An Interview with Ryohei Sasatani, Director of SANKA: Nomads of the Mountains 山歌 [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

ID12_Sanka Nomads of the mountains_director (2)

Winner of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022‘s Japan Cuts Award, Sanka: Nomads of the Mountains is the debut narrative feature of Ryohei Sasatani. Originally getting his start with documentaries, he has released a number of works that concern themes of human beings existing within nature. After winning the Scenario Grand Prix at Isama Studio Cinema Festival in Gunma Prefecture, production on Sanka was set into motion and shot there.

The story is set in the summer of 1965 and revolves around a teenage boy named Norio (Rairu Sugita) who returns from Tokyo to his father’s family estate in Gunma and encounters three Sanka, nomadic folk whose lives are spent wandering around mountains and living off the land. It begins by chasing a spirited teenage girl named Hana (Naru Komukai) then meeting her father Shozo (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), and the wisecracking grandmother Tae (Yoko Ran). In contrast to a stern father (Kisuke Iida), a budding land developer, and a strict society that is modernising, these three outsiders offer an alternative family who teach the boy to live as part of nature as well as the customs of Sanka culture. This puts him on a collision course with his father who wants to develop the land.

What unfolds is a well-written story of Norio’s growth while under the influence of the Sanka people as he learns from them and reckons with his family ties to the land as well as the burgeoning economic boom that Japan is about to undergo. This story, with themes of environmentalism and the price of progress, also gives a snapshot of the Sanka way of life that has since faded. It is all couched in the gorgeous landscape of Gunma Prefecture which becomes a character of its own as the weather and locations create a deep impression. You can read my review here.

Sanka was due to play at the Japan Cuts festival of new Japanese film in New York but that has been postponed until next year. Since it is currently on release in Japan, the interview will be published now. In it, Ryohei Sasatani talks about the making of the film, from working with the elements, animals, and the rugged landscape to the philosophy he planted in the story and also a little about the Sanka people.

This interview was done with the help of Takako Pocklington’s translations.

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SANKA: Nomads of the Mountains 山歌 Director: Ryohei Sasatani [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022] Rewrite

Sanka: Nomads of the Mountains    Sanka Nomads of the Mountains Film Poster


Release Date: April 22nd, 2022

Duration: 77 mins.

Director: Ryohei Sasatani

Writer: Ryohei Sasatani (Screenplay),

Starring: Rairu Sugita, Naru Komukai, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Kisuke Iida, Shungiku Uchida, Yoko Ran,


Films featuring the clash that occurs when the forces of modernisation meet tradition and the natural world are myriad. From the magical movies of Miyazaki and Takahata with Princess Mononoke (1997) and Pom Poko (1994) to indie films like Tetsuichiro Tsuta’s The Tale of Iya (2013) and Akio Jissoji’s Poem (1972), it is a perennial theme.

Documentarian Ryohei Sasatani enters the fray with Sanka: Nomads of the Mountains, his debut narrative feature film based on his script which won the Scenario Grand Prix at Isama Studio Cinema Festival in Gunma Prefecture. His structurally solid and visually enthralling story channels this conflict through the dramatic self-actualisation of the film’s young protagonist who is caught between the drive for the future and the last gasp of a fading past.

Set in the summer of 1965, we see the return of Norio (Rairu Sugita) from Tokyo to his father’s family estate in Gunma as he prepares for his high school entrance exams. Alongside a few items of physical baggage like textbooks, we notice that Norio lugs the emotional weight of adolescent alienation as shown via his distant attitude to others, the bruise on his face from schoolyard bullies, and his inability to focus on his studies. His teenage angst brews away in the confines of the traditional house he has decamped to and the hothouse atmosphere becomes even more stifling in the presence of his overbearing father (Kisuke Iida), a war veteran and amateur industrialist bent on revitalising the nearby town.

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Offbeat Cops 異動辞令は音楽隊! (2022) Dir: Eiji Uchida [New York Asian Film Festival 2022]

Offbeat Cops    Offbeat Cops Film Poster

異動辞令は音楽隊! Ido Jirei wa Ongakutai!

Release Date: August 26th, 2022

Duration: 119 mins.

Director: Eiji Uchida

Writer: Eiji Uchida (Script),

Starring: Hiroshi Abe, Nana Seino, Hayato Isomura, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Mitsuko Baisho, Ai Mikami,

Website IMDB

Friday Jul 22, 6:00pm

Film at Lincoln Center

Director Eiji Uchida and Actor Hiroshi Abe will attend the screening.

Offbeat Cops is an original film written and directed by Eiji Uchida. With it, he continues to move away from indie films like blackly comic satires Greatful Dead (2013), Lowlife Love (2015), and Love and Other Cults (2017), to more mainstream fare like with Midnight Swan (2020) which won Best Film and Best Actor at the Japanese Academy Awards.

While the Japanese title is merely functional when directly translated – The Transfer Order is for the Music Corps! – the English-language title for Offbeat Cops is perfect as its multiple meanings accurately describe the content of this film where the central protagonist is out of time with other people in his life.

The man whose life has gotten out of rhythm is Tsukasa Naruse (Hiroshi Abe), a bulldog of a veteran detective who never tires of telling everyone he has been on the beat for 30 years. His latest case is chasing down a team of crooks who run a phishing scam where they call up elderly people while posing as cops, get information on money kept in their residences, and rob them. Lately, deaths have occurred. It all has Naruse fired up as he suspects a long-time nemesis is the mastermind, however, his old school Showa-style methods of beating down doors and beating up perps make him enemies amongst his more straight-laced Reiwa-era colleagues and it isn’t long before he gets busted for being a loose-cannon and taken off the detective beat altogether.

Transferred to the disharmonious police orchestra, he is given the position of drummer, even if Western-style drums aren’t his forte. The indignity of having to learn to keep time as the rhythm section rather than catch crooks has Naruse fly off the handle frequently. Worse still, his overworking nature means that his home life is a disaster as he is divorced, alienated from his budding musician daughter Noriko (Ai Mikami) and struggling with a mother (Mitsuko Baisho) who has Alzheimer’s. At his lowest ebb, Naruse has to find a new beat to march to.

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SANKA: Nomads of the Mountains 山歌 Director: Ryohei Sasatani [Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022]

Sanka: Nomads of the Mountains    Sanka Nomads of the Mountains Film Poster

山歌(サンカ) Sanka

Release Date: April 22nd, 2022

Duration: 77 mins.

Director: Ryohei Sasatani

Writer: Ryohei Sasatani (Screenplay),

Starring: Rairu Sugita, Naru Komukai, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Kisuke Iida, Shungiku Uchida, Yoko Ran,


Films featuring the clash between modernisation, tradition, and the natural world are plentiful in cinema, perhaps most memorably in the magical movies of Miyazaki and Takahata of Studio Ghibli fame with Princess Mononoke (1997) and Pom Poko (1994). Documentarian Ryohei Sasatani makes his narrative feature debut with crowdfunded indie Sanka: Nomads of the Mountains and channels these themes onto the screen via the self-actualisation of the film’s young protagonist.

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Touching the Skin of Eeriness 不気味なものの肌に触れる (2014) Dir: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Touching the Skin of Eeriness  Touching the Skin of Eeriness Film Poster

不気味なものの肌に触れる  「Bukimina mono no Hada ni Fureru」 

Release Date: March 01st, 2014

Running Time: 54 mins.

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Writer: Tomoyuki Takahashi (Screenplay)

Starring: Shota Sometani, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Natsumi Seto, Jun Murakami, Ayumi Mizukoshi, Hoshi Ishida, Aoba Kawai,


It’s all “show, don’t tell” in Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Touching the Skin of Eeriness, a medium-length film that uses body language and interpretive dance rather than words to speak.

Made before Happy Hour (2015), his big international breakout, Touching the Skin of Eeriness was a project that Hamaguchi originally envisioned as a pilot film designed to get funding for a larger project named FLOOD. Featuring Shota Sometani (Himizu) in a lead role just as he became a big star in Japan with mainstream movies Parasyte, Wood Job!, and Bakuman, it was a departure for the actor who shines in one of Hamaguchi’s most opaque films where the focus is on the intimate physical movements of the actors and the background atmosphere to relay information.

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Fish Story フィッシュストーリー Dir: Yoshihiro Nakamura (2009)

Fish Story    Fish Story Film Poster

フィッシュストーリー Fisshu Suto-ri-

Release Date: March 20th, 2009

Duration: 112 mins.

Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura

Writer: Tamio Hayashi (Script), Kotaro Isaka (Original Manga)

Starring: Kengo Kora, Atsushi Ito, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Noriko Eguchi, Gaku Hamada, Mikako Tabe, Mirai Moriyama, Nao Omori, Hidekazu Mashima, Toshimitsu Okawauchi (of the band Drive Far),

 IMDB   Third Window Films

If I were to tell you just some of the many different things going on in Fish Story, you would say that the title must be a perfect fit for such an outrageous yarn and that it cannot possibly work in a movie. But the film’s story gracefully ties a huge range of things together to make an unconventional and warmhearted tale that shows how no struggle is fruitless and everything in life can go on to have great meaning.

Fish Story is based on Kotaro Isaka’s same-named novel and consists of many distinctly different and seemingly unconnected storylines taking place at different points over 77 years to explain how a punk rock song nobody bought saves the world from an asteroid on a collision course with the Earth.

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Third Window Films Release the First Blu-ray Edition of “Fish Story” on August 10th, 2020

Third Window Films are going to release the world’s first ever blu-ray edition of the much-loved music-fantasy FISH STORY on August 10th.

This is going to be released to mark 10 years since Third Window Films first released it on DVD.

Extra features (*all in standard definition):
Making Of
‘Gekirin’ various Live Performances
‘Gekirin’ Talk Show
Director & Cast Q&A
Deleted Scenes

It has a 15 certificate and has an RRP. of £19.99. As well as this release, it is on DVD and video on demand platforms.

Here’s the trailer and synopsis and a little extra info:

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The Day of Destruction 破壊の日 (2020) Dir: Toshiaki Toyoda

The Day of Destruction    The Day of Destruction Film Poster

破壊の日Hakai no Hi

Release Date: July 24th, 2020

Duration: 57 mins.

Director: Toshiaki Toyoda

Writer: Toshiaki Toyoda (Script),

Starring: Kiyohiko Shibukawa, MahiToThePeople (of the band GEZAN in his debut film role), Issey Ogata, Yosuke Kubozuka, Ryuhei Matsuda, Itsuki Nagasawa, Shima Onishi, Misa Wada,

Website IMDB

Released on July 24th, what would have been the opening day of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, The Day of Destruction would have been a slice of counter-programming that rages against the ills of society while it basked in the aura of Olympic spectacle. Even in the absence of the games, the film still retains its power as a unique “state of the nation” address thanks to its director compiling issues into a unique story.

Toshiaki Toyoda has long made films about people on the fringes and struggling to find their way, criticising the state and its treatment of citizens. He himself has been subject to violations of his rights when he was arrested on suspicion of possessing a firearm and held without charge. It later turned out to be a family heirloom from World War II but the police turned it into a media spectacle. Japan continues to be rocked by numerous government corruption scandals, incompetent handling of Covid-19, and the silencing of political dissent by the increasingly fascistic LDP. It must feel that the country is on the highway to disaster and this film picks up on that sense of impending doom.

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The Kamagasaki Cauldron War 月夜釜合戦 Dir: Leo Sato (2018) [Japan Cuts 2019]

The Kamagasaki Cauldron War  The Kamagasaki Cauldron War Film Poster

月夜釜合戦 Tsukiyo kama gassen

Release Date: March 09th, 2019

Duration: 115 mins.

Director:  Leo Sato

Writer: Leo Sato (Screenplay),

Starring: Naomichi Ota, Yota Kawase, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Kazu, Makoto Nishiyama, Shoji Omiya, Naori Ota, Tsumugi Monko, Maki Nishiyama, Marie Decalco, Susumu Ogata, Masao Adachi

Website IMDB

Kamagasaki is a slum-like part of Osaka’s Nishinari district which is notorious for having a high concentration of day labourers, homeless and a history of civil unrest, not to mention its proximity to the Tobita Shinchi red-light district. When I lived in Japan and moved from Tokyo to Nishinari I was given warnings and advice from friends. The way some people talked about the history of Kamagasaki made it sound anarchic and dangerous. By the time I got there things had become tamer thanks to gentrification driven by the boom in tourism and my experience was positive. Indeed, as soon as I was off the train a day worker with a sunny disposition struck up a conversation and offered to buy me a drink before my landlady rescued me from the surprise invitation and showed me around the district. They were the first of quite a few residents who took the time to talk to me and dispelled myths by telling me different stories of a poor but proud community who have had to fight for their human rights and dignity. The history and feel of Kamagasaki is strong and director Leo Sato has managed to bring it to life in his debut feature fiction film which creates a feel for the place.

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Love & Peace ラブ&ピース Dir: Sion Sono (2015)

Love & Peace      

Love and Peace Film Poster
Love and Peace Film Poster

ラブ&ピース Rabu & Pisu

Release Date: June 27th, 2015

Running Time: 117 mins.

Director: Sion Sono

Writer: Sion Sono (Screenplay),

Starring:  Hiroki Hasegawa, Kumiko Aso, Tohiyuki Nishida, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Eita Okuno, Makita Sports, Erina Mano, Megumi Kagurazaka, Miyuki Matsuda

Website IMDB

Christmas movies range far and wide in terms of content from Heavenly interventions seen in Frank Capra’s classic It’s A Wonderful Life to the monstrous antics of the little green Gremlins seen in Joe Dante’s same-named film but these appear normal compared to Sion Sono‘s 2015 film Love & Peace which takes the seasonal setting and goes down a radically different path as he makes genre mash-up of a Christmas movie with a kaiju rock opera epic with a little help from Santa

Ryoichi Suzuki (Hiroki Hasegawa) once dreamed of becoming a punk rock star but he gave up on his dreams and became a salaryman at a musical instrument parts company in Tokyo. Life is miserable because he is bullied by his colleagues and he has no friends but he has feelings for a timid office lady named Yuko Terashima (Kumiko Aso) whose kindness towards him keeps him from going insane. Alas, he can’t express his love for her. but fate soon strikes!

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