The first half of the festival season will often set trends (see the first part published on the blog site). Some of the movies featured at festivals early in the year will filter their way through various events held in the second half. Meanwhile, Japanese filmmakers will also be seeking entry into the late year festivals which are also searching to premiere yet undiscovered works, particularly many key domestic events as well as ones throughout Asia. There was a distinct celebratory air at many of the festivals which were putting their best foot forward toward a return to pre-COVID pageantry. Following are the Japanese movies screened at some of the events in the latter half of 2022.
SKIP CITY INTERNATIONAL D-Cinema FESTIVAL
The 19th edition of this festival held in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture featured a program of diverse and engaging works from Japan and abroad as it’s become increasingly known for. The hybrid event (in-person and online) showcased movies across several categories including its hallmark International Competition and competition sections for Japanese features and short movies. As with the standalone feature on SKIP CITY’s lineups of the past, there will be a focus on select works while others are listed with links to the information from the festival’s website.
Yu and Nobu, a high-schooler comic duo, are busy preparing for their school festival. They and everyone else at Aishin Gakuen live their ordinary lives. Only Hikami of the science club and Inari of the film club have noticed something unusual.
Winner of awards at SKIP CITY for three consecutive years, director Isobe Teppei’s latest feature was presented as the opening film for 2022. An adaptation of Asakusa Kaoru’s popular play ‘Alice in Deadly School’, the life-and-death drama about high school girls is Isobe’s first foray into genre film while still managing to retain his distinct penchant for depicting ordinary people with warm humor.
The year 2020, a few months before a comet collision will cause the end of all human life. Sisters Ayane and Kanon, who once ran away from home in 1999 when they were elementary school students, believing Nostradamus’ prophecies, start living with their half-sister Oto, for the first time
A story about separation and reconnection against the backdrop of world-ending events seems prescient for the times, but director Ohashi Takayuki could not have predicted the COVID pandemic when making his neo-classical story of three sisters tinged with science fiction. But depicting the insignificance of humanity compared to nature seems to be a running theme of Ohashi’s work and the lush visuals on display hint no less is true for this movie.
Yamanobe and Kimi are job hunters whose scheduled interview has been suddenly postponed. Shuichi calls Rinko, who used to be the manager of his baseball team. Kento and Kyoko are working part-time at a convenience store. In a seaside town, their unforgettable night begins.
Shunsaku, a low-power psychic, doesn’t get many good jobs because of his lack of ability. One day, a high schooler named Tasuku learns of Shunsaku’s profession, but discovering that the boy is also a psychic, Shunsaku decides to work with Tasuku.
A rare lo-fi sci-fi entry from Japan, the title of Kobayashi Daiki’s feature spells out the approach he’s taking toward material often requiring expensive special effects budgets. By turning his attention on unexceptional characters with exceptional gifts, Kobayashi perhaps aims to elicit empathy for or from those struggling to make the most of their talents.
Shiori’s husband decides not to attend a workshop they were supposed to join together. Shiori asks Junnosuke, a fill-in introduced by Shiori’s colleague, to join the workshop as her acting husband. Satisfied with Junnosuke, Shiori secretly rents an apartment and begins a pseudo-marital life with him.
Winner of the Japan Feature Film Competition’s Best Picture Award
Set in a near future in which we can separate consciousness from the body. Giving up on being an astronaut, Keiji works on earth and lives with his emotionally unstable wife, Shizuka. One day, Keiji hears a rumor about a new space development, while Shizuka begins to yearn for a consciousness-only existence.
The visual language and apparent themes of this movie indicate Kiriu Shogo has drawn ample influence and has an affinity for the philosophical space fiction of movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey. It will be exciting to see how courageously he delves into the esoteric subject matter of a former astronaut’s relationship with a wife yearning to be free of physicality.
Winner of the SKIP CITY Award
A small village in southeastern Madagascar. An elder gathers the men and tells them to bring back the remains of Nirina, a young girl who has died in the distant land where she worked. With this order, Nirina’s brother Tantely and three men set out on a journey, musical instruments in hand.
Winner of the Japan Feature Film Competition’s Audience Award
The Waxing and Waning of Life
Shota takes in his brother Yusaku after rehab and interviews him for a screenplay based on Yusaku’s life. Yusaku, unable to adjust to his new life, gradually begins to suffer from drug withdrawal.
The love-hate relationship between two brothers serves as a canvas for co-directors Koseki Shota, the screenwriter and one of the movie’s stars; and Kishi Kentaro, the movie’s cinematographer, to examine experiences and emotions with which they were unfamiliar but desire to understand. Perhaps this intention will reach the audience as well.
The teacher has three problems: her own child who is a shut-in; a child who has committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the school; the suicide victim was her student.
Tanaka has won a world-renowned advertising award. His old friend Yusaku comes to his company for a job interview, and submits a drawing that looks like Tanaka’s award-winning work, which plunges the company into panic. To resolve the situation, Tanaka visits Yusaku’s house.
There were a couple of high profile cases of design plagiarism in Japan, most famously the logo for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. What approach director Kimura Kiichiro will take on the topic will be fascinating to observe.
Reiji, an unsuccessful comedian, lives with Nanase, a company employee. Although both are concerned about their future, neither is ready to part ways with the other. Nanase is being seduced by new colleague Shun, and she tries to use him to confirm her true feelings.
When book-loving Rin Ishimatsu enters high school, she stops reading in order to make friends. But she ends up serving on the library committee with Rei, whom she meets on her first day at school. One day, on the way home from school, Rin sees a kitten and is asked a strange question by Rei.
3 Intestine Road, Fish Island
Hogert meets Fishelina in the belly of another fish, and the two give birth to a tadpole boy. The family lives peacefully, but one day, Hogert and the little boy eat a piece of fruit that has drifted ashore, which changes their lives forever.
Winner of the Japan Short Film Competition’s Best Picture Award
Animation can sometimes draw attention to salient subject matter better than live action. Wakabayashi Moe’s retro-pop art style certainly augments the outlandish setting as it allegorically depicts a microcosm of the human experience.
Xuelan, who devotes herself to being a successful actress, receives an invitation to a banquet from her fellow actress Mimi. Xuelan hopes she can find, in the banquet’s food, the secret of Mimi’s beauty, which has remained unchanged for the past ten years.
My impression of Nakanishi Mai’s latest outing is available here.
Morishita, a temp worker at an automobile factory, lives with his wife and daughter. His job contract is cut due to the coronavirus pandemic and he loses his job. His wife wants a divorce, and he is evicted from the company residence, leaving him with no choice but to start living in a storage room.
Winner of the Japan Short Film Competition’s Audience Award
Director Manno Tatsuro, who studied filmmaking in the US, uniquely frames the pandemic in a way that feels almost genre. And yet apparently never loses relatability for anyone who has ever felt boxed in by their circumstances. Hence, the Audience Award nod.
Following her parents, Rui has moved to a new place. Guests pay their visits one after another, but she, sulking, ignores them. When Rui goes outside, her father’s former colleague, Fen, who is suffering from cancer, follows her.
Princess of Euglena
Sachiko, a parking inspector aka midorimushi (euglena), is paired with veteran inspector Chinen. At first, Sachiko doesn’t fully accept Chinen’s rule-bound attitude, but she is gradually influenced by him. Meanwhile, midorimushi hunting is becoming popular in their town.
In Dream of Euglena, director Sanada Mikiya used the much maligned parking patrol–mockingly dubbed “euglena” because their uniforms evoke images of that tiny, green, single-celled organism–to humorously examine our love-hate relationship with rules and the people whose job is to enforce them. Princess of Euglena is his follow-up which shifts the location to Ikebukuro and casts Aoba Kawai from Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy in the lead role of Sachiko. By all accounts Sanada intends to build on the themes of its predecessor while dealing with global changes in society since 2019 all through the viewpoint of the humble parking patrol.
“It’s been three years since my last film, Dream of Euglena. We have seen the world change. Infectious disease and wars. Maybe the real world is scarier than the world we have seen in films. Even in such times, the parking inspectors are always around, I think. They are ridiculed as “euglena”, but I’m sure they have walked more and seen more things than anyone else. I believe their viewpoint will warm our hearts. I hope films will once again become a light of entertainment.” — Sanada Mikiya
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
The postcard-perfect spa town of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic hosted a physical event in 2021, though the atmosphere was still clouded by COVID-19. The 56th edition seemed to be a return to form as organizers and the industry alike were in the mood, finally, to celebrate with style. The program presented three Japanese movies: Hayakawa Chie’s Plan 75 in its Horizons section; Miyake Sho’s Small, Slow but Steady in the People Next Door section; and in its premiere Crystal Globe Competition….
A Far Shore
An unadorned perspective on impoverished life in Okinawa. 17-year-old Aoi works as a nightclub hostess in order to earn rent money and to provide for her little boy and his lazy father, who has no qualms about hitting his wife. (Karlovy Vary)
[…]Sadly he discovers her secret earnings stash one day after beating her up badly during an argument. What can she do now that her face is swollen and scarred, and she can no longer work at the hostess club? (Tokyo FILMeX)
Kudo Masaaki, who directed the NETPAC award-winning I’m Crazy and Unprecedented–an unreserved look at twenty-somethings attempting to make do under the lockdown–appears to have turned his inquisitive eye on poverty and social bounds in Japan. The director’s comment from the press kit:
“Poverty should be addressed not solely as material scarcity, but as a matter of the heart. These young women have little understanding of how to live or manage money, so material support will not secure their independence. At a time when leaving home is a casual rite of passage and one can get around with just a cell phone, the challenge these young women face to find a place of their own and to achieve self-realization is a difficult one indeed.”
Locarno Film Festival
Celebrating its diamond 75th anniversary in 2022, the Swiss film festival also returned to pre-pandemic glory, presenting a wide spectrum of movies from the mainstream to the avant-garde. One Japanese work fitting the bill of the latter more than the former made the lineup: an animated short by artist and animator Yuki Yoko.
In the Big Yard Inside the Teeny-Weeny Pocket
When it shrinks, it expands. It floats and it sinks. It separates but connects. When I think I’m watching them, they’re actually watching me. A charming animation rhyme that weaves together many days of observing, recording, and experimenting.
Tokyo-based animator Yuki Yoko is a multi-disciplinary animator working as a 3DCG animation director for Marza Animation Planet. Her independent animated shorts include Zdravstvuite! and A Snowflake Into the Night.
Venice International Film Festival
One of the oldest and prestigious film festivals in the world, The Venice International Film Festival heralds the start of the autumn/winter festival season and the next round in the awards race along with Telluride and Toronto. Two Japanese movies made the 2022 lineup–one in the Competition Section, and one in the Orizzonti Section.
Taeko and her husband Jiro are living a peaceful existence with her young son Keita, when a tragic accident brings the boy’s long-lost father, Park, back into her life. To cope with the pain and guilt, Taeko throws herself into helping this deaf and homeless man.
Fukada Koji’s latest graced the Competition lineup along with new works from Darren Aronofsky, Noah Baumbach, Todd Field, Joanna Hogg, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, and Martin McDonagh among others.
After divorcing, Rie has found happiness with her second husband Daisuke and formed a new family. But when Daisuke dies in a tragic accident, she discovers her new husband was not the man she thought he was. Rie calls on the attorney Kido to help her find the truth about the identity of the man she loved. A quest that will open larger questions about the nature of identity itself, and what makes a person real at all.
San Sebastian International Film Festival
Celebrating it’s 70th anniversary, the San Sebastian International Film Festival continued to focus on new voices in its program and the award winners reflected this such as bestowing Best Director honors to the feature length debut (A Hundred Flowers) of Genki Kawamura who’s better known as the producer of Shinkai Makoto’s last two releases Your Name and Weathering With You.
The lineup also included Nowhere To Go But Everywhere, previously introduced in the preceding article, as well as Broker by Kore-eda Hirokazu.
Miyamatsu, who works as a cable-car operator, is also a film extra. Through his different characters he has been living the life of a stranger, only playing that part. Finally he comes face to face with his own life, the one he had lost.
Debut film by triple co-directors/writers Sato Masahiko, Seki Yutaro, and Hirase Kentaro. Their shorts have been featured at the Cannes Film Festival’s Cinefondation which may be why they’ve been able to assemble a cast that includes Kagawa Teruyuki for their maiden feature.
A young man who suffers from guilt related to his adored sister’s death encounters her ghost in a haunted tunnel. He makes repeated visits to the tunnel and re-experiences the past.
Kogahara Takeshi’s short, Nagisa, made a strong impression at the 2018 Osaka Asian Film Festival Indie Forum, as did his follow-up short, Birdland which screened at Slamdance 2021. Both were showcases of Kogahara’s powerful visual storytelling within the short format as they dealt with ephemeral yet empathetic themes. There is considerable personal excitement to see in what ways the concepts of the short have been evolved for this debut feature.
A young woman loses her mother. Life goes on despite the huge loss. She distracts herself from the grief and flies to the moon. A surprise awaits her when she comes back home.
Director Nagai Manaka was born in Tokyo and grew up in Los Angeles before returning to Tokyo. She then moved to Germany where she received both her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in film at the University of Fine Arts Hamburg (HFBK) during which she directed the shorts The Tree, Awaiting Spring, Basil, and, Tangerine Blue among others
Vancouver International Film Festival
Returning to a full in-person event, including Q&As, the 41st Vancouver International Film Festival boasted a schedule comprising of 135 features and 72 shorts, including screenings of Motherhood and Plan 75 respectively in their Showcase and Panorama sections. There were three other Japanese selections worthy of note.
In this gentle dramedy, Yamada, an ex-con dealing with the sudden death of his estranged father, tries to make a fresh start by moving to a small fishing town. Here he takes up residence in an old apartment building populated by a group of quirky misfits.
Lynn is nearing the end of her post-secondary education and looking forward to a career as a flight attendant. She has a pushy, patriarchal boyfriend and a mother deep in debt; things get even worse when she finds herself pregnant. Not interested in motherhood at this point in her life, Lynn decides to carry out the pregnancy and sell the child to her mom’s debtors.
Employing a series of long, precisely framed shots, husband-and-wife directing team Huang Ji and Otsuka Ryuji look to contrast the slick urban sheen of China’s modern image with the ruthless consumerism running rampant just concealed underneath.
In a ruined city, a wandering Magnifying Glass Human encounters a secret society of Projector Humans with grand plans to reconnect to the past in a surviving mountaintop theatre.
Touted by festival programmers as “One of the most original and incredible works of animation to come along in years.”
New York Asian Film Festival
After holding a fully online festival in 2020 and then a hybrid edition in 2021, the 2022 New York Asian Film Festival returned to theatrical screenings of over 60 new and classic movies from Asia. Co-presented by the New York Asian Film Foundation and Film at Lincoln Center, the line up presented the North American premieres of Iizuka Kasho’s Angry Son and Nakamura Mayu’s Intimate Stranger as well as screenings of Iijima Shuna’s short Natsuko and Ugana Kenichi’s Visitors in addition to the titles featured hereafter.
In this exceptionally engaging coming-of-age dramedy, Non (star of Hold Me Back, NYAFF 2021) plays Itsuka, an art student who’s finishing up her graduation project when her college is closed down due to Covid. Students are given just a few hours to either haul their work home (much of it is site-specific and thus not portable) or toss it in the trash. With this shining moment of their youth stolen from them—and job offers revoked while employers delay hiring amid the pandemic—Itsuka and her friends struggle to hang onto their future promise.
Nonen Rena was “the rising new star” in Japan after her turn in the blockbuster, and still beloved NHK drama Amachan. But after a softly publicized and unamicable departure from her then talent agency (reportedly over more control of her career), she disappeared for a while from screens big or small. In 2016, she changed her stage name to “Non” and began appearing in more commercials and the occasional movie though she is still rarely seen on television even in promotion of her work. (More on this topic in this interview with the president of the branding company which represents Non). But perhaps her experiences served as the template for this story about a budding artist whose future becomes uncertain due to constraining forces and possibly why the New York Asian Film Festival hails Non as “the new voice of her generation.”
Yumi is studying design at university. One day, she realizes that she is pregnant. She has a boyfriend, Naoya, whom she met when she made a flyer for a theater club. He sometimes rejected the use of birth controls. However, she is not confident that he is the father of her baby. (MUBI)
Kato Takuya is a young playwright and theatre director who established his own theatre company, “gekidan”, in 2013. Being of the generation that witnessed and/or experienced multiple major crises from September 11 to the Great East Japan Earthquake and the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a sense of weight to his productions. For his debut feature, he appears to carry on the exploration of issues confronting contemporary young adults but on the canvas of cinema, the storytelling of which prompted the New York Asian Film Festival to internationally premiere the movie.
Tokyo FILMeX has always championed international cinema which might be hard pressed to find distribution in Japan. Therefore, the programmed titles have always been rather distinctive, including the Japanese movies that have been programmed over its 23 editions. However, since coordinating its schedule with the Tokyo International Film Festival from 2020, there have been claims that the festival has been somewhat diminished. With just two titles presented in its own Made In Japan section, such claims could be valid. At the very least, A Far Shore and Stonewalling were selected for its Competition section, the former claiming the Audience Award.
Why Did She Let the Monkeys Loose?
Yuko, a reportage writer, begins investigating Miu, a high school girl who was arrested for destruction of property after breaking a cage at a zoo and releasing some monkeys. Miu was exposed to critical articles based on speculation and slander. Yuko tries to find out the truth to defend her, but her mental balance is gradually shaken. Her husband, a filmmaker, seems to be quietly watching over her.
“Gunjo-iro,” the filmmaking duo of Takahashi Izumi and Hirosue Hiromasa, have been staples of Japan’s indie film scene, and regulars of Tokyo FILMeX among other Japanese and international film festivals. Though they take on projects individually, their collaborations as “Gunjo-iro” are where their unique strengths shine. Often touching upon social topics, the duo’s movies do so in uncharacteristic and unexpected ways.
There is a Stone
A woman visits a strange town where she encounters a man skipping stones by the riverside. They occupy their time with mindless play until at last twilight falls.
“Ota Tatsunari’s second feature film since his graduation work Bundesliga at the Graduate School of Film and New Media, Tokyo University of the Arts. [He] creates a remarkably rich experience for the viewer, even out of these simple elements. The frame captures swaths of space around the characters in wide, slightly protracted shots, edited expertly into a story that at first might seem insignificant until Ota’s meticulous mise-en-scène and direction bring out the ripples that stir across it” (Tokyo FILMeX)
Depending on how the overall narrative plays out, this could be similar to the works of Hong Sang-soo, in which the characters’ simple interaction within a space is the soul of the movie.
Tokyo International Film Festival
As the largest and most prestigious movie event in Japan, Tokyo International Film Festival hosts a dazzling array of titles. Obviously, it dedicates a good portion of its program to promote and world premiere domestic titles across multiple sections, specifically the oft renamed Nippon Cinema Now section–formerly “Japan Cinema Splash”–which screened Small, Slow But Steady; A Hundred Flowers; and Remember to Breath among the titles listed hereafter.
A man discovers his wife is cheating on him, then he is bothered by mixed feelings. A slightly funny adult love story about a man who’s too honest but yet searching for happiness.
Is love an ego to save yourself, or… Based on Takayama Makoto’s autobiographical novel, this film tells the story of the love between Kosuke, an editor, and Ryuta, a personal trainer.
Late 18th century, Tohoku. An outcast girl, Rin lives in a village suffering from famine. She draws strength from Mt. Hayachine, where the spirits of humans ascend after passing.
With the highly acclaimed Out of My Hand and Ainu Mosir, Fukunaga Takeshi examined the struggles of local people to carve out their place in the modern world–particularly the latter which trained its lens on the indigenous Ainu culture and people of his birthplace of Hokkaido. His latest movie, and second to be set in Japan, is Fukunaga’s first venture into a period setting, but examines similar themes of community, customs, and a specific world view doubling as commentary on the present-day. Fukunaga continues to take an international perspective to the stories he tells that sets him apart from his Japanese counterparts.
Kou, who had been living a dull life with no hope for the future, meets the charismatic Hee Bro. and regains the sparkle in his life. When Hee Bro. suddenly dies, Kou tries to find the definition of goodbye.
A look at the teaser for the movie shows that alternative-musician MahiTo The People is taking a decidedly different approach for his first outing as a director. One should expect an expressionistic experience over conventional filmmaking as it ponders aimlessness and purpose through its characters. That the script should hook in contemporary dancer cum actor Moriyama Mirai is indicative of the director’s artistic intent, therefore not knowing filmmaking norms may be to MahiTo The People’s advantage.
Two days until the high school graduation ceremony. Four students bid farewell to youth and move forward with regret and hope in mind.
The story of an ordinary part-timer’s escape from life. Will he end up in heaven or hell? Experience the birth of “escape-from-reality” entertainment!
I Am a Comedian
Daisuke is a comedian who was excluded from TV because of his political statements. This is the story of three years filled with his challenges, suffering, and love for his family.
External and self-censorship are real issues facing Japanese media. The brand of politically relevant comedy one might find in other parts of the world is disquieting for many if not outright frowned upon in Japan. The comedian at the heart of this documentary has undoubtedly disappeared from television, but it will be important to show his material actually makes people laugh lest he be portrayed as anything but what the title asserts.
The Lump in My Heart
The film delicately portrays a young girl who struggles with the sudden discovery of juvenile breast cancer and her complicated relationship with her mother.
Matsumura Shingo has displayed a deft hand at warmly portraying the relationships, as curious as they may seem, between people without falling prey to cliche. There are many such pitfalls in a story about cancer and the complicated relationship between a daughter and mother. As a result, some attention may be focused on how Matsumura sidesteps the formula.
Progressing from sound to color, Lighting Over the Beyond is a road movie that traces the roots of cinema and the history of war while asking “What is war?” and “What is an enemy?”
A countryside in 1988. Shun is crazy about fooling around with his best friends. Facing up with their family environment or bullying in school, they struggle against the problems in their adolescents.
Visit Me in My Dreams
In a transient land reside a mother and a son. The son is unable to accept the fact that his mother is dying. This is a story of their melancholic journey in search of each other.
This could be described as a “spiritual companion” to the studio produced A Hundred Flowers. Tackling a comparable subject matter, director Hokimoto Sora takes a metaphysical tone reinforced by precisely composed, tranquil imagery toward which the arthouse crowd may gravitate.
Debut feature by Ito Chihiro based on her own novel, produced by Yukisada Isao. In his first starring role in a film, Iguchi Satoru plays an awkward and sensitive dentist who is troubled by love.
Busan International Film Festival
Busan has long been considered Asia’s premiere film festival, known for launching the careers of both new Korean and Asian auteurs. With a schedule almost overlapping with Tokyo International, there is no doubt some friendly rivalry present between the two events. For 2022 Busan’s touted a “a full recovery” from the pandemic, restoring various programs and forums interrupted by the Seoul government’s social distancing measures. The lineup included 354 films from 71 countries and featured a special section, titled Discovering New Japanese Cinema, which explored the new potential of contemporary Japanese cinema by young Japanese directors who made their feature debut after 2010. Titles screened included: A Balance; Antonym; Listen to the Light; My Small Land; Our House; Passage of Life; Siblings of the Cape; Small, Slow but Steady; and The Night I Swam. The Windows on Asian Cinema also screened Love Life and Plan 75, while the festival closed with Ishikawa Kei’s A Man. Additionally, though technically not a Japanese movie, Kitamura Ryuhei’s latest (The Price We Pay) was screened in their Midnight Passions section.
Third Time Lucky
This ensemble drama tells stories of an older sister and a younger brother who strives excessively for love. The older sister stumbles upon an amnesiac boy and claims that he is her son, while the younger brother, in pursuit of his creative career as a rapper, pushes his wife into a predicament. The two stories eventually intersect and move toward an irreversible point in the plot. Non-professional actors live out their fictional lives faithful to themselves, and a typical story about a family gets ripped apart from the inside out. Third Time Lucky is an unconventional drama reminiscent of John Cassavetes’ Love Streams. (MIURA Tetsuya)
One of only two Japanese movies in competition at the 2021 Tokyo International Film Festival. Nohara Tadashi has been a frequent collaborator of Hamaguchi Ryusuke, having co-wrote the scripts for Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour and Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s Wife of a Spy (with Hamaguchi). Nohara’s debut feature has been praised as a spiritual sequel to Happy Hour with most of Hamaguchi’s film staff and actors involved in this work, including lead actress Kawamura Rita from Happy Hour.
Seven years ago, a high school student was killed by a friend. The parents of the dead girl are now divorced, and the father drowns his anger and sorrow in alcohol. Then one day, the daughter’s murderer files a suit to have her sentence reduced. The father convinces his ex-wife that their daughter’s murderer should not be freed, and the two confront the murderer in court.
Busan world premiered the latest movie by Japan-based Anshul Chauhan who sets aside the monochromatic aesthetic of his previous work and returns to a colorful palette as perhaps a method to contrast with the bleak tones of this movie’s themes. And yet could also provide the hopeful shades of redemption and restoration which have been his forte up to now. The movie co-stars Shogen who starred in Brilliant Mendoza’s Gensan Punch which took home a Kim Jiseok Award (a competition for Asian filmmakers with three or more features) in 2021.
Tomiko, a middle-aged woman, waits patiently for her husband, who disappeared thirty years ago, to return. She lives alone in a declining fishing village, and continues to search tirelessly for her husband. One day she meets Nami, whose husband has also disappeared. Nami asks for Tomiko’s help to get her husband on the list of “Special Missing Persons.” Tomiko sets out to help Nami, but by the time the paperwork is ready, Nami says that she wants to forget her husband and make a fresh start.
Three best friends riding skateboards freely on a university campus. They post pictures of themselves in their favorite places to preserve memories of their youth.
Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival
The 2022 edition of one of the few Asian film festivals to focus on genre fare also returned to an in-person event complete with invited foreign guests, red carpet, opening ceremony, and a broader selection that is embracing streamed content no differently than theatrical. It is the shift taking place under much of the entertainment industry’s feet to which the event’s programmers and festival director aim to adapt as they champion the underdogs–genre movies–and the subcultures they represent. Angry Son, Visitors, Swallow (Nakanishi Mai), The Midnight Maiden War, The Mole Song: The Final, and Lessons in Murder were also screened among the 268 titles selected for the lineup.
This silent film overthrows its perspective of objectifying women by paradoxically showing it off. The women’s sexual desire represented by a pornstar-wannabe daughter is not restricted by the male gaze. Also, the narrative respecting women as people who can express and represent themselves liberates them from the male gaze. Miike Takashi’s appearance is a stroke of genius. (LEE Dongyun)
Lu meets up with Sakura looking for a job, and proposes filming porn, as there are fewer jobs around due to Covid-19. Yuka, an SNS influencer, asks people to ‘stay home’ but is not aware of the fact her boyfriend Manabu is involved in same-sex prostitution. Hisano continues a cold marriage with her husband, a restaurant owner who suffered a lot from Covid. The lives of everyone, devastated by the declaration of a state of emergency, intersect late one night.
Kudo Masaaki is listed multiple times on this article; twice for A Far Shore and again for this movie which world premiered at the 25th Tallinn Black Night Film Festival in 2021. Though Japan did not have a lockdown equivalent to that of other nations, an unprecedented (hence the title) declaration of a state of emergency limiting people’s movement was enacted which Kudo still manages to capitalize on for the desolate cityscapes now familiar to everyone. Moreover, he brings to the fore the way masks have effected the Japanese psyche. In the case of the characters, an anonymity born of desperation to seize atypical opportunities that are as surreal as life during the pandemic had been.
Journey Beyond the Night
Aspiring [manga artist] Harutoshi goes on a mini break with his university friends. First he hears the news that [he] has been eliminated in the manga contest he applied for, and then has mixed feelings of disappointment and happiness after a surprising meeting with Saya, who he had liked when they were at university. Her appearance takes his journey in an unexpected direction. (Martin LEE)
Director Kayano Takayuki is a young filmmaker hailing from Fukuoka Prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu. Choosing to shoot locally, he casts the provincial scenery as one of the characters much like the native Kyushu actors who appear in his movies. By all accounts there is more to this road movie than meets the eye with Kayano receiving praise for the skillful way the story metamorphoses over its runtime. It’s world premiere at the 2021 SKIP CITY D-Cinema FILM FESTIVAL (which this author did not cover) garnered the Best Picture award in the Japanese Features competition.
Toki is fed up with the men on the Tokyo subway molesting her with their faces masked. One morning, Toki gets on the train wearing a bird mask to punish men. Her actions immediately go viral, and many women begin to imitate her. (LEE Dongyun)
On a small island somewhere near Japan, three cult members have devoted themselves to the “Deserted Island Program”. Calling each other by rank, these people-two men and one women-have been chosen by their superiors to throw off the corrupt influence of modern society and “purify” themselves. They do so by performing unusual missions given by the cult’s headquarters that involve morning mediations, recalling the pervious night’s dreams, and performing telepathy experiments. The three also manage to survive with only a small amount of food that is delivered. All of this is for them to purify themselves from the stains of the world like sexual desire, excessive appetite, and material want. But as time passes two of the members begin to give into human desire.
Jojo Hideo reinterprets the acclaimed manga series by Yamamoto Naoki published in Big Comic Spirits in 1999. He has a knack for character pieces set against simple backdrops. The themes of the material seems well suited to his roots in Japan’s “pink film” industry.
K City, a coastal Japanese city, is under the influence of Void Dharma, a freestyle rapper who ignores the Japanese constitution and preaches for region rejuvenation and independent state. A spy, Watanabe, is sent to K-city on a mission to assassinate Void Dharma. Does the legendary Dharma-Ray, which is harmless to all good beings but destroys all the bad and evil ones, really exist? This is the story of a manga created by a small boy, Hosuke. He and his friends, a genius pianist Kei and his followers, enter a dangerous game of death. (Ellen Y. D. KIM)
Tagami Tatsuya is busy basking in his success as the CEO of an online manga-reading platform. His road to riches has been built on the back of creators, paved with lucrative licensing deals for already established products rather than original manga. Both in business and in personal life, Tatsuya has treated people with little to no respect. Then one day, his is humbled in the most bizarre manner.
Ueda Shinichiro had a hit of a lifetime with Once Cut of the Dead. His follow-ups have not had the financial success or even the global attention of that movie, but they have been unmistakably Ueda Shinichiro movies. The absurdist cum (no pun intended) dramedy of Popran seems no different. Ueda once again makes the most of a micro budget to deliver social meta-commentary through slapstick and lowbrow humor that still reflects on themes of redemption, personal growth and reconciliation.
Jeonju International Film Festival
The 10-day festival held in Jeonju, the capital city of the Jeonbuk Province, also returned to full in-person event that featured 217 titles from 56 countries. Touted as the county’s largest showcase for indie and art house movies, Japanese titles which graced the program also included Missing (Katayama Shinzo), and documentary Tokyo Kurds which took home the Special Jury Prize in the International Competition.
Fumi lives a wholesome life in a small town among dear friends. One day, her car is hit by a meteorite, the odds of which are 100 million to 1. She is thrilled by this omen of good fortune and uses it as a chance to be open to new things. Goro Shinoda, a former dentist in Tokyo who has experienced a tragedy, moves to the town where she lives. Fumi happens to see him blowing a tune with a leaf in a park, and is touched by his lonesome figure since she has also experienced her own unforgettable personal tragedy. The two of them, each bearing the own emotional scars, awkwardly grow closer to each other, and Fumi’s life, which had been on hold until then, slowly starts moving again.
Festival du Nouveau Cinema
For over 50 years, Montreal’s Festival du Nouveau Cinema has offered an auteur alternative to some of its Canadian, and international, counterparts. Selecting a wide variety of titles from emerging filmmakers making waves on the festival circuit, the festival returned to a fully in-person event for its 51st edition and featured Japanese titles Plan 75 and Small, Slow But Steady.
The festival created a dedicated showcase for the short movies of Ugana Kenichi which included Moja, Visitors, and Coexistence, plus the teaser for his upcoming move to be released in 2023.
Five Flavours Film Festival
The 16th edition of the event held in Warsaw, Poland was a bittersweet one as the staff both mourned and memorialized the loss of one of its own, and arguably a driving force for Asian cinema in Poland, Jagoda Murczyńska. Eight Japanese titles from recent years were featured in the Japan Feel-good Section that invited audiences to slow down and forget their sorrows. Among these were 2022 titles Tsuyukusa and The Fish Tale starring Non.
The Light of Spring
In a tiny suburban Tokyo apartment, the Hirabuki family, a couple with two children, is getting ready for a trip. The little boy named Syui is focused on going to the museum with his father. Unbeknownst to him, when he returns home, his mother and sister will be gone as his parents have decided to separate.
Dangerously balancing between fiction and document, Fujikawa (Fumito) looks at the dynamics of family feuds, but does not gravitate towards a sensational record of the Harabukis’ existence. The eye of his camera captures involuntary looks, gestures, the rhythm of their daily life, and reflections in the mirrors, in which the unspoken words are lost. The reality feel is strengthened by the classic 4:3 format of the image, in which Fujikawa creates a space for a family chronicle, woven in the likeness of a Neorealist home video, suspended in a contemplative awaiting for the light of spring. (Łukasz Mańkowski)
Winner of a Special mention in the New Cinema of Asia competition. The movie world premiered at the Osaka Asian Film Festival (and was only linked to in the previous article).
Not Film Festival
The young festival taking place in the dreamy Italian countryside town of Santarcangelo di Romagna continues to fiercely champion bold, thought-provoking indie movies from around the world. The number of movies from Asia screened have been few, therefore tend to standout when selected for the lineup. There were two entries from Japan, but each had a distinctive international pedigree rather than being the standard local fare.
Alex shares distressing thoughts about life to a girl he is smitten with, Marion; his ideas reveal the greater truth of their birth.
Director Matsumoto Tsubasa is a Tokyo-native who decided to go to America on his own to study film. He earned a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in Film and Television from New York University. This short world-premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and Not Film Fest is its international premiere.
Dreams On Fire
Fleeing to Tokyo with the hopes that she can fulfill her dream of becoming a dancer, Yume is met with the harsh reality that success isn’t something that comes quickly or easily. Whilst juggling her job as a hostess in Tokyo’s red-light district, Yume throws herself headfirst into studying the art form and integrating herself into the underground dance community.
Originally hailing from Montreal, Canada, McKie has been based in Tokyo for over 10 years. This is his feature directorial debut. It world premiered at the 2021 Glasgow Film Festival.
Naturally, there were many more festivals and movies which this article can not possibly cover. However, these are some of the events at which independent Japanese movies are often discovered and filmmakers aim to enter as they vie to attract attention to their stories. At the time of this writing Cannes has wrapped which means the first half of the 2023 season has ended, and research for that article must begin. SKIP CITY will also be announcing its lineup soon. The cycle of film festivals is unceasing.
**All images are the copyright of their respective owners**
**Feature Image courtesy Locarno Film Festival**