By Katharine Olla for JQ magazine. A Friend of JET, Katharine taught as an ALT in a public elementary school in Gunma Prefecture from 2015-16. She currently works at Japan Society in New York.
It’s summer in the city, and that means another year of JAPAN CUTS, North America’s largest festival of contemporary Japanese cinema. From July 19-29, Japan Society will screen 30 films ranging from dramas and comedies to documentaries, anime, and experimental works. The festival will also feature special guest appearances by directors, documentary filmmakers, and actors, including the legendary actress Kirin Kiki, who will receive the CUT ABOVE Award for Outstanding Performance in Film.
It was difficult to choose just three to review, so I decided to watch films with strong female leads (because that’s one of the categories that Netflix tells me I like).
What if I just ran away and lived in the woods? is a question some of us ask after a morning commute on New York public transit. Get your fix by immersing yourself in the surreal, visually-striking world of Kushina, What Will You Be.
Anthropologist Soko (Yayoi Inamoto) and her assistant Keita (Suguru Onuma) trek through the forest to locate and study an elusive group said to be in the mountains. What they find is a women-only colony led by matriarch Onikuma (Miyuki Ono). Onikuma’s family consists of her daughter Kagu (Tomona Hirota) and granddaughter Kushina (Ikumi Satake), whose secret pastime is listening to her cassette player. After the outside world intrudes, how will this closed community react? And what is Kushina listening to on her Walkman?
This is Moët Hayami’s debut feature film, and it’s a labor of love: as its writer, director, art director, costume designer, and editor, with this level of care she’s managed to curate every detail of this film to create a truly singular world within a world. It’s hard to shake off after the credits roll.
Featuring an intro and Q&A with writer/director Moët Hayami and actress Tomona Hirota, Kushina, What Will You Be screens Wednesday, July 25 at 6:30 p.m. (international premiere).
“Your siblings are the only ones with you from cradle to grave,” as my mother often reminded me and my sister when we fought. Anyone with siblings will appreciate Thicker than Water, a dive into the complicated relationship between brothers and sisters. On the one hand, we have self-proclaimed “ugly” smarty-pants Yuria (Keiko Enoue), and her kawaii airhead sister Mako (Miwako Kakei). On the other, we have mild-mannered salaryman Kazunari (Masataka Kubota), and his unpredictable ex-con brother Takuji (Hirofumi Arai). As these two families’ business and personal lives intersect, we watch them fight like cats and dogs (or, as in the original Japanese title, dogs and monkeys). But is it possible for them to change?
The film is not only serious, but filled with genuinely funny moments, including things I love both in movies and in real life: solo dancing, angry cleaning, ugly crying, and the use of vomit to underscore a moment (remember Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger on the swings in 10 Things I Hate About You?).
Featuring an intro and Q&A with director Keisuke Yoshida, Thicker than Water screens Saturday, July 28 at 2:30 p.m. (North American premiere).
As someone with a deeply rooted Peter Pan Syndrome, I have a strong affinity for quirky coming-of-age stories (personal favorites include the classic Harold and Maude, as well as comedian Richard Ayoade’s directorial debut, 2010’s Submarine). Dear reader, I’m stoked to now have a new favorite to add to the list—Amiko.
Remember finding out someone listened to the same music as you, and feeling like you had a deep and instant connection with that person? That’s what Amiko (Aira Sunohara) experiences with Aomi (Hiroto Oshita) when he correctly identifies the track she’s listening to as Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower.” Amiko is one of those emo kids who plays it cool, because underneath is a torrent of emotions. And once those emotions break through the reservoir, things get a little…intense. An oh-my-god-it’s-too-accurate portrayal of a first love, this film also beautifully captures the complex nature of female friendship between Amiko and her best bud, Kanako (Maiko Mineo).
Shoutout to the trailer for the movie, which is in itself a cinematic masterpiece: 43 straight seconds of Amiko slurping spaghetti, and not trying to be cute about it.
Featuring an intro and Q&A with director Yoko Yamanaka (who made this debut film on a shoestring budget at age 20), Amiko screens Sunday, July 29 at 2:45 p.m. (U.S. premiere).
For the complete JAPAN CUTS lineup of films, guest appearances, and special events, click here.
For more JQ film reviews, click here.