RYUICHI SAKAMOTO: OPUS – Review by Diane Carson

The iconic Japanese composer, pianist, and actor Ryuichi Sakamoto comes to vivid life in an exquisite documentary Ryuichi Sakamoto | Opus. Directed by Sakamoto’s son, Neo Sora, Ryuichi plays twenty of his compositions, including the title Opus plus Lack of Love, Solitude, The Sheltering Sky, and a new arrangement of Tong Poo. That’s it: minimalist and extraordinary.

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PERFECT DAYS – Review by Diane Carson

Director Wim Wenders strikes gold when he creates an engaging character of integrity and strength, one who doesn’t parade his ego to the world, one who wears his history well, with restraint, without sentimentality, and yet with profound, suppressed pain. This individual takes pride in the most unglamorous job and cherishes the smallest details of his life. Perfect Days profiles a fascinating Tokyo toilet cleaner named Hirayama.

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BLACK BOX DIARIES (Sundance FF 2024) – Review by Leslie Combemale

In her documentary directorial debut, Japanese journalist Shiori Ito chronicles the aftermath of her own sexual assault, using her notes, secret recordings, first person videos and footage from the time. Her film is an indictment of the continued societal misogyny and antiquated judicial system in Japan, and led to a landmark case that might, at last, shift perception away from victim shaming and tacit acceptance of violence towards women by men in power.

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THE BOY AND THE HERON – Review by Diane Carson

Coming out of retirement for one more film for his iconic Studio Ghibli, Japanese anime director Hayao Miyazaki has created the magnificent The Boy and the Heron, his most personal story, inspired by his WWII experience. In real life, in 1944 three-year-old Hayao and his family evacuated to a rural are. For his brother’s airplane company, his father built fighter plane rudders, details also found in The Wind Rises. Hayao’s ill mother factors into the fanciful events here, but all this merely sets the stage for two hours of imaginative, glorious animation.

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MONSTER – Review by Diane Carson

Monster presents incompatible perspectives of three individuals. Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu astutely illuminates communities and culture through carefully constructed, small groups of individuals. His films Broker, Shoplifters, and Nobody Knows testify to his understanding of intricate, complex interactions among adults and children. Now in Monster, Kore-eda presents the same events from three viewpoints. In so doing, he confirms the limitations inherent in the perceptions of each.

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REMEMBERING EVERY NIGHT – Review by Diane Carson

Remembering Every Night follows three women over a spring day. As we pursue our daily lives, who hasn’t wondered upon occasion about the strangers encountered over the course of an unexceptional day? With this as the inspiration for Remembering Every Night, writer/director Yui Kiyohara meanders over one spring day with three women, their paths intersecting in present-day Tama New Town, a Tokyo satellite commuter city designed in the mid-1960s.

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PERFECT DAYS (TIFF 2023) – Review by Liz Braun

In Wim Wenders’ Perfect Days, a middle-aged man whose life is all about routine, ritual and discipline lives happily in the environment he has created for himself. Hirayama (Koji Yakusho) lives alone and works cleaning toilets in Tokyo, a job he approaches with the same meticulous care and focused energy he devotes to everything else he does. He wakes up each work day to the sound of a local street sweeper, puts his bedding away, brushes his teeth and tends his table-top garden of saplings. Then he puts on a uniform and sets out for work.

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LOVE LIFE – Review by Valerie Kalfrin

Politeness blankets the relationships and conversations of the Japanese drama Love Life, making emotional moments burst like flashes of light. At first, this seems like part of the culture, but after a child’s sudden death, such manners carry the weight of grief, showing people who hesitate to say much lest they say something wrong. A believable portrait of grief and its aftermath, Love Life shows us a likable couple in crisis, one where viewers will be curious to see what happens next.

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PLAN 75 – Review by Diane Carson

Science fiction achieves maximum impact when it addresses current issues, especially sensitive ones. With that in mind, Japanese writer/director Chie Hayakawa’s debut feature Plan 75 proves as unnerving as it is relevant and ominous. For a government endorsed program supports entirely free, publicly sanctioned euthanasia for citizens over 75, hence the title, Plan 75.

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PASSION – Review by Diane Carson

Japanese director Ryūsuke Hamaguchi received a great deal of deserved attention with his Academy Award for last year’s Best International Feature Film Drive My Car. His extraordinary ability to present isolated individuals interacting and thereby revealing extensive emotional baggage is already on full display in Passion, his 2008 thesis project at Tokyo University of the Arts. Zeroing in on a celebratory birthday dinner for twenty-nine-year-old Kaho, Tomoya and Kaho unexpectedly announce their engagement to two couples, close friends. This shocks those four, one with whom Tomoya had a previous affair, distressingly revealed. That and additional tangled connections will disrupt all subsequent encounters as Passion’s scrutiny dramatizes the group unraveling.

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