by Rob Boylan
Earlier today the Japanese film diary Eiga Geijutsu released their annual best and worst of 2010 lists. The indie film Heaven's Story took the top spot in the Best Of list, while the Tetsuya Nakashima took the "worst" list with the Oscar short-listed Confessions.
1. Heaven's Story (Zeze Takahisa)
2. Doman Seman (Shibata Go)
3. Kore de ii no kashira (Okishima Isao)
4. Partners (Shimomura Masaru)
5. Yellow Kid (Mariko Tetsuya)
6. Sawako Decides (Ishii Yuya)
6. Sankaku (Yoshida Keisuke)
8. 13 Assassins (Miike Takashi)
9. Sketches of Kaitan City (Kumakiri Kazuyoshi)
9. Time Traveller (Masaaki Taniguchi)
9. Boys on the Run (Miura Daisuke)
1. Confessions (Tetsuya Nakashima)
2. Caterpillar (Koji Wakamatsu)
3. About Her Brother (Yoji Yamada)
4. Incite Mill (Hideo Nakata)
5. Tokyo Island (Makoto Shinozaki)
6. Zatoichi, The Last (Junji Sakamoto)
6. Surely Someday (Shun Oguri)
8. Space Battleship Yamato (Takashi Yamazaki)
9. Bayside Shakedown 3 (Katsuyuki Motohiro)
9. Solanin (Takahiro Miki)
About two weeks ago, the more internationally recognized Kinema Junpo released their poll for 2010 too. Aaron Gerow, who blogs about Japanese film teaches Japanese Studies (cinema and culture) at Yale and has written books on Japanese film, separates ths film polls as such:
[Eiga Geijutsu] can be an eclectic bunch, including not only film critics, but filmmakers (including some whose films are up for contention!). They sometimes end up picking films of friends or people close to the Eigei (and possibly manipulating results by selecting who votes each year), but there is a genuine dedication to more independent films compared to the KineJun and Mainichi awards ... The KineJun Best Ten list is the oldest and in general the most respected film award in Japan. It tends to be rather middle-of-the-road, however, since it is chosen by established and in general older and more conservative film critics.
Basically, take the "worst" part with a grain of salt. It's not the Japanese equivalent to the Razzies.
The KineJun 2010 Best of List:
3. Heaven's Story
4. 13 Assassins
5. Sawako Decides
7. Sword of Desperation
8. The Hero Show
9. Sketches of Kaitan City
10. A Night in Nude: Salvation
11. Abacus and Sword
So what, you say? Which of these films will you ever get to see?
Well, for starters, there is Thirteen Assassins, a samurai epic by Takashi Miike that played at the Toronto International Film Festival last year. The popularity of the director will certainly cause the film to end up being imported by someone.
It also seems likely that Confessions, a social drama from Tetsuya Nakashima (who also did Memories of Matsuko and Kamikaze Girls), will get picked up, if only for DVD/Blu. The film was on the Oscar short list for Best Foreign film, though it was chopped for the final nominations this morning. It played the New York Asian Film Festival last year, where it tied for third in the Audience Award. Nakashima previously won the NYAFF Audience Award in 2008 with the wonderful Memories of Matsuko, which is sadly only available via import.
Yoji Yamada's tearjerker About Her Brother is another that seems destined for DVD. Yamada's films tend to get released here, however, outside of his Tora-san films, most of his recent films released here have been of the samurai variety, such as The Hidden Blade and Twilight Samurai. About Her Brother is an emotional family drama about a mother (Sayuri Yoshinaga) and daughter (Yu Aoi) dealing with the shame of a black sheep (Tsurube Shofukutei) who has ruined both of their weddings with his drunken exploits. It's a Yamada-esque take on the Ozu/late Kurosawa style of storytelling, a take that will get you in the end if you don't have the heart of a hardened critic, as it did this softhearted critic during Japan Cuts. His previous film, Kabei: Out Mother, also a family drama is available here on DVD, or Amazon On Demand.
Lee Sang-il's Villain, which also took the top prize at the Mainichi Film Awards, could too. His films Scrap Heaven and Hula Girls have both been released here on DVD, but I know little about Villain aside from the synopsis unfortunately, and while I enjoyed Hula Girls (mostly just for Yu Aoi), I didn't enjoy Scrap Metal at all (despite Jo Odagiri), so his track record doesn't help me decide anything about Villain site unseen.
To step away from the lists for a moment, though, the omission of Tran Anh Hung's eagerly awaited adaptation of Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood, combined with Kumi Matsumaru's 3 1/2 star review in the Yomiyuri Shimbun, seems to be an worrisome omen. The film will no doubt get released here, even if its only because of the popularity of the novel, the popularity of actress Rinko Kikuchi, who plays the reclusive Naoko, and the relative popularity of the director, who had hits earlier with Cyclo and The Vertican Ray of the Sun. If anything is to be taken from those, and his last film, the underwhelming I Come with the Rain, its that he knows how to match the image with music, which should be an important part of making Norwegian Wood (as it would any Murakami story). For now, this blog will take the fact that it was in competition for the Golden Lion at Venice (with Thirteen Assassins, actually, on a Tarantino-led jury) at a higher value than anything else.
Of the rest of the lists, I hope Heaven's Story and Boys on the Run end up over here in some form, but won't hold my breath for it to happen.