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The Blood of Wolves 孤狼の血 Dir: Kazuya Shiraishi (2018)

The Blood of Wolves      The Blood of Wolves Film Poster

孤狼の血 Korou no chi

Running Time: 126 mins.

Release Date: May 12th, 2018

Director: Kazuya Shiraishi

Writer: Junya Ikegami (Screenplay), Yuko Yuzuki (Original Novel)

Starring: Koji Yakusho, Tori Matsuzaka, Yoko Maki, Tomoya Nakamura, Pierre Taki, Shido Nakamura, Yosuke Eguchi, Renji Ishibashi,

Website IMDB

Director Kazuya Shiraishi follows his Roman Porno, Dawn of the Felines with this blistering film.

Hiroshima is a prefecture with lots of natural beauty but filmmakers do like to find drama in the dark underbelly of the place, perhaps most famously with Kinji Fukasaku’s 1970s crime film series Battles without Honour and Humanity which was based on the experiences of a post-war yakuza boss from Hiroshima. Kazuya Shiraishi takes audiences into the same world with The Blood of Wolves, a film which feels like a throwback to an earlier time due to its raw violence, emotions, and the character archetypes in play. Shiraishi is no stranger to the crime genre thanks to his previous films The Devil’s Path (2013) and Twisted Justice (2016) but this is his best crime film yet and it is all down to a magnetic performance from lead actor Koji Yakusho and his character’s no-holds barred attitude to policing.

The Blood of Wolves Film Image 6

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Dynamite Graffiti 素敵なダイナマイトスキャンダル Dir: Masanori Tominaga (2018)

Dynamite Graffiti   Dynamite Graffiti Film Poster

素敵なダイナマイトスキャンダル Suteki na Dainamaito Sukyandaru

Running Time: 138 mins.

Release Date: March 17th, 2018

Director: Masanori Tominaga

Writer: Masanori Tominaga (Screenplay), Akira Suei (Autobiographical Essay)

Starring: Tasuku Emoto, Atsuko Maeda, Toko Miura, Machiko Ono, Kazunobu Mineta, Yutaka Matsushige, 

Website IMDB

Adult magazines are big business worldwide, including in Japan where it is still possible to walk into some convenience stores and see them on open display although in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics, this is getting cleaned up. Masanori Tominaga’s biopic Dynamite Graffiti tells the history of raunchy magazine mogul Akira Suei, starting from childhood to the peak of his infamy in the 1980s when his publications had a circulation of over 300,000 copies a month and he publicly challenged censors with his magazine’s content.

Tominaga aims big and scores some smiles with behind-the-scenes looks at the smut trade but the scale of his script’s ambitions in trying to capture changing times delivers a cast of characters who are little more than cyphers while Suei remains a joker.

Continue reading “Dynamite Graffiti 素敵なダイナマイトスキャンダル Dir: Masanori Tominaga (2018)”

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The Path Leading to Love アイニ向カッテ Dir: Kohei Takayama (2017) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018

The Path Leading to Love

アイニ向カッテ Ai ni Mukatte

Running Time: 76 mins.

Release Date: 2018

Director: Kohei Takayama

Writer: Kohei Takayama (Screenplay),

Starring: Ippei Tanaka, Yumi Mukai, Mika Dehara, Suzuka Minagawa, Koichi Sakaguchi,

Alcohol addiction and writers go together like cookies and cream, or so it seems. The combination of self-destructive artist and liquid fire has been the subject of films like The Lost Weekend (1945), Leaving Las Vegas (1995) and works based on the life and novels of Charles Bukowski. The need to blot out reality comes from many sources and The Path Leading to Love is a quietly powerful film that shows how alcohol blights the life of someone too filled with doubt, cowardice, weakness, and selfishness to overcome it for the sake of others.

The drunk is Shosuke (Ippei Tanaka). He could be a promising manga artist but he cannot even approach the foothills of creativity because his alcoholism pushes away his desire to work. It also pushed away his ex-girlfriend Sawako and threatens his relationship with his current partner, the loyal but lovelorn Yasuko.

Continue reading “The Path Leading to Love アイニ向カッテ Dir: Kohei Takayama (2017) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018”

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Passage of Life  僕の帰る場所 Dir:  Akio Fujimoto (2017) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018

Passage of Life    Passage of Life Film Poster

僕の帰る場所 「Boku no kaerubasho

Running Time: 100 mins.

Release Date: November 25th, 2017

Director:  Akio Fujimoto

Writer: Akio Fujimoto (Screenplay)

Starring: Kaung Myat Thu, Khin Myat Thu, Issace, Htet Myat Naing, Yuki Kitagawa, Kanji Tsuda,

IMDB Website

Immigration is a thorny issue the world over and Japan is not immune to it since its tough stance and refusal to take large numbers of refugees draws criticism from nations which have more open policies. Whether this criticism is fair or not is put to the side in Passage of Life, as drama trumps politics.

One of two films at the Osaka Asian Film Festival looking at the immigrant experience of people who are of Burmese extraction and living in Japan, the other being My Country, My Home, it is shot with remarkable confidence considering it is the debut feature-film from Osaka-born director Akio Fujimoto who uses a documentary film style to show the uncertainties of life as an immigrant feeling the pull of two different cultures.

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Tourism Dir: Daisuke Miyazaki (2018) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018

Tourism    Tourism Film Poster

Running Time: 77 mins.

Release Date: 2018

Director: Daisuke Miyazaki

Writer: Daisuke Miyazaki (Screenplay),

Starring: Nina Endo, Sumire, Takayuki Yanagi,

IMDB

Daisuke Miyazaki is fast becoming a director to watch., quickly following up his last film Yamato (California) (2017) with Tourism, the second of a two-part video installation commissioned by the ArtScience Museum in Singapore and Singapore International Film Festival for an exhibition called “Specters and Tourists”. The project aimed to explore the nature of contemporary life and an under-seen side of Singapore. Nina Endo, one of the stars of “Yamato (California)”, takes the lead role here (as well as acting as stylist and co-producer) and is paired up with SUMIRE, a popular fashion model and daughter of Tadanobu Asano, to make a cute double-act that Miyazaki sends to Singapore on a journey off the beaten track.

This story happened a while ago, in two countries on a certain planet.”

Continue reading “Tourism Dir: Daisuke Miyazaki (2018) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018”

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Dynamite Graffiti 素敵なダイナマイトスキャンダル Dir: Masanori Tominaga (2018)

Dynamite Graffiti   Dynamite Graffiti Film Poster

素敵なダイナマイトスキャンダル Suteki na Dainamaito Sukyandaru

Running Time: 138 mins.

Release Date: March 17th, 2018

Director: Masanori Tominaga

Writer: Masanori Tominaga (Screenplay), Akira Suei (Autobiographical Essay)

Starring: Tasuku Emoto, Atsuko Maeda, Toko Miura, Machiko Ono, Kazunobu Mineta, Yutaka Matsushige, 

Website IMDB

Adult magazines are big business worldwide, including in Japan where it is still possible to walk into some convenience stores and see them on open display although in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics, this is getting cleaned up. Masanori Tominaga’s biopic Dynamite Graffiti tells the history of raunchy magazine mogul Akira Suei, starting from childhood to the peak of his infamy in the 1980s when his publications had a circulation of over 300,000 copies a month and he publicly challenged censors with his magazine’s content.

Tominaga aims big and scores some smiles with behind-the-scenes looks at the smut trade but the scale of his script’s ambitions in trying to capture changing times delivers a cast of characters who are little more than cyphers while Suei remains a joker.

Continue reading “Dynamite Graffiti 素敵なダイナマイトスキャンダル Dir: Masanori Tominaga (2018)”

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Bad Poetry Tokyo 東京不穏詩 Dir: Anshul Chauhan (2017) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018

Bad Poetry Tokyo    Bad Poetry Tokyo Film Poster

東京不穏詩 Tōkyō fuon uta

Running Time: 114 mins.

Release Date: 2018

Director: Anshul Chauhan

Writer: Anshul Chauhan, Rand Colter (Screenplay), Anshul Chauhan (Original Story)

Starring: Shuna Iijima, Orson Mochizuki, Takashi Kawaguchi, Nana Blank, Kohei Mashiba, Kento Furukoshi,

Website    IMDB

Fake it till you make it. It’s a useful mantra to live by. Appear confident and people will accept it. We all do it, but every once in a while the mask will slip. What happens when you simply run out of energy to hold that mask up?

Jun Fujita (Shuna Iijima) is 30 years old. She majored in English at Tokyo University and dreams of appearing in Hollywood movies. For the time being, though, she works as a hostess at a shady club where her boyfriend Taka (Orson Mochizuki) is employed as a barman. Some of that is true, some of that is false. Life hasn’t turned out the way Jun imagined when she fled her home in Nagano Prefecture five years ago. Still, she yearns to be an actress and is about to make it when betrayed by her lover. Broken and made savage by the experience, she heads back to her sleepy countryside hometown to lick her wounds. As far as she can tell, things seemingly haven’t changed much when she first arrives and is reunited with her father and her old lover Yuki (Takashi Kawaguchi), which is a problem because there are ugly secrets about her past that made her flee in the first place.CO01_BadPoetryTokyo

The drama of Bad Poetry Tokyo opens with a sequence showing Jun perpetrating a violent attack while her narration tells us some of what has driven her to this point. It then cuts back to an earlier period of time so viewers can trace the sequence of events that has to the moment that the weight of the world has become too heavy for Jun to bear.

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The Sower 種をまく人 Dir: Yosuke Takeuchi (2016) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018

The Sower      A1PosterAward2

種をまく人  Tane o maku hito」    

Running Time: 117 mins.

Release Date: 2016

Director: Yosuke Takeuchi

Writer: Yosuke Takeuchi (Screenplay)

Starring: Kentaro Kishi, Suzuno Takenaka, Tomomitsu Adachi, Arisa Nakajima, Ichika Takeuchi,

IMDB           Website

As far as movies inspired by artists go, most tend to be autobiographical such as “Lust for Life” (1956) which stars Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh. Yosuke Takeuchi’s film “The Sower” is an independent movie that takes inspiration from that famous and tragic artist who lived with a naive but passionate connection with the world and suffered for it.

Mitsuo, the lead character here, fixates on sunflowers, wears a hat and bears a beard that is similar to the genius who roamed the fields of Provence, but Mitsuo’s story finds itself connected to the efforts made by farmers and volunteers to plant sunflowers across swathes of Fukushima prefecture to help the soil absorb radiation leaked from the region’s damaged nuclear power plant but have they absorbed other aspects of life? Mitsuo is the titular “Sower”, a man who believes they have. He is riven by guilt over a death he had no power over but it isn’t just his story, it is that of the people around him, all of whom are unique individuals with issues.

Mitsuo (Kentaro Kishi) was one of those brave souls who answered the call for volunteers to clear out the debris left behind by the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. The strain of the task proved to be too much and he spent three years in psychiatric care. Upon his release, Mitsuo finds solace when he is warmly welcomed into the home of his younger brother Yuta (Tomomitsu Adachi) and meets his sister-in-law Yoko (Arisa Nakajima) and two nieces, elementary school-girl Chie (Suzuno Takenaka) and Itsuki (Ichika Takeuchi), a three-year-old with down-syndrome. This sweet moment of family bonding is shattered by tragedy when the two girls are left in Mitsuo’s care and Itsuki dies in an accident. Even though he had no direct involvement in the incident, Mitsuo is blamed and he must deal with the burden of guilt and the struggle for atonement while Chie suffers equally as much over whether to tell the truth of what happened or not…

This slow-burn drama is something of a revelation. Considering it is Takeuchi’s debut feature film, it is an amazing achievement since it has so much grace and builds up an emotional current through patient direction and perfect acting that it sweeps the audience into a realm of individual’s suffering from profound emotions in such an almost visceral and a very beautiful and heartfelt way.

The film hinges upon the idea of guilt, trauma, and grief warping both Mitsuo and Chie and the people around them, trapping everyone in a negative space which brings out the worst in people and, for those too naive  to understand what is happening, it is better to remain silent than open up. This is nothing new. Chie is the subject of bullying and Mitsuo has seen horrific things in Fukushima as made clear in the opening, but neither verbalises it, her isolation from the class and his haggard look saying a lot more. How to tell such things to others? It’s a difficult struggle.

The_Sower_1Chie

Any attempt to tell the truth about what happened to Itsuki is handicapped by people’s prejudices towards those with mental health issues, protectiveness over children, and grudges held over perceived wrongdoing in the past. Family, the one place that should be a refuge becomes a minefield of broiling emotions, the implications and consequences of which rise organically as the temperature of the drama rises with every story twist while also offering a strong social commentary.

Yosuke Takeuchi is an artist who studied painting in Paris which is where he was inspired by Van Gogh. However his own story has become part of this film such as a niece with special needs taking on the role of Itsuki and his thoughts on how society treats people who are different. The hesitation to love those who have down-syndrome, the fear of genetic contamination and lack of understanding for mental health issues, they are all present in the minds of characters. They verbalise these contentious issues in dialogue that could be heard in everyday life and we see how wrong it is as we come to understand the suffering of Mitsuo and Chie who are tragically too naive to cope and it is harrowing stuff to watch them be buffeted around by the emotions of their community.

The acting and mise-en-scene are naturalistic allowing us to enter the conflict. Early scenes are documentary-like with fast editing at the start that helps builds up character, setting, and, tension until the horrific moment occurs and then the film slows down, using many extended sequences to locate the character in their environment, little Chie avoiding others by being alone while Mitsuo is shambling around with a shell-shocked look when he isn’t sowing seeds with fervour as an act of atonement.

The_Sower_2Mitsuo

Takeuchi favours scenes full of close-ups to show the aftermath of every emotional encounter such as when adults fight over Chie or when people openly talk about Mitsuo’s mental health issues and others must listen uncomfortably. These close-ups are even more powerful tracking the increasingly withdrawn and sullen visages presented by Chie and Mitsuo and the anger of Yoko and Yuta as they navigate how to deal with the conflicts that arise. The best one has to be at the start when Mitsuo and Chie speak about the sunflowers in Fukushima and their supernatural aspects. Their connection is made with the look of adoration the little girl has and the warmness of Mitsuo.

The sounds of the film are equally important in detailing the deep emotions on offer. It all takes place in summer so the sounds of cicadas and festivals are intense enough to offer a contrast to the deafening silences the characters go through. When it replaces speech, the audience focuses on the acting and when characters talk it generates more force and meaning. This sets up a tear-inducing finale.

When the ending comes, having journeyed through all of the complex pain and suffering, the audience will be blessed with a moment of catharsis delivered through an innocent and simple gesture and gazes that suggest moving on. This film has to be seen.

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Goodbye Silence Saraba Seijaku サラバ静寂 Dir: Kenichi Ugana (2018)

Saraba Seijaku   Saraba Seijaku Film Poster

サラバ静寂 Saraba Seijaku

Running Time: N/A

Release Date: January 27th, 2018

Director: Kenichi Ugana

Writer: Kenichi Ugana (Screenplay),

Starring: Kaito Yoshimura, Sumire, Ryuya Wakaba, Nobu Morimoto, Takumi Saito,

Website

 

Entertainment, ideas, and art are vital for people. They become part of human instinct. It is seen in the way people dress, arrange their homes, and the way they respond to sounds and images so what happens when you take them away from people? This is the question explored by many stories perhaps the most famous being Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Director Kenichi Ugana follows his debut Ganguro Gals Riot (2016) with his sophomore feature Goodbye Silence (2018) and addresses this issue in a dystopian tale that is a fitfully interesting indie film with some interesting ideas.

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KUSHINA, what will you be クシナ Dir: Moët Hayami (2018) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018

KUSHINA, what will you be

クシナ Kushina

Running Time: 68 mins.

Release Date: 2018

Director: Moët Hayami

Writer: Moët Hayami (Screenplay),

Starring: Miyuki Ono, Tomona Hirota, Yayoi Inamoto, Ikumi Satake, Suguru Onuma,

Website

Director Moët Hayami’s Kushina received its world premiere at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018 where it won the Japan Cuts award, an accolade given to films that display a unique vision. It was a well-deserved win because it is a drama put together with such profound vision and dedication that it creates a world wholly different from what many people will expect from Japanese cinema and features a beautifully realised tale about three women fighting over the fate of a pure girl.

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