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Snake Beneath the Flower Petals 湖底の蛇 Dir: Rina Tanaka (2016)

Snake Beneath the Flower Petals   Snake Beneath the Flower Petals Film Poster

湖底の蛇 Kotei no ja

Release date: 2016

Running Time: 59 mins.

Director: Rina Tanaka

Writers: Rina Tanaka (Screenplay)

Starring: Mika Kuroiwa, Midori Kimura, Hikari Shinoda, Ryuki Nishimoto, Seiji Okabe, Kensaku Tamura, Hono Miyabe, Yasumi Yajima,

Website Website 2

Rina Tanaka is a directing talent to watch out for based on the short Filled With Steam (2017) which I saw at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018. It was a film that had breathtaking moments of painful loneliness that were skilfully shot that I still remember clearly even as the year draws to an end. Snake Beneath the Flower Petals was at Nippon Connection 2017 and is one of the works she made in order to complete the master’s degree course at Tokyo University of the Arts’ Graduate School of Film and New Media where she studied under Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Nobuhiro Suwa and here she captures the isolation of people in a film which displays a superb sensitivity for translating emotions onto the screen

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Wasted Eggs Dir: Ryo Kawasaki (2018)

Wasted Eggs

Running Time: 70 mins.

Release Date: 2018

Director: Ryo Kawasaki

Writer: Ryo Kawasaki (Screenplay),

Starring: Mitsue Terasaka, Sora Kawai, Chieko Misaka, Chise Niitsu, Supika Yufune,

Website

On the surface, Japan is hyper-modern but underneath the shiny shell is a society sticking steadfastly to certain aspects of tradition. Nowhere is this more evident than with gender roles. This is what Ryo Kawasaki’s debut feature examines through a light and witty drama surrounding little-explored issues and indignities suffered by women who don’t adhere to society’s demand to have children at a young age.

The film takes place around Christmas. The religious aspect of the season is irrelevant for most people in the country who consider it a time for lovers to be romantic. Rather, the New Year period is the biggest celebration in the winter when people return home and pay a visit to a shrine. That said, various aspects of Christmas are impossible to escape such as decorations, chicken dinners at KFC and Christmas cake. In the past, this seemingly innocuous confection proved to be a powerful metaphor for wealth and, derisively for women who are unmarried after the age of 25, someone who is past their prime. For some of the characters in the film, the season is a sad reminder that they are nearing their romantic expiration date.

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Girl, Wavering 空っぽの渦 Dir: Noriko Yuasa (2015)

Girl, Wavering

空っぽの渦 Karappo no uzu

Running Time: 20 mins.

Release Date: May 2015

Director:  Noriko Yuasa,

Writer: Noriko Yuasa, Takato Nishi (Screenplay),

Starring: Kaho Ishido, Honoka Murakami, Tomomi Furusato, Kazuki Fukiage, Rie Mashiko, Hiroaki Ookawa, Bunki Sugiura, Lehman F. Kondo,

Website IMDB

Noriko Yuasa followed her directorial debut Looking for my lost sunflowers with this film, a more ambitious tale both stylistically and storywise as she explodes a teenage girl’s life on screen and touches on extremes of emotions.

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Looking for my lost sunflowers あの、ヒマワリを探しに Dir: Noriko Yuasa (2014)

Looking for my lost sunflowers

あの、ヒマワリを探しに Ano, himawari wo sagashi ni

Running Time: 25 mins.

Release Date: June 2014

Director:  Noriko Yuasa

Writer: Noriko Yuasa, Kotaro Ishido (Screenplay),

Starring: Bunki Sugiura, Koudai Yamaguchi, Cocoro Ikeda, Eiko Kutsuma, Hioruki Shigeta

Website IMDB

Noriko Yuasa wowed me earlier this year at the Osaka Asian Film Festival with her short film Ordinary Everyday (2017) which was a showcased her fantastic mastery of aural and visual techniques in the creation of a highly atmospheric psycho-thriller. Her earlier films show the same control of texture and form as well as story. With Looking for my lost sunflowers, Yuasa dives into one man’s nostalgia as an office drone tries to touch distant memories.

The man whose nostalgia we embrace is Murakami (Bunki Sugiura), a thirty-something who works as a salesman for a pharmaceutical company in Tokyo. As you can imagine his daily routine is work and then drinks after work. We meet him amidst a whirl of activity around what seems to be Shimbashi Station. The visuals are composed by Yuasa into a clamorous and chaotic impressionistic swirl through slow-motion and blurred images of yokocho and main streets full of revellers and office staff who have spilled out of the workplace after office hours.

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Vision ビジョン Dir: Naomi Kawase (2018)

Vision    Vision Film Poster

ビジョン Bijon

Running Time: 110 mins.

Release Date: June 08th, 2018

Director:  Naomi Kawase

Writer: Naomi Kawase (Screenplay),

Starring: Juliette Binoche, Masatoshi Nagase, Min Tanaka, Mari Natsuki, Mirai Moriyama, Minami,

Website    IMDB

Naomi Kawase is a director who translates new age ideas to the screen with ease. Her work evidences an eye for the beauty of the natural world and a knack for getting good performances from her actors. Kawase delivers beautiful paeans to the power of life itself as exemplified here in a story of a French woman who heads to an ancient forest in Japan as she seeks a mysterious herb that can heal many things including, she hopes, an aching pain in her heart.

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Vampire Clay 血を吸う粘土 Dir: Soichi Umezawa (2017)

Vampire Clay   Vampire Clay Film Poster

血を吸う粘土Chi wo su nendo

Running Time: 81 mins.

Release Date: August 19th, 2017

Director:  Soichi Umezawa

Writer: Soichi Umezawa (Screenplay),

Starring: Asuka Kurosawa, Kanji Tsuda, Ena Fujita, Ryo Shinoda, Kyoka Takeda, Yuyu Makihara, Momoka Sugimoto,

Website IMDB

Vampire Clay is the feature-length film debut of writer/director Soichi Umezawa, a man who has had a long career as a special effects and make-up artist on many doramas and films like those of the Tomie franchise, low-budget sci-fi action flick like Alien vs Ninja, the chilling ghost story Dead Waves and the rather excellent Kiyoshi Kurosawa film Bright Future. That one’s not a horror but it features jellyfish which some may find horrific if stung by one. Vampire Clay is more in line with Umezawa’s horror films and the special effects are pretty good in a goofy way – gooey and creepy dolls made from clay that stalk a rural art school and bump off students one by one a la John Carpenter’s The Thing

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The Snow Woman 怪談雪女郎 Tokuzo Tanaka (1968)

The traditional Halloween movie review is back and there’s a continuation from last year as we look at another film incarnation of the legendary Yuki Onna, only this time it’s from an older interpretation of the film.

The Snow Woman   Yuki Onna 1968 Film Poster

怪談雪女郎 「Kaidan yukijorô

Running Time: 79 mins.

Release Date: April 20th, 1968

Director:  Tokuzo Tanaka

Writer: Fuji Yahiro (Screenplay), Lafcadio Hearn (Novel)

Starring: Shiho Fujimura, Akira Ishihama, Machiko Hasegawa, Tatsuo Hanabu, Sen Hara, Yoshiro Kitahara,

IMDB

Yuki Onna has been a famous legend around Japan for centuries and has become a part of Japanese popular culture thanks to seminal works such as Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of folk-tales, Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1904), a book which went on to inspire Masaki Kobayashi’s omnibus horror film Kwaidan (1965).  Yuki Onna has had many film incarnations, some of which focus on her monstrousness while others look at her humanity and relation to nature like Kiki Sugino’s 2016 film of the same name. Here we get the mysterious and somewhat scary take as well as a rumination on the supernatural world and its relation on the world of people.

Long ago, on the border between Mino and Hida, where there is much snow, there circulated among the people who lived there, the legend of Yuki Onna…”

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That’s It  それだけ Dir: Gakuryu Ishii (2015)

That’s It   

Soredake That's It Film Poster
Soredake That’s It Film Poster

それだけ 「Sore dake」

Release Date: May 27th, 2015

Running Time: 110 mins.

Director: Gakuryu Ishii

Writer: Kiyotaka Inagaki (Screenplay),

Starring: Shota Sometani, Erina Mizuno, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Jun Murakami, Gou Ayano,

Website   IMDB

Gakuryu Ishii loves punk music and this film was inspired by the 1999 song “Sore dake” by Japanese rock band Bloodthirsty Butchers. The rest of the band’s music is also featured in the film which was released on May 27, 2015, two years to the day the Bloodthirsty Butchers’ lead singer Hideki Yoshimura died. With lyrics and chords adding to the energy of the proceedings, this is a shot of urban punk action with echoes of films from director Gakuryu’s earlier career.

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Sweet Bean あん Dir: Naomi Kawase (2015)

Sweet Bean

An Sweet Red Bean Paste Film Poster
An Sweet Red Bean Paste Film Poster

あん 「An」

Release Date: May 30th, 2015

Running Time: 113 mins.

Director: Naomi Kawase,

Writer: Naomi Kawase (Screenplay), Tetsuya Akikawa (Original Novel),

Starring:  Masatoshi Nagase, Kirin Kiki, Kyara Uchida, Etsuko Ichihara, Miki Mizuno, Taiga, Wakato Kanematsu, Miyoko Asada.

Website   IMDB

Travelling through Japan is an amazing culinary experience because of the sheer amount of restaurants, stores and street food available in shotengai, yokocho and main streets. Everything from big chains to small stores selling a variety of things from tasteless but healthy jelly-like konyaku to the pastry-like manju (the greatest delicacy!!!) all cooked up and served by a variety of people. The most memorable encounters I had were usually old ladies with crooked backs bent from a lifetime of hard work. While they were cooking they would impart some of their experiences and what the food means and these experiences and informed how they cooked and made the food seem more meaningful and tasty than store-bought goods. It is this sort of thing that Naomi Kawase channels in her drama Sweet Bean which is based on a novel by Durian Sukegawa. It tells the tale of a melancholy cake shop owner who rediscovers his joie de vivre after meeting an exceptional person. It marries Kawase’s visual lyricism and penchant for making connections between humans and nature to a simple tale and works well.

Sweet beans, known as an in Japanese, is a wonderfully sweet-tasting thick substance made from adzuki beans and is a filling usually found in confections from doughnuts to the dorayaki as seen in this film. Dorayaki are like pancakes where the batter is poured onto a metal griddle and flipped with a spatula before the sweet bean filling is added.

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After the Storm 海よりもまだ深く Dir: Hirokazu Koreeda (2016)

After the Storm   

After the Storm Film Poster
After the Storm Film Poster

海よりもまだ深く 「Umi yori mo mada fukaku」

Release Date: May 21st, 2016

Running Time: 117 mins.

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda (Original Story, Screenplay)

Starring: Hiroshi Abe, Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Sosuke Ikematsu, Yoko Maki, Satomi Kobayashi, Isao Hashizume, Taiyo Yoshizawa

IMDB   Website

After the Storm is a story of everyday human failings and the constant hope for a better tomorrow that motivates us. Kore-eda cast a cadre of familiar actors who he had worked with in previous films including Kirin Kiki and Hiroshi Abe, both of whom were in Still Walking (2008) as mother and son Toshiko and Ryota. This family drama could be a sort of sequel to Still Walking due to similarities – Kiki’s character Toshiko (とし子) turns into Yoshiko (淑子) here while Abe’s character is named Ryota (良多) in both films – and callbacks likethe butterfly motif and it features a deceptive simpleness in its approach, a story of a family gathering made complex by tangled emotions tinged with bitter history.

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