Kinema Junpo Announces 93rd Best 10 for 2019

Prestigious cinema magazine Kinema Junpo has released its always anticipated “Best 10” list for films released in 2019, the 93rd edition. Steamy drama It Feels So Good takes the top spot in a list which is (almost) entirely free of surprise awards juggernaut Fly Me to the Saitama.

1. It Feels so Good (火口の ふたり)

Steamy drama from Haruhiko Arai – screenwriter, critic, and editor of film magazine Eiga Geijutsu, starring Tasuku Emoto as a young man who’s lost his job and got divorced. Retreating to his hometown, he reconnects with an old flame (Kumi Takiuchi) in the days before her wedding to another man.

2. Another World (半世界)

Male friendship drama from Junji Sakamoto in which a traumatised soldier returns to his small town home and tries to reconnect with the friends of his youth.

3. From Miyamoto to You (宮本から君へ)

Sequel to a TV drama directed by Tetsuya Mariko (Destruction Babies) starring Sosuke Ikematsu as a shy salesman who falls for Yu Aoi’s office worker.

4. A Girl Missing (よこがお)

Drama from Koji Fukada in which a homecare nurse is implicated in the disappearance of her employer’s daughter.

5. Listen to the Universe (蜜蜂と遠雷)

Adaptation of Riku Onda’s novel following four aspiring concert pianists directed by Kei Ishikawa (Gukoroku: Traces of Sin)

6. Farewell Song (さよならくちびる)

Love triangle drama from Akihiko Shiota in which a two-piece folk band (Nana Komatsu & Mugi Kadowaki) go on one last tour with a male roadie (Ryo Narita) who disrupts their dynamic.

7. One Night (ひとよ)

Drama from Kazuya Shiraishi in which a scattered family reunites 15 years after one traumatic night.

8. Just Only Love (愛がなんだ)

Rikiya Imaizumi adapt’s Mitsuyo Kakuta’s novel in which a lovelorn office lady (Yukino Kishii) gets into a casual relationship with a colleague (Ryo Narita) but gradually realises he’s just not that into her.

9. RANDEN: The Comings and Goings on a Kyoto Tram (嵐電)

Three stories of love occur along the the iconic Kyoto tramline as a writer from Kamakura searches for a ghost train while recalling memories of his wife, a local girl helps a Tokyo actor master the Kyoto accent, and a girl from Aomori falls for a trainspotter!

10. To the Ends of the Earth (旅のおわり世界のはじまり)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa reunites with recent muse Atsuko Maeda as a lost TV presenter goes searching for herself while filming in Uzbekistan.

Best 10 International

  1. Joker
  2. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  3. The Irishman
  4. The Mule
  5. Green Book
  6. Sorry We Missed You
  7. Cold War
  8. Roma
  9. An Elephant Sitting Still
  10. Burning

Best 10 Documentaries

  1. i -Documentary of the Journalist- (i-新聞記者ドキュメント-, Tatsuya Mori)
  2. Fukushima Speaks (福島は語る, Toshikuni Doi) 
  3. Jinsei wo Shimau Toki (人生をしまう時間(とき), Sachiko Shimomura)
  4. Yamafutokoro ni Idakarete (山懐に抱かれて, Takashi Endo)
  5. Planet of the Crabs (蟹の惑星, Hiroyasu Murakami)
  6. Sakubei and the Mining of Japan (作兵衛さんと日本を掘る, Hiroko Kumagai)
  7. Tokyo High Tide (東京干潟, Hiroyasu Murakami))
  8. Dare ga Tame ni Kenpo wa Aru (誰がために憲法はある, Junichi Inoue)
  9. America ga Mottomo Osoreta Otoko: Kamejiro – Fukutsu no Shogai (米軍(アメリカ)が最も恐れた男 カメジロー不屈の生涯, Tadahiko Sato)
  10. Korean Schools in Japan (アイたちの学校, Ko Chanyu)

Readers’ Best 10 (Japan)

  1. Another World (半世界)
  2. Sea of Revival (凪待ち)
  3. The Journalist (新聞記者)
  4. One Night (ひとよ)
  5. Weathering with You (天気の子)
  6. Just Only Love (愛がなんだ)
  7. Typhoon Family (台風家族)
  8. From Miyamoto to You (宮本から君へ)
  9. A Girl Missing (よこがお)
  10. Talking the Pictures (カツベン!)

Readers’ Best 10 (International)

  1. Joker
  2. Green Book
  3. The Mule
  4. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  5. Roma
  6. The Irishman
  7. Capernaum
  8. The Favourite
  9. Sorry We Missed You
  10. Cold War

Individual Awards

Best Director: Kazuya Shiraishi (One Night, Sea of Revival, A Gambler’s Odyssey 2020)

Best Screenplay: Junji Sakamoto (Another World)

Best Director (international): Todd Phillips (Joker)

Best Actress: Kumi Takiuchi (It Feels So Good)

Best Actor: Sosuke Ikematsu (From Miyamoto to You)

Best Supporting Actress: Chizuru Ikewaki (Another World)

Best Supporting Actor: Ryo Narita (Just Only Love, Farewell Song, Chiwawa, Fly Me to the Saitama, No Longer Human)

Best Newcomer (actress): Nagisa Sekimizu (Almost a Miracle)

Best Newcomer (actor): Oji Suzuka (Listen to the Universe, The 47 Ronin in Debt)

Readers’ Choice Best Director: Junji Sakamoto (Another World)

Readers’ Choice Best Director (international): Todd Phillips (Joker)

Readers’ Choice Award: RHYMESTER Utamaru / Kazuko Misawa

Special Award: Makoto Wada

Source: Kinema Junpo official website.

The Chaplain (教誨師, Dai Sako, 2018)

The Chaplian posterJapan is one of the few developed nations which still maintains the death penalty, though in practice infrequently. The sentence of death is handed down almost exclusively to mass or serial murderers, child killers, or those whose crimes are judged to be of extraordinary barbarity. Unlike other nations, Japan houses those on death row not in prisons but in detention centres, denying them the rights that are afforded to regular prisoners such as visitation, exercise, and entertainment. Execution must be carried out within five days of the judgement being handed down. The prisoner themselves is informed on the morning of their death and given a choice of last meal, but their family members, legal team, and the general public are only informed once it has taken place preventing any last minute attempts for a stay.

In what would be his final screen role (and his first as a producer), Ren Osugi stars as a prison chaplain, Saeki, attempting to guide a series of Death Row prisoners towards spiritual peace as they prepare to accept their judgement. Though none of the prisoners he visits protests their innocence, some are more repentant than others and not all of them have fully internalised the fact they will never leave the facility even when no further legal attempts to commute their sentences seem to be underway. Some might say there is an element of exploitation in sending a chaplain in at all seeing as this is literally a captive audience. The crimes which lead to being on Death Row are necessarily extreme, many prisoners either have no remaining family members or have been abandoned by them out of shame, leaving them intensely lonely and devoid of human contact (not even televisions or radios are permitted). They are therefore much more interested in conversation than they are in The Bible or accepting Jesus into their hearts.

Then again, Saeki’s first visit is to a man who says nothing at all, allowing him to fill the silence with some of his own backstory which hints at a personal trauma possibly informing his desire to save the souls of these unfortunate people. Another prisoner, by contrast, is all too eager to convert but, as Saeki soon realises, is almost entirely illiterate and therefore struggling to hear the word of God through being unable to read. Saeki does his best to help them, gently listening to their fears and worries but encounters a familiar series of social problems which made their fates inevitable stemming from entrenched poverty and social inequality.

Only six months into the job, he wonders if he’s really getting through and if his efforts are worthwhile. His most challenging prisoner is a young man convicted of a mass killing of those with learning difficulties (inspired by a real life case), whom he deemed to be a drain on national resources. A hyper-rational sociopath, Takamiya (Leo Tamaoki) baits Saeki with unassailable, coldhearted logic which asks why, if he’s happy enough to kill and eat “stupid” animals like cows and pigs, but not “clever” ones like dolphins, his application of the same logic to the human world can be wrong? If all creatures have an equal right to life, then killing for food is as wrong as any other kind of killing and the death penalty nothing more than state sanctioned murder. There is no rational answer for Takamiya’s philosophy and aside from his abhorrent, unfeeling rationality he may have a point when it comes to social hypocrisy. All Saeki can do is ask him to stand with the people that he killed, and acknowledge that God or no God, Saeki too will be with him until the very end.

If Takamiya begins to question the terrifying rationalism which led him to his truly barbaric act, he does so probably not because of Saeki’s ministrations but because of his proximity to death. Meanwhile, another prisoner, Suzuki (Kanji Furutachi), convicted of a stalker murder, seems to have picked up entirely the wrong message in coming to blame just about everyone else for his crime and absolving himself of responsibility. He might have found peace, but it is not the kind of peace he was supposed to find. Noguchi (Setsuko Karasuma), meanwhile, the only female prisoner, continues to talk about the future as if she really thinks she’s getting out. Only Shoichi (Takeo Gozu), an elderly man, seems to truly accept Saeki’s teachings though it is perhaps enough to make him feel as if he really is making a difference.

Sako opts for subtlety in pointing out the inherent hypocritical immorality of the death penalty and particularly in the context of the Japanese legal system which relies heavily on confessions often extracted under duress. Battling his own sense of guilt, Saeki tries to save himself by saving the souls of others but finds his work an uphill battle in a society which prefers not to speak of unpleasant matters and thereby renders itself absolute and unaccountable in the rigidity of its justice.


The Chaplain (教誨師, Kyoukaishi) was screened as part of Japan Cuts 2019.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Shoplifters Tops 92nd Kinema Junpo Best 10

Shoplifters poster 2Prestigious Japanese cinema magazine Kinema Junpo has named its “best 10” movies released in 2018. This year’s list is tinged with sadness as it includes the final screen performances of two much loved Japanese actors – Koreeda stalwart Kirin Kiki and Ren Osugi who sadly passed away in February of last year.

1. Shoplifters (万引き家族)

Shoplifters still 2Hirokazu Koreeda’s Palme d’Or winner picks up another award in being officially named the best movie of 2018 by the prestigious Kinema Junpo magazine. This hard hitting tale of modern lives on the margin may have irritated all the right people, but it also arrived at a pertinent moment in coinciding with a very real series of societal failures leading to the deaths of at risk children and contributing to a much needed debate as to society’s responsibility towards its most vulnerable citizens. Shoplifters also marks one of the last performances from the late Kirin Kiki who is also the recipient of the first Kinema Junpo special award. Review.

2. The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine (菊とギロチン)

chysanthemum and the guillotine still 1The first of two films making the top 10 directed by Takahisa Zeze, The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine is a Taisho era tale of sumo and revolution in which a band of anarchists known as the Guillotine Society find themselves fascinated by an itinerant troupe of female sumo wrestlers shortly after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.

3. And Your Bird Can Sing (きみの鳥はうたえる)

And your bird can sing bannerSho Miyake adapts the novel by Yasushi Sato but shifts the setting from 1982 to the present day and from Tokyo to the author’s native Hakodate (the setting for a series of his novels recently adapted for the screen which includes The Light Shines Only There, Over the Fence, and Sketches of Kaitan City). Recipient of the best actor award Tasuku Emoto stars alongside Shota Sometani and Shizuka Ishibashi as a trio of slackers become embroiled in an awkward ménage à trois.

4. Asako I & II (寝ても覚めても)

Aasako 1 & IIA conflicted young woman struggling to move on from lost love falls for a guy who looks just like her ex but can’t decide whether to embrace the fantasy of unresolved romance or the security of a steady relationship in Hamaguchi’s complex yet playful comedy drama adapted from the novel by Tomoka Shibasaki. Review.

5.  The Blood of Wolves (孤狼の血)

blood of wolves still 1Kazuya Shirashi, winner of this year’s best director award, pays tribute to the world of Battles Without Honour in an ’80-style neo-noir in which a straight-laced rookie is partnered with a veteran rogue cop who leads him straight into the heart of darkness. Review.

6. Lying To Mom (鈴木家の嘘)

lying to mom still 1Mrs. Suzuki attempts to save her reclusive son who has tried to hang himself but injures herself in the process. Unfortunately, her son didn’t make it but when Mrs. Suzuki wakes up in hospital she’s lost her memory of the traumatic incident which put her there. Her family not having the heart to tell her the truth, pretend that their son is alive and well and living in Argentina…

7. Killing (斬、)

Killing bannerThe latest from Shinya Tsukamoto and his first foray into the jidaigeki, Killing follows a young samurai who prefers not to raise his sword but is swept into the violence of the Bakumatsu era anyway.

8. My Friend “A” (友罪)

My Friend A still 1A second entry for director Takahisa Zeze, My Friend “A” is a story of the legacy of guilt and (im)possibility of redemption as an embittered former journalist befriends a strange young man he believes may have been responsible for a brutal series of child killings 17 years previously. Review.

9. Every Day A Good Day (日日是好日)

every day a good day still 1Starring the legendary Kirin Kiki in one of her final performances, Every Day a Good Day is inspired by the writings of Noriko Morishita and revolves around the serene elegance of the traditional tea ceremony.

10. Kyoukaishi (教誨師)

Kyoukaishi bannerRen Osugi stars as a prison chaplain ministering to prisoners on death on row in what would be his final screen appearance before he sadly passed away in February 2018.

Individual Awards:

Best Actress: Sakura Ando (Shoplifters)

Best Actor: Tasuku Emoto (And Your Bird Can Sing, Dynamite Graffiti, Lovers on Borders)

Best Supporting Actress: Hana Kino (Come On Irene)

Best Supporting Actor: Tori Matsuzaka (The Blood of Wolves)

Best Newcomer (female): Mai Kiryu (The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine, Lying To Mom)

Best Newcomer (male): Kanichiro (The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine)

Best Director: Takahisa Zeze (The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine, My Friend “A”)

Best Screenplay: Toranosuke Aizawa & Takahisa Zeze (The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine)

Reader’s Choice Award for Best Director (Japanese): Hirokazu Koreeda (Shoplifters)

Reader’s Choice Award: Shiraku Tatekawa (Shiraku Tatekawa’s Cinema Tsurezuregusa)

Special Award: Kirin Kiki

Source: Kinema Junpo official website.

The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue Tops Kinema Junpo’s 2017 Best 10 List

tokyo night sky posterKinema Junpo, the prestigious Japanese film magazine, has announced its top 10 films of 2017. In a happy surprise two female directors have been included in this year’s Best 10 list in which veteran directors jostle with comparative newcomers.

10. Close-Knit (彼らが本気で編むときは)

close-knit still 1Naoko Ogigami’s touching family drama snatches the last spot on Kinema Junpo’s list. A departure of sorts from the director’s earlier career, Close-Knit drops the whimsy but not the heart in telling a story of changing family dynamics and pleading for a kinder, more understanding world where all are free to live the way they choose without let or hinderance. Review.

9. Birds Without Names (彼女がその名を知らない鳥たち)

birds without names still 2Dawn of the Felines director Kazuya Shiraishi returns to the world of mystery in a tale of dark romance and destructive desires. Yu Aoi stars as a young woman, Towako, living with an older man (played by Sadao Abe) whom she despises but tolerates because he continues to support her. Towako, however, cannot forget a violent ex-lover who has been missing for the last eight years. Screening in the upcoming Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme.

8. The Third Murder (三度目の殺人)

third murder horizontal posterHirokazu Koreeda makes a rare detour from the family drama for a high stakes legal thriller in which a veteran lawyer takes on the seemingly impossible task of defending a murder suspect who has already served time for violent crime and freely confesses his guilt, but the more the lawyer looks into the case the less confident he feels that his client is telling the truth.

7. Side Job (彼女の人生は間違いじゃない)

Sidejob bannerFukushima native Ryuichi Hiroki adapts his own novel for an exploration of precarious rural life on the edge of a disaster zone. Newcomer Kumi Takiuchi stars as a young woman with a regular office job living in temporary housing with her father (Ken Mitsuishi) after being displaced by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. For unexplained reasons, the young woman travels to Tokyo at weekends and engages in casual sex work which brings her into contact with Kengo Kora’s conflicted driver.

6. Bangkok Nites (バンコクナイツ)

bangkok-nitesKatsuya Tomita’s Saudade followup has been doing the festival rounds for over a year now but finally getting its Japanese release lands in sixth place in Kinema Junpo’s 2017 list. Picking up threads from the earlier film, Tomita travels to Bangkok and examines the legacy of colonialism and exploitation in a land many see as a “paradise”. Review.

5. Before we Vanish (散歩する侵略者)

©2017 BEFORE WE VANISH FILM PARTNERSKiyoshi Kurosawa rolls back on the nihilism of Pulse for a tale of love and survival masquerading as an alien invasion movie. The Earth, it seems, is doomed – three alien scouts have been sent as a vanguard to log “humanity” before it is forever destroyed. Stealing and assimilating “concepts” from people’s brains as if playing a giant game of psychic Jenga, the alien invaders become more human by the day but the essence of the human soul remains a mystery to them… Review.

4. Dear Etranger (幼な子われらに生まれ)

Dear Etranger still 1Yukiko Mishima’s adaptation of the Kiyoshi Shigematsu novel stars Tadanobu Asano in a tale of family and the modern society. A middle-aged man, Makoto, leaves his first wife for a younger woman after they disagree about adding to their family – he wanted another child and she didn’t. His second wife has two children already and when she announces she is pregnant, Makoto is not so sure about becoming a father again…

3. Wilderness Parts 1 & 2 (あゝ、荒野)

wilderness still 1Released in two parts, Wilderness adapts the classic 1966 novel by Shuji Terayama in which two men seek release in the boxing ring but also discover friendship and brotherhood in the shared connection of violence. Up and coming director Yoshiyuki Kishi builds on the promise of the impressive A Double Life and makes it into Kinema Junpo’s top three with only his second feature.

2. Hanagatami (花筐)

hanagatami still 1The latest from veteran director Nobuhiko Obayashi, Hanagatami is a project forty years in gestation. An adaptation of the wartime novel by Kazuo Dan, the film is a timely warning against the follies of war as a collection of youngsters dance along the edge of an abyss which will eventually engulf their entire generation.

1. The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue (夜空はいつでも最高密度の青色だ)

THE TOKYO NIGHT SKY IS ALWAYS THE DENSEST SHADE OF BLUE stillTaking the top spot, Yuya Ishii’s melancholy romance is a love/hate letter to Tokyo and a poetical mediation on connection in the modern city. A depressed young woman and an anxious young man miraculously encounter each other thanks to the magic of the metropolis but their shared cynicism and distrust of feeling soon becomes a barrier to their growing romance. Review.

Individual Awards:

Best Director: Nobuhiko Obayashi (Hanagatami)

Best Screenplay: Yuya Ishii (The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue)

Best Actress: Yu Aoi (Birds Without Names)

Best Actor: Masaki Suda (Wilderness)

Best Supporting Actor: Yang Ik-june (Wilderness)

Best Female Newcomer: Shizuka Ishibashi (Tokyo Night Sky / Parks / Misshi to Bannin)

Best Male Newcomer: Ryosuke Yamada (Miracles of the Namiya General Store / Fullmetal Alchemist)

Source: Kinema Junpo official website