REWIND FEATURE: Tokyo International Film Festival 2019 by James-Masaki Ryan

The 32nd annual Tokyo International Film Festival took place this year, and with the largest film festival in Asia came a number of events, many films showcases from around the world, and a cast and crew of hundreds walking the red carpet. From film premieres to restorations of classics, the ten day event included some amazing films of all genres, coupled with Q&A sessions from the cast and crew on many. Veteran actor Tatsuya Nakadai made a special appearance to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as to showcase his latest starring role in "The Return", the first samurai film shot in 8K. Filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi also received a Lifetime Achievement Award, and the director was there for screenings of several of his past works, along with the premiere of his latest work, “Labyrinth of Cinema”.

With the limited time it was impossible to catch every film, though schedule-wise this year I was able to catch quite a lot of competition films and Japanese films, while also being able to attend press conferences and Q&A sessions. Below are some of the films I was able to see, and reviews of each. At this current time none of the films have had Blu-ray or DVD releases and some of them have not had official theatrical releases.

“Tora-san, Wish You Were Here” (男はつらいよ お帰り 寅さん) TIFF Page [Opening Film]

Tora-san may be the most well known Japanese cinematic figure to grace the screens in his native country, with actor Kiyoshi Atsumi starring in a total of 48 feature films as the beloved character. Even with people that have never seen any of the films know the character - a bumbling loner with a potty mouth yet with a great heart for his friends and family. After Atsumi’s death in 1996 it was impossible for anyone to think of replacing the iconic character he played for nearly thirty years, and so a final farewell film was made with a new script by creator and director Yoji Yamada, with newly shot scenes combined with vintage scenes from previous entries. With closure already in place with a 49th film and 50 years after the character’s debut on cinema screens, the story continues with a 50th entry entitled “Tora-san, Wish You Were Here”, with most of the original surviving cast reprising their roles.

Mitsuo (played by Hidetaka Yoshioka) is a widowed single father of a teenager working as a novelist who continuously thinks of his uncle Torajiro, who gave a great amount of advice over the years, as well as many inappropriate and awkward talks. One of his frequent memories is of Izumi (played by Kumiko Goto), the girl from his school days that moved to Europe many years ago for work. Working as an activist and interpreter, Izumi visits Japan for the first time in years, and happens to stumble upon a book signing of Mitsuo’s latest work, and the two have their first meeting together in over twenty years.

Though the title in both the Japanese and English versions and the main poster art looks like the story would be focused on Tora-san, instead it is on Mitsuo, who has been played by Hidetaka Yoshioka since he and the character was 11 years old from 1981, and Kumiko Goto reprising her role as Izumi, which she played for three features. To say, Atsumi does have a presence in the film as about a quarter of the film is made up of footage from the previous films. From the infamous melon scene, the cheering scene, the advice he’s given Mitsuo on life and love, as well as his many chance encounters with the various women he was not able to get over the years, there are a lot of nostalgic trips for fans of the series. In addition, when the audience is treated to flashbacks of Mitsuo and Izumi during their high school days, there is much more than the usual movie flashback sequences. These are the same actors, in the same roles, experienced decades apart and giving a truer sense of attachment even if they are indeed acting in the sequences. The film plays on the nostalgic factor, but for newcomers to the series, it may be difficult to find the same emotional grasp. The story itself is not exactly breathtaking nor is it particularly original. A widower reuniting with his past love is nothing new, and the construction of the main story is fairly simple, and even the feel is closer to that of an average television drama rather than something cinematic. The Tora-san series were also very simple in context, but with them the audience was along for a joyously simple ride of his travels, his interactions, and the awkward situations that followed. With the newest entry, the frequent calls for Mitsuo to want to see his dear uncle again is what everyone else in Japan has been thinking. They miss Tora-san.

Fans will definitely love the use of flashbacks to reconnect the dots and it may bring a few tears. But rather than a fitting goodbye, it’s nostalgia feeding and in some ways opens the door for further tales of a cinematic world without Tora-san. The film also did something that fans were surprised with, and that is the casting of Goto i the production, as she left the entertainment industry after marrying a French racer car driver, and having a life in Europe away from the Japanese spotlight as a wife and mother. The film is her first feature since the last Tora-san movie she appeared in, which was in 1995, and with her character Izumi set as living and working in Europe for the last few decades, there is a bit of art referencing life in the story.

“Tora-san, Wish You Were Here” opens theatrically in Japan on December 27, 2019. (In Japanese with some French and English portions)

“Talking the Pictures” (カツベン!) TIFF Page [Special Screenings]

During the silent film era in Japan, theaters were rarely silent. In addition to accompanying music played by theater musicians, the Benshi was a main attraction. A storyteller of sorts, they would read the intertitles, narrate the happenings, and provide voices for the characters on screen for audiences, enhancing the viewing experience, and in many ways would put their own signature touches to the productions.

Filmmaker Masayuki Suo’s latest is a period piece taking place nearly 100 years ago when cinema was in its commercial infancy, focusing on Shuntaro (played by Ryo Narita), a young man who wanted to become a Benshi after seeing his first movie as a child. He had the skills, but grouping with a team of scammers that would set up a traveling theater that would steal from homes while the movies were playing and Shuntaro narrating. With a mishap through an escape from the law, he finds himself separated from the gang with a suitcase full of stolen money and in a town that is in desperate need of a capable Benshi for their movie theater. While he is not immediately placed on stage as he is working as a servant in exchange for living quarters, it’s an opportunity for his dream to finally come true. But hot on his case are both the law and the other members of the gang, looking for the stolen money.

Suo broke into mainstream fimmaking in the 1990s with a series of comedy dramas that featured memorable characters and themes, with “Fancy Dance”, “Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t”, and especially “Shall We Dance?” becoming a cultural phenomenon. In the 2000s he focused more on musicals and serious dramas, but “Talking the Pictures” is a return to his breakthrough period, and also using many familiar faces, such as Tamiyo Kusakari, Naoto Takenaka and Eri Watanabe from his previous features. Borrowing heavily from the comedy of the silent period including Chaplin and Keaton, the production has a lot of laughs, memorable characters, and an appreciation for an artform that many in the modern period might not be familiar with. From wacky chase sequences, a shootout, damsels in distress, and simple sight gags, the film pays great homage while also being fresh for audiences.

“Talking the Pictures” opens theatrically in Japan on December 13, 2019. (in Japanese)

“Labyrinth of Cinema” (海辺の映画館―キネマの玉手箱) TIFF Page [Japan Now - Nobuhiko Obayashi: The Wizard of Cinema]

In 2017, filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi released “Hanagatami”, which many thought would be his final film as he was battling cancer and was given only a short period to live. Defying the odds, he has returned at the age of 81 to unleash his latest collage art piece and a companion film to “Hanagatami” with the epic “Labyrinth of Cinema”, which is again one of his most personal productions, showcasing war, art, history, cinema, and shot in the director’s hometown Onomichi.

Like many of the director’s works the story is not in any straightforward narrative. A small movie theater on the coastal city of Onomichi is closing, and to commemorate the theater runs a Japanese war movie marathon. Young Noriko (played by Rei Yoshida) mysteriously enters the screen, followed by Morio Baba (played by Takuro Atsuki), Hosuke (played by Takahito Hosoyamada) and Shigeru (played by Yoshihiko Hosoda) as their viewings become much more than just the average spectator. They travel from one war period to another, experiencing the beaches of Okinawa to the image of the attack on Hiroshima while being halfway aware of the happenings and halfway grounded in reality. In addition, there is a narrator in a spaceship from the future, various connections between the films being shown within the film, a cameo by filmmaker John Ford (played by Nobuhiko Obayashi), all done is a cut and paste style of filmmaking that goes back to the director’s avant garde television commercials, as well as the weirdness of his feature film debut “House” in 1977.

There is a lot to be seen and experienced in “Labyrinth of Cinema”, as it is a melting pot of ideas from the filmmaker looking back at his own life during the war period, his career as an artist and a filmmaker. There are references everywhere, from the director’s own works from years prior with characters, actors, and sequences lifted from other works, filmmakers such as Yasujiro Ozu and Sadao Yamanaka, homages to Tarzan, Musashi Miyamoto, and other fictional and non-fictional cinematic figures, and much more. With manipulation of colors, quick edits, zooms, mirrored images, green screen and other analog techniques, it’s visually very unique and not something that most people would imagine the average aging director. For audiences looking for something straightforward with the traditional techniques of cinema, there might be some frustration with the structure and the three hour runtime, and even for the adventurous ones there is quite a lot to grasp. Obayashi certainly makes with a unique touch and they are not for everyone, but fascinating nonetheless.

"Labyrinth of Cinema" held its premiere at the festival. There are currently no scheduled dates for theatrical release. (in Japanese)

“The Long Walk” ("Bor Mi Vanh Chark") TIFF Page [Crosscut Asia]

Taking place in 2065 in rural Laos, an old man (played by Yannawoutthi Chanthalungsy) is a person that can talk to spirts, but is also a man haunted by his own past. For years he has been followed by the spirit of a young mute girl (played by Noutnapha Soydara) who accompanies him on his walks as he scavenges for parts to sell. But when an elderly woman from the town disappears and the police come to him for help to see if she is possibly dead, his world goes further into a deeper state which not only involves being a medium, but time travel as well.

With supernatural elements and science fiction, one would imagine something much more reliant on special effects, but this film from Laos is much more about character development and the unfolding of a delicate yet sinister main character, that the otherworldly and future world elements take a back seat. With the rural landscape and dilapidated structures near the lush jungles, it’s hard to think this is a world that is a half century in the future, but as it shows, people have implanted IC chips that show information including transactions on their forearms. The supernatural elements are not with floating ghosts or CGI effects, but instead showing standard filmmaking techniques. Ghosts are just as human as the living. Jumping from future to past is a step away with filters and sound editing. The simplicity is of course with budget, but at the same time does not get in the way of the fascinating story, in which consequences can take a serious toll in time paradoxes.

US born Laos based filmmaker Mattie Do stated the death of her mother and the death of her dog were some factors in the production, where the main character contemplates about the past for far too long in his life, with a heart deeply unfulfilled and regret that nothing could be done. Though he represents an everyman, his actions turn darker as things move on and his past is revealed, and when the past and future intertwine, it only brings tragedy. Filmmaking in Laos is not a major cultural or economic business, with Do being the first and at the time only female filmmaker working in the country. While she may also have an American background, and some of the crew including her husband and the film’s screenwriter Christopher Larsen being westerners, the film doesn’t quite feel like an American or European production. From Buddhist traits to the sense of economic disparity shown, it’s quite an exquisite and sometimes uncomfortable piece of work.

"The Long Walk" has been screened at various festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival, Busan International Film Festival, and others (in Lao)

“Towards the Battle” ("Vers la bataille") TIFF Page [Competition]

Taking place in the 1860s in Mexico where the French Army is raging war, Louis (played by Malik Zidi) is a war photographer hired by the French government to capture the battles. Unfortunately for him, traveling alone and carrying the heavy equipment on two horses prove to be very difficult as he cannot find the battlegrounds. Along the journey he encounters Pinto (played by Leynar Gomez), a Mexican bandit who he befriends, even though they are men of different countries and having different native tongues.

Director Aurélien Vernhes-Lermusiaux takes the audience back to the Second French intervention in Mexico, which lasted for seven years and ended with 50,000 casualties along the way. The film does not go far into the politics of the war, but instead focusing on an outsider’s point of view for the most part. The photographer Louis sees things through the lens and separates himself from the reality and horrors of war. At the same time he continuously has nightmares about his son, who was a soldier killed in battle, with some of his visions interrupting his reality. Pinto is trying to survive along the way. He is not involved in the battles and couldn’t care less, as he is concerned for his own well-being without picking or choosing sides. With quite a few sequences in French and Spanish with the two lead characters being outsiders to the war and not being able to talk to each other fully, an interesting bond is formed that is not always the best, but never one that turns for the worst as they try to rely on each other on many occasions.

Shot in Colombia, recreating the war on the other side of the world that has been forgotten about over time was quite a journey for the filmmakers, and the standout is the visuals of the gloominess, with the overcast sights filling the image. This is a war film that is not about the war. There isn’t extreme violence, there isn’t geo political talk. Another great aspect is the music score of the film, composed by Stuart Staples of the band Tindersticks, who worked quite frequently on the works of Claire Denis’ films over the years and others. Rather than making music of a period piece, inspiration came from a modern aspect, with ambient drones and distortion at times for a contrast to the time period but a reflection of the tone of the overall film. “Towards the Battle” is an excellent contemplative piece that focuses on the horrors of war from a different perspective, showcases great characters and development into darkness and will certainly stay with audiences for some time.

"Towards the Battle" held its premiere at the festival. There are currently no scheduled dates for theatrical release. (in French and Spanish with some English portions)

“Just 6.5” ("Metri Shesh Va Nim") TIFF Page [Competition]

Samad (played by Payman Maadi) is a police officer working on a case to take down the major druglord Nasser (played by Navid Mohammadzadeh), but to get to the top, he and his force are on various tails of the users and dealers of the area. Along with his second in command Hamid (played by Houman Kiai), they go around on busts that involve raiding abandoned construction sites filled with homeless junkies, suspected dealers in the suburbs, and higher and higher with each arrest made. Filled with action and tension through the eyes of the law, “Just 6.5” showcases a side of Iran rarely seen, with the drug epidemic that continues to spread throughout the country.

While police procedural films and police action films are a mainstay of Hollywood and in many other countries, it’s rarely if at all a focus seen on Iranian cinema which is much more centered on melodramas (which can also find critical success when exported) to comedies (which usually stay domestically). “Just 6.5” refers to the 6.5 million people affected by the drug epidemic that spreads through the country by illegal distribution mostly from neighboring Afghanistan, and targeting much of the poor communities of the country. But as the film showcases, it is not easy to point fingers. Sometimes users can be elderly, sometimes dealers can be housewives, distributors could be rich businessmen. As more and more turn up at the police station it clearly shows the widespread tragedy of the war on drugs, and how even with the tactical smarts and manpower the police have, there is much too much to be controlled, and dirty work may be necessary to obtain information and clues.

Being only the second directorial effort from young filmmaker Saeed Roustayi, “Just 6.5” is one that takes inspiration from films such as Stephen Soderbergh’s “Traffic” and Akira Kurosawa’s “High and Low” in terms of how the police procedural as well as the drug issues of their days, with a fairly action packed pacing with intense chase scenes and a hard hitting narrative. The story is fairly one dimensional though, with only the views of the law seen, and not from the other side of the fence, but as seen clearly, the people affected in the millions are not the main issue, and neither is the sometimes brutal handling of the issues. It is also not a violent cop drama, without blood or gore, but instead relies on traditional storytelling, linear unfolding of events, and a few turns along the way for a fairly straightforward story of social crisis.

Not particularly a spoiler, but with the very final shot of the film shot with a drone over a busy blocked highway was actually done for real. When asked about the shot in a Q&A (by me) Roustayi replied that there was no way to get full permission to block an entire busy highway, was done guerilla style. But with it taking longer than expected to make the final shot, and hordes of police officers running onto the jammed highway for the scene, people caught in the traffic started uploading shots and video of the happening to social media, becoming a newsworthy event.

"Just 6.5" was released theatrically in Iran from March 17, 2019. (in Persian)

“Mañanita” TIFF Page [Competition]

Edilberta Agawin (played by Bela Padilla) is a former sergeant and expert sniper, who after being dismissed leads a lonely and depressing life. She continuously drinks beer whether at home alone or at bars until sickening herself. She has no partner or love interest, and with a skin condition on her face she is not the exactly attracting the men around her. But once she finds a purpose with her skills, she decides to set out on a journey to return to her hometown, and take revenge on who hurt her the most in her youth, and as a trained sniper, will not think of backing down.

Padilla stated that when she received the script from writer Lav Diaz and director Paul Soriano, it was literally 8 pages long. Not what one would expect from a two and a half hour film. The character of Agawin has very little to say in terms of dialogue, with many of her scenes played with some drunken rambles, others without a word, and much of what her character had to express was though fairly restrained body language, and it was one of the more difficult challenges for her as an actress. A key figure in the emotional narrative is actually the music, with many Filipino songs playing in the background being a substitute for her, with lyrics hinting at her emotional state. The songs were carefully picked out by the filmmakers, and though dialogue scenes make up a fairly small portion of the runtime,

Soriano wanted to make a film where the audience would experience some of the extremes that a sniper would, and that meant extreme patience. Some shots are as static and held for five to ten minutes, all without much happening. His aim was the audience to focus on the image, capture the details, and make sure to have a feeling of unease for tension. Conceptually speaking it certainly works. But for the runtime, it can prove to be a difficult case for most. The story itself is actually very simple and short in terms of description. The journey to get there on the other hand is a long way. The style is likely to divide audiences, and even the final sequence which should have a powerful impact seems to be a fair, yet somehow not very satisfying closure. On the other hand, Padilla certainly makes an impact with her role that is very limited yet fully rounded, and proving even without lengthy dialogue, characters can be developed fully.

“Mañanita” opens theatrically in the Philippines on December 4, 2019. (in Tagalog)

“Only the Animals” ("Seules les bêtes") TIFF Page [Competition]

It’s difficult to write about filmmaker Dominik Moll’s latest film without giving spoilers, and as it is one of the best films of the year, going into it cold might be the best and preferred way to experience this non-linear murder mystery. “Only the Animals” is a film that is structured in multiple parts, with a character’s name attached the start of the chapter to signify who the audience is following. First shown is Joseph (played by Damien Bonnard), a farmer who is involved in an affair with a married woman and has a secret in his barn that he dares not tell anyone. Later there are characters such as Michel (played by Denis Ménochet) who is starting a complicated relationship through online chats, Marion (played by Nadia Tereszkiewicz), a young girl who is having a lesbian affair with an older woman, Armand (played by Guy Roger 'Bibisse' N'Drin) who starts to find easy money in the world of scamming, plus more. While none of these characters seem connected, they certainly are in the small world the film showcases.

The central focus at the start of the story is a missing woman, played out through background television broadcasts which seems insignificant at first, but gradually becomes a main concern for the audience. Who is she, where is she, how did she die, and if murder, who is the killer? Through the non-linear structure, the story jumps back and forth to various points - from the time she is reported missing to later when scenes are shown of her being alive and how the events unfolded. What is brilliantly done in the story (based on the novel of the same name by Colin Niel and adapted by Moll and Gilles Marchand) is that whoever the audience suspects is the killer in the specific chapter, will only be fooled with additional information given later. Some scenes are actually repeated later on when characters cross paths, which in the first take might seem like something intense, but seeing it in a different viewpoint might make the audience laugh instead later on.

There are hints of Akira Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” in the non-linear structure of one story being played back in multiple viewpoints, as well as The Coen Brothers“Burn After Reading” in the sense of misunderstandings and ultimately random encounters connecting in tragic yet comedic ways, and “Only the Animals” certainly succeeds in the great structure. The performances are excellent and the shifting tone from viewpoint to viewpoint is done very well, giving the film extremely high remarks throughout. Highly enjoyable with a rewatchable factor, it’s easily one of the year’s absolute finest films, and one that shouldn’t be spoiled.

“Only the Animals” opens theatrically in France on December 4, 2019. (In French)

“In This Corner (and Other Corners) of the World” (この世界の(さらにいくつもの)片隅に) TIFF Page [Special Advance Screening Version]

The 2016 animated film “In This Corner of the World” was a Kickstarter funded feature, based on the acclaimed manga by Fumiyo Kono about a young woman who experiences the effects of World War II in a coastal Japanese town as a civilian housewife. I have previously reviewed the film once on DVD and once again on Blu-ray of the theatrical cut, and now the film has received a special edition extended cut, with new sequences added to the original film. The original plan for the filmmakers was to adapt the manga into a 150 minute feature, but compromises had to be made and the theatrical version was made with a 130 minute runtime. Produced independently, the film was a sleeper hit at the cinemas with positive word of mouth, eventually running for longer than expected and grossing ten times its production cost with 2.67 billion yen in ticket sales.

As a thank you to fans and to complete one of the original ideas was to complete the film with some of the additional scenes that were unfortunately cut. In the theatrical cut, there is a sequence that Suzu goes out of her way and ends up in the red light district. She encounters Rin (played by Nanase Iwai) who helps Suzu return home. While the sequence was short and sweet while showing the reality of how women were at the time, the character of Rin was not a developed one, appearing for only a short period in the film. The new extended cut shows a longer encounter with Rin as well as additional scenes later on, in which Suzu is questioning their friendship, especially after she connects some information that her husband may have had a relationship with Rin in the past

For the new scenes they are seamlessly integrated into the theatrical cut, with no significant changes to the animation and the same voice actors playing their parts again. It doesn’t particularly change anything in the narrative, though it is interesting to see Suzu’s interaction and moral dilemma in the new scenes. The film was expanded to a lengthy 160 minutes for the new cut, and while it may not change things significantly, it won’t be considered divisive at all as some extended cuts have had in the past. The pacing is still very well done and the new scenes do not stick out badly at all. For newcomers they may be surprised to find those scenes not being in the theatrical cut in the first place. “In This Corner of the World” in its theatrical cut was an excellent piece of animation with humor and tragedy. “In This Corner (and Other Corners) of the World” basically feels the same with some additional sequences and a lengthier runtime.

“In This Corner (and Other Corners) of the World” opens theatrically in Japan on December 20, 2019. (in Japanese)

“Chaogtu with Sarula” (白雲之下) TIFF Page [Competition]

Chaogtu (played by Jirimutu) and his wife Sarula (played by Tana) are a young couple living on the rural plains of Mongolia as farmers. Seeing some of their neighbors selling off their land and making their lives in the city with modern conveniences, Chaogtu dreams of one day doing the same. He sometimes travels off to the city with friends, but Sarula is absolutely content with living in the countryside as is. With their differences of future ideals, it is something that will test their marriage to the fullest.

Taking place in Inner Mongolia in China, which has a large yet spread out population of Mongolian speaking Chinese in the country, the traditional nomadic way of life in the region is close to that of Mongolia. The practice of traditional customs and a peaceful, quiet way of life in agriculture is not entirely shut out from the rest of the world, as modern people are accustomed to modern fashions and technology, though like any rural area in the world, is not as widespread as the neighboring cities. Chaotgu sees what everyone else is doing. Selling off their land, making a progressive new life where Wifi and smartphones, bars and clubs are the norm, and a place where he could start fresh with excitement. He buys some modern tech and tries to convince Sarula to see what the modern world is like by setting up Wifi at home and playing with Facetime conversations, even within the same room. Even though Sarula sees a bit of positivity with the tech, she does not see city life as a way to move forward or a place to raise a family in the future.

Most of the film is shot in the beautiful rural landscape of northern China, where the grass in beautifully green and the deep blue skies are gorgeous. During the harrowing blizzard sequence in which the actor Jirimutu explained how incredibly cold and difficult the scene was to shoot, the pure white is as scary as it is mesmerizing. Like any country, there are a large number of people who try to leave their rural lives to make it in the city, with some returning emptyhanded and some living on the outskirts of the city in worse conditions than expected. The same goes for China, and with a country that has many dialects throughout, it may be hard for someone that learned Mandarin as a second language to get a well established job. For people in Inner Mongolia, Mongolian is a commonly spoken language in rural areas, and it shows in “Chaogtu with Sarula”, where there are some scenes showing the language disparity. While the film is an emotional journey of marriage, there are quite a lot of humorous moments within, and it is not just a dramatic storm of sorts. Sweet and funny, but also tragic and heartbreaking at times, “Chaogtu with Sarula” Is a wonderful work from filmmaker Wang Rui.

"Chaogtu with Sarula" held its premiere at the festival. There are currently no scheduled dates for theatrical release. (in Mongolian and Mandarin)

“A Beloved Wife” (喜劇 愛妻物語) TIFF Page [Competition]

Gota Yanagida (played by Gaku Hamada) is a struggling screenwriter, who after many years is still looking for his big break. The family is almost entirely supported financially through his wife Chika (played by Asami Mizukawa) who works fulltime while also supporting their young daughter as a mother and housewife, and this imbalance of the family structure has led to an unhappy partnership between the two. She is constantly nagging him and calling him names for not doing enough on his part as a worker as well as a father, and therefore as Gota puts it, he hasn’t had any sort of sexual relation with his wife for months. But on a slight side of fortune, opportunity strikes when one of his old adapted screenplays has been commissioned for a film production, as well as an opportunity for a new project in which requires travel to Shikoku island for research. Convincing his wife to drive as she is the only one in the family with a license, the awkwardly bickering family goes on a road trip which leads to some fortunate and also unfortunate outcomes.

Writer/director Shin Adachi was a struggling screenwriter for some time, starting out his career in films in the late 90s and finally receiving awards recognition with 2012’s “100 Yen Love”. Based on some of his real life experience in his earlier years, "A Beloved Wife" is an autobiographical piece, but taken to quite the extreme. There are a lot of comical moments of the bumbling husband that can barely stand on his own two feet to defend himself from the consistent insults from the wife, while their daughter watches on. After years of rejections professionally, Gota is suffering from a drought in ideas, and that is reflected in his inability to support his family in even the simplest ways, and for a wife to be upset and frustrated is not a surprise. The surprise might be the amount of constant insults that flow non-stop from Chika, as they start as comedic first, they become an onslaught that might turn off some audiences while also enticing others. It questions why she continues a relationship with him if it is causing so much anger within her.

As the couple travel to Shikoku island there some absurdly funny sequences such as Chika sneaking into the hotel to save money, the researching at the udon shop, and when Gota gets arrested. It certainly is humorous, but for some reason it doesn't balance out with the heart of the story. The emotional scenes of the couple are not well balanced with the anger and comedy, and therefore the latter half becomes a slight chore to wade through. "A Beloved Wife" has its moments, but it certainly could have been stronger, like their marriage.

"A Beloved Wife" held its premiere at the festival. There are currently no scheduled dates for theatrical release. (in Japanese)

"Reiwa Uprising" (れいわ一揆) TIFF Page [Japanese Cinema Splash]

Documentary filmmaker Kazuo Hara is no stranger to making challenging and controversial films. His most well known in his home country and abroad is "Emperor's Naked Army Marches On" from 1987 which followed a former Japanese soldier and his tirade against the Japanese Emperor. In addition to shooting documentaries about outsiders, he has regularly contributed to writing columns and hosting podcasts on varying divisive topics, with his thoughts being slightly on the left while trying to keep a fair balance for narrative. "Reiwa Uprising" focuses on the election campaign of Ayumi Yasutomi, a university researcher and caretaker of horses. A crossdresser since 2014, Hara's first interaction came from a podcast as the two discussed about Yasutomi's failed local election campaign for mayor and how he saw the future of Japan. Though he was reluctant to run again for office, a promise was made that if he were to, he would like Hara to document the journey, which would become much larger than expected.

Former actor and politician/activist Taro Yamamoto, who quit the entertainment industry following the Japanese government's lack of response for victims of the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami, established a new political party called Reiwa Shinsengumi on April 10th 2019, named after the just established Reiwa Era and the historical special force, Shinsengumi, and one of the first names brought to mind was Yasutomi. In addition, the others grouped for the party were anything but the standard for political candidates. There was a single mother who worked part time all her adult life, a former musician with ALS, a physically disabled woman, an IT group CEO, and others that were not from a political background. Hara and his crew were given full access to their campaign from press conferences, streetside speeches, behind the scenes of their daily routines, and their motivations to establish a new independent group from the fringes.

While the documentary focuses mostly on Yasutomi and his campaign including bringing a prized horse around the country for speeches and talking about the future being about children, there is time given for each of the others and their stances, from anti-military occupation of Okinawa, nuclear power, rights for disabled people, and others. At a runtime of four hours for the premiere version without intermission, it is quite a long experience, though it was said the initial cut was nearly double the length, covering the nearly four month period from the party's announcement until the election in July 2019. While there was nothing that seemed like it could be cut from the film, in whole it might work better as a mini series rather than a feature length film. Though it's not a spoiler since it was covered in international news, with the party grabbing two seats in the house, with Yasuhiko Funago, the first politician elected with ALS, and Eiko Kimura, who has been paralyzed from the neck down since she was a child. Yamamoto was surprisingly not reelected, but has said he would focus on the party's future and in the upcoming elections. Yasutomi resumed his work as before, and there is ambiguity whether he will return to the spotlight in future elections, but as Hara's film shows, the world of politics in Japan is still quite closed minded and old fashioned, yet there are people out there willing to make a change and make a difference.

"Reiwa Uprising" held its premiere at the festival. There are currently no scheduled dates for theatrical release. (in Japanese)

"Tezuka's Barbara" (ばるぼら) TIFF Page [Competition]

Yosuke Mikura (played by Goro Inagaki) is a famed writer going through a difficult time in his professional life and is taking a toll on him personally. Without new ideas, perpetually drinking, and being distant from the girl he is in a relationship with, he suddenly encounters a young hippie like girl named Barbara (played by Fumi Nikaido) who doesn't seem to have a care in the world. Wandering in and out of his life, she is somehow feverishly controlling him in hallucinating ways, leading Yosuke to move towards a bizarre world of sexual fantasy and nightmares.

A live action adaptation of the manga "Barbara" (1973-1974) by writer Osamu Tezuka, "Tezuka's Barabara" is a sexually charged fantasy work that is quite different from the famed artist's more well known work, but was also written during a period when Tezuka and Mushi Productions were experimenting much more in print and in filmmaking, such as "A Thousand and One Nights", "Cleopatra", and "Belladonna of Sadness" being for older audiences. "Barbara" was adapted, nor was it a major work, and it's adaptation by the writer's son Macoto Tezka was quite a surprise, and also intriguing considering this would be the first time he would adapt one of his father's works. Having two popular actors in the leads, with cinematography by the famed Christopher Doyle, and avant garde jazz by Ichiko Hashimoto for the score certainly attracts both mainstream and independent cinema fans, though "Barbara" is certainly a difficult and bizarre work altogether.

The visual style with the amazing colors is absolutely exquisite, the sexual tension is fully there, as well as some bizarrely violent death scenes and an unsettling yet fitting score. But the narrative itself is somewhat of a letdown, with many questions to be asked even after the film ends, leaving a bit of an unsavory taste for viewers. The truth behind Barbara, the madness that Yosuke goes through, with nods to "The Shining", "Fallen Angels", and "Tales of Hoffmann", "Barbara" looks and feels interesting but is lacking the dramatic and emotional moments to feel whole.

"Tezuka's Barbara" opens theatrically in summer 2020 in Japan. (in Japanese)

Other Q&As, stage appearances, and more are available on the Tokyo International Film Festival YouTube Channel. In addition, here are a few stills taken from various special screenings throughout the festival.

Phang Dang Di and Erik Matti, directors of two episodes of "Food Lore"

Director Paul Soriano and actress Bela Padilla of "Mañanita"

Director Nobuhiko Obayashi with the cast of “Labyrinth of Cinema”

This year's prize winners are as follows:

American Airlines Award Inter College Short Film Competition - Grand-Prix
- “Down Zone” (Director: Takuto Okui from Osaka University of Arts)

Tokyo Gemstone Award
- Josefine Frida (“Disco”)
- Sairi Ito (“Life: Untitled”)
- Riru Yoshina (“Take Over Zone”)
- Yui Sakuma (“I Was a Secret Bitch”)

Japanese Cinema Splash - Best Director Award
- Hirobumi Watanabe (“Cry”)

Japanese Cinema Splash - Best Film Award
- “i -Documentary of the Journalist-” (Director: Tatsuya Mori)

The Spirit of Asia Award
- Reza Jamali (“Old Men Never Die”)

Asian Future Best Film Award
- “Summer Knight” (Director: You Xing)

Competition - Audience Award
- “Only the Animals” (Director: Dominik Moll)

Competition - Best Screenplay Award
- “A Beloved Wife” (Director/Writer: Shin Adachi)

Competition - Award for Best Artistic Contribution
- “Chaogtu with Sarula” (Director: Wang Rui)

Competition - Award for Best Actor
- Navid Mohammadzadeh (“Just 6.5”)

Competition - Award for Best Actress
- Nadia Tereszkiewicz (“Only the Animals”)

Competition - Award for Best Director
- Saeed Roustaee (“Just 6.5”)

Competition - Special Jury Prize
- “Atlantis” (Director: Valentyn Vasyanovych)

Competition - Tokyo Grand Prix
- “Uncle” (Director: Frelle Petersen)

Film stills and trailers courtesy of TIFF


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