Japanese Film Festival

The 35th edition of the Montreal Japanese Film Festival will be held on Friday November 30th and Saturday December 1st at the Cinémathèque québécoise (web). There will be three Japanese films screened for free. The event is presented by the Japan Foundation (Toronto) and the Consulate General of Japan in Montreal. The films are in Japanese with English subtitles. Seating is limited and will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. No reservations is required but you’ll need to take a ticket at the box-office.

Karera_ga_Honki_de_Amu_Toki_wa-tpClose-Knit (彼らが本気で編むときは、/ Karera ga honki de amu toki wa / lit. “When they seriously knit”): Japan, drama, 2017, 127 mins; Dir.: Naoko Ogigami.

After being abandoned by her mother, 11-year-old Tomo is taken in by her uncle and his transgender girlfriend. Close-knit offers a heart-warming reflection on discrimination and ignorance and, more importantly, on the true meaning of family.

Screening on November 30 at 18:30.

[ AsianWiki / IMDb / JMDB / Official / Wikipedia / Youtube ]

Chihayafuru_Part_3-p001Chihayafuru: Musubi (ちはやふるー結びー / Chihayafuru – knot) : Japan, Youth drama, 2018, 127 min.; Dir.: Norihiro Koizumi.

The young members of a competitive karuta (classic Japanese playing cards) team stand together against the odds and the emotional turmoil they face, seeking to capture and hold on to a treasured moment forever. Can they overcome their opponents?

Screening on December 1 at 13:00.

[ AsianWiki / IMDb / Official / Wikipedia / Youtube ]

La_La_La_At_Rock_Bottom-p02La La La at Rock Bottom (味園ユニバース / Misono Yunibasu) : Japan, Drama, 2015, 103 min.; Dir.: Nobuhiro Yamashita.

Redemption is key in this humorous story about an amnesiac thug turned singer. A powerful and moving tale that reveals human complexity, baring charms and faults alike, and will make anyone want to believe in second chances. Added bonus: great musical moments!

Screening on December 1 at 15:15.

[ AsianWiki / IMDb / Official / Wikipedia / Youtube ]

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Festival du Nouveau Cinema 2018

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The 47th edition of the Festival du Nouveau Cinema (FNC) will be held in various Montreal theatres (Cinema Impérial, du Musée, du Parc, Quartier Latin, Theatre Maisonneuve, Cinémathèque Québecoise, etc.) from October 3 to 14, 2018. In their own words, this festival is a gathering to “celebrate our shared passion for film, (…) for cinema of all types, from offbeat, one-of-a-kind niche works to crowd-pleasers to daringly innovative big events”.  It is “resolutely forward-looking, has long been the unfailing advocate of new technologies“ making it “the best place around to preview the cinema of tomorrow”!

This year, it will offers over three-hundred movies including ten from Japan (click on the links for details & schedule):

Press review:

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FFM 2018: Wrap-up

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It has been a good festival this year.

There was no scuffle to get the credentials, no problem with the schedule or screenings and an excellent selection of titles. 

Of course, it could be better. Apparently they brought back the Movie Market (and the press room?). I heard it was on the third floor of the Imperial, but couldn’t find how to get to it… In the past, they were always the practical places to access press information and to be able to screen video on our own schedule. However, what I really miss is the press conferences where we could have direct access to the film crew and cast of the movies in competition. Beside that, for me, the festival is already all I needs it to be.

As long as there’s good movies to watch, people should be happy. At least, as long as there’s Japanese movies, I’ll be happy. Although, come to think of it, the festival deserves a bigger audience. In the past, I used to see lots of people from the local Japanese community, but I saw very few of them this year. Most of the movie I’ve screened this year had barely an audience of a dozen people! Of course, there was absolutely no advertising this year and very little media coverage, so it certainly didn’t helped. And the last couple of years have had a fair share of scheduling and screening problems which might also have discouraged people from attending this year. If there is a festival next year (the same question come back every year lately), this really must be improved.

Another needed improvement, beside more advertising, would be more screens. The festival could use at least a couple more rooms of the Quartier Latin (if not the entire floor like in the good old years). However, for that to happen, the festival would need more budget. Not to put on lavish parties, but to make sure that all the movies can be screened at least a couple of times. Why not giving the festival a chance and give it again at least some subsidies?

The festival certainly has its share of detractors. People who don’t think it can improve or who want to see something else in its stead. Strangely, most of the criticism seems to come from the anglophone community (for example, the articles in The Gazette appears to be quite hostile). However, I don’t think that the majority of people in or around the local movie industry want the festival to continue in its downward spiral of death. But we don’t want a glamorous festival like Cannes or Toronto either (yeah, it’s nice to see Brad Pitt or the latest blockbuster with its load of stars, but what’s the use if that movie is gonna by in all theatres two weeks later?). Personally, I want a festival where I can see movies I couldn’t see anywhere else. Movies from all around the world. A festival that gives their chances to young or unknown directors, to small productions. A festival that doesn’t exclude stars, but that is not built around them. That’s what the festival was in the past and I think this formula can still works. There is no other festival like this one. And we can still mend its wounds. We must. Of course, every parties will need to water down its position a little. The government (local, provincial or federal) must look past previous disagreements and accept to provide a little help. And Losique needs to let go of his creation and prepare some sort of succession. Pass on the mantle while still remaining in the background to provide his knowledge and wisdom. If he doesn’t do that, the festival will surely die with him… We’ve seen a little improvement this year, so let’s hope it can continue in that direction…

All in all, this year, I’ve succeeded to watch five of the eight Japanese movies. I am pretty happy with this score. The selection included a great variety: a samurai movie, a docudrama-style movie, a comedy, a yakuza movie and a biopic — I wish I could have added to my score card the documentary, the action movie and the scary co-production!  And almost all the titles I’ve seen were good movies — save one which was a disappointment. Beside this last entry, I was able to write seven articles (including five movie comments) about the festival (which represents more articles than La Presse, Le Devoir or The Gazette each wrote about the FFM !).

Please read our other articles on the festival:

Your can also check the review of the Japanese movies at the FFM by Claude R. Blouin (in French: “FFM 2018: Cinq témoins japonais de la condition humaine” on Shomingeki.org)

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The festival’s awards:

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The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan

Nakimushi_Shottan_no_Kiseki-PosterBased on the true story of Shoji “Crybaby” Segawa, a talented player of shogi, a Japanese variant of chess. After rising quickly in a shore-kai, an organization that supervises professional shogi status, Shoji fails to fulfill the ironclad requirement of reaching the 4th rank by age 26. With the encouragement of his friends, he sets out to achieve the impossible: to be the first amateur to become a shogi professional. (FFM)

WARNING: May contain traces of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot’s elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further.

This is a great feel-good movie based on the autobiographical book about the incredible career of Shoji Segawa, a Shōgi player. Shōgi  (将棋 / “The game of generals”) is a Japanese strategy board game very similar to chess (as you have a king, surrounded by his gold generals, his silver generals, rook and bishop, knights, lances and finally pawns pieces). We often see this type of “sport competition” story (where sport is often replaced by any possible type of occupation) in manga or anime (the best similar example is Hikaru no Go manga by Yumi Hotta & Takeshi Obata, which is about Go, but there are plenty of manga about shōgi like March Comes in Like a Lion) but it is rare to see this type of story in a live-action movie.

The movie has a strong cast of stars, so it is not surprising that the acting is quite good (although I’ve notice poor performances in the case of some minor characters). The photography is good enough (it’s not always optimum, but I guess it’s due to the attempt to give the picture a look of the 70s or 80s). The storytelling is, however, excellent considering that it is not easy to make such a subject interesting and to keep the attention of the audience while showing two guys sweating over a board game! The upbeat music and some comedic devices are very helpful for that.

Shoji Segawa (nicknamed Shottan) is a shy, introverted boy who has been interested in playing shōgi since elementary school. Encouraged by his school teacher and his father (Jun Kunimura), he improves his skill playing against his neighbour Yuya. They both go to a shōgi dojo where they are tutored by the local master (Issey Ogata). He is known for sometime crying after a game (hence the other nickname of “crybaby”). Learning that you can become a paid professional player of shōgi, Shottan (Ryuhei Matsuda) decide to apply to the shore-kai (the Japan shōgi Association’s apprentice school) but he doesn’t give his all and fails to reach the 4-dan level by age 26. A good part of the movie is dedicated to showing him agonizing over his chance of success (despite being a little overconfident) and over his failures. He finds himself in his late 20s, with no high school diploma, no job and becomes depressed. He eventually finds a salaryman job, but keeps playing shōgi for pleasure. He becomes quite skilled as an amateur player and, eventually in his 30s, gets some fame as the amateur who keep beating professionals (a miracle record of 17 wins and 5 losses!). He then starts fighting for the JSA to give him a second chance at becoming professional…

Strangely, nowhere in the movie they talk about the rules or strategy of the shōgi game. I guess, if the movie is solely aimed at a domestic Japanese audience, they assume that everyone know them. Anyway, the knowledge of the game is totally irrelevant to the story. The movie is more about fighting for your dream, learning the discipline (not being too distracted) and to play for the right reasons (not to win but just for the pleasure of it). It is interesting to note that the director, Toshiaki Toyoda, attempted himself to become a professional player when he was younger.

All in all, The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan is an upbeat biopic that provide a very good entertainment. Well worth watching.

The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan (泣き虫しょったんの奇跡 / Nakimushi Shottan no Kiseki): Japan, 2018, 127 mins; Dir./Scr.: Toshiaki Toyoda (based on the autobiographical novel of Shoji Segawa); Phot.: Norimichi Kasamatsu, Kôji Naoi; Ed.: Masaki Murakami; Prod.: Ryo Otaki, Kyôichi Mori; Cast: Ryûhei Matsuda (Shoji), Yôjirô Noda (Yuya), Shota Sometani, Kento Nagayama, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Ryusuke Komakine, Hirofumi Arai, Takako Matsu, Issey Ogata, Kaoru Kobayashi, Jun Miho, Jun Kunimura.

Screened at the Cineplex Quartier Latin 13 (Thu. 8/30 at 21:30) as part of the “Focus on World Cinema” program of the 42nd Montreal World Film Festival. There was a little more than half-a-dozen people in the theatre. stars-3-5

[ AsianWiki / IMDb /  Official  / Youtube ]

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Think Again, Junpei

JunpeiThinkAgain-posterJunpei, 21, is a lower-ranking yakuza. One day, his boss assigns him the mission to kill a high-ranking yakuza of a rival group. Junpei, who wants to be recognized by his clan, agrees. Junpei meets OL Kana and they spend the night together. He evokes with her the task that awaits her, and she is both worried and excited. She stays with him for three days until he carries out his mission. (FFM)

WARNING: May contain traces of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot’s elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further.

This is a good movie for the younger crowd. It’s a yakuza movie with an existentialist tone. I don’t have anything bad to say on this movie: the photography is nice and clean, the acting is good, the storytelling fluid, the music is catchy and support well the story. However, I feel that there is something missing. It has all the looks of a feel-good movie and yet it ends badly for the main character (not surprising in a yakuza movie after all).

Junpei is a young wanna-be yakuza. He worships his aniki (“big brother”) and would do anything for him. However, he has a good nature, too good for him, as he likes to help people and has strong principles. In order to help a friend who has been wronged by a real-estate agency, he pays them a visit and play the tough yakuza. Unfortunately, the place is ran by a rival group. This initiative probably displeased his big boss because, not long after, he is asked to make a hit against a rival boss with little chance of survival. He is given money and told to enjoy himself for the three days before the scheduled hit.

A young woman working at the real-estate agency, Kana, noticed him and is impressed by his guts and looks. They hook up, make love — and fall in love. He goes back to his hometown to see his mother, they help a homeless man, etc. During all that time, Kana is tweeting (or using some equivalent app) their every moves, they every mood, and the tweetosphere is reacting, pondering weather killing people is bad (who still order hits on their competition, anyway?), how romantic they are, that they should forget the hit and elope, will Junpei survives the hit, etc. They plan to leave for a tropical island after it. Junpei goes ahead with the plan, because he is too loyal to avoid his responsibilities, even if he was told that his boss was using him to get promoted…

However, the boy Junpei is now a man. A good man who does the right thing (for a yakuza). He loves a woman. He takes his own decision. He has nothing to regret. In three days he has lived a whole life, more than many could boast for their entire existence. What is to live, but to live fully? And yet it feels sad. What a waste, some could say. But a yakuza’s story has an inescapable end. Is there a point to all of this?

I really enjoyed this philosophical yakuza movie. It’s both entertaining and food for thoughts, particularly for the younger generation who still have a life to live! It is well worth watching.

Think Again, Junpei (純平、考え直せ / Junpei, Kangae Naose): Japan, 2018, 95 mins; Dir.: Toshiyuki  Morioka; Scr.: Rumi Kakuta, Teru Kimura, Nami Kikkawa (based on a novel by Hideo Okuda); Phot: Shinji Kugimiya; Ed.: Naoki Watanabe; Prod.: Yukihiko Yamaguchi, Haruo Umekawa; Cast: Kisetsu Fujiwara, Shuhei Nomura, Yurina Yanagi, Reiko Kataoka, Manaka Kinoshita, Katsuya Maiguma, Suzuka Morita.

Screened at the Cinema Imperial (Thu. 8/30 at 16:30) as part of the “World Great” (Out of Competition) program of the 42nd Montreal World Film Festival. There was a little more than a dozen people in the theatre (but I was told that there was about fifty people in the previous day’s screening). stars-3-0

[ AsianWiki / IMDb /  Official  / Youtube ]

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Samurai’s Promise

Chiri_Tsubaki-posterShinbei is exiled from his clan for investigating its activities too closely. Eight years later, when Shinbei’s dying wife pleads with him to go to help his former best friend, Umeme, he returns to the clan. Infighting has produced turmoil within the clan, allowing Shinbei to discover the truth behind incidents involving his wife and his friend. Confronting Umeme, he understands the reason for his wife’s last wish. (FFM)

This is a very good movie. Its most noticeable aspect is that it offers an excellent photography (which is not surprising since director Kimura acted as his own photography director, a job he has hold many times for other directors like Kinji Fukasaku, Yasuo Furuhata, or Shin’ichirô Sawai). He made great use of the superb location in the Toyama Prefecture (anciently the Etchû province) showing as backdrop the fantastic landscape of the Hida mountains in the Northern Japanese Alps. 

Another aspect that I quickly noticed was that the music was unfortunately very annoying. They used a soundtrack of classical music (which first accords sounded like The Godfather’s music by Nino Rota), playing it again and again recurrently. I think that, for a jidaigeki (samurai movie), a soundtrack of traditional Japanese music would have been better…

Shinbei (Jun’ichi Okada) is exiled from the clan after denouncing as corrupt a high-ranking officer of the clan — who is later mysteriously murdered leaving all the suspicion of culpability on Shinbei. Both Shinbei and his friend Uneme (Hidetoshi Nishijima) were courting Shino (Kumido Aso), but when Uneme’s family denies him the permission to wed Shino, she goes with Shinbei instead. The harsh condition of their exile put a toll on Shino’s health who eventually dies. She makes Shinbei promise to continue living, to go back to their village to observe the camellia falling in spring and to reconcile and help Uneme. When he tries to clear his name and find out the real assassin, he gets entangled in the complex politics of the clan…

Samurai’s Promise is a beautiful and interesting samurai movie. It has a smooth storytelling, although it is sometimes difficult (at the beginning) to understand who’s who and figure out all the plots and politics at play. The acting is good, and particularly the nice realistic combat scenes. It must not have been easy considering the fact that there was many fights in the rain or snow and that the dialogues were using an old form of Japanese. 

Of course, we should expect nothing less from such a veteran director. During his sixty-year career, Daisaku Kimura worked on over fifty films and won many awards. He started his career as camera assistant on Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress (1958). He worked five years with him (on movies like Yojimbo and Sanjuro) and he learned a lot during this time. Eventually, he cames to direct his own movies (Mt. Tsurugidake in 2009 and Climbing to Spring in 2014), mostly about mountain climbing. Samurai’s promise is his first jidaigeki and he made it as a tribute to Kurosawa. It is a beautiful and authentic movie, well worth watching. These days we don’t see much movies like this…

Samurai’s Promise (散り椿 / Chiri Tsubaki / lit. “Falling Camellia”): Japan, 2018, 111 mins; Dir./Phot.: Daisaku Kimura; Scr.: Takashi Koizumi (based on the novel by Rin Hamuro); Ed.: Tomoni Kikuchi; Mus.: Takashi Kako; Prod.: Yoshihiro Sato. Cast: Jun’ichi Okada, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Haru Kuroki, Hirofumi Arai, Kyôko Yoshine, Sosuke Ikematsu, Kumido Aso, Naoto Ogata.

Screened as opening movie (in the “World Competition” program) of the 42nd Montreal World Film Festival (at the Cinema Imperial on Thursday August 23, 2018 at 19:00). stars-3-5

[ AsianWiki / IMDb /  Official  / Youtube ]

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Life in Overtime

Owatta_Hito-posterSosuke Tashiro has a successful career in a large bank until he is transferred – or rather relegated – to a subsidiary until retirement. After decades of dedication to his work, he is lost and idle. He then decides to resume a professional activity, but realizes that the challenge is daunting. Over the course of two meetings, at the gym and at the adult education center, his life is on the move again. (FFM)

This is exactly the type of Japanese movie that I like the most: some sort of family drama that touches us (and often makes us cry) but which, in the end, makes us feel good and laugh. It is so perfectly enjoyable! And the seamless storytelling, the bright, well-framed and beautiful photography, as well as the nice soundtrack (particularly the beautiful song 「あなたはあなたのままでいい」 [Anatawa Anatano Mamadeii / “You can stay as you are”] by Miki Imai) really show the mark of an experienced filmmaker. Strangely, Hideo Nakata is mostly known for his horror movies (Ring, Chaos, Dark Water, Kaidan, etc.) so it is really surprising to see him direct for the first time a more traditional Japanese comedy! This is probably his way to tell us that he is not finished yet and that he can be a polyvalent creator. He does that brilliantly. Unfortunately, he didn’t arrive in time to present the movie and do the Q&A for the first screening at 11:30, and that was a great disappointment for me (I knew I should have gone to the 21:30 screening!). The quality of the production as well as Nakata’s fame makes of Life in Overtime a great contender for the competition. It is surely the best Japanese film I’ve seen at the festival so far this year.

Sosuke studied at the top university in Tokyo and finds himself on the path for an executive position at a large bank, but gets beaten by a rival and ends up finishing his career at a subsidiary branch. He already feels he’s a failure but, when he retires, he finds himself with no hobbies, no dreams, no job and no sympathy at home! What to do? He feels “Retirement is like a premature funeral (…) I don’t want my life to end like this!” It’s like the game is over but you continue to play in overtime in hope to finish on top (I like this idea)!

He tries to find a new purpose in order to make up for his failures. He looks for a new job but his impressive resume torpedoes his efforts. He considers going to graduate school to study literature, makes an attempt at a new romance or, after a chance meeting with the CEO of an IT company, try to start a new career but without any success. However, does it really matter as long as you have a life to enjoy?

Nakata succeeds in giving a realistic depiction of life struggles and relationships while tackling one of the hot topic of the decade: with its aging population, Japanese society has to deal with an ever increasing number of retirees. To keep them mentally and physically fit, it is important to make sure they feel their life is not finished yet and that they can make their experience or expertise valuable and useful to the society. It’s also a challenge on the domestic level as many couples, who never spent lots of time together because they were too busy working, find out that they don’t know much about what to do with each other! Retirement can surely be a shocking change but it is certainly not the end of your life (personally, I know very well that I’ll probably be even busier once I retired — in about 3192 days!). However, for some people, not knowing what to do or not feeling useful anymore can be an horrific experience and, in that aspect, maybe this is an horror movie after all…

Life in overtime, with its sadness and joy as well as its beautiful scenery, gives us plenty to ponder and an excellent movie experience. It is certainly a must see.

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Life in Overtime (終わった人 / Owatta Hito / lit. “A finished man”): Japan, 2018, 125 mins; Dir.: Hideo Nakata; Scr.: Nonji Remoto (Based on the novel by Makiko Uchidate); Phot.: Koichi Saito; Prod.: Masatake Kondo; Cast: Hiroshi Tachi (Sosuke), Hitomi Kuroki (Chigusa), Ryoko Hirosue (Kuri), Asami Usuda (Michiko), Tomorowo Taguchi (Toshihiko), Tsubasa Imai. 

Screened at the Cinema Imperial (Sun. 08/26 at 11:30) as part of the “World Competition” program of the 42nd Montreal World Film Festivalstars-4-0

[ AsianWiki / IMDb / Official / Toei / Youtube ]

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