Nippon Connection is the largest festival dedicated to Japanese Cinema anywhere in the world and returns in 2017 for its 17th edition. Once again taking place in Frankfurt, the festival will screen over 100 films from May 23 – 28, many of which will also welcome members of the creative team eager to present to their work to an appreciative audience.
This year’s festival has a special focus on documentary film – an area often neglected by other mainstream film festivals. Leaving heavier topics to one side, documentaries already announced to headline the strand include Atsushi Funahashi’s idol documentary Raise Your Arms and Twist – Documentary of NMB48 (道頓堀よ、泣かせてくれ! DOCUMENTARY of NMB48, Doutonbori yo, Nakasetekure! Documentary of NMB48)
Director Atsushi Funahashi has hitherto been known for hard hitting fare such as the Fukushima documentary Nuclear Nation as well as narrative films including the heartrending Cold Bloom and cross cultural odyssey Big River. Consequently he steps into the slowly growing genre of idol documentaries from the refreshing position of a total novice. Adopting an objective viewpoint, Funahashi rigourously dissects this complicated phenomenon whilst taking care never to misrepresent the girls, their dreams, or their devoted fanbase.
Trailer (no subtitles)
Returning to the internationalist leanings of Funahashi’s Big River, Kimi Takesue’s 95 and 6 to Go sees the director begin a collaborative project with her widowed grandfather – a Japanese immigrant to Hawaii.
Shot over six years, 95 and 6 to Go begins with a stalled fim project and some unexpected grandfatherly advice but eventually develops into a moving meditation on life, love, loss, and endurance.
In a neatly circular motion the last of the three highlights of the documentary section takes a look at one of the giants of Japanese cinema – Toshiro Mifune.
Previously screened at the BFI London Film Festival, Steven Okazaki’s documentary Mifune: The Last Samurai focuses firmly on Mifune’s place within the history of samurai cinema through exploring not only his life but also the early history of “chanbara” movies and the genre’s later echoes in American cinema as related by talking heads including Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese.
Of course there will also be a host of narrative features on offer with frequent Nippon Connection favourite Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Daguerrotype (Le Secret de la chambre noire) a definite highlight.
Back in 2012, Kiyoshi Kurosawa planned his first international movie, 1905, which would have featured 90% Chinese dialogue and was set to shoot in Taiwan with stars Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Shota Matsuda and Atsuko Maeda. Sadly, political concerns of the day put paid to 1905, and so Daguerrotype marks Kurosawa’s first foray into non-Japanese language cinema. Starring one of France’s most interesting young actors in Tahar Rahim, this French language gothic ghost story takes the director back to his eerie days of psychological horror.
Trailer (English subtitles)
Returning to modern day Japan, Capturing Dad director Ryota Nakano’s second movie Her Love Boils Bathwater (湯を沸かすほどの熱い愛, Yu o Wakasu Hodo no Atsui Ai) is another suitably offbeat family drama.
Pale Moon‘s Rie Miyazawa stars as a warmhearted woman who discovers she only has a short time left to live and is determined to get her estranged family back together whilst saving the family bathhouse. Rie Miyazawa won the Japan Academy Prize best actress award for her role in Her Love Boils Bathwater, with supporting actress Hana Sugisaki also taking home a prize at the 2017 awards.
Original trailer (English subtitles)
Family drama is, after all, Japan’s representative genre and is featured once again with Miwa Nishikawa’s adaptation of her own novel, The Long Excuse (永い言い訳, Nagai Iiwake).
Masahiro Motoki makes a welcome return to leading man status as a self-centered B-list celebrity and former author who finds himself largely unmoved after his wife is killed in an accident but later bonds with the bereaved children of her best friend who died alongside her.
Original trailer (English subtitles)
When talking of family drama, one most often thinks of Ozu and of the gentle passing of time as the old are left alone to contemplate the vagaries of life and young ones make a start on their own. Koji Fukada’s Harmonium (淵に立つ, Fuchi ni Tatsu) is not Ozu, it’s not the wry eye of Yoshimitsu Morita in The Family Game, or of Sogo Ishii in the Crazy Family, it’s a harsh and unforgiving look the status of the modern family unit.
You can check out our review of this one from the London East Asia Film Festival and it’s also scheduled for a UK release courtesy of Eureka Entertainment in June 2017 following a cinema run from 5th May.
Eureka trailer (English subtitles)
It would be a stretch to describe Tetsuya Mariko’s Destruction Babies (ディストラクション・ベイビーズ) as a family drama but in a way it sort of is in its dissection of the relationship between two orphaned brothers.
Beyond nihilism, Destruction Babies paints a bleak prognosis for the youth of Japan who live without hope, disconnected from reality, and know only the sensation of violence. You can check out our review of the film here from its screening in the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme, and it’s also currently available in the UK courtesy of distributor Third Window Films.
Original trailer (English Subtitles)
Concluding the list of newer mainstream releases is the first in the festival’s anime strand – Naoko Yamada’s A Silent Voice (聲の形, Koe no Katachi).
Distributed in the UK by Anime Limited, this alternately heartrending and heartwarming drama examines the effects of social stigma, disibility, and the legacy of cruelty as its perfectly matched central pair confront the ghosts of their respective pasts and futures. You can check out our review from the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme over here (mild spoilers for the concluding half of the film).
International trailer (dialogue free, English captions)
Revisiting the past in an altogether different sort of way, Nippon Connection will also play host to two films from Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno Reboot Project. Roman Porno was a fairly short lived offshoot of the “pink” genre, essentially softcore pornography intended to bring the dwindling cinema audiences back through the promise of sex and (sometimes) violence. In celebration of the 45th anniversary of the Roman Porno line, Nikkatsu have brought it back as a special tribute with five directors hired to film their take on the classic genre – Sion Sono, Hideo Nakata, Akihiko Shiota, Kazuya Shiraishi and Isao Yukisada.
The first of two featured in the festival is Kazuya Shiraishi’s Dawn of the Felines (牝猫たち, Mesuneko Tachi) . From the director of Twisted Justice and Devil’s Path, Dawn of the Felines follows the adventures of three prostitutes in Tokyo’s red light district.
Trailer (English subtitles, NSFW)
Akihiko Shiota directed one of the best (and criminally underseen) films of the 2000s in 2005’s Canary and his instalment in the Reboot series, Wet Woman in the Wind (風に濡れた女, Kaze ni Nureta Onna), proved an unexpected festival hit receiving high praise from critics at Locarno.
Shiota’s film follows a former playwright who tries to get out of town for some peace and quiet but runs into a nymphomaniac waitress instead. Oh well, a change is as good as a rest?
Original trailer (English subtitles, NSFW!)
The full programme is announced on 29th April when tickets are also expected to go on sale via the official Nippon Connection website. You can also keep up with the festival via their Facebook Page, Twitter account, and Instagram.