The Tokyo International Film Festival offers a great once-in-a-year opportunity to see new and classic Japanese films with English subtitles. The sheer quantity on offer — more than 50 titles in the main sections alone — can be overwhelming, though. Here are samples from my own must-see list.
The two Japanese films in the Competition section are both worth checking out.
Daigo Matsui’s “Japanese Girls Never Die” has a spontaneous, shot-on-the-fly feel as it tells its story of three “generations” of discontented women — the oldest is a long-suffering “office lady” (Yu Aoi) who, at age 27, is already considered over-the-hill by her blatantly sexist bosses. Rebellion beckons.
Meanwhile, Kiki Sugino both directs and stars in “Snow Woman.” Based on Lafcadio Hearn’s classic book featuring kaidan (Japanese ghost stories), this third feature by the multitalented Sugino promises to be her commercial and, hopefully, critical breakout.
Japanese Cinema Splash
“Poolsideman,” Hirobumi Watanabe’s third feature in this section for up-and-coming Japanese indie directors is, like his previous films, in gorgeous black-and-white, and again features the score of the director’s talented brother Yuji. Gaku Imamura stars as a lonely pool lifeguard who causes what the TIFF program describes as a “shocking incident.” I’m expecting black comedy, filtered through Watanabe’s unique aesthetic and sensibility.
I’m also looking forward to “Sound of Waves,” the comeback of Kaze Shindo, whose promising career was put on hold when she became the caregiver of her grandfather, famed director Kaneto Shindo, who died in 2012 at the age of 100.
Set in Okinawa, the film stars Japan Academy Prizewinner Sakura Ando as a violinist who befriends a young girl.
My pick for this section of soon-to-be-released films is “In This Corner of the World,” Sunao Katabuchi’s animation based on Fumiyo Kouno’s manga about a girl in wartime Kure, a port near Hiroshima. The manga is a multiple prize winner that inspired a successful crowdfunding campaign for the film, while Katabuchi is a well-regarded industry veteran best known for the 2009 feature “Mai Mai Miracle.”
Among the recent Japanese films in this section, I wrote thumbs-up reviews in this newspaper about “Your Name.,” “The Projects,” “Somebody’s Xylophone,” “Harmonium,” “The Woman in the Silver Plate” (listed at the festival as “Daguerreotype”) and “Happy Hour.”
I wasn’t so enthused about the talky, softly nationalistic “Shin Godzilla,” but some spectacular effects scenes, sharp jabs at Japanese political and bureaucratic elites and, well, Godzilla, make it worth adding to your list.
Mamoru Hosoda and Shunji Iwai special sections
Long tagged as a successor to animation genius Hayao Miyazaki, Mamoru Hosoda has established himself as a master animator in his own right. Hosoda’s own pick from the TIFF section honoring his past work is “Magical Do Re Mi 4” an episode of a TV anime that he has described as a passion project fundamental to his later feature work.
Meanwhile, the Japan Now section is presenting five films by Shunji Iwai, a key figure in the Japanese New Wave of the 1990s. All are worth a look, but his breakout was “Love Letter,” a 1995 film about a woman (played by Miho Nakayama) who writes a letter to a dead lover — and gets a reply. Scripted by Iwai, the film is not a ghost story but a penetrating examination of love’s complexities and mysteries, filmed with Iwai’s trademark close attention to every emotional tremor and nuance.