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Spotlight on Japanese Cinema Across Borders

Unlike most films from around the world, Japanese cinema has the synthetic character of Japanese art and many distinctive features that serve as the basis of its identity.



Second ACA cinema project, sponsored by the Still image from 'The Chef of South Polar' by Shuichi Okita (Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan, and the Japan Society.)


The second ACA cinema project is being held from December 3-23. 

Only 10 months after the first series was streamed online from February 5 to 25, 2021, the event has returned in a hybrid format. Films are being screened in theater settings and online nationwide for North American viewers at the Japan Society’s virtual hub with 18 Japanese films. 

The event is presented by the New York based non-profit organization Japan Society and the Japanese government’s Agency for Cultural Affairs (ACA), in association with the Visual Industry Promotion Organization (VIPO).

The online program takes a look at six of Japan’s well-known directors: Naomi Kawase, Miwa Nishikawa, Shuichi Okita, Junji Sakamoto, Akihiko Shiota and Masayuki Suo. Pairing each of their debuts with a recent work side-by-side, the directors talk about their filmmaking careers and the changes in the filmmaking process and industry since they entered the business.

Naomi Kawase is an internationally recognized award-winning director from Nara, Japan. Her 1997 debut Suzaku, a family drama that won the Cannes Camera d’or (Golden Camera) award, making her the youngest to win the coveted prize. 

It’s a heartbreaking film, a subtly and vividly precise portrait of rural Japanese life that combines a meditative precision with an interest in the philosophical and spiritual turmoil of its character. Suzaku can be streamed online alongside her recent work, 2018 Vision.

First dscovered by Palme d’Or winning director, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Miwa Nishikawa made her directorial debut with 2003 Wild Berries. Her second film was acclaimed at the Cannes Film Festival and a big box-office success in both Japan and South Korea. She is also known for her fourth film, 2012 Dreams For Sale, which had its world premiere in the Special Presentations section at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival.

Nishikawa has the ability and desire to find humor everywhere, even in a funeral scene, which makes her movies delightful. If you're a Kore-eda fan, Wild Berries is something you should watch.


Shuichi Okita is an acclaimed filmmaker both in Japan and overseas. His 2012 The Woodsman and the Rain won the Special Jury Prize at the 24th Tokyo International Film Festival and won triple honors at the Dubai International Film Festival, with Best Actor, Best Editor and Best Scriptwriter awards. Okita received the Kaneto Shindo Award Gold Prize for his second feature, 2009 The Chef of South Polar, which is an acknowledgement sent to the most outstanding new directors of that year.

Junji Sakamoto entered the limelight for winning many film awards including the Blue Ribbon award for the best film at his debut, 1989 Knockout. He continued to shoot constantly, culminating in winning the Japan Academy prize for Director of the Year and more awards for his drama 2000 Kao. He is noted for his unique work such as the novel-based 2005 blockbuster, Aegis.

With it’s endearing story, solid cinematography, great fight scenes, odd characters, and lots of humorous moments, Knockout is a must-watch, especially for boxing fans.

Akihiko Shiota is known for his 2002 film Harmful Insect, which was screened at the Venice Film Festival. Akihiko’s first major commercial film, Yomigaeri, was the fourth biggest grossing Japanese film of 2003. 

Masayuki Suo worked as assistant director for 60 films before making his directorial debut in 1983 with the soft-porn movie Hentai kazoku (Abnormal Family). In 1989, inspired by master filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu, Suo crossed over into mainstream cinema. His first success, 1992 Sumo Do, Sumo Don’t, won the Japanese Academy Award for best film and was a surprise hit at the Cannes Film Festival in 1993.

In addition, 4K digitally restored versions of The Million Ryo Pot and Priest of Darkness directed by the legendary Sadao Yamanaka were set for screening at the Japan Society’s auditorium in New York on December 11 and 17, with the cooperation of the National Film Archive of Japan.

Sadao Yamanaka

Yamanaka entered the film industry as a script writer in 1927. Since his real ambition was to direct, he soon moved to the directing department. His debut film, Iso no Genta: Dakine no nagawakizashi was highly regarded as a masterpiece in the Japanese film industry. 

Since then, he has been called Japan's Phantom Genius of Cinema. He died on September 17, 1938, at the age of 29, after having been sent to China in the Sino-Japanese war.

Sadao Yamanaka films

The Million Ryo Pot and Kouchiyama Sotoshi are two of the last three surviving masterpieces of Sadao Yamanaka. 

The Million Ryo Pot is a Japanese classic from the 1930s that has a feather light touch and manages to combine humor, intrigue and adventure so well. It even includes a brief fight scene that is far more dynamic and well staged than anything this film critic has seen from an English language film of the period. Moreover, it gives us an iconic action hero in it's one armed one eyed Ronin, clearly an archetype for later gimmicky samurai like Zatoichi or Ogami Itto.

Find additional information on the organizer’s website, here


In Priest of Darkness, based on the classic kabuki play Kochiyama & Naozamurai, Yamanaka has blended jidaigeki (period film) and shomingeki (everyman drama) into this masterpiece. Yamanaka crafts another ensemble-driven film with his trademark meandering, circular story, more invested in location and character than a straightforward driving plot. When Yamanaka follows someone for a moment, a scene, or a sequence, he reveals tiny pieces of information that will come back later in the film. 

There's something very theatrical about Yamanaka. For example on stage sets, his dialogues are full of irony and upheaval, and the commitment on props underscores the drama. All this ingenuity and bitter humor add to the overall impression of despair.

Find additional information on the organizer’s website, here

Up-and-coming Film Directors

Films by six up-and-coming Japanese filmmakers such-as The Albino’s Trees, Blue Hour, A Boy Sato, Forgiven Children, Jesus and My Atomic Aunt will be streamed online as well.

Author: Shaun Fernando

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