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Last Judgement / Saigo no Shinpan 最後の審判 Dir: Shinya Kawakami [Osaka Asian Film Festival / Japan Cuts 2019]

Last Judgement / Saigo no Shinpan    Saigo no Shinpan Film Poster

最後の審判 Saigo no Shinpan

Release Date: March 02nd, 2019

Duration: 29 mins.

Director:  Shinya Kawakami

Writer: Shinya Kawakami (Screenplay)

Starring: Ren Sudo, Miru Nagase, Asuka Kurosawa, Kiyomi Aratani,

Website     IMDB

New Directions in Japanese Cinema (NDJC) is a programme that has been in operation since 2007, it’s purpose being to help foster talented young filmmakers through workshops and the production of 30-minute narrative shorts, shot on 35mm film, with the help of experienced professionals. The resulting works are given screenings across Japan and at major festivals. I had covered their films in old trailer posts¹ but had never seen a whole programme until this year…

It was coming up to the end of the 2019 edition of the Osaka Asian Film Festival and there was a screening of this year’s NDJC titles early one morning. I was quite eager to see them and was truly thrilled by the final title, Final Judgement (Saigo no Shinpan) by Shinya Kawakami which is, hands down, the best of the bunch.

Inaba (Ren Sudo) is a talented artist who has tried and failed the entrance exam to Tokyo Art University many times. He is on his sixth attempt and has decided to make this year his final challenge. As he prepares to paint a portrait to pave his way into the institution, a very gifted rival named Hatsune (Miru Nagase) appears amidst the students and her unconventional methods and tremendous vision creates a work which roars with energy and snares the attention of everybody including their tutors. Inaba is incensed by this girl (who is still in school, no less!) but, at the height of his anger he takes a left turn and invites Hatsune to a cafe to find out how she is such a great artist…

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Hard-core ハード・コア Dir: Nobuhiro Yamashita (2018) [New York Asian Film Festival 2019]

Hard-core    Hardcore Film Poster

ハード・コア Ha-do Koa

Release Date: November 23rd, 2018

Duration: 124 mins.

Director: Nobuhiro Yamashita

Writer: Kosuke Mukai (Screenplay), Marley Carib Takashi Imashiro (Original Manga),

Starring: Takayuki Yamada, Takeru Satoh, YosiYosi Arakawa, Kei Ishibashi, Suon Kan, Takako Matsu, Kisetsu Fujiwara,

Website IMDB

Nobuhiro Yamashita is a director who has a particular forte for downbeat stories, whether they are slacker comedies or dramas, most of which contain misanthropic and misaligned characters who make for uncomfortable yet interesting leads (think The Drudgery Train). Here, he adapts an obscure manga from the early 90s by writer Marley Carib and illustrator Takashi Imashiro where the characters and the story are sometimes bizarre, sometimes sorrowful but secretly gentle, all of which plays out in a slow and uneven story.

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5 Million Dollar Life 五億円のじんせい Dir: Moon Sung-Ho [New York Asian Film Festival 2019]

5 Million Dollar Life    5 Million Dollar Life Film Poster

五億円のじんせい  Gooku Yen no Jinsei

Release Date: July 20th, 2019

Duration: 112 mins.

Director: Moon Sung-Ho

Writer: Naomi Hiruta (Screenplay),

Starring: Ayumu Mochizuki, Anna Yamada, Ryu Morioka, Satoru Matsuo, Sumire Ashina, Junko Emoto, Naomi Nishida, Taro Suwa,

Website IMDB

Moon Sung-Ho was first mentioned on this blog in 2014 with his NDJC film Michizure. Originally from Hiroshima, after graduating from high school, he studied film-making in South Korea and then returned to Japan to shoot commercials and short films according to the NYAFF biography. This is his debut feature based on an original screenplay by veteran writer Naomi Hiruta and it has a weird energy thanks to its dark heart, a story so concerned with death and exploitation, and a light delivery in terms of direction and the script/actor’s as well the sunny daytime action.

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jam Dir: Sabu (2018) [New York Asian Film Festival 2019]

jam    jam Film Poster

Release Date: December 01st, 2018

Duration: 102 mins.

Director:  SABU

Writer: SABU (Screenplay),

Starring: Sho Aoyagi, Keita Machida, Nobuyuki Suzuki, Shintaro Akiyama, Mariko Tsutsui, Yuta Ozawa, Kanta Sato,

Website IMDB

Sabu’s films frequently feature hapless heroes thrown into dangerous circumstances where they are subject to spates of seemingly random encounters, weird coincidences and serendipitous occurrences that all eventually fit together like a jigsaw to reveal smartly constructed narratives that seem free-form but actually tease the idea of fate guiding everything. Jam (2018) features this, however, unlike Sabu’s earlier titles like Dangan Runner (1996) and Postman Blues (1997) which are high tension bounce-about thrillers complete with adrenaline fuelled chases, this one follows the trend of his latest works like Mr Long (2017) and Miss Zombie (2013) by being more contemplative and downbeat. Jam still has time for an awesome chase.

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Demolition Girl JK エレジー Dir: Genta Matsugami (2018) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019

Demolition Girl  Demolition Girl JK Elegy Film Poster

JK エレジー JK Ereji-

Release Date: 2019

Duration: 88 mins.

Director: Genta Matsugami

Writer: Yoshitaka Kasui, Genta Matsugami (Screenplay),

Starring: Aya Kitai, Hiroki Ino, Yota Kawase, Haruka Imo, Yura Komuro,

Website IMDB

A man’s get up and go is what defines him, according to the writer Yukio Mishima. If that’s the case then Cocoa, the main protagonist of Genta Matsugami’s debut film, has a lot going for her. Super-smart and determined, she seems like a student who can be anything she wants but she faces a tough challenge in escaping the poverty of her background in a film that mixes class analysis with a coming-of-age story.

Cocoa Umeda lives in a small rural city. It feels like a slow and tranquil place where the biggest events are the seasonal festivals but for Cocoa and her friends things are getting intense as they approach their final exams and high school graduation. Cocoa could go on to higher education because she has potential but her options are limited by her financial situation.

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Interview with Akiyoshi Koba [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019]

I interviewed a number of people at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and these interviews are being published over at V-Cinema. This one was the first to go online on April 23rd.

Akiyoshi Koba is a graduate of Taisho University’s Japanese Language and Literature course. He now works as a part-time lecturer at Nagaoka Zokei University and indie filmmaker. His oeuvre is a series of titles that my be low on budget but are big in heart and invention. Koba strives to find what is special in small-town locations, collaborates with actors who feel like they are drawn from everyday life but have some unique feature, and uses set dressing and costuming that exudes a DIY aesthetic. Works like Slippers and Summer Moon (2015), Psychics Z (2016), and Tsumugi’s Radio (2017) typically mix comedy and sci-fi as well as drama. They have a charming simplicity and a love for their characters.

His latest title, Nunchaku and Soul (2019) is a continuation of this lo-fi storytelling and it is his best work to date. It features a mismatched pair of middle-aged guys, a nerd named Numata (Masahiro Kuroki) and a soul man named Soma (Atsushi Takahashi), who are determined to change their lives for the better by entering a dance competition. The differences in character and their reasons for entering are mined for low-key drama and lots of belly laughs. It also features a funky soundtrack. Nunchaku and Soul was recently screened at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 in the Indie Forum section. Despite its humble origins, it proved to be a hit with most of the audience who were treated to post-screening nunchaku demonstrations by lead actor Masahiro Kuroki and dancing given by director and cast.

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Whole Dir: Bilal Kawazoe (2019) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019

Whole

Duration: 45 mins.

Release Date: 2019

Director: Bilal Kawazoe

Writer: Usman Kawazoe (Screenplay),

Starring: Usman Kawazoe, Aoi Ibuki, Kai Hoshino Sandy,

Website IMDB   OAFF

This review was first published on V-Cinema on March 14th

In recent years, the rise of mixed-race Japanese has become a hot topic with “hafu”, a word which is taken from the English word “half”, becoming more visible thanks to sports and entertainment personalities like tennis champ Naomi Osaka and 2015’s Miss Universe Japan Ariana Miyamoto. Even if Japan is pretty ethnically mixed, hafu are visibly different and are often presented as glamorous and fashionable by advertising execs. This ignores the reality of discrimination and ostracisation they face, something which Bilal Kawazoe’s film, WHOLE examines as one of the few recent Japanese efforts to look at this issues surrounding being biracial in a homogeneous society.

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Interview with Yoshinori Sato, director of the documentary “Shinjuku Tiger” [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019]

YoshinoriSatoOAFF19

I interviewed a number of people at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and these interviews are being published over at V-Cinema. This interview was the first to go online on March 28th.

Yoshinori Sato was born in Aichi, Japan on February 1975. After graduating from high school, he travelled to the US to study filmmaking at the University of Southern California. Since graduating, he has worked as a director in Japanese television while also making independent films. His film credits include Bad Child (2013) and Her Mother, which played at international film festivals including the 21st Busan International Film Festival and the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2017.

Sato returned to Osaka to give the world premiere of his documentary, Shinjuku Tiger, a fascinating look at a flamboyantly dressed and inspiring man who wears a tiger mask and, since the 70s, has practically lived in the bars and cinemas of Shinjuku as he pursues good films, beautiful woman, and delicious sake. It is all part of a fiction he has created to “spread love and peace” and the film shows the character in action as he works his normal job in newspaper delivery and goes on epic bar crawls that rope in celebrities and friends. This films borders on hagiography but gains depth as Sato uses the life of the man to examine the changes and events that Shinjuku has seen through the decades so we get some sense of the culture of one of Tokyo’s most famous wards.

Sato kindly gave an interview after the Q&A that followed the second screening of Shinjuku Tiger at the festival. The interview was conducted in English but we were joined by interpreter Keiko Matsushita who offered some interesting questions and insights.

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Shinjuku Tiger 新宿タイガー Dir: Yoshinori Sato (2019) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019

Shinjuku Tiger  Shinjuku Tiger Film Poster

新宿タイガー  Shinjuku Taiga-

Running Time: 83 mins.

Release Date: March 22nd, 2019

Director: Yoshinori Sato

Writer: N/A

Starring: Shinobu Terajima, Norito Yashima, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Midori Suiren, Noboru Iguchi, Shinji Kubo

Website IMDB

http://www.oaff.jp/2019/en/program/if06.html

Receiving its world premiere at the Osaka Asian Film Festival (OAFF) 2019, Shinjuku Tiger (2019) is a return to the world of documentary filmmaking for director Yoshinori Sato. Although he has a background in television documentaries, he will probably be best known for his 2016 sophomore feature about capital punishment and guilt, Her Mother, an intense film where the mother of a murder victim seeks to prevent the execution of the murderer. It won plaudits for the acting at different festivals including Busan 2016 and OAFF 2017. After a fairly bleak and heavy drama about coming to terms with murder, Sato steps back into documentaries with a film about a flamboyant guy who is all about spreading love and happiness.

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Interview with “Slowly” Director Momoko Fukuda and Producer Jumpei Inoue [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019]

I interviewed a number of people at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and these interviews are being published over at V-Cinema. Here was the first to go online on May 04th.

MomokoFukudaJumpeiInoueOAFF19

Momoko Fukuda hails from Ibaraki City, Osaka Prefecture. After studying at the Japan Institute of the Moving Image, her graduation work Goodbye Mother (2014) was selected by a number of Japanese festivals including the Yubari International

Oishii Kazoku Film Poster
Oishii Kazoku Film Poster

Fantastic Film Festival. In 2015, she took part in the New Directions in Japanese Cinema (NDJC): Young Filmmaker Development Project run by the Japanese government’s Agency of Cultural Affairs. It is designed to foster a new generation of directors who can bring new life to the Japanese film industry and Fukuda seems truly unique in her tastes. The resulting film, Dad’s Marriage (2016) (here’s my trailer post), was screened at international festivals such as Camera Japan in Holland where it stood out for its unique pacing and a story that challenges the norm of what people consider to constitute a family. She is turning it into a feature film, Oishii Kazoku, due for release in 2019. Her most recent works have been shorts, one a part of the omnibus film 21st Century Girl (2019) which appeared at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, and the other is the a rather offbeat Slowly which appeared at the 2019 Osaka Asian Film Festival.

Slowly is a slice out of the lives of two old friends. After their high school reunion, they drive back to some unspecified point, their conversation awkwardly hovering around questions about their past and future and the changes to their hometown. Their journey is stopped by a tennis umpire’s chair, which lies on the road. The two suddenly find themselves helping a third person carry the chair away and we watch as they lug the thing through a beautiful series of pastoral scenes and mundane small town shots while still talking about their lives. The film seems aimless and has a laidback rhythm because not much happens. But through conversation and behaviour, we can read a lot and it is interesting to wonder over the images and actors.

It reminded me of my 1990s childhood when a variety of European films from Rohmer or Aki Kaurismaki and stageplays by Beckett were on terrestrial television in the UK rather than squirreled away on some satellite channel. I ended up watching the film a few times and felt quite moved by the experience, sensing a certain longing, acknowledging the nostalgia for my past and some gaps in my present as I identified with the characters.

There were two screenings at OAFF and I caught the film’s first screening where the audience seemed to appreciate the experience. I was due to interview Fukuda and her producer Jumpei Inoue after the second screening. When I arrived at the cinema, I was told that one person had reacted negatively to the film at this second screening but, despite this, Fukuda and Inoue, along with two of their team, sat down with me. Undaunted and thoughtful, they kindly spent over 30 minutes talking about the making of the film and their inspirations.

Help with translation was provided by Keiko Matsushita while translation of the transcription of the interview was overseen by Takako Pocklington.

Continue reading “Interview with “Slowly” Director Momoko Fukuda and Producer Jumpei Inoue [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019]”