“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.

The 2022 Festival Season Thus Far

Feature Image of Inside a Movie Theater

With the Cannes Film Festival having recently closed the curtain on its 75th edition, now s perhaps the an opportune time to survey the 2022 festival season thus far, as it pertains to Japanese movies…especially independent Japanese movies. There are a number of significant festivals occurring at the first half of the year, entry into each of which are quite competitive therefore a Japanese movie achieving selection into their program is worth noting. Though far from comprehensive, the following are a brief look at the Japanese movies which earned berths at these cinematic events.


Slamdance Film Festival section image

Two Japanese creators were included in the Animation Shorts category.

On Time Off Time
Iwasaki Hirotoshi’s monochromatic animation “juxtaposes movements that resonate with each other, filling the conflict between continuity and fluctuation.”

On Time Off Time Image
©Hirotoshi Iwasaki

Open One’s Mouth
In this contemporary painterly short, Murata Akane sensuously depicts “joy and anxiety, daily elusive emotions, and the subtleties of interacting with people.

Open One's Mouth Image

The Department of Anarchy section has become the most popular section of the Slamdance Film Festival since it was first launched in 2012 and continues attracting audiences hungry for movies that experiment and challenge. This short movie directed by Ugana Kenichi of Extraneous Matter-Complete Edition certainly fits this bill. Employing his trademark sense of macabre and humor, the story is about “three friends visit the home of their band member who’s cut contact with them, and find him behaving strangely.”

Visitors Image
©Kenichi Ugana
Continue reading

Chie Hayakawa’s Plan 75 Quietly Devastates Cannes

Image of Baisho Chieko

Hayakawa presents each of her characters’ lives and surrounding realities without any sci-fi (à la Logan’s Run), horror (à la Midsommar), or melodramatic frills (à la Never Let Me Go), and the movie is better for it — the concept is wrenching enough on its own. And while it very clearly aims its pointed social critiques at our current culture of individualism and detachment in the face of total government abandonment, it’s not preachy. 

Rachel Handler for the Vulture

Click this link to read the full review of Hayakawa Chie’s debut feature adapting her own segment from Ten Year’s Japan anthology featured here on Indievisual.

Hamaguchi Ryusuke’s Top 10

Hamaguchi Ryusuke Image

The Criterion Collection recently published an article in which they ask the Japanese auteur director of Happy Hour and Asako I & II as well as early works Intimacies and Passion to name his Top 10 movies. The list he produces is a mix of western and Asian filmmakers, but clearly there is a connective thread to Hamaguchi’s own penchant for existential explorations in human relationships.

Check out the article on the Criterion Current here.



Director Nakanishi Mai just sent me word her newest short movie Swallow will be world premiering at Kaohsiung Film Festival next month. Like her previous short Hana, this one also displays Nakanishi’s hallmark eerie, atmospheric mood in a story that subtly peels back the dreadful nature of human beings.

Here’s the synopsis from Kaohsiung Film Festival:

A striving actress is invited to a private, mysterious gourmet club only to discover that her competition has prepared a horrifying banquet which devours her.

The cast includes Han Ning (Netflix Detention) and Taiwan’s “Scream Queen” and Golden Horse Winner, Vera Chen. Look for updates on Indievisual’s social media as more news becomes available.