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Japan Cuts 2016

Celebrating 10 years of North America's biggest festival of Japanese films, with new films on MUBI and by Sion Sono.
Love & Peace
In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the festival Japan Cuts, the biggest North American festival of Japanese film, MUBI has selected three films that have been part of the lineup of recent editions: 0.5mm (Momoko Andô) and The Horses of Fukushima (Yoju Matsubayashi) from the 2014 festival and Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn (Juichiro Yamasaki), which was last year’s closing film.
The festival runs from the 14th to the 24th of July at the Japan Society in New York. Coincidently, among the films that’ll play in this milestone event, three are related to the magnificent, strange and eclectic director Sion Sono, but they’re also related to the three films that MUBI will showcase in the United States during and after the festival.
Love & Peace might go down, in the near future, as Sion Sono’s masterpiece, the film that most represents the personal style as well as the experience that the director had when he was younger. Based on a script written years ago, this family film captures what might’ve been growing up with Sono in a mixture of genres, but mostly engaging with the sounds of rock and roll and the lifestyle of rock stars, alongside the kaiju monsters that he enjoyed in cinemas and on television. It is complex and episodic, but ultimately smart and honest regarding the feelings that the events are prone to produce.
The experience in itself isn’t different from the one conjured by Momoko Andô in 0.5mm, who recreates her own experience as a woman in Japan in relation to society and, specifically, the elderly. The main character, a young female caretaker of infirmed old people, finds new patients to attach to so she can survive after losing her job. While episodic in its structure based around the people she meets, the film has poignant and emotional moments, which help characterize the character as both devilish and saintly. She is a scoundrel, yet also an open-handed creature that can’t live without serving not only others but her own thirst for fixing the lives of those around her. Even though described as a drama, it also has really funny moments that demonstrate the diversity of scenes and characters that we encounter, and thus justifying its mostly smooth 3 hour runtime.
Shin Oshima’s The Sion Sono is a portrait of an artist that has flourished, in his own opinion, too late. In the context of making The Whispering Star, which will also be showing at this festival. While the film isn’t the encompassing overview of his career that I would’ve wished for, it’s certainly an important document of a moment of crisis for the Japanese auteur, in which he makes important decisions about his future in the country as an artist, his productivity explodes with five films released in 2015, and how he feels about the work that he doesn’t write. Telling is the testimony of his wife and main actress, Megumi Kagurazaka, who breaks into tears when she remembers the first films in which she was directed by her husband, marking it both as a hard time but also as a testament towards the nature of Sono’s temperament on set.
The Horses of Fukushima
The only documentary of the three films that MUBI will be showing, The Horses of Fukushima, presents a raw exploration of one of the multiple consequences of the Fukushima disaster in 2011, this time connected to a millenarian tradition, a festival where the main members of society dress up as samurais and members of the shogunate and march on the streets on horses. Due to the nuclear disaster, the horses were left alone with little to no food, and thus many were malnourished and got sick. The prohibition of the government has them in a sorry state and with little hope of being used in the festival that is quickly approaching. The documentary focuses a lot on the medical cure of the horses, but also delves into the real intentions of their owner, who wants to know if he’ll be able to sell them as meat, either before the festival starts or after, as he usually did at the time. Ultimately, the movie tries to pull away from a compassionate view of the situation, without sanctifying those affected, but at the same time putting on the foreground the idea that the only innocent in the whole situation are the animals that nobody truly wants to take care of, beyond their use in the town’s rituals.
The last comparison I’ll make is hard, since Sono’s The Whispering Star was filmed almost entirely in the Fukushima region, much like the last film, but it uses the landscape to tell a science fiction narrative. A female cyborg is in charge of a spaceship that’s shaped and built like a house, where she carries packages to be distributed all over the galaxy, where human beings live in poor conditions, stranded from one another, after the invention of teleportation devices. With its beautiful and pristine black and white cinematography, and its stupendously artificial sound design, the film brings forward the question of what it means to be human and how we cling onto the memories and the past in general, understanding the romanticism of a delivery company in a universe where instant transportation exists. Filmed with the help of Fukushima villagers, it’s also a testament to their existence and their abandonment, even four years after the catastrophe.
Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn
Also using embellished black and white cinematography, Sanchu Uprising: Voices at Dawn tells what apparently should be a big historical event through the minutia of the personal lives of those who lived it. Much like in the Sion Sono film, Sanchu Uprising uses color in one scene to make a striking point, but to talk about different things. Here, the historical event of an 18th century workers uprising is looked at from the lens of the present in an almost documentary fashion, with the social consequences of the events, as if they had stretched its vision and lessons to today’s concept of family. The movie weaves in and out of this aesthetic formalism, where it looks and plays most of the time as a chamber drama of the samurai period, but with innovations like the use of jazz as soundtrack, rotoscope animation and the idea of performance (the presence of theater and, at the end, of the actors themselves talking to the camera) as social construct.
The variety of these films confirms a festival that showcases completely different, unique, spectacular and extensive work every year. We hope that you enjoy the films that’ll play at MUBI and that, if you have a chance, take a look at the Sion Sono films and the others in the lineup that Japan Cuts has curated this summer.

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