Japan Cuts 2017

“The spirit of Seijun Suzuki, patron saint of avant-garde Japanese filmmakers, presides over the Japan Society's 11th annual Japan Cuts program, a consistently exciting survey of innovative Nipponese cinema,” writes Simon Abrams at the top of his preview for RogerEbert.com. “Suzuki is perhaps most well-known as the director of such form-busting gangster/action films as Branded to Kill, and Tokyo Drifter, surreal movies defined by their haunting, rococo art direction, and perplexing, Dada-style narratives. . . . The Japan Society will screen a newly digital restoration of Zigeunerweisen (1980), the first film in Suzuki's indelible Taisho trilogy [image above]. But the festival also honors Suzuki's innovative, head-scratching zeal for formal exploration with a prominent, hearty side-bar of experimental cinema.”

In the New York Times,Mike Hale offers “a suggestion for a miniprogram within the festival, three films that are very different from one another but carry a common thread: the complex, emotionally charged relationship between Japan and the United States, a topic more relevant than ever as the balance of power in Asia appears up for grabs.” The three are Sunao Katabuchi’s In This Corner of the World, “an entry in the quiet but fierce battle for bragging rights in Japanese feature animation now that Studio Ghibli has at least temporarily ceded the field”; Daisuke Miyazaki’s Yamato (California); and Konrad Aderer’s “rough-around-the-edges documentary” Resistance at Tule Lake.

At ScreenAnarchy:

  • “All across Japan, middle aged men dejected by the society around them, retreat into a fantasy land where they worship adolescent pop stars, cultivating a culture that reveres the girls’ purity,” writes Ben Umstead. “Miyake Kyoko's Sundance bowing Tokyo Idols lenses its absolutely jaw-dropping subject matter via well-balanced and continually engaging anthropological journalism.”
  • Also, while Jean-Gabriel Périot’s “work never shies away from talk about the day the bomb fell, Summer Lights, like its title suggests, is a gentle, caring and very touching work that is imbued with a charming sense of magical realism.”
  • And Ishii Yuya’s The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue is “a ‘bright lights big city’ drama that holds great reverence for the things that feel forever untethered and amiss in our lives.”
  • “Sono Sion is known for crazy movies filled with ultra violence and upskirt photography,” writes Dustin Chang. “In tackling a subject like misogyny in Japanese society can the prolific filmmaker have his cake and eat it too? In his Nikkatsu commissioned Roman Porno Revival, Anti-Porno, Sono goes for it with mixed results.”
  • Also: “Strange and beautiful, [Hokimoto Sora’s] Haruneko is a somber, haunting and highly ambitious whatsit that falters a little in its own preciousness.”
  • And Shichiri Kei’s Once Upon a Dream “consists of static images of quiet empty rooms, subway rides, cityscape at dusk. It is a cult film that has been gathering followers over the years, including Kurosawa Kiyoshi who compared it to Jean-Luc Godard.”
  • As for Yamato (California), “I just wish Miyazaki concentrated more on the characters and details of their lives instead of awkward, obligatory actions that only serve to move the story forward.”
  • “Fueled largely by [Kubozuka Yosuke] and [Furuya Kenji’s] antic comic chemistry, [Hideo Sakaki’s] Alley Cat has a wonderfully rugged, playful charm,” finds Christopher Bourne.
  • Bourne also writes about Love and Goodbye and Hawaii, “Matsumura Shingo’s offbeat take on romantic comedy.”
  • And Sasaki Megumi's documentary A Whale of a Tale is a response to Louie Psihoyos’s The Cove (2009) that “provides the nuance and context mostly missing from” that Oscar-winner “as it checks in with Taiji's residents in the years following that film's release. And although it is very careful about not overtly taking sides, certainly its portrait of Taiji's fishermen are far more rounded, even sympathetic, than in The Cove.

Adapting Jung Byoung-Gil’s Confession of Murder (2012) as Memoirs of a Murderer, Yu Irie has “improved upon it tenfold,” finds Yuan-Kwan Chan at Meniscus. This is “a grittier, grimier and grimmer version of its predecessor.”

Updates, 7/14: “A buddy movie is comic by definition and Alley Cat has fun with its central pair, beginning with their mutual fondness for felines,” writes Mark Schilling in the Japan Times. “But even the lighter gags have a dark edge, born of Maru and Lily’s hardscrabble lives. When they arrive in Tokyo, the film goes full noir but leaves out the typical macho romanticism.”

Ben Umstead at ScreenAnarchy on The Tokyo Night Sky is Always the Densest Shade of Blue: “Like its long, declarative title, Ishii Yuya's new film is a curious work that stumbles towards earnestness. Sometimes it is poetic and ponderous. At other times it is just plain tedious and twee.”

Update, 7/17:Film Comment digital editor Violet Lucca talks with director Kiyoshi Kurosawa and star Tahar Rahim about Daguerrotype (2016).

Update, 7/22: “Even within Sion Sono’s prolific, eccentric, often unhinged filmography, Anti-Porno sticks out as being one of his most outrageous films,” writes Dana Reinoos at Screen Slate. “It’s The Duke of Burgundy plus The Neon Demon, all filtered through Sono’s hyperkinetic, brightly colored lens.”

Updates, 7/25:In Review Online wraps it up:

  • Lawrence Garcia on Daguerrotype, “a chilly study of percolating grief and doomed romance, and a formalist wonder of diaphanous, ghostly textures.”
  • And Summer Lights ends with “a perfectly judged, tender recapitulation of not just the preceding 80 minutes’ look at the beauty contained in a moment, but also a sobering embrace of its passing.”
  • Chris Mello on Anti-Porno, which “marks a shockingly direct indictment for the often ideologically slippery Sono. And it’s still as wild and engaging as almost anything he’s made.”
  • As for Junko Emoto’s The Extremists’ Opera, “the film’s keen emotional intelligence is always apparent.”
  • Paul Attard on In This Corner of the World, suggesting that this “mostly lighthearted comedy’s shift, abruptly, into wartime drama (and at about the 90-minute mark) feels forced.”
  • And Tokyo Idols “treats idol fandom as a means of escapism and not much else.”
  • Christopher Bourne: “Beneath the lightly comedic surface of Yuki Tanada’s My Dad and Mr. Ito lies a more serious and sharply observed riff on Tokyo Story that updates the premise of unwanted family elders to reflect the current economic realities of scarce full-time work and the difficulties of maintaining a stable middle-class lifestyle.”
  • As for Takuro Nakamura’s West North West, “the central relationship” is “the most impressive aspect of a film that’s sometimes too enamored with its own self-consciously arty moodiness.”
  • Sean Gilman on The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue: “[U]ltimately the desolation of the film is only leavened by the purity of its romance.”
  • And Gō Takamine’s Hengyoro (Queer Fish Lane) is “an unclassifiable collage.”
  • Gilman finds that Over the Fence is “dramatically less compelling than [Nobuhiro] Yamashita’s last feature, La La La at Rock Bottom, let alone his 2005 film Linda Linda Linda, one of the very best movies of this century so far.”
  • But Love and Goodbye and Hawaii “is a rare gem, an off-beat light comedy about young people that is neither cute nor contrived, founded in a reality unadorned by screenwriterly gimmicks.”

Writing for Kinoscope, Jaime Grijalba argues that In This Corner of the World “rivals the works of Studio Ghibli in their takes on recent Japanese history, such as Isao Takahata’s The Grave of the Fireflies and Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises.

Updates, 7/28: “Breaking up is hard to do, and the heroine of the delightfully wry romantic comedy Love and Goodbye and Hawaii sure makes a song and (hula) dance about it,” writes Maggie Lee for Variety. “As light as a wafer but also as sweet and crisp, the sophomore feature by Japanese writer-director Shingo Matsumura takes the timeworn premise ‘Can ex-lovers still be friends?’ and fills it up with a delectable sundae of character quirks, deadpan dialogue and gently heart-tugging wistfulness.”

“Having begun her acting career at age 10 in the hands of legendary Japanese director Suzuki Seijun, Kan Hanae has never stopped working,” writes Diva Vélez, introducing an interview for ScreenAnarchy. “Attending Japan Cuts, with not one, but two films, Kan spoke with me about the challenges of playing a lesbian in West North West, and containing the inner rage of a wannabe rapper near an American airbase in Yamato (California).

Update, 7/29:Diva Vélez talks with West North West star Sahel Rosa “about the challenges of growing up as an Iranian in Japan, and taking on the taboo of portraying a Muslima entranced by another woman.”

Update, 7/30: Two more Diva Vélez interviews: Yamato (California) director Daisuke Miyazaki and In This Corner of the World producer Maki Taro.

Update, 8/1:Diva Vélez again: “Fearless in his choice of roles and unhesitant about working overseas, [Joe Odagiri] spoke with me about his motivations as an actor and his feelings on receiving Japan Cuts’ Cut Above award.”

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