Every year in my adopted Yorkshire hometown, Leeds holds the Leeds International Film Festival. This year marks the 31st, and
for the first time for only the second time since catching Howl’s Moving Castle back in 2005, I’m actually paying attention to what’s on offer. While there are plenty of noteworthy films in competition for the first time or being replayed on the festival’s cult or retrospective circuits, this site of course focuses on Japanese cinema, so here’s my breakdown of the Japanese films on offer at #LIFF31.
The only Japanese film in the festival’s official selection – described as “some of the most anticipated films of 2017, alongside outstanding debuts” – is Atsuko Hirayanagi’s first film, Oh Lucy! (2017). Adapted from a 2014 short of the same name, it stars Shinobu Terajima and Josh Hartnett.
With few exceptions, the remaining Japanese films can be found in two marathon sessions – Animation Sunday (Sunday 5th November) and the Manga Movie Marathon (Sunday 12th November).
Tackling the animated features first, the festival will host the late Satoshi Kon’s classic Perfect Blue (1997) as it hits its 20th anniversary. It remains a great tragedy that Kon was not more prolific, and Perfect Blue – a haunting story about a pop idol turned actress whose mind and personality begin to fracture under stress – is a contender for his best work.
There’s also the French-Japanese joint production Mutafukaz (2017) from directors Shoujiro Nishimi and Guillaume Renard. Based on a French comic and boasting an art style wildly different to contemporary anime, it looks like one to watch out for.
Separate from the Animation Sunday event, there’s also Lu Over the Wall (2017) from Masaaki Yuasa. I’m almost completely unfamiliar with his work aside from one episode of the delightful Space Dandy and that one, weird, trippy Adventure Time instalment he directed.
Before tackling the Manga Movie Marathon, a quick aside to consider Summer Time Machine Blues (2005) by Katsuyuki Motohiro. Playing separately over at the quaint Hyde Park Picture House, it is – as the title suggests – a time travel movie. It had never crossed my radar before but is apparently a cult movie in its native Japan, about a group of students who get into time travel shenanigans after trying to use the machine to go back before they broke their air conditioning unit. The trailer is charmingly low budget and a quick search doesn’t make it look like it’s had a home video release in English, so this could be a rare opportunity to actually see it.
The last four features are all live action adaptations of manga screening in the Manga Movie Marathon bloc – and in a surreal but fitting twist, no less than three are by absurdly prolific director Takashi Miike. The festival is playing host to not only Miike’s widely publicised 100th film*, but also his 101st, which really just serves to emphasise the almost unbelievable amount of content he’s still producing even as many of his works have moved far beyond – in both budget and style – his early v-cinema.
The only non-Miike film is Kentaro Hagiwara’s version of Tokyo Ghoul (2017). Already a best-selling manga and getting a third season of its anime adaptation, critical reaction to the live action film has been more mixed.
The first of Miike’s films is last year’s The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio (2016), a sequel to his 2013 The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji. Miike’s output is, politely, all over the place in terms of quality, but some of his best stuff comes from adaptations – novels, manga, even videogames (if one thinks more of Ace Attorney than the lacklustre Yakuza adaptation, Like a Dragon). The Mole Song seems to get high praise for being outrageous, which certainly plays to Miike’s strengths.
Next is Miike’s 101st film – a feature that somewhat undermines all the promotion of his centennial! It’s a live-action adaptation of the extravagantly-titled JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable – Chapter 1 (2017). JoJo’s is an extremely long-running manga – first starting in 1987 – and there are numerous story arcs, spin-offs, videogames, and anime adaptations. The live-action film will apparently adapt the fourth story arc, Diamond is Unbreakable, and the title is a dead giveaway that Toho and Warner Bros. are hoping this will be successful enough to merit sequels. Given Miike’s habit of returning to direct sequels to his various manga adaptations, perhaps Chapter 2 won’t be far off.
Last but certainly not least is Blade of the Immortal (2017). Just recently getting its premiere at the London Film Festival and garnering praise from genre enthusiasts, it’s the film I’m most excited for at #LIFF31. My two favourite Miike films are 13 Assassins and Hara-Kiri, both period pieces that showed a completely different level of production value and direction than I’d come to expect from him. Hara-Kiri is absolutely gorgeous, while 13 Assassins is probably closer in tone to Blade of the Immortal, combining a samurai-era setting with Miike’s more usual over-the-top violence. It’s too early for me to say whether Blade of the Immortal will sit amongst his other jidaigeki or be closer to cult shlock like Lone Wolf and Cub, but I’m eager to find out – it’s the first film at the festival I’ve actually bought tickets for.
Besides feature films there are also Japanese shorts being exhibited, and there may be other titles I’ve missed in my exploration of the festival’s programme. If you’re a Leeds native or are planning to attend the festival, which films will you be watching?
*I’m not actually sure where the figure of 100 “films” is coming from: on IMDB, Takashi Miike has 102 directorial credits. Ignoring the two films produced after Blade of the Immortal, his putative 100th, he’s also credited with a number of TV series, mini-series, and individual episodes – not to mention his entries in multi-director anthologies like Three Extremes. So, either IMDB is inaccurate – which is entirely possible – or dubbing Blade of the Immortal his 100th feature film is a slight exaggeration.