Cinematographer Masaki Tamura is something of an icon in the Japanese film industry. He has lensed everything from legendary cult films (like two of the Lady Snowblood series, starring Meiko Kaji) to cutting-edge work for currently active directors (like lauded auteur Shinji Aoyama). Tamura has been behind the camera for some masterworks of Japanese cinema including Juzo Itami’s widely loved Tampopo and Mitsuo Yanagimachi’s Fire Festival (not to mention Naomi Kawase’s Caméra d’Or winner at Cannes, Moe no Suzaku). Thus it comes as a shock that the 75-year-old lensman would choose to take up directing now—but that he has. Using an adaptation of Takami Ito’s Akutagawa Prize-winning novel Drive-in Gamo, Tamura sketches the life of a family that runs a shabby drive-in. Sister Saki (Mei Kurokawa) and brother Toshi (Shota Sometani) grew up on a deserted stretch of highway, raised by their nasty ex-yakuza dad (Masatoshi Nagase). Needless to say, life was rough. Saki, bullied as a child, gets pregnant and escapes, only to return due to spousal abuse. Bleak but compelling, Drive-in Gamo reminds one of other character studies set in desolate areas, like Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. (89 min.)

Aug 20, 2014 | No Comments | 82 views
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2012’s Rurouni Kenshin made judicious cuts to its manga-and-anime source material to deliver a tight, cohesive (if somewhat spoiler-laced) narrative that built to a satisfying conclusion. 2014’s follow-up, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno, the first half of a...

Aug 15, 2014 | No Comments | 375 views
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Adapted from the Joan G. Robinson novel of the same name and directed by Studio Ghibli’s Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty), When Marnie Was There follows the story of Anna, a lonely girl...

Aug 5, 2014 | No Comments | 2,046 views
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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,...

Jul 25, 2014 | No Comments | 1,273 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 | 1,083 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 | 772 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 | 534 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 | 312 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 | 251 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 | 444 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 | 484 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 | 939 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 | 475 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 | 1,514 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 | 1,831 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 | 964 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 | 2,162 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 | 582 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 | 971 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 | 1,313 views
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