Author: Ben Dimagmaliw

Kiyamachi Daruma

Kiyamachi Daruma

Katsuura once led the organization which dominated the town of Kiyamachi in Kyoto. 5 years ago his arms and legs were amputated in a certain incident and now receives care from Sakamoto, a young underling of the organization turned nursemaid. Katsuura makes a desperate living by using cutthroat harassment to corner his debtors and exact the money they owe. Then one day he tracks down the relations of the person responsible for the loss of his limbs. Sasaki Hideo who starred in Versus, Alive, and many of Kitamura Ryuhei’s movies branched into directing in the early 2000s. In 2015, he directed the live-action adaptation of Maruno Hiroyuki’s hard-boiled novel of the same name. Working off a script written by Maruno himself, Sasaki does not shy away from the extreme depiction of its main character, a quadruple amputee debt collector who pushes debtors to the pit of despair through malicious harassment, which invited controversy when the original novel was published. This is one of those rare, unflattering portrayals of a disabled person which so goes against “type” that …

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Serving Up Horror: Nakanishi Mai shares the backstory of her sophomore short Swallow

In Swallow a striving actress is invited to a private, gourmet club only to discover her competition has prepared a horrifying banquet which devours her. Writer-director Nakanishi Mai follows up her haunting and atmospheric short Hana with a tale of the horrific depths to which human rivalries will go. Though she has worked for large companies such as Kadokawa, the bonafide genre fan has also dedicated time abroad collaborating with international genre stalwarts particularly in the realm of horror movies. Additionally, she founded the Scream Queen FilmFest Tokyo in 2013, a female-driven genre festival dedicated to sharing the unique and diverse visions that female artists bring to genre movies. With Hana, her directorial debut, she herself has become an exciting new voice in horror. And as with any sophomore effort, building upon the success of the first while continuing to creatively evolve took Nakanishi on a journey of opportunities and interesting turns. The seeds of Swallow first germinated in a short movie script which was scheduled to be shot in Korea that was cancelled. A Taiwanese producer told Nakanishi about a short …

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25 Japanese Directors Talk Pandemic and Looking Ahead

As 2021 opened much of the entertainment industry was still reeling from the impact brought on by the pandemic. Though productions are once again ramping up, they have to do so under strict safety protocols issued by labor unions and respective film commissions in the locales filming takes place. Meanwhile, the exhibition industry which bore the brunt of damage is still facing challenges of delayed release schedules, being circumvented by digital releases, and local safety protocols. Similarly, film festivals have had to adapt to the pandemic by formulating new ways to hold their events–those which could–though it remains to be seen whether they will be able to return to pre-pandemic operations in the near future. Reflecting on these as well as learning about movies which were filmed about or around the pandemic led to a desire to ask Japanese filmmakers two questions: 1.How did the pandemic in 2020 impact the work with which you are involved or productions you are or will be working on? 2.Moving forward, in other words a world “post-COVID,” has this …

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Taste of Emptiness

High schooler Satoko lives a comfortable life surrounded by kind parents and close friends. An ever so small uneasiness begins to grow in her life. It’s an indescribable anxiety, and impulses she can not prevent. Satoko realizes that at some point she has become mired in an eating disorder. Not knowing the reason why, Satoko’s anxiety grows and steadily traps her as her relationship with family and friends also grow strained. Then one day in town she happens upon a dangerous seeming woman, Maki. Her interactions with Maki is a release for Satoko. Based on director Tsukada Marina’s actual experiences of suffering an eating disorder while a university student, her debut feature deals with a sadly universal problem throughout the world. But the movie does not aim to dwell on the disorder nor the motivations which engendered it. Though the heroine’s anguish is very much Tsukada’s own, she hoped to draw focus on what turned her on the path to recovery. As it turns out, she met a woman on whom the character of Maki …

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Red Snow

Thirty years ago, a young boy disappeared amid mysterious circumstances involving a sociopath, her troubled daughter, and a devastating fire. Today, what is known of the tragedy is shrouded in a morass of clouded and fictionalised memories, stubborn silence, and well-rehearsed lies. When a journalist arrives intent on getting to the bottom of the long-closed case, a tinderbox of pent-up emotions and misplaced guilt ignites; a spiral of violence erupts from the clash of competing histories and debilitating psychological injuries. (Int’l FF Marrakesh) The first thing one will notice about Red Snow is its distinctive palette and cinematography. At face value this accomplishes to provide the crime-centered story a noir aesthetic, but it is also safe to say this director who originally worked in the short film format and in video art was also looking to visualize the muddled nature of human memory at the core of the characters’ psyche also essential to noir. Strong thematics and powerful imagery have been a hallmark for Kai who has co-directed several acclaimed short movies, while her solo directorial shorts have …

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Life: Untitled

On the fourth floor of an anonymous building, the lives of female escorts intersect as they wait for calls from their customers. Kano (Sairi Ito) has just joined the group. Quickly disillusioned, she nonetheless sticks around as an employee, managing bookings, cleaning up, and bearing witness to the lives of her coworkers. An eclectic group of women gravitate around the place, their lives “yet to be titled”, yet full of unspoken dreams, desires, heartbreaks and rivalries – all repressed in the face of the everyday misogyny inherent to the trade, and to Japanese society. (Fantasia Film Festival) There are more than a few reviews of Yamada Kana’s debut feature which reference the legendary filmmaker Mizoguchi Kenji in comparing how it differs from the “tradition” of brothel-set movies in Japanese cinema, specifically in how it portrays sex workers with dignity despite their lower social status and stigma of their profession. Other genres have served up the hooker, the call girl, etc. for more exploitive purposes. As Japan Cuts writes: “Portraying an industry frequently exploited in Japanese media …