Featured

Terrarium Locker テラリウムロッカー (2019) Dir: Rika Aoi

Terrarium Locker    Terrarium Locker Film Poster

テラリウムロッカー  Terariumu Rokka-

Release Date: 2019

Duration: 30 mins.

Director: Rika Aoi

Writer: Rika Aoi (Screenplay),

Starring: Kanako Miyashita, Osuke Tokunaga, Takashi Okado, Anju Oda,

Website     Twitter

Rika Aoi’s Terrarium Locker was first picked up for the Kanazawa Film Festival 2019 before it was re-edited for the MOOSIC LAB 2019 programme. She made it while also working as a manga editor and did so with a main staff made up of women in their 20s (source). The film is a quiet and quirky small-scale human drama about a young woman finding her place in the world.Terrarium Locker Film Image

“Is there anything in this world that only I can do?”

Continue reading “Terrarium Locker テラリウムロッカー (2019) Dir: Rika Aoi”

Featured

Dong Teng Town ドンテンタウン (2020) Dir: Kouhei Inoue

Dong Teng Town    Dong Teng Town Film Poster

ドンテンタウン Donten Taun

Release Date: July 17th, 2020

Duration: 61 mins.

Director: Kouhei Inoue

Writer: Kouhei Inoue (Script),

Starring: Ryo Sato, Sho Kasamatsu, Ai Yamamoto, Ryui Ushio, Saki Iwasaki, Gantsu Morita, Ryo Anraku,

Website

Director Kohei Inoue’s Dong Teng Town netted the Actor Award for Sho Kasamatsu’s performance, and was the runner up for the MOOSIC LAB Grand Prix prize, which ultimately went to Sleeping Insect. His work is, nonetheless, strong, as it gives a dreamlike tale with lead performances full of poignancy that rises above a confused narrative of two lost souls communicating through time and space through cassette tapes as themes of absence and meetings, common in all of the MOOSIC LAB films, are played out quite nicely.

Continue reading “Dong Teng Town ドンテンタウン (2020) Dir: Kouhei Inoue”

Featured

My Lovely Days, Yuka-chan no Aishita Jidai ゆかちゃんの愛した時代  (2018) Dir: Yun Hayama

My Lovely DaysYuka-chan no Aishita Jidai Film Poster

ゆかちゃんの愛した時代 Yuka-chan no Aishita Jidai

Release Date: July 11th, 2020

Duration: 30 mins.

Director: Yun Hayama

Writer: Yun Hayama, Nishio Hiroshi (Script),

Starring: Yun Hayama, Keita Yamashina, Sayu Higashi, Marc Panther, Shiho Tanaka,

With the retirement of Emperor Akihito and the ascension of Crown Prince Naruhito to the Chrysanthemum throne, the transition from the Heisei era to the Reiwa era¹ sparked a lot of nostalgia in Japanese who looked back over the cultural shifts felt during the 80s and 90s. Yun Hayama indulges in the same thing and is clearly writing from experience with this film which is a flashback to the fun of the 90s.

It is April 30th, 2019, and the Heisei era will end in an hour. At one coffee shop in Osaka, Yuka Yukawa, a local talent born in 1989 (the first year of the Heisei era) is having a meeting with her manager Masao (Keita Yamashina). While Masao is pressuring her to do work (including, quite cynically, a film with an erotic scene), Yuka is more interested in talking about her memories of the Heisei era and as she talks her sweet and infectious desire for the Heisei era begins to overflow into the conversation.

Continue reading “My Lovely Days, Yuka-chan no Aishita Jidai ゆかちゃんの愛した時代  (2018) Dir: Yun Hayama”

Featured

Tailwind 追い風 (2020) Dir: Ryo Anraku

Tailwind    Oi-kaze Film poster

追い風 Oikaze

Release Date: August 07th, 2020

Duration: 71 mins.

Director: Ryo Anraku

Writer: Ryo Katayama, Ryo Anraku (Script), 

Starring: DEG, Ryo Katayama, Ryo Anraku, Hyoma Shibata, Hiroki Sato, Ritsu Ootomu, Mebuki Yoshida,

Website

Winner of the Best Actor and Musician Award in the feature film category of MOOSIC LAB 2019, Tailwind was shot in just three months by up-and-coming indie film makers Ryo Katayama and Ryo Anraku. Their story is based upon shared real-life experience with their friend DEG, a hip-hop artist whose friendly persona and musical performance fits perfectly into both this youth drama and the MOOSIC LAB mantra of combining filmmakers and artists.

28-year-old Tokyo-based rapper DEG is struggling with his career and feeling frustrated. A decent rhyme-smith, his songs lack fire since the lyrics are inoffensive (and maybe even a little bland) to win listeners over and so he isn’t making any progress beyond friend’s parties and izakaya gigs. His affability on the mic is reflected off the stage as he masks his frustrations and disappointments behind his smile. Any inconvenience, insult, or disagreement from someone is met with a big grin and a laugh and so he is suffering on the inside while others advance their lives and move on without him, sometimes at his expense. However, with his frustrations mounting DEG’s smile begins to fade and his inner voice beings to emerge. When he is invited to a friend’s wedding which Hikari, the love of his life, will attend, he decides to use the event as the catalyst for him to realign his personal and professional personas and make his own tailwind and seize his own happiness. 

Continue reading “Tailwind 追い風 (2020) Dir: Ryo Anraku”

Featured

Soul Music ソウル・ミュージック (2020) Dir: Masaki Soejima

Soul Music    Soul Music Film Poster

ソウル・ミュージック Souru Myu-jikku

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 30 mins.

Director: Masaki Soejima

Writer: Masaki Soejima (Script),

Starring: Teruyuki Oshima, Kazuaki Koyama, Yoshio Otani, Miki Aoyagi,

Website

Director Masaki Soejima is both a psychiatrist and filmmaker who combines the two to make a funny mockumentary in which a duo of bumbling middle-aged men make a supernatural song recording.

“Can you write a song with a ghost?” This is a request sent into a late-night radio show by an elementary schoolgirl. What she is doing up late at night listening to Teruyuki Oshima and Kazuaki Koyama, two musicians with laidback radio personalities is anyone’s guess but in the middle of a ratings slump, their producer sees her challenge as a chance to get a bump in listeners and so he sends his reluctant charges out into a haunted forest with a small crew to make music with a ghost.

Continue reading “Soul Music ソウル・ミュージック (2020) Dir: Masaki Soejima”

Featured

The Sleeping Insect 眠る虫 (2019) Dir: Yurina Kaneko

The Sleeping Insect    The Sleeping Insect Film Poster

眠る虫Nemuru Mushi

Release Date: September 05th, 2020

Duration: 62 mins.

Director: Yurina Kaneko

Writer: Yurina Kaneko (Script), 

Starring: Ryo Matsuura, Takeo Gozu, Kaoru Mizuki, Yura Sato, Hirobumi Watanabe,

Website

This is the feature film debut by director Yurina Kaneko. She received attention for her 2019 Pia Film Festival Award winning short Walking Plants, which screened at Nippon Connection last year, and also for her part in the omnibus film 21st Century Girl (2018). Sleeping Insect won the 2019 MOOSIC LAB Grand Prix. Like other MOOSIC LAB films released that year, it features the ghosts as the main character as Kaneko has her go on a Lynchian adventure where the border between normality and the supernatural dissolves

The film takes place during the summer and our lead character is Kanako Seri (Ryo Matsuura), the front-woman of a three-piece band. As well as strumming the guitar, she has a heightened, maybe preternatural ability to hear sounds. During a break in practice they discuss how ghosts feel and this is the lead-in for the strange day that follows for Kanako.

Continue reading “The Sleeping Insect 眠る虫 (2019) Dir: Yurina Kaneko”

Featured

To the Ends of the Earth 旅のおわり世界のはじまり (2019) Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

To the Ends of the Earth        To the Ends of the Earth Film Poster

旅のおわり世界のはじまり  「Tabi no Owari Sekai no Hajimari」

Release Date: June 14th, 2019

Duration: 120 mins.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Screenplay),

Starring: Atsuko Maeda, Ryo Kase, Shota Sometani, Tokio Emoto, Adiz Rajabov,

Website     IMDB

To the Ends of the Earth is an international co-production that was commissioned to commemorate 25 years of diplomatic relations between Japan and Uzbekistan. It’s written and directed by horror auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who eschews using serial killers and ghosts as sources of fear and turns to tourism as he makes a moving travelogue-cum-character study of an introverted young woman overcoming anxieties in an alien environment and coming to understand herself better.

We follow Yoko (Atsuko Maeda), the young host of a Japanese TV show who is on assignment in Uzbekistan with a small crew (played by Shota Sometani, Ryo Kase, Tokio Emoto, Adiz Rajabov) as they seek out interesting places to go and exciting things to do. Rather than the glamour and fun of the finished product, we witness a light satire surrounding the drudgery of a production where nothing quite works out. A mythical fish is a no-show at a mountain lake, food is undercooked in a culinary section, and, in one wince-inducing bit, Yoko boards a seemingly innocuous ride at a theme park only to end up being tossed around like a rag doll. Throughout it all she shows professionalism by following her director’s orders and hosting everything with a grin (or gritted teeth when it comes to the ride) but as the assignment grinds on, we see her positive façade fade and her authentic side emerge.

There is considerable downtime between filming and Kurosawa emphasises these moments in his narrative to show that the real Yoko is more introspective than her onscreen personality lets on. She often opts to eat alone and skips production meetings to stay in her hotel room so she can spend time messaging her boyfriend in Tokyo for comfort. Her anxieties are most pointedly felt when she goes on solo daytime jaunts. Alone and with just a map and a few words of English to communicate, a trip to somewhere like Chorsu Bazaar becomes nightmarish as she loses confidence in herself, finds crowds of hagglers harrowing and gets lost in back streets because she is too intimidated by the locals to ask for help. To build the intensity of panic to match the increasing tension Yoko feels, Kurosawa uses techniques familiar from his horror repertoire, transitioning from touristic locations to uninviting urban areas shaded by fluctuating light, menacing shadows, and scary sounds, while he also refrains from subtitling Uzbek dialogue to reflect Yoko’s incomprehension as well as to make circumstances opaque for the audience. 

Yoko’s alienation and distress is conveyed so well in these sequences that they will ring true to anyone who has travelled and felt the buzz of tension and shrivelling of the heart that comes with encountering and shrinking from the unknown. However, after these tumultuous situations, we see Yoko develop as she reflects upon her angst and it is tourism that allows her to push past her fears.

During her wanderings she often encounters something or someone that teaches her to move forward with these sequences skilfully allowing her journey, her dreamlife and Uzbekistan to intersect. The most impactful moment, and the turning point in the film, comes when Yoko is drawn to explore the Navoi theatre in Tashkent by the sound of a woman singing. Tracking shots follow her journey through ornate rooms beautifully decorated in the style of different regions of Uzbekistan until there is a seamless segue to fantasy as she reaches a stage and suddenly bursts out with the Edith Piaf song Hymne à l’Amour (愛の讃歌) while accompanied by an orchestra. This display of confidence runs counter to our impressions of her true nature and reveals her dream that surpasses presenting travel shows. Her ability to bridge the gap between dream and reality soon comes after as she learns that the theatre was built by Japanese POWs after World War II and seems to relate to their story of finding release from fear through dedicating themselves to art. This message is reinforced when she takes the time to have a frank conversation with her taciturn cameraman who reveals his own career dilemmas and offers philosophical advice amounting to the journey is just as important as the destination. It is an honest and insightful look at how people can grow from experiences. While the remainder of the film is dedicated to Yoko struggling to master herself and still making mistakes, a growing understanding of herself allows her character arc to have a positive trajectory. 

To the Ends of the Earth Image Yoko (Atsuko Maeda) with a Camera

None of this would work if ex-AKB48 idol Atsuko Maeda wasn’t a good actor and she gives a compelling performance here. This is her third film with Kurosawa following the offbeat thriller Seventh Code (2013) and alien invasion drama Before We Vanish (2017) and it is her most complex role to date. Kurosawa keeps the camera focussed on her and she reveals how much she has grown as a performer as she displays a sensitivity and vulnerability that guarantees audience empathy that keeps us riveted as we watch her stumble through various Uzbek locations to stride towards an uplifting conclusion that sees her achieve some self-realisation after which she can belt out a full rendition of Hymne à l’Amour with a dazzling shine of confidence that caps her character’s journey. It’s said that travel helps people find themselves and it turns out to be true here.

My review was first published over at V-Cinema on December 03rd.

Happy New Year to everyone. I hope 2021 is the year we can master ourselves and improve the world.

Featured

The Tale of Iya 祖谷物語  おくのひと Dir: Tetsuchiro Tsuta (2014)

The Tale of Iya                                          

The Tale of Iya Film Poster
The Tale of Iya Film Poster

祖谷物語 おくのひと 「Iya Monogatari – Oku no Hito」

Running Time: 169 mins.

Release Date: February 15th, 2014

Director: Tetsuchiro Tsuta

Writer: Tetsuchiro Tsuta, Masayuki Ueda (Screenplay),

Starring: Rina Takeda (Haruna), Min Tanaka (Grandpa), Shima Ohnishi (Kudo), Sachi Ishimaru (Kotomi), Hitoshi Murakami (Akira), Reika Miwa, Takahiro Ono, Naomi Kawase, Christopher Pellegrii, Keiko Taoka, Shigeru Kimura

Website    IMDB

The landscape of Japan is caught in all of its resplendent beauty during the four seasons in The Tale of Iya, a drama shot in a remote valley in Shikoku about life in the countryside. While a sense of nostalgia is movingly evoked over the course of the narrative it also remains clear-eyed about how tough such an environment can be and where its future may lie.

Our first view of this environment comes in a fairy tale-like opening in the middle of a blizzard one winter. A man (Min Tanaka) in traditional clothes that look like something out of a jidaigeki is hunting in the snowy forests around the valley of Tokushima Prefecture’s Iya valley. He adheres to the old ways and avoids the modern world but that intrudes into his life when he stumbles upon a crashed car and discovers a dead woman on the bonnet and, in what could only be described as a miracle, a baby girl lying unharmed on the frozen sparkling surface of a lake. The man takes her in and gives her the name Haruna. For the next 15 years, they live in harmony with nature in the mountains in a cottage without electricity or running water, surrounded by vegetable plots and verdant forests.

Continue reading “The Tale of Iya 祖谷物語  おくのひと Dir: Tetsuchiro Tsuta (2014)”

Featured

Hold Your Breath Like a Lover 息を殺して Dir: Kohei Igarashi (2014)

Hold Your Breath Like a Lover   

Hold Your Breath Like a Lover Film Poster
Hold Your Breath Like a Lover Film Poster

息を殺して  「Iki wo Koroshite」

Release Date: June 20th, 2015

Running Time: 85 mins.

Director: Kohei Igarashi

Writer: Kohei Igarashi (Screenplay),

Starring: Ran Taniguchi, Goichi Mine, Yusuke Inaba, Koji Harada, Tomomitsu Adachi, Ran Arai, Rina Tanaka, Yuki Inagaki

Tumblr   IMDB

This has been a film that has haunted me ever since I first saw the trailer back in 2014 and it was one of the films I was hoping to find in 2020. Well, I did. I ended up viewing it a couple of times. My initial impressions from the trailer was that this felt like it had “shades of Pulse (2001)” and an “apocalypse angle” but it turned out to be something else entirely, a subtle, gorgeous and melancholy take on the anxiety felt on the path of adulthood and a gradual maturation of its characters. It’s story is simple, perfect for allowing the powerful atmospherics to wash over me and pull me along.

Continue reading “Hold Your Breath Like a Lover 息を殺して Dir: Kohei Igarashi (2014)”

Featured

GFP Bunny タリウム少女の毒殺日記 Dir: Yutaka Tsuchiya (2012)

GFP Bunny                               GFP Bunny Thallium Girl                    

タリウム少女の毒殺日記  「GFP Bunny Tariumu shojo no dokusatsu nikki」 

Running Time: 82 mins.

Release Date: July 06th, 2013

Director: Yutaka Tsuchiya

Writer: Yutaka Tsuchiya

Starring: Yuka Kuramochi, Makiko Watanabe, Kanji Furutachi, Takahashi,

Website    IMDB

Not for the faint of heart, GFP Bunny is the third film directed by media activist Yutaka Tsuchiya. Following on from his debut The New God (1999) and sophomore feature Peep “TV” Show (2003), GFP Bunny is a continuation of his exploration of alienated youth using media to shape their personalities. It finds its troubling story in a real-life criminal case from 2005 where a 16-year-old girl poisoned her mother with thallium and documented the act online.

Crowned winner of the Best Picture Award in the Japanese Eyes section of the 2012 Tokyo International Film Festival, GFP Bunny is challenging viewing in both story and style. It opens confrontationally with the stomach-churning sight of a frog being dissected before deluging audiences with scientific research, scenes of bullying and near-murder and a girl’s search for identity but, instead of a straight retelling of the case via a lurid drama or factual documentary, director Yutaka Tsuchiya opts for a metafiction that is delivered through a docu-drama format which he uses to address ideas of  “Surveillance in a Marketing-orientated Society”, “Characterisation of Identity” and “Biotechnology” (Source).

Continue reading “GFP Bunny タリウム少女の毒殺日記 Dir: Yutaka Tsuchiya (2012)”