Great East Japan Earthquake Aftermath on Film

311 Film ImageI remember the morning of the Great East Japan Earthquake quite vividly. I finished work early and watched the unfolding disaster online. It was terrifying and it was bewildering and it seemed so overwhelming. I also remember the (ani)blogging community coming together quick sharp to relay news and to set up charity appeals. The charity appeals are still needed as rebuilding is moving slowly and people are still displaced which is why I posted about a Japan Foundation film event on the anniversary earlier this week. It is strange to think that the disaster was two years ago because it seems closer and I suspect that the reason it still seems so close is because of the many films that have use it as subject matter.

One of the things I do on my blog is write up trailer posts for most of the Japanese films released in cinemas and for the films touring the festival circuit. Through doing this I have seen that Japanese filmmakers are intensely interested. Not a month goes by without two or three titles and with the recent anniversary the number of films has intensified. The range of filmmakers covers documentarians, directors who are better known for horror films and bleak dramas (bleakies as fellow film-blogger Alua calls them), veterans and directors making their debuts. It stands in complete contrast to other disasters and countries. How many films are there directly or indirectly about Hurricane Katrina (a handy wikipedia list)? There are probably more because The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans isn’t present in that list but still it just does not compare to the efforts that the Japanese filmmaking community has made to highlight document disaster and the continuing problems. Whatever the case, I present this list to you. I can’t claim that it’s exhaustive but it’s somewhere to start. It is shows how unique cinema can be and it is something we can use to remember the event and the impact it had on people’s lives and hopefully chart the recovery of the region.

Here are some of the films:


A Gentle Rain Falls for FukushimaA Gentle Rain Falls for Fukushima

Director: Atsushi Kokatsu, Writer: Atsushi Kokatsu, Uichiro Kitazato

Starring: Kosuke Toyohara, Chieko Matsubara, Jurina, Shono Hayama, Gitan Otsuru, Hitomi Sato

This was the directorial debut of Kokatsu. When preproduction of the film was finished in early 2011 and funding was secured from the Fukushima government the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami struck. After initially suspending the film the filmmakers continued with production and donated some of the profits to charity. The film is a mix of heartfelt drama and light comedy that comes with the role-swapping like finding out a girl younger than you used to be your mother in a past life. It centres around a diverse group of people who are all lonely and struggling in life. They meet in Fukushima where they discover that they were a family in a previous life. At first uneasy with each other, the more they talk the better they feel about their problems and their bond grows but their time together remains short as they must soon leave.


Himizu PosterHimizu

Director: Sion Sono, Writer: Sion Sono (script adaptation), Minoru Furuya (manga)

Starring: Shota Sometani, Fumi Nikaidō, Tetsu Watanabe, Denden, Jun Murakami, Makiko Watanabe, Ken Mitsuishi, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Megumi Kagurazaka, Asuka Kurosawa, Taro Suwa,

Himizu is Sion Sono’s adaptation of Minoru Furuya’s manga of the same name and the only film on this list I have seen. I was in tears at the end. Sono takes a manga already full of anger and tough subject matter like child abuse and murder, and weaves in the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami to create a film which is ultimately a moving exploration of life, identity, redemption and the will to live. I’m quoting my review now. Here are more quotes “Sono hammers the references home with scenes of actors wandering around the disaster hit areas complete with the skeletal remains of buildings and mounds of rubble surrounding them. The sight of the destruction is a terrifying testament to the power of the disaster. The scenes are accompanied by the sound of Geiger counters and a menacing rumbling reminding us the events even more. It feels like a natural part of the film and added to the theme of enduring whatever life throws at you.” I would consider Himizu to be one of the best films I saw last year.

Junior high school kid Yuichi Sumida (Sometani) wants a quiet life but his mother (Watanabe) comes home with different men every night, and his drunken, hate-filled father (Mitsuishi) only pays him visits when he needs money. Yuichi carries on running the family boat rental business and lives surrounded by homeless people who are victims of the tsunami. Meanwhile at school he is ignoring class-mate Keiko Chazawa (Nikaidō) who has a massive crush on him. Things get tough when his mother abandons him and Kaneko (Denden), a Yakuza loan-shark, shows up looking for Yuichi’s father and ¥6 million. Pushed to breaking point by his situation Yuichi finds himself unable to control his anger and a series of events leads him to the brink of madness.

Women on the Edge Movie PosterWomen on the Edge                                         

Director: Masahiro Kobayashi, Writer: Masahiro Kobayashi

Starring: Miho Fujima, Yuko Nakamura, Makiko Watanabe

Masahiro Kobayashi, writer and director of grim films like Bashing is back with Women on the Edge which stars Miho Fujima (Ju-On: The GrudgeTajomaru), Yuko Nakamura (Blood and Bones), and Makiko Watanabe (Himizu, Love Exposure).

The three Onodera sisters return to the home of their deceased parents’ in Kesennuma, Miyagi, a place affected by the Tohoku Earthquake. The house has survived the earthquake and tsunami and the three are looking to claim an inheritance. Nobuko (Nakamura) moved to Tokyo and is a divorcee, Takako (Watanabe) moved to New York and works as a butoh dancer. Third sister Satomi (Fujima) stayed behind. There are deep resentments and over the course of the film they will come out.


Odayaka Film PosterOdayaka                                                                      

Director: Nobuteru Uchida, Writer: Nobuteru Uchida (Script),

Starring: Kiki Sugino, Yukiko Shinohara, Takeshi Yamamoto, Ami Watanabe, Ami Watanabe, Yu Koyanagi, Makiko Watanabe, Maho Yamada, Susumu Terajima, Maki Nishiyama, Kotaro Shiga, Kanji Furutachi, Yuko Kibiki, Yuya Matsumura,

This is a film which covers the March 11th earthquakes. This is another fiction film addressing the March 11th Earthquake and Tsunami following Women on the EdgeThe Ear Cleaner and The Land of Hope. It is written and directed by Nobuteru Uchida (Love Addiction).

Saeko (Sugino) and Yukako (Shinohara) are neighbours in a Tokyo apartment complex. Following the March 11th Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami both find their lives affected by newfound fears. Saeko is undergoing a divorce and fears her daughter may get radiation exposure. Yukako also fears the radiation and asks her husband to move. When Saeko saves Yukako from suicide, the two become close.

The Intermission Film PosterThe Intermission                 

Director: Naofumi Higuchi, Writer: Naofumi Higuchi, Minato Takehiko (Screenplay),

Starring: Kumiko Akiyoshi, Shota Sometani, Kyoko Kagawa, Akiko Koyama, Kumi Mizuno, Naoto Takenaka, Shiro Sano,

An indie film which deals indirectly with the effects of March 11th as we get the real life story of an old movie theatre in Ginza, Tokyo was closed in March. It stars Shota Sometani (Himizu), Kumiko Akiyoshi (Deep River), Kyoko Kagawa (Shall We Dance?) and Kumi Mizuno (Godzilla Final Wars).

Kumiko (Akiyoshi) is the manager of the Ginza Shinepatosu and she has a younger husband named Shota (Sometani). The movie theatre faces closure following the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 due to safety fears. As the final day approaches, Kumiko’s anxieties over earthquakes and radiation grow.

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Japanese Films at the Berlin Film Festival 2013

Genki Berlin International Film Festival Banner

The Berlin Film Festival 2013 was launched yesterday and runs from February 07th to February 17th. The line-up of films looks pretty good with South Korea contributing titles like Nobody’s Daughter and China finally allowing us to see Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster.

I started reporting about the Berlin Film Festival last year and enjoyed it tremendously – cool pictures and awesome sounding films. I always read the Sight and Sound report on the festival and acknowledge its importance in the festival calendar since there is always a great selection of films, particularly from Asia. The Japanese line-up looks very interesting with a mix of classics, recent releases, indie titles and short films. My highlights would have to be the older films from Ozu and Kinoshita and some of the independent titles.

This post is a bit late so apologies for that but the good news is that only one of the film’s starts tonight, the rest start over the weekend or next week and there are multiple chances to view the films.

Capturing Dad (Chichi wo Tori ni) (2012)Capturing Dad Image

Running Time: 74 mins.

Director: Ryota Nakano

Starring: Makiko Watanabe, Nanoka Matsubara, Erisa Yanagi, Kenichi Takito, Satoshi Nikaido, Tomokoi Kimura

Ryota Nakano brings his award winning film Capturing Dad (released next week in Japanese cinemas) to Berlin. Award winning? Yes! It took the award for best film and best director at the 09th Skip City International D-Cinema Festival in Kawaguchi city. The festival is aimed at discovering and rewarding digital filmmakers. I have never heard of it but the trailer looks really good, highlighting a lot of drama and a little comedy in a film about the absence of a father and the creation of relationships from that loss. The film stars Makiko Watanabe (Love Exposure), Erisa Yanagi (A Gentle Breeze in the Village), Kenichi Takito (Fish Story, Fish on Land), Satoshi Nikaido (Guilty of Romance) amongst others. It plays in the Generation section of the festival.

Koharu (Matsubara) and Hazuki (Yanagi) are sisters who live in a rural town with their mother Sawa (Watanabe). The father abandoned the family for a new woman fourteen years ago which has caused huge resentment in Sawa but when she discovers that he has terminal cancer she sends Koharu and Hazuki to the hospital with a camera to take a picture of him. When they arrive at the hospital he s dead and his new family are in mourning. Koharu and Hazuki both discover things about their father and their step-family.

Plays at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (Feb 09 – 17:30), CinemaxX 3 (Feb 10 – 16:30), CinemaxX 3 (Feb 16 – 11:30)

The Town of Whales (Kujira no Machi) (2012)Town of Whales Image

Running Time: 70 mins.

Director: Keiko Tsuruoka

Starring: Momoko Tobita, Sui Katano, Sakiko Yamaguchi, Kentaro Sato, Masaru Nakashima

Slow-cinema? Town of Whales is the directorial debut of Keiko Tsuruoka and she has made an observational drama that captures the drifting days spent during a summer holiday by three teens who are discovering the joys of discovering things emotional and physical with something of a fragile love triangle developing. The film apparently lacks dramatic structure but “the film doesn’t need one either. Moments are all that count, and each one has its own special significance”. Japanese women directors performed admirably at last year’s festival with Our Homeland and Just Pretended to Hear being major stand-outs (the latter winning as award) so I am eager to find out how this one plays!

Machi, Tomohiko and Hotaru are high school students Machi’s brother disappeared six years ago and she misses him terribly. The three set off to track him down.

Plays at CinemaxX 4 (Feb 10 – 19:30), CineStar 8 (Feb 11 – 22:00), Cubix 7 (Feb 13 – 15:00), Kino Arsenal (Feb 16 – 20:00)

Cold Bloom (Sakura Namiki no Mankai no Shita ni)

Running Time: 119 mins.

Director: Atsushi Funahari

Starring: Asami Usuda, Takahiro Miura, Yurei Yanagi, Taro Suwa, You Takahashi

Atsushi Funahari was at last year’s Berlin Film Festival with his documentary Nuclear Nation which looked at nuclear power after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tusnami. This drama is another one that deals with the disaster but looks at the economic and emotional impact as felt by a group of workers at a factory. From the synopsis it sounds perfect for an audience who like tough subject matter. Atsushi Funahari has tackled interesting relationship dramas before with the US set Big River, this one looks a lot more local but just as epic due to the subject matter. It stars a collection of new and old actors like Asami Usuda (The Woodsman & the Rain), Takahiro Miura (Ninja Kids!!!), Yurei Yanagi (Boiling Point, Ring) and Taro Suwa (Cold Fish, Himizu). The film will get a release in April 2013.

Ever since the tsunami struck the workers of a metal factory in the industrial town of Hitachi have been in something of a malaise, the only thing keeping them afloat being a skilled worker named Kenji (Takahashi) who has secured them a contract. Then he dies on the first day at the client’s site. His colleague Takumi (Miura) is responsible and the factory worker turn on him, taking sides with Kenji’s widow Shiori (Usuda) but her hatred turns to love.

Plays at Kino Arsenal (Feb 11 – 19:45), Cubix (Feb 12 – 20:00), CineStar 8 (Feb 14 – 16:15), Colosseum 1 (Feb 16 – 20:00)

Roots (Senzo ni Naru) (2013)

Running Time: 118 mins.

Director: Kaoru Ikeya,

Last year’s Berlin Film Festival featured lots of documentaries that used the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami as a subject but the topic will not go away as Japan is still rebuilding after the disaster and for many the destruction ran deeper than material goods as lives were lost. This documentary follows a woodcutter and carpenter named Naoshi whose house managed to withstand a lot of damage wrought by the tsunami. Unfortunately he lost his son. Naoshi is determined to rebuild his house and live the remaining days of his life there. Things are not so simple as his wife has misgivings, local authorities impose construction restrictions and his prostate cancer has only recently gone into remission. The festival page describes it as a “ tender portrait of a quietly stubborn man opens out into a complex study of the many ambivalences the reconstruction process brings with it: a tangled web of family duty, traditional customs, community spirit and municipal legislation.” It goes on theatrical release next week in Tokyo.

Plays at Delphi Filmpalast (Feb 13 – 18:30), CineStar 8 (Feb 14 – 13:15), Kino Arsenal (Feb 16 – 14:45), CineStar 8 (Feb 17 – 16:00)

Tokyo Story (Tokyo Monogatari)     Tokyo Story Film Poster

Running Time: 135 mins.

Director: Yasujiro Ozu,

Starring: Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama, Setsuko Hara

Playing in the Berlinale classics thread of the festival, Tokyo Story is considered one of the all-time great films and it came top of Sight & Sound’s magazine directors’ poll of the greatest film of all time. I have only seen some of Ozu’s films like. This counts as one of the ones I have not seen and it is not because it is bad but because it is brilliant as this review points out and I want to give it the respect it deserves by watching it at the right moment because the ones I have watched have been nothing but brilliant humanist dramas. Anyway, the lucky folks who are at the Berlin Film Festival get to watch it on the big screen. It stars familiar Ozu actors Chishu Ryu and the flower of post-war Japanese cinema Setsuko Hara who both appeared in the wonderfully gentle and touching drama Late Spring. The festival describes it as telling “the story of family estrangement and the isolation inherent in modern society.” This is copious tear fuel if I know Ozu…

When the Hirayama couple travel from their small and quiet hometown of Onomichi to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo they discover that their children consider their presence an inconvenience and uncomfortable truths about the reality of life in Tokyo are revealed. It is only their daughter-in-law Noriko, the widow of their son who went missing in the war, who spends time with them but when the mother of the family is taken ill they stop at Osaka where another of their sons lives. 

Plays at CinemaxX 6 (Feb 14 – 15:00),

Tokyo Family (Tokyo Kazoku) (2013)Tokyo Family Film Poster

Running Time: 146 mins.

Director: Yoji Yamada,

Starring: Satoshi Tsumabuki, Yu Aoi, Jun Fubuki, Masahiko Nishimura, Isao Hashizume, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Nenji Kobayashi, Yui Natsukawa, Shozo Hayashiya, Chika Arakawa, Ryuichiro Shibata

Tokyo Family was released last month in Japan and the festival website describes it as a something of a tribute to Yasujiro Ozu. The director Yoji Yamada who is a very familiar name having helmed The Twilight Samurai, The Hidden Blade and Love and Honour was an assistant on Ozu’s most famous film Tokyo Story. This is an update to the classic but with very few departures so the story is a quiet observation of family, the generation gap and modern life as depicted through an elderly couple who visit their children in Tokyo and find them too busy.  The film clocks in at over two hours and is packed with a variety of names like Yu Aoi (All About Lily Chou-Chou, Mushishi, Hula Girls), Jun Fubuki (Séance, Rebirth), Yui Natsukawa (Shikoku, Still Walking), Satoshi Tsumabuki (For Love’s Sake, Villain) and Chika Arakawa (Apartment 1303).


Shukichi Hirayama (Hashizume) and Tomiko (Yoshiyuki)are an old married couple who live on a small island in the Inland Sea. When they visit their children in Tokyo they see the successful lives they have built for themselves. Eldest son Koichi (Nishimura) runs a hospital, Shigeko (Nakajima) runs a beauty salon and Shuji (Tsumabuki) works in the theatre and plans to marry Noriko (Aoi). The parents find that life in Tokyo is not for them and want to go home but a medical emergency strikes when Tomiko collapses.

Plays at Friedrichstadt-Palast (Feb 13 – 21:15), Haus der Berliner Festspeile (Feb 14 – 21:00), Berlinale Palast (Feb 17 – 14:30)

Continue reading “Japanese Films at the Berlin Film Festival 2013”