Japan Cuts 2024 Preview: Treasure Trove of New and Classic Japanese Films

Lead Critic; Brooklyn, New York (@floatingartist)

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North America’s largest Japanese film festival presents two weeks of contemporary premieres, including new films from Kei Chika-ura, Takeshi Kitano, Gakuryu Ishii, Shunji Iwai, Sho Miyake and Shinya Tsukamoto.

The program features 31 films, including 5 International Premieres, 10 North American Premieres, 4 U.S. Premieres, 2 East Coast Premieres and 7 New York Premieres, as well as the International Premiere of Shin Godzilla: Orthochromatic.

Special guests include iconoclastic director Gakuryu Ishii, appearing for the East Coast Premiere of The Box Man as well as a retrospective screening of August in the Water; director Noriko Yuasa will appear at the International Premiere of Performing Kaoru’s Funeral, winner of the Japan Cuts Award at the 2024 Osaka Asian Film Festival; and actress Tomoko Tabata will appear at a restoration premiere of Shinji Somai’s undisputed masterpiece, Moving.

The festival runs July 10-21 at Japan Society.

Here are the films I was privileged enough to sample:

Kubi - Kitano Takeshi

Beat Takeshi tells a bloody and surreal chapter in the Japanese history of power struggles among many samurai warlords in the Sengoku period.

A sadistic, tyrant lord, Nobunaga (Kase Ryo), is in charge, abusing his subordinates and pitting them against one another by promising the positon of next-in-line to rule, while plotting to kill them all. He calls them by their nick names that he himself has given; there's Baldie Mitsuhide (Nakajima Hidetoshi, Drive My Car), there's Monkey Hideyoshi (Kitano) and there's Racoon Ieyasu (Kobayashi Kaoru).

Asano Tadanobu also shows up among an impressive ensemble cast. As expected in a Kitano film, there are plenty of beheadings, violence and absurd humor throughout, as well as epic-scaled battle scenes.

Kitano accentuates the irony of all the shenanigans by playing Hideyoshi, an illiterate samurai warlord who rose from his peasant background to prominence and is seemingly incapable of doing anything without the help of his younger brother and his general Kanbei (Asano). He also ups the inherent homoerotic nature of samurai culture, as warlords are in love and constantly banging each other.

Like his many yakuza films, Kitano takes on the extremely macho conventions of swordplay genre and samurai stoicism, and turns them upside down, presenting a cynical look at the revered, almost mythic Japanese history.

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Japan Cuts 2024Kitano TakeshiTsukamoto Shinya

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