Naturalistic acting, specifically using pastel colours and lovingly shot images of the sea are what dictate the ebb and flow of the drama in Yuho Ishibashi’s film Sayounara. Originally based on an SNS manga of the same name by the artist Gomen, Ishibashi took four characters and a few frames of the original and expanded its world to create a coming-of-age tale that is familiar in so many elements and yet a good example of a textured exploration of one person coming to terms with grief as life carries on around her.
The muted visual tone of the film matches the temperament of the main protagonist of the film, high school student Yuki (Haruka Imou), a quiet girl who lives in a sleepy coastal town. The loudest noises are those of the waves of the sea and the laughter she shares with her best friend Aya (Kirara Inori), a cryptic girl who is soon to leave town. Their friendship is strong and a kiss snatched by Aya opens up all sorts of emotions in Yuki. Tragedy strikes when Aya commits suicide. In response, Yuki dives deep into herself and turns away from any turbulent emotions. Her classmates are also caught in the ripples of the event and react differently, some showing respect while others spread rumours.
I conducted a number of interviews at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 and they were published over at VCinema. This one was published on June 06th and it is with the director and star of the film Sisterhood.
With inequality on the rise worldwide and identity politics a hot topic issue, filmmakers everywhere have their work cut out trying to keep up with the changes in their respective societies and there is a desire on the part of this writer to see films that tackle these issues from Japanese creatives. More social realist dramas and politics, to be blunt, especially in an era where the rise of individualism and poverty unbalances traditional notions of collectivism. Takashi Nishihara is a name that has cropped up quite often in this regard. Born in 1983 in Toyama, he is a graduate from the Department of Arts and Film at Waseda University in Tokyo. His filmography flits between documentary and drama but he usually focuses on those who find themselves made outsiders by the status quo of society and does so with a social realist bent.
I interviewed a number of people at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and these interviews are being published over at V-Cinema. This one was the first to go online on April 23rd.
Akiyoshi Koba is a graduate of Taisho University’s Japanese Language and Literature course. He now works as a part-time lecturer at Nagaoka Zokei University and indie filmmaker. His oeuvre is a series of titles that my be low on budget but are big in heart and invention. Koba strives to find what is special in small-town locations, collaborates with actors who feel like they are drawn from everyday life but have some unique feature, and uses set dressing and costuming that exudes a DIY aesthetic. Works like Slippers and Summer Moon (2015), Psychics Z (2016), and Tsumugi’s Radio (2017) typically mix comedy and sci-fi as well as drama. They have a charming simplicity and a love for their characters.
His latest title, Nunchaku and Soul (2019) is a continuation of this lo-fi storytelling and it is his best work to date. It features a mismatched pair of middle-aged guys, a nerd named Numata (Masahiro Kuroki) and a soul man named Soma (Atsushi Takahashi), who are determined to change their lives for the better by entering a dance competition. The differences in character and their reasons for entering are mined for low-key drama and lots of belly laughs. It also features a funky soundtrack. Nunchaku and Soul was recently screened at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 in the Indie Forum section. Despite its humble origins, it proved to be a hit with most of the audience who were treated to post-screening nunchaku demonstrations by lead actor Masahiro Kuroki and dancing given by director and cast.
This review was first published on V-Cinema on March 14th
In recent years, the rise of mixed-race Japanese has become a hot topic with “hafu”, a word which is taken from the English word “half”, becoming more visible thanks to sports and entertainment personalities like tennis champ Naomi Osaka and 2015’s Miss Universe Japan Ariana Miyamoto. Even if Japan is pretty ethnically mixed, hafu are visibly different and are often presented as glamorous and fashionable by advertising execs. This ignores the reality of discrimination and ostracisation they face, something which Bilal Kawazoe’s film, WHOLE examines as one of the few recent Japanese efforts to look at this issues surrounding being biracial in a homogeneous society.
I interviewed a number of people at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and these interviews are being published over at V-Cinema. This interview was the first to go online on March 28th.
Yoshinori Sato was born in Aichi, Japan on February 1975. After graduating from high school, he travelled to the US to study filmmaking at the University of Southern California. Since graduating, he has worked as a director in Japanese television while also making independent films. His film credits include Bad Child (2013) and Her Mother, which played at international film festivals including the 21st Busan International Film Festival and the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2017.
Sato returned to Osaka to give the world premiere of his documentary, Shinjuku Tiger, a fascinating look at a flamboyantly dressed and inspiring man who wears a tiger mask and, since the 70s, has practically lived in the bars and cinemas of Shinjuku as he pursues good films, beautiful woman, and delicious sake. It is all part of a fiction he has created to “spread love and peace” and the film shows the character in action as he works his normal job in newspaper delivery and goes on epic bar crawls that rope in celebrities and friends. This films borders on hagiography but gains depth as Sato uses the life of the man to examine the changes and events that Shinjuku has seen through the decades so we get some sense of the culture of one of Tokyo’s most famous wards.
Sato kindly gave an interview after the Q&A that followed the second screening of Shinjuku Tiger at the festival. The interview was conducted in English but we were joined by interpreter Keiko Matsushita who offered some interesting questions and insights.
Receiving its world premiere at the Osaka Asian Film Festival (OAFF) 2019, Shinjuku Tiger (2019) is a return to the world of documentary filmmaking for director Yoshinori Sato. Although he has a background in television documentaries, he will probably be best known for his 2016 sophomore feature about capital punishment and guilt, Her Mother, an intense film where the mother of a murder victim seeks to prevent the execution of the murderer. It won plaudits for the acting at different festivals including Busan 2016 and OAFF 2017. After a fairly bleak and heavy drama about coming to terms with murder, Sato steps back into documentaries with a film about a flamboyant guy who is all about spreading love and happiness.
I interviewed a number of people at the Osaka Asian Film Festival and these interviews are being published over at V-Cinema. Here was the first to go online on May 04th.
Momoko Fukuda hails from Ibaraki City, Osaka Prefecture. After studying at the Japan Institute of the Moving Image, her graduation work Goodbye Mother (2014) was selected by a number of Japanese festivals including the Yubari International
Fantastic Film Festival. In 2015, she took part in the New Directions in Japanese Cinema (NDJC): Young Filmmaker Development Project run by the Japanese government’s Agency of Cultural Affairs. It is designed to foster a new generation of directors who can bring new life to the Japanese film industry and Fukuda seems truly unique in her tastes. The resulting film, Dad’s Marriage (2016) (here’s my trailer post), was screened at international festivals such as Camera Japan in Holland where it stood out for its unique pacing and a story that challenges the norm of what people consider to constitute a family. She is turning it into a feature film, Oishii Kazoku, due for release in 2019. Her most recent works have been shorts, one a part of the omnibus film 21st Century Girl (2019) which appeared at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival, and the other is the a rather offbeat Slowly which appeared at the 2019 Osaka Asian Film Festival.
Slowly is a slice out of the lives of two old friends. After their high school reunion, they drive back to some unspecified point, their conversation awkwardly hovering around questions about their past and future and the changes to their hometown. Their journey is stopped by a tennis umpire’s chair, which lies on the road. The two suddenly find themselves helping a third person carry the chair away and we watch as they lug the thing through a beautiful series of pastoral scenes and mundane small town shots while still talking about their lives. The film seems aimless and has a laidback rhythm because not much happens. But through conversation and behaviour, we can read a lot and it is interesting to wonder over the images and actors.
It reminded me of my 1990s childhood when a variety of European films from Rohmer or Aki Kaurismaki and stageplays by Beckett were on terrestrial television in the UK rather than squirreled away on some satellite channel. I ended up watching the film a few times and felt quite moved by the experience, sensing a certain longing, acknowledging the nostalgia for my past and some gaps in my present as I identified with the characters.
There were two screenings at OAFF and I caught the film’s first screening where the audience seemed to appreciate the experience. I was due to interview Fukuda and her producer Jumpei Inoue after the second screening. When I arrived at the cinema, I was told that one person had reacted negatively to the film at this second screening but, despite this, Fukuda and Inoue, along with two of their team, sat down with me. Undaunted and thoughtful, they kindly spent over 30 minutes talking about the making of the film and their inspirations.
Help with translation was provided by Keiko Matsushita while translation of the transcription of the interview was overseen by Takako Pocklington.
Momoko Fukuda is a director going places and quickly. Originally from Ibaraki City, Osaka Prefecture, she studied at the Japan Institute of the Moving Image and her graduation work Goodbye Mother (2014) was selected for big festivals such as the Yubari. In 2015 she took part in the NDJC: Young Filmmaker Development Project, a hotbed for young directors to grow in terms of their skills, and she made Dad’s Marriage (2016), a story where a make-up artist returns home on the occasion of her mother’s memorial to discover her father (played by actor and comedian Itsuji Itao) wants to become the bride of a local handyman. This was screened at international festivals and she is currently turning it into a feature. Recently she was tapped to create a short for the high-profile female led omnibus film 21st Century Girl (2018) and she appeared at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 with the world premiere of her film Slowly, a short drama which goes in a totally different aims to use absurdity to examine the human condition.
People who attended Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018 (OAFF) had the chance to see the latest work of Hitoshi Yazaki, Still Life of Memories. It seems Osaka has become a favourite place for the man because he attended OAFF 2019 with Afternoon Breezes. It has been 40 years since it was released and its original 16 mm print has been given a digital remaster after being subject to a crowdfunding campaign. The film is a somewhat tragic tale of a one-sided lesbian romance. Due to its style and LGBT subject-matter, it broke boundaries because it was one of the first openly gay-themed films in Japan and it put Yazaki on the map and earned him comparisons with important directors from avante-garde cinema movements of the 60s and 70s like Chantal Akerman. In its black-and-white look and with its central protagonist who is disconnected from reality, it is sort of like Akerman’s Saute ma ville (1968) if you’ll allow the glib comparison
Following her directorial debut, “Spring-ing”, an entry in the omnibus film 21st Century Girl (2019), Aimi Natsuto graduates to features with Jeux de Plage, which received its world premiere in the Competition section of the 2019 edition of the Osaka Asian Film Festival. With her feature, Natsuto brings back two of the stars from her 21st Century Girl entry, Haruna Hori and Juri Fukushima. Having only read a synopsis, I cannot really comment on her earlier work but Jeux de Plage feels familiar, a Nouvelle Vague inspired comedy, which is par for the course for her collaborators here.
Natsuto’s past film experience comes, most notably, from collaborating with Kiki Sugino having acted alongside her in Chigasaki Story (2015) and worked as a script editor on Snow Woman (2017). Jeux de plage was produced under the auspices of Sugino’s production company, Wa Entertainment, and shares the outfit’s internationalism in terms of it being a co-production between Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Korea, having a somewhat international cast, and of course its reverence of French cinema. While watching the film, I was reminded of Koji Fukada’s Au revoir l’ete(2013), also made by Wa Entertainment. However, I was much more entertained by Jeux de plage. While the two films share passions for various things Gallic, similar themes, a coastal setting and scripts with deconstructions of character and romance very reminiscent of Eric Rohmer’s oeuvre, Natsuto’s work is more focused and lively compared to the languid experience turned in by Fukada.