Featured

Lying to Mom 鈴木家の嘘 Dir: Katsumi Nojiri, Japan, (2018) [New York Asian Film Festival 2019]

Lying to Mom  The Suzuki_s Family Lie Film Poster

鈴木家の嘘 Suzukike no Uso

Release Date: November 16th, 2018

Duration: 133 mins.

Director:  Katsumi Nojiri

Writer: Katsumi Nojiri (Screenplay),

Starring: Hideko Hara, Mai Kiryu, Ryo Kase, Ittoku Kishibe, Nao Omori, Kayoko Kishimoto, Nahoko Yoshimoto, Shohei Uno, Chiaki Kawamo, 

Website IMDB

Katsumi Nojiri has had a long career working as an assistant director on a diverse array of films such as the comedies Seto and Utsumi (2016) and Thermae Romae II (2014) as well as dictionary drama The Great Passage (2013). For his directorial debut he harnesses a touch of comedy to craft a heartfelt film that is sadly inspired by the death of his own brother. In Lying to Mom, he unpacks all of the difficulties surrounding suicide felt by one suburban family and captures some of the difficult dynamics that play in addressing sensitive topics.

The suburban family at the heart of the story are the Suzuki clan which consists of father Sachio (Ittoku Kishibe), mother Yuko (Hideko Hara), son Koichi (Ryo Kase) and daughter Fumi (Mai Kiryu). They seem normal with Sachio being a bit of a hands-off patriarch, Yuko running the household as a devoted mother and Fumi being a university student but Koichi is a hikikomori and, apart from brief spells in odd jobs, has struggled to step outside of his room after graduating from university. One day, whatever is weighing him down finally becomes too much to bare and he hangs himself in his room.

Continue reading “Lying to Mom 鈴木家の嘘 Dir: Katsumi Nojiri, Japan, (2018) [New York Asian Film Festival 2019]”

Featured

The Gun 銃 Dir: Masaharu Take (2018) [New York Asian Film Festival 2019]

The Gun       The Gun Film Poster

Juu

Release Date: November 17th, 2018

Duration: 97 mins.

Director:  Masaharu Take

Writer: Masaharu Take, Hideki Shishido (Screenplay), Fuminori Nakamura (Original Novel)

Starring: Nijiro Murakami, Alice Hirose, Lily Franky, Kyoko Hinami, Risa Niigaki, Junpei Goto, Moemi Katayama, Amane Okayama,

Website IMDB

Masaharu Take has a knack of making good character-driven dramas as exemplified by 100 Yen Love (2015) which cemented Sakura Ando as a real headlining acting talent after she spent years impressing auds with steady work in smaller semi-comedic roles (For Love’s Sake, Love Exposure) and indie dramas (Our Homeland, 0.5mm). This film, an adaptation of a novel, offers Nijiro Murakami (Destruction Babies) a meaty role to make a name for himself.

“Last night, I found a gun.”

The film opens with what appears to be a suicide one rainy night. Blood pours out of a shattered skull onto a rain-sodden riverbank. The titular gun, a .357 Magnum Lawman Mk III, is lying next to the body. The camera caresses its smooth, short, shiny and curved form and soon someone will lavish the same attention on it.

Continue reading “The Gun 銃 Dir: Masaharu Take (2018) [New York Asian Film Festival 2019]”

Featured

The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan    泣き虫しょったんの奇跡 Dir: Toshiaki Toyoda (2018) [Japan Cuts 2019]

The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan   The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan Film Poster

泣き虫しょったんの奇跡 Nakimushi Shottan no Kiseki

Release Date: September 07th, 2018

Duration: 127 mins.

Director: Toshiaki Toyoda

Writer: Ayako Kato (Screenplay), Shoji Segawa (Autobiographical Novel)

Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Yojiro Noda, Shota Sometani, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Takako Matsu, Kiyohio Shibukawa, Kaoru Kobayashi, Jun Miho, Jun Kunimura, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Itsuji Itao, Shizuka Ishibashi, Issey Ogata, Kento Nagayama,

Website IMDB

Considering Toshiaki Toyoda made his entry into Japanese films with low-budget punk titles about outsiders like Pornostar (1998) seeing him take on a film about shogi, or Japanese chess, is something of a surprise until you find out that he initially trained in shogi as a child. That, and the lead character of this biopic, the titular crybaby Shoji (Shottan) Segawa, was an outsider and trailblazer himself when he became a shogi professional well past the age when it is acceptable.

Continue reading “The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan    泣き虫しょったんの奇跡 Dir: Toshiaki Toyoda (2018) [Japan Cuts 2019]”

Featured

The Kamagasaki Cauldron War 月夜釜合戦 Dir: Leo Sato (2018) [Japan Cuts 2019]

The Kamagasaki Cauldron War  The Kamagasaki Cauldron War Film Poster

月夜釜合戦 Tsukiyo kama gassen

Release Date: March 09th, 2019

Duration: 115 mins.

Director:  Leo Sato

Writer: Leo Sato (Screenplay),

Starring: Naomichi Ota, Yota Kawase, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Kazu, Makoto Nishiyama, Shoji Omiya, Naori Ota, Tsumugi Monko, Maki Nishiyama, Marie Decalco, Susumu Ogata, Masao Adachi

Website IMDB

Kamagasaki is a slum-like part of Osaka’s Nishinari district which is notorious for having a high concentration of day labourers, homeless and a history of civil unrest, not to mention its proximity to the Tobita Shinchi red-light district. When I lived in Japan and moved from Tokyo to Nishinari I was given warnings and advice from friends. The way some people talked about the history of Kamagasaki made it sound anarchic and dangerous. By the time I got there things had become tamer thanks to gentrification driven by the boom in tourism and my experience was positive. Indeed, as soon as I was off the train a day worker with a sunny disposition struck up a conversation and offered to buy me a drink before my landlady rescued me from the surprise invitation and showed me around the district. They were the first of quite a few residents who took the time to talk to me and dispelled myths by telling me different stories of a poor but proud community who have had to fight for their human rights and dignity. The history and feel of Kamagasaki is strong and director Leo Sato has managed to bring it to life in his debut feature fiction film which creates a feel for the place.

Continue reading “The Kamagasaki Cauldron War 月夜釜合戦 Dir: Leo Sato (2018) [Japan Cuts 2019]”

Featured

Last Judgement / Saigo no Shinpan 最後の審判 Dir: Shinya Kawakami [Osaka Asian Film Festival / Japan Cuts 2019]

Last Judgement / Saigo no Shinpan    Saigo no Shinpan Film Poster

最後の審判 Saigo no Shinpan

Release Date: March 02nd, 2019

Duration: 29 mins.

Director:  Shinya Kawakami

Writer: Shinya Kawakami (Screenplay)

Starring: Ren Sudo, Miru Nagase, Asuka Kurosawa, Kiyomi Aratani,

Website     IMDB

New Directions in Japanese Cinema (NDJC) is a programme that has been in operation since 2007, it’s purpose being to help foster talented young filmmakers through workshops and the production of 30-minute narrative shorts, shot on 35mm film, with the help of experienced professionals. The resulting works are given screenings across Japan and at major festivals. I had covered their films in old trailer posts¹ but had never seen a whole programme until this year…

It was coming up to the end of the 2019 edition of the Osaka Asian Film Festival and there was a screening of this year’s NDJC titles early one morning. I was quite eager to see them and was truly thrilled by the final title, Final Judgement (Saigo no Shinpan) by Shinya Kawakami which is, hands down, the best of the bunch.

Inaba (Ren Sudo) is a talented artist who has tried and failed the entrance exam to Tokyo Art University many times. He is on his sixth attempt and has decided to make this year his final challenge. As he prepares to paint a portrait to pave his way into the institution, a very gifted rival named Hatsune (Miru Nagase) appears amidst the students and her unconventional methods and tremendous vision creates a work which roars with energy and snares the attention of everybody including their tutors. Inaba is incensed by this girl (who is still in school, no less!) but, at the height of his anger he takes a left turn and invites Hatsune to a cafe to find out how she is such a great artist…

Continue reading “Last Judgement / Saigo no Shinpan 最後の審判 Dir: Shinya Kawakami [Osaka Asian Film Festival / Japan Cuts 2019]”

Featured

Hard-core ハード・コア Dir: Nobuhiro Yamashita (2018) [New York Asian Film Festival 2019]

Hard-core    Hardcore Film Poster

ハード・コア Ha-do Koa

Release Date: November 23rd, 2018

Duration: 124 mins.

Director: Nobuhiro Yamashita

Writer: Kosuke Mukai (Screenplay), Marley Carib Takashi Imashiro (Original Manga),

Starring: Takayuki Yamada, Takeru Satoh, YosiYosi Arakawa, Kei Ishibashi, Suon Kan, Takako Matsu, Kisetsu Fujiwara,

Website IMDB

Nobuhiro Yamashita is a director who has a particular forte for downbeat stories, whether they are slacker comedies or dramas, most of which contain misanthropic and misaligned characters who make for uncomfortable yet interesting leads (think The Drudgery Train). Here, he adapts an obscure manga from the early 90s by writer Marley Carib and illustrator Takashi Imashiro where the characters and the story are sometimes bizarre, sometimes sorrowful but secretly gentle, all of which plays out in a slow and uneven story.

Continue reading “Hard-core ハード・コア Dir: Nobuhiro Yamashita (2018) [New York Asian Film Festival 2019]”

Featured

5 Million Dollar Life 五億円のじんせい Dir: Moon Sung-Ho [New York Asian Film Festival 2019]

5 Million Dollar Life    5 Million Dollar Life Film Poster

五億円のじんせい  Gooku Yen no Jinsei

Release Date: July 20th, 2019

Duration: 112 mins.

Director: Moon Sung-Ho

Writer: Naomi Hiruta (Screenplay),

Starring: Ayumu Mochizuki, Anna Yamada, Ryu Morioka, Satoru Matsuo, Sumire Ashina, Junko Emoto, Naomi Nishida, Taro Suwa,

Website IMDB

Moon Sung-Ho was first mentioned on this blog in 2014 with his NDJC film Michizure. Originally from Hiroshima, after graduating from high school, he studied film-making in South Korea and then returned to Japan to shoot commercials and short films according to the NYAFF biography. This is his debut feature based on an original screenplay by veteran writer Naomi Hiruta and it has a weird energy thanks to its dark heart, a story so concerned with death and exploitation, and a light delivery in terms of direction and the script/actor’s as well the sunny daytime action.

Continue reading “5 Million Dollar Life 五億円のじんせい Dir: Moon Sung-Ho [New York Asian Film Festival 2019]”

Featured

jam Dir: Sabu (2018) [New York Asian Film Festival 2019]

jam    jam Film Poster

Release Date: December 01st, 2018

Duration: 102 mins.

Director:  SABU

Writer: SABU (Screenplay),

Starring: Sho Aoyagi, Keita Machida, Nobuyuki Suzuki, Shintaro Akiyama, Mariko Tsutsui, Yuta Ozawa, Kanta Sato,

Website IMDB

Sabu’s films frequently feature hapless heroes thrown into dangerous circumstances where they are subject to spates of seemingly random encounters, weird coincidences and serendipitous occurrences that all eventually fit together like a jigsaw to reveal smartly constructed narratives that seem free-form but actually tease the idea of fate guiding everything. Jam (2018) features this, however, unlike Sabu’s earlier titles like Dangan Runner (1996) and Postman Blues (1997) which are high tension bounce-about thrillers complete with adrenaline fuelled chases, this one follows the trend of his latest works like Mr Long (2017) and Miss Zombie (2013) by being more contemplative and downbeat. Jam still has time for an awesome chase.

Continue reading “jam Dir: Sabu (2018) [New York Asian Film Festival 2019]”

Featured

Demolition Girl JK エレジー Dir: Genta Matsugami (2018) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019

Demolition Girl  Demolition Girl JK Elegy Film Poster

JK エレジー JK Ereji-

Release Date: 2019

Duration: 88 mins.

Director: Genta Matsugami

Writer: Yoshitaka Kasui, Genta Matsugami (Screenplay),

Starring: Aya Kitai, Hiroki Ino, Yota Kawase, Haruka Imo, Yura Komuro,

Website IMDB

A man’s get up and go is what defines him, according to the writer Yukio Mishima. If that’s the case then Cocoa, the main protagonist of Genta Matsugami’s debut film, has a lot going for her. Super-smart and determined, she seems like a student who can be anything she wants but she faces a tough challenge in escaping the poverty of her background in a film that mixes class analysis with a coming-of-age story.

Cocoa Umeda lives in a small rural city. It feels like a slow and tranquil place where the biggest events are the seasonal festivals but for Cocoa and her friends things are getting intense as they approach their final exams and high school graduation. Cocoa could go on to higher education because she has potential but her options are limited by her financial situation.

Continue reading “Demolition Girl JK エレジー Dir: Genta Matsugami (2018) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019”

Featured

Whole Dir: Bilal Kawazoe (2019) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019

Whole

Duration: 45 mins.

Release Date: 2019

Director: Bilal Kawazoe

Writer: Usman Kawazoe (Screenplay),

Starring: Usman Kawazoe, Aoi Ibuki, Kai Hoshino Sandy,

Website IMDB   OAFF

This review was first published on V-Cinema on March 14th

In recent years, the rise of mixed-race Japanese has become a hot topic with “hafu”, a word which is taken from the English word “half”, becoming more visible thanks to sports and entertainment personalities like tennis champ Naomi Osaka and 2015’s Miss Universe Japan Ariana Miyamoto. Even if Japan is pretty ethnically mixed, hafu are visibly different and are often presented as glamorous and fashionable by advertising execs. This ignores the reality of discrimination and ostracisation they face, something which Bilal Kawazoe’s film, WHOLE examines as one of the few recent Japanese efforts to look at this issues surrounding being biracial in a homogeneous society.

Continue reading “Whole Dir: Bilal Kawazoe (2019) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019”