North Shinjuku 2055 is the latest film by Daisuke Miyazaki, one of the directors who regularly attends Osaka Asian Film Festival with his youth-focused works with Yamato (California)(2016), Tourism (2018), and Videophobia (2020) being screened in the past. His latest film is a sci-fi short that lets audiences listen in on an interview between an investigative journalist (Tatsuya Nagayama) and a North Shinjuku kingpin given the moniker K (played by the rapper GAMI) as they discuss the history of the titular district.
On paper, watching a conversation might sound boring but the film’s experimental style is surprising and impressive. It really sparks the imagination as images are relayed almost entirely through still images à la Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962) and accompanying sounds consist of the musicality of the voices of the two talkers and also a myriad of street noises that create a strong urban atmosphere. Beyond this shot of originality is a depth to the vision as it extrapolates the history of the area and broader current-day social issues that affect it and imagines how they have developed by the year 2055.
Thanks to the invaluable efforts of translator Takako Pocklington, Miyazaki kindly took part in an email interview wherein he talked about capturing photographs and working with his two actors, to bring to life a unique sci-fi short.
This film is based on a manga by Hiroyuki Ohashi, the creator of On-Gaku, the hit animated film. The manga contains many stories with humorous and pointed observations on life and these were brought to the screen by three top actors working as directors on each of the segments: Naoto Takenaka, Takayuki Yamada, Takumi Saitoh. Perhaps, due to to their star power, they have assembled a brilliant cast.
Don’t go in expecting too many laugh-out-loud moments, it’s a quiet dry comedy and very poignant in parts. It also has one VERY scary sequence that leans into the tragic then the comic. It’s very much worth watching it.
Films featuring the clash between modernisation, tradition, and the natural world are plentiful in cinema, perhaps most memorably in the magical movies of Miyazaki and Takahata of Studio Ghibli fame with Princess Mononoke (1997) and Pom Poko (1994). Documentarian Ryohei Sasatani makes his narrative feature debut with crowdfunded indie Sanka: Nomads of the Mountains and channels these themes onto the screen via the self-actualisation of the film’s young protagonist.
I am struggling with energy levels lately so posts have been patchy. I did one about the release of Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle and I also posted my review of Howling and an interview with the director, both of which are released this weekend in Japan.
What I have been watching is connected to a Heroic Purgatory podcast based on the Academy Awards.
Howling (review) is a blackly-comic neo-noir from M Haris Sheikh who subverts the genre by creating a collection of characters defined by desperation, cowardice, and disappointment rather than the expected avarice and lust.
We follow a motley bunch of no-hopers living lives based on lies they tell others to cover their miserable situations. They are led by a very flawed 40-year-old unemployed guy named Ryuji Tanoue (Ichiro Hashimoto) who is in desperate straits and equally desperate to be a hero which leads to him being a bit of a fantasist. Their number includes a housewife named Chisato (Sanae Kotani) and a 20-year-old student named Akane (Yukino Takahashi), two women who fulfil the role of femme fatales who manipulate a woefully underprepared and cowardly main protagonist into a situation requiring him to kill people. Alas, what Ryuji thinks will be easy become increasingly dangerous and blackly comic due to a serious case of sophistry blinds that him to his personal failings. For all of their flaws, the characters never lose our interest or investment in their quest to escape their situations as they are multifaceted and capable of change, but will change come in time for everyone? Viewers will find themselves gripped by the twists and turns until the film reaches its jaw-dropper of a finale which will leave viewers shocked and laughing.
Thanks to the help of festival staff, members of M Haris Sheikh’s team and the translation services of Takako Pocklington, I was able to interview the director on his singular vision.
There is no rule stating that a film has to have a hero who is successful or likeable. There doesn’t even have to be a hero. Such is the case with Howling, a neo-noir by writer/director M Haris Sheikh where the story’s sad-sack “hero” operates with self-aggrandising sophistry that ultimately undermines his quest to be a leading man.
Our so-called hero is Ryuji (Ichiro Hashimoto), a 40-year-old who has no woman, no stable job, and no intention of living in reality as witnessed when the film opens and he is shown sexually harassing one of the part-timers who works with him at a karaoke parlour. He claims he is “rescuing” her from another colleague but as the woman argues back, Ryuji has stalked her for quite a while. When he explains to a much younger job interviewer a couple of scenes down the line that his firing was all about appearances, he glosses over the reality.
This French-Japanese co-production is based on a true story of a group of Japanese soldiers led by Hiroo Onoda who terrorised the Philippines It opened the Un Certain Regard section of last year’s Cannes Film Festival and went on to win prestigious accolades like Best Original Screenplay at the 47th Cesar Awards and Best French Film at the 74th French Association of Film Critics.
This title looks really exciting, a proper war film that looks at combat from the unique point of view of that troubled and troubling figure and it is done via a French filmmaker who cites Golden Age directors like Kurosawa and Mizoguchi as influences. You can listen to the director talk about his film on the Third Window Films podcast.
Details on cinema screenings and the blu-ray release follow below:
Bagmati Riverreceived its world premiere at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022. It is the latest work from director Yusaku Matsumoto, a talent who broke onto the international film scene with Noise (2017), a drama set in Akihabara and based on a stabbing incident. It focused on the travails of working-class kids and their families to show how such a thing could happen. Matsumoto’s latest work turned out to be quite a departure from what audiences might associate him with as he takes them to Nepal in the company of rising actress Junko Abe of Still the Water (2014) who plays a young woman seeking to confront the disappearance of her brother in the mountains. Also backing up Matsumoto in this Nepal-set film was Kentaro Kishi (Hammock, The Sower), a cinematographer and actor (amongst other things) who worked on and appeared in Noise.
In order to get some background on the film, I interviewed Matsumoto via email thanks to the help of festival staff and through the translation services of Takako Pocklington.