An Interview with Fumito Fujikawa, Director of The Light of Spring [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022/Five Flavours Film Festival 2022]

The Light of Spring_director

With a background in both film and anthropology, Fumito Fujikawa’s career encompasses both documentary and drama and sometimes blurs the line between the two.

He first came to international attention with his debut feature film The Name of the Whale, a family drama shot in the director’s home prefecture of Hiroshima and centred on a junior high school boy searching for fossils while his family and friendship circle undergo changes. Critics noted its combination of documentary-like delivery of drama and the use of a partially non-professional cast and child actors and this earned it the moniker of a dramamentary, a style so effective at enraputring viewers in its world that it won the film the Audience Award at the 2015 Pia Film Festival. It went on to be screened internationally at festivals such as Vancouver, Hong Kong, and Taipei.

His next film was Supa Layme, a documentary shot in the Peruvian Andes following a family of six tending to llamas, sheep and working the land. It went on to win awards including taking best film in the Peruvian competition of the Lima Alterna Festival (you can read an interview with the director about that film here).

For his third feature film, The Light of Spring, Fujikawa returned to Japan and shot a work in Tokyo with a real-life family of four acting out the separation of the parents and children during the Covid-19 pandemic. Drawing directly from The Name of the Whale, he recruited two of that film’s actors, Yuki Hirabuki, nee Kimura, and her husband Masana Hirabuki. They brought their two children, five-year-old boy Shui and baby girl Chikasa. Together they convincingly relay a realistic story of a family falling apart, the quiet tensions and desperation between the parents affecting the children until a resolution of sorts is reached.

The Light of Spring played at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022 in March and is currently playing at Five Flavours Film Festival in Poland where it can be viewed online in Poland (details here) until December 04th. At the festival, it won The Special Mention for the International People’s Jury award. To find out more on the background of the film, this interview was conducted with the director.

Thanks go out to Fumito Fujikawa for doing this interview and providing lots of background, to Takako Pocklington for translating between English and Japanese, and to the staff of Osaka Asian Film Festival staff for making the interview happen.

Continue reading “An Interview with Fumito Fujikawa, Director of The Light of Spring [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022/Five Flavours Film Festival 2022]”

An Interview with Sae Suzuki, Director of Strangers [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

ID13_H04_Strangers_director (2)

Sae Suzuki’s career as a filmmaker began when she enrolled in the Department of Body Expression at Rikkyo University and studied directing under director/critic Kunitoshi Manda. She then went on to study film directing under Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Nobuhiro Suwa at the Graduate School of Film and New Media, Tokyo University of the Arts and her graduation film My Identity (2019) was selected for the  Busan International Film Festival 2019 and Japan Cuts 2020. She is currently making films as a freelancer and her latest work Strangers played at Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022.

Strangers is a melancholic but hopeful short film about people wrestling with experiences of sexual harassment, negative thoughts on gender and sex, and suffering in silence. Manami Usamaru of Sisterhood (2019) fame plays Yukie, a dental nurse from a rural town who flees her workplace with the clinic’s cash following sexual assault from her boss. A train transition leads her and us to Tokyo where she can be free to do as she pleases and so she changes her appearance and personality and meets up with a guy named Minato (Akihiro Yamamoto) who offers her day of non-judgemental companionship that allows her to process her negative feelings. It turns out that he has trauma of his own and together, as strangers, they offer each other hope for a new life.

The film comes at an interesting time as people in Japan take to SNS to talk more openly about difficult subjects like discrimination and harassment. Through excellent use of visuals and performers, Sae Suzuki allows audiences to enter into these difficult topics with a very thoughtful and beautiful film.

I would like to thank Sae Suzuki for delivering this interview in both English and Japanese and the efforts of Osaka Asian Film Festival staff for facilitating the interview.

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Strangers 人知れず Director: Sae Suzuki [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

Strangers     Strangers Film Poster

人知れず Hitoshirezu

Release Date: 2022

Duration: 38 mins.

Director: Sae Suzuki

Writer: Sae Suzuki (Screenplay),

Starring: Manami Usamaru, Akihiro Yamamoto, Sayaka Nakakochi, Natsuki Murata,

IMDB

In the last few years Japan has been experiencing its own #MeToo moments as stories of power/sexual harassment have hit scandal mags and SNS. Such stories have taken down a variety of people from cinema chain managers to film directors and producers. Despite this, problems of harassment persist in many areas of life. Fortunately, filmmakers are using their platform so titles like Strangers can shine a light on these problems.

Strangers is a melancholic but hopeful short film from Sae Suzuki that circles around the idea of individuals experiencing sexual harassment, suffering in silence, and the release from trauma found in shedding an identity and sharing a problem.

Strangers Film Image

Manami Usamaru of Sisterhood (2019) fame plays Yukie, a dental nurse from a rural town. Quiet and unassuming, it is only when we listen in on Yukie’s conversations with a co-worker that we hear her dreams, a vague desire to live by the sea, a vague desire for freedom. This desire becomes reality when the power harassment of her boss turns into sexual harassment and Yukie makes the impulsive decision to flee to Tokyo with the dental clinic’s cash. There, she can be free to do as she pleases and so she changes her appearance and personality and meets up with a guy named Minato on a dating app who is hiding his own inner pain. Together as strangers, they offer each other hope for a new life even as they wrestle with painful ideas from their old lives.

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Rampo Noir 乱歩地獄 (2005) Dirs: Suguru Takeuchi, Akio Jissoji, Hisyasu Sato, Atsushi Kaneko

Happy Halloween! This is the time of year when people celebrate the supernatural and ghoulish aspects of popular culture and national myths. I do my part by highlighting horror movies on Halloween night. So far I have reviewed Nightmare DetectiveStrange CircusShokuzaiPOV: A Cursed Film CharismaDon’t Look Up, Snow Woman (2017) Snow Woman (1968)  Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel, Gemini, and John Carpenter’s The Thing. I’ll be returning to Japan for the next Halloween Review, an anthology film based on the erotic-grotesque-nonsense works of Edogawa Rampo.


Rampo Noir    Rampo Noir Film Poster

乱歩地獄 Rampo Jigoku

Release Date: November 05th, 2005

Duration: 134 mins.

Director: Suguru Takeuchi (Mars Canal), Akio Jissoji (Mirror Hell), Hisyasu Sato (The Caterpillar), Atsushi Kaneko (Crawling Bugs),

Writer: Suguru Takeuchi (Mars Canal), Akio Satsukawa (Mirror Hell), Shiro Yumeno (The Caterpillar), Atsushi Kaneko (Crawling Bugs), (Script), Edogawa Rampo (Original Stories),

Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Yumi Yoshiyuki, Susumu Terajima, Yuuko Daike, Chisako Hara, Mikako Ichikawa, Ryuhei Matsuda, Hanae Kan, Nao Omori, Yukiko Okamoto,

IMDB

Hirai Taro aka Edogawa Rampo. A prolific writer whose stories were serialised in newspapers and published as novels. Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe, the source of his pen name, Rampo turned his literary talents to stories of detectives, the supernatural, the erotic and the psycho-sexual. These works proved ripe for cinematic treatment, particularly around the time of the pink film boom.

Blind Beast (1969, Yasuzo Masumura) Black Lizard (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968) Horrors of Malformed Men (Teruo Ishii, 1969), Watcher in the Attic (Nobuo Tanaka, 1976), and Gemini (Shinya Tsukamoto, 1999) stand as the most famous adaptations. Even this year there have been adaptations with Hiroki Inoue’s drama Hito de nashi no Koi released in June.

And we return to Rampo Noir. Back in 2004, as the J-horror genre started to shamble along zombie-like on the back of recycled tropes and trends, this anthology film was made that allowed its directors to approach Rampo’s macabre and menacing material in their own unique and memorable ways. It also allowed some of the leading acting talents of the early 2000s to wrestle with some truly disturbing material, particularly Tadanobu Asano (Bright Future, My Man, Survive Style 5+, Vital) who appears in the four chapters of the film and plays Rampo’s famous Detective Akechi Kogoro in two. While Rampo Noir does not feature jump scares or bone-chilling frights, it packs in a lot of ero-guro sights to leave an average viewer sickened and disturbed.

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Call Boy 娼年 (2018) Director: Daisuke Miura

Call Boy    Call Boy Film Poster

娼年  Shonen

Release Date: April 06th, 2018

Duration: 119 mins.

Director: Daisuke Miura

Writer: Daisuke Miura (Screenplay), Ira Ishida (Original Novel)

Starring: Tori Matsuzaka, Sei Matobu, Ami Tomite, Kenta Izuka, Yuki Sakurai, Erika Mabuchi, Kokone Sasaki, Kyoko Enami, Ruri Shinato,

Website IMDB

Depicting female desire on the screen isn’t exactly rare but nor is it common, especially when compared to the extent male fantasies and experiences get the cinematic treatment. It certainly isn’t as explicit or as funny as Call Boy, an adaptation of Ira Ishida’s novel by playwright-turned-director Daisuke Miura. His eye for erotic shots and character quirks super-charges female-first sexual fantasies  that Tori Matsuzaka bravely steps into.

The story follows Ryo Morinaka (Tori Matsuzaka), a student at a top-ranked university who works part-time at a bar. He’s bored with his daily existence of dating young women he sees as floozies and blowing off classes he has lost interest in so when he gets recruited to join an escort service by sophisticated and intriguing older lady Mido Shizuka (Sei Matobu), he has a new mission in life: to discover the passions of his clients and to fulfil them. Through that, he discovers more about himself.

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Love’s Whirlpool 愛の渦  Director: Daisuke Miura (2014)

Love’s Whirlpool  Love's Whirlpool Film Poster

愛の渦   「Ai no Uzu」

Release Date: March 01st, 2014

Duration: 123 mins.

Director: Daisuke Miura

Writer: Daisuke Miura (Script/Stage Play/Original Novel)

Starring: Mugi Kadowaki, Sosuke Ikematsu, Yoko Mitsuya, Hirofumi Arai, Kenichi Takito, Ryusuke Komakime, Tokio Emoto, Yu Nobue, Eriko Nakamura, Muck Akazawa, Tetsushi Tanaka, Yosuke Kubozuka,

Website   IMDB

“Birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let’s do it, let’s fall in love”

From the song “Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love

A group of people gather at a well-furnished apartment in Roppongi for sex. They have from midnight to 5AM. The rules are simple: use condoms, shower between partners, respect women’s requests, and leave quietly without exchanging information at the end. It is meant to be no-strings sex, but for some it becomes more meaningful as the emotions that drove them to the party are tapped…

This is the set-up to Daisuke Miura’s Love’s Whirlpool, an erotic drama from 2014. It is adapted from his own 2005 stage-play that raised eyebrows for its nudity but ultimately went on to win awards. The film itself became a something of a hit on the indie circuit and it is easy to see why as it bridges the gap between mainstream cinema and pink films as known actors engaging in explicit depictions of sex you might see in softcore. The hook for those of a less prurient nature is the way that psychological drama and social status emerges amongst a group of anonymous strangers simply seeking sex.

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All Around Us ぐるりのこと。(2008) Director: Ryosuke Hashiguchi

All Around Us    All Around Us Film Poster 2

ぐるりのこと。 Gururi no Koto.

Release Date: June 07th, 2008

Duration: 140 mins.

Director: Ryosuke Hashiguchi

Writer: Ryosuke Hashiguchi (Script),

Starring: Lily Franky, Tae Kimura, Akira Emoto, Susumu Terajima, Tamae Ando, Mitsuko Baisho, Ken Mitsuishi, Ryo Kase, Yoji Tanaka, Reiko Kataoka, Jiro Sato, Rie Minemura,

IMDB

2008 was a vintage year for Japanese cinema as a number of titles were released that have stood the test of time. The most notable are a triumvirate of slice-of-life dramas that left an indelible mark on the film world with Tokyo Sonata and Still Walking leaving a lasting impression with cinephiles while Departures had enough crossover appeal for mainstream audiences to become the first Japanese film to win an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. 

Not talked about as much but equal to all three is All Around Us, a hidden gem of a marriage story that takes in an epic sweep of social history while delivering intimate character studies all told through subtle direction that respects the audience’s ability to understand and naturalistic acting that is heartfelt and compelling.

The film starts in 1993 in Tokyo and introduces us to Kanao (Lily Franky) and Shoko (Tae Kimura). We enter their lives just as she launches a campaign to get pregnant.

The two are a study in contrasts that is initially fun. She is a controlling woman who works at a small publisher and is capable of great things. He is a laid-back and louche lothario who slums it as a street-side shoe repairman. She dresses primly. He dresses sloppily. She uses diaries and calendars to orchestrate book launches in work and marital sex nights at home to maximise chances of getting pregnant. He loafs around and dutifully, if a little perturbed, goes along with her instructions after days of flirting with female customers. For her, sex is almost laughably clinical while he goes with his passions, as shown in one hilarious scene where he cheekily surprises her by trying out a new sexual position that throws her off her game. 

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While the Women are Sleeping 女が眠る時 (2016) Director: Wayne Wang

While the Women are Sleeping     

While the Women are Sleeping Film Poster
While the Women are Sleeping Film Poster

女が眠る時 「Onna ga Nemuru Toki」 

Release Date: February 27th, 2016

Duration: 103 mins.

Director: Wayne Wang

Writer: Michael Ray, Lee Shin-ho, Mami Sunada (Screenplay) Javier Marias (Original Story)

Starring: Takeshi Kitano, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Sayuri Oyamada, Lily Franky, Shioli Kutsuna, Makiko Watanabe, Hirofumi Arai,

Website IMDB

An undercooked psycho-sexual thriller, While the Women are Sleeping wastes a stellar cast – Hidetoshi Nishijima (License to Live), Takeshi Kitano (Hana-bi), Lily Franky (Like Father, Like Son), Makiko Watanabe (Love Exposure) – on a poor story.

We are at a posh holiday resort on the Izu Peninsula with unhappily married couple Kenji (Hidetoshi Nishijima), an author, and Aya (Sayuri Oyamada), a book editor.

While the Women are Sleeping Hidetoshi Nishijima and Sayuri Oyamada,

They are spending a week at the hotel over the summer. It is a bit of work and play, as she disappears during the day to coach an author while Kenji is left to his own devices and flip-flops between procrastination and wading through writer’s block. Although picture perfect together, marital strain is apparent as they snipe at each other over him skimping on sex and whether he should write or start life over as a salaryman. Things go really off the rails when they encounter a strange couple amongst the other guests.

Continue reading “While the Women are Sleeping 女が眠る時 (2016) Director: Wayne Wang”

The Workhorse and the Bigmouth ばしゃ馬さんとビッグマウス (2013) Director: Keisuke Yoshida

The Workhorse and the Bigmouth     The Workhorse and the Big Mouth Film Poster

ばしゃ馬さんとビッグマウス  「Basaumasan to Biggumausu」

Release Date: November 02nd, 2013

Duration: 119 mins.

Director: Keisuke Yoshida

Writer: Keisuke Yoshida, Ryo Nishihara

Starring: Kumiko Aso, Shota Yasuda, Yoshinori Okada, Maho Yamada, Yutaka Shimizu, Yoko Akino, Jun Inoue, Yoneko Matsukane

Website     IMDB

Contrary to the optimistic messages that films often sell audiences, dreams don’t always come true no matter how hard you work. The lesson learned by the two protagonists in The Workhorse and the Bigmouth, a dramedy about wannabe writers trying to make it in the movies, is that one has to be realistic.

The titular workhorse is Michiyo Mabuchi (Kumiko Aso), a 34-year-old woman who is single and works in a kinken shop (金券ショップ ticket reseller). She has dedicated herself to the art of writing and has written screenplays consistently since graduating from university and has consistently failed to break into the film world despite attending workshops and classes, entering competitions, networking, and knowing all of the technical aspects of screenwriting.

The bigmouth is Yoshimi Tendo (Shota Yasuda), a 20-something loafer with dyed-blonde hair who works as a chef in a fast-food joint. He spends more time daydreaming about movie-writing fame than trying to achieve it. He loves the attention he gets when he says he is a writer and bragging about his ambitions but putting in the work is another matter.

The two are a chalk-and-cheese pair who meet in a screenwriting class in downtown Osaka and both are desperate to make it and so they enter a competition launched by a Tokyo-based TV channel. While audiences might expect a romance of the “opposites attract” variety to happen, the story resists going the obvious route.

The Workhorse and Big Mouth Kumiko Aso and Shota Yasuda

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Love at Least 生きてるだけで、愛  (2018) Director: Kosai Sekine

Love At Least    Love At Least Film Poster

生きてるだけで、愛 Ikiteru dakede Ai

Release Date: November 09th, 2018

Duration: 109 mins.

Director: Kosai Sekine

Writer: Kosai Sekine (Screenplay), Yukiko Motoya (Original Novel),

Starring: Shuri, Masaki Suda, Riisa Naka, Shizuka Ishibashi, Yutaka Matsushige, Naomi Nishida, Lisa Oda, Tetsushi Tanaka,

Website IMDB

The romance genre is strong in Japan where many filmmakers give many different and nuanced takes. There are the big-budget glossy works sourced from manga like We Were There (2012), while Rikiya Imaizumi has colonised the subject with gently wistful works like Over the Town (2020) and Just Only Love (2018). The anti-romance subgenre is especially strong. Grown-ups (2022) is where director Takuya Kato strives for documentary realism while playing with the audience’s conception of time while Yoko Yamanaka’s Amiko (2017) gives audiences gales of laughter thanks to its titular crackpot heroine losing her mind over love.

Making his debut with Love at Least, advertising director Kosine Sekine adapts Yukiko Motoya’s novel wherein mental illness marks the lives of its central couple. With the potential to be an anti-romance, it doles out darkness but avoids despair with glimpses of comedy and beautiful visuals that edify the hopeful and invigorating feeling that love can confer.

The story is a snapshot of the relationship between Yasuko (Shuri) and her boyfriend Tsunagi (Masaki Suda) who she lives with in Tokyo. Yasuko is a hikikomori because of her struggle with depression and her hypersomnia which means she has trouble staying awake during the day. She also has difficulty controlling her emotions and so she spends most days sleeping. Meanwhile, Tsunagi works as an editor for a gossip magazine. He seems like a supportive boyfriend who is patient and gentle with her behaviour but Yasuko senses indifference from his placative attitude which leaves her frustrated and so the relationship is put to the test when Tsunagi’s ex-girlfriend Ando (Riisa Naka) appears with plans to break up the couple by forcing Yasuko out of her room and into a job.

Love at Least Shuri and Riisa Naka,

Continue reading “Love at Least 生きてるだけで、愛  (2018) Director: Kosai Sekine”