Japanese Films at the Rotterdam International Film Festival 2023

Rotterdam International Film Festival Logo

The 2023 edition of the Rotterdam International Film Festival will take place from January 25th to February 05th. This is the 52nd year of the festival and it has a special two-projector video work by Steve McQueen called Sunshine State which looks fascinating. In terms of Japanese film, there is a wealth on offer that covers experimental, documentary, drama, and more. There is a whole strand dedicated to the works of animator Masaaki Yuasa and one dedicated to experimental filmmaker Junichi Okuyama.

This year’s ticket sales start on Friday 20th January at 20:00.

Below is a list of features and shorts that have been programmed:


Convenience Story   Convenience Story Film Poster

コンビニエンス・ストーリー Konbiniensu Suto-ri- 

Release Date: August 05th, 2022

Duration: 97 mins.

Director: Satoshi Miki

Writer: Satoshi Miki (Script), Mark Schilling (Original Story),

Starring: Ryo Narita, Atsuko Maeda, Seiji Rokkaku, Eri Fuse, Yuki Katayama, Ryo Iwamatsu, Kiyohiko Shibukawa,

Website     IMDB

Synopsis: Kato is a struggling screenwriter who is trying to write a movie. A trip to a convenience store to buy food to feed his girlfriend’s dog sees him dump the beast in the mountains and get stranded when the car breaks down. He is rescued by Keiko, a bewitching married woman who works at a convenience store he stumbles into  in the wilderness. It is from there that he enters other worlds…

Film Fetish

フイルム・フェティッシュ Fuirumu Fetisshu

Release Date: 2023

Duration: 66 mins.

Director: Yu Kaneko

Writer: N/A

Starring: Junichi Okuyama, Yo Ota, Tomohiro Nishimura,


Yu Kaneko’s last film was Mlabri in the Woods which was released last year.

Synopsis: Junichi Okuyama is an experimental filmmaker who has been working professionally since his debut in 1964. He is internationally renowned and has had his works screened at festivals and in museums and galleries and at live performances. Now, in his 70s and in the face of an industry where film stock is replaced by digital filmmaking, Okuyama is retiring. This documentary looks at Okuyama and his creative process. Director Yu Kaneko, a writer, critic and an experimental filmmaker himself, has been recording material since 2014 and he aims to give an overview of Okuyama’s career by showing his new prints as well as rare works and footage. Kaneko’s approach is to incorporate experimental aspects into the work to make a film that mixes direct cinema and creative documentary. 

Some of Okuyama’s short films have been programmed for the festival.

Hand   Hand Film Poster R


Release Date: September 16th, 2022

Duration: 99 mins.

Director: Daigo Matsui

Writer: Sorami Date (Script), Nao-cola Yamazaki (Original Novel),

Starring: Akari Fukunaga, Daichi Kaneko, Kanji Tsuda, Akio Kaneda,

Website IMDB

Akari Fukunaga, who appeared in The Real Thing, is the leading lady in this latest chapter of the Roman Porno franchise. Called “ROMAN PORNO NOW,” the project has three directors each working on a film to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Nikkatsu Roman Porno. It’s directed by Daigo Matsui (How Selfish I Am!Ice Cream and the Sound of RaindropsJapanese Girls Never Die).

You’ll have to watch the trailer on YouTube. 

Synopsis: Sawako is an office worker with a difficult relationship with her father. For some reason, her hobby is to take pictures of middle-aged men. Her feelings on these issues become clearer as she grows closer to Mori, a co-worker of the same age.

How to Find Happiness   Itsuka, Itsumo…… Itsumademo. Film Poster R

いつか、いつも……いつまでも。Itsuka, Itsumo…… Itsumademo.

Release Date: October 14th, 2022

Duration: 113 mins.

Director: Shunichi Nagasaki

Writer: Yumi Yazawa (Script), Aoi Hiiragi (Original Manga),

Starring: Mahiro Takasugi, Nagisa Sekimizu, Kaori Mizushima, Renji Ishibashi, Kozo Sato, Ayumu Nakajima, Yuriko Ono,

Website IMDB

Shunichi Nagasaki, director of Shikoku, takes on this drama.

Synopsis: Toshihide works as a doctor with his grandfather at a clinic by the sea. When he meets Ako, he falls for her because she looks like his dream girl. Reality isn’t so easy as she is complicated. When she begins living with Toshihide’s warm-hearted family, they both begin to change.

Kochira Amiko   Kochira Amiko Film Poster

こちらあみ子 「Kochira Amiko

Release Date: July 08th, 2022

Duration: 104 mins.

Director: Yusuke Morii

Writer: Yusuke Mori (Script), Natsuko Imamura (Original Manga),

Starring: Kana Osawa, Arata Iura, Machiko Ono, Yuji Ozeki, Eiko Kuroki,

Website    IMDB

Synopsis: This is the story of Amiko, a fifth grader living in Hiroshima, whose pure-hearted and high-spirited character offers her resilience in the face of tragedy and the ire and indifference of others. Her persona soon influences those around her even if they resist.

Lonely Castle in the Mirror   Lonely Castle in the Mirror Film Poster R

かがみの孤城 Kagami no Kojou

Release Date: December 23rd, 2022

Duration: 52 mins

Director: Keiichi Hara

Writer: Miho Maruo (Screenplay), Mizuki Tsujimura (Original Creator)

Starring: Ami Toma (Kokoro), Aoi Miyazaki (Kitajima-sensei), Karen Takizawa (School Nurse), Kumiko Aso (Kokoro’s Mother), Mana Ashida (Okami-sama),

Animation Production: A-1 Pictures, Graphinica

Website  ANN  MAL

This film comes from Keiichi Hara (ColorfulMiss HokusaiBirthday Wonderland) and it is an adaptation of a same-named best-selling novel.

Synopsis: Kokoro has become a hikikomori and has not attended junior high school in a while. Her lonely days spent in her room are disrupted when the mirror in her room begins to glow. After touching said mirror, Kokoro finds herself pulled into a castle where she stands alongside six other teenagers. In this fairy tale environment they embark upon an adventure to find a secret key that will lead to a room where they can have their wishes granted. However, they must leave the castle by five o’clock or be punished…

Okiku and the World    Okiku and the World Film Poster R

せかいのおきく Sekai no Okiku

Release Date: April 28th, 2023

Duration: 90 mins.

Director: Junji Sakamoto

Writer: Junji Sakamoto (Screenplay),

Starring: Haru Kuroki, Kanichiro, Sosuke Ikematsu, Koichi Sato, Renji Ishibashi, Claude Maki,


Junji Sakamoto is one of those directors who has racked up awards and great titles  (Face) but doesn’t have the international presence of someone like Shunji Iwai has. This might tip him over the edge.

The film features great performers like Haru Kuroki (The Bride of Rip Van Winkle), Renji Ishibashi (The Bird People of China), Sosuke Ikematsu (The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue) and Koichi Sato (Starfish Hotel). Sato’s son, Kanichiro, has a leading role, too.

Synopsis: We are taken to Edo-era Japan and we watch two “manure men”,  whose work is to turn the waste from the tenement toilets into fertiliser to sell to local farmers, meet Okiku, the only daughter of a fallen samurai. A story of romance and resilience unfolds, all told with black-and-white photography embellished with glimpses of colour, revealing both the beautiful and the foul.

One Hundred Years and Hope   100 Years and Hope Film Poster

百年と希望 Hyaku-nen to Kibou

Release Date: June 18th, 2022

Duration: 107 mins.

Director: Takashi Nishihara

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A


Synopsis: Takashi Nishihara of Sisterhood fame (interview) has been filming social movements since the 2000s and comes with a documentary covering the current state of the Japanese Communist Party as it approaches the 100th anniversary of its founding – July 15, 2022 – the 100 Years. The documentary shows how they are getting on in the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly and the House of Representatives elections, gets perspectives from old party members and younger ones, and shows the editorial department of the Communist Party newspaper. Through this, we get some of the hopes for change in Japan where the Liberal Democratic Party, which promotes neoliberalism, has long been in power and run the country into its present crises. 

Tokyo 2020 Olympics SIDE:A   Tokyo 2020 Olympics SIDE A Film Poster

東京2020オリンピック SIDE:A Tokyo 2020 Orinpikku SIDE:A

Release Date: June 03rd, 2022

Duration: 120 mins.

Director: Naomi Kawase,

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A


Synopsis: This is the first “side” of the official Olympic documentary by Naomi Kawase and it was made from 5000 hours of footage. The focus is on the athletes who have gathered from all over the world, their as the Tokyo 2020 games are captured and edited for posterity. 

Tokyo 2020 Olympics SIDE:B   Tokyo 2020 Olympics SIDE A Film Poster

東京2020オリンピック SIDE:B Tokyo 2020 Orinpikku SIDE:B

Release Date: June 24th, 2022

Duration: 123 mins.

Director: Naomi Kawase,

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A


Synopsis: This is the second “side” of the official Olympic documentary by Naomi Kawase (Sweet Bean) and it was made from 5000 hours of footage. This second part offers more perspective on the more technical side and backstage staff, from volunteers to medical personnel, and media and politicians. 

I Can’t Stop Biting You    Blood Friends Film Poster

血ぃともだち Chii Tomodachi

Release Date: April 28th, 2023

Duration: 80 mins.

Director: Mamoru Oshii

Writer: Mamoru Oshii (Screenplay),

Starring: Erika Karata, Ichika Osaki, Mikoto Hibi, Nina Hillman, Rena Matsui, Tamami Matsumoto, Nazuki Amano, Toshio Kakei, Toshio Suzuki,

Website IMDB

Blood Friends is such a better title than its current international one. Oshii expert Brian Ruh states that this live-action film (and an anime called Vladlove) has its roots in Chinamire Mai Love, a visual novel-like app from 2013 but has since disappeared.

He has an interesting Twitter thread on the game.

Anyway, the cast features Studio Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki, Asako I & II’s Erika Karata who has started making her film comeback after the Masahiro Higashide scandal (she had a film out last year).

Synopsis: Maki (Erika Kurata), Kaoru (Nazuka Amano), Jinko (Ichika Osaki), and Nami (Mikoto Hibi) are four girls at Kurusu High School who have set up a ‘Blood Donation Club’ and this is where the beautiful but Mai Vlad Transylvania (Nina Hillman) bursts into. You guessed it, she is a vampire ‘teenager’ but she is unable to attack humans. The girls, taking pity on her, donate blood…

Masaaki Yuasa

There is an entire strand dedicated to Masaaki Yuasa, an animator who really came into his own in the mid 2000s with The Tatami Galaxy and Mind Game. In this section, audiences will have a chance to watch some of his TV anime like the aforementioned Tatami Galaxy and also Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! (not Devilman Crybaby or Ping Pong The Animation). There are also the shorts Happy Machine and Kick-Heart.

Listed below are his feature films and a TV anime edited into a feature:

Inu-Oh     Inu-Oh Film Poster

犬王Inu Oh

Release Date: May 28th, 2022

Duration: 90 mins.

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Writer: Akiko Nogi (Script), Hideo Furukawa (Original Novel – Heike Monogatari – Inu-Oh no Maki)

Starring: Avu-chan (Inu-oh), Mirai Moriyama (Tomona),

Animation Production: Science SARU

Website ANN   MAL

This is an adaptation of Heike Monogatari – Inu-Oh no Maki by Hideo Furukawa and is also based on the true story of 14th-century Sarugaku Noh performer and playwright Inu-Oh. The film is billed as a musical that incorporates both modern song and dance.

Manga artist, Taiyo Matsumoto (Tekkonkinkreet, Ping PongSunny), who previously worked with Yuasa on Ping Pong: The Animation, is credited as the character designer. The screenplay comes from Akiko Nogi who has adapted manga into live-action films like Library Wars and I Am a Hero.

Synopsis from Asmik AceYou should make a song of my life with Biwa.”

Inu-Oh was a real person who lived in the 14th century. He was a Noh dancer and extremely popular in that era. However, he is all but unknown to people nowadays, because only few documents about his life remain. This film imagines his life.

Born with deformities that shocked people who saw him, his parents covered his body with garments and a mask. When he meets a boy named Tomona, a blind biwa player, Inu-Ou discovers an incredible ability to dance. The two become business partners and inseparable friends, using their creative gifts to survive on the margins of society, as song after song gain them notoriety and propel them to stardom. Through the songs, Inu-Ou mesmerizes his audiences on stage, and gradually begins to transform into someone of unequalled beauty. But why is Tomona blind? Why was Inu-Ou born with unique characteristics? It is a story about the friendship of Inu-Ou and Tomona, who dance and sing to get to the truth and break each other’s curse.


The Night is Short, Walk on Girl

夜は短し歩けよ乙女 「Yoru wa Mijikashi Aruke yo Otome」

Release date: April 07th, 2017    The Night is Short, Walk on Girl Film Poster

Duration: 93 mins.

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Writer: Masaaki Yuasa, Reiko Yoshida (Screenplay) Tomihiko Morimi (Original Novel),

Animation Production: Science SARU

Starring: Kana Hanazawa (Kurokami no Otome), Gen Hoshino (Senpai), Kazuya Nakai (Seitarou Higuchi), Yuuko Kaida (Ryouko Hanuki), Nobuyuki Hiyama (Johnny), Aoi Yuuki (Princess Daruma), Junichi Suwabe (Nise Jougasaki),

MAL     IMDB    Website

The Night is Short, Walk on Girl is the latest film from anime auteur Masaaki Yuasa and his studio Science Saru. One of two award-winning movies he released in 2017 (the other being Lu Over the Wall which took top prize at Annecy), this film is the very definition of the word exuberant in terms of story and style and should cement Yuasa as one of the best anime directors around. It was programmed at a fest I worked for and I can say, without a doubt, that the audience has a riot of a time! Here’s my review!!!

Synopsis: The narrative is simple: a girl with black hair (voiced by the ubiquitous and super-talented Kana Hanazawa) is attending the wedding reception of a friend in Kyoto. As far as she is concerned the party doesn’t have to end there and she follows the Komagawa river and walks around the streets of Kyoto at night. From the alleyways and izakayas of Pontocho to the university campus, she makes detours along the way to many hidden events. She is pursued by a male admirer, Sempai (voiced by the musician Gen Hoshino who also played the hapless lover of Fumi Nikaido’s gangster girl in Why Don’t You Play in Hell?), who tries to catch her attention by appearing before her as often as possible. As this rather one-sided romantic dance unfolds they experience surreal magical-realist moments that grow increasingly absurd thanks to a cast of unique characters, all of which tests Sempai’s resolve in love and the girl’s capacity for drink and fun because all the while, everyone keeps drinking and having a good time.

Ride Your Wave   Ride Your Wave Film Poster

きみと、波にのれたら  Kimi to, Nami ni Noretara

Duration: 94 mins.

Release Date: June 21st, 2019

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Writer: Reiko Yoshida (Screenplay/Original Creator),

Starring: Rina Kawaei (Hinako Mukaimizu), Ryota Katayose (Minato Hinageshi), Honoka Matsumoto (Yoko Hinageshi), Kentaro Ito (Wasabi Kawamura)

Animation Production: Science SARU

Music: Michiru Oshima

Website   ANN   MAL      

Synopsis: Hinako moves to a coastal town to attend university. While there she can indulge her passion for surfing, something which washes away her uncertainty about her future. When a fire breaks out in town, Hinako encounters the young firefighter Minato. As they surf and spend more time together Hinako feels drawn to someone like Minato who devotes himself to helping other people. Hinako also holds a special place in Minato’s heart, and when he suddenly drowns while out surfing alone, he comes back to her as a ghost trapped in water. As everyone else gets over Minato’s death and tries to move on, Hinako comes to depend on his spirit.


Lu Over the Wall   Lu Over the Wall Film Poster

夜明け告げるルーのうた Yoake Tsugeru Lu no Uta

Running Time: 112 mins.

Release Date: May 19th, 2017

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Writer: Masaaki Yuasa, Reiko Yoshida (Screenplay)

Animation Production: Science SARU

Starring: Kanon Tani (Lu), Shota Shimoda (Kai), Akira Emoto (Grandfather), Minako Kotobuki (Yuuho), Shinichi Shinohara (Lu’s father), Souma Saitou (Kunio),

Website ANN MAL

Lu Over the Wall was huge last year where it picked up awards including at Annecy, where it took the “Cristal for a Feature Film”. It was directed by Masaaki Yuasa with a script written by Reiko Yoshida, a woman who has written many different anime such as A Silent VoiceYowamushi Pedal, and Shirobako. It was produced by Yuasa’s protégé (and a highly talented animator) Eun young Choi, and animated by Science SARU and these folks are the geniuses behind Mind GamePing Pong: The Animation, and The Tatami Galaxy amongst other great artistic titles. 

Synopsis: Middle school student Kai finds himself forced to move from Tokyo to the declining fishing town of Hinashi to live with his father and grandfather following his parents’ divorce. For a kid from the big metropolis, there’s little for him to do besides composing music and sharing it on the internet. One day his classmates Kunio and Yuuho invite him to join their band, and when he reluctantly accompanies them to practice on Mermaid Island, the three of them meet a mermaid named Lu. Through meeting her and playing music, Kai is slowly able to open up about his emotions but calamity soon strikes the town and he must find a way to avert it with his new-found friends and community!



Japan Sinks: 2020 “The Beginning of the End”  Japan Sinks Theatrical Edition

日本沈没 2020 劇場編集版 シズマヌキボウNihon Chinbotsu 2020 Gekijō henshu-ban shizumanukibou 

Release Date: November 13th, 2020

Duration: 151 mins.

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Writer: Toshio Yoshitaka (Script), Sakyo Komatsu (Original Creator)

Starring: Masaki Terasoma (Koichiro Muto), Tomo Muranaka (Go Muto), Yuko Sasaki (Mari Muto), Reina Ueda (Ayumu Muto),

Animation Production: Science SARU

Website ANN MAL

This is the theatrical cut of an anime that was released on Netflix in 2020.

It is the anime adaptation of Sakyo Komatsu’s science-fiction novel of the same name. It has previously been adapted into a live-action film twice, one version directed by Shinji Higuchi in 2006, the other directed by Shiro Moritani in 1973.

Synopsis: Sometime in the modern era, a series of natural disasters hit Japan, from volcanic eruptions to earthquakes and they begin to cause massive tectonic shifts that threaten the Japanese archipelago. It’s looking like the country will sink into the sea as the country shifts towards a trench. Amidst all of this mounting disaster, the Muto family attempt to escape Tokyo.


Mind Game

マインド・ゲーム 「Maindo Ge-mu」 

Release Date: August 07th, 2004     Mind Game Film Poster

Running Time: 104 mins.

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Writer: Masaaki Yuasa (Screenplay), Robin Nishi (Original Manga),

Starring: Sayaka Maeda (Myon), Koji Imada (Nishi), Seiko Takuma (Yan), Jouji Shimaki (Yakuza Boss), Takahashi Fujii (Ji-san),

Animation Production: Studio 4°C

ANN    MAL      IMDB

Masaaki Yuasa took a manga by Robin Nishi and filtered it through a number of experimental styles to create a surreal tale of love that has gone down as a cult-classic. I absolutely loved it when I saw it and can wholeheartedly recommend it! Here’s my review.

Synopsis: Nishi is a twenty-something guy with a simple dream: to become a manga artist and marry his childhood sweetheart Myon. Reality is much more complicated. She’s already been proposed to and she thinks Nishi is too much of a wimp. This changes when he visits her family’s diner and encounters a couple Yakuza who get violent. This leads to an epic adventure that involves meeting God and being trapped in the belly of a whale!



Junichi Okuyama Triple-Bill

Le Cinéma (1975, 5 mins)

My Movie Melodies (1980, 7 mins)

A Man Playing Movie (1987, 10 mins)

Other Shorts

Howing (Dir: Aya Kawazoe, 23 mins.)

Sekai (Dir: Marina Tsukada, 38 mins. IMDB)

Ultramint (Dir: Tadashi Hirose, 10 mins.)

By the Shore (Dir: Hiroki Inoue, 16 mins.)

Here’s a previous coverage stretching back a decade!

Rotterdam 2012

Rotterdam 2013         Part One       /      Part Two

Rotterdam 2014

Rotterdam 2015

Rotterdam 2016

Rotterdam 2017

Rotterdam 2018

Rotterdam 2019

Rotterdam 2020

Rotterdam 2021

Rotterdam 2022

2 thoughts on “Japanese Films at the Rotterdam International Film Festival 2023

  1. The last movie of Oshii Mamoru does not look so interesting… But who knows? NOWHERE GIRL was very good (2015).
    TE ? I’ll give it a try. It’s nice to see Nikkatsu still producing good pinku eiga. I just saw the movie by Shiraishi Kôji (it’s one of the last 3 pinku from the Nikkatsu, with TE), and it was OK. I expected something a little bit funnier I guess.

    1. The set-up for the Shiraishi film is ridiculous so it sounds like it might be a comedy. Is it time to put Roman Porno to bed?

      I’m not a particular fan of Oshii’s live-action films but(!), like you said, who knows? Can’t judge it until we watch it!

      I’m looking forward to OKIKU AND THE WORLD and ONE HUNDRED YEARS AND HOPE. The directors have good form and I like the look of the films based on the trailers.

      FILM FETISH might be worth a risk, too!

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