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The Murders of Oiso ある殺人、落葉のころに Dir: Takuya Misawa (2019) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020]

The Murders of Oiso

ある殺人、落葉のころに Aru satsujin, rakuyo no koro ni

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 79 mins.

Director: Takuya Misawa

Writer: Takuya Misawa (Screenplay)

Starring: Koji Moriya, Haya Nakazaki, Yusaku Mori, Shugo Nagashima, Natsuko Hori, Ena Koshino, Chun Yip Lo, Toko Narushima,

OAFF Link

Debuting at last year’s Busan International Film Festival, The Murders of Oiso took the Japan Cuts Award at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020. It is the sophomore feature from director Takuya Misawa who made waves with his 2015 debut Chigasaki Story. He returns with a slice-of-life film shot with a Hong Kong crew in a cut-up narrative that has a noirish atmosphere as he looks at the shadowy side of the titular town and its citizens.

Oiso is a quiet and pristine seaside town in Kanagawa which is nestled between a beautiful coastline and scenic countryside. The location is marked by the colours of fall as the season unfolds under cold and clean sunlight with a chill in the air. This is where prime ministers of Japan retire to, a pleasant place chosen by Misawa because it could be emblematic of Japan. Beautiful on the outside, hidden inside are various instances of small-scale corruption as conducted by seemingly average people that make life harder for everyone.

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KAMATA PRELUDE 蒲田前奏曲 Dirs: Ryutaro Nakagawa, Mayu Akiyama, Yuka Yasukawa, Hirobumi Watanabe (Japan, 2020) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020]

KAMATA PRELUDE

蒲田前奏曲 Kamata Sensoukyoku

Release Date: Autumn 2020

Duration: 115 mins.

Directors: Ryutaro Nakagawa, Mayu Akiyama, Yuka Yasukawa, Hirobumi Watanabe

Writers: Ryutaro Nakagawa, Mayu Akiyama, Yuka Yasukawa, Hirobumi Watanabe (Script)

Starring: Urara Matsubayashi, Kotone Furukawa, Kumi Takiuchi, Ren Sudo, Sairi Ito, Mayuko Fukada, Noa Kawazoe, Ryutaro Ninomiya, Ryutaro Kondo,

OAFF Link

Receiving its world premiere as the closing film of the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020, Kamata Prelude is an omnibus movie split between four different directors with four distinct styles separated simply by an edit and a change in visual approach. Each director is part of a new generation of talent from the Japanese movie industry and this mix of approaches ensures a change of pace occurs often enough to keep interest in the film high.

Keeping all of these disparate elements together is the depiction of the life of a struggling actress named Machiko who lives in Kamata. Portrayed by Urara Matsubayashi (lead actress in The Hungry Lion), she is the film’s producer as well as the centre of these stories which depicts her learning what it means to be a “woman” and an “actress” in contemporary Japanese society through showing the behaviour and perceptions of those who surround her. Comic, dramatic, all sorts of emotional hues are touched upon.

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The Temple of Wild Geese 雁の寺 Dir: Yuzo Kawashima (1962)

The Temple of Wild Geese    Temple of Wild Geese Film Poster Gan no Tera

雁の寺  Gan no Tera

Duration: 96 mins.

Release Date: December 26th, 1962

Director:  Yuzo Kawashima

Writer:  Kazuo Funabashi, Yuzo Kawashima (Screenplay), Tsutomu Minakami (Original Novel)

Starring: Ayako Wakao, Masao Mishima, Kuniichi Takami, Isao Kimura, Ganjiro Nakamura, Kunikazu Takami, Ryoko Kamo, Mineko Mandai, Kiwami Sazanka,

IMDB

One of the chief ironies of life is that those who profess to be the most morally upstanding often end up being the most immoral. With this in mind, director Yuzo Kawashima, chief satirist of post-war Japan, finds great material to work with when it comes to those in the religious orders. However, instead of laughs it is all menace as dark passions surge out of control. His film’s dark material finds its match with its aesthetic, a charcoal-like texture and look and foreboding music which make this a chilling film as we venture into the moral hypocrisy of the inhabitants in a Buddhist temple, all of which affects one boy’s warped mentality.

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The Actor 俳優亀岡拓 Dir: Satoko Yokohama (2016)

The Actor

The Actor Film Poster俳優亀岡拓次 「Haiyuu Kameoka Takuji」

Release Date: January 30th, 2016

Duration: 123 mins.

Director: Satoko Yokohama

Writer: Satoko Yokohama (Screenplay), Akito Inui (Original Novel)

Starring: Ken Yasuda, Kumiko Aso, Shohei Uno, Yoshiko Mita, Shota Sometani, Hirofumi Arai, Youki Kudoh,

Website    IMDB

It is fair to say that most people go into acting with the expectation that they will be cast in a leading role at some point. However, not everyone can be centre stage and some are relegated to a career of supporting roles. In a profession where acting in the limelight is what actors pursue, how does being in the shadows feel? This is a question that the titular actor, Takuji Kameoka, faces when a mid-career crisis meets an existential crisis as he takes stock of his life in this melancholy comedy, or should that be, melancomedy.

Takuji Kameoka (Ken Yasuda) is a lonely thirty-something bachelor who plays bit-parts in movies and dramas. His only interest outside of cinema is drinking. One day, on a shoot in snowy Nagano, he gets drunk and sadder than usual at an izakaya where a woman named Azumi Murota (Kumiko Aso) runs the bar in her father’s stead. Takuji and Azumi talk while sharing saké. He quietly falls in love with her and it happens just at the point he begins to wonder if he will ever be the leading man in his own life and in the acting profession.

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Her Sketchbook 世界は今日から君のもの Dir: Masaya Ozaki (2017)

Her Sketchbook    Her Sketchbook Film Poster

世界は今日から君のもの  Sekai ha Kyou Kara Kimi no Mono

Release Date: June 15th, 2017

Duration: 106 mins.

Director: Masaya Ozaki

Writer: Masaya Ozaki (Script) 

Starring: Mugi Kadowaki, Takahiro Miura, Yu Hirukawa, Junpei Yasui, Ryusuke Komakine, Makita Sports, You, Takeaki Shima,

Website IMDB

Japan is a densely populated country and in order to survive living there it is important to make connections with others as well as finding your niche. Achieving both can be exhausting, especially for those who lack confidence and find themselves in schools and workplaces where fierce competition drives everything. With so much pressure many people drop out of society and become hikikomori or NEETs. Her Sketchbook dramatises this for a story about a young woman making incremental improvements to her life, usually at odds with those around her, to find her voice and integrate with the regular world.

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The Graceful Brute しとやかな獣 Dir: Yuzo Kawashima (1962)

The Graceful Brute   The Graceful Brute Film Poster

しとやかな獣  Shitoyakana kedamono

Release Date: December 26th, 1962

Duration: 96 mins.

Director:  Yuzo Kawashima

Writer:  Kaneto Shindo (Screenplay),

Starring: Ayako Wakao, Yunosuke Ito, Hisano Yamaoka, Manamitsu Kawabata, Yuko Hamada, Eiji Funakoshi, Kyu Sazanka, Chocho Miyako, Hideo Takamatsu,

IMDB

A possible tag line for this film could be, “a family that embezzles together, stays together”, such is the content of this film which shows a day in the life of a greedy family as they swindle from subjects in their social circle. Ten actors, one location, and a narrative that takes place over 24 hours, Graceful Brute (1962) is a masterful black comedy that critiques the changing morals of Japanese people during the economic miracle of the post-war years.

The film almost exclusively takes place in the fifth floor apartment of the Maeda’s. They live in a danchi (housing complex) designed by Kunio Maekawa¹, the sort of forward-thinking utilitarian building that was meant to serve every need of its residents and promote community and harmony but the values of the Maeda’s are far from these ideals. They seem to be a stable family unit of two conservative parents (who wear kimono and listen to traditional music) and their hip son and daughter (out on the town in Ginza’s bars) but as the narrative unfolds we see the depth of their duplicity, selfishness, and materialistic behaviour which unites them. They are a product of the age.

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My Dad and Mr. Ito お父さんと伊藤さん Dir: Yuki Tanada (2016)

My Dad and Mr. Ito

お父さんと伊藤さんOtoo-san to Itoo-sanMy Dad and Mr Ito Film Poster

Release Date: October 08th, 2016

Duration: 119 mins

Director:  Yuki Tanada

Writer: Hinako Nakazawa (Screenplay/Original Novel),

Starring: Juri Ueno, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Sei Ando, Lily Franky, Tomoharu Hasegawa, Eri Watanabe,

Website IMDB

Nothing binds people together as tightly as family ties and those ties can hurt when they really bite into you, something which the characters in this drama experience when an old man moves in with his daughter and her boyfriend in their small apartment. It may be a cramped space but a wide range of issues are raised as these three try to learn to live together.

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Distance ディスタンス Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda (2001)

Distance    Distance Film Poster

ディスタンス Disutansu

Release Date: May 26th, 2001

Duration: 132 mins.

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda (Script) 

Starring: Yui Natsukawa, Yusuke Iseya, Arata, Susumu Terajima, Tadanobu Asano, Ryo, Kenichi Endo, Kanji Tsuda,

IMDB

Hirokazu Kore-eda made Distance after he became interested in the disciples of Aum Shinrikyo, the group which committed the Tokyo subway sarin attack¹. He wanted to comment on how everyone in society could be responsible for it in some way. In so doing, he strikes at a universal fear surely felt by everyone which is that perhaps those who should be the closest to us are sometimes the ones furthest away.

This idea of distance is given to us through the story of a group of people who are ostensibly disconnected from each other but each has a deep personal connection to a terrorist incident described at the start of the film by a radio announcer.

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Erica 38 エリカ38 Dir: Yuichi Hibi (2019)

Erica 38    Erica 38 Film Poster

エリカ38  Erika 38

Release Date: June 07th, 2019

Duration: 103 mins.

Director: Yuichi Hibi

Writer: Yuichi Hibi (Screenplay),

Starring: Miyoko Asada, Miu Suzuki, Kirin Kiki, Nahana, Juri Manase, Hajime Yamazaki, Shizuo Yamazaki, Hinako Saeki, Takehiro Hira,

Website IMDB

Inspired by true events, Erica 38 tells the story of a con-woman named Satoko Watabe who defrauds 50 billion yen from unsuspecting dupes in a pyramid scheme before finally being caught. The lead character, played by former pop idol Miyoko Asada, may have a silver tongue that can deceive others but in the end the biggest dupe turns out to be her.

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Shoplifters 万引き家族 Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda (2018)

Shoplifters   Shoplifters Film Poster

万引き家族 Manbiki Kazoku

Release Date: June 08th, 2018

Duration: 121 mins.

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Writer: Hirokazu Kore-eda (Screenplay),

Starring: Lily Franky, Sakura Ando, Kirin Kiki, Miyu Sasaki, Mayu Matsuoka, Kairi Jyo, Yoko Moriguchi, Yuki Yamada, Moemi Katayama, Akira Emoto, Kengo Kora, Chizuru Ikewaki, Sosuke Ikematsu,

Website IMDB

Hirokazu Kore-eda is often compared to Yasujiro Ozu due to his depictions of families in Japan but he is quite political. Through various detailed tapestries of the rich and poor, nuclear and unconventional family units and different individuals, he has charted a myriad of lives all over the archipelago of his home nation and captured the changing dynamics of a country where tradition, social mores and people’s bonds are seemingly degrading as society adapts to new ways of thinking about work and family and people live atomised lives. Shoplifters tells the story of a most unconventional family by normal Japanese standards and, in so doing, it offers some quite stringent critiques of the exploitation of labour, the indifference of authorities and the resulting breakdown of relationships. It is a refreshingly open politicisation of content for a Japanese mainstream film and it feels akin to the social realist films of Ken Loach. This political bite could partly be the reason why the film went on to wow critics and net the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival but, as in all Kore-eda films, it is the performances that sway hearts and make audiences cry.

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