One of the newest ‘s additions to the pantheon of J-horror monsters is Shirai-san from the 2020 film Stare. Not at all unique, you get the suspicion she is modelled on Ring‘s Sadako.
To wit: both are a ghoul from the past with long dank hair and both kill people through heart-stopping stares once they get close enough to their victim. Also, their presence is a curse that can be spread like a virus.
What Shirai-san does differently is that teleports here and there at random – her arrival presaged by a dimming of light/clouds passing the sun. Her targets also get a way to tackle her: instead of averting their gaze from the angry eyes as with Sadako, they can thwart Shirai-san by staring at her. Stare at the thing that most frightens you! A nice horror play, especially as victims run the risk of having their eyes explode.
We get the gore and grue through two university students, Mizuki (Marie Iitoyo) and Haruo (Yu Inaba), who find themselves digging into the legend of Shirai-san after experiencing the death of a friend and a brother respectively. The post-mortems on both establish that death was caused by a heart attack provoked by extreme fear. It probably didn’t help that their eyes burst from fright, something Mizuki sees first hand as her friend dies in terror at a restaurant date, the blood spatter coating the white and black décor of the establishment. Her friend’s cries of being looked at by a woman haunt Mizuki. The same with Haruo who heard the kill but saw the aftermath. Said haunting turns into a visual manifestation of the recently deceased, complete with exploded eye sockets(!), as they implore Mizuki and Haruo for help from beyond the grave.
Otogirisou was one of the original visual novel games. First released by Chunsoft in 1992 before being ported to the PlayStation in 1999 and then to Nintendo’s Wii in 2007 and Wii U in 2014. In 2001, it had a movie made to cash in showing that no franchise is ever really dead. Or allowed to rest in peace.
Apparently, the game was inspired by Sweet Home and one can see the similarities: to wit, spooky stuff happens in a mansion where an artist once lived. While I cannot comment on the game, the movie is solid if unexceptional horror fare saved largely thanks to excellent set design/dressing.
Somebody’s Flowers was planned and produced for the 30th anniversary of Cinema Jack & Betty, a famous mini-theatre in Yokohama. The film’s story is set in the same city. It was directed by Yokohama native Yusuke Okuda and takes us into a small corner of the city where everyday folks endure the vagaries of life. A drama, it starts slow but gains meaning and emotional freight as it carefully depicts lives marred by grief that tears at relationships that are already fraying in a pressure-cooker atmosphere of a small community where secrets, resentments, and shame abound.
The film stars Shinsuke Kato (Ken and Kazu) as Takaaki, a down-on-his-luck steelworker who is the less than loyal son of an elderly couple living in an apartment complex. His begrudging visits to his parents see him talk big about life but sponge off his mother, Machi (Kazuko Yoshiyuki), while side-stepping his father Tadayoshi. The old man has dementia and requires a carer, Satomi (Honoka Murakami), since he is becoming too much for Takaaki’s mother to handle, much to the chagrin of Takaaki who wants an easier life.
This remarkable documentary charts 26 years in the life of Tomomi Maruyama.
As a child living in Matsudai town, Niigata Prefecture, she was one of nine pupils in her small elementary school who welcomed three calves which were to be treated as new students in 1987. She and her friends took care of and spent time with the animals and that experience inspired her to be a veterinarian.
Director Tokita, initially drawn to the story as part of a regional news crew doing a piece on a school keeping livestock, decided to document Matsudai town when he heard that the school would be shut in four year’s time due to a declining population. When he met, Tomomi, his plans changed again as the girl’s dream to become a veterinarian provided a perfect hook for a film, especially with someone as conscientious and pure.
Certainly, his early encounters with Tomomi and her classmates show kids who totally adore the animals and treat them with respect and friendship, a theme that lasts throughout the film which follows her as she earned her degree at Iwate University’s Veterinary Department, a highly competitive place, her early days on the job as she navigates being a woman in a traditionally male space, getting married and having children and continuing her work as a highly-respected vet.
Drive into Night is one of a number of very specific films that sets out to examine the idea that Japan is on the decline and has a junk yard as a major setting. Make the Devil Laugh and Ninja Girl are two other examples.
All three films share similar themes but have different styles. Make the Devil Laugh is a straight drama while Ninja Girl uses deadpan comedy. Drive into Night offers a noirish narrative that, for the first two thirds of the film, houses a grim character study of deadbeats desperate for any diversion from their dull lives. However, it does not sustain this and goes wayward in its final third that overloads the narrative with incidents, characters, and ideas that don’t quite stick.
This noirish film set in a small Japanese city in Saitama Prefecture. Its two protagonists are prime noir characters as they start in bad positions and keep making dumb decisions that make their lives worse.
We are first introduced to Taichi Akimoto (Tomomitsu Adachi), a 40-something sales agent at a scrap metal plant who still lives with his parents. His calm demeanour and diligence make him a good employee. However, he suppresses his emotions to such an extent that he presents a blank mask to the world. Unable to talk any amount of game, unable to stand up for himself, unable to show any sense of motivation or presence, he is a hollow man who meekly accepts the cruelty of others, especially from Hongo (Tsutomu Takahashi), a brutish and preening bully of a boss.
Juxtaposed against him is his friend Taniguchi (Reo Tamaoki), a more outgoing man married to a beautiful woman (Nahana) and father to a charming daughter (Ameri Isomura). He shows a sense of humour and a little ambition and yet he is dissatisfied with his life as he ignores his home, his daughter, and his unfaithful wife. Instead, he keeps a mistress and cultivates a desire to humiliate Hongo in some way.
On a drunken night out, Akimoto breaks from his shy and retiring act and tries to get the number of a young businesswoman who visited their worksite earlier in the day and had the misfortune of meeting Hongo. It goes disastrously for Akimoto. Sick and tired of being harassed by men, the woman rejects him. Harshly. With a dose of humiliation. Unexpectedly, Akimoto strikes her. The blow is hard enough to render her unconscious. The situation deteriorates further and Akimoto and Taniguchi wind up having to dispose of a corpse. This is when Taniguchi hatches a plan to frame Hongo…
Atsuro Shimoyashiro is a multi-hyphenate talent who has worked on a variety of titles as composer, actor, writer and director. Since helming his last feature film, The Modern Lovers (interview), he has been prolific scoring the music for other people’s films. However, ahead of the release of his next film, Lonesome Vacation, he made the short film Kidofuji.
Kidofuji is the name of a real-life standing bar in Koenji, Tokyo. It’s the sort of place one can wander into off the street, rock up to the counter, and order a beer and some food. As such, it’s also a prime location for random or fateful encounters to take place and drama to occur.
The film chronicles one fateful encounter as experienced by a musician named Shintaro (GON) who starts the night innocently enough as he is at the bar sipping shochu and snacking on nori topped with grilled cheese. A stranger named Hiromasa (Shohei Matsuzaki) walks in and the two hit it off over a shared love of a rock band but when they are joined by a mutual acquaintance, a young woman named Natsuki (Kumiko Tsushimi), sparks fly and the night goes awry as tempers flare up…
Toshiaki Toyoda is not a filmmaker one can pigeonhole. While his early work consists of hard-as-nails narrative features like Pornostar (1998), Blue Spring (2001), and 9 Souls (2003), lately, he has worked on diverse array of documentaries and music movies as well as more mainstream features.
In 2018, he released Planetist, a documentary about the Ogasawara Islands and the artists who drift onto them, and star-packed inspirational dramaThe Miracle of Crybaby Shottan. 2020 saw him team up with the band Seppuku Pistols and host a musical concert and release connected film The Day of Destruction.
Once again he surprises with the visually stunning Shiver, a music movie that covers the world-famous drumming ensemble Kodo and their boneshaking Taiko music. Far from being a straight recording of a concert, this is an “experience” that he makes transcend time and space as he uses staging and dynamic camerawork and editing to inject mysticism and sci-fi into the film.
After being diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 45, feature-film director Yoshifumi Tsubota (The Shell Collector) informed his parents and was told of a relative in a similar situation.
Makoto Ohara, Tsubota’s father’s second cousin, was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), a type of autism, in his late fifties. At the time of filming, he was in his sixties and still living fairly independently. Intrigued by this hitherto-unknown relation whose somewhat similar situation might offer inspiration on how to live life, Tsubota, with camera in hand, decided to meet Makoto. Thus began the documentary, What Can You Do About It
Over the course of three years Tsubota travelled from his home in Yokohama to Makoto’s home in Tsujido (both in Kanagawa Prefecture) to pay regular visits and record their interactions on a handheld camera and his phone. What he found was a man who was living by himself on disability benefits ever since the passing of his mother, hanging on with the help of a support network made up of an older sister, elderly relatives, and volunteers sourced from the local authorities.
Tsubota becomes more and more invested in Makoto’s life as conflicts with an intolerant neighbour and talk of Makoto being put in an institution begin. These events force conflict and a structure on the film. We often see Makoto with his head bowed as other people talk over his future, growing old with a disability and a few times he utters the refrain, “What can you do about it?” which gives the film its title. There’s a certain fatalistic ring to this phrase, but…
A failed suicide attempt brings a fateful connection between a loser who believes his life is meaningless and a cute girl who revels in the act of murder. With a killer concept like this, the bland final product is a disappointment.
Etsuro Kurosu (Yusuke Sugino) is our main protag and when we join him, he is living a closeted life in his apartment as a borderline hikkikomori after dropping out of uni. Wracked by despair, he attempts to commit suicide but this becomes the layup for an unlikely meet-cute.
Ryosuke Hashiguchi gives us the story of three people who don’t realise they are cracking up from loneliness and a lack of love for themselves until it is almost too late. Simply asking for our patience, in return he gives us the lives of people who we might ordinarily pass by without a second thought and yet reveals the alienation that we all seek to avoid.
While not as strong as his previous film, All Around Us (2008), it is still a good ensemble piece that works because of his commitment to depicting reality and the naturalistic acting of his cast that strikes a chord. Due to these elements, essential truths of the human condition and the influence of facticity – the deadening effects of routines and the need to escape them – eventually shine through during a lengthy film but ultimately emotionally resonant drama.