New York’s Japan Society is wrapping up its annual JAPAN CUTS contemporary Japanese cinema festival Saturday, and you’re invited to attend! Launched at the end of the New York Asian Film Festival, Japan Society’s theater hosts a whopping 24 films—the most ever for this event—from July 1-16. This week features nightmare detectives, sweet little lies, and the eagerly awaited return of Memories of Matsuko, an audience favorite from JAPAN CUTS 2007.
All films are primarily shown in Japanese with English subtitles. This week’s films are:
Tuesday, July 13th
Oh, My Buddha!, 6 p.m. – with actor Daichi Watanabe and director Tomorowo Taguchi
A new world of “free love” opens up to Jun (Daichi Watanabe, of the band Kuroneko Chelsey, making a breakthrough debut) after taking up a friend’s offer to stay at a paradise-like island youth hostel over summer break. Previously walled off from sex at a private Buddhist school for boys, this young rock ‘n’ roll music fiend’s life is changed forever. In the tradition of George Lucas’ classic coming-of-age film, American Graffiti and Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, Taguchi and co. create a beautiful portrayal of youth, exalting in the full spectrum of intense adolescent emotions: from agonizing shame to exhilaration, frustration and doubt.
Wednesday, July 14th
Villon’s Wife, 6:30 p.m.
Based on a semi-autobiographical 1947 short story by Osamu Dazai, this period piece flows around a resilient, devoted and preternaturally patient artist’s wife. When an outraged bar owner follows Sachi’s drunk and unfaithful husband Otani home from the bar, accusing him of stealing, Sachi avoids complications by working at the bar as a self-professed “guarantee” for her husband’s debt. The couple’s relationship waxes and wanes, deepens and shifts as Sachi’s growing empowerment threatens to destroy the fragile balance of her marriage. One of the most acclaimed Japanese films of the past year, veteran director Kichitaro Negishi (What the Snow Brings) turns the spotlight on the artist’s companion, giving her flesh, blood and radiant beauty, captured to perfection by actress Takako Matsu, who earned the 34th Hochi Film Award, the 22nd Nikkan Sports Film Award and the 2010 Japan Academy Prize for Best Actress. Negishi won the 33rd Montreal World Film Festival for Best Director.
Nightmare Detective II, 9 p.m.
In a sequel whose formal beauty and emotional depth far surpass the original film, director Shinya Tsukamoto reintroduces the suicidal dream walker Kyoichi Kagenuma (Ryuhei Matsuda). Blessed and cursed with the supernatural ability to enter the dreams of others, sleep-deprived Kagenuma is urged to use his unwanted power to help Yukie, a 15-year-old high-school student plagued with nightmares that come to life. In a case that holds eerie similarities to events in his own past, Kagenuma reluctantly enters Yukie’s nightmares and confronts the very essence of fear. An enigmatic and somberly brooding character study, Nightmare Detective II cleverly subverts the conventions of the horror genre and reinvents the archetypal villain as a victim of terror herself.
Thursday, July 15th
Memories of Matsuko, 6:15 p.m.
An unlikely cross between Moulin Rouge, Citizen Kane and Amelie, Memories of Matsuko is a magical realist descent into the suppressed history (both farce and tragedy) of one of the most unfortunate women ever to reach the big screen. Director Tetsuya Nakashima makes this epic musical melodrama sing like no other with one-of-a-kind visuals. Miki Nakatani was awarded Best Actress by the Kinema Junpo Awards, Mainichi Film Concours, Asian Film Awards and the Japanese Academy for her astonishing multifaceted performance. Time Out London noted the film is “stunningly inventive, crammed with ideas and emotional truth, high on the possibilities of cinema.” An audience favorite at the first JAPAN CUTS in 2007, and back by popular demand as one of the best unreleased Japanese films of the decade.
Zero Focus, 9 p.m.
A stellar remake of the classic 1961 Yoshitaro Nomura film (based on the bestselling novel by Seicho Matsumoto), Zero Focus is the closest Japanese film in years to an Alfred Hitchcock picture, with a Douglas Sirk edge. Teiko, a newlywed investigating the sudden disappearance of her husband after he fails to return from a business trip, unravels the mystery surrounding his disappearance and uncovers evidence that he was not the man she thought had married. Soon, she learns that her beloved husband was close to two fascinating women: elegant provincial aristocrat Sachiko and company receptionist Hisako (Tae Kimura). This postwar Japan mystery thriller boasts the top three Japanese female actresses of the moment–Ryoko Hirosue (Departures), Tae Kimura (All Around Us) and Miki Nakatani (Memories of Matsuko)–whose star power performances make this one of the most outstanding films of the year.
Friday, July 16th
About Her Brother, 6:15 p.m.
Ginko (Sayuri Yoshinaga) and Tetsuro (Tsurube Shofukutei) are a sister and brother reunited. But when Tetsuro’s stalled acting career and penchant for drinking jeopardize the marriage of Ginko’s daughter (Yu Aoi), Ginko must take steps to disown him. About Her Brother is the first drama since 2000 by acclaimed director Yoji Yamada, creator of Japan’s venerable Tora-san series and 2002 Academy Award nominee for the period drama Twilight Samurai.
Sweet Little Lies, 8:30 p.m. – with director Hitoshi Yazaki
Underneath the veneer of orderly lives, frozen smiles and awkward averted glances, Sweet Little Lies is a cold-as-steel clinical study of a couple. Married for three years, the couple keeps up the apparently tender rituals of newlyweds, but all is not as bright and beautiful as it would seem. Miki Nakatani, “the best Japanese actress of her generation” (Mark Schilling, Japan Times) plays the emotionally and sexually starved wife in Hitoshi Yazaki’s anti-melodramatic chronicle of the disintegration of a marriage. Even the most seasoned viewers will be struck by the menacing calm of Yazaki’s compositions, and his unveiling of lives made from lies.
Tickets: General admission is $12/$8 Japan Society members. For tickets, call the Box Office at (212) 715-1258 or visit www.japansociety.org.
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