Karleen C. Chinen

If you love films that stir your senses, then this is the time of the year that you look forward to with special glee, because it means the curtain will be going up on the Hawaii International Film Festival. This year’s HIFF, the 34th annual, will delight audiences from Oct. 30 through Nov. 9.

According to Anderson Le, HIFF’s director of programming, Japanese films are “the most popular at the Hawaii International Film Festival, according to sheer ticket sales.” This year’s selection of 23 Japanese films, which make up the category called “Spotlight on Japan,” are the most of any one country represented in HIFF.

“Japanese cinema is quite diverse, and we are showing films from a broad cross-section of genres — from heartfelt, traditional fare like ‘Uzumasa Limelight’ and ‘The Furthest End Awaits,’ to coming-of-age stories like ‘Wood Job’ and ‘Samurai Pirates,’ to more eclectic fare like ‘Neko Samurai,’ ‘Fukuchan from Fukufuku Flats’ and ‘Thermae Romae II,’” said Le. “There are also sweet stories involving older Japanese like ‘Ecotherapy Getaway Holiday’ and the unfiltered documentary behind hallowed animation house Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki with ‘The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness.’”

The “broad cross-section of genres” that Le speaks of also includes a selection of “extreme” and adult selections, such as “The World Of Kanako,” “Tokyo Tribe” and “The Torture Club.”

“The Japanese films at HIFF 2014 represent a yearbook of the best in Japanese cinema and showcases the varying tastes and unique perspectives that continually make this section the most popular at HIFF,” Le said. “Like Japanese society, the themes range from Tökyö craze and color to the serenity and subtlety of the countryside. Whatever you choose from the Japanese films this year, you’ll definitely be transported onto a cinematic adventure.”

Le, who selects most of the films for HIFF, is especially excited about this year’s opening night film, the U.S. premiere of “The Vancouver Asahi,” which highlights the Japanese Canadian experience during World War II. That story is told through the true story of the “Vancouver no Asahi,” a baseball team that defied all odds and marked a major milestone in Canadian history.

Director Yuya Ishii and one of the film’s lead actors, rising star Mitsuki Takahata, will be present for the opening night screening, with Takahata introducing the film.

“When we saw it, we felt it was the perfect opening night film, from a promising director and the all-star cast. Plus, it was an opportunity to screen a film in Hawai‘i before anyone has seen it in Japan,” Le told the Herald. “The Vancouver Asahi” will be released commercially in Japan around Christmas.

All total, the 2014 edition of the Hawaii International Film Festival presented by the Halekulani, will offer 170 films from 45 countries. Most of the screenings are at the Dole Cannery theaters, although several new venues have been added as new hosts. Tickets can be purchased online at www.hiff.org, where the synopses can be perused and trailers are available for previewing.

The following are synopses of the Japanese films, plus a few others that may be of interest to local viewers. They are listed by category and in order of the first screening.

“Fukuchan of Fukufuku Flats.”
“Fukuchan of Fukufuku Flats.”


“UZUMASA LIMELIGHT” | Hawai‘i Premiere
Japan | 2013 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 103 min.
Directed by Ken Ochiai; written by Hiroyuki Ono
“Uzumasa Limelight” goes behind the scenes of chanbara (sword-fighting dramas and films), Japan’s distinctive film genre. Real-life kirare-yaku Seizo Fukumoto has devoted 50 years of his life to sword-fighting movies produced at Kyöto’s Uzumasa Studios. A master of the art, he lives “to be cut” and to show a beautiful, spectacular death on screen. Now an elderly man, Kamiyama lives modestly, but has the respect of his peers. When the studio where he works decides to discontinue its chanbara productions, Kamiyama finds himself at a loss until hope arrives in the form of a young girl named Satsuki, who soon becomes his disciple.
Screenings: Oct. 31, 6 p.m. | Nov. 4, 3:45 p.m. | Nov. 8, 1 p.m.

Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 110 min.
Directed by Keisuke Toyoshima; written by Yoshinobu Kamo and Ayako Miyagi
Asagiri is saddled with the sad fate of a courtesan. Although trapped in the life of a prostitute, she continues working, knowing she will leave the life as soon as her apprenticeship ends. Meanwhile, she falls in love with Hanjirou and bides her time until she can be with him again. This erotic drama is based on the award-winning novel that also spawned a popular manga series. For mature audiences only.
Screenings: Oct. 31, 9:30 p.m. | Nov. 6, 8 p.m. |
Nov. 8, 8 p.m. (Koko Marina)

Japan| 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
120 min.
Written and directed by Junichi Mori
Ichiko leaves her life in the city to return to her small hometown of Komori in the Töhoku region and is self-sufficient. This gentle drama about going back to basics is filled with images of nature as a young woman returns to her ancestral roots. The film is based on the popular manga series, “Little Forest: Summer and Autumn.”
Screenings: Nov. 1, 2 p.m. | Nov. 2, 12:30 p.m.

Japan | 2013 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
110 min.
Written and directed by Yosuke Fujita
Tatsuo “Fuku-chan” Fukuda, a 32-year-old painter, lives in Fukufuku Flats, a rundown apartment complex. By day he paints buildings; at night, he mediates disputes between Fukufuku Flats’ other residents, and on his days off, he flies kites by the riverside. Although Fuku-chan treats everyone equally and with kindness, romance eludes him. When Chiho, his love from junior high school, turns up 20 years later, he begins falling in love again, even though Chiho was responsible for Fuku-chan’s fear of women.
Screenings: Nov. 1, 4:15 p.m. | Nov. 3, 5:30 p.m.

“THERMAE ROMAE II” | U.S. Premiere
Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 113 min.
Directed by: Hideki Takeuchi; written by Hiroshi Hashimoto
Lucius is commissioned to build a new bathhouse for gladiators at the Coliseum. He is again at a loss for ideas until he time-travels to Japan, where he reconnects with Mami, now a writer. He also finds much that inspires him, including a form of mano-a-mano combat that the natives call sumö. Once back in Rome, he incorporates these innovations into his new thermae, winning plaudits from his superiors, including Emperor Hadrianus (Masachika Ichimura). All is not well in the empire, however, as senators with expansionary ambitions are plotting against Hadrianus.
Screenings: Nov. 1, 6:15 p.m. | Nov. 8, 12 p.m. | Nov. 9, 5 p.m. (Koko Marina)

“LUPIN THE THIRD” | Hawai‘i Premiere
Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
133 min.
Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura; written by Mataichiro Yamamoto
Lupin III, Daisuke Jigen, Ishikawa Goemon, Fujiko Mine and Inspector Koichi Zenigata face a powerful enemy and form the Lupin team. The team must then retrieve the “Crimson Heart of Cleopatra,” which is believed to allow its owner to control the world. This adaptation captures the look and feel of the manga and anime.
Screenings: Nov. 1, 9 p.m. | Nov. 4, 8:30 p.m. |
Nov. 8, 5:30 p.m. (Koko Marina)

“WOOD JOB” | Hawai‘i Premiere
Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
116 min.
Written and directed by Shinobu Yaguchi
Tory Yuki is an 18-year-old just out of high school who has failed his university entrance exams — and been dumped by his girlfriend. While looking at pamphlets for other options to pursue, he is captivated by a girl pictured in one of the pamphlets, so he signs up for a year as a “green” trainee, learning the basics of forestry. After a month of basic training, he ends up in Kamusari, a village deep in the wooded mountains of rural Japan, beyond cell-phone service, where deer and pit vipers outnumber the human population. Yuki’s instructor/landlord/mentor, Yoki, is a wild man, and the work is hard, dirty and dangerous. As Yuki desperately looks for a way to escape, he realizes that the girl pictured in the pamphlet, Naoki, also lives in the village.
Screenings: Nov. 2, 12 p.m. | Nov. 4, 6 p.m. | Nov. 7, 5:30 p.m.

“HOMELAND” | U.S. Premiere
Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English Subtitles |
118 min.
Directed by Nao Kubota
Forced from their home by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the Sawada family is living in cramped temporary housing as they try to rebuild their lives without the land they have farmed for generations. Jiro, their estranged son, returns after many years and decides to go back to his evacuated hometown to begin farming the land again. “Homeland” is the first mass market film set in post-3/11 Fukushima that bypasses politics by telling a humanistic story.
Screenings: Nov. 2, 2:30 p.m. | Nov. 9, 2:30 p.m. (Koko Marina)

GETAWAY HOLIDAY” | World Premiere
Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
92 min.
Directed by Shuichi Okita
Seven women, ages of 40 to 80, sign up for a nature walk/waterfalls/hot spring tour. They chat, pick berries and take photos as they follow their unreliable guide to the waterfall. The guide disappears, leaving the women stranded in the woods. Thrown into an experience far removed from their daily lives, the women bicker and bond.
Screenings: Nov. 2, 5:30 p.m. | Nov. 9, 6:30 p.m.

“SNOW ON THE BLADES” | International
Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
120 min.
Directed by Setsuro Wakamatsu; written by Kenzaburo Iida and Hironobu Takamatsu
In Edo at the end of the Tokugawa Era, bodyguard Kingo Shimura is assigned to protect Lord Naosuke at any cost. When Naosuke is murdered in an ambush, Kingo must pay the price. Forbidden to commit suicide, Kingo is ordered to find the murderous rönin and take revenge. Only one ronin is left after 13 years, but it is now the Meiji Era and both the samurai and vengeance in the name of honor have been banished.
Screenings: Nov. 2, 7:30 p.m. | Nov. 5, 6 p.m.

“THE FURTHEST END AWAITS” | U.S. Premiere (also a Halekulani Golden Orchid nominee)
Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
119 min.
Directed by Hsiu Chiung Chiang; written by Kinako Kakino
Set against the majestic beauty of the Sea of Japan, “The Furthest End Awaits” is a quietly moving portrait of the friendship between two women — one a single mother of two young children and the other the owner of a small café. The film’s original story was inspired by a wondrous boathouse café at the farthest reaches of Japan. It is a moving portrait of the beauty of life, sorrow and the fleeting nature of things depicted through the life choices and friendship of the two women in modern society.
Screenings: Nov. 3, 5:45 p.m. | Nov. 8, 4:45 p.m.

“CROWS: EXPLODE” | Hawai‘i Premiere
Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
129 min.
Directed by Toshiaki Toyoda; written by Hiroshi Takahashi
A month has passed since the end of CROWS II. Suzuran Boy’s High School is about to ring in a new school year. This leaves a group of new seniors scrambling to reach the vacant top slot at Suzuran. Arriving to throw a wrench into the power structure are two new students — Kazeo Kaburagi, a transfer student who shows no interest in being part of the fight for the top; and an enigmatic freshman, Ryohei Kagami, who has a cool stoicism on the surface but a pugnacious fire burning within. The two have little in common except that they both find themselves at the center of Suzuran High’s greatest battle.
Screenings: Nov. 3, 6:30 p.m. | Nov. 8, 9:30 p.m.

“Crows: Explode.”
“Crows: Explode.”

“MY MAN” | Hawai‘i Premiere
Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
129 min.
Directed by Kazuyoshi Kumakiri; written by Takashi Ujita
After losing her family in the 1993 Hokkaido earthquake, 9-year-old Hana is adopted by Jungo, a distant relative. As she gets older, she develops a deep attachment to Jungo, considering him her new father. But when their relationship becomes more than familial, they are thrust into a dark world of lies, deceit and murder. “My Man” is a chilling Japanese spin on the Lolita story, exploring a taboo relationship brought about by natural forces.
Screenings: Nov. 3. 8:45 p.m. | Nov. 8, 9:30 p.m.

Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
135 min.
Directed by Ryuichi Hiroki; written by Haruhiko Arai
Kabukicho, Tökyö’s most notorious red-light district, is also known as “the sleepless town.” “Kabukicho Love Hotel” takes place over the course of a single day and night in an establishment where no guest stays for very long. This latest erotically charged drama by Ryuichi Hiroki traces the intersecting stories of a group of employees and visitors.
Screenings: Nov. 7, 7:45 p.m. | Nov. 8, 1:15 p.m.

“NEKO SAMURAI” | Hawai‘i Premiere
Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
100 min.
Directed by: Takeshi Watanabe and Yoshitaka Yamaguchi; written by Hideo Jojo, Yuji Nagamori and Yoshitaka Yamaguchi
Kazuki Kitamura stars as the masterless samurai Kyutaro Madarame, a feared swordsman who has fallen on hard times in old Edo. Caught between two warring gangs in a battle of cat lovers and dog lovers, he begrudgingly accepts the canine faction’s offer to assassinate the opposition leader’s beloved white cat. Upon raising his lethal sword, the cat melts his rönin heart and he cannot bring himself to go through with the act. But before finding peace as a cat person, he will have to take on both gangs in a classic samurai street brawl. The perfect film for cat lovers and cinephiles alike.
Screenings: Nov. 8, 2:30 p.m. | Nov. 9, 12 p.m.

“THE WORLD OF KANAKO” | Hawai‘i Premiere
Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
118 min.
Directed by Tetsuya Nakashima; written by Nobuiro Monma, Tetsuya Nakashima and Miako Tadano
In this stylish and provocative thriller from “Confessions” director Tetsuya Nakashima, an ex-cop learns more than he wanted to about his missing teenage daughter. “The World of Kanako” is an adaptation of Akio Fukamachi’s 2004 bestselling novel, “Hateshinaki Kawaki,” which many in Japan considered too lurid for a big screen adaptation. Fukamachi’s novel is about a disgraced former cop’s investigation into the disappearance of his estranged daughter. Japanese screen icon Koji Yakusho (“The Eel” and “Cure Babel”) is outstanding as Akikazu Fujishima, a hot-tempered brute who was kicked off the force after assaulting his wife’s lover. Years later, his downward spiral is interrupted when his ex informs him that their 17-year-old daughter Kanako (Nana Komatsu) is missing. In another film, a father’s quest to find the child he neglected for years might have yielded a story of redemption, but “The World of Kanako” is too dark-hearted to be mistaken for that kind of movie.
Screenings: Nov. 8, 7:15 p.m. | Nov. 9, 4:30 p.m.

Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
125 min.
Directed by Kenichi Omori
Kaede’s island town in the Seto Inland Sea is threatened with the termination of a ferry route crucial to its survival. If discontinued, her family will lose their soy sauce factory and their home. Although the crisis seems futile, Kaede refuses to give up. A dreams tell her about a treasure her ancestor is believed to have hidden away, so she recruits three friends and resolves to uncover the 400-year-old mystery.
Screening: Nov. 9, 12 p.m.


Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
130 min.
Directed by Yuya Ishii; written by Naoto Inaba and Satoko Okudera
Vancouver, the 1930s. This is the true story of the Vancouver Asahi baseball team, which was made up of Nisei players. In the beginning, the Asahi team was routinely crushed by its opponents. But, the players regrouped, changed their strategy and game play, and starting winning games. They became very popular because of their “fair play” spirit and because their players were diminutive compared to their burly Caucasian counterparts. It was a classic David and Goliath story and, better yet, they were champions in their local league for five years straight. In their daily lives, they struggled against discrimination and poverty, but they shined when it came to baseball and their games uplifted the entire Japanese community. Then came that fateful day of infamy . . . Pearl Harbor. The Canadian government followed the lead of the United States, rounding up and interning Japanese immigrants and their Japanese Canadian children.
The Japanese American experience during World War II is well known in Hawai‘i and the United States, but few people know that it happened north of the border, as well. Sadly, The Vancouver Asahi never recovered from the war, so its achievements have become the stuff of legend. But, for a few good years, they were the shining light in their community and, through sports, brought camaraderie and hope and dreams in a new land.
HIFF is honored to present the U.S. premiere of “The Vancouver Asahi,” classic and old-fashioned entertainment with moments of humor and humanity from director Yuya Ishii (“The Great Passage,” HIFF 2013 and “The Woodsman and the Rain,” HIFF 2012). “The Vancouver Asahi” features one of the largest Japanese ensembles, starring such superstars as Tsumabuki Satoshi, Kamenashi Kazuya, Takahata Mitsuki, Miyazaki Aoi and Sato Koichi, to name a few. HIFF is also honored to screen this film in advance of its theatrical release in Japan this Christmas.
Screening: Oct. 30, 8 p.m. @ Consolidated Ward


Japan/United States | 2014 | English/Japanese |
105 min.
Directed by David Zellner; written by David Zellner and Nathan Zellner
Kumiko lives in a cluttered, cramped apartment in Tökyö with her pet rabbit, Bunzo, and works as an office lady, robotically preparing tea and fetching dry cleaning for her nitpicky boss. On her own time, however, she watches a well-known American film obsessively on a weathered VHS tape. Rewinding and fast-forwarding it repeatedly, she meticulously maps out where a briefcase of castaway loot is buried within the fictional film. After hours of intense research and convinced that her destiny depends on finding the money, Kumiko heads to the United States and into the harsh Minnesota winter to search for it. Inspired by an urban legend about a Japanese woman who took a similar journey, filmmaker brothers and Sundance Film Festival alums David and Nathan Zellner tackle their most ambitious project to date. Rinko Kikuchi gives a fascinating performance as the introspective, withdrawn Kumiko. Shot with breathtaking precision, “Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter” soars to transcendence as it reveals the beauty in the quest for reality, even if that reality is just your own.
Screenings: Nov. 1, 1:45 p.m. | Nov. 8, 7 p.m.


Japan | 2013 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
120 min.
Written and directed by Mami Sunada
Granted near-unfettered access to the notoriously insular Studio Ghibli, director Mami Sunada follows the three men who are the lifeblood of Ghibli over the course of a year — the eminent director Hayao Miyazaki, producer Toshio Suzuki and the elusive “other director,” Isao Takahata. The result is a rare “fly on the wall” look at one of the world’s most celebrated animation studios and insight into the dreams, passion and singular dedication of these remarkable creators.
Screenings: Nov. 1, 2:45 p.m. | Nov. 8, 4:15 p.m.


“THE TORTURE CLUB” | International Premiere
Japan | 2013 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
97 min.
Directed by Kota Yoshida; written by Makoto Fukami
Yuzuki Muto has been accepted to the prestigious private girls’ high school, St. Anesty Academy, which she never dreamed of attending. On a spring day, she attends the entrance ceremony with high hopes and expectations, only to find herself being “escorted” by two students to a room used by the school-approved Torture Club, where the art of torture is practiced and mastered. (For mature audiences)
Screenings: Nov. 5, 9:15 p.m. | Nov. 8, 9:15 p.m.

“TOKYO TRIBE” | Hawai‘i Premiere
Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles |
116 min.
Directed by Sion Sono
Tökyö is home to a multitude of tribes, with youth ruling the streets through violence while protecting their own turf and crossing territorial lines leads to riots and rumbles. One day, Kai, a Musashino Saru member, enters Bukuro turf to help their abducted comrade, Kim. The tribes are on the verge of exploding and Tökyö is about to be enveloped in a battle that must be seen to be believed.
Screenings: Nov. 7, 8:45 p.m. | Nov. 8, 6:45 p.m.


“RISE OF THE WAHINE” | World Premiere
United States | 2014 | English | 90 min.
Directed by Dean Kaneshiro
“Rise of the Wahine” is the amazing story of the fire and perseverance that led to the birth of Title IX, which created untold opportunities for an entire generation. Centered on the University of Hawai‘i’s Wahine volleyball team, these women (and men) lit a profound desire for girls to have the same opportunities as men — in education, sports and professions. Women’s roles were about to change — and Title IX was the door to get them there.
Screenings: Nov. 3, 7 p.m. @ Hawaii Theatre |
Nov. 9, 2:30 p.m. @ Dole Cannery

2014 | United States | English | 75 min.
Directed by Matthew Nagato
The future of our children, our health and our society will depend on how we meet the defining social challenges of our time: developing a quality, comprehensive education system. In this emotional and intimate sequel to “OLA — Health is Everything,” students, teachers and advocates share stories of hope and triumph that kindle the fires of our determination to build a vibrant, healthier world.
Screenings: Nov. 6, 6:30 p.m. | Nov. 9, 11 a.m. (Koko Marina)

United States | English | 120 min.
Directed by The Friends of ‘Iolani Palace, George Tahara
In 2014, ‘Ulu’ulu, with support from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, preserved and digitized 49 motion picture film reels from the Friends of ‘Iolani Palace collection. These films, which have not been viewed in over 30 years, document the decade-long restoration of ‘Iolani Palace from 1969 to 1979 after it had fallen into disrepair and was used as government offices during the various governing eras of the Provisional Government, the Republic of Hawai‘i and the territory of Hawai‘i.
Travel back in time for a special screening of the newly preserved documentary films directed by legendary local filmmaker George Tahara. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion about the technical aspects of film archiving and preservation, the history of the palace restoration, and the importance of ‘Iolani Palace as the center of social and political life for the Kingdom of Hawai‘i and for today.
Screening: Nov. 8, 4 p.m.


“VISIONS IN THE DARK: THE LIFE OF PINKY THOMPSON” | World Premiere (also, Closing Night Film)
United States | 2014 | English | 90 min.
Directed by Ty Senga
Pinky Thompson thought bigger than himself and further than the single cause at hand. He fought hard against the stigma of an inferior native Hawaiian and believed that a multifaceted cultural identity was the key to their ultimate survival. Thompson championed a health care system, created invaluable educational programs and strengthened the pride of native Hawaiians. He envisioned a Hawai‘i that no one else saw, and fought for it, from the battlefields of Normandy to the steps of Congress, to his humble home in Niu Valley, O‘ahu.
“Visions in the Dark: The Life of Pinky Thompson” closes HIFF 2014 and it is fitting that we celebrate the life of this great figure in Hawaiian history by presenting the world premiere of this at the Hawaii Theatre Center. His legacy lives on through his work as a social worker and community leader, including his leadership posts at Kamehameha Schools and the Polynesian Voyaging Society.
Screenings: Nov. 9, 7 p.m. @ Hawaii Theatre Center | Nov. 9, 8 p.m. (Koko Marina)


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