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Inuyashiki いぬやしき Dir: Shinsuke Sato (2018)

Inuyashiki         Inuyashiki Film Poster

いぬやしき Inuyashiki

Running Time: 127 mins.

Release Date: April 20th, 2018

Director: Shinsuke Sato

Writer: Hiroshi Hashimoto (Screenplay), Hiroya Oku (Original Manga)

Starring: Noritake Kinashi, Takeru Satoh, Kanata Hongo, Fumi Nikaido, Yuki Saito, Yusuke Iseya, Mari Hamada, Ayaka Miyoshi, Nayuta Fukuzaki,

Website IMDB

Ever since his debut The Princess Blade (2001), director Shinsuke Sato has helmed action-packed films with a particular focus on live-action adaptations of manga. Titles in his filmography include Death Note: Light Up the New World, Library Wars, and I Am a Hero. He also sat in the directors chair for the two adaptations of Hiroya Oku’s manga Gantz which were released in the early 00s. Most are slick and solid and his style is improving all the time with Inuyashiki, which is based on another of Oku’s works, being his best yet. This is like a coherent, sanitised, high-budget take on Tetsuo The Iron Man.

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I Am a Hero アイアムアヒーロー Dir: Shinsuke Sato (2016)

I Am a Hero   

I am a Hero FIlm Poster
I am a Hero FIlm Poster

アイアムアヒーロー「Ai amu a hi-ro-

Release Date: April 23rd, 2016

Running Time: 126 mins.

Director: Shinsuke Sato

Writer: Akiko Nogi (Screenplay), Kengo Hanazawa (Original Manga)

Starring: Yo Oizumi, Masami Nagasawa, Kasumi Arimura, Miho Suzuki, Yu Tokui, Yoshinari Okada, Nana Katase,

Website    IMDB

I Am a Hero is the best zombie film to have come out in a long, long time or at least since 28 Days Later (2002) when Danny Boyle sent fast-running infected across the streets of London. Much like the aforementioned title, I Am a Hero has zed-heads that tear across the screen and they are very scary to behold and much like the classic titles of the zombie genre such as George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978) it features some social commentary. Also, unlike tongue-in-cheek J-horror zom-comedies like Stacy: Attack of the Schoolgirl Zombies (2008) and Big Tits Zombie (2010), I Am a Hero is serious and rooted in our world and gleefully slaps it sideways in a gory horror film that does justice to its source.

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One Cut of the Dead  カメラを止めるな! Dir: Shinichiro Ueda (2017)

One Cut of the Dead    One Cut of the Dead Film Poster

カメラを止めるな! Kamera wo tomeru na!

Running Time: 96 mins.

Release Date: November 04th, 2017

Director:  Shinichiro Ueda

Writer: Shinichiro Ueda (Screenplay),

Starring: Takayuki Hamatsu, MAO, Harumi Syuhama, Kazuaki Nagaya, Manabu Hosoi, Tomokazu Yamaguchi,

IMDB        Website

One Cut of the Dead was created by the ENBU Seminar guys, an outfit who do indie films on a shoestring budget with somewhat experienced crews working with newbie actors. Originally released in November 2017, it disappeared before being picked up by film distribution house Third Window Films and soon it was touring international festivals racking up awards and buzz throughout 2018. It won runner-up in the audience vote in the Udine Far East Festival while taking audience awards at a variety of fests like Yubari in Japan, Camera Japan in Holland, Reel Asian in Canada, and more. In 2019 it is unleashed across the UK as Third Window Films gives it a theatrical and then home release.

With so many awards and nothing but praise from fans and critics, film-makers and publicists, the hype is big for this film so I went into it with some trepidation, that I might be out of step with nearly the rest of the world and not feel anything. Thankfully I was charmed and enjoyed it a lot. Before I go further, part of my enjoyment was not knowing what happens in the story and so I make this request to those who have not watched it: avoid trailers and reviews and just watch the film however you can.

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Love & Peace ラブ&ピース Dir: Sion Sono (2015)

Love & Peace      

Love and Peace Film Poster
Love and Peace Film Poster

ラブ&ピース Rabu & Pisu

Release Date: June 27th, 2015

Running Time: 117 mins.

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono (Screenplay),

Starring:  Hiroki Hasegawa, Kumiko Aso, Tohiyuki Nishida, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Eita Okuno, Makita Sports, Erina Mano, Megumi Kagurazaka, Miyuki Matsuda

Website IMDB

Christmas movies range far and wide in terms of content from Heavenly interventions seen in Frank Capra’s classic It’s A Wonderful Life to the monstrous antics of the little green Gremlins seen in Joe Dante’s same-named film but these appear normal compared to Sion Sono‘s 2015 film Love & Peace takes the seasonal setting and goes down a radically different path as he makes genre mash-up of a Christmas movie with a kaiju/rock opera epic with a little help from Santa

Ryoichi Suzuki (Hiroki Hasegawa) once dreamed of becoming a punk rock star but he gave up on his dreams and became a salaryman at a musical instrument parts company in Tokyo. Life is miserable because he is bullied by his colleagues and he has no friends but he has feelings for a timid office lady named Yuko Terashima (Kumiko Aso) whose bravery and kindness keeps him from going insane. Alas, he can’t express himself to her but fate soon strikes!

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The Oyster Factory 牡蠣工場 Dir: Kazuhiro Soda (2016)

Oyster Factory  

Oyster Factory Film Poster
Oyster Factory Film Poster

牡蠣工場  「Kaki kouba

Release Date: February 20th, 2016

Duration: 145 mins

Director: Kazuhiro Soda

Starring: Shinsuke Hirano, Koichi Watanabe, Yukiko Watanabe

Website  IMDB

Earlier in 2018 I had the chance to see three of Kazuhiro Soda’s early films which he made as a student at New York’s School of Visual Arts in the 90s and was surprised to discover he started out making a comedy and dramatic short films with well-contained stories and acting. He is still based in New York but is now renowned for observational documentaries having produced works of the cinema vérité variety that look at communities in Japan starting with Democracy (2007). The Oyster Factory was one I first encountered in the 2015 run of the Vancouver International Film Festival. This 145 minute film looks at life inside an oyster factory and as Soda explores this environment he discovers wider issues about the generational divide through the lack of young people entering the industry and Chinese-Japanese relations as Chinese workers are brought in to help keep two oyster factories running.

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The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On ゆきゆきて、神軍 Dir: Kazuo Hara (1987)

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On   The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On DVD Cover

ゆきゆきて、神軍  「Yuki yukite, shingun

Running Time: 122 mins.

Release Date: August 01st, 1987

Director:  Kazuo Hara

Writer: N/A

Starring: Kenzo Okuzaki, Shizumi Okuzaki,

IMDB

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On is regarded as one of the finest documentaries ever made. It derives its power from its subject, a World War II veteran and political agitator named Kenzo Okuzaki who is on a quest to expose a possible war crime as well as the irresponsible actions of Emperor Hirohito, the military, and post-war governments who carelessly tossed away the lives of their people and have imposed a sort of nation-wide amnesia over the wrongs committed during the war including the killing of their own soldiers.

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Snake Beneath the Flower Petals 湖底の蛇 Dir: Rina Tanaka (2016)

Snake Beneath the Flower Petals   Snake Beneath the Flower Petals Film Poster

湖底の蛇 Kotei no ja

Release date: 2016

Running Time: 59 mins.

Director: Rina Tanaka

Writers: Rina Tanaka (Screenplay)

Starring: Mika Kuroiwa, Midori Kimura, Hikari Shinoda, Ryuki Nishimoto, Seiji Okabe, Kensaku Tamura, Hono Miyabe, Yasumi Yajima,

Website Website 2

Rina Tanaka is a directing talent to watch out for based on the short Filled With Steam (2017) which I saw at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018. It was a film that had breathtaking moments of painful loneliness that were skilfully shot that I still remember clearly even as the year draws to an end. Snake Beneath the Flower Petals was at Nippon Connection 2017 and is one of the works she made in order to complete the master’s degree course at Tokyo University of the Arts’ Graduate School of Film and New Media where she studied under Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Nobuhiro Suwa and here she captures the isolation of people in a film which displays a superb sensitivity for translating emotions onto the screen

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Wasted Eggs Dir: Ryo Kawasaki (2018)

Wasted Eggs

Running Time: 70 mins.

Release Date: 2018

Director: Ryo Kawasaki

Writer: Ryo Kawasaki (Screenplay),

Starring: Mitsue Terasaka, Sora Kawai, Chieko Misaka, Chise Niitsu, Supika Yufune,

Website

On the surface, Japan is hyper-modern but underneath the shiny shell is a society sticking steadfastly to certain aspects of tradition. Nowhere is this more evident than with gender roles. This is what Ryo Kawasaki’s debut feature examines through a light and witty drama surrounding little-explored issues and indignities suffered by women who don’t adhere to society’s demand to have children at a young age.

The film takes place around Christmas. The religious aspect of the season is irrelevant for most people in the country who consider it a time for lovers to be romantic. Rather, the New Year period is the biggest celebration in the winter when people return home and pay a visit to a shrine. That said, various aspects of Christmas are impossible to escape such as decorations, chicken dinners at KFC and Christmas cake. In the past, this seemingly innocuous confection proved to be a powerful metaphor for wealth and, derisively for women who are unmarried after the age of 25, someone who is past their prime. For some of the characters in the film, the season is a sad reminder that they are nearing their romantic expiration date.

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Girl, Wavering 空っぽの渦 Dir: Noriko Yuasa (2015)

Girl, Wavering

空っぽの渦 Karappo no uzu

Running Time: 20 mins.

Release Date: May 2015

Director:  Noriko Yuasa,

Writer: Noriko Yuasa, Takato Nishi (Screenplay),

Starring: Kaho Ishido, Honoka Murakami, Tomomi Furusato, Kazuki Fukiage, Rie Mashiko, Hiroaki Ookawa, Bunki Sugiura, Lehman F. Kondo,

Website IMDB

Noriko Yuasa followed her directorial debut Looking for my lost sunflowers with this film, a more ambitious tale both stylistically and storywise as she explodes a teenage girl’s life on screen and touches on extremes of emotions.

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Looking for my lost sunflowers あの、ヒマワリを探しに Dir: Noriko Yuasa (2014)

Looking for my lost sunflowers

あの、ヒマワリを探しに Ano, himawari wo sagashi ni

Running Time: 25 mins.

Release Date: June 2014

Director:  Noriko Yuasa

Writer: Noriko Yuasa, Kotaro Ishido (Screenplay),

Starring: Bunki Sugiura, Koudai Yamaguchi, Cocoro Ikeda, Eiko Kutsuma, Hioruki Shigeta

Website IMDB

Noriko Yuasa wowed me earlier this year at the Osaka Asian Film Festival with her short film Ordinary Everyday (2017) which was a showcased her fantastic mastery of aural and visual techniques in the creation of a highly atmospheric psycho-thriller. Her earlier films show the same control of texture and form as well as story. With Looking for my lost sunflowers, Yuasa dives into one man’s nostalgia as an office drone tries to touch distant memories.

The man whose nostalgia we embrace is Murakami (Bunki Sugiura), a thirty-something who works as a salesman for a pharmaceutical company in Tokyo. As you can imagine his daily routine is work and then drinks after work. We meet him amidst a whirl of activity around what seems to be Shimbashi Station. The visuals are composed by Yuasa into a clamorous and chaotic impressionistic swirl through slow-motion and blurred images of yokocho and main streets full of revellers and office staff who have spilled out of the workplace after office hours.

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