“Entering its 13th year, the New York Asian Film Festival is no longer a brazen upstart,” writes R. Emmet Sweeney at the top of his overview for Film Comment. “Now it’s something of an institution, having migrated from the dank cinephilic swamps of Anthology Film Archives to the rarified air of the Film Society at Lincoln Center, where this edition runs from June 27 to July 14. But it has retained its proselytizing spirit, stumping for disreputable genre titles past and present and giving them the gala treatment. Its programmers were also the first to give substantial stateside retrospectives to the likes of Tsui Hark and this year they honor the life and career of producer Run Run Shaw in an eight-film sidebar (with four screening in 35mm: Killers on Wheels, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires, The Magic Blade and Seeding of a Ghost). The fest’s 60 features run the gamut from tear-jerking dictionary-editing dramas to gonzo yakuza bloodbaths, sharing a common vibrancy no matter the subject matter.”
Aaron Hillis in the Voice: “Beginning July 10, NYAFF co-presents some of its Nipponese premieres with sister fest Japan Cuts, including Sion Sono‘s decadently loony ode to genre cinema, Why Don’t You Play in Hell? and Kankuro Kudo’s sweetly crude ‘self-fellatio’ comedy, Maruyama, the Middle Schooler. A highlight of both series, as well as of modern whodunit storytelling, is the playfully clever murder mystery The Snow White Murder Case. Deceptively more straightforward and less zany than his sci-fi punk comedy Fish Story or wry conspiracy thriller Golden Slumber, director Yoshihiro Nakamura’s savvy adaptation of the crime novel by Kanae Minato (Confessions) begins with the stabbed, burnt corpse of cosmetics-company cutie Noriko (Nanao).”
It’s one of “the 5 Movies You Must See” at NYAFF 2014 as selected by Howard Feinstein for Indiewire. “‘Murder, My Tweet’ might be an alternate title for this fabulous, highly original policier minus cops—a homicide investigation without forensics.”
Another one is Lee Su-jin’s Han Gong-ju. “This knockout succeeds as a psychologically and emotionally dark study as well as a devastating social critique, but its true brilliance lies in a smoothly shifting temporal structure and an oh-so-gradual parsing of information until the bits and pieces coalesce into a credible and devastating whole.” For more, see Critics Round Up. And the NYT’s posted a review by Jeannette Catsoulis.
Clarence Tsui in the Hollywood Reporter on tonight’s opener: “Overheard 3 is the latest entry in a recent wave of fiery, overtly political films gaining critical currency in Hong Kong. It builds on one of the city’s most long-running and divisive issues—that is, the birthright of a selected few to free parcels of land when most people are struggling to get on the first rung of the property ladder—and features psychopathic villains based on the real-life rural ruffians championing this privilege. While audacious and topical enough, Alan Mak and Felix Chong’s third and final installment on their wiretapping-themed series flounders on the cacophony of its overstuffed plot and its whimpering, underwritten characters.”
The centerpiece is Kano, and here’s Mike Hale in the New York Times: “With shades of Eight Men Out or The Natural, but more entertaining, Kano is a rousing, beautifully photographed three-hour baseball movie—about a high school tournament in 1931 Japan. The feature film directorial debut of the actor Umin Boya (Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale), it has historical and political points to make: It’s based on the story of a team from a Taiwanese agriculture and forestry school that traveled to the Japanese championships at a time when Taiwan was under Japanese occupation. It’s a big, sentimental, pleasantly predictable crowd-pleaser with lovingly detailed re-creations of the games.”
Back to Film Comment, where Grady Hendrix traces the rise, stumble and rebound of Chinese director Ning Hao: “An action comedy about a grandstanding, money-hungry lawyer who drives to the remote desert region of Xinjiang to defend a poacher, and then gets embroiled in an escalating series of violent misunderstandings as he races home to make his own self-aggrandizing book launch party, No Man’s Land is like The Road Warrior with more jokes.”
Twitch presents a batch of preview capsules, beginning with Peter Gutierrez on Juno Mak’s Rigor Mortis, which offers “a striking blend of earnest, often affecting, themes of loss/sacrifice with bracing, even disturbing, scenes of graphic horror.”
Christopher Bourne: “Kumakiri Kazuyoshi’s 2004 film Antenna was an intense exploration of transgressive sexuality, and now in 2014, he has gone even further into the taboo-busting thickets with My Man, based on Sakuraba Kazuki’s controversial best-selling novel. The devastating 1993 tsunami in Okushiri, Hokkaido brings two lost souls together: Hana (Nikaido Fumi), 10 years old at the time of the disaster, and Jungo (Asano Tadanobu), a distant relative who takes her in and becomes her de facto father.” In THR, Clarence Tsui finds that My Man “plays more on the atmosphere of its wintry settings in a small town in northern Japan rather than on overt drama.”
One more from Twitch (they preview eight films in all). Here’s Ben Umstead on The Great Passage: “While I am often not the one for old-fashion sentiment it is hard to deny the charm and heart of Ishii Yuya’s decades spanning tale on dedication to one’s craft. Snagging a bevy of Japanese Academy Awards earlier this year, Ishii, director of quarter-life crises comedy Sawako Decides, gathers a cast of industry all-stars and promising newcomers to populate the dusty old office of a publisher’s dictionary department. Yep, you heard that right, this film is, in someways, about the creation of a dictionary. Lovers of words and astute appreciators of process will gravitate towards the film easy enough, but don’t count this one out as boring.”
Update, 6/28: For Gay City News, Steve Erickson previews four films and one of them is Matt Chow’s Golden Chickensss, which “offers up much the same mix of gross-out and sentiment as the Farrelly brothers’ best films” and “plays like a love letter to the golden days of Hong Kong cinema, vomit jokes and all. This is not for the easily offended, but it’s a lot warmer than it initially appears.” More from Christopher Bourne at Twitch.
Update, 7/2: Hitoshi Matsumoto’s R100—we gathered reviews last September—”begins as a slice-of-life drama with lots of static shots of a salesman tromping around his neighborhood,” writes Grady Hendrix for Film Comment. “Then he hires a team of dominatrixes to torment him in his daily life and for two-thirds of the film it’s a quietly absurd, but still slow-paced, light comedy. Suddenly, without warning, he accidentally kills one of the dominatrixes and in its last 20 minutes the movie becomes a wild 1960s Japanese action film full of assassins, gun battles, international vixens, and car chases.”
Update, 7/8: For Christopher Bourne, writing at Twitch, “every now and then—and this is a relatively rare thing—a film comes along and just completely throws you for a loop, absolutely sucker punches you, jolting you out of your jaded stupor and hardened cynicism, pummeling you with volcanic emotional force. Hope, the latest and greatest film to date from Korean filmmaker Lee Joon-ik (The King and the Clown, Radio Star, Blades of Blood), is one of those films.”
Updates, 7/10: “For fifty minutes—minus one crazy hand-to-hand combat fight on top of a fallen metal gate suspended over two adjacent buildings’ fire escapes in midair—writer/director Alan Yuen’s Firestorm is a fast-paced actioner that fearlessly goes to the darkest corners Hollywood never would,” writes Jared Mobarak. “After it crosses that threshold of time, however, the film goes off the rails like an out of control locomotive crashing into everything along its path until it culminates in an epic street shootout with enough destruction to rival Man of Steel’s climax.”
Also at the Film Stage, Amanda Waltz takes us back to Rigor Mortis: “The directorial debut from pop singer Juno Mak owes much to producer Takashi Shimizu (Ju-On)—from its dark, murky color palette to its languid, unrelenting sense of dread, the work bears the famed Japanese filmmaker’s distinctive mark. It even features his beloved vengeful spirits, embodied here by twin nu gui whose sinewy red tentacles distinguish them from the Ringu-established dark hair-white dress cliché. Their appearance would seem indulgent if they didn’t add to the film’s self-aware role as a tribute to the multi-national horror cinema of Asia.”
With Takashi Miike‘s The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji opening Japan Cuts tonight, Ben Umstead introduces another round of previews at Twitch. For Peter Gutierrez, Ando Momoko’s 0.5mm “isn’t just a highlight of the fest, but of 2014 generally.” As for the Mo Brothers’ Killers, Gutierrez writes: “Not for everyone, to be sure, but for fans of visceral cinema, this is a must-see right up through its final, cathartic minute.”
Dustin Chang on Yoshitaka Yamaguchi’s Neko Samurai: “A cute cat and a grumpy samurai… I mean, really? Japan, what took you so long?!” Kazuki Kitamura, who plays that grumpy samurai, will attend the screening on Saturday, July 19, and receive the Cut Above award. Chang also recommends Ryoko Yoshida’s “very funny and surprisingly tender” The Passion.
Christopher Bourne on Azuma Morisaki’s Pecoross’ Mother and Her Days: “This delightfully funny and emotionally poignant film by Morisaki Azuma, reportedly the oldest active film director in Japan, follows Yuichi (Iwamatsu Ryo), a manga artist/musician/salaryman… who must deal with his mother Mitsue’s (Harada Kiwako) ever worsening dementia.” Also, Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell? “is stolen lock stock and barrel by Nikaido Fumi, the amazing 19-year-old actress who plays her role with tons of gum-smacking attitude. It’s a funny and sexy performance that is positively mesmerizing. She’ll be the guest of honor at Japan Cuts’ opening night.”
Update, 7/11: “The Snow White Murder Case is very much a product of our time,” writes Jared Mobarak at the Film Stage. “A satirical take on the Twitter age that also to a point provides a compelling murder mystery reminiscent of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, the story’s as much a social critique as it is dramatic fiction.”
Update, 7/12: “Anna Broinowski is on a mission to prevent fracking with the most unconventional of methods: a propaganda film adhering to the codes of the late Kim Jong-il.” Alexander Hunter for the FSLC: “Her documentary/meta activist film Aim High in Creation! joins her on a journey from her home in Australia into the secretive nation of North Korea to converse with the Martin Scorseses and Meryl Streeps of the nation’s movie industry. Complete with tae kwon do demonstrations, group singing lessons, and harsh acting tips, Broinowski’s film relays messages and advice from the nation’s finest in the cinematic arts to the cast of her own crew to employ, along with some of her own advice.”
Update, 7/14: Wood Job! “is the latest comedy by Yaguchi Shinobu, a filmmaker who specializes in a very specific kind of formula: mining all the absurd hijinks that occur when its main character pursues an unusual sort of art, sport, or profession,” writes Christopher Bourne at Twitch. “Wood Job! takes us deep into the world of forestry, and it proves to be one of Yaguchi’s strongest and funniest films to date.”
Updates, 7/19: More from Twitch. For Christopher Bourne, 0.5mm is “a major highlight of this year’s Japan Cuts festival.” And Miura Daisuke’s Love’s Whirlpool offers a very stimulating mix of eroticism, comedy, social critique, and melancholy that makes for quite a memorable experience.”
Update, 7/21: “Tale of a Butcher Shop may be more or less your standard, garden-variety sort of documentary,” writes Christopher Bourne at Twitch, “but its delicate powers of observation, as well as the deep respect shown for this hard-working and loving family, help to make it a very touching and finely observed film.”
Update, 7/25: For Twitch (again), Diva Vélez talks with director Ochiai Ken, actress Yamamoto Chihiro and producer Mori Ko about Uzumasa Limelight; and with Fumi Nikaido about her performance in Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell?.