Following the first previews around six weeks ago, the world’s biggest festival dedicated to Japanese cinema has now unveiled the full lineup for 2017! Taking place in Frankfurt from May 23 – 28, Nippon Connection is divided into six strands featuring everything from the latest blockbusters to retrospectives, animation, a children’s section and a selection of cultural events and lectures. There are around 100 films on offer and we’ll be previewing some of the strands separately over the next few days beginning with:
The Nippon Cinema section aims to showcase some of the biggest mainstream cinema hits of recent times with a few old favourites thrown in to boot. The Nippon Cinema award, bestowed by the festival’s audience, includes a prize of €2000 sponsored by Bankhaus Metzler.
Kenji Yamauchi adapts his own play At the Terrace – a tense yet farcical comedy of manners in which the artifice of propriety is gradually stripped away from a collection of wealthy party guests. Check out our review for a more detailed description.
Katsuya Tomita makes a welcome return following his critically acclaimed Saudade with a lengthy yet engrossing tale of love and the red light district as a Thai girl tries to make a life for herself in Bangkok’s Japan-centric hostess bars and brothels. Take a look at our review of Bangkok Nites from late last year for more information on this impressive, expansive film.
Shunji Iwai is another director making a welcome return with the equally epic A Bride for Rip Van Winkle. This quietly melancholy tale of a drifting shy girl gently nudged into a more positive place through a series of seeming crises is another beautifully drawn character study from Iwai who has been absent from cinema screens for far too long. Check out our review here.
Daguerreotype is something of a departure from the other films on offer as it’s entirely in French. Starring one of France’s best young actors in Tahar Rahim, the film also marks the first production mounted outside of Asia for veteran director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Taking him back to his psychological horror roots, Daguerreotype is a creepy gothic ghost story inspired both by Edgar Allen Poe and his Japanese namesake, Edogawa Rampo.
Dawn of the Felines is one of the films created for Nikkatsu’s Roman Porno reboot project which is also being celebrated with a Roman Porno retrospective (more on this later on). Directed by Devil’s Path director Kazuya Shiraishi, this melancholy tale of three girls working in Tokyo’s red light district takes its name from Noboru Tanaka’s classic pink film Night of the Felines.
Directed by one of Japan’s foremost blockbuster helmers Shinsuke Sato (whose I am a Hero is also screening in the festival) Death Note: Light up The New World is the latest in a series of films inspired by Tsugumi Ohba’s manga in which a death god drops his precious ledger which has the power to kill anyone whose name is written inside it. Starring some of Japan’s best young actors in Masahiro Higashide, Sosuke Ikematsu, and Masaki Suda this latest installment promises exciting thrills with a philosophical edge.
If Death Note wasn’t nihilistic enough for you, the festival will also feature Tetsuya Mariko’s Destruction Babies. This hard-hitting tale of violent youth and hopeless futures again stars some of Japan’s best younger actors in Yuya Yagira, Masaki Suda, Nana Komatsu and Sosuke Ikematsu. Director Tetsuya Mariko is also expected to attend the festival in person to present the film. Review.
Moving back in time a little, 2015’s The Emperor in August is Masato Harada’s attempt to chronicle the last days of the war as Japan reconciles itself to surrender and considers the best way to do it. The film stars veteran actor Koji Yakusho who will also be receiving the festival’s Nippon Honour Award in celebration of his long and successful career.
The debut film from Kei Ishikawa, Gukoroku: Traces of Sin stars Satoshi Tsumabuki as an ambitious reporter trying to find the truth behind the brutal, unsolved murder of an ordinary Tokyo family.
In the first of two films presented at the festival, SABU goes on an existential journey in Happiness as a mysterious man appears in town with a strange helmet which allows the wearer to re-experience the happiest moment of their lives. Stars veteran actor Masatoshi Nagase.
Koji Fukada returns to the themes of family and disruptive interlopers but skews darker than ever before in Harmonium. Tadanobu Asano stars as the home invader recently released from prison and taking refuge with “an old friend” but there’s something decidedly strange about his relationship with the father of the family and generally ominous presence. You can check our review of the film from late last year here.
Her Love Boils Bathwater officially opens the festival and stars Rie Miyazawa as a single mother diagnosed with a terminal illness who is determined to bring her disparate family back together and save the family bathhouse in the process. Rie Miyazawa picked up the best actress award at this year’s Japan Academy Prize ceremony for her role in film which is far funnier than its synopsis sounds.
From one hero to another, the second movie helmed by director Shinsuke Sato to feature in the festival stars comedian Yo Oizumi as a mildmannered, unsuccessful mangaka who finds hidden reserves inside himself when faced with the zombie apocalypse. I am a Hero is adapted from the manga by Kengo Hanazawa and you can check out our review of the film here.
From one plucky underdog to another – Let’s Go Jets! From Small Town Girls to U.S. Champions?! stars a team of aspiring Japanese cheerleaders who want to strut their stuff all the way to the top spot in the US championships.
Miwa Nishikawa returns with The Long Excuse – an adaptation of her own novel starring Masahiro Motoki as a self centered author and minor celebrity who is unmoved when his wife dies in a bus accident but finds his humanity reawakening after bonding with the bereaved children of the best friend who died beside her.
SABU’s second film in the festival, Mr. Long, sees a hardened Taiwanese hitman taken in by a kindly little boy and his family after a job goes badly wrong.
Nobuhiro Yamashita is another director with not one but two films making it into the festival this year. The first of them, My Uncle, is a hilarious tale of an exasperated nephew’s eventual bonding with his father’s younger brother – a part time professor of philosophy who has an answer for everything but spends most of his time lying on his futon “thinking” or “resting his brain” by reading children’s manga. Check out our review here.
Yamashita’s second entry, Over the Fence, is a slightly less cheerful affair. Joe Odagiri stars as a recently divorced man returing to his hometown of Hakodate who eventually learns to open himself up to new possibilities through an intense relationship with zookeeper/hostess Yu Aoi whose emotional volatility neatly counters his internal numbness. Review here.
Rumour and speculation dominate a housing estate when one half of a recently arrived older couple abruptly disappears. Moonlight flit? Murder? Divorce, affairs, scandal? The truth is stranger than fiction in Junji Sakamoto’s absurd comedy The Projects.
Satoshi: A Move for Tomorrow is the true life story of tragic shogi player Satoshi Murayama who first developed a love of the game during a childhood illness and subsequently devoted his entire life to its mastery despite his declining health. Review.
Godzilla is back and bigger than ever! Directed by Evangelion’s Hideaki Anno along with live action Attack on Titan director Shinji Higuchi Shin Godzilla (Godzilla Resurgence) is equal parts classic monster movie and biting political satire.
Godzilla’s not the only existential threat posed to Japanese society as one ordinary family find out in Shinobu Yaguchi’s black out drama. Survival Family begins with the unthinkable as a simple power outage lasts for days with no official explanation. After waiting patiently for the problem to be resolved, the Suzuki family decide to escape the city to find Mrs. Suzuki’s survivalist father in the hope that he will know how to cope with the post-electric world. Review.
Now for something completely different – Juzo Itami’s noodle western Tampopo will also screen as a Nippon Film Dinner during which bento boxes filled with delicious Japanese treats will be served.
After dinner comes breakfast! This one is screening with German subtitles only but if you can understand German or Japanese or don’t mind not understanding anything at all you can enjoy a delicious breakfast buffet whilst taking in Jun Ichikawa’s adaptation of the Haruki Murakami short story Tony Takitani in which a lonely man meets and falls in love with a beautiful woman only for her obsession with shopping to come between them.
Finally, Akihiko Shiota’s Wet Woman in the Wind is the second of the Roman Porno Reboot movies to be featured in the festival and follows the adventures of a playwright with writer’s block who tries to retreat to the country for some peace, quiet, and time to reflect. Then he hooks up with a nymphomaniac waitress instead!
That’s all for Nippon Cinema – join us again next time for a look at Nippon Visions, a strand dedicated to bold new innovations and special formats. You can find the full details for all the films, screening times and ticket links on the festival’s official website and you can also keep up with all the latest news via the Nippon Connection Facebook Page, Twitter account, and Instagram channel.