The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme returns for another year to showcase the complex and rich history of Japanese cinema.
There’s a strong focus on the everyday, and the lives of those simply trying to get by – through dramatic, romantic, or even funny means – in many of the films this year. There are tonnes to look at, and I’m listing 15 of the ones I’m most keen on.
The festival is hitting several cities, but the dates I’ll be mentioning below will be related to their screening at the ICA in London. Please refer to the Japan Foundation website for other locations.
With that in mind, here are the top films to check out.
- Goodbye Cruel World (2022)
A stylish noir which follows five criminals who gather together to rob a motel used by the Yakuza to launder money. The heist goes well, but the group soon find themselves chased down by cops, mobsters and politicians.
If you like that: Check out JOINT, a similarly stylish noir thriller which follows a former criminal who dips his toes back into the lifestyle, and finds himself in the middle of a yakuza war.
- Blue Thermal (2022)
The only animated film on offer, Blue Thermal is an adaptation of Kana Ozawa’s manga, and tells of Tamaki, a shy university student who joins the aviation club. Blue Thermal is a coming of age story filled with heart, and loaded with gorgeous visuals from the studio behind all those excellent new Lupin III films.
Also worth checking out: Ito, which sees a shy shamisen player take a job at a maid café to earn more confidence – though much to her family’s dismay.
- Samurai Hustle (2014)
If comedies are more your speed, there are a few to consider, including this period film set in the 18th century, at a time when the samurai way of life is threatened by the shogunate. A small samurai clan decide to take on one final, last-ditch mission to save themselves.
- Angry Son (2022)
A tale of a teenage boy with a growing resentment towards his upbringing – towards his single mother and absent father. Being marginalised for his mixed heritage, he struggles with his background, history and sexuality. Angry Son deals with a lot of issues modern families with likely relate to.
- The Million Ryo Pot (1935)
Easily the oldest of the bunch, this film doesn’t let age slow it down. A bodyguard finds himself in the middle of a madcap search for a pot containing a treasure map. The pot was sold to a junk dealer, and then again – but to whom?
- Wandering (2022)
19-year-old Fumi and 10-year-old Sarasa live together in an unconventional but happy friendship – one that is broken when Fumi is arrested for kidnapping. Years pass, and the two reunite, but what will come of it?
If age differences and friendships are your thing, BL Metamorphosis is a more light-hearted take, seeing a young girl and middle aged woman bond over their love of Boys Love manga.
- It Comes (2018)
Moving onto horror, It Comes seems like a traditional haunting/excorcism film but veteran director Tetuya Nakashima promises anything but. Two years after a strange encounter with a man who seems to know their unborn daughter’s name, a couple must protect their child from a monster called a Bogiwan.
- Sensei, Would You Sit Beside Me? (2021)
A multi-faceted movie that seems to sit in multiple genres, this black comedy deals with a manga writer who learns of her husband’s affair, and creates a new (likely hit) series about adultery. Expect some great performances and lots of commentary on modern relationships.
What a Wonderful Family is another wild comedy on offer, which sees a family at crisis point when a frustrated wife announces she wants a divorce.
- The Past is Always New, the Future is Always Nostalgic (2019)
It’s not a film festival without at least one documentary. This film goes in-depth on the life and work of iconic and still incredibly prolific photographer Daido Moriyama, whose creative process he takes on a journey through.
- Till We Meet Again (1950)
Another oldie, Till We Meet Again is romantic anti-war film that tells of two people who meet in a bomb shelter during the second world war. With conscription around the corner, their time together is fated to be small. Till We Meet Again has hints of Brief Encounter, and likely to be an absolute heart-breaker.
- Lesson in Murder (2022)
A psychological thriller tense with dread, Lesson in Murder sees a university student receive a letter from a notorious serial killer, leading him to discover horrible truths about the killer’s last crime.
- My Broken Mariko (2022)Based on the manga by Waka Hirako, the film sees a young woman who lost her best friend to suicide, and embarks on a journey to spread her ashes. Director Yuki Tanada is no stranger to emotionally wrought dramas, and explores themes of trauma and abuse to a challenging but satisfying film.
- Under the Open Sky (2021)
A reformed murderer tries to adjust to life in normal society after a long stay in prison. As a TV crew follows him, he struggles to reacquaint himself with old friends, make new ones, and become accepted. Boasting an excellent performance from lead Koji Yakusho, it’s well worth checking out.
- Hold Me Back (2020)
Despite her lonely lifestyle, Mitsuko enjoys it – and holds her own conversations with her internal voice, a separate individual called A. Things begin to change when she meets in falls in love with a young man, though, as one would assume from this charming romantic comedy.
- Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue (2017)
The final film I’m looking at is a drama, and a poetic one at that, based as it is on a book of poems by Tahi Saihate. A story of two lost souls who meet each other, but whose complicated lives naturally threaten any bliss they may find. Shizuka Ishibashi is a relative newcomer, but her turn in the lead role is alone worth checking this film out for.
There are plenty of others, too, but those are the ones I’m most hyped about. What are you looking forward to?
You can pick up tickets from their website here.