Under the theme of “Life”, the Japanese Film Festival has 15 entries, all from the past couple years or so, running from January 31 until February 8 at Paragon Cineplex.
Thankfully, in a departure from past editions of the long-running festival (it's been held for some 40 years!), you have to buy tickets at the box office. They are 100 baht – a bargain compared to the old arduous process of standing in a queue for up to two hours and competing with all the balloon chasers to retrieve precious "free" tickets.
As a plus, all films will have English and Thai subtitles, something you won't find at the Japan Foundation's regular Friday night screenings, which generally only have Thai subs. Here is the line-up:
Saturday, January 31
- 11am – Tug of War! – From 2012, this comedy follows the efforts of a young public-relations official for a city government who is tasked with putting together a women’s team for a national tug-of-war tournament. She ropes in a motley band of workers from a school lunch centre that’s on the verge of being shut down.
- 1.30pm – A Story of Yonosuke – Set in 1987, this light-hearted 2013 comedy is about the romantic misadventures of a wide-eyed young man who leaves his hometown and goes off to college in Tokyo.
- 5pm – Saudade – One of three films in the festival that explore Thai-Japanese relations, this 2011 drama deals with the migrant-worker community as seen though the eyes of a young Japanese man who enters the construction trade. He bonds with his Japanese co-workers over a shared interest in Thai culture, and, especially, Thai women. They also encounter Brazilian labourers, and get into a rap-music battle with them. The movie will be followed by a talk by director Tomita Katsuya with two local film experts, documentary director Panu Aree (his day job is working in international acquisitions at Sahamongkolfilm) and critic Wiwat “Filmsick” Lertwiwatwongsa, programmer for Filmvirus.
Sunday, February 1
- 11am – Akko-Chan: The Movie – From 2012, this is a live-action adaptation of the pioneering “magic girl” subgenre of anime and manga. Haruka Ayase (Oppai Volleyball, Cyborg She) portrays the young woman, who comes into possession of a magic compact mirror that allows her to transform into anything. She uses her powers to help save a troubled cosmetics company while at the same time falling in love.
- 1.30pm – The Kirishima Thing — The stratified society of a high school is examined in the much-acclaimed 2012 drama, in which the student body is left reeling after the sudden disappearance of the school’s leader and star volleyball player. Out of this backdrop emerges a geeky kid from the school’s film club. He comes into conflict with the other cliques when he decides to make a zombie movie on the school’s rooftop. Widely praised by critics, The Kirishima Thing won several awards, including the Japan Academy Prize for Picture of the Year and Director of the Year for Daihachi Yoshida.
- 4pm – The Light Shines Only There – Japan’s official submission to the Oscars didn’t make the final list of nominees, but it has been lauded by critics for its depiction of lost souls eking out an existence at the margins of society in a desolate port town.
Monday, February 2
- 7pm – Casting Blossoms to the Sky – Important director Nobuhiko Obayashi tackles the issues surrounding the 3/11/11 disasters with this story of a reporter who heads to Nagaoka to cover the fireworks festival and to write about people displaced by the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011. She also reconnects with a former flame.
Tuesday, February 3
- 7pm – Hospitalite – A family’s life is turned upside-down when the son of the their wealthy former benefactor shows up looking for a job in their printing shop.
Wednesday, February 4
- 7pm – About the Pink Sky – Don't let the colorful title mislead – this comic drama was shot in black and white. Premiering in competition at Sundance in 2012, Pink Sky deals with a high-school girl who finds a wallet containing a large sum of cash. She sets out to find the wallet’s owner.
Thursday, February 5
- 7pm – Leaving on the 15th Spring – From 2013, this coming-of-age drama is about an Okinawan girl completing her last year of junior high, her island’s only school. Her anxiety mounts as she’s faced with the prospect of leaving home to attend high school.
Friday, February 6
- 7pm – Until the Break of Dawn – Veteran actress Kirin Kiki, beloved for her award-winning role in Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad, stars as a grandmother who is training her young grandson to be a tsunagu, a spirit medium, who “connects” people to their dearest departed.
Saturday, February 7
- 1.30pm – Lupin III – This is actually the opening film of the festival on January 30, but that's an invite-only gala screening. So for the rest of us, here's a chance to feast eyes on a brand-new live-action adaptation of the popular manga and anime about a gentleman thief. Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Midnight Meat Train) directs this colorful and stylish adventure yarn starring Shun Ogiri as the cocky thief in the trademark red jacket. They story brings Lupin the Third and his partners in crime to a "fictional Southeast Asian country" (it was filmed in Thailand in 2013), where they battle a local crime kingpin (veteran Thai actor Nirut Sirichanya) for possession of the priceless Crimson Heart of Cleopatra. Cult-favorite actor Tadanobu Asano also stars, portraying Lupin's dogged police-detective nemesis.
- 4pm – Hand in the Glove – This film is so new, it doesn't yet have an IMDb entry. Featuring Thai and Japanese talents on both sides of the lens, the story involves a prince visiting from a fictional country who seeks to escape the clutches of his minders and experience life as an ordinary person. He’s portrayed by Thai actor-musician Chanon Rikulsurakan, best known for his supporting role in The Love of Siam and his work with the August band. The second feature from indie actor-director Yusuke Inaba, its cinematography is by young Thai lensman Pairach Khumwan, noted for his work on director Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s two popular features 36 and Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy. They’ll all be present for a talk afterward, along with other cast members.
Sunday, February 8
- 1.30pm – The Ravine of Goodbye – Directed by Tatsushi Omori, this 2013 drama puts characters through the emotional and moral wringers with a story about a mother suspected of killing her own child.
- 6.30pm – My Man – The fest's closing entry explores a father-daughter relationship of sorts, with Asano from Lupin III heading the cast as a lonely 26-year-old man taking in his orphaned 10-year-old niece, a refugee from the 2011 tsunami. However, their relationship is fraught with controversy in their snowy village, and the odd couple must make their escape to Tokyo.
Following the Bangkok screenings, the Japanese Film Festival moves to Chiang Mai's Major Cineplex Central Festival from February 13 to 21; however, Hand in the Glove will not be part of the programme.