Since 2004, the Japan Foundation has organised a touring Japanese film programme in close partnership with independent film venues across the UK. Each year, a number or eclectic films are carefully chosen to highlight trends in Japanese cinema and showcase the versatility and uniqueness displayed by Japanese filmmakers. It also acts as a showcase for directors and films which may have slipped under the radar at more mainstream festivals.
Some of this year’s highlights include:
The Scythian Lamb
A dwindling port town in northern Japan decides to welcome six strangers into the community in an effort to mitigate its population decline. Unassuming city official Hajime Tsukisue (Ryo Nishikido) is put in charge of the welcoming committee, making sure that the outsiders settle in well. Before long, his initially friendly attitude begins to wane as he discovers that the motley crew of newcomers have a chequered past and uneasiness begins to creep over the town’s residents. As the strangers begin to infiltrate the town, establishing relationships with the locals, inexplicable things being to occur.
Where Chimneys Are Seen
Based on Rinzo Shiina’s absurdist novel, the film focuses on the microcosm of a house in 1950s Tokyo. Ryukichi (Ken Uehara) and Hiroko (Kinuyo Tanaka) are a married couple who, despite having two upstairs lodgers living with them, are desperately poor and go to complicated lengths to avoid unwanted pregnancies. In a bid to help their situation out, Hiroko secretly takes on a part-time job which aggravates Ryukichi who senses that his wife (who had been married once before but was seemingly widowed in WWII) is hiding something from him. He appears to be vindicated when a child is abandoned on their doorstep by someone who claims to be Hiroko first husband.
Of Love and Law
Fumi and Kazu are partners in love and law; they run the first law firm in Japan set up by an openly gay couple. As lawyers driven by their own experience of being outsiders, they attract a range of clients who reveal the hidden diversity of a country that prides itself for collective obedience, politeness and conformity. Tired of being silenced and made to feel invisible, the lawyers and their misfit clients expose and challenge the archaic status quo that deems them second-class citizens. With the backdrop of civil liberties under attack, the film poses universal questions about what it takes to be an individual, what it means to be a minority and what role a family plays in our increasingly polarised world.
Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura
Soon after tying the knot with mystery author Masakazu Isshiki (Masato Sakai), young bride Akiko (Mitsuki Takahata) finds her new life in old-town Kamakura is steeped in legend as frequent encounters with supernatural creatures become her everyday normalcy. However, upon waking one day, Masakazu discovers that his new bride has been spirited away, seemingly having departed for the afterworld. Resonant of Japanese mythology, Masakazu embarks on an epic journey to the other side to bring her back and meet his destiny – but will he succeed?
10-year-old Aoyama (Kana Kita) is serious beyond his years. An enthusiastic scientist, he spends his childhood days absorbed in notebooks full of observations and theories, while dodging his bullies’ comments with sharp wit. All the while he counts down the days until adulthood (just under four thousand to be more exact) when he’ll finally be able to marry his crush – a young dental hygienist referred to only as Onee-san, or ‘Miss’ (Yu Aoi). Aoyama’s world is abruptly changed when his sleepy little town experiences a puzzling influx of a colony of penguins.
Makoto (Tadanobu Asano) is a career-driven, middle-aged patriarch of a patchwork family. Married to his second wife and unable to establish a connection with his rebellious elder step-daughter, he struggles to make time for his new family while trying to remain on good terms with his daughter from the previous marriage. Keeping all the plates spinning proves to be a herculean task as he is beset with blows in increasing frequency; soon, even his lucrative job is in jeopardy. As current wife Nanae (Rena Tanaka) announces she’s carrying his child, the story delves deeper into considerations of complicated family units and the consequences of divorce and remarriage.
Dad’s Lunch Box
Based on a simple but touching true story which gained viral recognition, having been retweeted more than 80,000 times and garnered over 260,000 ‘likes’. A newly divorced father (Toshimi Watanabe) finds himself out of depth when faced with the unfamiliar challenge of preparing his daughter’s daily lunchbox.
Her Love Boils Bathwater
Futaba (Rie Miyazawa) is a single mother struggling to make ends meet after her husband suddenly left her and the family’s bathhouse business went under. While coming to terms with her situation, she is dealt another blow when she is diagnosed with cancer; it’s terminal. Displaying the boundless strength of a loving mother, rather than lament her fate, Futaba determines to use the few months she has left to put her affairs in order and secure a stable future for her teenage daughter, Azumi (Hana Sugisaki). With the twin aims of reconciling her splintered family and getting their bathhouse up and running again, she sets out to track her estranged husband (Joe Odagiri). Can she succeed before her time runs out?
This beautifully curated programme will be coming to 19 venues across the UK through February and March. To find out more, visit the Japan Foundation website.