“For the sixth year running, the Japan Cuts film series in New York City presents an eye-opening glimpse of contemporary filmmaking from across the Pacific, the vast majority of which will never receive distribution in the United States,” begins R. Emmet Sweeney at the top of his overview for Movie Morlocks. “Programmed in concert with the ongoing New York Asian Film Festival (which I covered for Film Comment), it runs from July 12 – 28 at the Japan Society, and will screen 37 features and two shorts. The normally sober-minded fest has gone pop this year, booking a slate bubbling with hyperactive rom-coms and sci-fi extravaganzas, but there is also a sidebar of films responding to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, as well as a tribute to the expressively stone-faced actor Koji Yakusho, who will appear in-person for the screening of The Woodsman and the Rain (2011).”
Keiichi Sato’s anime Asura “begins with a harrowing scene of famine times and hunger-induced madness in feudal Japan,” writes Nick Pinkerton in his preview for the Voice. “A starving mother feeds on human carrion so that she can nurse her infant son, then, in still-deeper desperation, attempts to feed herself on the child—scenes that caused quite a stir when they appeared in George Akiyama’s 1970 manga, the film’s basis. The baby grows to be an ax-wielding, cannibalistic hellion, but Asura is not concerned with gonzo shock for its own sake. Instead, it vividly draws heaven and hell on earth to suit the story of a wild child hanging in the balance between acculturation and barbarism.”
Both Pinkerton and Steve Dollar, writing at GreenCine Daily, mention Takashi Shimizu’s Tormented, shot by Christopher Doyle, a “lump of disgorged J-Horror” that, according to Dollar, is “more aberrant curiosity than culturally subversive reason-to-go-on-living…. Plot twists abound, but the movie never rises to the allure of its premise. I caught a similar ‘eh?’ vibe watching Let’s Make the Teacher Have a Miscarriage Club.… For sheer sick kicks, my vote goes to Hard Romanticker, with Shota Matsuda as a badass zainichi (Japanese-born, but of Korean ancestry), whose criminal adventures in a port city parallel gangland rampages, punk rock body counts and the occasional glue-huffing bacchanal.”
Update, 7/16: “Endlessly entertaining, Hard Romanticker is a fast paced, visceral gangster film with plenty of hard-knuckle fight scenes that will surely garner cult-status in the near future,” writes Dustin Chang at Twitch.
Update, 7/18: “It’s hard to describe Toad’s Oil without making it sound like a well-meaning but dismally quirky melodrama,” writes Simon Abrams at the L. “The film is the amiably eccentric directorial debut of venerable character actor Koji Yakusho, probably most famous in America as the leading man of many of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s horror films. And yet, the depth of feeling and simplicity of the film’s optimistic philosophy is pretty remarkable.”