Whiplash of the Dead きみが死んだあとで Dir: Haruhiko Daishima [Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival 2021]

Whiplash of the Dead   Whiplash of the Dead Film Poster

きみが死んだあとでKimi ga Shinda ato de

Release Date: April 17th, 2021

Duration: 200 mins.

Director: Haruhiko Daishima

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A

Website

The psychic trauma of the actions and failure of the student protests of the 60s and 70s haunts the collective memory of Japan. Its constant presence is partly thanks to various cinematic treatments from figures like Koji Wakamatsu, Noriaki Tsuchimoto, and Nagisa Oshima who worked in that milieu at the time and produced politically-charged works, be they direct or symbolic critiques of country and its politics. Then there is the more measured analysis from later generations of dramatists and documentarians who are working with the benefit of hindsight and the distance of time to provide clear-eyed analysis. This sort of analysis is shown in Whiplash of the Dead, a fascinating documentary from Haruhiko Daishima who adroitly finds his entry point into this emotive and massive subject through the life and death of a protestor involved with the “first Haneda struggle.”

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Ushiku 牛久 Dir: Ian Thomas Ash (2021) [Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival 2021]

Ushiku

牛久 Ushiku

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 84 mins.

Director: Ian Thomas Ash

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A

Website

Selected to play in the Perspectives Japan section of the Yamagata International Documentary Festival, Ushiku gives an alternate view of Japan by allowing people stuck in the country’s notoriously difficult refugee system a chance to speak out.

Winner of the Asian Perspective Award at DMZ Docs and Nippon Connection’s Nippon Docs Award, Ushiku is the latest documentary from Ian Thomas Ash, a Tokyo-based American filmmaker who often tackles taboo subjects – see his 2013 documentary A2-B-C about the effects of radiation on children in certain areas around Fukushima. For his latest work, he travels to the Ushiku refugee centre in Ibaraki Prefecture to get first-hand accounts from inmates who have spent years locked up in the hope that they can become part of the 0.5% of applicants who get accepted by their host nation – the lowest refugee intake out of all the G7 countries.

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Alone Again in Fukushima  ナオト、いまもひとりっきり Dir: Mayu Nakamura (2021) [Yamagata International Film Festival 2021]

Alone Again in Fukushima   Alone Again in Fukushima Film Poster

ナオト、いまもひとりっきり 「Naoto, Ima mo Hitorikkiri 」

Release Date: N/A

Running Time: 95 mins.

Director: Mayu Nakamura

Writer: N/A

Starring: Naoto Matsumura, Daisuke Matsumura, Shinichi Hangai, Toshiko Hangai,

Website

“He has a heart. Only a person with a heart would do what he is doing.” I’m paraphrasing the words of Shinichi Hangai in his description of Naoto Matsumura, a former builder who, in the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, stayed behind to care for Hangai’s cattle when people living in the shadow of he Fukushima nuclear reactors were ordered to evacuate. On top of farm animals, Matsumura became a guardian to a whole host of other creatures great and small in an extraordinary story of humanity in the face disaster. A decade on from the 3/11 disaster, director Mayu Nakamura releases an update on Matsumura who remained near a danger zone to continue with his selfless act.

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Transform!    へんしんっ! Director: Tomoya Ishida [Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival 2021]

Transform!   Henshin! Film Poster 2

へんしんっ! Henshin!

Release Date: June 19th, 2021

Duration: 94 mins.

Director: Tomoya Ishida

Writer: N/A

Starring: Tomoya Ishida, Osamu Jareo, Shizue Sazawa, Megumi Mitsui, Daisuke Suzuki, Miki Koga, Makoto Nozaki, 

Website

Transform! is an enjoyable and informative film that will expand the way you think about how disabled people participate in the arts. The debut work of Tomoya Ishida, who is disabled himself as he requires an electric wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy, this was his graduation project from Rikkyo University. It would go on to become the 2020 Pia Film Festival Grand Prix winning film which granted it the honour of being played at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival.

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Double Layered Town / Making a Song to Replace Our Positions 二重のまち 交代地のうたを編む Dirs: Haruka Komori, Natsumi Seo (2021) [Japan Cuts 2021]

Double Layered Town / Making a Song to Replace Our Positions   Nijuu no machi koutai-chi no uta o amu Film Poster

二重のまち 交代地のうたを編む Nijuu no machi koutai-chi no uta o amu

Release Date: February 27th, 2021

Duration: 79 mins.

Director: Haruka Komori, Natsumi Seo,

Writer: Natsumi Seo

Starring: Haruka Koda, Haruka Sakai, Kou Leon Yonekawa, Aoshi Miura,

Website

From an outsider’s perspective, the destruction inflicted by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami wiped away whole towns, cities, and lives from the landscape of North East Japan. For people who lived through the disaster and remain alive, those things never disappeared, they still exist as memories underneath the changed landscape. This is the sense captured by Double Layered Town / Making a Song to Replace Our Positions, a documentary that records a workshop designed to bring out these memories.

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To Sleep So as to Dream 夢みるように眠りたい (1986) Director: Kaizo Hayashi [Japan Cuts 2021]

To Sleep So as to Dream   To Sleep So as to Dream Film Poster

夢みるように眠りたい Yumemiru you ni nemuritai

Release Date: May 18th, 1986

Duration: 84 mins.

Director: Kaizo Hayashi

Writer: Kaizo Hayashi (Script), 

Starring: Shiro Sano, Koji Otake Moe Kamura, Kenji Endo, Fujiko Fukamizu, Baiken Jukkanji, Kyoko Kusajima, Kazunari Ozawa, Morio Agata,

Website IMDB

Kaizo Hayashi’s 1986 film, To Sleep so as to Dream, re-emerged like a dimly remembered fantasy onto cinema screens last year after receiving a crowd-funded 2K restoration. Hayashi is probably best known for his Mike Hammer detective trilogy – The Most Terrible Time in My Life (1994), Stairway to the Distant Past (1995), The Trap (1996) – and the recently released Fukushima disaster-inspired omnibus movie BOLT (2020) but his debut, which he made at the age of 29 and with zero experience on a film set, deserves to be more widely seen as he pulls off a narratively audacious metacinema narrative that is an eerily beautiful paean to Japan’s silent cinema past and the joys of silver screen illusions.

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Mari and Mari  彼女来来  (2021) Director: Tatsuya Yamanishi [Japan Cuts 2021]

Mari and Mari   She Came Film Poster

彼女来来 Kanojo Rairai

Release Date: June 18th 2021

Duration: 91 mins.

Director: Tatsuya Yamanishi

Writer: Tatsuya Yamanishi (Script), 

Starring: Kou Maehara, Hana Amano, Nao, Hirona Murata, Asuka Hamaru,

Website

With a mission to marry and unleash the creative talents of filmmakers and musicians, MOOSIC LAB has quickly established itself as one of Japan’s foremost labels for quirky and interesting indie films made on a shoestring budget. Although POP! won the Grand Prix and Best Actress Award at the MOOSIC LAB 2020-2021 awards, runner-up prize-winning film Mari and Mari is the first to make the transition to the international festival circuit with its play at Japan Cuts 2021.

Marrying the distinctively disquieting music by Rei Miyamoto, a violinist in the popular Kansai band “Vampillia,” with a quasi-mystery storyline and the eerie atmospherics created by newbie feature film writer/director Tatsuya Yamanishi, Mari and Mari presents a relationship drama that is open to interpretation due to its ambiguity, something which will either intrigue or frustrate viewers.

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School Radio to Major Tom こちら放送室よりトム少佐へ (2020) Director: Takuya Chisaka [Japan Cuts 2021]

School Radio to Major Tom

こちら放送室よりトム少佐へKochira hoso-shitsu yori Tomu shosa e

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 10 mins.

Director: Takuya Chisaka

Writer: Takuya Chisaka (Script), 

Starring: Tokuma Kudo, Chika Arakawa,

School Radio to Major Tom was produced as a third-year training assignment at Nihon University by Takuya Chisaka and went on to win the Entertainment Award at the 2020 edition of the Pia Film Festival. One glance at its title will tip off the musically-inclined that it takes inspiration from David Bowie and it proves to be true as it draws upon his classic song Space Oddity for a short film about two lonely high school students reaching out to each other through the stars via radio.

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Last of the Wolves 孤狼の血 LEVEL2 Director: Kazuya Shiraishi (2021) [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]

Last of the Wolves   Last of the Wolves Film Poster

孤狼の血 LEVEL2   Korou no Chi Level 2

Release Date: August 20th 2021

Duration: 139 mins.

Director: Kazuya Shiraishi

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

Starring: Tori Matsuzaka, Ryohei Suzuki, Nijiro Murakami, Nanase Nishino, Taichi Saotome, Takumi Saito, Kotaro Yoshida, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Miwako Kakei, Susumu Terajima, Hiroki Miyake,

Website IMDB

The Last of the Wolves is director Kazuya Shiraishi’s sequel to Blood of the Wolves, his well-received 2018 yakuza film. With his latest work, he returns to the crime world of Yuko Yuzuki’s novel trilogy but only going as far as taking key elements and characters as scriptwriter Junya Ikegami concocts a brand new story that provides thrills and spills perfect for a gangster film.

Set three years after the bloody climax of The Blood of Wolves, detective Shuichi Hioka (Tori Matsuzaka) has stepped up into his former partner’s position to implement a plan to control the local yakuza and prevent further gang wars in Kurehara and Hiroshima. This delicate balance of power is upset by a vicious gangster named Uebayashi (Ryohei Suzuki) who is back on the streets following time in the infamous Abashiri Prison. He is looking to avenge a gang boss slain in the previous film and that sets him on a collision course with Hioka. Along the way, many people will get hurt.

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Jigoku no Hanazono: Office Royale 地獄の花園 Director: Kazuaki Seki (2021) [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]

Jigoku no Hanazono: Office Royale   Hell’s Garden Film Poster

地獄の花園  Jigoku no Hanazono

Release Date: May 21st, 2021

Duration: 102 mins.

Director: Kazuaki Seki

Writer: Bakarhythm (Screenplay), 

Starring: Mei Nagano, Alice Hirose, Rina Kawaei, Nanao, Miyuki Oshima, Eiko Koike, Masanobu Katsumura, Tomomi Maruyama, Kenichi Endo, Satoru Matsuo, Win Morisaki, 

Website IMDB

” In every world there exists factions. Female office workers are no different.”

And so begins Jigoku no Hanazono: Office Royale, one of the most fun cinematic experiences of the year. Imagine transposing the world of yankees and sukeban onto that of office ladies (OL) and you get this fourth-wall breaking film as it draws directly from and playfully critiques the delinquent manga genre that have proven so popular that many a film franchise has been built off them.

So, even if the fights lack grit, the film adds more colour, comedy and gusto to its good-natured tongue-in-cheek references to Terrifying Girl’s High School where female brawlers who display the guts of Gachiban characters get caught in epic conflicts akin to Crows, and the hot-headed ladies do hand-to-hand like High and Low, before everything ends in an epic beat down like Bebop High School. Forgive that last paragraph, I just wanted to get the references in there!

As awesome as all of this sounds, our main character, and the films narrator, Naoko Tanaka (Mei Nagano), is not one for fisticuffs. If you had to categorise her, it would be a “normal” girl who likes to go to cafes and watch dramas and just do a good job. And maybe catch a boyfriend, but she’d only tell her best friends that! What about the not-so-normal girls?

Naoko’s workplace is divided between factions run by fighters like Andoh the Demon (Nanao) who dominates R&D, Mad Dog Shiori (Rina Kawaei) who reps Sales, and Etsuko the Beast (Miyuki Oshima) in Manufacturing. This fearsome trio and their mobs are regularly rumbling UNTIL(!) a new OL named Ran (Alice Hirose perfectly  embodying a cocky lone hero) enters town and she proves to be the baddest battler on the block as she beats the aforementioned characters and the factions all come under her influence.

JIGOKU NO HANAZONO STILL 7
©2021 “Jigoku-No-Hanazono”Film Partners

In a strange turn of events, the ultra-charismatic Ran becomes Naoko’s best friend and they do things normal OL in order to get to know each other. They visit cafes together to eat the newest cakes on the menu, go shopping, and chat during their free time but what Naoko doesn’t realise is that Ran’s presence makes their company a prime target for various gangs of office ladies from all over Japan, some of whom intend to use Naoko as a way to get at Ran which sets up a high stakes battle. However, more twists are in store!

Continue reading “Jigoku no Hanazono: Office Royale 地獄の花園 Director: Kazuaki Seki (2021) [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]”