Border feature

Taking cues once again from real world issues, industry meta, and in this specific case–according to the press notes–personal experience, Nakanishi Mai’s latest short movie begins simply enough. A young woman is talking with a friend on the phone just as she begins watching her favorite TV series. She swoons to the romantic scene playing out between a young couple. But then, something goes awry with the broadcast before the situation turns nightmarish.

In an economical six minutes, Nakanishi touches on the sense of fear and apprehension that stems from situations or events which are beyond our control but nevertheless can wreak havoc on our lives. On a more intimate scale, given the story’s set up, she also addresses how social and maybe even traditional media or technology has perhaps made all of us vulnerable on many levels to “intrusion”, “abuse”, and even “violence” from people we don’t even know.

The runtime may be too short for Nakanishi’s fans, but the compactness of this vignette is appropriate enough to convey the severe violence that can suddenly visit an unsuspecting person or someone living under a constant state of fear. Simultaneously, the way with which this story unfolds also seems like Nakanishi is pushing against the atmospheric, tension-ratcheting dread for which she’s already becoming known. Perhaps she will develop Border into a longer format through which she can explore a more aggressive brand of horror.

Border will be available as part of the 2023 Short Shorts Film Festival & Asia’s online screenings from April 27th to June 6th ahead of the in-person event.

**Online screenings available only in Japan.


No No Girl Feature Image

Found the trailer for this drama dealing with third and fourth generation Japanese Americans confronting their personal ties as a family, and identity as Americans, to the internment of Japanese Americans in concentration camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. There’s a heartfelt mix of soul searching and comedy on display as the story unpacks the figurative and literal meanings of “digging up one’s past.”

Director Paul Daisuke Goodman had this to say:

Who has heard of Manzanar? Or Rohwer or Tule Lake? No-No Boys and loyalty questionnaires and the American Concentration Camps? This is the history that I grew up with as a fourth generation Japanese American whose ancestors were evicted from their homes and put into concentration camps after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. Many of the people who worked on this film and almost every Japanese American can trace their way back, one way or another, to a camp in some desolate corner of the country. No No Girl is just one of the stranger-than-fiction stories that have been so underrepresented in today’s narrative storytelling….

Goodman’s own personal tale almost seems ripe for dramatization as well. While he was writing the script for No No Girl, he was also battling a relapse of cancer in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. Goodman would start principal photography six months after being discharged from the hospital.

I suspect both the movie’s story and Goodman’s own triumphs to make it will attract a lot of invites from Asian American and hopefully international film festivals as well.

Here’s the trailer:

More about the movie is available at Goodman’s production company’s website here.


HIDARI feature image

Check out this stop-motion animated short titled HIDARI. The filmmakers wanted to blend traditionally crafted figures animated through stop-motion with the dynamic storytelling found in Japanese anime and manga.

More details about the story and the project’s background can be found here on the official homepage of the production house, Whatever.

This short is merely a pilot–a proof of concept–the director and creative team are using to pitch to studios, streaming platforms, and producers in order to make a feature length. They are running a Kickstarter to fund those activities. Click here to check out the project and rewards.

PLAN 75 Screening

PLAN 75 Feature Image

Plan 75 opens with a vague image of a dark place. There is a report from a shotgun. A shadowy figure runs in fear. Another shadowy figure emerges, on the prowl. After a moment, another shot is heard. Before long, the perpetrator can be seen relaying their manifesto either on audio or video–something about ending people’s suffering in order to make the country’s future brighter–before turning the shotgun on themselves. It’s an outlandish scene depicting the unthinkable massacre at a care home for the elderly, but is sadly based on an actual crime which took place in Japan. It is the perfect preface for the movie’s core conceit, that no matter how outlandish the plot may seem, it is not beyond the realm of possibility.

The scene then changes to a hotel hallway and a housekeeping cart bathed in light by an open door. A news report coming from a radio describes the massacre at the care home, and how the government is initiating the Plan 75 program in response to this and a rise of violent crimes against the elderly. Michi, the protagonist played by veteran actress Baisho Chieko, emerges from the room as she goes about her job as a cleaning maid. She is a sharp and energetic person who does her job diligently and efficiently. More importantly, the job affords her the companionship of her co-workers who are also around the same age. They spend time with one another both on and off work. It’s obvious the job is as much about companionship as it is financial necessity.

At its heart, Plan 75 is about community, and more specifically the loss of a sense of community. This is seen through the perspectives of four characters, Michi being one of course. The second is Hiromu, a young Plan 75 case worker. He is dedicated and professional, but also thoughtful and compassionate. Third is Yoko, a Plan 75 call center operator whose job is to lend a willing ear to people facing doubts or apprehension as the termination date approaches. Finally is Maria, a Filipino care worker at a senior home working to save money for the operation her daughter in the Philippines needs. However, her salary just isn’t enough so she turns to her church community for help.

PLAN 75 Still
©2022 “Plan 75” Film Partners / Urban Factory / Fusee

The intersection of these four characters’ lives brings into sharp focus who are the eventual casualties of the sort of egocentrism and indifference that has been eroding away at the collaborative support typically found in communities. Instead, other people’s problems are theirs to solve. An elderly woman who appears to be need assistance using the computer isn’t paid any attention. And it’s an annoyance when there’s no option but to deal wth her. Empathy and engagement are in the decline. It’s the only way Plan 75 could ever come into existence, and how it will be maintained. Impersonality and disengagement are even built into the system. Hiromu is removed off a case–and dutifully accepts the reassignment–when a connection to the applicant creates a “conflict of interest.” Yoko is to be a caring voice to her callers, but she is not to care. She is by no means to connect personally with the caller, a fact of which she’s reminded when she overhears a familiar orientation for new hires. Maria is sternly instructed not to engage with the elderly at the euthanasia facility where she begins working.

But these are people, not figures to balance on a ledger nor obstacles to be swept aside. Intrinsically, the characters understand this. Hiromu secretly reaches out to that case from which he was reassigned and at least attempts to give one client some personal dignity while also reconnecting with him. Yoko accepts an invitation the rules tell her she is not to do, and gives her caller an enjoyable evening enveloped in the energy of youth. Then there is Maria, supported by a giving community, she doesn’t hesitate to help someone at the facility because she knows it’s the right thing to do.

PLAN 75 Still
©2022 “Plan 75” Film Partners / Urban Factory / Fusee

Initially a chapter of the Ten Years Japan anthology the Plan 75 short movie was inspired by director Hayakawa Chie’s anger toward the actual crime on which the opening scene is based, and the shock she felt at what Japanese society had become after returning from living abroad. As a result, the short possessed a pervading sense of hopelessness. However, Hayakawa stated she had the time to process her feelings as she developed the feature-length. In the short, an elderly man (who appears in the movie as Hiromu’s first client) says to a recruiter, “Is a long life a disgrace?” It seems obvious she intends for the theatrical version to answer that question with a resounding, “No!” Moreover, through some truly heartbreaking scenes of Michi sublimely performed by Baisho in the second act Hayakawa simultaneously asks the audience: “Are you okay with this? Doesn’t she deserve better?”

This is all heavy material which might normally suffocate a narrative, but the brilliance of Hayakawa’s script is she never resorts to being preachy nor overly melodramatic. Following the movie’s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Hayakawa often reiterated in interviews that she wanted Plan 75 to affirm life. She has resoundingly accomplished that–and more–through genuinely truthful characters living in a world that could become our own despite its high concept. Kudos to Hayakawa, Baisho Chieko, the cast, and the producers for crafting an elegantly credible cautionary tale while also serving as a quietly blistering call to give a damn for our fellow human being and our overall communities.

“Swallow” Screening

Swallow Feature Image

A young, slender actress, Mimi, approaches a high-end hotel with gift in hand. She arrives at the room of fellow actress Xue-Lan who at first seems put out by the visitor at her door until she acknowledges Mimi and her expression changes to a well-practiced smile before welcoming Mimi in. They retire to the veranda where they sit wordlessly. Xue-Lan is focused on her smart phone as Mimi waits. The battlements of their superficial friendship is practically visible. Mimi pours two glasses of wine and Xue-Lan offers a toast to both of their casting in the same movie though it’s obvious Xue-Lan has landed the starring role. She self-confidently lords this over Mimi when she interrupts their room service lunch by taking a call from the movie’s producer and bleating about the burdens of being the lead actress. That is when Mimi plays her card, recalling when they first met at an audition 10 years ago then fishing up a photo from that time on her phone. When Xue-Lan looks at the photo, she comments that Mimi hasn’t aged at all. She casually asks what Mimi’s beauty secret is, and Mimi responds: “You are what you eat.” Xue-Lan pauses but is unable to resist asking Mimi to teach her how she stays so youthful. And thus the bait is taken.

Mimi Image
Han Ning as Mimi | ©Swallow Film Partners

What better place for director Nakanishi Mai to set her latest sinister tale than the shark infested waters of the entertainment industry where rivalries, grudges, and hostility lurk just beneath the glamor and celebrity. There is a thin veneer of civility between Mimi and Xue-Lan who have been auditioning for similar roles through most of their careers. They’ve struggled with landing only minor roles which has given them something in common, but with Xue-Lan scoring a lead role, suddenly a shift in the balance of their “friendship” occurs with Xue-Lan believing herself to have vaulted to a grander stage than Mimi. Their dynamic from the very onset throws into relief the dearth of roles for women and the fierce competition for them. Nakanishi is certainly conscious of an industry, particularly in Asia, that tends to favor young, up-and-coming starlets who are cast for their appearance and popularity rather than their actual skill as performers. Simultaneously, older and experienced actresses are left by the wayside, some of whom may have started out in a similar fashion. Nowhere is this more apparent than the scene when Xue-Lan and Mimi arrive at the supper club. Xue-Lan does not recognize the women to whom she’s introduced. It’s no wonder they’re so eager for Xue-Lan to get her just desserts (pun intended). And they lure her in with the promise of eternal beauty. They know even Xue-Lan is aware that the stardom she is about to grasp is dependent on how youthful looking she can remain. Plastic surgery is commonplace, but uncertified medicines and perhaps even folk rituals are also fair game when hoping to remain in the spotlight. And in real life horror stories do exist about the lengths some have gone through to accomplish just that.

The short was shot entirely in Taiwan and stars veteran actress Vera Chen while Mimi and Xue-Lan are respectively played by Han Ning and Liu Dai-Ying. Employing her trademark atmospherics and minimal style, Nakanishi effectively taps into her characters’ professional cattiness and steers it toward a deliciously (pun intended) wicked piece of folk horror. In fact, that may be a bit of a misnomer as Swallow‘s examination of the darker side human ambition and the lengths people will go to realize that ambition somewhat resembles film noir. Nakanishi has inventively tapped both storytelling styles to infuse Swallow with its particular sense of dread and reinforces this with her visual language. Furthermore, her script allows for the soapy qualities of such rivalries as a release yet never lets up on crafting a distinct feeling something is amiss. And she accomplishes this with minimal dialogue, choosing to show rather than tell her characters’ persona and motives. Han Ning notably plays her part to perfection. As Nakanishi mentioned in our short interview regarding the movie’s making, Han Ning is a relatively newcomer herself, and perhaps this aided her with connecting to Mimi the actress, but she also taps into something within herself which sublimely brings to life Mimi’s enigmatic quality just beneath the surface of the very youthful beauty at the core of the movie.

Swallow world premiered at the 2022 Kaohsiung Film Festival, and and won a Special Mention at the 52nd Tampere Film Festival. It has recently screened at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival as well as the SKIP CITY INTERNATIONAL D-Cinema FESTIVAL in Japan where it missed winning a prize, but was given special attention specifically at the festival’s closing ceremony by jury member Tsuruta Norio, the director known as the “father of J-Horror”. With such encouragement, Nakanishi has surely been given newfound motivation to make more movies, perhaps even a follow-up to this amuse bouche which should make genre fans happy.