A Preview of the Japanese Titles at the New York Asian Film Festival 2021 (August 06th – 22nd)

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!!!

I will also be covering the fest over at Heroic Purgatory. My co-host John and I talked about the festival in the last episode which covers the New York-set film The Wedding Banquet.

What are the films programmed? Scroll down to find out!

Continue reading “A Preview of the Japanese Titles at the New York Asian Film Festival 2021 (August 06th – 22nd)”

Reiwa Uprising れいわ一揆 (2019) Dir: Kazuo Hara

Reiwa Uprising   Reiwa Uprising Film Poster

れいわ一揆  Reiwa Ikki

Release Date: September 11th, 2020

Duration: 248 mins.

Director: Kazuo Hara

Writer: N/A

Starring: Ayumi Yasutomi

Website IMDB

Popular discontent and disillusionment with governments and traditional media are increasingly a feature of societies worldwide as economic conditions and alienation deepens for many. People are now seeking alternative voices that promise some semblance of change, even in Japan where the conservative Liberal Democratic Party has maintained a near unbroken grip on the steering wheel of the country since World War II. While this continuance of command has conferred the veneer of stability to the nation, beneath the surface is a history of corruption, incompetence, and persistent social problems which many people have linked to regressive official attitudes and an uncaring ruling party. What one finds is that these factors have led to a general sense of malaise amongst the populace. So, what hope is there for change?

Enter documentarian Kazuo Hara who, in his first film made without his wife and producer, Sachiko Kobayashi, spent three months in 2019 tracking a set of outsiders who tried to break into the conservative world of Japanese politics. He turns in a fun film that presents an optimistic picture of citizen engagement and collective action that upturns any cynical assumptions of what a politician should be and just how normal people can challenge the status quo.

Reiwa Uprising starts with Hara receiving an invitation to join a political campaign run by Ayumi Yasutomi, a transgender Tokyo University professor who specialises in economics and whose hobby is horse riding. She is one of ten candidates handpicked at short notice by actor-turned-politician Taro Yamamoto (Kawada in Battle Royale) to represent his then newly established Reiwa Shinsengumi party in their first national election. Up for grabs are seats in Japan’s House of Councillors. There is an understanding that the politically and financially dominant LDP are sure to retain power, but the hope is that some sort of breakthrough can be made and the party established. After briefings lay out a general strategy, each of the candidates sets off to campaign however they want.

And so Hara and his team follow Yasutomi with handheld cameras and smartphones. They record her as she goes on a whistle-stop tour of Japan, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, selling her message and listening to local issues like the Henoko base move. Her PR methods are lo-fi, especially when compared to the moneyed LDP figures: armed with a banner, sash, and microphone, Yasutomi travels alongside a horse and a small orchestra whose instruments include kazoos, melodicas, and an iPad and, as a group, they rock up in front of train stations, on street corners, and in community centres where Yasutomi gives speeches while her eccentric orchestra plays and spectators are invited to contribute, by dancing, drawing, and commenting.

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It is easy to dismiss these rallies as cute, especially when the film shows the quality gap between the focus-group-tested precision-engineered messaging of the LDP candidates who ride along on vans with a huge entourage of handlers – we see them in action when the LDP candidates send heavies and spies in to shut Yasutomi down – but she remains a calm and intelligent figure even if her presentation leaves a lot to be desired. Initially, her wandering speeches espouse two vague messages – “save the children” and “bring horses into cities” – and she is light on policy but as election day approaches, a clearer political rhetoric emerges as she takes inspiration from what she has seen and she rails against the strictures of society and unites it with the humanism and environmentalism she believes in. This stands in contrast to the LDP candidates who are like automatons who parrot insincere lines with inauthentic smiles that seem to wash off the crowds who breeze by with nary a glance. And this is where the film begins to show how the LDP can be overturned.

What we notice is that the novelty Yasutomi’s outreach catches attention and her sincerity and progressive and inclusive messaging inspires people to join in until her audiences grow larger, more diverse, and more dedicated. Even kids joyfully contribute drawings and comments praising her. While Yasutomi is never perfect on messaging, as evidenced by a talk about LGBTQ rights which feels too blasé, the public are genuinely swayed by her. Hara shows this through vox pops and in the many rally scenes caught in cinéma vérité style where we see people are drawn in to participate and are moved to tears by the increasingly impassioned Yasutomi who, herself, frequently bursts into tears, especially as she returns to her home prefecture of Osaka near. Sometimes, Yasutomi’s methods are magic, especially a Michael Jackson-inspired street concert that is definitely toe-tapping and grin-inducing, but what we see is her steadily building coalitions and active engagement with all sectors of society, especially those who are marginalised, and this provides the impetus for change. It is something that leftist parties tend to forget as they retreat away from working with unions and charities and communities and become professional politicians divorced from reality. The fact is status quo parties, especially conservative ones, tend to have the money, the way to beat them is to bring the people.

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While the film follows Yasutomi, we are introduced to the other candidates including Teruko Watanabe, a single mother, Eiko Kimura and Yasuhiko Funago, who are both disabled, and Taro Yamamoto himself who is using his star power to boost the prospects of his fellow party members. There are others, some slightly more polished, others more rough around the edges, but what is felt is that they are real people and of the people and committed to bringing difficult issues that the LDP ducks to the docket.

One of the other compelling strands in the film comes near the end where normal people begin to berate of the fourth estate. One woman, inspired by Reiwa Shinsengumi to travel from the distant Awaji islands to the election night gathering in Tokyo – watch the audience for raised eyebrows when she announces where she is from – chastises big news outlets for offering little coverage and this is followed up by many other stern comments. The lack of  media interest is an idea that is seeded throughout the film by Hara who uses YouTube and social media visuals to convey how Reiwa Shinsengumi use the internet to disrupt the normal political narratives and this allows them to secure recognition for their party. This really gets across just how grassroots and genuine the party are. Whatever the election results, it does seem like change is possible.

If Hara’s early works focussed on individuals and gave a glimpse of the collectives that formed around them, his late work, starting with Sennan Asbestos Disaster, is all about collectives and the individuals within them, each of whom pulls together to make a change. Through following Reiwa Shinsengumi, the film shows picture of people championing the rights of the disabled and the marginalised and offering an alternative vision for the way society is run. It’s a refreshingly unvarnished and cheerful experience that offers real slices of Japan, from Henoko base protests to stump speeches in Nishinari where the local crowd have little time for airs and graces. As the film played out, I felt myself swept along by the messaging and even getting emotional alongside Yasutomi whose genuineness definitely won my vote. Alright, I was really impressed by Taro Yamamoto, too!

Uplifting, fun, and hip to contemporary issues, Reiwa Uprising breezes through its near 5-hour duration quite easily and offers plenty to think about and relate to.

Reiwa Uprising was part of a season of films made by Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi run by Japan Society.

Belle, Restart, Sanma Democracy, Hoshizora no Mukou no Kuni, Kud Wafter Movie Version Japanese Film Trailers

Happy Saturday!

Chika_sub07

I hope you are well.

I have taken a break from writing this week and spent some time doing gardening with my mother and recording an episode of the Heroic Purgatory podcast, this one dedicated to the 1993 Ang Lee film, The Wedding Banquet. In terms of films and TV that I have viewed, I am half-way through my re-watch of season 2 of The X-Files and I watched John Wick 2 and Snakes and Earrings.

What films are released this weekend?

Continue reading “Belle, Restart, Sanma Democracy, Hoshizora no Mukou no Kuni, Kud Wafter Movie Version Japanese Film Trailers”

Tokyo Kurds, A Dobugawa Dream, The Fish with One Sleeve, Nebagiba Shinsekai, Hakko Suru Tami, Demon Pond  4K Restoration, Robot Repair Boy Japanese Film Trailers

Happy weekend, part two (you can find part one here)

A bit of a slow week for me. I’ve just finished 13 days of work and will do another 13 from next Monday. I’ve been re-watching and enjoying season one of The X-Files. I only posted one review, that was for Sennan Asbestos Disaster. I’ve also updated my Cannes post with a couple of films.

What else is released this weekend?

Continue reading “Tokyo Kurds, A Dobugawa Dream, The Fish with One Sleeve, Nebagiba Shinsekai, Hakko Suru Tami, Demon Pond  4K Restoration, Robot Repair Boy Japanese Film Trailers”

Honey Lemon Soda, Tokyo Revengers, The Fishmans Movie, Hiruko the Goblin, Tokyo Bicycle Festival, 100-nichikan Ikita Wani, Kakushigoto: Himegoto wa Nan Desu ka Japanese Film Trailers

Happy Weekend.

I hope you are doing well.

This is part one of a two-part trailer post. The next one is tomorrow?

What is amongst the first batch of films released this weekend?

Continue reading “Honey Lemon Soda, Tokyo Revengers, The Fishmans Movie, Hiruko the Goblin, Tokyo Bicycle Festival, 100-nichikan Ikita Wani, Kakushigoto: Himegoto wa Nan Desu ka Japanese Film Trailers”

Sennan Asbestos Disaster ニッポン国VS泉南石綿村 (2018) Director:  Kazuo Hara Producer: Sachiko Kobayashi

Sennan Asbestos Disaster   Sennan Asbestos Disaster Film Poster

ニッポン国VS泉南石綿村 「Nippon Kuni VS Sennan Ishiwatamura

Running Time: 215 mins.

Release Date: March 10th, 2018

Director:  Kazuo Hara

Producer: Sachiko Kobayashi

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A

Website IMDB

Following on from their first – and only – fiction feature, The Many Faces of Chika (2006), Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi returned to documentary filmmaking with the release of Sennan Asbestos Disaster in 2018. It is a heart-breaking and infuriating document of the bitter legal battles between people who found their lives blighted by asbestos and the Japanese government who failed to protect them despite knowing the dangers the material posed. 

Continue reading “Sennan Asbestos Disaster ニッポン国VS泉南石綿村 (2018) Director:  Kazuo Hara Producer: Sachiko Kobayashi”

The Asian Angel, Napoleon and Me, The Seven Deadly Sins the Movie: Cursed By Light, Don Quixote in Cinema, Shoku no Anzen o Mamoru Hitobito, Bakemon, Sugiyuku Minamo Japanese Film Trailers

Happy Weekend!

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I hope you are well.

This is a bit of a procrastination day. Finished work, did some gardening, watched an episode of The X-Files.

This week I wrote about the Heroic Purgatory podcast recording I did that covered the Japan Society’s retrospective of Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi’s films. I then wrote a review for their films The Many Faces of Chika and A Dedicated Life. I wanted to cover Reiwa Uprising but that’ll have to be for next week.

This week I watched Shin, Shin, Shin (2011) and Antonym (2014) from Japan, Symptoms (1974) from the UK, and I started season 1 of The X-Files. I forgot just how much of a procedural/office drama it was at a first. That stuff is really good! I watched it when it first came out so revisiting it has been a nostalgia trip.

What is released this weekend in Japan?

Continue reading “The Asian Angel, Napoleon and Me, The Seven Deadly Sins the Movie: Cursed By Light, Don Quixote in Cinema, Shoku no Anzen o Mamoru Hitobito, Bakemon, Sugiyuku Minamo Japanese Film Trailers”

A Dedicated Life 全身小説家 (1994) Director: Kazuo Hara, Producer: Sachiko Kobayashi

A Dedicated Life   

全身小説家 Zenshin Shosetsuka

Release Date: September 23rd 1994

Duration: 157 mins.

Director: Kazuo Hara

Producer: Sachiko Kobayashi

Writer: N/A

Starring: Mitsuharu Inoue, Jakucho Setouchi, Hiroshi Noma, 

IMDB

Released seven years after The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, you might expect A Dedicated Life to pale in comparison to that excoriating and exciting experience but it proves to be an enthralling documentary as it explores the myth-making of leftist writer named Mitsuharu Inoue and offers a fascinating and complicated biographical portrait of a larger-than-life personality in the few years prior to his death.

Continue reading “A Dedicated Life 全身小説家 (1994) Director: Kazuo Hara, Producer: Sachiko Kobayashi”

The Many Faces of Chika またの日の知華 (2005) Dir: Kazuo Hara, Producer/Writer: Sachiko Kobayashi

The Many Faces of Chika    The Many Faces of Chika Film Poster

またの日の知華 Mata no Hi no Chika

Release Date: January 05th 2005

Duration: 114 mins.

Director: Kazuo Hara

Producer: Sachiko Kobayashi

Writer: Sachiko Kobayashi

Starring: Takami Yoshimoto (Chika Chapter 1), Minoru Tanaka, Makiko Watanabe (Chika Chapter 2), Seiichi Tanabe, Kumija Kim (Chika Chapter 3), Yoshikazu Kotani, Kaori Momoi (Chika Chapter 4), Isao Natsuyagi, Toshie Negishi,

IMDB

Following on 11 years from their award-winning documentary A Dedicated Life (1994), husband-and-wife filmmaking team Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi made The Many Faces of Chika, their first and only fiction feature. Although drawing from history, the mysterious nature of the central character makes it into an allegorical film about the male gaze, the subjection of women, and the destructive nature of passion, interlinking these ideas with the destruction of leftist movements. It has a dreamy air to it that stands in contrast to the usual dedication to realism that Hara and Kobayashi have consistently shown in their work and it makes the experience absorbing in its own way.

For this project Hara assumed directorial duties while Kobayashi penned the script as well as her acting as producer. This is in line with her first forays into cinema as she attended writing classes taught by politically active New Wave directors such as Kaneto Shindo and Nagisa Oshima in the late 60s and early 70s. Kobayashi’s screenplay for The Many Faces of Chika uses the cultural and political upheaval of that very time period as the background for a drama that has an experimental conceit: four actresses play the part of the eponymous Chika to portray the different ways she is perceived through the eyes of different men.

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Continue reading “The Many Faces of Chika またの日の知華 (2005) Dir: Kazuo Hara, Producer/Writer: Sachiko Kobayashi”

Heroic Purgatory Podcast Covers Japan Society’s Cinema as Struggle: The Films of Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi (June 04 – July 02)

Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi are a husband-and-wife team of filmmakers who emerged out of the Japanese New Wave and have spent their careers documenting iconoclasts and outsiders in Japan. Their films have had a major impact on filmmakers and now audiences in North America can view them from their own homes.

From: https://www.japansociety.org/arts-and-culture/films/cinema-as-struggle-the-films-of-kazuo-hara-and-sachiko-kobayashi

On the 50th anniversary of the founding of Shisso production, Japan Society is currently screening the films of Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi in the US (and in some cases, Canada) via their virtual cinema in a season called Cinema as Struggle: The Films of Kazuo Hara and Sachiko Kobayashi (June 04 – July 02). This season contains many of their works (7 documentaries and 1 narrative feature) made during this period.

Thanks to the people at the Japan Society, I have been able to review the films and also talk about them on the Heroic Purgatory podcast with fellow writer, John Atom (here’s a link to his work).

In the podcast we cover each of the films in this retrospective series, starting with their first production, Goodbye CP (1972), their most famous work, The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987), the rarely-seen The Many Faces of Chika — the pair’s only narrative feature – and, briefly (very briefly because we had yet to watch it), the five-hour long MINAMATA Mandala (2020), which is currently on the festival circuit. I hope you take the time to listen to the podcast and get the chance to watch some of these films.


Here are links to where you can rent the films:

Goodbye CP    Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974    The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On    A Dedicated Life     The Many Faces of Chika    Sennan Asbestos Disaster    Reiwa Uprising     MINAMATA Mandala

Here are the prices:

Rentals: $10 / 20% off members

Bundle 1: $30 / 20% off members
Includes: Goodbye CP, Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974, The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, A Dedicated Life and Sennan Asbestos Disaster – Available in the US and Canada.

Bundle 2: $20 / 20% off members
Includes: The Many Faces of Chika, Reiwa Uprising and Minamata Mandala