Japan Cuts 2017 Preview: A Country at a Crossroads and the Movies at the Heart of it All

U.S. Editor; Los Angeles, California (@benumstead)
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Japan Cuts: The Festival of New Japanese Film comes roaring back to life for another season of fresh flicks with the ninja-samurai action epic MUMON: The Land of Stealth kicking things off July 13 at the Japan Society in New York City. From the 13 - 23 of July, you can expect a veritable smorgasboard of cinematic treats, along with a wave of Q&As, special guests, and parties, before the fest closes out with the Kinema Junpo selected "best film of 2016" In This Corner of the World.

Today I am joined by Dustin Chang and Christopher Bourne with a preview of ten films from this year's lineup. While the fest is as wide-ranging in subject and tone as ever, my colleagues and I find ourselves setting the spotlight on primarily independent dramas, documentaries and avant-garde curiosities. Many of these films are fascinating examples of a Japan that finds itself at a political, cultural and economic crossroads; one that is perhaps unlike any seen since post-war. In these films we meet younger generations stunted by tradition, driven by fetish and fantasy, powered by music, and devestated by one's own longings. These are somber, silly and sobering works, offering us pause to consider the nature of human folly before reving us up all over again.

To get a further sense of what's in store, check out our short takes in the gallery below!


Christopher Bourne and Dustin Chang contributed to this story.

Tokyo Idols

All across Japan, middle aged men dejected by the society around them, retreat into a fantasy land where they worship adolescent pop stars, cultivating a culture that reveres the girls’ purity. Miyake Kyoko's Sundance bowing Tokyo Idols lenses its absolutely jaw-dropping subject matter via well-balanced and continually engaging anthropological journalism.

Once a much maligned sub-culture, pop idol worship is now becoming mainstream, boosting a stagnant economy with upwards of 1 billion dollars in annual revenue. This hyper-capitalist fetish is apart of the 'Otaku' geek culture, something that is highly unique to Japan, in that there is an entire Tokyo district featuring various themed shops and cafes (think if ComicCon was its own year-round neighborhood). There are also rehearsal rooms where the highly devoted brethren gather as if at temple, doing syncopated dance moves as their favorite idol sings bubblegum coated songs about loneliness and self-worth on a nearby stage.

Miyake chronicles one idols’ ups and downs in the business with contrasting and informative interludes from a plethora of super fans, journalists, sociologists and economists. The matter of fact way each and every group characterizes this as a religion is beyond fascinating, for in a complex, multi-tiered system of gender and power dynamics unheard of in a classically sexist country, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, studying idol culture feels like the perfect microcosm to begin an exploration of wider psychosexual, social and economic issues plaguing post-3/11 Japan. -- Ben Umstead

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