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Interview with The Murders of Oiso Director Misawa Takuya [OAFF 2020]

Takuya Misawa hails from Kanagawa and is a graduate from the Japan Institute of the Moving Image. He worked on various film productions as crew including as assistant director to Koji Fukada on Au Revoir L Éte (2013) before making his debut feature with the Kanagawa-set relationship comedy drama Chigasaki Story (2015). Produced by Kiki Sugino’s Wa Entertainment, it made waves on the festival circuit for not only for its well-engineered story of a group of academics and students stuck together at a beach resort but also its directorial style which evoked Yasujiro Ozu. Four years on, Misawa’s second feature The Murders of Oiso demonstrates a complete change of tone despite again  being set in Kanagawa.

Taking place in another seaside town, The Murders of Oiso is a noirish slice-of-life story set in the picturesque location of Oiso. It concerns how small-scale corruption is revealed when four friends, Tomoki (Haya Nakazaki), Shun (Koji Moriya), Kazuya (Yusaku Mori), and Eita (Shugo Nagashima) confront the crimes of the people around them and themselves after the death of an influential man in the town. The construction company they work for is used for illegal activities, Eita’s girlfriend far worse abuses are revealed.

Using a number of different narrators and multiple perspectives to reveal what is going on beneath the pretty exterior, the film features lots of twists, turns and social issues and asks for viewers to pay attention. Working with a Hong Kong film crew to create an unusual atmosphere for his actors, Misawa has made a unique and challenging film that brings the audience into worrying space. The film won the Japan Cuts Award at this year’s Osaka Asian Film Festival and it will play at the festival in New York later this year. Misawa took the time to have an interview to explain more about the story, creating the atmosphere and how he got his cast to perform.

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Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020 Recommendations

It’s almost March and that means the Osaka Asian Film Festival (OAFF) is about to launch for its 2020 edition.

The festival plays from March 6-15 and comes at a time when the international community is convulsed with the spread of the Coronavirus. However, despite the cancellation of part of the programme (a decision taken by one of the festival’s co-hosts), the rest of the event is scheduled to go with 58 films to be screened and a whole host of guests to attend. It’s a ballsy move typical for a fest that screens hard-hitting works that challenge audiences. Also typical is the way the programmers continue to search out and provide a platform for talented individuals and stories that contain thorny issues.

If OAFF has an identity, it’s a rebellious guy or gal standing up for someone else as borne out by the films programmed with the fiery fight for democratic rights in Hong Kong seen in Apart (2020), a myriad of LGBTQ+ stories from across Asia, the biggest title this year being the Taiwanese romance Your Name Engraved Herein (2020) which gets its world premiere at the fest. Nearly half of all festival berths given to female directors and it is on the basis of quality rather than tokenism as seen with the moving drama Way Back Home (2019) and there are a lot of pure entertainment film, many from the Philippines which bring some absolutely charming romances for audiences to relax to like Write About Love (2019) and Last Song Syndrome (2019).

Here’s a trailer for the fest:

The line-up for this year’s festival is as exciting as it has ever been and while the slate features names from returning directors, there is a deep well of new talent on display in various sections and if you want to see the cinematic output of Asia in one place, this has to be it, especially since the films will have English subs.

I’ll be on the ground at the festival to review films. Although post-film Q&As have been cancelled, if any of the filmmakers are present I still might have the chance to interview creatives to highlight some of the gems that may be gracing other festivals and cinemas around the world.

Please check the full line-up of OAFF 2020 which can be found here on the official site (complete with synopses I have written) and here is a summary on my blog.

Here are my recommendations:

The Girl with the Gun (Rae Red, 2019, Philippines)

A fearsome performance from Janine Gutierez helps propel Rae Red’s solo feature directorial debut which also stars an ensemble of great actors who play a group of characters all connected to the titular gun as we look at the lifespan of a weapon passing through the hands of people from the politically turbulent 1980s to the crime-ridden era of now.

While the crime genre is typically male-dominated, in the Philippines, filmmakers have recently tackled it from a female perspective with “Buy Bust” (2018) and “Neomanila” (2017) and “Birdshot” (2016), which Rae Red helped write, being some standout titles. “The Girl and the Gun” offers a thrilling, visually crisp narrative with a message about power dynamics between people, and the gender analysis, with the inflection of violence, proves to be most gripping.

Kontora (Anshul Chauhan, 2019, Japan)

Anshu Chauhan — whose film “Bad Poetry Tokyo” (2018) won Best Actress at OAFF 2018) — returns to the competition with “KONTORA”, a movie which takes in a family drama and the echoes of World War II.

Set in rural Japan, the movie follows a high school girl who loses the one family member she can talk to, her grandfather, is left trying to make sense of the stifling reality surrounding her and the distant relationship from her father but hidden treasure and a vagrant who only walks backwards promises to change the dynamics in her life. Chauhan again explores the clashes between past and present and the frustration of youth stuck with older generations that are inflexible and selfish but with black and white visuals and majestic camerawork and it has a mysterious tone to it which proves absorbing.

Lucky Chan-sil (Kim Cho-hee, 2019, South Korea)

Following the Oscar wins for “Parasite” If you want to sound smart when talking about South Korean cinema, you can bring up the work of Hong Sang-soo and wow any neophyte cinephiles and impress the slightly more clued up who are familiar with his talky and repetitive films. If you want to sound even smarter, try selling them on the debut film of Hong’s former producer, Kim Cho-hee who takes his style and peoples it with genuinely lovely characters.

For her debut, Kim casts actors familiar from Hong’s films and a relatively new actress, Kang Mal-geum, who is the titular Chan-sil, a movie producer who hits hard times and goes through an emotional crisis when a director dies. Plenty of amusement is to be had as Chan-sil tries to get back on track but the film has drama lurking underneath as the main character experiences some bleak and humiliating moments that gets her to question her life choices and it turns out to be a harrowing to go through it with her and proves to have deeper things to say about the human experience than a Hong film.

Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache (Khyentse Norbu, 2019, Nepal and Mexico)

“Looking for a Lady with Fangs and a Moustache” has to have one of the best titles of the year and if it sounds barking mad, it makes complete sense at the end of the film. Almost. The semi-abstract story is full of philosophy as a thoroughly modern man living in Kathmandu goes on a mystical journey to save his life. There is a  lot of introspection over the clash between modernity and tradition in Nepal as the film tracks the plight of the psychologically ailing character divided between his attraction to western and city lifestyle and his home culture but the chief pleasure of the experience are the majestically beautiful images shot by Khyentse Norbu. Each frame is a painting that could adorn a wall so while the philosophising might drive you crazy, you can luxuriate in a relaxing and beautiful experience.

VIDEOPHOBIA (Daisuke Miyazaki, 2019, Japan)

Nobody makes stories about the youth of Japan like Daisuke Miyazaki and his latest feature (following “TOURISM“) is completely different. A shadowy tech film that comes with a David Lynchian twist where the world we see is our own but made alien through how technology makes the main character powerless. The movie follows a young woman named Ai whose night out at a club results in a sex video being made. The only thing is, she had no idea she was being filmed. What’s worse is that the video is spread online like a virus.

The narrative sees Ai become disassociated from herself in a disturbing psycho-sexual narrative that leaves many ideas for the audience to mull over once the film is over. Anchored by a great performance from Tomona Hirota and set in Osaka, it’s an original idea made effective by the mise-en-scene and electro soundtrack. The film’s genre-defying nature positions Miyazaki as one of the filmmakers to watch in this year’s edition.

Made in Bangladesh (Rubaiyat Hossain, 2019, France, Bangladesh, Denmark and Portugal) 

Director Rubaiyat Hossain, a new and brave feminine voice in Bangladeshi cinema. With three titles to her name, she challenges the male-dominated space to create socially conscious films told from a female perspective. This film is vital in an age of resistance against corporate exploitation and challenges to patriarchy as it looks at female garment factory workers unionising against hazardous working conditions, male oppression and global capital. It serves up an insight into Bangladeshi workplace and society and how we get our cheap goods in the West at the expense of the workers.

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Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020 Programme Announcement

Earlier this month, the organisers of the Osaka Asian Film Festival (OAFF) 2020 announced the full line-up for the festival which takes place from March 6-15. This is the best event to see a cross-section of Asian cinema and nearly all of the films will have English subs – the only exceptions we know so far are “Birthday”, ” House of Hummingbird”, and “Malmoe The Secret Mission”.

Despite the issues surrounding Coronavirus, the festival is still going ahead but one section, the co-hosted event “Come to Life! vol.2 Gutai and Nakanoshima”, has been cancelled due to the decision of the co-host organiser. This means six films have been removed which brings the number of selected films screened from a record 64 to 58 in total. This number includes 12 World Premieres, 12 International Premieres, and 3 Asian Premieres with films submitted from countries and regions such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, Poland, South Korea, Japan, and South East Asia.

Continuing on from previous editions of the festival, OAFF remains a beacon of progressive programming as 25 female directors find their works selected with over half the films in the Competition section directed by women. The festival programme features characters from across the world contesting with issues such as war, crime, bullying, LGBTQ+ rights, immigration and unionising in the workplace. OAFF continues to give a platform to filmmakers who face challenging issues, whether the films reckon with historical injustice or paint a brighter future through showing diverse characters navigating their way in our tumultuous world.

Please check the full line-up of OAFF 2020 which can be found here. Tickets for the films screening at the fest are already on sale.


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Japanese Films at the Berlin International Film Festival 2019

 

The Berlin International Film Festival launches at the end of this week and runs from February 20th to March 01st. There are a fair few films from Japan on display with two classics mixed in with contemporary titles. If there is a general theme, it is the deconstruction of family as each of the titles looks at that topic from a particular angle. There is also a special talk event featuring Ang Lee and Hirokazu Koreeda with the film After Life screened.

What are the Japanese films programmed?

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Japanese Films at the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2020

Rotterdam International Film Festival Logo

From January 22nd to February 02nd 2020, the Rotterdam International Film Festival will screen a diverse mix of films from old masters and new talents and the Japanese contingent epitomises this with familiar names like Kazuo Hara and Nobuhiko Obayashi having their latest works picked up, after they had their premieres at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year, alongside the freshest titles from newer voices like documentarian Kaori Oda and Isamu Hirabayashi who has worked a lot in anime.

Here are the Japanese movies, the newest titles first:

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Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2020 Preview – Joy and Despair in Japanese Cinema

The Japan Foundation announced the details of their Touring Film Programme for 2020. The tour lasts from January 31st to March 29th and the theme that connects them all is “love”. The films look at the emotions of joy and despair and, presumably, there will be every other emotion in between as people seek happiness. According to the organisers, there are stories of “love, social inclusion, the resilience of humankind through times of hardship, and unconventional paths to achieving and maintaining joy”.

Here are the films:

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A Silent Voice 声の形 Dir: Naoko Yamada (2016) [Kotatsu Japanese Animation Festival 2019]

A Silent Voice  

koe-no-katachi-film-poster-2声の形Koe no Katachi

Release Date: September 17th, 2016 (Japan)

Duration: 129 mins.

Director: Naoko Yamada

Writer: Reiko Yoshida (Screenplay), Yoshitoki Ooima (Original Manga)

Starring: Saori Hayami (Shouko Nishimiya), Miyu Irino/Mayu Matsuoka (Shouya Ishida),  Aoi Yuuki (Yuzuru Nishimiya),

Animation Production: Kyoto Animation

Website MAL ANN

If love brings out our best qualities, hatred deform us. A lack of empathy and ignorance lead to hatred and victimisation. This is perfectly illustrated in A Silent Voice. Based on Yoshitoki Ooima’s award-winning seven-volume manga, Kyoto Animation (KyoAni), with their trademark eye for revealing the humanity in their characters through their focus on exquisite character designs and animation, create a quiet and searing tale of teens experiencing the poisonous effect of bullying, the fragmenting of relationships and their self-perception in a story that takes the rather unconventional step of showing it from the perspective of the bully.

Directed by Naoko Yamada, she and her team of animators at KyoAni create one of the most honest portrayals of guilt and perseverance in the name of redemption through every character, each of whom carries some form of guilt and each of whom has been lovingly drawn and animated to give them a life that emanates from the screen so we can relate to them. Lingering shots on facial expressions or mid-shots that focus body-language and sign language show the subtly shifting emotions of hate and love so we feel for all of the characters.

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Japanese Animation at the London International Animation Festival 2019

Genki London International Animation Film Festival 2013 Banner

This year’s London International Animation Festival (LIAF 19) will be at the Barbican from Friday, November 29th to Sunday, December 08th. The organisers have combed through 2,600 entries and whittled them down to 85 films that best represent the international indie animation universe.

I’m interested in everything Japanese so here’s what’s on offer:

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Award Winners the Tokyo International Film Festival 2019

Tokyo International Film Festival Banner

The Tokyo International Film Festival (TokyoIFF) finished yesterday with an award ceremony (results) that celebrated various strands programme including Japanese movies (see this preview). Awards were aplenty in the 90 minute ceremony, beginning with the Tokyo Gemstone Award for new talents which went to Josefine Frida, Sairi Ito, Riru Yoshina and Yui Sakuma. The Lifetime Achievement awards were already announced and went to director Nobuhiko Obayashi and actor Tatsuya Nakadai.

The Competition section had two Japanese titles but the majority of awards went to international films. Uncle, the Danish film from director Frelle Petersen, was awarded the Tokyo Grand Prix after having had its world premiere in Tokyo. Winner of the second-place Special Jury Prize was the Ukrainian film Atlantis. Best Director went to Iran’s Saeed Roustaee for 6.5. The Best Screenplay award went to Shin Adachi’s A Beloved Wife.

Taking to the stage to announce the award was Julie Gayet who said that the awards went to, “a scriptwriter that made us look into his complicated private life with a lot of humour and laughter that made his film universal”.

A Beloved Wife    A Beloved Wife Film Poster

喜劇 愛妻物語 Kigeki Aisai Monogatari

Release Date: 2020

Duration: 76 mins.

Director: Shin Adachi

Writer: Shin Adachi (Screenplay/Novel)

Starring: Gaku Hamada, Asami Mizukawa, Chise Niitsu, Eri Fuse, Kaho, Kayoko Ookubo, Ken Mitsuishi, 

Shin Adachi is best known for his script for 100 Yen Love (2014) and has worked on other projects, including directing a warmly received comedy 14 That Night (2016). He adapts his autobiographical novel for his sophomore film as a director and it was produced by Aoi Pro, whose works include Shoplifters (2018) and The Long Excuse (2016).

Synopsis: Gota Yanagida (Gaku Hamada) is a scriptwriter with a family and a desperate need for a hit film. His wife of 10 years, Chika (Asami Mizukawa), is the family breadwinner and very unhappy about their lack of money. His daughter Aki (Chise Niitsu) is beginning to view him as a bit of a loser. His desperation for a break is finally answered when a film producer tasks Gota with writing a screenplay for his story of “a high school girl who makes udon noodles at a tremendous speed”. Gota has a chance to travel to Kagawa Prefecture to write a screenplay and so he persuades Chika and Aki to go with him, but when he arrives he discovers a different film project has already been decided…

Adachi took the award and thanked the programming director for allowing a comedy to be entered into the Competition and, in explaining the background of his project, assured the audience that while it is based on his life, the leading lady and man do, in no way represent his them, it’s the actors.


Japanese Cinema Splash

The Japanese Cinema Splash section for Japanese indie films featured eight titles, two notable for being political documentaries, and plenty of dramas. This provided a complicated job for the jury to narrow down the candidates for the awards.

The Best Film award went to Tatsuya Mori’s documentary i – Documentary of the Journalist.

Nam Dong-Chul, programme director at the Busan International Film Festival, was a member of the jury and he was present to give the award to director Tatsuya Mori. In his review he summed up why the film was selected:

“This film introduces an unforgettable female character described with depth and it also introduces Japanese social issues [in a way] that is appealing to the world.”

i -Documentary of the Journalist-  i -Documentary of the Journalist- Film Poster

i-新聞記者ドキュメント- I – shinbun kisha dokyumento –

Release Date: November 15th, 2019

Duration: 120 mins.

Director: Tatsuya Mori

Writer: N/A

Starring: Isoko Mochizuki

Tatsuya Mori is a documentarian famous for the films A (1998), 311 (2011) and Fake (2016). He also acted as producer on The Journalist (2019) which is based on a book by the real-life female journalist, Isoko Mochizuki. She forms the centre of this film as she pursues the truth.

Synopsis: Traditional news media is in a spin as social media, financial forces and political tribalism batter them around. Maybe film documentary might be the best place for news if not for some of brave journalists still working for newspapers who are unafraid to look for the truth. Isoko Mochizuki of The Tokyo Shimbun is one of them as she asks all the awkward questions that keep those in power on their toes and ferrets out the truth. This in a country which is still patriarchal, in an industry which is male-dominated, in a media environment that prefers not to challenge those in power lest they lose access to government press conferences. Here’s an article about her in The New York Times (written by Motoko Rich) which gives an excellent overview of the environment she works in.

Tatsuya Mori stepped onto the stage in rather normal attire at such a formal affair and made a joke of it, apologising for looking like he’s dressed like he’s going to a video rental shop in his neighbourhood.

The meat of his speech went on to thanking everyone involved and stating how documentary is important, acknowledging the presence of Kazuo Hara with his movie Reiwa Uprising but managed to lace in some jokes amidst the serious critiques. 

“I think documentary is really fun and it gets to portray how the media is positioned so the audience gets to see that as well. I believe that the air we feel in Japan, especially about speech and expression, that we’re quite suppressed. I would like to say thank you to the programme directors. You may have a difficult time but it’s your responsibility so you will have to live with it.”

The film’s producer, Mitsunobu Kawamura, talked a little about the background, how he wanted to screen this film alongside The Journalist but couldn’t.

“I believe that this film depicts the hollowness that we feel working in the media and it is also a good expression of what is taking place in Japanese society right now and I believe it is the role of film to try and bring these issues to the fore.”

Here’s a Q&A report from the film’s screening at the festival (English language).


Best Director went to Hirobumi Watanabe for Cry. The judges said that they would remember the film a year from now and there was unanimous agreement on who should win Best Director.

Director Akiko Ooku congratulated those involved in the making of the film strong and praised “a unique vision [that] also made us recall warm emotions and it was a very interesting film”.

Cry

叫び声 Sakebigoe

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 75 mins.

Director: Hirobumi Watanabe

Writer: Hirobumi Watanabe (Screenplay), 

Starring: Hirobumi Watanabe, Riko Hisatsugu, Keita Hisatsugu, Nanaka Sudo, Takanori Kurosaki, Gaku Imamura, Yuji Watanabe, Misao Hirayama,

Website

I met the Watanabe brothers and their cinematographer at the 2014 Raindance Film Festival‘s screening of And the Mud Ship Sails Away and I got their autographs. Little did I suspect that they would turn into familiar faces at the Tokyo International Film Festival as they get backing from the event to keep produce their brand of offbeat comedy shot in black-and-white. It’s an alternative to the urban voices and a lot of sideways fun.

Synopsis: A man who lives with his ageing grandmother works silently in a pigpen…

Hirobumi Watanabe explained the background to the film, how it is a family affair with his brother, parents and grandparents among those who worked on the film in their home Prefecture of Tochigi, and, in the most moving part of the ceremony, he went on to pay emotional tribute to his grandmother who passed away in August at the age of 102 saying he believed he was able to get the award because of her.

I watched the awards as they were screened live just before work. Here’s a link to a video.