Sweet coming-of-age films from Japan tend to be saccharine and unbearable, but this Taiwanese-Japanese co-production strikes a nice balance. Shot primarily in the former nation, this bicycle road trip movie offers idyllic scenery, a charming, leisurely pace and enough realism to be convincing (which is rare in this genre). One could quibble with some of the set-ups, but the flow does carry you along. It portrays the friendship between Japanese journalist Aiko (Mei Kurokawa) and Taiwanese student Tonton (Teresa Daley), the first an older woman who’s depressed after being dumped and the other a teenager with big dreams and no way to realize them. Their joy is reflected in the beautiful landscapes of Taiwan. Scenic spots are noted with screen titles, so the film can serve as a road trip planner as well. Romantic tension is added with the introductions of Yu (River Huang), a Taiwanese-Japanese guide, and Go (Tomohiro Kaku), the famous professional cyclist Aiko has come to interview. The film doesn’t take the clichéd route by pairing Aiko with either male protagonist—it keeps the two women on their own path toward self-discovery. English title: Riding the Breeze. (93 min)

Jul 25, 2014 | No Comments | 200 views
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What are often called “samurai films” by the casual watcher outside this country are  a major genre in the film industry here known as chambara. An example is Uzumasa Limelight, which focuses on the latter...

Jul 12, 2014 | No Comments | 1,034 views
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Sad Tea is another film which had its premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year. It addresses the vagaries of romance for a host of different primary characters each trying to figure out...

Jul 6, 2014 | No Comments | 723 views
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Hiroshi Okuhara’s avant-garde feature Kuroi Shikaku originally screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2012 but it has taken until now to get its theatrical release in Japan. This is one of those films...

Jun 18, 2014 | No Comments | 522 views
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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...

Jun 1, 2014 | No Comments | 296 views
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It’s not often three iconic entities come together in one hyper-violent Japanese high school bad boy beat-em-up. But that’s what we have here. This film is based on the popular 1990s manga series, Crows, by...

May 20, 2014 | No Comments | 232 views
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You may be familiar with this time slip franchise by now (a theme Japan seems to love). The hit manga by Mari Yamazaki, Thermae Romae, has won many awards, including the prestigious Tezuka Osamu Cultural...

May 2, 2014 | No Comments | 414 views
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So many thrillers these days try to hide the fact they want to be a Tarantino film but have nothing new to say or add to his oeuvre. The latest joyride by comedian, novelist and...

Apr 17, 2014 | No Comments | 464 views
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To call the popular culture around legendary ninja thief Goemon Ishikawa a franchise doesn’t do justice to the social phenomenon of this pop marvel. His 16th century story of Robin Hood like pilfering and daring...

Apr 2, 2014 | No Comments | 921 views
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Occasionally, Japanese films will take up a serious social issue. The challenge is whether the work can examine the problem in a realistic and non-manipulative way. The results with Tokyo Nammin, a movie about being...

Mar 5, 2014 | No Comments | 454 views
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Manga by Osamu Tezuka, the legendary innovator and popularizer of the genre, have been made into films for many years now. The current film series is based on his grand comic book run (1972-1983) on...

Feb 21, 2014 | No Comments | 1,494 views
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Koji Fukada is seen by many as the crème de la crème of the young Japanese filmmakers. His Hospitalité picked up the Japan Eyes award at the 2010 Tokyo International Film Festival (despite being overtly...

Feb 6, 2014 | One Comment | 1,802 views
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I feel it’s the mission of this column to search out lesser-known filmmakers in Japan if they show promise and creativity. Ryutaro Nakagawa fits the bill perfectly. This twenty-something auteur is part of the Tokyo...

Jan 24, 2014 | No Comments | 875 views
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When it comes to entertainment, Japan is huge on franchises. The all-time leader is Otoka wa Tsurai yo (It’s Tough Being a Man) with 48 feature films, a TV series and an animated run. There...

Jan 9, 2014 | No Comments | 2,148 views
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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,...

Dec 19, 2013 | No Comments | 566 views
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The Studio Ghibli franchise is mostly associated with superstar director Hayao Miyazaki, but the filmmaker formed the studio back in 1985 with another renowned auteur, Isao Takahata. Takahata was nearly as prolific as Miyazaki for...

Dec 5, 2013 | No Comments | 957 views
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Director Yuki Tanada has a number of feature films under her belt, but nothing she’s done prepares us for the sensitivity and insight of Shijukunichi No Recipe (Mourning Recipe). It unfolds much like any typical...

Nov 22, 2013 | No Comments | 1,298 views
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One of the biggest problems with Japanese film today is its tendency to slip into an idealized and generally overly melodramatic and soppy world that drains any real power from the work. Thankfully, that is...

Nov 8, 2013 | No Comments | 1,805 views
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I know what you’re thinking: Japan couldn’t possibly make yet another romantic drama about a damaged woman who learns to love again, could they? (You were thinking that right?) Well, yes—it could. Toho’s newest “blockbuster,”...

Oct 23, 2013 | No Comments | 2,221 views
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In addition to being one half of the highly successful comedic TV duo Downtown, Hitoshi Matsumoto is a film director with inventive comedic features like Saya Zamurai (“Scabbard Samurai,” 2011) and Dai Nipponjin (“Big Man...

Oct 10, 2013 | 2 Comments | 1,115 views
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