Japanese Films at the Vancouver International Film Festival 2013

Genki Vancouver International Film Festival 2013 Banner

Canada has two awesome film festivals at this time of year. The first is the Toronto International Film Festival and the second is the Vancouver International Film Festival. The line-up for Vancouver looks pretty good although a lot of the films have already been screened at events like London. I didn’t cover the Japanese films at Vancouver last year but I did follow the coverage (Amusing! Insightful!) from great cinebloggers Goregirl and Bonjour Tristesse so check in on them every day of the festival to see what they thought. There are some little gems here in terms of the Japanese line-up so let’s take a look.

Like Father, Like Son                          Like Father Like Son Cannes Poster

Japanese Title: そして 父 に なる

Romaji: Soshite Chichi ni Naru

Running Time: 119 mins.

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

Writer: Hirokazu Koreeda (Screenplay)

Starring: Masaharu Fukuyama, Machiko Ono, Yoko Maki, Jun Fubuki, Keita Ninomiya, Lily Franky, Jun Kunimura, Kiki Kirin, Isao Natsuyagi

Hirokazu Koreeda’s Like Father Like Son won an award for Cannes and was screened at the Toronto International Film Festival will be screened at the BFI London Film Festival. Awesome. It’s worth making a trip out not just because of the awards buzz but the fact that Koreeda is a great filmmaker. A modern-day Ozu with his interest in family life. The film stars Masaharu Fukuyama (Suspect X), Machiko Ono (EurekaThe Floating Castle), Yoko Maki (InfectionThe Grudge), Lily Franky (Afro Tanaka), Jun Fubuki (SéanceRebirth) Kirin Kiki (Kiseki) and Jun Kunimura (OutrageVital) and Isao Natsuyagi (The Land of HopeWarm Water Under a Red Bridge).

 

Successful architect Ryota (Fukuyama) and his wife Midori (Ono) have a happy family life with their six-year-old son Keita (Nonomiya) but a phone call from the hospital informing them of the fact that their child was mixed up with another at birth shatters their happiness. Their birth-son Ryusei has been raised by a poorer but more easy-going family run by Yudai (Franky) and Yukari (Maki) Saiki. Ryota and Midori must decide whether to hand over the son they have carefully raised for the last six years and take back their biological son or not.

  Continue reading “Japanese Films at the Vancouver International Film Festival 2013”

2013 (36th) Japan Academy Prize Award Winners

Genki 36th Japanese Academy Awards

The 36th Japan Academy Prizes were announced on Friday and an interesting line-up of winners has been announced.

The big news is that Hiroshi Abe (Survive Style 5+) and Kiki Kirin (Villain) take the outstanding acting awards. Abe won for his performance in the phenomenally successful Thermae Romae , beating out Koji Yakusho (who was nominated twice!) and Kirin won for the drama Chronicle of My Mother, beating out Erika Sawajiri (Ghost Train) who was in Helter Skelter. The other big news is that The Kirishima Thing, a film that interested me last year, took Picture of the Year and earned its director Daihachi Yoshida the award for Director of the Year beating far more experienced directors. Screenplay of the year went to Kenji Uchida for Key of Life which was a brilliantly written comedy. Outstanding Foreign Language Film went to The Intouchables.

The star filled film Dearest took the awards for Outstanding Performance by an Actress/Actor with Kimiko Yo (For Love’s Sake, The Story of Yonosuke, Departures, Suicide Club) and Hideji Otaki (Alley Cat, Izo) takng the awards. The Kirishima Thing and A Chorus of Angels split the technical awards between each other.

The Animation of the Year went to the brilliant The Wolf Children, my favourite film and anime of last year and it beat out A Letter to Momo and Evangelion 3.0.

AKB48’s Yuko Oshima won Most Popular Actor for her role in Ushijima the Loan Shark.

Being a Japanese film fan in the west is hard because we are usually a year or two behind the releases by the time we see them and it is only thanks to film festivals and enterprising film labels like Third Window Films that we get in touch with them in their year of release so it is hard to voice an opinion on how right or wrong the choices are. I have to admit that I am only familiar with most of these films thanks to my weekly trailer posts but I have had the pleasure of seeing some of the winners (Wolf Children, Key of Life) and I wholeheartedly back the awards given to them. Here is the full list of the nominees and winners complete with trailers for the winners and some of their posters:

Picture of the Year                                                          The Kirishima Thing Poster

  • The Kirishima Thing – Award Winner
  • Dearest
  • A Chorus of Angels
  • The Floating Castle
  • Chronicle Of My Mother

 

Animation of the Year

  • Wolf Children – Award Winner
  • Evangelion: 3.0 You Can (Not) Redo
  • A Letter to Momo
  • Friends Naki on Monster Island
  • One Piece Film Z

                                           The Wolf Children Poster

Most Popular Film

  • The Kirishima Thing

 

Director of the Year

  • Daihachi Yoshida (The Kirishima Thing) – Award Winner
  • Shinji Higuchi, Isshin Inudo (The Floating Castle)
  • Junji Sakamoto (A Chorus of Angels)                                       Key of Life Movie Poster
  • Masato Harada (Chronicle Of My Mother)
  • Yasuo Furuhata (Dearest)

 

Screenplay of the Year

  • Kenji Uchida (Key Of Life) – Award Winner
  • Takeshi Aoshima (Dearest)
  • Kohei Kiyasu, Daihachi Yoshida (The Kirishima Thing)
  • Machiko Nasu (A Chorus of Angels)
  • Masato Harada (Chronicle Of My Mother)

                     

Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Roleテルマエ&スパワールド

  • Hiroshi Abe (Thermae Romae) – Award Winner
  • Masato Sakai (Key Of Life)
  • Mansai Nomura (The Floating Castle)
  • Mirai Moriyama (The Drudgery Train)
  • Koji Yakusho (Admiral Yamamoto)
  • Koji Yakusho (Chronicle Of My Mother)

 

Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

  • Kirin Kiki (Chronicle Of My Mother) – Award WinnerChronicle of my Mother Poster
  • Tamiyo Kusakari (A Terminal Trust)
  • Erika Sawajiri (Helter Skelter)
  • Takako Matsu (Dreams for Sale)
  • Sayuri Yoshinaga (A Chorus of Angels)

 

Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Hideji Otaki (Dearest) – Award Winner
  • Teruyuki Kagawa (Key Of Life)
  • Kengo Kora (The Drudgery Train)
  • Koichi Sato (Dearest)
  • Koichi Sato (The Floating Castle)                                               Anata e Film Poster
  • Mirai Moriyama (A Chorus of Angels)

 

Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Kimiko Yo (Dearest) – Award Winner
  • Shinobu Terajima (Helter Skelter)
  • Ryoko Hirosue (Key Of Life)
  • Hikari Mitsushima (A Chorus of Angels)
  • Aoi Miyazaki (Chronicle Of My Mother)

  Continue reading “2013 (36th) Japan Academy Prize Award Winners”

Genkina Hito Previews Japanese Film/Anime Releases in the UK in 2013 Part 1 Anime

Aiko Genki Jason 2013 Preview Banner

2012 was an extraordinarily great year for Japanese film fans in the UK what with the film festivals getting awesome titles like Ai to Makoto and Key of Life as well as Third Window Films releasing a plethora of classic and new titles like the Tetsuo boxed set and Kotoko (which turned out to be a group of very popular posts for this blog) and supporting Sion Sono’s latest releases. That was just on the live-action front because Kaze have shown some gumption in acquiring the rights to the Berserk movie trilogy and even going as far as giving them a theatrical release!

What are the films we should be looking forward to in the next year? Well this is hardly an exhaustive list but I hope to give a heads up as to when some great titles are about to drop!

 Manga Entertainment UK

Wolf Children TransformManga Entertainment UK announced a plethora of awesome titles back in October at the London MCM Expo with The Wolf Children being my highlight. Am I hyped for that? Damn straight because that is an awesome title and was even my film/anime of the year! A definite purchase. I cannot praise this film enough but I will hold back for now and maybe indulge the need when I get the DVD.

The Wolf Children

  

In a story that takes place over thirteen years the theme of love between parents and children is explored. It starts when a college student named Hana falls in love with a “wolf man” named Ō kami. The two marry and have children – Yuki (snow) the older sister and Ame (rain) the younger brother. The four live quietly in a city concealing the true existence of their relationship until an incident happens and Hana decides to move to the country.

Next up in order of coolness is Blood-C.

I loved the original Blood: The Last Vampire and its sequel Blood+. Heck, I went to see the live-action movie and wore my Blood+ t-shirt to the screening, something I rarely do with anime merchandise but I was disappointed with Blood-C and wrote a dismissive review.

Blood-C's SayaIt turns out I was a bit too premature with my criticism but the first few episodes of the TV anime irritated me (and many others, it must be said) with its use of moé tropes/cuteness. Then something happened… The final episode saw enough blood and carnage raining down to make the red sea literal as it tore its face off and revealed a horrific visage of gore-streaked and flesh rending extreme violence.

Can you say “Wolf in sheep’s clothing”?

And yet I still have not watched the series but now I get a chance with the release of Blood-C and its movie sequel Blood-C: The Last Dark. 

 

Fumito Nanahara is an influential politician who rules Tokyo with an iron fist. He has introduced the Youth Ordinance Bill which enforces curfews for the young and regulates the internet. Despite this a group of young people have formed a group named SIRRUT and pan on attacking Fumito. In the course of their research they discover “Tower”, a secret organisation that is backing Fumito and conducts human experimentation. When Sirrut attempt to expose “Tower” in the Tokyo subway mysterious creatures appear. So too does Saya, a young girl who survived the horrific incident in Ukishima Province with a sword that can defeat the Old Ones.
Blood-C The Last Dark Movie PosterOld Ones? Sounds like a case of Lovecraftian horror! If so, I’m there! Blood-C: The Last Dark saw CLAMP (Cardcaptor Sakura) and Production I.G. (Patlabor) join forces with CLAMP handling the story and character designs and Production I.G. staff animating and directing. The cast includes Nana Mizuki (Fate Testarossa in Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha) reprising the role of Saya Kisaragi.

Staff from the TV series mostly made a return with Jun’ichi Fujisaku and CLAMP’s Nanase Ohkawa fulfilling writing duties however, the most defining change is that series director Tsutomu Mizushima (Another) is replaced by animator Naoyoshi Shiotani (Tokyo Marble Chocolate) as director.

They are not the only titles getting released by Manga UK. Also seeing a release is Jormungand and Guilty Crown in April, Cat Planet Cuties, Aria and Hellsing Ultimate parts 1 to 8 which Manga Entertainment will release in sets sometime ‘hopefully’ in May. Manga Entertainment are “still negotiating with Kadakowa over the series Steins;Gate, my runner-up anime of the year for 2011, and that it ‘might’ be ready by May or June 2013”.

Continue reading “Genkina Hito Previews Japanese Film/Anime Releases in the UK in 2013 Part 1 Anime”

Genkina hito’s Best Film (and Best Anime) of the Year Part 2 – The Wolf Children Ame and Yuki

Genki Best Of Banner

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2012 was to tackle watching anime more Kill Me Baby's First Assassinationaggressively. I ended up watching and enjoying the rather light school assassin comedy Kill Me Baby, a series generally rubbished by critics and viewers alike. I then watched the supernatural school mystery Another, a series which I found to beAnother - Mei Misaki Up Close particularly involving due to its central mystery of figuring out who is the ghost (and I never saw the answer coming). It had a live-action movie released earlier this year and I ended up buying the light novels when I went to the BFI Film Festival. Among other titles that made an impact were Sword Art Online, Mysterious Girlfriend X, and the 1999 TV anime Berserk and its movie adaptation. As much as I liked them, they did not move me to the extent that my anime and film of the year moved me.

The Wolf Children

Genki Jason Anime and Film of the Year Wolf Children Banner

The Wolf Children was the first film I saw at this year’s BFI London Film Festival. The setting was good since I saw it at a wonderful cinema in Leicester Square, I had great company with a fellow cinephile and I was enjoying attending my first major film festival. I was uncertain though…

Not about writing about the film. I figured writing a review of The Wolf Children would be easy because I have been charting its progress since its inception thanks to my work as a journalist of Anime UK News. I can list the works of the script writer, character designer and music composer off the top of my head (because I am the sort of irritating person who can list filmographies and cast lists and bewilder people with them). My uncertainty stemmed from the fact that I am familiar with the director’s previous works…

Now I loved Hosoda’s first film The Girl Who Leapt through Time, which told a bitter-sweet teenage love tale but I was disappointed by Summer Wars which was pretty but felt all too familiar, simple and slight. Heck, I still have not written a review for it despite having made notes. Thankfully The Wolf Children, which tackles a coming of age tale,was complex and had detailed characters who grew and offered insights into existential changes of a family.

Wolf Children Height Check

What was spectacular was not the concept involving transforming children – Ghibli does magical realism all of the time – but the wit and intelligence used to serve it up in a coming of age tale and making something unique. That it observed the changes in the characters and family unit without the requirement of softening anything up was also welcome and added so much to the film.

The script gave granular details of life in the real world, an uncaring universe which forces people to find identities. From the believable start of the film to the enigmatic ending, I was gripped by the story and emotions it evoked. The film never offered trite answers to the challenges faced by the titular wolf children and that was an aspect that I enjoyed tremendously as it made the film gripping, so much so that during the film I (along with all of the audience) was sharing the surprise, joy and tears of the characters and willing the wolf children Ame and Yuki on to better futures. While the character arcs are not all that original the depth of detail and the unique deployment of the fantastical won me over. That it was the mother Hana, a person who is as normal as you or I, who has the most fulfilling arc came as a major surprise and became a major triumph.

This detail and rigorousness extended from the script to the animation and direction. The initial part of the film which roots the travails of the family in real, everyday problems is reflected in the use of close-ups and tight framing, cluttered sets and busy locations while believable and banal things that we tend to forget about pose obstacles and threats. That I felt a palpable relief when the film gave way to the openness of the country with visually stunning scenes of nature shows how much I had been affected and the fact that I actually thought about these things shows that the film succeeded in building a believable world.

This believability comes from the fact that every minute was packed full of detailed backgrounds and life. University noticeboards were packed with detailed leaflets and flyers, school corridors had the freshly clean sheen, raindrops plunged onto leaves and slid down. You can imagine people walking off screen and still existing including Ame and Yuki.

Wolf Children Snow Chase

I have to mention other names involved in the staff (because I am the sort of irritating person who can list filmographies and cast lists – seriously, why do people look bewildered when I do this?). The characters are designed by Yoshiyuki Sadamoto who has a knack of being able to create compelling looking leads. Witness the cast of Evangelion and Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honneamise. It is no different here. The characters look both cute and relatable. Their changes are charted from the maturing of the children to the weight Hana puts on during pregnancy. They have stayed in my mind as vivid and real and life like when other, more stylised anime have fallen off the radar. The film’s soundtrack, composed by Joe Hisaishi who has created some of the best film scores ever, just listen to The Kids Return, Sonatine and Princess Mononoke. The scenes where Ame and Yuki tear around fields are exhilarating due, in part, to his music which, curiously, reminded me of pieces by Michael Nyman.

What also impressed was the big hearted embrace of traditional Japanese mores and ideals. It seemed a much fuller and more warmly crafted love-letter than the one in Summer Wars. A lot of anime is purely entertainment (and there is nothing wrong with that) but this felt like it was saying something and showing a familiar part of humanity but in a fresh way. It was definitely down to all of the details and the strong direction which is what made this my number one film and anime of the year.

The Wolf Children おおかみこどもの雨と雪 (2012)

Genkina hito's Wolf Children Rain and Snow Review Banner

The Wolf Children (Ame and Yuki)                    The Wolf Children Poster

Romaji: Okami Kodomo no Ame to Yuki

Japanese Title: おおかみこどもの雨と雪

Japanese Release Date: 21st July 2012

UK Release Date: 2013

Running Time: 110 mins.

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Writer: Mamoru Hosoda, Satoko Okudera

Starring: Aoi Miyazaki, Takao Osawa, Yukito Nishii, Haru Kuroki, Amon Kabe, Momoka Oona, Shota Sometani, Kumiko Aso, Mitsuki Tanimura,

The Wolf Children was the first film I saw at the 56th BFI London Film Festival and a film I had been eagerly tracking all year. Despite being left cold by the director’s last film I went into this with an open mind and was soon won over.

Maybe you’ll laugh and say it’s a fairy tale. Think it too preposterous to be true. But it is a true story about my mother.

The Wolf Children is a story about identity and love between parents and children that takes place over thirteen years. It starts when a university student named Hana falls in love with Ōkami who is a “wolf man”. The two have children named after the weather on the day they were born – Yuki (Snow) the older sister and Ame (Rain) the younger brother. The four live quietly in Tokyo concealing the true nature of their existence. Then Ōkami leaves and Hana is faced with the prospect of being a single mother with two children who are half wolf.

The film’s writer and director Mamoru Hosoda is frequently compared to Hayao Miyazaki but while his work shows a similar ease at mixing the fantastical with realism there was always something forced and, in the case of Summer Wars, bland. The Wolf Children is different. Despite providing a familiar coming-of-age tale it is executed with subtlety, realism, detail and humanity, leaving the film feeling refreshingly natural and meaningful.

Till the field

The synopsis, trailers and character design suggest heart-warming fantasy fun but the film’s direction is rooted in realism which is used to underline the struggles faced by characters and depth of feelings felt by the characters. By presenting us with such detail the film defines itself and makes itself original and gripping.

We are first introduced to Hana and through a few deft details like dialogue and a family picture we understand her independent character. We then witness the courtship between Hana and Ōkami and while the idea of a wolf man and a human woman having children sounds outrageous it is handled in a subdued and naturalistic way whether it’s seeing Ōkami’s day job or Hana’s pregnancy cycle, morning sickness and all. The early quarter of the film tracks the parents who sacrifice their own identities as they build a family life. It ensures that we understand that Hana’s acceptance of Ōkami and her children is based on love.

Wolf Children Early PArenthood

When Ōkami leaves it is Hana who emerges as the hero. She exists in a universe which can be quite indifferent and must dig deep into her character to create a family life for the rambunctious and cute Ame and Yuki.

Wolf Children Transform

The wolf children are quite a handful. The script sets up many charmingly cute scenes where they are a recognisable and exhausting combination of child and puppy. They burst with energy and desire to be as mobile as possible, constantly morphing into wolves. This has genuinely amusing consequences like Ame and Yuki’s teething troubles ruining furniture and tantrums usually involving screaming, tears and sprouting whiskers and pointy ears.

Wolf Children Teething

While the situations start off as amusing it is clearly difficult to handle in a crowded place like a city and soon there is a believable undercurrent of fear faced by Hana. Walks in the park are impossible and living in an apartment with a no-pets policy becomes stifling as she restricts her children’s natural exuberance. Most menacingly the child welfare agency appear. All the while Hana is making things up as she goes along but never wavering despite exhaustion. Soon she takes the gutsy decision of moving to the country which opens the film up visually and offers a celebration of family, community and nature.

You have to be stronger

When Hana moves to the country she is initially an outsider herself with locals whispering things like “She’s going to start missing convenience stores”.

She buys a ramshackle house which is lovingly detailed in all of its disrepair. In a montage we see her fixing the place up and engaging in back-breaking farming. These activities display the beautiful animation and speak volumes on Hana’s hope, belief and determination in providing a future for her children. These sequences are most like the  Ghibli classic My Neighbour Totoro but what defines The Wolf Children is the observation on the struggles that Hana faces and the refusal to be sentimental which I appreciated immensely.

Wolf Children Height Check

Eventually Hana and her children are accepted, albeit by hiding their odd forms. While the negativity they faced in the city remains in the memory, the countryside folks exhibit all of the good qualities of Japanese society and the message of the film becomes one of community spirit, as voiced by one of the elderly characters when she says “We have to help each other”.

There is a consistent theme of nature and traditional values and it is told with no fuss. The use of montage and succinct sequences providing vignettes of daily life continue to track the change in the characters, seasons and nature.

With the change in location the film truly comes alive with brilliantly animated sequences which are truly breathtaking and capture spectacular scenes of the natural world in Japan. Mist wreathed mountains, surging waterfalls, endless fields, and dense forests are all vividly brought to life with vibrant colours and deep levels of detail. Gone are the claustrophobic close-ups of the city and in come long-shots of the terrain with the bright pink and blue of Ame and Yuki moving through it. The film moves the action onto a larger canvass as the wolf children experiment with their abilities like being a wolf up against cats and snakes, dashing through tall grass up trees and discovering which part of the natural world’s eco-system they belong to. The best sequence is an exhilarating chase over a snowy landscape as it evokes feelings of youth, discovery, freedom and joy.

Wolf Children Snow Chase

While the titular wolf children can morph between human and wolf in the blink of an eye they face the same difficulties of growing that are universal to everyone, mainly the need to be accepted and know their place in the world and define themselves in their journey to decide whether they will be human or wolf while Hana must also learn to change her character as she watches them mature. Their character arcs are not completely original but thanks to the realism, playfulness and sharp characterisation we are anchored in their struggle and root for them. Every funny use of wolf transformation draws laughter, every dangerous situation draws gasps of shock (one woman in the audience gave a gasp so loud I initially misinterpreted as being part of the soundtrack) and every moment of love and growth draws a smile and, for many in the audience, tears of happiness.

Be human or wolf

I cannot praise the visuals or script enough but on top of direction, script and images, Hosoda also gets pitch-perfect performances from the voice actors. I especially loved the performances of the younger voice actors of Ame and Yuki.

Momoka Oona who plays the youngest version of Yuki is brilliant. Her voice overflows with such tomboyish enthusiasm and energy when she does particularly unladylike things like chasing cats and bagging snakes. Every growl, shout and squeal contained a childish and admirable joy of life and the determination to face the world around them.

Amon Kabe who plays the youngest version of Ame adds such depth to the script’s characterisation with his shy voice full of searching questions and a need for certainty and reassurance. Typical childhood things like fairy tales become sources of pain as he discovers the wolf is always the bad guy. Through him you feel the precarious nature of their situation.

They have the lion’s share of the film and the comedy and they essay their characters so well they become an intrinsic part of the character and remained the way I chose to remember how the characters sounded.

The Wolf Children has to be one of the best films I have ever seen. Its intelligent script and assured direction justify Hosoda’s high critical regard and wash away any doubts about his abilities. Despite echoes of the finest of Ghibli’s output, The Wolf Children feels like its own beast thanks to a script which mixes fantasy with realism and humanity that makes the film have substance. It is a film that pays tribute to Japan and Japanese culture while remaining universal because of its trio of characters who will charm and be familiar to us all.

5/5

Wolf Children Snow Laughter