Monday, June 14, 2010

Action… and CUTS!

Hard knocked Matsuko gets excited about JAPAN CUTS 2010. © 2006 Amuse Soft Entertainment

Tickets just went on sale for Japan Society’s 4th annual JAPAN CUTS  film festival, July 1-16. With over 20 of the latest and greatest contemporary Japanese films, there is something for any mood. We have evolutionary romances, historical epics with a rock n’ roll soul, surreal dreamscape-skipping horror, classroom psychodrama, a Hitchcockian thriller a la Douglas Sirk., and plenty more that you could never dream to think to ask for. Take a break from the Manhattan's sticky summer heat with a cool cinematic treat: 30 screenings, 8 star filmmakers on hand to discuss their films, and 3 reeling after-parties in 16 days!

In addition to films from '09 and '10 that have never been seen outside of Japan, there is a special selection called "Best of Unreleased Naughties" (2000's = naughty for some!), featuring some of Japan's most impacting films from the past decade that are still sadly unreleased in the U.S. Also, 8 of the films are co-presented with our friends over at the New York Asian Film Festival, touting over 70 screenings starting June 25.

I saw several of the JAPAN CUTS films while in Japan recently, so enjoy my brief reviews after the jump!

About Her Brother  – A good old-fashioned tear-jerker about a quiet widow and her tumultuous relationship with her rascally, hard-drinking younger brother. It’s also pretty funny because the brother is played by Tsurube Shofukutei, a rakugo performer, or traditional humorous storyteller in Japan.

Accidental Kidnapper – An unlikely bond forms between kidnapper  – a down-on-his-luck slacker  – and the kidnapped  – a free-spirited schoolboy. The bond is tested when the boy’s father, a wealthy and powerful yakuza, uses his shady underworld connections to track them down. 

Alien Vs. Ninja – What more do you need to know beyond the title? When an alien shows up in feudal Japan to wreck havoc and impregnate innocents with its icky jelly babies, it didn’t count on the tough local ninjas. Lots of goopy gore and an epically slick final showdown. 

Bare Essence of Life (Ultra Miracle Love Story)  – One of my personal favorites of the festival. A deliciously cock-eyed romance between a young teacher and a young man affected by an unnamed and mysterious mental handicap unfolds in the bucolic splendor of rural Aomori Prefecture.

Blood of Rebirth  – Toshiyaki Toyada, one of the bad-boys of contemporary Japanese cinema returns with this psychedelic historical epic. It’s based on a famous folktale about a masseuse who recovers from poisoning and makes a pilgrimage to a holy land. Featuring the music of  – and starring the drummer for  – the spaced-out prog rock group Twin Tail [video].

Boys on the Run – A punkish, twisted comedy about rivalry between a hapless chronic masturbator and the suave ladies man who is his supposed friend. Extremely dark, but also hilarious. 

Confessions  – When a middle-school teacher’s daughter is murdered she is overcome with grief. However, when (shaky) evidence emerges that some of her own pupils might be responsible, she engages in psychological warfare with her entire class. A stunningly powerful drama about the fallout from tragedy and the search for meaning that comes after.

Crying Out Love, in the Center of the World
  – One of the most successful and popular romantic dramas of all time at the Japanese box office, this is the quintessential tale of first love. Boy meets girl, and they plan to take a romantic trip together to Australia’s Ayer’s Rock – but will they make it?

Dear Doctor  – A huge award winner in Japan last. Miwa Nishikawa tells the story of a kindly old country doctor (played by About Her Brother’s Shofukutei) who may not be what he appears. A carefully constructed movie about deception and trust – as well as an intriguing mystery.

Electric Button (Moon and Cherry) – A perfectly subversive romantic comedy. When Tadokoro, a dorky virgin, joins the university’s erotic writing club, he quickly falls head over heels for the sophisticated, experienced Mayama, the only member who has managed to get her fiction published. However, when she uses their relationship as fodder for her new novel – about a 14-year-old boy who is seduced by a 30-year-old woman – he balks. This movie has a bracingly nasty sense of humor but also a deep-seated humane streak.

The Foreign Duck, the Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker  – When pint-sized Shiina, new to the block, is befriended by strapping, cool, and mysterious Kawasaki, he inextricably becomes drawn into his new friend’s bizarre world and viewpoints.

Golden Slumber – When an average-joe delivery man is framed for the assassination of Japan’s Prime Minister, he is forced on the run. Always trying to keep one step ahead of the SWAT team, he appeals to friends and exes and with their help weaves together the mother of all conspiracy theories.

Hanging Garden  – A stylish and surreal family drama from Toshiyaki Toyoda (Blood of Rebirth). Everyone has secrets to hide, and the lengths this family will go to hide them from each other drive this movie to the brink of insanity.

King of Thorn  – A brand new anime feature about a handful of people who emerge from a cryogenic slumber to find that the Earth has been overtaken by vicious sentient plants. The survivors must find their way out of the labyrinthine castle in which they find themselves and unlock the mystery of that happened while they were asleep. A harrowing, action-packed end times tale.

Memories of Matsuko  – A huge sleeper hit at JAPAN CUTS 2007, we’re bringing this back by popular demand. Fans of Amelie will love this magic-realist tale of a woman peeling back the layers of her suppressed history. A farcical tragedy (and a tragic farce) with elements of melodrama and musical – not to be missed!

Mutant Girls Squad
  – Three superstars of Japanese splatter movies - Tak Sakaguchi (Versus), Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police) and Noboru Iguchi (RoboGeisha) – join forces for this omnibus of raunchy, uproarious, and 100% certified bad-to-the-bone movie.

Nightmare Detective II
  – Tetsuo: the Iron Man [trailer] director Shinya Tsukamoto returns with this terrifying horror picture. Chock-a-block with gorgeous but twisted nightmare imagery, powerful drama, and an atmosphere you can cut with a knife, this is one to see on the big screen. Plus – it’s a self-contained story, so it’s no problem if you missed the first installment!

Oh, My Buddha!  – It is the 1970s and Jun (Daichi Watanabe) – released from his boys-only Buddhist boarding school – comes face to face with free love and folk rock and throws himself in headfirst. A heartfelt, nostalgic movie with some great music performed by Watanabe himself.

One Million Yen Girl  – From the director of Electric Button, comes this story of a young woman (and ex-con) with three simple rules: keep moving, take only temp jobs, and don’t get too attached. Bracingly unsentimental, but also truthful and infectious.

Parade  – When four young housemates, friendly to each other but far from friends, have a fifth appear in their midst – a male prostitute who may or my not be responsible for a recent spate of beatings in the local park – their conveniently distant relationships become threatened. Unnerving, mysterious and with a cast full of terrific performances.

Sawako Decides  – Indie darling Yuya Ishii crafts a charming realist ode to losers and their lots in life. It’s also full of deadpan humor – fans of Jim Jarmusch will find plenty to love.

Sweet Little Lies  – Calling to mind the classical Japanese domestic dramas – by directors like Mikio Naruse  – this is a delicately crafted movie about a young married couple who keep up appearances of living a normal, loving relationship, but who deep down have turned away from each other.

Villion’s Wife  – Based on a story by the great Japanese writer Osamu Dazai, this is a movie about a tumultuous relationship between an artist (superstar Tadanobu Asano) and his self-sacrificing wife (Takako Matsu).

Zero Focus  – A remake of the 1961 classic, this is a Hitchcockian thriller about a woman investigating her husband’s disappearance and the two woman who he may have also been involved with. Starring three major Japanese actresses du jour - Ryoko Hirosue (Departures), Tae Kimura (All Around Us) and Miki Nakatani (Memories of Matsuko). 

N.O. -- Updated: 6/22/10

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