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TIFF: Spotlight Japan

TIFF Spotlight Japan

As part of a city-wide celebration of Japanese culture, TIFF Lightbox continues with a third part of their series focusing on the great and varied catalog of cinema from the Land of the Rising Sun. As the first two parts in the series continue – one focusing on the powerhouse studio Nikkatsu, and the other on the country’s famed leading ladies- the third installment travels back to the eighties for a string of memorable and influential films to conclude Spotlight Japan.

The month-long series kicks off with 1989’s Violent Cop, Takeshi Kitano bloody, brutal, and tension-filled drama. Kitano plays the titular no-nonsense police officer Azuma, a man without sympathy or compassion. On the trail of the Yakuza, this entertaining and gritty crime thriller holds up today, evoking thoughts of Clint Eastwood at his best, though more cunning and unpredictable.

He may not be known by name, but surely many North Americans know his work. Kinji Fukasaku, director of Battle Royale, the ultra-violent predecessor to the The Hunger Games that sees ninth grade students fight to the death under government watch, is part of the series with something completely different. Fall Guy is surrealist, absurd, and outlandish, following an aging movie star going through a midlife crisis.

The film opens with some wonderful hysteria. Ginshiro is shooting a battle scene in his Samurai film, complaining to everyone about how he is being perceived, and disgruntled that a younger, rising star is taking his spotlight. An eruption puts the film on hiatus, and chaos continues as Ginshiro questions his masculinity, attractiveness, and talent, chasing women, flaunting money, and losing control.

We’ve action, we’ve comedy, and we’ve drama. Set in the late 1500’s, Rikyu opens with a tender tea ceremony led by an elderly master of ceremonies. The thoughtful, spiritual Rikyu, however, clashes with an ambitious and powerful warlord looking to conquer the world. While Rikyu seeks beauty and peace in a lone flower, Hideyoshi looks to control and conquest to find wholeness. A film by Hiroshi Teshigahara, Rikyu is gorgeous and intimate, celebrating art and aesthetics through expert direction and brilliant acting in a simple yet powerful tale.

These are just three of the many films shown as part of this diverse grouping that includes the mystical and the romantic, the suspenseful and the bizarre. It is a rare collection full of classic films for some and hidden gems for others, and better than any three wide-release films out in North America at the moment.

The Catch: Masterworks of Eighties Japanese Cinema runs from March 5 – April 6 at TIFF bell Lightbox.

Toyko Drifters: 100 Years of Nikkatsu continues through April 6

Japanese Divas: Great Actresses of Classic Japanese Cinema continues through March 31


Anthony Marcusa

A pop-culture consumer, Anthony seeks out what is important in entertainment and mocks what is not. Inspired by history, Anthony writes with the hope that someone, somewhere, might be affected.