Japanese Family in Flux

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Still Walking (2008)

This week brings news from Screen’s Michael Rosser that Kiyoshi Kurosawa aims to have Cloud, his third film of the year, ready to open in Japan by September. Masaki Suda, who voices the Grey Heron in Hayao Miyazaki’s The Boy and the Heron, will play a young man who, as Kurosawa tells it, “through his small-time money-making schemes, desires to gain even the slightest advantage over others. In this story, he carelessly incurs the ire of those around him, and ultimately finds himself dragged into a deadly battle with his life on the line.”

On Monday, Kurosawa’s Chime, a disturbing forty-five-minute visit to a world thrown off kilter, will premiere at the Berlinale. Rosser implies that Le chemin du serpent, a French-language remake of his 1998 thriller Serpent’s Path, would be a prime candidate for Cannes, where Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize in 2008. Tokyo Sonata will screen in New York on Sunday as part of Family Portrait: Japanese Family in Flux, a ten-film series presented by Japan Society and Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs from today through February 24.

“This is a Tokyo story of a different sort, both larger than the metropolis and smaller than the middle-class abode of the Sasakis, the family at the center of Kurosawa’s film,” wrote Genevieve Yue in a 2009 issue of Film Comment. The father pretends not to have lost his job, the mother is kidnapped, the teenage son joins the U.S. military, and the younger son spends his lunch money on piano lessons. “Kurosawa presents a post-bubble Japan that’s exhausted and absurd, lifelessly going through the motions, and no longer recognizable to itself,” wrote Yue.

The series opens with Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Still Walking (2008), in which a family, the Yokohamas, gather to commemorate the fifteenth anniversary of the death of their eldest son. “Amid crosscurrents of small talk and moments of quotidian pleasure,” wrote Dennis Lim in 2011, “histories and agendas emerge.” Kore-eda’s work has drawn comparisons to that of Yasujiro Ozu, but “if Ozu’s ordinary folk are paragons of calm acceptance, Kore-eda’s are less reconciled to life’s cruelties and disappointments; if anything, as Kore-eda has pointed out, they are closer to the stubborn, openly anguished characters of Mikio Naruse, a director with a bleaker worldview than Ozu.”

Ozu’s own Tokyo Twilight (1957) screens on Saturday, and as Michael Koresky wrote in 2007, it “retains an enormous dramatic power . . . With its shadowy downtown setting, populated by smoky mahjong parlors and Ginza bars, Tokyo Twilight feels like an entirely new milieu for the filmmaker. And its evocative, almost sinister, landscape is matched with an intense narrative that has the grip and eventual catharsis of classical tragedy.” Also screening on Saturday will be Kohei Oguri’s first feature, the Oscar-nominated Muddy River (1981), the story of the friendship between two young boys from working-class families in 1956 Osaka.

Family Portrait will present three films by Ryota Nakano, who will be on hand to discuss his work. Her Love Boils Bathwater (2016) stars Rie Miyazawa as a single mother who sets out to reunite her family after she’s diagnosed with a terminal illness. When the film won dozens of awards and was selected to represent Japan in the race for what was then the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, Gavin J. Blair noted in a 2017 profile for the Hollywood Reporter that Nakano had become “one of the most in-demand new directors in Japan.” Two sisters return home to care for their ailing father in A Long Goodbye (2019), and The Asadas (2020), starring J-pop idol Kazunari Ninomiya, is based on the true story of photographer Masashi Asada, who has drawn international acclaim for his eccentrically staged family portraits.

Three features will screen for the first time in the U.S. Cinema Daily’s Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi finds Keiko Tsuruoka’s Tsugaru Lacquer Girl, in which a young woman emerges as a family’s only hope for carrying on its deeply traditional lacquerware business, “hypnotizing.” Hoyaman, the debut feature from Teruaki Shoji, features rapper and guitarist Afro, who “delivers a mix of fantastic comedic timing and heartbreaking dramatic skill,” writes David Cirone at J-Generation. And Rinko Kikuchi (Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter and Tokyo Vice) stars in Kazuyoshi Kumakiri’s Yoko, which won awards for Best Film, Best Actress, and Best Screenplay at last year’s Shanghai International Film Festival.

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