The 22nd Nippon Connection is once again upon us. From May 24 – 29, Frankfurt-at-main becomes once again the place-to-be to discover the best Japanese cinema has to offer. In this article, we highlight the films that any film-fan should give chance if they visit the film festival. This list does not only reveal the variety of unique perspectives that mark Japanese Cinema, but also echoes that what directors, from a cinematic perspective, put into question within Japanese society.
Angry Son (2022) by Kasho Iizuka
Angry Son is an incredibly rich and deep narrative that not only delivers a satisfying coming-of-age story but also an elegantly delivered social commentary on some of the frictions marking Japanese society. With his narrative, Iizuka touchingly reveals that anger and frustration is born from the inability to reveal one’s subjectivity or make the other hear one’s subjective suffering. Highly Recommended.
Last Of The Wolves (2021) by Kazuya Shiraishi
While Last Of The Wolves does not reach the heights of the masterpieces of the genre, Kazuya Shiraishi delivers, with his sequel, another amazing and highly entertaining yakuza/police thriller – quite possible the best thriller of this year. With an engaging narrative structure that pumps tension into the narrative and a finale that stands out due to the twists and the crude explosion of violence, Shiraishi reminds us, in a rather confronting way, that the past of the ‘honourable’ Yakuza is soaked in blood.
Let Me Hear It Barefoot (2021) by Riho Kudo
Let Me Hear It Barefoot is a great narrative that elegantly and gently exploits non-verbal communication to deliver a touching tale of subjective struggle. Yet, Kudo’s narrative does not succeed due to merely staging queerness in a gentle way, but because this elegant reliance on that what speaks without signifiers allows her to transcend such classification and offer a vivid exploration of how unconscious fantasies can complicate the pursuit of one’s desire and how the parental Other can complicate the subject’s attempt to embark on the never-ending process of coming-into-being as subject.
Melting Sounds (2022) by Kahori Higashi
Kahori Higashi’s debut is, in short, impressive. Melting Sounds is visually pleasant and the charm that oozes from its lead ensures that the message of this sweet little narrative – i.e. subjective happiness is to be found in relational interactions – warms the spectator’s heart. The endless concatenations of screens might offer a shot of enjoyment, but these shots cannot help the subject in finding a place he can call home within society.
Mr. Suzuki. A man in God’s Country (2020) by Omoi Sasaki
A man in God’s Country is a wonderful narrative that is not only visually pleasing but explores, with a refined irony, the very problematic dimensions of nationalism. This irony is not only beautifully interweaved in the serious tone of the narrative but reaches such heights in the finale that Sasaki reveals, in a rather painful way, that ‘God’ only functions when he remains absent.
Parasite In love (2021) by Kensaku Kakimoto
Parasites in Love is, without a doubt, one of the most original romance narratives of the year. Kakimoto does not only please the spectator with his elegant composition and by crafting a heartwarming romance story, but also by offering a credible exploration of the logic of symptoms and a thought-provoking questioning of how we deal, as a society, with subject with mental problems.
Ring Wandering (2022) by Masakazu Kaneko
Ring Wandering is another amazing narrative by Masakazu Kaneko. Kaneko does not only deliver a visual celebration of the peaceful beauty of nature but also succeeds in creating a elegant narrative that unfolds its highly relevant message via the interaction of various contrasts – i.e. societal conflict clashing with peaceful natural landscapes, the impact of the thirst of war on the balance of nature, and contemporary subjective emptiness versus the joy of inter-subjective connection. With Ring Wandering, Kaneko gracefully invites the spectator to question whether he has not forgotten the subjective importance of forging inter-subjective bonds.
Wheel of Fortune And Fantasy (2021) by Ryusuke Hamaguchi
With Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, Hamaguchi proves, once more, that he is an eloquent master of conversation naturalism and a virtuoso in playing with the signifier to create a rich exploration of the complex nature of love and desire that engages the spectator from start to finish. In short, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is an essential viewing for all who holds the art of cinema dear.
Talking the Pictures (2019) by Masayuki Suo
Talking the Pictures is an amazing narrative that does not only celebrate the forgotten skills of the benshi but also the art of cinema as such. Yet, the enjoyment of Masayuki’s narrative is not so much due to its plot, but because of its beautifully layered and highly detailed evocation of the atmosphere of the twenties and the evolution of cinema in Japanese society. It is, furthermore, Masayuki’s skill to engage the spectator with the historical context of this new blossoming art that allows the finale, which is as farcical as it is thrilling, to become so engrossing. Yet, what this finale satisfies is not so much our desire to see Shuntaro succeed as benshi, but our desire, as carefully nourished by Masayuki’s historical exploration, to see cinema as an experience that can touch our being and the art of the benshi triumph.
They Say That Nothing Stays the Same (2019) by Odagiri Jo [Full review soon to be published.]
They Say Nothing Stay The Same is an exquisitely shot meditation about the impact of change on society and subjectivity. Odagiri does not only investigate, in a slow-paced and crystal-clear manner, how societal change (i.e. the bridge) radically rewrites the social flow and even annihilates once useful societal positions, but also how the encounter with another subject enables one to reformulate one’s purpose in life. In short, a splendid debut by Odagiri Jo.