New York Asian Film Festival Confirms Complete 2018 Lineup

NYAFF 2018 posterThe New York Asian Film Festival returns for its 17th edition with a packed programme of recent hits from East Asia. This year’s festival will open with Masanori Tominaga’s Dynamite Graffiti and close with the World Premiere of Erik Matti’s BuyBust. Hong Kong’s Dante Lam will receive the Daniel A. Craft Award for Excellence in Action Cinema, while the Star Asia Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Japan’s Masato Harada and the Star Asia Awards will honour actors Kim Yun-seok and Jiang Wu.

The programme in full:

China 

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  • Dude’s Manual (Kevin Ko, 2018) – the first Mainland film from Taiwanese director Kevin Ko is a ribald sex comedy in which one student attempts to teach another a lesson in love. Q&A with director Kevin Ko
  • End of Summer (Zhou Quan, 2017) – coming of age football drama in which a little boy’s obsession with the world cup irritates his headmaster dad.
  • The Ex-Files 3: The Return of the Exes (Tian Yusheng, 2017) – final film the Ex-Files series.
  • Looking for Lucky (Jiang Jiachen, 2018) – a graduate student loses his professor’s dog and ropes in his dad to help him find it.  Director Jiang Jiachen in attendance.
  • The Looming Storm (Dong Yue, 2017) – a factory worker tries to solve a serial killing case in 1997. Q&A with director Dong Yue
  • Old Beast (Zhou Ziyang, 2017) – an old man spends his final years gambling and womanising.
  • Wrath of Silence (Xin Yukun, 2017) – a mute minor searches for his missing son. ReviewQ&A with director Xin Yukun and actor Jiang Wu

Hong Kong Panorama

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  • Beast Stalker (Dante Lam, 2008) – Dante Lam’s 2008 thriller starring Nicholas Tse and Nick Cheung. Director Dante Lam will be in attendance
  • The Big Call (Oxide Pang, 2017) – noble policeman Ding goes in hard chasing villainous phone scammers in Oxide Pang’s high octane thriller.
  • The Brink (Jonathan Li, 2017) – Jonathan Li makes his feature debut with a metaphorical police procedural in the form of a salty sea shanty. Review.
  • The Empty Hands (Chapman To, 2018) – a young woman thinks she’s finally free of her father’s legacy only to realise he’s left half his dojo to a former pupil who says she can only have his share if she wins a fight. Q&A with actress Stephy Tang
  • House of the Rising Sons (Antony Chan, 2018) – musical biopic of ’70s Hong Kong band The Wynners directed by the band’s drummer Antony Chan. Preceded by a live performance. Q&A with director Antony Chan.
  • Men on the Dragon (Sunny Chan, 2018) – Francis Ng stars as the leader of a team of salarymen forced to join the company dragon boat team. Q&A with director Sunny Chan and actress Jennifer Yu
  • Operation Red Sea (Dante Lam, 2018) – a team of elite special forces soldiers handles the extraction of Chinese diplomatic staff caught up in a Middle Eastern coup in Lam’s Operation Mekong followup. ReviewQ&A with director Dante Lam and producer Candy Leung
  • Paradox (Wilson Yip, 2017) – Louis Koo becomes embroiled in a conspiracy when his daughter goes missing in Thailand. Review.
  • Unbeatable (Dante Lam, 2003) – Nick Cheung stars as a down on his luck boxer starting over in Macau. Director Dante Lam will be in attendance

Indonesia

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  • Buffalo Boys (Mike Wiluan, 2018) – Indonesian Western in which two brothers come back from California to avenge the death of their father. Q&A with director Mike Wiluan 

Japan

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  • Blood of Wolves ( Kazuya Shiraishi, 2018) – Kazuya Shiraishi takes jitsuroku into the ’80s as Koji Yakusho’s rogue cop tries to keep the lid on a gang war. Review.
  • Dynamite Graffiti (Masanori Tominaga, 2018) – biopic of porn-mag mogul Akira Suei. Q&A with director Masanori Tominaga and actor Tasuku Emoto
  • The Hungry Lion (Takaomi Ogata, 2017) – a teenage girl is harassed when she is rumoured to be the girl in a sex tape featuring a high school teacher. Q&A with director Takaomi Ogata
  • Inuyashiki (Shinsuke Sato, 2018) – a mild mannered middle-aged man and an angry teen are given mysterious super powers and decide to use them in very different ways. Review.
  • Kakekomi (Masato Harada, 2015) – a small temple becomes an Edo era women’s refuge for those seeking escape from abusive marriages in Masato Harada’s light hearted drama. ReviewDirector Masato Harada will be in attendance
  • Kamikaze Taxi (Masato Harada, 1995) – Koji Yakusho plays a taxi driver taken hostage by a rage fuelled yakuza out for revenge on the politician who killed his girlfriend. Q&A with director Masato Harada
  • Liverleaf ( Eisuke Naito, 2018) – manga adaptation in which a teenage girl takes revenge on her bullies. Q&A with director Eisuke Naito
  • Midnight Bus (Masao Takeshita, 2017) – a bus driver’s second chance at life is ruined when his estranged ex-wife, salaryman son, and engaged daughter all come home. Director Masao Takeshita will be in attendance
  • One Cut of the Dead (Shinichiro Ueda, 2018) – real zombies suddenly invade a film set in Shinichiro Ueda’s hilarious madcap horror comedy. Review.
  • River’s Edge (Isao Yukisada, 2018) – disaffected teens fight ennui with a studied appreciation of death in Yukisada’s adaptation of the classic ’90s manga. Review.
  • The Scythian Lamb (Daihachi Yoshida, 2017) – a rural town opens itself up to a government backed scheme to repopulate through employing ex-cons in Daihachi Yoshida’s thoughtful drama. Review.
  • Sekigahara (Masato Harada, 2017) – historical epic starring Junichi Okada and Koji Yakusho dramatising events leading up to the famous battle. ReviewQ&A with director Masato Harada
  • Smokin’ on the Moon (Kanata Wolf, 2017) – indie slacker drama about two guys who work at a midnight bar and also deal marijuana. Q&A with director Kanata Wolf
  • The Third Murder (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2017) – Hirokazu Koreeda puts the law on trial. Review.

Malaysia 

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  • Crossroads: One Two Jaga (Nam Ron, 2018) – corruption drama in which a straight-laced rookie turns out to be the most dangerous destabilising element in a fracturing society. Review. Q&A with director Nam Ron and actor Ario Bayu.
  • Dukun (Dain Said, 2018) – shelved for over a decade, Dukun is the controversial tale of a nightclub singer suspected of murdering a politician seeking immortality through ritual sacrifice!

Philippines 

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  • BuyBust (Erik Matti, 2018) – high octane action thriller from Erik Matti in which a young rookie police officer gets caught up in a bust gone wrong. Q&A with director Erik Matti and actors Anne Curtis & Brandon Vera
  • Neomanila (Mikhail Red, 2017) – neo noir in which a young man becomes an apprentice to an older woman taking out drug dealers for the government.
  • On the Job (Erik Matti, 2013) – a conspiracy is uncovered when a drug dealer is murdered. Director Erik Matti will be in attendance
  • Respeto (Treb Monteras, 2017) – intergenerational hip hop drama in which a young rapper comes into conflict with a Marcos-era poet. ReviewDirector Treb Monteras, actor Abra, and producer Monster Jimenez will be in attendance
  • Sid & Aya: Not a Love Story (Irene Villamor, 2018) – rom-com in which an insomniac stock broker pays a waitress to talk through his troubles. Q&A with actress Anne Curtis
  • We Will Not Die Tonight (Richard Somes, 2018) – genre thrills as a former stuntwoman is forced to defend herself against hordes of bad guys.

South Korea

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  • 1987: When the Day Comes (Jang Joon-hwan, 2017) – powerful democracy movement drama. ReviewQ&A with director Jang Joon-hwan and actor Kim Yoon-seok
  • After My Death (Kim Ui-seok, 2017) – a high school girl’s disappearance raises fears of suicide and also puts her best friend in the firing line.
  • The Age of Blood (Kim Hong-sun, 2017) – period drama in which a top swordsman is demoted to prison guard.
  • Counters (Lee Il-ha, 2017) – documentary centring on anti-racist protest in Japan.
  • Hit the Night (Jeong Ga-young, 2017) – Jeong Ga-young once again stars in her Bitch on the Beach followup as a young woman unafraid to ask “inappropriate” questions while researching a screenplay. Q&A with director/actress Jeong Ga-young
  • I Can Speak (Kim Hyeon-seok, 2017) – an old woman convinces a young man to teach her English and gives voice to a dark part of her nation’s history.
  • Little Forest (Yim Soon-rye, 2018) – gentle tale in which a wounded young woman retreats to her country home to figure things out. Review.
  • Microhabitat (Jeon Go-woon, 2017) – a young woman decides rent is an unnecessary expense and commits to couch surfing her way through life. Q&A with director Jeon Go-woon and actor Ahn Jae-hong
  • The Return (Malene Choi, 2018) – two Danish-Korean adoptees return to the country where they were born for the first time.
  • What a Man Wants (Lee Byeong-hun, 2018) – social satire in which an adulterous husband and his mild-mannered brother-in-law become involved with a sexy dance teacher.

Taiwan

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Thailand

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  • Premika (Siwakorn Jarupongpa, 2017) – horror comedy in which guests at a resort are terrorised by a karaoke obsessed ghost! Actress Gena Desouza will be in attendance
  • Sad Beauty (Bongkod Bencharongkul, 2018) – the friendship between two women is tested by a violent encounter. Q&A with director Bongkod Bencharongkul and producer Kongkiat Khomsiri
  • Tears of the Black Tiger (Wisit Sasanatieng, 2000) – cult classic Thai western!

The 17th New York Asian Film Festival runs from 29th June to 15th July. Full details for all the films are available via the official website where you can also find screening times and ticketing information. You can also keep up with all the latest festival news via the official Facebook Page and Twitter account.

Ramen Shop, Hanagatami Bookend Japan Cuts 2018

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Japan Cuts returns for its 12th instalment bringing some of the best recent mainstream and indie hits to Japan Society New York from 19th to 29th July. This year’s Japan Cuts Cut Above Award goes to much loved actress Kirin Kiki who will be on hand to present the North American premiere of Shuichi Okita’s Mori, The Artist’s Habitat.

The programme in full:

Ramen Shop

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Takumi Saitoh stars in Singaporean director Erik Khoo’s cross cultural family drama in which the son of a ramen shop owner discovers a suitcase full of old photos which belonged to his late Singaporean mother and decides to travel to the place of his mother’s birth to find out more about his family history. Opening Night Gala featuring intro and Q&A with director Eric Khoo and star Takumi Saitoh.

Of Love & Law

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Hikaru Toda reunites with Love Hotel’s Fumi and Kazu who run a small law firm in Osaka specialising in representing the LGBT community. ReviewIntro and Q&A with director Hikaru Toda.

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Actor Takumi Saitoh steps behind the camera for this atypical family drama in which a young man travels home for the funeral of his estranged father only to find himself charmed by the roguish stories of his fellow mourners. Intro and Q&A with director Takumi Saitoh.

Violence Voyager

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Experimental animation from The Burning Buddha Man director Ujicha in which an American boy called Bobby and his friend Akkun take off for the mountains but end up trapped in an abandoned theme park called Violence Voyager.

Born Bone Born

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Set once again in Okinawa, the second feature from comedian Toshiyuki Teruya follows a pregnant woman home to a remote island to mourn her late mother while her family continues to fall apart and neighbours gossip about the absent father of her unborn child.

Dream of Illumination

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High schooler Nana has been dragged around by her divorced father Ueda who works as an immoral real estate broker facilitating cheap land sales for foreign buyers but an extended stay in Rokujo forces the pair to reassess the past and their current way of life in Thunder Sawada’s rural drama. Intro and Q&A with director Thunder Sawada, star Yuya Takagawa and producer Kazuyuki Kitaki

Last Winter, We Parted

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Tomoyuki Takimoto adapts the award winning novel by Fuminori Nakamura in which an ambitious journalist decides to look into the mysterious case of a beautiful female model who died in a horrific fire on the set of a shoot by a famous fine arts photographer.

Passage of Life

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A small family from Myanmar attempts to get by undocumented only to face an uncertain future when their application for refugee status is rejected. The two children born in Japan struggle to identify with their Burmese heritage while their parents face more immediate concerns for the family’s safety and security. Intro and Q&A with director Akio Fujimoto.

The Night is Short, Walk On Girl

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Masaaki Yuasa adapts Tomihiko Morimi’s novel in which a university student undergoes a surreal odyssey through nighttime Kyoto in search of a beloved childhood book while her not so secret admirer has a few adventures of his own in the hope of winning her heart. Review.

We Make Antiques!

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Comedy from Masaharu Take in which a smoozy antiques dealer is unwittingly sold a fake tea cup claiming to have belonged to famous tea master Sen no Rikyu only to decide if you can’t beat ’em join ’em and plan a heist with the guys who just scammed him.

Toward a Common Tenderness

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Documentarian Kaori Oda weaves together unused footage from her time with Béla Tarr at his Film Factory in Sarajevo in 2013-2016 as well as her life in Japan to explore a path towards connection. Intro and Q&A with director Kaori Oda 

Side Job.

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Ryuichi Hiroki adapts his own novel in which a young woman living in temporary accommodation following the 2011 earthquake attempts to escape the crushing inertia of her uncertain life through undertaking casual sex work in Tokyo. Review.

Sennan Asbestos Disaster

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Kazuo Hara follows the residents of Sennan, Osaka as they pursue legal compensation from the government for exposing them to pollution from asbestos factories. Intro and Q&A with director Kazuo Hara, producer Sachiko Kobayashi, and film participants 

Yocho (Foreboding)

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Kiyoshi Kurosawa revisits the world of Before We Vanish with a cut down of his TV companion piece in which a factory worker stumbles on the alien invasion thanks to her corrupted healthworker husband. Review.

Call Boy

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An apathetic student begins to find a sense of purpose when sucked into the world of the male escort in the latest from Daisuke Miura.

KUSHINA, what will you be

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Okinuma took off and founded an all female colony in the woods with her pregnant 14-year-old daughter, Kagu. Now that Kagu’s daughter Kushina is approaching the same age her mother was when they first left modern society behind she is beginning to ask questions about the outside world. When an anthropologist and her male assistant stumble onto the colony Okinuma will do whatever it takes to protect it. Intro and Q&A with director Moët Hayami and star Tomona Hirota

Radiance

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A young woman attempting to create audio description scripts for the visually impaired is tested by a former photographer trying to come to terms with losing his sight in Naomi Kawase’s romantic drama. Review.

Mori, The Artist’s Habitat

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Shuichi Okita chronicles the later life of artist Morikazu Kumagai who has barely left his garden in the last 30 years but must prepare to bid it goodbye as a modern apartment complex nears completion. ReviewIntro and Q&A with star Kirin Kiki plus Cut Above Award ceremony.

Still Walking

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Family divisions, secrets, and prejudices are brought to the surface as a family gathers for the memorial service for their eldest son who was killed trying to save a child from drowning in Koreeda’s classic family drama. Review.

Empty Orchestras and the Speed of Your Voice

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Five experimental short films including Yohei Suzuki’s YEAH! ReviewIntro and Q&A with dir. Nao Yoshigai, dir. Yohei Suzuki and actress Elisa Yanagi

Abnormal Family

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Masayuki Suo’s only pink film takes the form of an Ozu pastiche centring on one very unusual family.

Tremble All You Want

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Unfulfilled office lady Yoshika is still nursing a high school crush but when a colleague suddenly confesses his love for her, Yoshika’s cheerful fantasy world threatens to implode. Review.

Thicker than Water

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Print shop owner Yuria is desperate to attract the attentions of client Kazunari but he only has eyes for her assistant and younger sister Mako. Meanwhile, Kazunari is also contending with his rowdy brother just released from jail and crashing at his apartment. Intro and Q&A with director Keisuke Yoshida 

Outrage Coda

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Kitano returns with the third and final instalment in the Outrage trilogy which finds Otomo in exile in Korea.

BLEACH

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Tite Kubo’s hit manga gets a live action adaptation helmed by I am a Hero’s Shinsuke SatoSota Fukushi stars as Ichigo – an ordinary high school boy with orange hair and the ability to detect spirits, who comes to the rescue of imperilled Soul Reaper Rukia (Hana Sugisaki) and soon finds himself battling Hollows on her behalf. Intro and Q&A with director Shinsuke Sato.

Dear Etranger

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Divorced father Makoto has remarried and has two step-daughters but when his second wife discovers she is carrying their child, he begins to worry that the new baby may pull his blended family apart in this very modern family drama from Yukiko Mishima. Review.

Amiko

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Lonely 16-year-old Amiko finds a kindred spirit in footballer Aomi, but when he abruptly takes off for Tokyo with a former student Amiko cannot help but follow him hoping to make sense of his sudden betrayal. Intro and Q&A with director Yoko Yamanaka.

TOURISM

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Nina wins the lottery and takes her friend Su with her on a trip to Singapore where they quickly grow bored of tourist hotspots and retreat to the global anonymity of shopping malls. When Nina loses track of her friend and her phone, the trip sends her on a different kind of odyssey through the “real” Singapore in the latest from Daisuke Miyazaki.

Hanagatami

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Nobuhiko Obayashi realises a long held ambition of filming Kazuo Dan’s 1937 novella of youth living in the shadow of an oncoming tragedy. Review.

Japan Cuts runs from 19th to 29th July at Japan Society New York. Full details for all the films along with ticketing links are available via the official website and you can also keep up with all the latest details by following the festival’s official Facebook page and Twitter account.

Pumpkin and Mayonnaise (南瓜とマヨネーズ, Masanori Tominaga, 2017)

Pumpkin and Mayonnaise posterIt’s important to be supportive towards your partner’s dreams, but what if your support is actually getting in the way of their development? The question itself never seems to occur to the heroine of Pumpkin and Mayonnaise (南瓜とマヨネーズ, Kabocha to Mayonnaise) as she descends deeper and deeper into a dark web of wilful self sacrifice hoping that her singer songwriter boyfriend will finally get his act together and come up with some new material. Adapted from the manga by Kiriko Nananan, Masanori Tominaga’s charting of a modern relationship is perhaps slightly more hopeful than those which have previously featured in his movies but nevertheless takes his heroine to some pretty dark places all in the name of love.

Tsuchida (Asami Usuda) is a 20-something woman living with her aspiring rock star boyfriend, Seiichi (Taiga). In order to facilitate his art, she has convinced him to give up work while she supports the couple financially through her job at live music venue. Seiichi, however, remains conflicted about the arrangement and hasn’t written anything of note in months. In fact, as Tsuchida tells a colleague, he barely leaves the house which means he’s not likely to be suddenly inspired either. What Seiichi doesn’t know is that the money from Tsuchida’s regular job isn’t quite enough and she’s started supplementing her income through working in a hostess bar. Though not naturally suited to the work, she soon picks up a “particular” client (Ken Mitsuishi) who offers her some “overtime” at a hotel. Tsuchida isn’t quite sure but having come so far she can hardly turn back now, even if the guy is a pervert with a school girl fetish. Hiding the money in a cigarette box in shame, Tsuchida is eventually caught out and forced to confess to Seiichi who is horrified, placing a serious strain on their relationship.

Just as her relationship with Seiichi starts to go south, Tsuchida runs into an old flame, Hagio, who is everything Seiichi isn’t – brash, arrogant, confident, and very much not the sort of man to make a life with. Nevertheless, Tsuchida can’t help looking back and remembering how madly in love she was with Hagio (Joe Odagiri), forgetting that she was just as madly in love with Seiichi or she wouldn’t have gone to all this trouble for his benefit. Hagio himself cites Tsuchida’s all or nothing intensity as one reason he ended the relationship the first time round, she was just too into him and he found it annoying.

Seiichi, a quieter, introspective sort, never found Tsuchida’s devotion irritating but the pressure of her expectation was perhaps a barrier to his artistic success. Staying home all day, bored and depressed, Seiichi rarely found the inspiration to write between brooding about his lack of progress and feeling guilty that he couldn’t pull his economic weight. To his credit, Seiichi harbours no particularly sexist notions towards Tsuchida’s being the family earner, but he does mildly resent a barbed comment from a friend who criticises him for his “purist” stance in accusing his former band members of selling out when he is being kept by his girlfriend. Likewise, he doesn’t reject Tsuchida for engaging in prostitution or for “cheating” on him, but turns his anger inward in resenting that she felt forced to go such great lengths for the music that he isn’t quite so confident about anyway.

The problem is that Tsuchida gets far too into her idealised notions of romance rather than directly engaging with the person in front of her. She pushed Seiichi towards music and encouraged him to fulfil his dreams but in the end stifled them with her unforgiving intensity. Likewise, she ends up over engaging in Hagio’s hedonistic, devil may care lifestyle and never really stops to think where it’s going to take her. Only near the end does she begin to approach a level of self realisation which allows her to see that her relationship with Hagio will never work out because she remains afraid to enter a true level of intimacy with him in fear that he won’t like what he sees and will leave her.

Told from Tsuchida’s perspective with frequent voice overs to let us in on her interior monologue, Pumpkin and Mayonnaise is a messy “grownup” love story between three people who are still in the process of growing up. Artistic integrity rubs up against relationship dynamics as Tsuchida is forced to examine her own behaviour and realise she often, intentionally or otherwise, sabotages her dreams by attempting to impose her own singular vision upon them rather than simply let them be. As in real life, there may not be a “happy” ending, in one sense at least, but there is still the possibility of one further down the line for a woman who’s finally accepted herself and is willing to let others do the same.


Screened at Nippon Connection 2018.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Breath of Rokkasho (息衝く, Bunyo Kimura, 2017)

Breath of Rokkasho posterIndividual desire versus responsibility to the collective is something of a major theme in Japanese cinema. The fallible ideologue at the centre of Breath of Rokkasho (息衝く, Ikizuku) believes individualism is the key to world happiness, implying that a collection of fulfilled individuals would amount to a fulfilled society, but then again his logic is perhaps hard to follow when he cares so little for other people’s freedom. Taking place in the post-Fukushima world, Rokkasho wants to extend this idea through examining the complexity of the anti-nuclear movement and the political forces which advocate for it while ordinary people largely sit back in silent disapproval. The ideal society, if there even is such a thing, will probably not be built by those in power but by those who manage shake off the problematic legacy of the past in order to embrace their “individual” wills but with the collective good in mind.

Norio (Shigeki Yanagisawa), Yasuyuki (Ryuta Furuya), and Yoshi (Nana Nagao) were raised in a politicised Buddhist cult, The Seed Association, which has a strong interest in ecological affairs and therefore the anti-nuclear movement. Each lacking fatherly input, the three youngsters fell under the spell of the cult’s most prominent member, Mr. M (Satoru Jitsunashi). Mr. M however abruptly upped and left them, abandoned without hope or answers. 20 years later, Norio is a civil servant also working for the Seed Association on political campaigns while Yasuyuki has become the new golden boy whom many tout as the natural successor to Mr. M. Yoshi left the sect at a much younger age and is now a single mother in the middle of what seems to be a fairly messy divorce.

Looking up at the Tanashi Tower (also known as Sky Tower West Tokyo) – a “state of the art” radio tower completed in 1989 midway through a period of unprecedented economic prosperity and named after the town which used to stand here the name of which literally means “no rice”, the three kids ask Mr. M if it’s possible to see the Nighthawk Star from down below. He tells them he doesn’t know, but they can look for it together. Mr. M did not help them, he disappeared and left them with only more questions and an even shakier relationship with their familial pasts. Each badly let down by parental figures who either abandoned their families to join the cult out of nuclear fear, committed suicide, or were simply distant and neglectful, neither Norio, Yasuyuki, or Yoshi has been able to step into the adult world with any degree of confidence or faith in its teachings.

Only by confronting their difficult pasts can the trio begin to unblock their individual paths. A visit to the long absent Mr. M who has apparently embraced full individualism as a hermit farmer who dresses in a comical baby chick’s costume complete with squeaky claw-shaped slippers, begins to show them that their faith in his teachings may have been misplaced. Mr. M claims that the human race is not yet strong enough to live only by thinking of its own happiness, something that he feels would bring the greatest happiness to all mankind. Refusing to recognise the “selfishness” of his philosophy, Mr. M has withdrawn from society and made himself the centre of a happy nation of one.

Parental betrayal becomes a major theme, eventually extending to the paternity of the state in its repeated failures to protect and care for its children. The English title of the film references the Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing facility which has become an ongoing scandal in its 20-year series of construction delays with 23 postponements issued since its original 1997 projected date for completion. Norio, the melancholy civil servant, hails from the town himself – in fact his mother took him away from it precisely because she feared a nuclear disaster. Yet The Seed Association, or anyone else for that matter, has not been able to solve the nuclear issue even in the post-Fukushima era. Engaged in the business of “politics” the sect’s intentions have become blurred as they contemplate their survival in an ever shrinking society, subject to the same political games of manipulation and backbiting as any other party. Gradually disillusioned with the cult’s hypocrisy and didacticism, Norio considers forging his own path – something which sets him at odds with Yasuyuki whose faith is also shaken only he’s invested far too much to allow himself to acknowledge it.

The Japanese title, by contrast, simply means to gasp for air. Trapped fast in society filled with corrupt, conflicting values each of the three struggles to find a foothold for themselves as they flounder wildly without guidance or aim. Yet in being forced to confront themselves and their pasts there is a movement towards progress, or at least a strong desire to find it. They, like their nation, have been betrayed and struggled to deal with their betrayal, but have managed to find their own essential truth even so and along with it the ability breathe deeply even when the air is thickening.


Screened at Nippon Connection 2018.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Moon and Thunder (月と雷, Hiroshi Ando, 2017)

Moon and Thunder posterThe family is coming in for another round of fierce criticism in Japanese cinema where the “family drama” has long been revered as a representative genre. Hiroshi Ando who has hitherto been more interested in atypical romantic relationships is the latest to reconsider whether family is really all it’s cracked up to be in adapting Mitsuyo Kakuta’s novel, Moon and Thunder (月と雷, Tsuki to Kaminari). Two children from dysfunctional homes now fully grown struggle to adapt themselves to the nature of adult society, unsure if they should remove themselves from it entirely or force themselves into the socially expected roles they fear they don’t know how to play. Yet perhaps what they find in the end is not so much a talent for conventionality as an acceptance of life’s many imperfections.

20-something Yasuko (Eriko Hatsune) lives alone in her family home following the death of her father (Jun Murakami). She has an unsatisfying job in the local supermarket and is in an unsatisfying relationship with a co-worker who wants to get married but she isn’t convinced. Yasuko’s striving for an “ordinary” life is disrupted when Satoru (Kengo Kora), the son of one her father’s former girlfriends who lived with them for a few months 20 years ago, suddenly tracks her down. The reconnection between them is instant and easy but also confused, somewhere between siblings and lovers as they resume the physical intimacy they shared as children but on an adult level.

Satoru, a drifter like his flighty mother (Tamiyo Kusakari), pushes Yasuko towards a consideration of the idea of family which she’d long been resisting. She becomes determined to track down the biological mother who abandoned her when she was just a toddler, hoping to find some kind of answer to the great riddle of her life. Her birth mother, however, fails her once again. Kazuyo, faking tears for the reality show cameras reuniting her with her daughter, is a selfish woman who claims she left her country home because it was boring and that she left her daughter behind because she said she didn’t want to go. Feeling as if she’s being blamed for her own abandonment Yasuko is left with only more confusion and resentment but does at least discover something by accidentally encountering her younger half-sister, Arisa (Takemi Fujii), who shows her that life with her mother might not have been very much different than without.

Yasuko and Satoru revert to their childhood selves because that brief period 20 years ago is the only time either of them ever experienced what they felt to be a “normal” family life as they played together happily and were well fed and cared for by adults acting responsibly. It was however all over too soon – Naoko, Satoru’s drifting mother, upped and left just as she always does. Someone probably left her years ago, and now she makes sure to leave them first before she can be can rejected. Naoko is the only “mother” Yasuko can remember, and her abandonment the most painful in her long memory of abandonments. First came Satoru, and then Arisa her sister, and finally Naoko too returning, filling Yasuko’s home with an instant family that at times seems too perverse and difficult to bear.

Yet she struggles with the idea of “family” itself as something she’s supposed to want but perhaps doesn’t out of fear it will fail her. She considers marrying her workplace boyfriend even though it appears she doesn’t particularly like him and they aren’t suited, solely because his proposal offers her the “normal”, “conventional” kind of life she both fears and longs for. With Satoru she has found a kind of love that is more complicated than most, two lonely children looking for a home and finding it in each other but each fearing that they will not be able to bear the anxiety of its potential end. Yet rather than continue onward along the same dull path she’d walked before, longing for soulless normality, what Yasuko discovers is that she’ll be OK on her own even if things don’t work out in the way that most would consider “normal”. Abandoning past and future, Yasuko begins to accept her presence in the present as a woman with possibilities rather than a passive object clinging onto the life raft of “normality”, accepting that nothing is forever but that once something starts it never really ends.


Screened at Nippon Connection 2018.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops (アイスと雨音, Daigo Matsui, 2017)

プリントThe youth movie has long held a special place in Japanese cinema but it would be fair to say that the fire has gone out of late, modern youth dramas are generally sad rather than angry. Daigo Matsui was in an enraged mood when he brought us Japanese Girls Never Die – a chronicle of female elision in an intensely misogynistic society. Now he brings his camera down a little to take a look at the incendiary play by boundary pushing British playwright Simon Stephens, Morning, through the eyes of real teenagers as their own hopes and dreams are suddenly pulled away from them by an act of “unfairness” which is perfectly typical of the treacherous adult world obsessed with rationality and not at all interested in their feelings.

Shot entirely in one take, Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops (アイスと雨音, Ice to Amaoto) masterfully condenses the one month rehearsal period of the play into a mere 70 minutes through dreamlike time segues, neatly swapping aspect ratios as the “play” takes over from “real life”. Stephens’ play, set at the end of summer – the same time as the play is being rehearsed and was scheduled to be performed, is a coming of age tale in which its small town heroine attempts to deal with the impending departure of her best friend for university by embracing the “freedoms” of youth only to discover that not all transgressions are cost free.

In a bid for “realism” the play’s director, played by Matsui himself, has cast real local teens by means of an open audition, but times are tough for the arts. With no “names” in the cast, ticket sales are slow. The producers have decided to pull the production and cut their losses ahead of time. The youngsters are obviously upset. This was, after all, their big chance and they’ve worked hard only to be told that all their efforts are worthless because they just don’t have “it”. No one cares about their feelings, no one cares about their wasted time, no one cares about them.

The actors and actresses play characters with their real names, slipping into and out of the theatrical world with little warning until the two begin to blend almost seamlessly and it becomes impossible to tell which level of theatricality best represents the teens’ inner lives. The “play” is also scored by a kind of Greek chorus in the form of a slightly older rapper/performance poet who offers a more direct commentary on the general feelings of hopelessness which have begun to plague the young cast who know they will be emerging into a world with few possibilities in which they will be expected to abandon their youthful dreams for an idea of conventional success which is destined to remain far out of their reach.

The cutesy title, Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops, hints at another kind of youth story – the melancholy journey into nostalgia as an older protagonist looks back on a beautiful summer many years ago spent with friends who perhaps are no longer around. Matsui’s film has some of that too, though his protagonists are younger. The teens almost eulogise themselves, telling their story as if it’s already over, walking like ghosts through halls of memory. They’re sad, but they’re angry too and they don’t understand why their platform has been so arbitrarily removed just as they were preparing their voices to be heard.

If youth wants the stage it will have to take it by force. Sick of being blamed, of being told that their failures are all lack of talent rather than luck, the kids make themselves heard even if they do so through a veil. Daigo Matsui gives them back their stage, enriching it with his own artifice in the thrillingly complex choreography of his oscillating one take conceit. Anchored by a standout performance from leading lady Kokoro Morita on whom many of the transitions depend, Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops returns the youth film to its previous intensity with a rebel yell from the disenfranchised next generation who once again find themselves at odds with the society their parents’ have created and see no place for themselves within it which accords with their own sense of personal integrity. 


Screened at Nippon Connection 2018.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura (DESTINY 鎌倉ものがたり, Takashi Yamazaki, 2017)

Destiny tale of kamakura posterJapanese literature has its fair share of eccentric detectives and sometimes they even end up as romantic heroes, only to have seemingly forgotten the current love interest by the time the next case rolls around. This is very much not true of Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura (DESTINY 鎌倉ものがたり, Destiny: Kamakura Monogatari) which is an exciting adventure featuring true love, supernatural creatures, and a visit to the afterlife all spinning around a central crime mystery. Blockbuster master Takashi Yamazaki brings his visual expertise to the fore in adapting the popular ‘80s manga by Ryohei Saigan in which the human and supernatural worlds overlap in the quaint little town of Kamakura which itself seems to exist somewhere out of time.

Our hero, Masakazu Isshiki (Masato Sakai), is a best selling author, occasional consulting detective, and befuddled newlywed. He’s just returned from honeymoon with his lovely new wife and former editorial assistant, Akiko (Mitsuki Takahata), but there are a few things he’s neglected to explain to her about her new home. To wit, Kamakura is a place where humans, supernatural creatures, and wandering spirits all mingle freely though those not familiar with the place may assume the tales to be mere legends. To her credit, Akiko is a warm and welcoming person who can’t help being “surprised” by the strange creatures she begins to encounter but does her best to get used to their presence and learn about the ancient culture of the town in which she intends to spend her life. Unfortunately, she still has a lot to learn and an “incident” with a strange mushroom and a naughty monster eventually leads to her soul being accidentally sent off to the afterworld by a very sympathetic death god (Sakura Ando) who is equal parts apologetic about and confused by what seems to be a bizarre clerical error.

Destiny’s Kamakura is a strange place which seems to exist partly in the past. At least, though you can catch a glimpse of people in more modern clothing in the opening credits, the town itself has a distinctly retro feel with ‘60s decor, old fashioned cars, and rotary phones while Masakazu plays with vintage train sets, pens his manuscripts by hand, and delivers them in an envelope to his editor who knows him well enough to understand that deadlines are both Masakazu’s best friend and worst enemy.

The creatures themselves range from the familiar kappa to more outlandish human-sized creatures conjured with a mix of physical and digital effects and lean towards the intersection of cute and creepy. The usual fairytale rules apply – you must be careful of making “deals” with supernatural creatures and be sure to abide by their rules, only Akiko doesn’t know about their rules and Masakazu hasn’t got round to explaining them which leaves her open to various kinds of supernatural manipulation which he is too absent minded to pick up on.

Yet Masakazu will have to wake himself up a bit if he wants to save his wife from an eternity spent as the otherworld wife of a horrible goblin who, as it turns out, has been trying to split the couple up since the Heian era only they always manage to find each other in every single re-incarnation. True love is a universal law, but it might not be strong enough to fend off mishandled bureaucracy all on its own, which is where Akiko’s naivety and essential goodness re-enter the scene when her unexpected kindness to a bad luck god (Min Tanaka), and an officious death god who knew something was fishy with all these irreconcilable numbers, enable to couple to make a speedy escape and pursue their romantic destiny together.

Aimed squarely at family audiences, the film also delves a little into the awkward start of married life as Akiko tries to get used to her eccentric husband’s irregular lifestyle as well as his childlike propensity to try and avoid uncomfortable topics by running off to play trains. Masakazu, orphaned at a young age, is slightly arrested in post-adolescent emotional immaturity and never expected to get married after discovering something that made him question his parents’ relationship. Nevertheless, a visit to the afterlife will do wonders for making you reconsider your earthly goals and Masakazu is finally able to repair both his old family and his new through a bit of communing with the dead. Charming, heartfelt, and boasting some beautifully designed world building, Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura is the kind of family film you didn’t think they made anymore – genuinely romantic and filled with pure-hearted cheer.


Screened at Nippon Connection 2018.

Original trailer (English subtitles)