Japanese Films at the Toronto International Film Festival 2014

Toronto International Film Festival 2014 Post Header

The 2014 Toronto International Film Festival launches in just over two weeks and lasts from September 04th to September 14th. As is usually the case, the line-up of films is impressive. I don’t know how Toronto does it but every year they get a selection of great Japanese films. This year there are four films I desperately want to see from three directors I love. Well, three – Sion Sono, Shinya Tsukamoto, and Takashi Miike. All of them have been or are released this year and all from the top end of Japanese commercial cinema. Here are the films:

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Japanese Films at the Venice Film Festival 2013

Genki 70th Venice Film Festival Banner

The 70th Venice Film Festival is due to take place at the end of this month (August 28th – September 07th). Last year saw a neat but small selection of Japanese films and a drama. This year there seem to be even more on offer but they include some of the latest titles. Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises gets its world premiere and as a result is in competition at the festival. Out of competition we see the likes of Kim Ki-Duk returning after his win last year. He has stiff competition from Lee Sang-il who brings his Japanese remake of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and Shinji Aramaki’s rather nice looking Captain Harlock movie. Here’s the line-up:

The Wind Rises                              Kaze Tachi Nu Film Poster

Japanese Title: 風立ちぬ

Romaji: Kaze Tachi Nu

Running Time: 126 mins.

Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Writer: Hayao Miyazaki (Screenplay)

Starring: Hideaki Anno, Miori Takimoto, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Masahiko Nishimura, Steven Alpert, Morio Kazama, Keiko Takeshita,

Miyazaki’s latest film was recently released in Japan where it has done good numbers at the box office. It has been five years since Hayao Miyazaki’s last film, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea. Since then he has written scripts and manga. He’s back with a new film which tells the story of Jirou Horikoshi, the designer of Japan’s famous Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane of World War II. We witness his upbringing and his struggles with poverty, an earthquake and war and his relationship with a woman named Naoko Satomi who is suffering from tuberculosis. Jirou Horikoshi is voiced by Evangelion creator Hideaki Anno. The mecha anime maestro is surrounded by live-action film actors like Hidetoshi Nishijima (Zero Focus) amd co-star Miori Takimoto (Sadako 3D 2Rinco’s Restaurant).

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Nagisa Oshima, March 31, 1932 – January 15, 2013

Nagisa Oshima on Set Nagisa Oshima, one of the great figures to emerge from the Japanese New Wave, passed away from pneumonia on January 15th 2013 at the age of 80.

Oshima was born on March 31 1932 in Kyoto into a family of samurai decent. Following the death of his father his mother worked to support him and his sister. He enrolled at Kyoto law school in an era of great upheaval and student protests following the war. It was the place which moulded his political leanings as he became a socialist and highly critical of the Japanese establishment and sought to explore the way people repress themselves. His politics would be reflected in the themes of his future works which tackled social issues and taboos ranging from sex, homosexuality, capital punishment and racism.

Following his studies he thought film would be the best way to get his message out and so Nagisa Oshimaapplied for the position of assistant director at Shochiku studio where he worked on films like Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba and Kuroneko from 1954-59. Not that being an assistant director was his only job as he wrote scripts and developed a body of film criticism that attacked the Japanese film industry.

His ascent reflects a mixture of the traditional path for Japanese filmmakers, following a sort of apprenticeship with a more experienced director and what was happening with the French new wave where film critics like Alain Resnais, François Truffaut, Jean-luc Godard and Claude Chabrol branched out into film attacked “Papa’s Cinema”, films that adapted safe literary works in a staid way, and branched out into making films themselves, films that threw away the formulaic ways of making films, the staginess and respectability of the past and engaged in telling stories in a much more visual an inventive way.

Indeed, he is one of a number of directors including Shohei Imamura, Seijun Suzuki and Hiroshi Teshigahara to emerge from the Japanese New Wave from the 1950’s to the 1970’s. Their generation followed the likes of Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujiro Ozu, masters of Japanese cinema who have cast long shadows that some modern directors still feel the need to challenge.

Oshima’s efforts at writing brought him to the attention of producers and executives but it The Boy Who Sold His Pigeonwas actually a canny move on the part of the Japanese studious to let him directors create their works since Godard et al were making a lot of money for their producers. Oshima’s first script to be filmed was The Boy Who Sold His Pigeon (1959) which as renamed A Town of Love and Hope. The titular boy lives with a disabled sister and sick mother. To support them he shines shoes and sells pigeons. A bourgeois schoolgirl buys one of the pigeons in sympathy a homing pigeon keeps coming back. It was a film about the gap between rich and poor and it portrayed it with great realism.

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