Haruka’s Pottery  ハルカの陶 Dir: Naruhito Suetsugu (2019)

Haruka’s Pottery 

Haruka no Sue Film Poster

ハルカの陶  Haruka no Sue

Release Date: November 30th, 2019

Duration: 119 mins.

Director: Naruhito Suetsugu

Writer: Naruhito Suetsugu (Script) Disk Furai, Taisei Nishizaki (Original Manga)

Starring: Nao, Hiroyuki Hirayama, Jun Murakami, Takashi Sasano, Maki Murakami,

Website

This live-action movie is based on a comic of the same name that won the 13th Okayama Art and Culture Award for Achievement. This very specific award should give you an clue as to what type of film this is, a regional-themed story that draws upon the culture of Okayama. In this particular case, it’s the rich history of pottery.

Our entry into the world of pottery is via a novice named Haruka Koyama (NAO). She is a bored office worker from Tokyo and her first encounter with Bizen-ware comes when playing pack mule for her supervisor at a department store. A nearby exhibition of ceramics from Okayama captures her attention and one particular piece captures her heart. It is a large plate that has a particularly fiery look with swirls of red and orange reminiscent of a conflagration. It touches something deep inside Haruka. It is like seeing passion given form and she feels as if the passion of the ceramicist can be felt.

Haruka's Pottery Film Image Haruka (NAO) and Plate

This feeling blows away the cobwebs of her life and drives her to quit her job and quit Tokyo to track down the creator and learn more and so she travels to the Western part of Japan.

Shot on location at Bizen City in Okayama Prefecture, we are treated to the sights and sounds of a much-storied area which has ancient kilns, its own pottery fairs, and plenty of countryside scenery. The pacing of the film slows down as Haruka learns to acclimatise to the area and also begin the art of crafting ceramics.

As a newbie to pottery Haruka begins tutelage under Osamu Wakatake (Hiroyuki Hirayama), the 30-something creator of the plate and the latest in a long line of ceramicists. Despite her positivity she finds him a difficult person to be with due to his overly demanding nature and his harsh attitude towards her. It turns out that this has roots in a family trauma connected to his profession. Just as Haruka begins to walk on a new path in her life it seems that he may block her way.

This may be a high-stakes situation that Haruka has placed herself in considering she has quit everything she knows but what unfolds is a gentle tale of learning a craft through chasing ones passion and the encounters with people and places that this pursuit entails. It helps that Haruka has the personality of a typical slice-of-life anime heroine in that she is a little naïve and sometimes clumsy but ultimately good-natured and determined, her drive to know more pushing herself and others around her to change. Lead actress Nao brings a positivity that is effervescent enough to sell this aspect and it is believable that she can win over others, shining a light in their life with her presence so that she allows them to overcome their own problems.

As Osamu, Hiroyuki Hirayama ably imbues his character with a gruff guy presence that gently yields in the face of Haruka’s efforts. Theirs is a relationship that takes the form of teacher and student before becoming a little more intimate as they share suffering and creativity together but it is based on creativity and the pursuit of artistry rather than a cheap romance.

What unfolds between the two is a standard story of people influencing each other and it is cleanly done with solid characterisation and acting so that it meets the genre’s needs and ends up being satisfying. Themes of family, dedication, and passion are worked out between the two to show how meaningful ceramics and their production can be and as viewers we learn this alongside the two leads by seeing them work and create and the final pieces.

Haruka's Pottery Film Image NAO

Responding to rather well to the two is a solid cast of supporting actors who play equally solidly-defined characters. Veteran performer Takashi Sasano (very memorable in the Eiji Uchida film Greatful Dead) brings enough cheeky-chappy energy to his role of Tojin Sakaki, a beer-swilling master craftsman who has earned the status of “national living treasure.” His good-natured teasing raises a smile every time we see him but it also proves to be a good vehicle to deploy some philosophy that helps further push along the character’s and strengthen their motivations and help us understand the importance of pottery.

The film is clear in its intentions and well-crafted so that we can enjoy the story and learn more about pottery. It will definitely prove to be inspiring to audiences who enjoy the craft and refreshing for people who are, like Haruka, at a crossroads in life and looking at where to go next.

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.

Continue reading “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)”

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 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.

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

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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POP! Director: Masashi Komura (2021) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

POP!    Pop Film Poster

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 86 mins.

Director: Masashi Komura

Writer: Masashi Komura (Script), 

Starring: Rina Ono, Yugo Mikawa, Katsuya Kobayashi, Masumi Nomura, Kenta Kiguchi,

Website

POP! is part of the line-up of MOOSIC LAB 2020-2021. Like entries in the film festival’s previous editions, it pairs together up-and-coming movie and music talents so that they can create a film where music plays a large part in the proceedings, whether through being performed on screen or through a soundtrack that is a very prominent part of the film. In practice, while the fest may feature a slate of films that share similar themes or story set-ups, since each work is coming from different combinations of creatives, the results tend to be unique and a good showcase of the strengths of all involved.

While many of the last round of MOOSIC LAB releases pondered mortality, they each did it in a completely different way, from a laugh-out-loud supernatural mockumentary to a hip-hop infused family comedy, a heart-breaking time-slip movie done through cassette tapes to a gentle post-rock Lynchian adventure. Some are simply music videos stretched out to 30 minutes. A glance at MOOSIC LAB 2020-2021 shows that it is no different as each film looks tonally different with dramas and comedies, some pushing into the experimental and surreal, words which could be used for POP!.

Making his debut feature with this POP! is Masashi Komura, a relatively new filmmaker who has worked on a number of projects including co-writing the screenplay for The Man Who Was Eaten, which was featured at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2016, writing and directing the 2017 film LEO, and appearing in Ken Ninomiya’s The Matsumoto Tribe (2017). His script and direction for POP! create a quirky coming-of-age tale of a young woman experiencing existential drift as she stands on the cusp of adulthood. The final result is a mixed bag of ideas and one that requires patience but it certainly has an atmosphere.

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Ito いとみち Director: Satoko Yokohama (2021) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

Ito    Itomichi Film Poster

いとみち Itomichi

Release Date: June 25th, 2021

Duration: 92 mins.

Director: Satoko Yokohama

Writer: Satoko Yokohama (Script), Osamu Koshigaya (Original Novel)

Starring: Ren Komai, Etsushi Toyokawa, Mei Kurokawa, Yoko Nishikawa, Mayuu Yokota, Ayumu Nakajima, Daimaou Kosaka, Shohei Uno,

Website IMDB OAFF

Winner of the Grand Prix and Audience Award at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021, Ito is the first solo feature film from director Satoko Yokohama since her 2015 drama The Actor. Her cinematic return, following a stint in TV, is an adaptation of the first of Osamu Koshigaya’s series of three youth novels that were serialised and published between 2011 to 2016. His novels find their setting in Aomori Prefecture, the birthplace of Yokohama and also of the film’s lead actress Ren Komai.

There must have been an attraction to working on a project that is so close to home and it feels as if their intimate knowledge of Aomori’s way of life helps make more unique and meaningful its heart-warming comedy drama about a teenage girl who finds her voice through maid cafes and shamisen.

Itomichi Film Ren Komai and Mei Kurokawa

Continue reading “Ito いとみち Director: Satoko Yokohama (2021) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]”