Jun Ichikawa – Ashita no watashi no tsukurikata AKA How to Become Myself (2007)

Plot summary: (from A Nutshell Review)
Juri (Niko Narumi, you’ll be amazed that she’s only so young, but yet has the capability to take on a character that so layered and yet so subtle in her delivery) plays an ideal girl at home and in school, but this facade is quickly stripped away early in the movie, as we see her loathe her parent’s bickering at home, while putting up a false front of a happy, supportive family to the outside world. In the movie, the spotlight is also shared by fellow classmate Hinako (Atsuko Maeda), a popular girl who in a twist of fate, becomes the victim of classroom politics and bullying. Mere acquaintances, they share a poignant conversation just after junior school graduation, before going their separate ways. Read More »

Izuru Kumasaka – Pâku ando rabuhoteru aka Park and Love Hotel (2007)

A movie set in a love hotel, but without a single sex scene? A 59-year-old woman as the heroine? It’s hard to imagine that particular pitch loosening purse strings at major Japanese media companies. A fatally ill teenager? That’s more like it.

Mark Schilling’s review from the Japan Times: No sex at a love hotel
A movie set in a love hotel, but without a single sex scene? A 59-year-old woman as the heroine? It’s hard to imagine that particular pitch loosening purse strings at major Japanese media companies. A fatally ill teenager? That’s more like it.
Director Izuru Kumasaka has incorporated these and other decidedly uncommercial elements into debut feature “Park and Love Hotel” (titled “Asyl” — short for “Asylum” — internationally), which won the Best First Feature Award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. Read More »

Hiroshi Shimizu – Nanatsu no umi: Kohen Teiso-hen AKA Seven Seas: Frigidity Chapter (1932)

“Seven Seas, the first of Shimizu’s great silent films of the 30s, was scripted by Kogo Noda, Ozu’s close associate, from a novel by Itsuma Maki (a pen name of the noted writer, Umitaro Hasegawa). The film is a lengthy work interweaving characters from different backgrounds and social strata in a narrative centered around the experiences of its heroine, Yumie Sone. Over two hours long, Seven Seas was released theatrically in two parts, with the first part entitled “Virginity Chapter” coming out in December 1931, while the second part, “Frigidity Chapter,” followed in March 1932. Read More »

Gwok-Ming Cheung – Bian yuen ren aka Man on the Brink (1981)

Writing, directing and photographing Man On The Brink, Cheung can’t possibly have been the first kid on the block to attempt this story that later cropped up to great effect in City On Fire. But watching Chiu’s descent shaped by the seedy world around him is quite engaging, much more so during the latter stages of the film when Cheung easily plants that sinking feeling in viewer’s stomachs. Meaning that the proceedings are heading towards a sad end statement as Cheung takes us on a continuation of the social commentary from his debut. Read More »

Juichiro Yamasaki – Atarashiki tami AKA Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn (2015)

Yamasaki’s highly inventive take on the jidaigeki (historical drama) concerns a group of rural farmers treated poorly by tax authorities in the 18th-century Okayama town of Sanchu. On the verge of starvation, the farmers protest both the rising tax rate and the lack of access to the crops they grow… until samurai are dispatched to keep them under control. A devastating uprising appears inevitable. Combining glorious black-and-white cinematography in natural-light situations, animation, and an inventive final sequence that transports us to the modern day, Sanchu Uprising is both unique in style and compelling in its theme of wrestling with difficult choices. Read More »

Kazuo Hara – Yuki Yukite shingun AKA The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987)

The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On is a brilliant exploration of memory and war guilt, a subject often ignored in modern Japan. In this controversial documentary, Kazuo Hara follows Kenzo Okuzaki in his real-life struggle against Emperor Hirohito. He proudly declares that he shot BBs at the Royal Palace, distributed pornographic images of the Emperor, and once killed a man for the sake of his strange crusade. As the film progresses, Okuzaki reveals a gruesome mystery: why were some Japanese officers killing their own soldiers during WWII? What happened to their bodies? Okuzaki begs, cajoles, and occasionally beats the story out of elderly veterans. Read More »

Gwok-Ming Cheung – Dian zhi bing bing aka Cops and Robbers (1979)

Cops and Robbers depicts a city where ordinary citizens hold little trust for the police; far removed from the post-ICAC Hong Kong of today. “Can’t even look after their own guys,” a man grumbles in a roast shop after the bank shooting. The main witness for that crime refuses to speak to the police on principle and even an Old Master Cute comic strip is raised to depict the public opinion. The portrayal of the policemen is decidedly heroic against this background, strengthened by a rousing rock number sung by producer Teddy Robin and coverage of their social lives. The guy they’re up against has to be the creepiest villain I’ve ever seen in film, and his being cross-eyed is only part of the sensation. As he gets more and more screen time, Cops and Robbers builds into a strong and disturbing movie experience. Read More »