Dance With Me + Opening Night Party
[Film] July 19, 7 PM
When an entry level Tokyo salarywoman with executive level aspirations wakes up from hypnosis performed by a shady carnival magician (played by Akira Takarada, of Godzilla fame), she suddenly can’t help but break into song and dance whenever she hears music. Desperate to break the spell before an important meeting, she chases the evasive hypnotist across the country, singing and dancing herself into and out of trouble along the way. With his signature light touch and knack for ensemble comedy, director Shinobu Yaguchi (Swing Girls) delivers a winning office comedy-road trip-musical led by Ayaka Miyoshi’s irresistible breakout performance.
Next event7/19/2019 7:00 PM
The Island of Cats
[Film] July 20, 12 PM
A country tabby in an island full of cats running wild, Tama would be living in paradise if he didn’t have to worry after his human servant Daikichi (Shinosuke Tatekawa). A retired widower, Daikichi enjoys a quiet life of daily habits visiting local friends. When newcomer Michiko (Kou Shibasaki) moves to town and opens a cafe for the island’s aging population, old habits make way for new culinary adventures for Daikichi (and Tama). This filmmaking debut by prominent wildlife photographer Mitsuaki Iwago is shot on Sakushima in Aichi Prefecture and features rapturous feline imagery seamlessly woven into a heartwarming story about community.
Next event7/20/2019 12:00 PM
WHOLE + Tokyo Kurds
[Film] July 20, 2:15 PM
After dropping out of college abroad, Haruki (Kai Hoshino Sandy) returns home to an indifferent mother and an absent father in Japan. Struggling to connect with people around him, he soon runs into Makoto (Usman Kawazoe), a laborer with a strong Kansai accent and affable nature who also happens to be biracial. Though their backgrounds and personalities are vastly different, they quickly find kinship in their shared experience as “hafu.” Handled with sincerity and subtle humor, WHOLE is a deeply personal drama about identity, isolation and the unique perspective of biracial Japanese living in one of the world’s most homogenous countries.
An intimate documentary following 18-year-old Ozan, one of the roughly 1,500 undocumented Kurds living in Tokyo.
Next event7/20/2019 2:15 PM
I Go Gaga, My Dear
[Film] July 20, 4:15 PM
The first theatrical feature by veteran television director Naoko Nobutomo is a personal documentary chronicling the enduring love, resilience and struggles of her nonagenarian parents in Kure, Hiroshima as her mother’s Alzheimer’s-related dementia gradually worsens. With a great abundance of footage taken over several years, Nobutomo interweaves direct documentation with intimate home movies of her parents, including their support during her battle with breast cancer. A small film that was a surprise box office hit purely through word-of-mouth, I Go Gaga, My Dear opened in one small Sapporo cinema and eventually expanded to 70 screens nationwide for over three months.
Next event7/20/2019 4:15 PM
[Film] July 20, 6:30 PM
Kindhearted Taka (Yota Kawase) idly passes time playing bongos under the clear country sky and grilling meat with his local friends. However, his life of simple pleasures is threatened with the arrival of the Kurihara family—Tokyoites who fled the city in search of the “natural life” and become intent on converting Taka’s traditional thatched roof house into a quaint cafe that serves organic food. Casting urban consumption of rural culture as a malevolent force expunging unwanted human elements and veering into xenophobic violence, Tadashi Nagayama’s comedic follow-up to Journey of the Tortoise (2017) swirls toward a wild genre-bending conclusion.
Next event7/20/2019 6:30 PM
Ten Years Japan
[Film] July 20, 9 PM
Japan’s entry in the “Ten Year International Project”—launched by the success of Hong Kong’s Ten Years (2015)—is a similarly dystopian speculative fiction anthology film that ponders the country’s near future. Executive produced by Hirokazu Kore-eda, the film features short works by five emerging filmmakers set in an imagined Japan ten years from now that touch upon a range of pressing issues, including: the aging population, digital surveillance, “Big Data,” nuclear disasters and rising militarism. Varying in mood, style and artistic approach, the films in Ten Years Japan altogether offer fascinating insight into contemporary Japan’s national psyche.
Next event7/20/2019 9:00 PM
[Film] July 21, 12 PM
In 17th century Japan, the Tokugawa shogunate ensures political dominance by forcing lords to move their clans from domain to domain. When the Echizen Matsudaira clan is called upon to make a particularly tough relocation, the undesired role of relocation officer falls to Harunosuke Katagiri (Gen Hoshino), a socially inept samurai librarian. Under the threat of forced harakiri, Harunosuke takes to the near impossible task with the help of a loudmouth swordsman (Issey Takahashi) and the former relocation officer’s daughter (Mitsuki Takahata). Directed by Isshin Inudo (The Floating Castle), this hilarious samurai comedy resonates with contemporary salaryman culture in more than a few ways.
Next event7/21/2019 12:00 PM
A Step Forward
[Film] July 21, 2:30 PM
Yoichi Fujiyabu is a pastor working to rescue and rehabilitate suicidal individuals drawn to a cliff in Wakayama prefecture through an emergency hotline and unique employment program. Suicide in Japan is an overwhelming sociological issue, with the annual number regularly exceeding 20,000, however the film approaches it on a human level: reaching spiritual depths while also showing the frustration in attempting to build human systems that can pull people back from desperate acts. A student of the late influential documentary filmmaker Makoto Sato (Self and Others), director Atsushi Kasezawa approaches the subject with deserving sensitivity and urgency.
Next event7/21/2019 2:30 PM
[Film] July 21, 5:15 PM
The late, great Ren Osugi (Hana-bi) stars as a prison chaplain working on death row in this thought-provoking chamber drama—his final film as an actor and first as a producer. Visiting with a regular roster of inmates who await their final sentence—including a converted ex-yakuza and a philosophy-spouting mass murderer—the newly appointed clergyman gradually learns of their circumstances and is forced to confront his own understanding of life, death and salvation. Featuring unforgettable characters and a restrained visual style, Dai Sako’s searching film takes on the rarely-addressed topic of Japan’s death penalty in order to question the state of the country’s soul.
Next event7/21/2019 5:15 PM
The Kamagasaki Cauldron War + Takoyaki Story
[Film] July 21, 7:45 PM
A boisterous comedy produced in beautiful color 16mm following the hard-knock characters stirred up by the theft of a cauldron used in yakuza ceremonial rites. Set in Kamagasaki—home to the working poor of Osaka under constant threat of erasure by local government—Leo Sato’s dramatic debut follows his documentary Nagai Park Elegy (2009) on local people’s struggle against forced displacement. Magnetic character actor Yota Kawase centers this delightful ensemble of professionals and amateurs, a timeless scrappy vision of radical humanism, rendering the neighborhood’s day laborers, sex workers, union activists and street performers with empathy and respect.
Next event7/21/2019 7:45 PM
[Film] July 22, 6:30 PM
High school teen Cocoa (Aya Kitai) supports her gambling addict father and deadbeat brother with a part-time job selling sausages and secret work as a video fetish performer. Initially resigned to her small town life of limited possibilities and economic struggle, when the unexpected prospect of going to a Tokyo university is introduced, Cocoa suddenly sees a way out. Winner of the JAPAN CUTS Award at the 2019 Osaka Asian Film Festival, this original spin on a high school coming-of-age story by newcomer Genta Matsugami resists easy moralizing and overt sentimentality while celebrating the power of resilience and self-determination.
Next event7/22/2019 6:30 PM
And Your Bird Can Sing
[Film] July 22, 9 PM
A bookstore part-timer (Tasuku Emoto) who shares a cramped apartment with an equally lackadaisical friend (Shota Sometani) strikes up a low-stakes love affair with his co-worker (Shizuka Ishibashi) during a lazy summer in Hakodate. The three twenty-somethings happily stumble through low-key clubs and late-night konbini runs, but when carefree attachment shifts to romantic infatuation, their easy friendship destabilizes and prompts them to reach for something to hold onto. Sho Miyake’s update of the 1982 novel by Yasushi Sato (author of The Light Shines Only There) offers a subtle critique of hipster culture while attaining the breezy style of the film’s titular Beatles Revolver track.
Next event7/22/2019 9:00 PM
His Lost Name
[Film] July 23, 6 PM
A small-town carpenter named Tetsuro (Kaoru Kobayashi) happens upon an unconscious young man (Yuya Yagira) on a riverbank who eventually says his name is Shinichi. The middle-aged widower sympathetically takes Shinichi in, offering a room in his home and apprenticeship in his woodshop. Before long, the pair soon develop a father-son dynamic—forcing Tetsuro’s other carpenters and patient fiancé (Keiko Horiuchi) to adjust to the strange new situation—though long-held secrets threaten to undo everything. A protégé of Hirokazu Kore-eda and Miwa Nishikawa, director Nanako Hirose masterfully reveals the fictions that keep us together and lies that tear us apart in this sensitive debut drama.
Next event7/23/2019 6:00 PM
[Film] July 23, 9:30 PM
In a snowy coastal town in northern Japan, a persistent journalist (Arata Iura) reopens a decades-old unsolved case involving the disappearance of a young boy, a mysterious fire and a local outcast largely suspected of wrongdoing who was nevertheless found not guilty. When the victim’s brother (Masatoshi Nagase) and the primary suspect’s troubled daughter (Nahana) get involved, a maelstrom of long-repressed emotions and psychological traumas are reawakened. Written and directed by newcomer Sayaka Kai with a veteran cast, Red Snow is a tense and beautifully-shot mystery thriller that suggests the unreliability of memory in the pursuit of truth.
Next event7/23/2019 9:30 PM
Killing + Centerpiece Party
[Film] July 24, 7 PM
The latest from internationally renowned cult director and 2019 CUT ABOVE Award recipient Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: The Iron Man) is a subversive samurai drama that the filmmaker has called a “scream” in response to the current state of the world. When a traveling swordsman (Tsukamoto) in mid-19th century Japan enlists a young ronin (Sosuke Ikematsu) for an anticipated war in Edo, the battle-untested recruit struggles to reconcile his pacifism with the demand to kill—a struggle that unravels into madness. A stark consideration of violence and honor handled with masterful artistry by one of contemporary Japanese cinema’s most essential auteurs.
Next event7/24/2019 7:00 PM
[Film] July 25, 6:30 PM
In this stylish black-and-white thriller written, directed, produced, edited, shot by and starring Shinya Tsukamoto, a commercial director (Tsukamoto) becomes obsessed with acquiring a gun after his longtime girlfriend suddenly kills herself with one. Stalking Tokyo’s back alleys in his all-consuming pursuit, he antagonizes local street gangs and pursues violence with nihilistic abandon. Presented on 35mm and hand-picked by Tsukamoto to accompany the JAPAN CUTS premiere of his latest film Killing, this late ’90s Japanese cinema classic bears further testament to the integrity and brilliance of the filmmaker’s uncompromising vision since he debuted the game-changing Tetsuo: The Iron Man thirty years ago.
Next event7/25/2019 6:30 PM
[Film] July 25, 9 PM
Inspired by a true story, Erica 38 stars actor and former pop idol Miyoko Asada as Satoko, an aging con artist who gradually swindles her way to wealth. Starting off with small-time pyramid schemes, Satoko is introduced to an experienced grifter who manages her through an investment scam with bigger takes, eventually leading her to reinvent herself in Thailand as a 38-year-old named Erica. Written and directed by the accomplished fine art photographer and filmmaker Yuichi Hibi, Erica 38 is the first film produced by the late Kirin Kiki, who also appears in her final screen role as Satoko’s mother.
Next event7/25/2019 9:00 PM
Jesus + Tokyo 21st Oct
[Film] July 26, 6:30 PM
A quiet boy named Yura moves with his family from Tokyo to the snowy Japanese countryside and gets enrolled in a Christian elementary school. Adjusting to the foreign religious rituals and iconography surrounding him there, Yura tries Christian prayer for the first time and a silent six-inch Jesus materializes before him. The tiny Christ seems to grant Yura’s wishes, but when tragedy strikes, Yura starts to question his newfound faith. Winner of the New Directors Award at the 2019 San Sebastian International Film Festival, 22-year-old director Hiroshi Okuyama imbues wry humor, mystery and a childlike perspective in this highly original, oddball debut.
Tokyo 21st October
A chatty woman and her uninterested son eat conveyor belt sushi in this cutout animation short.
Next event7/26/2019 6:30 PM
[Films] July 26, 9 PM
Despite having graduated from the prestigious Tokyo University, Kazuhiko (Yoshitomo Isozaki) is unemployed and living with his parents without any plans for the future. Everything changes, however, when he takes up a job at a local bathhouse and discovers that it is used by the yakuza as a convenient place for executions and corpse disposal. Winner of the Best Director Award at the 2018 Tokyo International Film Festival: Japanese Cinema Splash, this auspicious debut from writer/director Seiji Tanaka features an ingenious script full of unexpected shifts in genre and tone, effortlessly swinging between black comedy, coming-of-age romance and crime thriller.
Next event7/26/2019 9:00 PM
The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan
[Film] July 27, 12 PM
Festival favorite Toshiaki Toyoda (I’M FLASH!) takes on the true story of shogi (Japanese chess) player Shoji “Shottan” Segawa. Despite consistent dedication, Shottan (Ryuhei Matsuda) fails to go professional by the time he’s 26, permanently forfeiting his chance according to the game’s strict rules. When he makes a name for himself as an amateur years later, however, he makes an unprecedented bid to go professional at 35 and forever changes the game. Informed by Toyoda’s personal shogi experience (he trained to go professional as an adolescent), this star-studded biopic of late-blooming self-realization is an inspirational study of perseverance against all odds.
Next event7/27/2019 12:00 PM
Jeux de plage
[Film] July 27, 3 PM
Produced by Kiki Sugino (Hospitalité), director Aimi Natsuto’s debut is an effervescent satire on sexual desire and social artifice. College friends Sayaka (Haruna Hori) and Yui (Juri Fukushima) visit Shonan Beach and meet Yui’s old pal Momoko (Nanaho Otsuka), where they stay at a quaint seaside villa attracting artistically-minded passers-through. From shady film professor to horny musician and would-be Korean couple, desire and delusion swirl as attraction between Sayaka and Yui is complicated by the trio’s dynamic. Immersed in the style of Éric Rohmer and featuring cameos from the Asian film scene, Natsuto’s “beach games” are a deceptively profound delight.
Next event7/27/2019 3:00 PM
[Film] July 27, 4:45 PM
Yoshioka (Eun-kyung Shim) is a Tokyo reporter with truth-seeking zeal haunted by her father’s destroyed journalism career and subsequent suicide. Meanwhile, Sugihara (Tori Matsuzaka) is a bureaucrat on a glide path to promotion who comes upon a shady government-funded school that could point to a historic cover-up. Together, they must decide what to do when doing the right thing feels like self-sabotage. Based on journalist Isoko Mochizuki’s book, Michihito Fujii’s thriller recalls All the President’s Men in its depiction of journalism’s civic duty, replete with bustling newsrooms, late night leak intercepts and whirring printing presses.
Next event7/27/2019 4:45 PM
The Legend of the Stardust Brothers
[Film] July 27, 7:15 PM
When he was a 22-year-old film student, Macoto Tezka (son of pioneering manga artist Osamu Tezuka) decided to take on his first feature film by teaming up with musician Haruo Chikada and adapting his 1980 “imaginary soundtrack” concept album The Legend of the Stardust Brothers into a movie. The result is a campy Phantom of the Paradise-inspired send-up of ’80s Japanese pop culture and the corporate music industry filled with celebrity cameos, infectious musical performances and seemingly endless costume changes. A complete flop upon release, the film has since been plucked from obscurity and restored with a new Director’s Cut, making it ripe for rediscovery as a cult classic!
Next event7/27/2019 7:15 PM
Experimental Spotlight: Palm of the Hand Cinema
[Film] July 27, 9:45 PM
Over the course of his long writing career, Yasunari Kawabata produced more than one hundred “palm of the hand stories”: pieces often under a page in length that adopt a brisk writing style. This collection of avant-garde moving image works approach the short form with tantamount innovation, featuring miniature subjects, handmade special effects and personal perspectives, crafting small-scale productions that speak to the full richness of sensory experience.
Next event7/27/2019 9:45 PM
Randen: The Comings and Goings on a Kyoto Tram
[Film] July 28, 12 PM
Named after the beloved 110-year-old tram in western Kyoto City, Randen is a pleasantly low-key romantic drama that evokes the ancient city’s folklore, movie production history and deep love of trains through three intersecting stories: a writer from Kamakura researches supernatural train stories and recalls memories of his wife in her hometown; a shy local girl helps a Tokyo actor rehearse his lines in Kyoto dialect; and a high school girl from Aomori falls in love with a geeky train otaku. A local labor of love directed by Takuji Suzuki, the film was made with the help of Kyoto film students and the support of people living along the Randen line.
Next event7/28/2019 12:00 PM
[Film] July 28, 2:30 PM
NIGHT CRUISING follows congenitally blind musician Hideyuki Kato as he pursues the realization of an expansive sci-fi short called Ghost Vision, a film within its own making-of documentary. Working with a media production team and wide range of collaborators—including color experts, facial roboticists, hair stylists, voice actors, fight choreographers and VFX engineers—Kato directs the execution of his story about a non-sighted fighter and a telepath searching for a mysterious ghost in a future world. His pursuit becomes a deep interrogation of how sensory environments are perceived and rendered, offering new ways for viewers to think through their own assumptions about cinema and imagination.
Next event7/28/2019 2:30 PM
[Film] July 28, 6 PM
Suffering from undiagnosed memory loss, Emma (Yukino Murakami) comes upon an elephant drawing by a childhood orphanage friend named Yang and goes off in search of him. Her wayward journey leads her to a group of outsiders whose lives are all revealed to be traumatically linked to the same missing person, including his brother Van (Takuro Kawakami). As she unlocks troubling secrets in the sweltering countryside, Emma’s memory simultaneously fades and her experiences become increasingly surreal. Winner of Pia Film Festival’s 2018 Grand Prize, director Riho Kudo’s debut is an arthouse drama marked by beautifully expressive cinematography and daring narrative experimentation.
Next event7/28/2019 6:00 PM
[Film] July 28, 8 PM
Just past thirty, Sunada (Kaho) is a consummate Tokyo entertainment media professional (with the toxic love life and battered liver to prove it) directing television commercials that require more personality management skills than artistry. Discouraged by the inequitable pressures of a misogynist industry and her cycle of self-destructive behavior, Sunada road trips to her rural Ibaraki hometown with her free-spirited best friend Kiyoura (Eun-kyung Shim) where she reopens uneasy family relationships and unlocks repressed creative spirits. Director Yuko Hakota manages subtle fluctuations of reality with distinct comedic flair in this remarkable debut, announcing the arrival of a new force in Japanese cinema.
Next event7/28/2019 8:00 PM