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PIETA IN THE TOILET (Toire no Pieta)


PIETA IN THE TOILET


May 27, 2015
Q&A guests: Director Daishi Matsunaga, stars Yojiro Noda and Hana Sugisaki


three on stage
The talented trio faces the press.

For a film programmer, there is nothing quite so satisfying as being able to contribute, however insignificantly, to the launch of an independent film that deserves to be seen and celebrated far more widely than its modest budget may allow. Such was the case with FCCJ’s screening of Pietà in the Toilet, the feature-fiction debut of award-winning documentary director Daishi Matsunaga (Pyuupiru, Gospel).

Inspired by the final story idea of Japan’s great God of Comics, Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Kimba the White Lion), who jotted the outlines of Pietà down on his last diary page before dying of stomach cancer in 1989, Matsunaga has created a big-screen treatment that is by turns distressing, blackly humorous and uplifting — a poignant consideration of life under the looming hand of death. Nearly as impressively, he has directed a handful of major movie stars (Lily Franky, Rie Miyazawa, Shinobu Otake) with the assurance of a seasoned pro, and guided two unknowns in the lead roles who achieve an onscreen chemistry that is a real rarity.

  hana smiles  noda speaks  daishi speaks
Hana Sugisaki, Yojiro Noda and Daishi Matsunaga discuss the close collaboration that went into making the movie.

Making his acting debut, real-life rock star Yojiro Noda (Radwimps) is perfectly cast as a lost young man who is rescued from his ennui and emptiness by Hana Sugisaki, a teen actress whose slim TV and film credits could not possibly predict the sheer bravado of her revelatory performance in Pietà. Just 16 years old during filming, Sugisaki delivers a truly star-making turn.

In Matsunaga’s adaptation of Tezuka’s story fragment, Noda plays young cancer patient Hiroshi Sonoda, who receives a fatal cancer diagnosis and decides to die without a fight. Once a promising art student, he’d quit painting after an unhappy love affair, and he’s been washing windows ever since. But after fainting on the job, he finds himself in the hospital, where he meets two people who will shake him out of his stupor: Toru Yokota (Franky), a long-term cancer patient who gets his kicks from photographing nurses and nubile visitors; and Mai (Sugisaki), a schoolgirl with serious attitude and a death wish. Hiroshi, weakened by chemotherapy and growing superstitious in the way of many victims of hopeless situations, begins to think he can survive if only he makes someone happy — and Mai, precocious, tortured and desperately lonely, is his willing target. As a chaste love affair blooms, Hiroshi is inspired to pick up his brush. With Yokota’s help, he begins painting the pietà on the walls of his toilet, a final act of defiance and redemption.

daishiMatsunaga's facility with actors might be a result of his own experiences:
he began his film career as one of the Waterboys.

When queried about how he managed to snag such a big-name cast, as well as how he found his leads, Matsunaga explained that he and his producers (Shinji Ogawa of BridgeHead and Morio Amagi of CineBazar) had wanted someone who was a creative artist for the character of Hiroshi. Eventually, they decided to reach out to singers, and Matsunaga felt an instant rapport with Noda. “As I listened to his lyrics and songs… I found him to be very sexy and intriguing, and his songs expressed something similar to the worldview that I hoped to capture.” Conveniently, Noda also wrote and performed the theme song for the film.

hana speakHana, a rising star, skipped her school trip to be at the FCCJ screening.

As for the “equally important” role of Mai, Matsunaga “held auditions for a full year, and from the beginning, Hana Sugisaki was very impressive. I narrowed it down to 5 -10 actresses, and asked Yojiro to come in and read against them. When I saw how he and Hana played off each other, and changed each other, I was convinced to cast her.”

Sugisaki surprised the FCCJ audience by being as demure and soft-spoken during the Q&A session as her character is bold and outspoken in the film. She discussed the audition and rehearsal processes, the difficulty of “capturing Mai,” and the frustrating process of building confidence. “I think I was able to do this because I trusted [the director and my costar],” she said. After a particularly lengthy series of takes one day, “Matsunaga-san came to me and said ‘You finally captured Mai,’ and from then on, I was able to interact with Yojiro as if he was Hiroshi and I was Mai. The character stayed inside me for a full month after filming was done.”

noda laughsYojiro rocks the audience with his superb English,

Noda also surprised the FCCJ audience — and the sizable contingent of Japanese press, most of whom were there because of the Radwimps singer-songwriter’s enormous popularity — by speaking in fluent American English: “Thank you for inviting us here tonight, we’re very pleased to be here. It’s been 10 years since Daishi Matsunaga [heard] this story, and it’s been a long way here. This was my very first acting experience, and it was awesome to work with these incredible talents. I was very honored. I hope you enjoyed the film, and if you did, please help spread the Pietà world to other audiences. Thank you.” (Noda lived in the US for 4 years as a youth, and says he maintains his English through producing work with non-Japanese singers and touring abroad with his band.)

three laugh 
The photo call turns a bit giggly.

Fans of Osamu Tezuka, many of whom have waited 25 years to see his final story come to life, and fans of exceptional new acting and filmmaking talent: Pietà in the Toilet is for you. You’ll be seeing a lot more of Daishi Matsunaga, Yojiro Noda and Hana Sugisaki in the future; this is where it all began.

  Photos by FCCJ.

Pieta POSTER
©2015 “Pieta in the Toilet” Film Partners

Media Coverage

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日本テレビ [ZIP! SHOWBIZ TODAY] 「RADWIMPS野田洋次郎、英語で会見」

MISS HOKUSAI (Sarusuberi)


MISS HOKUSAI


May 7, 2015
Q&A guest: Director Keiichi Hara


May 07 15 Movie Miss Hokusai by Aoki 031
Hara lightens up under questioning.

Just two days before the hotly anticipated release of his latest film, Annecy-winning director Keiichi Hara (Colorful) thrilled FCCJ’s audience with a sneak peek of Miss Hokusai, which illuminates the extraordinary lives of iconic artist Katsushika Hokusai and his outspoken daughter O-Ei. Following a spate of recent discoveries, O-Ei is now recognized not only as an essential contributor to her father’s later — and most famous — work, but as a groundbreaking artist in her own right.

It was only the second time in the past decade that the Film Committee had screened an animated film (the other was Eric Khoo’s Tatsumi in 2013), which is admittedly inexplicable from both a creative and financial stance*, given that the anime industry accounts for 90% of all Japanese “content” sales overseas, regularly earns a bigger chunk of change at the domestic box office than all other films combined, and is propelled by some of the biggest names in the global pantheon.

  hokusai workplace
O-Ei (front) and Hokusai (middle) work amidst the detritus of leftovers and failed drawings.
© 2014-2015 Hinako Sugiura・MS.HS / Sarusuberi Film Partners

But one doesn’t have to be an anime aficionado to appreciate Hara’s enthralling vision of old Edo. Paying tribute to one of Japan’s greatest artists — and the assistant who, given different circumstances, might have one day surpassed him — he has literally animated the process of artistic creation in ways that are by turns lyrical, lush, magical, startling and sublime. (The FCCJ audience was split, however, on whether his use of heavy metal in the opening and closing scenes was poetic-license appropriate.)

Marking his first collaboration with the acclaimed animation house Production I.G (Ghost in the Shell, A Letter to Momo, Giovanni’s Island), working with the chief animator of Hayao Miyzaki’s The Wind Rises, Yoshimi Itazu, and celebrated background artist Hiroshi Ohno, Hara has adapted the beloved historical manga Sarusuberi (Crape Myrtle) by Edo Period expert Hinako Sugiura for Miss Hokusai.

May 07 15 Movie Miss Hokusai by Aoki 010Interpreter Don Brown, looking positively animated himself
(especially the Fuji-and-sakura shirt!) did the subtitles for the film.

During the Q&A session following the screening, Hara repeatedly gave props to the original author. “I did a lot of research, but the vast majority of it was Sugiura-san’s,” he said in response to a question about why the film seems so “modern” compared to our typical image of Edo Japan. “I was trying to recreate the world that Sugiura-san created in her comics, rather than one that resembles a typical jidaigeki period piece. I think people in the Edo Period lived a far freer, more relaxed and congenial lifestyle than we lead today. They had much more fun.”

Hara also noted that he’d chosen a “simple, realistic” style of animation to suit the story. He stressed that Sugiura’s women are not “living tragic lives, being persecuted by men. In Sugiura-san’s manga, they are full of life, and have the power to choose whichever man they want. Sugiura-san’s manga, as well as her essays and other works, showed an image of women that was very different from what we’d seen in period films and on TV.”

Indeed, Miss Hokusai often feels almost hyperrealistic in its breathtakingly colorful depiction of 1814 Asakusa-Tawaramachi, teeming with peasants, samurai, merchants, nobles, artisans, courtesans and not surprisingly, we soon find out, a slew of supernatural beings. A stone’s throw from Ryogoku Bridge, the eccentric Tetsuzo (aka Hokusai) spends each day creating paintings for clients around Japan, from an enormous Dharma that fills an entire hall to a tiny pair of sparrows on a grain of rice. A master of portraits, landscapes, still lifes and erotica, Tetsuzo’s skill fits any commission. O-Ei works at his side, assisting, cajoling and smoking her pipe. They neither clean nor cook, and when their discarded work and leftover food fills up their home-atelier, they simply move to another. Undeniably talented, as well as stubborn, short-tempered and uninterested in money, this father-daughter team may not always agree, but “with two brushes and four chopsticks,” they can get by.

hokusai darumaHokusai paints a pretty (big) picture.
© 2014-2015 Hinako Sugiura・MS.HS / Sarusuberi Film Partners

Hara deployed 3D computer graphics in creating the film, but noted, “I didn’t want the CG to take you out of the film. The basic process is the way it’s always been done in 2D animation… In particular, there’s one scene where O-Ei runs out of the inn, and the camera pans down to her feet, comes back up and swings around, facing her. Normally, that would be done by a CG and 2D animator working together. But I had one animator do the whole 40-second sequence. It took 3 months. But it’s the kind of amazing sequence that Japanese animators have the technique and skills to accomplish.”

Returning to Sugiura once again, the director explained, “In the manga, O-Ei is the central character [in certain scenes only], but I decided to make her the main protagonist of the film. [Like O-Ei,] Suguira had a soft side to her, but as a writer, she was also very strong and had an eccentric side.”

Far from being just the first film Hara has directed that features a female protagonist, Miss Hokusai also surrounded him with a non-traditional crew. “There are more and more women working in the anime industry, especially at Production I.G, which made this film,” he said. Besides Sugiura, “the screenwriter was a woman, the two producers were women, and some of the animators were women. So there wasn’t any gender gap on this film.”

May 07 15 Movie Miss Hokusai by Aoki 056  May 07 15 Movie Miss Hokusai by Aoki 052
Hara poses with the film's poster, and holds up his newly minted FCCJ Honorary Membership.

Although he directed his first live-action film, the biopic Dawn of a Filmmaker: The Keisuke Kinoshita Story, in 2013, it doesn’t look likely that Hara will be leaving animation behind. Along with all his past prizes, in 2015, he was awarded the Anime d’Or at the Tokyo Anime Award Festival for his achievements. Hara will be heading to Annecy, France once again in June, where Miss Hokusai is in festival competition, as well as Montreal in July, where it is the Opening Night film at Fantasia Film Festival. It was also presold across Europe, with releases planned in France, Belgium, the UK, Germany, Austria, Spain and Portugal, among other nations. Can the USA be far behind?

*So shoot me — I didn’t develop a taste for animation in my youth, and it’s easier to program live-action films when you’re fairly ignorant about the likes of Tezuka, Ishii, Anno, Mizushima, Nishio, Araki (but we have tried countless times to persuade the fellows at Studio Ghibli to join us at FCCJ, to no avail).
  Photos by FCCJ.

hokusai poster
© 2014-2015 Hinako Sugiura・MS.HS / Sarusuberi Film Partners

Media Coverage

KANZEON


KANZEON


April 22, 2015
Q&A guests: KanZeOn codirector Neil Cantwell, Musicity founder Nick Luscombe
and monk/DJ Akinobu Tatsumi


kanzeon-2
Ta2mi demonstrates his beat-boxing technique before the Q&A.

Kicking off our Q&A session following the screening of KanZeOn, Buddhist monk Akinobu Tatsumi (a/k/a Ta2mi) entered the room in full ceremonial garb and slowly approached the front, microphone pressed close to his mouth. The loudspeaker erupted with an extraordinarily percussive beat-boxing routine and the audience burst into delighted applause.

It was a visual-aural juxtaposition that could sum up Japan’s famed incongruities in a nutshell.

Some of these are evident in the gorgeously photographed film, which one audience member termed “exquisite and profound.” Enveloping viewers in the sights and sounds of a mostly ancient Japan, moving evocatively from forest to temple to mountaintop, celebrating the deep resonance of sound within the nation’s cultural identity — its songs, stories, rituals, performances, faiths and traditions — the documentary explores the mysterious bonds between the traditional and modern, between the spiritual and sensory.

kanzeon-1 
Luscombe and Cantwell talk about the special qualities
of sound as expressed in haiku poems.

Tatsumi, a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist monk from the countryside near Kumamoto, is one of the three musicians around whom KanZeOn is built, allowing them to guide the way through their words and performances. Shō player Eri Fujii and Akihiro Iitomi, an expert in the kotsuzumi drum and a Noh theater master are the film’s other guides.

Directed by Neil Cantwell and Tim Grabham, both British, the film's belated first screenings were held in Kagoshima and Kumamoto last week. While living in Fukuoka for two years as an exchange student, as Cantwell explained during the Q&A session, “I developed an interest in Japanese religion and prepared to do the Shikoku 88-temple pilgrimage… But I’m a musician, and actually, the most progress I made with Japanese language and understanding Japanese culture came from playing with people. You can communicate through music when you don’t speak much of the language.” Cantwell gigged with Tatsumi, performed on the same concert bill with Fujii, and studied for six months with Iitomi.

Back in the UK and talking with Grabham about making a film together in Japan, the three musicians became obvious choices. “Religion was playing an important part in their lives, but in a different way for each of them,” said Cantwell. “And that’s where the film came from.” It took five years to complete, since it was entirely self-funded. But it has been screened continuously around the world since its premiere in 2011.

KanZeOn enlightens without explaining, and mesmerizes without demanding full understanding. Still, it was not surprising that one member of the audience questioned the lack of narration. Said Cantwell, “Ultimately, our decision not to include narration came from a worry I had about appropriating Japanese culture and doing something that would be disrespectful. That informed the decision to, as much as possible, just present these performances and the thoughts and feelings of these people that we were making the film with. It was very much a collaborative experience.”

kanzeon-4Tatsumi selected at type of shishiodoshi (scare the deer) as his favorite sound:
when water, in a bamboo rocker arm, hits the rock below in Japanese gardens.

Tatsumi noted that the collaboration had been “very exciting for me. I’m happy that so many people could be united by the film, and that I could meet so many new people through the process.” He also thanked his mother, who used to work at Yamaha and made sure he got an electric keyboard as a boy, and his father for allowing him to continue a music career in tandem with his religious work.

Joining Cantwell and Tatsumi for the Q&A was Nick Luscombe, who is launching a project with Cantwell to create a crowd-sourced “self-portrait” of Japan. A radio broadcaster for BBC Radio 3 as well as a musician, Luscombe is the founder of Musicity, a web app (soon to be an iPhone or Android app) that allows travelers to go to specific locations around the world, and listen to music there that was created by commissioned artists in response to an aspect of the location that inspires them.

Building on that idea, Luscombe and Cantwell are now compiling a prototype version of a sound map for the Japan Sound Portrait, using scenes from KanZeOn and a first round of public submissions. They’re encouraging people from all over the country to contribute 17-second audio/video clips (reflecting the 17 syllables of haiku, which often rely on sounds for their impact) celebrating the sounds they cherish. They envision going beyond just creating a sound map, and foresee a film version as well as an immersive virtual reality environment in which certain locations will be explorable online via 360-degree, 3-D footage (technology coming this year from Oculus Rift and Sony Morpheus).

“The idea is to get as many people as possible to contribute to this project,” Luscombe told the audience. It’s very simple to do, just email the tracks [see how below] and we’ll get them online. It’s a long-term project, and we’re hoping that it develops over the next five years. We’re asking people to record whatever sounds they can — anything that’s interesting.”

Just in the past week, the two have received a slew of submissions, some of which may not necessarily qualify as “interesting.” “Someone sent in the sound of their car’s engine,” laughed Cantwell, “and it’s a German car.”

kanzeon-3Luscombe, Tatsumi, Cantwell and Emiko Odera, who was the translator for the film crew.

Luscombe continued: “There are so many sounds that are endangered because of the way that technology moves so quickly here. For example, the sound that you push to cross the road, that’s going to change sometime soon.” He agreed with a suggestion from the audience, that the posts be time-tagged as well as place-tagged online, to demonstrate the evolution of sounds in the same location, even over just five years.

Added Cantwell: “We really want to make a sonic world. You can combine elements of a documentary film with elements of computer games, and we can begin to manipulate these environments that we capture in a way that would say more, perhaps, about the character of sound and why people in Japan seem to care more about the texture of sound that in other parts of the world.”

Asked why they didn’t plan to create a global sound portrait, Luscombe laughed and said they might. But: “There’s just so much more going on here, sonically. People comment on it quite a lot. It’s a really rich resource of sound. It’s a great place to start.”

For more on the Japan Sound Portrait: http://japansoundportrait.tumblr.com/
To submit clips: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

  Photos by Koichi Mori and FCCJ.

kanzeon-s
©cinema iloobia/Dissolving Path

Media Coverage

WALKING WITH MY MOTHER (Houyou)


WALKING WITH MY MOTHER


April 14, 2015
Q&A guests: Director Katsumi Sakaguchi and producer Atsuko Ochiai


DSC 0007
Ochiai has produced all six films by Sakaguchi,
beginning with the award-winning Blue Tower in 2000.

During the exceptionally long and insightful Q&A session following the screening of Walking with My Mother, a Japanese journalist in the second row repeatedly dried her eyes and quietly blew her nose, seemingly unable to stem her grief over a private loss. Or perhaps it was regret. Both emotions — and many others, from frustration to despair to hope — are evoked in abundance by Katsumi Sakaguchi’s documentary, which focuses on his mother’s late-life journey over a four-year period.

As the film opens, 78-year-old Suchie Sakaguchi is distraught and distracted, over-reliant on tranquilizers and undergoing a personality shift because of them. She has not recovered from her daughter’s death to illness three years earlier, and now her husband has been hospitalized, with diminishing chances of survival. Suchie’s devoted son arrives to help out, and begins recording her life so as to better comprehend her suffering. Soon, the camera becomes Katsumi’s way of coping, as well as of distancing himself, as his father’s health deteriorates and he eventually dies. Suchie’s mental state declines further, and only when she walks — no matter what the hour — does she become less agitated.

But then, miraculously, her sister Mariko arrives and a rescue effort begins. Suchie goes back with her to their hometown on the southern island of Tanegashima, which has changed much in the 38 years since her last visit. Her anguish has been her constant companion for so long, it seems at first that the change of scenery, and the ministrations of family and friends, won’t shake her free of it. But Mariko stays devoted to her sister’s recovery, and gradually begins to break through Suchie’s grief. Working in the garden and reducing her tranquilizer intake — as well as taking daily walks — eventually begin to restore both her health and her sanity.


DSC 0045 
Sakaguchi responds to a question about the "not-shy" intimacy of certain scenes.

The director was asked what prompted him to begin shooting. “I saw the reflection of my mother in my camera lens, and she looked so fragile, sitting by the window,” Sakaguchi recalled. “I had mixed feelings, because I loved her, but [having to take care of her] was stripping away my freedom. The situation left me so frustrated, that I felt I might actually strike her. That’s where the camera came in handy. The distance of having to focus saved me.”

Walking with My Mother doesn’t shy away from presenting the most private, borderline queasy, moments, but the director felt it was necessary to provide an utterly unflinching depiction of his mother’s breakthrough, although he didn’t realize there would be a happy ending when he first began filming her. His intimate portrait is more than just a home movie; it has provided us with a universal example of the types of social challenges now pressing on Japan’s future, particularly in terms of its aging society and the provision of health services.

To a question regarding the adequacy of those services in the case of his mother’s care, Sakagami noted, “[My parents’ generation was the first wave] and the second wave will hit in 2025, when the baby boomers will be in their 70s. I think it’s going to hit Japan like a huge tsunami. Luckily, my mother was insured under the National Health system, so she was able to receive relatively good services. But I’m concerned about all those who won’t be able to receive such services in the future.”
 
He also expressed his concern over the fact that so many of the elderly are not able to go back to their hometowns, as his mother was, and are dying in Tokyo, often alone. To that end, Sakaguchi provided a Director’s Statement to the audience, which included a list of 10 steps that could vastly improve the lives of loved ones.

DSC00300Ochiai and Sakaguchi with the poster for the film.

For those of us with aging parents, and those of us who are aging parents, it’s a list that bears passing on:

1.    Find a trustworthy friend
2.    Invite others into your home
3.    Keep a daily diary
4.    Cook a meal a day
5.    Find a pet or grow a plant
6.    Join a circle and interact with others
7.    Return to your hometown, at least once
8.    Never forget humor
9.    Have a favorite song for yourself
10.   Live life for the ones you love

“If I were to give one piece of advice to caregivers,” Sakaguchi concluded, “do what you’re good at. I’m a director, so I used my camera. But if you’re a cook, cook for your parent. If you’re a tailor, sew something for them. And do it with abandon. Throw yourself into it.”

One of the most talked-about films at the 2014 Tokyo International Film Festival, where it was an official selection in the Japanese Cinema Splash section and the only documentary being screened, Walking with My Mother has just been announced as the Opening film in the Competition section of the Nippon Connection film festival in Frankfurt, Germany, to be held in mid-June.

The other piece of good news is that Walking with My Mother will be shown with English subtitles at all screenings during its run from April 25 at Image Forum in Shibuya. Spread the word!

  Photos by Koichi Mori and FCCJ.

wwmm
©Supersaurus

Media Coverage

 

THE MAN FROM RENO (Man Furomu Rino)


THE MAN FROM RENO


March 12, 2015
Q&A guests: Director Dave Boyle and star Ayako Fujitani


4
Fujitani and Boyle share a giggle during the Q&A session.

The world needs more filmmakers like Dave Boyle. Maybe then we’d have a better chance to stem the tide of xenophobia, monolingualism and cross-cultural misunderstanding. Every one of his five award-winning, independently produced features is bilingual, and his actors hail from a global village of backgrounds.

“A lot of times at Q&As, the first question I’m asked is ‘What is your obsession with Japanese culture?’” said Boyle, in response to the first question he was asked at the Q&A following the screening of his beautifully shot thriller Man from Reno. “I wouldn’t necessarily call it an obsession,” he explained. “I think there’s a lack of diversity in American film. There are very few movies that deal with culture in an off-hand way, the way it is in real life. [Reno] has people from all different backgrounds in it, but that’s not necessarily the point of the movie… It just so happens that I sort of speak Japanese, and in wanting to explore that space in movies, it naturally progressed from that.”

(Boyle is being modest: he actually speaks Japanese fluently, and his facility with the language has proven crucial to each of his films.)


5  1
Fujitani and Boyle

His star, Steven Seagal’s very talented daughter, Ayako Fujitani, was clearly happy about Boyle’s obsession — er, commitment. “I’m really honored to be playing this role,” she told the FCCJ audience. “It’s kind of my dream come true, to be able to speak two languages in one movie. It’s really hard to find this kind of project. Since I moved to LA 5 years ago, it’s been so hard to get a job as an Asian actor…I believe that as we keep on doing this, there will be more projects with different languages, different cultures.” Boyle broke in, “What would be great is if, at some point, it doesn’t become remarkable to have multiple languages and casts of many different backgrounds. ”

But he admits that he didn’t necessarily have “noble intentions” for Man From Reno: “I made this because I wanted to tell a really fun story. I love mysteries, and I always wanted to do a mystery in which culture and language was one of the clues that eventually leads to the truth.”

Winner of the Best Narrative Feature award at last fall’s Los Angeles Film Festival, and a nominee for the John Cassavetes Award at the Spirit Awards, the film marks a turning point for the LA-based director, representing a move from quirky comedy into neo-noir territory — and bigger-name casting. Boyle loved the idea of telling a far-fetched crime story with a completely straight face, going so far as to tell investors that they should imagine Alan J. Pakula directing a Nancy Drew movie.

Man From Reno opens on a lonely highway in dense northern California fog, and it isn’t until the film’s final moments that the fog lifts — with a creeping sense of “ah-ha!” as all the twists and turns, disappearances and mistaken identities, MacGuffins, mysteries and mayhem, finally make sense. Fujitani plays a popular Japanese mystery author who has fled to San Francisco to escape a book tour and falls for a charming Japanese traveler (Kazuki Kitamura) who disappears, leaving a trail of strange clues. Before long, Aki finds herself teaming up with aging, small-town Sheriff Paul Del Moral (the great Pepe Serna, in a rare leading role), who is also chasing a mysterious Japanese man. The crime writer and crime fighter make a wonderfully intergenerational, intercultural team. “I’m pretty sure this is the first film that has an aging Latino man and a young Japanese woman as their lead characters,” Boyle laughed.

8Fujitani and Boyle

Fujitani was asked whether being a writer herself helped her prepare for the role. She is known for her essays, film critiques and short stories, as well as novels like Shiki-jitsu, which was adapted into a film in 2000, directed by Hideaki Anno (Evangelion), starring Fujitani opposite famed director Shunji Iwai. After Boyle interjected that she had actually inspired the role, Fujitani said, “There was one scene where Aki is writing for a long time, and I know how the body aches after you write for a long time. So I could use that in my acting.”

Much of the focus of the Q&A discussion was about Boyle’s wizardry on such a minuscule budget (the Cassavetes Award honors films with budgets under $500,000). He gave credit not only to the exceptionally talented cinematographer, Richard Wong, as well as the locations assistance he received from coproducer Taro Goto. The film features over 40 locations, and makes the most of San Francisco’s photogenic profile. “I love that city,” said Boyle. “It’s the city of film noir. You pretty much point the camera in any direction, and there’s something interesting going on.”

After generously hanging out in the Main Bar until closing time to chat personally with audience members, the director and his star headed down to Osaka the morning after FCCJ’s screening, to present their film at the Osaka Asian Film Festival. Although it did not garner the top prize, it fed the buzz that is sure to build as its theatrical release date in June draws closer.

  Photos by Koichi Mori and FCCJ.

ManFromReno PosterImage
©MAN FROM RENO LLC.

Media Coverage

 

JOURNEY WITHOUT END (Watashi no Owaranai Tabi)


JOURNEY WITHOUT END


March 5, 2015
Q&A guest: Director Masako Sakata


masako1
Masako Sakata

Following the death of her husband, photographer and longtime FCCJ member Greg Davis, from the affects of Agent Orange, Masako Sakata began crafting her first documentary, Agent Orange: A Personal Requiem (2007). It would win the Mainichi documentary film award, the Paris International Environmental Film Festival special prize, and the Earth Vision special jury award, among others, and be followed by Living the Silent Spring (2011), which depicted the struggles and courage of American and Vietnamese children who bear the imprint of Agent Orange and other dangerous chemical agents.

Marking her third appearance at FCCJ with her third documentary film, Journey Without End, Sakata once again impressed the audience with her commitment to exploring controversial subjects with a soft-spoken steeliness, both on screen and in person. After candidly taking aim during the Q&A session at a variety of deserving targets, including the media (“I think the media is promoting the government’s side more and more”), the nuclear power industry (“One of the things that nuclear policy implies is that it is a state secret”) and the LDP (“Not all Japanese are docile subjects, only 25% support them”), she was asked whether the State Secrets Law might have been one reason she shied away from focusing entirely on Fukushima in Journey Without End. “No,” she responded immediately. “I’m not afraid of things like that.”

SMKS

Sakata’s films are remarkable for the lack of stridency in their narrations, which are gently voiced in Japanese and English by the filmmaker herself, despite their powerful condemnations of untenable situations. This is perhaps a trait she inherited from her mother, whose antinuclear activism in the 1970s led to a compilation of newsletters that were politely entitled Please Listen. It was to these newsletters that Sakata found herself drawn following the 3/11 disasters, when fear and anxiety engulfed Japan amid conflicting news reports concerning the status of the Fukushima nuclear plant, the actual radiation levels, the “safe” zones and the number of evacuees. She knew that she wanted to delve into the subject of nuclear power, but “if there are 160,000 evacuees, there are 160,000 tragedies. How could I capture it all in one film?”

 

Sakata was eventually prompted to set off on a quest to find some of the same answers her mother sought: Why was nuclear energy still sold as a “peaceful” use of atoms, when it is essentially the same as nuclear weapons? Why have the misguided nuclear policies of so many governments persisted, especially after Chernobyl and Fukushima? As she puts it in Journey Without End, “We claim to have harnessed the power of the atom, but perhaps it is humankind that is under its control.”

Beginning with a visit to her sister on Guernsey, Channel Isles — where a spent fuel reprocessing plant in nearby Cap de la Hague, France, has been leaking into the sea, with radioactive waste detected as far away as Denmark and Norway — Sakata journeys to Bikini Atoll, the Marshall Islands, Kazakhstan and sites around Japan, where she finds the “scars” of the nuclear age still deeply engraved in both the landscapes and the displaced populations. She speaks to victims as well as experts, all of whom have eye-opening stories to share. And she shares chilling news footage from the last 70 years, including US Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s epochal Atoms for Peace speech.

masako3
Sakata with the poster for her film.

Not surprisingly, Sakata’s Journey Without End reveals what she termed during the Q&A as “the folly of the government, bureaucracy and industry, which are responsible for what happened in Fukushima, [as well as] the importance of citizen’s power and persistence to speak out for a just cause.” Although she does not devote a great deal of screen time to the aftereffects of Fukushima, she hopes that Japanese audiences will “read between the lines” to understand how similar the scars of Fukushima are to those of Chernobyl and elsewhere.

Sakata particularly hopes that the media will quit transmitting the government’s mixed-up messages about nuclear safety: “There’s a game of playing down [the dangers]: ‘Keep smiling and you won’t be affected by radioactivity as much.’” The audience nodded and chuckled appreciatively, but not because we think it’s funny; far, far from it.

  Photos by FCCJ.

Journeys End poster
©2014 Masako Sakata

Media Coverage

El viaje sin fin de Sakata Masako

NU GUO: IN THE NAME OF THE MOTHER


NU GUO: IN THE NAME OF THE MOTHER


February 4, 2015
Q&A guest: Codirector Pio d’Emilia


piopretalk
d'Emilia introduces his film.

Pio d’Emilia, FCCJ stalwart and longtime correspondent for Italy’s Sky TG24, set the stage perfectly for the special screening of his film. Recalling that it all began when he was home on a visit in 2011, he told the audience: “The big news story at the time was how many women were being killed each year by men who pretend to love them,” he said. “In that year, close to 150 women were killed because they didn’t do what they were expected to.”

As part of a report related to the abhorrent situation, d’Emilia journeyed to the province of Yunnan, China, in the breathtakingly beautiful foothills of the Himalayas. There, he reported, one could find a centuries-old matriarchal, matrilineal society that is egalitarian and non-violent, the Mosuo. Recognized in 1995 by the United Nations as a “model society” and “precious source of inspiration,” the Mosuo live a peaceful existence with no domestic abuse, rape or femicide.

PIO1  PIO2
d'Emilia answers questions.

Shortly after his report had aired, d’Emilia was contacted by educator Francesca Rosati Freeman, a women’s rights advocate and antiracism activist who had written Benvenuti nel paese delle donne (Welcome to the Realm of Women), a 2010 book that focused on the transformations occurring among the Mosuo as a result of globalization. She had been organizing visits of small groups to experience an alternative way of life in Mosuo communities, demonstrating that it was nevertheless possible to imagine a different life in Italy, one in which women are valued and men are not oppressed.

Rosati Freeman and d’Emilia decided to collaborate on a film, and returned together to Yunnan, where they stayed and filmed among one Mosuo community on Lugu Lake. The resulting documentary, Nu Guo: In the Name of the Mother, has just begun its international film festival journey; but it is already being used as an educational tool in Italian schools.

The 50,000-strong Mosuo community survives, the film tells us, on “modesty, discipline, altruism and respect.” There is equality between the sexes, although women are in charge, and one of the defining features is the zou hun union: Relationships can be long-running, and children may result, but there is no marriage contract and men do not live with any woman except their mothers. Fathers are responsible not for their own children, but for their sisters’ children.

Piowithposter
Pio d'Emilia.

During a lengthy Q&A session following the film’s screening, d’Emilia endorsed the system in principal, stressing that it negates the need for jealousy and proves what women already seem to know, that they are “stronger, more just and more fair than men.” But when asked whether he thought any part of it could be applied to a Western society, he admitted that it would be difficult. “The embryo of violence," he stressed, "lies within the Judeo-Christian patriarchal system.”

Although the Chinese government does not recognize the Mosuo as an ethnic minority — a blessing in disguise, since it would impose the one-child rule and effectively destroy the Mosuo's unique attributes — it has recognized the community’s appeal as a tourist destination.  A decade ago, the government opened up the interior, building an airport and motorway in the Mosuo’s once-secluded land. This has brought a tourist invasion, enriching the community but also laying siege to its essential identity.

d’Emilia described certain unsavory aspects of this invasion that don’t appear in Nu Guo, including karaoke establishments that are actually brothels, staffed by Han Chinese who pretend to be Mosuo, to better lure visitors attracted by the overbilled “free love” concept.

Wouldn’t the Chinese want to be in total control of such a bustling tourist trade, asked one audience member. “We tried many times to get a statement from the Chinese government,” d’Emilia said, “but, you know, they’re not worried about a loving, nonviolent minority that’s not trying to overthrow communism.”

Despite the external pressures and other inevitable forces of modernization, d’Emilia is optimistic about the area's future: “The Mosuo are so proud, so convinced of being right, that they believe they can survive forever,” he said. Asked whether he feels the same, d’Emilia nodded vigorously. “The best way to protect a society is to open up, not to close,” he said. And in inimitable style, he emphasized that there’s a lesson in there for Japan.

  Photos by Koichi Mori and FCCJ.

nu guo-1
2014©Dharma Productions (Tokyo)

Media Coverage

 

Kabukicho Love Hotel (Sayonara Kabukicho)


KABUKICHO LOVE HOTEL


 January 8, 2015
Q&A guests: Stars Shota Sometani and Atsuko Maeda, and director Ryuichi Hiroki


  media
Pandemonium ensues as 11 TV cameras and dozens of Japanese press
join an already packed Q&A session.

It isn’t often that a sneak preview Q&A is hijacked by a celebrity news story — but that’s what threatened to happen at our first screening event of the new year. Just days before, Kabukicho Love Hotel star Shota Sometani had announced his marriage to Oscar-nominated actress Rinko Kikuchi, and FCCJ was his first appearance since the news hit the headlines. The Japanese media were thus out in force, descending in huge numbers upon the club, all hoping for a few words about married life. Sometani complied (in spades, considering that the wedding announcement had been so tersely worded), and coverage of his prime sound bites was extensive. (They logged the longest airtime given to any coverage in Japan the next day: 19 minutes, 7 seconds) (!).

Director Ryuchi Hiroki began the Q&A by congratulating him, and Sometani thanked him with a grin. “I just got married, and I am relishing this happiness,” he said. “We don’t have any children yet, but we hope to in the future, and I’ll work hard at being the patriarch.” His choice of “patriarch” was pointed, since Kikuchi is 11 years his senior.

Hiroki  sometani  maeda
Hiroki, Sometani, Maeda

The focus on Sometani was a little distracting, considering that his costar, Atsuko Maeda, is one of Japan’s most famous celebrities, and that the film itself was extremely well received by the FCCJ audience. From its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival last September, through screenings in Korea, Hawaii, Singapore and Tokyo FILMeX, Kabukicho Love Hotel has been garnering the best buzz in recent memory. It marks a welcome return to awards level for Hiroki, whose work has continued to be overshadowed by the success of his 2003 masterpiece, Vibrator.

“Where secrets hide and dreams rest — for a short while” is the tagline of his outrageously engaging new film, set in Tokyo’s seedy-but-perennially-trendy red light district in Shinjuku. By turns hilarious and heartbreaking, slapsticky and sexually charged, Kabukicho Love Hotel is a rousing crowd-pleaser, a must-see for anyone who has wanted to take a vicarious peek at all those over-decorated rooms in Japan’s love hotels, as well as anyone curious about how such businesses are actually run.

three
The director and stars pose for an endless photo call after the Q&A session.

Pulling back the covers on a variety of today’s social and economic ills, the film is a clever — and perfectly cast — ensemble piece covering 24 hours at the Atlas Hotel, a rather pricey and popular establishment that attracts lovers, cheaters, scouts and “delivery girls,” presided over by down-on-his-luck hotel manager Toru (Sometani) and a ragtag staff, including a cleaning lady (Kaho Minami, brilliant as always) who harbors a dark secret. Korean delivery girl Heya (an excellent Eun-woo Lee) meets clients several times on this, her final day of work; two cops book a room for an illicit romp but discover something more interesting than sex; a scout brings in an underage recruit but winds up falling for her; and a paunchy man walks his well-endowed “dog” through the corridors. On this business-as-usual day, Toru makes sure everyone knows he’s meant for far better things, but he has a few surprises in store for him: First, he learns that his sister has become a porn star; then his singer girlfriend (Maeda) shows up with a music producer and proceeds to sign a record deal.

Although there are several softcore sex scenes, Sometani and Maeda barely exchange more than a kiss, prompting one journalist to ask whether they would “consider going all the way on film.” Sometani answered that he’d done love scenes in the past and would again, if the script required it.  Maeda concurred, “I feel the same way. If there’s a need and the script requires it, then I have no problem doing such a scene.” Male hearts were surely lifted everywhere — the singer-actress spent seven years as the most popular member of the virginal girl band AKB48, and her film career hasn’t yet dispelled that image.

To a question about doing research (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), Hiroki reminded the audience that his career began in Kabukicho, and that he was quite familiar with the love-hotel industry. (In the 1980s, the director had forged a path as “the prince of youth porn,” directing many pink and AV titles before branching out into more commercial productions.) The film makes extensive use of locations in that part of Shinjuku, and includes an actual Hate Speech rally in nearby Shin Okubo. Hiroki explained, “These demonstrations have been occurring in the area, and it’s embarrassing for Japan that they’re happening. I felt there was no need to cover it up, and it was right to show it.”

The Kabukicho Love Hotel theme song, a catchy tune that swells over the end credits, is called Believe in Love, belying many, but not all, of the film’s “love” stories. The night’s final question addressed that belief. After a pause and a laugh, Hiroki said,  “Love is important, yeah.” Brief struggle for words. “Love is everything.” Maeda also laughed, then replied, “I feel like I’m supported by many people in my work, so I’m very aware of the importance of love.”  Said Sometani, whose newly minted marriage lent added oomph to his answer: “There are many kinds of love, and I like the word ‘love.’ Yes, I believe.”
  Photos by Koichi Mori and FCCJ.

kabukicho s
©2014 Kabukicho Love Hotel Film Partners, Gambit/Happinet

Media Coverage

TV Exposure

  • フジテレビ[めざましテレビ OH!]  染谷将太に、廣木隆一監督から祝福
  • フジテレビ [スーパーニュース芸能通やく] 主演映画の記者会見なのに報道陣から祝福された染谷将太さん。
  • 日本テレビ [ZIP! SHOWBIZ TODAY] 染谷将太さん。結婚後初の会見に登場
  • 日本テレビ [news every.culture & sports] 染谷さんはこれからささいな幸せを大切に
  • 日本テレビ [情報ライブ ミヤネ屋] 染谷将太が、「さよなら歌舞伎町」の記者会見に出席
  • テレビ朝日 [ワイド!スクランブル] 染谷将太が、公の場に登場

 

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