Japan Cuts 2019: Full Lineup Announced

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New York’s Japan Cuts is gearing up to kick off its 2019 season beginning July 19th and the full lineup was announced today. The 13th edition of the festival, which runs through the 28th, will include 26 features and 16 shorts, 10 of which are international premieres.

Take a look below at the full lineup (and trailer) and check out the official site at japansociety.org/JAPANCUTS for more details.

Dance With Me (U.S. Premiere)
Directed by Shinobu Yaguchi, 2019, 103 min.
Friday, July 19 at 7:00 pm

When an entry level Tokyo salarywoman with executive level aspirations wakes up from hypnosis performed by a shady carnival magician (played by Akira Takarada, of Godzilla fame), she suddenly can’t help but break into song and dance whenever she hears music. Desperate to break the spell before an important meeting, she chases the evasive hypnotist across the country, singing and dancing herself into and out of trouble along the way. With his signature light touch and knack for ensemble comedy, director Shinobu Yaguchi (Swing Girls) delivers a winning office comedy-road trip-musical led by Ayaka Miyoshi’s irresistible breakout performance. With Ayaka Miyoshi, Akira Takarada, Yu Yashiro, Takahiro Miura. Followed by Q&A with director Shinobu Yaguchi and star Ayaka Miyoshi and the Opening Night Party.

Killing (East Coast Premiere)
Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto, 2018, 80 min.
Wednesday, July 24 at 7:00 pm

The latest from internationally renowned cult director and 2019 CUT ABOVE Award recipient Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: The Iron Man) is a subversive samurai drama that the filmmaker has called a “scream” in response to the current state of the world. When a traveling swordsman (Tsukamoto) in mid-19th century Japan enlists a young ronin (Sosuke Ikematsu) for an anticipated war in Edo, the battle-untested recruit struggles to reconcile his pacifism with the demand to kill—a struggle that unravels into madness. A stark consideration of violence and honor handled with masterful artistry by one of contemporary Japanese cinema’s most essential auteurs. With Sosuke Ikematsu, Yu Aoi, Ryusei Maeda, Shinya Tsukamoto. Preceded by the CUT ABOVE Award ceremony and followed by a Q&A with director Shinya Tsukamoto and the Centerpiece Party.

Blue Hour (North American Premiere)
Directed by Yuko Hakota, 2019, 92 min.
Sunday, July 28 at 9:00 pm

Just past thirty, Sunada (Kaho) is a consummate Tokyo entertainment media professional (with the toxic love life and battered liver to prove it) directing television commercials that require more personality management skills than artistry. Discouraged by the inequitable pressures of a misogynist industry and her cycle of self-destructive behavior, Sunada road trips to her rural Ibaraki hometown with her free-spirited best friend Kiyoura (Eun-kyung Shim) where she reopens uneasy family relationships and unlocks repressed creative spirits. Director Yuko Hakota manages subtle fluctuations of reality with distinct comedic flair in this remarkable debut, announcing the arrival of a new force in Japanese cinema. With Kaho, Eun-kyung Shim, Denden, Kaho Minami. Followed by Q&A with director Yuko Hakota and stars Kaho and Eun-kyung Shim.

In Alphabetical Order

And Your Bird Can Sing (North American Premiere)
Directed by Sho Miyake, 2018, 106 min.
Monday, July 22 at 9:00 pm
A bookstore part-timer (Tasuku Emoto) who shares a cramped apartment with an equally lackadaisical friend (Shota Sometani) strikes up a low-stakes love affair with his co-worker (Shizuka Ishibashi) during a lazy summer in Hakodate. The three twenty-somethings happily stumble through low-key clubs and late-night konbini runs, but when carefree attachment shifts to romantic infatuation, their easy friendship destabilizes and prompts them to reach for something to hold onto. Sho Miyake’s update of the 1982 novel by Yasushi Sato (author of The Light Shines Only There) offers a subtle critique of hipster culture while attaining the breezy style of the film’s titular Beatles Revolver track. With Tasuku Emoto, Shizuka Ishibashi, Shota Sometani, Makiko Watanabe.

Being Natural (U.S. Premiere)
Directed by Tadashi Nagayama, 2018, 96 min.
Saturday, July 20 at 6:30 pm
Kindhearted Taka (Yota Kawase) idly passes time playing bongos under the clear country sky and grilling meat with his local friends. However, his life of simple pleasures is threatened with the arrival of the Kurihara family—Tokyoites who fled the city in search of the “natural life” and become intent on converting Taka’s traditional thatched roof house into a quaint cafe that serves organic food. Casting urban consumption of rural culture as a malevolent force expunging unwanted human elements and veering into xenophobic violence, Tadashi Nagayama’s comedic follow-up to Journey of the Tortoise (2017) swirls toward a wild genre-bending conclusion. With Yota Kawase, Shoichiro Tanigawa, Tadahiro Tsuru, Kanji Tsuda, Natsuki Mieda. Followed by Q&A with director Tadashi Nagayama and stars Yota Kawase and Natsuki Mieda.

The Chaplain (North American Premiere)
Directed by Dai Sako, 2018, 114 min.
Sunday, July 21 at 5:15 pm

The late, great Ren Osugi (Hana-bi) stars as a prison chaplain working on death row in this thought-provoking chamber drama—his final film as an actor and first as a producer. Visiting with a regular roster of inmates who await their final sentence—including a converted ex-yakuza and a philosophy-spouting mass murderer—the newly appointed clergyman gradually learns of their circumstances and is forced to confront his own understanding of life, death and salvation. Featuring unforgettable characters and a restrained visual style, Dai Sako’s searching film takes on the rarely-addressed topic of Japan’s death penalty in order to question the state of the country’s soul. With Ren Osugi, Reo Tamaoki, Setsuko Karasuma, Kanji Furutachi.

Demolition Girl (East Coast Premiere)
Directed by Genta Matsugami, 2018, 88 min.
Monday, July 22 at 6:30 pm

High school teen Cocoa (Aya Kitai) supports her gambling addict father and deadbeat brother with a part-time job selling sausages and secret work as a video fetish performer. Initially resigned to her small town life of limited possibilities and economic struggle, when the unexpected prospect of going to a Tokyo university is introduced, Cocoa suddenly sees a way out. Winner of the JAPAN CUTS Award at the 2019 Osaka Asian Film Festival, this original spin on a high school coming-of-age story by newcomer Genta Matsugami resists easy moralizing and overt sentimentality while celebrating the power of resilience and self-determination. With Aya Kitai, Hiroki Ino, Haruka Imou, Yura Komuro. Followed by Q&A with director Genta Matsugami and star Aya Kitai.

Erica 38 (North American Premiere)
Directed by Yuichi Hibi, 2018, 103 min.
Thursday, July 25 at 9 pm

Inspired by a true story, Erica 38 stars actor and former pop idol Miyoko Asada as Satoko, an aging con artist who gradually swindles her way to wealth. Starting off with small-time pyramid schemes, Satoko is introduced to an experienced grifter who manages her through an investment scam with bigger takes, eventually leading her to reinvent herself in Thailand as a 38-year-old named Erica. Written and directed by the accomplished fine art photographer and filmmaker Yuichi Hibi, Erica 38 is the first film produced by the late Kirin Kiki, who also appears in her final screen role as Satoko’s mother. With Miyoko Asada, Shunsuke Kubozuka, Takehiro Hira, Kirin Kiki. In English and Japanese and Thai with English subtitles.

His Lost Name (New York Premiere)
Directed by Nanako Hirose, 2019, 113 min.
Tuesday, July 23 at 6:30 pm

A small-town carpenter named Tetsuro (Kaoru Kobayashi) happens upon an unconscious young man (Yuya Yagira) on a riverbank who eventually says his name is Shinichi. The middle-aged widower sympathetically takes Shinichi in, offering a room in his home and apprenticeship in his woodshop. Before long, the pair soon develop a father-son dynamic—forcing Tetsuro’s other carpenters and patient fiancé (Keiko Horiuchi) to adjust to the strange new situation—though long-held secrets threaten to undo everything. A protégé of Hirokazu Kore-eda and Miwa Nishikawa, director Nanako Hirose masterfully reveals the fictions that keep us together and lies that tear us apart in this sensitive debut drama. With Yuya Yagira, Kaoru Kobayashi, Keiko Horiuchi, Young Dais. Followed by Q&A with director Nanako Hirose.

The Island of Cats (East Coast Premiere)
Directed by Mitsuaki Iwago, 2018, 103 min.
Saturday, July 20 at 12 pm

A country tabby in an island full of cats running wild, Tama would be living in paradise if he didn’t have to worry after his human servant Daikichi (Shinosuke Tatekawa). A retired widower, Daikichi enjoys a quiet life of daily habits visiting local friends. When newcomer Michiko (Kou Shibasaki) moves to town and opens a cafe for the island’s aging population, old habits make way for new culinary adventures for Daikichi (and Tama). This filmmaking debut by prominent wildlife photographer Mitsuaki Iwago is shot on Sakushima in Aichi Prefecture and features rapturous feline imagery seamlessly woven into a heartwarming story about community. With Shinosuke Tatekawa, Kou Shibasaki, Tasuku Emoto, Kaoru Kobayashi.

Jesus (North American Premiere)
Directed by Hiroshi Okuyama, 2018, 76 min.
Friday, July 26 at 6:30 pm

A quiet boy named Yura moves with his family from Tokyo to the snowy Japanese countryside and gets enrolled in a Christian elementary school. Adjusting to the foreign religious rituals and iconography surrounding him there, Yura tries Christian prayer for the first time and a silent six-inch Jesus materializes before him. The tiny Christ seems to grant Yura’s wishes, but when tragedy strikes, Yura starts to question his newfound faith. Winner of the New Directors Award at the 2019 San Sebastian International Film Festival, 22-year-old director Hiroshi Okuyama imbues wry humor, mystery and a childlike perspective in this highly original, oddball debut. With Yura Sato, Riki Ookuma, Chad Mullane, Hinako Saeki. Followed by Q&A with director Hiroshi Okuyama

Preceded by
Tokyo 21st October (East Coast Premiere)
Directed by Hiroshi Okuyama, 2018, 12 min.
A chatty woman and her uninterested son eat conveyor belt sushi in this cutout animation short.

Jeux de plage (International Premiere)
Directed by Aimi Natsuo, 2019, 77 min.
Saturday, July 27 at 3 pm

Produced by Kiki Sugino (Hospitalité), director Aimi Natsuto’s debut is an effervescent satire on sexual desire and social artifice. College friends Sayaka (Haruna Hori) and Yui (Juri Fukushima) visit Shonan Beach and meet Yui’s old pal Momoko (Nanaho Otsuka), where they stay at a quaint seaside villa attracting artistically-minded passers-through. From shady film professor to horny musician and would-be Korean couple, desire and delusion swirl as attraction between Sayaka and Yui is complicated by the trio’s dynamic. Immersed in the style of Éric Rohmer and featuring cameos from the Asian film scene, Natsuto’s “beach games” are a deceptively profound delight. With Haruna Hori, Juri Fukushima, Nanaho Otsuka, Shinsuke Kato. In English and Japanese, Korean, Thai with English subtitles.

The Journalist (International Premiere)
Directed by Michihito Fujii, 2018, 113 min.
Saturday, July 27 at 4:45 pm

Yoshioka (Eun-kyung Shim) is a Tokyo reporter with truth-seeking zeal haunted by her father’s destroyed journalism career and subsequent suicide. Meanwhile, Sugihara (Tori Matsuzaka) is a bureaucrat on a glide path to promotion who comes upon a shady government-funded school that could point to a historic cover-up. Together, they must decide what to do when doing the right thing feels like self-sabotage. Based on journalist Isoko Mochizuki’s book, Michihito Fujii’s thriller recalls All the President’s Men in its depiction of journalism’s civic duty, replete with bustling newsrooms, late night leak intercepts and whirring printing presses. With Eun-kyung Shim, Tori Matsuzaka, Tsubasa Honda, Amane Okayama. In English and Japanese with English subtitles. Preceded by introduction with star Eun-kyung Shim

The Kamagasaki Cauldron War (East Coast Premiere)
Directed by Leo Sato, 2018, 115 min.
Sunday, July 21 at 7:45 pm

A boisterous comedy produced in beautiful color 16mm following the hard-knock characters stirred up by the theft of a cauldron used in yakuza ceremonial rites. Set in Kamagasaki—home to the working poor of Osaka under constant threat of erasure by local government—Leo Sato’s dramatic debut follows his documentary Nagai Park Elegy (2009) on local people’s struggle against forced displacement. Magnetic character actor Yota Kawase centers this delightful ensemble of professionals and amateurs, a timeless scrappy vision of radical humanism, rendering the neighborhood’s day laborers, sex workers, union activists and street performers with empathy and respect. With Mari Ota, Yota Kawase, Kiyohiko Shibukawa.

Preceded by
Takoyaki Story (East Coast Premiere)
Directed by Sawako Kabuki, 2018, 2 min.
Animated sensual delights of the titular octopus balls popularized by Osaka street vendors.

Melancholic (North American Premiere)
Directed by Seiji Tanaka, 2018, 114 min.
Friday, July 26 at 9 pm

Despite having graduated from the prestigious Tokyo University, Kazuhiko (Yoshitomo Isozaki) is unemployed and living with his parents without any plans for the future. Everything changes, however, when he takes up a job at a local bathhouse and discovers that it is used by the yakuza as a convenient place for executions and corpse disposal. Winner of the Best Director Award at the 2018 Tokyo International Film Festival: Japanese Cinema Splash, this auspicious debut from writer/director Seiji Tanaka features an ingenious script full of unexpected shifts in genre and tone, effortlessly swinging between black comedy, coming-of-age romance and crime thriller. With Yoji Minagawa, Yoshitomo Isozaki, Mebuki Yoshida, Makoto Hada.

The Miracle of Crybaby Shottan (New York Premiere)
Directed by Toshiaki Toyoda, 2018, 127 min.
Saturday, July 27 at 12 pm

Festival favorite Toshiaki Toyoda (I’M FLASH!) takes on the true story of shogi (Japanese chess) player Shoji “Shottan” Segawa. Despite consistent dedication, Shottan (Ryuhei Matsuda) fails to go professional by the time he’s 26, permanently forfeiting his chance according to the game’s strict rules. When he makes a name for himself as an amateur years later, however, he makes an unprecedented bid to go professional at 35 and forever changes the game. Informed by Toyoda’s personal shogi experience (he trained to go professional as an adolescent), this star-studded biopic of late-blooming self-realization is an inspirational study of perseverance against all odds. With Ryuhei Matsuda, Yojiro Noda, Shota Sometani, Jun Kunimura. Followed by Q&A with director Toshiaki Toyoda.

Orphan’s Blues (North American Premiere)
Directed by Riho Kudo, 2018, 89 min.
Sunday, July 28 at 6 pm

Suffering from undiagnosed memory loss, Emma (Yukino Murakami) comes upon an elephant drawing by a childhood orphanage friend named Yang and goes off in search of him. Her wayward journey leads her to a group of outsiders whose lives are all revealed to be traumatically linked to the same missing person, including his brother Van (Takuro Kawakami). As she unlocks troubling secrets in the sweltering countryside, Emma’s memory simultaneously fades and her experiences become increasingly surreal. Winner of Pia Film Festival’s 2018 Grand Prize, director Riho Kudo’s debut is an arthouse drama marked by beautifully expressive cinematography and daring narrative experimentation. With Yukino Murakami, Takuro Kawakami, Nagiko Tsuji, Shion Sasaki.