It's that Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme time of year again. I've covered some of their previous seasons here in 2008, 2010 and 2011: but 2012 was the first year that I did it officially for Mostly Film, when they sent me advance screener DVDs so I could get an article up before the films were in cinemas.
And I've done the same this year, spending a large part of last week ploughing though roughly-watermarked screeners (see left) in preparation for a piece that went online last Friday, the day that the tour opened at London's ICA. Once Upon A Time In Japan reviews seven of the ten films showing in the programme of the same name - and if you keep an eye on the comments on that page, I'm planning to put up brief comments on the other three once I've seen them at the ICA.
After London, the season moves on to Sheffield, Birmingham, Belfast, Edinburgh, Newcastle, Bristol and Nottingham: if any of those cities are near you, it's worth tracking these films down. If you're looking for a further incentive to investigate them, the Red Button Content I'm providing for this Mostly Film piece is a playlist of trailers for (nearly) all of them.
Here are the trailers in the order they appear in the playlist. Note that Japanese video content does get pulled off YouTube at an alarming rate, so apologies in advance if some trailers have vanished by the time you get to see this.
1. Hula Girls. I've seen it now. It's OK.
2. Kaidan Horror Classics. The trailer I linked to in the article is actually for a slightly different version, featuring four stories rather than three. There isn't any useful footage from Kaidan on YouTube, so here's an on-stage bilingual interview with one of the directors involved, Hirokazu Kore-eda. (By the way, Kore-eda's 2011 film I Wish opens in the UK this Friday. Go and see it.)
3. Bubble Fiction: Boom Or Bust. Interesting to note that just a few years after this, star Hiroshi Abe would be involved in further aquatic time-travelling shenanegans, with even more to follow in 2014.
4. The Blossoming Of Etsuko Kamiya. Possibly the biggest surprise of this year's programme for me: I wasn't expecting much of this film, but it's a delightful and touching piece of work.
5. Zero Focus. Director Isshin Hondo gave a Q&A at the ICA last Sunday, and I was amused to discover he had an explanation for why the film gives away its mystery comparatively early. Apparently after two film versions and six TV remakes, everyone in Japan already knows the story of Zero Focus, so he didn't feel the need to pretend the ending was a surprise...
6. Mai Mai Miracle. Very, very Ghibli-esque, but that's never really a bad thing.
7. Castle Under Fiery Skies. Featuring the first appearance of the great Susumu Terajima in a major supporting role.
8. Ninja Kids!!! Featuring the second appearance of the great Susumu Terajima in a major supporting role.
9. Rebirth. Still not sure about the ending, but it's a film that's close to being consistently great up until then.
10. United Red Army. If you only catch one of the films out of this season, it really should be this one. It's far from being a feelgood movie, but it's magnificently acted and directed. Can someone sort out a Koji Wakamatsu retrospective in London, please? Feel free to include the porn if you like.