I began Kino 893 as a casual blog to accompany my exploration of Japanese cinema, with a focus on the yakuza genre of the 1960s and 1970s. Over time I branched out into both professional writing for other sites and informal updates to my Letterboxd, meaning Kino 893 hasn’t been as up to date as I’d like.
Going forward, this will be a place where I highlight Japanese films I have something particular to say about – especially if it’s a new release from boutique publishers like Arrow, Eureka, or Radiance. The first such review, one of the first titles released by new label Radiance Films, is already up: 1968’s Big Time Gambling Boss.
The on-going pandemic has made attending film festivals and in-theatre screenings difficult. Some festivals have moved to online-only or hybrid events, but even where that has occurred, finding Japanese cinema in particular remains tricky. Enter JAPAN CUTS, from New York’s Japan Society, a hybrid in-person and online Japanese film festival running August 20th to September 2nd.
The bad news? For a UK-based viewer like me, most of the films remain inaccessible, region-locked for US audiences only. But there is good news. With a tip of my hat to Japanese film distributor Third Window it has come to my attention that at least a couple of feature films and a smattering of shorts are available to rent worldwide.
In the features department, we find B/B (2020), the debut from Kosuke Nakahama, and Sasaki in my Mind (2020), from Takuya Uchiyama. Both are airing under the festival’s Next Generation banner, “a hand-picked selection of independently produced narrative feature films by emerging directors who offer a glimpse into the future of Japanese cinema”.
The most attractive pick for me is Toshiaki Toyoda’s 26 min short Go Seppuku Yourselves (2021). Toyoda has been on my watchlist as a director to check out, especially with a new collection of his works coming soon in a 2005-2021 box set here in the UK. What better time to engage with his work?
Though I cannot watch it myself as it’s both restricted to the US and already sold-out online, I would be remiss in not mentioning that tickets still appear to be available for Wife of a Spy (2020), the most recent winner of the Kinema Junpo Award for Best Film of the Year. New Yorkers reading this before Friday, August 27th may still be able to catch it – though I’d only suggest doing so if you can attend an in-person screening safely.
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.
It’s an eclectic mix, but extremely light on Japanese cinema – so how about something a little more relevant to this blog? Not so long ago, the BFI announced BFI Japan 2020 to celebrate Japanese cinema. I compiled their list of the best Japanese films since 1925 into another Letterboxd list (and if you’re looking for other critically acclaimed Japanese films, you’ll find links there to lists of winners of both the American and Japanese Academy Awards, as well as Kinema Junpo’s film of the year selections).
Right now, with all the stresses of dealing with the pandemic, films are a welcome escape. Writing reviews can turn them into work, even if I enjoy analysing them, so I’m not going to hold myself to any update schedule just yet. Still, I’m not abandoning Kino 893. Not when I’ve still so many films to see.
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.
With my native UK sweltering in a heatwave that makes the weather more reminiscent of my time in Tokyo, what better time to revisit a hot and humid classic – Akira Kurosawa’s Stray Dog? Check out this breakdown from the BFI over how Kurosawa wields the weather in his films, with a shot by shot approach to the heat in Stray Dog.
Here’s my review – has it really been two years since I watched it? Time for a revisit of my own…
Coming from Kurosawa’s prolific early period, Stray Dog easily stands up next to some of his later classics. It’s a fascinating look at post-war Tokyo: the ruined city slowly coming back together, the American influence under occupation, the fashions of the late 1940s (including some truly outrageous collars). Yet the story itself is equally valuable; a gripping detective story and prototype for countless genre conventions.
It’s that time of year again: my adoptive hometown of Leeds is gearing up for the 32nd Leeds International Film Festival. Last year, I wrote about the selection of Japanese cinema at LIFF 2017, and I had planned on catching Takeshi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal before the flu struck me down at the last minute. This year, I’ve got my fingers crossed for more Japanese films (as well as some others that have been making waves on the international festival circuit, like Sorry to Bother You and Tigers Are Not Afraid).
This year’s line-up hasn’t been announced yet. The festival programme launches on October 10th. Tickets are free, but need to be booked in advance, for the two screenings of trailers for this year’s event. I’ll be there hoping to catch a glimpse of Shoplifters and One Cut of the Dead.
One of my favourite podcasts – at least, one of the few I listen to that aren’t just discussions of politics and the news – is the Arrow Video Podcast hosted by Dan Martin and Sam Ashurst. This probably comes as little surprise when a huge number of the films I watch and review on Kino 893 come from Arrow Video or Arrow Films. In typical fashion, though, I forgot the podcast existed for a few months and have come back to find a huge backlog of episodes to listen to – which at least is working out very well for my commutes. This week, listening to one introduced me to the site Letterboxd. It’s pitched as a ‘social network for film fans’ and allows you to track which films you’ve seen, curate film lists, and keep a diary of when you watched a film.
Keeping a ‘film diary’ is something I started doing a few years ago anyway, and I’ve got long lists of films clogging up Google Sheets going back to 2014 already. I’ve signed up and you can find my film diary here; I just hit 100 films for 2018, though my ‘goal’ is 100 films I’ve never seen before and I’m still around ~25 shy. I’ve also put together a list of every film featured so far here on Kino 893 and it’s pretty amazing seeing the array of posters.
If you’re already a member of Letterboxd or sign up, let me know in the comments below or simply follow me on there.
I’m a pretty casual Godzilla fan. I hadn’t seen the original, Ishiro Honda-directed classic until just a few years ago, or any of the many, many Japanese movies that followed. I had, on the other hand, seen the mediocre 1998 Hollywood version (which, if nothing else, gave us an incredibly catchy Jamiroquai song that is now stuck in my head from just thinking about it tangentially) and the 2014 reboot. Over the last couple of years, though, I’ve grown pretty fond of the big guy – from the original nuclear allegory to Hideaki Anno’s satirical take on Japanese red tape. Some of the most recent entries haven’t been great: I kinda loved the 2014 film when I saw it on a giant cinema screen but didn’t think it held up well when I watched it at home, and the Netflix-Toho CG-anime films so far have been extremely rough going – look out for my review of the just-released Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle next week.
But this? This looks good. Sure, I feel a little wary because the trailer for the 2014 film was likewise impressive, with that jaw-dropping sequence where the US soldiers dive through cloud cover around the absolutely enormous Godzilla. The actual film largely played coy with him, though, and in the end was somewhat lacking in kaiju action. Godzilla himself looked great, but the other creatures lacked the long cinematic history of Godzilla’s usual array of foes and allies. Not so this time. The trailer alone teases Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah, and let’s just say I’ll feel sorely undersold if there isn’t a lot of kaiju-on-kaiju action come 2019.
There are other reasons to be hopeful, too: as well as Toho loosening its grip on the aforementioned kaiju, which Legendary Pictures weren’t allowed to use in the previous film, the breaking news alongside the trailer is that composer Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica, Black Sails, God of War) will get to incorporate the original 1954 theme.
It’s also hard not to endorse the central thesis of the trailer: that the planet is dying, humanity is an infection, and unleashing giant monsters from the depths of time is the only way to save the planet (even if it means wiping most of us out). Long live the King.
What a long, strange tournament it’s been! There is of course one day left in the Nagoya Basho, but with his win over Tochiozan, young sekiwake Mitakeumi has clinched his first ever top division tournament win and with it, the Emperor’s Cup.