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Last week kicked off the 10th year of the JAPAN CUTS film festival at Japan Society, and if the initial films are any indication this year’s lineup looks as stellar as the nine previous.  The opening film was Mohican Comes Home, and was introduced by director Shuichi Okita and co-star Atsuko Maeda.  They were also both on-hand for a post-screening Q&A, where they revealed behind-the-scenes stories about filming.

Okita’s previous film The Woodsman and the Rain was shown at JAPAN CUTS 2012 (with an appearance by star Koij Yakusho!), and like this film Mohican is set in a rural location.  The plot is of a young man (Ryuhei Matsuda) from a small island in Hiroshima, who hasn’t been back in seven years since living in Tokyo, where he scrapes by as the lead singer for a struggling death metal band.  He decides to return home for a quick visit with his girlfriend (Maeda), who is pregnant and he intends to marry. The film features a wacky cast of island characters, including his zany family with the always wonderful Masako Motai as the mother.  Akira Emoto plays his father, who we learn has been diagnosed with lung cancer.  Matsuda’s character decides to stay longer than planned to take care of his dad.  His bumbling attempts at connection are both relatable and touching, and the bonds between the family are clear.  Due to shooting on a far-flung location, Okita shared that he had to use locals in many of the parts, and the middle school brass band that the father conducts is especially well cast (with only the clarinet player being a professional actor).  Despite dealing with the heavy themes of life and death, Mohican has plenty of light moments and left the audience in a buoyant mood perfect for the opening night party.

I returned the following night for the film Bitter Honey which also had death as its subject, albeit through a different lens.  It is the story of an aging writer seeking literary glory before succumbing to the death sentence he has been given two years before.  He finds an erotic muse in the form of a shape-shifting goldfish he buys for 300 yen.  She becomes human and gains self-awareness with the help of the writer’s deceased former student and lover, who was summoned at the time of his diagnosis.  Another interesting ghost appearance is that of writer Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the author’s contemporary who has long ago passed away but with whom he is still competing for fame. Looking forward to the rest of what this year’s commemorative JAPAN CUTS has to offer!


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