Japan Cuts, North America’s largest festival of contemporary Japanese cinema, is nothing short of a film festival monument. Dedicated to screening the best of contemporary Japanese cinema, Japan Cuts delivers year after year one of most diverse and rich explorations of Japanese cinema.
This year, due to the corona pandemic, the festival has transformed into an online experience! While nothing beats the traditional cinema experience, the turn to streaming allows the 30 features and 12 shorts – including studio blockbusters, independent productions, restored classics, and avant-garde works – to reach a wider audience.
In order to wet your appetites and to entice some of you to take a chance on some movies, we gladly introduce ten of our recommendations. Please also look forward to our review-analyses of the other films screening at the festival.
[The full line-up of the festival: https://japancuts.japansociety.org/page/view-all/%5D
“Labyrinth of Cinema is Obayashi’s magnum opus. It is a gift to the spectator, crafted in full consciousness it may be his final gift to give. It is a feverish presentation of facts about cinema, a fierce explication of his pacifistic philosophy, and, above all, an honest plea for love and a future without war and atom bombs – after a pika (flash) then a don (boom). Obayashi’s Labyrinth of Cinema is not only the most important movie made by Nobuhiko Obayashi but also the most important Japanese movie of the last decade.“
Extro is a very pleasant mockumentary that beautifully illustrates the often-forgotten truth of the art of filmmaking: the indispensability of extras. This indispensability is illustrated by showing, in a comical and even farcical way, how the non-functioning of the extra destroys the whole filmic frame. A loving ode to filmmaking that underscores that without extras, there would be no stars to shine.
Kinta and Ginji (2019) by T. Dairiki and T. Miura [review forthcoming]
If one would be asked to sell Kinta and Ginji to an audience, one can only fail. Dairiki’s and Miura’s exploration of a friendship between a robot and a raccoon is as absurd as it is estranging. Yet, despite the absurdity, the concatenation of mundane conversations does offer the spectator a confrontation with the kind of subjective ravage our pleasure-based capitalistic society is able to produce. If you love experimental cinema, this comedy of mundanity is really worth to check out.
Chihiro Amano’s Mrs Noisy is a narrative that, via a balanced mixture of comedy and drama, succeeds in confronting the spectator with the problematic imaginary aspect that ever threatens inter-subjective relationships. With her narrative, Amano urges the spectator to be more considerate of someone else’s subjective position. Such kind of consideration does not consist in projecting one’s own interpretation on the other, but, as the narrative underlines, to grasp the coordinates by which the life of another is structured – i.e. to get an understanding of the logic of another subject.
Life: Untitled (2019) by Kana Yamada [Review forthcoming]
Life: Untitled is an amazing narrative that will nevertheless, due to its subtle political nature, divide audiences. Yamada’s narrative, which culminates in a powerful finale, forces the spectator to face the failure of society and its male subjects to value the very subjectivity of women. Life: Untitled shows, in a confronting way, the necessity for male subjects to lay down their eroticizing gaze and meet a woman as a subject, as someone who is driven by unconscious desires and own demands as well as marked by her own failure of understanding herself.
With Murders of Oiso, Misawa Takuya delivers a smartly structured narrative that exploits the evocative dimension of cinematic medium. This is not a narrative that spells out everything in a conventional way, but uses visual elements, such as visual association and visual repetition, to force the spectator to construct the various ways in which Mr. Ito’s death disturbs the relational and social dynamics of our four friends. Highly original and touching to boot, we highly recommend Misawa Takuya’s second feature Murders of Oiso for anyone who loves cinema.
My Sweet Grappa Remedies is, when all is said and done, a peaceful and serene exploration of female subjectivity. What makes this narrative so heartwarming (and for some really relatable) is the very externalization of thoughts/diary-entries that structures the narrative. Beyond been given an insight in her life-style as such, we are allowed to hear her thoughts and feel her doubts and fears. Moreover – and this is the most wonderful part of the narrative, we are able to hear Yoshiko’s desire, a desire not yet assumed, speaking and subtly guiding her in her subjective trajectory.
Roar is a great debut for Katayama, as he is able to show off his aptitude in translating creative ideas into effective and powerful compositions on the screen as well as using sound as a powerful medium of evoking the subjective dimension. Yes, the middle part of the narrative may be a tad too slow, but the finely composed finale confronts the spectator powerfully with the senselessness of violence and the problematic dimension of the sexual power dynamics.
Shell And Joint is a true showcase of Hirabayashi’s talent as director and screenwriter and proof that he has a clear artistic vision. Full of visually enticing imagery and strong scenes, Hirabayashi offers a truly compelling exploration of what human existence and non-existence is. By concatenating a multitude of slice-of-life sequences – some dead-serious, some hilarious, and some touching, Hirabayashi succeeds in showing the spectator the fact that within our physical existence language problematizes the way we sexually relate with the other sex as well as that language enables our existence to persist beyond our death.
Tokyo Girl (2019) by Nebiro Hashimoto [Short Film]
Nebiro Hashimoto’s Tokyo Girl is something special. Only 8 minutes in duration, Hashimoto’s narrative, an urgently delivered monologue supported by a frantic composed concatenation of fragmentary impressions, offers a more clear analysis of the problems subjects have to cope with within contemporary society than most feature-length movies do in there entire run-time. While Tokyo Girl is but a short-movie, Nebiro Hashimoto’s Tokyo Girl has convinced us of his talent. In short, a director to keep one’s eye on.