Happy 10th Anniversary Japan Cuts!
This July, Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film celebrates its 10th anniversary offering “11 days of impossible-to-see-anywhere-else screenings of the best new movies made in and around Japan.” And you don’t just get film screenings! There are special guest filmmakers and stars, Q&As, parties, giveaways, and a whole lot more. Guess what? If you’re an AKB48 fan, Maeda Atsuko will be at this year’s festival!
As always, I really wish I could be in NYC during these 11 days as there are always several films I would love to see. The festival kicks off on July 14th and runs through July 24th.
Mohican Comes Home featuring Matsuda Ryuhei, Maeda Atsuka, Emoto Akira, Motai Masako, and Chiba Yudai. The movie revolves around failed punk singer Eikichi (Matsuda Ryuhei) who returns home with his girlfriend Yuka (Maeda Atsuko) to drop the bomb that she is pregnant. His father (Emoto Akira) is at first horrified, but slowly warms up to the idea. Just as he’s celebrating his grandchild, he falls in and the family does what they can to make him happy.
Bitter Honey features Nikaido Fumi, Osugi Ren, and Maki Yoko. Akako (Nikaido Fumi) is a shape-shifting gold fish who takes on the form of a nymph in a red dress to help a struggling writer (Osugi Ren). This very odd couple is interrupted by the ghost of the writer’s former lover/student (Maki Yoko) who helps Akako realize just what she really wants.
Lowlife Love features Shibukawa Kiyohiko, Denden, Oshinari, Shugo, Okano Maya, Uchida Chika, and Furutachi Kanji. This is a black comedy looking at the seediness of the Japanese film industry rife with exploitation and intimidation. Tetsuo (Shibukawa) had a minor indie hit and is now reduced to cheap porn videos for quick cash and haphazardly running an acting workshop. When two promising students show up, his spark to make indie films has him gearing for a comeback.
The Magnificent Nine is based on a true story where nine farmers and business owners risk their lives and pool resources to lend their tyrannical lord money with the idea to divide the interest among the poor townspeople. This film stars Abe Sadao, Eita, Tsumabuki Satoshi, Iwata Karen, Takeuchi Yuko, and Matsuda Ryuhei.
The Sion Sono is a documentary following the life and influences of of the man, poet, painter, scriptwriter, and husband by going Sion Sono to the site of Sono’s upbringing and following the production of his latest film The Whispering Star. Of course, The Whispering Star is also playing. The movie is shot entirely in black and white and follows humanoid delivery woman Suzuki Yoko (Kagurazaka Megumi) on her rounds through space delivering packages to near extinct humans. She and her spaceship’s operating machine have an ongoing discussion about the need of people to send each other gifts that take years to receive.
Love & Peace is another Sion Sono film which follows the story of a coward whose chance meeting with a turtle sends him to Bowie-esque stardom. The film stars Hasegawa Hiroki, Aso Kumikok, Nishida Toshiyuki, Shibukawa Kiyohiko, and Makita Sports.
A Room of Her Own: Rei Naito and Light is a documentary that explores five women’s interactions with mysterious artist Rei Naito’s “Matrix” – an installaction which suspends light, air, and droplets of underground water in constant play.
We delve back into the realm of fantasy and science fiction with Fukada Koji’s Sayonara. The story revolves around South African Tanya (Bryerly Long), who was raised in Japan and who has a terminal illness, and her android caregiver Leona (Geminoid F – an honest to goodness real android). In a near-future Japan, the country is being evacuated due to a nuclear disaster. Given her health, Tanya is at the bottom of the evac list.
For Arashi fans, in particularly Ninomiya Kazunari’s, there is Nagasaki: Memories of My Son. An aging midwife (Yoshinaga Sayuri) is visited by the ghost of her son (Nino) whom she lost to the atomic bomb in WWII. The mother and son catch up on what has happened in the 3 years since his death – in particular what is going on with his fiancee (Kuroki Haru). The son then tries to convince his mother and love that it is time to move on.
Fans of manga/anime Bakuman should be happy. The live action starring Sato Takeru and Kamiki Ryunosuke is making its North American premiere. It follows a pair of aspiring mangakas whose desire is to make it into the very popular magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Of course their journey is fraught with setbacks and fierce competition.
For anime lovers, there’s a section of experimental vanguard micro-anime (the rating for this showing is 18+). By micro, these anime are about 3-5 minutes long.
Three Stories of Love was named the best Japanese movie of 2015 by Kinema Junpo. The movie follows three characters who suffer because of love – one lost a wife in a random attack, one who is trapped in a loveless marriage, and one who desperately years for a childhood friend. This is Hashiguchi Ryosuke’s first feature film in 7 years! The film stars Shinohara Atsushi, Narushima Toko, Ikeda Ryo, Kuroda Daisuke, Uchida Chika, and Lily Franky.
Hush! focuses on the two men who are starting to settle into a relationship when an unhinged woman asks one to be the father of her child. This film stars Takahashi Kazuya, Tanabe Seiichi, and Kataoka Reiko.
The Projects revolves around an old couple who move into a housing project in Osaka after the closure of their herbal medicine shop. When the husband “disappears” (he’s actually hiding in a crawl space under the floor), gossip starts flying – but the truth is more wild than the rumors.
Face is a film ripped from the headlines. The movie follows a middle-aged seamstress who breaks free from the emotional abuse and isolation she faced in her family’s dry cleaning business by an act of violence that has her on the run from police. The manhunt for Masako is interrupted by the ’95 Kobe Earthquake and we get to see the journey of this woman and the lonely characters she meets while on the run.
In A Road a film school assignment sends a student back to his childhood of capturing lizards which brought him a pure joy that is now missing from his life. Part documentary and autobiographical narrative. This film is preceded by Born With It in which a student from Tokyo moves to rural Japan where people are prejudiced against his darker skin.
Mother, I Pretty Much Forgotten Your Face is a documentary about Endo Michiro, infamous Japanese rocker. This film takes you behind the scenes and shows you the man behind the performer, his thoughts on the past and future of his hometown of Fukushima, his upbringing, and feelings about his mother.
The Shell Collector stars Lily Franky, Terajima Shinobu, Ikematsu Sosuke, Hashimoto Ai, Fukuhara Akira, and Jim Stark. The film centers on a blind professor who lives alone along the beaches of Okinawa. A woman washes ashore and is stung by one of the professor’s poisonous shellfish which cures her of a rare disease. This brings people of all types down on his doorstep including his estranged son.
In Being Good Kora Kengo stars as an elementary school teacher who can barely get his students to sit still and listen. He is at a loss on what to do when he suspects a student is being mistreated at home. The film delves into the vicious cycle of abuse and the strain of being responsible for another’s life.
A Capella is also the name of a cafe in the movie where a young high schooler Kyoko seeks refuge after getting banged up from a clash with the riot police at a protest. There she meets two college students Wataru and Yunosuke and falls for Wataru whose ideal is nihilism. Of course, a love square forms between the high schooler, the two college students, and Yunosuke’s girlfriend.
I Am a Monk stars Ito Atsushi, Yamamoto Mizuki, Mizobata Junpei, Hamada Gaku, and Matsuda Miyuki. After his grandfather dies, a young book clerk takes over his grandfather’s role as the abbot of the Eifuku-ji Temple in Imabari City. The story follows the young man as he comes of age and comes to terms with the realities being a monk.
Ken and Kazu is a film revolving around two drug dealing friends who are watched over by a local yakuza. When one of their girlfriend’s becomes pregnant, Ken wants to go straight, but Kazu has other ideas and things get out of control fast.
The Artist of Fasting follows a mysterious man who sits down in the middle of a shopping arcade and refuses to move or eat. No one knows why he does this, but people force their beliefs on the situation and some claim to speak for him. What is his true purpose?
FAKE is a documentary looking at self-taught classical composer Samuragochi Mamoru who was born to atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima with a degenerative condition causing deafness. At the height of his fame and popularity a man steps forward and claims he’s the true composer of Samuragochi’s work and that everything about the man is fake. Mori Tatsuya goes to the composer to get his side of the story.
Burnt City‘s loose plot line follows the clash of several gangs of punk musicians, yakuza, bikers and cops over the construction of a nuclear power plant.
Flying Colors stars newcomer Arimura Kasumi, Ito Atsushi, Nomura Shuhei, Tanaka Tetsushi, and Yoshida Yo. Sayaka is a ditzy materialistic high schooler who is encouraged by an enthusiastic cram school teacher to apply to one of the toughest universities of Japan. Family and friends laugh at this, but this helps spur Sayaka to work hard and sacrifice her social life to prove that she is good enough.
Koizumi Kyoko, Nikaido Fumi, Kora Kengo, Itao Itsuji, and Yamada Mochika star in Kako: My Sullen Past. The story revolves around high schooler Kako whose dull summer babysitting is rocked by the arrival of her aunt who was presumed dead 18 years ago in an explosion.
Emi-Abi focuses on the sole remainder of an up and comedy duo whose partner passed away. Unfortunately Jitsudo is the straight man whose manager is more funny than he is. The film follows Jitsudo as he learns the truth behind his partner’s death and the realities of making it in the comedy world.
The Actor stars Yasuda Ken, Aso Kamiko, Uno Shohei, Arai Hirofumi, and Sometani Shota. The film focuses on an actor who only has bit parts, but whose big break just might be heading his way as well as the possibility of forming a relationship with his new crush.