Japanese Movies to watch (June)

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1) An/Sweet red bean paste (Director: Naomi Kawase/ Release date: 30 May 2015)

One could ask why we add the new cinematographic product of Naomi Kawase to the ‘to watch’ list of June (note 1), given that, in our opinion, Naomi Kawase failed to realize her vision with her previous movie, still the water (see our review).

The reason is rather simple; Naomi Kawase has undeniably a clear vision when she procures a film. Concerning An and the main character Kawase says: “I wanted to convey things that everyone feels and events that everyone experiences, be they Americans, Koreans or Japanese (…) For example, people with leprosy have lived with the same conditions around the world for more than 1,000 years (…) so it’s something that everyone can understand. (…) Instead she’s taken a deep look at herself. If you look at yourself deeply, you understand why you’re here in this world. You can value yourself more; you don’t have to compare yourself with others and think you’re unfortunate. Since you’re here, the light shines on you — and it’s beautiful. Since you’re here, you can see the cherry blossoms. You can experience all sorts of beautiful things. You can feel that it’s wonderful to be you ” (Schilling, 2015).

For us, her speech concerning An was reason enough to add this movie to the ‘to watch list’ of June. Nevertheless, the following question remains: will Kawase succeed in fully translating her vision to the white screen this time?

2) Our Little Sister/ Umimachi Diary (Director: Hirokazu Koreeda/ Release date: 13 June 2015)

If the name Hirokazu Koreeda doesn’t ring a bell, than – if we can be rude – one doesn’t know his Japanese cinema. His name and track record (Nobody knows; Air doll; I wish; Like father, like Son) is enough to warrant his new cinematographic narrative a place in our to watch list. Umimachi Diary is once again an emotional family drama in which three adult sisters decide, after their father’s dead, to take responsibility for their younger half-sister. An important theme that runs through Koreeda’s oeuvre is the aspect of absence and how characters try to give place to this absence. It thus doesn’t come as a surprise that the theme of absence structures the narrative of Umimachi Diary. Koreeda tells us: “It is important to have a story about a family with some family members missing. But someone else is there, trying to take over the role of parents. They try to reconstruct that family bond. I love that sort of story. It affects me a lot (…) In the last 15 years, I lost my father, I lost my mother and I have a daughter. I have become a father. So I have realized that we always try to get ‘in between’. Something is missing, so we always try to take over. From the older generation to the next generation” (Bradshaw, 2015).

For a review of one of his previous movies, we gladly refer to our Air Doll (see our review here).

3) Strayer’s Chronicle (Director: Takahisa Zeze/ Release date: June 27, 2015).

Even though Takahisa Zeze is mostly known for his politically engaged pinku eiga erotic films – being one the four Pink Shitenno alongside Kazuhiro Sano, Toshiki Satō, and Hisayasu Sato, he nevertheless transformed himself over the years – starting from 1997 – into a more versatile director. One of his finest achievements as a more mainstream director is Heaven’s story (2010), which won prizes at the Berlin international film festival of 2011.

In short Strayer’s Cronicle is about two different kinds of people with special abilities. The first kind got their abilities by provoking them into mutations by birth and the other kind got their special abilities by gene manipulation. Not long after Subaru (Masaki Okada) and Saya (Riko Narumi), both gene manipulated, are ordered by Koichiro Watase (Tsuyoshi Ihara) to find the runaway daughter of a powerful politician, who possesses a secret file, they become involved in the slaughter group “Ageha”, who is led by Manabu (Shota Sometani).

Strayer’s Chronicle will be Zeze’s first try at an action movie, and that’s the reason why we added his movie to the ‘to watch’ list of June. The question that interests us is as follows:, in what way can Takahisa Zeze enrich this action narrative given his primary background as a more controversial Pink Eiga director? And for some people the actor Shota Somitani (Lesson of the evil, Minna! Esper Dayo! – a dorama about special abilities (see our review here), Himizu, the snow white murder case (see our review here) ) could be an added reason to watch this movie.

4) Pieta in The Toilet (Director: Daishi Matsunaga/Release Date: June 6, 2015)

Daishi Matsunaga, a director who up until now made only shorts (e.g. kazoku) and documentaries ( e.g. Pyuupiru 2001-2008) is finally ready to unleash his first full-length fiction narrative on the movie loving world. The main reason why we added this movie to ‘the to watch’ list of June is because the screenplay, written by Daishi Matsunaga himself, was inspired by the last page of “godfather of Manga” Osamu Tezuka’s diary, thus translating Tezuka’s final message into a full blown narrative.

The narrative concerns Hiroshi (Yojiro Noda), a part-time office window cleaner, who once dreamed of becoming a painter. One day, he’s diagnosed with terminal cancer and learns he has only three months left to life. He decides to realize his old dream of becoming a painter before he dies and begins painting on the ceiling of the toilet. And then Mai (Hana Sugisaki), a high school student, appears.

Another reason why this movie might be of interest to some of you is because it features the rather prolific actor Lily Franky (Like father, Like son; Moteki (Dorama), Love strikes!; Boys on the run (movie), Our little sister (see above)) and upcoming talent Hana Sugisaki (Madamu Marmalade no Ijo na Nazo: Shutsudai Hen, Mozu (Dorama), Mozu (movie)).

5) Love and peace ( Director: Sion Sono/ Release date: June 27, 2015)

The name of Sion Sono alone is already reason enough to add his new movie to the “to watch list of June”. From the extremely poetic but narratively fragmented Suicide Circle to the almost ‘unbearable – in this case ‘unbearable’ is meant positively – Guilty of Romance, a tale about jouissance, to the frantic hip-hip musical joy ride Tokyo Tribe, Sion Sono always delivers an interesting and engaging cinematic experience. And when in an interview Sion Sono calls Love and peace his personal favourite movie of his own oeuvre, we’re even more obliged to add this movie to the list (Sion Sono, 2014, 24, 11).

Love and Peace follows the very timid and socially awkward Ryoichi (Hiroki Hasegawa), who once dreamed of becoming a punk rocker. He has fallen in love with Yuko (Kumiko Aso), but is unable to tell her how he feels. One day, he meets a turtle on the rooftop of a department store; he names it Pikadon. When his co-worker laugh at him and his newfound friendship with Pikadon, he decides to throw the turtle in the toilet. He soon regrets his decision. Meanwhile the turtle meets an old man, who’s living in the underground.

The theme of the narrative, i.e. a rather social awkward underdog who gets entangled in the problematic given of falling in love (See for instance: Boyz on the run! (Dorama, see our review here), Moteki (movie/dorama), Minna! Esper Dayo! (see our review here), kyou ha kaisha wo yasimimasu) is a well-used and well-known thematic in Japanese cinematographic culture. We’re eager to experience Sion Sono’s own take on this romantic-comedic theme of socially awkwardness and love.

6) Yakuza Apocalypse: The Great War Of The Underworld (director: Takashi Miike/Release date: 20 June 2015).

Just like the name of Sion Sono alone is a reason to add this movie to the to watch list of June, so is the name of Takashi Miike. In contrast to Sion Sono however, it’s almost impossible to find someone who has seen the complete oeuvre of Miike up until now; the least one can say is that Miike’s oeuvre is diverse – maybe diverse is not the correct word to underline the variety and scope of his oeuvre.

Nevertheless Yakuza Apocalypse is the newest addition to Takashi Miike’s gargantuan oeuvre. This addition constitutes a return to his roots as a Yakuza movie director as well as a departure from it, as it mixes vampires into its narrative. One could say it’s Miike’s third explicit genre melting cinematographic product; the first two being bizarre yet wonderful The happiness of the Katakuris and the surreal Gozu.

For everybody’s sake, we’ll refrain from giving a short synopsis. Just trust Takashi Miike like we do and go watch this movie. The less you know about it, the better. (And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that we find Lily Franky, whom we called a rather prolific actor above, acting in this movie either).

Honourable mention: Yokokuhan (Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura. Release date: 6 June 2015)

The reason for this honourable mention is simple: Erika Toda, she’s an amazing actress; of course the movie looks interesting too.

Notes:

Note 1: We have taking the liberty of adding “An” to the list of June, even though it officially released in May.

References:

Schilling, M. (2015, 06, 03). Director Kawase disregards criticism of her sentimental leprosy drama ‘An’. Retrieved from: http://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2015/06/03/films/director-kawase-disregards-criticism-sentimental-leprosy-drama/#.VXBHMc_tlBd

Bradshaw, P. (2015, 06, 21). Hirokazu Kore-eda: ‘They compare me to Ozu. But I’m more like Ken Loach’. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/may/21/hirokazu-kore-director-our-little-sister-interview

Torrance, A. (interviewer) Sion Sono (interviewee) (2014, 24, 11). Retrieved from: http://overlook-cinema.com/2014/11/24/interview-sono-sion/

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