Japanese Films at the Udine Far East Film Festival 2021 (June 24 – July 02nd)

Following on from last year’s edition which was totally online, the Udine Far East Film Festival takes place at the end of the month and it is a hybrid event with an online portion leading off before the physical portion. The organisers will screen a total of 63 films from 11 countries and territories as well as host workshops, webinars, and other industry events.

The digital portion of the festival will open with explosive Hong Kong action film Shock Wave 2, from veteran director Herman Yau, while the on-site opening film will be the international festival premiere of Zhang Yimou’s Cliff Walkers, a historical espionage thriller.

The information for online screenings is already up and quite a few titles are available for people to stream worldwide. Check this website for more information on the films and this page for more information on how to participate.

I’ve only covered a couple of films prior to this edition – Keep Rolling and Ito, both of which I’d recommend. I’m going to list the Japanese films in this post:

BLUE ブルー    Blue Film Poster

ブルー Buru-

Release Date: April 09th, 2021

Duration: 107 mins.

Director: Keisuke Yoshida

Writer: Keisuke Yoshida (Script),

Starring: Kenichi Matsuyama, Fumino Kimura, Tokio Emoto, Masahiro Higahide, Pistol Takehara, Ayuri Yoshinaga, Shinichiro Matsuura,

Website

Festival Link

Synopsis: Nobuto Urita (Kenichi Matsuyama) and Kazuki Ogawa (Masahiro Higashide) are two boxers at the same gym but leagues apart in talent as Kazuki is a top fighter while Nobuto is a loser. They are also connected another way: Kazuki is engaged to Chika Amano (Fumino Kimura), Nobuto’s childhood friend and his first love…

The Goldfish: Dreaming of the Sea    The Goldfish Dreaming of the Sea Film Poster

海辺の金魚 Umibe no Kingyo

Release Date: June 25th 2021

Duration: 76 mins.

Director: Sara Ogawa

Writer: Sara Ogawa (Script)

Starring: Miyu Ogawa, Runa Hanada, Tateto Serizawa, Nayuta Fukuzaki, Kinuo Yamada,

Website IMDB

Festival Link

Synopsis: 18-year-old Hana (Miyu Ogawa) is on the verge of leaving the foster home she has lived in ever since she was taken from her mother. As the oldest there, she helps take care of newcomers and this includes an 8-year-old girl named Harumi (Runa Hanada) who is deeply introverted and prickly. The two gradually bond and open up to each other as they see their similarities and they share the secret scars they hold inside… 

Hold Me Back   

私をくいとめて Watashi o Kuitomete

Release Date: December 18th, 2020

Duration: 135 mins.

Director: Akiko Ohku

Writer: Akiko Ohku (Script), RisWataya (Original Novel)

Starring: Non, Kento Hayashi, Asami Usada, Hairi Katagiri, Takuya Wakabahayshi, Ai Hashimoto,

Website IMDB

This won Best Film at this year’s Tokyo International Film Festival thanks to audience votes. Here’s a Festival Report from the event to clue you in as to why it was so popular.

Festival Link

Synopsis: 31-years-old Mitsuko Kuroda (Non) is happily enjoying her single life after getting used to living alone. A big reason is that she has a consultant, counsellor “A”, a voice in her mind which gives her advice on how to behave and on her relationships. She believes her happy and peaceful single life with “A” will continue, but she falls in love with Tada-kun (Kento Hayashi), a salesman who is younger than her. Mitsuko decides to take a step forward, even though she is confused by her new lack of courage.

 

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,

Website IMDB OAFF

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.

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. 

 

Last of the Wolves    Last of the Wolves Film Poster

孤狼の血 LEVEL2   Korou no Chi Level 2

Release Date: August 20th 2021

Duration: 139 mins.

Director: Kazuya Shiraishi

Writer: Junya Ikegami (Script), Yuko Yuzuki (Original Novel)

Starring: Tori Matsuzaka, Ryohei Suzuki, Nijiro Murakami, Nanase Nishino, Taichi Saotome, Takumi Saito, Kotaro Yoshida, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Miwako Kakei, Susumu Terajima, Hiroki Miyake,

Website IMDB

Festival Link

Synopsis: It has been a number years since the death of Shogo Ogami in “The Blood of Wolves,” and rookie detective Shuichi Hioka (Tori Matsuzaka) stepped up into his position to implement the dead man’s plan to control the yakuza and prevent further gang wars that would hurt innocent people. This delicate balance of power is upset by a vicious gangster named Narihiro (Ryohei Suzuki) who is back on the streets following time in prison…

 

Midnight Swan   Midnight Swan Film Poster

ミッドナイトスワンMiddonaito Suwan

Release Date: September 25th, 2020

Duration: 124 mins.

Director: Eiji Uchida

Writer: Eiji Uchida (Script), 

Starring: Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, Misaki Hattori, Asami Mizukawa, Tomorowo Taguchi, Sei Matobu, Eriko Sato, Toshie Negishi, Yusuke Hirayama,

Website IMDB

From Eiji Uchida, the director of Love and Other Cults (2017) and Greatful Dead (2014), a film that sounds a little like Close Knit (2017), the quietly affecting transgender drama from Naoko Ogigami. It stars Tsuyoshi Kusanagi, former member of SMAP in the lead role, Asami Mizukawa (A Beloved Wifeand Tomorowo Taguchi (Tetsuo: The Iron Man).

Festival Link

Synopsis: Nagisa (Tsuyoshi Kusanagi) started life as a guy in Hiroshima but moved to Shinjuku, Tokyo, and transitioned to a woman. Her life is changed when a distant relative named Ichika (Misaki Hattori) comes to stay with her. She has been neglected by her mother Saori (Asami Mizukawa) and has nowhere else to go but it won’t be easy for Ichika and Nagisa to get along. However, over time, a bond develops between the two as they influence each other and Nagisa discovers her maternal instincts.

 

Hell’s Garden   Hell’s Garden Film Poster

地獄の花園  Jigoku no Hanazono

Release Date: May 21st, 2021

Duration: 102 mins.

Director: Kazuaki Seki

Writer: Bakarhythm (Screenplay), 

Starring: Mei Nagano, Alice Hirose, Masanobu Katsumura, Tomomi Maruyama, Nanao, Miyuki Oshima, Kenichi Endo, Satoru Matsuo, Eiko Koike

Website IMDB

Festival Link

Synopsis: Naoko Tanaka (Mei Nagano) thinks her new friend Ran (Alice Hirose) is a normal office lady just like her. Ever since Ran joined the company, they have worked together and, in order to get to know each other they visit cafes together to eat cake and chat during their free time. Naoko is in for a surprise as Ran is really a charismatic Yankee OL whose trademark is a scajacket and Ran’s entrance into the company makes Naoko’s company a target for various gangs of office ladies from all over Japan. 

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

偶然と想像 Guzen to sozo

Release Date: March, 2021

Duration: 121 mins.

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Writer: Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Script), 

Starring: Kotone Furukawa, Hyunri, Ayumu Nakajima (segment “Magic (or Something Less Assuring”)), Shouma Kai, Katsuki Mori, Kiyohiko Shibukawa (segment “Door Wide Open”), Aoba Kawai, Fusako Urabe (segment “Once Again”),

IMDB

Three short stories make up this omnibus film directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi who is famous for Happy Hour, which won a special mention for script and best actress at Locarno in 2015, and Asako I & II, which played at Cannes 2018 in the Competition section.  Each of the stories has the theme of “coincidence” and “imagination”.

Festival Link

Synopsis: “Magic (or Something Less Assuring”) realises that the man her best friend has talked about as “hitting on her” is a former boyfriend who broke up with her two years ago. “Door Wide Open” features a story of a student who failed to graduate planning to ruin a professor’s reputation by using a girl to trap him. “Once Again” sees two women who reunited in Sendai for the first time in 20 years. They each share feelings that they have held in their hearts since their high school days.

Underdog   Underdog Film Poster

アンダードッグAnda-doggu

Release Date: November 27th, 2020

Duration: 276 mins.

Director: Masaharu Take

Writer: Shin Adachi (Script/Original Novel)

Starring: Mirai Moriyama, Takumi Kitamura, Ryo Katsuji, Asami Mizukawa, Kumi Takiuchi, Minori Hagiwara, Ami Tomite, Ryotaro Ninomiya, Mami Kumagai, Akira Emoto,

Website

This film has been split into two parts and it reunites writer Shin Adachi with Masaharu Take who both made the award-winning boxing film 100 Yen Love (2014). Here’s a review at the Japan Times.

Festival Links: Part 1 and Part 2

Synopsis: “Underdog” follows three boxers who are all underdogs. Akira Suenaga (Mirai Moriyama) is a boxer who once had a shot at the title but has now been relegated to being a human punching bag. Ryuta Omura (Takumi Kitamura) is a young boxer with a bright future but a violent past. Shun Miyagi (Ryo Katsuji) is a TV comedian who has taken up boxing to revitalise his showbiz career. Their performance in the ring can change their lives for the better and each man struggles to win.

You’re Not Normal, Either   You’re Not Normal Either Film Poster

まともじゃないのは君も一緒 Matomo Janai no wa Kimi mo Issho

Release Date: March 19th, 2021

Duration: 98 mins.

Director: Koji Maeda

Writer: RyTakada (Script), 

Starring: Ryo Narita, Kaya Kiyohara, Kotaro Koizumi, Yuki Kura, Rika Izumi, Mai Ohtani, Kasumi Yamaya,

Website

Festival Link

Synopsis: Yasuomi Ono (Ryo Narita) is a math teacher who finds it easier to get lost in equations than to get involved with other people. As he grows older, however, he begins to worry about growing into an old bachelor and so he seems to luck out when his student Kasumi Akimoto (Kaya Kiyohara) explains that he’s not normal starts coaching him in how to become normal and start dating. Little does he suspect that she is trying to get him to date the partner of her romantic ideal. What’s more, it seems like he is a hit with the lady…

Sumou-do samurai o tsugu-sha-tachi   Sumou-do samurai o tsugu-sha-tachi Film Poster

相撲道 サムライを継ぐ者たち Sumou-do samurai o tsugu-sha-tachi

Release Date: October 30th, 2020

Duration: 104 mins.

Director: Eiji Sakata

Writer: N/A

Starring: Narration by Kenichi Endo

Website

Festival Link

Synopsis: A documentary that follows the world of sumo, which has a history of more than 1500 years and is deeply rooted in Japanese life as a national sport. For about half a year from December 2018, the cameras have been in close contact with two rehearsals in the Sakaigawa and Takadagawa stables. It captured powerful images and sounds, and reveals the charm of sumo from various angles such as history, culture and competition.


Past Coverage:

Udine 2018

Udine 2019

Udine 2020

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