Harmonium 深田晃司 Dir: Koji Fukada (2016)

Harmonium  harmonium-film-poster 

深田晃司 「Fuchi ni Tatsu

Release Date: October 10th, 2016

Running Time: 118 mins.

Director: Koji Fukada

Writer: Koji Fukada

Starring: Mariko Tsutsui, Tadanobu Asano, Kanji Furutachi, Taiga, Takahiro Miura, Momone Shinokawa,

IMDB   Website

Koji Fukada’s Harmonium took the Jury Prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and for good reason because it shows a director in precise control of his material. Story-wise, it follows in the footsteps of his debut feature Hospitalite (2011) wherein a stranger enters the lives of a family and disrupts things. While Fukada’s earlier title was light-hearted and poked fun at the social mores of Japan, this film is harsher with only a few dashes of hope beaming down in the final scenes.

Taking the lead is experienced thesp Kanji Futurachi, a familiar face from Fukada’s earlier films like Au Revoir l’ete (2015) and Human Comedy Tokyo (2012) and, crucially, Hospitalite (2011) where he was the stranger that forced a revolution on a family. In a role reversal he is the patriarch and a victim of sorts here as he plays Toshio, the owner of a small factory in the suburbs of some city or other. No location is given. It’s a nondescript and quiet place where he lives a quiet existence with his church-going wife Akie (Mariko Tsutsui) and their daughter Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa). It is she who plays the titular harmonium that gives the film’s soundtrack a funereal sense.

Harmonium Film Image

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Au revoir l’ete ほとりの朔子 Dir: Koji Fukada (2014)

Au revoir l’ete          

Au revoir lete Film poster
Au revoir lete Film poster

ほとりの朔子 「Hotori no Sakuko」

Running Time: 125 mins.

Release Date: January 18th, 2014

Director: Koji Fukada

Writer: Koji Fukada (Screenplay)

Starring: Fumi Nikaido, Mayu Tsuruta, Kanji Furutachi, Taiga, Ena Koshino, Makiko Watanabe, Kiki Sugino

Website

Koji Fukada is a film-maker inspired by the cultures of France and Indonesia as best evidenced by him transplanting elements to his native Japan in his many works. His like of French New Wave cinema is made obvious by this film, Au Revoir l’ete, which means goodbye summer and plays like an Eric Rohmer film where relationships are unpicked in a nonchalant manner as we get to a deeper understanding of some human relationships. It’s the perfect title for a film that describes the quiet misadventures of a teenage girl who waves goodbye to her naivete and matures a little more while in the company of some childish adults.

It is late August and an eighteen-year-old Tokyoite Sakuko (Fumi Nikaido) is a ronin student who is preparing to take her university entrance exam after flunking her previous one. Studying is the perfect excuse for her to tag along with her aunt Mikie (Mayu Tsuruta) who is house-sitting for her sister, Sakuko’s mother, in a sleepy coastal town.

Au revoir l'ete Film Image 3

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hospitalité 歓待1.1 Dir: Koji Fukada (2011)

hospitalité   Hospitalite Film Poster

歓待1.1 Kantai 1.1

Running Time: 153 mins.

Release Date: April 23rd, 2011

Director:  Koji Fukada

Writer: Koji Fukada (Screenplay)

Starring: Kenji Yamauchi, Kiki Sugino, Kanji Furutachi, Bryerly Long, Eriko Ono, Naoki Sugawara, Hiroko Matsuda,

IMDB

Japan is a society where manners and decorum are everything. This is good for the most part. Politeness is the oil that makes society run smoothly. It does have its problems because it can be a nice veneer used to cover up nefarious behaviour or act as a battering ram forcing people to act certain ways. In such an environment, all sorts of negative emotions like paranoia and mistrust can run rife under the surface of individuals and social groups. Hospitalite makes this environment its playground and takes things to absurd heights as it critiques how Japanese society can use outsiders as a scapegoat for problems inside the community.

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Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats 福福荘の福ちゃん (2014)

Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats      Fuku-chan of FukuFuku Flats Film Poster

Japanese Title: 福福荘の福ちゃん

Romaji: Fukufuku-sou no Fuku-chan

Release Date: November 08th, 2014

UK Release Date: July 13th, 2015

Film Distributor: Third Window Films

Running Time: 111 mins.

Director: Yosuke Fujita

Writer: Yosuke Fujita (Screenplay)

Starring: Miyuki Oshima, Asami Mizukawa, YosiYosi Arakawa, Kami Miraiwa, Yuuki Tokunaga, Mei Kurokawa, Maho Yamada, Takeshi Yamamoto, Kanji Furutachi,

Director Yosuke Fujita has taken nearly a decade to follow up his debut film, the marvellous low-key comedy Fine, Totally Fine (2008), with another feature film. In the time between the two he has been making short films (including the Cheer Girls entry in Quirky Guys & Gals) and a TV movie. Fujita also spent this time crafting the screenplay for Fuku-chan which, like his first film, is equally filled with eccentric and loveable characters’. Fujita’s inspiration for the film was the comedian Miyuki Oshima, a regular face on Japanese television, and he challenges her to take on the role of a guy with a fear of women who audiences will surely come to love.

Tatsuo Fukuda (Oshima) is a nice guy and has the nickname ‘Fuku-Chan’.

Fuku-chan (Miyuki Oshima)

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Au revoir l’ete UK Release Information

Au Revoir l’ete will be getting a UK release courtesy of the film company day for night. Even though the film was screened at last year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival and I was aware that it was picked up for UK distribution but lost track of it after that. Thankfully a kind reader named Rachel Amandus alerted me to a future screening and that got me doing some rummaging around the internet for information to make this post!

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The Woodsman and the Rain キツツキと雨 (2012)

Genki Jason The Woodsman and the Rain Review Banner

The Woodsman & the Rain                            The Woodsman and the Rain Film Poster

Japanese Title: キツツキと雨

Romaji: Kitsutsuki to Ame

Release Date: February 11th, 2012

UK Release Date: January 28th 2013 (UK)

UK Film Distributor: Third Window Films

Running Time: 135 mins.

Director: Shuichi Okita

Writer: Shuichi Okita, Fumio Moriya

Starring: Koji Yakusho, Shun Oguri, Kengo Kora, Asami Usuda, Kanji Furutachi, Daisuke Kuroda, Kyusaku Shimada, Yoshiyuki Morishita, Tsutou Takahashi, Mitsuru Hirata, Masato Ibu, Tsutomu Yamazak

Ever since writing about this film last year I had been eagerly anticipating it, principally because it stars Koji Yakusho, a wonderful actor who has won my admiration through a series of performances in films by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. I was also impressed by the festival awards buzz it had acquired as it took the Special Jury Prize at the 2011 Tokyo International Film Festival and the Audience Award at Nippon Connection. The awards are richly deserved.

The Woodsman & the Rain opens in a dense forest outside Yamamura village. A lumberjack named Katsuhiko (Yakusho) is busy sawing a tree with a chainsaw. This short sequence reveals a gruff and pragmatic small town man who is comfortable working the land. He can even read the weather and predict when it will rain hence the title. He is soon distracted by the arrival of Torii (Furutachi), the assistant director of a film. Torii asks him to stop. “We’re in the middle of a take.” Katsuhiko does not quite understand movie jargon and he is not one easily swayed from his craft so Torii says, “We’re shooting a movie over there.” Katsuhiko understands now and asks “Can I prune?” Torii replies “If it isn’t noisy, sure.” Katsuhiko climbs a tree and starts cutting branches. From this vantage point both Katsuhiko and the audience see the town in distance with movie vans parked around.

Yamamura has been invaded by a small crew shooting a low-budget zombie film named Utopia. Katsuhiko is not concerned with any of this and goes about his work day routine and living very uneasily with his unemployed and directionless son Koichi (Kora) but a chance encounter with Torii on the road leads to Katsuhiko meeting the film’s director who is also named Koichi (Oguri), a man barely out of university and on his first major project. Pressure is getting to him and he suffers from severe lack of confidence which leaves Torii taking command and trying to make use of Katsuhiko’s local knowledge for some location scouting. This is just the first of many requests that the film crew ask of Katsuhiko.

The Woodsman and the Rain Zombie YakushoDespite being initially unimpressed with what he sees (especially Koichi) Katsuhiko is soon sucked into the film and even gets to act as a zombie. He even strikes up an unlikely friendship with Koichi as he falls in love with the story of the movie and the experience of making it. The more deeply he becomes involved with the film the more enthusiastic he is and discovers that the director, despite lacking in confidence and finding the demands of movie-making a little too much, is extremely talented. The two forms an unlikely friendship and help each other overcome personal problems.

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