The New York Asian Film Festival 2019 launches at the end of the month and there are 11 films from Japan to get excited about.
The films that come from Japan range from an exciting-looking jidai-geki based on real history to adaptations of manga based in contemporary times. A lot of films are currently on the festival circuit but there are a couple that have yet to be released anywhere, even Japan. The styles and stories are all varied and seem to give a good idea of what mainstream Japanese cinema is creating.
It’s exciting to see that two of SABU’s latest films, jam and MR LONG, are on the programme as both films have idols but put them through their acting paces in action-packed and dramatic tales. Fly Me to the Saitama is said to be a heck of a lot of fun as it mixes great comedy and theatricality with a satire of Japanese society. There is a noir with The Gun which took a top prize at last year’s Tokyo International Film Festival. Then there is The Fable which looks absolutely bananas – an adaptation of a hitman manga which is worth reading!
There are also guests coming from Japan such as Nana Komatsu who is the joint recipient of the Screen International Rising Star Asia Award so do make sure to make them feel welcome.
Also programmed are a selection of films from across the rest of Asia and these include some great titles like Maggie (South Korea) – winner of the Audience Award and the Grand Prix at the Osaka Asian Film Festival – and its director Yi Ok-Seop will be in New York. Still Human (Hong Kong) also plays at the fest and lead actress Crisel Consunji is attending. Also, legendary action choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award.
What are the Japanese films programmed?
ザ・ファブル 「Za Faburu」
Release Date: June 21st, 2019
Duration: 123 mins.
Director: Kan Eguchi
Writer: Yusuke Watanabe (Screenplay), Katsuhisa Minami (Original Manga)
Starring: Junichi Okada, Fumino Kimura, Koichi Sato, Mizuki Yamamoto, Kai Inowaki, Jiro Sato, Sota Fukushi, Ken Mitsuishi, Yuya Yagira, Ken Yasuda,
I have been reading the manga of The Fable on and off for a year and I was sceptical that the film version would live up to the hard-boiled story but the trailer is dripping with action. It has been published in Kodansha’s Young Magazine since 2014 and is still going. The movie version has a good cast with Junichi Okada taking the lead and a great supporting cast with the likes of Ken Mitsuishi, Koichi Sato (Starfish Hotel), Ken Yasuda, Yuya Yagira (Destruction Babies) taking roles. There’s also Sota Fukushi. He starred with Okada in the Library Wars live-action adaptations.
The director is in town for the screening of his film.
Synopsis: Fable is a legendary contract killer who was trained to be a killer when he was a young boy. He is ordered to lay low for one year and tries to live a normal life in Osaka as an ordinary person with the name of Akira Sato but there’s always someone ready to drag him back…
サムライマラソン 「Samurai Marason」
Duration: 104 mins.
Release Date: February 22nd, 2019
Director: Bernard Rose
Writer: Hiroshi Saito, Kikumi Yamagishi Bernard Rose (Screenplay), Akihiro Dobashi (Original Novel)
Starring: Takeru Satoh, Shota Sometani, Mirai Moriyama, Nana Komatsu, Munetaka Aoki, Hiroki Hasegawa, Etsushi Toyokawa, Naoto Takenaka, Danny Huston, Junko Abe, Mugi Kadowaki, Mariko Tsutsui,
Whoa! Bernard Rose, the guy who directed Candyman and Paperhouse has travelled to Japan to do this jidaigeki! It’s produced by Jeremy Thomas (Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence) and has a score by American composer Philip Glass! There’s an awesome star-studded cast who should need no introduction, as well. Here’s some background on the film over at Variety. It’s also based on real history (link).
The director, Bernard Rose, will make an appearance at the festival.
Synopsis: It is the 1850s and feudal Japan is thrown into chaos as Americans led by Commodore Perry (Danny Huston) have parked their battleships off the coast and demanded the country open up. Katsuaki Itakura (Hiroki Hasegawa) is a feudal lord who runs Annaka-han and to toughen up his warriors for potential attacks, he holds a marathon that runs along a mountain path for about 58 kilometres. Samurai of all stripes are expected to take part but so has the lord’s rebellious daughter, Princess Yuki (Nana Komatsu) who escapes the castle to take part in the dangerous marathon. What is a simple exercise is mistakenly viewed as an act of treason by the central Edo government. Jinnai Karasawa (Takeru Satoh) is a ninja who has infiltrated Annaka to masquerade as a samurai in the service of Katsuaki Itakura and spy but he realises the mistake by his government and tries to stop assassins already making their way to the lord’s castle.
Release Date: December 01st, 2018
Duration: 102 mins.
Writer: SABU (Screenplay),
Starring: Sho Aoyagi, Keita Machida, Nobuyuki Suzuki, Shintaro Akiyama, Mariko Tsutsui, Yuta Ozawa, Kanta Sato,
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.
ミスター・ロン 「Misuta- Ron」
Release Date: December 16th, 2017
Duration: 129 mins.
Starring: Chen Chang, Sho Aoyagi, Yiti Yao, Runyin Bai, Masashi Arifuku, Taro Suwa, Tetsuko Okusa, Shiiko Utagawa, Yusuke Fukuchi, Tetsuya Chiba,
Synopsis: Mr. Long (Chang Chen) is a Taiwanese hitman who uses knives to take out his targets. However, one assignment in Tokyo goes wrong and he finds himself wounded and on the run. He ends up in a run-down part of the city where he meets a young boy named Jun (Runyin Bai) who brings him clothing and water. Mr. Long soon meets Jun’s mother, Lily (Yiti Yao), a former prostitute and he suddenly finds his life changes as he gets to know his neighbours and wins them over with his cooking. However, the past will soon catch up…
ハード・コア 「Ha-do Koa」
Release Date: November 23rd, 2018
Duration: 124 mins.
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,
Director Nobuhiro Yamashita (The Drudgery Train) is a director who can bring out all sorts of different tones in stories and the story for this one is truly bizarre but it is also sorrowful according to write-ups. It also has a cast is to die for! Takako Matsu (Dreams for Sale), Takayuki Yamada (13 Assassins), Takeru Satoh (Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno) and YosiYosi Arakawa (Fine, Totally Fine).
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.
Fly Me to the Saitama
翔んで埼玉 「Tonde Saitama」
Release Date: February 22nd, 2019
Duration: 107 mins.
Director: Hideki Takeuchi
Writer: Yuichi Tokunaga (Screenplay), Mineo Maya (Manga)
Starring: Fumi Nikaido, Gackt, Yusuke Iseya, Masaki Kyomoto, Kumiko Aso, Haruka Shimazaki, Naoto Takenaka,
Synopsis: Tokyo is where all the beautiful people live and it is run by the father of Momomi Hakuhodo (Fumi Nikaido), a male high school student who looks like a girl. Saitama is where all the peasants live, as we all know, and people from there are persecuted. However, one day, Momomi meets mysterious male transfer student Rei Asami (Gackt) and they fall in love but Asami is from Saitama Prefecture…
Release Date: January 2020
Duration: 116 mins.
Director: Kei Chikaura
Writer: Kei Chikaura (Screenplay),
Starring: Yulai Lu, Tatsuya Fuji, Sayo Akasaka, Kio Matsumoto, Fusako Urabe,
This China-Japan co-production seems to be a continuation of the director’s short film Signature which also stars Yulai Lu. That short featured him playing a Chinese immigrant wandering around Shibuya.
Synopsis: A Chinese man named Chen Liang (Lu Yulai) left China and his ill mother and elderly grandmother to live in Japan. He wanted to escape his responsibilities and have a new life but he finds himself experiencing the hardships that come with living illegally in Japan but it looks like things might change for the better when he takes a phone call meant for someone else and accepts a job at a traditional Japanese soba restaurant run by an elderly chef (Tatsuya Fuji). He takes to learning the art of soba-preparation, however, his illegal status could put things in jeopardy.
Release Date: November 17th, 2018
Duration: 97 mins.
Director: Masaharu Take
Writer: Masaharu Take, Hideki Shishido (Screenplay), Fuminori Nakamura (Original Novel)
Starring: Nijiro Murakami, Alice Hirose, Lily Franky, Kyoko Hinami, Risa Niigaki, Junpei Goto, Moemi Katayama, Amane Okayama,
Synopsis: University student Toru Nishikawa (Nijiro Murakami) has one think on his mind and that is Yuko Yoshikawa (Alice Hirose), a pretty girl on the same campus. His attention is diverted when he finds a gun by a river one rainy day. Instead of turning it in to the police he takes it home and becomes fixated by it. He gets a sense of euphoria looking at it and thrills over having it. Then he is visited by a detective (Lily Franky) whose presence pushes him to make a bad decision…
Dare to Stop Us
止められるか、俺たちを 「Tomerareruka, Oretachi wo」
Release Date: October 13th, 2018
Duration: 119 mins.
Director: Kazuya Shiraishi
Writer: Junichi Inoue (Screenplay),
Starring: Mugi Kadowaki, Arata Iura, Hiroshi Yamamoto, Sora Tamoto, Katsuya Maiguma, Shinobu Terajima, Sousuke Takaoka, Kisetsu Fujiwara,
Mugi Kadowaki, a strong actress as can be seen in Double Life (2016) and Hanagatami (2017), is our entryway into the heady world of radical filmmakers of the 60s and 70s.
Synopsis: Political/pink film director Koji Wakamatsu died seven years ago but his presence is still felt in the Japanese film industry as acolytes and collaborators still operate. This film takes a year of his life but frames it through the eyes of someone else, 21-year-old Megumi (Mugi Kadowaki), who joins Wakamatsu Production in the hope of becoming someone worthwhile. There, she meets Wakamatsu (Arata Iura) who has a cadre of young talents dedicated to movie making. Megumi’s world opens up…
Lying to Mom
鈴木家の嘘 「Suzukike no Uso」
Release Date: November 16th, 2018
Duration: 133 mins.
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,
Nojiri Katsumi will be at the festival.
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 isn’t. Without the least warning he drops dead and throws everyone into confusion. Yuko is so shocked by her son’s death 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???
5 Million Dollar Life
五億円のじんせい 「Gooku Yen no Jinsei」
Release Date: July 20th, 2019
Duration: 112 mins.
Director: Moon Sung-Ho
Writer: Naomi Hiruta (Screenplay),
Starring: Ayumu Mochizuki, Anna Yamada, Ryu Morioka, Satoru Matsuo, Sumire Ashina, Junko Emoto, Naomi Nishida, Taro Suwa,
Director Moon Sung-Ho will be on hand to talk about his film.
Synopsis: Mirai Takatsuki (Ayumu Mochizuki) had a life threatening disease as a child but he was saved thanks to public donations totalling five hundred million yen. This made him something of a celebrity and as he has grown up he has struggled to “repay” the life-saving moment given to him by the public. As an alienated high school student he decides to commit suicide and writes down his intentions on SNS which is how he receives a message from a stranger which states “if you want to die, you need to return the five hundred million yen first.” This challenge changes Mirai’s perspective on life.