Nagi’s Island (凪の島, Masahiko Nagasawa, 2022)

“Doctors don’t heal patients. We just help them heal themselves” according to the kindly grandmother at the centre of Masahiko Nagasawa’s warmhearted drama Nagi’s Island (凪の島, Nagi no Shima). In many ways an island film, Nagasawa’s gentle tale of the power of community support and mutual compassion celebrates the healing power of laidback island life while simultaneously lamenting its decline amid rural depopulation and an ageing society which it leave it in someways vulnerable without the protections of big city infrastructure. 

For young Nagi (Chise Niitsu), however, it’s a kind of haven. Following her parents’ divorce she’s returned to live with her grandmother Yoshiko (Hana Kino) who runs the island’s only medical clinic while her mother (Rosa Kato) has a secured a job as a nurse at the hospital on the mainland. Nagi has adjusted to island life fairly quickly, but is also haunted by her past and suffers from panic attacks when witnessing small acts of violence and aggression that recall painful memories of her father’s drunken rages. In any case it seems that Nagi has maintained contact with her dad, Shimao, through social media while he is trying his best to undergo treatment for alcohol abuse and repair his relationships with his family. 

As Yoshiko puts it, history has in a sense repeated as she too came to the island with her daughter, Mao, after leaving her husband and was comforted by the total acceptance of the island community who asked few questions and never attached any social stigma to the fact she was a single mother. Many people here are, however, also suffering such as Nagi’s new friend Raita who is touched by her relationship with her mother while missing his own. Irritated by his grandfather’s refusal to explain to him what’s happened to her other than that she’s in a hospital, he determines to find out dragging Nagi along for an adventure but perhaps discovers something he wasn’t quite prepared for only to be comforted by a frank yet compassionate outlaying of the facts from a sympathetic doctor and the gentle support of his friends and family. 

Nagi’s arrival also begins back painful memories for the school’s janitor who is nicknamed Grumpy Grandpa (Kyusaku Shimada) by the kids (of whom there are only five) because of his morose appearance and the fact he never smiles. Having lost his own daughter to a heart attack, he worries for Nagi who in turn becomes determined to make him smile and eventually succeeds in making him feel a part of the community allowing him to begin making peace with his daughter’s death. 

That sense of community is however threatened by the realities of contemporary island life. Nagi’s new friends Kengo and Raita are secretly worried that Mao will decide to remarry and Nagi will leave the island leaving them alone again as the only children of their age. In the local school all the kids are taught together because there are only five of them, the other two being an older boy and his younger sister. Life on the island may seem so idyllic that it’s difficult to see why anyone would want to leave, but with few jobs available younger people often seek better futures in the city while there’s no denying that because of the decreasing population there are few resources available. Yoshiko is the only doctor on the island and her clinic is only a regular GP’s office meaning those who require more serious medical treatment will have to travel to the mainland which is possible only by small fishing boats in good weather. 

In any case the island provides a healing environment of its own, allowing Nagi and her mother to begin putting the past behind them while offering a chance of redemption for Shimao who may be able to start over in a kinder place free of the pressures of city life. As the islanders celebrate the first marriage taking place in the village in 30 years, there is promise of new life and new beginnings despite the prevailing narrative that communities such as these have little future in a continually evolving society. What is clear is that Nagi has found her place to belong along with a purpose in life in the gentle lull of the island’s seas and its welcoming shores. 


Nagi’s Island screened as part of this year’s Camera Japan. It will also be screening at Japan Society New York on Nov. 20 as part of The Female Gaze: Women Filmmakers from JAPAN CUTS and Beyond.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Shrieking in the Rain (雨に叫べば, Eiji Uchida, 2021)

“Let’s change Japanese film” a duplicitous distributor tries to convince a diffident director though his “creators first” stance predictably turns out to be somewhat disingenuous. Inhabiting the same territory as Netflix’s Naked Director, Eiji Uchida’s meta dramedy Shrieking in the Rain (雨に叫べば, Ame ni Sakebeba) finds a young woman struggling to take charge of her artistic vision while plagued by workplace sexism, commercial concerns, and absurd censorship regulations but finally claiming her space and along with it her right to make art even if not quite everyone understands it, 

Set entirely on a Toei lot in the summer of 1988, the film opens with rookie director Hanako (Marika Matsumoto) locking herself inside a car with her hands clamped over her ears, fed up with the chaos that seems to surround her. How Hanako got the job in the first place is anyone’s guess, but it later becomes clear that she is in a sense being exploited by the producer, Tachibana (Kazuya Takahashi), who thinks a pretty young girl directing a softcore porno is a selling point in itself. Meanwhile, he’s teamed up with an US-based production company and its Japanese producer, Inoue (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), who seems fairly exasperated by the Japanese-style shoot and despite his pretty words is all about the business. For him, the main selling points are the actors, one a young idol star intending to boost his profile by getting into films and the other a veteran actress stripping off for the first time in an attempt to revitalise her fading career. 

Surrounded by male industry veterans, Hanako struggles to get her voice heard and feels under confident on set as they encircle her and bark orders she doesn’t quite understand. Her decisions are continually overruled by the male AD, cameraman, and finally Tachibana who always has his mind on the bottom line while Hanako’s inability to express herself to the crew results in endless takes of scenes that others tell her are “pointless” and should be cut despite her protestations that they are essential to the piece. A forthright female makeup artist (Chika Uchida) asks if filmmaking should really be this heartless as she watches Hanako humiliated by the chauvinistic cameraman who forces her to get on her knees and beg for help, while a more sympathetic grip (Gaku Hamada) later tells her that becoming a successful director has little to do with talent and a lot to do with the art of compromise. 

Nevertheless, Hanako tries to hold on to her artistic vision even while some roll their eyes considering the project is a softcore romantic melodrama revolving around a love triangle involving two brothers in love with same woman. Inoue claps back that film is a business, admitting that when he said creators first he just meant the ones that make money. According to him, anyone could direct the film because all anyone’s interested in is the actress’ bared breasts and the teenybopper appeal of top idol Shinji. Or in other words, it doesn’t really need to be good, it’s going to sell anyway. In any case, it seems incongruous to cast a squeaky clean idol in an edgy erotic drama especially considering that if they want to market it to his fans then they need to secure a rating which allows them to see it without adult supervision. Business concerns and censorship eventually collide when the rather befuddled censor puts a red line through some of their kink and explains that the actress’ third hip thrust has just earned them an X rating. 

Unlike Hanako and her similarly troubled junior camerawoman Yoshie (Serena Motola), veteran actress Kaede at least knows how to advocate for herself and get what she wants on set so that she can do her best work. Only in this case doing her best work means she wants to go for real with arrogant idol star Shinji who refuses to wear a modesty sock or trim his pubic hair to fit in with the arcane regulations of the censors board. Shinji is brought to task by aspiring actor Kazuto who is pissed off by his unprofessional behaviour while struggling to get a foothold in a difficult industry and apparently finding one through a romantic relationship with the producer which otherwise seems to be a secret from cast and crew. 

In any case a final confrontation prompts a rebellion against Inoue’s production line metaphor as the crew reaffirm that they are a team working together on an artistic endeavour not mere cogs in his machine. Reemerging in bright red lipstick, Hanako returns to retake what’s hers boldly claiming her artistic vision and taking charge on set before descending into an unexpected musical number. With a retro sensibility, the film neatly echoes late 80s production style with a cutesy background score often heard in movies of the era while posters for top Toei movies from the 70s and 80s such as Yukihiro Sawada’s No Grave for Us line the walls. A meta rebuke against the constraints placed on filmmakers by those who shout “creators first” to bolster their image but never follow through Shrieking in the Rain, is at once a homage to the classic days of low budget Toei erotica and an inspirational tale of an artist finding her voice in a sometimes repressive industry.


Shrieking in the Rain screened as part of this year’s Camera Japan.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Unlock Your Heart (ひらいて, Rin Shuto, 2021)

A straight-A student and popular girl enters a self-destructive tailspin on discovering her longterm crush has a secret girlfriend in Rin Shuto’s adaptation of the novel by Risa Wataya, Unlock Your Heart (ひらいて, Hirate). Wataya also penned the source material for Akiko Ohku’s Tremble All You Want and Hold Me Back, and while Shuto may shift away from Ohku’s quirky style she maintains and intensifies an underlying sense of unease in what has the potential to develop into an incredibly messy situation. 

As the film opens, popular girl Ai (Anna Yamada) walks away from a dance rehearsal and discovers fellow student Miyuki (Haruka Imo) collapsed by a tree next to a pouch containing her insulin. Barely conscious, Miyuki asks her for something sweet and Ai soon returns with some sugary juice. Unable to find to an efficient way of getting her to drink it, Ai passes the liquid from her own mouth in a literal kiss of life that seems have an unexpected effect on her. Meanwhile, after sneaking into the school late at night with some friends halfheartedly joking about stealing the exam papers, Ai raids the locker of her crush, Tatoe (Ryuto Sakuma), and discovers a series of love letters which turn out to be from Miyuki. 

For some reason this revelation turns Ai’s life upside-down even though she later reveals that she had been enduring the silent crush on Tatoe for some years without ever acting on it. It may partly be that Ai is popular and attractive and so the idea that someone may not find her desirable is destabilising, cutting to the quick of her teenage insecurity while pulling the rug out from under her if she had indeed thought of Tatoe as a kind of comfortable backstop or easy plan B. Enraged, she befriends Miyuki yet for unclear reasons, perhaps hoping to get some insider info on Tatoe, find out what it is Miyuki has and she doesn’t, or somehow break them up, but finally settles on seduction unexpectedly kissing her again in an echo of their awkward meet cute.  

At heart, Ai does not understand herself and is operating with no real plan. Each escalation seems to come as a surprise even to herself leaving her with moments of internal conflict gazing into a mirror wondering what it is she’s doing. On separate occasions, both Miyuki and Tatoe accuse her of lying and indeed she is, most particularly to herself in a wholesale denial of her own desires which fuels her impulsive and self-destructive behaviour. Others accuse her of being selfish and self-absorbed, unable to look beyond herself and indifferent to the feelings of others which is also in its way a reflection of the degree to which she is consumed by internal confusion, driven slowly out of her mind while taking out her frustration on those around her not least in her increasingly dark manipulation of Miyuki and Tatoe. In the end, as Tatoe points out, she’s little different from his abusive father in her need to possess and control but it’s the extreme control that she’s trying to exercise over herself and the desires she can not accept that is causing her self-destructive behaviour. 

Only Miyuki seems to be able to see through her, at least to an extent, yet it’s not entirely clear at first if she responds to Ai’s advances willingly or simply goes along with them because she has no other friends and is afraid Ai will reject her if she refuses. Ostracised by the students because of her diabetes which is of course a very visible condition in that it requires her to inject herself while at school, Miyuki is shy and lonely while required to keep her relationship with Tatoe a secret because of his abusive father. But as Miyuki later puts it in her letter, Ai isn’t quite as aloof as she’d like to pretend and acts with an unexpected tenderness and consideration, even a kind of vulnerability, in moments of intimacy that betray the true self otherwise stifled by anxiety and internalised shame. With a persistent air of danger and unease spurred by Ai’s impulsive and chaotic nature, Shuto’s intense drama reaches its climax in its deliberately abrupt conclusion perfectly capturing the heroine’s moment of realisation imbued with all of her idiosyncratic messiness. 


Unlock Your Heart screened as part of this year’s Camera Japan.

International trailer (English subtitles)

The Midnight Maiden War (真夜中乙女戦争, Ken Ninomiya, 2022)

An apathetic college student is pulled between nihilistic destruction and the desire for life in Ken Ninomiya’s adaptation of the novel by F, Midnight Maiden War (真夜中乙女戦争, Mayonaka Otome Senso). “Do those who struggle for life deserve to be defeated as evil?” is a question that is put to him while he asks himself if there’s something wrong in his yearning for a “boring”, conventional existence with a good job, house in the suburbs and people to share it. Then again as the forces of darkness point out, those who long for normality usually cannot attain it which only fuels their sense of resentment towards a “rotten” society. 

The unnamed protagonist (Ren Nagase) has come to Tokyo from Kobe to attend university and as his family are not wealthy is supposed to be studying for a scholarship exam while supporting himself with part-time jobs. Only as he’s abruptly let go from his side gig, he finds himself unfulfilled by his studies and wondering what the point is in wasting his youth just to lead a dull life of drudgery. In an intense act of self-sabotage which later goes viral, he tells his English professor (Makiko Watanabe) to her face that her classes are pointless while calculating exactly how much they cost per hour which turns out to be the equivalent to three hours of labour for his mother, the price of a new text book, or three months’ Netflix subscription which oddly becomes a kind of currency benchmark. He can’t see that anything he’s learning will be of much use to him in the further course of his life when the only prize is conventionality even if that conventionality might also provide basic comfort. 

After joining a mysterious “hide and seek” club and becoming distracted by a series of minor bombings of public bins on campus, the hero is pulled between a woman only known as “Sempai” (Elaiza Ikeda), and a man only known as “The Man in the Black Suit” (Tasuku Emoto) who sell him conflicting visions of hope and darkness. While Sempai thinks it’s wrong to belittle those who want to live their lives and are genuinely content with the conventional, The Man in the Black Suit quite literally wants to burn it all to the ground. What begins as an awkward friendship between two awkward men, soon develops into a cult-like organisation of, as the hero puts it, “social outcasts”, drawn to the Man in the Black Suit’s desire to destroy the rotten society which has rejected them through blowing up Tokyo on Christmas Day. 

Positing Tokyo Tower as the “root of unhappiness”, the hero claims he wants only to destroy, and most particularly himself along with everything else. Experiencing extreme ennui, he struggles to find meaning in his life yet is also conflicted in the breadth of the The Man in Black’s goals being fairly indifferent to the existence of others and unconvinced that those merely complicit in the system should also be targets of his social revenge. If not quite dragged towards the light, he realises that he must kill the nihilist within himself and in a sense be reborn, as the Man in Black puts it, as the god of a new world. “You’re alive, that’s good enough for me” Sempai echoes as the hero does at least in a sense embrace life even amid so much destruction. 

Ken Ninomiya has become closely identified with a singular style heavily inspired by music video and often taking place in Tokyo clubland. Midnight Maiden War is in many ways a much more conventional film mimicking the aesthetic of other similarly themed manga and light novel adaptations featuring only one real party scene and no extended musical sequences while routing itself in a more recognisably ordinary reality albeit one secretly ruled by a lonely tech genius. It does however feature his characteristic neon-leaning colour palate, focus pulls, and striking composition such as the revolving upside down shot which opens the film and hints at the unnamed protagonist’s sense of dislocation. Quite literally a tale of darkness and light, the film finds its dejected hero struggling to find meaning in a stultifying existence but perhaps finally discovering what it is to live if only at the end of the world. 


The Midnight Maiden War screened as part of this year’s Camera Japan.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

It’s All My Fault (ぜんぶ、ボクのせい, Yusaku Matsumoto, 2022)

A young boy and a homeless drifter attempt to overcome the legacy of parental rejection in Yusaku Matsumoto’s sensitive coming-of-age drama, It’s all My Fault (ぜんぶ、ボクのせい, Zenbu, Boku no Sei). “It’s all my fault” is something many children think about circumstances which are well beyond their control, but it’s also something they’re encouraged to believe by an abusive or neglectful parent who tells them that they are to blame for the treatment they receive. Nevertheless, Yuta (Haruto Shiratori) comes to think that all the bad things happening in the world are in some way his fault, which might on one level be easier to believe than trying to accept that the world is sometimes a relentlessly unkind place. 

A sad and sullen boy, Yuta is viewed with some suspicion by the staff at the care home where lives due to his brooding nature and refusal to speak. The cause of his anger is that he was told by a previous caretaker that he’d be able to see his estranged mother, Rika (Marika Matsumoto), when he entered middle school and is resentful that he has still had no contact with her. The sad fact is, however, that Rika stopped taking their calls a long time ago and seemingly has no further intention of maintaining contact with her son. 

After the orphanage is rocked by a literal earthquake, Yuta sets off to find his mother but though she is moved to see him it quickly becomes clear that she is not really prepared to play a maternal role. When her drunken boyfriend returns home, she tells him that Yuta is a relative’s child she agreed to watch for a short time and appears otherwise conflicted, solicitously making sure he has enough to eat but more or less forgetting he’s even there whenever the boyfriend is around. Eventually she rings the care home to come and take him back, forever ruining Yuta’s faith in genuine human connection. 

Managing to run away, Yuta is later taken in by eccentric drifter Sakamoto (Joe Odagiri) who strongly identifies with the boy in having grown up with an abusive mother whose legacy he has been unable to escape. Shiori (Ririka Kawashima), a teenage girl with issues of her own who also befriends Sakamoto, is envious of his untethered lifestyle viewing him as free and bound by no one. But in truth he too is trapped as symbolised by the broken van which prevents him from leaving to travel to Nagoya and confront his mother as he often says he intends to do. Sakamoto describes his trauma as a like a rock in the heart that tortures him as he continues to resent his mother for the abuse she dealt him while simultaneously suggesting that she has dementia and may not even remember that she has a son. Yuta by contrast insists that his mother is not a bad woman and continues to yearn for her, treasuring the friendship bracelet she made for him only for it to be broken by thuggish teens who get their kicks bullying those they perceive to be weaker than themselves.

Sakamoto becomes an awkward paternal figure, teaching Yuta how to survive in his way of life by hatching scams on wealthy passers by and fetching junk to sell to a local scrap merchant but is equally arrested, unable to come to terms with the traumatic past and therefore unable to move on. Shiori envies what she sees as his freedom in part because she has little of her own. Secretly blaming her authoritarian father for her mother’s death which she has come to doubt was really from an illness as she was told, Shiori has an internalised sense of shame and inadequacy knowing that she cannot be the person her father wants her to be and longs to escape him. Yuta continues to dream of a family, inviting Shiori to come with them to Nagoya when the truck is fixed, but is met only with despair as the world conspires against his happiness and encourages him to blame himself for his all his misfortune. Shot with an unsentimental if empathetic eye, Matsumoto’s hard-hitting drama examines the legacies of parental abuse, neglect, or absence persisting long into adulthood while his young hero struggles with himself in his conflicting emotions towards the woman who abandoned him with only an impossible future. 


It’s All My Fault screened as part of this year’s Camera Japan.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Prior Convictions (前科者, Yoshiyuki Kishi, 2022)

An earnest young woman finds herself questioning her way of life after one of her charges is implicated in a spate of murders in Yoshiyuki Kishi’s social drama Prior Convictions (前科者, Zenkamono). As the double meaning of the English title implies, the issue is as much about preconceived notions and unfair judgements as it is about “crime”, its causes and legacies, while ultimately arguing for a more compassionate approach to law enforcement which prizes healing and rehabilitation over meaningless punishment. 

Kayo (Kasumi Arimura) is what’s known as a volunteer probation officer which is to say that she assists those who’ve recently been released from prison to reintegrate into mainstream society so that they can live comfortable lives within the law. She is not however a civil servant and though making regular reports to an official probation officer has very little power and no pay for her work which can at times be difficult and emotionally draining especially considering that she also needs to work a regular job in a convenience store to support herself. In what seems like a very poor safeguarding decision, she meets most of her clients in her own home where she lives alone one of them even breaking in while she’s not there for an impromptu hotpot party. 

While she is exasperated by some of her charges such as a woman who can’t seem to stick to a regular job no matter how many she finds her, Kayo is incredibly proud of her work with Kudo (Go Morita), a quiet and soulful middle-aged man who was convicted of murder after stabbing a co-worker who had been bullying him so badly that he lost the hearing in one ear. Kudo had been struggling to reconcile himself to his crime, intensely worried that while unable to understand why he did it he might end up doing it again. When Kudo suddenly disappears after being linked to a series of suspicious deaths most assume the worst, but Kayo alone refuses to believe that Kudo could be the killer and is determined to find out what’s really going on if only to vindicate her conviction that her work is good and useful rather than naive and misguided as some including intense police officer Takimoto (Hayato Isomura) seem to see it. 

As Kayo later reveals she’s carrying some baggage herself which contributed to her decision to begin working with those who’ve been convicted of crimes, but is doing it with the aim of reducing suffering and ending the cycle so that there are no more victims or victimisers. Also wounded, Takimoto tells her that murderers aren’t human and can never be rehabilitated, while she’s forced to consider the problem from all angles meeting with a lawyer (Tae Kimura) who defended an abusive husband who murdered his wife and learning that she did so for similar reasons to herself certain that he too deserved a second chance and could perhaps be reformed if given the proper treatment. Kayo sees that many of the people she meets ended up committing crimes because of traumatic personal circumstances and if someone had helped them earlier they may not have offended in the first place. She can’t change the past but at least in helping them now she might prevent further crimes in the future while giving them a source of stability as they attempt to root themselves more firmly in mainstream society. 

Inspired by Masahito Kagawa’s manga, Prior Convictions was previously adapted into six-part WOWWOW TV drama to which the film is technically a sequel though fairly stand alone in its gentle unpacking of Kayo’s own unresolved trauma and subsequent epiphanies as regards her relationships with those she’s trying to help. As one young woman puts it, they find her vulnerability reassuring in contrast to the often authoritarian, didactic approaches taken by law enforcement and social services who only talk down to them from a condescending place of superiority rather than trying to meet them on a more human level. In the end it’s about healing, trying to find an accommodation with the traumatic past and limiting its legacy to break the cycle of pain and violence. The prior convictions which most need addressing are those of a judgemental society that all too often contributes to the mechanisms of violence in seeking to punish rather than to help.


Prior Convictions screened as part of this year’s Camera Japan.

International trailer (English subtitles)

Bad City (バッド・シティ, Kensuke Sonomura, 2022)

V-Cinema legend Hitoshi Ozawa returns in a tale of big city corruption helmed by Hydra’s Kensuke Sonomura. Scripted by Ozawa himself and apparently created in part as a celebration of his 60th birthday, Bad City (バッド・シティ) is a clear homage to the classic yakuza dramas of the early ’90s while boasting some of the best action choreography in recent Japanese cinema performed by the likes of Tak Sakaguchi along with Ozawa himself who performs all of his own stunts. 

According to dodgy CEO Gojo (Lily Franky) who has just inexplicably been acquitted of extortion and colluding with the yakuza, Kaiko City is riddled with crime and violence which is why he’s announcing his candidacy for mayor. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, a mysterious assassin (Tak Sakaguchi) is cutting swathes through the Sakurada gang who dominate the city’s western district which Gojo has earmarked for a redevelopment project he claims will improve the lives of citizens but is in reality just an excuse to build a massive casino complex intended to enrich himself and his company. The previous mayor had won a landslide victory thanks to his opposition to the redevelopment plan which enjoys little support from the local population but Gojo isn’t exactly interested in winning hearts and minds in the community. 

Really just another gangster himself, Gojo’s machinations are also destabilising the existing underworld equilibrium in seducing treacherous minions from other gangs including vicious Korean gangster Kim Seung-gi whose loyalty to ageing gang boss Madam Kim is clearly waning. Then again, an enemy’s enemy is a friend allowing unexpected alliances to emerge between previously warring factions especially given that the sudden offing of a high status gang boss is frowned upon in the gangster play book. 

With police and judicial collusion the only possible explanation for Gojo’s miraculous escape from justice, an earnest prosecutor sets up a secret task force under the command of Public Security agent Koizumi (Mitsu Dan) and led by veteran officer Torada (Hitoshi Ozawa) who is currently in prison awaiting trial on suspicion of offing Mrs Kim’s only son, Tae-gyun. Torada is an unreconstructed violent cop operating under the philosophy that if you beat up a good guy that’s violence but if he’s bad then it’s justice. He has perhaps learned to see the world as morally grey, not believing himself to be necessarily on the side of right so much as resisting the forces of darkness by doing whatever it takes to survive in this city which is indeed already quite corrupt. Partnered up with two veterans and a junior female officer from violent crimes who were assigned to investigate the Sakurada boss’ murder, the gang do their best to trap Gojo legally by uncovering incontrovertible evidence of his dodgy dealings they can use to nail him in court, or failing that the court of public opinion, that cannot be swept aside by his friends in high places. 

Sonomura opens as he means to go on with a series of bloody assassinations culminating the massacre of the Sakurada gang in a bathhouse, while building towards the final mass confrontation in which Ozawa and his team face off against hordes of foot soldiers trying to fight their way towards a confrontation with Kim Seung-gi. Dynamically choreographed, the action sequences are surprisingly bloody and heavy on knife action but crucially also displaying a high level of characterisation and dramatic sensibility as the earnest cops square off against amoral gangsters willing even to sacrifice their own. 

Though there might be something uncomfortable in setting up the major villain as a rogue Korean gangster, the film paints his defection in part as a reaction to Mrs Kim’s initial loathing of the Japanese while in the end allowing a kind of cross-cultural solidarity to emerge as the Sakurada gang become accidental allies and Mrs Kim receives a lost letter from her son that allows her to change her way of thinking while helping to take down the destabilising force of Gojo, restoring a kind of order at least to the streets of Bad City Kaiko. Ozawa may be an equally dangerous extra-judicial force, but at least for the moment he’s standing in the light where everyone can see him taking out the trash and leaving those like Gojo no quarter in an admittedly violent place.


Bad City screened as part of this year’s Camera Japan.

Original trailer (dialogue free)

Riverside Mukolitta (川っぺりムコリッタ, Naoko Ogigami, 2021)

The spectre of death hangs over the protagonists of Naoko Ogigami’s adaptation of her own novel Riverside Mukolitta (川っぺりムコリッタ, Kawapperi Mukolitta) despite the sunniness and serenity of the riverside community where they live. They are each, in their own way, grieving and sometimes even for themselves in fear of a far off lonely death or else wondering what it’s all for and if this persistent suffering is really worth it, but eventually find a kind of solidarity in togetherness that can at least make the unbearable bearable. 

Recently released from prison, Yamada (Kenichi Matsuyama) has been sent to a remote rural village to start again with a job in a fermented squid factory and an apartment in a small row of houses by the river. His landlady Shiori (Hikari Mitsushima), an eccentric young woman with a little girl, assures him that though the building is 50 years old and many have passed through during that time no one has yet died in his unit. His neighbours Mizoguchi (Hidetaka Yoshioka) and his small besuited son Yoichi traipse the local area selling discounted tombstones reminding potential customers that no one lives forever and it might remove some of the burden of living to have your affairs in order for when you die. If all that weren’t enough, the last house in the row is thought to be haunted by an old lady whose ghost sometimes appears to water the flowers so they don’t turn to weed. Arriving home one day, Yamada discovers a letter from the local council letting him know that his estranged father has passed away in a lonely death and his remains are ready to collect at the town hall at his earliest convenience. 

Yamada is a man who keeps himself to himself, clearly ambivalent in trying to adjust to his new life wondering if he really deserves the opportunity to start again and if there’s any point in doing so. Seeing as his parents divorced when he was four and he had no further contact with his father, he is unsure if he wants the responsibility of his ashes which will of course contain additional expense for some kind of funeral. He meditates on the fates of “those who are not thought to exist”, such as the many homeless people who live by the river and are swept away by typhoons, and the elderly who die nameless and alone. When he ventures to the town hall, he discovers an entire room filled unclaimed remains some of which remain anonymous while the sympathetic civil servant (Tasuku Emoto) explains that in general they keep them for a year and then bury them together if no one comes forward to claim them. Aside from the staff members at the crematorium, the civil servant was the only person present at his father’s cremation which at any rate must be quite an emotional burden for him though he is familiar with the case and willing to talk Yamada through his father’s final days. 

Meanwhile, he’s bamboozled into an awkward friendship with the strange man from next-door (Tsuyoshi Muro) who brands himself a “minimalist” and claims to be self-sufficient in the summer at least with the veg he grows in the garden behind their apartments but insists on using Yamada’s bath because his is broken and he doesn’t have the means to fix it. Giving in to Shimada’s rather aggressive attempts at connection, Yamada comes to feel the power of community in finding acceptance from the other residents in the small row of apartments along with the paternal influence of his boss at the factory and the kindness of an older woman who works there. Yoichi, the tombstone seller’s son, is fond of playing on a junk heap which is in its way a graveyard of forgotten and discarded things from rotary telephones to CRT TVs and broken air conditioners, while he and Shiori’s daughter Kayo try to contact aliens from a purgatorial space where the living and the dead almost co-exist. Taking place at the height of summer during the Bon festival when the mortal world and the other are at their closet, Ogigami’s laidback style gives way to a gentle profundity in the transient nature of existence but also in the small joys and accidental connections that give it meaning. 


Riverside Mukolitta screened as part of this year’s Camera Japan.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Camera Japan Announces Complete Programme for 2022

Camera Japan returns for its 17th edition in Rotterdam 22nd to 25th September and in Amsterdam 29th September to 2nd October bringing with it another fantastic selection of the best in recent and not so recent Japanese cinema.

Feature Films

  • Alivehoon – an e-sports champ finally gets the chance to test his skills on the track in Ten Shimoyama’s retro drift racing drama. Review.
  • Angry Son – a resentful young man comes to a better understanding of his place in the world while searching for his estranged father in Kasho Iizuka’s sensitive coming-of-age drama. Review.
  • Anime Supremacy – adaptation of the novel by Mizuki Tsujimura following three women in the anime industry.
  • Arc – a young woman ponders the concept of immortality when presented with two opposing versions of its manifestation in Kei Ishikawa’s sci-fi drama. Review.
  • Awake – childhood rivals eventually find a sense of equilibrium after an AI challenge in Atsuhiro Yamada’s shogi drama. Review.
  • 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 to integrate into society in Yugo Sakamoto’s deadpan slacker comedy. Reivew.
  • Bad City – a ruthless veteran cop in prison on suspicion of murder is brought out to tackle rampant violence and corruption in a V-cinema homage starring Hitoshi Ozawa.
  • Broken Commandment – a young man wrestles with himself torn between breaking a promise to his father and speaking out against prejudice in Kazuo Maeda’s adaptation of the Toson Shimazaki novel. Review.
  • End of the Pale Hour – dejected youngsters flounder amid the ruins of the salaryman dream in Hana Matsumoto’s youthful drama. Review.
  • Eternally Younger than Those Idiots – An aimless 22-year-old college student’s life changes after bonding with a mischievous philosophy major but she discovers through her various encounters that life isn’t always as it first seems in Ryohei Yoshino’s adaptation of the novel by Kikuko Tsumura.
  • The Great Yokai War: Guardians – an anxious little boy discovers his inner hero and saves the world through kindness in Takashi Miike’s warmhearted return to the world of folklore. Review.
  • Intolerance – latest from Keisuke Yoshida in which the father of a teenage girl killed by a car while running away after being accused of shoplifting takes revenge.
  • It’s all My Fault – a lonely young man befriends a drifter after his mother rejects him in Yusaku Matsumoto’s indie drama.
  • Joint – A gangster in search of reform finds himself caught between old school organised crime and the shady new economy in Oudai Kojima’s noirish take on yakuza decline. Review.
  • Just Remembering – former lovers are confronted by reminders of their failed romance amid the loneliness of the coronavirus pandemic in Daigo Matsui’s melancholy drama. Review.
  • Let Me Here it Barefoot – two alienated young men struggle to identify their feelings while searching for escape from moribund small-town Japan in Riho Kudo’s indie drama. Review.
  • The Midnight Maiden War – a nihilistic young man is torn between a mysterious tech genius and his more cheerful sempai in the latest from Ken Ninomiya.
  • My Brother, the Android, and Me – a lonely researcher attempts to ease his existential anxiety by building a simulacrum of himself in Junji Sakamoto’s gothic sci-fi chiller. Review.
  • Nagi’s Island – cheerful indie drama in which a young girl tries to overcome family trauma after moving to an idyllic island.
  • Offbeat Cops – a maverick cop develops a new appreciation of group harmony after being demoted to the police band in Eiji Uchida’s warmhearted comedy. 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
  • Prior Convictions – a volunteer probation officer questions her life philosophy when one of her charges is implicated in a spate of killings in the latest from Yoshiyuki Kishi.
  • Ribbon – a young student wrestles with her sense of purpose when her graduation exhibition is cancelled in Non’s charming directorial debut. Review.
  • Riverside Mukolitta – a young man recently released from prison finds a new sense of community after moving to a remote village in the latest from Naoko Ogigami.
  • Shrieking in the Rain – a rookie female film director faces industry sexism and corporate interference while trying to fend off a visit from the censors before shooting an erotically charged love scene in this 80s drama from Eiji Uchida.
  • Small, Slow, But Steady – latest from Sho Miyake (And Your Bird Can Sing) following a young woman’s determination to become a champion boxer.
  • Spotlight – a struggling director is approached by a young woman who offers him a large amount of money to make a film in this indie drama from KOUMEI.
  • Thanc You – comedy duo Jaru Jaru take on 11 roles each in this anarchic sketch comedy.
  • They Say Nothing Stays the Same – an ageing boatman finds himself adrift on the great river of time in Joe Odagiri’s exquisitely shot, ethereal meditation on transience and goodness. Review.
  • Unlock Your Heart – teen romantic drama in which a high school girl befriends her crush’s girlfriend.
  • Wandering – intense drama from Lee Sang-il in which a student takes in a neglected little girl but is later accused of kidnapping.

Animation

  • Dozens of Norths – feature animation by Koji Yamamura.
  • Goodbye, Don Glees! – three teenage boys come to terms with past and future while on a climactic summer adventure in Atsuko Ishizuka’s heartfelt coming-of-age anime.
  • House of the Lost Cape – two young girls are taken in by a kindly old lady who lives in a remote mansion by the sea which is also home to a series of mysterious creatures in this family animation adapted from the novel by Sachiko Kashiwaba.
  • Summer Ghost – three teens team up to search for the elusive spirit of a woman said to have taken her own life.

Documentary

  • Salaryman – Allegra Pacheco’s wide ranging documentary examines Japan’s contemporary corporate culture through the prism of the salaryman. Review.
  • Target – Shinji Nishijima’s documentary follows former Asahi Shimbun journalist Takashi Uemura as he continues to fight for press freedom in an increasingly authoritarian Japan. Review.
  • Tokyo Kurds – documentary exploring the lives of young Kurdish refugees in Japan.
  • Yonaguni – documentary following a group of teens living on a remote island.

Special Screenings

  • (c) Nikkatsu 1955
  • Forever a Woman – Kinuyo Tanaka’s directorial debut draws inspiration from current events to interrogate contemporary notions of womanhood through the story of a female poet suffering from terminal breast cancer who eventually rediscovers her femininity through the embrace of her sexual desire. Review.
  • Love Under the Crucifix – Juxtaposing the use of the crucifix as a method of execution for sexual transgression with the growing influence of Christianity in late 16th century Japan, Takana’s final film as a director stars Ineko Arima as a young woman in love with a reticent lord (Tatsuya Nakadai) who is already married and among the growing class of merchant samurai who have converted to Christianity through trading links with European nations. Review.
  • The Moon Has Risen – Tanaka’s second film was co-scripted by Yasujiro Ozu and features several homages to his visual style including the use of pillow shots but otherwise has a sensuality and sensitivity not common in his filmmaking. The comic melodrama follows the attempts of a young woman (Mie Kitamura) to set her lovelorn sister up with a sensitive visitor while falling for her childhood friend. Look out for Tanaka’s brief cameo as a ditsy maid. Review.
  • Wandering Princess – again based on very recent events, The Wandering Princess is a sumptuous romantic melodrama in which a Japanese noblewoman (Machiko Kyo) agrees to marry the brother of the former emperor of China now a puppet king of the Japanese colony of Manchuria but is eventually separated from him by the fall of the Japanese empire. Review.
  • Where Now Are the Dreams of Youth – Ozu silent melodrama in which a young man learns a painful lesson about class and friendship when he becomes CEO of his father’s company and sets his uni friends up with jobs.

Camera Japan 2022 takes place in Rotterdam 22nd to 25th September and Amsterdam 29th September to 2nd October. Full information on all the films as well as ticketing links can be found on the official website and you can also keep up to date with all the latest news via Camera Japan’s official Facebook pageTwitter account, and Instagram channel.