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colorless 猿楽町で会いましょう Dir: Takashi Koyama (2020)

colorless  colorless Film Poster

猿楽町で会いましょう  Sarugakuchou de aimashou

Release Date: 2021

Duration: 122 mins.

Director: Takashi Koyama

Writer: Takashi Koyama, Yu Shibuya (Screenplay), 

Starring: Ruka Ishikawa, Daichi Kaneko, Shuntaro Yanagi, Sakurako Konishi, Ikuma Nagatomo, Hitoe Ookubo,

Website IMDB

colorless is the directorial debut of Takashi Koyama. He adapted the winner of 2018’s Unfinished Movie Trailer Grand Prix MI-CAN, a competition where filmmaker’s can win a cash prize based on a trailer around 3 minutes. He makes a tragic love story involving two people who are drawn to Shibuya’s fashion culture. The resulting story is cynical, slightly cliched but lifted by the performers while the technicals convey the glitz and glamour of the district.    

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Under Your Bed アンダー・ユア・ベッド (2019) Dir: Mari Asato

Under Your Bed   Under Your Bed Film Poster

アンダー・ユア・ベッド Anda- Yua Beddo

Release Date: July 19th, 2019

Duration: 98 mins.

Director: MarAsato

Writer: Tatsuya Ishii (Screenplay), Kei Ohishi (Novel)

Starring: Kengo Kora, Kanako Nishikawa, Kenichi Abe, Ryosuke Miyake, Yugo Mikawa,

Website IMDB

Handsome leading man Kengo Kora takes on a daring role in this film as he portrays a stalker who, when we first meet him, is living the dream the title suggests as he is under a bed. Not yours, but his target’s bed. However this movie directed by horror specialist Mari Asato subverts the idea of who the threat is as the peeping tom who prowls around a young woman’s home is the least frightening person lurking there.

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Body Remember (2020)

Body Remember

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 85 mins.

Director: Keita Yamashina

Writer: Ippei Miyake, Keita Yamashina (Script), 

Starring: Yume Tanaka, Yohei Okuda, Ryuta Furuya,
Takaya Shibata, Momoka Ayukawa, Keita Yamashina,

Website IMDB

A trend in recent Japanese indie films is the use of self-reflexive stories that prompt both the characters and the audience to constantly interrogate what is real. Body Remember, the directorial debut by actor Keita Yamashina, is one such example as it blurs the lines between dream, reality, and fantasy from start to finish in a playful adventure in interpretation as experienced by an artist and writer committing to the page a sultry woman’s murky past.

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Stay (2019) Dir: Naoya Fujita

Stay   

Release Date: September 05th, 2020

Duration: 38 mins.

Director: Naoya Fujita

Writer: Suzuyuki Kaneko (Script), 

Starring: Keita Yamashina, Ruka Ishikawa, Takaki Uda, Yumi Endo, Kenta Yamagishi, Kohei Nagano, Suzuyuki Kaneko,

Stay, by director Naoya Fujita, has been screened at the Tama New Wave Festival, Skip City D-Festival and the Osaka Asian Film Festival which is where I saw it as part of the package of films supported by the Housen Cultural Foundation, an organisation which provides financial backing to students in graduate schools across Japan. The inspiration for the story comes from the time when Fujita encountered a traditional Japanese-style home and was immediately taken with it, imagining what it would be like for a community to form around it and this idea evolving into one asking the question of what constitutes a family.

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Terrarium Locker テラリウムロッカー (2019) Dir: Rika Aoi

Terrarium Locker    Terrarium Locker Film Poster

テラリウムロッカー  Terariumu Rokka-

Release Date: 2019

Duration: 30 mins.

Director: Rika Aoi

Writer: Rika Aoi (Screenplay),

Starring: Kanako Miyashita, Osuke Tokunaga, Takashi Okado, Anju Oda,

Website     Twitter

Rika Aoi’s Terrarium Locker was first picked up for the Kanazawa Film Festival 2019 before it was re-edited for the MOOSIC LAB 2019 programme. She made it while also working as a manga editor and did so with a main staff made up of women in their 20s (source). The film is a quiet and quirky small-scale human drama about a young woman finding her place in the world.Terrarium Locker Film Image

“Is there anything in this world that only I can do?”

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Dong Teng Town ドンテンタウン (2020) Dir: Kouhei Inoue

Dong Teng Town    Dong Teng Town Film Poster

ドンテンタウン Donten Taun

Release Date: July 17th, 2020

Duration: 61 mins.

Director: Kouhei Inoue

Writer: Kouhei Inoue (Script),

Starring: Ryo Sato, Sho Kasamatsu, Ai Yamamoto, Ryui Ushio, Saki Iwasaki, Gantsu Morita, Ryo Anraku,

Website

Director Kohei Inoue’s Dong Teng Town netted the Actor Award for Sho Kasamatsu’s performance, and was the runner up for the MOOSIC LAB Grand Prix prize, which ultimately went to Sleeping Insect. His work is, nonetheless, strong, as it gives a dreamlike tale with lead performances full of poignancy that rises above a confused narrative of two lost souls communicating through time and space through cassette tapes as themes of absence and meetings, common in all of the MOOSIC LAB films, are played out quite nicely.

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My Lovely Days, Yuka-chan no Aishita Jidai ゆかちゃんの愛した時代  (2018) Dir: Yun Hayama

My Lovely DaysYuka-chan no Aishita Jidai Film Poster

ゆかちゃんの愛した時代 Yuka-chan no Aishita Jidai

Release Date: July 11th, 2020

Duration: 30 mins.

Director: Yun Hayama

Writer: Yun Hayama, Nishio Hiroshi (Script),

Starring: Yun Hayama, Keita Yamashina, Sayu Higashi, Marc Panther, Shiho Tanaka,

With the retirement of Emperor Akihito and the ascension of Crown Prince Naruhito to the Chrysanthemum throne, the transition from the Heisei era to the Reiwa era¹ sparked a lot of nostalgia in Japanese who looked back over the cultural shifts felt during the 80s and 90s. Yun Hayama indulges in the same thing and is clearly writing from experience with this film which is a flashback to the fun of the 90s.

It is April 30th, 2019, and the Heisei era will end in an hour. At one coffee shop in Osaka, Yuka Yukawa, a local talent born in 1989 (the first year of the Heisei era) is having a meeting with her manager Masao (Keita Yamashina). While Masao is pressuring her to do work (including, quite cynically, a film with an erotic scene), Yuka is more interested in talking about her memories of the Heisei era and as she talks her sweet and infectious desire for the Heisei era begins to overflow into the conversation.

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Tailwind 追い風 (2020) Dir: Ryo Anraku

Tailwind    Oi-kaze Film poster

追い風 Oikaze

Release Date: August 07th, 2020

Duration: 71 mins.

Director: Ryo Anraku

Writer: Ryo Katayama, Ryo Anraku (Script), 

Starring: DEG, Ryo Katayama, Ryo Anraku, Hyoma Shibata, Hiroki Sato, Ritsu Ootomu, Mebuki Yoshida,

Website

Winner of the Best Actor and Musician Award in the feature film category of MOOSIC LAB 2019, Tailwind was shot in just three months by up-and-coming indie film makers Ryo Katayama and Ryo Anraku. Their story is based upon shared real-life experience with their friend DEG, a hip-hop artist whose friendly persona and musical performance fits perfectly into both this youth drama and the MOOSIC LAB mantra of combining filmmakers and artists.

28-year-old Tokyo-based rapper DEG is struggling with his career and feeling frustrated. A decent rhyme-smith, his songs lack fire since the lyrics are inoffensive (and maybe even a little bland) to win listeners over and so he isn’t making any progress beyond friend’s parties and izakaya gigs. His affability on the mic is reflected off the stage as he masks his frustrations and disappointments behind his smile. Any inconvenience, insult, or disagreement from someone is met with a big grin and a laugh and so he is suffering on the inside while others advance their lives and move on without him, sometimes at his expense. However, with his frustrations mounting DEG’s smile begins to fade and his inner voice beings to emerge. When he is invited to a friend’s wedding which Hikari, the love of his life, will attend, he decides to use the event as the catalyst for him to realign his personal and professional personas and make his own tailwind and seize his own happiness. 

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Soul Music ソウル・ミュージック (2020) Dir: Masaki Soejima

Soul Music    Soul Music Film Poster

ソウル・ミュージック Souru Myu-jikku

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 30 mins.

Director: Masaki Soejima

Writer: Masaki Soejima (Script),

Starring: Teruyuki Oshima, Kazuaki Koyama, Yoshio Otani, Miki Aoyagi,

Website

Director Masaki Soejima is both a psychiatrist and filmmaker who combines the two to make a funny mockumentary in which a duo of bumbling middle-aged men make a supernatural song recording.

“Can you write a song with a ghost?” This is a request sent into a late-night radio show by an elementary schoolgirl. What she is doing up late at night listening to Teruyuki Oshima and Kazuaki Koyama, two musicians with laidback radio personalities is anyone’s guess but in the middle of a ratings slump, their producer sees her challenge as a chance to get a bump in listeners and so he sends his reluctant charges out into a haunted forest with a small crew to make music with a ghost.

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To the Ends of the Earth 旅のおわり世界のはじまり (2019) Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

To the Ends of the Earth        To the Ends of the Earth Film Poster

旅のおわり世界のはじまり  「Tabi no Owari Sekai no Hajimari」

Release Date: June 14th, 2019

Duration: 120 mins.

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Screenplay),

Starring: Atsuko Maeda, Ryo Kase, Shota Sometani, Tokio Emoto, Adiz Rajabov,

Website     IMDB

To the Ends of the Earth is an international co-production that was commissioned to commemorate 25 years of diplomatic relations between Japan and Uzbekistan. It’s written and directed by horror auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who eschews using serial killers and ghosts as sources of fear and turns to tourism as he makes a moving travelogue-cum-character study of an introverted young woman overcoming anxieties in an alien environment and coming to understand herself better.

We follow Yoko (Atsuko Maeda), the young host of a Japanese TV show who is on assignment in Uzbekistan with a small crew (played by Shota Sometani, Ryo Kase, Tokio Emoto, Adiz Rajabov) as they seek out interesting places to go and exciting things to do. Rather than the glamour and fun of the finished product, we witness a light satire surrounding the drudgery of a production where nothing quite works out. A mythical fish is a no-show at a mountain lake, food is undercooked in a culinary section, and, in one wince-inducing bit, Yoko boards a seemingly innocuous ride at a theme park only to end up being tossed around like a rag doll. Throughout it all she shows professionalism by following her director’s orders and hosting everything with a grin (or gritted teeth when it comes to the ride) but as the assignment grinds on, we see her positive façade fade and her authentic side emerge.

There is considerable downtime between filming and Kurosawa emphasises these moments in his narrative to show that the real Yoko is more introspective than her onscreen personality lets on. She often opts to eat alone and skips production meetings to stay in her hotel room so she can spend time messaging her boyfriend in Tokyo for comfort. Her anxieties are most pointedly felt when she goes on solo daytime jaunts. Alone and with just a map and a few words of English to communicate, a trip to somewhere like Chorsu Bazaar becomes nightmarish as she loses confidence in herself, finds crowds of hagglers harrowing and gets lost in back streets because she is too intimidated by the locals to ask for help. To build the intensity of panic to match the increasing tension Yoko feels, Kurosawa uses techniques familiar from his horror repertoire, transitioning from touristic locations to uninviting urban areas shaded by fluctuating light, menacing shadows, and scary sounds, while he also refrains from subtitling Uzbek dialogue to reflect Yoko’s incomprehension as well as to make circumstances opaque for the audience. 

Yoko’s alienation and distress is conveyed so well in these sequences that they will ring true to anyone who has travelled and felt the buzz of tension and shrivelling of the heart that comes with encountering and shrinking from the unknown. However, after these tumultuous situations, we see Yoko develop as she reflects upon her angst and it is tourism that allows her to push past her fears.

During her wanderings she often encounters something or someone that teaches her to move forward with these sequences skilfully allowing her journey, her dreamlife and Uzbekistan to intersect. The most impactful moment, and the turning point in the film, comes when Yoko is drawn to explore the Navoi theatre in Tashkent by the sound of a woman singing. Tracking shots follow her journey through ornate rooms beautifully decorated in the style of different regions of Uzbekistan until there is a seamless segue to fantasy as she reaches a stage and suddenly bursts out with the Edith Piaf song Hymne à l’Amour (愛の讃歌) while accompanied by an orchestra. This display of confidence runs counter to our impressions of her true nature and reveals her dream that surpasses presenting travel shows. Her ability to bridge the gap between dream and reality soon comes after as she learns that the theatre was built by Japanese POWs after World War II and seems to relate to their story of finding release from fear through dedicating themselves to art. This message is reinforced when she takes the time to have a frank conversation with her taciturn cameraman who reveals his own career dilemmas and offers philosophical advice amounting to the journey is just as important as the destination. It is an honest and insightful look at how people can grow from experiences. While the remainder of the film is dedicated to Yoko struggling to master herself and still making mistakes, a growing understanding of herself allows her character arc to have a positive trajectory. 

To the Ends of the Earth Image Yoko (Atsuko Maeda) with a Camera

None of this would work if ex-AKB48 idol Atsuko Maeda wasn’t a good actor and she gives a compelling performance here. This is her third film with Kurosawa following the offbeat thriller Seventh Code (2013) and alien invasion drama Before We Vanish (2017) and it is her most complex role to date. Kurosawa keeps the camera focussed on her and she reveals how much she has grown as a performer as she displays a sensitivity and vulnerability that guarantees audience empathy that keeps us riveted as we watch her stumble through various Uzbek locations to stride towards an uplifting conclusion that sees her achieve some self-realisation after which she can belt out a full rendition of Hymne à l’Amour with a dazzling shine of confidence that caps her character’s journey. It’s said that travel helps people find themselves and it turns out to be true here.

My review was first published over at V-Cinema on December 03rd.

Happy New Year to everyone. I hope 2021 is the year we can master ourselves and improve the world.