Camera Japan Announces Complete Programme for 2019

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Camera Japan, the premier Dutch showcase for Japanese film, returns for its 14th edition this September with another fantastic selection of recent indie and mainstream cinema. This year’s theme is “youth” and the programme has a special focus on films made by or about young people.

Contemporary Cinema

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  • 12 Suicidal Teens – 12 teens meet in an abandoned hospital to commit mass suicide but instead find themselves trying to solve the mystery behind the death of a young boy in a youthful drama from 20th Century Boys’ Yukihiko Tsutsumi.
  • Another World – three childhood friends reunite but find it difficult to escape from the shadow of the past in Junji Sakamoto’s tale of frustrated male bonding. Review.
  • Astral Abnormal Suzuki-san – indie comedy in which a young YouTuber and her family become part of a TV show.
  • Bento Harassment– A single mother fed up with her teenage daughter’s nonsense starts sending passive aggressive messages through bento in a tale inspired by a real life blog.
  • The Chaplain – the final film from the late Ren Osugi in which he plays a compassionate preacher ministering to those on death row. Review.
  • The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine – Takahisa Zeze’s Taisho era tale of female sumo warriors and bohemian anarchists. Review.
  • Every Day a Good Day – charming tea ceremony memoir starring Haru Kuroki and the late Kirin Kiki. Review.
  • The Fable – a top hitman is given the challenge of laying low as a normal person for a year only to be sucked into yakuza drama. Heartfelt zany fun! Review.
  • Fly Me to the Saitama – the residents of Saitama have become an oppressed minority in this surreal comedy from the director of Thermae Romae. Review.
  • Hard-Core – an overly idealistic slacker and his simple-hearted buddy make friends with a damaged robot while accidentally getting mixed up in dangerous politics in Nobuhiro Yamashita’s adaptation of the cult manga. Review.
  • Jam – Sabu gets back to his roots with a tale of three guys on the run. Review.
  • Jesus – a little boy discovers he has a friend in tiny Jesus only to find himself feeling betrayed in Hiroshi Okuyama’s whimsical debut. Review.
  • Just Only Love – a lovelorn OL realises her boyfriend’s not that into her in Rikiya Imaizumi’s romantic drama.
  • The Kamagasaki Cauldron War – Osaka’s “invisible slum” is thrown into chaos when someone steals the local yakuza’s ritual bowl. Review.
  • A Life Turned Upside Down: My Dad’s an Alcoholic – a young woman struggles to take care of herself when her mother joins a cult and her dad takes to drinking.
  • Little Miss Period – surreal drama starring Fumi Nikaido in which periods are anthropomorphised as giant pink heart-shaped buddies.
  • Love at Least – sensitive drama in which a young woman with bipolar tries to face up to her feelings for her supportive (perhaps too much so) boyfriend when his manipulative ex shows up and starts interfering in her life. Review.
  • Melancholic – a Todai graduate slums it in a bathhouse only to discover the place doubles as a yakuza killing ground after hours. Review.
  • Mimicry Freaks – intense horror film in which a man wakes up on a hospital bed in the woods to be told he was executed thirty years previously.
  • My Dad is a Heel Wrestler – a nine-year-old boy exaggerates his wrestler dad’s success in this charming comedy starring real life wrestler Hiroshi Tanahashi.
  • My Father the Bride – a woman returns to her island home for the second anniversary of her mother’s death only to find her father wearing her mother’s clothes and apparently about to marry a man.
  • Okinawan Blue – three tales intertwine at an Okinawan guest house.
  • Only the Cat Knows – the disappearance of the family cat symbolises the distance in a long term marriage in a whimsical romantic drama starring legendary actors Chieko Baisho and Tatsuya Fuji with a notable cameo from Mikako Ichikawa. Review.
  • Orphan’s Blues – poetic drama in which a young woman with unexplained memory loss determines to track down a childhood friend. Review.
  • Queer Shorts – two mid-length queer films including Shun Nakagawa’s Kalanchoe in which a high school class becomes curious about their LGBT lessons, and Mika Imai’s Until Rainbow Dawn in which two deaf women fall in love.
  • Red Snow – impressionistic mystery starring Masatoshi Nagase and Arata Iura in which a journalist’s investigation of a thirty year old child disappearance begins to open old wounds. Review.
  • Rise of the Machine Girls – reboot of Noboru Iguchi’s classic splatter franchise.
  • Samurai Marathon – period drama directed by Bernard Rose in which the local lord’s idea of training his out of shape men through a marathon is misconstrued by the Shogun. Review.
  • Vision – Juliette Binoche goes rare herb hunting for Naomi Kawase.
  • We Are Little Zombies – four bereaved kids deal with their ennui in the time honoured fashion of going on an adventure and starting a punk band in Makoto Nagahisa’s anarchic drama. Review.

Classics

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  • Crazed Fruit – Sun Tribe classic starring Yujiro Ishihara and his future wife Mie Kitahara alongside Masahiko Tsugawa in a tale of youth gone wild as two brothers fall for the same girl.
  • I Was Born, But… – Ozu’s classic silent movie in which two boys fear losing face to their friends over their dad’s less than impressive job. Review. Will be screened with live instrumentation from Gonçalo Almeida, Riccardo Marogna, and Phillip Ernsting.
  • Kids Return – youthful drama from Takeshi Kitano in which two lost young men muse on missed opportunities. Review.
  • The Legend of the Stardust Brothers – rediscovered cult gem from Macoto Tezka following the rise to fame of two aspiring pop stars. Review.
  • The Sun’s Burial – Nagisa Oshima classic set in the slums of Kamagasaki.
  • Tetsuo: The Iron Man – Shinya Tsukamoto’s legendary cyberpunk masterpiece.

Documentaries

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  • Day of the Western Sunrise – partially animated documentary interviewing the surviving sailors of Lucky Dragon No. 5.
  • Kampai! Sake Sisters – documentary focussing on three women in the sake trade which has historically been a very male profession.
  • Queer Japan – a joyful exploration of LGBTQ+ life in contemporary Japan.
  • Sending Off – Ian Thomas Ash returns with his latest doc following a doctor providing hospice care to patients in their homes.
  • Tower of the Sun – Kosai Sekine’s doc focussing on the famous Taro Okamoto statue constructed for World Expo in Osaka in 1970.

Animation

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  • Aragne: Sign of Vermilion – indie anime in which a young girl steps up to the plate after noticing a weird bug coming out of an old lady’s arm.
  • Chieri and Cherry – kids stop motion animation in which a girl and her stuffed toy try to save some puppies from a mean crow.
  • MAQUIA: When the Promised Flower Blooms – directorial debut from screenwriter Mari Okada in which a young immortal is exiled from her tribe and raises a human baby to maturity only to lose him to time. Review.
  • Penguin Highway – a precocious little boy determines to solve the mystery behind the random appearance of penguins in his small town. Review.

Camera Japan 2019 takes place across two weekends in Rotterdam (25th – 29th September) and Amsterdam (3rd – 6th October). Full information on all the films as well as ticketing links can be found on the official website. You can also keep up to date with all the latest news via Camera Japan’s official Facebook pageTwitter account, and Instagram channel.

Raindance Returns for 2019 with Selection of East Asian Festival Favs

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London’s Raindance Film Festival returns from 18th to 29th September with a handpicked selection of independent filmmaking from across the globe. This year’s programme features a handful of East Asian indie features with a particular concentration on documentaries.

Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly ai weiwei yours truly

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei holds an exhibition of postcards sent to political prisoners across the world in a documentary filmed by Cheryl Haines.

Demolition Girl (Japan)

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A teenage girl starts earning extra money performing in niche videos in which she wears her school uniform and stomps on things in order to escape from her feckless family members in Genta Matsugami’s exploration of life in small-town, working class Japan. Review.

My Dearest Sister (Japan)

my dear sister

A filmmaker who has lived abroad for many years finds herself at odds with her mother and sister in her relationship to her overbearing father in Kyoka Tsukamoto’s autobiographical documentary.

Night Cruising (Japan)

FILM NIGHT CRUISING

Documentarian Makoto Sasaki follows blind musician Hideyuki Kato as he tries to achieve his dream of directing a science fiction movie.

A Dobugawa Dream (Japan)

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A young man shuts himself away following the suicide of a friend then escapes to find a substitute family with an eccentric older man, a barmaid, a dancer, and a police officer.

Bombie (Laos)

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Documentary by Tanner Matthews and Shelby Baldock following bomb disposal officers in Laos.

On the President’s Orders (Philippines)

On the President's orders

Documentary by James Jones and Olivier Sarbil exploring the effects of Duterte’s war on drugs on those who carry it out.

Song Lang (Vietnam)

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Beautifully filmed, highly atmospheric tragic romance set in 1980s Saigon in which an embittered thug falls for a Cải lương opera star. Review.

Raindance Film Festival takes place at Vue Piccadilly, 18th to 29th September. Tickets are already on sale via Eventbrite. You can also keep up with all the latest details via the festival’s official Facebook page, Twitter account, Instagram, and YouTube channels.

The Wonderland (バースデー・ワンダーランド, Keiichi Hara, 2019) [Fantasia 2019]

birthday wonderland poster 1The demands of adulthood are apt to overshadow any young teen’s life, but you can’t shake them off just by lying in bed and refusing to age. So the heroine of Keiichi Hara’s The Wonderland (バースデー・ワンダーランド, Birthday Wonderland) discovers as she determines to hideout from emotional complexity, waiting for the storm to pass and cowardly failing to defend a friend in the process. The last thing she wants is the responsibility of being “the chosen one”, but the thing about that is that you don’t get to choose and if the universe has plans for you it would be very irresponsible to refuse.

After (not) getting involved in a minor spat amongst friends about coloured hair clips, Akane (Mayu Matsuoka) decides the best solution is to feign illness, turn off her phone, and avoid going to school. Her kindly mother (Kumiko Aso), seemingly aware she’s not really ill, decides to let her stay home anyway but all she ends up doing is mistreating the cat in frustration and moping about, so her mum despatches her to her aunt Chii’s (Anne Watanabe) place to pick up her birthday gift which she presumably can’t open until the big day tomorrow. Truth be told, Akane doesn’t much like her aunt Chii, she’s far too free spirited and unpredictable for the neurotic teen, but she could stand to learn something from her irrepressible lust for life.

Akane gets the perfect opportunity to do just that when she sticks her hand onto a palm print in her aunt’s shop and is promptly greeted by a dapper-looking man with a fabulous moustache and his tiny minion (Nao Toyama) who crawl up through the hidden basement to explain that she is the “Goddess of the Green Wind” they’ve been searching for and must come with them right away because their nation is in peril! As expected, Akane doesn’t want to go, but is chivvied along by her overexcited aunt and a strange amulet the man, an alchemist named Hippocrates (Masachika Ichimura), places around her neck.

The amulet, he tells her, helps you move forward even if you want to go back. That is, in a sense, Akane’s entire dilemma as she finds herself on the cusp of adulthood, afraid to step forward and accept the responsibilities of maturity while longing to return to carefree childhood days when there was nothing much to worry about and always someone around to look after her. Like any good fairytale, she finds her mirror in the other world in a melancholy prince who remains so reluctant to take part in an essential ritual that he is almost willing to burn the world to avoid having to acknowledge his royal responsibilities.

Meanwhile, Akane is slow to adjust to the charms of her new Wonderland, refusing to engage and loudly stating her desire to go home while her aunt tries to encourage her to embrace a sense of adventure. Chii, the film’s best asset who proclaims “no alcohol no life” while thoroughly enjoying sparring with the uptight Hippocrates (who perhaps is also enjoying the challenge though might not want to admit it), might in some senses be a barrier to Akane’s self-actualisation but is also an important source of safety for her in an unsafe world and just irresponsible enough to push her niece towards taking the right kind of risks in order to do the right thing and save the kingdom.

The reasons the kingdom is in peril in the first place are hugely symbolic – an ongoing water crisis caused by governmental negligence is draining the world of colour while literally drying it out. Getting used to her new surroundings, Akane begins to see their charm. This world, near identical to her own in many ways, diverged around the industrial revolution. Where “our” world rocketed into a frenetic lust for convenience, the rhythms of this one stayed the same, a perpetual village society in which cheerful people live laidback lives surrounded by the beauty of nature – something Akane later comes to worry her own world is losing. Gradually letting go of her fear and getting a better idea of the kind of life she might want, Akane gains the courage to embrace responsibility through directly supporting someone else as they learn to do the same.

A whimsical coming of age tale, The Wonderland excels in world building but somehow never quite achieves the level of emotional engagement it seems to be looking for even as its sullen, detached heroine perhaps begins to realise she did a great disservice to her friend when she failed to defend her during the silly hair ornament argument largely because she personally didn’t want to rock the boat and put herself in the firing line. Her horizons suitably expanded, Akane finds she no longer needs an amulet to keep moving forward even when longing to look back and resolves to step into adulthood with an easy, laidback confidence learned from her palls on the other side.


The Wonderland was screened as part of the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Day and Night (デイアンドナイト, Michihito Fujii, 2019) [Fantasia 2019]

day and night poster 1Can two wrongs ever really make a right? Michihito Fujii’s Day and Night (デイアンドナイト) wants to ask if the difference between good and evil is really as stark as that between dawn and dusk, or if life is really more like twilight in which morality is a relative concept and acts cannot by judged individually but only as a part of the whole. What the hero discovers, however, is that the world is an inherently unfair place and it may not be possible to “win” against the forces of self-interest solely through being pure of heart.

The drama begins with a stunned Koji (Shinnosuke Abe) returning to his small-town home to graffiti scrawled across his fences and his father lying in repose inside after having apparently taken his own life. No one will quite explain to Koji what exactly has happened, but it seems there has been some unpleasantness surrounding his father’s auto business. Though most of the other townspeople including his old friends are civil, they are also frosty and obviously unwilling to address the subject of Mr. Akashi save to press Koji for money they might still be owed as employees.

Meanwhile, poking around the garage in search of answers, he runs into the mysterious figure of Kitamura (Masanobu Ando) who claims to have known his father well though Koji’s mother claims never to have heard of him. Seeing as Kitamura is the only person willing to speak to him, Koji ends up taking a job at the orphanage where he works which turns out to be a little different than he thought seeing as Kitamura is actually the head of a local crime ring which exists with the sole purpose of keeping the orphanage running.

Though Koij, like his father, is an upstanding, law-abiding young man, he is quickly pulled into Kitamura’s world of moral justifications when presented with his personal philosophy in which the greater good remains paramount. Kitamura steals cars by night, stripping the unsellable ones for parts, which is where Mr. Akashi came in having succumbed to a life of “crime” in order to support himself while his business was suffering. He also does some possibly less justifiable work in the red light district while making a point of beating up drug dealers because 80% of the kids in his care have a parent in jail for crimes related to substance abuse. In Kitamura’s view at least, these are all “justifiable”, morally defensible “crimes” given that they are necessary to ensure the protection of the orphans. Though the money is good and Koji does need it, they are not in this for personal gain but to protect something they feel is important.

As Kitamura puts it, Mr. Akashi put his faith in laws that are meant to protect people but in the end it killed him. Having discovered a serious flaw in the auto parts he received from a local company he did the “right thing” and blew the whistle but Nakamichi Autos is the major player in the local economy and many people did not take kindly to having their reputation called into question. Nakamichi rallied its supporters and had Akashi hounded into submission. As one of the former employees tells Koji, the truth “hardly matters anymore”. Nakamichi doesn’t care there is a minor flaw in their products because they feel the chance of a fatal accident is slim enough not to need to worry about and happy to let the risk continue as long as they maximise their profits.

Miyake (Tetsushi Tanaka), Nakamichi’s CEO, also has his justifications, insisting that there’s no such thing as right and wrong only the cold logic of numbers and that the death of one man will not change anything. Increasingly pulled into Kitamura’s world of crime, Koji opts for underhanded methods to expose the truth about Nakamichi and clear his father’s name but finds in the end that no one is interested in facts. Listening in to some of his father’s old employees enjoying their belated severance pay he is dismayed to hear them too justifying their actions as they each insist that they did what they thought was “best” for everyone, for a peaceful life, for their families.

In truth, Koji claims he hated his father. That he resented him for always working all the time. Now however he begins to see that Akashi was only trying to protect his family by providing for it. His father was a “good” man, and he did the “right” thing, but he also became involved with Kitamura’s morally questionable crime syndicate. Kitamura wants to protect the orphans and takes care of them well, but can he really justify his actions solely on the grounds that there is no honest way to care for children who are often victims of an unfair society the pressures of which have pushed their parents from the “moral” path? What Koji’s left with, broadly, is that “good” people do “bad” things for “good” reasons, but bad people do bad things because they’re selfish and so they hardly care about the consequences of their actions. He starts to believe that the only way to resist is to fight fire with fire, but discovers that the little guy is always at a disadvantage when there is too much vested interest in not “making trouble”. It turns out everyone is OK with the status quo, so long as it’s not their car that might suddenly lose its wheels. As Miyake says, “that’s just how society works”.

A bleak meditation on the wider nature of justice and moral greyness of the world, Fujii’s noirish drama suggests good and bad are less like day and night than a shady evening in which the only shining light is the greater good. The world, however, continues on in self interest and the “good” will always lose to the “bad” as long it compromises itself trying to play by the other guy’s rules. Koji finds himself torn between a desire to avenge his father and a new sense of fatherhood fostered by bonding with a teenage girl at the orphanage as he contemplates the existence of a line between good and evil and his own place along it, but his old fashioned “nobility” finds no answer in the infinitely corrupt moral dubiousness of the modern society.


Day and Night was screened as part of the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

The Moon in the Hidden Woods (숲에 숨은 달, Takahiro Umehara, 2018) [Fantasia 2019]

The Moon in the Hidden Woods posterNight is dark, but when you have the moon to light the way there is always the hope of a better tomorrow. When all hope is gone, how are you supposed go on? For a small group of villagers, the answer is to do the best they can, staving off the darkness with determination and guile. Directed by Japan’s Takahiro Umehara making his directorial debut, The Moon in the Hidden Woods (숲에 숨은 달, sup-e sum-eun dal) is a story about learning how to survive the darkness but also an oblique allegory about authoritarian corruption and the power that comes with embracing your essential identity. 

As the wise old granny tells us at the beginning, long ago the Moon watched over the villagers, protecting them from the terror of night, but then it suddenly disappeared. A terrifying monster, Muju, wrapped the night sky in red, devouring misfortunes and sending fearsome minions to plague mankind. Warriors set out to look for the Moon, but none returned. Meanwhile others learned how to profit from the new world and saw no need for a return to the past until gradually people forgot there had ever been a Moon to begin with.

One such profiteer was the evil Count Tar, who is determined to marry the Princess Navillera very much against her will. Escaping to the city, Navillera finds herself coming to the rescue of a musical trio caught up in an unfair competition to win some mystic water to use in their harvest festival, and making use of her telepathic super powers and natural musical ability at the same time. The Nova Folk Band are a small group of illegal meteor hunters from the village who are more interested in survival than they are in intrigue, but are nevertheless some of the only people still looking for the Moon. In any case, they end up taking Navillera with them as they flee, not quite believing that she is a princess and the intended bride of their tyrannical ruler.

While in the village, Navillera gets a crash course in class conflict, never having left the palace before and spent her entire life in a lavish comfort she assumed was available to all. This quickly puts her into conflict with musician Janggu who deeply resents the “spoiled” entitlement that sees her asking for extravagant luxuries like meat, fruit, and honey, while being entirely unused to farm work. She does, however, try her best even mucking in with the other villagers where she can but is obviously unable to contribute to the same degree given that she has never had to do a day’s work in all her life. Meanwhile, as Janggu points out, the gang have gone out hunting meteors full in the knowledge that it’s illegal because they need them to survive. The princess objects to their reckless lawbreaking, affirming that the kingdom will protect them with ore only for Janggu to point out an ore is worth half the year’s harvest and the only reason you’re not allowed to hunt meteors is so that the unscrupulous powers that be can sell you an alternative and thereby keep a grip on their power by keeping the poor in their place. Suddenly, Muju isn’t looking so much like a scary red monster but an eerie metaphor for late stage capitalism.

Meanwhile, the Navillera is also busy trying to escape an oppression she wasn’t even quite aware of in her attempt to reject the intentions of Tar. Through her time in the village, Navillera begins to lose heart, fearing that her cosseted life has left her powerless without skills or talents. What she discovers, however, is that she has a natural ability for dance that finds a perfect home in the cheerful village where such things are praised and becomes the key both to restoring her essential identity and defeating Muju to rediscover the Moon.

In opposition to the “nothingness” that Muju represents, Navillera draws strength from the camaraderie of the villagers as they adopt her as one of their own, urging her not to give in and marry the evil Tar but to join them in their rebellion, choosing the “path of life” as the joyous music of the villagers finally breaks the stronghold of Muju’s austerity. Finally seeing the light of a better tomorrow, the villagers look back on the past with stoical eyes, recognising that mankind’s greed gave rise to Muju and resolving to forgive those who were merely weak rather than actively evil in order to live on in the light of a new world. A perfect blend of Korean fantasy and Nausicaa-esque steampunk, The Moon in the Hidden Woods is a cheerful ode to the importance of hope and the pure joy of musical expression in a sometimes harsh existence.


The Moon in the Hidden Woods was screened as part of the 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.

International trailer (English/korean/Japanese captions)

Jeux de plage (浜辺のゲーム, Aimi Natsuto, 2019)

105104a28dul1sw021sqjl“Listen, men are nice to all women, because sex is the only thing they think of” a young woman warns her friend as she recounts a casual encounter on the beach with a man they seem to have collectively decided to declare a bad idea. It’s not all fun and games by the sea for the romantically confused heroes of Jeux a plage (浜辺のゲーム, Hamabe no Game) which owes a fair bit to the French New Wave in its easy, breezy exploration of young love and an intensely sexist society. Produced by Kiki Sugino’s Wa Entertainment, Aimi Natsuto’s Rohmer-esque debut continues the internationalist vibe the studio is fast becoming known for in bringing together a disparate group of travellers each “invited” to a small seaside guest house by the mysterious Miwako.

The central psychodrama plays out between three young women, not quite friends, who are apparently engaged in some sort of revolving love triangle. Yui (Juri Fukushima) has brought her uni friend Sayaka (Haruna Hori) on a trip to her hometown where they’ve hooked up with her high school friend Momoko (Nanaho Otsuka), but the atmosphere is beginning to sour. Sayaka increasingly feels like a third wheel while secretly pining for Yui who seems to have regressed into a more vacuous version of her teenage self while obsessing over Momoko who only talks about guys despite later claiming to be pansexual.

Meanwhile, the three women find themselves constantly bombarded by (largely) unwanted male attention – firstly from another guest at the hotel, Akihiro (Shinsuke Kato), who seems to have completely messed up his personal and professional lives with an ill-advised love affair. Akihiro’s eyes are out on stalks when he spots the three pretty women though they, while admitting that he’s “cool”, declare him a little sleazy, maybe even creepy seeing as he’s probably “as old as 35” and giving the eye to a bunch of college girls. Even so, Akihiro is not the only lothario on the prowl. Korean student Min-jun (Koo Hyunmin) has brought a Korean girl, Yona (Li Taun), who’s come to visit him, to stay in the hotel after getting a recommendation from Miwako. It seems Yona is just a friend who came to find out about studying film, but Min-jun keeps making awkward passes and intermittently reminding her about an introduction to his professor which occasionally seems like a creepy sort of pleading.

All that’s aside from the randy professor (Kentaro Kanbara) who might as well be a escapee from a Hong Sang-soo film, having started the picture without his trousers in the empty hotel swimming pool after apparently being seduced by the ever absent Miwako the night before. Despite being profoundly sorry, he turns up the next day to return the clothes he had to borrow and makes a worryingly aggressive play for the previously sympathetic manageress all while his suspicious wife (Kiki Sugino) watches from behind a nearby hedge, presumably following him after doubting whatever story he told her to explain not having arrived home the previous evening. Meanwhile, Sayaka, sick of feeling like a spare part, takes off for the beach where she’s quickly hit on by two different creepy guys, one of whom turns out to be a film director (A cameo from Edmund Yeo) who wanted to hire her for a movie though she wasn’t particularly interested.

Matters come to a head right there on the beach where the women collectively take out their frustrations with the male sex on the cocksure Akihiro, who is not really at fault in this instance save insensitively mocking other people’s romantic distress. Unfortunately, however, the incident does not seem to have relieved the pressure on the central trio who continue to dance around their romantic confusion without talking about anything “real”. While Sayaka looks for advice in asking random strangers if they’ve ever had a same sex crush, Yui becomes increasingly stressed and as irritated by Momoko’s gravitating towards the guys as Sayaka is by her intimacy with Momoko. Meanwhile, the only “nice guy” – a sympathetic Thai filmmaker (Donsaron Kovitvanitcha) observing from the sidelines, fails to add to the drama when attempting to make his own romantic confession (a sweet and innocent one with flowers and poetry) at an extremely inopportune moment. Bookended by time cards with chapter headings taken from classics of the French New Wave, Natsuto’s approach is one of detached playfulness tinged with farce as she observes this collection of flawed but very human protagonists fail to plainly express their desires, becoming ever more frustrated and confused as they struggle to orientate themselves around each other in a repressive and infinitely sexist environment. 


Jeux de plage was screened as part of Japan Cuts 2019.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Asian Pop-Up Cinema Returns for Season Nine

The Attorney still 2Chicago’s Asian Pop-Up Cinema returns for its ninth season from Sept. 10 to October 10 with another handpicked selection of the best recent East Asian cinema. Running for five weeks, the season highlights one region each week and also has a special mini focus on movie musicals!

Sept. 10,  7pm: The Odd Family: Zombie on Sale

Introduction and Q&A with Director Lee Min-Jae 

Odd family still 1A weird family take in the “zombie” victim of nefarious pharmaceutical plant experimentation and decide to keep him as a pet, especially once they realise that his bite has healing qualities with intense marketability. Hilarious off the wall zombie comedy. Review.

Sept. 12, 7pm: Juror 8

Introduction and Q&A with Director Hong Seung-Wan 

Juror No 8 still 1Courtroom comedy from Hong Seung-Wan inspired by Korea’s first jury trial in 2008. A young man is accused of murdering his mother. All the evidence points to his guilt and he has also confessed to the crime but one juror isn’t quite convinced.

Sept. 14, 2pm: Swing Kids

Swing Kids still 1A North Korean prisoner of war falls in love with tap dancing after being co-opted into a group by a former broadway dancer turned US Army captain in Kang Hyung-chul’s musical drama.

Sept. 15, 10.30am: Shadow

Shadow bannerDrawing inspiration from classic ink paintings, Zhang Yimou returns to the world of wuxia with a tale of balance and duality as a general’s double processes his conflicted loyalties in a world in which the king is weak and his enemies strong. Review.

Sept. 18, 7pm: Crossing the Border

Introduction and Q&A with Director Huo Meng

Crossing the Border still 1A little boy gets sent to stay with grandpa over the summer, but grandpa unexpectedly gets a message about an old friend he hasn’t seen in a long time and decides to drag his grandson halfway across the country on a makeshift vehicle to go visit him.

Sept. 19, 7pm: The Enigma of the Arrival 

Introduction and Q&A with Director Song Wen and Actress Gu Xuan

Enigma of the Arrival still 1A group of former uni friends reunite years after the disappearance of a friend broke them apart in an experimental drama from the founder of the “Chinese Sundance” Xining FIRST International Film Festival, Song Wen.

Sept. 20, 6pm: Wushu Orphan

Wushu Orphan still 1The new teacher at a martial arts school is disheartened to discover his pupils’ lack of interest in education but bonds with a lonely young boy ironically disinterested in martial arts but talented in his studies. Review.

Sept. 25, 8pm: Melancholic 

Conversation with Director Seiji Tanaka and Producer/Lead Actor Yoji Minagawa 

Melancholic still 1An alienated young man who graduated from Todai but remains totally opposed to the rat race ends up taking a job in a bathhouse after a conversation with a pretty girl he went to high school with, only to find out that the bathhouse doubles as a yakuza killing ground after hours. Review.

Sept. 26, 7pm: Can’t Stop the Dancing (Dance with Me)

dance with me syill 1An ambitious executive’s dreams of promotion are dealt a serious blow when she ends up getting hypnotised by a shady theme park entertainer and finds herself breaking into song and dance like the heroine of an old fashioned Hollywood musical every time she hears music in the latest madcap comedy from Shinobu Yaguchi (Swing Girls, Waterboys, Wood Job!). Review.

Sept. 27, 7pm: Bento Harassment

Bento Harrassment still 1A single mother fed up with her teenage daughter’s nonsense starts sending passive aggressive messages through bento in a tale inspired by a real life blog.

Oct. 2, 7pm: The Pool

The Pool still 1A man ends up having to clean a disused pool after a film shoot but falls asleep on an inflatable raft. When he wakes up, he finds that the water level has fallen so low he can no longer climb out. He screams for help, but the only creature to hear him is a crocodile…

Oct. 3, 7pm: Signal Rock

Introduction and Q&A with Actor Christian Bables, Bright Star Award Recipient 

signal rockA young man from a small island where the only cell phone signal is found on a rocky outcrop desperately tries to help his sister and her child escape an abusive marriage in Finland.

Oct. 5, 2pm: Office

Office (TO) bannerJohnnie To’s beautifully choreographed musical set in the high stakes world of corporate finance.

Oct. 6, 2pm: Long Time no Sea

Long time no Sea bannerA poor boy missing his dad and a resentful teacher dispatched to a remote island against his will eventually bond through the unlikely medium of traditional dance in Heather Tsui’s charming coming of age drama. Review.

Oct. 8, 6pm: Miss Granny

Miss Granny PhilippinesA Philippine take on the Korean musical comedy in which a grumpy, disillusioned old woman visits a mysterious photo gallery and gets a second shot at youth.

Oct. 9, 7pm: Deception of the Novelist

Introduction and Q&A with Director Christopher Sun and Producer/Lead Actor Justin Cheung 

Deception of the novelist still 1A popular novelist’s marriage to his childhood sweetheart is on the rocks thanks to his womanising ways. When an attractive woman moves into the flat above him, he quickly begins having yet another affair but when she threatens blackmail his thoughts turn murderous…

Oct. 10, 7pm:  The Attorney

Introduction and Q&A with Actor Kenneth Tsang Kong, Scriptwriter Frances To, and Executive Producer Cherrie Lau

The Attorney bannerA jaded lawyer agrees to take on a seemingly open and shut case of a young man who wakes up next to the dead body of a billionaire’s daughter with no idea what happened only to find himself caught up in a wider conspiracy.

Asian Pop-up Cinema Season 9 runs in Chicago from Sept. 10 to Oct. 10. Full details for all the films are available via the festival’s official website where tickets are already on sale. You can also keep up with all the latest news by following Asian Pop-up Cinema on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Vimeo.