Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2020 Preview – Joy and Despair in Japanese Cinema

The Japan Foundation announced the details of their Touring Film Programme for 2020. The tour lasts from January 31st to March 29th and the theme that connects them all is “love”. The films look at the emotions of joy and despair and, presumably, there will be every other emotion in between as people seek happiness. According to the organisers, there are stories of “love, social inclusion, the resilience of humankind through times of hardship, and unconventional paths to achieving and maintaining joy”.

Here are the films:

Continue reading “Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2020 Preview – Joy and Despair in Japanese Cinema”

And Your Bird Can Sing きみの鳥はうたえる Dir: Sho Miyake (2018) [Japan Cuts 2019]

And Your Bird Can Sing   Kimi no tori wa utaeru Film Poster

きみの鳥はうたえる Kimi no tori wa utaeru

Release Date: September 01st, 2018

Duration: 119 mins.

Director: Sho Miyake

Writer: Sho Miyake (Screenplay), Yasushi Sato (Novel)

Starring: Shota Sometani, Tasuku Emoto, Shizuka Ishibashi, Makiko Watanabe, Ai Yamamoto,

Website IMDB

Film adaptations of stories by the writer Yasushi Sato have slowly been made over the last decade with Sketches of Kaitan City (2010) by director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri, Mipo Oh’s The Light Shines Only There (2014) and Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Over the Fence (2016) joined by Sho Miyake’s And Your Bird Can Sing which premiered at the 2018 Tokyo International Film Festival. All are set in the author’s native city of Hakodate in the north of Japan and all centre on the lives of working-class people, showing them with subtle shades of sadness in slow moving dramas struck through with moments of beauty for some uplift. And Your Bird Can Sing is the least dramatic of the bunch but no less engaging.  

The film takes place over one summer in Hakodate and follows an unnamed protagonist (Tasuku Emoto), simply referred to as “Me” in the credits. He is a freeter who works at a bookstore while sharing an apartment with his unemployed friend, Shizuo (Shota Sometani). They pass their time together drinking from dusk until dawn and shambling home in a fit of giggles after some mild caper. “Me” will frequently roll into work with a hangover while Shizuo will potter around during the day in anticipation of the night to come which promises a repeat of their antics. They are young, aimless and content. However, their lethargic days are shaken when “Me” begins dating his co-worker Sachiko (Shizuka Ishibashi). Independent and quietly rebellious, she is attracted to “Me” and his laid back nature. Curiosity turns into companionship as she gets roped into his hang-about life and meets Shizuo.

For “Me” and Sachiko the future appears so far off as to be inconsequential especially with more immediate pleasures at hand which consist long nights spent bopping to beats in clubs or slipping in and out of a lover’s embrace but change will happen because there is an ever so gentle forward motion to the story driven by Shizuo’s growing attraction to Sachiko. Sho Miyake’s camerawork loves Shizuka Ishibashi’s spirited performance as she slinks and grooves through scenes and she imbues a liveliness to her character which naturally holds the attention of the audience as well as other characters, Shizuo especially as his snatched glances and side-eyed stares segue into touchy-feely interactions during their many trips to karaoke bars and clubs.

“Me” seems to just accept the situation with indifference but the subtle shifting of emotions presages bigger changes as the three friends start to slowly slip away from each other at a time when employment and family pressures mount and provide unwelcome pricks of reality that let the air out of the snug and comfortable world they created. Responsibilities avoided come crashing down and it seems like the fun is over as the story forces them to reassess their situation and recognise a general malaise they feel from having held life in stasis for some time. 

This is a soft drama rather than something hardscrabble, something that explores the harmony of companionship where the pace of the film is affected by the lifestyle of the three as they while away their time but the emotional fluctuations are there and they lurk under the surface of scenes, usually in subtle movements of the actors. When the pressure mounts, hints of nastiness emerge, Shota Sometani and Tasuku Emoto able to turn their character on a dime and launch into aggressiveness and then reveal a more sympathetic worry to add welcome layers of emotions to characters that initially just seem aimless. 

Sho Miyake chooses to use this slow pace to delicately tease out the changes felt between these people in moments of low drama so the film ends up feeling like a tender and caring examination of characters preparing to face complicated feelings rather than something harsher as experienced in other adaptations of Yasushi Sato’s work. Miyake probably captures the freeter lifestyle accurately as he respects and translates the pleasures of their lives, shooting everything with a pleasant light, often during dusk and dawn, giving the image a quality that softens everything and renders their activities and the city of Hakodate more beautiful than it could possibly be in reality. Reality can be harsh but there is some hope at the end of this film as they have to leave behind their freeter lifestyles. As much as they like hanging out, at some point the party has to end but who will leave with the girl…?

 

My review for this film was originally published on July 21st at VCinema

A Preview of Japan Cuts 2019 (JULY 19–28)

Japan Cuts 2019 is back with its annual showcase of the latest in Japanese films carefully curated by its team of programmers. It is due to kick off in New York in a month’s time and runs from JULY 19–28. The selection looks good and there’s a handy trailer to build up anticipation by revealing a glimpse of all the films on offer!

There is a distinctly youthful and fresh feeling to the roster of directors and writers as well as the stories they tell. Lots of directors are, or were, making their debuts after cutting their teeth in various production roles or they are at the indie end of the spectrum and under-exposed on the festival circuit. Then there is a lot of youth-oriented stories with a lot of coming-of-age tales. That’s not to say that the older generations are forgotten as a documentary and some legendary filmmakers are also on board with Shinya Tsukamoto in New York to show Bullet Ballet as well as his latest film Killing and there is also a doc called I Go Gaga, My Dear about an elderly couple which is getting a lot of play at different fests so that’s a good sign. I’ve seen quite a few of these films, mostly at this year’s Osaka Asian Film Festival, and so I’ll put links to my reviews if you want to read them.

Some of these films are going to be accompanied by directors and actors and a full list plus bios can be found here. This year’s recipient of the CUT ABOVE Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film is Shinya Tsukamoto, one of the first directors I went and wrote a biography for and reviewed a whole bunch of his films (my favourite being Vital). He is just one of many guests so please check the official website to find out more.

All information comes from old trailer posts and the JAPAN CUTS website.

Here is what has been programmed!

Continue reading “A Preview of Japan Cuts 2019 (JULY 19–28)”