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once upon a time in japan

Premiere Japan somehow never happened, but fortunately the Japan Foundation’s Touring Film Programme continues to exist – and that I know for certain thanks to an email in my inbox a few days ago, which came with all the details for the 10th edition of the event. Entitled “Once Upon a Time in Japan: Reinventing the Past Through the Eyes of Japanese Contemporary Filmmakers”, this (well, next) year’s focus is on the past. The “contemporary filmmakers” in the line-up include Miike Takashi, Katabuchi Sunao, Koreeda Hirokazu and Inudō Isshin among others.

UPDATED 3/1/2013

The JP Film Touring Programme will, as always, start off in London on February 1st, and then travel all over the UK:

(N.B. Dates have been updated – Thank you! shout-out to HS!)

London (ICA): February 1-7, 2013
Sheffield (Showroom Workstation): February 8-17, 2013
Birmingham (mac birmingham): February 18-27, 2013
Belfast (Queen’s Film Theatre): February 22-28, 2013
Edinburgh (Filmhouse): March 1-7, 2013
Newcastle upon Tyne (Tyneside Cinema): March 3-24, 2013
Bristol (Watershed): March 9-16, 2013
Nottingham (Broadway): March 22-27, 2013

Official website for the event: jfp-film.org.uk
Update 3/1/2013: The dates (but not yet times) for each film have now been added on the JFP Touring Film Programme website.

Of those contemporary films on the past I’ve only actually seen one – Katabuchi’s 「マイマイ新子と千年の魔法」 (Maimai Shinko to sen-nen no mahō/Mai Mai Miracle), which I can’t recommend enough (read my review if you need convincing). As for the rest, I’ve heard the titles of one or two before but I’m not really familiar with any of the films. More to discover I guess!

The line-up, with a short synopsis and trailer (click original film title).

  • ゼロの焦点」 (Zero no Shōten/Zero Focus, 2009)ZeroDirected by Inudō Isshin. A remake of the 1961 film of the same title, in which a newly married husband goes on a business trip one week after his wedding to Sadako. Despite his promises, the husband never returns, leaving Sadako to uncover a shocking truth about a man she never knew much about. Although I kind of wish wish they were screening the original film (dunno why, just a hunch), Zero no Shōten definitely sounds interesting. JapanCinema.net has a review.
  • 実録・連合赤軍 あさま山荘への道程(みち)」(Jitsuroku Rengosekigun/The Red Army aka United Red Army, 2007) united red armyDirected by Wakamatsu Kōji. A docu-drama about the times when Japan’s student demonstrations of the 1960s were slowly fading – but not quite yet: there is still the United Red Army, putting up a forceful and violent resistance. Five of its members end up in a barricade that leads to a fierce gun battle with the police. Reviews from Twitchfilm and Midnight Eye.
  • 紙屋悦子の青春」 (Kamiya Etsuko no seishun/The Youth of Kamiya Etsuko aka The Blossoming of Etsuko Kamiya, 2006) Kamiya Etsuko-9
    Directed by Kuroki Kazuo. We are nearing the end of WW2 and Kamiya Etsuko, a young woman, has been orphaned in an air raid. She now lives with her brother and sister-in-law. At their house, two visitors arrive: Nagayo and Akashi, two air force officers. While Etsuko’s brother wants her to marry Nagayo, the woman herself has always been attracted to Akashi, but her affection to him is thrown into an emotional turmoil when Akashi volunteers to become a kamikaze. Here is a review that is full of praise.
  • 八日目の蝉」 (Youkame no Semi/Rebirth, 2011) rebirth 2– Directed by Narushima Izuru. As a baby Erina is abducted by a woman, Kiwako, who had an affair with her father. Kiwako raises Erina for four years, when the police catches up with them and arrest her. Erina returns to her actual parents and grows up normally. However, the story is not yet over for her: in the aftermath of an affair she has with a married man that leaves her pregnant, the young woman returns to where she lived with her kidnapper as a child, hoping to confront her past. Miguel Douglas of Isugoi reviews the film, as does Variety.
  • マイマイ新子と千年の魔法」 (Maimai Shinko to sen-nen no mahō/Mai Mai Miracle, 2009) mai mai miracleDirected by Katabuchi Sunao. A gem of a film, right up there with the best of Studio Ghibli animations. It’s the story of three girls: the lively Shinko, a girl from the countryside, the shy Kiiko who moves to Shinko’s town from Tokyo, and the lonely Nagiko-hime, who lived in the same place one thousand years earlier. It’s a tale of friendship and life as it is more generally – it’ll make you laugh and it’ll make you cry. Be sure not to miss it as with no UK or US DVD releases available, there is no way of knowing when you’ll get a chance to see it again. (Note: DVDs are available in other European languages, including German and French.) You can read my review, and get a second opinion from Helen McCarthy, who calls it the film that “blew the audience away” in a triple-screening alongside two Studio Ghibli productions. Omohide and Isugoi sing further praises.
  • 「妖しき文豪怪談」 (Ayashiki Bungo Kaidan/Kaidan Horror Classics, 2010) kaidan 2Four ghostly horror shorts for those who like chills down their spine: 「片腕」 (Kautade/One Arm) – directed by Ochiai Masayuki; 「葉桜と魔笛」 (Hazakura to Mateki/The Leafy Cherry Tree and Magic Flute) – directed by Tsukamoto Shinya; 「鼻」 (Hana/The Nose) – directed by Lee Sang-il; 「後の日」 (Nochi no Hi/Latter Days) – directed by Koreeda Hirokazu.
  • フラガール」 (Hula garu/Hula Girls, 2006) hula girls 2Directed by Lee Sang-il. In Iwaki, located somewhere in the northeast of Japan, the Nakago Mine is set to be shut down, meaning that two thousand workers will lose their jobs. Instead of the mine a Haiwaiian-themed vacation resort is to be built, with the mining company seeking to hire the young women of town – many of them daughters of the sacked mine workers – to become hula dancers, a plan that leads to clashes among the people of Iwaki. Hula garu won multiple awards, including at the Japan Academy Awards and at the Kinema Junpō Awards events.
  • 火天の城」 (Katen no Shiro/Castle Under Fiery Skies, 2009)castle under fiery skies– Directed by Tanaka Mitsutoshi. Set in 1575 feudal Japan, Nobunaga Oda defeats Katsuyori Takeda in the Battle of Nagashimo. A year later he commissions Azuchi Castle to be built: a grand structure unlike any other that is to symbolise the unifications of formerly warring peoples. But it’s a formidable task that faces the carpenters and architects, fraught with all kinds of challenges.
  • バブルへGO!! タイムマシンはドラム式」 (Baburu e go!! Taimu mashin wa doramu-shiki/Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust, 2007)
    bubble fiction 2– Directed by Baba Yasuo. I posted the poster from Baburu e go on purpose, because I think this is the kind of film you need to go into knowing what is coming your way… for if you don’t, you might walk out semi-dazed an hour and a half later, wondering what the hell that was that you watched. In this case the bizarre plot involves a washing machine that after a science experiment turns into … a time machine. Realising the potential of the device, the government decides to send the researcher back in time to undo a fiscal policy that led to the current downfall of the economy. Unfortunately for them, the woman disappears and the machine will accept no other time traveller but Mayumi – the researcher’s estranged daughter. Baburu e go!! is a satire about “Japanese bureaucracy, familiar values and the unstrestrained madness during the ‘bubble era'” (quote), with one review, from Far Eastern Films, calling it “a giddy cocktail of absurdism, social commentary and sci-fi adventure with the laughs eventually conquering everything”.

So there you go – that’s the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme for 2013. It’s a line-up that feels rather different from that of 2012 when quite a few films instantly attracted me –  but I had heard of them before. However, I do rather like the theme of exploring the past through the eyes and lens of the filmmakers of today. At the moment, Youkame no Semi tops my must-see list, followed by Zero no Shōten and Kamiya Etsuko no seishun, and possibly Jitsuroku Rengosekigun. And maybe one of those whacky films (the ninja kiddies or the time-travelling washing machine) if I’m having an offbeat day…

Bonus Bits

  • Otherwhere REVIEWS from the 2012 Japan Foundation Touring film programme:
  • Still really badly want to see「それでもボクはやってない」 (Soredemo boku wa yattenai/I Just Didn’t Do It, 2007) and「闇打つ心臓」(Yamiutsu Shinzo/Heart, Beating in the Dark, 2005), as well as (not quite so keenly)「ディア・ドクター」(Dia dokutā/Dear Doctor, 2007) from the 2012 line-up too.