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Leading Japanese Film Directors of the 2000s (Part Two)
  - Internationally-Renowned Japanese Filmmakers (4)
  - Yukisada Isao/Inudo Isshin/Tsutsumi Yukihiko/Sono Sion | CINEMA & THEATRE #038
2023/02/06 #038

Leading Japanese Film Directors of the 2000s (Part Two)
- Internationally-Renowned Japanese Filmmakers (4)
- Yukisada Isao/Inudo Isshin/Tsutsumi Yukihiko/Sono Sion

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Poet / Novelist / Literary critic / Film critic


(Read part one here)

6.Yukisada Isao (1968-)

The Kumamoto-born Yukisada Isao got his first taste of filmmaking as a young kid when he visited the set of Kurosawa Akira’s Kagemusha, which was filming at Kumamoto Castle. He later went to see a screening of the finished film, and resolved to become a filmmaker himself. He started working at a production company while still attending film school, and worked as assistant director on TV shows as well as for director Iwai Shunji on a number of his films, including Love Letter and Swallowtail. In 1997 he made his feature-length directorial debut with Open House, which made him a name to watch among industry professionals. He is known for his coming-of-age love stories.

GO (2001)

This coming-of-age story is a film adaptation of a Naoki Prize-winning semi-biographical novel by author Kaneshiro Kazuki. It is about a third-generation Korean living in Japan, who enrolls in a Japanese high school after graduating from a North Korean junior high school in Japan. It chronicles his struggles with discrimination and identity as he falls for a Japanese girl. This film ranked first in the Kinema Junpo magazine top ten of the year, and also won a slew of other awards including Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress at the 25th Japan Academy Film Prize ceremony.

Socrates In Love (aka Crying Out Love, In the Center of the World)

This coming-of-age love story is a film adaptation of a novel by author Katayama Kyoichi. A boy and a girl who have been classmates since middle school fall in love in high school, but the girl discovers that she has leukemia, and her condition gradually deteriorates. The film was a massive hit, which in turn turned the novel into a mega-bestseller, and naturally, various other adaptations followed: manga, TV drama, theater. It became a full-fledged social phenomenon, and an abbreviation of the Japanese title, “sekachuu", became a vogue word.

Year One in the North (2005)

This epic drama is set in the tumultuous times after the end of the shogunate and the Meiji Restoration. The Inada clan of Awaji on the island of Shikoku (who were loyal to the Emperor) are ordered to relocate to the rugged wilderness of Hokkaido. There, they resolve to forge a new life and home themselves while braving the harsh winter. This film was nominated for Best Picture and won Best Actress at the 29th Japan Academy Film Prize ceremony. Consider this film a companion piece to the Tom Cruise vehicle The Last Samurai (2003), which is set in a similar era. Watching the two will give viewers a sense of how epic films differ between Hollywood and Japan.

Spring Snow (2005)

This is a film adaptation of part one of Mishima Yukio’s The Sea of Fertility tetralogy. It depicts the lives of members of the kazoku (nobility) in the beginning of the Taisho Era as Japanese society deals with westernization. It is the tragic love story of the son of a Marquess and the daughter of a Count, who grow up together and share a mutual attraction, but are prevented from ever truly being together by circumstances and fate.

Narratage (2017)

This film adaptation of a novel by author Rio Shimamoto is a story of forbidden love between a high school teacher/drama club adviser and a lonely young student. After graduating from high school, the teacher re-enters the girl’s life, and feelings between the two are rekindled. The slow pacing, wishy-washy man and the delicate nature of the girl are archetypical elements of a Japanese love story.

River’s Edge (2018)

Many of Yukisada’s works are film adaptations of novels, but this coming-of-age story is an adaptation of a manga by the iconic Okazaki Kyoko. It centers on an utterly unremarkable high school girl, a handsome boy trying to hide his homosexuality, and a younger fellow student who is also a professional model—and suffers from an eating disorder. The three share a secret—something they found at the titular river’s edge. The film screened at the Berlin International Film Festival’s Panorama section and won the International Critics Federation Panorama Prize.

7.Inudo Isshin (1960-)

The Tokyo-born Inudo started making independent films from the time that he was attending Hosei University Senior High School. After attending Tokyo Zokei University, he started working at Asahi Promotions (currently ADK Arts), a subsidiary of advertising agency ADK Holdings. There he produced numerous TV commercials before making his feature-length debut in 1995 with Futari ga Shabette Iru, which won him a Directors Guild of Japan New Directors Award.

Josee, the Tiger and the Fish (2003)

Based on a short novel by Tanabe Seiko, this film is about the relationship between “Josee", a young reclusive girl without the use of her legs, and a rough-around-the-edges university student. The student visits Josee time and time again for her cooking, but the two gradually become close, and ultimately, lovers. The film was awarded the Minister of Education New Director Award for Fine Art.

House of Himiko (2005)

This film is centered on a nursing home for older gay men established by Himiko, the former proprietor of a gay bar who abandoned his daughter and wife years earlier. Himiko’s young lover approaches the estranged daughter to inform her that her father has terminal cancer, and makes her a proposition to work part time at the nursing home. The film examines Japanese society, and how the emphasis placed on family and the collective over the individual can make it complicated for someone to follow their heart.

Bizan (2007)

This drama is the film adaptation of a novel written by famous singer-songwriter Sada Masashi. A woman living in Tokyo receives notice that her mother has been hospitalized, and she returns to her hometown in Tokushima Prefecture. As she cares for her mother, who only has a few months left to live, she comes to find out about a secret that her mother has kept for many years. This film won Best Music, Best Cinematography, and Best Lighting, among other awards, at the 31st Japan Academy Film Prize ceremony.

Zero Focus (2009)

Writer Matsumoto Seicho’s long mystery novel Zero Focus was first adapted into film in 1961, and has seen been adapted for the small screen numerous times. This 2009 work is the second film adaptation. A week after returning from her honeymoon with her husband—whom she met through an omiai (a tradition where a man and woman are introduced to consider the possibility of marriage)—the husband leaves for Kanazawa (the capital city of Ishikawa Prefecture) on a business trip. When the husband mysteriously disappears, the wife goes in search of answers, and learns about a past he had kept hidden and how it all relates to a series of murders. This film was nominated for Best Picture and a number of other awards at the 33rd Japan Academy Film Prizes.

The Floating Castle (2012)

This historical comedy-drama is a film adaptation of a novel by the author Wada Ryo, co-directed by Isshin Inudo and Higuchi Shinji. The film is centered on the Seige of Oshi, one of the many battles during Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s campaign to take Odawara Castle, the base of operations for the Kanto-based Hojo clan. This film was nominated for numerous awards at the 36th Japan Academy Film Prizes.

8.Tsutsumi Yukihiko (1955-)

The Mie-born Tsutsumi spent most of his childhood living in the city of Nagoya. After graduating high school he came to Tokyo, drawn to the rock music scene, and was involved in student activism at his university before ultimately becoming disillusioned and dropping out. He later enrolled in Toho Gakuen Institute and entered the broadcasting industry. Starting around the mid-80s, he directed variety shows, commercials, and promotional music videos. He became a household name with the 1995 TV series Kindaichi Case Files, and has since been involved in many hit TV series. His work—especially his TV work—references current events and also incorporates a flurry of meta-jokes—such as referencing other shows airing in the same timeslot and other behind-the-scenes industry fodder.

Kindaichi Case Files (1995 TV show)

This TV adaptation of a mystery manga series by the same name is considered Tsutsumi’s breakthrough. The story is centered on the grandson of Kindaichi Kosuke, a famous fictional detective and central character in many mystery novels by author Yokomizo Seishi. The show was a massive hit, with the first season airing in 1995, followed by a feature-length TV special the same year, a second season the following year, and a feature-length theatrical release in 1997.

Trick (2000 TV show)

A failed magician joins a physics professor in his quest to debunk supernatural phenomenon and fraudulent spiritualists. While generally comedic and filled with meta-jokes, cases often end in heartrending fashion—in the tradition of Yokomizo Seishi’s mystery novels. The first season was a big hit, spawning a second season and feature-length theatrical film.

Unsolved Cases (TV show, 1999)

A University of Tokyo graduate and fledgling elite police bureaucrat is assigned to “Ni-gakari", a fictional section of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department First Investigation Division that tackles unsolved cases. There, she works with a detective partner to solve especially difficult cases. The show made waves with its unique take on police procedurals; the general aesthetic is inorganic and brutal, and the detectives portrayed are an idiosyncratic bunch. A feature-length theatrical film, Keizoku: The Movie, was produced in 2000.

20th Century Boys (2008)

This is a trilogy of sci-fi suspense films released between 2008 and 2009 that are adapted from a manga series of the same name by Urasawa Naoki. The protagonist is a man who has given up on his dream of becoming a rock singer and instead leads a humdrum life as the manager of a convenience store. Through a series of events, the protagonist and his friends uncover a shadowy organization intent on destroying the world, and resolve to stop it. The films capture the current mood in Japan through the contrast between the promise of Japan’s era of rapid economic growth and the gloomy reality of a stagnated economy. Side note, the title comes from the British rock band T. Rex’s song “20th Century Boy", which also serves as the theme song.

SPEC (2010 TV show)

This show is centered on a fictional section of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department that tackles cases involving the supernatural and other things outside the realm of science—and beyond the capabilities of the First Investigation Division. It is the spiritual successor to Tsutsumi’s 1999 detective procedural Unsolved Cases, and was well received by viewers and critics alike. The show was followed by a TV special and multiple feature-length theatrical releases.

The Big Bee (2015)

A terrorist calling themselves the “Big Bee" remotely hijacks a large military helicopter equipped with a large amount of explosives, and hovers it above a nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture. The terrorist’s demand? That the Japanese government destroy the turbine generators at all of Japan’s nuclear power plants. This film is adapted from a Higashino Keigo suspense novel originally published in 1995, but given the post-Tohoku earthquake and post-Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster world we live in, there’s an added significance to the film’s message.

Initiation Love (2015)

This film adaptation of a novel by the same name by Inui Kurumi mixes a love story and mystery to great effect. It centers on the rocky relationship between a man and a woman in the late 80s, at the peak of Japan’s bubble era. The film—like the novel—is separated into two halves, titled “Side-A" and “Side-B", much like a cassette tape. That duality is reflected in the film’s themes: regional city versus Tokyo, adolescence versus adulthood, past versus present, ideal versus reality.

9.Visual Mediums Versus the Written Word

When producing video, it is important to think about the different attributes of characteristics of the medium you are working in.

First, the relationship between the written word and video media. Dramas (for the stage) and screenplays, for example, are written with the intention of being performed. This makes them suited for adaptation into a visual medium.

In recent years many manga have been adapted for the screen. The original works, which are comprised of illustrations and speech bubbles, are essentially a kind of storyboard in and of themselves, which makes them relatively straightforward to transfer to the screen.

When adapting a literary work for the screen, it becomes necessary to think about how to translate psychological description into visuals. Should it be conveyed through a voiceover narrating the story? Should it be told through dialogue? Should it be expressed through abstract visuals?

With hardboiled crime fiction and similar kinds of typical American literature, these questions may be somewhat straightforward. But with the kind of “I" novels favored in Japan, how psychological descriptions are handled can make or break the story.

One reason why American movies are generally more entertaining than their Japanese counterparts is because the works they are based on are already written in a style that translates well for the screen. And even where that is not the case, one or several professional screenwriters break down the work and piece it back together into a visually cohesive whole.

Meanwhile, in Japan, many directors often take it upon themselves to come up with their screenplays. In the U.S., screenwriting and directing are distinct professions, and while some are able to do both, roles are often divided up between those who specialize in plot, those who specialize in dialogue, and those who specialize in stage directions.

And while in Japan movies are usually seen as works of the director, in the American film industry producers play a larger, central role.

In that sense, perhaps the most important job of the producer is to find great scripts. As industry people often say, “it's possible to make a bad movie out of a good script, but you can't make a good movie out of a bad script." The quality of the screenplay directly informs whether or not the movie will ultimately succeed.

10.Epilogue: The Media Attributes and Characteristics of Movies, TV, and Online Video

The rapid expansion of mass media in the second half of the 20th century has resulted in a problem: the well of original content is running dry.

This is especially clear when you look at the music industry, which has intrinsic limits in terms of its building blocks (musical scales and tone color are not infinite). In that sense, many in the industry would agree that we should not expect completely new styles of music to emerge as they have in the past. The success of Bruno Mars, one of the biggest music stars in the U.S., is predicated on this notion. His musical style is nothing new—only a reinterpretation of earlier musical styles into “new" music.

In terms of visual storytelling through TV and movies, the well of completely original stories has started to run dry in Japan since the 2000s, exemplified by the flurry of remakes that make their way onto the screen.

There are also logistical limits from a box office perspective. If you want to screen a film four or five times a day, those films have to be limited in their running time to around 90 to 120 minutes.

In terms of Japanese TV shows and commercials, broadcasters limit running time to between 40 to 50 minutes, and seasons to 8 to 12 episodes.

For that reason, it was believed that the kinds of stories fit for these frameworks had been exhausted.

However, the spread of the internet around the world and advances in broadband technology have made it possible to stream video on demand. This has completely changed the landscape of media.

YouTube and other platforms have become a home for shorter videos several minutes in length, and have also made it possible to present your content to people around the world.

And while televisions have spread to households worldwide, television broadcasts stay within national borders.

Using the internet, however, broadcasters and creators are freed from the traditional constraints of time, geography, and collecting payment from viewers.

Hulu and Netflix have become household names across the planet, and ICT companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple, as well as movie studios like Sony are increasingly channeling their resources into online video distribution.

Some experts forecast that advances in AI will lead to shorter working days and more time for leisure. If that is true, then the business potential for video content will only continue to grow.


Leading Japanese Film Directors of the 2000s (Part 2) - Internationally-Renowned Japanese Filmmakers

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