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After the Storm 海よりもまだ深く Dir: Hirokazu Koreeda (2016)

After the Storm   

After the Storm Film Poster
After the Storm Film Poster

海よりもまだ深く 「Umi yori mo mada fukaku」

Release Date: May 21st, 2016

Running Time: 117 mins.

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda (Original Story, Screenplay)

Starring: Hiroshi Abe, Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Sosuke Ikematsu, Yoko Maki, Satomi Kobayashi, Isao Hashizume, Taiyo Yoshizawa

IMDB   Website

After the Storm is a story of everyday human failings and the constant hope for a better tomorrow that motivates us. Kore-eda cast a cadre of familiar actors who he had worked with in previous films including Kirin Kiki and Hiroshi Abe, both of whom were in Still Walking (2008) as mother and son Toshiko and Ryota. This family drama could be a sort of sequel to Still Walking due to similarities – Kiki’s character Toshiko (とし子) turns into Yoshiko (淑子) here while Abe’s character is named Ryota (良多) in both films – and callbacks likethe butterfly motif and it features a deceptive simpleness in its approach, a story of a family gathering made complex by tangled emotions tinged with bitter history.

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Still Walking 歩いても 歩いても Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda (2008)

Still Walking   Still Walking Film Poster

歩いても 歩いても Aruitemo Aruitemo

Running Time: 114 mins.

Release Date: June 28th, 2008

Director:  Hirokazu Koreeda

Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda (Screenplay/Original Story),

Starring: Kiki Kirin, Hiroshi Abe, You, Yui Natsukawa, Kazuya Takahashi, Yoshio Harada, Shohei Tanaka, Haruko Kato, Susumu Terajima,

IMDB

Quite possibly Kore-eda’s best film this is a snapshot of a family over 24 hours that, through deft storytelling reveals richly complicated and interwoven lives from different generations.

The seasons are about to change from summer to autumn and preparations are underway at the Yokoyama household for the annual commemoration of the eldest son Junpei who drowned in an accident 15 years ago. The spacious, comfortable and old-fashioned house run by Toshiko (Kirin Kiki) will welcome her middle-aged children and their young families who will be arriving soon. Meanwhile, curmudgeon father Kyohei (Yoshio Harada), a former physician, walks around their quiet neighbourhood to the beach where the tragic accident happened when not hiding in the clinic attached to their home. The daughter, Chinami (YOU), will bring her good-natured husband Nobuo (Kazuya Takahashi) and their cheerful kids Satsuki (Hotaru Nomoto) and Mutsu (Ryoga Hayashi) who will invade the house and fill it with laughter and tales from school but there is an edge to the atmosphere as they await second son Ryota (Hiroshi Abe).

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Hanagatami 花筐 Dir: Nobuhiko Obayashi (2017)

Hanagatami    Hanagatami Film Poster

花筐 「Hanagatami

Running Time: 169 mins.

Release Date: December 16th, 2017

Director:  Nobuhiko Obayashi

Writer: Nobuhiko Obayashi, Chiho Katsura(Screenplay), Kazuo Dan (Original Novel)

Starring: Shunsuke Kubozuka, Shinnosuke Mitsushima, Keishi Nagatsuka, Tokio Emoto, Mugi Kadowaki, Tetsuya Takeda, Takako Tokiwa, Hirona Yamazaki,

IMDB Website

Is there subject-matter that film as a medium is better than others at capturing? Perhaps it is emotions. Or maybe memories. Filmmakers can examine them in many expressive ways and with an incredible arsenal of technical tools open to the cast and crew, imagination really is the limit. Enter the adventurous Nobuhiko Obayashi, a man not shy of being creative as proven in his career which stretches back to the 1950s and features a long filmography that trades in fantasy, experimentalism, and surrealism. He is best known for the haunted-house musical House (1977) but nothing will prepare those familiar solely with that fun film for Hanagatami! Obayashi’s limiters are off in this deep-dive into the precious memories of a man who lived through an age of emotional turbulence as Japan hurtled headlong into the chaos of World War II.

Hanagatami Image 4

It is the summer of 1941 in Karatsu City, Saga Prefecture. 17-year-old Toshihiko Sakakiyama (Shunsuke Kubozuka) has just travelled from his parents’ home in Amsterdam to stay with his wealthy aunt Keiko Ema (Takako Tokiwa) in her large manor. He will share it with his sickly cousin Mina (Honoka Yahagi) who suffers from tuberculosis. While there, he is attending a school where falls under the influence of the grim and philosophical Kira (Keishi Nagatsuka) who is physically infirm, and Ukai (Shinnosuke Mitsushima), a boy both strong in body and mind and with a pure soul that attracts Toshihiko. There are girls his age, too. Kira’s cousin, the melancholy Chitose (Mugi Kadowaki) who carries a camera she loves to use to capture people’s existence and the more playful and positive Akine (Hirona Yamazaki) whose mischievous grin and compassion for others lights up all occasions.

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Amiko  あみこ Dir: Yoko Yamanaka (2017)

Amiko     Amiko Film Poster

あみこ Amiko

Running Time: 66 mins.

Release Date: September 14th, 2018

Director: Yoko Yamanaka

Writer: Yoko Yamanaka (Screenplay),

Starring: Ai Sunohara, Hiroshi Oshita, Mineo Maiko,

Amiko is the directorial debut from Yoko Yamanaka, a twenty-year-old from Nagano whose indie film won the Audience Award and Hikari TV Award at the Pia Film Festival 2017 for it’s originality and entertainment and was featured at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival, Fantasia and Japan Cuts, which is how I saw it. Its tale of a girl’s experience in love is a universal one but unique because of its central character, a firecracker of a person who is effortlessly entertaining.

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The Hungry Lion 飢えたライオン Dir: Takaomi Ogata (2017)

The Hungry Lion    The Hungry Lion Film Poster   

飢えたライオン Ueta Raion

Running Time: 78 mins.

Release Date: N/A

Director:  Takaomi Ogata

Writer: Takaomi Ogata, Fujio Ikeda (Screenplay)

Starring: Urara Matsubayashi, Atomu Mizuishi, Mariko Tsutsui,

This was at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year and Rotterdam and the New York Asian Film Festival this year.

The Hungry Lion is the fourth feature from Fukuoka-born indie filmmaker Takaomi Ogata. Each of his films address pressing social issues faced by modern Japan. Never Ending Blue (2011) shows a teenage girl enduring child abuse and self-abuse and was potent enough to win the Runner-up Grand Prix at the 2010 Okinawa Motion Picture Festival. Body Temperature (2011) featured the story of an intensely lonely man too focussed on a life-sized doll to make a connection with other humans. Sunk Into the Womb (2013) features a Nobody Knows type of story about a single-mother who abandons her children. The Hungry Lion has the harrowing story of an innocent person having their reputation murdered by liars, gossip-mongers, and the media.

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Of Love and Law 愛と法 (2017) Dir: Hikaru Toda

Of Love & Law     Of Love and Law Film Poster

愛と法 「Ai to hou」    

Running Time: 94 mins.

Release Date: September 2018

Director:  Hikaru Toda

Writer: N/A

Starring: Kazuyuki Minami, Masafumi Yoshida, Yae Minami, Kazumi Tsujitani, Rokudenashiko, Hiroko Tsujitani, Masae Ido, Natsuo Yamamoto,

Website     IMDB    JFDB

Documentarian and visual anthropologist Hikaru Toda is based in London and Osaka and has worked on many films to explore the differences between people and society. Love Hotel, a 2014 film she co-directed, was a look at the lives of the customers of a love hotel in Osaka. It eschewed going down the cheap route of titillating and alternative sex to look at the pressures, inner-desires, and memories that drive the people who escape to such a private place. The film also offered a look at the creeping draconian politics of Japan’s government which is shutting down love hotels whilst also taking away personal freedoms as it re-militarises the country. Two of the customers were gay lawyers Kazu and Fumi who lived out their love behind closed doors and reappear in this documentary out in the open.

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The Scythian Lamb 羊の木 Dir: Daihachi Yoshida (2018)

The Scythian Lamb   The Scythian Lamb Film Poster

羊の木 Hitsuji no ki

Running Time: 126 mins.

Release Date: February 03rd, 2018

Director: Daihachi Yoshida

Writer: Masato Kagawa (Screenplay), Tatsuhiko Yamagami, Mikio Igarashi (Original Manga),

Starring: Ryo Nishikido, Fumino Kimura, Kazuki Kitamura, Yuka, Mikako Ichikawa, Shingo Mizusawa, Min Tanaka, Ryuhei Matsuda, Tamae Ando,

Website IMDB

You can never truly know another person, the old existentialist saying goes. It’s not necessarily that people hide various aspects of their character and history, it’s also that people change all of the time. With that in mind, Daihachi Yoshida’s movies dwell in that gap between the fixed persona and the shadows his characters hide and we see the sometimes hilarious, sometimes tragic actions that barely repressed desires and fears make people perform. The Kirishima Thing looked at the politics of high school life with longed-for and thwarted romances between members of various cliques while Pale Moon looked at the weight of expectation from society through the tale of a normal woman and her desire to escape into fantasy in order to feel desired. They all operate with varying tones of drama and comedy and it is much the same in The Scythian Lamb where tight-knit community is asked to accept a group of outsiders with troublesome pasts and hidden intentions.

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The Blood of Wolves 孤狼の血 Dir: Kazuya Shiraishi (2018)

The Blood of Wolves      The Blood of Wolves Film Poster

孤狼の血 Korou no chi

Running Time: 126 mins.

Release Date: May 12th, 2018

Director: Kazuya Shiraishi

Writer: Junya Ikegami (Screenplay), Yuko Yuzuki (Original Novel)

Starring: Koji Yakusho, Tori Matsuzaka, Yoko Maki, Tomoya Nakamura, Pierre Taki, Shido Nakamura, Yosuke Eguchi, Renji Ishibashi,

Website IMDB

Director Kazuya Shiraishi follows his Roman Porno, Dawn of the Felines with this blistering film.

Hiroshima is a prefecture with lots of natural beauty but filmmakers do like to find drama in the dark underbelly of the place, perhaps most famously with Kinji Fukasaku’s 1970s crime film series Battles without Honour and Humanity which was based on the experiences of a post-war yakuza boss from Hiroshima. Kazuya Shiraishi takes audiences into the same world with The Blood of Wolves, a film which feels like a throwback to an earlier time due to its raw violence, emotions, and the character archetypes in play. Shiraishi is no stranger to the crime genre thanks to his previous films The Devil’s Path (2013) and Twisted Justice (2016) but this is his best crime film yet and it is all down to a magnetic performance from lead actor Koji Yakusho and his character’s no-holds barred attitude to policing.

The Blood of Wolves Film Image 6

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Dynamite Graffiti 素敵なダイナマイトスキャンダル Dir: Masanori Tominaga (2018)

Dynamite Graffiti   Dynamite Graffiti Film Poster

素敵なダイナマイトスキャンダル Suteki na Dainamaito Sukyandaru

Running Time: 138 mins.

Release Date: March 17th, 2018

Director: Masanori Tominaga

Writer: Masanori Tominaga (Screenplay), Akira Suei (Autobiographical Essay)

Starring: Tasuku Emoto, Atsuko Maeda, Toko Miura, Machiko Ono, Kazunobu Mineta, Yutaka Matsushige, 

Website IMDB

Adult magazines are big business worldwide, including in Japan where it is still possible to walk into some convenience stores and see them on open display although in the run-up to the Tokyo Olympics, this is getting cleaned up. Masanori Tominaga’s biopic Dynamite Graffiti tells the history of raunchy magazine mogul Akira Suei, starting from childhood to the peak of his infamy in the 1980s when his publications had a circulation of over 300,000 copies a month and he publicly challenged censors with his magazine’s content.

Tominaga aims big and scores some smiles with behind-the-scenes looks at the smut trade but the scale of his script’s ambitions in trying to capture changing times delivers a cast of characters who are little more than cyphers while Suei remains a joker.

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The Path Leading to Love アイニ向カッテ Dir: Kohei Takayama (2017) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018

The Path Leading to Love

アイニ向カッテ Ai ni Mukatte

Running Time: 76 mins.

Release Date: 2018

Director: Kohei Takayama

Writer: Kohei Takayama (Screenplay),

Starring: Ippei Tanaka, Yumi Mukai, Mika Dehara, Suzuka Minagawa, Koichi Sakaguchi,

Alcohol addiction and writers go together like cookies and cream, or so it seems. The combination of self-destructive artist and liquid fire has been the subject of films like The Lost Weekend (1945), Leaving Las Vegas (1995) and works based on the life and novels of Charles Bukowski. The need to blot out reality comes from many sources and The Path Leading to Love is a quietly powerful film that shows how alcohol blights the life of someone too filled with doubt, cowardice, weakness, and selfishness to overcome it for the sake of others.

The drunk is Shosuke (Ippei Tanaka). He could be a promising manga artist but he cannot even approach the foothills of creativity because his alcoholism pushes away his desire to work. It also pushed away his ex-girlfriend Sawako and threatens his relationship with his current partner, the loyal but lovelorn Yasuko.

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