Japanese highlights at IFFR 2019.

Introduction

As the new year is gently unfolding in time, the first recurring reference point is upon us: the 2019 edition of the international Film Festival in Rotterdam. While IFFR, like every year, has an amazing selection of world cinema to enjoy, we want to underline the Japanese highlights of this year.

In the first section, we highlight two narratives that one, in our opinion, has to watch. In the second section, we highlight to other narratives we are looking forward to seeing – of course reviews of both narratives will be published in the coming weeks.

Psycho-cinematography’s special selection

Zan (2018) by Shin’ya Tsukamoto

Zan is an utter delight from start to end. With its masterful cinematographical blend and its effective musical accompaniment, Tsukamoto is able to bring Mokunoshin’s subjective dilemma poignantly to the fore – a subjective dilemma that shows that, while the cycle of life never stops, the cycle of human violence, as unbroken, destroys societal structures and the subjectivity of many – not in the least the subjectivity of the one wielding the sword. And while those expecting a traditional samurai narrative might be disappointed, those that realize Tsukamoto’s accomplishment – to infuse jidai-geki once again with social criticism – will be delighted to be find one of the Tsukamoto’s most accomplished narratives.

Asako I & II (2018) by Ryusuke Hamaguchi.

Asako I & II is a rather unconventional love narrative and is as such not for everyone. Instead of delving into emotions, it is a narrative that has to be read at the surface level. Only at the surface level, the narrative is able to reveal itself as a subtle but purified tale of subjective realization – the speech-acts – and what communicates love – the signifiers of love. But unfortunately Hamaguchi forgets to infuse his narrative with the necessary sensible honest emotionality that would have made the message of the narrative so much more powerful. Nevertheless, while Asako I & II avoids cheap melodrama – and in this respect also various opportunities for heartfelt drama, the emotionally subdued finale is still able to ‘unsettle’ – evoke an rather annoying sadness – and touch the spectator in a sensible way. Asako I & II is far from perfect, but the narrative still breaths much needed fresh air into the rather stale genre of Japanese romance narrative.

 

Psycho-cinematography’s Japanese narratives to look out for. 

The Garden Apartment (2018) by Ishihara Umi.

 Domains (2019) by Kusano Natsuka

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