Living in Leeds as a film fan has its perks. The city has a long historical association with filmmaking, and annually hosts the Leeds International Film Festival, celebrating films from across the world. Despite living in the city for over a decade now I only started attending the festival in recent years, but it’s quickly become an annual tradition of my own. Every year I enjoy looking through the programme, keeping a particular eye out for Japanese cinema. 2020 has disrupted this yearly ritual as much as anything else. LIFF2020 is smaller, with fewer feature films on the programme, and split between some of its usual venues and a new online player.Continue reading “LIFF2020 Programme”
I don’t always write about Japanese cinema. This week I have a piece on fanbyte covering the uncomfortable relationship between Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and some of the real-life veterans featured as playable characters:
Most of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s “operators” are wholly fictional characters created for multiplayer and Warzone battle royale. A few are drawn from the game’s narrative campaign. A handful, though, are modeled closely on real life figures. I wanted to know more about the people these characters were based on, and investigating their background took me on a strange journey into the marketing of tactical training and equipment — and what it means when that marketing makes it into one of the biggest gaming franchises on the planet.
This week, officials unveiled the logo for the forthcoming 2025 World Exposition – and Japanese social media is delighted with the result. The red, ring-shaped mass of eyeballs and blobs has immediately been compared to a kaiju, the giant monsters of Japanese cinema fame, with Twitter users immortalising it in art.
Per the Mainichi, graphic designer Tamotsu Shimada was quoted as saying, “Like the Tower of the Sun … we wanted to create something that was unique and has impact.” The Tower of the Sun, a huge sculpture by artist Tarō Okamoto, was built for the last World Exposition to land in the city, all the way back in 1970. Though most of the expo park is long gone, the Tower of the Sun still looms over the area.Continue reading “Osaka Loves Kaiju”
Barring any late-breaking delays – and really, anything could happen with the coronavirus pandemic not going anywhere any time soon – 2020 will be the final year of the PS4. The final year of a platform is often when developers deliver their finest work, able to leverage a whole console generation of technical know-how. This summer just gave us two swansongs in quick succession: Naughty Dog’s gruelling The Last of Us Part II, closely followed by Sucker Punch’s samurai cinema-inspired Ghost of Tsushima.Continue reading “Ghost of Tsushima Impressions”
With LIFF now over for another year, it’s time to catch up on the films from the second week of the festival. First up…
I’d been anticipating Eggers’ film since it started making waves earlier this year: I’m a big Willem Defoe fan, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Robert Pattinson’s post-Twilight career, and trailers hooked me with the moody, black and white visuals and rhythmic soundtrack. I’d also heard good things about Eggers’ previous film, The Witch, but as I’m only tangentially a horror fan I still haven’t gotten around to seeing it.
My second film of the festival is being screened as part of the “Mother Cutter” exhibit showcasing female film editors (named after Verna Fields, editor of American Graffiti and Jaws, amongst others). Dziga Vertov’s landmark Soviet documentary – if it can be even called a documentary; it’s more of a pioneering visual experiment in presenting moving images without any framework like intertitles or narration – was edited by his wife, Elizaveta Svilova. Simply put, the film wouldn’t exist without her; it’s through her work that the myriad scenes shot across the Soviet Union are intertwined. She even features in the film, shown, naturally enough, cutting and splicing the frames of footage that make up the film itself.
I love the film, principally for the way it brings to life a lost era. It’s propaganda, of course, but it’s incredible to glimpse the Soviet Union as it wanted to be seen in 1929 – Vertov seems to delight in showing off public transport, industry, work, play. It’s fascinatingly egalitarian, intercutting between men and women at work, marriages and divorces, funerals and births.
It was also a pleasure to watch on the big screen, in the same way Juzo Itami’s Tampopo was at a retrospective screening last year. Man with a Movie Camera opens in a movie theatre, watching as the projectionist readies his reels, as the chairs are set and the crowds come in, as the orchestra prepares to accompany the film. It feels very similar to Tampopo‘s film theatre opening, where one of the characters speaks to the audience, who view the theatre as if looking in from the screen. Watching a film like that, one that plays with its theatre environment, feels very different when actually watched in a slightly rickety old theatre seen than on the sofa at home.
It’s November, which means the Leeds International Film Festival has returned to my city. Last year I wrote up a quick rundown on the Japanese films that would be showing. This time around, things are a little more subdued – there’s nothing as high profile as Hirokaze Kore-eda’s headline-grabbing (and later Oscar-nominated) festival favourite Shoplifters, for example, or the previous year that featured not only Takashi Miike’s 100th film Blade of the Immortal, but the prolific director’s 101st film, too.
Still, just because Japanese films aren’t being showcased in quite the same way doesn’t mean they aren’t featured across the two weeks of the festival. There are three anime features, with Studio Trigger’s visually acclaimed Promare and the latest film from Lu Over the Wall director Masaaki Yuasa perhaps representing some of the most anticipated of the festival’s Japanese catalogue. There’s also a Werner Herzog drama, a retrospective screening of Osaka Elegy (1936), and a couple of quirky looking features in the form of Five Million Dollar Life and We Are Little Zombies.
Jump below the cut for a breakdown of each film.
One of my favourite things to do recently is find cinemas screening older films I either missed the first time around or that I never had a chance to see on the big screen. Often this coincides with a big anniversary for a film, which means I had a chance to catch Alien for its 40th anniversary and Die Hard for its 30th. We’re just past the 20th anniversary of Hideo Nakata’s 1998 adaptation of Ring and Arrow Films have put out a stunning new restoration in collaboration with the original filmmakers. I picked up the box set they released that includes Ring 2, Ring Zero and the lesser seen Rasen/Spiral and while I haven’t checked them all out yet, I did manage to catch Ring at my usual cinema.
I ought to write up my experience revisiting the film after nearly twenty years – I’m fairly sure I haven’t seen it since the early 2000s, when I would have watched it on an old CRT. It’s perhaps the rare film that loses something in being on a giant screen, kind of the opposite of Tampopo and its wonderful opening sequence looking out from the ‘screen’ into an ’80s Japanese movie theatre. Even watching it at home on a Blu-Ray and a flatscreen television wouldn’t have the same impact. Whether or not I get around to writing a review, Dan Martin and Sam Ashurst of the Arrow Video Podcast have a great discussion of the film that I would highly recommend.
It’s that time of year again: November approaches, and with it, the 32nd Leeds International Film Festival. Last year was in part a celebration of Japanese director Takashi Miike hitting his 100th feature film with Blade of the Immortal, and I wrote about the many other Japanese films featured that year. Then, flu struck me down, and I still haven’t caught up on Miike! This year I’m armed with a flu jab and a fresh copy of the festival’s programme. Let’s take a look at the Japanese cinema exhibiting this year:
Dir. Tadashi Nagayama
Caring for his uncle with dementia, Taka lodges in an idyllic thatched cottage in the countryside. When the uncle’s son Mitsuaki returns, his quiet life of caring and bongo-playing seems in doubt, until he and childhood friend Sho are reunited in friendship. But unwelcome visits by a nature-obsessed family from Tokyo threaten to overturn this bucolic existence. At heart a gentle pastoral comedy and satire of romanticised country life, in the hands of Tadashi Nagayama (director of 2016’s Journey of the Tortoise), events start to take a very unexpected direction.
Dir. Shinsuke Sato
From the original manga and anime series comes a brand new live action sci-fi superhero showdown from Shinsuke Sato. The ineffectual father of an uncaring family and with even more bad news on the way, Inuyashiki is suddenly struck by a mysterious explosion, awaking to discover his body has acquired fantastically powerful robotic innards. Unsure of the extent of his abilities, but resolving to do good, he is unaware that a teenager, Shishigami, was also caught in the same explosion. Shishigami may have similar powers, but he harbours more psychopathic tendencies.
Dir. Mamoru Hosoda
From acclaimed director Mamoru Hosoda (Summer Wars, Wolf Children), Mirai is a daringly original story of love passed down through generations. When four-year-old Kun meets his new baby sister, his world is turned upside down. Named Mirai (meaning ‘future’), the baby quickly wins the hearts of Kun’s entire family. As his mother returns to work, and his father struggles to run the household, Kun becomes increasingly jealous of the baby. Mirai is a sumptuous, magical and emotionally soaring adventure about the ties that bring families together and make us who we are.
Dir. Shin’ichirô Ueda
Hack film director Higurashi (whose motto is ‘fast, cheap, but average’) is hired to make a zombie film in an abandoned WWII Japanese facility, allegedly used for human experiments by the military. In the middle of the shoot they are attacked by real zombies, much to the delight of the director who is determined to include the carnage in his film. Opening with an epic 37 minute single take, this low budget film challenges the tired genre and delivers a truly unique fast-paced, laugh-out-loud, meta-as-possible zombie comedy.
One Cut of the Dead was one of my ‘dream picks’ for the festival since hearing about it a few months back. It played at Frightfest in London, then in the fantastically named Abertoir horror festival in Aberystwyth, then Nottingham – I had my fingers crossed it would finally work its way up to my home town. When it didn’t make the highlight reel at the programme launch event I was disappointed, but here it is! Squirrelled away in the annual ‘Night of the Dead’ marathon.
Dir. Hiroyasu Ishida
In this debut anime feature from Hiroyasu Ishida, Aoyama is a serious 10 year-old boy who records all of his day-to-day experiences in his notebook. One day in May, penguins inexplicably appear in his home town, despite it being located a long way from the sea. When Aoyama sees ‘Big Sis’ drop a soft drink can which inexplicably turns into a penguin, he decides to investigate and resolve the mystery behind these strange events.
Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
Winner of this year’s Palme d’Or, this deeply rich story of a deeply poor family will steal your heart. On wintry Tokyo backstreets, a man and his young boy are doing the shopping for the household – their practiced shoplifting routine yields food for everyone. Going home they spot a hungry little girl and before long the family has extended to six – poor but loving, and often joyful. From the director of Like Father, Like Son and Our Little Sister comes his most beautifully satisfying film yet.
Dir. Juzo Itami
Trucking stranger Goro rides into town and takes shelter in a failing out-of-the-way ramen restaurant. He takes pity on the downtrodden proprietress Tampopo, and with a diverse team of local noodle, broth and topping experts sets out to turn Tampopo’s tired old joint into the finest in Tokyo. Into this light soupy story many satirical ingredients are mixed: Tampopo’s buffet of deliciousness riffs on Japanese corporate culture, internationalism, domestic relations, cinema and always sex. One of the best Japanese films of the 1980s, Tampopo is impossible to watch without dreaming of hearty post-movie eats.
I was such a huge fan of A Taxing Woman that I really wanted to track down some more of Itami’s films, and as Tampopo is one of the few with a readily available Western release, it’s high on my list. I’ve put it off and put it off, though, and here comes two opportunities to see it in Leeds. The first at the film festival, and then in a “Ramen & a Movie” screening at The Reliance!
Dir. Kôichirô Miki
‘I am a cat. As yet, I have no name’. So begins the chronicles of Nana, a stray cat who has adopted its own master, Satoru, as he sets out to revisit friends from his past, with a request that Nana doesn’t yet understand. Partly narrated by Nana herself and based on the enormously successful Japanese novel by Hiro Arikawa, The Travelling Cat Chronicles is a humorous and tender exploration of how small acts of kindness and sacrifice can make a difference in the unexpected events of people’s lives.
Despite warnings from hermit Old Man Lucky –Monkey, Bobby, his friend Akkun and Derrick the cat explore the local mountains, where they discover a mysterious alien invasion-themed amusement park. Little do they or we know the truly deranged horror and grotesquery awaiting these innocents. Filmed live in ‘Geki-mation’ – painstakingly hand-painted cardboard cutouts with in-camera effects – this colourful fairytale aesthetic erupts in a torrent of grotesque mutilation, child-robot hybrids, bodily fluids and forest animals. A uniquely entertaining, disturbing and unforgettable film.
That covers all the Japanese feature films at this year’s festival, but I wanted to mention one South Korean entry in particular. It’s based on a short story by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami.
Dir. Chang-dong Lee
The new film from leading Korean director Lee Changdong (Oasis, Poetry) took eight years to arrive but it was more than worth the wait, stunning critics at Cannes Film Festival this year. A beautifully-crafted mystery thriller based on a short story about obsessive love by Haruki Murakami, Burning starts out as a story about a deliveryman who cares for his girlfriend’s cat while she goes away to Africa. Then she returns with a stranger.
Of course, there’s more to the festival than Japanese film. There are some big, mainstream films getting early showings, like Widows and The Old Man & The Gun, stunning documentaries like Genesis 2.0 and Welcome to Sodom, and plenty more that I’ve only skimmed over. As well as catching several of the above Japanese films, I’ve already grabbed tickets for Sorry to Bother You on the opening night, and a screening of Dredd as part of the festival’s “Timeframes” collection of films taking place over a single day. What will you be seeing?
Somehow despite being a long-term Japanophile, I’d managed to avoid sumo wrestling until long after I left the country. Last September I accidentally caught part of the Autumn Tournament (Aki Basho) on NHK and the rest, as they say, is history. There are six major tournaments every year, each lasting fifteen days, and I’ve been obsessively following the last four. We’re now halfway through my fifth, the Summer Tournament (Natsu Basho), on the important Day 8. Wrestlers compete once per day for a total of 15 bouts and a potential perfect record of 15 wins, 0 losses. Day 8 is the first day wrestlers can achieve a ‘winning record’, i.e. more wins than losses, so there’s extra pressure. A winning record (8 wins, 7 losses or better) might see a wrestler promoted before the next tournament, while a losing record (7-8 or worse) could see them demoted, losing ranks or even dropping out of the top division altogether.
Outside of Japan, it’s tough to follow sumo broadcasts. There are multiple divisions of wrestlers, but out of the country it’s only really feasible to follow the top makuuchi division. NHK World Japan – the online, English language component of Japan’s state broadcaster – shows daily highlights of the top division in 20 minute segments usually featuring the most popular wrestlers or most interesting bouts. In the latest tournament, they’ve also started showing some live footage – today featured around 50 minutes including most of the top-ranked wrestlers, while still omitting the bottom half of the division. If you live in Japan, or with some sleight of hand live in Japan, there’s also online television service Abema.tv which covers the whole top division tournament live and then broadcasts re-runs throughout the rest of the day. Their coverage is all in Japanese, but once you’ve got the basic rules down it’s fairly easy to follow each bout (and if you speak Japanese, you get to enjoy the commentary that typically includes a retired wrestler, a sports commentator, and a ‘sumo beginner’ who usually just happens to be an attractive young woman to whom the other two can mansplain).