A Movie Capital 映画の都 Dir: Toshio Iizuka (1991) [Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival]

A Movie CapitalYIDFF A Movie Capital Case

映画の都ー山形国際ドキュメンタリー映画祭’89 Eiga no Miyako – Yamagata Kokusai Dokyumentari- Eigasai ‘89

Release Date: March 25th, 1991

Duration: 98 mins.

Director: Toshio Iizuka

Writer: N/A

Starring: Hiroshi Teshigahara, Shinsuke Ogawa, Stephen Teo, Peggy Chiao Hsiung-ping, Raquel Gerber, Jon Jost, Katheryn Taverner, Alan Adelson,

Yamagata Site

The Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival (YIDFF) is now a treasured biannual event that brings together filmmakers and audiences in programmes designed to showcase films as well as generate new talents and works. This commitment to cultivating community engagement and individual talent was present in the intentions of organisers and attendees from its inception as seen in A Movie Capital, an informative and enjoyable record of the inaugural YIDFF, Asia’s first documentary film festival.

A Movie Capital

A Movie Capital was Toshio Iizuka’s debut work after being part of pioneering filmmaker Shinsuke Ogawa’s Ogawa Productions for around 20 years and working with the collective on documentaries covering topics like the Sanrizuka Struggle. As Ogawa Productions were working in Yamagata prefecture, they were best placed to help organisers establish and document the inaugural YIDFF in 1989 and Iizuka comes off as the right pick for the job as he marshals the assembled footage to create a film that locates the event’s place in history and its meaning to participants.

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Domains 王国 (あるいはその家について)  (2019) Dir: Natsuka Kusano

Domains    王国(あるいはその家について)  Domains Film Poster

王国 (あるいはその家について) Ookoku (aruiwa sono-ka ni tsuite)

Running Time: 150 mins.

Release Date: 2019

Director:  Natsuka Kusano

Writer: Tomoyuki Takahashi (Screenplay)

Starring: Asami Shibuya, Tomo Kasajima, Tomomitsu Adachi, Ryu Kenta

A friendship torn asunder by the death of a child is material fit for a melodrama full of meltdowns and confession but in Domains, director Natsuka Kusano offers a dissection of a relationship in an unconventional form that proved so hypnotic, it became one of the most absorbing film experiences I have watched in years. (slight spoilers)

Domains, produced as an original video work for the Aichi Arts Center, is Kusano’s follow-up to her debut Antonym. For her second film, she re-teamed with Antonym’s writer Tomoyuki Takahashi (Touching the Skin of EerinessHappy Hour) to craft a structurally inventive way in which to tell this story as they utilise repetition and variation to slowly build out the emotional dimensions of the relationship.

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Touching the Skin of Eeriness 不気味なものの肌に触れる (2014) Dir: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Touching the Skin of Eeriness  Touching the Skin of Eeriness Film Poster

不気味なものの肌に触れる  「Bukimina mono no Hada ni Fureru」 

Release Date: March 01st, 2014

Running Time: 54 mins.

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Writer: Tomoyuki Takahashi (Screenplay)

Starring: Shota Sometani, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Natsumi Seto, Jun Murakami, Ayumi Mizukoshi, Hoshi Ishida, Aoba Kawai,


It’s all “show, don’t tell” in Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Touching the Skin of Eeriness, a medium-length film that uses body language and interpretive dance rather than words to speak.

Made before Happy Hour (2015), his big international breakout, Touching the Skin of Eeriness was a project that Hamaguchi originally envisioned as a pilot film designed to get funding for a larger project named FLOOD. Featuring Shota Sometani (Himizu) in a lead role just as he became a big star in Japan with mainstream movies Parasyte, Wood Job!, and Bakuman, it was a departure for the actor who shines in one of Hamaguchi’s most opaque films where the focus is on the intimate physical movements of the actors and the background atmosphere to relay information.

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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


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]


牛久 Ushiku

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 84 mins.

Director: Ian Thomas Ash

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A


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,


“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, 


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,


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,


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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