Japan Academy Prize 2014: The Great Passage & Like Father, Like Son dominate award ceremony!

FINAL UPDATE: As predicted, the two most acclaimed pictures we have listed below grabbed the most number of awards in the 37th Japan Academy Prize held 7th of March 2014.

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Ryuhei Matsuda + Aoi Miyazaki in The Great Passage, directed by Yuya Ishii,  Asmik Ace Entertainment, Shochiku 2013, All Rights Reserved. 

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Here are the nominees and the winners of the major categories:

Picture of the Year:

The Devil’s Path
A Boy Called H
Like Father, Like Son
Tōkyō Kazoku
The Great Passage – winner
Ask This of Rikyu

Animation of the Year:

The Tale of Princess Kaguya
The Wind Rises – winner
Space Pirate Captain Harlock
Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion
Lupin the 3rd vs. Detective Conan: The Movie

Director of the Year:

Yuyua Ishii – The Great Passage – winner
Hirokazu Koreeda – Like Father, Like Son
Kazuya Shiraishi – The Devil’s Path
Kōki Mitani – The Kiyosu Conference
Yoji Yamada – Tōkyō Kazoku

Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a leading role:

Ichikawa Ebizō XI – Ask This of Rikyu
Isao Hashizume – Tōkyō Kazoku
Masaharu Fukuyama – Like Father, Like Son
Ryuhei Matsuda – The Great Passage – winner
Ken Watanabe – Unforgiven

Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a leading role:

Aya Ueto – Bushi no Kondate
Machiko Ono – Like Father, Like Son
Yōko Maki – The Ravine of Goodbye – winner
Aoi Miyazaki – The Great Passage
Kazuko Yoshiyuki – Tōkyō Kazoku

Rookies of the Year: [ all winners ]

Mone Kamishiraishi – Lady Maiko
Nana Komatsu – The World of Kanako
Rena Nōnen – Hot Road
Sosuke Ikematsu – Pale Moon, Love’s Whirlpool, Bokutachi no Kazoku
Hiroomi Tosaka – Hot Road
Sota Fukushi – In the Hero, Kami-sama no Iu Toori, Say “I love you”.


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I would be super surprised if they made Aoi Miyazaki as the winner of Best Actress. She played a supporting role, and there is no logic for her nomination in the major acting award. Hikari Mitsushima (End of Summer) was snubbed as well as Yuriko Yoshitaka for The Story of Yonosuke. An even bigger crime for ignoring Kengo Kora who was awesome in Yonosuke, but Matsuda also gave a compelling performance. It would have sufficed if they put Kora on the nomination list.

Yoko Maki did a Kate Winslet by winning both Best Actress (Ravine of Goodbye) and Best Supporting Actress (Like Father, Like Son) trophies.

I was happy to see Joe Odagiri and Satoshi Tsumabuki getting their much-deserved nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category, but I also did not expect them to win.

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UPDATES #2: Nikkan Sports announces winners of 2013 annual Film Awards:

As expected, The Great Passage (Fune wo Amu) won the Best Picture of the year, while Hirokazu Koreeda grabbed the Best Director for his fantastic movie Like Father, Like Son (which garnered a lot of raves in the international film festival scene). 

Ryuhei Matsuda won Best Actor for The Great Passage and Yoko Maki won Best Actress for The Ravine of Goodbye.

A complete listing is here.

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UPDATES #1: Indiewire is saying that The Great Passage has little chances of making the cut in the Oscar’s Best Foreign Film category and that there was an “outrage” over its choice.

As far as controversies go, the biggest likely come via Japan and India, who were largely expected to submit Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Like Father, Like Son” and Ritesh Batra’s “The Lunchbox,” respectively. Both huge critical hits out of Cannes (where they got picked up for US release by Sundance Selects and Sony Classics), they both seemed to have decent shots at making the Academy’s cut. But the countries decided to go another route, with Japan submitting Yuya Ishii’s “The Great Passage” and India putting forward Gyan Correa’s “The Good Road” — and our guess is neither will get nominated as a result. [ source ]

The author, Peter Knegt, also mentioned that Departures should not have won the Oscar, saying:

Sometimes, the fault lies with Academy voters (as it did when “Departures” won the Oscar in 2008 over what most viewed as two greatly superior nominees – “Waltz With Bashir” and “The Class;” … [ read more ]

“Departures” is Japan’s entry which won the Oscar trophy and also won the Picture of the Year at the Japan Academy Prize. Such analysis from Indiewire only means The Great Passage is now our front runner!

Mr. Knegt’s opinion is his personal review and just like us, we are only spectators who have the venue to express our views. He is neither right nor wrong. But we shall see if The Great Passage gets a nomination.

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On March 2014, the 37th Japanese Academy Prize will once again award the best Japanese movies, actors, and technical crews and we’re predicting potential winners and nominees! Who says only the American Oscars have online predictions? 

Previous Best Picture winners include The Kirishima Thing (Coming of age), Rebirth (Kidnapping), Confessions (Revenge) and The Unbroken (Labor union & Airplane disaster). Academy members have been quite unpredictable, which makes it more fun and challenging to analyze and predict, right?

We’re listing ten potential nominees for Best Picture and also names of possible nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress, and the highly-anticipated Rookie of the Year trophy, which is mostly awarded to young and aspiring artists. Last year, the Rookies were given to Tori Matsuzaka, Shota Sometani, Fumi Nikaido, Masahiro Higashide, Ai Hashimoto, Emi Takei and Korean idol Changmin.

Potential Best Picture Nominees: The Japan Academy Prize bestows the best film as “Picture of the Year” where there are five nominees and one winner. Here are ten movies we think have the best chances of getting nominated –

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The Great Passage (Fune wo Amu) – The movie revolves around Majime (Ryuhei Matsuda) who has a talent for understanding different languages. He works as a member of a dictionary edit team. He is also in love with Kaguya Hayashi (Aoi Miyazaki), a cook and the granddaughter of the owner of his boarding house. But he finds it difficult to express his feelings.

For someone who can understand complex passages in foreign tongues, the simple words of expressing love and affection appear to be ‘alien’ to him.

Backgrounder: The Great Passage is Japan’s nominee for Oscar’s “Best Foreign Language Film” and says a lot about its potential as a candidate for the Academy’s Picture of the Year award. While its chances of winning the Oscar Foreign Language Film may be slim, its chances to grab the most prestigious trophy in Japan is good.

If the Academy can give acclaim to the relatively new filmmaker Daihachi Yoshida (The Kirishima Thing), I don’t see any reason why they can’t do the same for Ishii. While these two filmmakers have different backgrounds – Yoshida worked as Advertising Director for more than 18 years before venturing into movie making, while Isshi who is only 30 years old have made about six movies since he started in the industry. Ishii also won Best Director for Sawako Decides in another award-giving body (the Blue Ribbon Awards) back in 2011.

Says an international film festival organizer on Ishii:

Though still not well known in the West, Yuya Ishii is one of Japan’s most exciting and prolific young filmmakers, cranking out six remarkable features in the last five years. His films are perhaps best described as funky, rambling comedies, usually focusing on the lives of misfits. They also present a view of contemporary Japan in decline that we don’t often see. A very special artist (and only 27 years old), Yuya has a sincerity and compassion which is rare in most American independent cinema. [ read more ]

Prediction: Ryuhei Matsuda and Aoi Miyazaki are no amateur performers. In fact, they have been nominated for various awards, including Best Supporting performances at the Japan Academy Prize. They will be potential Best Actor and Best Actress nominees, if not be included in the other category – Best Supporting Actor and Actress. Joe Odagiri might get a Best Supporting Actor nomination.

It’s about time for Ishii to get the nod for Best Director, aside from this movie grabbing one of the five slots for Picture of the Year.

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Like Father, Like Son (Soshite Chichi ni Naru) is about the switching of two babies in a hospital which was revealed to the parents six years later. The dilemma of whether to take back the legitimate (and biological) son or continue living with the switched one is where the story begins.

Backgrounder: Hirokazu Koreeda has a good reputation at the Cannes Festival. His movie Nobody Knows (starring the young Yuya Yagira) won for Yagira the Best Actor prize in 2004. In 2009, his film Air Doll was shown as part of “Un Certain Regard” (World Premiere) at the same festival.

Koreeda’s movie won the Jury Prize (3rd highest award) and was nominated for the Palm d’Or. It has figured prominently in other prestigious film festivals, including Toronto.

Robbie Collins at the Telegraph reviewed the film and praised it, saying:

One of the great themes of Japanese cinema, and perhaps the greatest, is family: particularly our place within it, and its within us. More than 80 years have passed since Yasujiro Ozu first set his camera on a tripod, lowered its legs slightly and made I Was Born, But…, and you might well assume that by now the subject would be pretty well exhausted. But Hirokazu Kore-eda has found a fresh perspective on this durable theme, and he surges into it like a child playing inside a duvet cover, feeling his way right to the corners.

And playfulness is the prevailing spirit of the piece: despite the film’s unhappy premise, watching Like Father, Like Son feels like paddling in a clear, sunlit spring. [ read more ]

Prediction: Koreeda has yet to win any trophy from the Japan Academy, yet he is already a veteran of acclaims and recognition from international festivals and other award-giving bodies in Japan. Being about “family” may be a disadvantage since there is another family-centered movie by Yoji Yamada, who is quite familiar with the Academy members. [ See #4 below ] Like Father, Like Son also received a lot of praise from foreign movie critics. You can also read our post re Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the movie.

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A Story of Yonosuke (Yokomichi Yonosuke) – A naive, provincial young man went to Tokyo to study and encounters friends who will form bonds with him during his lifetime and a girl whom he thought would become his greatest love, but then he fell for another, older woman. What do these people think of Yonosuke, the ordinary guy who became part of their lives in some significant ways?

Backgrounder: The Story of Yonosuke is like the Japanese version of Forrest Gump, but it’s a bit more poignant, more hilarious even and touches on certain issues peculiar to the Japanese. Just like the Oscar-winning picture, the movie focus on the family, romance, enduring friendships and the search for personal identity. [ Read our full review here ]

Justin Change at Twitch discussed the movie and said:

“When I die, would anyone cry?” wonders Yonosuke at his grandma’s funeral. It’s a question all of us ask ourselves at some point in our lives. “No, everyone will laugh when they think of you,” Shoko tells him. And this they do. Throughout the film, director Okita Shuichi unhurriedly inserts people from Yonosuke’s life reminiscing about their time with him after some 16 years, without sacrificing the film’s gentle narrative flow and without corny sentimentality. Their chance encounters with Yonosuke enriched their lives immeasurably, and they feel privileged to have known him.

I take the film as a reminder that beauty and kindness are in all of us, in this time of economic hardship/post-Fukushima Japan. It’s a warm-hearted, hopeful film subtly realized by Okita and its spirit is beautifully embodied by Kora. A Story of Yonosuke will go down as one of the best films I’ve seen this year. [ source ]

Prediction: I hope it wins, I love the movie, and I find so many scenes to identify with the character. Just like last year’s winner, The Kirishima Thing, there is something about Yonosuke that keeps you in a positive mood, while there is that subtle presence of tragedy.

Winner of Best Picture and Best Actor (Kengo Kora who beats Ryuhei Matsuda for the top acting plum) at the Blue Ribbon Awards, this will make a big difference for the movie.

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Unforgiven (Yurusarezaru Mono) – from director Sang-il Lee who also wrote the script, and stars Ken Watanabe, Koichi Sato, Jun Kunimura, Ekira Emoto and Yuya Yagira. It tells the story of a former Samurai assassin who suddenly disappeared and believed to be dead only to come back and seek resolution of his past crimes.

Backgrounder: Says Kaori Shoji at The Japan Times:

The director is Zainichi Korean filmmaker Lee Sang-il (“Hula Girls,” “Akunin [Villain]“), renowned for being a ruthless perfectionist. At the premiere screening in Tokyo earlier this month, Emoto commented that Lee could “harass an actor without mercy to get the precise desired frame.” To this, Lee laughingly replied, “I take that as a compliment. Persistence in a director is a good thing.”

Despite the cheery mood at the premiere, the content of “Yurusarezaru Mono” (which literally translates as “Unforgiven”) is anything but. Watanabe plays Jubee Kamata (the equivalent to Eastwood’s Will Munny character), a retired samurai who was on the wrong side during the early stages of the Meiji Restoration and was consequently pursued all the way to Hokkaido by the newly established government military forces. [ read more ]

The movie had its world premier at the 70th Venice Film Festival and was released 13th of September in Japan theaters. Indiwire’s review is also positive, but some critical issues were raised:

Lee has certainly done a solid job at capturing the tone of the original—it’s soulful and elegiac for the most part, although there is a few slapstick moment, which probably plays better with the home crowd used to such tonal lurches in their samurai flicks. It also looks superb: Warner Bros. backed the film, so there’s serious production value behind it, and Norimichi Kasamatsu’s photography makes full use of the Hokkaido setting and, particularly in the snowbound scenes, looks legitimately gorgeous. Taken in its own context, it’s a solid, if unremarkable samurai picture. [ read more ]

Prediction: A big film studio supports this movie (Warner Bros. Japan), with a superb cast including Academy favorite Ken Watanabe, who won the Best Actor trophy twice already and an acclaimed filmmaker – Sang-il Lee, who himself won Best Director for Hula Girls back in 2007. Yuya Yagira, a Cannes Film Festival Best Actor winner, is also one of the supporting cast.

Ken Watanabe would probably get another nomination for Best Actor and a Best Supporting for Yuya Yagira or Koichi Sato and Jun Kunimura.

If we are to base on what critics and bloggers are saying, this adaptation of Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning movie is already the frontrunner. But viewers and critics back in Japan may have other views, and will probably put The Great Passage or Tokyo Family as frontrunners.

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Tokyo Family (Tokyo Kazoku) – An old couple visited their children in Tokyo, was treated shabbily by their children, except their daughter in law who offered them nothing but kindness and great hospitality.

Backgrounder: Eiga posted a screenshot comparison between Yoji Yamada’s upcoming ‘Tokyo Family’ and the Ozu masterpiece ‘Tokyo Story’. For the uninitiated like me, Yasujirō Ozu is considered one of the most influential directors of all time. Tokyo Story was released in 1953 and the upcoming Yamada flick is regarded as an homage to the 50-year-old Ozu movie. Ozu’s Tokyo Story tells the story of an aging couple who travel to Tokyo to visit their grown children. The film contrasts the behavior of their children, who are too busy to pay them much attention, and their widowed daughter-in-law, who treats them well.

Berlinale, the festival where it made its international premiere has noted:

In this film director Yoji Yamada bows down before his teacher and role model. Yamada was assistant director on Yazujirō Ozu’s Tōkyō Monogatari, a moving family portrait set after the Second World War. In his remake, Yamada has made very few departures from Ozu’s masterpiece in order to update the story of aging couple Shukichi and Tomiko to present day Japan. [ source ]

Japan Times’ critic Mark Schilling has a different take:

Given such unfavorable comparisons, it might seem that the entire project was misguided — a mustache painted on the “Mona Lisa.” But when “Tokyo Family” departs from Ozu and becomes more recognizably Yamada’s, it hits stronger, more authentic notes, as when the mother falls ill and, instead of eliding much of what follows, Ozu-style, Yamada presents it with a tender forthrightness familiar from his other acclaimed family dramas, including 2008′s “Kabe (Kabei: Our Mother)” and 2010′s “Ototo (About Her Brother).”

The standard critical compliment for a good remake (and yes, they do exist) is that it makes the audience want to revisit the original. “Tokyo Family” will have served its purpose if it encourages viewers to check out not only “Tokyo Story,” but Yamada’s other, better films as well. [ source ]

Prediction: It can go either way – grab multiple nominations like Yamada’s previous movies – in particular – The Twilight Samurai (2003 Picture of the Year, Best Director, Best Screenplay) and Kabei: Our Mother (2008) which received nominations for the major awards, including Picture of the Year, Best Director and Best performances. Or Koreeda’s movie will get the spotlight and Tokyo Family will be shunned by the Academy. However, that is highly unlikely. I would expect Tokyo Family to at least figure prominently in the nomination.

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The Wind Rises (Kazetachinu) – is a Japanese animated historical fantasy film written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. The film is based on the manga of the same name, which in turn relies on a short story by Tatsuo Hori, a writer, poet, and translator from the mid-20th century (Showa period) Japan. Kaze Tachinu is a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi A5M (featured in the movie) and its famous successor, the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Both were fighter aircraft that the Empire of Japan used in World War II. 

Backgrounder: Miyazaki has polarized opinion in Japan for his selection of Horikoshi as the hero of his last animation.

The movie’s subject dovetails with an issue currently under heated debate in Japan: the new prime minister’s plan to amend the country’s constitution to allow for the building of a full-fledged military, boosting the limited self-defense forces put in place after the war.

Miyazaki, a venerated cultural figure in Japan, published an essay last month objecting to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plan, in the process raising the ire of some Japanese conservatives, who on Internet message boards labeled him “anti-Japanese” and a “traitor.” [ excerpt from The LA Times, article by Rebecca Keegan ]

Prediction: Anime are categorized separately in the Japan Academy Prize (Animation of the Year). However, given that this is Hayao Miyazaki’s last movie (he has announced his retirement from making animation), then perhaps the Academy will honor him with a “Picture of the Year” nomination just like what they did for Spirited Away, which won the Picture of the Year trophy back in 2002. Studio Ghibli animation usually won the Animation of the Year award anyway, so The Wind Rises may get the same treatment.

Notwithstanding the criticisms it received from political parties in Japan, the box office takes off more than $100 million only show how well it was received by the Japanese audience. Will the Japan Academy Association follow suit or will they be influenced by politics?

Sidenote: One of the Picture of the Year winners (Unbreakable) deals with labor unions and one of the biggest plane accident in Japan history (reported to be based on actual events and involving the country’s national carrier – Japan Airlines JAL).

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Ask this of Rikyu (Rikyu ni Tazuneyo) – The tea ceremony is one of the greatest Japanese traditions, and there is one particular individual who is credited for making it famous and revered. Says Japanese Tea Story:

If you are a fan of traditional Japanese tea culture, I believe you know who “Sen no Rikyu” is. He (1522-1591) is the most influential figure in the Japanese tea ceremony world. He became a tea master for Shogun then, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Especially, at the era of Hideyoshi, he became one of closest confidants. However, in the end, Hideyoshi ordered him to do Seppuku (commit suicide) due to crucial differences in opinion and some other reasons which are unknown. [ source ]

Tofugu wrote a comprehensive backgrounder of the tea ceremony, it’s a great read, better to understand the Japanese tradition of making tea.

Backgrounder: The movie won a major award at Montreal Film Festival – the Best Artistic Contribution – quoting report from Kyodo News:

Kabuki actor Ichikawa Ebizo, the main actor in the film, said Tuesday in Japan, “I was feeling a lot of pressure, playing the role of a great person named Sen no Rikyu who established the roots of the Japanese sense of beauty 400 years ago. I am very glad the aesthetics and culture of Japan were appreciated overseas.”

Noting the very limited spoken parts in the film, actress Miki Nakatani, who played the role of Rikyu’s wife, said, “I hope that the audiences were able to feel the layers of thoughts in silence.” She made the remark in a statement released after attending the awards ceremony in Montreal. [ read more ]

Prediction: The movie is yet to be released in Japan (tentative date: December 7, 2013) but international film critics praised its cinematography and acting. However, a previous movie that dealt with the same subject and individual was released in 1989 (Rikyu) and have won awards at the Academy (Rentarō Mikuni won the Best Actor Award for the same role plus the Best musical score).

Ebizo Ichikawa’s role is definitely one of the most prominent among the many roles played for the 2013 season. Miki Nakatani, who plays one of the leads, is definitely one of Japan’s finest actresses. I would expect a Best Supporting Actress nod (at the very least) for Nakatani.

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A Boy Called H (Shonen H) – With a running time of 122 minutes, this movie depicts the Senoh family, and in particular, Kaoru Senoh (H) from where the title is taken. It was based on the autobiographical novel “Shonen H” by Kappa Senoh, and shows how the family endures the difficult times following the onset of World War 2.

Prediction: Shonen H is the latest movie from acclaimed director Yasuo Furuhata, who won Best Director way back in 2000 for the movie Poppoya.

Last year, his film Anata e (Dearest), was also nominated for major awards (Picture of the Year, Best Director and other major and technical categories) and won 2 (Best Supporting Actor – Hideji Otaki and Best Supporting Actress – Kimiko Yo). I thought Ken Takakura did a fantastic job playing the lead role, but he failed to get a nomination for Best Actor.

Just like Tokyo Family, it may go either way – perhaps too many “family themed” movies for the Picture of the Year category, and the Academy may want to show a more diverse list of nominees.

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Shield of Straw (Wara no Tate) – tells the story of a child serial killer named Kunihide Kiyomaru (Tatsuya Fujiwara). His latest victim was the granddaughter of one of the richest man in Japan who offers 1 billion yen to anyone who kills him. Five police officers were assigned to protect Kiyomaru on his journey from Fukuoka to Tokyo which is 1,200 km away.

Backgrounder: With over 50 films to his credit, Takashi Miike is perhaps the most well-known Japanese director in the world. His movie For Love Sake was included in the Midnight Screenings (World Premiere) in last year Cannes. Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai was also shortlisted in the 2011 Cannes Festival main competition.

Twitch’s Brian Clark thinks the film is a dud, saying:

There are so many ways in which Takashi Miike’s Shield of Straw falls short of being the knockout that it could have been, it’s hard to know where to start. The script alone could easily inspire a novella detailing all of the plot holes, gaps in logic and insanely repetitive exposition. Miike seems, as usual, indifferent to these types of elements, but the real shame is that the man responsible for some of the smartest, most insane, exuberant, boundary-pushing Japanese movies of the past decade has brought the story to life with such flat, joyless direction.

And yet, it really could have been a knockout. Not only does the concept have the potential to yield a truly excellent action/thriller, but a number of ideas that the film plays with are both interesting and subversive in the best way. [ read more ]

Prediction: Takashi Miike’s movies are almost always invited to international film festivals even before it is shown in Japan. Shield of Straw performed quite well in the Japanese box office but fared a little bit on the negative side when it comes to critics’ reviews. Will Miike get a Best Director nomination? How about Tatsuya Fujiwara? Will he get a Best Actor nomination? I would hope for “yes” on both.

Sidenote: Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell? Might be a better replacement for Shield of Straw. Perhaps Nou Otoko (Brain Man) might be another alternative?

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