Monday, July 8, 2024

Japan Cuts 2024 Preview: Treasure Trove of New and Classic Japanese Films

North America’s largest Japanese film festival presents two weeks of contemporary premieres, including new films from Kei Chika-ura, Takeshi Kitano, Gakuryu Ishii, Shunji Iwai, Sho Miyake and Shinya Tsukamoto. 31 films including 5 International Premieres, 10 North American Premieres, 4 U.S. Premieres, 2 East Coast Premieres and 7 New York Premieres. Includes the International Premiere of SHIN GODZILLA: ORTHOchromatic.

Special guests include iconoclastic director Gakuryu Ishii, appearing for the East Coast Premiere of The Box Man as well as a retrospective screening of August in the Water; director Noriko Yuasa will appear at the International Premiere of Performing KAORU’s Funeral, winner of the JAPAN CUTS Award at the 2024 Osaka Asian Film Festival; and actress Tomoko Tabata will appear at a restoration premiere of Shinji Somai’s undisputed masterpiece, Moving.

Kubi - Kitano Kubi Beat Takeshi tells a bloody and surreal chapters in Japanese history of power struggles among many samurai warlords in Sengoku period.

A sadistic, tyrant lord Nobunaga (Kase Ryo) is in charge, abusing his subordinates and pitting against one another by promising them the positon of next-in-line to rule, while plotting to kill them all. There's Baldie Mitsuhide (Nakajima Hidetoshi, Drive My Car), there's Monkey Hideyoshi (Kitano) and there's Racoon Ieyasu (Kobayashi Kaoru).

Asano Tadanobu also shows up among an impressive ensemble cast. As expected in Kitano film, there are plenty of beheadings, violence and absurd humor throughout, as well as epic scale battle scenes.

Kitano accentuates the irony of all the shenanigans playing Toyotomi Hideyoshi, an illiterate samurai warlord who rose from his peasant background to prominence and seemingly incapable of doing anything without the help of his younger brother and his general Kanbei (Asano). He also ups inherent homoerotic nature of samurai culture- as warlords are in love and constantly banging each other.

Like his many yakuza films, Kitano takes on the extremely macho conventions of swordplay genre & samurai stoicism and turns them upside down and presents a cynical look at the revered, almost mythic Japanese history.

Whale Bones - Oe Whale Bones A tech worker Mamiya just got dumped by his girlfriend. In his depressed state, he takes up his colleague's offer to join a dating app. He meets Aska (J-pop star ano) who turns out to be a highschool student and takes her home. But after he comes out of a bathroom after a shower, he finds that Aska committed suicide by taking pills on his bed with a cryptic message left on the bedside, "Enjoy me while I'm still warm." Panicked, he wraps her body in a blanket and drives to a mountain to bury her. But her body has disappeared. It turns out, Aska is a major figure in Mimi, a GPS based social app where she 'buries' herself in a 'hole' - recording herself in a liminal spaces in Tokyo and appears in the app for people to find her. She has a big following.

Dealing with urban loneliness, obsession and internet stardom in a social media generation, Oe Takamasa (co-writer of Drive My Car)'s film hits all the right notes with empty, night time photography in liminal spaces in Tokyo. I just wish the metaphysical implication of Aska only existing in the app plays out little more.

August in the Water - Ishii Screen Shot 2022-01-05 at 9.05.40 AM The grand theme of all life on earth originated from somewhere else in the universe and technology taking over the human form (computer chips for human consciousness, therefore we don't need physical bodies), the film charts very much the William Gibson, JG Ballard territory, yet very Japanese. Mixing New Age spirituality, animism, astrophysics and advancement in technology, Ishii Gakuryu's trippy 90's relic, August in the Water can be seen as the quintessential film for vaporwave - the synth tinged soundtrack, dolphins, rainbows, dated computer graphics, aliens, etc. Do not miss the opportunity to see this movie in 35mm print as it might be only only chance to see this treasure from the 90s in theaters in North America or anywhere else.

Moving - Somai Screen Shot 2021-02-01 at 8.12.21 AM Moving works largely because of Tabata Tomoko, a cat eyed child actor not afraid of delving deep into physical and emotional journey of acceptance and letting go. Sômai Shinji's always moving camera, doesn't lose focus on the young heroine and never gets bogged down in cheap sentimentality. The almost silent long sequence two-third of the way where Ren gets herself lost in the forest at night, is breathtaking.

Parents, however selfish, are not monsters and do care about you and love you. Sometimes it doesn't work out. It might be hard to grasp for a 6th grader. Children still can count more good memories with their hands and run out of fingers than old people do. Accepting that they can keep only a handful of those memories is tough. Using the backdrop of fire festival and the power of burning and renewal, Moving is an infinitely wise and beautiful film about growing up.

Mermaid Legend - Ikeda mermaid 1 It plays out like a softcore melodrama in the beginning. But the last 15 minutes of a trident rampage scene with Mari Shirato covered in arterial spray of about 100 men she killed is a sight to see. A true cult classic!

All the Long Nights (2024) - Miyake All the Long Nights Based on Seo Maiko's novel, Yoake No Subete, All the Long Nights is a perfectly pitched, calm, novelistic film about human connections and compassion.

Fujisawa (Kanishiraishi Mone) can't hold on to a job because she suffers from an acute PMS and being mercurial. She ends up in a small company making children's science kits in a small town. There she meets Yamazoe (Masumura Hokuto), an antisocial young man, who finds the job mundane and beneath him. He is demoted from his coporate world job, because his panic attack episodes.

Because of their disorders, Fujisawa and Yamazoe slowly build a mutual friendship. All the Long Nights is a beautifully drawn film where every character shines, and a deeply compassionate look at life without much unnecessary drama.

Shadow of Fire - Tsukamoto Shadow of Fire The second part of Tsulamoto Shinya's War Trilogy after his Fires on the Plain remake in 2014, Shadow of Fire shows how the war turns young men into PTSD suffering, violent zombies basically after the war. The first half plays out like a tight chamber piece, taking in one small room with a nameless young war widow (Shuri), surviving by selling/trading her body for goods in a firebombed building, a PTSD suffering young soldier who clings to her for a good night sleep and a young street urchin whom she pours out her maternal instinct to. The second half tells another guilt stricken returning soldier trying to find the redemption with the help of the boy. Stark, and unflinching and masterfully directed and top notch acting from everyone involved.

The Box Man - Ishii TheBoxMan_MAIN An oddity, based on Japanese Nouveau Roman scribe Abe Kobo's book of the same name, reunites the team of their cult hit Electric Dragon 80,000 V team- Nagase Masatoshi, Asano Tadanobu and director Ishii Gakuryu in The Box Man. Just like Abe's perennial masterpiece adaptations- Face of Another and Woman in the Dunes, there's much existential musing going on in The Box Man.

'Myself,' played by Nagase, shunned the world of consumerism and turmoil and in seeking solitude and anonymity, lives in the cardboard box with a rectangular hole for the view. Even though he wants to be left alone, there's a fake doctor assassin (Asano) who wants to know the secrets of the Box Man so that he could become like him. And there's Yoko (Shiramoto Ayana), who could be his salvation.

Hefty metaphors and paradoxes aplenty, so are the absurd sight gags as two box men duke out in the street for the supremacy.

Lacking some of the crazy kinetic energies of Ishii's earlier films, The Box Man doesn't quite conjure up its magic to be a cult classic, but its amusing enough for the fans of two lead actors.

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