Articles by: Rob Schwartz
The Last Word

Will it K-pop in the US or not?

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Music

Vintage Cali tunesters prepare to sizzle Japan

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Clubbing

Butoh, steampunk and skin hooks

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Agenda

An interpretative trio in the mutable genre

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Agenda

Not just pressing play on a laptop

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Charity + fetish = nice combo

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Agenda

Fujiyama Annette is a dance/theater company run by innovative 30-year-old director Nay Hasegawa. Named after an imaginary French-Japanese model, the group mixes video projection, dance, music and art in unique works that use body movement instead of words to tell stories. Its newest, POF — The Proof of a Family, was first performed in conjunction ...

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Agenda

Butoh festivals often have surreal titles befitting a haunting dance style, and the present fest is no different. “A Whisper of Strange Object” is an ongoing festival that features both up-and-coming as well as long established butoh dancers. In the latter category are Mitsuyo Uesugi and Mitsutaka Ishii, two performers who have been pushing the ...

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Agenda

Tokyo’s inventive Silk Road-influenced band Rain in Eden presents a fascinating piece of musical theater that begins in an isolated Central Asian village where music and dance are forbidden. One day a girl hears a passing caravan and falls in love with the sound of its music. She runs away in search of a distant ...

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Agenda

Yukio Waguri is the only student of butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata who is still actively staging performances in the avant-garde dance style. For his upcoming piece, he eschews his teacher’s butoh-fu notation and formulates his own dance language, drawing inspiration from a book on the human form by famed aesthetician Atsushi Tanigawa. The Body Labyrinth ...

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Agenda

Tokyo’s best small film festival—perhaps its best, period—is back with a particularly strong line-up. At the 11th edition, check out this year’s Palme D’Or winner, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, and the documentary I Wish I Knew by leading Chinese filmmaker Jia Zhangke. Jang Cheol-Soo’s debut, Bedevilled, garnered strong reviews when it ...

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Agenda

Expect whips and latex galore as Japan’s leading kinky party returns for another edition of uninhibited fun. This year’s Japan Fetish Ball promises to be even more of an eyeful than usual, thanks to the participation of local mainstays Torture Garden, Tokyo Perve, Libido and Tokyo Decadance alongside founders Tokyo Kink Society. Performers include San ...

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Agenda

The oft-maligned Tokyo International Film Festival has made great strides in its recent programming. For this year’s competition section, 2002 winner Nir Bergman returns with Intimate Grammar, a coming-of-age tale set in the ’60s that took top prize at the Jerusalem Film Festival. Other films to keep an eye out for include Brighton Rock (pictured), ...

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Agenda

British producer and longtime Tokyo resident Lorenzo Fantini debuts his first film, Edonism, at restaurant-club 57 in Roppongi this weekend. Directed by Fantini’s painter/writer/filmmaker cousin Alessandro, the film focuses on James (Sacha Muhlebach), who arrives in Tokyo with wife Sophie (Lucy King) but soon becomes an alcoholic and slips into a coma. When he is ...

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Agenda

The third edition of curator Vivienne U.H. Doan’s provocative multimedia event features 12 artists and performers, with the focus this time placed largely on fashion. “The crux of this year’s event is the tension between overt fashion and veiled taboo,” says Doan, who is an artist herself. Presentations to look out for include the erotic ...

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Agenda

With Tokyo becoming such a melting pot, it’s inevitable that someone would attempt a project as alluring as Rain in Eden. A four-piece dedicated to the music of the Silk Road, the group mixes electronic sounds with instruments that were once carried in caravans across Asia. Heading up the band is American transplant Kelly Williams, ...

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CDs & DVDs

Elephant, Some Bread, You and Me

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Agenda

Belly dance shows are pretty easy to come by in Tokyo, but few can compare to the spectacle of Amani. Born Angel Ayoub, the Lebanese dancer is one of the world’s foremost practitioners of the art, with a repertoire that extends across the Middle East, taking in the dance styles of Armenia, Morocco and Baladi. ...

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CDs & DVDs

Sadistic Dance

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CDs & DVDs

Urbanism

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Agenda

It will come as a shock to no one that the premier fetish event in Asia takes place in Tokyo. The Japan Fetish Ball, put on by Tokyo Kink Society, encompasses all aspects of fetish culture. What may come as something of a surprise is that JFB is not about sex—rather, the event focuses on ...

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Agenda

Ever since the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) gave up its pretensions of being “the Cannes of the East,” it’s been trying to reinvent itself as a cutting-edge film fest with a focus on Asia. Unfortunately, the organizers have been unwilling to take chances—until this year. The last-minute decision to screen controversial documentary The Cove, ...

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An intermingling of Korean, Japanese and music

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An intermingling of Korean, Japanese and music

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A rare Japanese film with grace, insight, subtle emotion and power

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Novel-turned-movie about a rebellious girl who falls in love with a boy and bases her life around him

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Novel-turned-movie about a rebellious girl who falls in love with a boy and bases her life around him

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Sin City with a little more color, rap and Japanese swords

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Sin City with a little more color, rap and Japanese swords

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75-year-old cameraman's debut feature is bleak but compelling

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75-year-old cameraman's debut feature is bleak but compelling

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A scenic bicycle trip through Taiwan

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A scenic bicycle trip through Taiwan

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The latter days of a swordfighting stuntman

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The latter days of a swordfighting stuntman

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A reasonably realistic and entertaining ensemble drama

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Not your standard film narrative

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Not your standard film narrative

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It’s not often in film that you come across a premise that hasn’t been tried before—or at least, not in the same vein. Michihito Fujii’s latest feature centers around handsome high-schooler Yukio (Masaki Okada), who’s also been blessed with brains and a heart. Yet he hides a secret that makes him different: He has four ...

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It’s not often in film that you come across a premise that hasn’t been tried before—or at least, not in the same vein. Michihito Fujii’s latest feature centers around handsome high-schooler Yukio (Masaki Okada), who’s also been blessed with brains and a heart. Yet he hides a secret that makes him different: He has four ...

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Hyper-violent high school bad boy beat-em up

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Hyper-violent high school bad boy beat-em up

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Roman bath designer back in Japan

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Roman bath designer back in Japan

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Unconcealed Tarantino emulation

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Worth a look, but not a masterpiece

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Worth a look, but not a masterpiece

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Light entertainment with a message

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Light entertainment with a message

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Latest work by celebrated young filmmaker

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Latest work by celebrated young filmmaker

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Up and coming director shows promise and creativity

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Up and coming director shows promise and creativity

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There is a long tradition of legendary and renowned butoh dancers doing feature film work in Japan, whether true to form or influenced by it. The dance form’s originator, Tatsumi Hijikata, appeared in numerous films, most notably Horrors of Malformed Men (1969). The other founder of the style, Kazuo Ono, did a whole series of ...

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There is a long tradition of legendary and renowned butoh dancers doing feature film work in Japan, whether true to form or influenced by it. The dance form’s originator, Tatsumi Hijikata, appeared in numerous films, most notably Horrors of Malformed Men (1969). The other founder of the style, Kazuo Ono, did a whole series of ...

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Folk tale inspired anime by Studio Ghibli founder

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Folk tale inspired anime by Studio Ghibli founder

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Unfolds like a typical Japanese family drama, but touches in a profound way

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Unfolds like a typical Japanese family drama, but touches in a profound way

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Japan makes yet another romantic drama about a damaged woman who learns to love again

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Japan makes yet another romantic drama about a damaged woman who learns to love again

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One half of comedy duo Downtown returns with his latest directorial effort

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One half of comedy duo Downtown returns with his latest directorial effort

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As those of us living here who are not Japanese—or not fully Japanese—know, the insular nature of Japanese society tends to exclude us. This phenomenon cuts deep to those who actually have partial Japanese blood, and thus feel a part of society here, even if that society does not reciprocate. The new documentary Hafu, by ...

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Originally a massively popular manga written and illustrated by celebrated author Leiji Matsumoto, Space Pirate Captain Harlock has become a franchise with a long-running animation series. Now a feature film with a budget north of $30 million it’s one of the most expensive Japanese films in recent memory. The Shinji Aramaki-directed work, featuring motion capture ...

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This film is based upon a much-heralded autobiographical novel by Kappa Senoh that was published in 1999. As such Shonen H has a very personal, emotional and at times, cloying feel to it. Despite this, the anti-war and humanist take on Japanese history makes the work watchable and important. It’s the 1930s and the Senoh ...

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Extraordinarily performed tale of a cult

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The 16th feature film...

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Iconoclastic director fails to display trademark originality

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Uber-hip director Nakata back with another stylish thriller

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A wonderful female documentarian’s wonderful film

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Five J-film gems from the last few years

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“Superflat” hits the big screen

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Renews your faith in Japanese film

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Another tour de force by one-to-watch filmmaker Funahashi

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Testing the boundaries between live action and anime

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Suitably unbearable to watch

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If you wanted to try out a Japanese comedy, try this

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A loose adaptation of Shakespeare on a Japanese island by a UK filmmaker

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Taut and twisty enough

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A cottage industry for films about internationals in Japan

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Fresh from a 60-million book run

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A quintessential Japanese indie film—in a bad way

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Intimate and admiring, if abstract, portrait of Adachi

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Thought Japanese cinema had no spark left?

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Work about gay club important for Japanese cinema

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Suicide bakery

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A director with real promise

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Switching parts...

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Poetic-realistic 3/11 effort from Sono Sion

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Too cuddly?

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An interesting take on a mystic topic

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Must-see scheme story

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Clever comedic flick

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Sweet and thoroughly bizarre

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Frustrating director Toshiaki Toyoda

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Essential viewing

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Study your own cinema Japan!

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Won’t pick up prizes

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Interesting if not wholly successful

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Even more stilted than its US counterparts

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Makes enough of a point

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Perhaps it has to do with the interesting mixture in the Japanese religious tradition of Buddhism—with its emphasis on reincarnation—and Shintoism—with its emphasis on spirit—but Japanese films about otherworldly lives tend to be successful in a way that Western films are not. One only needs to look at Robin Williams’ awful What Dreams May Come ...

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There have been a lot of great animated features out of Japan recently (see my review of Beserk 2 in Metropolis #952, for example) and this wonderful tour de force fits squarely in that category. Based on a story by legendary early Showa-era poet and children’s author Kenji Miyazawa, Gusukō Budori no Denki creates a ...

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Nice idea, but...

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Jumpei Matsumoto is attempting to fill the void

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Anime feature makes you believe

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Twisting romantic thriller from a whirlwind of activity

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Time-slip bath-related comedy

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Quirky and engaging

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Passable but flawed thriller

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Writer/director Hiroyuki Okiura and Production I.G. have produced a winner

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Effective and powerful

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Subpar and silly

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The posthumous release of top director Yoshimitsu Morita

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A not-for-profit doc helping to heal the wounds

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For those who like quiet, contemplative work

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Movie News

Okinawa International, take four

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Atmosphere enough to carry trademark Ishii piece

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Hope within the ennui of youth

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Treads a fine line between sweet and saccharine

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A guide to what 3-D animation will look like in the future

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A massively popular film franchise can do wonders for your career

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Shrill times ten

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Not a bad watch for those interested in a Japanese view of the war

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Melodramatic but watchable

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A fascinating film provokes a dual reaction

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Hard-boiled gangland thriller ends on a low

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Comedy about pregnant woman's plight not exactly what it thinks it is

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Balancing comedy and identity search

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The kind of film we wish Japan would make more of

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Five bank robbers stuck in a building. Sound like anything?

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Engrossing extra-marital tale, if not an orgy of liberalism

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Does it cross the border of so-bad-it's-good?

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Indie production house Asmik Ace's savior?

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One of three films this year about JAXA's cosmic exploration

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Five prison inmates take part in this piece of foody fiction

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Koki Yoshida's jittery portrait of a family suffocated by ennui

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The biggest of the latest craze in videogame adaptations?

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Fêted director Naomi Kawase's painfully slow affair with nature

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Hospital drama with J-pop idol and popular cutie

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About a boy. And another boy

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Absurdist new derivation from the high-school genre

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The, count-'em, eighth flick in the Naruto series

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Formulaic but feel good kids movie from Fumie Nishikawa

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What's up in Jollywood

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The story Narayama Bushiko (The Ballad of Narayama) is much loved in Japan. It’s based on the old northern Japan custom of taking elderly people to a mountaintop and leaving them to die once they’ve served their usefulness to society. First a novel by Shichiro Fukuyama in 1956, Narayama Bushiko was made into an acclaimed ...

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The appearance of a young, exciting filmmaker is something that film critics live for, especially if the auteur exhibits a unique vision and fresh energy that makes film art so enjoyable. Yuya Ishii is one such director. At the tender age of 28 he has made eight films, and already received significant accolades. Kawa no ...

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These days I often fret for the future of Japanese film, feeling the originality that has enlivened it is slipping away. And then a filmmaker like Hitoshi Matsumoto appears on the scene. Matsumoto has long been in the Japanese consciousness as half the manzai comic duo Downtown, but in 2007 he started making films, offering ...

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In general, Shinji Aoyama has been one of the leading lights of Japanese cinema over the past 15 years. He’s created deep think pieces like Eureka (2000) and the touching Sad Vacation and developed a reputation as a creative force in the industry. Nevertheless, the director has also gone badly wrong at times (2005’s Eli ...

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Contrary to what the fanboy set in the US might think, the leading filmmaker in Japan is Hirokazu Kore-eda, whose work is consistently celebrated at Cannes and has won awards around the world. His latest piece comes on the heels of the edgy Air Doll (2009), about a blow-up sex doll that comes to life, ...

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Director Nobuhiro Yamashita’s film based on the memoir by Saburo Kawamoto comes off as a combination of Koji Wakamatsu’s award-winning United Red Army (2008) and Yukinari Hanawa’s coming-of-age crime drama Hatsukoi (2006). All three period pieces are set in the late 60s and early 70s. Wakamatsu’s work focuses on the true story of student radicals, ...

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Osamu Tezuka (1929-1989) revolutionized the genre of manga and was the “godfather” of anime, pushing it into the mainstream of Japanese pop culture during his seminal career. He had a number of serialized epic stories for manga and among them was Buddha, on which this film—the first in a trilogy—is based. Simply put, the story ...

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55-year old indie/experimental director Masashi Yamamoto has been cranking out his own brand of off-beat, challenging and occasionally misguided cinema for 25 years now. The filmmaker often concentrates on Japan’s underground culture, edgy relationships, drugs, thugs, and, of course, gaijin—such as in Junk Food (1999), and the current offering Three Points. The first half intercuts ...

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Hot director Ryuichi Honda (GS Wonderland) comes forth with a wacky, surreal comedy in the vein of Kankuro Kudo, king of the genre. Based on a novel by celebrated author Shiro Maeda, this road movie-cum-dreamlike exploration opened the beloved northern Japan Yubari Fantastic Film festival in February. The story centers on Nobu (Yutaka Takenouchi) and ...

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Anime nerds across the world are trembling with excitement at the prospect of a new, feature length work by director/screenwriter/producer/animator Makoto Shinkai. Many see him as the heir apparent to the throne of master Hayao Miyazaki, and in Shinkai’s recent work (5 Centimeters per Second, The Place Promised in Our Early Days), the similarities are ...

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Some films have just the right balance of over-the-top silliness, colorful visuals, traditional Japanese folk culture and unique references. Tofu Kozo is one. Based on the Natsuhiko Kyogoku’s novel, the film is a fantastical adventure into the spirit (and human) world of Edo-period Japan with a cuter-than-cute protagonist. Tofu Kozo (Kyoko Fukuda) is a tiny ...

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In a break from the usual manga-based movies which rule Japan these days, this work is an adaptation of Shion Miura’s Naoki Prize-winning novel of the same name, which has sold more than 500,000 copies. As such it has a more literary and existential feel than your usual J-film, and this imagistic style works well ...

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In the past few years many Japanese filmmakers have traveled overseas and set their films in foreign countries, mostly with disappointing results. In this context, director Kazuya Ogawa’s Pink Subaru is more than refreshing—it’s a revelation. Set in the West Bank and Israel, and mostly in Arabic and Hebrew, Pink Subaru tells the story of ...

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Ready for another extravaganza of overacting, hyper-vivid colors, loopy jokes and teen melodrama? Well, then, it must be another feature-length, live-action film based on a popular manga. Serialized from 2003-2008, High School Debut was a huge hit as a girls’ comic, with about six million (!) volumes in print. The big-screen treatment treads over the ...

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Movie News

If you were going to start a film fest, where would be your ideal location? Some tropical paradise, probably. That’s exactly what Yoshimoto Kogyo, a major management company specializing in comedians, thought when they founded the Okinawa International Movie Festival two years ago. Yoshimoto, naturally, wanted to focus on comedies, but they also wanted to ...

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Fifty-eight-year-old director Kazuki Omori is a long-established and well-thought-of Japanese filmmaker. In 1980, he was one of the first to adapt a Haruki Murakami novel (Kaze no Uta o Kike), and the same year he crafted the successful romantic comedy Disciples of Hippocrates. Both were for the highly respected indie production house Art Theater Guild. ...

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Now in his late 30s, director Sono Sion—like Koji Wakamatsu and Teruo Ishii before him—is the enfant terrible of Japanese cinema. He won the auspicious Pia Film Festival with Bicycle Sighs in 1989 before debuting the existential art-house flick The Room at Venice Film Fest in ’92. Then his output dwindled until the cult hit ...

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French filmmaker Vincent Moon has built up quite a reputation as a director of music documentaries (Little Blue Nothing) and as a cameraman for concert films (All Tomorrow’s Parties). His experimental project The Take-Away Shows, shot for the web, features famous musical acts (R.E.M., Arcade Fire, Sigur Ros and many more) doing improvised performances in ...

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This is the second time in less than a month that this column has reviewed a flick focusing on alcoholism. Sadly, Bakamono has little of the sensitivity and subtle use of tone of Yoichi Higashi’s Yoi ga Sametara Uchi ni Kaerou. Instead, we get a sprawling melodrama that takes place over ten years and winds ...

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This is the long-awaited adaptation of the most famous book from Japan’s best-loved contemporary novelist, Haruki Murakami. Throw in the fact that The Beatles clan uncharacteristically approved the use of the title song and Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead) did the rest of the soundtrack, and you have quite some expectations. Thank the cinema gods, it’s ...

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There have been many great films about alcoholism—The Lost Weekend, Days of Wine and Roses and Leaving Las Vegas are just a few of the classics that spring to mind. Now celebrated director Yoichi Higashi (Berlin film fest Silver Bear winner for Village of Dreams) tosses his hat into the crowded ring with this fine ...

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This film mixes two trusted Japanese genres—shakai mondai (“social issues”) and namida chodai (“tearjerker”)—for an over-the-top tableaux. The social issue is Hansen’s disease (a.k.a. leprosy), specifically how those afflicted by the illness in Japan were deprived of their civil rights and forcibly relocated to sanatoriums. The surviving ex-patients were only allowed back into society in ...

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This is the perfect example of a movie that’s way more frustrating than it would be if it were simply bad. Our Brief Eternity has a gripping premise that offers ample opportunity to explore interesting areas of the mind. Indeed, the first 40 minutes are genuinely compelling, but it then wavers and devolves into a ...

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Brought to you by the cutting-edge anime production company Madhouse (Tokyo Godfathers, Paprika), Redline has generated significant buzz thanks to its all-star cast (Takuya Kimura, Yu Aoi, Tadanobu Asano). It’s also become a favorite of anime fans abroad as representative of the next generation of Japanese animation. The blockbuster combines the talent of several filmmakers, ...

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Based on the 1975 novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui (who also wrote The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Paprika), this story is so popular that it has served as the basis for no fewer than four TV series. The new film version recruits the super sexy Sei Ashina (Silk, King Game) to play the title ...

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The second film about Japan’s AV industry to appear in less than a month (the other being Namae no nai Onnatachi), Nude is a surprisingly well executed work. Based on the eponymous autobiography by porn actress “Mihori,” the film may or may not be entirely factual, but it certainly captures the exhilaration and heartbreak of ...

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Remarkable, powerful and unpredictable, this debut work by Japanese film subtitler extraordinaire Linda Hoaglund is a triumph. Ostensibly a documentary that examines the 1960 Tokyo protests against the US-Japan security treaty (“ANPO” in colloquial Japanese), the film approaches its subject through stunning artwork that Hoaglund unearthed in her research. Thus, instead of a dry recitation ...

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Director Isabel Coixet (My Life Without Me, The Secret Life of Words, Elegy) has made a number of very good films but, like so many foreign directors who come to Japan, she got seduced by neon, Tokyo cityscapes and lithe women. Shot in the fall and winter of 2008, Night Tokyo Day got loudly booed ...

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With Japan’s AV industry cranking out approximately 20,000 new titles a year, the topic of women getting roped into the porn racket is ripe for investigation. Namae no nai Onnatachi, based on the bestselling memoir of the same name by Atsuhiko Nakamura, depicts how one young woman got involved in the industry. It’s a film ...

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This laughable piece of tripe uses the age-old technique of taking characters from their normal lives and placing them in an artificially staged situation (think Cube or last year’s Japanese flick Kaiji). In this case, ten people are kidnapped, taken to a Tokyo hotel (or so they think), and forced to play the game of ...

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In the early ’50s, legendary Hollywood director Josef von Sternberg became obsessed with the story of Kazuko Higa, a young Japanese woman whose life on a remote Pacific island was turned upside down after the arrival of 30 Japanese soldiers. Although World War II soon ends, these soldiers refused to surrender, and they soon began ...

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The Hana to Hebi film series holds a special place in Japanese cinematic history. The first movie, a roman porno work released in 1974, was adapted from Oniroku Dan’s series of novels, and it starred the genre-leading actress Naomi Tani. Though the film was a huge hit, friction between Dan and the Nikkatsu film studio ...

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This bizarre piece of comedy-horror is pretty far off the wall, and only marginally funny. It starts with a vignette of Sugina (Sumina Teramoto) as a bratty child who delights in frightening her friends. Years later, she’s a graduate student (portrayed by Saki Aibu) at a respected university, where her highly prized work consists of ...

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Koji Wakamatsu’s films from the 1960s were plotless orgies of sex and violence (and sexual violence). They shocked, mystified and scandalized the entire country, never more so than when Affairs within Walls (1965) became one of the first Japanese films to be accepted at the prestigious Berlin Film Festival. In fact, Wakamatsu’s entire oeuvre reflects ...

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Based on the’70s TV series of the same name, Mitsubachi Hachi is fresh off a successful screening at Italy’s renowned Giffoni children’s film festival. For this idyllically beautiful effort, Tatsunoko Productions has put together a first-class team that includes Okuribito scriptwriter Kundo Koyama and Macross 7 director Tetsuro Amino. Though nature is depicted in a ...

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The Japanese film industry has a weakness for “time slip” films, so it’s not surprising that even a quirky and inventive director like Yoshihiro Nakamura (Golden Slumber, Fish Story) would throw himself into the genre—albeit in a typically idiosyncratic way. Based on a novel by Gen Araki, Chonmage Purin offers a new take on the ...

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Awaremi Mumashika calls to mind recent comedies by Satoshi Miki (Instant Numa) and Kankuro Kudo (No More Cry), in which oddball characters come together in wacky, convoluted situations that play out in a humorous, often anarchic manner. So it is in this farce by director Kentaro Matsuda, which was made last year but is just ...

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This column has long championed Hirokazu Kore-eda as the best Japanese filmmaker working today, so Torso—the directorial debut by longtime Kore-eda cinematographer Yutaka Yamazaki—aroused much anticipation. Somewhat akin to the American movie Lars and the Real Girl (about a man in love with a life-sized doll) or, on the home front, Nagisa Oshima’s Max Mon ...

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Whenever Studio Ghibli releases a film these days, it’s a national event—even if the film is not directed by Hayao Miyazaki and is essentially a remake. Karigurashi no Arrietty, helmed by veteran Ghibli animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi, is a reworking of the 1997 British live-action flick The Borrowers, but nonetheless comes across as a fine, entertaining ...

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Of all Japan’s wartime colonies, Taiwan feels the least bitterness towards its former occupier (which is not to say there’s none at all). It’s fitting, then, that this film, based on a short story by literary giant Ryunosuke Akutagawa, should be transposed to Taiwan from its original setting on Izu. After losing her Taiwanese husband, ...

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Eiga

Jinsei Tsuji is as close as Japan gets to a renaissance man. A longtime rock vocalist, he’s also an award-winning novelist, a screenwriter, and yes, a film director. His latest effort, which premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year, is a sweet story about a retired pro wrestler named Daimajin (Atonio Inoki) who ...

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Eiga

A curious feature of Japanese cinema is that themes get repeated in mini-cycles—recently, for instance, we’ve had a cluster of films dealing with amnesia (though I can’t remember enough movies to be sure!). The latest is Matataki, in which Izumi (Keiko Kitagawa) has lost her memory in a motorcycle accident that killed her cute, artistic ...

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Eiga

Occasional actor Tatsushi Omori (son of dance legend Akaji Maro) burst onto the directing scene with his brutal but compelling 2005 masterpiece Gerumaniumu no Yoru (“The Whispering of the Gods”). It was, without a doubt, the most sensational directorial debut in a decade but this follow-up is disappointing. Kenta (Shota Masuda) and Jun (Kengo Kora) ...

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Eiga

When Japan’s leading comedian Beat Takeshi decided to become a film director in the late ’80s (under his real name, Takeshi Kitano), he specialized in gritty, deadpan, hyper-violent yakuza flicks. Those early films—Violent Cop, Boiling Point and Sonatine—won rave reviews at home and abroad. Kitano’s oeuvre then bounced around from melodrama to slapstick comedy and, ...

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Eiga

Based on the successful novel of the same name, Kokou no Mesu explores medical corruption and the politics of patient care. It’s set in 1989, a time when liver transplants from brain-dead donors were legal around the world—but not in Japan. After losing his mother following a botched diagnosis, surgeon Toma (Shinichi Tsutsumi) becomes entirely ...

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Eiga

Japanese films set in the idyllic countryside are a distinct genre—one whose blend of melodrama and nostalgia usually leaves all but the most ardent followers cold. Permanent Nobara is no exception. Talented director Daihachi Yoshida, fresh off his award-winning con-man comedy Kuhio Taisa (2009), here offers up a simpering dud. Set in Yoshida’s home prefecture ...

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Eiga

If you ever wanted to see the cinematic equivalent of a J-pop song, here’s your chance. Rendezvous floats along with a heavy dose of cloying cuteness, clever but predictable hooks, and a faint whiff of energy. Meguru (Misaki Uno from the J-pop group AAA) is an aspiring actress whose career is going nowhere. On the ...

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Eiga

The PIA Film Festival has a wonderful tradition of supporting young Japanese filmmakers, and this flick is the 19th in a long line of fine movies made with PFF scholarship money. Sawako (Hikaru Mitsushima) is a bumbling Tokyo 20-something with no dreams, no aspirations and no talents. She gleefully accepts her ineptitude but is forced ...

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Eiga

This high school drama, based on a manga of the same name by Tetsuya Honda, is a re-imaging of the old samurai chambara film genre for the Hello Kitty crowd. Sixteen-year-old kendo champion Kaori (the quite cute Riko Narumi) has been trained by her sensei father since childhood, but when classmate and neophyte kendo student ...

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Eiga

Though many fine films have been set in Okinawa (Shohei Imamura’s 1968 effort Kamigami Fukaki Yokubo and Go Takamine’s Untamagiru from 1989 spring to mind), the recent trend has been towards poorly made movies that trade on the islands’ natural beauty—like last year’s wretched Minami no Shima no Furimun. Teidakankan doesn’t plummet to those depths, ...

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Eiga

Sometime actor Yukinori Kameda takes a stab at directing an old fashioned mystery—and does a pretty decent job of it. In the grand tradition of Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen (both of whom are referenced in the opening scenes), Nigai Mitsu is an ensemble drama in which all the principals are gathered in a room ...

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Eiga

Like recent films Kakera and Miyoko Asagaya Kibun, Solanin is based on a popular manga that deals with youngsters facing the challenges of life. Unlike those somewhat gritty and realistic flicks, though, this one indulges in corny melodrama, even if it does manage to build some dramatic velocity. Twenty-something OL Meiko (the über-cute Aoi Miyazaki) ...

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Eiga

Most films reviewed in this column have little direct relevance to the lives of expats in Japan. Not this one. Based on a well-known manga series by Saori Oguri (see Books, page 19), Darling wa Gaikokujin addresses a bevy of cross-cultural issues in its account of a binational romance. Director Kazuaki Ue also gives the ...

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Eiga

It’s not often that a new filmmaker comes along with a pedigree like Momoko Ando’s. Her father is the legendary actor/director Eiji Okuda, her mother the essayist Kazu Ando, and her sister the rising-star actress Sakura Ando. Momoko studied film production at the Slade School of Fine Art in London, and her debut work is ...

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Eiga

American director Hans Canosa has made a name for himself as a filmmaker who takes chances. His brilliant Conversations with Other Women (2005) was shot entirely in split screen, and in Dareka ga Watashi ni Kisu wo Shita, he takes the celebrated novel Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (by screenwriting collaborator Gabrielle Zevin) and transposes ...

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Eiga

The Doraemon industry is still going strong—the animated TV show about a robotic cat from future has been on the air for 40 years, and a new feature film is released every year during spring break. Doraemon Nobita no Ningyo Daikaisen, the 30th in the series, takes place mainly under the sea: when his schoolboy ...

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Eiga

Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo is one of those stories that refuses to fade from Japanese popular culture. The original novel, by Yasutaka Tsutsui, was serialized in 1965-66 to huge popular acclaim. Since then, there have been two hit TV series, two live-action feature films (plus a made-for-TV one) and a highly regarded anime version. You’d ...

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Eiga

It’s fitting for a film with the title Kotoba no nai Fuyu (literally, “Wordless Winter”) to be a quiet, lilting work that offers bursts of emotional intensity. Fusako (Saki Takaoka) works at a stable and lives with her father (Toshiyuki Kitami), a pharmacist, in a rural Hokkaido town. A natural beauty, she fears her youth ...

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Eiga

Well-known director Isao Yukisada (Go; Crying out Love, In the Center of the World) returns with a flick based on a book by award-winning novelist Shuichi Yoshida. Four twentysomethings live together in a 2LDK in Setagaya-ku and pursue their various interests: Kotomi (Shihori Kanjiya) is a failing actress who’s in love with a busy soap ...

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Eiga

There are films which seem to have potential but are just a little misguided, and then there are others which are truly frustrating. This work falls into the latter category. Director Tetsuya Mariko made this as a graduation project at the Tokyo University of the Arts, taking Richard F. Outcault’s eponymous 19th century comic as ...

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Eiga

It’s always exciting to see the emergence of a talented new filmmaker, and that’s just the case with Akane Yamada and her debut effort Subete wa Umi ni Naru. Yamada wrote the screenplay for the inventive supernatural thriller Tea Fight (2008), but this work has significantly more emotional depth. Cute and intelligent bookstore clerk Natsuki ...

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Eiga

Director Yoshihiro Nakamura’s Fish Story was my number one pick for 2009, and the talented auteur is back at it with this compelling film. Golden Slumber is successful on many levels—as a thriller, as stinging political commentary and as human drama, among others. Aoyagi (Masato Sakai) is an easygoing, somewhat naive deliveryman who had a ...

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Eiga

Co-directed by acclaimed Japanese auteur Nobuhiro Suwa and French actor/director Hippolyte Girardot, this finely crafted film is one of the few recent international collaborations to bring out the best in everyone involved. Yuki (Noë Sampy) is a 9-year-old-girl living in Paris with her Japanese mother (Tsuyu) and French father (Girardot). Her idyllic world with best ...

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Eiga

This film, an international collaboration with director Korean John H. Lee, serves as the comeback vehicle for talented actress Miho Nakayama. Unfortunately, the script is so weak and the tear-jerking so ham-fisted that the project is a total failure. Set in 1975, Sayonara Itsuka follows Yutaka (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a Japanese businessman who is engaged to ...

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Eiga

This wacky animated flick is high on novelty value. Like South Park, it’s a crudely put-together cartoon that started out as an underground hit, then moved to TV and film. Creator Frogman (a.k.a. Ryo Ono), who also does almost all of the voices, uses Flash animation for that distinctive webpage adornment/super-cheesy look. The visuals are ...

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Eiga

The idea of making a film comprised of a single continuous shot has been tried numerous times, perhaps most impressively in Aleksandr Sokurov’s highly praised Russian Ark (2003). But director Tetsuaki Matsue and musician Kenta Maeda apparently didn’t get the memo. This concert film/documentary shows Maeda walking from Kichijoji Hachiman Shrine to Inokashira Park on ...

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Eiga

1. Dare mo Shiranai (2004) Hirokazu Koreeda has never been more in control of his craft than with this thoroughly compelling drama of children who must fend for themselves after being deserted by their mother. The denouement is simultaneously understated and overwhelming. Fourteen-year-old Yuya Yagira deservedly walked away from Cannes with the Best Actor award ...

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Eiga

Toshiaki Toyoda is one of the most interesting and talented directors to emerge from Japan in the last ten years. His fresh and vibrant Pornostar (1998) announced the arrival of a new talent, and many critics (this reviewer excepted) praised his violent dystopia Aoi Haru (2002). Toyoda’s career was put on hold following a drug ...

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Eiga

This omnibus work attempts to capture the zeitgeist of the oughts by presenting three self-contained films from a trio of directors. Kumiko Hoshizaki’s “Akane Sasu Heya” is the story of Maki, a 20-something temp who is sick of her boring job and life in general. The rather bizarre solution she comes up with is to ...

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Eiga

For his fourth film, director Takayuki Suzui (Angel in the Box) adapts a short story by popular writer Jiro Asada (Poppoya). Despite problems with the setup, Gin Iro no Ame offers an interesting plot. Kazuya (Kento Kaku) is a track and field star at his high school in Shimane and an all-around good kid. Yet ...

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Eiga

The direct translation of Nakinagara Ikite is “living while crying,” and at times it seems this film’s raison d’etre is to make everyone in it, and the audience, break down in tears. That said, the documentary—which was shot over a 15-year-period and originally aired as a series on Fuji TV—is a compelling project. It tells ...

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Eiga

Director Katsuyuki Motohiro is best known for the phenomenally successful action series Odaru Daisosasen (“Bayside Shakedown”), but he also does pretty well with comedy. Although Summer Time Machine Blues (2005) was a dud, Motohiro has crafted a winner with Magare! Supun, which premiered at last month’s Tokyo International Film Fest. Yone (Masami Nagasawa) is the ...

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Eiga

During the past 25 years, writer-director Yoshimitsu Morita has been one of the stalwarts of Japanese cinema. In 1983, he burst out of his “pink” (soft-core porn) past and into the mainstream with the deliciously ironic and satirical The Family Game. Since then, he’s made everything from melodramas and comedies to horror flicks. Morita’s 2006 ...

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Eiga

Sometimes you run across a movie that makes you scratch your head and wonder how the director failed to realize he or she was making something nearly unwatchable. That’s the case with Setsuro Wakamatsu’s three-hour and twenty-minute drama Shizumanu Taiyo. The movie is based on the real-life case of a JAL employee who (eventually) gets ...

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Eiga

The original US version of Sideways (2004) was a charming film with a tour-de-force performance by the inimitable Paul Giamatti. This begs the question: why redo it? Although that query hangs in the air with all remakes, this fish-out-of-water tale is actually a pretty good film. Scriptwriting teacher and aspiring TV writer Michio (Fumiyo Kohinata) ...

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Eiga

Osamu Dazai was one of the postwar Japanese authors who set the stage for the country to emerge as a major force in contemporary fiction. This year, the centenary of his birth, sees three of his novels hitting the big screen. Shayo, Dazai’s take on the decline of the aristocracy, was released earlier in the ...

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Eiga

Despite the fact that this film is full of laughable overacting and weighted down with an overwrought scenario (the main character spends a full 30 minutes on a beam between two skyscrapers), there is a fascinating (perhaps unintentional) critique of materialist society here. Kaiji Ito (Tetsuya Fujiwara) is a lonely freeta working at a local ...

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Eiga

This new work by hyper-tacky director Noboru Iguchi is more of the same lewd comedy-splatter that we’ve come to expect. (In terms of taste, all you need to know about Iguchi is that he once made a film about a high school girl who develops giant male genitalia that she’s unable to hide!) Robo Geisha ...

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Eiga

Talented writer/directors like Satoshi Miki (Tenten) and Kankuro Kudo (The Shonen Merikensack) have ushered in an era of Japanese comedy where surreal visuals, a frenetic pace and all manner of pop references prevail. But unless one is as creative and gifted as those two filmmakers, the genre becomes an absurd hodgepodge that’s seldom funny. This ...

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Eiga

Much like Naomi Kawase’s 2008 film Nanayomachi, Pool is a slow, contemplative effort that pays more attention to mood than plot or character development. This kind of movie can be engaging if done well, but Pool falls shy of the mark. Sayo (Kana) arrives in Thailand to visit the luxurious guesthouse near Chiang Mai run ...

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