FIRST LOVE (Hatsukoi)

Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Director Takashi Miike and star Masataka Kubota

FIRST LOVE (Hatsukoi)

February 25, 2020
Q&A guests: Director Takashi Miike and star Masataka Kubota

Kubota (left) and Miike reunite after a decade for a noirish love story... with comic elements.  ©Koichi Mori

If the FCCJ audience expected Takashi Miike to be as outrageous, outlandish or outré as many of his films, they were sorely disappointed. Appearing at the Q&A session following a sneak peek of his new film, he was gracious, thoughtful and on occasion, droll — reminding us that the artist and the art are not always made of the same stuff.

But it should come as no surprise that even the Godfather of Asian Extreme plays by the rules of civil engagement at home in Japan. That partially explains how the compulsively prolific auteur has managed to direct over 100 features (in every possible genre, including several that he invented), since 1991. These have justly earned him global adulation and notoriety; yet he is also a critics’ favorite, having won awards at every leading film festival from Berlin to Cannes to Venice to Toronto, and been more widely distributed overseas than any other Japanese filmmaker.

BENEATH THE SHADOW (Eiri)

Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Director Keishi Otomo and producer Masashi Igarashi

BENEATH THE SHADOW (Eiri)

February 4, 2020
Q&A guests: Director Keishi Otomo and producer Masashi Igarashi

Igarashi (left) cracks that it's a lot harder to make a film based on a prizewinning novel than it is to make one based on a manga, which "Mr. Otomo has done time and again." ©Koichi Mori

Most of us know Keishi Otomo as the director and cowriter of the blockbuster Rurouni Kenshin trilogy, arguably the most globally successful samurai-swashbuckler franchise of our time. The first-ever Japanese helmer to sign a multipicture deal with Warner Bros., Otomo produced slick, big-budget, live-action adaptations of the popular manga/anime series that were instant classics for their mix of spectacular swordfights, slapstick humor and romanticism.

What we didn’t recognize from Rurouni Kenshin — or his other domestic box-office hits — is that underneath the polish of this world-class director, beats the heart of a poet.

But Otomo’s new film demonstrates just that. With his first arthouse title after three decades in TV and film, he takes a surprising turn toward the contemplative, the elegiac, the ineffable with Beneath the Mask.

COMPLICITY (Complicity Yasashii Kyohan)

Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Director Kei Chikaura and stars Yulai Lu and Tatsuya Fuji

COMPLICITY (Complicity Yasashii Kyohan)

January 15, 2020
Q&A guests: Director Kei Chikaura and
stars Yulai Lu and Tatsuya Fuji

Lu, Fuji and Chikaura — a talented and affable trio.  ©Koichi Mori

Nearly two years ago, writer-director-producer-editor Kei Chikaura took to the stage at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival amid warm applause, following the world premiere of his feature debut, Complicity. In the ensuing months, the film would have its European premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, its Asian premiere at the Busan Film Festival, and its Japan premiere at Tokyo Filmex, where it won the all-important Audience Award.

All told, Complicity would screen at more than a dozen prestigious international film festivals. Normally, this would lead to an early Japanese release, to capitalize on the film’s overseas success.

But these are not normal times. With relations remaining chilly between Japan and China, the Japan-China coproduction was delayed another year before finally making its domestic bow.

TALKING THE PICTURES (Katsuben!)

Monday, October 19, 2020
Director Masayuki Suo and star Ryo Narita

TALKING THE PICTURES (Katsuben!)

December 2, 2019
Q&A guests: Director Masayuki Suo and star Ryo Narita

Newly minted movie star Ryo Narita assumes character as his director, Masayuki Suo, cracks up. 

©Koichi Mori

The Golden Age of Silent Cinema lasted longer in Japan than anywhere else, spanning roughly 45 years (1896-1939). While the transition to sound was all but complete in the West by 1930, and many Japanese films were full talkies by the mid- 1930s, the transition was delayed here. Why? Not because technology was lagging, but because of the popularity of katsudo benshi live narrators.

THE 47 RONIN IN DEBT (Kessan! Chushingura)

Monday, October 19, 2020
Director Yoshihiro Nakamura

THE 47 RONIN IN DEBT (Kessan! Chushingura)

November 20, 2019
Q&A guest: Director Yoshihiro Nakamura

Yoshihiro Nakamura’s new film has our favorite movie tagline of the year: “Revenge is... ultra-expensive!”  ©Koichi Mori

When we talk about the “cost” of revenge, we invariably refer only to its psychological and physical tolls. This instantly makes Yoshihiro Nakamura’s The 47 Ronin in Debt — a title to be read literally, not metaphorically — a groundbreaking addition to the category of jidaigeki period films about loyal samurai exacting retribution for offences against their masters.

The versatile writer-director of cult hits like Fish Story and The Foreign Duck, the Native Duck, and God in a Coin Locker, as well as commercial hits like Golden Slumber, A Boy and His Samurai, The Snow White Murder Case, Prophecy and The Magnificent Nine, Nakamura has taken a unique approach to adapting one of Japan’s most oft-told historical tales, “Chushingura.”

i: DOCUMENTARY OF THE JOURNALIST (i -Shimbun Kisha Document-)

Monday, October 19, 2020
Director Tatsuya Mori and producer Mitsunobu Kawamura

i: DOCUMENTARY OF THE JOURNALIST (i -Shimbun Kisha Document-)

 November 12, 2019
Q&A guest: Director Tatsuya Mori and producer Mitsunobu Kawamura

Director Tatsuya Mori . ©Koichi Mori

“In the political context of Japan today, the question really is, how much can a film accomplish?”

That was the Socratic response given by producer Mitsunobu Kawamura when he was asked why he had produced not one, but two films featuring the same woman in 2019.

The woman in question, crusading reporter Isoko Mochizuki, is the star of political thriller The Journalist — although she’s played by an actress and the role has been heavily fictionalized — and she is also the firecracker at the heart of i: Documentary of the Journalist, which follows the real-life Mochizuki so closely, she is barely absent from the screen.

Mochizuki questions a government rep. ©Star Sands,Inc.

TORA-SAN, WISH YOU WERE HERE (Otoko wa Tsuraiyo Okaeri Tora-san)

Monday, October 19, 2020
TIFF Opening Film Director Yoji Yamada, TIFF Festival Director Takeo Hisamatsu and Japan Now Programming Advisor Kohei Ando

TORA-SAN, WISH YOU WERE HERE (Otoko wa Tsuraiyo Okaeri Tora-san)

October 3, 2019
Q&A guests: TIFF Opening Film Director Yoji Yamada,
TIFF Festival Director Takeo Hisamatsu and Japan Now Programming Advisor Kohei Ando

Legendary writer-director Yoji Yamada plans to keep making films for another dozen years.  ©︎Koichi Mori

The hottest cinema ticket in Japan this year is sure to be for the 32nd Tokyo International Film Festival Opening Film. Eschewing its long-held tradition of selecting foreign titles for the honor, TIFF has hewed closer to home, where audiences across the country have been eagerly awaiting the release of the 50th title in the legendary Otoko wa Tsurai yo (It's Tough Being a Man) series.

That title — Tora-san, Wish You Were Here, from veteran helmer Yoji Yamada — will open TIFF 32 on October

28, and although the film’s beloved star will not be there (he died in 1996), legions of multi-generational fans will.

WORDS CAN'T GO THERE (Kaizan Take No Oto)

Monday, October 19, 2020
David Neptune and John Kaizan Neptune and a very special musical performance by John Kaizan Neptune, David Neptune, Hitoshi Hamada and Christopher Hardy

WORDS CAN'T GO THERE (Kaizan Take No Oto)

September 26, 2019
Q&A session with David Neptune and John Kaizan Neptune
and a very special musical performance by
John Kaizan Neptune, David Neptune, Hitoshi Hamada and Christopher Hardy

The Neptunes: fellow artists and snake hunters. ©︎FCCJ

It’s an old saw, that artists are incapable of expressing themselves through language alone. When words aren’t enough, they pick up the tools of their trade… and speak volumes.

In David Neptune’s penetrating, lyrical Words Can’t Go There, a renowned musician does exactly that.

Starting off modestly, as befits its subject’s humble approach to his musical prowess, the camera follows a man in jeans as he arrives by truck, enters a bamboo forest, digs, chops and emerges with a small stalk. “I like to think of music as a bridge that can take you to a nameless, timeless place,” the man says, in voiceover, placing the stalk in his truck. “Words can’t go there.”

THEY SAY NOTHING STAYS THE SAME (Aru Sendou no Hanashi)

Monday, October 19, 2020
Director Joe Odagiri

THEY SAY NOTHING STAYS THE SAME (Aru Sendou no Hanashi)

September 9, 2019
Q&A guest: Director Joe Odagiri

Emerging director Joe Odagiri. Remember the name. ©Koichi Mori

Film history is littered with forgotten titles by actors who always wanted to direct. Joe Odagiri’s visually and aurally stunning They Say Nothing Stays the Same is destined for a much kinder fate.

Appearing before a packed room at FCCJ the day after his return from the Venice Film Festival, which had hosted the world premiere, Odagiri told the crowd, “We received very warm applause, much more than I’d imagined, [which made me] very happy. But it made me feel a little uncomfortable, too, since this isn’t a film that should get such warm applause.” (He’s being humble.)

©Koichi Mori

5 MILLION DOLLAR LIFE (Gooku Yen no Jinsei)

Monday, October 19, 2020
Director Sungho Moon and star Ayumu Mochizuki

5 MILLION DOLLAR LIFE (Gooku Yen no Jinsei)

June 19, 2019
Q&A guests: Director Sungho Moon and star Ayumu Mochizuki

Star Ayumu Mochizuki (left) and director Sungho Moon compare notes on Mochizuki's resemblance to the protagonist. ©FCCJ

Several months back, one of the producers of 5 Million Dollar Life expressed surprise when FCCJ’s Film Committee approached him about screening the film. “Are you sure that international audiences would be interested?” he asked, doubtful. “We thought it was purely for domestic appetites.”

We assured him that he was wrong. And naturally, we were right.

The film had its world premiere at the Shanghai International Film Festival on June 17, where it was met with great fanfare; its North American premiere is on July 11, in competition at the New York Asian Film Festival; and European festivals are locking in dates.

©Koichi Mori