Japan Society Film is back with another fantastic season streaming in the US Dec. 3 – 23 featuring the debut works of some of today’s most prominent Japanese directors alongside one of their more recent efforts. Meanwhile, they’ll also be hosting in-person screenings of two recently restored features from Sadao Yamanaka who passed away in 1938 aged only 28 after his military exemption was revoked and he was drafted to fight in Manchuria.
Focus on Sadao Yamanaka
Tange Sazen and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo (Longest Version) (丹下左膳余話 百萬両の壺, Sadao Yamanaka, 1935)
A priceless pot containing a treasure map is accidentally given away and later used as a goldfish bowl by a child who is taken in by a tavern frequented by one-eyed, one-armed swordsman Tange Sazen while seemingly everyone else is desperately trying to find it.
Priest of Darkness (河内山宗俊, Sadao Yamanaka, 1936)
A feckless gambler brings trouble on himself by accidentally stealing a samurai’s knife and hides out in a tavern run by a “priest” while his sister (a young Setsuko Hara) desperately searches for him.
Films listed below stream online December 3-23 at film.japansociety.org.
Debut Works and Recent Films (Online)
The Chef of South Polar (南極料理人, Shuichi Okita, 2009)
A family man chef is suddenly transferred to a remote Antarctic research station for a year-long project and finds himself going slowly mad alongside a team of eccentric scientists in the characteristically quirky debut from Shuichi Okita
Ora, Ora Be Goin’ Alone (おらおらでひとりいぐも, Shuichi Okita, 2020)
An older woman living alone (Yuko Tanaka) is visited by three strange sprites who talk to her in her native Tohoko dialect while she is called back into the past to meditate on former happiness and present regret in Shuichi Okita’s touching drama.
Fancy Dance (ファンシイダンス, Masayuki Suo, 1989)
A young man of the bubble era (Masahiro Motoki) is forced to undergo rigorous training to become a buddhist monk in order to take over his family temple but unexpectedly discovers both the joy of zen and that the monastic life isn’t quite as austere as it seems in the debut from Masayuki Suo.
Talking the Pictures (カツベン！, Masayuki Suo, 2019)
Masayuki Suo takes a look back to the classic days of silent pictures as a young man fleeing a life of crime tries to realise a lifelong ambition of becoming a legitimate benshi in this period comedy drama. Review.
Harmful Insect (害虫, Akihiko Shiota, 2002)
A 13-year-old girl finds herself adrift after her father leaves and her mother attempts to take her own life, ostracised by the other girls at school who gossip about her relationship with a former teacher. She takes refuge in an awkward friendship with two other outcasts but discovers she is never really safe anywhere in this early indie drama from Akihiko Shiota starring a young Aoi Miyazaki.
Farewell Song (さよならくちびる, Akihiko Shiota, 2019)
A folk duo (Mugi Kadowaki & Nana Komatsu) on the verge of splitting up go on the road for their final tour where the intrusive presence of their male roadie (Ryo Narita) only further strains their already fracturing relationship in Akihiko Shiota’s intense drama. Review.
Knockout (どついたるねん, Junji Sakamoto, 1989)
Real life boxer Hidekazu Akai stars as a thoroughly unpleasant former champion trying to restart his career after life-threatening brain injury by undercutting his old boss and starting his own snooty gym but finally seeing the error of his ways thanks to a kindly veteran (Yoshio Harada) in Junji Sakamoto’s Osaka-set debut. Review.
The Projects (団地, Junji Sakamoto, 2016)
An elderly couple move into a danchi housing estate after closing their herbal medicines store but when the husband is not seen around and about for a considerable amount of time it leads to gossip, rumour, and suspicion in this warmhearted, slightly surreal Osakan comedy from Junji Sakamoto. Review.
Wild Berries (蛇イチゴ, Miwa Nishikawa, 2003)
The conventional life of an ordinary family founded largely on lies and silence is disrupted by bereavement and the unexpected return of a prodigal son in the debut feature from Miwa Nishikawa. Review.
The Long Excuse (永い言い訳, Miwa Nishikawa, 2016)
Adapting her own novel, Miwa Nishikawa’s 2016 drama stars Masahiro Mokotoki as a thoroughly self-absorbed yet insecure novelist who fears he’s become a hack best known for appearances on TV panel shows. When his wife is killed in a freak bus accident while he’s busy with his mistress, he’s finally forced to face himself on encountering the devastated family of his wife’s best friend who died alongside her. Review.
Suzaku (萌の朱雀, Naomi Kawase, 1997)
Naomi Kawase’s fiction debut follows a small family struggling under the weight of personal tragedy and the imminent extinction of traditional small-town life in the face of encroaching modernity.
Vision (ビジョン, Naomi Kawase, 2018)
Juliette Binoche stars as a woman in Japan in order to search for a rare herb while staying with Masatoshi Nagase’s gruff woodsman in the forests of Nara in this new age drama from Naomi Kawase.
Flash Forward: Conversations with the Filmmakers
Discussion moderated by Aaron Gerow (Yale University) with panelists Takuya Tsunoda (Columbia University), Junko Yamazaki (UCLA) and Jasper Sharp (Arrow Films) focussing on the careers of the six Flash Forward directors.
Filmmakers on the Rise (Online)
All films are free to stream in the US December 3-23 at film.japansociety.org.
The Albino’s Trees (アルビノの木, Masakazu Kaneko, 2016)
An apathetic young man working in animal control agrees to take on a secretive job to kill a rare albino deer regarded by some in a traditional village cut off from the outside world as sacred only to wonder if he made the right decision in Masakazu Kaneko’s poetic indie drama.
Blue Hour (ブルーアワーにぶっ飛ばす, Yuko Hakota, 2019)
Sick of workplace sexism and her dwindling career prospects, 30-ish Sunada (Kaho) takes a roadtrip home in the company of her best friend (Korean actress Shim Eun-kyung) in Yuko Hakoto’s freewheeling indie drama. Review.
A Boy Sato (サトウくん, Omoi Sasaki, 2017)
Sci-fi-inflected short in which a mysterious outsider returns to town and notices something not quite right.
Forgiven Children (許された子どもたち, Eisuke Naito, 2020)
An emotionally numbed teenager kills a classmate without really thinking about it and is subsequently acquitted of the crime in a juvenile court but even if he himself comes to feel remorse society refuses to forget in Eisuke Naito’s raw examination of the consequences of hate and the impossibility of redemption. Review.
Jesus (僕はイエス様が嫌い, Hiroshi Okuyama, 2019)
A young boy is uprooted from his Tokyo life when his grandfather dies and the family moves back to live with grandma in a remote mountain town. Already suffering a degree of culture shock, he is sent to a Christian school despite not being Christian and finds himself followed around by tiny Jesus who seems to grant him wishes yet when tragedy strikes he is forced to question his new faith. Review.
My Atomic Aunt (波の向こう, Kyoko Miyake, 2013)
London-based documentarian Kyoko Miyake explores the immediate effects of the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster through the story of her go-getting aunt who has lost not only her home but three businesses and the promise of a happy future alongside her family.
Flash Forward: Debut Works and Recent Films by Notable Japanese Directors streams online in the US Dec. 3 – 23 with in-person screenings of Tange Sazen and the Pot Worth a Million Ryo (Longest Version) on Dec. 11, and Priest of Darkness on Dec. 17. Tickets for the in-person screenings are available via the official website while $55 all-access passes for the online streaming are on sale until Dec. 2 with individual 3-day rentals priced at $10 available from Dec. 3. Full details for all the films are available via the official website while you can also keep up with all the year-round events by following Japan Society Film on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.