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The Sower 種をまく人 Dir: Yosuke Takeuchi (2016) Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018

The Sower      A1PosterAward2

種をまく人  Tane o maku hito」    

Running Time: 117 mins.

Release Date: 2016

Director: Yosuke Takeuchi

Writer: Yosuke Takeuchi (Screenplay)

Starring: Kentaro Kishi, Suzuno Takenaka, Tomomitsu Adachi, Arisa Nakajima, Ichika Takeuchi,

IMDB           Website

As far as movies inspired by artists go, most tend to be autobiographical such as “Lust for Life” (1956) which stars Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh. Yosuke Takeuchi’s film “The Sower” is an independent movie that takes inspiration from that famous and tragic artist who lived with a naive but passionate connection with the world and suffered for it.

Mitsuo, the lead character here, fixates on sunflowers, wears a hat and bears a beard that is similar to the genius who roamed the fields of Provence, but Mitsuo’s story finds itself connected to the efforts made by farmers and volunteers to plant sunflowers across swathes of Fukushima prefecture to help the soil absorb radiation leaked from the region’s damaged nuclear power plant but have they absorbed other aspects of life? Mitsuo is the titular “Sower”, a man who believes they have. He is riven by guilt over a death he had no power over but it isn’t just his story, it is that of the people around him, all of whom are unique individuals with issues.

Mitsuo (Kentaro Kishi) was one of those brave souls who answered the call for volunteers to clear out the debris left behind by the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. The strain of the task proved to be too much and he spent three years in psychiatric care. Upon his release, Mitsuo finds solace when he is warmly welcomed into the home of his younger brother Yuta (Tomomitsu Adachi) and meets his sister-in-law Yoko (Arisa Nakajima) and two nieces, elementary school-girl Chie (Suzuno Takenaka) and Itsuki (Ichika Takeuchi), a three-year-old with down-syndrome. This sweet moment of family bonding is shattered by tragedy when the two girls are left in Mitsuo’s care and Itsuki dies in an accident. Even though he had no direct involvement in the incident, Mitsuo is blamed and he must deal with the burden of guilt and the struggle for atonement while Chie suffers equally as much over whether to tell the truth of what happened or not…

This slow-burn drama is something of a revelation. Considering it is Takeuchi’s debut feature film, it is an amazing achievement since it has so much grace and builds up an emotional current through patient direction and perfect acting that it sweeps the audience into a realm of individual’s suffering from profound emotions in such an almost visceral and a very beautiful and heartfelt way.

The film hinges upon the idea of guilt, trauma, and grief warping both Mitsuo and Chie and the people around them, trapping everyone in a negative space which brings out the worst in people and, for those too naive  to understand what is happening, it is better to remain silent than open up. This is nothing new. Chie is the subject of bullying and Mitsuo has seen horrific things in Fukushima as made clear in the opening, but neither verbalises it, her isolation from the class and his haggard look saying a lot more. How to tell such things to others? It’s a difficult struggle.

The_Sower_1Chie

Any attempt to tell the truth about what happened to Itsuki is handicapped by people’s prejudices towards those with mental health issues, protectiveness over children, and grudges held over perceived wrongdoing in the past. Family, the one place that should be a refuge becomes a minefield of broiling emotions, the implications and consequences of which rise organically as the temperature of the drama rises with every story twist while also offering a strong social commentary.

Yosuke Takeuchi is an artist who studied painting in Paris which is where he was inspired by Van Gogh. However his own story has become part of this film such as a niece with special needs taking on the role of Itsuki and his thoughts on how society treats people who are different. The hesitation to love those who have down-syndrome, the fear of genetic contamination and lack of understanding for mental health issues, they are all present in the minds of characters. They verbalise these contentious issues in dialogue that could be heard in everyday life and we see how wrong it is as we come to understand the suffering of Mitsuo and Chie who are tragically too naive to cope and it is harrowing stuff to watch them be buffeted around by the emotions of their community.

The acting and mise-en-scene are naturalistic allowing us to enter the conflict. Early scenes are documentary-like with fast editing at the start that helps builds up character, setting, and, tension until the horrific moment occurs and then the film slows down, using many extended sequences to locate the character in their environment, little Chie avoiding others by being alone while Mitsuo is shambling around with a shell-shocked look when he isn’t sowing seeds with fervour as an act of atonement.

The_Sower_2Mitsuo

Takeuchi favours scenes full of close-ups to show the aftermath of every emotional encounter such as when adults fight over Chie or when people openly talk about Mitsuo’s mental health issues and others must listen uncomfortably. These close-ups are even more powerful tracking the increasingly withdrawn and sullen visages presented by Chie and Mitsuo and the anger of Yoko and Yuta as they navigate how to deal with the conflicts that arise. The best one has to be at the start when Mitsuo and Chie speak about the sunflowers in Fukushima and their supernatural aspects. Their connection is made with the look of adoration the little girl has and the warmness of Mitsuo.

The sounds of the film are equally important in detailing the deep emotions on offer. It all takes place in summer so the sounds of cicadas and festivals are intense enough to offer a contrast to the deafening silences the characters go through. When it replaces speech, the audience focuses on the acting and when characters talk it generates more force and meaning. This sets up a tear-inducing finale.

When the ending comes, having journeyed through all of the complex pain and suffering, the audience will be blessed with a moment of catharsis delivered through an innocent and simple gesture and gazes that suggest moving on. This film has to be seen.

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Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018 Round-Up

It’s the month of May!

I hope everybody is feeling top of the line!

After the chaos of April which turned out to be a bit of a Sion Sono month, I’m reaching back into March and my film work in Japan.

Thanks to the kindness of the organisers I worked at the Osaka Asian Film Festival as a writer/journalist again and I dove deep into finding out more about the Japanese indie film scene. To do this, I watched many films and interviewed directors, actors, and editors. It was a great experience meeting so many gifted people. Inspiring, uplifting, and fun!

I beat my last attempt and hit a new year’s resolution!

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A Preview of the Japanese Film Festival Ireland 2018 – “The Sower” and “The Night is Short, Walk on Girl” headline a great programme

The Japanese Film Festival Ireland is back for its 10th year and the event kicks off on April 08th and lasts until the 21st as a diverse programme of films made in Japan over the last year and a half are screened. This list features some of the best films to have been given a release including two titles by Masaaki Yuasa, the hottest talent in anime right now, and also, The Sower, a finely controlled human drama that is both beautiful and haunting. It made me cry every time I watched it. I have watched it around five times! That shows you its power!

A selection of the films will be hosted at each of the venues stretching from Cork, Galway, Limerick, Tipperary, Dublin, Sligo, Waterford and finally to Dundalk over the next month so check out the website to see which venues have which films.

Here are the films programmed:

The Sower      

種をまく人  Tane o maku hito」    

Running Time: 117 mins.

Release Date: 2016

Director: Yosuke Takeuchi

Writer: Yosuke Takeuchi (Screenplay)

Starring: Kentaro Kishi, Suzuno Takenaka, Tomomitsu Adachi, Arisa Nakajima, Ichika Takeuchi,

IMDB           Website

I had the pleasure of watching this as part of the Osaka Asian Film Festival where I also met its director, Yosuke Takeuchi. It’s a fine film, one of the best I have seen in recent years. Its genesis comes from the personal life of the director and also the life of Vincent van Gogh and how the artist lived a humble and naive existence to the full despite the treatment he faced from society. That story is reflected in not just one of the main characters, the titular “Sower”, but also the people around him. Through their story, a wider one about the treatment of outsiders occurs. This is a remarkable drama that I have seen five times and I am impressed by it which is why I am highlighting it as part of this festival.

Here’s my review for V-Cinema for The Sower.

Synopsis: Mitsuo was one of those brave souls who answered the call for volunteers to clear out the debris left behind by the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. The strain of the task proved to be too much and he spent three years in psychiatric care. Upon his release, Mitsuo finds solace in reuniting with his brother and his nieces Chie and Itsuki. But a tragic accident soon disrupts the newly found happiness when the two girls are left in his care and Itsuki is killed. Though he had no direct involvement in the incident, Mitsuo is blamed and this causes him and the people around him to deal with the burden of guilt and the struggle for atonement.

Continue reading “A Preview of the Japanese Film Festival Ireland 2018 – “The Sower” and “The Night is Short, Walk on Girl” headline a great programme”

Japanese Films at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2018

The team behind the Osaka Asian Film Festival has released the entire programme of films that will play at this year’s edition and it’s a mighty cinematic feast spread across a Competition and programmes dedicated to Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, and other territories from elsewhere across Asia as well as Special Screenings, an Indie Forum, and films supported by the Housen Foundation.  

These films cover a huge range of stories from dramas involving people finding karate giving meaning to their lives, to a melancholy animated title about dogs to Taiwan. There are lots of fantastic Japanese short films and box-office hits and an appearance from Hong Kong’s king of comedy, Chapman To. He is the recipient of the Osaka Asia Star Award and will be at the festival to talk about his career. A new talent on the American indie-scene, Kogonoda, will get his film screened at the festival and there are up-and-coming female directors from Asia. More pertinently, there is a whole slew of fantastic Japanese indie films that have some of the best drama and settings. Most if not all of these films have English subs which makes this festival the best place in Japan to see films.

The entire programme and all details, times, and dates are online at the festival’s site and tickets are already on sale. Here is a preview covering the Japanese films:

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A Preview of Camera Japan 2017

Camera Japan Logo

Camera Japan 2017 starts in just under a months time in Rotterdam and Amsterdam and there is plenty to dig into so having the festival programme is a must. You can also read about the various films and events here on this site where I will have this guide complete with addresses and links to other, more detailed posts covering

Feature Films  |  Anime and Short Anime Films |  Documentaries

Special Screenings and Short Films   |   Workshops and Events

Check back over the week to read more!

So, what’s happening? Camera Japan starts off with a special event in Rotterdam on the 15th September at an artistic venue known as WORM. The event consists of a film screening and music. The film getting screened is Gui aiueo:S A Stone from Another Mountain to Polish Your Own Stone, an experimental black-and-white documentary film about a band travelling Japan and exploring different sounds and this is followed by a concert by Krautrock band Minami Deutsch who hail from Tokyo and sound like Kraftwerk.

The main body of the festival then starts with the Rotterdam run which will take place from 21st– 24th September at LantarenVenster and this is where the bulk of the films and events will be hosted. The festival then moves to Amsterdam from 29th September 01st October and there will be lots to see. I have added annotations to show what is being screened where. It’s needed because there is so much on offer.

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Feature-Length Fiction Films at Nippon Connection Film Festival 2017

Nippon Connection Logo

The Nippon Connection Film Festival takes place from May 23 to 28, 2017 and it will be held in Frankfurt am Main. The organisers released details of the 100+ short and feature length films that will be screened and there are many top titles that audiences can see to get a perfect snapshot of the myriad of stories and talents that the Japanese film industry is producing. There are a whole host of premieres and these will be shown in the presence of many directors and actors who will introduce and talk about their work to the audience. 

There are some really great films to be seen and a couple of head-scratchers based on the quality but there should be something for everyone. On top of the films, there are also many cultural events to be had at the festival which will be detailed below along with some brief information on the venues.

What is on the programme, then? This is a quick preview but there’s a lot. I’ll break it down into sections and you can view trailers and more details for each on the films by clicking on the links:

Continue reading “Feature-Length Fiction Films at Nippon Connection Film Festival 2017”