Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Japan Cuts 2020 Edition: Jul 17 - 30 & Nippon Connection Jun 9 - 14 | Contemporary Japanese Cinema Virtual Theatrical Exhibitions



Worldwide, the organizers of film festivals scheduled for the spring and summer have responded to the pandemic in a variety of ways. Generally by cancelling altogether, optimistically postponing, or going online with virtual theatrical exhibitions. Even Cannes, the world's most prestigious and influential festival will not be hosting a physical edition. But have instead opted to organize events in other festivals in the coming year, what they termed “Cannes hors les murs”. Cannes also joined Berlin, Venice, Toronto, New York and other major film festivals to present last month's free live streaming fundraiser, We Are One: A Global Film Festival. Concurrently there are also a number of significant Asian and Japanese-specific festivals that have found themselves unable to host a physical edition this year and have transitioned into the virtual. From which The Japan Times have assembled an overview, "Asia-themed Film Festivals Migrate Online Amid Coronavirus Pandemic". These festivals continue to represent and offer a bounty of cinema over the course of the two decades since the Japanese cinema explosion of the 1990s. The directors who led that wave; Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Takeshi Kitano, Naomi Kawase, and Takashi Miike, are still among the industry's most high profile faces on the international festival circuit. Contemporaneously, a new generation of filmmakers are also making themselves heard. Though one is hard-pressed to see the abundance offered by these voices in domestic theaters. Particularly regionally here in the northwest as we have seen a significant dropoff of such titles in the programming offered in the once-abundant Seattle International Film Festival. Make no mistake, while there is a dearth to be seen on domestic screens, this is not representative of the volume and quality still issuing from Japanese film culture. Taste of Cinema's 2017 overview goes some way to assert this, with their substantial serving offered in the "The 25 Best Japanese Movies of The 2010s (So Far)".

2015 was a standout year for this set of rising new directors, it saw the domestic release of Shunji Iwai's disorienting urban drama, "A Bride for Rip Van Winkle", Ryusuke Hamaguchi's 5-hour domestic tranquility stunner, "Happy Hour", and Koji Fukada taking home the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes for “Harmonium”. In many regards, this "New Wave of Japanese Filmmakers Matches the Old". Of them, it could be said that "Fukada’s Filmmaking is a Breath of Fresh Air" following most explicitly in the footsteps of Kiyoshi Kurosawa in his darkly pessimistic take on the concerns that comprise modern Japanese life. It is not long before it becomes clear that, "In ‘Harmonium,’ a Family has Let the Wrong One In". As well as directorial debuts from new voices like Isamu Hirabayashi and Kiyoshi Kurosawa student, Yui Kiyohara who arrived with her fully formed "Our House". There have also been strong returns offered by "Sion Sono's Set of Films That Don’t Fit His Bad-Boy Label", and Takahisa Zeze's miraculous transformation seen in "The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine", offering up a whole new array of concerns around, "Takahisa Zeze's Crime, Punishment, and Transcendence". San Francisco's Japan Film Festival, and New York's Japan Cuts have been two of the standard-bearers for representing this ongoing issuance of quality film from Japan, as are examples seen in European settings like Frankfurt's Nipppon Connection. For further reading, The Japan Times feature highlights the unexpected convergence of quality and volume on offer from the latter, "Frankfurt's Nippon Connection Brings Together an Extensive Collection of Japanese Films". There's also no shortage of excellence presented annually by Japan Society's North American setting of, "Japan Cuts Film Festival at Japan Society Emphasizes the Eccentric". Year in and year out, the festival offers "Asian Cinema That Pauses for Reflection", "Life in the No-Go Zone of Fukushima and Two Views on Husbandry", "The Hard Road of the Japanese Documentary Maker", and generally an expansive representation of, "The Best of Contemporary Japanese Cinema".

By way of example, this year's online edition of Nippon Connection saw the memorable feature length oddity of Isamu Hirabayashi "Shell & Joint", the excellent Sakura Ando boxing vehicle from Masaharu Take "100 Yen Love". Documentary and genre works are presented,  Sabu's supernatural "Dancing Mary", the tough skinned urban realities of Tetsuya Nakashima's "World of Kanako", Sion Sono trying his hand at sci-fi in "Whispering Star", and the documentary on progressive journalist Isoko Mochizuki, by Tatsuya Mori "I-Documentary of the Journalist". There's also groundbreaking anime to be had in Masaki Yuasa's follow up to his award-winning "The Tatami Galaxy", "The Night is Short, Walk On Girl", and Keiichi Hara's historic "Miss Hokusai". Urban life is painted in very different hues by Yukiko Mishima in "Shape of Red", and Takafumi Tsuchiya's "Flowers & Rain". Inspired by Roc Morin's "How to Hire Fake Friends and Family" for The Atlantic, Werner Herzog delivers one of the slipperiest of his indistinguishable hybrids of documentary and fiction, "Family Romance LLC", and "Nobuhiko Obayashi, Unpredictable Japanese Director", leaves us his final film as a "Labyrinth of Cinema". Similarly there's some overlap to be had in this year's online iteration of Japan Cuts. Hirabayashi's "Shell & Joint" is on offer, as is Obayashi's final film, and a documentary on the late director as well. If one missed any of Yoji Yamada's serial films focused on the imperturbable Tora-san, there's a quartet being presented, from his first to the fiftieth, and a few in between. This year's winner of the prestigious Kinema Junpo award, Haruhiko Arai's "It Feels So Good", will surely be a highlight, as will Takuya Misawa's "The Murders of Oiso". "Snow on the Blades" director Setsuro Wakamatsu makes a return with star power and melodrama in "Fukushima 50", and "One Cut of the Dead" director Shinichiro Ueda is back again with some, "Special Actors". Tadanobu Asano likely had a wonderful time making Toshiyaki Toyoda's spirited response to his wrongful arrest. New films by rising directors can be found from the assistant director on Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Journey to the Shore" Taku Tsuboi, as well as the passion project from Hirokazu Kore-eda protege, Nanako Hirose. Also appealing are award-winning mentions for relative unknowns Anshul Chauhan, and the intensity on offer from newcomer Ryo Katayama. Discussions on labor and class, with a dash of "the humanistic impulses of Kenji Mizoguchi", from Kana Yamada, and a tender and quietly devastating roadtrip drama, seen as a bridging of adolescence and adulthood in this Berlin Film Festival Special Mention from Nobuhiro Suwa.