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Yubari Fanta 2013-2015: Part 2

August 22, 2015

Here are some pictures from the streets of Yubari.


Yubari Fanta 2013-2015: Part 1

August 22, 2015

I had intended to write a long article about Yubari International Film festival; however, since it seems I’ll never find the time I’ll just post a very quick introduction with some pictures.

The festival is held in the small town of Yubari in February, when the whole place covered in snow. It’s a pretty beautiful view with all the snowy mountains. The city streets alone are good enough a reason to visit Yubari since they are packed with beautiful old movie billboards from samurai films to yakuza flicks and Charles Bronson movies. I have counted at least 50 of them and trying to find all of them is part of the fun. I’ll post some pictures in the next post.

The festival itself focuses on small genre and indie films, from splatter to drama. Most of the films are world premiers of titles you’ve never heard about before – and may never hear about again. Consequently the average level of the films may not be as high as on some other festivals, but there are many small treasures to be found every year.

Another highlight is the insane side-program. If you attend a screening of a martial arts film, you can probably expect a live martial arts demonstration. If you attend a screening for a special effects splatter film, you may see the film’s makeup artist holding a 2 hour workshop on how to turn an actor into a zombie. And if you attend anything with regular quests Yoshihiro Nishimura or Noboru Iguchi, you should expect total insanity. Seriously, half of the madness that goes on in Nishimura and Iguchi events cannot be posted publicly, with the two gentlemen running around naked in snow being among the cost casual and innocent of their acts. Others include a human sushi plate (a naked woman, of course), Iguchi and Nishimura dancing to a AKB-48 pop song while dressed in girls’ school uniform, and SM torture competition hosted by Eihi Shiina – just to give a few examples of things that kind of can be mentioned publicly.

“Cruel!”. In front of the venue for an insane 2 day Yoshihiro Nishimura program.

Yui Murata mini concert

Nishimura, Iguchi and Kayano dancing to ABK-48

Iguchi and Rina Takeda in Iguchi event

Nishimura, Iguchi, Asami and others

The oriental Tom Cruise

Makeup effects wizard Soichi Umezawa does his magic on Momoko Kuroiwa

Band playing at the closing ceremony

Of course there are also some relatively down-to-earth Q&A sessions, like

Asami, Kudando Mitsutake and Dean Harada at Gun Woman premiere

Maki Mizui and Yoshihiro Nishimura at Kept (Ra) premiere

And what’s best, there are no red carpets in Yubari. Filmmakers and the audience hang out together, sit in the audience together, and constantly run into each other everywhere. In fact, most of the time when you’re sitting in the audince you later discover the guy next to you was the film’s director/actor/cinematographer etc. Or you’re eating delicious deer in the stove party and only later realize the cook was Masanori Mimoto…


35mm Greatness in Tokyo

April 25, 2014

Anyone who loves seeing movies from 35 mm film prints is in for an epic treat in Tokyo in May (2014). As a result of an unbelievable amount of coincidences, there’s an incredible set of Japanese classics and cult films screening in different theatres around the same time (though without subtitles of course). Most of them play in large retrospectives, so you if you stay for longer time you can catch tons of movies.

However, even if you were like me and could only drop by for one extended weekend, you’ve still got more Japanese 40 classics to choose from in a dozen theaters. May 15th – May 18 (Friday-Sunday) especially is good time. I’ve listed below only what’s playing during that time.


Laputa (Day Show): Screenwriter Koji Tanada Retrospective

The Defensive Power of Aikido (Shigero Ozawa, 1975) (35mm)

Silk Hat Boss (Norifumi Suzuki, 1970) (35mm)

Ikasama bakuchi (Shigero Ozawa, 1968) (35mm)

Shimaizaka (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1985) (35mm)

Onimasa (Hideo Gosha, 1982) (35mm)

Otoko no shobu: niou no irezumi (Norifumi Suzuki, 1967) (35mm)


Laputa (Morning Show): Ishiro Honda Drama Retrospective

– People of Tokyo, Goodbye (Ishiro Honda, 1956) (35mm)

– An Echo Calls You (Ishiro Honda, 1959) (35mm)


Laputa (Late Show): Meika Seri Retrospective

Wet Lust: 21 Strippers (Tatsumi Kumashiro, 1974) (35mm)

Man and Woman Behind the Fusuma Screen: Enduring Skin (Tatsumi Kumashiro, 1974) (35mm)


Pole Pole: Special Screening

Woods are Wet: Woman Hell (Tatsumi Kumashiro, 1973) (35mm)

The Embryo Hunts in Secret (Koji Wakamatsu, 1966) (35mm) (Guest: Masao Adachi)


Kineka Omori (Normal Distribution)

No. 10 Blues – Goodbye Saigon (1975) (format unknown)

Cinema Vera: Director Yoshitaro Nomura Retrospective

Tokyo Bay (Yoshitaro Nomura, 1962) (35mm)

Hakuchû dodo (Yoshitaro Nomura, 1968) (35mm)


Cinema Vera: Actor Shin Kishida Retrospective

Utamaro’s World (Akio Jissoji, 1977) (35mm)

Demon Spies (Takashi Tsuboshima, 1974) (35mm)


Theater Shinjuku: Pia Film Festival Presents

Japanese 8mm 16mm Films from 1970’s & 1980’s (format unknown)


Cine Qualite: Karikore 2014

– Horrors of Malformed Men (Teruo Ishii, 1969) (35mm)


National Film Center: The Birth and Development of Japanese Color Film

Yuhi to kenju (Kiyoshi Saeki, 1956) (35mm)

Hokkaido no hanran (Kunio Watanabe, 1956) (35mm)

Bridge of Japan (Kon Ichikawa, 1956) (35mm)

The Taira Clan (Kenji Mizoguchi, 1955) (35mm)

Hadashi no seishun (Senkichi Taniguchi, 1956) (35mm)

River of the Night (Kôzaburô Yoshimura, 1956) (35mm)

Meguro Cinema: Shunji Iwai Series

Love Letter (Shunji Iwai, 1995) (35mm)

Swallowtail Butterfly (Shunji Iwai, 1996) (35mm)

All About Lily Chou Chou (Shunji Iwai, 2001) (35mm)

Hana and Alice (Shunji Iwai, 2004) (35mm)


Shin Bungeiza: Yuzo Kawashima retrospective

Ojosan shacho (Yuzo Kawashima, 1953) (35mm)

Burden of Love (Yuzo Kawashima, 1955) (35mm)

Suzaki Paradise Red Light (Yuzo Kawashima, 1956) (35mm)

Noren (Yuzo Kawashima, 1958) (35mm)

Onna wa nido umareru (Yuzo Kawashima, 1961) (35mm)

The Graceful Brute (Yuzo Kawashima, 1962) (35mm)


Jinbocho: Screen Beauties Retrospective

Mukashi no uta (Tamizo Ishida, 1939) (35mm)

Sincerity (Mikio Naruse, 1939) (35mm)

Hideko, the Bus Conductor (Mikio Naruse, 1941) (35mm)

A Broken Drum (Keinosuke Kinoshita, 1949) (35mm)

Till We Meet Again(Tadashi Imai, 1950) (35mm)

Aijo (Kiyoshi Horiike, 1956) (35mm)

Garasu no naka no shôjo (Mitsuo Wakasugi, 1960) (35mm)

Tears on the Lion’s Mane (Masahiro Shinoda, 1962) (35mm)


Of course, if you come earlier or stay longer there’s dozens of more films playing in the same retrospectives, like many Kinji Fukasaku yakuza films, more roman pornos, more Ishiro Honda films, Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House, many Sogo Ishii films, or this Keizo Kanie set that closes on May 15th.


Shimbashi Bunka: Keizo Kanie Memorial Screenings

– Tattoeed Flower Vase (Masaru Konuma, 1976) (35mm)

– Rape (Yasuraru Hasebe, 1976) (35mm)

– Angel Guts: Red Classroom (Chusei Sone, 1979) (35mm)


Some day in the future I’ll try to write something about the coolest cinemas in Tokyo. I’m not based in Tokyo so my experience is limited, but I can immediately recommend Laputa Asagaya, which is the most atmosheric small theater playing nothing but retrospectives, and with certain reservations, Shimbashi Bunka’s Roman Gekijo, which plays a lot of Nikkatsu pink in triple features and gives you the old school pink cinema exprerience with all its dirtiness. You’ll feel like taking a shower after you leave the theater, and that’s not even related to what was going on on the screen…!


For an excellent resource on cinemas in Tokyo area that show non-mainstream films and old movies, see this great Japanese website.


Comment: The State of Japanese Cinema

April 12, 2014

For quite a few years already it’s been popular pastime among Japanese film commentators to complain about the state modern Japanese cinema. In fact, some devoted souls seem to do little else. Yet, I would dare to somewhat disagree with them.

Certainly, Japanese cinema today isn’t what it was back in the 70’s, 60’s, or whichever is your favourite decade. It isn’t even what it was a bit over 10 years ago, when Asian cinema in general was enjoying a boom.

Yet, with the amount of interesting new films that have played in theatres / festivals during the past year or so in Japan – much less so anywhere else – I wouldn’t call the situation a catastrophe, not even close.

Not when there are films like The Tale of Iya (2013) – a breathtaking 169 min epic gorgeously filmed on 35mm and echoing masters like Shohei Imamura and Kaneto Shindo, butt adding its own magic – in theatres. Not when the most stylish Japanese film in years, Daisuke Miura’s 18-rated psychological drama Love’s Whirlpool (2014) (Ai no uzu) just opened a month ago. These are but two examples of excellent films that are in Japanese cinemas right now.

The year 2013 was panned by many Japan-critics, yet it saw the release of some tremendously original films, such as GFP Bunny (2012), which takes the true story of a schoolgirl who poisoned her mother, and turns it into a punk study on body modification, plastic surgery, bullying, biotechnology, surveillance technology, and more.

Even more memorable was the gekimation animation The Burning Buddha Man (2013), in which a Buddhist monk saves an orphan girl and then introduced her to a bizarre hidden world of mutants, monsters, terrorists and Buddhist alternative reality in which time runs at different speed. Another debut film worth attention is Junk Head 1 (2013): a slightly flawed but tremendously impressive 30 min cyberpunk stop motion animation set in the distant future where humans send an adroid to spy on clones living in an underground coplex. The film is even spoken in multiple fictional languages.

Japanese animation produced some other noteworthy pictures as well. While international attention went to Miayzaki’s final film, it was Isao Takahata’s The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013) that was praised as the true masterpiece. Unfortunately I failed to catch the film in theatres, and I’m still waiting for it to hit the home video. Makoto Shinkai’s breathtakingly beautiful Garden of Words (2013), which further cements his position as Japan’s best animation director still in business, has already reached foreign shores.

Quite surprisingly, indie favourite Hiroshi Ishikawa’s (Tokyo . Sora, Su-ki-da) meditative return to big screen went almost unnoticed by many. Petal Dance (2013) shows Ishikawa in top form with mesmerizing visuals and one of the best acted and most natural scenes (a five minute single shot scene in a car) I have ever seen.

Japanese slacker cinema, which was made popular by directors such as Nobuhiro Yamashita and Yuya Ishii, is still producing some great films. The wonderfully titled Fuck Me to the Moon (2013) adds a fresh twist to the genre by integrating music and cinema. The film follows two miserable yet lovable amateur musicians trying to charm a sexy woman who moves in with them by composing music. Nobuhiro Yamashita also had a highly enjoyable new film, Tamako in Moratorium (2013), released last year.

Japanese genre and exploitation films have admittedly suffered greatly from the shift to bargain basement digital cinematography and ever shrinking budgets, resulting in some visually unappealing works. However, if one manages to look beyond the rough looks, there have been some highly enjoyable films on offer. The latest one is Kurando Mitsutake’s ultra-violent and superbly stylized B-action film Gun Woman (2014), which is a major step up from his earlier movie Samurai Avenger. Takanori Tsujimoto’s Bushido Man (2013), while no visual feast, takes a Heroes of the East -esque premise and unloads a long series of brilliantly choreographed action as Mitsuki Koga duels with the masters of kung fu, samurai sword, knife, and several other martial arts.

If we stretch the inspection period a little bit further to films that actually premiered in 2012 but still played in Japanese theatres in 2013 we should certainly mention The Kirishima Thing (2012) – a poignant and very stylish high school film released to mainstream audiences but directed with the finesse of a fine indie film. The film was no success in multiplexes, but later had a second theatrical run in arthouses. Japan’s most interesting documentary filmmaker Tetsuaki Matsue’s Flashback Memories 3D (2013) is also worth seeing, although I prefer his Live Tape (2009) and the terrific Tokyo Drifter (2011), both of which follow musician Kenta Maeno singing and wondering around Tokyo.

Finally, Audio Erotica has to be mentioned. This highly Tsukamoto-esque 40 minute film of a woman who becomes addicted to her boyfriend’s voice – much less so the man himself – immediately made its director, a young female named Kimi Yawata, a name to remember. Another interesting young female director is Nagisa Isogai, whose flawed but interesting schoolgirls-hunting-molesters film The Lust of Angels (2014) is almost like a modern feminist upgrade of the girl gang films of the 70’s.

Of course, there were also many promising films that I missed, like Let’s Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage (2011) director Eisuke Naito’s Puzzle (2014), Hisayasu Sato’s Hana-Dama (2014), Kazuyoshi Kumakiri’s The End of Summer (2013), Shinji Aoyama’s Backwater (2013), Hirokazu Koreeda’s Like Father, Like Son (2013), Kazuya Shiraishi’s The Devil’s Path (2013), Kenji Murakami’s Sound Hunting (2013), and Junichi Inoue’s A Woman and War (2013).

The future seems decently interesting as well. Kumakiri’s new film My Man (2014) stars Tadanobu Asano and the extremely talented Fumi Nikaido. Splatter director Yoshihiro Nishimura recently wrapped the filming of his new ninja movie Ninja Torakage (2014) on location in Iga. Yukihiro Toda, whose 2013 Yubari winner Extend Hands from Darkness (2013) is also worth seeing, is working on a new sex crime film Anata mo mata mushi de aru (2014). Nobuhiko Obayashi’s latest, Seven Weeks (2014), already played in Yubari to a great acclaim. Sion Sono, who hasn’t done a good film since 2010, is also of potential interest with his Tokyo Tribes (2014) being released in August.

With movies like this I certainly don’t feel there’s a huge lack of interesting stuff to see. The problem, then, probably has more to do with how well these films (do not) travel abroad and domestically. Even in Japan indie productions can be difficult to see outside major cities and/or festivals.

It is absolutely true that Japanese mainstream cinema is getting less and less interesting while the good films often come from interesting newcomers. Unfortunately the attention is not shifting: film festivals abroad are still focusing on the (more or less) tired stuff by Miike, Kitano, Sono etc. instead of looking for new talents. Criticism on the state of the industry in this sense is fully justified; however, to say good films are not being made in Japan anymore doesn’t seem like a very strong argument to me. It’s more like the good films are no longer being discovered and discussed about.


Typhoon – Part 2: Family Entertainment

April 17, 2011

Sushi Typhoons films would be best categorized as family movies. No, not in that sense! In the old school, filmmaker sense.

Back in the days when Japanese action cinema rocked the world, filmmakers used to be studio loyal. It resulted in specific actors always showing up in similar movies. This, in turn, gave certain studios dominance in specific genres. Toei was prime example with their karate, yakuza and pinky violence movies. Toei always had Sonny Chiba beat the shit out Masashi Ishibashi. Hideo Murota was always to make an appearance in a yakuza movie. Akira Oizumi or Tooru Yuri would serve as the comic relief in pinky violence films. Even if you don’t recognize the names, you’ve surely seen their faces… many times. Those were the days.

The newly born Japanese splatter and cult cinema brings this tradition back. Studio loyalty is technically speaking gone, but the Japanese world of gore is small enough to bring the splatter masters together on a regular basis.

Yoshihiro Nishimura, one of Sushi Typhoon’s most valuable assets, personifies this. From Sushi Typhoon’s six movies he has directed and written one, co-directed another, and done special effects work for five. He’s unstoppable. He’s the Tom Savini of Japan, the best splatter artist in Japan. If someone in Japan gets killed excessively violently, Nishimura is your prime suspect.

Aside helping out his fellow criminals, Nishimura also receives help from his pals. The fake commercials in Tokyo Gore Police were actually helmed by Noboru Iguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi, current Sushi Typhoon employees both of them. Nishimura himself is the man who directed the Reject of Death spin off short movie for Yamaguchi’s 2005 film Meatball Machine. And who appears in Reject of Death? The Grudge director Takashi Shimizu and AV star gone cult actress Asami.

Asami was also in Noboru Iguchi’s movies The Machine Girl, Robo-Geisha, Mutant Girls Squad and Karate-Robo Zaborgar. Nishimura did special effect work for all of them. Shimizu on the other hand, he was the high school professor in Nishimura’s love comedy splatter Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, the Chinese guy in Tokyo Gore Police, the random customer in The Ancient Dogoo Girl Movie (based on a series created by Noboru Iguchi), just to mention a few.

Tak Sakaguchi is another powerhouse. One leading role, one co-starring role, two co-directing credits, and choreography participation in five films. And this is not counting the 7th Sushi Typhoon film, Deadball, starring Sakaguchi and directed by Yudai Yamaguchi. The two also collaborated in the 6th film, Yakuza Weapon, with even more responsibilities handed to Sakaguchi.

Spotting these actors and filmmakers in Sushi Typhoon films is part of the fun – and perhaps something that may leave random viewers feeling a bit outsiders. You never know when the Machine Girl nailhead Demo Tanaka will make his next appearance, which role has been reserved for the ill-lucked TGP policeman Yukihide Benny, and how evil will the Vampire Girl janitor Jiji Bu be.

And then there are the ladies, the Mizuizumi: Maki Mizui and Cay Izumi. The lovely chan-duo Maki and Cay are some of the best “accidental idols” in the industry. Maki, whose age appears to be a national secret (think real hard about her past career achievements and you may come up with a theory for this) is Nishimura’s assistant, actress, part time AV star, and now a singer and dancer, too. She’s also the girl who ran from her agent to see Tetsuo 3 in cinema alone! See her blog for more stories, a kumakosu (sorry, custom created term) photo, and the source of my shamelessly stolen Maki / Taku pic.

Maki’s been around for some time. If you saw a cute meganekko girl in the behind the scenes photos from The Machine Girl, that was her. If you saw another one in Tokyo Gore Police promotion, well, that was Maki again. She even did narration for the making of documentary for Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl. She received more visibility in Nishimura’s segment for Mutant Girls Squad, in which she played the Astro Mutant, and in Helldriver, where she’s the spider girl. And now she has a starring role in the new non-Sushi film Never Ending Blue. And did I mention she sings and dances?

Maki’s live performance could be witnessed at this year’s Yubari Fantastic Film Fest as a part of the Mizuizumi show by Maki and Cay. The Hokkaido born Cay Izumi is a pole dancer by her first profession – with her own dance team Tokyo Dolores – but she, too, has teamed up with Nishimura and Iguchi numerous times. Due to her athletic ability she’s typically cast in roles such as the cyber punk wonder ‘dog girl’ in Tokyo Gore Police, or one of the Tengu Girls in Robo-Geisha (the other one was played by Asami, who appears in the photo on the left), or one of the ganguro girls in both Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl and Vampire Frankenstein Girl.

The latter, Vampire Frankenstein Girl, is a 15 minute spin-off movie. These short films, a tradition that started long before Sushi Typhoon, provide an additional channel for the under-rated fan favorites to make screen appearances. Vampire Frankenstein Girl for example, co-stars both Cay and Maki, and also features an acting appearance by graph designer / Cold Fish screenwriter Yoshiki Takahashi. Takahashi also directed one of the TGP spin off movies. The Machine Girl and Robo-Geisha received their spin offs as well. As far as Sushi Typhoon films go, Mutant Girls Squad has received a spin off film, and there will most certainly be more on the way as Nishimura and Iguchi get more titles into home distribution.

However, as the Mizuizumi show proved, Cay, Maki, and many other Sushi employees are not just a silver screen treat. These guys have been extremely active promoting their films at movie festivals around the word, as well as in domestic opening nights. They’re usually sparsely clothed – yes, Nishimura and Iguchi, too – and putting up a hellava show. Nishimura and Iguchi getting darts stick in their ass, the same duo running around naked in snow, Cay bringing her pole to a movie theater with her, or Sakaguchi beating his stuntmen live, are just a few examples.

With a bit of luck, a Sushi Typhoon premiere ticket will bring a lot more than one paid for. But of course, much of Sushi Typhoon is, as my friend put it, “acquired taste”. Neither the films nor the chefs are for everyone. Some people just don’t eat raw fish. That’s their choice. They can go for meatballs instead (that’s not Iguchi, btw). Sushi Typhoon’s menu is a bit more exotic.