House on Fire (火宅の人, Kinji Fukasaku, 1986)

In the closing scene of Kinji Fukasaku’s 1986 literary drama House on Fire (火宅の人, Kataku no hito), the hero plays a game he’s designed with his children titled “too heavy to bear” in which they each climb on his back waiting to see which if any of them can prove too much for the paternal shoulders. In recent years Fukasaku has become most closely associated with his late career international hit Battle Royale but prior to that his name had been almost synonymous with the genre he helped to consolidate, the jitsuroku gangster picture. Like the later A Chaos of Flowers, however, House on Fire is a subdued literary drama though one set largely in a more recent past revolving around conflicted author’s paternal anxiety and inspired by the autobiographical fiction of Kazuo Dan who might be best known outside of Japan for having penned the novel which inspired Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Hanagatami

Like many similar literary endeavours of the time, House on Fire revolves around a conflicted writer’s affair with a much younger woman. Though set mainly in the 1950s, the film opens with a prologue set 40 years earlier in which the young Kazuo witnesses the breakdown of his parents’ marriage as his father abruptly leaves the family while his mother (played by Dan’s real life daughter Fumi Dan) later leaves him too after falling in love with a young student. As an older man (Ken Ogata) he feels he understands, though as a young boy all he felt was resentment. It’s this central conflict that consumes him as he contemplates embarking on an affair, knowing that he’s betraying his own wife and children in the same way that his father had him and his mother. He explains that this is partly because of a distance that has arisen in his relationship with his second wife Yoriko (Ayumi Ishida) following a family tragedy in which his second son Jiro was left with brain damage after contracting meningitis, Yoriko retreating grief-stricken into obsessive religious practice praying for a miracle he does not believe will come. 

Typical of the “I Novel” Kazuo funnels all of this inner conflict into a serialised novel including all the salacious details of his subsequent affairs. The first of these is with a young actress, Keiko (Mieko Harada), who came to him with a letter of recommendation hoping to get his support and advice on embarking on a career in Tokyo. It seems clear that what Kazuo is attracted to is youth while what he fears is an ending, an anxiety which overshadows his romance while he continues to neglect his responsibilities as a husband and father leaving Yoriko to cope alone looking after the other children while caring for their disabled son. Learning of the affair she temporally leaves the family in much the same way his mother had, yet rather than accept his responsibility for the children Kazuo promptly abandons them too retreating to a hotel to write while leaving Jiro’s nurse and the housekeeper in sole charge of the family home. 

It may be true in a sense that if he lived as a regular family man he’d have nothing to write about, but as much as Kazuo agonises over the possibilities of making Keiko mother to his children he knows he cannot marry these two desires as simply as swapping one woman for another. Just as he had, his eldest son Ichiro born to his first wife comes to resent him, breaking in to the flat he shares with Keiko and smashing the place up to make plain his sense of hurt and betrayal. Yet Kazuo seemingly cannot reconcile his passionate desires with his familial responsibilities while consumed by guilt in his failure to live up to an inner ideal. The only conclusion he comes to is that he is illequipt to understand the complicated relationships between men and women, looking back on his parents’ romance and reflecting that they run from love so great it makes you want to die to hate so strong it makes you want to kill. 

Meanwhile, he circles around three women from the capable if strangely mysterious Yoriko who insists that she knows everything he does, to the petulant Keiko and carefree Yoko (Keiko Matsuzaka), a melancholy bar hostess who accompanies him on a trip around Japan while trying to decide whether to accept an offer of marriage from a wealthy old man. In contrast with the maternal Yoriko, both Keiko and Yoko present a less complicated vision of typical femininity each lively and childlike but both ultimately wanting something Kazuo can’t give them because to him the relationships are transitory. Yoko understands this the best even if Kazuo’s assertion that he enjoys being with her because she never asks him difficult questions speaks volumes about his own insecurity, enjoying the journey while coming to her own realisations in ultimately opting for a kind of stability in a loveless marriage. An essentially passive figure, Kazuo is abandoned by all three women as they exercise a romantic freedom he didn’t really consider they had with Yoriko finally deciding to return but defiantly redefining the terms of their relationship as she does so. 

With this the family is in a sense repaired, Yoriko reminding him that she knows everything he does while he is forced to acknowledge that he is lucky his family will have him back even as he plays the “too heavy to bear” game with his children as pregnant as it is with his internal failures as a husband and father. A minor meditation on the changing social mores of the post-war society and the inner turmoil of a man caught between them, Fukasaku’s distanced approach undercuts the sense of melancholy in the otherwise conservative conclusion as Kazuo both resists his self-characterisation as a feckless and weak willed man and embraces it in his imperfect determination to reintegrate himself into a quietly smouldering home. 


Original trailer (no subtitles)

Ip Man: The Awakening (叶问宗师觉醒, Zhang Zhulin & Li Xijie, 2022)

“Someone must stand up to injustice!” according to the young Ip Man (Miu Tse) newly arrived in Hong Kong and witnessing the abuses of colonialism first hand. A kind of origin story, the latest outing for the legendary hero, Ip Man: Awakening (叶问宗师觉醒, Yè Wèn zōngshī juéxǐng), has its degree of political awkwardness but essentially finds the young master coming to an understanding of the purpose of martial arts while realising that sometimes you have to play the long game and not every problem can be solved with Wing Chun alone. 

This is something he discovers after stepping in to protect a young woman and her mother who are being hassled by muggers on a street car. Evidently, the thieves seem to have been emboldened and assume themselves to be under no threat from the passengers, driver, or indeed law enforcement and were not expecting to be challenged. Unfortunately, however, Ip Man’s gallant defence of the two women only brings him a whole mess of trouble in a new city in irritating a local gang who are it seems linked to arch villain Stark. A corrupt British official, Stark has been colluding with local police to run a lucrative people trafficking operation though even they are becoming worried by Stark’s increasing arrogance brazenly snatching young women off the street to sell abroad.  

According to Stark, there are only two kinds of people, cheap and expensive, which bears out his imperialist worldview. Yet, Ip Man himself is perhaps awkwardly positioned as a Mainlander fighting colonial oppression in Hong Kong. According to his apathetic friend Feng perhaps it doesn’t matter who’s in charge because it’s all pretty much the same, but to Ip Man it does seem to matter though given the current situation between the two territories his words cannot help but seem ironic if not directly subversive. He seems to suggest that men like Feng, who later tries to appease Stark who has kidnapped his younger sister Chan, have enabled their own oppression and only by rising up against it can they be free which is it has to be said a series of mixed messages only finally resolved by Ip Man’s reminder that “We are all Chinese” during his final fight battling his way towards Stark.

Nevertheless, the battleground that develops is located firmly within the realms of marital arts with a stand-off between the Chinese Wing Chun and the almost forgotten British fighting style Bartitsu. Not content with subjugating Hong Kong, the British apparently have to prove their superiority even over this sacred territory only they’re as duplicitous and immoral about it as they are over everything else. Even so, Ip Man is able to overcome their blatant attempts to cheat through manipulating Feng and proves that Wing Chun is the best after all while Feng pays a heavy price for his complicity but is later forgiven having learned his lesson. 

What Ip Man learns is that as his teacher points out righteousness requires both wisdom and resources. He can’t expect to solve all the world’s problems by wading in his with his fists and sometimes doing the right thing is going to land him in a world of trouble and complication but even so he has to do it because a “world in which asking for justice is wrong would be truly hopeless”. Perhaps more mixed messages, but leaning in to the Ip Man mythos as a man who stands firm in the face of oppression and fights for the rights of those who cannot fight for themselves. 

Then again, this is a Mainland film and if was surprising that the spectre of police corruption was raised (it’s the British colonial police after all) the conclusion ensures that the authorities will finally get on the case and put a stop to the human trafficking ring once and for all while clearing out the corrupt imperialists. Ip’s sense of righteousness is well and truly awakened in the knowledge that he and his fists can make a real difference even if lasting change requires a little more finesse. With some nifty if occasionally unpolished action sequences Zhang Zhulin and Li Xijie’s take on the classic Ip Man story makes the most of its meagre budget while positioning Hong Kong veteran Tse Miu as the latest incarnation of the ever popular hero.


Ip Man: The Awakening is released in the US on DVD & blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA on June 21.

Trailer (English subtitles)

Making Waves – Navigators of Hong Kong Cinema Comes to London 8th to 10th July

Focus Hong Kong is back this July with Making Waves – Navigators of Hong Kong Cinema, a touring film programme marking the 25th anniversary of the Handover presented in partnership with Create Hong Kong. Opening with the highly anticipated Anita Mui biopic Anita, the festival will close with the legendary actress’ final screen appearance in the landmark 2004 Ann Hui drama, July Rhapsody.

Friday 8 July, 7pm: Opening Gala Anita (Soho Hotel)

Longman Leung’s highly anticipated biopic of iconic Cantopop superstar and revered Hong Kong actress Anita Mui who sadly passed away after battling cervical cancer at the young age 40 in 2003.

Saturday 9 July

12:00: Comrades, Almost a Love Story + Peter Chan holo-presence (Soho Hotel)

Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai star as a pair of star-crossed Mainlanders seeking new futures in Hong Kong. While he, naive and earnest, hopes to make enough money to marry his hometown girlfriend, she, more cynical, seeks security in consumerism but the pair are finally brought together by the music of Teresa Teng.

16:30: The First Girl I Loved (Garden Cinema)

A young woman begins to re-evaluate her teenage romance when her first love asks her to be maid of honour at her wedding in Yeung Chiu-hoi & Candy Ng Wing-shan’s youth nostalgia romance. Review.


19:00: Tales From the Occult (Garden Cinema)

Three-part horror anthology featuring contributions from Fruit Chan, Fung Chih Chiang, and Wesley Hoi Ip Sang exploring the hidden horrors of the contemporary Hong Kong society.

Sunday 10 July

12:30: Hand Rolled Cigarette (Garden Cinema)

Gordon Lam stars as a former British soldier unable to adjust to the post-handover society and trapped in a triad-adjacent existence while bonding with a South Asian migrant on the run from gangsters from whom his cousin stole a large amount of drugs. Review.

15:30 : Breakout Brothers (Garden Cinema)

A cheerful triad who wants to give his mother a kidney transplant, a falsely convicted architect, and a veteran inmate who wants to see his daughter get married decide to break out of prison but discover that it’s friendship that sets them free in Mak Ho-Pong’s cartoonish crime caper. Review.


18:00: Closing Gala July Rhapsody (Garden Cinema)

Landmark 2004 drama from Ann Hui featuring Anita Mui in her final screen role as the wife of a schoolteacher (Jackie Cheung) whose marriage is destabilised when an old lover returns from abroad and her husband is tempted by the attentions of a precocious student.

Making Waves – Navigators of Hong Kong Cinema runs in London 8 to 10 July at Soho Hotel and the Garden Cinema. The programme will also be touring to cities around the world including: Udine, Shanghai, Bali, Bangkok, Singapore, Sydney, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tokyo, Warsaw, Prague, Dubai, and Hong Kong later in the year with full details to be available via the Making Waves website in due course. Tickets are already on sale via Focus Hong Kong and you can keep up to date with all the latest news via Focus Hong Kong’s official websiteFacebook PageTwitter account, and Instagram channel.

The Heroic Mission: Johnnie To Retrospective Comes to PCC July 7 – 14

UK-China Film Collab and Trinity CineAsia will present a three film Johnnie To Retrospective at London’s Prince Charles Cinema from 7th to 14th July.

7th July, 6pm: Life Without Principle

Spiralling financial crisis drama in which the lives of a conflicted bank employee (Denise Ho) forced to sell high risk loans or lose her job, a petty thug (Sean Lau Ching-Wan) trying his luck on the futures market, and a policeman (Richie Jen) who needs money right away to put a deposit on a flat in Hong Kong’s ultra-competitive housing market, are intertwined by a cosmic twist of fate.

12th July, 6.30pm: Running on Karma

Andy Lau stars as a former monk turned bodybuilder and exotic dancer who is gifted with the ability to see other people’s karma. Encountering a policewoman (Cecilia Cheung) whose karma is particularly bad, he decides to help her.

14th July, 8.30pm: Breaking News

Prophetic examination of creeping authoritarianism and media manipulation in which a mainland gang goes to war with a cynical police chief after a street cop’s desperate act of surrender is accidentally captured by a roving news crew on the scene to cover a traffic accident.

Tickets on sale now via the Prince Charles Cinema.

One Day, You Will Reach the Sea (やがて海へと届く, Ryutaro Nakagawa, 2022)

“We only see one half of this world” according to the absent heroine of Ryutaro Nakagawa’s moving mediation on loss and the eternally unanswered questions we leave behind when we die, One Day You Will Reach the Sea (やがて海へと届く, Yagate umi e to todoku). Taking its name from a plaintive folk song about a wife waiting for the return of a husband lost at sea, Nakagawa’s indie drama finds its melancholy heroine struggling to move on while plagued by a sense of regret in the absence of an ending. 

Mana (Yukino Kishii) first bonded with Sumire (Minami Hamabe) in the early days of university when she helped her navigate the tricky social rituals of freshers week, eventually moving in to her apartment but then moving out again to live with uni boyfriend Tono (Yosuke Sugino). It’s Tono who in one sense brings the reality of Sumire’s absence back to her more than a decade later as he decides it’s time let go. Letting go is however something Mana struggles to do, not least because Sumire disappeared during the 2011 tsunami and as her body was never found there’s still a part of her that refuses to believe she will never be coming back.  

Tono criticises Mana for wanting to keep Sumire stuck in the same place forever yet it is she who is somehow stuck, still living her admittedly stunning apartment as if afraid to move in case Sumire should return and find her gone. She had once told her that she wanted to work for a furniture company in Kyoto but is currently working as a head waiter at an upscale restaurant where she has developed a paternal relationship with the manager, Mr Narahara (Ken Mitsuishi), only to discover that perhaps she didn’t really know him either or that she only knew the part of him he wished for her to see. Her resentment towards Tono is in part that he knew a different side of Sumire that remained unknown to her, though equally neither of them can be said to have known her entirely. 

The relationship between the two women remains frustratingly ill-defined but what’s clear is that they represented something one to the other as two halves of one whole. They made each other feel at ease, but if romance is what it was it remains unresolved. Despite having claimed that she wanted nothing more than to stay in Mana’s apartment, Sumire eventually leaves explaining to Tono that she cannot say cannot stay with her forever giving him a look that perhaps he should know when he quite reasonably asks why. Then again perhaps she just thinks she’s holding her back, that if it were not for her Mana would long ago have moved on finding new and more fulfilling directions in life. She urges Mana to interact more, hoping that she’ll find someone to tease out the “real” her though she of course already has.

A perspective shift late in the film fills in some of those details from the other half of the world that we don’t get to see, laying bare Sumire’s own distress and vulnerability as it becomes clear that she has something she wants to say to Mana but is always frustrated and finally never does. When someone is gone, you can no longer ask them what they meant or solve the riddles of their life even if you can patch back together a vague picture composed of the memories of those who knew them. “I didn’t want her to be found but I felt I had to find her” Mana explains of her early attempts to look for Sumire after the tsunami wanting answers while simultaneously afraid to get them. Burdened by another sudden and unexpected loss, she takes a road trip to Tohoku and witnesses testimony taped by a local woman from tsunami survivors eventually receiving her own epiphany in an animated dream sequence that links back to those which bookend the film. Watching footage from Sumire’s ever present videocamera fills in a few more details, but what she comes to is less a point of moving on that an accommodation with loss that suggests Sumire has in a sense returned and will always be with her as sure as the sea. What we mourn is not only an unresolved past with all its concurrent regrets, but the other half of the world we’ll never see in all the unlived futures that never got to be. 


One Day, You Will Reach the Sea streamed as part of this year’s Nippon Connection.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Great Happiness (极乐点, Wang Yiao, 2020)

Three young men find their paths to prosperity in the modern China abruptly severed in Wang Yiao’s ironically titled Great Happiness (极乐点, jílè diǎn). Great happiness is to them an ever elusive concept overburdened as they are as children of the One Child Policy caught in the midst of the rapid changes which transformed the nation into the capitalist powerhouse it is today. Each of them is in one way or another failed by that transformation, denied the sense of possibility they are continually promised while repeatedly exploited by a society in which everything really is about money. 

Childhood friends Wang, Sui, and Li are each trying to achieve independent success as “entrepreneurs” in the new society, but are also divided by their contradictory goals. For Li, a spoilt rich kid and ambitious fantasist, it’s not so much money that matters as the appearance of it. He buys BMWs on a whim, but has to run across town to ask his mother for money to invest in his “businesses” while it later transpires that his fiancée Xin with whose family he is in dispute over the financial arrangements of the marriage is actually paying their household bills. Unbeknownst to him his mother’s business is struggling, they’ve already sold the assets he was counting on to fund further business ventures, and while they’ll always support him his parents do not have the capability to bankroll his frequent failures. Needing everyone to see him as a big shot, he books a fancy hotel for the wedding despite Xin’s concerns, slapping down his credit card for the 50% deposit only to have it later declined when trying to pay for the ring. Hooked on another sure thing by dodgy friend Ma, he gets himself in trouble by making an unwise arrangement with a loanshark mortgaging something which might not strictly speaking be his. 

Architect Sui’s fiancée Lisa is wary of Li fearing he’s a bad influence and while she might be right Sui makes a few bad decisions of his own including taking a mistress when she travels to the UK to study abroad. Li is investing in his business which given the construction boom in the modern society ought to be a sure thing though Sui also has an artistic temperament and objects to the essential uniformity of the modern Chinese city. Li doesn’t get why he can’t just pull generic designs off the internet rather than coming up with his own while Sui isn’t convinced by his desire to invest in Wang’s burgeoning media business fearful that it will be just another boom and bust industry soon to be oversaturated by the similarly ambitious. 

Wang has been married four years but is yet to conceive a child much to his parents’ consternation. His burden is all the greater as a son of the One Child Policy meaning the responsibility for continuing the family name lies only with him as his grandfather continually points out. His parents who were once wealthy but lost everything in the late ‘90s industrial reforms are so concerned that they pledge all their savings to an IVF programme while granddad objects convinced that paternity cannot be guaranteed and like the factory boss Wang lies to in order curry favour believes they’d be better off with a shaman. Even in the modern society in which “superstition” is frowned upon such beliefs remain common, the factory boss obsessed with “wealth gods” and seeking to surround himself with men who have recently fathered children in order to increase his luck. 

As might be expected, the IVF programme is not entirely on the level, explaining to the family that they need to sign a confidentiality agreement because the treatment they offer is technically unlicensed. They don’t like to describe it as “illegal” because it’s more like the law just hasn’t been updated yet. Sui encounters something similar when his mother comes down with a mysterious illness that seems to be some kind of rare cancer potentially caused by the pesticides used to grow the apples which she had been fond of eating for the benefit of her health, poisoned by the modern industrial machine just like the polluted fish stocks Wang’s mother had been forcing her daughter-in-law to eat believing they’d help her conceive but may actually have been causing her infertility. The medicine Mrs Sui needs exists, but it’s prohibitively expensive and not covered by insurance leaving the family with little choice than to consider selling everything they own including the apartment purchased for Sui’s upcoming marriage. 

In the contemporary society a man’s worth is measured in square meters according to a jaded youngster but there is something of an economic hubris in the visions of these myriad, identical apartment blocks that no one can really afford to buy. While Li, the naive capitalist, and Sui the flawed intellectual whose disappointed father runs a moribund ping pong school in an old temple almost an embodiment of the ghosts of China’s past, Wang (who shares his first name with the city in which he lives) may actually come out on top flashing his hidden capitalistic fangs in his unexpected ruthlessness while simultaneously under increasing family pressure to have a second child now that the One Child Policy has become a Two Child Policy. “Everything he had was borrowed” the friends lament of Li having learned something of the truth he tried so hard to hide. “Who was he trying to impress?” perhaps missing the point in this ordinary tragedy of the modern China. 


Great Happiness streamed as part of Odyssey: a Chinese Cinema Season.

Original trailer (Simplified Chinese / English subtitles)

Parasite in Love (恋する寄生虫, Kensaku Kakimoto, 2021)

A pair of exiles from mainstream society develop a bond that allows for mutual evolution, but are their feelings genuine or the result of a love bug and does it really matter anyway? Kensaku Kakimoto’s adaptation of the light novel by Sugaru Miaki Parasite in Love (恋する寄生虫, Koi suru kiseichu) finds a germophobic man planning to plant a virus to destroy the world he thinks has rejected him coming to care for a young woman who cannot face the glare of a judgemental society while asking if love were a sickness would you really want to be “cured” and if its sacrifice would be worth the price of living a “normal” life. 

Kosaka (Kento Hayashi) lost his parents to suicide at eight years old and has been alone ever since. He is terrified of the world around him believing that everything and everyone is covered in dangerous pathogens and leaves his apartment, where he is busy writing a virus designed to disrupt communication between devices in an ironic revenge for his own inability to connect, only when necessary. On one such trip, however, he runs into high schooler Hijiri (Nana Komatsu) who cannot bear to see other people’s eyes and wears headphones to block out the interpersonal noise of the mainstream society. Where Kosaka chooses isolation because he fears infection, Hijiri is convinced she has a life-limiting parasite in her brain which is infectious to others and does not want to pass it on. 

Approached by an intimidating middle-aged man, Izumi (Arata Iura), Kosaka is charged with “looking after” Hijiri in part to find out why she’s been skipping school. She too lost her mother to suicide which her grandfather (Ryo Ishibashi), a mad scientist, has told her is down to a parasite in her brain, the same one that Hijiri has, which eventually drove her to take her own life while it seems simultaneously rejecting the role of his own authoritarianism in which he attempted to force her to have the parasite removed against her will refusing to listen when she insisted her feelings were her own whether he chose to recognise them or not. Hijiri’s quest is similarly one for personal autonomy in the face of her grandfather’s attempts to excise what he sees as abnormal in what amounts to a modern day lobotomy. 

Then again, it’s difficult to argue with the thesis that the relationship between Hijiri and Kosaka is inappropriate given that he is a 27-year-old man and she is a high school girl, which would be one thing if the scientists had not originally forced them together after discovering that Kosaka has the same parasite in his brain and the mutual evolution their pairing would produce would allow them to remove the problematic bug more easily. As the pair hang out together doing “normal” things such as riding public transportation and eating in cafes, gradually the masks and earphones disappear as they give each other the strength to face a hostile environment with an open question mark over whether it’s all down to the bugs or they’ve fallen in love for real. Hijiri’s dilemma is just as in the story she tells of a man who was infected with a parasite that made him love his cat to the exclusion of all else, if they really want to be “cured” or if the price of sacrificing their love and the essence of who they are is worth paying for the right to reenter mainstream society. 

As Izumi admits, our bodies are full of bugs and perhaps some of them have more power over us than we’d like think. How much control do you really have over your own biology anyway? Kakimoto’s quirky drama only ever flirts with darkness in Kosaka’s original desire to burn the world out of his intense resentment, and in the mad scientist grandfather’s patriarchal insistence on controlling his granddaughter’s emotional life, removing any hint of what is deemed unconventional to turn her into a perfectly “normal” member of a conservative society. Suggesting that romantic destiny may indeed be akin to a parasitic infection, the film nevertheless comes down on the side of the lovers as they discover solidarity in difference and decide to live their lives the way they see fit parasites or not. 


Parasite in Love streamed as part of this year’s Nippon Connection.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Fantasia Confirms Second Wave of Titles for 2022

The Fantasia International Film Festival returns to cinemas for its 26th edition taking place once again in Montreal from July 14 to Aug. 3. With the full programme announced later this month here’s a look at the East Asian titles so far confirmed amid an impressive lineup of global genre cinema.

Japan

  • Anime Supremacy – adaptation of the novel by Mizuki Tsujimura following three women in the anime industry.
  • Baby Assassins – a pair of mismatched high school girls raised as elite assassins get swept into gangland conflict while forced to live together to learn how integrate into society in Yugo Sakamoto’s deadpan slacker comedy. Review.
  • Convenience Story – comedy from Satoshi Miki in which a failed comedian encounters a mysterious woman at a convenience store.
  • Girl from the Other Side – dark anime adaptation of the manga by Nagabe in which a little girl lost in the forest bonds with a mysterious beast.
  • Goodbye, Donglees! – animation in which two boys head off into the woods after being falsely accused of starting a fire.
  • Just Remembering – bittersweet love story from Daigo Matsui inspired by Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth.
  • Inu-Oh – a blind Biwa player and a cursed young man exorcise the spirits of the Heike through musical expression in Masaaki Yuasa’s stunning prog rock anime. Review.
  • Kappei – quirky comedy in which a collection of adults raised for an apocalypse that never happened must try to live normal lives.
  • Missing – darkly comic thriller in which a young girl searches for her father who went missing after saying he was going to claim the bounty on a serial killer he spotted in town.
  • The Mole Song: Final – undercover cop Reiji finds himself increasingly conflicted in his mission to take down Todoroki in the final instalment of the comedic trilogy. Review.
  • The Pass: Last Days of the Samurai – holding fast to samurai ideals a progressive retainer realises his era is at an end in Takashi Koizumi’s homage to classic samurai cinema. Review.
  • Popran – a self-involved CEO gets a course correction when his genitals suddenly decide to leave him in Shinichiro Ueda’s surreal morality tale. Review.
  • Shari – experimental film in which a red monster invades the ordinary life of a snowy town.
  • Shin Ultraman – big budget adaptation of the classic tokusatsu series directed Shinji Higuchi with a screenplay by Hideaki Anno.
  • What to Do with Dead Kaiju – satire from Satoshi Miki in which bureaucrats must try to decide how to dispose of the corpse of a defeated kaiju.

Korea

  • Chun Tae-il: The Flame That Lives On – animated biopic of labour activist Chun Tae-il who self-immolated in protest of Korea’s exploitative employment environment.
  • Heaven: To the Land of Happiness – a chronically ill thief and a “poetic fugitive” find themselves on the run from a “philosophical gangster” in Im Sang-soo’s playful existential drama. Review.
  • Next Door – drama inspired by the life of Kim Dae-jung in which the leader of the opposition tries to battle a government which has installed a surveillance team in the house next door.
  • On the Line – a former policeman gets back on the case when his wife is targeted by telephone scammers in Kim Gok & Kim Sun’s steely action thriller. Review.
  • The Roundup – sequel to The Outlaws starring Ma Dong-seok as a detective who pursues a vicious killer all the way to Vietnam.
  • Stellar – dramedy in which a man comes to understand his father while on the run in his beat up Hyundae Stellar.

Philippines

  • Whether the Weather is Fine – Philippine drama in which a mother and son search for missing loved ones in the aftermath of disaster.

Thailand

  • Fast and Feel Love – drama in which a world champion sport stacker has to learn to look after himself after his girlfriend dumps him.
  • One for the Road – a New York club owner returns to Thailand on learning that his friend has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs in Montreal, Canada, July 14 to Aug 3. Full details for all the films are available via the the official website, and you can also keep up with all the latest news via the festival’s official Facebook pageTwitter account, Instagram, and Vimeo channels.

Wind (随风飘散, Dadren Wanggyal, 2020)

“Who made these rules?” an exasperated young woman asks, fed up with her constant stigmatisation for something that was in any case not her fault. Set in a small Tibetan village, Dadren Wanggyal’s Wind (随风飘散, suífēng piāosàn) takes aim at entrenched misogyny while suggesting that the traditional patriarchal social codes by which the village operates have caused nothing but misery not only for women but for their men too who all too often turn to drink and violence in order to escape their own sense of imprisonment. 

Only the wise old grandmother seems to know better. She is the only one to show kindness to Samdan (Sonam Wangmo), a young woman she discovers in her barn who has given birth to a child out of wedlock. Seven years later, Samdan and her daughter live in a small home on the outskirts of the village but are regarded as social pariahs shunned by the local women and often described as filthy witches in part because Samdan has had to resort to offering sexual favours to local men in exchange for food and assistance. Meanwhile, the old lady continues to support them sending her son Gonbo (Genden Phuntsok) to supply the pair with meat yet Gonbo is careful never to venture inside while his wife, Urgyen Tso (Wondrok Tso), remains intensely disapproving. Gonbo soon has a son, Tsering, who is sickly leading Urgyen Tso to blame Samdan and her daughter Gelak (Tsering Drolma) for his poor health. Seven years on from that, Samdan’s 14-year-old daughter becomes a surrogate sister to Gonbo’s son who is bullied by the other children because he is small and weak but is constantly misunderstood by the judgemental village society.

Both Gelak and Tsering are in various ways made to pay for their parents’ transgressions. It isn’t Gelak’s fault that she was born to a mother who was not married, though she is the one called “witch” and seemingly blamed for anything that might go wrong throughout the local area. Neither is it her fault that her mother has little other option than accept gifts from lecherous men in order to support them both in the absence of a husband in this wickedly patriarchal society. Tsering meanwhile becomes the victim of his mother’s unhappy marriage, knowing that Gonbo has someone else in his heart that he was forced to give up because a marriage was already arranged for him. It is really his moral cowardice which has led to all the subsequent problems in that he should not have begun a relationship he was not prepared to fight for nor agreed to marry another woman out of a sense of obligation and then gone on to resent her for it. For these reasons, Urgyen Tso has become a jealous woman and most of all for her sickly son while seemingly unaware of how he is treated by the other boys in the village. Gelak is the only one who stands up for him, stepping in to challenge the bullies and later carrying him home when he is seriously injured by one of their pranks yet is constantly blamed for making him ill despite Tsering’s assertions that she is not responsible and in fact helped him.   

In any case, it’s this sense of rejection and futility that eventually push Gelak towards a desire to take charge of her own destiny. The wise old lady had told her that her only option was to find a husband to care for herself and her mother, yet Gelak has had enough of unreliable men and chooses an opposing path. Using the loom the old lady had given her, she resolves to earn a living for herself ordering her mother never to accept a gift from any of the local men ever again while taking on all of the duties the man of the household would usually perform. That would include taking part in the ritual at the Holy Mountain on behalf of her family, somewhere that a woman would ordinarily not be allowed to go. Breaking with tradition she takes the men to task, asking who exactly made these rules and why while challenging the village’s essential misogyny to claim her full autonomy and right to head her own household in the absence of a man. 

Chastened they do not stop her, though as for what happens after that the answer may not be so easy. Interestingly enough, the protagonist of the story on which the film was based, The Bastard Child Gelak, was a boy, yet Gelak’s determination to claim her right to equality and liberate her mother from years of stigmatisation presents an existential challenge to the outdated social codes of the village in which women are forced to bear the brunt of male failure without recourse or remedy. Elegantly lensed amid the dramatic scenery of a Tibetan mountain village, Dadren Wanggyal’s impassioned drama paints an animated portrait of contemporary Tibetan life while arguing passionately for long-awaited social change. 


Wind streamed as part of Odyssey: a Chinese Cinema Season.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Let Me Hear It Barefoot (裸足で鳴らしてみせろ, Riho Kudo, 2021)

“I can touch it if I reach out” one of the heroes of Riho Kudo’s second feature Let Me Hear It Barefoot (裸足で鳴らしてみせろ, Hadashi de Narashite Misero) claims as he narrates a fantasy trip to Iguazu Falls, but his tragedy is that he can not reach out and neither can his friend or really anyone in this suffocating enclave of moribund small-town Japan. As in her debut Orphan’s Blues, Kudo finds her heroes trapped with a space of artificial nostalgia and yearning for escape while in constant dialogue with Wong Kar-Wai’s melancholy romance Happy Together as the two young men process their frustrated desires not only for each other but for an end to the loneliness that defines each of their lives. 

Naomi (Shion Sasaki) is lonely in part because he feels trapped. Having dropped out of university he’s working in his father’s (Masahiro Komoto) recycling depot while his best friend and high school sweetheart Sakuko is about to move to Canada. He first catches sight of the enigmatic Maki (Tamari Suwa) at the local pool after trying to learn to swim to effect change in his life and later bonds with him along with a mysterious old woman, Midori (Jun Fubuki), who has lost her sight and claims to have travelled the world in her youth. What the boys later discover is that Midori had not been entirely honest in that her travels had been vicarious, related to her by a third party long since departed whom she did not want to forget. Following a health scare she tries to give Maki her savings telling him to travel the world in her stead but he soon discovers that she was sadly mistaken about amount she’d put away. Lacking the heart to tell her, Maki decides to use an old tape recorder to fake trips to famous places ironically mirroring her final confession that her friend had never travelled either but made all the stories up for her benefit. 

The tape recorder conceit of course directly recalls Happy Together as does the final destination of the Iguazu Falls while hinting at the unattainable freedom each of the young men yearns for as mediated by their desire to travel the world. “We can go anytime” Maki tries to convince Naomi in his mounting desperation though each of them on some level knows they will never leave nor escape their sense of loneliness. Maki describes himself as feeling as if he is trapped within a magnetic field, surrounded by people but unable to touch them. A man permanently at odds with his environment, Naomi feels the same but their feelings for each other are complex and confusing. In a repeated motif one reaches out to touch the other but suddenly pulls back, their repressed desire expressed only through increasingly intense play fighting until one is finally unable to go on with the subterfuge and unsuccessfully attempts to address their unresolved romantic tension. 

Much of their courtship occurs in Naomi’s converted garage bedsit, a space filled with unwanted relics of the past from countless VHS and discarded books to TVs and radios. The garage is his literal safe space, Naomi explaining to Maki that he feels the urge to collect things out of a sense of security that they are safe here even if they disappear from the outside world. “Memories will stay” Maki reminds him, but that’s not good enough for Naomi who ironically can only trust the things that he can touch. Preoccupied with a sense of loss he is unable to move forward, cannot take hold of himself or his desires wishing to preserve the past at all costs while Maki has learnt to live in the moment able to let go but adrift in the present. 

“We may not even be alive tomorrow” Naomi wails in desperation, feeling as if he’s running out of time while boxed in by his equally lonely, disappointed father as a vision of his future self worn down by small-town life and a persistent sense of futility. The two men are forever divided, literal glass standing between them in the closing scenes in which they can no longer touch even if they wished it. Small-town life is it seems the place dreams go to die as symbolised in Sakuko’s eventual defeated return, Naomi left only with resignation to the life he had rejected in an acceptance of the failure of his unfulfilled desires. “I don’t want to forget” he claims echoing Midori’s explanation for her mysterious tattoo while left only with the ironic words of Maki’s cassette tape in their melancholy echo of the romantic impossibilities of Happy Together, “we need to start over”. 


Let Me Hear It Barefoot streamed as part of this year’s Nippon Connection.

Images: (c)PFF Partners