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The Oyster Factory 牡蠣工場 Dir: Kazuhiro Soda (2016)

Oyster Factory  

Oyster Factory Film Poster
Oyster Factory Film Poster

牡蠣工場  「Kaki kouba

Release Date: February 20th, 2016

Duration: 145 mins

Director: Kazuhiro Soda

Starring: Shinsuke Hirano, Koichi Watanabe, Yukiko Watanabe

Website  IMDB

Earlier in 2018 I had the chance to see three of Kazuhiro Soda’s early films which he made as a student at New York’s School of Visual Arts in the 90s and was surprised to discover he started out making a comedy and dramatic short films with well-contained stories and acting. He is still based in New York but is now renowned for observational documentaries having produced works of the cinema vérité variety that look at communities in Japan starting with Democracy (2007). The Oyster Factory was one I first encountered in the 2015 run of the Vancouver International Film Festival. This 145 minute film looks at life inside an oyster factory and as Soda explores this environment he discovers wider issues about the generational divide through the lack of young people entering the industry and Chinese-Japanese relations as Chinese workers are brought in to help keep two oyster factories running.

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The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On ゆきゆきて、神軍 Dir: Kazuo Hara (1987)

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On   The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On DVD Cover

ゆきゆきて、神軍  「Yuki yukite, shingun

Running Time: 122 mins.

Release Date: August 01st, 1987

Director:  Kazuo Hara

Writer: N/A

Starring: Kenzo Okuzaki, Shizumi Okuzaki,

IMDB

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On is regarded as one of the finest documentaries ever made. It derives its power from its subject, a World War II veteran and political agitator named Kenzo Okuzaki who is on a quest to expose a possible war crime as well as the irresponsible actions of Emperor Hirohito, the military, and post-war governments who carelessly tossed away the lives of their people and have imposed a sort of nation-wide amnesia over the wrongs committed during the war including the killing of their own soldiers.

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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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RE:BORN リボーン Dir: Yuji Shimomura (2017)

Re: Born   Re Born Film Poster

RE:BORN リボーン 「RE:BORN Ribo-n

Running Time: 115 mins.

Director:  Yuji Shimomura

Writer: Benio Saeki (Screenplay),

Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Orson Mochizuki, Yura Kondo, Issei Ishida, Mariko Shinoda, Takumi Saitoh, Hiroko Yashiki, Hitomi Hasebe, Masaya Kato, Akio Otsuka, Makoto Sakaguchi, Kenta, Rina Takeda (voice),

IMDB Website

Re:Born stars Tak Sakaguchi, a fighter, action-director, director and actor. Since his debut in Ryuhei Kitamura’s 2000 zombie action film Versus, he has been a staple of the cult cinema scene. Even if the films he acts in are comedic gore-fests from the likes of Yudai Yamaguchi (Deadball) and Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police) he tends to make an impact because he has the charisma and martial arts skills needed by a good action hero. He can act and has shown this in works that stretch across genres with Osaka Snake Road: Snake of Violence, Alive, Shinobi: Heart Under Blade and Meatball Machine: Kodoku. His best role was as a failed-actor given one more shot in Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell? which, if you had to watch one performance, is the one I’d recommend. Re:Born gives him the stage he deserves to show his martial-arts skills. 

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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…”

Continue reading “The Snow Woman 怪談雪女郎 Tokuzo Tanaka (1968)”