Bad Poetry Tokyo (BPT) is the debut feature film from Anshul Chauhan, an animator turned indie film director. Born in India in 1986, Anshul’s main job is working as an animator in Japan. His career stretches back to 2006 with work in both TV and film and it has progressed to include some recently released major titles such as Final fantasy XV: Kingsglaive and Gantz: O. Life as a live-action director began with short films which is how he met his lead actors for BPT. With his actors lined up and having gained some experience, he finally made the leap into features with this BPT, a dark drama built around an acting tour de force from a trio of talented actors, Shuna Iijima and her co-stars, Orson Mochizuki and Takashi Kawaguchi
東京不穏詩 「Tōkyō fuon uta」
Running Time: 114 mins.
Release Date: 2018
Director: Anshul Chauhan
Writer: Anshul Chauhan, Rand Colter (Screenplay), Anshul Chauhan (Original Story)
Starring: Shuna Iijima, Orson Mochizuki, Takashi Kawaguchi, Nana Blank, Kohei Mashiba, Kento Furukoshi,
Fake it till you make it. It’s a useful mantra to live by. Appear confident and people will accept it. We all do it, but every once in a while the mask will slip. What happens when you simply run out of energy to hold that mask up?
Jun Fujita (Shuna Iijima) is 30 years old. She majored in English at Tokyo University and dreams of appearing in Hollywood movies. For the time being, though, she works as a hostess at a shady club where her boyfriend Taka (Orson Mochizuki) is employed as a barman. Some of that is true, some of that is false. Life hasn’t turned out the way Jun imagined when she fled her home in Nagano Prefecture five years ago. Still, she yearns to be an actress and is about to make it when betrayed by her lover. Broken and made savage by the experience, she heads back to her sleepy countryside hometown to lick her wounds. As far as she can tell, things seemingly haven’t changed much when she first arrives and is reunited with her father and her old lover Yuki (Takashi Kawaguchi), which is a problem because there are ugly secrets about her past that made her flee in the first place.
The drama of Bad Poetry Tokyo opens with a sequence showing Jun perpetrating a violent attack while her narration tells us some of what has driven her to this point. It then cuts back to an earlier period of time so viewers can trace the sequence of events that has to the moment that the weight of the world has become too heavy for Jun to bear.
種をまく人 「Tane o maku hito」
Running Time: 117 mins.
Release Date: 2016
Director: Yosuke Takeuchi
Writer: Yosuke Takeuchi (Screenplay)
Starring: Kentaro Kishi, Suzuno Takenaka, Tomomitsu Adachi, Arisa Nakajima, Ichika Takeuchi,
As far as movies inspired by artists go, most tend to be autobiographical such as “Lust for Life” (1956) which stars Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh. Yosuke Takeuchi’s film “The Sower” is an independent movie that takes inspiration from that famous and tragic artist who lived with a naive but passionate connection with the world and suffered for it.
Mitsuo, the lead character here, fixates on sunflowers, wears a hat and bears a beard that is similar to the genius who roamed the fields of Provence, but Mitsuo’s story finds itself connected to the efforts made by farmers and volunteers to plant sunflowers across swathes of Fukushima prefecture to help the soil absorb radiation leaked from the region’s damaged nuclear power plant but have they absorbed other aspects of life? Mitsuo is the titular “Sower”, a man who believes they have. He is riven by guilt over a death he had no power over but it isn’t just his story, it is that of the people around him, all of whom are unique individuals with issues.
Mitsuo (Kentaro Kishi) was one of those brave souls who answered the call for volunteers to clear out the debris left behind by the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. The strain of the task proved to be too much and he spent three years in psychiatric care. Upon his release, Mitsuo finds solace when he is warmly welcomed into the home of his younger brother Yuta (Tomomitsu Adachi) and meets his sister-in-law Yoko (Arisa Nakajima) and two nieces, elementary school-girl Chie (Suzuno Takenaka) and Itsuki (Ichika Takeuchi), a three-year-old with down-syndrome. This sweet moment of family bonding is shattered by tragedy when the two girls are left in Mitsuo’s care and Itsuki dies in an accident. Even though he had no direct involvement in the incident, Mitsuo is blamed and he must deal with the burden of guilt and the struggle for atonement while Chie suffers equally as much over whether to tell the truth of what happened or not…
This slow-burn drama is something of a revelation. Considering it is Takeuchi’s debut feature film, it is an amazing achievement since it has so much grace and builds up an emotional current through patient direction and perfect acting that it sweeps the audience into a realm of individual’s suffering from profound emotions in such an almost visceral and a very beautiful and heartfelt way.
The film hinges upon the idea of guilt, trauma, and grief warping both Mitsuo and Chie and the people around them, trapping everyone in a negative space which brings out the worst in people and, for those too naive to understand what is happening, it is better to remain silent than open up. This is nothing new. Chie is the subject of bullying and Mitsuo has seen horrific things in Fukushima as made clear in the opening, but neither verbalises it, her isolation from the class and his haggard look saying a lot more. How to tell such things to others? It’s a difficult struggle.
Any attempt to tell the truth about what happened to Itsuki is handicapped by people’s prejudices towards those with mental health issues, protectiveness over children, and grudges held over perceived wrongdoing in the past. Family, the one place that should be a refuge becomes a minefield of broiling emotions, the implications and consequences of which rise organically as the temperature of the drama rises with every story twist while also offering a strong social commentary.
Yosuke Takeuchi is an artist who studied painting in Paris which is where he was inspired by Van Gogh. However his own story has become part of this film such as a niece with special needs taking on the role of Itsuki and his thoughts on how society treats people who are different. The hesitation to love those who have down-syndrome, the fear of genetic contamination and lack of understanding for mental health issues, they are all present in the minds of characters. They verbalise these contentious issues in dialogue that could be heard in everyday life and we see how wrong it is as we come to understand the suffering of Mitsuo and Chie who are tragically too naive to cope and it is harrowing stuff to watch them be buffeted around by the emotions of their community.
The acting and mise-en-scene are naturalistic allowing us to enter the conflict. Early scenes are documentary-like with fast editing at the start that helps builds up character, setting, and, tension until the horrific moment occurs and then the film slows down, using many extended sequences to locate the character in their environment, little Chie avoiding others by being alone while Mitsuo is shambling around with a shell-shocked look when he isn’t sowing seeds with fervour as an act of atonement.
Takeuchi favours scenes full of close-ups to show the aftermath of every emotional encounter such as when adults fight over Chie or when people openly talk about Mitsuo’s mental health issues and others must listen uncomfortably. These close-ups are even more powerful tracking the increasingly withdrawn and sullen visages presented by Chie and Mitsuo and the anger of Yoko and Yuta as they navigate how to deal with the conflicts that arise. The best one has to be at the start when Mitsuo and Chie speak about the sunflowers in Fukushima and their supernatural aspects. Their connection is made with the look of adoration the little girl has and the warmness of Mitsuo.
The sounds of the film are equally important in detailing the deep emotions on offer. It all takes place in summer so the sounds of cicadas and festivals are intense enough to offer a contrast to the deafening silences the characters go through. When it replaces speech, the audience focuses on the acting and when characters talk it generates more force and meaning. This sets up a tear-inducing finale.
When the ending comes, having journeyed through all of the complex pain and suffering, the audience will be blessed with a moment of catharsis delivered through an innocent and simple gesture and gazes that suggest moving on. This film has to be seen.
サラバ静寂 「Saraba Seijaku」
Running Time: N/A
Release Date: January 27th, 2018
Director: Kenichi Ugana
Writer: Kenichi Ugana (Screenplay),
Starring: Kaito Yoshimura, Sumire, Ryuya Wakaba, Nobu Morimoto, Takumi Saito,
Entertainment, ideas, and art are vital for people. They become part of human instinct. It is seen in the way people dress, arrange their homes, and the way they respond to sounds and images so what happens when you take them away from people? This is the question explored by many stories perhaps the most famous being Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Director Kenichi Ugana follows his debut Ganguro Gals Riot (2016) with his sophomore feature Goodbye Silence (2018) and addresses this issue in a dystopian tale that is a fitfully interesting indie film with some interesting ideas.
Moët Hayami is an indie filmmaker who was born in Shiga Prefecture. She began her career by graduating from Ritsumeikan University’s visual department and Waseda University graduate school. Since then, she has worked on many films and commercials in different positions from production design/management, art direction, costume design, and as an assistant director. Projects include West North West (2015), directed by Takuro Nakamura, and Ryutaro Nakagawa’s award-winning film Summer Blooms (2017). She has written and directed shorts of her own and with Kushina, what will you be she has made her debut feature film.
Kushina tells the story of the inhabitants of a village of women hidden from the world in a forest somewhere in Japan. Their peaceful existence is disturbed when an idealistic anthropologist (Yayoi Inamoto) arrives and becomes attached to a girl named Kushina (Ikumi Satake). This connection deepens making tensions rise between Kushina’s mother Kagu (Tomona Hirota) and her grandmother Onikuma (veteran actress Miyuki Ono) who disagree over the future of the girl.
The film received its world premiere at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018 where it went on to win the Japan Cuts Award. The interview took place after the first screening.
The penultimate question features a bit of a mood spoiler so consider skipping it to get the maximum emotional punch.
Running Time: 68 mins.
Release Date: 2018
Director: Moët Hayami
Writer: Moët Hayami (Screenplay),
Starring: Miyuki Ono, Tomona Hirota, Yayoi Inamoto, Ikumi Satake, Suguru Onuma,
Director Moët Hayami’s Kushina received its world premiere at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018 where it won the Japan Cuts award, an accolade given to films that display a unique vision. It was a well-deserved win because it is a drama put together with such profound vision and dedication that it creates a world wholly different from what many people will expect from Japanese cinema and features a beautifully realised tale about three women fighting over the fate of a pure girl.
湯気満ちて 「Yuge michite 」
Running Time: 30 mins.
Release Date: 2017
Director: Rina Tanaka
Writer: Ryota Kato (Screenplay),
Starring: Ayako Mizuno, Takehito Sato, Yoko Kakegawa, Shigeru Harihara, Hisato Hayashi, Kaori Takeda,
And oh, after the love has gone
How could you lead me on
And not let me stay around?
Oh, after the love has gone
What used to be right is wrong
Can love that’s lost be found?
AFTER THE LOVE IS GONE / Earth,Wind & Fire
Filled with Steam is one of the latest works by Rina Tanaka, an up-and-coming filmmaker with a Masters from Tokyo University of the Arts, Film & New Media’s Directing course who already has a feature film to her name and is developing a distinct style. With this short, audiences at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018 got to taste her sensibility, which favours creating ambiguity through the use of clashing tones. Here we see quite a clash. Filled with Steam is a tale of love on life-support featuring a visceral undercurrent of tragedy masked by comedic elements that culminates in a powerful ending.
優しい日常 「Yasashii Nichijou」
Running Time: 27 mins.
Release Date: October 14th, 2017
Director: Noriko Yuasa
Writer: Noriko Yuasa, Rie Mashiko (Screenplay),
Starring: Shinnosuke Abe, Tamae Ando, Karin Ono, Motohiko Kawano, Eito Suda, Shizuri Okayama, Sayuri Hosokawa,
Ordinary Everyday is a 27-minute film featuring that idealised fantasy many people have: the perfect family. Is there such a thing? We all have hidden sides which we conceal, something which proves to be the case with one family in down-town Tokyo who suck in a naive outsider into their seemingly ordinary everyday lives in a tale where the ambiguous is mined for horror.
It’s the month of May!
I hope everybody is feeling top of the line!
After the chaos of April which turned out to be a bit of a Sion Sono month, I’m reaching back into March and my film work in Japan.
Thanks to the kindness of the organisers I worked at the Osaka Asian Film Festival as a writer/journalist again and I dove deep into finding out more about the Japanese indie film scene. To do this, I watched many films and interviewed directors, actors, and editors. It was a great experience meeting so many gifted people. Inspiring, uplifting, and fun!
I beat my last attempt and hit a new year’s resolution!
Running Time: 78 mins
Release Date: January 28th, 2017
Director: Sion Sono
Writer: Sion Sono (Screenplay),
Starring: Ami Tomite, Mariko Tsutsui, Asami, Fujiko, Ami Fukuda, Honoka Ishibashi, Yuya Takayama,
The Roman Porno Reboot is a celebration of the series of softcore films put out by Nikkatsu from the 70s to the late 80s. Roman Porno is a realm where writers and directors can exercise creative freedom in content so long as they adhere to tight shooting deadlines and insert a sex scene in the proceedings every so often. Sion Sono is one of the veteran directors who took part in this reboot and he has taken this freedom to creative extremes and made a challenging film, an overwhelming visual and aural assault on the senses that delivers a feminist diatribe against the subjection of women.
The story starts with Kyoko (Ami Tomite), a highly-strung celebrity novelist and artist who also considers herself a super whore exploring the furthest reaches of sex. She is feeling the nerves before an interview and photo shoot with a major magazine writer and fashion photographer so she decides to take her insecurities out on her older eager-to-please assistant Noriko (Mariko Tsutsui) whom she sadistically humiliates through various lewd acts. The intensity ratchets up through the actual interview as Noriko, in an effort to be a whore like Kyoko, allows herself to be violated by the photographer’s assistants whilst being denigrated by Kyoko.