Who: Koichi Sato, Ken Watanabe, Chigumi Obayashi, Noriki Ishitobi, Yo Nakajima, Takako Tokiwa, Aaron Gerow, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Yuko Iwasaki, Yuichi Watanabe, Noriko Yamasaki, Aiko Masubuchi, Nanako Hirose, Ian Thomas Ash, Kaori Oda, Kaori Sakagami, Amber Noé, Shinichiro Ueda
What: Annual Japan Cuts film festival
Where: Japan Society online
When: Through July 30, film rentals $3-$7, panel discussions free
Why: My favorite film festival every summer is Japan Cuts, Japan Society’s annual survey of the state of new Japanese film. One of the joys is the wide range of genres represented, from horror, romance, martial arts, goofy comedies, sci-fi, and crime dramas to anime, family stories, historical epics, musicals, war movies, and, well, the unexplainable. Just about all of them are evident in Labyrinth of Cinema, Nobuhiko Obayashi’s last work, and one that is almost impossible to explain. The legendary auteur behind such films as Hausu, Casting Blossoms to the Sky, Seven Weeks, and Hanagatami died in April at the age of eighty-two, and Labyrinth of Cinema is quite a grand finale. Obayashi wrote, directed, photographed, and edited the three-hour surreal marvel, a colorful, endlessly clever celebration of the movies, made while he was battling cancer. On closing night, July 30, at 9:00, there will be a live Q&A with the yet-to-be-announced recipient of the Obayashi Prize, named in honor of the master.
In addition, you can watch “Nobuhiko Obayashi: A Conversation” at any time, a ninety-seven-minute discussion of the life and legacy of Obayashi, with his daughter, Chigumi Obayashi, journalist Noriki Ishitobi, Theater Kino founder Yo Nakajima, and actress and Obayashi regular Takako Tokiwa, moderated by Yale East Asian Cinema and Culture professor Aaron Gerow, as well as “Shinya Tsukamoto on Nobuhiko Obayashi,” a video tribute from the Tetsuo trilogy director, and the 2019 documentary Seijo Story — 60 Years of Making Films, which traces the personal and professional relationship between Obayashi and his wife, Kyoko Hanyu.
There will also be a live panel discussion on July 23 at 9:00 about the centerpiece presentation, Setsuro Wakamatsu’s fast-paced thriller Fukushima 50, a minute-by-minute suspense yarn that follows the earthquake, tsunami, and deadly disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant that occurred on March 11, 2011. Based on the book On the Brink by Ryusho Kadota, the film is a terrific companion piece to the Netflix series Chernobyl; while the latter focuses on the governmental cover-up, Fukushima 50 is all about people coming together bravely to try to do the right thing. The stars of the film and winners of the 2020 Cut Above Award, Koichi Sato, who plays shift supervisor Toshio Izaki, and Ken Watanabe, who portrays plant manager Masao Yoshida, will participate in the talk, which will be archived after its live airing.
The date 3/11 also figures prominently in Taku Tsuboi’s time-twisting debut, Sacrifice, a supernatural tale involving a cult, a college student with unusual abilities, a serial cat killer, and other mysterious elements. It’s dark and creepy, filled with plenty of shocks; make sure your cat isn’t around when you’re watching this Best Picture winner at the Skip City International D-Cinema Festival.
It doesn’t get much stranger than Takuya Dairiki and Takashi Miura’s Kinta & Ginji, a thoroughly charming existential tale in which Beckett’s Waiting for Godot meets Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise by way of The Iron Giant and “Little Red Riding Hood.” In their twelfth film together, Dairiki and Miura (Honane, Fine as Usual, Koroishi) star as the title characters, a robot and a raccoon dog who go for long walks in the woods and across large swaths of land, discussing the absurdities of life and asking such questions as “Why are we here?” The camera never moves as set pieces play out in real time (there are only a handful of cuts within scenes), the two beings often barely visible, hidden in nature as they share their unique worldviews. It’s an absolute hoot, especially when seen during the current pandemic, when so many of us crave even the most mundane of conversations with someone, anyone else.
And speaking of conversations, there are a few more you can check out: “Collaboration and Community in Japanese Cinema During the Pandemic” features Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Yuko Iwasaki, Yuichi Watanabe, Noriko Yamasaki, and moderator Aiko Masubuchi; “New Approaches to Documentary from Japan” brings together Nanako Hirose, Ian Thomas Ash, Kaori Oda, Kaori Sakagami, and moderator Amber Noé; and Opening Night Live Q&A with Shinichiro Ueda is a July 17 discussion with Ueda, director of the opening-night selection, Special Actors.
The festival continues through July 30 with such other films as Natsuki Nakagawa’s Beyond the Night, Kana Yamada’s Life: Untitled, several of Yoji Yamada’s old and new Tora-san films, and a one-day-only preview streaming of Toshiaki Toyoda’s The Day of Destruction.