Love’s Whirlpool 愛の渦  Director: Daisuke Miura (2014)

Love’s Whirlpool  Love's Whirlpool Film Poster

愛の渦   「Ai no Uzu」

Release Date: March 01st, 2014

Duration: 123 mins.

Director: Daisuke Miura

Writer: Daisuke Miura (Script/Stage Play/Original Novel)

Starring: Mugi Kadowaki, Sosuke Ikematsu, Yoko Mitsuya, Hirofumi Arai, Kenichi Takito, Ryusuke Komakime, Tokio Emoto, Yu Nobue, Eriko Nakamura, Muck Akazawa, Tetsushi Tanaka, Yosuke Kubozuka,

Website   IMDB

“Birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love”

From the song “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love

A group of people gather at a well-furnished apartment in Roppongi for sex. They have from midnight to 5AM. The rules are simple: use condoms, shower between partners, respect women’s requests, and leave quietly without exchanging information at the end. It is meant to be no-strings sex, but for some it becomes more meaningful as the emotions that drove them to the party are tapped…

This is the set-up to Daisuke Miura’s Love’s Whirlpool, an erotic drama from 2014. It is adapted from his own 2005 stage-play that raised eyebrows for its nudity but ultimately went on to win awards. The film itself became a something of a hit on the indie circuit and it is easy to see why as it bridges the gap between mainstream cinema and pink films as known actors engaging in explicit depictions of sex you might see in softcore. The hook for those of a less prurient nature is the way that psychological drama and social status emerges amongst a group of anonymous strangers simply seeking sex.

Continue reading “Love’s Whirlpool 愛の渦  Director: Daisuke Miura (2014)”

All Around Us ぐるりのこと。(2008) Director: Ryosuke Hashiguchi

All Around Us    All Around Us Film Poster 2

ぐるりのこと。 Gururi no Koto.

Release Date: June 07th, 2008

Duration: 140 mins.

Director: Ryosuke Hashiguchi

Writer: Ryosuke Hashiguchi (Script),

Starring: Lily Franky, Tae Kimura, Akira Emoto, Susumu Terajima, Tamae Ando, Mitsuko Baisho, Ken Mitsuishi, Ryo Kase, Yoji Tanaka, Reiko Kataoka, Jiro Sato, Rie Minemura,

IMDB

2008 was a vintage year for Japanese cinema as a number of titles were released that have stood the test of time. The most notable are a triumvirate of slice-of-life dramas that left an indelible mark on the film world with Tokyo Sonata and Still Walking leaving a lasting impression with cinephiles while Departures had enough crossover appeal for mainstream audiences to become the first Japanese film to win an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. 

Not talked about as much but equal to all three is All Around Us, a hidden gem of a marriage story that takes in an epic sweep of social history while delivering intimate character studies all told through subtle direction that respects the audience’s ability to understand and naturalistic acting that is heartfelt and compelling.

The film starts in 1993 in Tokyo and introduces us to Kanao (Lily Franky) and Shoko (Tae Kimura). We enter their lives just as she launches a campaign to get pregnant.

The two are a study in contrasts that is initially fun. She is a controlling woman who works at a small publisher and is capable of great things. He is a laid-back and louche lothario who slums it as a street-side shoe repairman. She dresses primly. He dresses sloppily. She uses diaries and calendars to orchestrate book launches in work and marital sex nights at home to maximise chances of getting pregnant. He loafs around and dutifully, if a little perturbed, goes along with her instructions after days of flirting with female customers. For her, sex is almost laughably clinical while he goes with his passions, as shown in one hilarious scene where he cheekily surprises her by trying out a new sexual position that throws her off her game. 

Continue reading “All Around Us ぐるりのこと。(2008) Director: Ryosuke Hashiguchi”

While the Women are Sleeping 女が眠る時 (2016) Director: Wayne Wang

While the Women are Sleeping     

While the Women are Sleeping Film Poster
While the Women are Sleeping Film Poster

女が眠る時 「Onna ga Nemuru Toki」 

Release Date: February 27th, 2016

Duration: 103 mins.

Director: Wayne Wang

Writer: Michael Ray, Lee Shin-ho, Mami Sunada (Screenplay) Javier Marias (Original Story)

Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Sayuri Oyamada, Lily Franky, Shioli Kutsuna, Makiko Watanabe, Hirofumi Arai,

Website IMDB

An undercooked psycho-sexual thriller, While the Women are Sleeping wastes a stellar cast – Hidetoshi Nishijima (License to Live), Takeshi Kitano (Hana-bi), Lily Franky (Like Father, Like Son), Makiko Watanabe (Love Exposure) – on a poor story.

We are at a posh holiday resort on the Izu Peninsula with unhappily married couple Kenji (Hidetoshi Nishijima), an author, and Aya (Sayuri Oyamada), a book editor.

While the Women are Sleeping Hidetoshi Nishijima and Sayuri Oyamada,

They are spending a week at the hotel over the summer. It is a bit of work and play, as she disappears during the day to coach an author while Kenji is left to his own devices and flip-flops between procrastination and wading through writer’s block. Although picture perfect together, marital strain is apparent as they snipe at each other over him skimping on sex and whether he should write or start life over as a salaryman. Things go really off the rails when they encounter a strange couple amongst the other guests.

Continue reading “While the Women are Sleeping 女が眠る時 (2016) Director: Wayne Wang”

The Workhorse and the Bigmouth ばしゃ馬さんとビッグマウス (2013) Director: Keisuke Yoshida

The Workhorse and the Bigmouth     The Workhorse and the Big Mouth Film Poster

ばしゃ馬さんとビッグマウス  「Basaumasan to Biggumausu」

Release Date: November 02nd, 2013

Duration: 119 mins.

Director: Keisuke Yoshida

Writer: Keisuke Yoshida, Ryo Nishihara

Starring: Kumiko Aso, Shota Yasuda, Yoshinori Okada, Maho Yamada, Yutaka Shimizu, Yoko Akino, Jun Inoue, Yoneko Matsukane

Website     IMDB

Contrary to the optimistic messages that films often sell audiences, dreams don’t always come true no matter how hard you work. The lesson learned by the two protagonists in The Workhorse and the Bigmouth, a dramedy about wannabe writers trying to make it in the movies, is that one has to be realistic.

The titular workhorse is Michiyo Mabuchi (Kumiko Aso), a 34-year-old woman who is single and works in a kinken shop (金券ショップ ticket reseller). She has dedicated herself to the art of writing and has written screenplays consistently since graduating from university and has consistently failed to break into the film world despite attending workshops and classes, entering competitions, networking, and knowing all of the technical aspects of screenwriting.

The bigmouth is Yoshimi Tendo (Shota Yasuda), a 20-something loafer with dyed-blonde hair who works as a chef in a fast-food joint. He spends more time daydreaming about movie-writing fame than trying to achieve it. He loves the attention he gets when he says he is a writer and bragging about his ambitions but putting in the work is another matter.

The two are a chalk-and-cheese pair who meet in a screenwriting class in downtown Osaka and both are desperate to make it and so they enter a competition launched by a Tokyo-based TV channel. While audiences might expect a romance of the “opposites attract” variety to happen, the story resists going the obvious route.

The Workhorse and Big Mouth Kumiko Aso and Shota Yasuda

Continue reading “The Workhorse and the Bigmouth ばしゃ馬さんとビッグマウス (2013) Director: Keisuke Yoshida”

Love at Least 生きてるだけで、愛  (2018) Director: Kosai Sekine

Love At Least    Love At Least Film Poster

生きてるだけで、愛 Ikiteru dakede Ai

Release Date: November 09th, 2018

Duration: 109 mins.

Director: Kosai Sekine

Writer: Kosai Sekine (Screenplay), Yukiko Motoya (Original Novel),

Starring: Shuri, Masaki Suda, Riisa Naka, Shizuka Ishibashi, Yutaka Matsushige, Naomi Nishida, Lisa Oda, Tetsushi Tanaka,

Website IMDB

The romance genre is strong in Japan where many filmmakers give many different and nuanced takes. There are the big-budget glossy works sourced from manga like We Were There (2012), while Rikiya Imaizumi has colonised the subject with gently wistful works like Over the Town (2020) and Just Only Love (2018). The anti-romance subgenre is especially strong. Grown-ups (2022) is where director Takuya Kato strives for documentary realism while playing with the audience’s conception of time while Yoko Yamanaka’s Amiko (2017) gives audiences gales of laughter thanks to its titular crackpot heroine losing her mind over love.

Making his debut with Love at Least, advertising director Kosine Sekine adapts Yukiko Motoya’s novel wherein mental illness marks the lives of its central couple. With the potential to be an anti-romance, it doles out darkness but avoids despair with glimpses of comedy and beautiful visuals that edify the hopeful and invigorating feeling that love can confer.

The story is a snapshot of the relationship between Yasuko (Shuri) and her boyfriend Tsunagi (Masaki Suda) who she lives with in Tokyo. Yasuko is a hikikomori because of her struggle with depression and her hypersomnia which means she has trouble staying awake during the day. She also has difficulty controlling her emotions and so she spends most days sleeping. Meanwhile, Tsunagi works as an editor for a gossip magazine. He seems like a supportive boyfriend who is patient and gentle with her behaviour but Yasuko senses indifference from his placative attitude which leaves her frustrated and so the relationship is put to the test when Tsunagi’s ex-girlfriend Ando (Riisa Naka) appears with plans to break up the couple by forcing Yasuko out of her room and into a job.

Love at Least Shuri and Riisa Naka,

Continue reading “Love at Least 生きてるだけで、愛  (2018) Director: Kosai Sekine”

Just Only Love 愛がなんだ (2019) Dir: Rikiya Imaizumi

Just Only Love   

愛がなんだ Ai ga Nanda

Running Time: 123 mins.

Release Date: April 19th, 2019

Director: Rikiya Imaizumi

Writer: Rikiya Imaizumi, Kaori Sawai (Screenplay), Mitsuyo Kakuta (Original Novel)

Starring: Yukino Kishii, Ryo Narita, Mai Fukagawa, Ryuya Wakaba, Noriko Eguchi, Mariko Tsutsui, Ayumu Nakajima, Reiko Kataoka, Moeka Hoshi,

Website IMDB

Love makes people lose perspective. Take, for example, Teruko (Yukino Kishii), a 28-year-old office lady helplessly in love with magazine editor Mamoru (Ryo Narita). When we join her, she is in a downward spiral as she neglects her work and friends and chases after his affections. It’s a shame he takes her for granted as she obsesses over him. She has fallen into a one-sided love. Is she crazy to pursue it or just myopic? Viewing her from a neutral position, we want to shake her and say that all she is experiencing is just only love.

Adapted from a work by novelist/screenwriter Mitsuyo Kakuta (Rebirth, Paper Moon), the film shows how love makes fools of us all if we allow ourselves to become obsessed. The story stays with Teruko but gives us other examples of love, including photographer Nakahara (Ryuya Wakaba) the eternally-waiting wannabe beau of Teruko’s best friend Yoko (Mai Fukagawa), and eventually Mamoru who loses his own head over somebody else.

Continue reading “Just Only Love 愛がなんだ (2019) Dir: Rikiya Imaizumi”

SANKA: Nomads of the Mountains 山歌 Director: Ryohei Sasatani [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022] Rewrite

Sanka: Nomads of the Mountains    Sanka Nomads of the Mountains Film Poster

山歌(サンカ)Sanka

Release Date: April 22nd, 2022

Duration: 77 mins.

Director: Ryohei Sasatani

Writer: Ryohei Sasatani (Screenplay),

Starring: Rairu Sugita, Naru Komukai, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Kisuke Iida, Shungiku Uchida, Yoko Ran,

Website

Films featuring the clash that occurs when the forces of modernisation meet tradition and the natural world are myriad. From the magical movies of Miyazaki and Takahata with Princess Mononoke (1997) and Pom Poko (1994) to indie films like Tetsuichiro Tsuta’s The Tale of Iya (2013) and Akio Jissoji’s Poem (1972), it is a perennial theme.

Documentarian Ryohei Sasatani enters the fray with Sanka: Nomads of the Mountains, his debut narrative feature film based on his script which won the Scenario Grand Prix at Isama Studio Cinema Festival in Gunma Prefecture. His structurally solid and visually enthralling story channels this conflict through the dramatic self-actualisation of the film’s young protagonist who is caught between the drive for the future and the last gasp of a fading past.

Set in the summer of 1965, we see the return of Norio (Rairu Sugita) from Tokyo to his father’s family estate in Gunma as he prepares for his high school entrance exams. Alongside a few items of physical baggage like textbooks, we notice that Norio lugs the emotional weight of adolescent alienation as shown via his distant attitude to others, the bruise on his face from schoolyard bullies, and his inability to focus on his studies. His teenage angst brews away in the confines of the traditional house he has decamped to and the hothouse atmosphere becomes even more stifling in the presence of his overbearing father (Kisuke Iida), a war veteran and amateur industrialist bent on revitalising the nearby town.

Continue reading “SANKA: Nomads of the Mountains 山歌 Director: Ryohei Sasatani [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022] Rewrite”

Shin Ultraman シン・ウルトラマン (2022) Director: Shinji Higuchi [New York Asian Film Festival 2022]

Shin Ultraman   Shin Ultraman Film Poster

シン・ウルトラマン Shin Urutoraman

Release Date: May 13th, 2022

Duration: 112 mins.

Director: Shinji Higuchi

Writer: Hideaki Anno (Script), 

Starring: Takumi Saito, Masami Nagasawa, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Soko Wada, Daiki Arioka, Akari Hayami,

Website IMDB

Saturday Jul 23, 1:00pm

Film at Lincoln Center

Director Shinji Higuchi and Producer Tomoya Nishino will attend the screening.

Full disclosure, I am not a tokusatsu fan and I am lukewarm when it comes to kaiju eiga. Despite the lack of enthusiasm, I loved Shin Godzilla and so when news dropped that Ultraman, Japan’s biggest tokusatsu-vs.-kaiju series was getting a revival courtesy of Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi, the duo behind Shin Godzilla, I was intrigued enough to watch it. I wasn’t disappointed.

The film kicks off with a big bang as we are thrown into a the middle of a series of kaiju attacks on Japan delivered by a machine-gun montage of various mammoth monsters mashing their surroundings accompanied by expressive exposition-heavy on-screen text that gives us the lowdown on the creatures, the Japanese government’s response, and introduces the S-Class Species Suppression Protocol Enforcement Unit – or SSSP team – we will be following who are formed to exterminate these extra-terrestrial enemies.

SHIN ULTRAMAN STILL 6 Resize

Led on the field by the unflappable Captain Kimio Tamura (Hidetoshi Nishijima), their number consists of super-sexy sardonic strategic planner Shinji Kaminaga (Takumi Saitoh), nerdy megane-wearing biologist Yumi Funaberi (Akari Hayami), and scruffy-haired sci-fi otaku unparticle physicist Akihisa Taki (Daiki Arioka). Working hand-in-hand with the Japanese Self-Defence Forces, they tackle towering titans of mass destruction. Creepy-crawly-esque or lizard-like in design, these creatures exhibit different attacks which the SSSP team analyse and neutralise. 

Continue reading “Shin Ultraman シン・ウルトラマン (2022) Director: Shinji Higuchi [New York Asian Film Festival 2022]”

Grown-ups わたし達はおとな (2022) Director: Takuya Kato [New York Asian Film Festival 2022]

Grown-ups    We Are Adults Film Poster

わたし達はおとな Watashitachi wa Otona

Release Date: June 10th, 2022

Duration: 108 mins.

Director: Takuya Kato

Writer: Takuya Kato (Script), 

Starring: Mai Kiryu, Kisetsu Fujiwara, Rio Kanna, Kurumi Shimizu, Kokoro Morita, Toori Sakurada, Hirona Yamasaki, Reiko Kataoka,

Website IMDB

Saturday Jul 23, 9:00pm
Film at Lincoln Center

Grown-ups is an original romantic drama by Takuya Kato, a playwright making his screen debut with this feature. In charting the breakup between two 20-somethings who are unprepared for the responsibilities expected of adults, he offers an antidote to the saccharine sweetness of countless romance films with happy endings. 

The plot essentially follows the rupture that occurs in the relationship between an art design student named Yumi (Mai Kiryu) and her boyfriend Naoya (Kisetsu Fujiwara), a theatre student who dreams of becoming a director, after they find that she is pregnant. 

The context of the drama is campus life where everything gravitates around smartphones, sex, and university assignments. The locations are mostly lecture theatres, coffee shops and canteens. The characters are almost entirely drawn from the student body. We see that they are middle to upper class from their apartments and clothing, the fact that they can go on holiday and they can dream of jobs in the arts. The emergence of a child puts the brakes on Yumi and Naoya’s playtime and conflict arises. There is nothing new here but how it unfolds is the unique point of the film.

Continue reading “Grown-ups わたし達はおとな (2022) Director: Takuya Kato [New York Asian Film Festival 2022]”

Broken Commandment 破戒 Director: Kazuo Maeda [New York Asian Film Festival 2022]

Broken Commandment  Broken Commandment Film Poster

破戒 「Hakai

Release Date: July 08th, 2022

Duration: 119 mins.

Director: Kazuo Maeda

Writer: Masato Kato, Norio Kida (Script), Toson Shimazaki (Original Story)

Starring: Shotaro Mamiya, Anna Ishii, Yuma Yamoto, Naoto Takenaka, Ayako Kobayashi, Yoji Tanaka, Renji Ishibashi,

Website   JFDB

Thursday Jul 28, 6:30pm

Broken Commandment is an adaptation of Toson Shimazaki’s 1906 novel. Set in Meiji-era Japan (1868–1912), it tells the story of Ushimatsu Segawa (Shotaro Mamiya) a popular teacher in a rural town in who hides his burakumin heritage to avoid social stigma.

The titular commandment that is broken is one Ushimatsu’s father gave (intoned with deep seriousness by Yoji Tanaka in a strikingly dramatic storm-filled flashback) telling his son to hide his background because, to be burakumin is to be part of a community of ethnic Japanese who suffered discrimination based solely on the basis of their class.

Whether or not Ushimatsu will break that commandment is always a knife-edge question.

Despite having idealistic ideas of equality inspired by living in a more modern age and imbibing on socialist teachings, Ushimatsu has good cause to hide his origins because, while Japan might be modernising, old prejudices die hard. This can be witnessed in scenes where a rich man (Renji Ishibashi) is met with physical violence after being revealed as burakumin and turfed out of the guesthouse Ushimatsu stays in. There are also instances when the insidious prejudice is demonstrated in everyday conversations and at the school that he is teaching in where members of the conservative administration and even some of his students are openly discriminatory. 

Ushimatsu’s uneasy situation brings him further personal pain when he decamps from the inn to temple lodgings and starts a budding romance with Shiho (Anna Ishii), a beautiful book-loving young woman from an impoverished family descended from more noble samurai stock.  

Continue reading “Broken Commandment 破戒 Director: Kazuo Maeda [New York Asian Film Festival 2022]”