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.
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.”
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.
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.”
International Film Festival Rotterdam
The International Film Festival Rotterdam underwent structural changes in 2021. A newly appointed Festival Director, Vanja Kaludjercic stated, “This programme [sic] restructure ensures IFFR is ready for the future: our anniversary 50th edition and beyond. With it, we want to emphasise [sic] the position of Rotterdam as an international festival with a clear mission and vision, curious about and open to what cinema nowadays can be, but averse to preconceived ideas of what it should be.” A new section called Harbour was also created to reflect this new focus on the diversity of Rotterdam and cinema.
Yamasaki Juichiro returns to IFFR for the first time in 10 years since The Sound of Light was screened in the Bright Future section. This time nominated in the Tiger Competition, Yamasaki sets the story of his latest in his hometown of Maniwa which has become multi-cultural due to an influx of migrant workers. Unspoken tensions tighten in a society known for favoring silence over confrontation until the titular character of Yamabuki (played by Inori Kilala) stages silent protests causing friction that also “creates sparks which lead to dialogue and understanding.”
Let Me Hear It Barefoot
The IFFR launched the new Harbour section which they say “echoes Rotterdam’s port city identity [offering] a safe haven to the full range contemporary cinema.” Kudo Riho’s follow-up to her award-winning Orphan’s Blues continues to display her sensitive and subtle character portrayals in this story about the pained, awkward, and hesitant feelings burgeoning between two young men. It is a rare, indie Japanese LGBT story which doesn’t treat the subject matter like a romance manga.
After her previous short Grand Bouquet was selected for the Director’s Fortnight at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival, Yoshikai Nao graces the IFFR with her latest blend of dance, art, and cinema, Shari, which is a result of her research in to the natural environment, lifestyle, and people of the town of Sharicho on the Shiretoko Peninsula in Hokkaido.
Nowhere to go but everywhere
In this short co-directed by Shirai Erik and Tsumura Masako, a man learns to scuba dive after “the sudden and unimaginable loss of his wife during the 2011 tsunami in Northern Japan… Under the murky depths of the sea, his search for her – and for solace from grief – continues.” Both Tsumura and Shirai have experience working in Japan and abroad. They collaborated previously on the documentary The Birth of Saké.
While the events held concurrently with the Berlin International Film Festival such as the European Film Market and Berlinale Co-Production Market were held exclusively online, the festival itself returned to an in-person event. A number of Japanese movies were programmed in various sections such as Encounters and two movies in the Generation section.
Bird in the Peninsula
Featured in the Berlinale Shorts section, the charming animation by Wada Atsushi depicts of boys “rehearsing a dance for their traditional initiation ceremony into adulthood; their teacher instructs them. A girl observes the scene but is not allowed to join in. When one of the boys chases after a strange bird, she follows him without knowing why. One day, the boy will no longer be able to see the bird either.”
Produced by Netflix, this animated feature world premiered in Berlinale’s Generation 14plus section. Set in a Tokyo isolated from the rest of the world by a bubble, the orphaned youth remaining there compete for food in daring parkour battles. Centered around two characters, Hibiki and Uta (respectively Japanese for “echo” and “song”), the story is a “magical, tragic romance…inspired by H.C. Andersen’s ‘The Little Mermaid’.
My Small Land
Tackling the timely issue of refugees through the eyes of a high school girl whose family settled in Japan from Turkey seeking asylum, this “haunting film” captures the anguish of a teen caught between two worlds, uncertain about her and her family’s future which hangs on a bureaucratic decision. Writer and director Kawarada Emma is a member of Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Bun-buku production company making her feature film debut with this movie and is also introduced in a write-up for Indievisual’s Eye On category.
Small, Slow But Steady
Miyake Sho of And Your Bird Can Sing and Wild Tour once again showcases his prowess for character study in this movie shot on 16mm inspired by Ogasawara Keiko’s autobiographical book. Kishii Yukino delivers an “unforgettable performance” as Keiko “a young pro boxer, was born with a hearing impairment…After winning two difficult fights, a creeping fear begins to grow inside her. The club chairman, the only person who had accepted her as a boxer, is plagued by health issues and is losing his eyesight. Having learned that the gym is about to close for good, a confused Keiko goes on to her third bout.”
Osaka Asian Film Festival
The 17th Osaka Asian Film Festival presented a broad diversity of movies in multiple programs from filmmakers across Asia–which extends as far as India by the way–or by non-Japanese filmmakers based in Japan. Many Japanese movies were screened including a focus on director Higashi Kahori which included the world premiere of her latest short The Residents along with her previous work Melting Sounds; a retrospective of Yokohama Satoko’s previous works following her Grand Prix and Audience Award wins the previous year for Ito; and an online presentation of Yamasaki Juichiro’s The Sound of Light as noted above in the International Film Festival Rotterdam portion. With regards to Indievisual, the centerpiece of OAFF has always been its Indie Forum section. This year there were 15 movies programmed, 13 of which were world premieres. In the interest of space, the lineup will be listed below with comments provided on titles particularly intriguing to this writer.
Following Noise and Made In Japan, director Matsumoto Yusaku decided to make a documentary about mountain climber Kuriki Nobukazu until Kuriki tragically died while attempting to scale Mt. Everest. Framed against the backdrop of Nepal’s wilderness and shot entirely on location, the movie now tells a story of a woman on a spiritual journey to rediscover who her missing brother, a climber who disappeared on Everest, truly was.
Far Away, Further Away
Imaoka Shinji’s follows Reiko and the Dolphin, his warmhearted look at two happy-go-lucky parents impacted by a tragedy, with this lighter examination of the relationship between a woman drifting away from her husband, and a man jilted by his wife.
Capturing the one-woman performance by actress Takeshita Kaori through exquisite cinematography, director Iijima Shuna paints a portrait of woman dealing with dark emotions when she is left alone by her husband who is visiting a daughter from a previous marriage.
North Shinjuku 2055
Miyazaki Daisuke continues his string of appearances at OAFF with this monochromatic, pseudo sci-fi short unmasking the enigmatic, autonomous community of North Shinjuku through the eyes of a journalist who scores an interview with a local big-shot.
Out of TOKYO 202x
Director Ikue Akinori “looks back” on the Tokyo 2020 Olympic games through an inventive sci-fi concept centered on two people from different futures who meet outside the Olympic Stadium and share recollections of the games while making new memories of their own together.
Sanka: Nomads of the Mountains
Winner of the section’s Japan Cuts Award, Sasatani Ryohei sets his movie during the period of Japan’s rapid growth in 1965, and depicts a young man’s encounter with a fading band of nomads called Sanka to melancholically render “how humans live as one with nature and the sharp divide between modernity and the environment”.
Director Hieda Azusa uses the backdrop of the pandemic to throw into relief the impact the pandemic had on individuals reassessing their personal lives as they became isolated by COVID-19. In her short, Hieda portrays a couple about to be married who realize something about themselves and their relationship during the somewhat bleak, apocalyptic atmosphere of the times.
Also worthy of note is the Most Promising Talent Award win for Angry Son director Iizuka Kasho in the main Competition section. The jury remarked:
Dealing with both racial and gender identities is no easy job but Director Iizuka skillfully portrays how a young man faces his own sexuality and identity crisis as a Filipino-Japanese. His journey to explore his future reasserts the importance of embracing differences especially when we’re still living in a world divided by discrimination and injustice
SXSW (South by Southwest) is a showcase of creativity encompassing a music festival, comedy festival, and film festival among other performances and exhibitions. One movie by a Japanese filmmaker was included in the 2022 film festival program.
The Voice Actress
Born in New York, raised in Tokyo, and now based in Los Angeles, filmmaker Anna Takayama was inspired by her mother, a working voice actress in Japan, for her story about a veteran voice actress working and living alone in Tokyo who faces professional and personal adversity as the voice acting world rapidly undergoes change. In her statement, Takayama states: “…I grew up witnessing that world [the voice acting industry]. In recent years, I believe there has been a shift in the industry favoring voice actors who are younger and ‘more visual,’ particularly for women. That bias is not unlike the ones that exist in the entertainment industry here in America…I wanted to create this short film…as a way to contribute in my own way, in giving a voice to those unheard.”
HONG KONG INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Unfortunately, due to the state of COVID-19 infections in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong International Film Festival was cancelled for 2022.
CANNES FILM FESTIVAL
The industry’s most prestigious and foremost film festivals turned 75 in 2022. After cancelling for the first time in its entire history at the outset of the pandemic, festival organizers brought back a full, in-person gala replete with all the pomp and circumstance which had been held back for the past two years. Two Japanese filmmakers were selected to take part on the festivities.
After being selected to Cannes’ Cinefondation in 2014 for her short movie Niagra, director Hayakawa Chie returns to Cannes to world premiere her feature-length directorial debut in the Un Certain Regard section. Plan 75 adapts and extends her segment for the short movie anthology Ten Years Japan. Her story of a Japanese “government program encouraging senior citizens to voluntarily be euthanized in order to remedy a super-aged society” was powerfully sketched with broad strokes, but now with a longer running time Hayakawa is able to paint a much more complete and richer picture of its characters “facing choices of life and death” centered on the performance of veteran actress Baisho Chieko. Hayakawa and Plan 75 were honored with a Camera d’Or Special Distinction for a first feature.
While technically a Korean movie, Broker is directed by celebrated Japanese filmmaker and Cannes regular, Kore-eda Hirokazu and as such is worth noting. This is Kore-eda’s second movie he has directed outside Japan (the first was his French movie, The Truth) and was honored with a Best Actor Award for Song Kang Ho.
The Nippon Connection film festival has been a frontrunner in introducing a wide range of Japanese cinema to German and European audiences for 22 years. The event is not only a showcase for cinema, but also continues to widen knowledge of Japanese culture through demonstrations, hands-on workshops and symposiums. Their efforts to build cultural understanding and exposure to Japanese art has been recognized by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. As a purely Japanese cinema event, its entire lineup is composed of Japanese movies and therefore featuring their full program here would be a far greater undertaking than the time for its authoring would allow. For those interested, please examine their entire selection in detail here.
It is worth noting, however, that aforementioned titles such as Angry Son, Let Me Hear It Barefoot, Melting Sounds, and Small, Slow But Steady were among the movies presented. Other noteworthy titles are Harumoto Yujiro’s A Balance, Ishii Yuya’s Madder Red, Yuasa Masaaki’s animated rock-n-roll riff of Inu-oh, Matsui Daigo’s Just Remembering, Fujimoto Keita’s Just The Two Of Us, Irie Yu’s Ninja Girl, Kakimoto Kensaku’s Parasite In Love, Kaneko Masakazu’s Ring Wandering, Matsumoto Hana’s The End of the Pale Hour, Odagiri Joe’s They Say Nothing Stays the Same, Hamaguchi Ryusuke’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, as well as short films like Toyoda Toshiaki’s Go Seppuku Yourselves, Sakai Zenzo’s Psychology Counselor, and Komaya Yo’s comedy web series Like In Movies.
These are joined by a mix of compelling documentaries, classic films, and anticipated major studio releases. There is always an interesting story waiting to be discovered at Nippon Connection.
The final half of 2022 is just getting underway with most of the major film festivals in Asia gearing up for their events. By the time of this article’s publication, the upcoming edition of the SKIP INTERNATIONAL D-Cinema FILM FESTIVAL will have announced its lineup. Many more discoveries are sure to be found among titles already established in the first half of 2022. Look for more coverage here (barring time constraints).