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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An Interview with Masashi Komura, Director of POP! [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

For the last few years, Osaka Asian Film Festival has been screening MOOSIC LAB films. These works are the result of the pairing together of up-and-coming directors, actors, actresses, and musical performers into a unit to create a movie. The final products are almost always idiosyncratic in some way since they are the results of the combined talents of whoever has been grouped together. This year’s entry was POP!, a quirky drama featuring dry comedy and existential angst. It plays on the unique combination of director Masashi Komura (小村昌士), lead actress Rina Ono (小野莉奈), and DJ/producer Aru-2.

Rina Ono takes the lead role of Rin Kashiwakura, a 19-year-old who is on the cusp of turning 20, the official age of becoming an adult. With the approach of such a momentous occasion in her life one would expect excitement but what she feels is frustration and confusion as she struggles to understand how she fits in with others and the world at large, and just what she wants to do. An early dream of becoming an actress has become side-tracked and she works part-time as an official mascot on a struggling local TV charity program and part-time at a remote mountainside car park where nothing much happens. An encounter with a mad bomber leaving explosive packages around town gives her some impetus to move forward.

This description may seem full of random elements but they are deliberate and filmed in such a way by Masashi Komura that they form a collage of situations that form the entry point into Rin’s existential crisis – nothing seems to join together story-wise, long sequences happen in empty locations, and scenes can be devoid of propulsive action and sound and time. At its centre is a strong yet reticent performance from Rina Ono who keeps our attention. Overlaying everything is the downtempo lo-fi musical tracks of of Aru-2. Its lazy beats, samples, and various audio imperfections are indicative of both what a person Rin’s age might listen to and also how she feels. When combined, at times, this experience is frustrating, tiring, and confusing but there is also a lot of humour and heart as Rin struggles to make sense of things. These myriad of emotions reminded me of what I felt in my own adolescence. In short, the film had successfully made me feel Rin’s existential crisis as she tries to pull herself out of her stagnant life and move forward like the adults around her. The final result is a truly unique film (my review).

I wasn’t the only one, it seems. The film won the Grand Prix and Rina Ono also nabbed the Best Actress Award at the MOOSIC LAB awards, thus showing that quality of the film. Director Masashi Komura kindly agreed to take part in an interview to explain how the different elements of the film match up and he furnished many interesting answers.

A relatively new filmmaker, Komura 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). Komura talked more about POP!, how the project came together, his inspirations, his approach to manipulating time, and working with Aru-2 and gifting his sound to audiences.

Masashi Komura, director of POP! at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021

This interview was done with the massive help of Takako Pocklington, who translated between English and Japanese to help bring director Komura’s answers to the page.

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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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An Interview with Satoko Yokohama, Director of “Ito” [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

While getting a World Premiere in the Competition section of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021 would be a sign of quality for director Satoko Yokohama and her film Ito, her work ended up taking two high-profile accolades at the event as judges awarded it the Grand Prix (Best Picture Award) and viewers selected it for the Audience Award. These wins are richly deserved as Ito laces a youth film and a heartfelt tribute to all-things Aomori around a charming central performance from rising actress Ren Komai (駒井蓮).

In the film, Komai plays Ito Soma, a high school girl who lives with her father (Etsushi Toyokawa – 豊川悦司) and maternal grandmother (Yoko Nishikawa – 西川洋子) in a small town just outside Hirosaki city, Aomori. Ito embodies various aspects of the local culture, from having a thick Tsugaru accent to an innate skill in playing the Tsugaru shamisen, an ability inherited from her late mother.  Alas, Ito refuses to practice and stays silent due to her embarrassment over her country roots and also her melancholy over never having known her mother. What puts the girl on the path of self-acceptance and self-expression is an unlikely job at a maid café where she meets a coterie of kind people who offer encouragement and get her to embrace her cultural and family heritage on her own terms. You can read my review here

The film is based on a novel by Osamu Koshigaya and while its Japanese title “Itomichi” was shortened to “Ito” for the international version, the story still communicates all of the charms of Aomori. It is the latest project from Satoko Yokohama (横浜聡子), a graduate of the Film School of Tokyo who independently produced her first feature German + Rain (2007) which won the Directors Guild of Japan Newcomer Award. Next came Bare Essence of Life (2009) and The Actor (2015) which have both been screened at international festivals. Both she and lead actress Ren Komai hail from Aomori Prefecture, the setting of the film and audiences will be able to detect their knowledge and closeness really brought out deep details and atmosphere.

Director Yokohama kindly took part in an interview where she talked about adapting the novel, working with Ren Komai to get a moving portrayal of the main character plus an impressive shamisen performance, and what it means to be a filmmaker from Aomori and returning there to shoot a film. 

Satoko Yokohama at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021 Satoko Yokohama at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021

This interview was done through the translation skills of Takako Pocklington and the film/festival staff who set everything up.

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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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An Email Interview with Hiroshi Gokan, Director of “Gotō-san” [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

The Osaka Asian Film Festival has a number of sidebars and one of the more exciting is dedicated to works supported by the Housen Cultural Foundation, a funding body that provides support to students at the graduate school level. It is here that you will get challenging, deeply personal, or experimental works from a new generation of voices. This year’s crop of titles were all particularly involving and unique. One film that really spoke to me was Gotō-san from writer/director Hiroshi Gokan which struck at the heart of the uncertainty of our age.

Gotō-san is the story of a young man who has chosen to pursue an unconventional life. The titular character, Gotō (Hirofumi Suzuki 鈴木浩文), lives and works in a 24-hour internet café in Tokyo. He seems to have struck the jackpot when it comes to leading a laidback lifestyle and he even gets into a romance with a fellow internet café resident, a young woman named Riko (Tomomi Fukikoshi 吹越ともみ). Beneath this quirky narrative, director Gokan subtly shows trouble brewing in the background with glimpses of a deteriorating jobs market and the Covid-19 pandemic rearing their head until they eventually turf Gotō out into the harsh reality of life. It’s a breath-takingly bleak series of unfortunate events that radically alter the narrative and causes our lead character’s lifestyle to unravel.

You can read my review here, but I felt that Hiroshi Gokan made an astute assessment of the fragility of society that worked because it used an offbeat set-up and characters to take in many socio-economic details without belabouring any points.

So, who is the director? Hiroshi Gokan earned a Master’s in directing at the Graduate School of FilmGoto-san_Gokan_portrait and New Media, Tokyo University of the Arts. Teto, his first feature and graduation project, starred Sakura Ando. His 2012 short Aohige was a co-production between Tokyo University of the Arts and Korean Academy of Film Arts. He has worked on making-of videos for directors such as Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Masayuki Suo and Shinobu Yaguchi. He generously participated in an email interview where he provided a lot of answers that revealed why he cast lead actors Hirofumi Suzuki and Tomomi Fukikoshi, how he created the space of the internet café, and also his stance on weaving real-life into his stories and the impact of Covid-19 on the production. 

This interview was done with the invaluable help of Takako Pocklington who translated between English and Japanese.

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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

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An Email Interview with Akihiko Yano, Director of “yes,yes,yes” [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

I wish I were better at writing about acting because every now and then I watch a film where there are astonishing performance that I am spellbound and profoundly moved. In those situations, I want to wax lyrical to do justice to what I have seen. Of course, every other aspect of the film counts, too. When I watched the drama yes,yes,yes I was not quite prepared for the actors who are, raw vulnerable, surprising, realistic, and honest.

Director Akihkro Yano worked with his cast closely and stripped away most movie artifice to get phenomenal performances to convey the emotionally intense situation in his script. The story concerns a family reacting to the news that the matriarch Sayuri (Nahoko Kawasumi) may die. This sets off emotional chain reactions that cause conflict, particularly with teenage son Takeaki (Kazuma Uesugi), before there is eventually, healing. It is a heartfelt story and it felt real. Indeed, it made me cry multiple times and gave a feeling of catharsis as I took in its lesson of learning to appreciate and love those around and thought deeply about people in my own life.

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Gotō-san ゴトーさん Dir: Hiroshi Gokan (2020) [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2021]

Gotō-san

ゴトーさん Gotō-san

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 77 mins.

Director: Hiroshi Gokan

Writer: Hiroshi Gokan (Script), 

Starring: Hirofumi Suzuki, Tomomi Fukikoshi, Seiichi Kohinata, Manaka Kinoshita, Sun Chi,

OAFF

Mild spoilers in this review

Don’t be fooled by the cute tone, Gotō-san is both dark and refreshingly substantive in its politics which it masks with off-beat characters and meet-cutes in a less-than-ordinary setting. To wit, director Hiroshi Gokan provides a deconstruction of our current capitalist climate wherein, due to factors such as economic liberalisation, cuts to welfare systems, casualisation of work, and certain so-called “efficiencies” such as My Number Cards added for control of identification, society can be quite inhospitable for those who fall off the employment treadmill. Indeed, a person can “disappear” and life can turn into a nightmare as the lead character, the titular Gotō-san finds out.

As travellers and the generally cash-strapped know, 24-hour internet cafes can be cheap and convenient places to stay. The best of them provide showers, a laundry service, a manga library, spacy-enough private booths with computers and the anonymity to live undisturbed for the price of a few thousand yen a day. This is where our titular character Gotō-san works as an assistant and also where he lives.

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