FAIRLY RECENT JAPANESE FILMS: TRAIN MAN, SHALL WE DANCE, DEPARTURES AND JAPANESE GHOST FILMS

MODERN JAPANESE FILMMAKERS AND FILMS

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“The year 1997 saw an unusually large amount of attention given overseas to non-animation Japanese movies. In particular, the film HANA-BI, directed by Japan’s well-known comedian Kitano Takeshi, won the Golden Lion Award at the 54th Venice International Film Festival; Unagi (The Eel), directed by Imamura Shohei, won the Palm d’Or Award at the Cannes International Film Festival; Moe no Suzaku ( SUZAKU), directed by Kawase Naomi, won the Caméra d’Or Award at the same festival; and Tokyo yakyoku ( Tokyo Nocturne), directed by Ichikawa Jun, was chosen for the Best Director Award at the Montreal World Film Festival. In 2003, the period film Zatoichi by Kitano Takeshi won prestigious awards at both the Venice and Toronto film festivals. [Ibid]

“While few Japanese movies achieve wide distribution abroad, in recent years a number of English remakes of Japanese films have been released, one example being the hit 2002 remake of Ring (1998), a horror movie directed by Nakata Hideo. Japanese films were also honored twice at the 2009 Academy Awards in the USA, with the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film going to Departures, directed by Takita Yojiro and the award for Best Animated Short going to La Maison En Petits Cubes by director Kato Kunio. [Ibid]

Good Websites and Sources: Article in Film Notes on Modern Japanese Cinema filmnotescma.blogspot.com ; New Movies cdjapan.co.jp ; Kitano Takeshi.com kitanotakeshi.com ; Article on Takeshi Kitano japattack.com/japattack/film ; Wikipedia article on Takeshi Kitano japattack.com/japattack/film Japanese Ghost and Horror Films Sarudama sarudama.com ; Kaiden: Traditional Japanese Ghost and Horror Films sarudama.com/japanese_folklore/kaidan Japan Horror Movie Database jhmd.jp/contents ; The Problem of Identity in Japanese Horror Films japanesestudies.org.uk

Links in this Website: JAPANESE FILM Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; CLASSIC JAPANESE FILMS AND FILMMAKERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; AKIRA KUROSAWA FILMS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; GODZILLA Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; MODERN JAPANESE FILM INDUSTRY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; MODERN JAPANESE FILMMAKERS AND FILMS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE ACTORS AND HOLLYWOOD ACTORS IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; HOLLYWOOD FILMS ABOUT JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan

Books: A Hundred Years of Japanese Film by Donald Richie (Kodansha International, 2002); Japanese Cinema---An Introduction by Donald Richie (Oxford University, 1990). Good Websites and Sources on Japanese Film: Google e-book: A Hundred Years of Japanese Film by Donald Richie books.google.com/books ; Midnight Eye midnighteye.com ; Japanese Movie Listing lisashea.com/japan ; Kinema Club pears.lib.ohio-state.edu/Markus ; Japan Association for the International Promotion of the Moving Image unijapan.org/en ; Toei Uzumasa Movie Land is a theme park and movie studio were many samurai and historical drams have been shot. Website: Japan Guide japan-guide.com Asian Film Asia Society on Film asiasociety.org ; iFilm Connections---Asia and Pacific asianfilms.org ; Love Asia Film loveasianfilm.com ; Senses of Cinema sensesofcinema.com ; Illuminated Lantern on Asian Film illuminatedlantern.com

Databases, Directories, Links: Internet Movie Database /www.imdb.com ; Directory of Interent Sources newton.uor.edu ; Japanese Film Resources at the University of Iowa lib.uiowa.edu/eac/japan ; Tokyo International Film Festival tiff-jp.net ; DVDs Japanese, Chinese and Korean CDs and DVDs at Yes Asia yesasia.com ; Japanese, Chinese and Korean CDs and DVDs at Zoom Movie zoommovie.com ; CD Japan cdjapan.co.jp ;

Shall We Dance

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Yoji Yamada
One of the biggest Japanese movies outside of Japan in the 1990s was Shall We Dance? (1995), a charming film directed by Masayuki Sue about a middle-aged salaryman who finds fulfillment attending ballroom dancing classes while his wife thinks he's having an affair.

The ballroom dance industry was helped immeasurably by the film, which was seen by more than 2 million people, a large number for a Japanese-produced film. Dance schools reported a 20 increase in enrollment after the film came out.

Shall We Dance? was initially rejected for financing by banks and credit unions and was lucky to be made at all. The actor in the movie, Koji Yakusho, is one of Japan's biggest stars. The director Masayuki, married the female lead, Kusa, a real life dancer.

An American remake of Shall We Dance was made with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez. It was released in the autumn of 2004 and was described by one newspaper as “flat-footed fare” with “one leg doing a waltz and the other hoping a cancan.”

Hirokazu Koreeda and Nobody Knows

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A 14-year-old Japanese middle school student, Yuya Yagira, was the surprise winner for best actor at Cannes Film Festival in 2004 for the film Nobody Knows by Hirokazu Koreeda. It was the first time a Japanese had ever won the best actor award at the festival and the youngest award winner ever. Based on a true story, the film is about four siblings who try to take care of themselves in Tokyo apartment after being abandoned by their 40-year-old mother who went to live with her lover. Yagira played the oldest sibling.

The real life incident took place in 1988 and received a lot of media attention after it was uncovered. The children lived on their own for 1½ years until one of the children was found dead in the mountains. The body of mother’s first child was also discovered dead. The oldest boy was blamed for death of his sister. But the siblings told another story. They said he cared for them better than their mother did and often went hungry while the other had food. The film version of the life story leaves one feeling numb at the end.

Koreeda's debut Maboroshi no Hiakari was independently produced and the winner of awards at the Venice Film Festival and Chicago Film Festival. It was about relationships between the living and the dead. His second film Wonderful Life (After Life) explored the same relationship from the point of view of the dead. Some regard it as his best. His third film Distance was about a murderous cult.

Other Acclaimed Japanese Filmmakers


Shall We Dance, Japanese version
Other acclaimed Japanese filmmakers include Shinji Aoyama, Kazuo Hara, Azuma Morisaki, Yoichi Maeda, Yoji Yanada, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Naomi Kawase; Mikio Naruse, the Kyoto-based Yoshimasa Ishibashi, known for weird films like I Want to Drive You Crazy and The Color of Life.

Keiko Ibi won an Academy Award in 2001 in the Documentary Short Subject category for her film The Personals: Improvisations on Romance in the Golden Years. A former Miss Japan Grand Prix and film student at New York University, Ibi is the only the second Japanese filmmaker to receive an Oscar (Kurosawa was the other). The film is about Jewish senior living in Manhattan's lower East Side.

Gaichu (“Harmful Insect”, 2002), an acclaimed film by Akihiko Shiota, is about a schoolgirl’s experience with bullying and loneliness. It features the actress Aoi Miyazaki, who was so captivating in Eureka. Other Shiota films have dealt with youth. Doko Made mo Iko (“Don’t Look,” 1999) was about love and loss among elementary school children. Gekko no Sayayaki (1999) is about S&M among high school students.

Yoji Yamada, directed Twilight Samurai, a samurai drama nominated for Academy Award.Bushi no Ichibun (“Love and Honor”) is another samurai drama directed by Yamada.

Shiori Kazama directed Kasey no Kanon (“The Mars Canon,” 2002), a quiet take of love and loneliness, and Sekai no Owari, a kind of sequel to Kasei no Kanon, with two characters from the first film who get together after the girl is dumped by her boyfriend and moves in with a male childhood friend and become friends with a bisexual bonsai shopowner.

Other Acclaimed Japanese Films


Shall We Dance, Hollywood version
Other acclaimed films of the late 1990s and early 2000s included Makato Shinozaki's Okaeri, an independently-produced film made in 17 days for $30,000 with amateur actors, which picked up a number of awards in Europe; Eureka (2001) by Shinji Aoyama, an acclaimed film about a bloody bus hijacking;. Pain (2001) is a good film by Masato Ishioka about men who cruise the streets of Shibuya and Harajuku in Tokyo to recruit young women for porno films.

Audition (2000) by auteur Takashi Miike) is favorite film of Danny Boyle, director of Trainspotting and Slumdog Millionaire. Tetsuo , a 1989 film by Shinya Tsukamoto about a man transformed into an creature, is regarded as an international cyberpunk classic whose admirers have included Quentin Taratino, who approached Tsukamoto about working together on a Tsetsuo sequel. Although that collaboration never came off there have been several Testsuo sequels including the English-language Tetsuo: The Bullet Man (2010), starring American actor Eric Bossick.

Welcome Back Mr. McDonald (2000) by Koki Mitani is an entertaining screwball farce that pokes fun at the rigidity of corporate life and "insistence of good manner at all costs." It is about a radio diva how demands some last minute changes before her live show goes on and the lengths people go to meet demands.

Acclaimed films in 2002 included Tokyo Marigold by Jun Ichikawa, about a lonely girl who is taken advantage of by shy salaryman; Ichikawa was named best director at the Montreal Film Festival in 1997 Go and Zeitaku na Hone by Isao Yukisada, is about a Korean boy and his struggles in Japan,

Yuki ni Negau Koto (“What the Snow Brings”) is a film about draft horses race in eastern Hokkaido. It won many awards at the Tokyo Film Festival in 2005.

The 2007 film Tokyo Tower, directed by Joji Matsuoka, got good reviews. It is the story of a young man and his relationship with his mother after he leaves a small mining town to attend school in Tokyo. When he becomes a successful illustrator he brings his mother to Tokyo when she is dying of cancer.

Tokyo Sonota (2008), directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and starring Teruyuki Kagawa and Kyojo Kiszumu, is about a man who loses job and pretends to go to work everyday,

Japanese Lowlife and Gangster Films

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Lowlife films from the late 1990s include Junk Food by Masashi Yamamoto, a story about a drug addict who feels sorry for a beaten-up prostitute so he shoots her up with heroin and makes love to her; Kamikaze Taxi by Masato Harada, featuring gangsters, pimps, prostitutes and right-wing politicians; Black Angel, Vol. 2 by Takashi Ishii.

Fudoh: The New Generation, written by Tosiyuki Morioka and directed by Takashi Miike, is a manga-style, Godfather-influenced gangster epic with killer kids that shoot deadly darts from their private parts. At one point the heroine shoots a dart from between her legs through the ears of bad guy and darts sticks to a wall with parts of his brain attached.

Miike has been described as the David Lynch and John Waters of Japanese film. As of 2004 he had made 60 films and was still only in his mid 40s. Many regard his bloody yakuza films---Dead or Alive, the insane Ichi the Killer and Audition--- as his masterpieces. Icho features a mentally retarded murderer who kills his victims with a razor in his shower, in some cases splitting them in them two. His 2004 release Gozu begins with the murder of a Chihuahua accused of being a yakuza attack dog. He also directed Noho Kuroshakai (1999) and Zebraman (2004).

Japanese Ghost and Horror Films

There are so many horror films produced in Japan some call the genre J-horror. Many ghosts in Japanese films are women or children. Kwaidan, for example, is about a “woman of the snow” spirit who saves the life of a young woodcutter, caught by a blizzard, under the condition he never reveals what happens. He keeps the secret until he get married and tells his wife, only to find out she is the “woman of the snow.” But rather than kill him as she was supposed to do, she turns into snow and is blown out of the window, disappearing forever.

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cosplay ghost
Americans and Japanese react differently to different aspects of horror films. American want to be surprised and shocked but they also want explanation and structure with the events making some kind of sense while Japanese and Asians are more scared by ambiguous apprehension and don’t care so much whether it makes sense or not. They are more scared by a spooky atmosphere. What really scares a lot of Japanese is the look of the ghost. Traditional Japanese ghosts dress in white kimonos and have no legs. Arms are outstretched with dangling hands.

John Hodgeman wrote in the New York Times, Asian “ghosts do not fly. They occasionally walk, and don’t really attack anybody. They mainly just mope spookily around on their own ghostly business, puttering in hallways and hanging out in stairwells, taking turns creeping out the heroic until they are escorted to the afterlife by a mysterious group of smudgy, leotarded grim reapers...In Asian horror, there is no puzzle to solve that will chase off the illogical ghosts.”

On American versus Asian ghost films, director Danny Pang told the New York Times that American crave explanation. “Every detail has to be logical. Why is this ghost flying? Why does the ghost the that guy and not the other guy? The keep asking...This is a ghost move. Ghost are already illogical.”

Ghost stories are popular summertime entertainment. Among the well-regard film makers who have taken a stab at the genre are Kenji Mizoguchi and Masaki Kobayashi. Among their masterpieces are Mizoguchi’s Ugetsu (1953), selected by Time magazine as one of the “All-Time 100 Movies,” and Kobayashi’s Kwaidan (1964).

Kiyoshi Kurosawa has produced highly acclaimed horror films such Cure and Kairo (which won a Cannes film award). Akarui Mirai (“Bright Future”) was given high marks by Japanese film critics. It is about a man who is executed for a crime he didn’t commit and allows his pet, a super poisonous jellyfish, to escape into local rivers where it multiples. Sakebi was an acclaimed ghost film made in 2007 that featured just as many laughs as screams and as much over-the-top absurdity as chills and suspense.

Japanese Ghost Films Made Into Hollywood Movies

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The Ring (2002), an American horror based on a Japanese film, grossed more than $230 million worldwide. The original Japanese film, Ringu (1998) was directed by Hideo Nakata and was based on a novel by Japanese write Koji Suzuki and was a big hit throughout Asia. It was about people who die after watching a video cassette. Many believe the Japanese version was superior to the American one.

Nakata made the Hollywood version for The Ring 2, which came out in its Japanese version in 1999. The $50 million Hollywood version was released in 2005 and wasn’t as good as the first Hollywood version or the Japanese version of The Ring 2 but still managed to hold the No. 1 spot on the American box office for a week in March 2005. It grossed over $140 million and earned Nakata enough credibility to get the nod to direct the Hollywood version of the Hong Kong horror flick The Eye.

Another Nakata film. Dark Water (2002) was made into a Hollywood film starring Jennifer Connelly and directed by Walter Sales. . Nakata is well known in Japan. His other films include Chaos (1999) and Ghost Actress.

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Describing the Nakata style in Dark Water, Anthony Lake wrote in The New Yorker: “There was the jiggle, almost unmatchable sense of something being forever about to spring; there was the tainted use of music. So economical as to border on mean; there’s the nagging ubiquity of unhappy families; and, above all where you looked for blood, there was only water.”

The Juon was the first of a series of straight-to-video films written and directed by Takashi Shimizu, a young filmmaker who lot long before the series started was waiting tables in coffee shop and living in a $50 per month apartment to make ends meet. The film is about ghosts of man and his murdered wife and son that haunt a house and serve up trouble to the people that live there. Four Juon films have been released in Japan. They feature discreet use of weird ghosts.

The Grudge---the Hollywood version of Juon also directed by Takashi Shimizu---was the No. 1 movie in the United States for one week in October 2004. The film stars Sarah Michelle Gellar of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer who plays an American architecture students visiting Japan who lives in a haunted house outside Tokyo. The film took in $39.1 million, beating out Shark’s Tale for the No. 1 spot, it first week and earned $110 million after two months. The original film was released only on video in the United States but developed a cult following.

Popular Japanese Films in the Early 2000s

Water Boys was a popular 2001 film about a boy swimming’s team that is saved when the boys take up synchronized swimming.

Peep TV Show (2004) by Tsuchibya Yukata is about a voyeuristic man who uses a video camera to peek into apartments, women bathrooms and even himself torturing a cat and then broadcast them on the Internet. It is shot in Shibuya and features a lot of sharp cuts and fast edits.

Guzen nimo Saiakuna Shoen, directed by Gu Suyean, is about a group teenage and 20-something punks who take off on a road trip---with a dead friend in the backseat---and do a lot of bad things.

M/Other by Nobuhiro Suwa, Unloved by Kumitoshi Manda and Moe no Suzaka by Naomi Kawase won awards at the Cannes Film Festival.

Popular Japanese Films in 2005 and 2006

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Rookies, a popular film in 2008
Popular films in 2005 and 2006 included Yamoto, the story of the Yamamoto, a Japanese battleship that was ordered to steer itself into the middle of an invading American armada and blow itself up; Laurelei, a science fiction thriller about a Japanese submarine that saves Tokyo from a nuclear attack.; Tales of Earthsea, an anime made by Goro Mitazaki, the son of Hayao Miyazaki; Love and Honor, staring Takuya Kimura, a member of the pop group Smap; The Sinking of Japan; Umizaru 2: Test of Trust, another disaster film; Suite Dreams, a romantic comedy; Death Note, a horror film about a ghost with a death list. War movies which traditionally been avoided became popular in the mid-2000s.

Hula Girls was one of the most popular films in Japan in 2006. Staring the exceptionally cute actress Yu Api, it is based on a true story of a group of young girls preparing for the opening of the Joban Hawaiian Center (now Spa Resort Hawaiians) in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, by taking hula dance lessons from a professional dancer from Tokyo. In the film the shy and awkward girls become good dancers and fulfilled human beings and put on a show-stopping performance at the end of the film to mark the spa’s grand opening.

Train Man


Densha Otaku
Train Man---a book made from a collection of Internet chat lines messages that became a popular manga and then a popular television series and finally a popular movie---was a big deal in the mid 2000s. The story revolves around a computer otaku (nerd) who helped a beautiful girl who is harassed on a train by a drunk. He helped her file complaint at a police station and then received a gift---two Hermes teacups---with a return addresses. He then frets over whether to ask her out or not and seeks advice from a popular Internet chat line called 2-Chanel.

The book Train Man (Densha Otoko) is comprised of hundreds of messages from strangers to a real person, giving him advise on how to woo the girl. Train Man is the nickname the person used online and “Hermes” was the nick name of the girl. The book published by Shinchosha Publishers under the pseudonym Hitoru Nakan sold more than 1 million and spawned a whole new category of Japanese publishing.

The author of Train Man has never let his real identity be revealed. Otaku say he was not a true otaku because true otaku could care less about woman their true passion is computers and video games.

Among the other books created from one chat line conversations were This Week My Wife Is Having an Affair and Reality Report: Diary of a Brutal Wife. As for the real Train Man, he doesn’t do interviews and has refused to have his real picture published. Two months after the drunk on the train incident he and the beautiful girl confessed their love for each other and from what can be ascertained from the book lived happily ever after.

Japanese Films in 2007, 2008 and 2009

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Good films in 2007 and 2008 included Kakushi Toride no San Akunin: (“The Last Princess”) by Shinji Higuchi, remake of Kurosawa classic; and Sakebi, a film by Kiyoshi Kurosawa is about a detective who investigates a murder than has supernatural and absurd aspects.

Sukiyaki Western Django by Takashi Miike has been described as “Sergio Leone meets Reservoir Dog in Japanese pastiche.” Quentin Tarratino appears in the opening scene disemboweling a snake and shows up from time to time as a kind of MC to explain in bizarrely-accented English.

Tokyo Sonota, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa and starring Teruyuki Kagawa, won the Jury prize at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard category that focuses on singular, original films. It is about the disintegration of a family after the father becomes unemployed.

Ai No Yokan (“The Rebirth”) by filmmaker Masahiro Kobayashi won the Golden Leopard, the top prize a the Locarno International Film Festival in 2007. It is about the relationship between the mother of a murderer and the victim’s father, played by Kobayashi,

Izuri Kumasaka won the Best First Feature Award at the Berlin Film Festival for his movie Asyl Park and Love Hotel, about the relationship between the owner of grungy love hotel and a group of troubled women that meet on the roof of the hotel.

Kuki Ningyo (“Air Doll”) by Hirokazu Koreda is about an inflatable doll that suddenly comes to life with the mind and curiosity of a three year old and her relationship with her otaku owner. Released in 2009, it stars South Korea actress Bae Dona as the doll and features a number of strange, quirky characters.

Mourning Forest and Naomi Kawase

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Naomi Kawase
Mogari no Mori (“The Mourning Forest”), by Naomi Kawase, won the Grand Prix Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2007. It is about an elderly man with dementia that can not come to terms with his wife’s death and his relationship with a care giver who has lost her child. The Grand Prize is second only to the Palme d’or.

Kawase was born in Nara in 1969, She won the Camera d’Or, an award for first time directors, at Cannes in 1997 for her first features Mor no Suzaku. At the age of 27 she was the youngest recipient of the award. She submitted the film Sharu Soju to Cannes in 2003 and also directed Hotaru and Tarachime, in which she recorded the experience of having a baby.

Okuribito(“Departures”), directed by Yojiro Takita and staring Masahiro Motoki, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2009. It was the first Japanese film to win in the category.

Departures Wins Oscar for Best Foreign Film

Okuribito is a touching and deeply funny film about a man who loses his job as cellist and take a job in a family funeral parlor preparing the bodies to be viewed in their coffins. One particularly tender scene shows a mortician loosening the muscles of a dead women, gently removing her clothes, cleaning were body with alcohol, dressing her in a ritual outfit and applying make up.

Takita was thrilled just to get nominated for an Oscar. He told the Daily Yomiuri, “An Oscar nod is beyond my wildest dreams. Okuribito is a very Japanese story. But I’m glad that people around the world---beyond the nationalities and language “could relate to such a universal theme as death.”

Okuribito The film took 10 years to get off the ground, During his training Motoko studied under a real morticians and prepared and dressed real dead bodied, On receiving the Oscar with side at his side Takita side “I am her because of films, This is a new “departure for me, And I will, we will be back. I hope. Filming was completed in August 2007 but the premier did not tale place unto September 2008 as that much time was need to edit and promote the film.

Okuribito took the top prize at the Montreal Film Festival in 2008 and won 10 categories, including bets film, at the Japan Academy Prizes and won the Hochi Film Award. Other Takiat films that have been praised by critic include Komikku Zasshi (“No More Come Magazines!”, 1986), Byoin e Iko (“Let’s Go to the Hospital” and Onmypji (“The Yin Yang Master”).

Japanese Films in 2010 and 2011

In October 2010, Saturo Hirohar won the Dragons and Tiger prize at the Vancouver film festival for his film Good Morning to the World . The award is given to a new director from the Asia-Pacific region.

Among the acclaimed films in 2011 were Yokame no Semi (Rebirth) directed by Izuru Narushima; Moteki by Hitoshi One; Saudade by Katsuya Tomita and Oshikamura Sodoki (An account of the Oshika village dust-up) by Junji Sakamoto. Makoto Shinkai's new film, Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below , a Dantesque Inferno-like narrative, was shown at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

Kokurikozaka Kara (From Poppy Hill), Studio Ghibli's animated film, finished as the top film in 2011 at 4.4 billion yen through the end of October, less than half of the 9.2 billion yen No. 1 Karigurashi no Arrietty (The Borrower Arrietty) made in 2010. For foreign films, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows II recorded 9.6 billion yen and Pirates of Caribbean: On Stranger Tides made 8.8 billion yen. But compared with last year's titles, including Avatar, which topped 10 billion yen, films this year came up short.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: Among Japanese directors, Shion Sono, director of Tsumetai Nettaigyo (Cold Fish) and Koi no Tsumi (Guilty of Romance), was outstanding. His film Himizu, which will be released next year, was screened at the Venice International Film Festival in September. Two Japanese teenagers--Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikaido--won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best young actor and actress, respectively, for their performances.

Film in 2011 After the Earthquake and Tsunami

In 2011, many theaters were forced to cancel or suspend showings after the March disasters, and many of them closed. As a result, box office receipts for both domestic and foreign films were poor. Seven Toho Cinemas facilities--cinema complexes and theaters operated by Toho Co.--and 26 Warner Mycal Cinemas complexes were closed nationwide. Theaters were forced to save electricity over the summer, but most cinemas, except for those in the Tohoku region seriously affected by the quake and tsunami, are returning to normal operations. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 30, 2011]

Some new releases were also canceled or postponed. Hereafter was canceled as it included scenes of huge tsunami, and Aftershock, Battle: Los Angeles and Sanctum were postponed due to the scenes of quakes or cyclones. The box office was also affected, with sales of 13 major domestic and foreign companies at 142.6 billion yen as of the end of October--a 20.6-percent drop from the same period in record-setting 2010.

Disaster-related films were also released, including Ashita (Tomorrow), a 3 minute 11 second omnibus film; 3.11 A Sense of Home Films; Tokyo Drifter and Mujo Sobyo (The Sketch of Mujo).


Departures trailer

Film About 2011 Tsunami Well Received at Venice Festival

In September 2011, Kyodo reported, two Japanese teenagers, Shota Sometani and Fumi Nikaido, won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for best young actor and actress at the 68th Venice International Film Festival on Saturday for their performance in the Japanese film ''Himizu'' directed by Sion Sono. Sometani, 19, and Nikaido, 16, became the first Japanese actor and actress to take home the prize, which was created in 1998. [Source: Kyodo, September 11, 2011]

The film moved audience at Venice and received a five minute standing ovation. Shot in location devestated by the tsunami, the film portrays a teenage boy, abused by his parents, and his female classmate against the backdrop of the earthquake and tsunami disaster in March.

Sono, 49, said the ovation was probably for people who suffered from the disaster. He changed the background of his movie's story, originally based on a Japanese comic, after the March catastrophe ravaged northeastern Japan, depicting the teenage boy's struggle to overcome his suffering with the help of his girlfriend. The film's locations included an area in the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture affected by the disaster.

In the festival's Orizzonti selection of films reflecting new tendencies in international movies, a Japanese film ''Kotoko'' directed by Shinya Tsukamoto won the prize for a full-length film. In 2002, Tsukamoto, 51, won the jury's special award in the festival's Upstream category.

and Film in Japan 2012

In a review of film in 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Digital movies gained steam in replacing movies on physical film this year. Japanese movies continued to perform reasonably well, while foreign productions slumped. By the end of this year, 85 percent of the nation's movie theaters are expected to have installed digital screening equipment, a substantial increase from 60 percent one year ago. The technology is now firmly in place, according to an industry source. Backed by Hollywood, digital projection appears to be here to stay, as installing the needed equipment is a major investment for small movie theaters. The announcement by Fujifilm Corp. that it would stop producing and selling most of its cinema film next spring came as a big shock to directors and cinematographers raised on film. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, December 28, 2012]

In 2011, the final installment of the Harry Potter series earned about 9.6 billion yen and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides earned 8.8 billion yen. This year, as of the end of October, Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol, released at the end of last year, had taken in only 5.4 billion yen, followed by Resident Evil: Retribution (3.8 billion yen) and The Avengers (3.6 billion yen). [Ibid]

Japanese movies proved the more lucrative in 2012. Brave Hearts: Umizaru earned more than 7 billion yen, followed by Thermae Romae and Odoru Daisosasen the Final: Aratanaru Kibo, both of which earned nearly 6 billion yen. Total box office receipts increased by 4 percent from last year, mostly thanks to popular Japanese films. Ken Takakura starring in Anata e (To you) and Sayuri Yoshinaga starring Kita no Kanariatachi (A Chorus of Angels) attracted middle-aged and elderly moviegoers looking to bask again in the auras of the two big stars. [Ibid]

Thermae Romae (2012) is movie directed by Hideki Takeuchi based on a popular manga. Hiroshi Abe plays Lucius, an earnest bathhouse designer in ancient Rome. For no apparent reason, he begins repeatedly traveling through time, landing in bathhouses in modern-day Japan. He brings back various useful elements of Japan's bathing culture to win the confidence of the emperor. Thermae Romae is based on manga by Mari Yamazaki about a Roman architect who specialized is designing pubic baths who is transported to a bathhouse in modern Japan where he finds all sorts of cool things. Thermae Romae is Latin for “Roman Baths.”

Uchu Kyodai (Space Brothers) is a 2012 film directed by Yoshitaka Mori about two brothers who vowed to become astronauts together when they were young. Nineteen years later, the younger brother (Masaki Okada) has made his dream come true and is about to travel to the moon. Meanwhile, the older brother (Shun Oguri) loses his job as a company employee. [Ibid]

The French film Intouchables (Saikyo no Futari) was a hit, despite its limited release. The humorous, touching depiction of friendship between a billionaire and a poor black man has earned more than 1.5 billion yen. The Turin Horse (Niiche [Nietzsche] no Uma) directed by Bela Tarr, The Artist directed by Michel Hazanavicius, A Separation (Betsuri) directed by Asghar Farhadi, Dark Knight Rises directed Christopher Nolan and Argo directed by Ben Affleck were among other notable movie imports. Director Kaneto Shindo died at age 100 and indie film director Koji Wakamatsu was killed in a traffic accident. Both were highly acclaimed overseas. [Ibid]

Image Sources: 1) Japan Zone, 2) Bright Lights, 3) Sense of Cinema, 4) Hollywood and Japanese studios; 5) YouTube

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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