Since 2004, the Japan Foundation, London has organised a Japanese film programme in close partnership with distinguished film venues and programme advisors in the UK. Each year, a programme of six to seven, largely contemporary, Japanese titles are put together under a carefully chosen theme to highlight trends in Japanese cinema and showcase the versatility and uniqueness displayed by Japanese filmmakers. The programme also showcases directors and works which, while being worthwhile, may have slipped under the radar of other film festivals or programmes.
The cinemas taking part in this year’s season are: Showroom, Sheffield; Derby QUAD; ICA, London; Broadway, Nottingham; Watershed, Bristol; mac, Birmingham; QFT, Belfast; DCA, Dundee; Filmhouse, Edinburgh; Tyneside, Newcastle and Brewery Arts Cebtre, Kendall.
Some of the highlights include:
Having flunked his university entrance exams, 18-year-old Yuki Hirano (Shota Sometani) abruptly decides to leave the city behind to take part in a one-year forestry programme, swayed not by a passion for all things lumberjack-related but simply the attractive girl on the programme’s brochure (Masami Nagasawa). Knowing little of what lies ahead, Yuki winds up in rural Kamusari, a small village deep in the mountains. Far, far away from convenience stores or mobile phone reception and facing an entirely new way of life, he begins to find out that the job is a lot tougher than he imagined.
The Light Shines Only There
After quitting his job at a mountain quarry and living on savings, Tatsuo (Gou Ayano) fills his days with idle strolls and gambling at pachinko parlours. One day, he meets Chinatsu (Chizuru Ikewaki), a girl from a poor family living in a rundown shack and burdened by family difficulties. Tatsuo becomes attracted to Chinatsu, but she has a married lover on whom her brother’s livelihood depends. Despite their troubles, a light begins to shine in their lives – are they free from their despair? The Light Shines Only There was the Japanese entry in the Best Foreign Film category for the 87th Academy Awards.
Korean exchange student in Japan Ji-ho plays matchmaker for her two lukewarm Japanese friends, teaching them all about love and letting loose a number of Korean-style love ‘jinxs’ on them. Encouraging a rather clumsy romance to blossom, Ji-ho helps her introverted Japanese friend Kaede (Kurumi Shimizu) to use Korean-style romance tactics to attract Yusuke (Kento Yamazaki), the boy Kaede has loved ever since high school.
Short Peace is an anthology of four short animated films from Japan’s most talented creators. The brainchild of renowned animation filmmaker Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira), the four dystopian tales represent a crossover between anime and traditional artistic traditions based around the central theme of ‘Japan’.
The animations include Combustible, a depiction of a huge fire in Edo by Katsuhiro Otomo; A Farewell to Weapons, a dystopian action film written by Otomo and directed by mechanical designer Hajime Katoki, highly regarded for his work on the Gundam series; Gambo about a legendary battle between a demon and white bear by Hiroaki Ando; and Possessions,Shuhei Morita’s Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film nominated film.
Carmen From Kawachi
Swapping country life for the big city, young Tsuyuko (aka Carmen) escapes her miserable life at home to travel to Osaka, becoming a hugely popular nightclub singer with men falling at her feet. This experimental, new wave film by iconoclastic director Seijun Suzuki (Tokyo Drifter, Branded to Kill) is the third and final part of his women-centered ‘Flesh Trilogy’ (along with Gate of Flesh and Story of a Prostitute) starring Yumiko Nogawa as the titular Carmen, Suzuki’s favourite collaborator.
Newlywed Yumiko (Yoko Tsukasa) is suddenly widowed when her husband is killed in a traffic accident. The driver responsible is a company worker called Shiro (Yuzo Kayama) who though found innocent is so distraught that he begs for her forgiveness and offers financial aid. Despite her conflicting feelings, Yumiko finds herself in the middle of a dramatic, doomed and unexpected love story when she inadvertently begins falling deeply in love with Shiro.
This classic film, shot in beautiful colour Tohoscope, is tied together by a series of meetings and partings in which the characters are bound by a sense of guilt and duty to each other. With a distinguished career of 89 films to his name, this melodrama was to be Mikio Naruse’s last cinematic offering. An embodiment of his masterful style, this film that tells a story of desire and escape, remains timeless.
Nobody To Watch Over Me
Focusing on the accused’s sister, bright-eyed high school student Saori (Mirai Shida), this deep thriller follows the suffering of the family of a teenage murderer and the struggles of Detective Katsuura (Koichi Sato) ordered to protect them from the unwanted media onslaught and public scrutiny. In a deadly game of hide and seek, malicious netizens unsatisfied with the young suspect in custody expose the family’s personal information, as well as their every move.
A Letter to Momo
Momo is an 11-year-old girl who grew up in a big city. After the loss of her father, she moves to the old family house on a remote island where time has stopped: old wooden buildings, holy shrines and no big shops in sight. Momo is not too fond of her new habitat, and her heart is feeling uneasy about an unfinished letter her father left behind with only two words: “Dear Momo.” One day, exploring the attic of her new big house, she finds an antique book and is visited by three bizarre creatures…
For further information, visit the Japan Foundation website.