By Sean Boelman
Every year in New York City, the Japan Society comes together to put on Japan Cuts, a festival celebrating the best in Japanese film. Considered to be the largest festival in North America devoted exclusively to cinema from Japan, there is something here for everyone, from big-budget Asian blockbusters to prestige dramas, and everything in-between. At disappointment media, we got the opportunity to screen some of the films that will be playing the festival, and here are some of our recommendations of what you should check out!
Perhaps the most high-profile film screening in the lineup is The Great Yokai War: Guardians, a sequel to Takashi Miike’s 2005 fantasy epic. Any cinephile knows that Miike is one of the most prolific filmmakers working in genre cinema right now, so his newest film is sure to be highly anticipated. The film follows a young boy who discovers that he is the descendant of a legendary warrior and must team up with the yokai, a group of spirits, to save the world. It’s a very fun blend of CGI effects and practical work, with plenty of supernatural action sequences and a cute Spielbergian quality to it. This film is sure to be in-demand, so there are two in-person screenings: one on August 28 at 7pm and the other on September 1 at 4pm.
Another major film playing at the festival is Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Wife of a Spy. The first historical drama from the legendary director, the film is co-written by his former students Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (whose Drive My Car is making waves on the festival circuit right now) and Tadashi Nohara, and it’s by no means a traditional espionage thriller. The film follows a Japanese merchant who discovers a dark secret about his country’s past and speaks out about it, causing him to be accused of being a spy. It’s a riveting and unexpectedly emotional drama anchored by two great performances and exquisite direction. Although the online screening is already sold out, there is still an in-person showing on August 27 at 7pm.
For those looking for something on the weirder side, it may be worth checking out Masashi Yamamoto’s Wonderful Paradise. The film is set during a family’s last day before moving out of their luxurious mansion as eccentric guests show up, resulting in a bizarre and wild farewell party. The first act is quirky, but when the film really shines is when it leans into its dark comedy elements in the final thirty minutes. It’s not going to be for everyone, but make sure to check out this virtual screening if you are in the mood for something wacky and fun.
And those are only a few of the films that are screening in-person and virtually at this year’s event. Even if you aren’t in New York City, you will be able to watch many of the selections online from the comfort of your own home. And with such a diverse selection of films from Japan, there’s no excuse to not find a movie you want to see!
The 2021 edition of Japan Cuts runs August 20 through September 2. More information, including how to purchase tickets, can be found here.
Review by Sean Boelman
One of the world’s longest-running festivals, the Locarno Film Festival is back in 2021 with a hybrid edition featuring films from around the world. From exciting premieres of the newest films from established filmmakers to some intriguing debuts from new voices, the lineup this year features plenty of movies that festival-goers won’t want to miss.
We at disappointment media are excited to be providing remote coverage for the 2021 Locarno Film Festival. Below you can find our thoughts on some of the films we have been able to check out that are playing as a part of the lineup. Although the festival is coming to a close, the press and industry online library continues until August 31, so we will add more capsule reviews to this article as we check out more films!
There have been plenty of films to pose the question of what the oppressed would do if they became the oppressor, but filmmaker Hleb Papou’s unexpectedly tender approach for The Legionnaire is welcome and refreshing. On paper, this story of an African-Italian police officer who is torn between his duty and his obligation to family sounds like it is going to be a race-against-the-clock thriller when in reality, it is something much more nuanced, a restrained and intimate character study. Germano Gentile’s leading performance is absolutely brilliant, nailing every bit of emotion in the story.
Festivals are designed to discover all sorts of films, including work that would likely never have been seen if not for the platform and prestige that the festival provides. For better or worse, Ghassan Salhab’s The River is one of those films, with a slow and frequently meandering script but solid production values. There is definitely something interesting to be found in this story of two people wandering the landscape contemplating an impending war, but it will test the viewer’s patience as the interactions start to blend together. It’s worth watching for some gorgeous scenery and strong chemistry between Ali Suliman and Yumna Marwan, but it won’t be for everyone.
Phil Tippet is an absolute legend in the film community for having worked on the visual effects teams on such classics as RoboCop, Jurassic Park, and The Empire Strikes Back, so his feature-length stop-motion animation project Mad God was obviously high on the list of most-anticipated films of the Locarno lineup. While it’s certainly a bit on the heavy-handed side when it comes to its message, the love and craft that went into this project absolutely leap off the screen. The world which Tippet has created for his film is so immersive, and will have viewers transfixed for the entirety of the eighty-plus minute runtime.
The 2021 Locarno Film Festival runs August 4-14.
By Sean Boelman
After having been one of the festivals to set the standard for virtual presentations, the Fantasia Film Festival returns in 2021 with a hybrid edition. Featuring many selections with virtual-only or both virtual and in-person screenings, and a few with only theatrical screenings, the lineup this year is as exciting as ever, even kicking off with a special screening of The Suicide Squad on August 4. We at disappointment media are excited to be covering the festival remotely this year, and below, you can find some of the film’s we’ve seen that we hope you’ll check out!
Coming Home in the Dark
Coming Home in the Dark is likely the least fun to watch of these recommendations, but that doesn’t mean that people attending Fantasia shouldn’t check it out. It’s often hard to stomach in all of its brutality, but this revenge tale isn’t one that viewers will soon forget. Admittedly, the story is pretty straightforward, but James Ashcroft’s lean direction allows it to be impactful nevertheless. Those who already have a taste for New Zealander genre cinema will definitely be impressed.
Richard Bates Jr. has gained quite a cult following since Excision, making it almost ironic that his newest film is literally about a cult. However, the film shares more in common with Suburban Gothic than it does with his debut feature, as Bates Jr. leans more heavily into his comedic tendencies here than the dark and cynical ones. Combined with an excellent performance from Matthew Gray Gubler, this results in what is probably the filmmaker’s most agreeable film yet — an all-around wholesome and enjoyable watch.
In what is sure to hold the title for the most disgusting film at this year’s Fantasia, Harpo and Lenny Guit’s Mother Schmuckers is nonetheless a must-see film for any genre aficionado. A charming exercise in excess, the film follows two brothers who set out on a journey to find their mother’s lost dog, getting into all sorts of ridiculous antics along the way. Its over-the-top nature is sure to appall some, but the shock value is absolutely what makes it so memorable.
Prisoners of the Ghostland
In recent years, Nicolas Cage has given plenty of memorable unhinged performances, and Prisoners of the Ghostland sees him at the top of his game. Directed by Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono, it’s nice to see Cage working again with an auteur behind the camera, this film giving off heavy shades of Face/Off. It’s a blend of Eastern and Western tropes that is undeniably a hell of a lot of fun to watch, but packs a surprising political punch under the surface. Hi-fucking-ya.
We're All Going to the World's Fair
Jane Schoenbrun’s We’re All Going to the World’s Fair debuted quietly at Sundance this year but has had a steadily growing cult following singing its praises, and hopefully Fantasia will be the place where it makes its big breakout. On its surface an exploration of online culture, but beneath that, a deeper exploration of identity, this is probably one of the most complex and nuanced horror films to have debuted in recent years. Festival-goers won’t want to miss their chance to say they experienced this film early on.
The 2021 Fantasia Film Festival runs from August 5-25.
The Snake Hole
Retrospectives, opinion pieces, awards commentary, personal essays, and any other type of article that isn't a traditional review or interview.