Top 5 Edit: Directors behind the lens
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Not all directors become popular enough to attract a solid following. With Japanese directors, it’s particularly hard to get acquainted with their names due to a general lack of opportunities for us to watch Japanese movies outside of Japan. Why not put a face to some of those names behind the lens?


 

Mipo Oh

Mipo Oh, photograph by Takuya Nagamine for CINRA

With her most recent films, Director Mipo O has proved that she’s unafraid of tackling issues which society usually keeps buried. Nothing about the subject matter in O’s films are pretty, but she succeeds in presenting a beautifully raw story, aided with stunning visuals.

With last year’s The Light Shines Only There, she takes the viewers into a downward spiral of events surrounding the lives of disadvantaged individuals on the fringe of society. Her newest film (also screening this year at JFF) Being Good is an ensemble drama about child abuse, neglect and mental illness.

These topics would otherwise make for a challenging viewing experience, but she tackles them on screen with a certain sensitivity that is unique to her. Nothing is glossed over and the emotions are real, but she manages to tie (most) loose ends too – avoiding the bad aftertaste that normally comes with films like this.

These interviews with Screen Daily and with Twitch Film has Mipo O talking about her experiences filming The Light Shines Only There, from casting actors to getting the help of local people on location.

 

Masato Harada, photogrpah by Naonori Kohira for Japan Times

This year’s Tokyo International Film Festival paid homage to some of the best, and often times underrated, names in Japanese film with their new feature category “Japan Now”. The 66-year-old director Masato Harada has a mini-retrospective of his works featuring three older films and two of his newest films The Emperor in August andKAKEKOMI, both cinematic masterpieces which are also screening at this year’s JFF.

This interview by The Culture Cave sheds more insight into the director, featuring some side-comments by award-winning actress Kirin Kiki (who appears in the filmKAKEKOMI). We’ve also unearthed this old video interview by SBS from 1997 where Harada talks, in fluent English, about his film Kamikaze Taxi.

 

Nobuhiro Yamashita

Nobuhiro Yamashita, photograph from FilmBiz.Asia

Director Nobuhiro Yamashita is probably best-known overseas for the film Linda, Linda, Linda – a Japanese high school rock band film starring Korean actress Doona Bae. He’s back this year with La La La At Rock Bottom, another music-themed film filled with his trademark dry comedy and an award-winning screenplay.

In an interesting old interview by Midnight Eye from 2004, Yamashita’s films were described as being about aimless young men trying to find their place in the world. Since then, he has directed Tamako in Moratorium, which features a female protagonist but definitely shares the same theme of aimless youth navigating society.

Here is a more recent interview from the 2015 Far East Film Festival where Yamashita talks about one of the Sydney crowd favourites at JFF 2015, La La La at Rock Bottom.

 

ALL AROUND US, (aka GURURI NO KOTO), director Ryosuke Hashiguchi, on set, 2008. ©IFC

Ryosuke Hashiguchi on the set of ALL AROUND US, 2008; photograph from Cineplex © IFC

Japan Times’ Mark Schilling has described director Ryosuke Hashiguchi‘s Three Stories of Love as the best film out of Japan this year. Impressively acted and nuanced in its directing, the film is Hashiguchi’s first film in 8 years and features unknown actors playing the lead roles.

Hashiguchi is also one of the few openly gay filmmakers in Japan with considerable commercial success—he supports LGBT causes and LGBT themes often play a central theme or element in his films.

This interview from 2008 with the Japan Times gives us a deeper insight into Hashiguchi’s filmmaking and introduces some of his earlier works. Another interview by Midnight Eye in 2002 also explores the director’s practice more, with some clues as to why it takes him years before he comes up with new films.

 

Yukihiko Tsutsumi, photograph by Rui Sato for President Online

Director Yukihiko Tsutsumi is known as a hit-maker, an expert in mainstream entertainment films with experience in everything from music videos to TV commercials. He’s the man behind silver screen hits Trick, 20th Century Boys, Pikanchi, and The Eight Rangers – all popular titles that overshadow the director’s name. (He also directed the dark comedy 2LDK!)

However, one can say that Tsutsumi has the instincts of an auteur. This interview sees him talking about his early days as a filmmaker and his 2012 film My House, a film backed by a big production house but possesses an indie sense.

This year, two of the four feature films he directed is playing at JFF: The Big Bee and Initiation Love. Both big-budget films that don’t compromise substance and quality storytelling.

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