Farewell: Comedy of Life Begins with A Lie  グッドバイ 嘘からはじまる人生喜劇 Dir: Izuru Narushima (2020)

Farewell: Comedy of Life Begins with A Lie 

Goodbye Life Comedy of Starting From a Lie Film Poster

グッドバイ 嘘からはじまる人生喜劇  Guddobai: Uso kara Hajimaru Jinsei Kigeki

Release Date: February 14th, 2020

Duration: 106 mins.

Director: Izuru Narushima

Writer: Satoko Okudera (Script), Keralino Sandrovich (Stage play)

Starring: Yo Oizumi, Eiko Koike, Ai Hashimoto, Tae Kimura, Nobue Iketani, Asami Mizukawa, Yoji Tanaka, Gaku Hamada, Yutaka Matsushige,

Website IMDB

This film can best be described with the phrase, “less than the sum of its parts,”

By no means awful, Farewell: Comedy of Life Begins with A Lie fails to live up to expectations.

The elements were all there for a promising screwball comedy.

It finds its origins in an unfinished work by Osamu Dazai that was turned into a stageplay by Keralino Sandrovich of absurdist comedy Crime or Punishment?!? fame.

Director Izuru Narushima has a filmography stacked with solid titles, the best being Rebirth (2011). Scriptwriter Satoko Okudera, who has worked with Narushima previously, has a fine selection of other titles rich with emotions like Summer Wars (2009) and The Wolf Children (2012).

There is a cast to DIE for with affable-to-the-point-of-attractive and very smooth-talking leading man Yo Oizumi taking the lead as a philandering fool with a bevy of beauties played by some of the most talented actresses currently working, including Tae Kimura (Starfish Hotel, Zero Focus), Ai Hashimoto (The Kirishima Thing), and Asami Mizukawa (A Beloved Wife). Plus Yutaka Matsushige and Gaku Hamada are on hand to provide ample support. Most promisingly, Eiko Koike, a thoroughly underused thesp was reprising her role from the theatre version. With so much talent, it was a surprise that the final result is so underwhelming.

The story takes place in post-war Japan, a nation transforming itself and shedding its old identity. As part of this, the locales are the hustle and bustle of Tokyo’s black markets and the more dignified air of editorial rooms of literary magazines. They soon crash together in an unlikely way through the meeting of two people from those two different worlds for a very sordid reason that promises comedy gold.

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The Real Thing 本気のしるし Dir: Koji Fukada (2020)

The Real ThingThe Real Thing (Movie Version) Film Poster

本気のしるし  Honki no Shirushi

Release Date: October 09th, 2020

Duration: 232 mins.

Director: KojFukada

Writer: Shintaro Mitani, Koji Fukada (Script), Mochiru Hoshisato (Original Novel)

Starring: Win Morisaki, Kaho Tsuchimura, Kei Ishibashi, Akari Fukunaga, Yukiya Kitamura, Shohei Uno, Shugo Oshinari, Masaki Naito,

Website IMDB

The Real Thing is a 10-episode TV drama adapted from a manga originally created by Mochiru Hoshisato. It was first aired by Nagoya Broadcasting Network in 2020 and later edited into a theatrical version. This appears to be only the second time that writer/director Koji Fukada (reviews of his films) has adapted someone else’s work for the screen as he tells the romantic drama surrounding a successful salaryman who throws his life away after he meets a mystery woman and pursues her, driven on by an emotion new to him even if it promises his own destruction.

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A New Wind Blows 新しい風 Dir: Yutaro Nakamura (2021) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

A New Wind Blows  A New Wind Blows Film Poster

新しい風 Atarashii Kaze

Release Date: April 29th, 2021

Duration: 66 mins.

Director: Yutaro Nakamura

Writer: Yutaro Nakamura (Screenplay)

Starring: Yutaro Nakamura, Hikaru Saiki, An Ogawa, Takaya Shibata, Yujiro Hara,

OAFF

A New Wind Blows was one of two films by Yutaro Nakamura at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021. An actor, writer and director, these films mark his ninth and tenth efforts in the director’s chair. While his other work Sweet Bitter Candy was a standard drama, A New Wind Blows presented an intriguing indie youth story that mixes the dreams and madness of teens in Tokyo in a narrative with some darkness and a lot of optimism.

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Among Four of Us 4人のあいだで Dir: Mayu Nakamura (2020) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

Among Four of Us

4人のあいだで 4-Ri no Aida de

Release Date: April 23rd, 2021

Duration: 40 mins.

Director: Mayu Nakamura

Writer: Mayu Nakamura (Screenplay)

Starring: Fusako Urabe, Nahana, Kota Kusano,

OAFF IMDB

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a number of high concept movies using the reality of lockdown situations to try new spins on old stories with social media platforms playing key roles. At the outset we had Zoom seances (The Host), actors in isolation making a horror film via videos recorded separately and edited together (One Cut of the Dead Mission: Remote), and, later in the pandemic, actor’s on the same set voicing the SNS comments their characters write as they experience a tentative romance mediated by the internet (Here and There).

Most of these films will be curios of an age where many of our interactions were confined online due to lockdowns but Mayu Nakamura’s 20-minute short Among Four of Us feels both specific to our moment and but also timeless as strong writing and performances create a profoundly sad examination of the human condition.

The central conceit of the film is a socially distanced late-night conversation that takes place between three friends, Koji (Kota Kusano), Fusae (Fusako Urabe), and Nanae (Nahana). 20 years previously, they were in the same drama club in college. Since then they have gone their separate ways with Fusae and Nanae having given up and settled down to domesticity while only Koji is still acting. Haunted by lockdown loneliness and an incident with a fourth member of their theatre troupe, Koji attempts to resurrect the friendly and fun nature of their former relationship with beers and a laidback talk in a park.

Koji (Kota Kusano)

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Along the Sea 海辺の彼女たち Dir: Akio Fujimoto (2020) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

Along the Sea   Along the Sea Film Poster

海辺の彼女たち Umibe no Kanojotachi

Release Date: May 01st, 2021

Duration: 88 mins.

Director: Akio Fujimoto

Writer: Akio Fujimoto (Script),

Starring: Hoang Phuong, Anh Huynh Tuyet, Nhu Quynh

Website IMDB

Along the Sea is the second feature from writer-director Akio Fujimoto. A co-production between Japan and Vietnam, it is similar to his debut Passage of Life (2017) in that it charts the tensions of being outsiders in a foreign land in a near-documentary style. The script is based on stories drawn from real-life interviews, the camera observes a mix of professional and non-professional actors, and melodrama and artifice are kept to a minimum.

However, Along the Sea has a much more cohesive and concise dramatic structure as it takes place entirely in Japan and over a few weeks. Furthermore, as close to social realist as it may be, there are moments of poetic beauty captured by Kentaro Kishi, Fujimoto’s go-to director of photography. As breath-taking as some of these moments are, they never obscure the people at the heart of the narrative.

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Make-Believers 夢見びと Dir: Kenjo McCurtain (2020)

Make-Believers    Make-BelieversCityPoster

夢見びと Yumemibito

Release Date: May 01st, 2020

Duration: 128 mins.

Director: Kenjo McCurtain

Writer: Kenjo McCurtain (Script),

Starring: Takashi Kawaguchi, Yuki Morikawa, Saiki Masuda, Shouta Hatori, Sayuri Hirayama, Takashi Ohkado, Nayu Kazetani,  

IMDB

When I think of musicals, it is usually the big, brassy, and ballsy American studio productions that transport audiences to a heightened sense of euphoria through elaborate sets given a Technicolor sheen, widescreen views, honking energetic scores, and dancers like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire tripping light fantastic.

From Busby Berkeley, to Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge), to Damian Chazelle (La La Land) and, beyond Hollywood, the bonkers Bollywood productions in India that go the maximalist route, my expectations for musicals have been set so high that it is easy to forget they can be small and intimate affairs where the spectacular is toned down to capture the most intimate.

Which brings me to Make-believers, a film on the indie end of the spectrum which I found on Kickstarter a year ago. It is billed as a romantic musical that aims to be “a first-of-its-kind, Hollywood-influenced, musical romance set in Japan.” In its way, the film succeeds as it has the requisite parts and puts them together successfully. Tone down expectations of glamour and sweeping emotions and you have a fun and sweet indie musical that utilises some dazzling costumes and agile dancers to make cute dance sequences which are built into a solid dramatic core featuring a universal story of being true to oneself.

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Young Birds 雛鳥 Dir: Eriko Izumi [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

Young Birds

雛鳥Hinadori

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 80 mins.

Director: Eriko Izumi

Writer: Eriko Izumi (Script),

Starring: Nanaho Otsuka, Jeremy Wang, Nanami Hidaka, Urara Matsubayahi, Saki Kato,

Website

Young female directors are gaining ground in the male-dominated Japanese film industry and nowhere is this more in evidence than in film schools across the nation where women make up an increasing number of students, a great example being Aya Miyazaki and her university work Good-Bye (2020) which has now entered cinemas on a theatrical run.

Eriko Izumi is one of the latest names to emerge with her debut feature Young Birds. It is an original work produced by herself and 12 students, some from China and Thailand, at Digital Hollywood University over a year and a half. While rough around the edges, it presents an easy-to-understand coming-of-age drama examining the insecurities felt by a young woman trying to find her path in life.

Young Birds Film Nanaho Otsuka

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A Rainbow-colored Trip にじいろトリップ Dir: Shinji Imaoka (2021) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

A Rainbow-colored Trip

にじいろトリップ Niji-iro Torippu

Release Date: 2021

Duration: 39 mins.

Director: Shinji Imaoka

Writer: Shinji Imaoka (Script), 

Starring: Yuune Sakurai, Yuri Ogino, Ryuju Kobayashi, Outa Saiuchi,

OAFF Link

Premiering at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021, Shinji Imaoka’s short film A Rainbow-Coloured Trip feels like it is a response to his previous work, the downbeat and dour drama Reiko and the Dolphin, which premiered at the same festival a year earlier. While that film charted the dissolution of a marriage following the death of a child, A Rainbow-Coloured Trip takes the same story archetype but tells it from a child’s perspective and with upbeat musical sequences.

A Rainbow-colored Trip Yuune Sakurai

Haruka (Yuune Sakurai) is an 11-year-old girl who is experiencing the first blush of love with a boy in her class. Despite feeling a giddy sensation of joy over this, she finds herself dragged down by the fact that her parents Nobutaka (Ryujyu Kobayashi) and Kumiko (Yuri Ogino) are about to divorce. It is a situation she will be stuck with over a weekend. 

As a family, they are taking one last holiday together in a cabin in a nature park at the foot of Mount Fuji but her parent’s constant bickering makes Haruka head deep into the forest that surrounds the campsite to escape them. Her destination is a special waterfall where she can pray to a dragon god for her family to start over again but can life really be so simple? 

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Over the Town 街の上で Dir: Rikiya Imaizumi [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

Over the Town    Over the Town Film Poster

街の上で Machi no Ue de

Release Date: April 10th, 2021

Duration: 130 mins.

Director: Rikiya Imaizumi

Writer: Rikiya Imaizumi, Hiroyuki Ohashi (Script), 

Starring: Ryuya Wakaba, Moeka Hoshi, Kotone Furukawa, Minori Hagiwara, Seina Nakata, Ryo Narita, Hirobumi Watanabe,

OAFF Website IMDB

Very rarely the setting of a film, Shimokitazawa is a trendy little district in western Tokyo that lies in the shadow of Shibuya and Shinjuku. Home to independent shops, theatres, cinemas, live music venues, bars, and restaurants, the place vibes with youthful energy as students, actors, second-hand booksellers, and bar owners, all with a seemingly average age of 20-something, engage in artistic revelry and nights of frolicking. It is also a place constantly changing as commercial redevelopment is ongoing – when I last visited, a new station and an adjacent department store were being constructed – and it has its quiet parts. It is a slice of Tokyo different from everywhere else in the city.

Using Shimokitazawa as his sandbox, director Rikiya Imaizumi brings us Over the Town, his latest film and his second in 2021, which is full of characters and locations you would encounter in real life.

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Green Jail 緑の牢獄 Dir: Huang Yin-yu [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

Green Jail   Green Jail Film Poster 2

緑の牢獄 Midori no Rogoku

Release Date: March 27th, 2021

Duration: 101 mins.

Director: Huang Yin-yu

Writer: N/A

Starring: Yoshiko Hashima, Louis Leslie Kimura,

Website IMDB

Getting its world premiere in the Indie Forum section at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021, Green Jail sees Okinawa-based Taiwanese documentarian Huang Yin-yu continue to trace the flow of people between Taiwan and Japan by using personal stories to illustrate a wider historical picture. 

In some ways, it bears a strong resemblance to his 2016 work After Spring, the Tamaki Family in that it touches upon issues of immigration and discrimination, and it also features an elderly woman as the central figure but the tone in Green Jail is markedly different due to the tragic history it uncovers.

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