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The 100 Best Contemporary Japanese Movies - Psycho Drama is launching an ambitious  project to compile 100 of the best modern-day Japanese movies from the last 2 decades or so. Featuring the best young actors of their generation - from Joe Odagiri, Takako Matsu and Tadanobu Asano, to Satoshi Tsumabuki, Hikari Mitsushima, Mao Inoue, Ryuhei Matsuda, Shun Oguri and Masanabu Ando to the current crop of exciting young talents - Shota Sometani, Yuya Yagira, Kamiki Ryunosuke, Sosuke Ikematsu, Kento Yamazaki, Fumi Nikaido and Ai Hashimoto. [ click here ]

The 2012 New York Asian Film Festival will be held from June 29-July 15, and will feature films starring some of the most talented Japanese actors - the same actors we feature on our Top 30 Hottest list. Among the films joining the festival are: Ace Attorney (Hiroki Narimiya and Takumi Saito), Monsters Club (Eita Nagayama), Smuggler (Masanobu Ando and Satoshi Tsumabuki), Hard Romanticker (Shota Matsuda and Kento Nagayama). Films from Korea, China, HongKong and other Asian countries are also to be shown at the said festival.

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About the Festival: Now in its 11th year, the New York Asian Film Festival is North America's leading festival of popular Asian cinema, which the New York Times has called "...one of the city's most valuable events..." Launched in 2002 by Subway Cinema, the Festival selects only the best, strangest, and most entertaining movies to screen for New York audiences, ranging from mainstream blockbusters and art-house eccentricities to genre and cult classics. It was the first North American film festival to champion the works of Johnnie To, Bong Joon-Ho, Park Chan-Wook, Takashi Miike, and other auteurs of contemporary Asian cinema. The Festival has been produced in collaboration with the Film Society of Lincoln Center since 2010. [ read more ]

Press: Nippon Cinema is even sponsoring some free tickets to watch.

More about the films: Here are some more details about the movies I mentioned:


ACE ATTORNEY: Based on the uber-popular problem-solving video game series that began on the Nintendo DS, ACE ATTORNEY follows intrepid young defense lawyer Phoenix Wright as he fights to solve crimes and win cases in a wacky alternative universe (we call it "Japan") in which every trial is a three-day deathmatch, and the rival fighters – we mean, lawyers – interrogate witnesses, scream evidence at each other, hurl giant holograms, and occasionally fistfight. When it's all over, a judge rules from the bench, confetti falls from the ceiling, the gallery cheers, and it's onto the next case. Basically, it's just like Nancy Grace.

Ace Attorney – the movie – is a letter-perfect adaptation of the first game in the Nintendo series, following Phoenix Wright's rise from novice counselor to law god supreme. When his mentor, Mia Fey, is murdered investigating a long-buried cold case, Wright winds up defending the prime suspect: her sister, Maya. The pandemonium that follows includes a giant samurai, a talking parrot, sea monsters, a heaping helping of cartoon logic, and a mystery so utterly ludicrous Jessica Fletcher would need to be taking shrooms to work it out. Who is Redd White? What is the secret of DL-6 that could change the face of video game law? And what the hell is with the Blue Badger, anyway?

Miike has done video game adaptations before (Like a Dragon), but this time he's operating on a higher level. Locations and characters are recreated, right down to their outrageous hairstyles, holograms flicker, whizz, and fly through the courtrooms like you're inside a Nintendo DS, and even if you've played through the series before, you'll still find yourself trying to work out the cases along with Phoenix, clue by clue, lie by lie. Take it from us: you've never seen anything like Takashi Miike's vision of gamer cinema. Case closed.

HARD ROMANTICKER: We thought we knew what hard meant. And then we watched HARD ROMANTICKER, which pretty much redefines the whole spectrum of hard-ass, hard-boiled, and hardcore in one mean, punch-packing machine of a movie. Writer-director Gu Su-Yeon's new movie unfolds in a concrete jungle where, in Philip Larkin's words, man hands on misery to manl. Drawing on Gu's own autobiographical account of his experiences growing up as a delinquent zainichi Korean (Japanese born, but of Korean ancestry) the film brings into focus the squalid, gang-infested Korean ghetto, a congested, working-class hellhole brimming over with enough sex and fury to remind the viewer of a bad day in mid-90s Bosnia.

The picture arcs back directly to the days when production company Toei was punching its massive weight left and right in Japanese cinema, regularly sending out shock waves with its youth gang films. This upgrade of the theme of the tough, nihilistic loner pummeling his way into and against the world features a stunning lead performance by Shota Matsuda as the cocky, incorrigible rebel who lives on the edge and on the run, never one to shirk from a little bit of the old ultra-violence.

Shota, sporting the same name and peroxide-blond hairstyle as the director, was born to play the fictional Gu: an old-style leading man with spit, snap and vim (like his legendary father, Yusaku, who was half-Korean). He hides all traces of tenderness behind the cool, marble mask of his lean-and-mean, bad-boy good looks and holds the whole film tightly together, while real-life Gu helms the flick with fizzy glee and the constant sense that something is about to explode, underscored with Kaoru Wada's blithe jazz score.

MONSTERS CLUB: Poetry is a weapon, and in Toshiaki Toyoda's MONSTERS CLUB that weapon is a letter bomb. Struck by the lightning bolt of inspiration after reading Unabomber Ted Kaczynski's manifesto, Director Toyoda grabbed his cast and headed up into the mountains where he shot without a script for two weeks, retelling the Unabomber story from the point of view of the bomber. The result is a movie so horrified by modern living that you'll be blinded if you stare at it for too long. People can accuse it of being overly-poetic but approach it on its wavelength and what you get is the story of a man who cannot tolerate living in the fallen world we've built for ourselves, but who also can't live apart from it.

Ryoichi has withdraw to a snowbound mountain cabin where he mails out letter bombs to corrupt CEOs, writes in his journal, and goes about the hard business of living off the grid: hunting, cleaning, cooking, and chopping infinite quantities of firewood. But you can't escape society, it's too big and too hungry to let anyone go for long. Haunted by a monster (inspired by Hayao Miyazaki's Totoro, and played by Japan's genius pansexual drag artist, Pyuupiru) Ryoichi is dragged closer and closer to returning to civilization, a move that threatens to shatter him into pieces.

Toshiaki Toyoda is the kind of directorial talent who comes along rarely (Shinya Tsukamoto and Atom Egoyan come to mind as comparisons) and his refusal to water down his works or make concessions to mainstream tastes is frustrating, inspiring, and very brave. His earlier movies, Blue Spring and 9 Souls, won numerous prizes at international film festivals, but his career came screeching to a halt when he was arrested for drug possession in 2005. In a society like Japan, where drug use is universally condemned, that would be enough to end most careers, but he refused to hide in shame, owned up to his mistakes, and kept making movies. In Monsters Club, he examines the place he finds himself: stuck between hating the graveyard we've made of our planet, but unable to survive alone. Ultimately, to quote a cliche, no man is an island, a fact of life that makes Toyoda want to scream, and scream, and scream.

SMUGGLER: If there's one thing that's part of the international language these days, it's debt. So it's easy to understand the plight of poor Kinuta, a struggling actor who gets in way over his head, borrowing money all over the place as he pursues his thespian dreams. In a sick twist of fate, his debts are sold to a company which agrees to forgive his debts if he agrees to work them off, and when he's told that the work is a moving job he's more than a little relieved. He shouldn't be. He's actually just been made a "smuggler," part of an underground economy of debt slaves who do dirty work for the yakuza. Black market share croppers, he and his crew lug dead bodies to shallow graves, bag body parts, and drag them to the incinerator when hits go wrong. It's brutal, unrewarding, tension-inducing work, but bit by bit Kinuta is slowly chipping away at that debt.

Then, however, things take a really bad turn. He and his two colleagues manage to run afoul of a pair of hitmen (who are also lovers), Vertebrae (Ando Masanobu) and Viscera (Ryushin Tei), two deadly psychopaths involved in a Japanese/Chinese mob war. Through a series of highly stylized, downright Kabuki-esque action sequences, Kinuta finds himself standing in for Vertebrae and getting brutally tortured in his place as they try to cover up one of their many screw-ups. But what doesn't kill Kinuta makes him stronger and he discovers that he's chaning from the spineless, gambling-addicted actor he was, to becoming a man with a mission.

Katsuhito Ishii started his career making the "cooler than you" movie Sharkskin Man and Peach Hip Girl which was all ironic postures, and hipster snark. But he followed it up with two of the most popular movies we've ever shown at NYAFF, A Taste of Tea and Funky Forest: The First Contact, both of them warm, surreal, human-sized comedies that shouldn't work (because they're so insane) but that do work (because they're so awesome). With SMUGGLER he's doing something in between, returning to a crime story but this time without the Tarantino-esque hepcat vibe. The result is the most mainstream, and satisfying, movie of his career.

I have yet to see Monsters Club and Ace Attorney. But Smuggler and Hard Romanticker are awesome films. Masanobu Ando, in particular, returns to doing movies in Smuggler and retains his iconic acting. No one could play the role except Ando - as the uber cool Assassin. Shota Matsuda, on the other hand, shows his dark, violent side in Hard Romanticker, with his bleach blond hair that mirrors the filmmaker himself. Both movies show special qualities worthy of a movie collection.

More Press: The Festival is apparently good news for Japanese movie fans. I felt gloomy of late having read Wildground's take on the state of Japanese movies and Western audiences, and the news that distributors are closing down.

Here's the rub:

And we're back at the beginning; besides Takashi Miike and few other films/directors, recent Japanese cinema seems to be limited quality-wise. Based on regular reports, the Japanese Film Industry isn't in good shape, "failing" to produce films with broader appeal/big potential to reach audiences beyond, the fan-boys/fan-base (live-action versions), some cultural cliché (bloodthirsty samurai), or a niche cult following (indies/auteurs).
On the other hand, it also means, in some cases, foreign films can attract an audience, as little as it is. On the long term, there's something to develop here!
As a fan, it's already pretty hard to find films like that. Knowing most Japanese films aren't released/screened outside Japan, and (mainstream) distributors aren't particularly interested in sending screeners overseas [ read more ]

I'm afraid this is true to a certain extent. However, Japanese movies and dramas are extremely popular on the net, with fans from Russia, Germany, the Netherlands and South America growing by leaps and bounds. I know because I have seen so many blogs and forums (in Portuguese, Spanish, Russian) featuring the latest Japanese movies and dramas. These blogs also feature the very popular Korean dramas too. But as far as theatrical showings are concerned, I have to agree with Wildground's take.

The Current Trends by Japanese Movie and Drama Fans: Japanese movie and drama fans have become more sophisticated by the day, and have utilized the power of the internet to update, distribute and review the movies and dramas they like and don't like. While a lot of Japanese movies will never see the light of day in New York or Los Angeles or Paris or even Moscow, your average foreign Japanese movie/drama fan is just sitting at home and waiting for his download to finish. Downloading Japanese movies and dramas is another topic worthy of a separate post. In the meantime, I just have to leave it at that...

Are you a fan of Japanese movies and dramas? What can you say about the current state of Japanese film distributors in the USA? Have you seen some of the movies listed above already? Let us know what you think!

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Essential Sites & Blogs

Asian Addicts Anonymous - Comprehensive reviews and recaps of exciting Japanese drama, including interesting post on Asian music and movie news.

Dorama Doll - a new blog that will feature recaps of selected Japanese dramas, most probably related to Johnny & Associates talents, with some great recommendations on what to watch if you're new to the J-drama scene.

Genkinahito's Blog - Reviews, news, box office results & some amazing insights into Japanese films, including manga and anime.

13oys and Men  - Promoting the awesome and talented young Japanese actors, with lots of screenshots and insights into the careers of top and upcoming young talents. 

My Drama Tea - Honest and insightful reviews of Japanese drama, also reviews of Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese dramas, with music news and movie reviews.

Ritsu No Dorama Land - J-dorama reviews with a difference, complete with recaps that really complements the review. 

OtherWhere - Excellent and varied trailer showcase, insightful reviews of Japanese movies (both indies and mainstream), and a great resource for news on Studio Ghibli too!

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