I find Japanese films to review all over the place. Some are old favourites I already had in my collection, others are from the growing catalogue of cult and classic films from niche Blu-Ray publishers, and some just happen to pop up on streaming services like Netflix or Sky Cinema. It’s the latter where I’m most likely to see something unusual that I might otherwise have missed – I’m probably going to pick up every Kinji Fukasaku gangster movie I can find, but won’t necessarily see the latest contemporary drama from a director I’ve never encountered. That’s how I ended up watching Harmonium (2016) by Koji Fukada. A bleak study of human misery, it follows the family of metalworker Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) as an old acquaintance re-enters his life after coming out of prison. Inevitably, this disrupts the family’s already fragile existence and a series of terrible events ensue.
I would love to be able to say that I reviewed Hirokazu Kore-eda’s After the Storm this week because I knew he was a surefire winner for this year’s Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, but in truth, it’s a very happy coincidence. I did want to revisit a previous Cannes contender – and After the Storm played in the Une Certain Regard category back in 2016 – but I wasn’t expecting his latest film, Shoplifters, to suddenly gain such acclaim. On the other hand, it’s great news for Japanese film fans as it makes it more likely for his latest work to get a quick Western release. Here’s hoping I’ll be able to view it myself before the year is out.
Shoplifters (2018) is a story of a Tokyo family surviving in poverty on a limited pension, turning to shoplifting to support themselves. It features Kore-eda regulars Lily Franky (Yakuza Apocalypse, After the Storm) and Kirin Kiki (Sweet Bean, After the Storm). It debuted on May 13th at Cannes 2018, with Magnolia Pictures picking up the North American distribution rights. Fingers crossed Arrow Academy will snatch it to accompany their other Kore-eda releases in the UK.
Continuing the theme of gentle slice of life dramas, this week I watched After the Storm (2016) from director Hirokazu Kore-eda. It follows Ryota Shinoda (Hiroshi Abe), an award-winning novelist who has fallen from grace; divorced, estranged from his son, distrusted by by his sister, and struggling to make ends meet as a private detective while squandering half his earnings on gambling. In the midst of typhoon season, Shinoda is trying to piece the fragments of his life together and collect enough cash to pay his overdue alimony before his ex-wife Kyoko (Yoko Maki) withdraws access to their son. What follows is a surprisingly charming cross-section of Shinoda’s life, a film less about him trying to fix what went wrong than simply get out of freefall.