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Beneath the Shadow (Eiri) 影裏 Dir: Keishi Otomo (2020)

Beneath the Shadow   Eiri Film Poster

影裏  Eiri

Release Date: February 14th, 2020

Duration: 134 mins.

Director: Keishi Otomo

Writer: Kaori Sawai (Script), Shinsuke Numata (Story) 

Starring: Gou Ayano, Ryuhei Matsuda, Mariko Tsutsui, Tomoya Nakamura, Ken Yasuda, Jun Kunimura,

Website IMDB

After spending the 90s working in TV, director Keishi Otomo moved into film and has built a filmography stacked with adaptations of novels and manga. He is best known for the internationally successful Rurouni Kenshin trilogy, a big-budget samurai series with a visual sheen of intense action, dizzying stunt work and exquisite period details that swept viewers away. He reigns everything in for his latest work, Beneath the Shadow, Eirin in Japanese. 

This is based on a same-named 2017 Akutagawa prize-winning novel by Shinsuke Numata and is set in the director’s hometown of Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, both before and after the 3/11 disaster. It features a slow-burn character-driven drama that teases audiences with a light mystery that hinges on the idea that our interpretations of people’s behaviour can be wrong if our emotions get in the way but also, that all of us have something we keep in the shadows.

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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 Miracle of Crybaby Shottan    泣き虫しょったんの奇跡 Dir: Toshiaki Toyoda (2018) [Japan Cuts 2019]

The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan   The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan Film Poster

泣き虫しょったんの奇跡 Nakimushi Shottan no Kiseki

Release Date: September 07th, 2018

Duration: 127 mins.

Director: Toshiaki Toyoda

Writer: Ayako Kato (Screenplay), Shoji Segawa (Autobiographical Novel)

Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Yojiro Noda, Shota Sometani, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Takako Matsu, Kiyohio Shibukawa, Kaoru Kobayashi, Jun Miho, Jun Kunimura, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Itsuji Itao, Shizuka Ishibashi, Issey Ogata, Kento Nagayama,

Website IMDB

Considering Toshiaki Toyoda made his entry into Japanese films with low-budget punk titles about outsiders like Pornostar (1998) seeing him take on a film about shogi, or Japanese chess, is something of a surprise until you find out that he initially trained in shogi as a child. That, and the lead character of this biopic, the titular crybaby Shoji (Shottan) Segawa, was an outsider and trailblazer himself when he became a shogi professional well past the age when it is acceptable.

Continue reading “The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan    泣き虫しょったんの奇跡 Dir: Toshiaki Toyoda (2018) [Japan Cuts 2019]”

The Scythian Lamb 羊の木 Dir: Daihachi Yoshida (2018)

The Scythian Lamb   The Scythian Lamb Film Poster

羊の木 Hitsuji no ki

Running Time: 126 mins.

Release Date: February 03rd, 2018

Director: Daihachi Yoshida

Writer: Masato Kagawa (Screenplay), Tatsuhiko Yamagami, Mikio Igarashi (Original Manga),

Starring: Ryo Nishikido, Fumino Kimura, Kazuki Kitamura, Yuka, Mikako Ichikawa, Shingo Mizusawa, Min Tanaka, Ryuhei Matsuda, Tamae Ando,

Website IMDB

You can never truly know another person, the old existentialist saying goes. It’s not necessarily that people hide various aspects of their character and history, it’s also that people change all of the time. With that in mind, Daihachi Yoshida’s movies dwell in that gap between the fixed persona and the shadows his characters hide and we see the sometimes hilarious, sometimes tragic actions that barely repressed desires and fears make people perform. The Kirishima Thing looked at the politics of high school life with longed-for and thwarted romances between members of various cliques while Pale Moon looked at the weight of expectation from society through the tale of a normal woman and her desire to escape into fantasy in order to feel desired. They all operate with varying tones of drama and comedy and it is much the same in The Scythian Lamb where tight-knit community is asked to accept a group of outsiders with troublesome pasts and hidden intentions.

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Before We Vanish 散歩する侵略者 Dir:  Kiyoshi Kurosawa (2017)

Before We Vanish (English Title) / Strolling Invader (Literal Title)  Before We Vanish Film Poster

 散歩する侵略者 Sanpo suru Shinryakusha

Running Time: 129 mins.

Release Date: September 09th , 2017

Director:  Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Screenplay), Tomohiro Maekawa (Original Stageplay),

Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Masami Nagasawa, Mahiro Takasugi, Yuri Tsunematsu, Hiroki Hasegawa,

Website IMDB

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is often pigeon-holed as a horror director with ghosts lurking in the darkness but his latest title, Before We Vanish is his first alien invasion movie and features the threat in broad daylight. Based on a stageplay by Tomohiro Maekawa which was first performed in 2005, this film appeared at last year’s Cannes Film Festival and has had a dorama spin-off. A glib comparison might be Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as aliens travel to Earth and take human hosts but in this chat-pocalypse the tension is dialled down for a surprisingly effective examination of what it means to be human with surprising results that may or may not stop the end of humanity.

Somewhere in Shizuoka, freelance designer Narumi (Masami Nagasawa) and her salaryman husband Shinji Kase (Ryuhei Matsuda) are having problems of the marital sort. He is suspected of cheating and has recently disappeared so when Narumi is summoned to a hospital to pick him up she is furious. However, the man facing her in the doctor’s office seems like a totally different person, a blank slate with vague memories of his life and a problem knowing how to navigate social situations and even use his body properly. Things learned over time have been shorn away from him including the basic meaning behind various ideas such as possession, family, and love. He wants to learn these things and so he asks Narumi to be his guide. When she isn’t around, he likes to go for a walk and talk to random people and get their understanding of a situation or word. What happens next reveals his alien nature as he engages in a game of word association. He gently questions people until he actually sees the ideas visually forming in their head and, once that happens, he touches the person’s forehead and plucks the idea away, learning a new concept while erasing it from the speaker. Sinec he’s an alien, it is how he learns what makes humans work.

Before We Vanish Film Image

After so many relationship problems, Narumi is surprised by her kinder and gentler man who tries to understand her more. What she doesn’t know is that she has the easier alien to deal with.

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My Little Sweet Pea 麦子さんと (2013)

My Little Sweet Pea                       With Mugiko Film Poster       

Japanese Title:  麦子さんと

Romaji: Mugiko-san to

Release Date: December 21st, 2013

Running Time: 95 mins.

Director: Keisuke Yoshida

Writer: Keisuke Yoshida, Ryo Nishihara (Screenplay),

Starring: Maki Horikita, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kimiko Yo, Sayaka Tashiro, Amane Okayama, Eri Fuse, Yoichi Nukumizu

Japan has always been good for films about women. It is thematic territory so rich in stories that there are genres such as the haha-mono (mother story). These are films that follow a specific formula where a mother figure endures a hard life and sacrifices herself for her (often ungrateful) family. Her suffering comes into focus in a teary-eyed ending where everybody cries and repents their actions, expressing the desire to change. Specific examples Keisuke Kinoshita’s tragic and bitter Nihon no Higeki (1953) and Yasuhiro Ozu’s The Only Son (1936), two films guaranteed to make an audience shed many tears of sadness. For a lighter one, try The Wolf Children (2012) which is about the struggles of a single mother with two unique kids (you will still shed tears but happy ones). My Little Sweet Pea falls into this genre but is different because it focusses on the children’s realisation of their mother’s sacrifice rather than the parent’s travails. 

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Japan Academy Awards 2014 Results

The 37th Japan Academy Prize results were announced on Friday and two films, Like Father, Like Son and The Great Passage, dominated the proceedings.

37th Japanese Academy Awards

The Great Passage, the film about the making of a dictionary which turned out to be a lot more funnier than anticipate, allowed the cast and staff to win the prizes for best picture, best director (Yuya Ishii), best screenplay (Kensaku Watanabe), best art and editing and for best actor (Ryuhei Matsuda).

The Great Passage Kaguya and Majime

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The Great Passage 舟を編む (2013)

Genki The Great Passage Review Header

The Great Passage                We Knit Ship Film Poster

Japanese Title: 舟を編む

Romaji: Fune wo Amu

Release Date: April 13th, 2013 (Japan)

Seen at the BFI London Film Festival 2013

Running Time: 133 mins.

Director: Yuya Ishii

Writer: Shion Miura (Original Novel), Kensaku Watanabe (Screenplay),

Starring: Ryuhei Matsuda, Aoi Miyazaki, Joe Odagiri, Haru Kuroki, Misako Watanabe, Kumiko Aso, Shingo Tsurumi, Chizuru Ikewaki, Hiroko Isayama, Kaouru Kobayashi, Go Kato, Kaoru Yachigusa, Ryu Morioka, Shohei Uno, Kazuki Namioka

The year is 1995 and the place is the Dictionary Editorial Department of the publisher Genbu Books. The staff include Matsumoto (Kato), a veteran editor in chief of dictionaries who is assisted by his key right-hand man Araki (Kobayashi), a skilled editor who is on the verge of quitting because his wife is ailing and he wants to be by her side. Also in the department are Sasaki (Isayama), the oil for the team ensuring that word entries are logged on computers and filed away and young blade Nishioka  (Odagiri) who, while not as is good at defining words, is a pro at getting more up to date definitions and examples because he has skill with human contact.

And that’s it for the dictionary team. All dedicated to the beauty of words but considered weird by the rest of the staff at the publisher. Fact of the matter is that compiling dictionaries is not hot shot work in publishing terms because such things are boring and costly in an age when digital technology is coming to prominence and everybody else would rather work on glossy magazines.

With Araki seeking to retire it places great strain on the department at a time when Matsuoka wants to initiate a new project called The Great Passage, a 240,000 word dictionary that will capture everything from the most current youth slang to the most technical terms of different fields like theatre and literature making it the most comprehensive and representative dictionary in the country.

Genki-The-Great-Passage-Work-on-the-Jisho

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The Foreign Duck, The Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker アヒルと鴨のコインロッカ (2007)

Genki Jason Foreign Duck Film Review Banner

The Foreign Duck, The Native Duck & God in a Coin LockerForeign Duck Native Duck God Coin Locker Film Poster

Japanese Titleアヒルと鴨のコインロッカ

Romaji: Ahiro to Kamo no Koin Rokka

Release Date: June 23rd, 2007 (Japan)

UK DVD Release Date: January 14th, 2013

UK DVD Distributor: Third Window Films

Running Time: 110 mins.

Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura

Writer: Yoshihiro Nakamura (Screenplay), Kotaro Isaka (Novel)

Starring: Gaku Hamada, Eita, Megumi Seki, Nene Otsuka, Ryuei Matsuda, Kei Tamura, Kaoru Hirata, Midoriko Kimura, Masaki Okada
The Foreign Duck, The Native Duck & God in a Coin Locker is such a strange title that I expected a low-key indie comedy but got a lot more. 

Shiina (Gaku Hamada) is moving from the shoe shop his parents run to his new apartment in Sendai as he joins Aoba University to study law. On his first day he tries introducing himself to his neighbours but they are too pre-occupied with their own lives to care. As Shiina regroups after rejection he sings the Dylan song “Blowin’ in the Wind” which attracts the attention of one of his new neighbours, a tall and handsome chap named Kawasaki (Eita). Kawasaki is a complete contrast to the short and mild-mannered Shiina but share a mutual interest in Bob Dylan and strike up a friendship. Kawasaki does seem a bit of an odd duck, but in an irresistibly cool and charming kind of way, and Shiina can’t help but be drawn into his more exciting, if slightly loony world. Kawasaki’s head is full of unpredictable ideas, like his absurd warnings about pet shop owner Reiko (Nene Otsuka) or his even more absurd plan to steal a dictionary for their Bhutanese neighbour. Next thing Shiina knows, he’s standing watch with a toy gun outside the bookstore, on the beginning of their bizarre, existential adventure…

Shiina (Hamada) and Kawasaki (Eita) in The Foreign Duck The Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker

The film is based on a 2003 novel by mystery writer Kotaro Isaka (his book Remote Control is available through Amazon UK and sounds so good I may purchase a copy). This is not the first book of his to be adapted. Indeed, director Yoshihiro Nakamura adapted another called Fish Story to great acclaim (also available through Third Window Films). Finding out all of this came after viewing the film and so I had no idea this was a mystery. If I did I think my expectations would have been staggered because it never feels like one. Indeed after watching twenty minutes I had tagged it as a light comedy with goofball characters doing a lot of talking but the film manages to switch genre and mood with ease.

It starts with Shiina in what seemed like a play on a coming of age tale. We witness his first explorations of Sendai, a place famous for its BBQed tongue which his parents constantly remind him of. He is like anybody who finds themselves in a new environment, plagued by doubt and indecision and adhering to social codes to try and fit in. These moments are wryly observed and provide gentle comedy as we see him bewildered by his situation and swallowed up by crowds. His lost at sea is somewhat mirrored in that of an Indian woman who finds herself on the receiving end of suspicion and derision just for being an outsider. Ah, I said to myself, this is clearly a light comedy examining Japanese attitudes to foreigners! Foreign and native ducks! Case closed!

Think again!

Continue reading “The Foreign Duck, The Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker アヒルと鴨のコインロッカ (2007)”

Third Window Films Release The Foreign Duck, The Native Duck & God in a Coin Locker

Japanese film fans, it’s time to celebrate! One of the major titles in my preview of Asian films getting released in the UK is about to get its official release! Third Window Films release The Foreign Duck, The Native Duck & God in a Coin Locker next week Monday which just happens to be a great way to start the year! Despite my scepticism over the title I found myself enraptured in a film that is deceptively simple and light hearted and full of great performances. I think this may remain in my Top Ten Films for the rest of the year! Expect a review on Wednesday!

Here are the details:

The Foreign Duck, The Native Duck & God in a Coin Locker DVD Case

 The Foreign Duck, The Native Duck & God in a Coin Locker

Dir: Yoshihiro Nakamura (Fish Story, Golden Slumber)

Starring: Eita (Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, Memories of Matsuko)
Gaku Hamada (Fish Story, Space Brothers)
Ryuhei Matsuda (Nightmare Detective, Blue Spring, Gohatto)

Japan / 2007 / 110 Mins / In Japanese with English subtitles / Colour / 35mm / Cert 15

Out on DVD January 11th, 2013

DVD Special Features:

35 minute ‘Making Of’, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer

Moving into his new apartment in Sendai, college student Shiina (Gaku Hamada) meets his new neighbor Kawasaki (Eita). Tall, confident Kawasaki and short, mild-mannered Shiina seem to be unlikely candidates for friendship, but they have a mutual interest in Bob Dylan.

Kawasaki is an odd duck, but in an irresistibly cool and charming kind of way, and Shiina can’t help but be drawn into his more exciting, if slightly loony world. Kawasaki’s head is full of unpredictable ideas, like his absurd warnings about pet shop owner Reiko (Nene Otsuka) or his even more absurd plan to steal a dictionary for their Bhutanese neighbor. Next thing Shiina knows, he’s standing watch with a toy gun outside the bookstore, on the beginning of their bizarre, existential adventure…