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Lieutenant Colonel Yuki (Yusuke Iseya) established the mysterious D Agency, an independent unit of the Japanese army at the eve of WWII. Rejecting army academy graduates, he instead recruits street-smart hustlers or degenerates, training them to be masters of manipulation, international operatives counteracting the war-mongering colonialist efforts of imperial army leadership. One such antihero agent under the name Jiro Kato (Kazuya Kamenashi) goes on a harrowing mission to uncover secret documents, battling forces from within and without his own ranks.
HIBI ROCK: Puke Afro and the Pop Star
Based on the popular manga series by Katsumasa Enokiya, the director of 8000 Miles – SR: Saitama no Rapper is back with a raucous tale of a young man, Hibinuma (Shuhei Nomura), who moved to Tokyo dreaming of becoming a rockstar. With no money or prospects, he and his bandmates live and work at an underground venue. Things look up when a naked Hibinuma is kicked off the stage by a rambunctious girl (Fumi Nikaido, JAPAN CUTS 2014 guest) who shows him how to really rock. To his dismay, the mystery girl turns out to be national pop idol Saki Utagawa, prompting a pop vs. punk crisis.
Round Trip Heart
The limited express “Romancecar” railway service links Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station with tourist destinations such as Odawara, Enoshima, and Kamakura, every day carrying train attendant Hachiko Hojo back and forth (an excellent Yuko Oshima, in her first starring role since departing the idol group AKB48). In her mid-twenties, Hachiko excels in her job serving meals and refreshments onboard the train. However a comic encounter with a sleazy movie producer passenger (character actor Koji Okura in a winning lead role) brings her to rediscover not only the gorgeous Hakone of Kanagawa prefecture, but past memories that have been holding her back from following her own path.
Belladonna of Sadness
Never before released in the U.S., JAPAN CUTS presents a sneak preview of the just-completed 4K restoration of forgotten animation masterpiece. It is the third and last of the adult-oriented Animerama trilogy produced by the “Godfather of Manga” Osamu Tezuka and directed by his longtime collaborator Eiichi Yamamoto (Astro Boy). Based on the book Satanism and Witchcraft by French writer Jules Michelet, young and innocent Jeanne is ravaged by the local lord and makes a pact with the Devil himself.
And the Mud Ship Sails Away
Indignant slacker Takashi (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) has an attitude. Unfortunately there’s no one but his ancient grandmother (Misao Hirayama, the director’s 96-year-old grandmother) and pleasant friend Shohei (Kaori Iida) to hear his apathetic wisecracks in the small city of Otawara. One day, Yuka (Ayasa Takahashi) appears and announces herself to be his half-sister by their deadbeat father. It doesn’t take long to size up her near-middle-aged unemployed sibling, charging him to take action that sets the film off on a fantastical turn.
The Vancouver Asahi
In Vancouver of the 1930s there was a bustling Japantown with a local baseball team called the Vancouver Asahi formed by a group of young men born in Canada to Japanese immigrant parents. Working hard to make ends meet and enduring racism in a predominantly Caucasian surrounding, the men still manage to find the time to play the sport they love... even though they lose every time. When Regge (Satoshi Tsumabuki) is chosen to be the new captain, he and his friend ace pitcher Roy (Kazuya Kamenashi) devise a new tactic that begins to work. The team’s morale is high but the dark clouds of WWII are creeping in.
Out of My Hand
Hokkaido-born, Brooklyn-based filmmaker Takeshi Fukunaga takes his camera to Liberia, casting mostly local non-professionals (all native to the country) in order to deliver an impressively assured first feature. After a labor strike loses steam and defeated rubber tree tappers go back to work to continue the cycle of poverty and frustration they initially protested, Cisco desperately seeks a way out as a cab driver in New York City. But he soon discovers there are some things he can’t escape, and before Cisco can build a new future for himself he must first confront the ghosts of his war-torn past.
In Ashibetsu, Hokkaido on March 11, 2:46 PM, Mitsuo Suzuki (Toru Shinagawa) takes his last breath at a ripe age of 92. His dispersed family members arrive during his last moments--all quirky, selfish and human in their own way. When a strange and striking woman (Takako Tokiwa) arrives asking if she was too late, questions are asked and a feverish history begins to unravel spanning Mitsuo’s long life.
Seeking a new beginning and the solace of the countryside after a failed affair, Tsugumi quits her job and moves to her recently deceased grandmother’s sun-soaked childhood home. Before she can settle in, however, a handsome, gray-headed stranger named Kaieda suddenly appears with his own key, staying in the annex of the same house. Initially put off by his pushy, crude behavior and awkward advances, Tsugumi slowly and cautiously opens up to him—and then she finds out what really connects them to each other. This understated, moving drama was adapted from the popular manga by Keiko Nishi.
Tanabata: Japan's Star Festival
Make a wish with us as we explore the Tanabata legend of star-crossed lovers Hikoboshi and Orihime through storytelling and craft-making!
Cruel Story of Youth (4K Restoration)
Rebel auteur Nagisa Oshima’s groundbreaking second feature gets a 4K restoration makeover (supervised by cinematographer Takashi Kawamata) that breathes new life into the film’s vibrant colors and unhinged widescreen photography. A critical and commercial success upon its release, this consistently unforgiving tale of a disenfranchised teenage couple’s doomed relationship set among seedy Tokyo backstreets, bars, and bedrooms still manages to feel unnervingly contemporary.
A common horoscope brings a timid middle-aged salaryman and high school delinquent to the center of a political scandal, in which a corrupt incumbent mayor seeks to crush the candidacy of his reformer opponent. This wild anti-establishment tale blends a punk ethos with absurdist comedy as the unlikely pair finds their existence given new meaning when they work to return a kidnapped baby. Along the way they must fight not only the assault of the mayor’s neoliberal redevelopment of the town, but his bribed police force and yakuza.
Haruko's Paranormal Laboratory
Since childhood, lonely oddball Haruko wanted nothing more than to experience a “real paranormal phenomenon.” Haruko’s wish finally comes true when her TV set unexpectedly comes to life in the form of a handsome, TV-headed humanoid who quickly becomes the object of her fascination and romantic affections.
Experimental Spotlight Program: Mono No Aware x [x] (Plus)
Avant-garde film and video practice emerges from vibrant cultures of experimentation and collaboration. This program represents work produced around and selected by two exemplary organizations: the New York-based Mono No Aware, and Tokyo-based [+] (Plus). Some of the featured films and videos emphasize elements of collaboration and transnational exchange, and influence between artists, spaces, and technologies in Japan and the U.S. Juxtaposing works by artists loosely associated with the creative networks of Mono No Aware and [+] produces a visually and aurally stimulating 90+ minutes of unexpected connections and discoveries. Organized by Japan Society, Steve Cossman of Mono No Aware and Takashi Makino of [+].
Snow on the Blades
In this beautifully lensed jidaigeki, based on the events of the Sakuradamon Incident of 1860, a sincere samurai named Kingo Shimura is faced with the immense shame of failing to protect his lord, who is assassinated in a surprise ambush. In order to restore his honor, Kingo is tasked with finding and killing the remaining assassins. Meanwhile, Japan begins to undergo significant changes, shedding samurai values as the Edo period ends and Western influences start to take hold. After a tortured 13-year search, Kingo finally finds the one remaining assassin—but, as he unsheathes his sword for vengeance, is he still the same man he once was?
Pieta in the Toilet
Inspired by "Godfather of Manga" Osamu Tezuka’s last diary page, this fraught and tender story marks the fiction debut for acclaimed documentary filmmaker Daishi Matsunaga. Hiroshi (Yojiro Noda, lead singer of popular Japanese rock band RADWIMPS in his first acting role) is an introverted painter once full of promise. During his work as a window cleaner, he falls suddenly ill and the doctor requires him to bring a family member for his test results. Not wanting to involve his family, Hiroshi pays a headstrong highschooler Mai (Hana Sugisaki), who he meets in the waiting room, to play his sister. Told that his days are numbered, Hiroshi struggles with his fate while Mai asks him, “Shall we go die together, then?”
What Are you Afraid Of?
A (her)story told through the very people involved in the women’s liberation movement beginning in Japan in the 1970s, filled with personal accounts of why they joined the movement and ideas about work that is still left to be done. Female director Hisako Matsui (Leonie, JAPAN CUTS 2012) draws out episodes from these torch-bearing women, touching on a wide range of subjects from gender inequality, marriage, social structures, women’s studies and journalism to aging. A testament to feminism in different forms, the film serves as both a powerful introduction to those unfamiliar with the history and a celebration of the women who paved the way and continue to work for a better future.
The Light Shines Only There
This film about love on the fringes of society begins with former mountain quarry dynamiter Tatsuo (Go Ayano) wasting away in the seedy bars and the numbing clamor of pachinko parlors below. Meeting friendly young parolee Takuji (Masaki Suda), he’s invited for a meal at the family’s ramshackle home by the beach where he meets Takuji’s older sister Chinatsu (Chizuru Ikewaki). Initiating an intense romance amidst their alcoholism and prostitution, together they lick deeper wounds of guilt, dependence, and abuse.
Photographer and filmmaker Shingo Wakagi adapts Banana Yoshimoto’s story from her 1989 compilation of the same name in a spare and elegant style reminiscent of Jun Ichikawa’s Tony Takitani. Sakura Ando shines as Terako, a young woman having an affair with middle-aged Iwanaga (Arata Iura), whose wife is in a coma following a traffic accident. Caught in a depressive dreamlike stasis, Terako sleeps excessively waiting for Iwanaga’s calls following the suicide of her friend (Mitsuki Tanimura), who had the unconventional livelihood of accompanying sleeping strangers in bed for money without sex.
100 Yen love + PUNCH LOVE Party
Play video games with your nephew when he gets home from school, pick up junk food at the local ¥100 convenience store, and pass out reading manga. Such is the life of Ichiko Saito (played by the luminous Sakura Ando), a 32 year old living at home with her parents and recently divorced sister.
A Farewell to Jinu
Former bank clerk Takeharu (Ryuhei Matsuda in a raucous comic turn) thought he was strange when he moved to a remote village in Japan’s northeastern Tohoku region after developing an inexplicable “money allergy.” However as he attempts to live a peaceful rural life without currency avoiding society, Kamuroba village’s bizarre characters draw him out of his shell in this increasingly surreal madcap comedy.
The Voice of Water
Minjung, a young zainichi Korean woman, draws a small but fervent following as the puppet leader of God’s Water, a cult in which she is said to communicate with a water oracle in order to heal pain of the damaged and lonely. When her following starts to pick up and her estranged father enters the picture, things start to unravel, prompting Minjung to seek out her roots, and ultimately find herself.
The Wages of Resistance: Narita Stories
The site where Tokyo’s major flight hub Narita International Airport lies is in fact the agricultural area Sanrizuka. Narita’s construction was decided by the Japanese government in the 1960s to support a burgeoning economy, selected due to the farmers’ relatively brief generational connection to the land. While some were bought off, many poor farmers refused, and their resistance gained the attention of the radical student movement. For over a decade they fought divisive land expropriation schemes, physically resisting brutal riot police. Those that remain are the subject of this film, living and farming just outside the gates, looking back on the struggle as planes fly overhead.
When Kei Nakazawa’s original novel was published in 1978, it became an immediate bestseller with over 600,000 copies sold. It scandalized Japanese readers of the time not only for its penetrating view of female sexuality and desire, but also because the author was just 18-years-old. Haruhiko Arai and Hiroshi Ando’s erotically charged adaptation retains the late 1970s period, in which young high schooler Emiko (Yui Ichikawa) encounters senior Hiroshi (Sosuke Ikematsu) where she’s cutting class in their newspaper club room.
This Country's Sky
An adaption of Yuichi Takai’s prize-winning 1983 novel of the same name, This Country’s Sky is a nuanced drama set in Suginami, Tokyo towards the destitute final years of WWII. Satoko (Fumi Nikaido) is a 19 year old girl falling passionately in love with her older married neighbor (Hiroki Hasegawa), who has been spared combat due to his failing the military physical examination. Even away from the battlefield, as they grow closer their feelings are caught up in the violence of war.
Neko Samurai 2 - A Tropical Adventure
Everyone’s favorite grumpy samurai and cute white cat are back! Once feared as “Madara the Devil,” master swordsman Kyutaro Madarame (Kazuki Kitamura) returns home from Edo a lowly ronin, living with his mother-in-law. When she tells him of an opportunity to work as sword instructor on the island of Shikoku, he sets off on a journey with his feline companion Tamanojo. When a ninja heads them off he should know things are not what they seem.
Forget Me Not
Biking over to the local video store, high schooler Takashi Hayama (of Naomi Kawase’s Still the Water) runs into fellow teenager Azusa Oribe (formerly of the idol group Momoiro Clover), shaking each other out of their own little worlds. They see more and more of each other as days go by, beginning the awkward process of dating. However none of the other students at Takashi’s school recall Azusa, and she reveals a strange and unbelievable secret to him: everyone she meets forgets her very existence, including her closest friends and family.
In the 1990s the Japanese government carries out experiments altering human evolution, producing two groups of babies inheriting unique mutant superpowers. Now reaching their twenties, the two groups use their abilities for different purposes: justice and chaos. However when they learn the truth of their origin they must band together to fight an apocalyptic destiny.
Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn
1726, Sanchu, Okayama Prefecture: farmers negotiate with the feudal domain in order to seek exemption from rising taxes before infighting leads to suppression by the samurai class, and the farmers band together for battle. It’s a moment of injustice, setting the stage for bravery and sacrifice. However those daring characters remain largely offscreen in Juichiro Yamasaki’s brilliant film. Instead, the cowardly protagonist Jihei (Naohisa Nakagaki) weighs the risks of rebellion and its aftermath, a tale resonating with our contemporary moment.