Following working with with Makoto Shinozaki on 3.11 psychology/premonition drama Sharing and Kiyoshi Kurosawa on haunting ghost story Journey to the Shore, Taku Tsuboi made his directorial debut with Sacrifice as part of his work at Rikkyo University. He draws upon the aforementioned films and uses a murder mystery narrative mixed with a doomsday cult context to make an interesting low-key thriller that is heavy on contemplation as three teens ponder their place in the world while dark forces swirl on the edge of their reality.
We are first introduced to Midori (Michiko Gomi), a young woman who once belonged to a cult named Shio no kai (Golden Wave) when she was a child. She predicted the Great East Japan Earthquake while she was a member but escaped their clutches and is now a university student keeping a low profile lest the cult’s followers find and kidnap her for her much coveted powers of premonition. However, when a serial cat killer near the campus graduates to offing a student, Midori is reluctantly drawn to the case. Already investigating is a pretty, and pretty deceitful, student named Toko (Miki Handa) who seeks to enliven her dull reality by toying with the person she suspects is the culprit, her seemingly affable classmate Okita (Yuzu Aoki) who might be hiding a dark side behind his nice smile. All the while, graduation looms and the violence of the adult world and natural disasters presses upon the three.
Yesterday we lost the legend that is Nobuhiko Obayashi. He died at the age of 82, almost four years when he was given just four months to live after being diagnosed with cancer. Even though I wrote reviews for just two films (Hausu back in 2011 and Hanagatamiin 2018), it feels like I wrote about him every year because his films were constantly in circulation. I was even inspired to visit Onomichi in 2018 and photograph some locations he filmed in. Anyway, he was feted around the world and worked to the very end, as evidenced by the large amount of films by him or connected to him at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival.
It feels like the Japanese movie industry is in a gentle decline as adaptations, compilations, TV movies and mediocrities dominate due to production committees who hoover up profits while the artists making content are underpaid and have their creativity stifled. With Obayashi’s passing, the industry has lost some of its magic. He was imaginative and had a creative streak and boyish enthusiasm that made his films charming. We’ll not see an artist like him again so we should treasure the works he created, many of which will continue to be screened.
RIP Nobuhiko Obayashi
Anyway, I was in Japan for a month and I returned to the UK almost a fortnight ago after working at the Osaka Asian Film Festival. I’ve been publishing reviews and interviews I did while there and since returning to the UK, I’ve been in self-quarantine to make sure I don’t have Coronavirus so I’m kind of in the perfect position to keep writing even though the world is in the grip of a medical disaster (prompted by unfettered capitalism and poor governance mostly instituted by governments run by right-wingers).
Anyway, due to being busy, I missed all of March from the trailer posts. Due to Coronavirus, films are being pulled from Japanese cinemas, I can play catch-up.
What is released this weekend and what was released on the first weekend of March?
The Tokyo International Film Festival (TokyoIFF) (October 28th-November 05th) is back with a programme that is set to appeal to as broad an audience as ever as it casts its net wide to take in a slew of new releases alongside restored classics and promoting indie cinema.
This year, the artists in focus are Nobuhiko Obayashi and Machiko Kyo, both of whom get retrospectives, there is a 65th Anniversary tribute to Godzilla, and, in the absence of an anime director to fete, the development of visual effects is the highlight. Unlike my last TokyoIFF post, I’ll keep it brief by writing in detail about films I haven’t covered before or not that often and I’ll also focus on titles from the indie end of the spectrum and a couple of Competition titles.
It is the 50th Anniversary of the Tora-san series and this is the 50th film. Long-time director Yoji Yamada, returns to the series to bring back the travelling salesman and his adventure in love but as seen from his family’s perspective.
Synopsis:Mitsuo, Tora-san’s nephew, has arrived at Kurumaya Cafe in Shibamata, Tokyo, on the sixth anniversary of the death of his wife for a memorial service. Tora-san’s family ran the place as a traditional confectionery store before it was turned into a cafe but the living quarters in the back remain unchanged. It is here that the family gather to reminiscence about the past, including Tora-san’s adventures in love up and down Japan. It is now, at Tora-san’s childhood home, that Mitsuo runs into Izumi, his first love.
Two J-films in the competition and they couldn’t be further from each other which is good.
Macoto Tezka, son of famous manga-ka Osamu Tezuka, turns his father’s novel into a film with Goro Inagaki and top actress Fumi Nikaido taking the lead in the “writer and his muse” story. The cinematography is done by Christopher Doyle and it looks extremely erotic and a little magical. This one is backed by Third Window Films so it will get a great international release.
Synopsis:Osamu Tezuka re-imagines The Tales of Hoffmann which creates a series of meetings wrapped up in lust, forbidden love, the occult, art and all-round weirdness for a famous writer named Yosuke Mikura and a mysterious girl named “Barbara”. This was made for the 90th Anniversary of Osamu Tezuka’s birth.
Shin Adachi is best known for his script for 100 Yen Love (2014) and has worked on other projects, including directing a warmly received comedy 14 That Night (2016). He adapts his autobiographical novel for his sophomore film as a director and it was produced by Aoi Pro, whose works include Shoplifters (2018) and The Long Excuse (2016).
Synopsis:Gota Yanagida (Gaku Hamada) is a scriptwriter with a family and a desperate need for a hit film. His wife of 10 years, Chika (Asami Mizukawa), is the family breadwinner and very unhappy about their lack of money. His daughter Aki (Chise Niitsu) is beginning to view him as a bit of a loser. His desperation for a break is finally answered when a film producer tasks Gota with writing a screenplay for his story of “a high school girl who makes udon noodles at a tremendous speed”. Gota has a chance to travel to Kagawa Prefecture to write a screenplay and so he persuades Chika and Aki to go with him, but when he arrives he discovers a different film project has already been decided…
Despite the scheduler’s best efforts to suppress this film (a 255 minute movie screened at midnight), you can’t silence Kazuo Hara (The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On) and international interest in political dissent over the corrupt and geriatric LDP Party (another one of those right-wing nationalist parties running the human race into the ground) will be high. I suspect that this one will get play at festivals around the world. Fight the power!
Synopsis:Kazuo Hara follows Ayumi Yasutomi, a transgender Tokyo University professor and a candidate from the anti-establishment party Reiwa Shinsengumi as she embarks on a national campaign for a seat in Japan’s Upper House.
Tatsuya Mori is a documentarian famous for the films A (1998), 311 (2011) and Fake(2016). He also acted as producer on The Journalist (2019) which is based on a book by the real-life female journalist, Isoko Mochizuki. She forms the centre of this film as she pursues the truth.
Synopsis: Traditional news media is in a spin as social media, financial forces and political tribalism batter them around. Maybe film documentary might be the best place for news if not for some of brave journalists still working for newspapers who are unafraid to look for the truth. Isoko Mochizuki of The Tokyo Shimbun is one of them as she asks all the awkward questions that keep those in power on their toes and ferrets out the truth. This in a country which is still patriarchal, in an industry which is male-dominated, in a media environment that prefers not to challenge those in power lest they lose access to government press conferences. Here’s an article about her in The New York Times (written by Motoko Rich) which gives an excellent overview of the environment she works in.
I met the Watanabe brothers and their cinematographer at the 2014 Raindance Film Festival‘s screening of And the Mud Ship Sails Away and I got their autographs. Little did I suspect that they would turn into familiar faces at the Tokyo International Film Festival as they get backing from the event to keep produce their brand of offbeat comedy shot in black-and-white. It’s an alternative to the urban voices and a lot of sideways fun.
Synopsis:A man who lives with his ageing grandmother works silently in a pigpen… That’s the synopsis…
Synopsis:The rapper SEEDA’s 2006 album Flowers and Rain forms the basis of this work about a young man’s travails. You can hear the SEEDA’s work on this webpage dedicated to Japanese hip-hop. Rising stars Sho Kasamatsu and Ayaka Onishi (Randen) take the lead roles.
どうしようもない僕のちっぽけな世界は「Dou shiyou mo nai boku no chippokena sekai wa」
Release Date: N/A
Duration: 87 mins.
Starring: Tomohiro Kaku, Yuina Furuta, Jun Miho,
Synopsis: Cases of child abuse have hit the headlines a lot more frequently over the last two years after some harrowing stories. Child welfare services are being examined but as that happens, films come in to show what happens on the ground. In this one, a girl named Hiiro away from her parents when they suspect she’s being abused.
The winner of last year’s Unfinished Movie Trailer Grand Prix MI-CAN where filmmaker’s can win a cash prize based on a trailer around 3 minutes, this takes place in Sarugakuchou in Shibuya and looks at the lives of two young people who meet there.Here’s more about the area from Tokyo Weekender.
Synopsis:A young photographer who is dating a model he met in Shibuya’s Sarugakuchou finds that their sweet romance which she has fostered begins to fall apart because of her dishonesty.
Synopsis:Maki Yoshioka is a novelist and mother. She’s suffering a slump in her work and things get worse when her neighbour, Miwako, begins harassing her. Maki goes on the counterattack and makes Miwako a character in her novel but that causes the fight between the two to spiral out of control as the media and internet get involved…
Synopsis: A lonely filmmaker who works by himself with nobody and nothing but the stars which watch over him for company finds that his small filmmaking dream that nobody knows about eventually leads to a vast universe.
When the Rain Stops
雨のやむとき「Ame no yamutoki」
Release Date: N/A
Duration: 28 mins.
Starring: Takumi Takita, Yuma Karino, Yuri Osawa,
Synopsis: Junior high-schoolers Rikako and Kouta are having trouble fitting in with others. They become friends and find their own place at a riverside.
This is Taku Tsuboi’s directorial debut. He has a background in working with Makoto Shinozaki (Sharing) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Journey to the Shore).
Synopsis: Told primarily in flashbacks, the film follows Midori, a college student who once belonged to a cult named Shio no kai. She predicted the Great East Japan Earthquake while she was a member but has shaken off her past and is now a college student. When disturbing incidents such as cat killings occur near the college she attends, it draws others in, including other former cultists. One other college student, Toko, suspects that the cat killer is her schoolmate Okita.
This section highlights some of the more recent films to have garnered a release on the theatrical and festival circuit and features a strand called Nobuhiko Obayashi: The Wizard of Cinema with Hanagatami being among the titles selected.
Synopsis:A group of young people at a soon-to-be-shuttered cinema find themselves time-slipping through the screen to various historical events such as witnessing death during the Sengoku period and on the battlefront in China, being in Hiroshima just before the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing of the city. This was shot in Obayashi’s hometown in Onomichi and seems to have an anti-war message.
Synopsis: Harada is a successful scriptwriter who learns that his ex-wife is about to marry his best friend. Shocked by the news, Harada heads back into the past and goes to the old family neighbourhood in Asakusa where he encounters a couple who bear a striking resemblance to his own parents, who were killed nearly 30 years ago when he was twelve…
Synopsis:Summer, 1937, Onomichi. A group of children find themselves surrounded by jingoistic adults as Japan begins a war with China but the kids have issues closer to home to worry about as they try to rescue a beautiful girl from being sold off into prostitution.
Innovation in animation is the theme and it spans movies from the first colour animation to the most recent releases, four of which have been submitted for the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar for the 92nd Academy Awards – Children of the Sea, Promare, Weathering With You,Okko’s Inn.
This is the first animated feature film in colour from Japan and it has been given a 4K scan and restoration job by Toei Animation Company and the National Archive of Japan to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Japanese animation and 60th anniversary of this film’s original theatrical release. Only two voice actors were cast for the film which would be one of the first of three anime features released in North America.
Original negative, 35mm print, tape materials, and animation cels were used by Toei lab tech and Toei digital centre to produce restored data which is in 2K. It was screened at the Cannes Film Festival.
Synopsis:Xu-Xian was forced to free his pet, a small snake, as a young boy. What he didn’t know was that the snake is actually a goddess named Bai-Niang and she loved him. In fact, she never stopped loving him and years later, when they are both adults, they meet again only she has been magically transformed into a human. Their love goes against the local wizard who separates them by banishing Xu-Xian from the village. Fortunately his pet pandas Panda and Mimi set out to save him and bring him, in the process becoming leaders of an animal gang.
Synopsis:Hiromi Oka aims to be an ace tennis player but she must endure lots of hardships as she struggles to become someone who can stand among the best junior players in Japan.
You can’t have a focus on special effects without mentioning tokusatsu and there is a talk about the origins of the monsters from Ultraman Q and four episodes from that venerable show, each of which is a 4K restoration and has a talk attached to it.
Synopsis: When Ruka’s parents separated she went to live with her father who works in an aquarium. It is there that she meets two boys, Umi and Sora, who were raised in the sea by dugongs. Ruka feels drawn to them and begins to realise that she has the same sort of supernatural connection to the ocean that they do and she becomes connected to strange events such as the disappearance of sea creatures from around the world. Ruka investigates what is going on…
This road movie/western is a co-production between Kazakhstan/Japan and brought to the big screen via Tokyo New Cinema. It is the work of two directors, Yerlan Nurmukhambetov who won the New Currents Award in Busan International Film Festival 2015, and Lisa Takeba. Yes, that Lisa Takeba with the fierce imagination who made The Pinkie (2014) and Haruko’s Paranormal Laboratory (2015). In his first overseas role, Mirai Moriyama (The Drudgery Train) takes one of the lead characters amongst a predominantly Kazakh cast.
It looks like an ambitious and fresh new movie production for Japan as it follows To the Ends of the Earth to new territories and stories.
Synopsis: We are in the plains of the Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan, a world where horse thieves operate under vast skies and on huge grass plains. A family man is murdered by those thieves as he heads to a town market to sell his horses. This leaves his wife a widow and his children fatherless. The village comes together to help the wife hold the man’s funeral and then the wife decides to return to her family with her children. Then, another man who vanished from her life eight years ago appears and helps the woman move and takes one of the children, the son, under his wing, teaching him how to ride horses. The son of the wife resembles that man. The man and the boy go out on horseback together and track down the horse thieves…
Synopsis:Hiromi (Yui Sakuma) is a 26-year-old who is popular with guys because of her cutesy and innocent ways which she uses as a flirtation strategy. In reality, she can be quite cruel because she will lead guys on and then dump them when it suits her. Her housemate Akira (Nijiro Murakami) and her friend Aya (Suzuka Ohgo) call her “Kakure Bitch” (a type of women who uses innocence to flirt with men) and she enjoys being one until she meets a man named Tsuyoshi (Yuta Koseki) and she realises she genuinely does like him…
Keiichi Kobayashi directed indie movies About the Pink Sky and Bon Lin and I’m pleased to see him back with another film!
Synopsis:Rei is an apathetic highschooler who is bored and lives a boring existence. When he sees his class-mate Nana bury a dead bee with care and respect he becomes interested in her and that is when Nana confides in him that she has no will to live and is harming herself…
Synopsis: When Lord Takuminokami Asano is ordered to kill himself due to a scheme by Kozukenosuke Kira, his loyal samurai plan an attack but they need the help of the accountant Chosuke Yato (Takashi Okamura) because but they don’t have enough in their budget.
Synopsis:Koharu (Yuko Tanaka), in an effort to protect her three children from their abusive father, she murdered the man. It shattered their family and sent them on wildly different paths. 15 years later, the family reunites again, each bearing scars from their traumatic background…
Synopsis:When a plane carrying important documents crashes in the Death Zone of Mount Everest, two men claiming to work for India’s research and analysis department offer a large sum of money to Team Wings to take them up to recover them.
This is a mix of documentaries and an omnibus movie and jidaigeki.
Synopsis:After meeting as college students in the cinema town of Seijo, husband and wife Nobuhiko and Kyoko Obayashi have gone on to direct and produce acclaimed films together for 60 years. They have created more than 40 films and he remains one of the most famous names in Japanese cinema. This documentary looks back on their youth and their independent films. It comes with testimony from friends and family who talk about the special bond between the two.
Synopsis:This documentary was shot during the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics and looks at the conditions faced by the physically disabled in Japan at the time. Many of the athletes were affected by World War II, some returning from the battlefields as wounded soldiers, and this was seen as a way to rehabilitate them. The then Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko — now former emperor and former empress — are seen with them.
Synopsis:A documentary about Haruomi Hosono, famous for his solo work, his work with Yellow Magic Orchestra and the music he composed for Cannes Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters. The footage spans his career from his early days to his recent first overseas performances in London, New York and Los Angeles. In London, he was joined by Yukihiro Takahashi, and when Ryuichi Sakamoto made a surprise appearance onstage, the YMO members were reunited for the first time in five years, a must-see spectacle captured on film.
Synopsis:Based on a true incident, this is a timeless story of a hot-headed young man who rebels against his parents and is forced into desperate straits, eventually losing himself in madness.
This strand from the festival features three films programmed as Memorial Screenings for the actress Machiko Kyo who passed away earlier this year. HEre’s an obituary written for Sight and Sound magazine.
Synopsis:A film about female sex workers in a licensed brothel near the Sensouji Temple in Tokyo’s Yoshiwara district at a time when the Japanese government is considering a ban on prostitution. We see the women’s daily dramas as each tries to navigate different situations and achieve their dreams. Hanae supports her family while, Yumeko, a widow, uses her earnings to raise and support her son, who is now old enough to work and care for her. Yasumi aims to pay off a debt and leave while the ageing Yorie has the opportunity to get married. Miki finds her situation changes when her father comes from Kobe to bring her news of her family and ask her to come home.
Synopsis: It is 1159 and the Heiji Rebellion is underway and it is during this commotion that a samurai named Morito pursues a lady-in-waiting named Kesa. She is already married to another samurai named Wataru which means that Morito will have to bump him off…
Synopsis: Based on a Ryunosuke Akutagawa novel, this is the story of a vicious murder and a rape but where does the guilt lie and how can justice be served? The vicious bandit Tajomaru is the suspect but he claims the killing resulted from a fair fight and the woman welcomed his attentions. Others offer different, contradictory accounts of the events. The truth of what happened at the storm-tossed Rashomon Gate is explored from different perspectives.
Sushi Typhoon was an outfit that took America by storm with its line-up of splatter films in the early 2000s. One film stood out above all other titles, Noboru Iguchi’s Machine Girl (2008) which is now getting a reboot thanks to a new director.
Synopsis:Ami and her sister Yoshie find themselves mortal enemies of the criminal enterprise known as the Dharma Family. Yoshie is kidnapped by the Battle Bust Sisters, female killing machines designed by Dharma Aoyama, and is turned into a human cyborg programmed to kill Ami who has had her arm cut off and decided the best way to rectify the situation is to attach a machine gun to the stump. Bullets and carnage are the only way to take her sister Yoshie back!