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Highlights from the 18th Japanese Film Festival

RETURNING for its 18th year, the Japanese Film Festival promises a huge lineup of more than 50 films and a wide variety of genres. With drama, cult, action, anime and classic films on offer, there’s something for just about any cinema goer at the festival.  Daniel Driscoll lets you know about some of the films worth catching.

Photo: Julius Pang via Japanese Film Festival's official Facebook page.

Photo: Julius Pang via Japanese Film Festival’s official Facebook page.

The Japanese Film Festival is back for another year and brings with it the best that Japan has to offer, along with some classic films that form part of Japan’s rich cinema history.

The schedule this year presents a broad range of styles and genres ranging from big budget action films to small budget affairs that hold a mirror to modern life in Japan. The selection aims to cater to a wide taste in films and does a pretty great job at succeeding, especially considering how some of the films in this year’s lineup have been fast tracked from Japanese cinemas to Australian ones.

More than 50 films, with more to be announced, will make their way to Hoyts Melbourne Central and the Australian Centre for the Moving Image between November 27 to December 7.

To help you sort out what to catch, we’ve taken a look at what’s on offer and chosen a selection to help you decide.

Lady Maiko

©2014 Fuji Television Network, Toho, Kansai Telecasting Corporation, Dentsu, The Kyoto Shimbun, Kyoto Broadcasting System, Altamira Pictures

Image supplied by Japanese Film Festival.

Opening the festival is the Australian Premiere of Lady Maiko, a musical comedy directed by Masayuki Suo (Shall We Dance?) and based loosely on the Audrey Hepburn classic, My Fair Lady

Haruko has always wanted to be a geisha and approaches a teahouse in one of Kyoto’s famous geisha districts to become an apprentice geisha, or maiko, only to be rejected due to her lack of references, dialect and uncultivated demeanor. Her accent catches the interest of Professor Kyono, a linguistics specialist and regular at the teahouse who strikes a deal with the teahouse owner, promising to transform Haruko’s strong dialect into ladylike speech within 6 months.

The Vancouver Asahi

© 2014 “The Vancouver Asahi” Film Partners

Image supplied by Japanese Film Festival.

The festival will close with director Yuya Ishii’s latest, The Vancouver Asahi. Ishii is no stranger to the festival with his award-winning The Great Passage opening last year’s festival .

The Vancouver Asahi is set in pre-WWII when Japanese immigrants were migrating to Canada. The film is based on the true story of the Japanese-Canadian baseball team of the same name who overcame racial discrimination and found that in baseball and in life it’s not about winning, but how well you play the game.

Rurouni Kenshin Trilogy

Image Provided ©2012 Nobuhiro Watsuki/Shueisha/

Image supplied by Japanese Film Festival.

Catch the epic Kenshin trilogy directed by Keishi Otomo, a live action adaptation of the hugely popular samurai manga series Rurouni Kenshin written by Nobuhiro Watsuki. Rurouni Kenshin, Rurouni Kenshin – Tokyo Inferno and Rurouni Kenshin – The Legend Ends will all showing at the festival.

Rurouni Kenshin tells the story of Himura Kenshin, a renowned killer who walks away from Japan’s fighting in the 1860’s. The warrior is forced to draw his sword once more when he is faced against those who wish to return Japan to times of darkness.

Tokyo Inferno sees Kenshin journey to the old capital of Kyoto where unrest is brewing. Awaiting him there is Makoto Shishio, a man so formidable that he was once allowed to inherit the very title of sanctioned assassin that Kenshin renounced. Kenshin discovers an enemy who possesses skills that may be more than a match for his own.

In The Legend Ends Kenshin must learn how to unlock the power within to finally defeat Shishio. Meanwhile, Shishio has the entire government wrapped around his fingers, and the entire nation is out for Kenshin’s head.

Thermae Romae & Thermae Romae II

©2012 Fuji Television Network/TOHO/DENTSU/ENTERBRAIN

Image supplied by Japanese Film Festival.

Thermae Romae is a live action adaptation based upon the popular manga series written by Mari Yamazaki.  

The first film is a time travelling comedy that sees Roman architect Lucius’ bathhouse plans rejected because they’re not modern enough. He soon discovers a time-travel portal between ancient Rome and present-day Japan which is overflowing with modern bathhouses. Things go a little sideways in this past-meets-present caper where he decides to take these more than modern enough ideas back to Rome.  

Thermae Romae II see Lucius commissioned to build baths for the gladiators of the arena. With little inspiration to found in Rome, Lucius time travels back to modern Japan for a supply of ideas. He discovers modern inventions such as massage chairs, bathing powder and the bidet. But things aren’t as siomple as they were the first time around as ancient Rome is plunged into turmoil as its Emperor and the Senate become divided. 

JU-ON: The Beginning of the End

©2014 JU-ON - The Beginning of the End Production Committee

Image supplied by Japanese Film Festival.

Those vengeful ghosts are back to frighten more unsuspecting victims in JU-ON – The Beginning of the End.

School teacher Yui visits the home of one of her students to investigate their truancy. She comes in contact with a curse that forces her to re-live the horrific events that took place in the home 10 years ago.

Director Takashi Shimizu’s famous family of evil spirits slowly torment their victims, ensuring the suspense is ratcheted all the way up. The hellish soundscape and atmosphere will have even veteran horror fanatics on the edge of their seat!

Tokyo Refugees

©2014 Tokyo Refugees Production Committee

Image supplied by Japanese Film Festival.

Tokyo Refugees gives us a glimpse of those living on the underside of fast paced modern Tokyo.

Osamu is college student with few worries when his father flees from debt. His life is turned upside-down overnight and he soon finds himself expelled from school and evicted from his apartment.

He becomes one of Japan’s many net cafe refugees, scraping by each day with temporary and part-time work. Even though he’s still in Tokyo, his circumstances drive him to see and experience his home city in new ways. In his effort to survive, Osamu gradually finds himself gravitating to the ‘invisible’ spaces occupied by the wanderers and homeless of Tokyo, people just like himself now. 

Tokyo Tribe

Image Provided

Image supplied by Japanese Film Festival.

Director Shion Sono (Why Don’t You Play in Hell?) brings you Tokyo Tribe, a hip-hop musical where turf wars are played out as rap battles in a modern day take of West Side Story with swords and way more violence. 

Rival tribes struggle for control of a near-future Tokyo against a backdrop of sex, violence and corruption. Tensions between two of the tribes escalate when Mera, leader of the Bukuro Wu-Ronz tribe, kills rival tribe leader Tera Saru and then sets his sights on eliminating Tera’s successor over a personal vendetta. When the High Priest’s daughter goes missing, ruthless crime lord Buppa enters the chaos and an all-out turf war erupts between the tribes.

Tokyo Tribe won’t disappoint those who prefer their violence with a whole lot of hip-hop thrown in.

Snow White Murder Case

Image Supplied

Image supplied by Japanese Film Festival.

Adapted from a novel by Kanae Minato, Snow White Murder Case combines social commentary with an atypical whodunit mystery to form a compelling modern day thriller.

The body of office worker Noriko is discovered deep in the woods and news of her murder starts wave of rumours among her colleagues. When semi-pro journalist and social media addict Yuji Akahoshi hears of a plausible motive and casually tweets it, Noriko’s co-worker Miki becomes implicated and a trial by media begins.

Buddha 2

Image Supplied

Image supplied by Japanese Film Festival.

Osamu Tezuka’s (Kimba the White Lion, Astro BoyBuddha 2 is the second film in the trilogy. The film is an animated retelling of Buddha’s journey to enlightenment and a continuation from its predecessor, Buddha, which screened at the 2011 Japanese Film Festival.

Siddhartha, Prince of the Shakya Kingdom, gives up his right to the throne in search of the meaning of life and death. Out in the world he witnesses the fragility of life and the suffering of those he loves. Determined to seek the truth, Siddhartha subjects himself to extreme suffering, but comes no closer until a simple act of kindness changes everything.

 Ten Black Women

Image Supplied

Image supplied by Japanese Film Festival.

From famous director Kon Ichikawa comes Ten Black Women, a black and white classic from 1961.

Kaze is a married TV producer with nine mistresses on the side. All of them have had enough of his ways and get together to devise a plot to kill him. The film is a dastardly good time and provides a critique of the ever present chauvinism of Japanese society of the era.

Save yourself some money and grab your tickets before the festival starts with the early bird tickets on sale October 15 – 28. Adult tickets are only $16 and concession tickets are $14.

The festival also has a Film Pass on offer with 5 films for $75 but it can only be purchased at the box office (Excludes Opening Film and Special Events. Must be purchased in one transaction and are venue specific).

If you’re keen to bring a big group of friends you’ll also have the option of the Group booking with each ticket only $13.50 (10+).

The Melbourne schedule has not yet been released so keep checking the Festival site as more films for Melbourne are yet to be announced. There’ll be an even bigger line up ready for your viewing pleasure by the time the Festival kicks off!

The Japanese Film Festival will be playing November 27 – December 5 at Hoyts Melbourne Central and ACMI Cinemas, Federation Square. For more info and to buy tickets head to the Japanese Film Festival’s site.

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