Goings On

A Very Japanese Season

The Daily — Jun 28, 2018
Still Walking (2008)

A lot of great Japanese cinema, both new and old, is making its way to four cities in the coming weeks. The biggest of the upcoming programs is Summer in Japan at Toronto’s TIFF Cinematheque, a series of over thirty films running from July 5 through September 1. Programmer James Quandt has put together two sets of single-paragraph primers. In the first, he introduces five giants: Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi, Kon Ichikawa, and Mikio Naruse. And in the second, he writes about five leaders of the Japanese New Wave whose work from the late 1950s through the early ’70s is seen as a rebellious response to those very giants: Nagisa Oshima, Shohei Imamura, Yuzo Kawashima, Yasuzo Masumura, and Hiroshi Teshigahara.

In London, the Close-Up Film Centre will be screening three major works by Kaneto ShindoThe Naked Island (1960), Onibaba (1964), and Kuroneko (1968)—throughout July. And in Chicago, the Gene Siskel Film Center is about to wrap up its series of four films by Umetsugu Inoue. There’s still time to catch The Green Music Box (1955), a children’s musical fantasy and the first feature to use Japan’s three-strip Konicolor process. Inoue may not be as well-known outside of Japan as, say, Kurosawa, but as Ben Sachs points out in the Reader, the prolific director of over 100 features “was consistently in demand in the 1950s and ’60s; in fact he was one of the few directors to have worked for all six of the major Japanese movie studios.”

New Films in New York

Director Masanori Tominaga and actor Tasuku Emoto will be at the Walter Reade Theater this evening to present the opening night presentation of this year’s New York Asia Film Festival. Dynamite Graffiti tells the true story of Akira Suei, a publisher who edited the wildly popular and mildly pornographic magazine Shashin Jidai (Photo Age) in the 1980s, and for James Hadfield, writing in the Japan Times, it’s “good fun, if a bit shallow.”

NYAFF 2018’s lineup naturally features films from all across the region—for capsule previews, see Sean Gilman in the Notebook, IndieWire, and ScreenAnarchy—as well as New Cinema from Japan, a strand of fourteen films. One of them is The Third Murder (2017), the film Hirokazu Kore-eda made before Shoplifters, the winner of this year’s Palme d’Or in Cannes. The Third Murder is a legal drama in which an attorney takes on the defense of a client who openly claims he’s guilty, and when it screened in Venice and Toronto last fall, David Bordwell found it to be “a soberly told tale, emphasizing characterization and social critique.” The film “shows that Kore-eda hasn’t given up his sympathetic probing of human nature and his praise for un-grandiose self-sacrifice.”

Kore-eda, by the way, is currently working on his first feature set outside of Japan, The Truth About Catherine, in which Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche will play a mother and daughter whose stormy reunion in France unleashes the anger and resentment that’s been suppressed for years. Kore-eda depicted a quieter, if no less strained, reunion in Still Walking (2008), which takes place over the course of single day as a family gathers for an annual ritual. Japan Cuts will present a special tenth anniversary screening—a 35 mm print, no less—during its twelfth edition, running from July 19 through 29 at New York’s Japan Society.

Japan Cuts 2018 will open with Eric Khoo’s Ramen Shop, “a tear-stained tale of broken families and healing recipes,” as Allan Hunter’s put it in Screen, and close with Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Hanagatami, a project the director had dreamt of realizing even before his international breakthrough with House in 1977. Adapted from Kazuo Dan’s 1937 novella, Hanagatami is a portrait of a circle of teenagers partying in the coastal town of Karatsu on the eve of war. In his review for the Japan Times, Mark Schilling calls it “a phantasmagoria of rapid cutting, perfervid acting, and extravagant visuals.” Obayashi “has captured not only the atmosphere but also the spiritual essence of a strange, febrile moment in time.”

This year’s Japan Cuts lineup of twenty-eight features and nine short films includes new work from Takeshi Kitano, Naomi Kawase, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa as well as the highly anticipated U.S. premiere of Shinsuke Sato’s BLEACH. The hero of this live-action adaptation of Tite Kubo’s manga is a high school student tasked with saving his home town from evil spirits.

Among the twenty guests arriving in New York for the festival is Kirin Kiki, the actress whose career spans half a century and over 120 performances in film and television. Now seventy-five, she’s best known outside of Japan for her work with Kore-eda—she’s appeared in six of his films and has worked as well with Masahiro Shinoda, Seijun Suzuki, and Naomi Kawase. “I’m not a decent person,” Kiki tells Mai Yoshikawa in the Japan Times. “I don’t fit in with the norms and values of society. In that sense, maybe I moved into the right direction by choosing to become an actress. I can’t do anything else.”

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