For the first time in 15 years, the programming of the Tokyo International Film Festival 2021 is shaped by a new cinematic sensibility. Festival veteran and producer Shozo Ichiyama was appointed Tokyo’s new programming director in March, replacing Yoshi Yatabe, who had held the position since 2004.
Ichiyama was previously the head of Tokyo Filmex, a festival that was once a rival to the Tokyo International Film Festival but has recently become an ally, with the two events now being held simultaneously in the Japanese capital. As a producer, Ichiyama is best known for his long-time collaboration with famous Chinese author Jia Zhangke, but he has also produced works by Taiwanese arthouse star Hou Hsiao-hsien and film legend. Japanese Takeshi Kitano.
On the eve of the 2021 Tokyo International Film Festival, which runs from October 30 to November 6, Hollywood journalist asked Ichiyama to pick 10 semi-overlooked Japanese films from the past five years that he thinks every moviegoer should see. From stylized violence to unrequited love to social commentary, Ichiyama’s eclectic choices provide a window into contemporary Japanese cinema and the aesthetic sensibilities that will govern the upcoming Tokyo festival lineup.
The Dork, the Girl and the Douchebag (2016）
If the title alone isn’t enough to grab your attention, Yosuke Okuda wrote, directed, produced and played perhaps the world’s biggest asshole in this manic tale of shenanigans, duplicity and scams. Okuda crowdfunded the production, notes Ichiyama, who praises his “keen cinematic sense of violence and quirky humor.”
Directed by Yu Irie and set in the director’s territory in Saitama, the northern Tokyo prefecture that is often the subject of jokes from cosmopolitan residents of the capital. Irie bounced effortlessly between the independent tariff and the commercial tariff, with Vigilant is a high mark “almost forgotten in his filmography,” suggests Ichiyama. Following the disparate life paths of three brothers as they come together, Vigilant contains scenes of violent torture and is not for the faint of heart.
Come on, Irene (2018)
A love story by Keisuke Yoshida, the director of this year’s Focus in Focus in Tokyo, which takes place partly in the Philippines, where the protagonist goes on a tour in search of a bride. “The film then deals with the problems he encountered when he brought her back to his small hometown in Japan,” Ichiyama explains. The screenplay was co-written by Yoshida alongside Hideki Arai, creator of the manga it was based on.
Destruction of babies (2016)
The revolutionary production of Tetsuya Mariko, Destruction of babies is a “poetic film about violence directed by the enfant terrible of Japanese cinema of the 2010s,” says Ichiyama. Set in the bowels of an isolated port city, the film chronicles the brutal descent of a young man. With Yuya Yagira and Masaki Suda, the film won the award for best director in the Cinema in the Present section of the Locarno Festival.
A missing girl (2020)
Ichiyama ranks this “portrayal of a woman facing the injustice of contemporary Japanese society” as “possibly the best film to date by Koji Fukada,” a starring director last year in Tokyo. The brain director is best known for Harmonium, which won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes in 2016.
Theater: a love story (2020)
Set in Tokyo’s Shimo-Kitazawa, often found in lists of the world’s hippest neighborhoods, “a place full of little theaters,” this accomplished account of a tortured artist and his dysfunctional relationships by Isao Yukisada saw its exit interrupted due to pandemic. However, it “was saved by Amazon, who picked it up and it was created there.”
From Miyamoto to you (2019)
Another stylized slab of violence by Tetsuya Mariko. Based on a manga by Hideki Arai (Come on, Irene) and successful in Japan, From Miyamoto to you hasn’t garnered much overseas attention, despite award-winning performances and what Ichiyama calls “very over-the-top action” that still manages to work.
Farewell song (2019)
The story of Akihiko Shiota on the farewell tour of an indie-pop female duo is a “sort of road movie in its cinematic style”, topped by “unrequited lesbian love in a twisted love triangle”, note Ichiyama. Released by Gaga, the film explores the independent commercial space.
Romantic Doll (2020)
Director Yuki Tanada has made this “very beautifully erotic film” about a man who secretly works as a creator of sex dolls and makes one that looks a lot like his wife, which ends up being a bestseller.
Bangkok nights (2016)
Unusual for a Japanese independent film, this title was shot entirely in Thailand. Underground filmmaker Katsuya Tomita tells the story of a Japanese man who falls in love with a Thai woman and works in “tributes to Apichatpong Weerasethakul,” Ichiyama says.