The New York Asian Film Festival is a go for 2021 and runs from August 6th to the 22nd. It is a hybrid event with over 60 films split between cinemas and online streams.
It’s a beautiful and exciting mix of experiences from 12 separate territories/nations with a mix of big-budget blockbusters to indie movies. There are tales from towns and cities in the mountainous land of Tibet (A Song for You) to a backwater in the Kazakh countryside (Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It). A humorous take on a utopian community in Singapore (Tiong Bahru Social Club) to the dank underworld of Hong Kong (Hand-Rolled Cigarettes and Coffin Homes) and the gritty streets of Tokyo (JOINT). Stop-motion dystopian sci-fi (JUNK HEAD) rub shoulders with Korean tales from the hellscape of capitalism (I Don’t Fire Myself). Who populates these cinematic landscapes? Fiery office ladies, hitmen, dancers, mutants, wannabe singers, DJs, and more.
Here’s the trailer introducing the fest:
Here are certain highlights:
The Opening Film is the tense action thriller Escape from Mogadishu, directed by Ryoo Seung-wan (The Berlin File, Veteran), a based-on-a-true-story title that retells the escape attempted by North and South Korean embassy workers who were stranded in a hostile environment during the 1991 Somali Civil War.
Legendary filmmaker Ann Hui will receive the Variety Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award and the biographical documentary Keep Rolling will be screened. Her film, The Story of Woo Viet will also be screened, so auds can get a taste of what made her one of the most important voices in Hong Kong cinema.
There will be a free outdoor screening of the Hong Kong wu-xia New Dragon Gate Inn (1992), which stars Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, and Donnie Yen. This marks the 10th anniversary of the film’s restoration by NYAFF.
Out of everything on offer, I’ve written about Three Sisters, JOINT (review and interview with Oudai Kojima, the director), and, Over the Town and Keep Rolling. I can highly recommend them. I also enjoyed Tiong Bahru Social Club and have kept thinking about it.
What about the rest? I will highlight the Japanese films so it can help you when you are making a choice about what to watch. AND THERE IS SO MUCH THAT IS TOO GOOD TO PASS UP!!!
UPDATE: THE PODCAST IS LIVE!!!
What are the films programmed? Scroll down to find out!
アジアの天使 「Ajia no Tenshi」
Release Date: July 02nd, 2021
Duration: 128 mins.
Director: Yuya Ishii
Writer: Yuya Ishii (Script),
Starring: Sosuke Ikematsu, Moon Choi, Joe Odagiri, Kim Min-Jae,
The Asian Angel is an original film by writer/director Yuya Ishii, a young talent who rose to prominence on the back of indie films like Sawako Decides (2010) and Mitsuko Delivers (2011) before he was catapulted into the mainstream with his hit 2013 film The Great Passage, a title which netted him a number of Best Director accolades, including one at the 2013 Japanese Academy Awards which made him the youngest winner in the event’s history. His global reputation rose further with The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue for which he was given Best Director at the 2018 Asian Film Awards. Last year, he returned to his indie roots with All the Things We Never Said, a fine drama. The Asian Angel was the closing film of the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021.
Synopsis: Following the death of his wife, young novelist Takeshi Aoki (Sosuke Ikematsu) has been raising his eight-year-old son Manabu alone. He quits Japan with his boy and travels to Seoul hoping to stay with his estranged older brother Toru (Joe Odagiri) but what he discovers is that his brother’s life is nothing like he was told as the man struggles to make a living importing dubious cosmetics. In a foreign land and barely able to speak the language, when Toru’s business partner disappears on him, Takeshi must step up and help his brother in another scheme somewhere in the countryside.
Meanwhile, a struggling singer named Choi Seol (Moon Choi) is embroiled in a relationship with the controlling president of her talent agency. With no parents to call on and an older brother and younger sister to support, Seol submits to the pressure her label puts her under to perform what they tell her but when she is dropped by them and dumped by her lover she loses her purpose in life. Cast adrift, she heads to her family home in the countryside and this is when she fatefully meets Takeshi…
由宇子の天秤 「Yuuko no Tenbin」
Release Date: September 09th, 2021
Duration: 137 mins.
Director: Yujiro Harumoto
Writer: Yujiro Harumoto (Script),
Starring: Kumi Takiuchi, Yumi Kawai, Masahiro Umeda, Yuuya Matsuura, Misa Wada, Ryo Ikeda, Hiroki Kono, Yota Kawase, Ken Mitsuishi,
Yujiro Harumoto made waves with his feature debut Going the Distance. He has a great cast of actors for his latest, a social drama as seen through the eyes of a documentarian played by Kumi Takiuchi (Greatful Dead), an actress who is really coming into her own in recent years with her performances in Kamata Prelude and It Feels So Good. This has previously played at last year’s Busan International Film Festival and also Tokyo FILMeX and it has won awards.
Synopsis: Yuko (Kumi Takiuchi) returns to her hometown as a documentary filmmaker determined to examine a case of a double-suicide but a scandal involving her father’s cram school is uncovered…
Release Date: April 09th, 2021
Duration: 107 mins.
Director: Keisuke Yoshida
Writer: Keisuke Yoshida (Script),
Starring: Kenichi Matsuyama, Fumino Kimura, Tokio Emoto, Masahiro Higashide, Pistol Takehara, Ayuri Yoshinaga, Shinichiro Matsuura,
Keisuke Yoshida (My Little Sweet Pea) is supposed to be a long-time fan of boxing and has turned in a great drama according to reviews.
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…
ザ・ファブル 殺さない殺し屋 「The Fable: Korosanai Koroshiya」
Release Date: June 18th 2021
Duration: 123 mins.
Director: Kan Eguchi
Writer: Kan Eguchi, Masahiro Yamaura (Script), Katsuhisa Minami (Original Manga)
Starring: Junichi Okada, Fumino Kimura, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Yurina Hirate, Masanobu Ando, Mizuki Yamamoto, Ken Yasuda, Jiro Sato, Daisuke Miyagawa, Manami Hashimoto,
The first film (seen at a previous edition of NYAFF) was highly enjoyable up until the extended (and overly long) finale and I felt that it captured the manga perfectly. The trailer indicates that the stunts and action have grown even more grandiose!
Synopsis: Akira Sato (Junichi Okada) is the legendary killer known as The Fable. He is continuing to keep a low profile in Osaka with his partner Yoko (Fumino Kimura) as they pretend to be ordinary siblings. He maintains his part-time job at a design company called Octopus where his boss, Takoda (Jiro Sato), and colleague/love interest, Misaki (Mizuki Yamamoto), are unaware of his hidden life of assassinations. The team at Octopus become the target of extortion when a seemingly innocent NPO run by a seemingly nice guy named Utsubo (Shinichi Tsutsumi) brings in a contract killer Suzuki (Masanobu Ando) to get money out of them. Akira must step in and use his skills.
今日から俺は!!劇場版 「Kyo kara Ore wa!!: Gekijoban」
Release Date: July 17th, 2020
Duration: 114 mins.
Director: Yuichi Fukuda
Writer: Yuichi Fukuda (Script), Hiroyuki Nishimori (Original Manga)
Starring: Kento Kaku, Kentaro Ito, Nana Seino, Kanna Hashimoto, Yumi Wakatsuki, Taiga Nakano, Jun Sena, Yuya Yagira,
Synopsis: It is 1980’s Japan and high school student Takashi Mitsuhashi is sporting the tried and tested yankee look of dyed-blond hair. His look, aura and physical prowess make people think he’s a ruffian and that makes him the target of hardcases from other schools. Fortunately, he made friends with another transfer student, Shinji Ito (Kentaro Ito), and a girl named Riko Akasaka has a crush on him.
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), Risa Wataya (Original Novel)
Starring: Non, Kento Hayashi, Asami Usada, Hairi Katagiri, Takuya Wakabahayshi, Ai Hashimoto,
Synopsis: 31-year-old Mitsuko Kuroda (Non) is happily enjoying her life as a singleton. A big reason for her happiness 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.
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
A solid cast brings to life a knock-down-drag-out-brawl of a fight flick that satirises gender relations and office work in this one.
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.
Release Date: N/A
Duration: 118 mins.
Director: Oudai Kojima
Writer: HAM-R (Script),
Starring: Ikken Yamamoto, Kim Jin-cheol, Kim Chang-bak, Keisuke Mitsui, Sogen Higuchi,
Joint is the debut feature of director Oudai Kojima and I saw it as part of the Osaka Asian Film Festival. I wish I could have seen it on a big screen but even on the small one I found that it’s a gripping film thanks to its atmosphere and stellar acting – A-tier stuff.
Synopsis: The story follows Takeshi Ishigami (Ikken Yamamoto), an ex-con who aims to leave his shady past behind. Before he can do that, he must return to a life of crime in Tokyo. Reacquainting himself with Yakuza contacts he restarts his “list business.” It’s an innocuous name used to describe harvesting information for fraud schemes. His path isn’t easy but as he painstakingly climbs his way out of the criminal underworld, he begins to attempt to drag his friends along. However, just as Takeshi thinks that he might get out, he is dragged back in as a gang war erupts.
ジャンク ヘッド「Janku Heddo」
Release Date: March 26th, 2021
Running Time: 99 mins
Director: Takahide Hori
Writer: Takahide Hori (Screenplay),
Starring: Takahide Hori, Atsuko Miyake, Yuji Sugiyama,
This is a stop-motion animation from Takahide Hori. It’s based on a short which is available online to watch. With the aid of a small crew, including animator Atsuko Miyake, he made this feature. Junk Head has been invited to many different film festivals such as Raindance and it finally got a general release courtesy of Gaga in Japan where it was top of the indie film charts for a number of weeks.
Synopsis: In the far future, massive environmental pollution has scarred the Earth so much that humans find it difficult live on it. Meanwhile an artificial workforce that was created to do hazardous tasks rebelled and went underground. Thousands of years later, while humanity has mastered genetic manipulation and eternal life, all of the chemicals have led to a breakdown in the human genome leading to the loss in the ability to procreate. An explorer is sent underground to investigate tales of human mutants living deep underground to find a way to revitalise humanity but this is where dangerous things lurk…
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,
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…
シュシュシュの娘（こ） 「Shushushu no Musume (ko)」
Release Date: August 21st 2021
Duration: 119 mins.
Director: Yu Irie
Writer: Yu Irie (Script)
Starring: Saki Fukuda, Ryoka Neya, Matsuo Yoshioka, Mayumi Kanetani, Shohei Uno, Arata Yamanaka,
Yu Irie (Memoirs of a Murderer) is one of those consistently good directors who sometimes goes off the map and brings in an oddball film. This looks like one of those titles which auds should take a gamble on, especially as its screened ahead of its theatrical release in Japan.
Synopsis: Miu Komaru is a mousy girl who lives on the outskirts of Fukuya City and. Miu works at the city hall. In her spare time, she looks after her grandfather. As you can imagine, she is a little isolated and it gets worse when the one person she is close to, her senior at the office, Koji Mano, commits suicide by throwing himself off the roof of city hall. The reason? He was ordered to “falsify documents.” Miu decides to secretly stand up to the forces that caused this and fights against small-town corruption in this funny political satire.
街の上で 「Machi no Ue de」
Release Date: April 10th, 2021
Duration: 130 mins.
Director: Rikiya Imaizumi
Writer: Rikiya Imaizumi, Hiroyuki Ohashi (Script),
Starring: Ryuya Wakaba, Moeka Hoshi, Kotone Furukawa, Minori Hagiwara, Seina Nakata, Ryo Narita, Hirobumi Watanabe,
Continuing his career chronicling the many configurations of youthful coupledom, IMAIZUMI Rikiya hits upon a cute story of people searching for true love that is steeped in the atmosphere of Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa Ward, a town known currently changing just as much as the emotions of the characters.
Synopsis: Getting dumped is never easy and ARAKAWA Ao (WAKABA Ryuya) gets a particularly brutal drubbing when the love of his life, Yuki (HOSHI Moeka), admits to cheating on him in every way and tosses him aside to try life with the other guy. Lovelorn and stuck on Yuki, Ao carries on working at a second-hand clothing store and hanging out at the same bars and coffee shops in Shimokitazawa where mutual friends remind him of what he has lost. From the ashes comes hope as, despite the heartache, this seems to be the start of his “moteki” moment as three fascinating women enter his life, a bookseller (FURUKAWA Kotone), a costumier (NAKATA Seina) and a director (HAGIWARA Minori) who are all taken with Ao’s solitary air and his bluesy attitude. However, these three women could be using him just like Yuki did…
先生、私の隣に座っていただけませんか？ 「Sennsei, Watashi no Tonari ni Suwatte Itadakemasennka?」
Release Date: September 10th 2021
Duration: 119 mins.
Director: Takahiro Horie
Writer: Takahiro Horie (Script)
Starring: Haru Kuroki, Tasuku Emoto, Daichi Kaneko, Nao, Jun Fubuki,
Synopsis: Manga artist Sawako (Haru Kuroki) is working on her latest title and her husband Toshio (Tasuku Emoto) is worried. Her story is about adultery and the details are close to his affair with her editor Chika. Then, Sawako embarks upon an affair with a young driving instructor. Is this her way of getting even???
とんかつDJアゲ太郎 「Tonkatsu DJ Age-Taro」
Release Date: October 30th, 2020
Duration: 100 mins.
Director: Ken Ninomiya
Writer: Ken Ninomiya (Script), Iipyao, Yujiro Koyama (Original Manga)
Starring: Takumi Kitamura, Maika Yamamoto, Kentaro Ito, Yusuke Iseya, Brother Tom, Reiko Kataoka, Natsumi Ikema, Kou Maehara, Kodai Asaka,
This is the live-action movie adaptation of the popular gag manga by Yujiro Koyama. It was also made into a TV animation.
Synopsis: Agetaro Katsumata’s (Takumi Kitamura) family has run a tonkatsu (pork cutlet) restaurant in Shibuya, Tokyo, for three generations and he will inherit the restaurant one day. Right now, he performs menial jobs at the restaurant, like chopping up the cabbage and delivering food orders, and he isn’t happy with his work. One day, Agetaro Katsumata delivers tonkatsu to the staff at a nightclub and becomes fascinated by the atmosphere provided by the DJ. He also meets a girl named Enoko who turns his head. Thus, Agetaro makes the decision to become Tonkatsu DJ as he attempts to balance working at the restaurant and providing music for the dance floor.
すばらしき世界 「Subarashiki Sekai」
Release Date: February 11th, 2021
Duration: 126 mins.
Director: Miwa Nishikawa
Writer: Miwa Nishikawa (Script), Ryuzo Saki (Original Novel)
Starring: Koji Yakusho, Taiga Nakano, Isao Hashizume, Meiko Kaji, Seiji Rokkaku, Masami Nagasawa, Narumi Yasuda, Yukiya Kitamura,
I’m looking forward to seeing this one.
Under the Open Sky is the latest work from Miwa Nishikawa (Sway (2006), Dear Doctor (2009)) and the first film she has directed that isn’t based on a novel or script written by herself. The novel is by Ryuzo Saki and that had the original title Mibuncho and it sounds (slightly) a bit like Kikujiro (1999), in that it is about an ex-criminal who tries to adjust to life outside of the slammer and goes on a search for his mother.
Synopsis: Masao Mikami (Koji Yakusho) has spent 13 years in prison for committing a murder. Upon his release, he struggles to re-integrate and even begins to think about his mother, from whom he was separated from as a child. However, he becomes connected with various people including two men from a TV station who want to make a TV program that shows his life.
Release Date: April 02nd, 2021
Duration: 113 mins.
Director: Naoto Takenaka, Takayuki Yamada, Takumi Saitoh
Writer: Yutaka Kuramochi (Script), Hiroyuki Ohashi (Original Manga)
Starring: Riho Yoshioka, Fuku Suzuki, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Yurina Yanagi, Sara Minami, Masanobu Ando, Pierre Taki, Yusaki Mori, Jo Kujo, Mai Kiryu, Kumi Koda, Pistol Takehara, Yunho, Rena Matsui, Yutaro Watanabe, Koji Ishizaka, Ryuhei Matsuda, Jun Kunimura.
Hiroyuki Ohashi, whose manga On-Gaku was made into a hit animated film, gets another of his works adapted, this one from earlier in his career and a title that he previously published independently before it was picked up by a published in 2017. The manga contains many stories with humorous and pointed observations on life. There are three top actors working as co-directors and they have assembled a brilliant cast.
Synopsis: A woman has many secrets she keeps as treasures. A child discovers an incident that happened in another country. A young man recalls a strange experience he shared with his missing father. A man heads south on a bicycle with no destination in mind. A boy with no sisters is puzzled when his friend tells him that he likes his sister.
Film at Lincoln Center (FLC), August 6 – 8, 2021
Walter Reade Theater, 165 West 65th Street
SVA Theatre: August 9 – 22, 2021
333 West 23rd Street
Tickets for the 20th New York Asian Film Festival go on sale Friday, July 23rd, and prices clock in like this:
Virtual programs are $12 each with a discounted FLC All-Access Pass available for $150 for access to over 30 virtual titles.
Tickets for in-person programming are $15 for General Public and $12 for students, seniors (62+), and persons with disabilities.
Past coverage of the festival: