Drama

2022 Japanese Film Festival in Review

I decided to watch the Japanese film festival this year and watch as many titles as I could before the time of the free viewing had elapsed. I was surprised by a few titles and disappointed by others, but all in all, the viewing enriched my life by showing me what the people who ran the site considered important to Japanese culture. The culture that is to be shared with the world. In this article, I will include my usuals: My rating, MDL rating, and my thoughts. This time, though, I thought I would include the thought of a few of my feeds friends and people from the Japanese Dorama Club (anyone can join, we are cool). I was unable to watch The Great Passage, Gon the little Fox (27 minute stop motion), and Tora-san in Goto.

Wait, you want to know what the JFF is? Here is their quote:

Welcome to JAPANESE FILM FESTIVAL ONLINE 2022! The Japan Foundation proudly holds its second Japanese Film Festival online, as a part of the JFF projects with the aim to share the allure of Japanese cinema with the world. A total of 20 Japanese films will be streamed for Free in 25 countries for February 14 – 27, 2022 (Some of the lineup films will not be available in certain countries)… Read More

When I asked, these people have seen these titles and allowed  me to include their reviews. I have color coded each reviewer and linked their names to their profile pages. I also chose their color by their profile page or profile pic at the time of writing.

I hope you find a title you like because here we go.


Sumodo – The Successors of Samurai (2020)

My Rating:  7/10 & Ratings: 7.6/10 from 21 users

A traditional Martial Artist meets today’s youths’ mindset.  Follows the established old timer who is at the top of his game.

The God of Ramen (2013)

My  Rating:  7.5/10 & Ratings: 7.8/10 from 44 users

Follow a man at the top of his game in the food industry to the days of his retirement and the end of an era.
Documentaries are hard for me to rate as it is usually real people being filmed so critiquing acting cannot be done. Instead, I look for not sleep inducing narration, the way the edits were cut and put together, and the overall end product.

Journalist Sumodo – The Successors of SamuraiInteresting insiders view into the Sumo sport following active/former athletes and also showing the fascination of its Japanese fans (although I missed an in-depth explanation what exactly it has to do with Shinto).

God of Ramen (must-see for everyone who watched Naruto imo): Very touching documentary about a really interesting person filmed with a lot of dedication (over many months/years) and bound in a very beautiful story arc (the end was poetic). Makes you think about the meaning of life.

Gwilthyunman – The God of Ramen is a documentary about Taishoken [Eifukuchō Taishōken (永福町大勝軒) est. 1955]. It’s very interesting to see how the owner prepares the ramen together with his trainee and the history of it.

WandereR – The God of RamenThe content isn’t really what I was expecting as it turned out to be quite a sentimental affair that sort of concludes on a bittersweet note… for more, read here.


Mio’s Cookbook (2020)

My Rating:  8/10 & Ratings: 7.7/10 from 79 users

Costumes were very eye-catching especially in the Entertainment district. If you are looking for a period piece about childhood friendship, you might want to give this a try.

Rashomon (1950)

My rating: 8/10 & Ratings:  8.1/10

I had seen this many, many years ago so I did not watch it this time around. The idea of the same event seen differently through every individual’s eyes was revolutionary at the time it was filmed.

The Floating Castle (2012)

My Rating:  8.5/10 & Ratings: 7.6/10 from 65 users

I was wowed by the performance in this. Idiot or Genius? The dance at the end had me laughing and in tears. For me, this was this year’s gem. I did look up the events that inspired this tale, it is not historically accurate but it is fun.

Ashu Mio’s Cookbook: A beautiful story about a lifelong friendship and the power of cooking. Indeed, cooking does nurture heaven. Again, a good one watch but I liked the drama adaptation better. If you like historical dramas or want to see Japan in Edo period then this is a good watch. It does bring in an era you weren’t born lol.

Kaiserin Floating Castle: great visuals & acting but draggy pacing. It could’ve been more action-packed but the tension only build up halfway through.

Penel – Mio’s Cookbook: Not as good as the drama adaptation, but very enjoyable and yummy! Rashomon: Kurosawa Akira and Mifune Toshiro at their finest! Great story-telling, brilliant acting, a well-deserved all-time classic. The Floating Castle: Nomura Mansai‘s performance was the strongest element of the movie, while the slapstick moments were the weakest.

WandereR – Mio’s CookbookPerseverance, belief and hope, with a little bit of help from the Fox spirit and a whole lot of experimenting along the way… read more here.

The Floating Castle: This film feels very much like a taiga that has been condensed into a 2-hour grand production. Epic in every sense and meticulous in every detail. In spite of the slightly comedic undertone particularly pertaining to the characterization of the main lead, the narrative is quite dramatic and somewhat grim, for the most part… read more here.

Gwilthyunman – The Floating Castle and it’s unexpectedly very good. The story is not all about war, but also about the traditions during that era. It also shows how the leader is being loved by his citizen that even can make the citizen want to help him during war even though the chance to win is very bleak. Not all the scenes are serious, some are very heartwarming and also funny.


It’s a Summer Film (2021)


My Rating:
  7/10 & Ratings: 7.7/10 from 218 users

Film maker’s club at school, two rival teams to compete in the end of year competition. And then add time travel. It has heart but at its bones is still a typical Youth movie.  

ReLIFE (2017)

My Rating:  8/10 & Ratings: 7.6/10 from 2,575 users

This is another one of those titles I saw years ago, it answers the question “What would you change if you could do it all over again?” “Would your life be better?” I watched and rated this when I was still new to the J-Ent world. 

Itomichi (2021)

My Rating:  8.5/10 & Ratings: 7.6/10 from 97 users

Slow but an awesome coming of age story. I loved the use of the traditional Japanese instrument in here, it is one of the things that makes this movie unique.

Kaiserin – My favorite was Summer Film. The last part might be a bit cheesy but I enjoyed it overall. Gave it a perfect 10.   

Penel – It’s a Summer Film: Funny, charming, refreshing, original and very-very heartfelt! Pleasantly surprised. 🙂

ReLIFE: A simple but sweet and heartwarming school rom-com, with a tender, nostalgic vibe.

Ito / Itomichi: A slow-paced but heartwarming coming-of-age story, with a unique blending of traditional and modern Japanese culture, a charming protagonist and wonderful shamisen sounds!

WandereR – Itomichi is a fascinating and heartfelt coming-of-age story that revolves around high school student Soma Ito. Awkward and shy due to the embarrassment of her unique Tsugaru dialect… read more. It’s a Summer Film: This adorable, fun, and lighthearted film is appropriately named because it really does feel like a summer film. Strong bonds forged between three girls and their classmates who band together for a Jidaigeki (historical) film project about samurai. There’s even a sci-fi element in the form of a time traveler from the future… read More.

The Chef of South Polar (2009)

My Rating:  9/10 & Ratings: 7.7/10 from 107 users

The power of Food is an amazing thing. Here it is showcased to keep these men together for a year while in isolation from the rest of the world during that time.  

Bread of Happiness (2012)

My Rating:  8.5/10 & Ratings: 7.7/10 from 234 users

The bread shop or “Panya” is the place in a small town where everyone goes to enjoy some stone fire baked bread. The owners are two kind and gentle people who help people in the manner with their bread.

Bye Bread of Happiness is a must watch. Why? The green fields are baller.

BluekitchenBread of Happiness was simple and comforting, like bread.

Penel – Bread of Happiness: Warm, peaceful, mellow and comforting, with the picturesque scenery of Hokkaido and various bread creations being the main protagonists!

JounalistChef of South Polar: At first it seems like a boring film you’d only watch at a film festival booking a special screening event where some top chefs are asked to create and cook a menu inspired by the evening’s film (for example at the Berlinale section “Culinary Cinema”). The dishes in the movie where beautiful to look at, probably most interesting for cooking or science enthusiasts, but I also found the humor and 90’s-timecapsule feeling charming.


Her Love Boils Bathwater (2016)

My Rating:  9.5/10 & Ratings: 8.3/10 from 733 users

A compelling story of one woman who only thinks of her family. I don’t want to spoil anything and I really did not think I would like it.
Tiny glitch, that ending… or implied ending.
Actors did phenomenal, even the kids were just spot on. Have tissues ready if you are a crier.

Aristocrats (2021)


My Rating:
  7/10 & Ratings: 7.7/10 from 136 users

Y’all know me by now, Slice of life, girl power, tends to bore me since I am like “well duh sister, why’d it take you so long to get here?”
No slow spots, the pacing is decent and the interweaving of people is not done forcefully. If this was more my thing, it would prolly get a higher rating.

Awake (2020)

My Rating:  6.5/10 & Ratings: 7.5/10 from 109 users

Dedication and focus is the focus of this movie. Its down side is there is very little human interaction and very little action. Almost like a movie version of Deep Blue beat G. Kasparov in 1997.

Under The Open Sky (2021)

My Rating:  7/10 & Ratings: 7.9/10 from 125 users

It’s social commentary about the loss of the traditional mother figure in Japan society or that it is too easy to fall right back in with the bad crowd once you are released from incarceration.  Either way it really dragged for me.

Ashu Her Love Boils Bathwater: A calm movie discussing how different people grow up based on their caste differences in a very subtle way. It’s also a movie about female friendship. The acting from the two main leads was incredible. Basically, a good one time watch but it’s nothing groundbreaking.

KaiserinAwake was my least favorite because I couldn’t relate with the game and programming, too slow also.

Penel – Her Love Boils Bathwater: Rie Miyazawa, as Futaba, gave one of the most heart-wrenching performances I’ve ever watched! She depicted motherly love, selfishness, inner strength, courage and determination almost effortlessly… Sugisaki Hana and Ito Aoi were equally superb and shining in their roles! A tearjerker with a few small doses of gentle humour, but also a warm and uplifting experience. A definite must-watch!

Under the Open Sky: Emotional, nuanced and humane, with a compelling hero, flawed and broken but trying to get a second chance in life and society’s acceptance. Koji Yakusha‘s reserved performance and body language were amazing!

Aristocrats: A subtle commentary about gender discrimination as well as the class, social and cultural barriers women in modern Japanese society have to cope with, through the elegantly restrained performances of Kadowaki Mugi and Mizuhara Kiko.

AWAKE: Slow and confusing (at least for shogi non-experts), with characters not properly fleshed out.

Fourth AxisAwake: Stated they were bored watching this title.

Jounalist Aristocrats: I’m not an expert on film/camera techniques, so I don’t know the perhaps more accurate terms… I really liked the atmosphere, the lighting/mood in the shots, (beautiful, crisp, dreamy…) The depiction of the upper/elite class in Tokyo seemed very realistic with probably a lot of information that I as a foreigner who’s never been in Tokyo didn’t catch most of the time

WandereR – Aristocrats: The character-driven and female-centric narrative is told from the perspectives of two women, Haibara Hanako and Tokioka Miki, structured in a converging parallel plot format. Certain flashback sequences are involved but, for the most part, a linear storytelling approach is adopted which preserves the overall cohesion and coherence of the multiple POVs. A number of themes concerning conservative social constructs, narrow mindsets and stereotypes are manifested while the concepts of marriage, friendship and love are also explored to a certain extent… read more


Oz Land (2018)

My Rating:  7/10 & Ratings: 7.4/10 from 107 users

Super predicable and very cookie cutter. 

Happy Flight (2008)


My Rating:
  6/10 & Ratings: 7.5/10 from 272 users
This was more an unfortunate series of events that occurred because of incompetent people. Maybe this was a sad attempt to do a Japanese version of the American movie “Airplane” from the 70’s but it REALLY fell short for me.

Dance with Me (2019)

Your Rating:  8.5/10/ Ratings: 7.6/10 from 312 users

I HATE MUSICALS. I see no reason to have to spout dialog in spontaneous song and dance. BUT what if it was a disease? What if every cellphone ringtone and elevator music and door chime made you turn into a solo performer on Broadway? You cannot stop yourself. LIKE A DISEASE!

Penel – Oz Land: Though nothing very memorable, an entertaining, light-hearted and uplifting story in an amusement park, focused on teamwork and character growth. The best part was Nishijima Hidetoshi‘s bright smile. 🙂

Happy Flight: Many familiar faces in this lighthearted, informative glimpse of the life and troubles in the airport industry. Nothing too deep or surprising, but an entertaining watch nonetheless.

WandereRHappy Flight: Everything that you’ve ever wanted to know about the technical and operational aspects of the aviation industry can be found in this movie. But don’t worry about getting confused or overwhelmed because the whole concept is conveyed in layman terms and in a very entertaining manner. The running time of about 100 minutes will quickly fly by without you noticing it. 

Gwilthyunman – For me, Happy Flight is interesting because they show the behind the scenes at airports, not just about how the pilots & stewardesses on airplane solve problems. It’s very informative and sometimes quite funny as well. It made the movie not boring at all.

Oz Land is very fun & light-hearted movie, Awake reminds me of Hikaru no Go, Itomichi is very slow paced but it’s interesting to see the main character growth throughout the movie & The Chef of South Polar is basically about food.

Article with Happy Flight and Dance with Me: From Zero to Hero: A Retrospective Guide to Yaguchi Shinobu


Mask Ward (2020)

My Rating:  8/10 & Ratings: 7.6/10 from 412 users

“What is the robber’s true motive? A surprising thriller that unfolds in the confines of a hospital building.”

As the only thriller this year I was really looking forward to this.  It is very good but not Jaw Dropping, get everyone to watch Good. I had figured out the true bad guy by the kidnapping incident,  but not the reason why.  

Until the Break of Dawn (2012)

My Rating:  8/10 & Ratings: 7.8/10 from 163 users

Honestly, I liked it but I cannot tell you why.  It’s a topic I enjoy, but there was nothing super groundbreaking or revolutionary. It’s all about life lessons.

Penel – Masked Ward: Great cast, missed opportunity in storytelling.

Until the Break of Dawn: A heartwarming story about relationships, family, best friends and love couples, through a one-time glimpse of their departed loved ones and their chance to reconcile. Solid performances by all cast members, especially from both main leads, one of whom we miss dearly.

WandereRMasked Ward: The plot is rather layered and filled with unexpected plot twists that unfold amidst a slowburn tempo fraught with a certain degree of suspense. The conclusion ties all the loose ends neatly and provides a satisfying closure to the entire story and each of its main characters… read more.


Little Nights, Little Love (2019)


My Rating:
  6/10 & Ratings: 7.5/10 from 264 users

With this cast, this movie should have been better but it felt like a fan video cobbled together from four other much better movies.  Sometimes the Little Things are not enough.

Sakasama no Patema

Patema Inverted

People on the same world raised with opposite views, that the “others” were evil.  These two kids see things differently.  I found it heavy handed but I am old and jaded.

NoirRoseHeart: 8/10  
I remember thinking it was good, but nothing that special. It was an interesting concept, and it did take a twist or two I wasn’t expecting. I liked the subtle romance it had, but it was hard to see how it was going to work between the leads to have a truly happy end, based on their circumstances. Overall, the end was fine, and it also kind of opened up for another story, or a continuation, in my opinion.

Eve no Jikan (Movie)

Time of Eve

This was a poignant movie on how we as society judge the appearance of people.  On the surface, the anime is about droids, the sentience and place in society. Issac Asimov’s robot rules embedded deeply in this.

Fourth Axis  Gon, The Little Fox: Based on the short story by Nankichi Niimi, this stop-motion short film by Takeshi Yashiro was two years in the making. A touching story about a mischievous little fox, it teaches us about how there are hidden kindnesses that we may ignore as we are burdened with instinctive prejudice that colours our outlook.

The hunting scene at the beginning was splendid. It illustrated the tension between Hyoju’s father’s beliefs and Hyoju’s own aspirations really well.

Both Hyoju and Gon are orphans but their guilt leads them to stand on opposite sides of a divide. To me, the lesson from this film was the need for dialogue and empathy.

The amount of work involved in crafting Houju, Gon and the villagers is visible in the movie and the natural materials used to create them lent an earthy & aesthetic appeal to the entire film.

While the red liquorice flowers were symbolic of the feelings of our protagonists, the way their bright red colour pierced an otherwise brown landscape was truly beautiful. The unique texture of stop-motion animation evoked nostalgia and left a lasting impression. Truly a worthwhile short!


The winners for me were Dance with Me, Her Love Boils Bathwater, The Floating Castle, and Bread of HappinessAs you can see, my friends have different opinions. I cannot wait to see what they bring us next year, I am so happy they did it!  Have you seen any of the titles we reviewed?  What is your opinion?  Don’t forget to heart the article if you like it.


Image credits: Film images & Gon image
Edited by: devitto (1st editor)

bread of happiness
sumodo
the god of ramen
mio’s cookbook
rashomon
the floating castle
it’s a summer film
relife
itomichi
her love boils bathwater
aristocrats
chef of south polar

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