Author: Editor-in-Chief

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Super Local Hero

The unfortunate side-effect, some may say deliberate outcome, of internet commerce is the slow eradication of small, privately owned shops and boutiques. The convenience provided by massively supplied retail sites like Amazon has strangled the ability for smaller stores to compete, at least on price. But recently, there has been a counter-reaction to digitalization in the form of the rediscovery of all things analog; from vinyl records and cassette tapes, to hand-crafted items sold in limited quantities, people are beginning to seek out and support local businesses and artisans. While Japan has always valued a culture of craftmanship, modern city development among other socio-economic factors are contributing to the disappearance of literal “mom-n-pop stores”. Some still can thrive in large metropolises such as Tokyo, but the CD/Record store and the book store are becoming rare sites in small towns. Those which manage to stay in business, do so more out of the owner’s personal passion rather than actual business profit. Tanaka Toshinori’s Super Local Hero tells the story of one such owner, Nobue Kasuhiko who runs a …

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Ow

Suzuki Yohei’s Ow has been one of those movies that seemed to have slipped through the cracks, or perhaps been a bit ahead of its time. After getting made as a 9th CO2 grant movie, it was completed in 2014. Only now, three years later, will Suzuki’s efforts finally see a domestic release. This might be a good time, then, to revisit this unique entry in Japanese indie films in commeration of its July opening in Shibuya. Described as an indie “whatsit” (as opposed to a “whodunnit”), or a blackly comic episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’, Suzuki’s movie defies easy categorization. In fact, in their review of Ow, Slant Film used Spielberg and Jarmusch in the same sentence to praise Suzuki’s deft direction as possessing a “Spielbergian flair for capturing how the comforts and discomforts of cohabitation seem to nest within one another, as well as a Jarmuschian taste for mining social alienation for the occasional stray deadpan punchline.” (Chuck Bowen) Having his eyes opened to cinema by the genre movies of David Cronenberg and …

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LiLOU’s adventure

The movies of Kumasaka Izuru have always seemed to gravitate toward stories about the relationships between unlikely people. In his triple 2005 Pia Award winning debut short film, Coffee and Milk, a 6th grader falls in love with and tries to help a deaf woman 12 years his senior through his photography…and fails. The wins granted him the opportunity to make his debut feature through the Pia Scholarship Program, Asyl: Park and Love Hotel. In it, women from various walks of life form bonds as they find solace at a Japanese love hotel which strangely features a park at its rooftop where residents of the surrounding community have always visited to find respite from urban, Tokyo life–hence the word “asyl” in the title which is German for “sanctuary” or “oasis”. Kumasaka’s handling of these character dynamics garnered him the Best First Feature Award at the 2010 Berlin International Film Festival instantly marking him as “one to watch.” He answered those expectations with LiLOU’s adventure, his second independent feature. The story seems like classic Kumasaka. Set on Okinawa, Lilou, …

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Innocent 15

Kai Hirokazu’s feature-length debut, Innocent 15, first came to my attention through its poster (below). A simple, photographic image of a young girl apparently sitting on a young boy’s lap, his face advancing on her’s, perhaps a first kiss, though somewhat unwillingly. It’s a moment simultaneously capturing youthful innocence as well as its loss. The mid-teens are turbulent time for most. The struggle to be “grown up” while still being treated as a “child” creates inner conflicts which often manifest in what adults regard as “rebellion”. However, on occasion, outside elements force youth to grow up which is the theme of Kai’s movie. As he explains why the movie is titled Innocent 15 at the Raindance Film Festival (paraphrasing): “The two 15-year-olds are in one sense ‘pure and unspoiled.’ But the world isn’t like that. There are horrible situations in this world like those depicted in the movie–no, worse probably exist–yet because they’re still ‘unworldly,’ such things are like scenery blurring by in a car window; they’re irrelavant to them. But slowly, the harsh world …

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Sapphire

Action and genre movies are the bread and butter of low-budget/indie filmmaking. So, it’s absence from many indie movies in Japan is rather pecuiliar. Horror movies certainly are represented, but action movies, from martial arts to swordplay movies, are quite few and far between. Even more rare are gun-action movies and the ones that do exist are usually not very convincing. This is due to the unavailability of guns which act like their real counterparts; stunt guns. Even studio movies suffer from weaponry with little to no recoil, no casing ejection, and only the barest of muzzle flash in addition to the lack of squibs which accurately portray the mayhem of a gunfight. However, a veteran Japanese prop master has devised a way to upgrade model guns to act like real guns for a fraction of the cost it takes to downgrade real guns to perform as stunt guns perhaps signalling a possible renaissance in Japanese gunplay movies, especially in independent movie circles. Yonishi Toshinari’s Sapphire is a girls-with-guns movie taken to the next level. …

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Synchronizer

“[…]Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm asserted a need for science to question the ethics of its pursuits; for a sense of responsibility to govern the drive to do what never has been done. Manda Kunotoshi’s latest movie, Synchronizer seems to examine this very dilemma. A researcher conducts unauthorized experiments into synchronizing the brainwaves of humans with animals. His female co-worker, realizing his research could lead to applications in remedying brain dysfunctions, assists in advancing the experiments. Then, the researcher attempts to explore the possibility of curing his mother of Alzheimer’s disease through synchronization between two human brains. Though the woman ascertains what will result from the experiment, will she be able to stop it? The high concept scenario bears a superficial likeness to Igarashi Akiko’s Visualized Hearts which premiered at the 2017 Osaka Asian Film Festival and Manda taking a dip into apparent lo-fi sci-fi is quite intriguing in and of itself. However, unlike Igarahi’s …

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Tayutau

Though Japan is not a Judeo-Christian or even particularly “religious” country per se, LGBT issues are, if not morally reprehensible, still socially unaccepted–at least publically–in a patriarchal society where the role of men and women are still maintained. Over the years some transgender men have been able to gain notoriety as well as acceptance as television talent, but one sometimes feels they do so by becoming everyone’s stereotypical friendly “jovial gay;” the “life of the party” everyone laughs with (and at) in TV programs and movies. This leaves the exploration of LGBT issues to smaller, indepedent productions like Tayutau, the feature-length debut by twenty-something director, Yamamoto Aya, who based her screenplay on a conversation she had with a friend who doubted their gender identity. Kataoka Junko (Jun), whose emotional identity have been at odds with her biological identity, shares a room with her friend since high school, Kinoshita Akari, who doesn’t know the father of the fetus growing in her stomach. After being dumped by an older companion, Jun now worries she will live her …