Japanese Films at the BFI London Film Festival 2021

BFI London Film Festival Logo

This year’s London Film Festival runs from October 06th to the 17th and it is partially online, partially in-theatre. Viewers across the UK will be able to access a selection of films in some regional cinemas which have partnered with the fest to screen some of the films.

After last year’s London Film Festival having a paltry single Japanese title in its line-up – this when 2020 was the year that the BFI was going all in on its Japanese movie coverage – 2021 looks a lot better. While they don’t get the Tokyo Olympics bounce, they have re-initiated their Japan Season and cherrypicked a handful of key titles that have already.

Here’s what is programmed (click on the title to be taken to the corresponding festival page):

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy    Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy Film Poster 2

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”),


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”.

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.

Drive My Car   Drive My Car Film Poster

ドライブ・マイ・カー Doraibu Mai Ka-

Release Date: August 20th 2021

Duration: 179 mins.

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Writer: Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Ooe (Script), Haruki Murakami (Original Novel)

Starring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Toko Miura, Masaki Okada, Reika Kirishima,

Website IMDB

Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Happy Hour) returns to Cannes following his 2018 film Asako I & II with an adaptation of the Haruki Murakami short story Drive My Car (from his collection of short stories Men Without Women). Earlier this year, Hamaguchi won the Silver Bear Award at Berlinale with Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.

The lead actor is Hidetoshi Nishijima (License to Live) who is paired with Reika Kirishima (Permanent NobaraNorwegian Wood) as a husband and wife separated by death and a secret.

Synopsis: Yusuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima) is a stage actor and a stage director who is happily married to his playwright wife Fukaku (Reika Kirishima). Two years later, Yusuke lives with a sense of loss and the vague knowledge that she had a secret, When he takes a directing gig at a theatre festival in Hiroshima, he drives down in his beloved Saab where he meets Misaki (Toko Miura) who has been assigned as his exclusive chauffeur. She’s a taciturn person but while Yusuke spends time with her, he becomes aware of things which he had turned a blind eye to until then…

Anachronic Chronicles: Voyages Inside/Out Asia

Release Date: N/A

Duration: N/A

Director: Yu Araki, Lu Pan

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A

Synopsis: The film consists of home movies taken by the families of the directors, Lu Pan and Yu Araki, and this footage was edited together remotely since it was made during the pandemic. It captures the 90s childhoods of the directors and serves as the basis of a conversation about the creation and social status of footage in different contexts. 

Belle   Belle (2021) Film Poster

竜とそばかすの姫 Ryuu to Sobakasu no Hime

Release Date: July 16th 2021

Duration: 122 mins.

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Writer: Mamoru Hosoda (Script), 

Starring: Kaho Nakamura (Suzu Naito/Belle), Takeru Satoh (The Dragon), Koji Yakusho (Suzu’s Father), Rira Ikuta (Hiroka “Hiro-chan” Betsuyaku), Mamoru Miyano (Muitarou Hitokawa / Tokoraemru),

Animation Production: Studio Chizu

Website MAL ANN

This had its world premiere at Cannes on July 15th where it got a standing ovation that lasted over 10 minutes. It marks the 10th anniversary of Studio Chizu’s founding.

Synopsis: Suzu is a 17-year-old high school student living in a rural village with her father. The place is scarce of people but abundant in nature. Since the death of her mother she has closed herself off to the world and one activity that she loved doing with her mother, singing, has been impossible for her. When she enters “U,” a virtual world with five billion members, she takes part in a singing contest through her avatar, “Belle.” She becomes a world-famous singer and soon meets with a mysterious creature that will help her rediscover herself.

Tomorrow’s Leaves   Tomorrow’s Leaves Film Poster

Release Date: July 23rd 2021

Duration: 08 mins.

Director: Yoshiyuki Momose

Writer: Yoshiaki Nishimura (Script)

Starring: N/A

Animation Production: Studio Ponoc

Website ANN MAL

Synopsis: This is an anime made to celebrate the opening of the Tokyo Olympics. It was made in collaboration with the International Olympic Committee and will be streamed online. The creatives include former Ghibli names and they worked at Studio Ponoc (Mary and the Witch’s Flower).

Tickets are already on sale but may be sold out in some cases.

Here’s past coverage of the London Film Festival:

London Film Festival 2011

London Film Festival 2012

London Film Festival 2013

London Film Festival 2014

London Film Festival 2015

London Film Festival 2016

London Film Festival 2017

London Film Festival 2018

London Film Festival 2019

London Film Festival 2020

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