New York, Feb 13, 2021 – The Japan Society and the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan (ACA), in collaboration with the Visual Industry Promotion Organization (VIPO), announce the inaugural ACA Cinema Project online film series 21st Century Japan: Films from 2001-2020, streaming nationwide on Japan Society’s Virtual Cinema from February 5-25, 2021.
Katsura Toda, Senior Specialist for Arts and Culture at the Agency for Cultural Affairs, says, “The ACA Cinema Project was launched with the hope of sharing the diverse appeal of Japanese films to audiences around the world and to create more opportunities for these films to be seen. We are pleased to present U.S. audiences with the works of a great variety of directors—including well-established masters, filmmakers with distinctive voices and rising stars of the 21st century—and hope that many people will be able to encounter Japanese films in a fresh way.”
$99 All-Access Passes with a 21-day rental window go on sale January 29 through February 4. $8 individual tickets with a 3-day rental window go on sale February 5. Individual tickets for Red Post on Escher Street and Shape of Red are $12. Japan Society members receive a 20% discount on all tickets via coupon code.
All films screen online at japancuts.japansociety.org in Japanese with English subtitles unless otherwise noted. All titles available within the U.S. from February 5-25 unless sold out. Titles also available beyond the U.S. are noted below. Lineup and other details are subject to change. For complete information visit japansociety.org.
Listed below are some selection of films that have been reviewed by GAT film reviewer, Arturo Arrerondo.
The Miracles of the Namiya General Store (2017, Hiroki Ryuichi)
As a longtime fan of director Hiroki Ryuichi, my high hopes for this anticipated film were sadly dashed as this manga adaptation with a very moving story gives way to several obnoxiously melodramatic tropes of commercial Japanese cinema. Three boys who have just robbed a woman’s house seek shelter in a store that receives letters from people in the past requesting advice from the absent shopkeeper. The problem is pop singers only sometimes make convincing actors and you don’t need a 15-second shot of a child screaming and crying in front of the camera to drive the point home that an event is sad. True to Hiroki’s stellar and smart writing of characters, everyone but the main trio of robbers is worth watching, although the trio gets much more tolerable near the end. See the director’s other films Your Friends, Strobe Edge, and River.
Fires on the Plain (2015, Tsukamoto Shinya)
This second adaptation of the titular novel is not very good, to be blunt. All the more disappointing that it’s by the legendary director of Tetsuo: The Iron Man, but this take on the source material is too fast-paced, glossy, and disjoined by its hyperactive camerawork to coherently send a message about the horrors of war. Kon Ichikawa’s 1959 film adaptation is far superior in every way and remains a masterpiece of Japanese cinema.
Still the Water (2014, Kawase Naomi)
Kawase Naomi’s masterpiece explores love and death in a small town; centering on two teenagers who have been close childhood friends but have their bonds tested by an unidentified man’s recent drowning, the boy’s resentment towards his mother’s free spirit, and the girl preparing to face her ill mother’s impending death. Kawase is restrained in her direction and screenwriting, but completely generous with her sympathy towards her characters.
One Million Yen Girl (2008, Tanada Yuki)
The story of Suzuko Sato who winds up in trouble with the law and decides to leave home to avoid burdening her family. She settles into a new town, saves one million yen, and then moves on to repeat the process in the next town she arrives in. It’s slightly slow in pace, but that’s because you spend time observing Suzuko’s mannerisms and eventual growth. The supporting characters are also fully fleshed out and well-developed. Most audiences may not like the ending, but I thought it worked well.
The Drudgery Train (2012, Yamashita Nobuhiro)
Coming of age tale about a misfit day laborer who befriends a co-worker and the obstacles they face in life. Their personalities pull them in different directions, but the film deftly handles exploring their desires and inner turmoil. Another one where viewers may dislike the ending, but if you pay attention it’s far more optimistic than it appears.
The Devil’s Path (2012, Shiraishi Kazuya)
A crime drama about a journalist trying to uncover the truth about a series of grisly murders. The culprit has already confessed in prison, but reveals there was a mastermind behind the acts. The journalist’s conscience takes a serious beating from the revelations and his drive to uncover the truth might cost him everything. The camerawork is patient and distant, fitting for a movie about a man essentially staking out locales and stalking figures who may be involved with serial murders. It’s challenging in some portions because of the mental degradation the protagonist faces, and also for the graphic violence that dominates the extended flashback sequences. Still, it’s well worth a viewing if you’re patient or into true crime stories.
The Actor (2012, Yokohama Satoko)
An endearing, sweet tale of a bit player who despite not being a star is still widely known and immensely respected. His only problem is that more than anything he wants to be a star, but is struggling to accept that it may not be in the cards for him. Yokohama Satoko’s paean to the Japanese film industry is empathetic and understanding. It’s a wonderful exploration of a man who wants more in life, but is willing to accept where he is out of a sense of duty. In some ways comic, in some ways tragic, it is a film that is hopeful and curious about human nature, much like its lead character.
Rebirth (2011, Narushima Izuru)
Erina was abducted as a child by her husband’s mistress and raised by her. She was eventually rescued, but has grown up now troubled by not only her memories as a child but her biological mother’s hostility. What follows is a series of visits to landmarks of her childhood and the resurfacing of memories that causes her to reassess her life. Technically accomplished and quite tender, the movie never treats its characters as anything less than complex people with complex issues.
Sakuran (2007, Ninagawa Mina)
Photographer Ninagawa Mina’s feature-length film debut is… colorful, to say the least. Colorful characters, a colorful plot, colorful scenery, particularly red, which from the mise-en-scène I’m guessing is her favorite color. Anna Tsuchiya’s turn as a foul-mouthed courtesan who rises through the ranks of a brothel has it all; love, betrayal, tragic backstory, more love, more betrayal, comedy. Unapologetically over the top, the score includes a range of modern genres juxtaposed with the traditional Japanese folk music played diegetically, and an another interesting juxtaposition is Tsuchiya’s character using slightly anachronistic modern Japanese profanity when all other speech is seemingly period correct.
Sway (2006, Nishikawa Miwa)
Former Kore-eda Hirokazu protégé Nishikawa Miwa is known for her films about deceptive people. Dreams for Sale and The Long Excuse exemplify this. Sway came before them and is no different, offering a shocking tale of two brothers who have reunited after their mother’s funeral and then experience reignited passions for the same old flame. A day trip to their childhood stomping grounds ends with said old flame plunging into a river while the older brother was with her on the bridge, and the younger brother confronted with the consequences of deception. Sway is at times shocking, but also a quiet examination of a slightly dysfunctional family and the dynamics at play that alternately bring them closer and tear them apart depending on the day. It’s a film that is best left unexplained for the viewer to avoid spoiling anything, but it is well worth a viewing.