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One Night  ひとよ Dir: Kazuya Shiraishi (2019)

One Night    One Night Film Poster

ひとよ  Hitoyo

Release Date: November 08th, 2019

Duration: 123 mins.

Director: Kazuya Shiraishi

Writer: Izumi Takahashi (Screenplay), Yuko Kuwabara (Original Stage Play)

Starring: Takeru Satoh, Ryohei Suzuki, Mayu Matsuoka, Yuko Tanaka, Kuranosuke Sasaki, Mariko Tsutsumi, Hanae Kan, Megumi,

Website IMDB

Director Kazuya Shiraishi chronicles the darker aspects of Japan with true-crime stories featuring outlaws like The Devil’s Path (2013) and Twisted Justice (2016) mixed with depictions of damaged everyday people on the outermost fringes of society like Dawn of the Felines (2017) and Birds Without Names (2018). For One Night, his first family drama, he adapts a stage play by Yuko Kuwabara but leans too far into crime territory late in the proceedings for an unsatisfactory ending.

The film opens on a stormy night at the Inamoto Taxi company which is located in some nondescript town. Koharu Inamoto (Yuko Tanaka) runs over her abusive husband in a taxi in an act to free herself and her three children from his merciless violence. After confessing what happened to her kids, all of whom bear the bruises of a beating, Koharu tells them, “Nobody will ever beat you again. You can live however you want.” Just before departing into the rain and darkness to give herself up to the police, she promises she will meet them again in the future.

Cut to 15 years later and we see that Koharu’s selfless act that was supposed to set her family free to pursue their dreams has trapped them in a vicious circle of shame and self-loathing that has made their lives nightmarish. Koharu discovers this bitter disappointment as she keeps her promise and returns to her children and the family business. Her presence forces everyone to confront the scars from their traumatic background, how the kids have inherited the sins of the mother by living in shame, and how this has all warped their personalities in various ways. These differences lead to multiple angles of conflict between characters we sympathise with due to their shared history and that provides ample drama which is excellently delivered by the cast.

Displaying various degrees of emotional damage and toxic masculinity are Koharu’s boys. Eldest son Daiki is a nebbish-looking guy who is struggling badly with a failing marriage and meeting masculine norms. The slicker younger son Yuji is a cynical journalist for a sleazy tabloid who senses he can turn his tragic past into a brighter future through writing about it, even if this betrays his family. Screen heartthrob Takeru Satoh plays the more showy character of Yuji with provoking sneers and condescension fit for his character. More conventional but really harrowing is the plight faced by Daiki. Ryohei Suzuki is very sympathetic playing the bespectacled guy unable to process what happened to them. He is all huddled and quiet with a downcast gaze and stutter due to a lack of confidence and a lot of shame. His constant avoidance of conflict leads to a shock later in the story as he he slips into violence in a way that reminds audiences that children learn from their parents.

More welcoming is Koharu’s daughter Sonoko played by Mayu Matsuoka, a much-needed ray of sunshine whose bright personality and hard-knock smile lights up the dark narrative. Having been forced to give up her ambitions to be a hairstylist, she works at a snack bar where she belts out karaoke tunes with glee and has a cynical view of men that she is unafraid to show. This motivates her to push back against her brother’s wayward feelings towards their mother.

Veteran actress Yuko Tanaka plays Koharu as a woman with mighty resolve and a humane nature who is resigned to enduring whatever hardship she faces for the good of her children. Naturally the audience will be with her and there is the expectation that she will right whatever wrongs that are going on, from saving Daiki’s marriage to coming to peace with with Yuji. Except it doesn’t quite work out so simply and seeing the family members navigate their sense of betrayal and try to overcome their traumas provides gripping material that the performances keep us invested in. Throw in an examination of how society ostracises those connected to crime, other characters around them struggling with issues like senile parents and wayward children and there is enough material here for a fine family drama that depicts the problems faced by modern families.

While the pieces are all there, the story loses its thread in the final third as if the writer Izumi Takahashi lacked an interest in realistically evolving the story and bringing the characters to a natural catharsis. Instead, a subplot involving Michio Doushita (Kuranosuke Sasaki) as a taxi driver whose criminal past catches up with him drives the action. While his plight makes an interesting parallel to Koharu’s, his story hijacks the film and takes away any agency from the mother and it leads to a contrived ending which foists an unbelievable connection between himself and the children, whom we never really see interact with him, just for the sake of a resolution.

One Night really starts off as a deep, dark, and very difficult performance-driven drama as we watch an excruciating reunion ripe for theatrics but everything is kept in check as the cast deliver some very fine and realistic portrayals showing the ways domestic violence can affect people. With a better ending, the emotional of sticking it out rewards would have been greater.

The technicals are all impressive enough and help transcend the film’s stage origins by taking advantage of the taxi company to get out of the single location so it never feels boring and there is a sense of place and time so that this feels rooted in reality.

My review for One Night first appeared on VCinema on September 01st.

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The Taste of Tea 茶の味 Dir: Katsuhito Ishii (2004)

The Taste of Tea    The Taste of Tea Film Poster

茶の味  Cha no Aji

Release Date: July 17th, 2004

Duration: 143 mins.

Director: Katsuhito Ishii

Writer: Katsuhito Ishii (Screenplay),

Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Takahiro Sato, Maya Banno, Satomi Tezuka, Tatsuya Gashuin, Tomokazu Miura, Anna Tsuchiya, Ikki Todoroki, Hideaki Anno,

IMDB

Katsuhito Ishii is probably best known for making weird films and while The Taste of Tea is one of his most restrained, it is probably his most popular work. At its simplest, The Taste of Tea is a cross between Yasujiro Ozu’s gentle comedy Good Morning (1959) and the playfully bizarre Survive Style 5+ (2004). Try to imagine the styles of the two melding with and diluting each other and you come close. The result is a film where everyday characters and their small dramas are given the odd flights of fancy that burst out from beneath the surface of normality.

Like in a typical Ozu film, we follow multiple generations of a family. Here, we are spending time with the Haruno family who live in an old-fashioned house in a small mountain town just north of Tokyo. They consist of the mother, Yoshiko (Satomi Tezuka), Nobuo (Tomokazu Miura), the father, their son Hajime (Takahiro Sato), Sachiko (Maya Banno), their daughter, and eccentric grandfather Akira (Tatsuya Gashuin). They will soon be joined by uncle Ayano (Tadanobu Asano) who is taking a break from his job as a music producer to visit for a few days.

Continue reading “The Taste of Tea 茶の味 Dir: Katsuhito Ishii (2004)”

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Kokutai 國體 (2019) Dir: Ryushi Lindsay

Kokutai    Kokutai Poster 02    

國體 「Kokutai

Release Date: September 23rd, 2020

Duration: 10 mins.

Director: Ryushi Lindsay

Writer: N/A

Starring: N/A

Website IMDB

Baseball has never looked so menacing.

Kokutai is roughly translatable as ‘body politic’ and it is the title of Ryushi Lindsay’s debut movie. An experimental documentary, Kokutai looks askance at the pomp and ceremony of high school baseball in Japan and, through careful and selective assemblage of footage, reveals the fascist aesthetics that are present.

Baseball is not normally thought of as a place of violent political leanings but this 10-minute montage strikes a defiantly different note as it plays out sequences from Koshien baseball tournaments and goes heavy displaying imagery drenched in fascist overtones. 

Continue reading “Kokutai 國體 (2019) Dir: Ryushi Lindsay”

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Creepy クリーピー 偽りの隣人 Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (2016)

Creepy       

Creepy Film Poster
Creepy Film Poster

クリーピー 偽りの隣人 「Kuri-pi- Itsuwari no Rinjin」 

Running Time: 130 mins.

Release Date: June 13th, 2016

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Chihiro Ikeda (Screenplay), Yutaka Maekawa (Original Novel)

Starring:  Hidetoshi Nishijima, Teruyuki Kagawa, Yuko Takeuchi, Masahiro Higashide, Haruna Kawaguchi, Ryoko Fujino, Toru Baba, Misaki Saisho,

Website IMDB

I have been sitting on this film review for nearly two years. Due to the tragic death of Yuko Takeuchi, I have released it in her honour. This film is available to view for free on Amazon Prime in Japan and the UK, so please take the time to watch it and see Yuko Takeuchi in action.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa has crafted some chilling antagonists in his horror films, all based on original scripts. The amoral magnetism of the mesmerist Mamiya from Cure and the ghosts of Pulse are some of the most memorable, but they were just the symptom and not the cause of the main character’s true conflicts. Alienation caused by society was at fault for channelling these monsters into everyday settings. This sense of disconnection is something Kurosawa masterfully utilised in the family drama Tokyo Sonata where a patriarch and his clan lose their cohesion after he loses his job and the family each reformulate their sense of place in the world. With family time made unbearable by the barely suppressed anger and disappointment each character feels, it strikes a very realistic chord whilst being scary like much of Kurosawa’s horror output. Creepy is based on a book by Yutaka Maekawa and while Kurosawa may not have scripted the antagonist, he is one of his most odious bad guys yet.

He gave me the creeps.”

Ex-detective Koichi Takakura (Hidetoshi Nishijima) quits the Tokyo police force after a psychopath almost kills him. He ups roots and moves with his wife Yasuko (Yuko Takeuchi) to the suburbs and takes up work as a university lecturer in criminal psychology. Their new life seems stable enough. He thinks his job is fun, she is busy as a housewife and their new house seems pleasant but things turn sour when they introduce themselves to their next door neighbours. One set, the Tanakas’, aren’t interested in getting to know them and then there is Mr. Nishino (Teruyuki Kagawa) who seems to hide his wife and daughter Mio (Ryoko Fujino) from the outside world.

Continue reading “Creepy クリーピー 偽りの隣人 Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (2016)”

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“Performing KAORU’s Funeral” – A Kickstarter Project by Noriko Yuasa

Noriko Yuasa has a new project on Kickstarter and it is for a feature-length film called Performing KAORU’s Funeral. A successful campaign will help finance this film which is based on an original script that she wrote in 2017 and has been working on since last year. It is described as, “A tragic and comical story of one woman’s final days, mixed with irony and love”.

Judging from the initial teaser trailer for the film, this looks like it could be something that brings tears mixed with laughter as a dark-dark drama plays out.

 

Continue reading ““Performing KAORU’s Funeral” – A Kickstarter Project by Noriko Yuasa”

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An Interview with Urara Matsubayashi and Mayu Akiyama on the Film “Kamata Prelude” at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020

Mayu Akiyama (director) and Urara Matsubayashi (producer/lead actress) from the Osaka Asian Film Festival
Mayu Akiyama (director) and Urara Matsubayashi (producer/lead actress) from the Osaka Asian Film Festival

My final interview at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020 was with Mayu Akiyama and Urara Matsubayashi for the festival’s closing film Kamata Prelude.

Kamata Prelude is the brainchild of Urara Matsubayashi (lead actress in The Hungry Lion) who Kamata Prelude Film Posterproduced as well as took a lead role. She gives a portrayal of a struggling actress named Machiko who lives in the Kamata area of Tokyo. A four-part omnibus film, each section revolves around her in some way and aims to depict what it means to be a “woman” and an “actress” in society, but they are done in the unique style of each of the four directors.

Two of the directors are guys you may have heard of if you follow film festivals. Book-ending the film are Ryutaro Nakamura, whose works like Plastic Love Story and Silent Rain are full of lyrical imagery, and Hirobumi Watanabe, who has built a filmography based on his stories all being set in his native Tochigi prefecture and shot with distinct monochrome visuals while being shot-through with dry humour. The newer directors are two young women, Yuka Yasukawa, one of a number of emerging talents tapped to helm a section in the omnibus film 21st Century Girl, and Mayu Akiyama, whose debut work, Rent a Friend, won the MOOSIC LAB Grand Prix and was screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival 2018.

While Watanabe and Nakamura made sections that are delightful reveries about life and a love of movies/culture (albeit, tinged with melancholy in Nakamura’s case), Yasukawa and Akiyama provided subjects that feel more keyed in to the thorny issues of life as a young woman. Yuka Yasukawa gives a #MeToo story wherein Machiko goes to a casting call and finds herself facing a grossly exploitative panel of guys alongside a defiant fellow actress played by Kumi Takiuchi (It Feels So Good, Greatful Dead). Meanwhile, Akiyama’s section felt like a realistic depiction of a get-together of girls wherein false masks and the anxieties that women bear in society are exposed in an onsen in Kamata. This section is full of great actresses who are making waves in the entertainment world like Mayuko Fukuda (Good-Bye) and an especially acerbic Sairi Ito (Love & Other Cults). 

Sat with Matsubayashi and Akiyama at a rooftop bar, I enjoyed a lively talk with two intelligent and resourceful creatives who I felt would be making big things in the future. Their film is a refreshingly hip and contemporary set of stories where its unique approach to style and subject-matter rendered their address of important issues enjoyable, nuanced, and relevant for our age.

This interview was done at the festival and via email with their help and the invaluable help of Takako Pocklington who translated and added some interesting comments.

Continue reading “An Interview with Urara Matsubayashi and Mayu Akiyama on the Film “Kamata Prelude” at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2020″

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Idol アイドル (2020) Dir: Ryushi Lindsay

Idol    Idol Poster No Creds Laurel 02    

アイドルAidoru

Release Date: September 23rd, 2020

Duration: 20 mins.

Director: Ryushi Lindsay

Writer: Ryushi Lindsay (Script),

Starring: Ryoka Neya (Miyabi), Miyu Sasaki (Kasumi), Sawa Takahashi (Ami), Akira Takanohashi (Yoshimura), Yui Matsuura (Rie), Yuki Mayama (Junya),

Website IMDB

Ryushi Lindsay is a British-Japanese filmmaker based in Japan and the UK. Even with just a couple of shorts to his name, he is beginning to carve out an interesting filmography as he works across genres and approaches subjects with an eye for the politics that underlie things.

Lindsay’s debut film, the experimental baseball documentary Kokutai (2019), finds uncomfortable parallels with the pomp and circumstance of fascistic events of the past and the current martial aesthetics of Japan’s popular national high school baseball tournaments. His latest, Idol, is a drama set in the world of girl groups.

Long a ubiquitous facet of Japanese entertainment, pop idols present a broad range of issues ripe for examination, from the objectification of performers to their role in the mass media in defining femininity and gender relations. These issues were looked at in Kyoko Miyake’s 2017 documentary Tokyo Idols. Idol uses it as background for a dark drama but focuses on the economic drivers that make the parents push their children to perform as we get front row seats of one parasitic parent’s extreme behaviour.

Taking place over two nights in Tokyo, the story enters at the point of crisis for a young single mother named Miyabi as her child idol daughter Kasumi is unceremoniously dropped from the line-up of a stage act just minutes before a performance and replaced by someone more popular. At first Miyabi argues against her daughters firing, then begs with the manager for another chance, all to no avail. She won’t give up and this sets in motion a foolish plan involving another child idol named Ami that will have viewers tensing up with a sense of foreboding.

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Battle Royale バトル・ロワイアル Dir: Kinji Fukasaku (2000)

Battle Royale    Battle Royale Film Poster

バトル・ロワイアルBatoru Rowairu

Release Date: December 16th, 2000

Duration: 109 mins.

Director: Kinji Fukasaku

Writer: Kenta Fukasaku (Script), Koushun Takami (Original Novel)

Starring: Tatsuya Fujiwara, Aki Maeda, Takeshi Kitano, Chiaki Kuriyama, Kou Shibasaki, Taro Yamamoto, Masanobu Ando,

IMDB

Some time in the near future, Japan has suffered a major economic collapse that has resulted in an explosion in unemployment and the attendant fraying of society as increasing numbers of kids cease to respect adults, classrooms are abandoned and teachers face escalating violence. The Japanese government decide that the only way to control this new generation of disruptive teenagers is to punish them and so they issue the Battle Royale act, an ultra-violent attempt to stop juvenile delinquency whereby, every year, a random class of 15 year olds is kidnapped and dumped in a remote area with nothing but a stockpile of weapons and they are forced to fight until only one survivor is left.

The film follows the 42 students and two transfers of class 3-B of Shiroiwa Junior High as they go through the Battle Royale challenge on an abandoned island just off Shikoku.

Battle Royale Class

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Beneath the Shadow (Eiri) 影裏 Dir: Keishi Otomo (2020)

Beneath the Shadow   Eiri Film Poster

影裏  Eiri

Release Date: February 14th, 2020

Duration: 134 mins.

Director: Keishi Otomo

Writer: Kaori Sawai (Script), Shinsuke Numata (Story) 

Starring: Gou Ayano, Ryuhei Matsuda, Mariko Tsutsui, Tomoya Nakamura, Ken Yasuda, Jun Kunimura,

Website IMDB

After spending the 90s working in TV, director Keishi Otomo moved into film and has built a filmography stacked with adaptations of novels and manga. He is best known for the internationally successful Rurouni Kenshin trilogy, a big-budget samurai series with a visual sheen of intense action, dizzying stunt work and exquisite period details that swept viewers away. He reigns everything in for his latest work, Beneath the Shadow, Eirin in Japanese. 

This is based on a same-named 2017 Akutagawa prize-winning novel by Shinsuke Numata and is set in the director’s hometown of Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, both before and after the 3/11 disaster. It features a slow-burn character-driven drama that teases audiences with a light mystery that hinges on the idea that our interpretations of people’s behaviour can be wrong if our emotions get in the way but also, that all of us have something we keep in the shadows.

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Miyamoto 宮本から君へ Dir: Tetsuya Mariko (2019)

Miyamoto   From Miyamoto To You Film Poster

宮本から君へ Miyamoto kara Kimi e

Release Date: September 27th, 2019

Duration: 129 mins.

Director: Tetsuya Mariko

Writer: Tetsuya Mariko, Takehiko Minato (Screenplay), Hideki Arai (Manga)

Starring: Sosuke Ikematsu, Yu Aoi, Arata Iura, Kenichi Matsuyama, Tokio Emoto, Kanji Furutachi, Jiro Sato, Pierre Taki,

Website IMDB

Miyamoto is based on a seinen manga by Hideki Arai that ran from 1990 to 1994 in the magazine Weekly Morning. This slice-of-life story, based somewhat on Arai’s background, detailed the maturation of Hiroshi Miyamoto, a young man Miyamoto 宮本から君へ Mangafrom Yokohama who is uncertain of himself as he is fresh out of college and new to living life in Tokyo. Scenes of work and romance are tied to his struggle to establish himself as a man and start a family and everything is given the gaman/gambarimasu treatment with some shocking moments of violence and lots of hot-blooded emotions as he holds true to ideals of love and honour even if it puts him in a world of hurt.

For many international audiences, this 2019 movie adaptation will be their first contact with the franchise. It is a direct continuation of a 2018 drama. Both the drama and film were written and directed by Tetsuya Mariko, the man who helmed the absolutely bleak portrait of lost youth Destruction Babies (2016). Indeed the movie version of Miyamoto was filmed from September 09th to October 30th after the TV show finished airing in the summer of 2018, and so, a director with a strong vision reunites with a cast of great actors as they adapt the middle part of the manga and the main character, the titular Miyamoto, moves on to romancing a new woman, Yasuko.

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