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Five Must-See Films at the 2016 Japanese Film Festival

A feudal samurai western, an entire documentary on sake and oh, cockroaches on Mars.
By Sarah Ward
November 15, 2016
By Sarah Ward
November 15, 2016

Every year, Japan comes to Australia — or, as far as movies are concerned, it does the next best thing. Since starting with three free film screenings back in 1997, the Japanese Film Festival has kept bringing the nation's many cinematic delights down under. Of course, they're going to do so again for their 20th birthday.

Travelling around the country with a hefty lineup of movies so new, many are coming straight from the Tokyo International Film Festival this month, JFF embraces the vast array of big screen treats Japan's filmmakers have to offer. Sometimes, that means a poignant drama about a family banding together as a typhoon bears down. Sometimes, live-action adaptations of popular manga series are part of the equation. In fact, the 2016 lineup has both — and so does our list of the five must-see movies in the program.


Get the tissues out, Hirokazu Koreeda's new film is here. As previous efforts such as I Wish and Like Father, Like Son have proven, his dramas are tear-jerkers in the best kind of way, unpacking the ties that bind (or sometimes break) families, and understanding that the notions of love, loss, loyalty, sacrifice and struggling he depicts are absolutely universal. After the Storm promises all of the above as a separated husband and wife are thrown together during a typhoon. And yes, the filmmaker proves gifted at directing kids once again. Quite simply, he's in his own classic territory.


Everyone thinks of themselves as a good neighbour, however given the number of horror and thriller flicks that pop up on the subject, perhaps that's not quite accurate. There's something about exploring the very relatable scenario of trouble with the folks next door that keeps fascinating filmmakers and audiences alike, with Creepy the latest effort on the topic. Here, a just-quit detective moves to a new area after a traumatic incident, only to face a different kind of tension. As well as demonstrating society's collective obsession with neighbours, the film also plays with another staple: sometimes the quietest things can be the most unnerving.


Not to one-up a certain iconic western that was only literally just remade with Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, but a magnificent posse of nine folks is better than one with two fewer. Don't worry, there's not really already another take on the tale that actually first started with Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Instead, The Magnificent Nine goes comedic in feudal samurai times as a group of merchants hatch a secret plan to outwit their lord's harsh tax regime, as based on historical accounts.


Sit down for a meal in almost any restaurant in Japan, and you'll find sake on the menu. The traditional rice wine is the nation's favourite alcoholic beverage, and Kampai! For the Love of Sake attempts to explain why. No, the documentary doesn't just throw a title card saying "Hey, it's just really, really tasty," onto the screen and then roll the credits. Rather, it takes the personal approach by focusing on three specific people and their link to the drink. It's guaranteed to make you want to sip the stuff while you're watching.


You've gotta love Takashi Miike, who ranks as possibly the most prolific and eclectic of contemporary Japanese filmmakers. First, consider a few of his most recent directorial credits: a violent, unhinged yakuza vampire flick, a drama about a doctor volunteering to help child soldiers, a high school-set, game-playing horror/thriller, and an adaptation of a manga about cockroaches evolving on Mars later this century. It's the latter that's his latest, and like almost everything Miike makes, it's probably destined for cult status. Talk about not making the same thing twice, even when you've got 100 directorial credits on your resume across less than three decades.

The Japanese Film Festival tours the country, screening at Brisbane's Event Cinemas Myer Centre from October 26 to 30, Sydney's Event Cinemas George Street Sydney and Art Gallery of New South Wales from November 17 to 27, and Melbourne's Australian Centre for the Moving Image and Hoyts Melbourne Central from November 24 to December4. For more information, visit the festival website.

Published on November 15, 2016 by Sarah Ward
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