Already diverse and eclectic, the 2014 Japan CUTS film festival in New York City (which begins July 10th through the 20th) has recently added the psychological-thriller Killers to its lineup.
Co-produced by Japanese film studio Nikkatsu and the Indonesian Guerilla Merah-Films, Killers follows the exploits of a Japanese serial killer named Nomura (played by Kazuki Kitamura) who uploads footage of his tortures and murders onto the internet. Nomura’s snuff films fascinate an Indonesian journalist named Bayu (played by Oka Antara), who in turn begins to kill and upload his murderous acts onto the internet as well. Nomura soon becomes aware of Bayu’s work, leading to a dark and twisted confrontation between both men.
Photo courtesy of 2013 “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?” film partners
Fans of Japanese film, clear your schedules for July 10-20 as you’ll undoubtedly want to attend the 8th annual Japan CUTS film festival held at the Japan Society in New York City.
For 10 days, the Japan Society will become a mecca for Japanese cinephiles as the Japan CUTS 2014 festival will screen 27 films from the Land of the Rising Sun – including works by such notable Japanese directors as Sion Sono, Takashi Miike, Katsuhito Ishii and Hideo Nakata.
Though often difficult to assemble, Programmer for Japan CUTS 2014 Joel Neville Anderson stressed the importance of having a diverse collection of films presented at the festival.
“Curating festivals of a national cinema is necessarily problematic, swinging between exhaustive cultural surveys or limited selections of titles with international arthouse appeal, between a lineup that is representative and one that is exceptional,” Anderson said in a press release issued by Japan Society.
Anderson said the “tactic” at Japan CUTS has always been to place a heavy emphasis on “diversity” in the films they curate.
The animated film The Wind Rises is a monumental moment in world cinema, as it is not only legendary Japanese animated filmmaker Hayao Miyzaki at the top of his game, but also it being his last film before retirement. Interestingly, The Wind Rises is also his most provocative.
The film has caused a bit of controversy in Miyazaki’s native land as it is a fictionalized WWII-era biography of Jiro Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the aeronautical engineer who designed the Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighter plane – an aircraft that would be used by the Japanese Imperial Navy to attack Pearl Harbor.
The Wind Rises, which harkens back to the sweeping Hollywood epics of yore, tells the tale of the starry-eyed Horikoshi, whose dreams of one day building elegant and beautiful airplanes come true – a reality that will inflict heartache upon not only himself but the whole world.
Just how did the passengers of the Snowpiercer – a colossal train that never stops running – wind-up aboard their new home? Well, according to the animated prequel to Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer that has recently surfaced online, they fought tooth and nail to procure their seats.
With a visual storytelling style similar to that of a motion comic, the 4-minute animated prequel does a serviceable job in succinctly telling the back-story to the upcoming Sci-Fi film (it opens in South Korea on August 1), and will give those who view it a better understanding of the film’s world.
The magnificent English actor Tom Hardy (The Dark Knight Rises, Bronson, Inception, The Warrior and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) and controversial Japanese director Takashi Miike (the director of such great Japanese films such as : Audition, The Bird People of China, Ichi the Killer, The Great Yokai War and 13 Assassins) are rumored to be teaming up for the film The Outsider.
Taking place in the aftermath of WWII, The Outsider tells the story of an American G.I. who, after becoming an American prisoner of war, later works his way up into the ranks of the Yakuza (the Japanese version of organized crime).
How can the prospect of such a film not send shivers up the spines of film enthusiasts?
Hardy, when need be, can easily play the role of a lovable and menacing brute, (Bane from The Dark Knight Rises) is in talks to be directed by one of the best cinematic agitators of all time, Takashi Miike.
Based on an original story idea by John Linson (Executive Producer of Sons of Anarchy), The Outsider was scripted by Andrew Baldwin.
Please leave your comments below as I’d love to hear people’s opinions on this film!
It’s been a long five years since Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa last released a film on the big screen but fans of his work need not wait much longer.
On June 1st, Kiyoshi’s REAL will open in theaters across Japan and, if you’re like me and do not live in Japan, don’t be too sad as REAL will undoubtedly make appearances at international film festivals and, eventually, it’ll find its way onto DVD and Blu-ray.
Kiyoshi, who has directed popular Japanese films such as Bright Future (2003), Pulse (2001), and Cure (1997), makes his directorial return with a film adaptation of the award-winning Japanese novel A Perfect Day for Plesiosaur. The novel, written by Rokuro Inui, came out in 2011 and, according to SciFiJapan, won the Grand Prize at the This Mystery is Excellent! – an annual mystery fiction competition held in Japan.
According to IMDB, the plot synopsis to REAL is as follows:
Koichi and Atsumi are childhood friends who have become lovers. Despite this closeness when Atsumi attempts suicide Koichi is at a loss to understand the circumstances that drove her to do such a thing. Now she is in a coma and Koichi needs to find out the reason. Since Koichi is a neurosurgeon he has access to the latest studies and so he takes part in a medical procedure that will allow him to enter Atsumi’s subconscious. Through ‘sensing’, a type of neurosurgical procedure allowing contact with the intentional aspect of a comatose patient’s mind, Koichi tries to discover why Atsumi tried to kill herself, and to bring her back to consciousness.
When he enters her mind she asks him to find a picture which she drew as a child. It is the key to a suppressed memory connected to a childhood trauma, an incident buried in their past which will bring their minds together and allow him to get close to truly knowing his love.
Santa Inoue’s manga Tokyo Tribes will be getting a live-action treatment by none other than Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono (Himizu, Noriko’s Dinner Table and Suicide Club).
The even bigger news?
Sono is looking to cast the roles for Tokyo Tribes via a YouTube channel that will hold open auditions for anyone interested in being in the film.
This would be a rather shocking decision for a director to make but this is Sion Sono we are talking about. His 2001 film Suicide Club opened with a scene that featured Japanese high school girls committing mass suicide by jumping in front of a moving subway train and one of his most accessible movies, 2008’s Love Exposure, had the marathon-length of nearly four hours.
Tokyo Tribes, originally a manga and later an anime, tells the story of a future Tokyo where street gangs, or “tribes,” battle for supremacy.
For those concerned that Sono, whose last few films have included his transgressive “Hate” trilogy (Love Exposure, Coldfish and Guilty of Romance) as well as Himizu and The Land of Hope which both deal with the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011, had sold out by choosing to direct a film adaptation of a popular manga and anime, well, don’t worry. Sono’s choice to cast his film via auditions sent in by YouTube users shows that he is still as anti-establishment as ever.
As much as I love Japanese films, (I did dedicate an entire blog to it, you know?), one cannot deny the groundbreaking cinema that has been churned out of South Korea for over ten years now. Films such as Oldboy, The Host, and A Tale of Two Sisters have amassed dedicated cult followings worldwide.
So it was only a matter of time before some of the biggest directors in South Korea’s New Wave of Cinema, chief among them being Kim Jee-woon, Bong Joon-ho and Park Chan-wook, would wash up on US shores – Hollywood beckoning them to showcase their skills on the largest stage in the world.
Years from now, there is a chance 2013 could be looked back upon as the year of the Korean cinematic invasion of the United States, with not one, not two, but three English language directorial debuts by Korean filmmakers.
However, this movement has gotten off to a rocky start.
This January, director Kim Jee-woon released the rated R action movie, The Last Stand, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (who hadn’t starred in a leading role for almost a decade). The critical response to the film was mixed (it currently sits at a “rotten” rating of 59%, just one percentage point from being considered “fresh,” on film review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes) and it was a flat-out bomb commercially. According to the website Boxofficemojo, The Last Stand yielded a disappointing $12 million in the United States, and with a production budget of around $45 million it was considered a colossal failure considering this film was expected to usher in a new era of Schwarzenegger films.
The American response to Kim Jee-woon’s The Last Stand is undoubtedly disheartening for fans of the director’s work which runs the gamut of genres – the 2003 horror film A Tale of Two Sisters, 2005’s gangster picture A Bittersweet Life, the 2008 ode to spaghetti-western The Good, The Bad, The Weird and 2010’s cat and mouse serial killer revenge thriller I Saw the Devil.
Jee-woon is known for his artfully constructed over-the-top actions scenes and yet still imbuing his films with solid characterizations and heart. The fact that Lionsgate Film gave him the keys to a $45 million R-rated movie – Liam Neeson was initially going to star – speaks volumes to his talents as a filmmaker and, hopefully, Hollywood doesn’t blame the lack of success the movie garnered on the Korean director.
So why did the film flop so badly? One must wonder how the movie would have fared had Liam Neeson stayed on the project. Unlike Schwarzenegger (who has been out of acting for nearly tens years and it’s not like the last several films he starred in before become a California governor were raking in the cash), Neeson has been able to put butts in theater seats on his name alone – The Grey, Taken, and Unknown are just a few examples – and hasn’t tarnished his reputation like Arnie (remember the whole extra-marital affair he had with his housekeeper? The one which ended with him having to publicly admit to having a child out of wedlock?).
The advertisement campaign for The Last Stand also didn’t help matters. The trailers made it appear that the obnoxious character played by Johnny Knoxville would be a major player throughout the film. There is something very wrong with playing up the appearance of a former Jackass member while downplaying the presence of Forest Whitaker, an Academy Award Best Actor winner. The fact that Lionsgate Film dumped the movie in the cinematic wasteland known as the month of January – a place where all films go to die – was another indicator this film wasn’t going to be successful.
Park Chan-wook’s ‘Stoker’
Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures
I honestly doubt Park Chan-wook, perhaps the most famous of the three Korean directors releasing English-language films this year, is fretting over the poor performance of his fellow countryman’s The Last Stand.
This March saw the limited release of his film Stoker, a small-budgeted Fox Searchlight picture (it’s estimated to have cost around $12 million, according to Boxofficemojo.com) that stars Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode.
The film stays true to the artistic vision Chan-wook has employed over the course of his career in South Korea and, thematically, adds to his former body of work. The themes of inherent evil and revenge are present in Stoker as they are in his much lauded Vengeance Trilogy – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance.
With such a small budget, Stoker doesn’t have as much to prove as The Last Stand did. In fact, the one thing Chan-wook had to prove was that he hadn’t lost his edge in making an American film. One just has to look at the film’s subject matter – a uncle/serial killer comes to seduce the wife and daughter of his dead brother – and any fears Chan-wook has sold-out will immediately vanish. Stoker currently has a Rottentomatoes.com rating of 68%, which is quite high considering it’s taboo subject matter and visceral violence. My review of Stoker can be found here.
Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Snowpiercer’
Photo Courtesy of Blastr.com
Snowpiercer, directed by Bon Joon-ho (The Host and Mother), stands the best chance of being a blockbuster hit. The film, based off of the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting where Earth has been ravaged by global warming which triggered a new Ice Age. The only remaining members of the human race are stuck on board a train called The Snow Piercer. Very quickly a class system begins to develop on the train which sparks a rebellion.
The film stars Chris Evans (Captain America: First Avenger), Ed Harris, John Hurt, South Korean actor Song Kang-ho (who has starred in films by all three Korean directors discussed in this blog entry), Tilda Swintonand Octavia Spencer.
So far not much is known about Snowpiercer besides that it will be released sometime in 2013 and that it filming for it wrapped back in July, 2012. Supposedly, Joon-ho read the graphic novel while filming his fantastic film The Host and shared it with Park Chan-wook who loved it as well. Chan-wook would eventually secure the film adaptation rights of Le Transperceneige for Joon-ho.
Joon-ho has very wisely made an English-language debut film that will no doubt be alluring to an international audience. With the film being based on a French comic, its cast made-up of American, British and South Korean actors, Snowpiercer stands a great chance of being the most successful of the 2013 Korean Invasion films.
Whether Kim Jee-woon, Park Chan-wook or Bong Joon-ho ever get another shot at filming more English-language films – or perhaps they won’t want to – it’s nice to see them leave their comfort zones and expose a different audience to their exceptional filmmaking skills.
If all three returned to South Korea to make their future films, more power to them, but here’s hoping the Korean Cinematic Invasion of 2013 leads to a more culturally diverse Hollywood – a Hollywood that treats Asian filmmakers and artists with the respect that they deserve.