend, Debo (Debo Akibe), who introduces him to their culture’s traditions, something which offers the boy a way to strengthen his sense of self. It comes at an important point as the village debates its future and Kanto has to decide for himself what his very own future will be.
海辺の彼女たち「Umibe no Kanojotachi」
Release Date: May 01st, 2021
Duration: 88 mins.
Director: Akio Fujimoto
Writer: Akio Fujimoto (Script),
Starring: Hoang Phuong, Anh Huynh Tuyet, Nhu Quynh
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 jungles of Myanmar. I interviewed him about that film. With this movie, he re-assembles his team, including cinematographer Kentaro Kishi, and looks at the fate of three Vietnamese women who are in Japan on a technical internship programme but go on the lam.
You can read my review of this film here.
Synopsis: Phuong, An, and Nhu are Vietnamese women in their early 20s. The three become illegal residents in Japan after escaping from their workplace which has exploited them for the last three months. An has been in contact with a broker who helps them find work and a place to stay in Hokkaido in the far north. They can afford to be a little happier there because, as well as finding a job, they have a little more freedom but almost as soon as they start their work, Phuong suddenly falls ill, stricken with severe stomach pain. Worried, An and Nhu take Phuong to a hospital, but they are refused admission for not having an ID card. This is the start of their problems.
ある職場 「Aru shokuba」
Release Date: October 16th, 2020
Duration: 135 mins.
Director: Atsushi Funahashi
Writer: Atsushi Funahashi (Screenplay)
Starring: Saki Hirai, Megumi Ito, Takafumi Yamanaka, Mikoto Yoshikawa, Azusa Nakazawa, Yoshio Taguchi,
Atsushi Funahashi, an Osaka-born director who studied filmmaking in Tokyo and New York, has made documentaries and dramas like Cold Bloom which are based on 3/11 as well as road movies set in the US, recently made Lovers on Borders, which was the first international co-production between Japan and Portugal.
Described as a docu-fiction, the story looks at the effects of sexual harassment on everyone, from victim and perpetrator to the people around them. It comes from an actual incident where a hotel receptionist was harassed by her boss. Director Funahashi tried to make a documentary but none involved wanted to go in front of the camera. Thus, he made this film based on real events.
Synopsis from the website: In 2018, Saki, a receptionist at a high-profile hotel chain was harassed by her superior. This speculative film is based on actual events and imagines how Saki and her coworkers may have aired out their frustration and resentment off the clock. Desperate for a break from the social media backlash, they travel to an idyllic company retreat by the sea. But the group dynamics quickly devolve into mistrust and animosity, compromising any camaraderie they may have had. The retreat is a place that beckons them back, drawing out their darkest feelings, like an old haunted house.
Ranked 121st in the world for gender equality, Japan is behind on the #MeToo movement; workplace sexual harassment is still rampant in all echelons of society. A recent Japanese government survey found that the majority of labor disputes involved either sexual or power harassment, with 82,797 cases reported in a single year. Yet 45% of victims kept silent and chose not to take any action.
ドロステのはてで僕ら「Droste no hate de bokura」
Release Date: June 06th, 2020
Duration: 70 mins.
Director: Junta Yamaguchi
Writer: Makoto Ueda (Script/Original Story)
Starring: Kazunari Tosa, Aki Asakura, Riko Fujitani, Gota Ishida, Masashi Suwa,
I have not seen this film but I am hearing very good things from people who have as it is a funny comedy done in the one-take style – think potential hit like One Cut of the Dead.
Synopsis: The film is a time manipulation comedy set in a multi-tenant building where a café owner named Kato discovers that his PC monitor shows what will happen two minutes in the future. A TV downstairs in his café shows the past of two minutes ago. His friends decide to place these screens opposite each other, which creates a loop to see into the future…
Release Date: September 18th, 2020
Duration: 105 mins.
Director: Hajime Tsuda
Writer: Hajime Tsuda (Script),
Starring: Ayaka Miyoshi, Junko Abe, Nene Ohtsuka, Tomoka Kurotani, Shingo Tsurumi,
Synopsis: Koharu (Ayaka Miyoshi) and Ayano (Junko Abe) are flat-mates and friends who live in Tokyo’s Nakameguro ward. These two 27-year-olds work dream jobs, one as an event manager and the other in fashion marketing. Their lives are fulfilling. However, when Ayano confesses she is pregnant and she doesn’t know who the father is, it’s a shock for Koharu. When she states she will raise the child, it changes their friendship.
サマーフィルムにのって 「Sam- Firumu ni notte」
Release Date: August 06th, 2021
Duration: 97 mins.
Director: Soushi Matsumoto
Writer: Naoyuki Miura, Soushi Matsumoto (Script),
Starring: Marika Ito, Daichi Kaneko, Yumi Kawai, Kirara Inori, Shunya Itabashi, Mahiro Koda,
Naoyuki Miura, of the theatre troupe Lolo, and director Soushi Matsumoto made a science-fiction coming-of-age film about three high school girls obsessed with Japanese period drama and a mysterious boy who may be from another time period. This project re-teams Matsumoto with lead actress Marika Ito, a former member of Nogizaka46, after they worked on the Tokyo MX drama ガールはフレンド.
Synopsis: High school student Hadashi (Marika Ito) loves historical films, but the film club she belongs to only makes only glittering youth films. She is desperate to make a period drama but it seems unlikely until a mysterious boy named Rintaro appears out of nowhere. He is perfect for the role of a samurai and it feels like destiny that they meet so a newly inspired Hadashi gathers unique schoolmates to start making a movie for the school festival. However, what none of the crew knows is that Rintaro has travelled back in time from the future…
佐々木、イン、マイマイン 「Sasaki, In, Mai Main」
Release Date: November 27th, 2020
Duration: 118 mins.
Director: Takuya Uchiyama
Writer: Takuya Uchiyama, Gaku Hosokawa (Script),
Starring: Kisetsu Fujiwara, Gaku Hosokawa, Minori Hagiwara, Sakurako Konishi, Yusako Mori, Yuya Shintaro,
Synopsis: Yuji is trying to make it as an actor in Tokyo. Despite living with his girlfriend, he finds that it’s hard to make ends meet. When he reunites with his high school classmate Tada he beings to recall their high school days with Sasaki, who was a hero when he was in school. Yuji then begins work on a stage play and it seems to have connections to his past and present. Then, out of the blue, Yuji receives a phone call from Sasaki…
わたしは元気 「Watashi wa Genki」
Release Date: October 30th, 2020
Duration: 107 mins.
Director: Hirobumi Watanabe
Writer: Hirobumi Watanabe (Screenplay),
Starring: Riko Hisatsugu, Nanako Sudo, Keita Hisatsugu, Mei Mukaiyama, Yui Honiden, Ayaka Hoshi, Hirobumi Watanabe,
Synopsis: Riko Hisatsugu, a young girl who has appeared in Watanabe’s other films, takes the lead role as she plays herself in a snapshot of a day in her life as she goes to school, hangs out with her friend Nanako and relaxes at home with her family. Director Hirobumi Watanabe appears as a travelling salesman at one point. This was filmed from March to May, 2018, in the director’s native Tochigi prefecture. It’s a charming film and Riko is a natural actor.
Release Date: September 25th, 2020
Duration: 115 mins.
Directors: Ryutaro Nakagawa, Mayu Akiyama, Yuka Yasukawa, Hirobumi Watanabe
Writers: Ryutaro Nakagawa, Mayu Akiyama, Yuka Yasukawa, Hirobumi Watanabe (Script)
Starring: Urara Matsubayashi, Kotone Furukawa, Ren Sudo, Sairi Ito, Mayuko Fukada, Noa Kawazoe, Ryutaro Ninomiya, Ryutaro Kondo,
The directors involved are a new generation of talent from the Japanese movie industry including Ryutaro Nakamura whose work ranges from Plastic Love Story to Silent Rain, the latter of which was screened at both the 2019 Busan International Film Festival and Tokyo Filmex where it won the Audience Award. Mayu Akiyama’s debut work, Rent a Friend, won the MOOSIC LAB Grand Prix and was screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2018. Hirobumi Watanabe’s film Cry won Best Director at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2019 in the Japanese Cinema Splash section. Yuka Yasukawa was one of a number of emerging talents tapped to helm one of the shorts from 21st Century Girl which has been screened around the world. They each bring their own style to four stories that range in tone and content.
Urara Matsubayashi, the film’s producer and one of its cast, is a rising star active on the stage, TV drama, and on film. She will be most familiar to audiences from her performance in The Hungry Lion which was screened at the Rotterdam International Film Festival and New York Asian Film Festival in 2018. She is joined by many seasoned actors, including Sairi Ito (Love & Other Cults) and Kumi Takiuchi (It Feels So Good,Greatful Dead) and Ren Sudo (Last Judgement).
Synopsis: A four-part film done in the unique style of each director, Urara Matsubayashi gives a portrayal of a struggling actress named Machiko who lives in Kamata. Machiko is the central axis of the movie as the film comically depicts what it means to be a “woman” and an “actress” in society through showing the patterns of life as conducted by her and the people that surround her.
Release Date: March 20th, 2021
Duration: 145 mins.
Director: Anshul Chauhan
Writer: Anshul Chauhan (Script)
Starring: Wan Marui, Hidemasa Mase, Takuzo Shimizu, Taichi Yamada, Seira Kojima,
This is a distinct and impressive sophomore feature from Anshul Chauhan after his debut Bad Poetry Tokyo (2017). It has a gorgeous monochrome sheen behind which is a dark and mysterious story powered by absorbing dramatic acting.
Synopsis: When Sora’s (Wan Marui) grandfather passes away she loses the last person she feels she can communicate with. Her relationship with her father is very uneasy and so when Sora discovers her grandfather’s wartime diary which hints at hidden treasure she hides it in the hopes it can provide some outlet for herself. At this time a mysterious mute vagrant who only walks backwards appears in town and his presence provides a catalyst for change between father and daughter.
のさりの島「Nosari no Shima」
Release Date: May 29th, 2021
Duration: 129 mins.
Director: Tatsuya Yamamoto
Writer: Tatsuya Yamamoto (Screenplay),
Starring: Kisetsu Fujiwara, Chisako Hara, Ami Sugihara, Manami Nakata, Akira Emoto,
Synopsis: A young man has travelled to Amakusa in Kumamoto Prefecture to scam a lonely old woman out of her money. The old woman invites him into her life and claims that he is her grandson Shota. Taken by surprise by the old woman’s warm reception, he decides to stay and finds something like a home for the first time. He gets roped into various aspects of life in Amakusa including a heritage project searching for images and footage of the area.
Release Date: N/A
Duration: 74 mins.
Director: Akihiko Yano
Writer: Akihiko Yano, (Script),
Starring: Kazuma Uesugi, Kazunari Uryu, Minami Inoue, Nahoko Kawasumi,
Synopsis: In this ensemble drama, we watch a few days in the life of a family of four people who have to wrestle with the devastating news that the mother, Sayuri (Nahoko Kawasumi), may not be able to come back from hospital after the return of a serious illness. Each member of the family is personally devastated but the one who seems to take this news the worst is teenage son Takeaki (Kazuma Uesugi) who lacks the maturity to process what it all means and so he bristles with nihilistic anger. In contrast, his older sister Juri (Minami Inoue) knows enough to put on a brave face but her mind is also elsewhere as she faces her own lonely struggle on her way to single-motherhood. Meanwhile, their father, Masaaki (Kazunari Uryu), has adopted a false mask as he desperately tries to play the patriarch to hide his own fear and sadness. At this moment of crisis when they should all be pulling together, each person retreats into themselves and their family begins to fall apart. However, it is only in facing death that each person can learn to cherish life.
人数の町「Ninzu no Machi」
Release Date: September 04th, 2020
Duration: 111 mins.
Director: Shinji Araki
Writer: Shinji Araki (Script), Tomoso Nonaka (Original Novel)
Starring: Tomoya Nakamura, Shizuka Ishibashi, Eri Tachibana, Junpei Hashino, Rio Kanno, Elisa Yanagi, So Yamanaka,
Described as “ambitious and compelling,” and “one of the most politically astute Japanese films in years,” this film looks like an interesting deconstruction of our consumerist age with big politics and dodgy social interactions all used to create a thriller.
Synopsis: Aoyama (Tomoya Nakamura) is a young man shackled by debts and pursued by loan sharks but his life is saved when a mysterious bearded man in orange overalls takes him away to “The Town”, a place where he can dodge his debts and indulge himself in every comfort available, be it the pleasures of food, clothing, or sex. It sounds like a great deal however Aoyama discovers that it is a place people can freely enter but cannot leave after he gets involved with a woman looking for her missing sister…
異物–完全版– 「Ibutsu – Kanzenhan – 」
Release Date: 2021
Duration: 61 mins.
Director: Kenichi Ugana
Writer: Kenichi Ugana (Screenplay),
Starring: Kaoru Koide, Shunsuke Tanaka, Momoka Ishida, Kaito Yoshimura, Makoto Tanaka,
Director Kenichi Ugana created a series of four short films which were combined in this one film. Nippon Connection describes it as “a mixed-genre gem with an absurd sense of humour and a fantastic soundtrack, filmed in poignant black-and-white cinematography.” It seems to feature tentacle monsters. Two films come to mind. The Untamed (2016) and Possession (1981)…
Synopsis: Kaoru feels that she lives a stagnant life. Her boyfriend is unkind, her job and co-workers suck, and everything is boring. Then one day, a mysterious octopus-like alien appears in her home. This creature causes a heightened sense of pleasure. It’s not the only one as these creatures emerge all over Japan and become part of everyday life, until their explosive expansion takes a dramatic turn.
タヌキ計画 「Tanuki Keikaku」
Release Date: N/A
Duration: 89 mins.
Director: Chiueh Yu-hsin
Writer: Chiueh Yu-hsin (Screenplay),
Starring: Yukki Lee, Emi Fujita, Maoko Nanase, Osamu Watanabe, Cuong,
Synopsis: Tanya is a Vietnamese woman living in Japan as a migrant. She uses “Tanuki,” an illegal drug that allows her to look and sound Japanese, but the more she uses it the more she gradually loses her memory of her home country and her supply of Tanuki might run out soon…
アスタースクールデイズ 「Asuta- Suku-ru Deizu」
Release Date: N/A
Duration: 38 mins.
Director: Mone Inada
Writer: Mone Inada (Screenplay),
Starring: Teru Sugiyama, Miyu Inada, Jio Takeuchi, Sora Nakamura, Oki Ishikawa,
This drama starring genuine high school students received the Audience Award at the PIA Film Festival 2020.
Synopsis: Four lonely high school students dealing with what feel like insurmountable anxieties meet a new schoolmate named Kanade. This transfer student overcomes their suspicious with his deep fascination for flowers and it sparks a new passion for life in each of the kids while also getting them to embrace themselves.
Then I Add Colors to a Panda and a Zebra.
そして私はパンダやシマウマに色を塗るのだ。「Soshite watashi wa panda ya shimauma no iro wo nurunoda」
Release Date: N/A
Duration: 39 mins.
Director: Karin Takeda
Writer: Karin Takeda (Script),
Starring: Yuki, Kansaku Shinohara, Ryota Takeda, Kayoko Kimura, Keiji Murata, Mako Shimizu,
Synopsis: Shirahoshi is a girl who is a perfectionist. If she can’t be the best, then she might as well give up. That’s why she quit her dream of being a manga artist when she won the runner-up prize in a contest and that is why she is shocked when her boyfriend, who was her perfect match, dumps her. Looking for a new job and trying to cope with rejection, she meets a suspicious man and self-proclaimed ghost who warns her that not everything has to be “black or white.”
Release Date: September 05th, 2020
Duration: 38 mins.
Director: Naoya Fujita
Writer: Suzuyuki Kaneko (Script),
Starring: Keita Yamashina, Ruka Ishikawa, Takaki Uda, Yumi Endo, Kenta Yamagishi, Kohei Nagano, Suzuyuki Kaneko,
Stay, by director Naoya Fujita, was screened at the Osaka Asian Film Festival in 2019, which is where I saw it as part of the package of films supported by the Housen Cultural Foundation. The inspiration for the story comes from the time when Fujita encountered a traditional Japanese-style home and was immediately taken with it, imagining what it would be like for a community to form around it and this idea evolving into one asking the question of what constitutes a family.
You can read my review here but, in short, the atmosphere is very strong and the acting compelling.
Synopsis: Yajima (Keita Yamashina) is a village official who has shown up at an abandoned house to convince some squatters to move into social housing or simply leave. What he discovers is a community of strangers who, despite having no ties to the house, have all gathered there and pitch in when it comes to doing chores. There is a perky young woman named Maki (Ruka Ishikawa) who acts as a cheerleader binding people together, a kind 30-something woman named Saeko (Yumi Endo) who has taken on the “mother of the house” role, and a confident hands-on man named Suzuyama (Takaki Uda) who is remodelling the place to his own tastes even though nobody has asked him to. Yajima soon becomes part of this community…
Release Date: N/A
Duration: 31 mins.
Director: Park Jen-gil
Starring: Chong Sun-yong, Debora Barbosa Eguchi, Mion Fujii, Rodrigo Sato, Yuki Yamazaki, Kazutoshi Kawabe,
Muito Prazer is Portuguese for “much pleasure” and it is the title of a drama shot with non-professional actors who explore an issue pertinent to our age which is experiencing demands for social justice.
Synopsis: High school teacher Kanamoto is the adviser of the international exchange club and she takes her charges to visit a school in Ibaraki for Brazilians of Japanese descent. What they get is a hostile reception as the Brazilian students have faced repeated discrimination and abuse. Will the two groups be able to bridge the gap between them?
Available to stream across Europe
Release Date: September 23rd, 2020
Duration: 20 mins.
Director: Ryushi Lindsay
Writer: Ryushi Lindsay (Script),
Starring: Ryoka Neya (Miyabi), Miyu Sasaki (Kasumi), Sawa Takahashi (Ami), Akira Takanohashi (Yoshimura), Yui Matsuura (Rie), Yuki Mayama (Junya),
Ryushi Lindsay is a British-Japanese filmmaker based in Japan and the UK. Even with just a couple of shorts to his name, he is beginning to carve out an interesting filmography and Idol is his latest work. A drama set in the world of idol groups, it peels back layers of exploitation in a story that focusses on a mother-daughter relationship that goes awry. It features class consciousness as well as a critique of the entertainment industry. It is all powered by strong mise-en-scene and compelling performances.
Synopsis: Taking place over two nights in Tokyo, the story enters at the point of crisis for a young single mother named Miyabi (Ryoka Neya) as her daughter Kasumi (Miyu Sasaki) is unceremoniously dropped from the line-up of an idol group just minutes before a performance and replaced by someone more popular. This leads to Miyabi taking drastic measures to secure Kasumi’s place…
香港画 「Hon Kon Ga」
Release Date: December 25th, 2020
Duration: 28 mins.
Director: Ikuma Hori
Synopsis: A short documentary recording the 2019 Hong Kong democracy protests from February 2019, right after the Hong Kong government announced the submission of amendments to the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance. At their height, the protests saw 1.03 million citizens marching against the proposed changes in June. In October of the same year, director Horii, who was staying in Hong Kong for work, was surprised at the amount of young people participating and decided to record some of the protestors, to capture their voices and see their confrontations with the police. His desire was to show why young people in Hong Kong are fighting and to challenge media portrayals.
Where Bibi Went びびのゆくえ (Dir: Tadasuke Kotani, 15 mins. 2020) Hinako lives with her cat Bibi in Tokyo but one day Bibi escapes onto the streets. While searching for her cat, Hinako encounters a young woman hanging out in the streets…
Weather Map (Dir: Nana Kawabata, 9 mins., 2021, website)
O-Bon, Anecdotes From Kyoto (Dir: Jénay Vogel, 10 mins. 2021, Switzerland)
緑の雪 「Midori no Yuki」
Release Date: 2019
Duration: 20 mins.
Director: Takeshi Kogahara
Writer: Takeshi Kogahara (Screenplay)
Starring: Shin Furukawa, Natsuko Fuji
Takeshi Kogahara was previously at Japan Cuts with his short film, a visually and aurally resplendent tale of first-love named Nagisa. This is his latest short and it looks to be equally moving. It will be introduced by him.
Synopsis: An old man near the end of his life spends his days on his bed, occasionally visited by a carer. When he sees snow outside the window, he contemplates certain strong memories from his past.
Lucky Owl With Shimako (Dirs: Yoko Kuno & Nobuhiro Yamashita, 1 min. 2020)
Synopsis: When four-year-old Shimako gets separated from her parents at Ikebukuro Station, she goes on a small adventure accompanied by an owl statue.
Check out my highlight post which has a selection of other titles from the festival.
More information on the complete program is available on the festival homepage: NipponConnection.com
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