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The Graceful Brute しとやかな獣 Dir: Yuzo Kawashima (1962)

The Graceful Brute   The Graceful Brute Film Poster

しとやかな獣  Shitoyakana kedamono

Release Date: December 26th, 1962

Duration: 96 mins.

Director:  Yuzo Kawashima

Writer:  Kaneto Shindo (Screenplay),

Starring: Ayako Wakao, Yunosuke Ito, Hisano Yamaoka, Manamitsu Kawabata, Yuko Hamada, Eiji Funakoshi, Kyu Sazanka, Chocho Miyako, Hideo Takamatsu,

IMDB

A possible tag line for this film could be, “a family that embezzles together, stays together”, such is the content of this film which shows a day in the life of a greedy family as they swindle from subjects in their social circle. Ten actors, one location, and a narrative that takes place over 24 hours, Graceful Brute (1962) is a masterful black comedy that critiques the changing morals of Japanese people during the economic miracle of the post-war years.

The film almost exclusively takes place in the fifth floor apartment of the Maeda’s. They live in a danchi (housing complex) designed by Kunio Maekawa¹, the sort of forward-thinking utilitarian building that was meant to serve every need of its residents and promote community and harmony but the values of the Maeda’s are far from these ideals. They seem to be a stable family unit of two conservative parents (who wear kimono and listen to traditional music) and their hip son and daughter (out on the town in Ginza’s bars) but as the narrative unfolds we see the depth of their duplicity, selfishness, and materialistic behaviour which unites them. They are a product of the age.

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My Dad and Mr. Ito お父さんと伊藤さん Dir: Yuki Tanada (2016)

My Dad and Mr. Ito

お父さんと伊藤さんOtoo-san to Itoo-sanMy Dad and Mr Ito Film Poster

Release Date: October 08th, 2016

Duration: 119 mins

Director:  Yuki Tanada

Writer: Hinako Nakazawa (Screenplay/Original Novel),

Starring: Juri Ueno, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Sei Ando, Lily Franky, Tomoharu Hasegawa, Eri Watanabe,

Website IMDB

Nothing binds people together as tightly as family ties and those ties can hurt when they really bite into you, something which the characters in this drama experience when an old man moves in with his daughter and her boyfriend in their small apartment. It may be a cramped space but a wide range of issues are raised as these three try to learn to live together.

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Distance ディスタンス Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda (2001)

Distance    Distance Film Poster

ディスタンス Disutansu

Release Date: May 26th, 2001

Duration: 132 mins.

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda (Script) 

Starring: Yui Natsukawa, Yusuke Iseya, Arata, Susumu Terajima, Tadanobu Asano, Ryo, Kenichi Endo, Kanji Tsuda,

IMDB

Hirokazu Kore-eda made Distance after he became interested in the disciples of Aum Shinrikyo, the group which committed the Tokyo subway sarin attack¹. He wanted to comment on how everyone in society could be responsible for it in some way. In so doing, he strikes at a universal fear surely felt by everyone which is that perhaps those who should be the closest to us are sometimes the ones furthest away.

This idea of distance is given to us through the story of a group of people who are ostensibly disconnected from each other but each has a deep personal connection to a terrorist incident described at the start of the film by a radio announcer.

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Erica 38 エリカ38 Dir: Yuichi Hibi (2019)

Erica 38    Erica 38 Film Poster

エリカ38  Erika 38

Release Date: June 07th, 2019

Duration: 103 mins.

Director: Yuichi Hibi

Writer: Yuichi Hibi (Screenplay),

Starring: Miyoko Asada, Miu Suzuki, Kirin Kiki, Nahana, Juri Manase, Hajime Yamazaki, Shizuo Yamazaki, Hinako Saeki, Takehiro Hira,

Website IMDB

Inspired by true events, Erica 38 tells the story of a con-woman named Satoko Watabe who defrauds 50 billion yen from unsuspecting dupes in a pyramid scheme before finally being caught. The lead character, played by former pop idol Miyoko Asada, may have a silver tongue that can deceive others but in the end the biggest dupe turns out to be her.

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Shoplifters 万引き家族 Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda (2018)

Shoplifters   Shoplifters Film Poster

万引き家族 Manbiki Kazoku

Release Date: June 08th, 2018

Duration: 121 mins.

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda (Screenplay),

Starring: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Kirin Kiki, Miyu Sasaki, Mayu Matsuoka, Kairi Jyo, Yoko Moriguchi, Yuki Yamada, Moemi Katayama, Akira Emoto, Kengo Kora, Chizuru Ikewaki, Sosuke Ikematsu,

Website IMDB

Hirokazu Kore-eda is often compared to Yasujiro Ozu due to his depictions of families in Japan but he is quite political. Through various detailed tapestries of the rich and poor, nuclear and unconventional family units and different individuals, he has charted a myriad of lives all over the archipelago of his home nation and captured the changing dynamics of a country where tradition, social mores and people’s bonds are seemingly degrading as society adapts to new ways of thinking about work and family and people live atomised lives. Shoplifters tells the story of a most unconventional family by normal Japanese standards and, in so doing, it offers some quite stringent critiques of the exploitation of labour, the indifference of authorities and the resulting breakdown of relationships. It is a refreshingly open politicisation of content for a Japanese mainstream film and it feels akin to the social realist films of Ken Loach. This political bite could partly be the reason why the film went on to wow critics and net the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival but, as in all Kore-eda films, it is the performances that sway hearts and make audiences cry.

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The Third Murder 三度目の殺人 Dir: Hirokazu Koreeda (2017)

The Third Murder    The Third Murder Film Poster

三度目の殺人Sandome no Satsujin

Release Date: September 09th, 2017

Duration: 124 mins.

Director:  Hirokazu Koreeda

Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda (Screenplay),

Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Koji Yakusho, Suzu Hirose, Yuki Saito, Kotaro Yoshida, Mikako Ichikawa, Izumi Matsuoka,

Website IMDB

This film from Hirokazu Kore-eda feels like a departure from his usual interests of family dynamics because it is an exploration of the Japanese justice system but it still features his familiar interest in the atomisation of Japanese society.

Set in the snowy northern island of Hokkaido, this is an almost coldly analytical tale of a public defender taking on what should be an open and shut case and discovering that the truth is hard to pin down and that those who mete out justice sometimes aren’t interested in truth at all.

Shigemori (Fukuyama) is an elite lawyer who has been given the task of defending a man named Misumi Mikuma (Yakusho), an ex-con only just released from prison after serving a term for a murder he committed in 1986. Misumi has been arrested and charged with murdering the manager of the canning factory he works at. Misumi seems guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt because he was caught with the victim’s wallet and has confessed to the murder. A violent background, circumstantial evidence and confession. That is enough to warrant the death penalty. Shigemori has been drafted in to save Misumi.

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The Virgin Psychics 映画みんな!エスパーだよ Dir: Sion Sono (2015)

The Virgin Psychics    The Virgin Psychics Film Poster

映画みんな!エスパーだよ「Eiga Minna! Esupa- Dayo!」

Release Date: September 04th, 2015

Duration: 114 mins.

Director: Sion Sono,

Writer: Sion Sono, Shinichi Tanaka (Screenplay), Kiminori Wakasugi (Original Manga),

Starring:  Shota Sometani, Elaiza Ikea, Erina Mano, Makita Sports, Anna Konno, Motoki Fukami, Ai Shinozaki, Tokio Emoto, Megumi Kagurazaka,

Website IMDB

This is directed by Sion Sono one of the world’s great contemporary directors who built a career on existential drama/horror like Suicide CircleStrange Circus, and Noriko’s Dinner Table. 2015 saw the release of six of his films, three of which were froma  franchise including this one. This is based on a TV dorama that is based on a manga written by Kiminori Wakasugi, creator of the hilarious Detroit Metal City. After a first viewing I was tempted to write it off as an insincere cash-in on a smutty comic book and Tenga sex toys but I will be generous and say that the film is an unashamed celebration of raging hormones and naive love (as well as Tenga sex toys) wrapped up in a knowingly stupid story.

We’re not watching Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru, we’re watching the misadventures of Yoshiro “Yocchan” Kamogawa (Shota Sometani), ordinary (virgin) high school boy in Toyohashi. It is a city with more good-looking women than anywhere else in the world, apparently, but he can’t get laid because he’s a bit of a nerd. He finds his life literally changes overnight when he wakes up with the ability to read other people’s minds. Sounds awesome! But he cannot use it effectively since he is caught up in an obsession with the idea that a classmate named Sae (Erina Mano) is his destined girl. He has a dream that they formed a mental connection while their mothers sat next to each other in the hospital when they were both still in the womb. Destiny does seem to have a hand in their meeting because she is the daughter of a travelling scientist (Ken Yasuda) who is in town to discover psychics!

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Tag リアル鬼ごっこ Dir: Sion Sono (2015)

Tag    

Tag Film Poster
Tag Film Poster

リアル鬼ごっこ  「Riaru Onigokko

Release Date: July 11th, 2015

Duration: 85 mins.

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono (Screenplay), Yusuke Yamada (Original Novel)

Starring:  Reina Triendl, Mariko Shinoda, Erina Mano, Yuka Sakurai, Maryjun Takahashi, Rin Honoa Cyborg Kaori, Mao Mita, Izumi, Mika Akizuki,

Website   IMDB

Kinetic and balletic. Bullets and buckshot fly. Hit bodies. Blood and body-parts splatter the sets. People drop to the floor amidst blood and gore. By people, I mean young females. A high-school girl named Mitsuko (Reina Triendl) is our first protag. Pretty much stunned and helpless, she flees scenes of carnage every few minutes. She runs the same gauntlet ad infinitum: a scene is established, a feeling of grue overcomes her and gratuitous violence erupts. As she escapes she dodges a number of antagonists: a supernatural scythe-like wind that decapitates busloads of schoolgirls and dismembers random passers-by at first, and then she flees a massacre orchestrated by teachers carrying military-grade weapons that cause ridiculous damage. Over the course of her escape, she transforms into… a bride named Keiko (Mariko Shinoda) who has a wedding from hell as it devolves into a mass brawl full of kung-fu kicking and jagged glass bottles for people to get stuck with. And then she turns into a marathon runner named Izumi (Erina Mano) who has to sprint away from danger. These ladies have all become involved in a fatal game of “tag” where they narrowly avoid death with every step. But can they break the cycle by making it to the end and what is awaiting them at the finishing line?

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When I Get Home, My Wife Always Pretends to Be Dead  家に帰ると妻が必ず死んだふりをしていま Dir: Toshio Lee (2018)

When I Get Home, My Wife Always Pretends to Be Dead.    When I Get Home, My Wife Always Pretends to Be Dead Film Poster

家に帰ると妻が必ず死んだふりをしています。 Ie ni Kaeru to Tsuma ga Kanarazu Shinda Furi wo Shite Imasu

Release Date: June 08th, 2018

Duration: 115 mins.

Director:  Toshio Lee

Writer: Fumi Tsubota (Screenplay), K. Kajunsky Ichida (Original Story)

Starring: Ken Yasuda, Nana Eikura, Ryohei Otani, Sumika Nono,

Website    IMDB

Ken Yasuda and Nana Eikura make an odd couple in this rom-com that comes with shades of sentimentality and darkness to give a lesson on how some people express a need for love and support.

Based on a series of Yahoo! Answers messages that were novelised, this is the tale of an average salaryman named Jun (Ken Yasuda) who gets a shock whenever he returns home from work: his wife Chie (Nana Eikura) is dead every time. She isn’t really dead. It’s nothing supernatural or nefarious, she just likes to set up a scene complete with elaborate props and costumes for her husband to walk in on. Whether she is as a victim of a wild animal attack, shot through the head with an arrow or worse, Chie likes to surprise her husband. Only he doesn’t like what he sees as strange behaviour and seeks advice from work colleagues as he hopes to curb her performances. There is a deeper motivation to what Chie does and Jun will have to start looking past the theatre and at take his wife’s emotional needs seriously to understand her. Could her cryptic use of the phrase, “The moon is so blue tonight” be the key to making him realise?

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If Cats Disappeared From the World  世界から猫が消えたなら Dir: Akira Nagai (2016)

If Cats Disappeared From the World 

If Cats Disappeared From the World Film Poster
If Cats Disappeared From the World Film Poster

世界から猫が消えたなら 「Sekai kara Neko ga Kieta nara」 

Release Date: May 14th, 2016

Duration: 118 mins.

Director: Akira Nagai

Writer: Ryoichi Okada (Screenplay), Genki Kawamura (Original Novel)

Starring: Takeru Satoh, Aoi Miyazaki, Mieko Harada, Eiji Okuda, Anna Ishii, Gaku Hamada, Eita Okuno

Website   IMDB

“If I were to disappear from this world, who would miss me?” Characters in movies usually think this while contemplating death. Of course, every person matters and our lives are connected with each other and the environment so something or someone disappearing has a big impact, but that is not always clear to people as we get swept up in dramatic circumstances and tumultuous emotions. There are tried and tested cinematic journeys used to lead a character to that epiphany of interconnection, either a path defined by hijinks or a contemplative trip down memory lane to show how important we all are, the latter of which happens in this gently powerful and moving film where the main character finds out he will die within days.

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