Kokutai is roughly translatable as ‘body politic’ and it is the title of Ryushi Lindsay’s debut movie. An experimental documentary, Kokutai looks askance at the pomp and ceremony of high school baseball in Japan and, through careful and selective assemblage of footage, reveals the fascist aesthetics that are present.
Baseball is not normally thought of as a place of violent political leanings but this 10-minute montage strikes a defiantly different note as it plays out sequences from Koshien baseball tournaments and goes heavy displaying imagery drenched in fascist overtones.
I have been sitting on this film review for nearly two years. Due to the tragic death of Yuko Takeuchi, I have released it in her honour. This film is available to view for free on Amazon Prime in Japan and the UK, so please take the time to watch it and see Yuko Takeuchi in action.
Kiyoshi Kurosawahas crafted some chilling antagonists in his horror films, all based on original scripts. The amoral magnetism of the mesmerist Mamiya from Cure and the ghosts of Pulse are some of the most memorable, but they were just the symptom and not the cause of the main character’s true conflicts. Alienation caused by society was at fault for channelling these monsters into everyday settings. This sense of disconnection is something Kurosawa masterfully utilised in the family drama Tokyo Sonata where a patriarch and his clan lose their cohesion after he loses his job and the family each reformulate their sense of place in the world. With family time made unbearable by the barely suppressed anger and disappointment each character feels, it strikes a very realistic chord whilst being scarylike much of Kurosawa’s horror output.Creepy isbased on a book by Yutaka Maekawa and while Kurosawa may not have scripted the antagonist, he is one of his most odious bad guys yet.
“He gave me the creeps.”
Ex-detective KoichiTakakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) quits the Tokyo police force after a psychopath almost kills him. He ups roots and moves with his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) to the suburbs and takes up work as a university lecturer in criminal psychology. Their new life seems stable enough. He thinks his job is fun, she is busy as a housewife and their new house seems pleasant but things turn sour when they introduce themselves to their next door neighbours. One set, the Tanakas’, aren’t interested in getting to know them and then there is Mr. Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa) who seems to hide his wife and daughter Mio (Ryoko Fujino) from the outside world.
Ryushi Lindsay is a British-Japanese filmmaker based in Japan and the UK. Even with just a couple of shorts to his name,he is beginning to carve out an interesting filmography as he works across genres and approaches subjectswith an eye forthe politics that underlie things.
Lindsay’s debut film, the experimental baseball documentary Kokutai (2019), finds uncomfortable parallels with the pomp and circumstance of fascistic events of the past and the current martial aesthetics of Japan’s popular national high school baseball tournaments. His latest, Idol, is a drama set in the world of girl groups.
Long a ubiquitous facet of Japanese entertainment, pop idols present a broad range of issues ripe for examination, from the objectification of performers to their role in the mass media in defining femininity and gender relations. These issues were looked at in Kyoko Miyake’s 2017 documentary Tokyo Idols. Idol uses it as background for a dark drama but focuses on the economic drivers that make the parents push their children to perform as we get front row seats of one parasitic parent’s extreme behaviour.
Taking place over two nights in Tokyo, the story enters at the point of crisis for a young single mother named Miyabi as her child idol daughter Kasumi is unceremoniously dropped from the line-up of a stage act just minutes before a performance and replaced by someone more popular. At first Miyabi argues against her daughters firing, then begs with the managerfor another chance, all to no avail. She won’t give up and this sets in motion a foolish plan involving another child idol named Ami that will have viewers tensing up with a sense of foreboding.
Some time in the near future, Japan has suffered a major economic collapse that has resulted in an explosion in unemployment and the attendant fraying of society as increasing numbers of kids cease to respect adults, classrooms are abandoned and teachers face escalating violence. The Japanese government decide that the only way to control this new generation of disruptive teenagers is to punish them and so they issue the Battle Royale act, an ultra-violent attempt to stop juvenile delinquency whereby, every year, a random class of 15 year olds is kidnapped and dumped in a remote area with nothing but a stockpile of weapons and they are forced to fight until only one survivor is left.
The film follows the 42 students and two transfers of class 3-B of Shiroiwa Junior High as they go through the Battle Royale challenge on an abandoned island just off Shikoku.
Miyamoto is based on a seinen manga by Hideki Arai that ran from 1990 to 1994 in the magazine Weekly Morning. This slice-of-life story, based somewhat on Arai’s background, detailed the maturation of Hiroshi Miyamoto, a young man from Yokohama who is uncertain of himself as he is fresh out of college and new to living life in Tokyo. Scenes of work and romance are tied to his struggle to establish himself as a man and start a family and everything is given the gaman/gambarimasu treatment with some shocking moments of violence and lots of hot-blooded emotions as he holds true to ideals of love and honour even if it puts him in a world of hurt.
For many international audiences, this 2019 movie adaptation will be their first contact with the franchise. It is a direct continuation of a 2018 drama. Both the drama and film were written and directed by Tetsuya Mariko, the man who helmed the absolutely bleak portrait of lost youth Destruction Babies (2016). Indeed the movie version of Miyamoto was filmed from September 09th to October 30th after the TV show finished airing in the summer of 2018, and so, a director with a strong vision reunites with a cast of great actors as they adapt the middle part of the manga and the main character, the titular Miyamoto, moves on to romancing a new woman, Yasuko.
Writer/director Shin Adachi really grabbed the attention of the cinema world with his script for 100 Yen Love (2014) which charted one female loser’s rise from zero to hero via boxing. Following that he returned to writing scripts and made a number of hits but soon directed his debut film, the warmly received 1980s-set nostalgic comedy 14 That Night (2016). For his sophomore feature, A Beloved Wife, he adapted his semi-autobiographical novel and the old adage that “it is better to write what you know” turned out to be true as it won Best Screenplay at the 2019 edition of the Tokyo International Film Festival. A painfully funny and awkward comedy about marital disharmony, one hopes that this isn’t too close to reality.
The famous proverb, “Behind every great man is a great woman” applies to A Beloved Wife as it gives audiences ringside seats into a painfully funny dysfunctional marriage between a sex-obsessed writer and his long-suffering partner.
While every marriage has its peaks and troughs, for the Yanagida’s, the troughs have been longer and much deeper and it is all linked to the husband Gota Yanagida (Gaku Hamada) for he is a pompous and lazy scriptwriter running on the fumes of past successes. Suffering writer’s block, he has been living off his wife Chika (Asami Mizukawa) for the last 10 years. Contenting himself to occasionally doing cooking, cleaning and childcare and always promising to write a hit, he has forced her to her turn into the family breadwinner and so she is constantly working, constantly tired and very unhappy about their situation and has no problem loudly denouncing her husband because of it. Meanwhile, their daughter Aki (played by the adorable Chise Niitsu) is a cheerful poppet concerned mainly about having fun.
Milocrorze: A Love Story is a film all about love. How it shows love in its many-splendoured forms is what makes it a treat as its endlessly inventive and surprising visual execution has maximum impact and much fun.
Milocrorze follows three stories about love from the perspective of three characters and they are done in varying styles. The perspectives audiences are given include a one-eyed ronin named Tamon who inhabits a warped samurai drama, an unconventional relationship therapist named Kumagai Bresson, and Ovreneli Vreneligare, a man-child at the mercy of a mysterious woman’s whims.
All but one of the characters is played entirely by Takayuki Yamada and he approaches the roles as caricatures through which he displays loud emotions.
If I were to tell you just some of the many different things going on in Fish Story, you would say that the title must be a perfect fit for such an outrageous yarn and that it cannot possibly work in a movie. But the film’s story gracefully ties a huge range of things together to make an unconventional and warmhearted tale that shows how no struggle is fruitless and everything in life can go on to have great meaning.
Fish Story is based on Kotaro Isaka’s same-named novel and consists of many distinctly different and seemingly unconnected storylines taking place at different points over 77 years to explain how a punk rock song nobody bought saves the world from an asteroid on a collision course with the Earth.
Released on July 24th, what would have been the opening day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, The Day of Destruction would have been a slice of counter-programming that rages against the ills of society while it basked in the aura of Olympic spectacle. Even in the absence of the games, the film still retains its power as a unique “state of the nation” address thanks to its director compiling issues into a unique story.
Toshiaki Toyoda has long made films about people on the fringes and struggling to find their way, criticising the state and its treatment of citizens. He himself has been subject to violations of his rights when he was arrested on suspicion of possessing a firearm and held without charge. It later turned out to be a family heirloom from World War II but the police turned it into a media spectacle. Japan continues to be rocked by numerous government corruption scandals, incompetent handling of Covid-19, and the silencing of political dissent by the increasingly fascistic LDP. It must feel that the country is on the highway to disaster and this film picks up on that sense of impending doom.
Welcome to the friendship between Kinta and Ginji, the titular duo of an indie film written, edited, scored, performed, and co-directed by Takuya Dairiki and Takashi Miura. Friends since childhood, for their 12th film together these native sons of Osaka have concocted a warmhearted and whimsical experience that you probably won’t see outside of a film festival but it bears the charms of a well-worn friendship.
Kinta & Ginji follows the daily lives of Kinta, a raccoon who wears a red cap, and Ginji, a boxy robot with a shiny silver sheen. They are played by the directors, in their simple self-made costumes, and they are portrayed living in an unremarkable forest where they spend their time chatting with the comedic patter of Kansai dialect which we hear in winding conversations as the two wend their way through the woods. This wryly funny buddy movie doesn’t really have any structure to it other than most scenes have circular conversations and some conversations are iterative as they get circled back to later during the friend’s perambulations.