RIDM 2018 Preview: Oyster Factory

Kazuhiro Soda’s documentary Oyster Factory was shown at Montreal’s Festival du nouveau cinéma in 2015. If you missed it then you have another chance to see it now, at the documentary festival RIDM. Kazuhiro Soda who is here for a retrospective of his films will introduce Oyster Factory and answer questions abut it after the screening.

I did not see Oyster Factory at FNC, so I will quote some reviews below. I DID see Soda’s Campaign 1 and Campaign 2 at RIDM, so I can attest to his filmmaking and editing skills and his ability to get along with most people. (There WERE a few cranky people in the Campaign films.) The Campaign films were long but not boring; I did see anyone live the cinema. So don’t be frightened by Oyster Factory’s 145 minute running time.

Now, here are those review excerpts: Clarence Tsui of the Hollywood Reporter wrote:
“Oyster Factory. . .bears testament to the filmmaker’s skills in wringing out big issues from the “little people.” Edited out of 90 hours of footage shot over three weeks in one seaside community in southwestern Japan, the film slowly and successfully teases out the country’s clammed-up anxiety about a new, globalized economy through the struggle of workers in mom-and-pop shellfish process businesses.

“Engaging as always with his settings and subjects, Soda demonstrates an instinct in capturing fears and doubts when they come to the fore, while also carefully putting these emotional implosions in context. . .

“Combining a pervasive sense of grit and offering odd moments of grace – the town is part of what is dubbed “Japan’s Aegean Sea” after all – Oyster Factory slowly cracks its settings of provincial serenity open and leaves the viewer to reflect on the future.”

Director Kazuhiro Soda likes cats and they appear in many of his films.

On PardoLive, a section of the Locarno Film Festival’s web site, Aurélie Godet wrote: “Who would have thought that fishing and shucking oysters could be so engaging to a film audience? It is, though. And for many reasons beyond the mollusk itself. Sôda’s new observational documentary depicts the world of small oyster factories in Japan’s southern province of Okayama. . .

“Viewers familiar with Sôda’s previous documentaries (Mental, the Campaign and Theatre diptychs) will recognize the filmmaker’s talent for recording people’s unconscious behaviors and welcoming unpredictability. An open attitude rewarded again by a surge of strange or comical events.

“Films may not change the world, but Kazuhiro Sôda’s films can certainly show us how to look and truly see our changing world.”

In the Japan Times, Mark Schilling explained that the film “about oyster harvesting in the port of Ushimado on the picturesque Seto Inland Sea was shot in only three weeks, minus the usual sort of advance work to smooth the way. This is not laziness but rather Soda’s standard way of staying fresher to new situations than filmmakers who arrive on location with all their expert interviews neatly scheduled.”

Schilling further stated: “As a film, Oyster Factory may not be slick, but it is warm, insightful and human.”

OYSTER FACTORY
Director: Kazuhiro Soda
Producer: Kiyoko Kashiwagi
Cinematographer: Kazuhiro Soda
Editor: Kazuhiro Soda
International Sales: Laboratory X
In Japanese, with English subtitles
145 minutes long

Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018 4:30 p.m.
Cinéma du Parc – Salle 3
3575 Park Ave, Montreal, QC
H2X 3P9

Visit the RIDM web site for more information about the documentary festival.

 

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Fantasia 2018: Tremble All You Want Review

In this scene from the Japanese romantic comedy Tremble All You Want, Yoshika (Mayu Matsuoka) is trapped between her crush Ichi (Takumi Kitamura, foreground) and dorky, would-be boyfriend Ni (Daichi Watanabe).

Briefly: Tremble All You Want is a Japanese romantic comedy. It’s funny, with gusts to hilarious. There are some sad moments, too. I enjoyed it immensely, even though I do not like, agree with, or approve of the ending, and some other script decisions.

Would I recommend it to my friends, and to others?

For sure I would! I was going to say, I would recommend it to all but the most cynical friends. But on second thought, cynical people might find it funny too! Read the synopsis on the Fantasia web site by clicking on Tremble All You Want.

 

In a scene from the Japanese romantic comedy Tremble All You Want, Yoshika (Mayu Matsuoka) enjoys her magical fossil. (It’s called an ammonite. You could look it up!)

TREMBLE ALL YOU WANT

DIRECTOR/ WRITER: Akiko Ohku
CAST:Anna Ishibashi, Takumi Kitamura, Mayu Matsuoka, Daichi Watanabe

Tremble All You Want
Tuesday, July 17, 2018
3:00 PM
Salle J.A. De Sève
1400 de Maisonneuve West
(Metro Guy-Concordia )

P.S. This is very short for a review, right? I will write more soon, but wanted to get these few words up to encourage Montrealers to see the film.

Sommets du cinéma d’animation 2016: Review of animated film Fox Fears

In this scene from the animated film Fox Fears, Bunroku can't keep up with his friends because he is wearing his mother's clogs.
In this scene from the animated film Fox Fears, Bunroku can’t keep up with his friends because he is wearing his mother’s clogs.

The mystery of the night, primordial fears, the power of a mother’s love – those are some of the ingredients in Fox Fears (Kitsune Tsuki)
a lovely short animated short from Japan. (Nothing to do with the nefarious U.S. TV network!) Director Miyo Sato made Fox Fears using sand and paint on glass.

The story begins the way a low-key horror film might. A young boy named Bunroku narrates the story. Under a bright moon, he was walking to a night festival with his friends, but he couldn’t keep up with them because he was wearing his mother’s clogs. (Not the right size, I guess. What happened to his own shoes? Too small? They broke?)

He and his friends stop at a clog shop so he can buy new ones. While they are in there, we hear distant music from the festival – flutes and drums. One flute sounded a bit like a wolf’s howl, to me. After the boy makes his purchase, a mysterious old woman appears and tells them that buying clogs after dark means you will turn into a fox. Don’t they know that? “Lies!” they shout, and head off to the festival, with its lanterns, banners, floats and music. (I would have liked to spend a few more seconds at this festival!)

Bunroku tells us that his friends would always see him safely home, and yet somehow this night, they do not. He imagines foxes and their shadows stalking him all the long, long way home. Once he gets there (guess that’s a spoiler, sorry!) he tells his mother what happened and she reassures him there’s nothing to worry about. She uses the word “lies,” as well. Maybe superstition is too big a word and too big a concept for a little kid. Not to mention folklore or mythology.

But Bunroku needs further reassurance. “But what if I DID turn into a fox?” His mother has an answer to that. He has more complicated questions and she has more detailed answers. I won’t spoil all that for you. One of the imagined scenarios is tragic and might bring the susceptible to tears.

Bunroku and his mother, from the Japanese animated film Fox Fears.
Bunroku and his mother, from the Japanese animated film Fox Fears.

Even thought they are having a theoretical, late-night, drowsy chat about shapeshifting, it is very clear that Bunroku’s mother would do anything and everything to keep him safe. That’s what good mothers everywhere do. It’s quite an amazing thing!

References and my reactions: It is possible that I am seeing things in Fox Fears that director Miyo Sato did not intend. Who knows, really. But, one way or the other, those things added to my enjoyment of the film.

Fox Fears has a dreamy, timeless quality. I don’t remember seeing any cars, buses, trucks, cellphones. If not for a light bulb seen at Bunroku’s home, and the Western clothes on some characters, the story could have taken place hundreds of years ago.

I find it cute that he’s wearing his mother shoes. I used to wear my mother’s boots when I was quite young (I had big feet!) That made me feel closer to her, not to mention that her boots were prettier and more stylish than mine.

The clog shop looks isolated, on the edge of the forest. That reminded me of so many films, Japanese ones in particular, where magical (and/or evil) places only exist at night. In the light of day, there is nothing there at all. Or just some ruins. The people who seem to live in those places are really ghosts or demons. Eat or drink what they give you and you will be under their power forever. Does that clog shop even exist in the day time?

A fox family in sihouette in the animated film Japanese Fox Fears. Director Miya Sato created the images using sand and paint on glass.
A fox family in sihouette in the animated film Japanese Fox Fears. Director Miya Sato created the images using sand and paint on glass.

Foxes and fox spirits figure in Japanese folklore and films; I’ve read some of those stories and seen some of those films. They appear in Chinese and Korean tales and films too, though the details vary.

I saw Fox Fears (Kitsune Tsuki) at Les Sommets du cinéma d’animation de Montréal 2016, at the Cinémathèque Québecoise.

Fox Fears (Kitsune Tsuki)
Animation (PG)
Director: Miyo Satori
Length: 7 min., 38 sec
Language: Japanese
Subtitles: English
Completed date: 2015

 

Fantasia 2016 Review: Too Young To Die!

Nana Seino, Tomoya Nagase, Ryunosuke Kamiki and Kenta Kiritani play musicians in the Japanese film Too Young To Die! which was shown at the Fantasia International Fim Festival in Montreal.
Nana Seino, Tomoya Nagase, Ryunosuke Kamiki and Kenta Kiritani play musicians in the Japanese film Too Young To Die! which was shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Too Young To Die! is full of laughs, music, demons, and love. It’s educational, too!

I saw this raucous crowd pleaser in the very best circumstances possible, with hundreds of other enthusiastic film fans at the Fantasia International Film Festival, right here in Montreal.

Daisuke (Ryunosuke Kamiki) and his fellow high-school students are riding a bus home after a field trip. Earlier, Daisuke had bribed a friend to change seats with him so he could sit next to his crush, Hiromi (Aoi Morikawa). They are having a shy chat when the bus goes over a cliff.

Daisuke wakes up in Buddhist Hell wondering what he did to end up there and how he could be so much worse than his fellow classmates. None of them are there with him, even though initial reports say that all the students on the bus died, except one.

Daisuke tells Killer K (Tomoya Nagase) a long-haired, horned, fanged guitar-playing demon, that he wants to go wherever Hiromi is. (He hopes she’s alive but he assumes that she’s in Heaven.) When Killer K says that no one has ever gone from Hell to Heaven before, Daisuke vows to do his best to be the first person to do that.

In the film To Young To Die, Daisuke (Ryunosuke Kamiki) works really hard in Hell; he'll do anything for another chance to see his true love Hiromi.
In the film To Young To Die, Daisuke (Ryunosuke Kamiki) works really hard in Hell; he’ll do anything for another chance to see his true love Hiromi.

There will be many challenges ahead! Daisuke has to haul heavy loads AND attend Hell Agricultural High School, too!  He’ll have to work very hard in Hell to be re-incarnated on Earth. What kind of creature he will be depends on his own efforts and the whims of Lord Enma, who sits in judgement. I’d be going into serious spoiler territory if I mentioned ALL of his reincarnations, though they include a bird, performing sea lion, a dog, and a giant scorpion. It’s pretty hilarious to watch Daisuke, who returns to his family home as a pale blue parakeet, frantically trying to delete a naughty video from his smartphone, and send one last text message to Hiromi.

Daisuke will get seven chances to redeem himself, but if he fails, he will turn into a demon like Killer K. Already his face is getting a bit redder, his teeth are longer and sharper and he can feel little bumps on his head where his future horns might sprout.

Arata Furuta plays Lord Enma in Too Young To Die! Lord Enma sends Daisuke back to Earth as a bird, a dog, and a sea lion, among other things.
Arata Furuta plays Lord Enma in Too Young To Die! Lord Enma sends Daisuke back to Earth as a bird, a dog, and a sea lion, among other things.

Joining Hiromi is Daisuke’s main concern, but there’s a secondary plot line about a demonic battle of the bands. Killer K wants to recruit Daisuke for his group, Heruzu (Hells). This plot provides several tunes, some outrageous gags and an ultimate pyrotechnical showdown.

Despite the abundance of laughs and silly situations, Too Young to Die! is also a genuine love story. Years go by, but Daisuke’s love for Hiromi never wavers.  I found it very touching.

Writer and director Kankuro Kudo is obviously taking lots of liberties with his depiction of the Buddhist underworld, but he didn’t make it all up, either. Just Google Lord Enma and Ox-Face and Horse-Head for some background, and you’ll see. That’s why Too Young to Die! is also educational.

Musical Notes: Tomoya Nagase, who plays Killer K, is a musician in a band called Tokio. Director Kudo plays guitar in a band called Group Tamashii.  

Ryunosuke Kamiki, Tomoya Nagase, Kenta Kiritani and Nana Seino played the film’s title track at the Tokyo Metropolitan Rock Festival in May. If you like the songs in the film and you’ve got money to spare, you can order the film’s sound track from CD Japan.

Another film: Ryunosuke Kamiki and Takeru Satoh play high school students who write a manga in Bakuman, also shown at Fantasia this year. (You can read my review of Bakuman here.)

Interesting coincidence: Before the bus crash, Daisuke bought Hiromi an amulet at a temple. A few days after watching the film, I saw a guy on the metro with a similar amulet hanging off his knapsack. I would have liked to ask him about it, but I didn’t get the chance before I had to get off the train to watch another Fantasia film.

Too Young To Die!
125 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles
Director: Kankuro Kudo
Screenplay: Kankuro Kudo
Cast: Tomoya Nagase, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Kenta Kiritani, Nana Seino, Aoi Morikawa, Arata Furuta

Fantasia 2016: Check out the manga film Bakuman on Saturday – you won’t be sorry!

In the film Bakuman, Moritaka (Takeru Satoh) and Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki) play high-school students who want to get their manga into the magazine Shonen Jump.
In the film Bakuman, Moritaka (Takeru Satoh) and Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki) play high-school students who want to get their manga into the magazine Shonen Jump.

I enjoyed Bakuman (バクマン。) very much. This Japanese film about breaking into the manga world has a good story, sympathetic characters, appealing actors, and lots of laughs. There are some lessons in friendship, co-operation and work/life balance, too, if you care to notice them; they didn’t seem heavy-handed to me, but feel free to ignore them if you’d rather.

And for the squeamish among you, no one gets any fingers cut off, either.

High-school students Moritaka (Takeru Satoh) and Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki), try to create a manga AND have it accepted by the prestigious weekly magazine Shonen Jump. They aim high, these guys! Moritaka will draw and Akito will create the storyline.

There are multiple motives, including pride, the spirit of competition, money, and a desire for a future as someone other than an office drone. Moritaka’s main reason is to impress fellow student Miho (Nana Komatsu). He spends most of his class time sketching her surreptitiously. But the pure joy of creation is a very big part of it, too, and that’s a big part of the film’s appeal for me.

Moritaka can draw very well, but he must learn some new techniques, with pens and brushes, to make a manga. We learn these techniques along with him, and hear the scritch, scritch, scritch of his pen quite clearly. He already has a big advantage, since he spent many of his childhood years in the studio of his late uncle, who was a famous manga artist. In fact, that studio is still available for him to work in. (I didn’t quite grasp why that room had been left unused all that time. But never mind!)

The visuals in Bakuman are great. Facts about manga scroll across the screen; sometimes it’s like we’re inside a drawing, other times the characters are fighting like martial artists, with giant pens and brushes as their weapons. The newsroom of Shonen Jump is a sight to behold – it’s huge with lots of art on the walls and enormous piles of paper everywhere. Is that the real office, or a set? I won’t stop writing to find out right now, but I’m mighty curious! If it’s a set, what a job it must have been to create it. Fun, too, I imagine. (UPDATE: It is a set, but it does look like the Shonen Jump office.)

Moritaka (Takeru Satoh) and Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki) wield their drawing instruments like weapons in Bakuman, a film about the world of manga.
Moritaka (Takeru Satoh) and Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki) wield their drawing instruments like weapons in Bakuman, a film about the world of manga.

Takayuki Yamada plays Akira Hattori, the editor our guys meet when they visit Shonen Jump. His character is rather scruffy and subdued, but he’s impressed by their work and he offers solid support and advice.

Lily Franky plays an editor-in-chief who seems very mean at best and downright sinister at other times. Since I’ve seen him play gangsters and psychopaths in other films, the sinister part might just be in my own head.

Shota Sometani, who seems to be in half the films coming out of Japan these days, plays Eiji Niizuma, a rival manga artist, who is also still in high school. He dresses in all in black and scuttles around in a crab-like manner that recalls assorted horror movies like The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera. He’s already ruined his body by spending so many hours scrunched over his drawings.

This film about manga artists is based on a manga itself. (Of course it is!) I can’t claim to know much about manga myself, but viewers who do will likely pick up lots of references and enjoy many inside jokes. Maybe they could share them with me!

Takeru Satoh was the star of the wonderful film If Cats Disappeared From the World, which had a sold-out screening at Fantasia this year. He was also the star of the live-action Rurouni Kenshin trilogy. Ryunosuke Kamiki was in two of the Rurouni Kenshin films, and in two other films in this year’s Fantasia selection, As the Gods Will, and Too Young To Die. He was in Poison Berry in My Brain, a hit at Fantasia 2015.

Bakuman
Directed by: Hitoshi One
Written by: Tsugumi Ohba, Takeshi Obata
Cast: Takeru Satoh, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Takayuki Yamada, Nana Komatsu
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Runtime: 120 min.
Distributor: Toho

You can see Bakuman as part of the Fantasia International Film Festival, at 6:40 p.m. Saturday, July 30, 2016, at the Hall Theatre of Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd W. Fantasia runs until Aug. 3, 2016.

Fantasia 2016 Review: If Cats Disappeared From the World

Aw, can't you just imagine that soft fur against your face? Takeru Satoh is the main human star of the Japanese film If Cats Disappeared From the World.
Aw, can’t you just imagine that soft fur against your face? Takeru Satoh is the main human star of the Japanese film If Cats Disappeared From the World.

If Cats Disappeared from the World? Noooo! That’s a very distressing thought! But the Japanese film that carries that title is nothing short of magical. Everything works.

The script is based on a best selling book, Sekai kara Neko ga Kieta nara by Genki Kawamura. Takeru Satoh, the star of the live action Rurouni Kenshin trilogy, is excellent as the main character. He’s a handsome guy with big eyes, but I bet some special lighting was used to make him look extra luminous here.

Satoh plays a 30-year-old postman (he’s really 27 and he looks younger) who has been living from one day to the next without thinking too much about the future. After a tumble from his bicycle, his doctor tells him that he has an inoperable brain tumour and he could die any day. Then a guy who isn’t Death, but might be the Devil, shows up and tells the postman that he will die tomorrow, unless he’s interested in a deal. No contracts signed in blood or anything like that, though. Every day from now on the Devil will make some useless thing (in his cranky opinion) totally vanish from this world – how about starting with telephones? – and as long as the postman agrees, he can have one more day of life.

Don’t worry if that sounds weird, silly or stupid, it’s just a way to show us flashbacks and to get the postman and the audience thinking about memories, the things that are truly important to us, the totally random way we might have met someone who became a lifelong friend, and how much films, (and cats!) enrich our lives.

In the film If Cats Disappeared From the World, the postman (Takeru Satoh) and his girlfriend (Aoi Miyazaki) would talk on the phone so late into the night that when they went out on dates they were too tired to stay awake.
In the film If Cats Disappeared From the World, the postman (Takeru Satoh) and his girlfriend (Aoi Miyazaki) would talk to each other on the phone so late into the night that when they went out on dates together they couldn’t stay awake.

Most of the film was shot in the hilly port city of Hakodate, in Hokkaido, but there is also a bright, sunny interlude in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and a visit to the magnificent Iguazu Falls. And several cute kittens. There’s a scene early in the film where the postman is riding his bicycle while the kitty sits in the bike’s retro straw basket, looking adorable as all get out. Just about everyone in the cinema said “Awwwwww!”

If Cats Disappeared from the World could easily have turned out corny, or sickeningly sweet, but no one made a misstep. We were promised tears but I managed to hold mine in, just barely.The one and only screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal was sold out and everyone there applauded heartily when the film was over. A few sniffles were heard. If you get a chance to see If Cats Disappeared from the World you should leap at it, and grab it with your paws and claws!

If Cats Disappeared from the World, directed by Akira Nagai, written by Genki Kawamura.
With Takeru Satoh, Aoi Miyazaki, Gaku Hamada, Eiji Okuda and Mieko Harada.

BTW: Takeru Satoh can also be seen in Bakuman, a film about two high school students (told you he looked young!) who write a manga. It’s very entertaining. You can watch Bakuman at Fantasia at 6:40 p.m. on Saturday, July 30, 2016 in the Hall Theatre, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W. Read more about Bakuman on the Fantasia web site. Fantasia continues until Wednesday, August 3, 2016.

Fantasia 2016 Review: Inerasable

A writer (Yuko Takeuchi) and a student (Ai Hashimoto) seek information from a Buddhist priest in the Japanese film Inerasable, directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura. Inerasable is being shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.
A writer (Yuko Takeuchi) and a student (Ai Hashimoto) seek information from a Buddhist priest in the Japanese film Inerasable, directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura. Inerasable is being shown at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

A novelist (Yuko Takeuchi) has been writing short horror stories based on suggestions sent in by her readers. She gets a letter from Ms. Kubo (Ai Hashimoto), a student who has heard strange noises coming from her bedroom; swishing noises that sound like someone sweeping the tatami.

The nameless author remembers getting a similar letter a few years ago. . .when she finds it, she discovers that it was from a tenant in the same building. And that woman’s young daughter had acted as if she could see something. . . up near the ceiling. Then Kubo learns that another former resident of the building committed suicide shortly after moving somewhere else. (His landlady has a creepy story about the last time she saw him.)

Kubo and the writer start working together, trying to figure out what drove the man to kill himself. They look at old photos, land records and maps, and talk to old timers in the neighbourhood to learn about previous buildings where Kubo’s apartment block now stands, and the people who lived and sometimes died in them.

They go farther and farther back in time, and travel to other cities, too. They hear stories of apparent madness, fatal accidents, murder, and more suicides, all connected in some way. Restless spirits seem to be everywhere.

At one point, a young man who knows all about the ghost stories, rumours and gossip on Kyushu Island  casually mentions that the locals think just hearing those stories will leave you cursed. Oh, oh! “Ah, a classic ghost story rule!” (or words to that effect) says the writer’s husband, knowingly.

Director Yoshihiro Nakamura also made Fish Story (2009), Golden Slumber (2010) See You Tomorrow, Everyone (2013) and The Snow White Murder Case (2014), which were all shown at previous editions of Fantasia. See Inerasable at the Fantasia international Film Festival on Friday, July 22, 2016, at 5 pm in the Hall Theatre of Concordia University, 1455 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.

Inerasable

Directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura,  written by Kenichi Suzuki, based on a book by Fuyumi Ono.

Cast: Yuko Takeuchi, Ai Hashimoto, Kentaro Sakaguchi, Kenichi Takito, Kuranosuke Sasaki,  107 minutes, in Japanese with English subtitles.