It’s September and that means Raindance, the UK’s biggest independent film festival, is back. As always it comes with a whole lot of cinematic treats from Japan, with a special Way Out East strand solely dedicated to films from the land of the rising sun. This year the selection is particularly extensive and includes some superb offerings.
Note: The Raindance synopses are my own – quoting myself from the official Raindance catalogue here.
「桐島、部活やめるってよ」(Kirishima, Bukatsu Yamerutteyo/The Kirishima Thing, Japan, 2012) – Dir. by Yoshida Daihachi.
The highlight of the Way Out East strand is, in my humble opinion, Kirishima, Bukatsu Yamerutteyo – indeed, if there is only one Japanese film you watch at Raindance, it should be this one. I featured Kirishima on a Trailer Weekly previously and also reviewed it, concluding the following:
Narratively idiosyncratic and minimalistic plot-wise, Kirishima, Bukatsu Yamerutteyo follows no conventions to please mainstream audiences, but prefers to assuredly forge its own way by utilising a superb young cast to hold up an all-revealing mirror to everyday high school life and beyond to deliver its message – hinted at in the original title – on the social games we play instead of truly living. Time to quit the club it is.
Kirishima, Bukatsu Yamerutteyo won the Japan Academy’s Film of the Year award and, unsurprisingly, also scored some acting nominations and awards for its superb teenage cast, which includes Kamiki Ryunosuke, Hashimoto Ai and Higashide Masahiro, among others. If these names mean nothing to you, you have yet another reason to watch and familiarise yourself with some of Japan’s most promising young actors that will shape its cinema in the future (more about them in my review).
「かしこい狗は、吠えずに笑う」 (Kashkoi Inu wa Hoezuni Warau/Shady, Japan, 2012) – Dir. by Watanabe Ryohei.
Another one I had on a Trailer Weekly in the past. Kashkoi Inu wa Hoezuni Warau has been picked up for distribution by Third Window Films, with Adam Torrel calling it his “stand-out film of the year”. Quoting Adam: “[I]t’s very rare that I find a film that I know absolutely nothing about, from a director I’ve never heard of, and am totally blown away by”. He compares it to 「カケラ」(Kakera/Kakera: A Piece of our Life, Japan, 2009), but with a focus on bullying. Again, it’s a friendship between two females that’s at the heart of the film, except that the seemingly confident and angelic new-found friend “become[s] something oh so different” (Adam’s words again) half-way through the film.
Sake-BOMB (Japan, 2013) – Dir. by Sakino Junya.
The filmmakers sum up Sake-BOMB as a story about “[a] sarcastic and self-deprecating Asian-American [that] must take his naive Japanese cousin on a road trip along the California coast to find his ex-girlfriend.” Sakino’s first feature length film (he made a number of shorts previously) sees Hamada Gaku (a familiar face from「みなさん、さようなら」/Minasang, Sayonara/See You Tomorrow, Everyone, 2013 and「アヒルと鴨のコインロッカー」/Ahiru to kamo no koinrokka/The Foreign Duck, the Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker, 2007, among others) play the Japanese visitor, with Eugene Kim sort of watching over him.
The film’s official website is here.
「ゼウスの法廷」(Zeusu no hōtei/Court of Zeus, Japan, 2014) – Dir. by Takahashi Gen.
No trailer available.
I haven’t found a trailer for this one, but it is a 136 minute drama about “the corruption that pervades the Japanese justice system” (quote) – by the sounds of it, a real nail biter. The film has yet to screen in Japan (the release date is set for early 2014). The film’s official website (in Japanese) is here, but it contains little info just yet.
「風切羽」(Kazakiriba/Remiges, Japan, 2013) – Dir. by Ozawa Masato.
I had this one on a Trailer Weekly too. Sometimes I think that either I’m really good at finding films, or maybe festival programmers read my trailer posts and get inspired by them… 😉 Anyhow, the story told in Kazakiriba is as follows: Sayako’s childhood has been marred by abuse from her mother and neglect from her father. She ends up in foster care, but finds little solace there. When she escapes, she meets Kenta, a soul that is equally lost.
「ソウル・フラワー・トレイン」(Sōru furawā torein/Soul Flower Train, 2012) – Dir. by Nishio Hiroshi.
Earlier this year Sōru furawā torein screened in Frankfurt at the annual Nippon Connection event, which provided the following synopsis:
Country bumpkin Amamoto travels from his home town in Oita, Kyushu to Osaka to visit his daughter. At Osaka harbour he meets young Akane who cheerfully offers her assistance as a city guide. Taken by surprise, Amamoto accepts and is shown the city of Osaka in all its splendor. But what is on Akane’s mind after all? The film is based on the popular manga by Robin NISHI (“Mind Game”).
「クオン」(Ku_on/Kuon, Japan, 2013) – Dir. by Hatamura Takayuki.
No trailer available.
Raindance synopsis: Out of the blue Sano Hiroyuki, aged 26, acquires a strange power that allows him to possess other people’s bodies at will. He is soon found by Yamamoto, a detective, and Sayo, a mysterious young girl, who have the same ability and are able to instruct him on the rules of body-swapping. They ask for his help to catch Ushio, a convicted teen serial killer who has been abusing the gift, during a prison transfer.
Ku_on – the title refers to ‘eternity’ in Buddhism – is Hatamura’s first full-length feature and a world premiere at Raindance. The director explains that the film is intended “as a piece of entertainment that stimulates the audience’s intellectual curiousity, with the suspense developed by the unpredictable storyline, and the puzzle-like element of the fragmented timeline gradually becoming connected together” (quote from the Press Kit). Characters stealthily move from one actor’s body to another and little hints are dropped along the way in seemingly insignificant utterances – Ku_on is the sort of film where you can’t blink for you might just miss a crucial piece to the puzzle.
A2-B-C (Japan, 2012) – Dir. by Ian Thomas Ash.
I hadn’t heard of A2-B-C before, but Ian Thomas Ash did catch my interest a while back when I saw a clip/trailer for his minus1287 documentary (yet to be released) – that’s one I have to put on a future Trailer Weekly.
Raindance synopsis: When government scientists declare that a child’s health post-Fukushima is “simply a matter of probability”, it is no wonder that parents are worried, indeed angered. The award-winning A2-B-C (named for the different stages of growth of thyroid cells from harmless cysts to cancer) is one of several documentaries that have come in the wake of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima power plant. It does not intend to tell all sides of the story, but gives voice to the concerns and frustrations of several families affected by the disaster. The documentary specifically focuses on the people of Date City, located some 37 miles away from the nuclear reactor. Just outside the exclusion zone, the residents of Date were never evacuated and live in fear of the effects – both short and long-term – of radiation on their children.
A2-B-C comes from the hands of Ian Thomas Ash, an American-born filmmaker that has lived in Japan for more than a decade. Known by the handle ‘documentingian’ on the internet (Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc.), Ash went to Fukushima in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe and made In the Grey Zone (Japan, 2012). His other documentaries include the the ballad of vicki and jake (UK, 2006), jake, not finished yet (Japan/UK, 2010) and minus1287 (Japan, due to be released in 2014).
「グレイトフルデッド」 (Gureitofurudeddo/Greatful Dead, Japan, 2013) – Dir. By Uchida Eiji
Raindance synopsis: At Nami’s house it is omlet provençale for breakfast every day. Nami’s father cooks it for Nami’s mother, who however is not interested as donating to poor children overseas is all that she cares about – so much that she runs off to Sri Lanka one day. As Nami’s father dissolves into despair (aided by a rather gothic mistress) and her sister takes off with a boyfriend, it is no wonder that the preteen girl’s sense of normal becomes completely twisted. By age 20 she is living on her own and makes watching so-called ‘Solitarians’ her hobby – people who are loners in society. Rather than befriend them as a ‘normal’ person would, she spies on them from afar, relishing in their pain and suffering.
Heads are bashed, hands are bitten, skin is torn off – the blood flows freely in this increasingly brutal tale, another dark creation from the hands of Eiji Uchida, who has dealt with stepsisters on the run with a gun (‘Sisterhood’, 2007) and a schoolboy out destroy the world in a God-set mission (‘The Last Days of the World,’ 2011). It starts as black humour and descends into gory madness in a social critique of another kind. I confess: I had to watch the film through my fingers at times.
「黒い四角」(Kuroi shikaku/The Black Square, China/Japan, 2012) – Dir. by Okuhara Hiroshi.
Another Trailer Weekly film that I was especially delighted to see pop up on this year’s Raindance Programme.
Raindance synopsis: One day Zhao-ping, a laid-back artist, sees a black square float across the sky. He follows it to a barren, wintery field, where it lands on solid ground. Perplexed and intrigued he inspects the curious object, when a man suddenly emerges from it, butt-naked and amnesic. Not quite knowing what to make of the scene, Zhao-ping takes the stranger home and introduces him to his girlfriend Hana and his younger sister Lihua. All three however are unable to shake off the feeling that they have met the man somewhere before.
Okuhara’s film is an enigmatic fantasy story that began from the surreal atmosphere the Japanese director experienced when he visited a Bejing artists’ village in 2008, back when he spoke no Chinese at all. Bejing’s long history of building and rebuilding itself provided him with the idea of a story of ghosts – ghosts of the past – , which then developed into a tale of love. The Black Square meanders, doesn’t explain much and when it does, leaves plenty open to interpretation, carrying with it a strangely bewitching unpredictability and, as a Chinese-Japanese co-production that touches on the two nations’ historical relations, a quiet symbolism.
Collection of short films by Yokohama Satoko
- 「真夜中からとびうつれ」 (Mayonaka kara tobi utsure/Midnight Jump, 2011)
- 「おばあちゃん女の子」 （Obacha no nanoko/Granny Girl, 2010)
- 「りんごのうかの少女」(Ringo no kano shōjo/ A Girl in the Apple Farm, 2013)
It’s a triple-treat of shorts from filmmaker Yokohama Satoko, which will be complemented by a Director’s Talk on September 27 (co-organised with the Japan Foundation).
「友達」(Tomodachi/Friendship (Japan, 2013) – Dir. by Endo Mikihiro
No trailer available.
Shimada, aged 35, is a wannabe actor, who has so far only been hired as an extra. Then he gets a job at company called ‘Friendship’, which requires him to take on roles as requested by the clients. Actors play actors and fiction blends in with reality as Shimada unwittingly gets drawn into world of his customers.
「震动」(Shindo/Shindo – The Beat Knocks Her World, Japan, 2012) – Dir. by Hirano Asami
Some might find Shindo a bit slow (not all that much happens), but I rather liked this one – I have a soft spot for coming-of-age high school stories. Some great music as well. I have a full-length REVIEW, or you can read the synopsis below:
Raindance synopsis: Haruki and Nao have lived at the same care home for more than ten years. While other children come and go, the two teenagers have formed an unusually close bond, in part because Nao is deaf and Haruki has taken her under his protection since the moment they first met. A loner at school, he forgoes the fun of a carefree teenage life for working a part-time job, earning money for their future. Then one day he is approached by Aki, a rather ebullient classmate of his, who has decided that Haruki should be a member of his rock band as he is left-handed – “like Kurt Cobain”. Haruki initially refuses, but eventually learns to play the guitar and joins band practice, making perhaps his first friends ever outside the care home. Nao, unable to take part in this world of sound, increasingly feels left out.
Shindo, Hirano Asami’s debut feature-length film after several shorts (Heroes Are Always Asleep, 2009, Rabbit and Alisa and Lightening, both 2010, and Thirst, 2011) began as an award-winning script at the Isama Studio Film Festival. Although rocking with plenty of music, it is a quiet coming-of-age movie that focuses particularly on Haruki as a too adult youngster that rather than grow up needs to first grow down. It is a short and simple story but sweetly satisfying.
Other South East Asia at Raindance
《翡羅彌諾浮彼亞》(Fěi luó mí nuò fú bǐ yà/Philomirrophobia, China, 2013) – Dir. by Yuke.
A filmic experiment which “juxtapos[es] stunning artistic cinematography with shockingly uncomprising depictions of sex and self-enhancement” (quote). Philomirrorphobia has been screening at a few film festivals, including the Canadian World Film Festival, where it is summed up as follows:
Last year Chinese painter Yuke Qin showed his experimental short film, Philomirrophobia, at the Montreal World Film Festival. This year he artfully questions his own “coming out”. He elaborates: “I’d like to tell you about my love story. But my love story may sound really disappointing to you, because love never happened to me. I have never had any intimate relationship or intimate physical contact with anyone. I grew up determined to love the homosexual, and to accept my own sexual orientaion.”
It’s probably not a film for everyone, although I would be willing to give it a try.
- Official Raindance Festival website, with the full programme and screening dates.
- Tickets can be booked here.
- Japanese Films at Raindance in 2012, with reviews for「ももいろそらを」(Momoiro Sora wo/About the Pink Sky, Japan, 2011) and「放課後ミッドナイターズ」 (Hōkago Middonaitāzu/After School Midnighters, Japan, 2012)
- Festival trailer: