Shinsuke Sato in posthumous Japanese film festival blitz

Over two days this weekend, Japanese director Shinichiro Yoshida showed a sneak preview of his latest film, Almost Christmas, in the distinctly eccentrically-named Theatre of Eternal Snow in Sapporo, Hokkaido. The prize for most…

Shinsuke Sato in posthumous Japanese film festival blitz

Over two days this weekend, Japanese director Shinichiro Yoshida showed a sneak preview of his latest film, Almost Christmas, in the distinctly eccentrically-named Theatre of Eternal Snow in Sapporo, Hokkaido. The prize for most curious title, though, was almost certainly Root, a film that premiered at the Tokyo festival last year but is making a rare return to the film-going public in Japan.

Competition sidebar of world cinema in Tokyo 2018 – in pictures Read more

Root debuted at the 30th Venice film festival where it was picked as one of the unsung “Pioneers” of world cinema. Root details an elderly man’s journey back to his childhood home, back through his memories of the misery of the war, and back into the present day, revisiting his relationship with his estranged wife. Root was in competition at the year’s Cannes film festival, and also has a gala showing at the Toronto film festival next month.

The World film festival in Sapporo did have a strong lineup of foreign films in its competition. For example, Stan and Ollie – described as “a wonderfully funny and touching comedy of curmudgeonly octogenarians at work and at home” – is a comedy of curmudgeonly octogenarians directed by Jeff Pope, and adapted from the real-life story of two unsuccessful comedy actors, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, who made an inspirational film, Life on the Beaches, in their waning years. Stan and Ollie is a new movie from past Cannes winner, Manchester by the Sea director Kenneth Lonergan. It stars Steve Coogan and John C Reilly as the awkward elderly comedians.

It is the second time Lonergan has travelled to Japan, having premiered Mud at the Tokyo festival in 2015. Lonergan’s 2016 film Manchester by the Sea, which is based on his own family history, was well received critically in Japan. In the film, which starred Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams, a local boy delivers a message of comfort in the aftermath of the loss of his parents and sibling in a tragic car accident.

There was also a foreign language festival in Sapporo, where English-language titles such as Maria By Callas and Five Films by Jackie’s Jody Wilson were played. And the other big surprise was a handful of American titles. Among them was The Dead Don’t Die, the third film in Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s La Mujer del Dios trilogy. It tells the story of Héctor, played by Oscar Isaac, who comes into contact with the spirit of a former lover, left in a vegetative state after a car accident. Héctor can barely communicate, but through his desire to find common ground between the two women, he forms an emotional bond with the young patient, who begins to convince him that her coma is not permanent.

The Dead Don’t Die, a film by Sebastián Lelio. Photograph: Arturo Lavallade

Other American titles at the Film Fukuoka festival this week included Blackkklansman, the 2018 film adaptation of the best-selling memoir by Ron Stallworth, the police officer who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. Out of competition, Aubrey Plaza debuted her latest film, The Little Hours, an absurdist comedy about four nuns running a convent. As another satire on religion, Wes Anderson’s new film, Isle of Dogs, is also playing.

The short film spotlight at Tokyo featured Tetsuya and the Nomads, a film featuring some of Japan’s famous musicians. On the festival’s closing night, Miyazaki’s latest film, Your Name, was shown as part of the festival’s competition. All told, it has been a strong run for Japanese film at a time when the country’s film industry has been suffering from loss of confidence. In the mid-1980s, there were more than five times as many films being made as there are today, with more than 25 films being screened for audiences every year. Today, the number of films is down to about four.

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