10 Recent Japanese Films That All Cinema Buffs Should See – The Hollywood Reporter

For the first time in 15 years, the 2021 Tokyo International Film Festival’s programming is being shaped by a new cinematic sensibility. Shozo Ichiyama, a producer and festival veteran, was named Tokyo’s new programming director in March, replacing Yoshi Yatabe, who held the role since 2004.

Ichiyama was previously head of Tokyo Filmex, a festival that was once a rival of the Tokyo International Film Festival but recently became an ally, with the two events now held concurrently in the Japanese capital. As a producer, Ichiyama is best known for his long-running collaboration with the celebrated Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke, but he also has produced work by Taiwanese arthouse star Hou Hsiao-hsien and Japanese screen legend Takeshi Kitano.

On the eve of the 2021 Tokyo International Film Festival, which runs Oct. 30 -Nov. 8, The Hollywood Reporter asked Ichiyama to select 10 semi-overlooked Japanese films from the last five years that he believes all film buffs should see. From stylized violence to unrequited love to social commentary, Ichiyama’s eclectic choices offer a window into both contemporary Japanese filmmaking and the aesthetic sensibilities that will govern the Tokyo festival’s forthcoming programming.

The Dork, the Girl and the Douchebag (2016)
If the title alone isn’t enough to grab your attention, Yosuke Okuda wrote, directed, produced and played maybe the world’s biggest douchebag in this manic tale of low-life shenanigans, duplicity and scams. Okuda crowdfunded the production, notes Ichiyama, who hails his “keen cinematic sense for violence and offbeat humor.”

Vigilante (2017)
Directed by Yu Irie and set in the director’s home turf of Saitama, the prefecture to Tokyo’s north that is often the butt of jokes from the capital’s cosmopolitan denizens. Irie has bounced effortlessly between indie and commercial fare, with Vigilante is a high mark “almost forgotten from his filmography,” suggests Ichiyama. Following the disparate life paths of three brothers as they come together again, Vigilante contains some violent torture scenes and is not for the faint of heart.

Come On, Irene (2018)
A love story by Keisuke Yoshida, this year’s Director in Focus at Tokyo, set partly in the Philippines, where the protagonist takes a package tour in search of a wife. “The film then deals with the problems faced when he takes her back to his small hometown in Japan,” explains Ichiyama. The script was co-written by Yoshida alongside Hideki Arai, creator of the manga on which it was based.

Destruction Babies (2016)
The breakthrough production of Tetsuya Mariko, Destruction Babies is a, “Poetic film about violence directed by the enfant terrible of 2010s Japanese cinema,” says Ichiyama. Set in the underbelly of an isolated port city, the film chronicles the descent into brutality of a young man. Starring Yuya Yagira and Masaki Suda, the film took best director in the Cinema in the Present section of Locarno Film Festival.

A Girl Missing (2020)
Ichiyama rates this “portrayal of one woman who faces the injustice of contemporary Japanese society” as, “probably the best film to date of Koji Fukada,” last year’s Director in Focus at Tokyo. The cerebral director is best known for Harmonium, which won the Prix du Jury in Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2016.

Theatre: A Love Story (2020)
Set in Tokyo’s Shimo-Kitazawa, often found in lists of the world’s hippest neighborhoods, “a place full of small theaters,” this accomplished tale of a tortured artist and his dysfunctional relationships by Isao Yukisada saw its release axed due to the pandemic. However, it “was saved by Amazon, which picked it up and it premiered there.”

From Miyamoto to You (2019)
Another slab of stylized violence from Tetsuya Mariko. Based on a manga by Hideki Arai (Come on, Irene) and successful in Japan, From Miyamoto to You didn’t garner much attention overseas, despite featuring award-winning performances and what Ichiyama calls “very exaggerated action” that still manages to work.

Farewell Song (2019)
Akihiko Shiota’s tale of the farewell tour of a female indie-pop duo is a “kind of road movie in its cinematic style,” topped with “unrequited lesbian love in a twisted love triangle,” notes Ichiyama. Released by Gaga, the film strides the independent-commercial space.

Romance Doll (2020)
Female director Yuki Tanada crafted this “very beautifully erotic film” about a man who secretly works as a sex doll creator and makes one that closely resembles his wife, which ends up becoming a best-seller.

Bangkok Nites (2016)
Unusual for a Japanese independent film, this title was entirely shot in Thailand. Underground filmmaker Katsuya Tomita tells the story of a Japanese man who falls in love with a Thai girl, and works in “homages to Apichatpong Weerasethakul,” says Ichiyama.


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