Double Layered Town / Making a Song to Replace Our Positions 二重のまち 交代地のうたを編む Dirs: Haruka Komori, Natsumi Seo (2021) [Japan Cuts 2021]

Double Layered Town / Making a Song to Replace Our Positions   Nijuu no machi koutai-chi no uta o amu Film Poster

二重のまち 交代地のうたを編む Nijuu no machi koutai-chi no uta o amu

Release Date: February 27th, 2021

Duration: 79 mins.

Director: Haruka Komori, Natsumi Seo,

Writer: Natsumi Seo

Starring: Haruka Koda, Haruka Sakai, Kou Leon Yonekawa, Aoshi Miura,

Website

From an outsider’s perspective, the destruction inflicted by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami wiped away whole towns, cities, and lives from the landscape of North East Japan. For people who lived through the disaster and remain alive, those things never disappeared, they still exist as memories underneath the changed landscape. This is the sense captured by Double Layered Town / Making a Song to Replace Our Positions, a documentary that records a workshop designed to bring out these memories.

Continue reading “Double Layered Town / Making a Song to Replace Our Positions 二重のまち 交代地のうたを編む Dirs: Haruka Komori, Natsumi Seo (2021) [Japan Cuts 2021]”

To Sleep So as to Dream 夢みるように眠りたい (1986) Director: Kaizo Hayashi [Japan Cuts 2021]

To Sleep So as to Dream   To Sleep So as to Dream Film Poster

夢みるように眠りたい Yumemiru you ni nemuritai

Release Date: May 18th, 1986

Duration: 84 mins.

Director: Kaizo Hayashi

Writer: Kaizo Hayashi (Script), 

Starring: Shiro Sano, Koji Otake Moe Kamura, Kenji Endo, Fujiko Fukamizu, Baiken Jukkanji, Kyoko Kusajima, Kazunari Ozawa, Morio Agata,

Website IMDB

Kaizo Hayashi’s 1986 film, To Sleep so as to Dream, re-emerged like a dimly remembered fantasy onto cinema screens last year after receiving a crowd-funded 2K restoration. Hayashi is probably best known for his Mike Hammer detective trilogy – The Most Terrible Time in My Life (1994), Stairway to the Distant Past (1995), The Trap (1996) – and the recently released Fukushima disaster-inspired omnibus movie BOLT (2020) but his debut, which he made at the age of 29 and with zero experience on a film set, deserves to be more widely seen as he pulls off a narratively audacious metacinema narrative that is an eerily beautiful paean to Japan’s silent cinema past and the joys of silver screen illusions.

Continue reading “To Sleep So as to Dream 夢みるように眠りたい (1986) Director: Kaizo Hayashi [Japan Cuts 2021]”

Mari and Mari  彼女来来  (2021) Director: Tatsuya Yamanishi [Japan Cuts 2021]

Mari and Mari   She Came Film Poster

彼女来来 Kanojo Rairai

Release Date: June 18th 2021

Duration: 91 mins.

Director: Tatsuya Yamanishi

Writer: Tatsuya Yamanishi (Script), 

Starring: Kou Maehara, Hana Amano, Nao, Hirona Murata, Asuka Hamaru,

Website

With a mission to marry and unleash the creative talents of filmmakers and musicians, MOOSIC LAB has quickly established itself as one of Japan’s foremost labels for quirky and interesting indie films made on a shoestring budget. Although POP! won the Grand Prix and Best Actress Award at the MOOSIC LAB 2020-2021 awards, runner-up prize-winning film Mari and Mari is the first to make the transition to the international festival circuit with its play at Japan Cuts 2021.

Marrying the distinctively disquieting music by Rei Miyamoto, a violinist in the popular Kansai band “Vampillia,” with a quasi-mystery storyline and the eerie atmospherics created by newbie feature film writer/director Tatsuya Yamanishi, Mari and Mari presents a relationship drama that is open to interpretation due to its ambiguity, something which will either intrigue or frustrate viewers.

Continue reading “Mari and Mari  彼女来来  (2021) Director: Tatsuya Yamanishi [Japan Cuts 2021]”

School Radio to Major Tom こちら放送室よりトム少佐へ (2020) Director: Takuya Chisaka [Japan Cuts 2021]

School Radio to Major Tom

こちら放送室よりトム少佐へKochira hoso-shitsu yori Tomu shosa e

Release Date: N/A

Duration: 10 mins.

Director: Takuya Chisaka

Writer: Takuya Chisaka (Script), 

Starring: Tokuma Kudo, Chika Arakawa,

School Radio to Major Tom was produced as a third-year training assignment at Nihon University by Takuya Chisaka and went on to win the Entertainment Award at the 2020 edition of the Pia Film Festival. One glance at its title will tip off the musically-inclined that it takes inspiration from David Bowie and it proves to be true as it draws upon his classic song Space Oddity for a short film about two lonely high school students reaching out to each other through the stars via radio.

Continue reading “School Radio to Major Tom こちら放送室よりトム少佐へ (2020) Director: Takuya Chisaka [Japan Cuts 2021]”

Last of the Wolves 孤狼の血 LEVEL2 Director: Kazuya Shiraishi (2021) [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]

Last of the Wolves   Last of the Wolves Film Poster

孤狼の血 LEVEL2   Korou no Chi Level 2

Release Date: August 20th 2021

Duration: 139 mins.

Director: Kazuya Shiraishi

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

Starring: Tori Matsuzaka, Ryohei Suzuki, Nijiro Murakami, Nanase Nishino, Taichi Saotome, Takumi Saito, Kotaro Yoshida, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Miwako Kakei, Susumu Terajima, Hiroki Miyake,

Website IMDB

The Last of the Wolves is director Kazuya Shiraishi’s sequel to Blood of the Wolves, his well-received 2018 yakuza film. With his latest work, he returns to the crime world of Yuko Yuzuki’s novel trilogy but only going as far as taking key elements and characters as scriptwriter Junya Ikegami concocts a brand new story that provides thrills and spills perfect for a gangster film.

Set three years after the bloody climax of The Blood of Wolves, detective Shuichi Hioka (Tori Matsuzaka) has stepped up into his former partner’s position to implement a plan to control the local yakuza and prevent further gang wars in Kurehara and Hiroshima. This delicate balance of power is upset by a vicious gangster named Uebayashi (Ryohei Suzuki) who is back on the streets following time in the infamous Abashiri Prison. He is looking to avenge a gang boss slain in the previous film and that sets him on a collision course with Hioka. Along the way, many people will get hurt.

Continue reading “Last of the Wolves 孤狼の血 LEVEL2 Director: Kazuya Shiraishi (2021) [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]”

Jigoku no Hanazono: Office Royale 地獄の花園 Director: Kazuaki Seki (2021) [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]

Jigoku no Hanazono: Office Royale   Hell’s Garden Film Poster

地獄の花園  Jigoku no Hanazono

Release Date: May 21st, 2021

Duration: 102 mins.

Director: Kazuaki Seki

Writer: Bakarhythm (Screenplay), 

Starring: Mei Nagano, Alice Hirose, Rina Kawaei, Nanao, Miyuki Oshima, Eiko Koike, Masanobu Katsumura, Tomomi Maruyama, Kenichi Endo, Satoru Matsuo, Win Morisaki, 

Website IMDB

” In every world there exists factions. Female office workers are no different.”

And so begins Jigoku no Hanazono: Office Royale, one of the most fun cinematic experiences of the year. Imagine transposing the world of yankees and sukeban onto that of office ladies (OL) and you get this fourth-wall breaking film as it draws directly from and playfully critiques the delinquent manga genre that have proven so popular that many a film franchise has been built off them.

So, even if the fights lack grit, the film adds more colour, comedy and gusto to its good-natured tongue-in-cheek references to Terrifying Girl’s High School where female brawlers who display the guts of Gachiban characters get caught in epic conflicts akin to Crows, and the hot-headed ladies do hand-to-hand like High and Low, before everything ends in an epic beat down like Bebop High School. Forgive that last paragraph, I just wanted to get the references in there!

As awesome as all of this sounds, our main character, and the films narrator, Naoko Tanaka (Mei Nagano), is not one for fisticuffs. If you had to categorise her, it would be a “normal” girl who likes to go to cafes and watch dramas and just do a good job. And maybe catch a boyfriend, but she’d only tell her best friends that! What about the not-so-normal girls?

Naoko’s workplace is divided between factions run by fighters like Andoh the Demon (Nanao) who dominates R&D, Mad Dog Shiori (Rina Kawaei) who reps Sales, and Etsuko the Beast (Miyuki Oshima) in Manufacturing. This fearsome trio and their mobs are regularly rumbling UNTIL(!) a new OL named Ran (Alice Hirose perfectly  embodying a cocky lone hero) enters town and she proves to be the baddest battler on the block as she beats the aforementioned characters and the factions all come under her influence.

JIGOKU NO HANAZONO STILL 7
©2021 “Jigoku-No-Hanazono”Film Partners

In a strange turn of events, the ultra-charismatic Ran becomes Naoko’s best friend and they do things normal OL in order to get to know each other. They visit cafes together to eat the newest cakes on the menu, go shopping, and chat during their free time but what Naoko doesn’t realise is that Ran’s presence makes their company a prime target for various gangs of office ladies from all over Japan, some of whom intend to use Naoko as a way to get at Ran which sets up a high stakes battle. However, more twists are in store!

Continue reading “Jigoku no Hanazono: Office Royale 地獄の花園 Director: Kazuaki Seki (2021) [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]”

Hold Me Back 私をくいとめて Director: Akiko Ohku (2020) [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]

Hold Me Back   

私をくいとめて Watashi o Kuitomete

Release Date: December 18th, 2020

Duration: 135 mins.

Director: Akiko Ohku

Writer: Akiko Ohku (Script), RisWataya (Original Novel)

Starring: Non, Kento Hayashi, Asami Usada, Ai Hashimoto, Hairi Katagiri, Takuya Wakabayashi, Tomoya Nakamura,

Website IMDB

Director Akiko Ohku’s Hold Me Back won the Best Film prize at the 2020 edition of the Tokyo International Film Festival (the only award on offer that year). This was the second time that she won the award, voted for by audiences, having previously nabbed it in 2017 with Tremble All You Want. Both films were adapted from novels by Akutagawa Prize-winner Risa Wataya and both feature young women engaging in romantic comedies that go beyond love and laughs to moments of self-actualisation that help them grow as individuals. Hold Me Back is an especially enjoyable film thanks to a layered performance from lead actor Non who is able to portray an everyday person with a quirky charm but also depths of emotion that come out in an odd but endearing way.

Continue reading “Hold Me Back 私をくいとめて Director: Akiko Ohku (2020) [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]”

Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro とんかつDJアゲ太郎 (2020) Director: Ken Ninomiya [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]

Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro   Tonkatsu DJ Age-Taro Film Poster

とんかつDJアゲ太郎 Tonkatsu DJ Age-Taro

Release Date: October 30th, 2020

Duration: 100 mins.

Director: Ken Ninomiya

Writer: Ken Ninomiya (Script), Iipyao, Yujiro Koyama (Original Manga)

Starring: Takumi Kitamura, Maika Yamamoto, Kentaro Ito, Yusuke Iseya, Brother Tom, Reiko Kataoka, Natsumi Ikema, Kou Maehara, Kodai Asaka,

Website IMDB

In Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro, Shibuya’s club land gets a sweet-hearted remix made via juggling an epicurean adventure in Japanese cuisine with musical antics. Its origins lie in a popular gag manga by Yujiro Koyama and Iipyao which originates from around 2014 with a TV animation released in 2016 but newbies need not worry as this fun family-friendly film is a standard-issue coming-of-age story that anyone can get into.

Continue reading “Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro とんかつDJアゲ太郎 (2020) Director: Ken Ninomiya [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]”

The Fable: A Contract Killer Who Doesn’t Kill  ザ・ファブル 殺さない殺し屋 (2021) Director: Kan Eguchi [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]

The Fable: A Contract Killer Who Doesn’t Kill   The Fable A Contract Killer Who Doesn't Kill Film Poster

ザ・ファブル 殺さない殺し屋 The Fable: Korosanai Koroshiya

Release Date: June 18th 2021

Duration: 123 mins.

Director: Kan Eguchi

Writer: Kan Eguchi, Masahiro Yamaura (Script), Katsuhisa Minami (Original Manga)

Starring: Junichi Okada, Fumino Kimura, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Yurina Hirate, Masanobu Ando, Mizuki Yamamoto, Ken Yasuda, Jiro Sato, Daisuke Miyagawa, Manami Hashimoto,

Website IMDB

Films based on manga are quite ubiquitous in Japan but few have qualities that gain the traction to make it onto the radars of global audiences the way the Rurouni Kenshin live-action films have. The closest has arguably been 2019’s well-reviewed The Fable which featured a combination of eccentric characters, quirky comedy, and a pair of attention-grabbing action set-pieces (choreographed by the Jackie Chan stunt team) that bookended proceedings. For the sequel, The Fable: A Contract Killer Who Doesn’t Kill, it is a case of more of the same as the director and cast return in a film which has a similar structure and feel to the previous instalment. 

Once again we are in the company of Akira Sato (Junichi Okada) A.K.A, The Fable. Behind his innocuously naïve and spaced-out persona lies a killing machine who is a legend in the criminal underworld. In the first film, his body-count had become so outrageous, his boss ordered him to keep a low profile in Osaka with his handler Yoko (Fumino Kimura) with strict orders not to kill anyone or anything. Sato now works a part-time job at a design company where his colleagues and new-found friends remain unaware of his hidden life but maintaining this deception soon proves impossible when a former target from Sato’s murky past re-emerges.

Continue reading “The Fable: A Contract Killer Who Doesn’t Kill  ザ・ファブル 殺さない殺し屋 (2021) Director: Kan Eguchi [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]”

The Fable: A Contract Killer Who Doesn’t Kill  ザ・ファブル 殺さない殺し屋 (2021) Director: Kan Eguchi [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]

The Fable: A Contract Killer Who Doesn’t Kill   The Fable A Contract Killer Who Doesn't Kill Film Poster

ザ・ファブル 殺さない殺し屋 The Fable: Korosanai Koroshiya

Release Date: June 18th 2021

Duration: 123 mins.

Director: Kan Eguchi

Writer: Kan Eguchi, Masahiro Yamaura (Script), Katsuhisa Minami (Original Manga)

Starring: Junichi Okada, Fumino Kimura, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Yurina Hirate, Masanobu Ando, Mizuki Yamamoto, Ken Yasuda, Jiro Sato, Daisuke Miyagawa, Manami Hashimoto,

Website IMDB

Films based on manga are quite ubiquitous in Japan but few have qualities that gain the traction to make it onto the radars of global audiences the way the Rurouni Kenshin live-action films have. The closest has arguably been 2019’s well-reviewed The Fable which featured a combination of eccentric characters, quirky comedy, and a pair of attention-grabbing action set-pieces (choreographed by the Jackie Chan stunt team) that bookended proceedings. For the sequel, The Fable: A Contract Killer Who Doesn’t Kill, it is a case of more of the same as the director and cast return in a film which has a similar structure and feel to the previous instalment. 

Once again we are in the company of Akira Sato (Junichi Okada) A.K.A, The Fable. Behind his innocuously naïve and spaced-out persona lies a killing machine who is a legend in the criminal underworld. In the first film, his body-count had become so outrageous, his boss ordered him to keep a low profile in Osaka with his handler Yoko (Fumino Kimura) with strict orders not to kill anyone or anything. Sato now works a part-time job at a design company where his colleagues and new-found friends remain unaware of his hidden life but maintaining this deception soon proves impossible when a former target from Sato’s murky past re-emerges.

Continue reading “The Fable: A Contract Killer Who Doesn’t Kill  ザ・ファブル 殺さない殺し屋 (2021) Director: Kan Eguchi [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]”