Thursday, July 16, 2015

6 Enthralling Movies to Watch at Japanese Film Festival Singapore 2015!


The Japanese Film Festival Singapore has announced their line-up of recent movies (Currents) for the 2015 edition. Among the 11 movies are a R21-rated award-winning mystery film, a film starring AKB48 graduate Maeda Atsuko (Acchan), a samurai story, a musical coming-of-age drama and a cooking film shot over four seasons

The movies will be screened at either the National Museum of Singapore (NMS) or indie cinema The Projector (TP) at Golden Mile Tower. Ticket sales start from 3pm on 14th July and are priced at $13 for public and $10 for students, senior citizens and NSFs. All films are uncut and screened in their original Japanese dialogue with English subtitles. More details may be found here.

This year's stellar selection of films at JFFS 2015

Being a huge movie fan and an avid Japanese culture lover, I am really excited for this film festival. I missed last year's edition because many of the films screened had a R21 rating and I found out about it late so most of the screenings were already sold out. This is why you have to purchase your tickets as soon as possible this year, and I am not kidding! Tickets really sell out fast like hotcakes.

Let's take a look at the stellar selection of films for this year's festival:

Tamako in Moratorium (Fri 24th July, 7.45pm, NMS)

YAMASHITA Nobuhiro | 2013 | 78 min | English subtitles | NC16

Top on my watch list (but not necessarily my top pick) would be Tamako in Moratorium. Why? The film stars popular AKB48 graduate Maeda Atsuko, also known by many of her fans as Acchan. She had previously starred in the Japanese action thriller Seventh Code, which was released last year.

The movie, filmed in Russia, won the Best Director Award and Best Technical Contribution Award at the 8th Rome Film Festival. I had waited very long for it to be screened in Singapore but it was a futile wait. I first took notice of her when watching Japanese horror movie The Complex in late 2013.

Acchan has starred in many feature films after her graduation from AKB48 including Kabukicho Love Hotel, which was screened at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival.

The sypnosis goes like this:
One of the two films by the director in this year's programme. Tamako (Maeda Atsuko) graduates from college and returns to the sports clothing shop run by her father Zenji, and spends her days listlessly, not even looking for a job. One day, there's talk of Zenji going on a blind date, and Tamako flies into a tizzy. Will Tamako be able to take a step forward in her life?
An unemployed university graduate who only spends her time sleeping, eating, watching TV and reading manga everyday. Who knew Acchan would be a NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training)? I believe this film sheds some light on the social problem in Japan, albeit with dashes of comedy and heartwarming moments thrown in.

I love watching interesting, relatable, daily-life drama movies and am looking forward to this one. It seems more than just a normal film starring everyone's favourite idol and I can't wait to catch it.

Expect a movie with emotional moments that will make you tear. It was ranked number nine in the top ten best Japanese films of 2013 by Japan's oldest film magazine Kinema Junpo, if that helps.

La La La at Rock Bottom (Sun 26th July, 7.45pm, NMS)

YAMASHITA Nobuhiro | 2015 | 103 min | English subtitles | PG

How many coming-of-age movies have I watched this year already? Wait, only two but I would definitely want to watch more. After catching the shot-over-12-years Boyhood which was upset at the Oscars by Birdman and the Korean coming-of-age movie Twenty, I am in love with coming-of-age dramas.

What's more- this is a new movie just released in February this year! That means it's still hot and you probably wouldn't find it online yet- all the more reason to watch it at JFF. Look! It's also by the same director behind Acchan's movie, Yamashita Nobuhiro! Looking at the trailer, I have a feeling that this will be my top pick at the festival.

A bloodied man who can sing and has amnesia encounters a girl living in the past and they begin living a life together. You got me with that hook there. Two different people with their own problems in life trying to find themselves. I can tell that I will love this movie already.

Not to mention that I really like the catchy music in the trailer and even though I don't know much about this, the actor, Shibutani Subaru, is a member of a male idol group so you can expect nothing less than good singing from him!

Throw in some romance, some conflict brewing, the amnesiac suddenly regaining his memory and walking out on the lady and you have yourself a really relatable and heart-stirring movie with an interesting plot. After all, we all have our low points in life when we hit rock-bottom, don't we?

Life isn't always smooth-sailing and we learn from our mistakes and setbacks. I can't wait to watch this. I have a feeling that this will be my favourite movie of the festival. I am also glad that Acchan's movie has the same director too- it assures me that it won't be just a movie starring a famous idol.

Hibi Rock: Puke Afro and the Rock Star (Sat 1st August, 7.30pm, TP)

IRIE Yu | 2014 | 110 min | English subtitles | NC16

Somehow, just somehow, the movies I am featuring appear to be listed in chronological screening order too. I don't know why this is so but it bodes well for the post structure anyway.

Moving on, I actually wanted to pass on this movie. After all, paying $10 for a ticket isn't a small thing. I tend to only watch movies with the student promotion on weekdays at $6.50 (Shaw) or $7 (Cathay, Golden Village). I watch a lot of movies every month so I have to scrimp on tickets- it can't be helped.

Off the surface, it looks like a flashy movie about the entertainment industry- rockers and pop idols. Speaking from experience, these formulas don't tend to work too well . However, you also have Pitch Perfect and Magic Mike as perfect examples (please watch Magic Mike XXL if you haven't- it is such an excellent film you need a reason not to).

Magic Mike XXL: More than just a "male stripper" movie. I'm serious.

However, after watching the trailer, it has really piqued my interest. The trailer starts off introducing a rock band trio who are penniless, houseless and not very surprisingly, girlfriend-less. Then it cuts to super cute top idol!

Unfortunately, our first impression of her is marred by her smashing a beer bottle against a half-naked guitarist's head and causing all the men in the room to suffer a nosebleed by audaciously flashing herself. What kind of movie is this? It's so wacky and wild!

Featuring a soundtrack with songs by top musicians Yoshimitsu Taki from 9mm Parabellum Bullet, DECO*27 and more, you know this music-genre rock movie can't possibly go wrong.

If you are a music lover, or you love music-inspired movies such as Begin Again and Love and Mercy, with some character development and a hint of romance thrown in, I am guessing you will love this one. It's definitely on my watch list- the craziest movie at the festival.

Snow on the Blades (Sat 25th July, 7.45pm, NMS)

WAKAMATSU Setsuro | 2014 | 119 min | English subtitles | PG

Next, we have one movie that upsets the list of movies by chronological screening order in this post.

It's a samurai movie and everyone loves samurai movies. Be it Rurouni Kenshin, The Last Samurai or even the mediocre 47 Ronin, they always bring in huge box office takings. I guess it's just the fascination with Japan's riveting history and traditions that pulls us in. Not to mention the sensational swordfights too.

This film is about a samurai who fails to save his master from an assassination- a very grave mistake and goes into hiding. He tracks down the assassins from the shadows for over a decade but on the day he finally meets his enemy, the Meiji government passes a law banning retribution.

The trailer then shifts into the two men talking about their families and the women they love. Every samurai tale has to has have a romance sub-plot, doesn't it? Fighting to protect the one you love and the anguish of death- all that stuff.

Well, what do you know- that stuff never gets old and I won't be missing this movie for sure. It seems like a peaceful soul-stirring movie to me with the occasional action scenes thrown in. I also like to watch movies about samurai culture and all the themes of respect and honour which are depicted in them.

At two hours long and being a fairly new movie, just released in September last year, it makes for an exciting watch after a Saturday night dinner at a nice Japanese restaurant, with some good old traditional Japanese cuisine and richly-brewed green tea.

Little Forest - Summer/Autumn (Sun 26th July, 4.30pm), Winter/Spring (Sun 1st August, 4.30pm)

リトル・フォレスト 夏編・秋編
MORI Junichi | 2014 | 111 min | English subtitles | PG

リトル・フォレスト 冬編・春編
MORI Junichi | 2015 | 120 min | English subtitles | PG

Hot off the heels of this summer's popular culinary anime Shokugeki no Souma (Food Wars) comes this movie about a girl living on a farm and cooking delicious dishes which has piqued my curiousity.

The trailer depicts it as a movie about a girl starting her own life away from home and living a simple life, preparing her own meals using ingredients she has gathered from nature and recipes she has learnt from her mother. The film is shot over the four seasons in Japan, showing the different dishes she prepares using seasonal ingredients.

It shows scenes of her gathering fresh fruits off a tree, growing her own rice and vegetables and chatting happily with fellow villagers while farming ducks. It also exhibits a variety of cooking techniques which she employs- steaming, stewing and stir-frying various foods.

We also see a man chatting with her in the movie who might be a potential love interest. "I couldn't interact with people... that's why I came back here," she says, recounting her experience moving to the city and returning to her hometown, Komori, a tiny village in Tohoku, North-Eastern Japan.

I like these kind of movies. It's nice to watch them once in a while and take a breather from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Think about how life would be if you were living in the tranquil countryside- a far-fetched fantasy of sorts in globalised Singapore.

Think about how it would be if you were living in a tiny Japanese village and life was going at a slower pace. You farm for sustenance and eat to live, instead of living to eat and posting all your fine dining photos on Instagram. Connecting with nature and the community- would you feel more satisfied with your life?

There are always trade-offs with economic growth and urbanisation as there are benefits. Technological advances versus the serenity of nature. Financial wealth versus strong and lasting relationships. Think about what makes you happy the most.

I watched a similar, albeit slightly different movie last year too on a long-haul flight- "WOOD JOB!", where a high school graduate joins a forestry training program after failing to enter university and his girlfriend leaves him. It was a touching and meaningful movie where the protagonist discovers the beauty of nature and finds his meaning in life.

Wood Job trailer

Before I digress too much, I would say that this is a movie you should watch. A movie about food, the heart of life which connects people, cultures and in this case, nature. Not to mention that Ai Hashimoto is starring in this one. No wonder my eyes were glued to her while watching the trailer.

She is a 19 year-old Japanese actress and fashion model who appeared as Sadako in Sadako 3D. That aside, she was also cast as the lead female Satomi Murano, in the live-action Parasyte films which were released earlier in the first half of this year. Now you remember her, don't you? Go watch it.

Heaven's Story (TBC)

ヘヴンズ ストーリー
ZEZE Takahisa | 2010 | 278 min | English subtitles | PG

Lastly, we have Heaven's Story, a film which took five painstaking years to make and bagged two awards, the FIPRESCI and NETPAC awards, at Berlin International Film Festival 2011.

It is a compelling story about life and death, the motives of killers and exacting vengeance. The film is split into nine chapters over four and and a half hours, involving over twenty protagonists. It revolves around the life of Sato, a girl whose family was killed when she was a child.

Don't we all love movies about death and murders? It must be the violence, fear and suspense which attracts us to them and causes the adrenaline to course through our veins. Have you watched David Fincher's mystery masterpiece, Gone Girl?

What about Dark Places, the recent Charlize Theron-starring movie adapted off a novel by the same author, Gillian Flynn? If you haven't, you should really watch it, especially if you loved Gone Girl. The hook goes like this, "In 1985, her entire family was murdered. 10 years later, the truth emerges."

If you liked Gone Girl, you will love Dark Places

Have I got you interested now? What's similar? Aren't both the protagonists of Dark Places and Gone Girl females whose entire families were murdered when they were children? That moment when realisation hits you. How charming, isn't it?

Despite being a 2010 film, this film, running at 278 minutes long, makes it one of the most value-for-money to catch at the festival too. Where can you find another four-and-a-half-hour-long film screened at the cinema for only $13 (not counting your own home cinema, for all you movie aficionados)?

I love mystery thrillers. I love compelling and complex storylines. I love all the twists and turns at every corner and I can't wait to watch this. In fact, if you need a reason to, just watch the trailer. It's creepy enough, dealing with the human psyche.

I hope that helps you in making your picks. The full list of movies is available on the film festival's website, including "WA-SHOKU ~BEYOND SUSHI~", a feature documentary film on traditional Japanese cuisine by director Suzuki Juinchi, released this year. Admission to the screening is free but you have to check the website for more details on how to collect your free tickets.

For those aged 21 and above, you might want to purchase tickets to the R21-rated Mystery Film on Friday, 17th July, 7.30pm at the National Museum of Singapore. It is the first film to be screened as a prelude to the Currents Programme and with the impressive line-up of films already announced for this year's festival, you can be sure that the Mystery Film will not disappoint.

Don't forget that there are still four unannounced films in the Currents line-up, pending classification by MDA. One will be screened at NMS while three will be screened at TP. Do check the festival's film schedule for updates. There are also many free-admission Retrospective (classic) movies by director Okamoto Kihachi, this year's festival's focus.

This year's JFFS's focus is on director Okamoto Kihachi

That wraps up my recommendation of films to watch at this year's Japanese Film Festival Singapore (JFFS) 2015, which are basically all the Currents films. That's because the films are all so good and different, each distinct and having an appeal of their own and partly because I'm a movie fan so I tend to watch movies of all genres.

Have a splendid time appreciating these great works of art at JFFS 2015.