Japan Cuts 2023 Preview: Come Celebrate the Return of All In-Person Screenings!

Lead Critic; Brooklyn, New York (@floatingartist)

Japan Society's Japan Cuts: The Festival of New Japanese Film is back in its 16th year. It marks the first all in-person festival since 2019! From July 26-Aug 6, this year’s festival features over 25 films from major blockbusters to indie darlings, spanning narratives, documentaries, experimental and short films, and anime! 

This year’s festival features five International Premieres, 10 North American Premieres, seven U.S. Premieres, three East Coast Premieres, and three New York Premieres! Japan Cuts will also welcome six special guests and host two parties!

Leading this year’s guests, Japan Cuts has the honor of presenting acclaimed actor Yuya Yagira with the 2023 Cut Above Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film for his role in Under The Turquoise Sky by director Kentaro.

Here are some unique and outstanding films I was able to preview:

The First Slam Dunk - Inoue -- Opening Night Film

Inoue Takehiko, creator of the wildly popular manga-turned-TV anime series Slam Dunk, finally comes up with The First Slam Dunk, a feature length anime about a high stakes final game in a high school basketball tournament and its players. Using both 3DCG and 2D animation, Inoue creates a tense, poignant sports film that is thoroughly enjoyable.

It starts with Miyagi Ryota, a short kid from Okinawa, who loses his mentor brother and becomes a point guard for the Shohoku high school team against unbeatable reigning champs, the Sannoh. Inoue wastes no time and throws us into the final game as the ragtag underdogs are fighting back against all odds and turning the apathetic spectators around to their side, with their tenacity and sheer will power.

Other than Miyagi, there is the team's power-forward loose cannon Sakuragi (the red head main protagonist in the Slam Dunk manga series); Hisashi, shooting guard; Rukawa, small forward; and Akagi, the long-suffering captain and center. Each gets his own limelight and backstory.

But it's the game itself that is exciting to watch. At one point, down 20 points, the Shohoku team seems helpless in the midpoint of the film. Then it catches fire as it plays out with some crazy play-by-play as their scores seesaw back and forth; time elongates as the tension builds to the final moment of the game. And what a beautiful game it is!

The First Slam Dunk is much less juvenile than its origins. It's not about playing basketball to be cool or get girls. Girls are on the sidelines. It's all about the game and it's exciting.

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