Mori, The Artist’s Habitat (モリのいる場所, Shuichi Okita, 2018)

Mori an Artist's Habitat PosterThe world is vast and incomprehensible, but a lifetime’s study may begin to illuminate its hidden depths. At least it’s been that way for the hero of Shuichi Okita’s latest attempt at painting the joys and perils of a bubble existence. Mori, The Artist’s Habitat (モリのいる場所, Mori no Iru Basho) revolves around the real life figure of Morikazu Kumagai (Tsutomu Yamazaki), a well respected Japanese artist best known for his avant-garde depictions of the natural world, as well as for his eccentric personality. When we first meet him the early 1970s, Mori (a neat pun on his given name which uses the character for “protect” but also means “forest”), is 94 years old and has rarely left his beloved garden for the last 30 years. A man out of time, Mori’s world is however threatened by encroaching modernity – a gang of mobbed up property developers is after his land and is already in the process of constructing an apartment block that will rob Mori’s wonderful garden of its rightful sunlight.

Okita introduces us to Mori through an amusing scene which finds the Japanese emperor “admiring” one of his artworks only to turn around in confusion and ask how old the child was that made this painting. Spanning the Meiji and the Showa eras, Mori’s artwork is defined by its bold use of colour and minimalist aesthetic which outlines only the most essential elements of his subjects. As his wife of 52 years, Hideko (Kirin Kiki), explains to the various visitors who turn up at Mori’s studio/home hoping to commission him, Mori only paints what he feels like painting when he feels like painting it. Getting him to do anything else is a losing battle.

Painting mainly at night, Mori spends his days observing the natural world. Wandering around his garden he stops to sit in various places, gazing at the ants, and playing with the fish he put into a small pond dug way down into the earth over a period of 30 years. Despite his distaste for “visitors”, Mori has consented to be the subject of a documentary, followed around by a photojournalist (Ryo Kase) and his assistant (Kaito Yoshimura) keen to capture him in his “natural habitat”. The photographers, natural “shutterbugs”, gaze at Mori in the same way he gazes at his trees and insects. An irony which is not lost on the reticent artist.

Okita neatly symbolises Mori’s world as a place out of time by hovering over his desk on which lies a disassembled pocket watch. Eventually the watch will be repaired and time set back in motion but until now Mori’s garden has been a refuge of natural pleasures which itself contains the world entire. Receiving a surprise visitation from a supernatural being (Hiroshi Mikami), Mori is given an opportunity to explore the universe but turns it down. Firstly he doesn’t want to leave his wife on her own or see her “tired” by his absence, but secondly his garden has always been big enough for him and given thousands of years he fears he may never be able to explore it fully.

The garden, however, may not survive its owner. The 1970s, marked by early turmoil, later became a calm period of rising economic prosperity in which society began to move away from post-war privation towards economic prosperity. Hence our big bad is a property developer set on building apartment blocks – a symbol and symptom of the move away from large multi-generational homes to cramped nuclear family modernity. Unbeknownst to Mori, his garden has become a focal point for the environmental protest movement who have begun to set up signs and slogans around his home attacking the property developers for ruining a national landmark which has important cultural value in appreciating the work of one of Japan’s best known working artists.

Having lived through so much turmoil, Mori takes this in his stride. He knows his garden won’t last forever, and is resigned to the nature of the times. Mori may prefer to spend his days in quiet contemplation resenting the constant interruptions from all his “visitors” but makes time to talk seriously with those who seek his guidance such one of the developers (Munetaka Aoki) who’s brought along one of his son’s drawings, convinced that he must be a “genius”. Mori takes one look and tells him frankly that it’s awful, but adds that that’s a good thing – those with “talent” rarely do anything of note and even if it’s “bad” art is still art. Nevertheless there are those who try to profit from his work for less than altruistic purposes – the  hand-painted nameplate from outside the house is forever being stolen and he’s constantly petitioned to provide his services in service of someone else’s business.

Okita’s characterisation of the later life of a famous artist is another study of genial eccentricity as its hero commits himself fully to living in a way which pleases him, only bristling at those who describe his gnome-like garden presence as resembling a “Chinese Hermit Sage”. Mori himself is, of course, another living thing enjoying the natural world to its fullest and if it’s true that his time is ending there is something inescapably sad in looking up from the shadows of apartment blocks and finding nothing but lifeless concrete.


Screened at the 20th Udine Far East Film Festival. Mori, The Artist’s Habitat will also be screened as the opening gala of the 2018 Nippon Connection Japanese film festival, and will receive its North American premiere at Japan Cuts in July where Kirin Kiki will also receive the 2018 Cut Above Award.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Nippon Connection 2018 to Open with Mori, The Artist’s Habitat

39415762940_128b534524_oNippon Connection, the largest showcase for Japanese cinema anywhere in the world, returns with over 100 brand new and classic films screening in Frankfurt from 29th May to 3rd June. The festival will open with the latest from Shuichi Okita, Mori: The Artist’s Habitat, and pay tribute to guest of honour Shinobu Terajima with screenings of Oh Lucy!, The City of Betrayal, and Dear Etranger, plus a special presentation of Ryuichi Hiroki’s Vibrator. The programme in full:

Nippon Cinema

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  • Bamy – school friends reunite after many years, but their burgeoning romance is frustrated by a dark secret – the ability to see ghosts!
  • Birds Without Names – A young woman lives with an older man for reasons of convenience while continuing to pine for the violent boyfriend who has been missing for the last eight years in Kazuya Shiraishi’s dark romance. Review.
  • The Blood of Wolves – Koji Yakusho stars as a rogue cop trying to keep a lid on a yakuza gang war as Kazuya Shirashi updates Battles Without Honour for the bubble era. Review.
  • The City of Betrayal – an unhappy housewife and a depressed young man begin an unwise affair in Daisuke Miura’s romantic drama – with award presentation for guest of honour Shinobu Terajima. Review.
  • Dear Etranger – Tadanobu Asano stars as a “batsuichi” step-father encountering unexpected resistance from the elder of his second wife’s two daughters as the new couple expect their first child.
  • Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura – Mystery author Masakazu wakes up one morning to discover his wife has disappeared in the legendary city of Kamakura where humans and spiritual creatures co-exist.
  • Enokida Trading Post – Kiyohiko Shibukawa stars in this small town comedy in which a young man returns home from Tokyo to start afresh.
  • Flower and Sword – Samurai flower arranging!
  • Foreboding – Kiyoshi Kurosawa presages the apocalypse in this companion piece to Before We Vanish. Review.
  • Hanagatami – Nobuhiko Obayashi completes a personal passion project in examining youth on the brink of war.
  • Moon and Thunder – Yasuko, a young woman living alone, is prompted into a reevaluation of her life after her family unexpectedly descend on her home.
  • Mori: The Artist’s Habitat – Shuichi Okita returns with another portrait of an eccentric in the serene and sometimes surreal life of artist Mori Kumagai. Opening Night Gala.
  • Occult Bolshevism – A seance in an abandoned factory provokes malicious results in this horror feature from Ring scriptwriter Hiroshi Takahashi.
  • Oh Lucy! – a middle-aged office lady gets a new lease on life after an eccentric English teacher gives her a blonde wig and rechristens her “Lucy”. Review.
  • Outrage Coda – Takashi Miike closes out the Outrage trilogy.
  • Pumpkin and Mayonnaise – Tsuchida works as a hostess to support her aspiring musician boyfriend but her life is derailed when he finds out about the nature of her work while the resurfacing of an ex-lover also awakens long buried feelings.
  • Recall – A corporate scandal is exposed when an innocent woman is killed by a tire flying off a truck.
  • River’s Edge – A gay student bullied by his classmates discovers a dead body near a polluted river and shows it to his best friend in Isao Yukisada’s adaptation of the classic ’90s manga.
  • Blue Film Woman – a young woman attempts to blackmail the corrupt banker responsible for the deaths of her parents in Ken Mukai’s pink film from 1969.
  • Vibrator – a 30-something freelance writer embarks on a journey of self discovery after a chance meeting with a truck driver in Ryuichi Hiroki’s 2003 adaptation of Mari Akasaka’s novel
  • The Third Murder – Hirokazu Koreeda puts justice on trial in a tense courtroom drama in which a once convicted murderer pleads guilty to a second crime while his cynical lawyer becomes ever more uncertain his client is telling the truth. Review.
  • Tremble All You Want – a painfully shy woman with a long standing unrequited crush on a high school classmate reaches a crisis point when a bashful colleague confesses his love for her. Review.
  • We Are – coming of age story in which seven friends part ways after high school some heading to Tokyo some staying behind but their paths always crossing.

Nippon Visions

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  • Breath of Rokkasho – childhood friends and former political activists are forced to question their ideals.
  • Cyclops – A man wrongfully incarcerated for the murder of his wife decides to look for the real killer alongside the policeman riddled with regret that he helped frame an innocent man.
  • The Hungry Lion – When a teacher is arrested for an inappropriate relationship with a minor, a video circulates online depicting him with another girl. As the girl rumoured to be on the tape, Hiromi’s life spirals out of control.
  • Ice Cream and the Sound of Raindrops – Shot in one 74 minute continuous take, Daigo Matsui’s drama follows six teens auditioning for a local theatre production.
  • The Name – A depressed former salaryman leading a series of double lives is given a sense of new possibilities by the appearance of a mysterious high school girl. Review.
  • The Night I Swam – A sleepy little boy goes on a snowy adventure in this magical, dialogue free odyssey. Review.
  • Noise – A stabbing spree in Akihabara continues to reverberate 10 years later in Yusaku Matsumoto’s debut feature. Review.
  • One Cut of the Dead – Real zombies invade the set of a horror movie in Shinichiro Ueda’s hilarious behind the scenes farce. Review.
  • Party ‘Round the Globe – Hirobumi Watanabe returns with another deadpan classic in which he stars as a lonely man on a roadtrip with a neighbour.
  • Passage of Life – an undocumented Burmese family living in Tokyo face intense pressure because of their precarious status.
  • Strange Fruit: Shorts – three short films by Kohei Nakayama, Noriko Yuasa, and Tetsuhiko Tsuchiya.
  • Topknot Detective – Australian mockumentary examining the creation of the titular TV series.
  • Wilderness – two men bond in the boxing ring in Yoshiyuki Kishi’s adaptation of the novel by Shuji Terayama.

Nippon Animation

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Nippon Docs

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  • Danchi Woman – Akiko Sugimoto follows an 85-year-old woman who has been living in a danchi for over 30 years only to face upheaval when the estate is scheduled for demolition.
  • Exclusive Screening by NHK World-Japan – showcase of three NHK docs featuring traditional subjects including tea ceremony and ninjas, plus the docudrama following the life of Hokusai’s daughter Oei starring Aoi Miyazaki and Ryuhei Matsuda.
  • A Free Man – Andreas Hartmann follows a young man wilfully living on the streets to pursue a life of freedom.
  • Inland Sea – Kazuhiro Soda explores a traditional fishing village slowly dying out due to depopulation.
  • Japan Institute of the Moving Image: Short Docs – two documentary shorts focussing on the 2008 Akihabara attack and a young man who wanders the streets doing odd jobs.
  • Love and Walbachia – Sayaka Ono considers the interplay between love and gender.
  • Of Love and Law – Hikaru Toda reunites with Kazu and Fumi as they fight tirelessly to win recognition for those underrepresented in Japan’s conformist society. Review.
  • Ramen Heads – Koki Shigeno follows ramen chef Osamu Tomita.
  • Trace of Breath – Haruka Komori captures the life around a small garden centre in a town which was heavily affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
  • Zen and Bones – Takayuki Nakamura tells the amazing story behind Japanese/American monk  Henry Mittwer.

Nippon Retro

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  • Kiru – Also known as Destiny’s Son, Kenji Misumi’s Kiru is the story of a young boy who trains to become a skilled swordsman and then sets out on a journey to learn the secrets of his past.
  • On the Road Forever – sequel to Kiru in which the hero tracks down a man who may have been involved with the death of his father.
  • Red Peony Gambles Her Life – first instalment in the Red Peony series in which Junko Fuji plays female gambler Oryu.
  • Samurai Rebellion – a model samurai (Toshiro Mifune) decides he’s had enough of feudalism when his son is force married to the lord’s cast off only to have her called back once he’s fallen in love with her in Masaki Kobayashi’s enraged drama. Review.
  • Sanjuro – sequel to Yojimbo in which Mifune reassumes the role of the wandering hero to fight corruption.
  • Kurama Tengu – Screening of the 1928 silent film with benshi accompaniment. German subtitles only.
  • Sword of Doom – Tatsuya Nakadai stars as Kihachi Okamoto’s nihilistic swordsman.
  • Thirteen Assassins – remade by Takashi Miike in 2010, 13 Assassins follows the plot to take down a corrupt lord who raped a woman and murdered her husband but got away with it because of his connections.
  • Yojimbo – Kurosawa’s classic in which wandering ronin Sanjuro comes to the rescue of a town caught up in a gang war.

Nippon Connection takes place in Frankfurt, Germany from 29th May to 3rd June. Tickets are already on sale via the official website where you can also find full details on all the films as well as timetabling information. Unless otherwise stated, films screen in Japanese with English subtitles. In addition to the films the festival will also host a series of events including director talks and workshops in a rich cultural programme. You can keep up with all the latest information by following the festival on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and Instagram.

The Blood of Wolves (孤狼の血, Kazuya Shiraishi, 2018)

korou_honpos_0220_fin.aiJapanese cinema, like American cinema, is one of the few in which the hero cop is a recognisable trope. Though they may be bumbling, inefficient, obsessed with bureaucracy, or perhaps just lazy, police in Japanese cinema are rarely corrupt or actively engaged in criminality. Even within the realms of the “jitsuroku” gangster movie, the police maintain a fringe presence, permitting the existence of the underground crime world in order to contain it. “Jitsuroku” is, in a fashion, where we find ourselves with Kazuya Shiraishi’s throwback underworld police story, The Blood of Wolves (孤狼の血, Koro no Chi). Set in 1988, the end of the Showa Era which had seen the rebirth of post-war Japan and the ascendency of yakuza thuggery, The Blood of Wolves is based on a novel by Yuko Yuzuki rather than a “true account” of life on the frontlines of gangsterdom, but otherwise draws inspiration from the Battles Without Honour series in updating the story of nihilistic yakuza violence to the bubble era.

In 1988, a young accountant “goes missing” sending his sister to ask the police for help in locating him. The case gets passed to sleazy detective Ogami (Koji Yakusho) and his new rookie partner, Hioka (Tori Matsuzaka). Ogami leers disturbingly at the dame who just walked into his office before dismissing the newbie and extracting a sexual favour from the distressed relative of the missing man. Unfortunately, the accountant turns up dead and the bank he worked for turns out to be a yakuza front caught up in a burgeoning gang war between the Odani with whom Ogami has long standing connections and the gang from the next town over who are looking to increase their territory.

Ogami, a chain smoking, hard drinking, womanising detective of the old school, has one foot in the yakuza world and the other on the side of law enforcement. Hioka, a recent graduate from the local but also elite Hiroshima University (something of a rarity in his current occupation), is not quite sure what to make of his new boss and his decidedly “unorthodox” methods, becoming increasingly concerned about the way the police force operates in a town defined by organised crime. Deciding that Ogami has gone too far, he eventually makes the decision to go to IA with a list of complaints but there’s still so much he doesn’t know about Hiroshima and it is possible he may have picked the wrong side.

What he discovers is that the police force is so intrinsically rotten as to have become little more than a yakuza gang itself, only one with the legal right to carry guns and a more impressive uniform. Ogami, for all his faults, apparently has his heart in the right place. His “friendships” with gangsters are more means to an end than they are spiritual corruption, gaining leverage that will help him keep a lid on gang war – after all, no one wants a return to the turbulent days of the 1970s when the streets ran red with the blood of unlucky foot soldiers and that of the civilians who got in their way. Meanwhile Hioka, starting out as the straight-laced rookie, is himself “corrupted” by the corruption he uncovers, developing a complex mix of disgust and admiration for Ogami’s practiced methods of manipulation which, apparently, place public safety above all else.

Ogami, as he tells the conflicted Hioka, knows he walks a tightrope every day, neatly straddling the line between cop and yakuza, and the only way to stay alive is to keep on walking knowing one slip may lead to his doom. He may say cops can do whatever they like in pursuit of “justice” (and he does), but Ogami has his lines that cannot be crossed, unlike others in his organisation who care only for themselves and have long since given up any pretence of working for the public good.

Shiraishi channels classic Fukasaku from the noticeably retro Toei logo at the film’s opening to the voice over narration, garish red on screen text, and frequent use of freeze frames familiar from the Battles Without Honour series and associated “jitsuroku” gangster fare that followed in its wake. Moving the action up to 1988, the gangster world is once again in flux as it tries to corporatise itself to get in on the profits of bubble era prosperity which largely has no need for the thuggish gangster antics of the chaotic post-war years in which the yakuza could paint itself as a defender of the poor and oppressed no matter how ridiculous it might have been in reality. Ogami is a dying breed, a relic of the Showa era meeting its natural end, but perhaps you need to be a wolf to catch a wolf and guardian spirits can come in unexpected forms.


Screened at the 20th Udine Far East Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Yocho (Foreboding) (予兆 散歩する侵略者, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2017)

Yocho posterBefore We Vanish, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s take on the alien invasion drama, was an oddly romantic affair which made a case for the ineffability of love as the only possible form of human salvation. Meanwhile, cheating on cinema with television, Kurosawa tells us a different story. Yocho (Foreboding) (予兆 散歩する侵略者, Yocho: Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha) was first conceived as a TV drama running as a companion piece to the big screen experience but its canvas is noticeably darker. At heart, we have the same story with a slight variation as a bold wife attempts to save her weak willed husband from alien manipulation, risking all to keep him safe him while the world burns around her. What we see this time is less the enduring power of love as a force for good, than yet another form of human weakness which encourages selfishness and creates a space into which nefarious forces may move.

In contrast to Masami Nagasawa’s conflicted, wounded wife of Before we Vanish, Etsuko (Kaho) is happily married to Tatsuo (Shota Sometani) who works at the local hospital. As she loves her husband so much, Etsuko is quick to realise there’s something not quite right in the way he’s been silently gazing off into space and walking around like a man possessed. Meanwhile, she’s accosted by a friend at work who asks to stay over because she’s too afraid to go home on account of “the ghost”. Eventually Etsuko goes investigating and discovers “the ghost” is really just her friend’s dad only her friend seems to have forgotten all about him and doesn’t quite understand what a “father” is anymore. Fearing the worst, Etsuko arranges to take her to the hospital, which is where she comes into contact with the strange and intimidating Dr. Makabe (Masahiro Higashide).

Dr. Makabe is one of the alien invaders seen in Before We Vanish who have come to Earth on a scouting mission ahead of its destruction. His mission is to steal “concepts” from people’s heads so the aliens can catalogue soon to be extinct humanity. Makabe has recruited Tatsuo to be his guide but this is a very different arrangement to that Shinji makes with his “wife” Narumi. Tatsuo is not so much an interpreter as an informant. His “job” is to select Makabe’s “victims” in return for preferential treatment when the apocalypse arrives. Increasingly conflicted in betraying his own species, Tatsuo is going slowly off the rails while the world disintegrates all around around him.

Etsuko, meanwhile, has a kind of superpower of her own in that she is apparently “immune” to alien interference. They can’t take concepts from her, they can’t manipulate her will, and they can’t break her bond with her beloved (if slightly useless) husband. The power of love still reigns supreme but this time it’s not entirely a good thing as Etsuko, who has the means to resist the evil invaders, focusses on rescuing her one true love rather than defending humanity. Love is her weakness, whereas Tatsuo’s seems to be a low lying resentment of his lack of authority. A showdown with Makabe sees him offer a grim prognosis, as long as humans lust for power there will be no escape.

Makabe, meanwhile, has experienced the opposite revelation to his Before we Vanish counterpart in learning about death and human fear of mortality. Suddenly knowing what it means to die, he understands something of human existence, realising that death is forever beside you. Love maybe be the cure for “eternal loneliness”, but Makabe’s enlightenment is born of fear and darkness rather than human warmth.

Yocho, in a sense, mirrors Before We Vanish but in a darker hue. Etsuko and Tatsuo maybe a “happier” couple than Shinji and Narumi, but Tatsuo has already crossed to the dark side, abandoning his humanity and committing heinous and unthinkable acts on behalf of his alien master out of fear and desire. Makabe, taking Tatsuo to task, points out his weakness in his need for painkilling drugs to overcome the punishment Makabe has handed down for his betrayal. Humans, he says, always choose the comforting lie over the painful truth, swallowing pain killers rather than killing the pain by dealing with its root cause. This is in a way what Etsuko has chosen to do in her quest to save Tatsuo rather than using her skills to resist the alien invasion, though Makabe remains oddly fascinated by her various unusual qualities. Foreboding fills the frame as Etsuko meditates on the various oddities of her world while the skies thunder behind her, sending curtains billowing ominously in the absence of wind. A wounded Makabe ironically remarks that he has “underestimated the power of love”, reminding us that the greatest of human strengths is also its weakness, promising destruction as much as salvation.


Screened at the 20th Udine Far East Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

One Cut of the Dead (カメラを止めるな!, Shinichiro Ueda, 2017)

One Cut of the DeadYou know how it is – you turn up to make a low budget zombie movie in a disused water filtration plant apparently once used by the military for dodgy human experimentation and a load of real zombies suddenly turn up to join the fun. Then again, at least zombies don’t have over protective managers hovering on the sidelines or require catering services so in some ways they are the perfect extras. The debut feature from Shinichiro Ueda, One Cut of the Dead (カメラを止めるな!, Camera wo Tomeru na!) is a clever bait and switch, opening with a frenetic low budget zombie chase sequence before cutting to behind the scenes where just about everything is going hilariously wrong.

As the film opens, an actress is in the middle of the 42nd take of a scene in which she is attacked by her zombified boyfriend when the director yells “cut” and begins berating her for her non-existent acting skills before storming off in a huff. The actress, the boyfriend, and the makeup artist whose many hobbies include women’s self defence are enjoying a cup of coffee when a bunch of real zombies suddenly show up with murderous intent. All shot in one cut, the 40 minute chase sequence is a celebration of all things zombie with appendages flying off with gay abandon as blood soaks the screen and our plucky heroine ends up somehow in the middle of a pentagram painted on a rooftop.

Viewers who aren’t paying attention and attempt to leave after “credits” roll will be doing themselves a huge disservice – this high impact opening has been something of a ruse to take us into the real meat of the drama in the zany backstage antics in which just about everything is going just about as wrong as it could possibly go. It turns out “One Cut of the Dead” is a one camera one cut TV special made to launch a brand new zombie channel. Our director, Higurashi, who played “The Director” in One Cut, has found himself at the helm because no one else would take on such an outrageous proposal and, unlike his onscreen counterpart, is too kind and mild mannered to say no.

Higurashi’s career has perhaps become zombified in itself. The producers have chosen him for his ironic slogan – “Fast, cheap, but…average”, and he’s made his way in the minor TV film biz by keeping his head down and just getting on with the job even when it’s as “inconsequential” as a reconstruction sequence for cheesy TV news item. The chance to direct a drama is then an exciting one even if it’s for an equally cheesy TV horror show with a gimmick that’s doomed to fail.

Thus he finds himself on set with a pair of idols – she constantly worrying about what her agency will say to the various problems presented by being in a zombie movie, and he constantly rude and arrogant. Meanwhile, a previous acquaintance of Higurashi’s set to play the cameraman has a serious drink problem, the actor playing the boom operator has a series of digestive issues, and the woman playing the makeup artist is in a car accident with the man playing the director just a couple of hours before the camera rolls. Improvising wildly and making fantastic use of a set of cue cards, Higurashi manages to keep it all together despite the ensuing chaos.

The real genius of the film lies in the cleverness of the original bait and switch. The aesthetic of the zombie sequence is pure low budget horror with noticeably low grade camera quality and deliberately iffy special effects. On the first pass through there are several moments that look like shoddy direction – Higurashi talks to the cameraman who isn’t supposed to be there, the three actors witter on about nothing, the actress continues screaming for way too long etc but each of these mini moments loops back perfectly into the second half farce in which the crew is desperately trying to overcome several obstacles at once and keep the camera rolling to get through the 30-minute live broadcast without anyone noticing.

In the background, Higurashi is also facing some minor family drama with his grown up daughter who wants to direct but needs to work on her people skills. Her keen eye for detail and youthful ingenuity eventually helps the crew figure out a way to keep going, but in the end it’s teamwork that sees them through as they learn to overcome their differences and work together to get what they need. Hilarious, self aware, and filled with homages to classic horror, One Cut of the Dead is an oddly warmhearted comedy in which the zombies are the least of anyone’s worries.


One Cut of the Dead received its international premiere at the 20th Udine Far East Film Festival and will be released in the UK by Third Window Films later in the year.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

The Name (名前, Akihiro Toda, 2018)

b5_olNames are a complicated business. Most people do not choose them for themselves, yet they come to define an identity or at least provide a substantial peg on which to hang one. If you give someone a fake name you are by definition shielding your essential self from view, refusing connection either in fear of discovery or intention to harm. The protagonist of Akihiro Toda’s The Name (名前, Namae) adopts several different titles as a part of his increasingly disordered everyday life in which he takes a hammer to his original identity in an ongoing act of guilt-ridden self harm. Meanwhile, his teenage would-be saviour, engages in a little role play of her own hoping to discover an essential truth about herself only to be disappointed, in one sense, and then perhaps find something better.

Masao Nakamura (Kanji Tsuda), if that is his real name, is not just leading a double life but is currently engaged in a number of iffy scams each compartmentalised under a different title and in which he plays an entirely different version of himself. Once a successful businessman, personal tragedy, marital breakdown, and bankruptcy have left him a floundering, cynical mess living in a rundown rural hovel with a pernickety neighbour and a decidedly lax approach to housekeeping. Masao’s main “job” appears to be working in a recycling plant where he’s managed to wangle a preferential contract by telling the higher-ups that his (non-existent) wife is seriously ill in hospital. Just as Masao’s scheme is about to be discovered, a mysterious teenage girl suddenly appears out of nowhere and plays along with Masao’s sob story, claiming to be his daughter come to remind him that he needs to leave earlier today because mum has been moved to a different hospital (which is why his boss’ contact had never heard of her).

Emiko Hayama (Ren Komai), as we later find out, is a more authentic soul but has decided on a brief flirtation with duplicity in observing the strange and cynical life of the morally bankrupt Masao. Facing similar issues but coming from the opposite direction, the pair meet in the middle – regretful middle-age and anxious youth each doing battle with themselves to define their own identities. Like Masao, Emiko is also living in less than ideal circumstances with her bar hostess single-mother, forced into adulthood ahead of schedule through the need to take care of herself, purchasing groceries, cooking, and keeping the place tidy. Thus her approach to Masao has, ironically enough, a slightly maternal component as she tries to get him back on his feet again – cleaning the place up and giving him something more productive to do than wasting his idle moments in bars and other unsavoury environments.

Masao’s current problems are perhaps more down to a feeling of failure rather than the failure itself. Once successful, happily married and excited about the future, he felt it all crash down around his ears through no real fault of his own. Nevertheless he blamed himself – his intensive work ethic placed a strain on his relationship with his wife and his all encompassing need for success blinded him to what it was that really mattered. By the time he realised it was already too late, and so it’s no surprise that he longs to escape himself through a series of cardboard cutout personalities, enacting a bizarre kind of wish fulfilment coupled with masochistic desire for atonement.

Now cynical and morally apathetic, Masao lets Emiko in on a secret about the grown-up world – it’s all lies. You have to put on disguise or two to get by; the world will not accept you for who you really are. Teenage girls might know this better than most, though Emiko is a slow learner. She might tell Masao that pretending to be other people is fun, but the one role she hasn’t yet conquered is that of Emiko Hayama – something which particularly irritates the demanding director of the theatre club she’s been cajoled into joining. Like Masao, Emiko’s life begins to fall apart through no fault of her own as she finds herself swallowed up by a typically teenage piece of friendship drama when her best friend’s boyfriend dumps her in order to pursue Emiko. Branded a scheming harlot and ejected from her group of friends, berated by the director of the theatre troupe, and having no-one to turn to at home, Emiko finds herself increasingly dependent on the surrogate father figure of Masao who is happy enough to play along with the ruse so long as it is just that.

Through their strange paternal bond, Emiko and Masao each reach a point of self identification, figuring out who it is they really are whilst facing the various things they had been afraid to face alone. Lamenting missed opportunities while celebrating second chances, The Name makes the case for authenticity as a path to happiness in a world which often demands its opposite. Melancholy but gently optimistic, Akihiro Toda’s peaceful drama is a heartwarming tale of the power of unexpected connection and the importance of accepting oneself in order to move into a more positive future.


Screened at the 20th Udine Far East Film Festival.

Tremble All You Want (勝手にふるえてろ, Akiko Ohku, 2017)

tremble all you want posterShojo manga has a lot to answer for when it comes to defining ideas of romance in the minds of its young and female readers. The heroines of Japanese romantic comedies are almost always shojo manga enthusiasts – the lovelorn lady at the centre of Christmas on July 24th Avenue even magics herself into a fantasy Lisbon to better inhabit the cute and innocent world of a manga she loved in childhood. The heroine of Tremble All You Want (勝手にふるえてろ, Katte ni Furuetero), Yoshika (Mayu Matsuoka), does something similar in creating an alternate fantasy world filled with intimate acquaintances each encouraging and invested in her ongoing quest to win the heart of a boy she loved in high school who became the hero of her personal interest only manga, The Natural Born Prince.

At 24 Yoshika is still obsessed with “Ichi” (Takumi Kitamura) who is forever number “One” in her affections. Working as an office lady in the accounts department, Yoshika’s fingers tip tap over the calculator all day long until she can finally go home and read about her favourite topic, extinct animals, on the internet before it’s time to head back to work. Because of her undying love for Ichi (whom she has not seen or heard from in many years), Yoshika has never had a boyfriend or engaged in “dating” – something which causes her a small amount of anxiety and embarrassment when considering the additional awkwardness of starting out at such a comparatively late age.

Yoshika’s dilemma reaches a crisis point when, much to her surprise, a colleague becomes interested in her. Kirishima (Daichi Watanabe), whom she rechristens number “Two”, is, like her, slightly shy and bumbling but also outgoing and with a need to say things out loud. Seeing as this is apparently the first time this has ever happened to Yoshika, she finds it very confusing – not least because she can’t decide if “dating” Kirishima is a betrayal of Ichi or if she is really ready to leave her Natural Born Prince behind.

The dilemma isn’t so much between man one and man two but between fantasy and reality, idealism and practicality. Yoshika, painfully shy, lives in a fantasy world of her own creation as we discover during a tentative, emotionally raw musical number in which she is forced to confront the fact that the reason she doesn’t know the names of any of the people we’ve seen her repeatedly engage with is that, despite her longing and her loneliness, she has never been able to pluck up the courage to actually speak to them. Thus they exist in her head as a series of nicknames, theoretical constructs of “friends” with whom to engage in (one-sided) conversations – a frighteningly relatable (if extreme) concept to the painfully shy. Deprived of her fluffy fantasy, Yoshika arrives home to collapse in tears and finds her world growing colder, riding the bus all alone and eventually cocooning herself in her apartment.

Thus when Kirishima starts to show an interest, Yoshika can’t quite figure out which “reality” she is really in. The idea that he might simply like her doesn’t compute so she assumes the worst and pushes him away in grand style, retreating to the entirely safe world of Ichi worship in which she, in a sense, has already been rejected so there is nothing left to fear. Coming up with a nefarious plan to meet Ichi by stealing the identity of a former classmate and organising a reunion, Yoshika’s fantasy is challenged by the man himself or more specifically his perception of events which differs slightly from her own owing to not placing herself at the centre. Though Yoshika had correctly surmised that Ichi was uncomfortable with the attention he received as the school’s “number one” and decided to ignore him as a token of her love, she remained unaware of the degree to which he suffered in her obsession with her own unrequited desires.

Wondering if she should just “go extinct” like the animals she loves so much who evolved in ways incompatible with life on Earth – literally too weird to live, Yoshika begins to lose her grip on the divisions between fantasy and reality, unable to accept the “real” attention and affection of those who would be her real world friends if she’d only let them while continuing to engage in the wilfully self destructive mourning of her illusions. Tremble All You Want (but do it anyway) seems to become Yoshika’s new mantra as she makes her first active decision to gravitate towards the land of the real despite her fear and the conviction that it will not accept her. Filled with whimsical charm but laced with a particular kind of melancholy darkness, Ohku’s tale of modern love in a disconnected world is a strangely cheerful affair even as our heroine prepares to swap her colourful fantasy for the potential comforts of the everyday.


Screened at the 20th Udine Far East Film Festival.

Original trailer (hit the subtitle button to turn on English subs)