Spotlight on Harada films is well-deserved

by James Hadfield

Special To The Japan Times

Following last year’s embrace of anime and “content,” 2015 sees the Tokyo International Film Festival reassert its credentials as an event, first and foremost, for cineastes. One particularly welcome addition is the new Japan Now section, a roundup of recent and upcoming movies from the likes of Hirokazu Koreeda, Shinya Tsukamoto and Yoji Yamada.

This year, the section also casts a spotlight on an underrated talent. Director Masato Harada is getting a mini-retrospective, featuring his recent “Kakekomi” and “The Emperor in August” alongside three older works. As the 66-year-old joked during a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, its “five films — all of them rejected by Cannes Film Festival.”

Despite boasting a rich filmography and speaking fluent English, Harada has never achieved the international renown enjoyed by peers like Koreeda and Tsukamoto. That’s partly due to the diversity of his oeuvre, which ranges from social criticism (“Bounce Ko Gals”) to historical dramas (“The Choice of Hercules”) to horror (“Densen Uta”).

“I think I have a distinctive style, but I’m rather coming from an old school,” he said at the FCCJ conference. “My mentors were Howard Hawks, John Ford, Akira Kurosawa, Yasujiro Ozu.”

For “Kakekomi,” his first jidaigeki (period drama), Harada adapted a Hisashi Inoue novel about a temple that sheltered abused women during the Edo Period (1603-1868). If that sounds like yet another curveball, the director insists otherwise, pointing out the film’s structural similarities to “Bounce Ko Gals,” his controversial portrait of teen prostitution in 1990s Tokyo.

“Howard Hawks only created probably 10 characters throughout his entire career,” he said. “Having made 23 films, I’ve started seeing … I’m always doing the same thing, creating the same characters. Basically, I’m going toward the Howard Hawks way.”

Actress Kirin Kiki, who co-starred in “Kakekomi,” was full of praise for her director, but couldn’t resist a few jabs.

“We need to see him bleed more,” she said. “When he’s able to do that, I think he’ll produce something quite different.”

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