20 films, six cities nationwide, and almost two whole months of more than 100 screenings, the 20th anniversary of its Japanese Film Festival is going to kick off very soon, with its official opening on July 6.
All this is in honor of the Philippines-Japan Friendship Month, which runs from July 1 to August 29. According to statistics displayed during the media launch, the Philippines (specially in Manila) has the highest number of attendees in Southeast Asia, prompting the local Japan Foundation to make screenings available to two more cities: Bacolod and Iloilo. That’s aside from its usual provincial run in Baguio, Cebu, and Davao.
We’ve gone ahead and previewed some of the movies on the screening roster and here are our top five picks from the bunch we binged.
Anthem of the Heart
High school life, oh my high school life. Except in this movie, the social pressures for teens in Japan run to the stratospheric.
Likely the most emo animated high school movie of this age, director Nagai Tatsuyuki takes his sweet, sweet time (nearly two hours!) unfolding a story about the rejuvenation of high school students bearing emotional scars.
We begin with speechless and shy second year high school student, Jun (voiced by Minase Inori) whose roots of vocal impediment run deep into her childhood. Did Jun say something that hurt her family irrevocably? Or did her family inflict upon her her silence and has thus handicapped her to never be able to converse? The problems really begin when Jun is assigned, along with some very reluctant classmates, to the committee for a community relations project at school and then made the star of a musical.
A meditation on teen angst and the roots of speech trauma that features said musical play depicting the story behind said trauma. And a bullying egg. I kid you not. How meta magic realist is that? Unlikely classmates become friends and find that collaboration brings them closer. But can they take the budding adolescent feelings that such close proximity brings? Bring me my popcorn, crush.
Her Love Boils Bathwater
Cancer as grenade. And how the explosion of a terminal disease and impending death in the family become both catharsis and glue to those within its proximity.
This was written and directed by Nakano Ryota, an up and coming director in his native Japan, who also directed the acclaimed Capturing Dad. A touching dramedy of crossed paths, unlikely family and mistakes that unify. Set in suburban Japan, single mother Futaba, diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, aims to use the brief amount of time she has left to bring back her husband, restart the family's shut-down public bathhouse business (hence the bathwater reference), and set her bullied and incredibly shy daughter Azumi on the path to confident independence.
While Miyazawa Rie, starring as the put-upon single mom Futaba Sachino, tries her best to embody both female strength and tough love, it's really the chemistry of the half-sisters, Azumi (Sugisaki Hana) and the almost tween half-sister (it’s a bitch to find Japanese child actor names), and the bumbling husband Kazuhiro (Joe Odagiri) that carry the movie.
The drama unfolds at a laborious pace like something out of a Russian novel but the comedy makes it more than tolerable and sticking with it reveals character, depth, and spirit.
Sadako vs Kayako
Jason vs Mike Myers? Cool. Alien vs Predator? Nice. Fan of The Ring AND The Grudge? How about we give them a heads-up demonic battle to end all hellish battles? Yes and yes!
J-horror doesn't have much sex, but it does have plenty of young, beautiful girls doing stupid things. And gnarly, nasty deaths. Lots of very grotesque deaths. The plot isn’t too cardboard at all, either: university student Yuri (Yamamoto Mizuki) plays the iconic "cursed video" of The Ring (completely by accident, mind) after attending a course on urban legends, which features Sadako’s curse. Meanwhile, high school student, Suzuka (played by the gorgeously cute model Tamashiro Tina), moves into a neighborhood right next door to the murder house of The Grudge demons. Invited and cajoled through her dreams, she enters the "cursed house" where people have gone missing.
This one does not disappoint, horror-philes, and it’s an amazingly tasty and fun guilty pleasure at just the right running time of 99 minutes. The combo of cancelled out curses, supernatural detectives, and urban legends battling it out for victims is very much worth your time, just like all crossovers done right. The bizarre delights even overshadow the flaccid, absolutely predictable, mediocre ending.
A sludgy-paced mystery thriller at an epic 130 minutes that's almost worth the molasses pace. Almost, because Japanese movies move way more leisurely than any Hollywood endeavor and this one is no different. This won a bunch of international festival awards and is the film adaptation of Maekawa Yutaka's mystery novel about the intertwining double enigmas of an unsolved missing family case and a very odd, very creepy neighbor.
Criminal psychologist Takakura (Nishijima Hidetoshi) is tasked by detective Nogami (Higashide Masahiro) to analyze a cold case: a missing family from six years ago. Watch only if you like a real slow burn and the pleasure of the viewer as detective. It does, however, go into the serial killer mindset and explains it as a healthy perversion, which puts the light on the profiling detective as a kind of culture police out to adjudicate imperial law on a “social” more. That’s interesting in a kind of docu-drama way, but stay away from this if your attention wanders easily.
The absolute top of our picks is a movie about teens and comics. Whodathunk?
This movie does a bang-up job of condensing the three seasons of the original anime (and a few spin-offs) of that series. High school students Moritaka (Satoh Takeru) (whose manga artist uncle died from overwork aka haroshi) and his classmate Akito (Kamiki Ryunosuke) feature in this comedy of errors and coming of age awkwardness about two aspiring mangakas (manga creators) that becomes a thrilling ride through the language and customs of making comics the Japanese way. Competitive serialization! Cruel editorial processes!
Who knew that making comics could be this exciting with so many speed lines and action dollies. With quick pacing at 120 minutes and the clarity of the narrative at crystal, how will the two unlikely comic comrades handle very early success? How about competition from another bullying mangaka? One nitpick about this is that the guys are a bit too handsome to be comic geeks who turned to making manga as career choice.
Of course, there’s Miho (Nana Komatsu) as the beautiful geek girl on a pedestal who imbues Moritaka with both motivation and comfort. Finding unlikely comrades and the value of collaboration is a real touch of class.
EIGASAI 2017 runs from July 1 to Aug 29 at the Shangri-La cinemas and various venues. For screening schedules and updates, please go to the Eigasai Philippines Facebook page.
All photos courtesy of the Japan Foundation Manila