BOLT

Tuesday, December 08, 2020
Director Kaizo Hayashi and star Shiro Sano

BOLT

December 2, 2020
Q&A guests: Director Kaizo Hayashi and star Shiro Sano

Shiro Sano and Kaizo Hayashi have made 10 films together, and their enthusiasm hasn't diminished. ©FCCJ

The Film Committee’s final screening event of 2020 - our final screening event of the tumultuous 2010s, in fact — returned the audience to perhaps the decade’s biggest story, at least in Japan: the Fukushima disaster.

We had presented the big-budget Fukushima 50 at the beginning of the year, with stars Ken Watanabe and Koichi Sato on hand for the Q&A session. At the end of the year, we were privileged to provide a bookend of sorts with Bolt, the art-film version of similar events, and to welcome veteran director Kaizo Hayashi and star Shiro Sano for an illuminating Q&A.

(In a curious coincidence, Bolt features three of the actors who appear in Fukushima 50, Shiro Sano, Koichi Sato and Kazuhiko Kaneyama, although Bolt was completed several years earlier.)

TEZUKA'S BARBARA (Barubora)

Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Director Macoto Tezka

TEZUKA'S BARBARA (Barubora)

November 17, 2020
Q&A guest: Director Macoto Tezka

Unable to make the trip to Italy, Macoto Tezka received the Fantafestival award virtually. ©FCCJ

The day after Tezuka’s Barbara received the Golden Bat for Best Film at the 40th Fantafestival in Rome, Macoto Tezka appeared at FCCJ to discuss his prizewinning work.

“This is the first award given to the film, and I’m really happy that it comes from a fantastic film festival,” he told the audience following a sneak preview screening. “It has a lot of fantastical elements in it, so it brings me great joy that it’s been so wonderfully received by film enthusiasts who have an eye for such films.”

The Fantafestival jury had cited Tezuka’s Barbara for its “representation of an outside-the-box love story” and for “transcending the supernatural genre with great visual impact, in which the refined photography of the master, Christopher Doyle, excels.”

A GIRL MISSING IN COLLABORATION WITH TIFF

Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Director Koji Fukada, TIFF Festival Chairman Hiroyasu Ando and TIFF Selection Committee member Kohei Ando

A GIRL MISSING IN COLLABORATION WITH TIFF

October 19, 2020
Q&A guests: Director Koji Fukada, TIFF Festival Chairman Hiroyasu Ando
and TIFF Selection Committee member Kohei Ando

Kohei Ando, Koji Fukada and Hiroyasu Ando. ©FCCJ

The Film Committee has been collaborating on annual special screening events with the Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) for a decade or more, but in this very challenging year, it feels more important than ever. TIFF announced last month that, barring catastrophe, it will hold a physical 33rd edition, with the implementation of strict health and safety measures, from October 31 – November 9 at theaters in Roppongi.

This in itself was a milestone, since many international festivals were forced to cancel due to the pandemic, and others were stymied by ongoing theater closures in their host cities. The most famous of canceled festivals was Cannes, which nevertheless announced a lineup of 'Cannes Premiere 2020' titles, a selection of films that it would have premiered at the festival, had one been held.

AINU MOSIR

Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Director Takeshi Fukunaga and actor Debo Akiba

AINU MOSIR

October 8, 2020
Q&A guests: Director Takeshi Fukunaga and actor Debo Akiba

Debo Akiba joins director Takeshi Fukunaga from Hokkaido, via the magic of Zoom.  ©FCCJ

Like many nations with colonial pasts, Japan once deployed a policy of forced assimilation, economic and social discrimination, even family separation against its indigenous Ainu people — almost completely erasing their culture and identity. In the 19th-20th centuries, the government denied them the right to speak their language (it has been classified as critically endangered by UNESCO), as well as their right to hunt and gather.

Only with the 2019 passage of the Ainu Policy Promotion Act, the first recognizing them as an indigenous people, were the Ainu extended the right to “live with pride in their ethnicity” and to be afforded equal treatment.

Takeshi Fukunaga’s beautifully crafted second feature, Ainu Mosir, thus arrives at an auspicious juncture. Five years in the making and already the recipient of several major international festival awards, it portrays, in the guise of a gentle coming-of-age tale, the ongoing challenges facing the natives who call Hokkaido’s Akan Ainu Kotan home.

THE ASADAS (Asadake!)

Wednesday, October 21, 2020
Director Ryota Nakano and photographer Masashi Asada

THE ASADAS (Asadake!)

September 30, 2020
Q&A guests: Director Ryota Nakano and photographer Masashi Asada

Masashi Asada (left) and director Ryota Nakano pose with the medallion for their film's international premiere.  ©Koichi Mori

It’s the rare Japanese director who can balance humor and pathos with the dexterity demonstrated by Ryota Nakano. After just four feature films, he has established a familiar voice and a favorite subject: the family, as it faces dark days. Yet there is always brightness in the gloom, and scenes of gentle humor are punctuated by endearingly quirky details.

In his much-heralded feature debut, Capturing Dad (2012), the titular patriarch has just died, yet one remembers most the moments of mirth, like the payoff to a slow-building punchline about a young boy’s obsession with a tuna fish. Admittedly, Nakano’s next two releases, both enormous hits in Japan, elicited more tears than laughter —in Her Love Boils Bathwater (2016), a matriarch who runs a bathhouse is dying of cancer, and in A Long Goodbye (2019), an aging father is spiraling into Alzheimer’s.

SOIRÉE

Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Director Bunji Sotoyama and stars Nijiro Murakami and Haruka Imou

SOIRÉE

August 19, 2020
Q&A guests: Director Bunji Sotoyama and stars Nijiro Murakami and Haruka Imou

Director Bunji Sotoyama and stars Nijiro Murakami and Haruka Imou. ©FCCJ

In the future, Bunji Sotoyama’s visually and emotionally rewarding Soirée may be remembered as a film of important firsts. The first release of the freshly minted production company Shinsekai, it also marks the cultural moment when we all discovered Haruka Imou.

But for now, still on the cusp of stardom, it was not Ms. Imou’s presence that brought a huge contingent of still photographers and nine TV cameras to the Q&A session following our screening — it was the film’s producers, Kosuke Toyohara and Kyoko Koizumi, two of Japan’s most popular and prolific actors.

Citing the careers of John Cassavetes, Clint Eastwood, Jodie Foster and Juzo Itami,
producer KosukeToyohara reassured journalists that he would continue to act,
as well as produce and direct. ©FCCJ

KUSHINA, WHAT WILL YOU BE (Kushina)

Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Director Moët Hayami, actors Yayoi Inamoto and Miyuki Ono

July 15, 2020
Q&A guests: Director Moët Hayami, actors Yayoi Inamoto and Miyuki Ono

Writer-director Moët Hayami (right) with her stars, Yayoi Inamoto (left), and Miyuki Ono. ©FCCJ

In these times of self-isolation and social distancing, a film like Kushina, what will you be feels almost like allegory.

From our mid-2020 vantage point, it's hard to resist reading it as a cautionary tale about the fragility of our cultural ecosystems, the ease with which interlopers can rend the social fabric, and the real/imagined threats that external forces pose to even the most tightknit of communities.

The enigmatic first feature of Moët Hayami, Kushina is set in a remote matriarchal utopia. Hidden deep in the forested mountains of Japan, cloaked in almost otherworldly scenery, its residents live off the grid among the near-ruins of what might be a long-vanished civilization, with only the basic necessities and clothing that appears nearly feudal.

AN EVENING WITH VETERAN FILM CRITIC MARK SCHILLING

Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Mark Schilling

AN EVENING WITH VETERAN FILM CRITIC MARK SCHILLING

June 23, 2020
Q&A guest: Mark Schilling

Schilling, right, with Sachiko Ichikawa, widow of Jun Ichikawa, and Tony Takitani DP Taishi Hirokawa.

©Koichi Mori

Three long months after our last event, the Film Committee cautiously emerged from Covid-19 lockdown to host an intimate conversation with veteran film critic, festival advisor and cycling enthusiast Mark Schilling.

The small-town Ohio boy is now the world’s leading voice on Japanese film, with a catbird seat as a critic for the Japan Times since 1989. He has been the local correspondent since 1990 for Screen International and now Variety, is a cultural reporter for a wide range of international publications, and has authored six books on Japan, including the recently published “Art, Cult and Commerce: Japanese Cinema Since 2000.”

MISHIMA: THE LAST DEBATE (Mishima Yukio vs. Todai Zenkyoto: Gojunenme no Shinjitsu)

Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Director Keisuke Toyoshima and novelist Keiichiro Hirano

MISHIMA: THE LAST DEBATE (Mishima Yukio vs. Todai Zenkyoto: Gojunenme no Shinjitsu)

March 17, 2020
Q&A guests: Director Keisuke Toyoshima and novelist Keiichiro Hirano

Director Keisuke Toyoshima (left) and acclaimed novelist Keiichiro Hirano.  ©Koichi Mori

Yukio Mishima: the name still towers over the local literary landscape, especially when viewed from overseas. There is arguably no other Japanese writer whose works have been as widely translated, whose life — and death — have been as well documented internationally, whose controversial reputation has been subjected to such intense scrutiny.

No surprise, then, that many members of the audience who gathered at FCCJ to watch Mishima: The Last Debate had not only read most of his 34 novels (and/or his 50 plays, 25 short story collections and 35 books of essays), watched his film Patriotism, in which Mishima also stars, viewed Paul Schrader’s Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters or Koji Wakamatsu’s 11:25 The Day He Chose His Own Fate. Those with an enduring interest may have also read the essential biographies by John Nathan and Henry Scott Stokes, or Andrew Rankin’s authoritative Mishima, Aesthetic Terrorist: An Intellectual Portrait.

FUKUSHIMA 50

Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Kadokawa Corporation Chairman and Fukushima 50 supervising producer Tsuguhiko Kadokawa, director Setsuro Wakamatsu and stars Koichi Sato and Ken Watanabe

FUKUSHIMA 50

March 04, 2020

Q&A guests: Kadokawa Corporation Chairman and Fukushima 50 supervising producer Tsuguhiko Kadokawa, director Setsuro Wakamatsu and stars Koichi Sato and Ken Watanabe

Ken Watanabe (left) and Koichi Sato star in only their second film together.  ©Koichi Mori

It was not lost on the sizable crowd gathered at FCCJ for a sneak preview of Fukushima 50 that they were in the midst of one disaster (COVID-19) while watching another unfold onscreen.

Many of them had been in Japan on March 11, 2011 and had covered its aftermath. Some had even been able to speak directly with the engineers, technicians, firefighters, soldiers and other staff who stayed at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant after the earthquake and tsunami had laid siege, risking their lives in a desperate 5-day struggle to prevent a total meltdown of the overheating atomic reactors and to minimize the (literal) fallout from the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.