JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film Goes Online from July 17-30

Japan Society has announced the full line-up for the 14th annual JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film. The largest festival of its kind in North America, this year’s edition is set for ​July 17-30​ as an entirely online experience. Continuing its annual mission to showcase the best and most exciting films coming out of Japan today, the summer festival will expand its reach beyond New York to introduce ​30 features​and ​12 short films​ to audiences across the U.S.

Festival organizers have partnered with Festival Scope and Shift72 to reformat JAPAN CUTS as a dynamic online streaming platform. Utilizing a VOD model, films will be made available to rent with a limited number of virtual tickets per title and access largely restricted to the U.S. The exclusive selection of film streaming options will be supplemented with live and pre-recorded virtual Q&As, discussion panels, and video introductions from filmmakers to maintain the festival’s sense of community and dedication to intercultural communication during the COVID-19 crisis, creating a meaningful online experience as we look forward to returning to physical cinemas together again in the future.

Special Actors

Festivities kick off on July 17 with a live virtual Q&A with ​Shinichiro Ueda,​ director of ​Opening Film ​selection ​Special Actors​. This much-anticipated follow-up to Ueda’s breakout debut ​One Cut of the Dead​ (2017) is an ensemble comedy about an acting troupe that infiltrates a duplicitous cult. The festival’s ​Centerpiece Presentation ​is the online premiere of Fukushima 50​, a blockbuster drama that details the heroic actions of workers at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant who stayed behind to avert a catastrophe of global magnitude. The film’s two commanding leads, ​Koichi Sato​ and ​Ken Watanabe,​ are the dual recipients of this year’s CUT ABOVE Award, the festival’s annual award recognizing outstanding achievement in Japanese cinema.

 “Like viewers in Japan and the U.S., our programming team has loved Koichi Sato and Ken Watanabe’s work for many years, which includes outstanding roles in both Japanese and international cinema,” says K. F. Watanabe, Deputy Director of Film at Japan Society, who organizes the festival with Japan Society Film Associate Amber Noé and Joel Neville Anderson, a JAPAN CUTS programmer since 2014. “We were pleased to see them reunite to commemorate the events of 3/11, and are happy to honor their dedication to telling hard truths and crossing borders during today’s moment of crisis. Though we cannot physically present these deserved awards to them in person, we are excited by their virtual participation and look forward to finding a future opportunity to welcome them to Japan Society.”

Labyrinth of Cinema

In addition, JAPAN CUTS 2020 celebrates the legacy of trailblazing filmmaker ​Nobuhiko Obayashi,​ who passed away in April this year at the age of 82. Despite being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2016 and given six months to live, Obayashi completed two critically lauded anti-war films including ​Labyrinth of Cinema​, his final film and a highlight of this year’s ​Feature Slate ​line-up. Obayashi also appears in ​Seijo Story – 60 Years of Making Films​, a touching documentary that chronicles the filmmaker’s long personal and professional partnership with his wife and producer Kyoko Obayashi. The couple’s daughter ​Chigumi Obayashi​will join the festival as a participant in the virtual panel discussion ​Nobuhiko Obayashi: A Conversation,​ moderated by noted Japanese cinema scholar Aaron Gerow, which is one of three free panel discussions offered during the festival.

In keeping with JAPAN CUTS’ long-standing dedication to celebrating independent voices, this year’s edition introduces the ​Obayashi Prize​—a competitive award given to an early career Japanese director whose independent narrative feature film is determined as the most accomplished by a jury of diverse industry professionals within the brand-new ​Next Generation section, the first competitive section in the festival’s history. The inaugural iteration of this section includes seven titles and will be juried by film director Momoko Ando​, programmer Julian Ross of the Locarno Film Festival and International Film Festival Rotterdam, and producer and Free Stone Productions CEO Miyuki Takamatsu.

Japan Society’s Watanabe notes, “It feels deeply appropriate to introduce the Obayashi Prize as a way to acknowledge Nobuhiko Obayashi’s legacy and contribute to the sustainability of new and diverse filmmakers through the festival. We are deeply grateful for the Obayashi family’s support in setting up this exciting new festival tradition.” Responding to the establishment of the award, Chigumi Obayashi writes, “I am honored and cannot be more proud of the fact that my father’s path as a filmmaker can be handed down like this to filmmakers of a new future. [My mother] Kyoko-san, who produced and made films with my father the whole way, tearing up, said to tell you, ‘I’m very happy. Thank you very much.’”

Tora-san, Wish You Were Here

Other festival highlights include the online premiere of Yoji Yamada’s ​Tora-san, Wish You Were Here,​ the 50th and final film in the historic film series starring the late ​Kiyoshi Atsumi,​ made on the half century anniversary of the first Tora-san film from 1969. Those seeking to expand their experience of the film are encouraged to watch newly restored Tora-san titles, including the aforementioned first entry, in the festival’s ​Classics ​section, which offers a selection of three titles especially important to the series.

Reiwa Uprising

The festival also includes a wide range of documentary, avant-garde, hybrid, and short-form works within its ​Documentary Focus,​ Experimental Spotlight,​and ​Shorts Showcase​sections. Highlights include ​Reiwa Uprising​, the latest from iconoclast documentary filmmaker ​Kazuo Hara ​about the surprising emergence of a new political party in Japan; the mesmerizing ​Cenote​, from Oshima Prize recipient ​Kaori Oda,​which explores the physical and spiritual dimensions of sinkholes in Yucatán, Mexico; and imaginative short films such as ​Wolf’s Calling,​ the latest from longtime JAPAN CUTS favorite Toshiaki Toyoda,​a 17-minute abstract samurai film responding to the media frenzy involving his unwarranted arrest for gun possession last year; and ​Wheel Music​ from filmmaker ​Nao Yoshigai,​following up her Cannes selection ​Grand Bouquet​. The full dynamic festival line-up is available as individual VOD rental titles, discounted festival section bundles, and through an all-access festival pass.

JAPAN CUTS 2020 is organized by K. F. Watanabe, Amber Noé, and Joel Neville Anderson.

Virtual tickets go on sale Friday, July 10 at 10:00 am. Virtual ticket prices range from $2–$7 with discounted ticket bundle offers available. For complete information, please visit the Japan Society website.