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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Zone Out

Zone OutKindergarten teacher, Chinatsu is always in a state of stress. And it is at this moment that a pupil of her class is murdered. Totally distraught, Chinatsu begins to sink into a world of illusion that she can not control. (FFM)

I don’t know what they have put in the water of that city but all the characters in this movie offer a whole catalog of mental illness: Chinatsu, a kindergarten teacher, cracks under the pressure brought by all those helicopter parents and develops schizophrenia; her acupuncture doctor, Yuichi, suffers from Capgras syndrome; Naoto, a salesman bullied by his seniors, has nomophobia; Akamatsu, the convenience store clerk, suffers from Asperger; Mitsuki, Haruka’s mother, suffer from Munchausen syndrome, etc. I guess it was the purpose of the director to show with this docudrama-style movie what it is to have such illness and how difficult it can be for the families.

It is a very dark movie and the end result is, unfortunately, barely average. The storytelling is awkward and not particularly skillful, the photography feels amateurish and the acting is so-so — although, the main actress is very charming and switching the actors who plays the two Yuichi toward the end of the movie in order to unexpectedly show the schizophrenia of Chinatsu is, I must say, quite brilliant. Also, the movie is really not well served by the poor translation (in the subtitles). When I noticed two typos in the very first sentence of the movie, I knew that this would spell trouble! (unless they made it on purpose to make us feel crazy!) If it was not already obvious with the production quality, the horrible translation really smelled of tiny budget…

Finally, to really give a last pathetic impression, the absence of a translator for the Q&A at the end of the presentation (due to the minimalistic ressources of the festival this year — what? they couldn’t even find a volunteer to take up the task?) left the poor director and main actress at the mercy of their basic English language skills and made for such a laughable exchange that you could only feel sorry for them. 

However, undertaking such a difficult and serious subject requires some strength. I understand what the director was trying to achieve and I greatly appreciate his efforts (for that I give him extra points!). In a society that was repressed for so long, where you find a real epidemic of bullying (both at school and at the work place, including sexual harassment) and where an aging population is plagued by various forms of dementia, it is really not surprising to find that mental illness has become a great challenge in Japan today. Kudos to the director for trying to bring attention to this problem.

Zone Out / Regarder dans le vide (アウトゾーン / Out Zone): Japan, 2017, 115 mins; Dir.: Hiroshi Kanno; Scr.: Mari Takanashi; Phot.: Makoto Hayashi; Ed.: Aya Mitsuaka; Light.: Sousuke Yoshikado; Sound: Kazuyuki Tutiya; Mus.: Magumi Masui; Cast: Minami Matsunaka (Chinatsu), Masato Oki (Yuichi Akino), Kyoko Toyama (Kyoko), Gen Kuwayama (Naoto), Yusuke Ueda (Akamatsu), Yusuke Sugiyama (Yuichi Kagawa), Ben Hori (Hisashi Aoyama).

Screened at the Cinema Imperial (Sat. 8/25 at 16:30) as part of the “World Great” program (out of competition) of the 42nd Montreal World Film Festival. stars-2-0

[ IMDb ]

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Japanese movies at the FFM 2018

FFM2018-banner

FFM2018-posterThe 42nd Montreal World Film Festival will be held from August 23rd to September 3rd 2018. So far there is only seven eight Japanese films listed in the line-up. We will add more details as they are available.

Of course, the festival has had financial troubles for sometime and run on a very minimal staff, so we shouldn’t expect a smooth operation. It will certainly not be better than last year. But the most important part of the festival is that there is movies to watch. This year it will be the nineteenth year that we are covering this movie festival and we hope that it will recover from this difficult period and prosper for many years to come.

The schedule for the Cinema Imperial (CI) is now available (2018/08/22). And the schedule for the Cinéma Quartier Latin (QL) is now also available (2018/08/23). As for previous years, the closing film will be a mystery title to be screened for free at the Cinema Imperial Monday September 3rd at 18:30. 

The FFM just announced the awards for the 42nd Montreal’s World Film Festival and for the 49th Student Film Festival (2018/09/03).

Two Japanese movies won an award: Samurai’s Promise by Daisaku Kimura won for the Special Grand Prix of the Jury (Ex-aequo) and Hiroshi Tachi won the Best Actor award for his role in Life in overtime by Hideo Nakata.

Please, read our comments on the festival:

 

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Here is the Japanese movies line-up (after the jump) :

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Fantasia 2018

fantasia2018

The 22nd edition of the Fantasia International Film Festival will be held in Montreal from July 12th to August 2nd 2018. It specializes in animated and live-action genre cinema (fantasy, horror, action, science-fiction, etc.), but mostly horror and asian action movies. It will open with Daniel Roby’s “Dans la brume” (a Canada-France co-production). As usual, the festival will be offering “over 125 features and 220 shorts, featuring the premieres of more than 100 cutting-edge visions from across the world.”

The asian movies line-up (our main interest here) includes eight movies from China (six from Hong Kong), twenty-four from South-Korea, one from Vietnam and, of course, twenty-eight from Japan (including six anime). Here’s the list of Japanese movies:

Anime

Live-Action

It is interesting to note that a large majority of those movies are manga or novel adaptations. I am particularly interested in seeing The Travelling Cat Chronicles and Tremble All You Want — unfortunately I don’t have time to attend the festival… Check the festival website for more details (description, cast & crew info, schedule, location, etc).

Update: You can read a comment (in French) by Claude R. Blouin on some of those movies, “Sept fantaisies japonaises au festival Fantasia 2018” (Shomingeki)

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