Genkina hito’s Top Twelve Films of 2014

Better late than never! And why twelve? Because it’s hard to decide! This is my list of top twelve films I saw in 2014 so it covers movie releases both new and old. I watched a lot of films in 2014. I was going to the cinema nearly two or three times a month and renting/buying a lot of films so I have built up an impressive list that spans genres and eras ‘60s (Kuroneko, Female Convict Scorpion Jailhouse 41) and ‘80s (Blade Runner, Ghostbusters) and 2014s…

The World of Kanako TsumabukiMy cinematic year began not with a Japanese film but American Hustle, a nice distraction before I headed down to London for the 2014 edition of the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme. I came away from that film festival profoundly moved by the humanism and simple beauty of everyday life I saw in Kimi no Tomodachi, the perfect drama with a plucky protagonist in Shindo and the very dark existential drama Parade. I followed that with a trip to the Kotatsu Japanese Animation Film Festival where I cried buckets over Colorful and saw the future of anime in Patema Inverted. Despite loving these films so much it has taken me nearly a year to write/publish reviews of them because I was constantly going to the Belle (Mbatha-Raw) and Elizabeth (Gadon) in Bellecinema to see the likes of Blue Ruin, The Wind Rises, Deliver Us From Evil, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Belle. Kotatsu was followed by the 2014 Terracotta Far East Film Festival in May which is where I met Akira Nagai, director of Judge!, the actors of Be My Baby, and I enjoyed watching The Snow White Murder Case. In September/October/November I was in London for the Raindance Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival where I met and interviewed/talked to even more directors. Out of all the films I watched between the two festivals it was Fuku-chan of Fukufuku Flats and The World of Kanako which impressed me the most.

Overall, 2014 was a good year for my Japanese film viewing but my final list contains a lot of western films. Here are my top films from 2014.

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Shindo (Wonder Child) 神童 (2007)

Shindo (Wonder Child)      

Shindo Film Poster
Shindo Film Poster

Japanese Title:  神童

Romaji: Shindou

Release Date: April 21st, 2007

Running Time: 120 mins.

Director: Koji Hagiuda

Writer: Kosuke Mukai (Screenplay),

Starring: Riko Narumi, Kenichi Matsuyama, Satomi Tezuka, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tamae Ando, Masahiro Komoto, Shihori Kanjiya, Akira Emoto,

Japanese cinema has a unique category of film known as seishun eiga (youth films or coming-of-age films). These are a pretty common in Japan because many are made to serve as a star-vehicle for some young up and coming talent. Shindo stands out by taking the audience into the world of its main protagonist and lets us experience things as she does.

Shindo can translate into genius or prodigy and the prodigy here is Uta Naruse (Riko Narumi). Her name means song and she is a musical prodigy, a gifted pianist. She could read sheet music before she could speak and can play complex pieces from memory.

Shindo Riko Narumi as Uta Naruse

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Shindo – The Beat Knocks Her World – 震動 (2013)

Shindo – The Beat Knocks Her World –Shindo Nao and Les Paul

Japanese Title: 震動

Running Time: 73 mins.

Director: Asami Hirano

Writer: Asami Hirano (Screenplay),

Starring: Shumpei Kawagoishi, Kana Kita, Kyutaro, Takuya Matsunaga, Gen Ogawa, Yuji Kaneda, Maya Kondo

It is a balmy summer and Haruki (Kawagoishi), a rather quiet and reserved high-school student, is on the cusp of graduation. He lives in a small and quiet country town and his days are pretty uniform. He awakes in a group home and gets ready for school helping the other kids there as well. With his school bag packed and his iPod fully charged, he heads to school listening to music and dutifully does his lessons before going to work at a convenience store and then heading back to the home and helping out around the place, all with his iPod Shindo Second Viewing (3)creating a soundtrack for him.

The one person or thing he really cares about most is Nao (Kita), a deaf girl who has lived in the same orphanage since they were young children. They are devoted to each other and with graduation on the horizon Haruki has a plan for their future mapped out: he intends to use the money he has saved from working at the convenience store to buy a place for the two of them to live in together.

Enter classmate Aki. He is a wild-haired drummer in a rock group in need of a guitarist. Aki Shindo Haruki and His Bandasks Haruki to play guitar and even though Haruki has never touched one in his life, Aki is persistent because Haruki is left-handed and left-handed guitarists (Hendrix, Cobain, McCartney) are cool and the band needs cool more than it needs technical skill. Haruki can learn this stuff, right?

Shindo Haruki and his Guitar

Haruki is initially reluctant but Nao pushes him because she knows of his love for music. As Haruki plays with the band it widens his horizons as he spends more time with others practicing and performing at concerts and gaining fans but as Haruki becomes more devoted to music Nao feels a growing distance between them and becomes unhappy as the music steals Haruki away.

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Genkina hito at the Raindance Film Festival 2013

Genki Raindance Film Festival 2013 Review Banner

I’m back in London at another film festival a week after this year’s Raindance Independent Film Festival finished.

The thing about this festival is that it screens titles that would be hard to find even in their native countries. Indie films that would have a narrow release, usually in a capital city (Tokyo, London) and perhaps at some regional third-tier film festivals. If I had to describe the titles I watched with simple words then I would use confident and stylish. Every story was told with an assured skill and was highly absorbing. The only downside was the small turn-out for each of the films I attended. It was most disappointing during the Remiges screening because I played a part in getting it into the festival and the director came all the way from Japan to perform a Q&A!

The most positive thing is that I met friends and watched excellent films that have shot to the top of my favourite films of the year list – oh how I loved watching Shady, The Kirishima Thing, and Remiges – and I’ve become immersed even more in cinema culture.

Even more immersed in the culture?

Well, I write for Gigan magazine and some of my reviews for the festival appeared in the paper edition (no sign of digital yet). Thanks to Adam of Third Window Films I was able to conduct a couple of interviews with directors. So what reviews do I have in connection with the festival? Here are the reviews and interviews:

The Kirishima Thing

Shindo 

Ku_On 

Sake-Bomb + Interview 

Remiges + Interview 

Shady

The Kirishima Thing                                         The Kirishima Thing Poster          

Romaji: Kirishima, Bukatsu Yamerutteyo

Japanese Title: 桐島、 部活 やめるってよ

Running Time: 103 mins.

Director: Daihachi Yoshida

Writer: Ryo Asai (Original Novel), Kohei Kiyasu, Daihachi Yoshida (Screenplay)

Starring: Ai Hashimoto, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Suzuka Ohgo, Mayu Matsuoka, Motoki Ochiai, Masahiro Higashide, Kurui Shimizu, Mizuki Yamamoto,   

The Kirishima Thing is a teen drama featuring a collection of bright young things of the Japanese acting world that show they are a new and strong generation of talent. Its depiction of the social mores and strata in high school is well-observed and real and for its efforts it was the big winner at the recent Japanese Academy Awards scoring Best Film and Best Director prizes. I already watched and reviewed it before the festival so expect a re-review or lots of picture/Gifs.

When high school volleyball star player Kirishima quits the team shockwaves are sent through the school. This is the story of the students surrounding Kirishima from his friend Hiroki Kikuchi (Higashide), girlfriend Risa (Yamamoto), Aya (Ohgo) a brass band musician with a crush on Kirishima, badminton player Kasumi (Hashimoto), and the president of the film club Maeda (Kamiki). The students will cross social boundaries and defy groups as they attempt to redefine themselves.

 

Shady                                                                           Shady Film Poster 

Japanese Title: かしこい狗は、吠えずに笑う

Romaji: Kashikoi Inu wa, Hoezu ni Warau

Release Date: June 22nd, 2013

Director: Ryohei Watanabe

Writer: Ryohei Watanabe (Screenplay)

Starring: mimpi * β, Izumi Okamura, Isao Nakazawa, Gota Ishida, Ayumi Seko

I’ve been hyped for this ever since seeing at on Alua’s blog back in January. This film was released in June 2013 and it has been wowing critics and distributors (Winner of the Entertainment Award at the PIA Film Festival) and has been picked up by Third Window Films for the UK. This was my film of the festival. It was a genuinely unexpected treat that kept me hooked from start to finish. I want the soundtrack as well!

 

Misa Kumada (mimpi * β), an outcast at her school who is mercilessly teased and has no friends. She hates the place but when the popular and pretty Izumi Kiyose (Okamura) befriends her the two develop bonds of friendship. What Misa doesn’t know is that the seemingly angelic Kiyose has quite a dark side.

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Japanese Films at the Raindance Film Festival 2013

Genki Raindance Film Festival 2013 Banner

The films for the Raindance Film Festival (September 25th – October 06th ) have been announced and there are a lot of Japanese titles on offer in the Way Out East strand. There are some I have reviewed, some I have viewed and a lot that have come up in Saturday trailer posts I do every week. There are enough that I am willing to attend the festival. I will be heading down to London and watching Shindo, The Kirishima Thing, Shady and Remiges.

Here’s a trailer for the festival:

Here’s the line-up of titles:

Soul Flower Train            Soul Flower Train Film Poster

Japanese Title:  ソウル フラワー トレイン

Romaji: Souru Furawa- Torein

Running Time: 97 mins.

Director: Hiroshi Nishio

Writer: Miyuki Uehara, Hiroshi Nishio (Screenplay), Robin Nishi (Original Manga)

Starring: Mitsuru Hirata, Saki Seishi, Kensuke Owada, Mio Otani, Kaoru Kusumi, Megumi Wada, Shoichi Asano, Marin Sayoko

Robin Nishi, the mind behind the manga/anime Mind Game has another of his works adapted. It’s a road-trip movie with a soundtrack by Shounen Knife. This trailer was featured just last weekend and I liked it a lot but the screening date is a little too early for me so I’ll have to miss it.

In this tale, a father named Amamoto leaves his small village and heads to Osaka to track down his estranged daughter Yuki. He hooks up with a friendly young woman who helps him but ends up getting lost and caught up in a surreal adventure on the island before he finds her and discovers she is keeping secrets.

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