Kinema Junpo, the prestigious Japanese film magazine, has announced its top 10 films of 2017. In a happy surprise two female directors have been included in this year’s Best 10 list in which veteran directors jostle with comparative newcomers.
10. Close-Knit (彼らが本気で編むときは)
Naoko Ogigami’s touching family drama snatches the last spot on Kinema Junpo’s list. A departure of sorts from the director’s earlier career, Close-Knit drops the whimsy but not the heart in telling a story of changing family dynamics and pleading for a kinder, more understanding world where all are free to live the way they choose without let or hinderance. Review.
9. Birds Without Names (彼女がその名を知らない鳥たち)
Dawn of the Felines director Kazuya Shiraishi returns to the world of mystery in a tale of dark romance and destructive desires. Yu Aoi stars as a young woman, Towako, living with an older man (played by Sadao Abe) whom she despises but tolerates because he continues to support her. Towako, however, cannot forget a violent ex-lover who has been missing for the last eight years. Screening in the upcoming Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme.
8. The Third Murder (三度目の殺人)
Hirokazu Koreeda makes a rare detour from the family drama for a high stakes legal thriller in which a veteran lawyer takes on the seemingly impossible task of defending a murder suspect who has already served time for violent crime and freely confesses his guilt, but the more the lawyer looks into the case the less confident he feels that his client is telling the truth.
7. Side Job (彼女の人生は間違いじゃない)
Fukushima native Ryuichi Hiroki adapts his own novel for an exploration of precarious rural life on the edge of a disaster zone. Newcomer Kumi Takiuchi stars as a young woman with a regular office job living in temporary housing with her father (Ken Mitsuishi) after being displaced by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. For unexplained reasons, the young woman travels to Tokyo at weekends and engages in casual sex work which brings her into contact with Kengo Kora’s conflicted driver.
6. Bangkok Nites (バンコクナイツ)
Katsuya Tomita’s Saudade followup has been doing the festival rounds for over a year now but finally getting its Japanese release lands in sixth place in Kinema Junpo’s 2017 list. Picking up threads from the earlier film, Tomita travels to Bangkok and examines the legacy of colonialism and exploitation in a land many see as a “paradise”. Review.
5. Before we Vanish (散歩する侵略者)
Kiyoshi Kurosawa rolls back on the nihilism of Pulse for a tale of love and survival masquerading as an alien invasion movie. The Earth, it seems, is doomed – three alien scouts have been sent as a vanguard to log “humanity” before it is forever destroyed. Stealing and assimilating “concepts” from people’s brains as if playing a giant game of psychic Jenga, the alien invaders become more human by the day but the essence of the human soul remains a mystery to them… Review.
4. Dear Etranger (幼な子われらに生まれ)
Yukiko Mishima’s adaptation of the Kiyoshi Shigematsu novel stars Tadanobu Asano in a tale of family and the modern society. A middle-aged man, Makoto, leaves his first wife for a younger woman after they disagree about adding to their family – he wanted another child and she didn’t. His second wife has two children already and when she announces she is pregnant, Makoto is not so sure about becoming a father again…
3. Wilderness Parts 1 & 2 (あゝ、荒野)
Released in two parts, Wilderness adapts the classic 1966 novel by Shuji Terayama in which two men seek release in the boxing ring but also discover friendship and brotherhood in the shared connection of violence. Up and coming director Yoshiyuki Kishi builds on the promise of the impressive A Double Life and makes it into Kinema Junpo’s top three with only his second feature.
2. Hanagatami (花筐)
The latest from veteran director Nobuhiko Obayashi, Hanagatami is a project forty years in gestation. An adaptation of the wartime novel by Kazuo Dan, the film is a timely warning against the follies of war as a collection of youngsters dance along the edge of an abyss which will eventually engulf their entire generation.
1. The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue (夜空はいつでも最高密度の青色だ)
Taking the top spot, Yuya Ishii’s melancholy romance is a love/hate letter to Tokyo and a poetical mediation on connection in the modern city. A depressed young woman and an anxious young man miraculously encounter each other thanks to the magic of the metropolis but their shared cynicism and distrust of feeling soon becomes a barrier to their growing romance. Review.
Best Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi (Hanagatami)
Best Screenplay: Yuya Ishii (The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue)
Best Actress: Yu Aoi (Birds Without Names)
Best Actor: Masaki Suda (Wilderness)
Best Supporting Actor: Yang Ik-june (Wilderness)
Best Male Newcomer: Ryosuke Yamada (Miracles of the Namiya General Store / Fullmetal Alchemist)
Source: Kinema Junpo official website