Samurais and Shoplifters—What to Watch at the EIGASAI Japanese Film Fest 2019
Jun 25, 2019   •   Karl R. De Mesa
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Jun 25, 2019   •   Karl R. De Mesa
The Japanese Film Festival, Eigasai, just went Godzilla this year with screening venues not just in Metro Manila and Cebu, but also in Tacloban, Naga, Bacolod, Davao, and Pangasinan. How about that for a truly nationwide takeover?
Held in honor of the Philippines-Japan Friendship Month, the film fest’s 22nd run clocks in from July 3 to August 25, 2019 with 135 screenings across seven major cities nationwide, bringing with it 17 full-feature films of diverse genres.
Here are the venues for the nationwide screenings. You can also click on the link indicated by your venue to download a PDF file of screening schedules for your city.
Metro Manila: Red Carpet Cinema, Shangri-La Plaza (July 3-14), Gateway Cineplex, Cubao (August 22-25), Cultural Center of the Philippines (August 2-11), Cine Adarna, UPFI (August 14-17).
Tacloban: Robinsons Place Tacloban (July 18-21)
Naga: SM City Naga (July 18-21)
Bacolod: SM City Bacolod (July 25-28)
Davao: Abreeza Mall Davao (August 1-4)
Pangasinan: SM City Rosales, Pangasinan (August 8-11)
Cebu: Ayala Center Cebu (August 15-18)
We’ve also scoped out the opening film, Samurai Marathon, and picked out a few of our betting favorites from previous years that grace the Metro Manila screening venues.
Based On Dobashi Akihiro’s novel, Bakumatsu Marathon Samurai, about Japan’s first marathon, this this historical drama is directed by acclaimed British auteur Bernard Rose (same guy who directed Immortal Beloved).
Set in 1885, in Japan’s Edo period, the Yankees, led by US Commodore Matthew Perry on his infamous “black ships,” have come to petition trade from the Imperial Court and brought with them whiskey and handguns. While the Emperor is cautiously pleased with the gifts and is inclined to sign a peace accord with the budding USA for mutual trade, some of the feudal lords fear that this is just a prelude to invasion and that the “black ships” of the white men have come bearing weapons of war that will be unleashed upon the Japanese people.
One such feudal lord is the Daimyo of Annaka, a provincial mountain town. Lord Annaka has nightmares about a white invasion and so decides that, since a few hundred years of peace have made his warriors soft, all his military retainers must participate in a marathon 36 kilometers long over rugged terrain.
This will not only toughen up his samurai and footmen, but also weed out the old and useless for what he foresees is a war with the Yankees. To sweeten the deal, whoever wins the race gets a wish granted from the Daimyo—some see it as an opportunity to rise in station, others to prove the honor of their family.
Despite the ensemble cast, it never becomes too crowded story-wise and it’s easy to follow what motivates each character. Bernard Rose also injects a kind of frenzied Hollywood pace to the process of what is essentially plenty of men running for a prize and the complications that arise from it.
There are apt touches of period politics and military friction as well as the street effects of the feudal caste system: being too old to hold down a samurai guard job, not being noble enough to merit a samurai job, and simply being female in a feudal society. All that against the backdrop of the opening of Japan to firearms trade with the West and some very visually arresting scenes to go with it.
For my money, the Emperor’s enforcer, Hayabusa (Ryu Kohata), carrying a Colt Peacemaker and humming the tune of “Are You Sleeping?” as he stalks and shoots enemies of the state is truly one of the most haunting images in Japanese cinema.
The major clusterfucks that complicate the run are also doubly entertaining, one of them being how the Emperor’s ninjas have been monitoring the feudal lords—like Lord Annaka—for possible signs of rebellion and opposition to the coming peace accord with the Yankees.
Mistaking the marathon as a prelude to muster men and arms for an uprising, the previously hidden ninja Jinnai Karusawa (ably played by Rurouni Kenshin’s Takeru Satoh), embedded in Annaka as a lowly accountant, sends an activation letter to the agents in the capital. Said letter will bring assassins to kill the Lord of Annaka, silencing his opposition to the Emperor’s peace accord. As Jinnai races to intercept and retrieve the letter, more clusterfucks ensue as he finds out he’s not the only ninja that’s been living in Annaka.
On top of that? The Princess Yuki of Annaka (Bakuman’s beautiful Nana Komatsu) has chosen this time to run away to the capital, trying to escape an arranged marriage, disguising herself as one of the marathoners to get past the military checkpoints. Inevitably it become an absurd, but always entertaining, mess in quite a few scenes.
The best story arcs here have little to no impact on the main storyline of the marathon and Jinnai trying to stop the Emperor’s assassins. I liked the three side arcs that put additional investment into the run, but the one about the lowly footman Uesugi (Foreboding’s Shôta Sometani), the best runner in the region, being asked by multiple parties to take a dive and NOT win the race is my fave.
“If we had a choice between us getting rich and me winning the race, what would it be?’ Uesegi asks his wife, before the race starts.
Takeru Satoh imbues Jinnai with depth in a subtle and stirring performance as the ninja who suspects that the Bakufu central government has become corrupted by the prospect of gaining powerful firearms from the West.
Though I found the ending rushed and a bit too packed with simplistic resolutions, Samurai Marathon is definitely more than just a run across pretty mountain roads and forests by warriors trying to get into better shape. It’s got an exciting story that gets pulled into many helix twists at unexpected times and a visual pacing that’s as energetic as a Hollywood movie. Definitely a great opener for a film festival like Eigasai. Added bonus? The OST was made by Philip Glass.
Winner of the Best Film Award at the 31st Tokyo International Film Festival’s Independent Japanese Cinema category, director Nojiri Katsumi will also be in town to answer questions at the Philippine premiere on August 3 at the CCP, during the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival.
The Suzuki Family’s Eldest son Koko has just committed suicide and sends his mother, Yuko, to the hospital. However, the shock of the incident was so strong that Yuko is afflicted by amnesia and doesn’t remember that her son took his own life. For her sake, Yuko’s husband Sachio (Kishibe Ittoku) and her daughter Fumi (Kiryu Mai) conspire to tell her a continuing lie: that Koko has been working in Argentina. Can they sustain this huge lie as they try to keep Yuko away from moments that may trigger her memory and possibly kill her from another shock?
(Screening exclusively at the UP Film Institute)
One of the gems among director Kore-eda Hirokazu’s filmography (and three of them will be screened exclusively at the UPFI), Shoplifters was a nominee for the 91st Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and also won the Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.
A construction worker by day, Shibata Osamu (Lily Franky) becomes his alter ego at night and teaches his son Shota (Jyo Kairi) the ways of theft, sleight-of-hand, and shoplifting from small groceries.
Apparently all the Shibatas have skills as petty thieves but their family changes when, one night the father and son can’t bear the sight of a girl shivering in the cold on the first floor of an apartment block. They end up taking her home and, taking a liking to her, try to raise her as one of their own, including teaching her how to shoplift. Little to do they know that the young girl will change their lives forever and expose the family’s biggest secrets.
What if, while executing the challenging task of filming a single-camera no-cut zombie movie at an abandoned facility, real zombies how up and start to eat the cast and crew?
Why, an uncompromising director like Hamatsu Takayuki will drive the production relentlessly to get it all, verite, with no cuts, and no breaks, and no rescues if you’re bitten. This horror indie became a social media hit in Japan when the theatrical run, at first just two theaters, in Tokyo exploded into a wide-scale release, via fan acclaim. All this in response to the weird and unique structure that includes a 37-minute opening cut and a no-name cast.
One of only two animated films on this year’s festival, Mirai was screened at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival for the Director’s Fortnight, and is arguably the more polished one.
Written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda (The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Summer Wars, Wolf Children), the time-traveling brother and sister Kun (voiced by Kamishiraishi Moka) and Mirai (voiced by Kuroki Haru), embark on a dazzling and fantastic journey through their family’s history to better understand their relatives. This changes Kun from a spoiled little boy who’s been jealous of his new baby sister’s arrival, to a young man who comes of age as he lives out the stories of the lives of his family. Meantime the teenage Mirai from the future, teaches him why it’s important to love your family.
All about the joys and sorrows of a Korean immigrant family living in Japan, centered around the ethnic Korean Yong-gil (Kim Sang-ho) who runs a yakiniku barbecue restaurant inside a squatter settlement on government property.
Set in 1970, director Chong Wishing adapted this from his own play with a similar title, one that has been honored with numerous theater awards. The Kansai region is jubilant over the World Expo in Osaka and Japan’s economy was booming, but for the migrants in the squatter area like Yong-gil, he has a wife, three daughters, and a son who depend on him and the restaurant. Yong-gil tries to live with upbeat bravado but the tides of the times come knocking as the migrants are faced with eviction.
This is a fantasy live-action movie in the vein of Dragon Ball, based on the popular anime and manga by Karakarakemuri.
Our heroes with incredible martial powers are the three Kumo Brothers, the eldest Kumo Tenka (Fukushi), Soramaru (Nakayama Yuma), and Chutaro (Wakayama Kirato), who must defend the Kumo Shrine that they protect from the resurrection of the snake demon Orochi, he who wreaks havoc on mankind. Apparently this happens every 300 years and it’s just bad luck (or fate) that it’s the Brothers Kumo that must face Orochi and his evil minions.
If you’ve got Netflix you’ve likely already taken a gander at the anime and the live-action TV series of this one. But, yes, they also made a movie just like they did for Shingeki No Kyojin (Attack on Titan).
Fortunately this one holds up to multiple platform translations, mostly because of its very wasak premise. See, on the outside the Hyakkaoh Private Academy is just your garden variety school for elite and snotty rich kids, but inside the walls the students know that only one thing can get you to the top of the student body: gambling skill. At this academy, the currency, status, and past time of the students here isn’t grades or sexual favors, it’s gambling—for any kind of stakes, in any kind of game.
Transfer student Yumeko Jabami (Hamabe Minami) find all this out like it’s a surprise and many of the sharks quickly flock to what they think is easy meat. But Yumeko has a secret. She’s actually a highly skilled compulsive gambler herself, who finds gratification in taking extreme risks. Soon she’s entangled in the lives of the gambling council and is engaging in the most intense of games.
The ultimate prize? The position of student rep. Something that the whole school is vying for and just might be worth killing over. Will Yumeko survive or stake too much?
All films screened at Shangri-La Plaza Cinema (July 3-14) cost Php100 per screening, but all other EIGASAI screening venues are open to the public and free of charge.
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