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A Preview of the Tokyo International Film Festival 2017

The 30th Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) runs from October 25th – November 03rd in Roppongi and it’s the best event to see films with English subtitles in Japan at this time of the year since nearly all will have them and there will also be English interpretation at Q&A sessions with filmmakers. Another great thing about the festival is that it nearly all takes place in one location which means that getting to venues is easy.

There are a heck of a lot of films programmed and just as many events and it looks as if there are over 300 things for people to attend. Tickets are sold-out or selling-out fast but I wanted to cover this because it has an exciting line-up and Japanese indie cinema and the shorts looks strong. Heck, Japanese cinema in general looks to be in rude health.

There is a lot to get through and it will be difficult for anyone not using a computer with a decent internet connection to view this (apologies) but I wanted to do this in one post because it is impressive. Accuse me of maximalism if you want but I hope people find something to enjoy thanks to reading this. Click on a title to be taken to the festival page. Here’s what’s on offer.

Ojiichan Shinjattatte Film Image

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Close Knit    彼らが本気で編むときは、 (2017) Dir: Naoko Ogigami

Close Knit   karera-ga-honki-de-amu-toki-wa-film-poster

彼らが本気で編むときは、  Karera ga Honki de Amu toki wa   

Running Time: 127 mins.

Director: Naoko Ogigami

Writer: Naoko Ogigami (Screenplay),

Starring: Rinka Kakihara, Toma Ikuta, Kenta Kiritani, Mimura, Eiko Koike, Mugi Kadowaki, Lily, Kaito Komie, Shuji Kashiwabara, Misako Tanako,

Website   IMDB

Naoko Ogigami is one of Japan’s most commercially successful female directors. She has built up a large audience at home and abroad following her debut feature film Yoshino’s Barber Shop (2004) which was a winner at Berlin International Film Festival. She followed that up with Kamome Diner (2006), Glasses (2007), and Rent-a-Cat (2012). Her oeuvre could be described as quirky dramas about outsider characters in unusual circumstances but Close-Knit is a lot more serious as Ogigami looks at LGBTQ issues in Japan, a country that is still conservative in some ways, and she does so through the perspective of a child.

Close Knit Film Image 3

Said child is eleven-year-old Tomo (Rinka Kakihara). When we first meet her she is all alone in an apartment where unwashed dishes are piling up in the sink and onigiri wrappers and cup noodle containers are overflowing from the bin. Indeed, a meagre meal of store-bought onigiri is her only option on the menu as she dines solo. She has a mother named Hiromi (Mimura) but when Tomo does see her it is usually when she comes home late and drunk after a day at the office and, presumably, a night at an izakaya. Hiromi is a single-mother struggling to cope with the role but when she finds herself a man she quits her jobs and takes off for who knows how long and little Tomo is pretty much forgotten about.

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Getting Any? みんな~やってるか! (1995) Dir: Takeshi Kitano

Getting Any?   Getting Any Film Poster

みんな~やってるか!Minna~ Yatteru ka

Running Time: 108 mins.

Release Date: February 11th, 1995

Director:  Takeshi Kitano

Writer: Takeshi Kitano (Screenplay),

Starring: Dankan, Moeko Ezawa, Takeshi Kitano, Susumu Terajima, Kanji Tsuda, Yurei Yanagi, Ren Osugi, Taka Guadalcanal, Hakuryu, Yojin Hino, Yoneko Matsukane,

IMDB Website

Takeshi Kitano the director and Beat Takeshi the performer meet together in a manic film about a young man’s increasingly desperate attempt to get laid which becomes a series of prurient slapstick sketches that push the boundaries of good taste.

Getting Any Film Image

The story follows middle-aged layabout Asao (Dankan). His one and only goal in life is to have sex. To do this, he embarks upon a series of misadventures ranging from buying a car to impress a woman enough for car sex to becoming an actor to get a seat in first class on a jet because, in his narrow-minded world, he thinks sex is one of the services on offer from air-hostesses. His antics get bigger and bolder and wackier the more desperate he becomes. Pretty soon they involve armed robbery, becoming the next Zatoichi in a movie production, a yakuza hitman, and an invisible man and worse because of crazy scientific experiments.

Getting Any? uses an episodic structure to launch a scattershot satire of Japanese society and popular culture through the lens of Kitano’s unique sense of humour which he takes to extremes in terms of the inanity and stupidity. Every situation start off at some reasonable level of idiocy initiated by Asao before becoming a series of bizarre, over the top and absurd slapstick gags at the expense of the central character and a cast ranging from serious actors to Kitano’s army of fans, his Gundan who appear in many of his films and TV shows, all of whom throw themselves into the skits with gusto. Even Kitano shows up to take part.

Kitano finds comedy in every situation thanks to Asao being of a character with a one-track mind with a brain straight out of dullstown. This leads to tremendous sight gags especially in the first part of the film. In order to get money Asao figures he needs to rob a bank. So he needs a gun. Who has guns? Cops. Asao imagines stealing a gun and getting blown away. When he acquires a gun, one of his targets is a bank run by cops.

As the film ticks along, his imagination gets only slightly bigger but his luck get much better. Seeing Asao graduate from being a bit-part player stuck full of arrows in a samurai movie to playing Zatoichi by way of accidentally getting the original actor to almost drown is hilarious and then taken to the next level as the central fool plays the blind swordsman by closing his eyes and engaging in physical slapstick such as dousing people with manure and much more dangerous liquids while in the presence of a naked flame.

Kitano managed to work in references to and mock films as diverse as Ghostbusters, Branded to Kill, Ultraman, Mothra, Zatoichi, Michael Jackson’s song Beat It and Akira Kurosawa as Asao travels across Tokyo and gets into misadventures. Having a knowledge of Japanese pop-culture adds a lot of depth to the gags and makes them funnier, the laughs last longer, but towards the end of the film, many of them have a habit of going on way too long (especially the tokusatsu stuff), past the point where the joke is funny. This was deliberate on Kitano’s part since he made the n’est plus ultra of bad jokes to scandalise the Japanese entertainment industry and also to destroy his own career.

This a film with which some Japanese fans of Kitano feel he tried committing suicide as public figure since he went to such great lengths to be absurd audiences wondered if he had lost the plot. It was filmed at a time when he was at the height of his fame and fortune in Japan as Beat Takeshi, the comedian, radio star, writer and so forth but not taken seriously as Takeshi Kitano, the film director and serious actor. With so many TV shows, books, and other projects he was working on and an eventful private life to say the least, he was finding it difficult to manage the stress of fame and public interest as well as his excessive work and partying. This was compounded by the box-office failure of the 1993 gangster film Sonatine, which he personally saw as his first major artistic achievement as a director. With fame and pressure mounting, he let the comedian, Beat Takeshi tear up the screen with this film and the results are scandalous. Further adding to the dramatic context of the film, Kitano finished production on it before the motor-scooter accident which left the right side of his face paralysed. No wonder some interpret Getting Any​? as something he made unconsciously to help him deal with his career frustrations and anxiety over his fame as well as being a rebel yell against an industry not taking him seriously. 

Getting Any? may have been made out of frustration but there is enough comedy and shock value and bizarre prurient humour here to justify viewing it. It is easy to imagine fans at the time being scandalised by some of the scenes packed full of nudity and violence but also there’s a sense of dangerousness and liberation in seeing people gleefully engaging in the anarchy on screen. Kitano is pushing back against good taste and does so effectively.

Getting Any Film Image 2

Kitano leads actors and his Gundan who he worked with in previous films astray as everyone throws themselves into this nonsense. It is fun seeing the likes of Yurei Yanagi, Susumu Terajima, and Ren Osugi from Boiling Point and Sonatine reprise roles as gangsters and weirdos who only show up to get bumped off or take part in sight gags based on societal quirks and erotic games that will lead to audience-members doing spit takes. Leading the cast is Dankan who plays Asao with a vacant gaze perfect for a man so shallow he is unable to see where his disastrous schemes go wrong and why women don’t like him. He would come off as a sexual predator of the worst kind if he wasn’t so inept at everything he put his hand to and Kitano didn’t keep slapping him in stupid situations that break off his ardour or totally subvert it.

Getting Any? is a solid comedy and interesting to engaging with when you consider this as Kitano’s mid-career crisis film. We should be glad he survived it and his accident because he went on to make even more films and gain a serious following in Japan as an auteur and we are now able to watch his films get re-released in wonderful 4K and enjoy his idiosyncratic sense of humour and direction. Even if it doesn’t always work, most of it is amusing to watch and a great time-capsule of pop-culture hits from the 80s and 90s.

Third Window Films continue to release the newly restored films of Takeshi Kitano on sparkly blu-ray in the UK with Getting Any?. Prior to this release, it was only available in the UK via Second Sight Films and their Kitano box-set. The Third Window Films release is a massive improvement in terms of visuals and sound and the subtitles have been given a unique UK spin with money translated from yen to pounds and there’s an interesting interview with Kitano.

Getting Any? みんな~やってるか! (1995) Dir: Takeshi Kitano is erotic nonsense of the highest order and presented perfectly here so if you have to get any version, then this is the one.

This review was originally written for VCinema.

Tears and Laughter: Women in Japanese Melodrama During the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema

There will be a season of films dedicated to the female actors who dazzled as stars during the Golden Age of Japanese cinema at the BFI Southbank from October 16th to November 29th It is called, Tears and Laughter: Women in Japanese Melodrama. Billed as “an opportunity for audiences to explore the cinema of Japan’s ‘Golden Age’, with a distinctly female focus,” there are thirteen films programmed and several of those titles are rarely screened in the UK so this is a good opportunity to get acquainted with them.

The season opens with a double bill of films by Kenji Mizoguchi and that will followed up by a season introduction on October 17th, – Women in Japanese Melodrama – during which experts including Alexander Jacoby and Alejandra Armendáriz will discuss the work of the female stars who dazzled at the heart of mid-century Japanese cinema. Following that will be the rest of the films from directors such as Yasujiro Ozu. Keisuke Kinoshita, Mikio Naruse and others who made powerful female led dramas such as Setsuko Hara, Hideko Takamine and others who are now becoming well-known across the world.

I’ve only seen one of these films so I’m using the synopses from the BFI’s site.

It’s a great line-up! Here is what has been programmed:

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Cooperation and Community [績(う)みの村] (2015) Dir: Keishiro Ikeda Osaka Asian Film Festival Housen Catalogue

Cooperation and Community

績(う)みの村  Isao (u) minomura   

Running Time: 51 mins.

Director: Keishiro Ikeda

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A

One of the more interesting trends in documentaries made in Japan over the last decade is the number that are dedicated to tracking the movement of people from the major cities back to small villages as they take up farming and find their place in smaller communities. This focus on settlers in smaller villages and on communitarianism is here in Cooperation and Community, my favourite film from the Housen strand since it gives an insight into a village undergoing a fascinating revitalisation and offers a possible answer to the much-publicised issue of the falling population and the stresses of modern life in Japan.

This particular documentary takes place in a small mountain village near Miyazu city in the Tango Peninsula which is located in Kyoto Prefecture. It is here that twelve households reside. It had been dying since most of the youngsters had left for the bigger cities but recently, more and more people disillusioned with life in capitalist society have arrived seeking a new way of living. These new settlers are only allowed in through introductions from friends and family ensuring some harmony as these newcomers and the original population of mostly elderly people must learn to get along.

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Bright Night レンコーンの夜 Dir: Yasumasa Konno (2016) Osaka Asian Film Festival Housen Catalogue

Bright Night 

レンコーンの夜   Renko-n no yoru   

Running Time: 43 mins.

Director: Yasumasa Konno

Writer: N/A

Starring: Yuji Komatsu, Toru Kizu, Hidetoshi Kawaya, Akana Ikeda, Suguru Onuma, Atsushi Yamanaka,

This one was fun and my second favourite film from the Housen strand and at only 43 minutes, it flew by with a flurry of laughs. Its story about a freshly-minted salaryman forced to join the R&D department of a failing company and given the difficult task of saving it from imminent closure through inventing some new contraption is delightfully whimsical since it features a cast of good-natured if odd characters and a script that warmly embraces them. Yasumasa Konno, already something of an experienced writer and director, further shows his skills with this.

Bright Night Film Image

The story starts with 28-year-old Shinji Hanayama visits a small company named Nakata Cyber desperate for a job. They are famous for making 3D glasses and televisions but have fallen on hard times. After a cursory interview where the boss assures himself that Shinji will just be a yes-man, he is hired and given control of the company’s R&D department to come up with a new gadget to make sure that a bank invests in the project. There’s a deadline and it’s next week or the company will go bankrupt without that financing.

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Promises 子供たち Dir: Mikihiro Endo (2015) Osaka Asian Film Festival Housen Catalogue

Promises

子供たち   Kodomotachi   

Running Time: 85 mins.

Director: Mikihiro Endo

Writer: N/A

Starring: Shugo Oshinari, Tatsuki Ishikawa,

Promises, one of three films from graduates of the film course at Tokyo University of Fine Arts, was the only film in the Housen strand at the Osaka Asian Film Festival that would qualify as feature-length in terms of duration. Much like the other entries, it was professionally shot and featured great performances from its cast and it used its extra time to ask big questions about identity. This is a somewhat intriguing but fuzzy existential tale about false masks worn in society and authenticity and the creeping madness that emerges in people when there is a gap between the two.

A young man named Masaru Fukada (Oshinari) begins working as a teacher at an English cram school. His big selling-point as a teacher is that he has lived and studied in America but it’s all a lie. He didn’t go to America to learn English, he used reference books and online tutorials. Despite this, his English is pretty good – far more natural and easy to understand than some professional teachers in state schools. He may not have the experience but he can act like he does. Thus, his employers encourage him to teach and ready the students to perform at a speech contest.

promises-film-image

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Breathless Lovers 息ぎれの恋人たち Dir: Shumpei Shimizu (2017) Osaka Asian Film Festival Housen Catalogue

Breathless Lovers

息ぎれの恋人たち Ikigire no koibito-tachi   

Running Time: 20 mins.

Director: Shumpei Shimizu

Writer: Shumpei Shimizu (Screenplay)

Starring: Kaito Yoshimura, Fusako Urabe, Daisuke Kuroda, Atsushi Shinohara

Breathless Lovers is the latest work from Shumpei Shimizu. It came into the festival with positive word of mouth, something to be expected from someone who has been educated at Tokyo University of the Arts. Indeed, his career features a directorial debut, Fuzakerun Janeeyo (2014), produced by Shinji Aoyama and work Martin Scorsese’s film, Silence. Shimizu’s short explores a pathological relationship between a man and the ghost of his lover.

The story concerns Toshiyuki, a 23-year-old guy who recently lost his boyfriend Tatsuya in a motorcycle accident. While he physically survived the accident, Toshyuki has been mentally wounded and is unable to ride or drive any vehicles. If he needs to go anywhere, he walks or runs and he does this despite having asthma. To try and connect with Tatsuya, Toshiyuki visits the boxing gym his ex-lover used to train at and performs the same emotionally and physically draining routines over and over as he follows the ghost of Tatsuya. Throughout the film, Toshiyuki is constantly breathless from his desperate attempts to connect with Tatsuya whose lifeless corpse… well, you get the picture. These are two of the breathless lovers of the title.

IF05_breathless_ikigire_1

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Sweetest Truth スイーテスト・トゥルース (2016) Dir: Evdoxia Kyropoulou Osaka Asian Film Festival Housen Catalogue

Sweetest Truth 

スイーテスト・トゥルース   Sui-tesuto Turu-su   

Running Time: 58 mins.

Director: Evdoxia Kyropoulou

Writer: N/A

Starring: Emiko Nakai, Efstathia Tsapareli, Ryo Tsujikura, Giota Festa,

Sweetest Truth is writer/director Evdoxia Kyropoulou’s graduation work for the Kyoto University of Art and Design graduate school’s master’s course. She has written and directed short films and documentaries in Japan, the UK and Greece on young women coping with modern, urban reality and Sweetest Truth is her most ambitious film yet since it takes place in two countries.

There are two characters at the centre of the film. The first is Sissi Nakamura (Emiko Nakai), a young model living and working in Kyoto. She tries to balance a career entering overdrive and a relationship with her difficult boyfriend, Hideo (Ryo Tsujikura), who is also a model. He has a cold attitude to her and he has financial problems but she persists in loving him.

Meanwhile, in Athens, we see Katerina (Efstathia Tsapareli), a middle-aged woman who works as a cleaner. She is drifting far away from her youthful ambitions. She lives a suffocating existence with her selfish and overbearing mother Athanasia (Giota Festa) in a small apartment. The internet is her only escape and it is how she briefly makes contact with Sissi.

Sweetest Truth Film Image 2

Kyropoulou’s script effectively balances two narratives in distinctly different locations with characters who go on similar journeys.

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Osaka Asian Film Festival 2017 Programme Housen Film Round-Up

I’m writing this the night before I age another year… Back, way back, way way back in the past, when 2014 was about to turn into 2015, I made many New Year’s resolutions. I actually hit every one of my resolutions. Except one:

  • I will investigate the Japanese indie film scene much more,

I didn’t do much in terms of indie films. In fact, reviews of films in general have been dropping to all-time lows. This year, I was gifted the chance to get involved in the Japanese indie film scene when I was at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and had access to a whole bunch of indie titles and filmmakers. However, when it came time to network, I didn’t have the energy or enthusiasm and just stood in the background with a bemused expression because I was deep in thought (strange for a shallow person like me). I did make a couple of connections after film screenings and one has turned out to be a film-friend of sorts. The really indie stuff, as in the kids still in university or freshly graduated, the people who have ascended from the foothills to the slopes as they scale the mountain of a movie-making career, well, I briefly talked to a few but mostly just watched the films and sat in on a couple of Q&As. This happened at National Museum of Art in a really cool area of the city which I enjoyed walking through every day.

National Museum of Art, Osaka

The venue was pretty cool, the relaxed atmosphere of a small lecture hall in the quiet museum being conducive to thinking about a film without distraction. A decent-sized screen was enough to convey the cinematic visions of a bunch of talented creatives to a dedicated audience who seemed very interested in what they had watched (that was the impression I got from the Q&As where people asked probing questions). As was the case for every film at the festival, every screening had subtitles and the ones I saw were perfect. For my part, I sat back and wrote, laughed, and was entertained and informed by new stories of life in Japan and visions of communities and individuals that were unique. I even asked a question at a Q&A. Also, all of the screenings were totally free. Free films. I mean, what a deal!

I’ve got notes on each film and will be publishing reviews for them individually. This post is a bit like a statement of intent and a contents page. The Osaka Asian Film Festival sort of revitalised me as a film-blogger at a time when I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing except having fun. I have a direction to go in now. I’ve also rediscovered anime with Mind Game, The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, and A Silent Voice and with the new Kino no Tabi series out it’s time to get hype!

So what were the indie films I saw? They were part of the Housen strand.

Hosen Cultural Foundation: Support for film study and production

What is Housen? Based in Osaka, the Housen Cultural Foundation supports film study and production in graduate schools across Japan with the aim of preserving and helping grow film culture in Japan. This year’s crop of directors came from Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Kyoto University and each shot a film that was technically great or near enough. Every film screening with the exception of Icarus and the Son was a world premiere and one of the Housen-backed films – Breathless Lovers – was selected for a screening in the Indie Forum section. Two of the films later made it to festivals like Nippon Connection and Japan Cuts.

Everybody watches a film differently due to their mindset and emotional baggage and I found I got wildly different responses from other people who saw the same thing. Since I’m usually the odd man out, whatever.

Insecurities out of the way, here are a few brief thoughts before I post reviews over the next week.

bright-night-film-image

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