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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Five Must-See Films at the 2019 Japanese Film Festival

From a gorgeous, heartfelt animation, to a cult classic rock musical, to a different take on the yakuza genre.
By Sarah Ward
November 16, 2019
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Five Must-See Films at the 2019 Japanese Film Festival

From a gorgeous, heartfelt animation, to a cult classic rock musical, to a different take on the yakuza genre.
By Sarah Ward
November 16, 2019
  shares

Every October and November, Tokyo hosts its annual film festival, celebrating the latest and greatest in Japanese cinema. We can't all take a ten-ish hour flight to Asia to enjoy the best and brightest flicks that Japan has to offer — and everything else that its thriving, sprawling capital boasts, too —  but, if you're a movie-loving Sydneysider or Melburnian with a hankering for the country's big-screen gems, you can let a whole heap of these flicks come to you.

Thankfully, around the same time of each year Australia's own Japanese Film Festival starts doing the rounds, screening a heap of movies around the country. Old classics, new hits, colourful animation, sweet rom-coms, brooding gangster films, cult favourites — they're all part of the event's busy lineup. And, so are our five must-see picks.

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RIDE YOUR WAVE

Calling all Your Name and Weathering with You fans — while Ride Your Wave hails from a different director, aka Masaaki Yuasa, it falls in the same heartfelt, gorgeously animated, emotionally sweeping realm. It also has an element of the supernatural to it, too, and focuses on a star-cross'd romance. Hinako (voiced by former Japanese pop idol Rina Kawaei) is a surfer who has just moved to the seaside. Minato (fellow local pop star Ryota Katayose) is a kindly and charming firefighter who isn't as skilled on the waves, but saves Hinako from a blaze. Love blossoms, as does tragedy and a few twists, with Hinako weathering more than just watery waves. The result is a sweet, charming and sensitive film that's especially thoughtful when it ruminates on loss. A word of warning: a song by Katayose's pop group Generations from Exile Tribe features heavily, and it's quite the melodic and persistent earworm.

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JUST ONLY LOVE

Based on Mitsuyo Kakuta's novel, Just Only Love reaches the screen as a live-action romantic drama, but there's an anime-style flood of emotion bubbling within Rikiya Imaizumi's film. Perhaps its because, like a raft of Japanese animated movies of late (including Ride Your Wave and the others mentioned above), love, its impossibilities and their impact on life are all pushed to the fore. Here, romance of the unrequited kind takes centre stage. Teruko (Yukino Kishii) is fond of colleague Mamoru (Ryo Narita), but he's keen on keeping things casual. Her pal Yoko (Mai Fukagawa) has a friend, Nakahara (Ryuya Wakaba), who's smitten with her in the same way. Then Mamoru starts seeing Sumire (Noriko Eguchi), who isn't one for a traditional romance. As things get messier, Just Only Love dives deeper with endearing and insightful results.

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MELANCHOLIC

It's a thoroughly modern set-up: Kazuhiko (Yoji Minagawa) graduates from Japan's prestigious University of Tokyo, can't get a job in his field and still finds himself living with his parents. As a way of earning cash, he takes a gig at a bathhouse — and that's when, despite seeming very familiar otherwise, Melancholic confidently takes its own turn. By accident, Kazuhiko discovers that his new place of employment is a front for yakuza executions. Soon, he's immersed in that bloody, gruesome world. An award-winner on home soil, this is an engrossing crime film that's also an adult coming-of-age drama, as well as a moving character study. The debut feature from writer/director Seiji Tanaka, with star Minagawa also acting as the movie's producer, Melancholic is a supremely well-made indie flick from a country that makes plenty of them.

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THE LEGEND OF THE STARDUST BROTHERS

If there's one piece of trivia that you need to know about The Legend of the Stardust Brothers, it's this: writer/director Makoto Tezuka is the son of Osamu Tezuka, who happened to create Astro Boy. So, it's only fitting that the younger Tezuka's 1985 cult classic also references space in its title — although the movie's story is very much grounded on earth. Actually, another detail is vitally important. Makoto's movie came about when, as a 22-year-old film student, he decided to make a feature to accompany a soundtrack that already existed, sans-film. The result is this rock musical set in the 80s Japanese music scene, following wannabe stars the Stardust Brothers, and inspired in part by The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Cast-wise, it's filled with musicians from the time, manga figures and even director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Daguerrotype).

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NOISE

Wander through Tokyo's Akihabara district today — in search of anime, manga, gaming, electronic gadgets or Japan's idol pop music scene — and you wouldn't know that, in 2008, it was the site of a devastating massacre. Noise heads to the popular area to follow the lives of three people who are still impacted by the incident eight years afterwards. While the film's three stories are fictional, the movie is inspired by first-time writer/director Yusaku Matsumoto's own profound response to the tragedy, which occurred when he was in high school, as well as the ripples such an event inevitably leaves on a city and society. Playing an underground idol (aka an aspiring pop star who performs at underground venues, rather than big stadiums) and teenage masseuse, watch out for real-life Japanese idol Kokoro Shinozaki, who also draws on her own similar background.

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The Japanese Film Festival screens at Sydney's Event Cinemas George Street from Thursday, November 14 to Sunday, November 24, and at Melbourne's Capitol and Treasury theatres from Thursday, November 21 to Sunday, December 1. For more information, visit the festival website.

Published on November 16, 2019 by Sarah Ward

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