Cinema of Japan

A Preview of Nippon Connection 2019

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Nippon Connection returns to the German city of Frankfurt from 28th May to 2nd June and the organisers have programmed around 100 feature and short films as well as many cultural activities. It is a veritable feast of things to do and see and eat so I’m going to list things and offer some highlights, films that might be to find outside of the festival. Tickets are already on sale so, without further ado, here are the films on offer.

Nippon Cinema

Room Laundering Film Image

There is a rich variety of stories about love for people to get lost in. Love at Least features a lead character with bipolar disorder trying to fix her relationship with her boyfriend while Marriage Hunting Beauty sees a woman with poor taste in men look for a husband. There is a downbeat Yasushi (writer of Sketches of Kaiten City, Over the Fence) Sato story in And Your Bird Can Sing where the friendship of three friends falls apart. Asako I & II is also about wayward romance as a young woman finds herself torn between two guys who both look the same. At the bombastic end of the scale is Fly Me to the Saitama, a colourful comedy fro where the people of Saitama are oppressed by Tokyoites.

There are plenty of youth stories such as the historical drama Dare to Stop Us takes auds into the radical atmosphere of the 60s with a young woman who works with Koji Wakamatsu on films while Dawn Wind in my Poncho features three friends take a last roadtrip before graduating from college. The characters of It’s Boring Here, Pick Me Up want to hit the road and escape small town Japan while in Ramen Shop, a ramen chef travels to Singapore to find out more about his late mother. And then there’s a shogi film from Toshiaki Toyoda in The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan.

Here are the ones I’d like to highlight!

Another WorldHalf the World Film Poster

半世界 「Hansekai」

Running Time: 120 mins.

Release Date: February 15th, 2019

Director: Junji Sakamoto

Writer: Junji Sakamoto (Screenplay),

Starring: Goro Inagaki, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Hiroki Hasegawa, Chizuru Ikewaki, Miyako Takeuchi, Aki Sugawara, Keisuke Horibe, Renji Ishibashi,

Website IMDB

This one was at the 2018 Tokyo International Film Festival and it took the Audience Award. It is by veteran director Junji Sakamoto (Face, The Projects) and has a good cast especially Chizuru Ikewaki who is great in Being Good and The Light Shines Only There. She is partnered with Hiroki Hasegawa who is so good in Love and Peace, Why Don’t You Play in Hell? and Double Life as well as Before We Vanish. They support Goro Inagaki, a former member of SMAP.

Synopsis: Hiroshi (Goro Inagaki) listlessly lives his life in a small town in Japan after taking over his father’s charcoal kiln. He uses it as an excuse to ignore his wife (Chizuru Ikewaki) and his teenage son who is going through a rebellious phase. To take his mind off things, he goes drinking with childhood friend Mitsuhiko (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), a laidback guy who sometimes tells Hiroshi off for ignoring his gamily. One day, Hiroshi’s ex-friend Eisuke (Hiroki Hasegawa) comes back to his hometown after a long time in the self-defense force. Eisuke brings a truckload of old wounds back for Hiroshi but he has worries about the soundness of his own mind following his job which makes Hiroshi look at his life again…

Room Laundering Room Laundering Film Poster

ルームロンダリング 「Ru-mu Rondaringu」

Running Time: 109 mins.

Release Date: July 07th, 2018

Director: Kenji Katagiri

Writer: Kenji Katagiri, Tatsuya Umemoto (Screenplay),

Starring: Elaiza Ikeda, Joe Odagiri, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Miho Tsumiki, Eri Watanabe, Tomorowo Taguchi, Kaoru Mitsumune,

Website IMDB

Tsutaya, the film rental company are involved with backing this title from a newbie director. It looks quirky as heck and features a fantastic cast including Elaiza Ikeda (Minna Espa Dayo!) and Joe Odagiri (Mushishi),

Synopsis: Miko Yagumo (Elaiza Ikeda) has a strange job: she stays in the apartments of people who have just died in them. Murder, suicide, she’ll stay there. Why? Landlords must tell potential tenants if someone has died in the property they are planning to rent but the law is a bit fuzzy as to how many people down the line landlords need to inform. So in steps Miko, at the behest of her uncle Goro (Joe Odagiri) who got her into the gig, and she spends time at these places. Lately, she has begun to see ghosts. It kinda makes sense because Miko’s recently-disappeared mother had the same ability. Miko begins to act as an exorcist and a councillor for a variety of people who aren’t quite ready to give up the ghost on their apartments…

The Chrysanthemum and the GuillotineThe Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine Film Poster

菊とギロチン 女相撲とアナキス 「Kiku to Girochin Onnazumo to Anakisuto」

Running Time: 189 mins.

Release Date: July 07th, 2018

Director: Takahisa Zeze

Writer: Takahisa Zeze, Toranosuke Aizawa (Screenplay),

Starring: Hanae Kan, Masahiro Higashide, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Maho Yamada, Takashi Yamanaka, Yoko Kamon, Shun Sugata, Shohei Uno, Yota Kawase,

Website

Synopsis: This is billed as Takahisa Zeze’s first original project in eight years and takes place in Tokyo in the Taisho era, immediately after the Great Kanto Earthquake. A group of women join a female sumo wrestler stable to escape bad backgrounds such as domestic violence and prostitution and they practice hard with the intention of “becoming stronger and living with their own power”. Anarchist groups and those who advocate “an equal society without disparity” are fascinated by the female wrestlers’ fighting and support them.

InuyashikiInuyashiki Film Poster

いぬやしき 「Inuyashiki」

Running Time: 127 mins.

Release Date: April 20th, 2018

Director: Shinsuke Sato

Writer: Hiroshi Hashimoto (Screenplay), Hiroya Oku (Original Manga)

Starring: Noritake Kinashi, Takeru Satoh, Kanata Hongo, Fumi Nikaido, Yuki Saito, Yusuke Iseya, Mari Hamada, Ayaka Miyoshi, Nayuta Fukuzaki,

Website IMDB

This is based on a manga series by Hiroya Oku, the guy who created the super-disturbing horror sci-fi Gantz. Inuyashiki was turned into an anime that turned out to be pretty good. The live-action version is a fun spectacle and a change of pace from the other highlights. Takeru Satoh (Rurouni Kenshin and Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno) stars as the bad guy. Here’s my review.

Synopsis: Ichiro Inuyashiki (Noritake Kinashi) is a salary-man on his way out. Unappreciated at work and at home and freshly diagnosed with cancer, his life looks miserable but things take a drastic turn when he is involved in an explosion. When he regains consciousness, he discovers that he has been transformed into a cyborg. Far from freaking out, he has a new lease of life and decides to use his powers to help those in need. Meanwhile, Hiro Shishigami (Takeru Satoh), a high school student, was also involved in the very same explosion and has gained the very same the powers. He just wants to see the world burn. Two super-powered people do battle in Japan!

Legend of Stardust BrothersThe Legend of the Stardust Brothers Film Poster

星くず兄弟の伝説 「Hoshikuzu kyodai no densetsu 」

Running Time: 100 mins.

Original Release Date: June 15th, 1985

Director: Macoto Tezuka

Writer: Macoto Tezuka (Screenplay), Haruo Chikada (Original Story)

Starring: Ryosuke Miura, Kohei Takeda, Tadanobu Aasano,, Shingo Kubota, Kan Takagi, Kyoko Togawa, Issay, Kiyohiko Ozaki, Miwako Fukushima, Mie Akatsuka, Motoko Arai,

Website IMDB

This one has been licensed by Third Window Films and it has played at a couple of festivals already and anyone following their twitter feeds will see that audiences really love the experience. As the release dates above show, it originally came out in 1985 and got a re-release in Japan last year. It was directed by Macoto Tezuka, son of manga legend, Osamu Tezuka.

Synopsis from Third Window Films: In 1985, Macoto Tezuka met musician and TV personality Haruo Chicada who had made a soundtrack to a movie which didn’t actually exist: The Legend of the Stardust Brothers. At the time Macoto was just 22 years old, a film-student with many short experimental films under his belt, but, with Chicada as producer, Tezuka would make his feature-film debut by adapting this “fake soundtrack” into the real movie story of “The Stardust Brothers”.

With inspiration from “Phantom of the Paradise” and “Rocky Horror Picture Show”, Tezuka assembled a cast of some of Japan’s most famous musicians of the time, including such greats as Kiyohiko Ozaki, ISSAY, Sunplaza Nakano and Hiroshi Takano, alongside many famous names in Manga such as Monkey Punch (Lupin the 3rd), Shinji Nagashima (Hanaichi Monme), Yosuke Takahashi (Mugen Shinsi) and even many upcoming film directors of the time such as Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Tokyo Sonata, Cure) and Daihachi Yoshida (The Kirishima Thing, The Scythian Lamb). The resulting film “The Legend of the Stardust Brothers” is the exact definition of a cult film. Despite the huge array of talent on board with a large budget, the film is totally unknown even to this day in both Japan and worldwide. More than 30 years since its release, The Stardust Brothers will finally make itself known worldwide with a new master and a brand new Director’s Cut!

Lying to Mom The Suzuki_s Family Lie Film Poster

鈴木家の嘘 「Suzukike no Uso」

Running Time: 133 mins.

Release Date: November 16th, 2018

Director: Katsumi Nojiri

Writer: Katsumi Nojiri (Screenplay),

Starring: Ittoku Kishibe, Hideko Hara, Mai Kiryu, Ryo Kase, Nahoko Yoshimoto, Shohei Uno, Chiaki Kawamo, Nao Omori, Kayoko Kishimoto,

Website IMDB

Synopsis: The Suzuki family is pretty modest. There is father Yukio (Ittoku Kishibe), mother Yuko (Hideko Hara), son Koichi (Ryo Kase) and daughter Fumi (Mai Kiryu). Koichi is a hikikomori but at least he’s alive. Then, one day, he tries to commit suicide and ends up in a coma which throws everyone into confusion. Yuko is so shocked by her son’s state that she loses her memory which leads Fumi to lie to her in order to preserve her sanity. That lie is pretty big, “Koichi stopped being a hikikomori, got better and now works in Argentina”. How does one keep up that story???

jam jam Film Poster

Running Time: 102 mins.

Release Date: December 01st, 2018

Director: SABU

Writer: SABU (Screenplay),

Starring: Sho Aoyagi, Keita Machida, Nobuyuki Suzuki, Shintaro Akiyama, Mariko Tsutsui, Yuta Ozawa, Kanta Sato,

Website IMDB

Synopsis: Members of the entertainment group EXILE take the lead roles in a film. The first is Hiroshi (Sho Aoyagi), an idol who wows his non-existent fans on the stage and feels empty inside. One fan named Masako doesn’t care about his psychological condition because she captures him and takes him home. Then there is Takeru (Keita Machida) whose partner was in a terrible accident. He prays for her recovery and performs good deeds every day in the hopes she will wake up. Last but not east is Tetsuo (Nobuyuki Suzuki), a man who wants to take revenge on the yakuza who sent him to prison. Due to the fact that they live in the same city, their stories will cross from time to time.

Hard-core Hardcore Film Poster

ハード・コア 「Ha-do Koa」

Running Time: 124 mins.

Release Date: November 23rd, 2018

Director: Nobuhiro Yamashita

Writer: Kosuke Mukai (Screenplay), Takashi Imashiro (Original Manga),

Starring: Takayuki Yamada, Takeru Satoh, YosiYosi Arakawa, Kei Ishibashi, Suon Kan, Takako, Matsu, Kisetsu Fujiwara,

Website IMDB

Synopsis: Deep in the hills and mountains of Gunma Prefecture dwells a pure hearted man by the name of Ukon Gondo (Takayuki Yamada). Ukon has a handsome brother, Sakon (Takeru Sato), who works for a trading company but Ukon prefers to be free from society and tries to make a living by mining for gold. He finds it difficult to communicate with others apart from another man who joins him in his excavations, Ushiyama (YosiYosi Arakawa). They are soon to be joined by a third teammate, a robot they discover at an abandoned factory that Ushiyama lives in. Once their team is complete, they resolve to change their lives.

Films by Shinya Tsukamoto, 2019’s Nippon Honour Awardee

Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Tokyo Fist will be screened in celebration of Shinya Tsukamoto and there will also be a screening of his latest film. Here’s my biography of the man.

KillingKilling Film Poster

斬、 「Zan」

Running Time: 80 mins.

Release Date: November 24th, 2018

Director: Shinya Tsukamoto

Writer: Shinya Tsukamoto (Screenplay),

Starring: Sosuke Ikematsu, Yu Aoi, Shinya Tsukamoto, Tatsuya Nakamura, Ryusei MaedaZen Killing Film Poster

Website IMDB

Shinya Tsukamoto is back writing, directing, editing and producing his own films after a short spell acting in features like Shin Godzilla and Over the Fence. I’m a big fan of his works thanks to Nightmare Detective(2007), Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), Tokyo Fist (1995), and Vital(2003) and his film A Snake of June, which was given the Special Jury Prize at the 2002 Venice Film Festival.

Synopsis: The ronin Mokunoshin Tsuzuki (Sosuke Ikematsu) is alive during the end of the Edo period where many samurai like him are finding their way of life losing its edge as the country exists in a state of peace. He lives in the suburbs of Tokyo where he helps out farmers and is acquainted with one farmer’s son named Ichisuke (Ryusei Maeda) who dreams of being a samurai. Tsuzuki spends his days farming and sparring with Ichisuke but, despite the tranquillity, Tsuzuki’s heart is in tumult because he is concerned about the questions of whether he could follow a lord’s orders and kill a man and, more importantly, passions are brewing as he is falling in love with Ichisuke’s sister Yu (Yu Aoi). Passions from further afield are also growing as the country is on the verge of a civil war when a mild-mannered and skilful ronin Jirozaemon Sawamura (Shinya Tsukamoto) arrives in town looking for warriors to take to Edo.

Nippon Visions

Tourism Film Image 3 Nina Endo and SUMIRE

So I often talk up diversity a lot and in the indie film section we get a nuclear power plant-based black and white horror film in Ahum, Ren Osugi’s last role in The Chaplin where he plays the eponymous prison chaplain, illegal immigrant drama Complicity and Sea where a man is plagued by guilt over not doing anything to prevent a rape. Also playing is Jesus where a 10-year-old boy is forced to attend a Christian school and doesn’t really like it and then there is Life Finds a Way, the latest from Hirobumi Watanabe where we see his struggles with creativity.

Also in this strand are a special screening of Memento Stella, PIA Film Festival Shorts, Nippon Connection Shorts, and the Skip City D Festival Shorts

Here are the highlights:

Tourism Tourism Film Poster

Running Time: 77 mins.

Release Date: 2018

Director: Daisuke Miyazaki

Writer: Daisuke Miyazaki (Screenplay),

Starring: Nina Endo, Sumire, Takayuki Yanagi,

IMDB Website

Daisuke Miyazaki is a director to watch. With a distinct set of indie films that includes Yamato (California) (2017) and Tourism, Miyazaki has something to say about modern life and youth culture and he shows no signs of stopping. Tourism was the second of a two-part video installation commissioned by the ArtScience Museum in Singapore and Singapore International Film Festival that blossomed into a feature film that could be the first instalment of a longer series. It’s quirky and features a winning performance by Nina Endo. Here’s my review of the film and here’s a link to an interview I did with him.

Synopsis: Nina and Sue live with a male room-mate in a sharehouse somewhere in Yamato City, Kanagawa Prefecture. Life is quiet and somewhat uninspiring for the three. Like many young people, they work part-time in stores like Tsutaya and Book-Off, study in their spare time, and chase vague dreams of a better life. However, some excitement enters their world when Nina wins two tickets for a free trip abroad. A different locale might usher in some excitement.

Melancholic

メランコリック 「Merankorikku」

Running Time: 113 mins.

Release Date: N/A

Director: Seiji Tanaka

Writer: Seiji Tanaka (Screenplay),

Starring: Yoji Minagawa, Yoshitomo Isozaki, Mebuki Yoshida, Makoto Hada, Hiroko Shinkai, Keiji Yamashita, Takanori Minagawa

Website IMDB

Seiji Tanaka’s debut feature Melancholic won him a share of the best director prize in the Japanese Cinema Splash section at last years Tokyo International Film Festival (Masaharu Take also won for his film, The Gun (2018)) and one can see why as it manages to combine a number of tones and genres to create a film that feels fresh and original as well as socially conscious. It’s a real treat with a great lead performance from Yoji Minagawa. Here’s my review.

Synopsis: Kazuhiko (Yoji Minagawa) graduated from the prestigious halls of Tokyo University you would expect him to be in some high-flying job but since leaving academia he has moved back home with his parents and lived the life of a slacker. A chance encounter with a girl he knew at high school at a bathhouse leads to him taking a job there as an attendant and he quite likes it, not least because he can talk to the girl. However, what seems like a normal onsen turns out to be a killing space for yakuza-ordered hits and when Kazuhiko stumbles upon this he ends up getting dragged into the criminal underworld…

Blue Hour Blue Hour Film Poster

ブルーアワーにぶっ飛ばす 「Buru- Awa- ni Buttobasu」

Running Time: 92 mins.

Release Date: October 11th, 2019

Director: Yuko Hakota

Writer: Yuko Hakota (Screenplay),

Starring: Kaho, Shim Eun-Kyung, Daichi Watanabe, Denden, Kaho Minami, Kyusaku Shimada, Daisuke Kuroda, Yusuke Santamaria,

Website IMDB

I’ve seen a couple and a half of roadtrip movies this year and this one has caught my attention based purely on the trailer and a desire to see what newbie writer/director Yuka Hataoka can turn in.

Synopsis: Sunada (Kaho) is a 30-years-old CM director living in Tokyo. She is unhappy about the direction of her life and decides to return to her hometown of Ibaraki where her grandmother is in hospital. Accompanying her is her best friend Kiyoura (Shim Eun-Kyung).

Call of Zon Call of Zon Film Poster

ゾンからのメッセージ「Zon Kara no messe-ji」

Running Time: 117 mins.

Release Date: August 11th, 2018

Director: Takuji Suzuki

Writer: Takeshi Furusawa (Screenplay),

Starring: Ryudai Takahashi, Ryo Nagao, Shogo Ishimaru, Masahito Karakama, Maya Ino, Ritsuko, Hiromi Furukawa, Kenji Yamauchi,

Website

Here’s a film from someone else with something to say. I met Takuji Suzuki at the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2019 and interviewed him for the upcoming release of Randen and found him to be a very thoughtful and philosophical guy intent on pushing the boundaries of indie cinema. This looks to be a very unique title.

Synopsis: In this sci-fi film, the inhabitants of a small town full of nostalgia-inducing things found their habitat surrounded by a mysterious phenomenon called “zon” 20 years ago. Now they live in a dream-like village where it is as if time has stopped. This is down to “zon” because the weird atmosphere represented by the strange flickering patterns in the air act as a barrier. People who cross it, never come back, and now there is nobody willing to go beyond “zon” and nobody knows what the outside world looks like. Things begin to change when a mysterious VHS tape arrives in their little world.

Nippon Animation

Nippon Animation brings some of the top titles released over the past year and the big guest is director Hiroyasu Ishida who will present his debut feature film Penguin Highway as well as a selection of his earlier short films. Okko’s Inn promises to show some supernatural fun for kids. There are more great titles on offer from more Naoko Yamada and Mamoru Hosoda and two short film programmes, Transience – The Best of Recent Indie Animation and the regular Tokyo University of the Arts: Animation Shorts, which aims give an insight into Japan’s independent animation scene.

Mirai of the FutureMirai of the Future Film Poster

未来のミライ 「Mirai no Mirai」

Running Time: 100 mins.

Release Date: July 20th, 2018

Director: Mamoru Hosoda

Writer: Mamoru Hosoda (Screenplay/Original Work)

Starring: Haru Kuroki (Mirai-chan), Moka Kamishiraishi (Kun-chan), Gen Hoshino (Father), Koji Yakusho (Father), Kumiko Aso (Mother), Mitsuo Yoshihara (Mysterious Man), Yoshiko Miyazaki (Grandmother)

Animation Production: Studio Chizu

Website ANN MAL

This charmed audiences at last year’s Cannes film festival. Much like his compatriot, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Hosoda delivered a film that pretty much takes all of the themes and animation techniques he has worked with in the past and wrapped it up into an easy to understand story about family. I guess you can call him the anime equivalent of Kore-eda.

Synopsis: A family living in a small house in a corner of a Yokohama dotes on a spoiled four-year-old boy named Kun-chan. When he gets a little sister named Mirai, he feels that his new sister stole his parents’ love from him. Jealousy and resentment well up until he meets an older version of Mirai, who has come from the future and takes him on an adventure.

Liz to Aoitori Liz to Aoitori Film Poster

リズと青い鳥 「Liz to Aoitori」

Running Time: 110 mins.

Release Date: April 21st, 2018

Director: Naoko Yamada

Writer: Reiko Yoshida (Script),

Starring: Atsumi Tanezaki (Mizore Yoroizuka), Nao Toyama (Nozomi Kasaki), Ayaka Asai (Hazuki Kato), Chika Anzai (Reina Kosaka), Yuri Yamaoka (Yuuko Yoshikawa), Moe Toyota (Sapphire “Midori” Kawashima), Shiori Sugiura (Ririka Kenzaki),

Animation Production: Kyoto Animation

Website ANN MAL

Synopsis: Mizore Yoroizuka and Nozomi Kasaki are best friends who are both in their school’s brass band club. Mizore plays the oboe and Nozomi plays the flute. Despite being in the final year of high school, they are so very happy–until the club begins to practice songs inspired by the fairy tale Liz und ein Blauer Vogel (Liz and the Blue Bird). Immersed in this story, they begin to realise that there may be no such thing as being together forever.

Nippon Docs

Nippon Docs goes into all sorts of issues which are affecting us all, from ageing and Alzheimer’s in Naoko Nobutomo’s affecting film about her parents, I Go Gaga, My Dear to death in Sending Off, the latest work from Ian Thomas Ash which looks at a doctor and her team who offer hospice care to patients in their homes. LGBT representation in Japanese society gets a look through the photographer’s lens in Portraits of the Rainbow and From All Corners is about the unique cardboard-based art of a young man. Tower of the Sun look at Taro Okamoto’s Tower of the Sun in Osaka and lastly are the Japanese Documentaries Presented by NHK World-Japan, the first following Hayao Miyazaki over 10 years while the second is about a Syrian musician’s discovery of a piano which survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Here are some highlights.

Boy Soldiers: The Secret War in OkinawaBoy Soldiers The Secret War in Okinawa Film Poster

沖縄スパイ戦史 「Okinawa Supai Senshi

Running Time: 114 mins.

Release Date: July 28th, 2018

Director: Chie Mikami, Hanayo Oya

Website

Synopsis: The battle of Okinawa claimed 240,000 lives, both American and Japanese. It was hard-fought on both sides not least because many Okinawans committed suicide rather than be captured. This documentary which looks absolutely fascinating talks about an unknown or little-known aspect of the battle, the Gokyotai, Okinawan teenage boys who were drafted into guerilla units led by officers from the mainland and tasked with attacking US forces. These units were cruel, making the boys execute the wounded and sick or anyone considered to be a spy. There are also other stories of how people were forcibly moved by Japanese forces to islands known for disease. It’s all told in archive footage, still-photographs and interviews with the veterans which makes this powerful stuff, especially since it gets information from both sides, civilians and military, too. Mark Schilling gave it a glowing review.

Mawari Kagura – Kagura Troupe on the BeatMawari Kagura Film Poster

廻り神楽 「Mawari Kagura」

Running Time: 94 mins.

Release Date: January 20th, 2018

Director: Mirao Osawa, Kano Endo

Website

Synopsis: Kagura is a traditional performance done by people across Japan. The community at the heart of this film are on the Sanriku coast of Iwate prefecture and they suffered due to the Great East Japan Earthquake. Despite this, the troupe travel around the beaches, performing in honour of the dead and the Gods who have existed in the land and the sea for hundreds of years.

Shinjuku TigerShinjuku Tiger Film Poster

新宿タイガー  「Shinjuku Taiga-」

Running Time: 83 mins.

Release Date: March 22nd, 2019

Director: Yoshinori Sato

Starring: Shinobu Terajima, Norito Yashima, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Midori Suiren, Noboru Iguchi, Shinji Kubo

Website IMDB

Receiving its world premiere at the Osaka Asian Film Festival (OAFF) 2019, Shinjuku Tiger details a colourful character in Shinjuku. Here’s my review and here’s an interview I conducted with the director.

Synopsis: Tokyo has many colourful characters who have become internet sensations but the Shinjuku Tiger (a.k.a. Tiger Mask) is one that many international audiences may not have heard of. Tokyoites are more familiar with the chap because he has been a feature of Shinjuku since he found his tiger mask at Kabukicho’s Inari Kiou Shrine in 1972 and decided to wear it every day to bring some joy to the world. Yoshinori Sato follows Tiger as he goes through his daily routines.

Ayako Wakao – Magnificent Icon of Japanese Cinema

Ayako Wakao is one of the banner actresses of Japanese cinema. A recipient of the Kinema Junpo Award along with the Blue Ribbon Award for Best Actress in the years 1962 and 1966, in 2010 she was proclaimed “All Time Best Actress” by the Japanese film journal Eiga Hiho. Initially a girl next door figure, her beauty and character drew admirers and, for those easily scared by ambition, haters, as she picked more complicated roles such as calculating single-mothers, abused wives and independent women that described the ever-changing precarious position of women. She worked with some of the great directors of the Golden Age and those who made the leap into the New Wave.

The focus is on Ayako Wakao’s frequent collaborations with Yasuzo Masamura, with films like The Goddess of Mercy, where a bored middle-class housewife falls for someone who she meets at art class – played by Wakao – to The Red Angel where she is a nurse during the war and Seisaku’s Wife, about a young woman who falls in love with a soldier after a life spent as an outsider. She also collaborated with Yuzo Kawashima (Room for Let) in geisha dramedy Women are Born Twice and she worked with Ozu on Floating Weeds. The three I am highlighting are from three major directors and show her range as an actor.

The Blue Sky Maiden (aka The Cheerful Girl)

青空娘 「Aozora Musume」 Blue Sky Maiden FIlm Poster

Release Date: October 08th, 1957

Running Time: 88 mins.

Director: Yasuzo Masamura

Writer: Yoshio Shirasaka (Screenplay), Keita Genji (Original Novel)

Starring: Ayako Wakao, Keizo Kawasaki, Kenji Sugawara, Ryuji Shinagawa, Yuko Yashio, Keiko Fujita,

IMDB

Synopsis: This colourful, cheerful satirical Cinderella story was the first in a string of collaborations between Ayako Wakao and Yasuzo Masamura. She plays an illegitimate daughter who travels to Tokyo to live with her father, only to find his house a seething nest of suspicion and resentment.

Elegant BeastThe Graceful Brute Film Poster

しとやかな獣  「Shitoyakana kedamono 」

Running Time: 96 mins.

Release Date: December 26th, 1962

Director: Yuzo Kawashima

Writer: Kaneto Shindo (Screenplay),

Starring: Ayako Wakao, Yunosuke Ito, Hisano Yamaoka, Manamitsu Kawabata, Yuko Hamada, Eiji Funakoshi, Kyu Sazanka, Chocho Miyako, Hideo Takamatsu,

IMDB

This is one of Kawashima’s best films, a breathtakingly cynical analysis of post-war Japanese social mores and a decline in morality.

Synopsis: The film almost exclusively takes place in the fifth floor apartment of the Maeda’s, a seemingly traditional and stable family unit of two conservative parents (who wear kimono and listen to traditional music) and their hip son and daughter (who are frequently out on the town in Ginza’s bars) but as the narrative unfolds we see the depth of their duplicity, selfishness, and materialistic behaviour which unites them as they scam people in their social circle but, as the narrative unfolds, the it turns out that they will meet their match in a single mother that the son has designs on.

An Actor’s Revenge

雪之丞変化 「Yukinojo Henge」

Release Date: January 13th, 1963

Running Time: 114 mins.

Director: Kon Ichikawa

Writer: Otokichi Mikami (Newspaper Serial), Daisuke Ito, Teinosuke Kinugassa (Adaptation), Natto Wada (Screenplay),

Starring: Kazuo Hasegawa, Fujiko Yamamoto, Ayako Wakao, Eiji Funakoshi, Saburo Date, Kikue Mori,

IMDB

Kon Ichikawa’s take on this classic tale is not the first and the film marked the 300th film appearance of the actor Kazuo Hasegawa. Ichikawa was quite visually inventive and here he mixes illusion and reality, historicity and contemporaneity via use of vivid colours and unique sets where the stage setting is kept but the boundaries between on- and offstage become blurred and he soundtrack blends tradition music with jazz.

Synopsis: Set in 1863, main character Yukinojo (Hasegawa), is become a well-known ‘onnagata’ (a man playing female roles) in a travelling Kabuki troupe which heads to Edo (the old name of Tokyo) where he discovers and sets out to take revenge on three local officials who drove his parents to suicide. He wants to ruin them and aiding him is the daughter of one of the officials who has fallen for him…

As mentioned earlier, Nippon Connection takes place in Frankfurt, Germany from 28th May to 2nd June and tickets are already available via the official website where you can also find full details on all the films.

Ira Ligar
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