In a place like Hawai‘i, where the seasons flow almost seamlessly from one season into the next, the arrival of fall is still much anticipated — not because the leaves will be turning colors, but rather because we know that the curtain will be rising on HIFF — the Hawaii International Film Festival Presented by Halekulani — spiriting us away to faraway lands and thoughtful storytelling.

HIFF35 — yes, 2015 marks 35 years since the birth of the Hawaii International Film Festival — opens Thursday, Nov. 12, and continues through Sunday, Nov. 22. Most of the screenings will be held at the Dole Cannery Theaters, although a few screenings are scheduled for other venues, as well.

“Year in and year out, the Japanese films at HIFF are always the most popular films with many sellout shows,” noted HIFF executive director Robert Lambeth in a festival press release. According to Lambeth, the 21 films being presented this year from Japan or with Japanese themes represent nearly 20 percent of HIFF35’s entire film lineup.

“Japan and Hawai‘i have always had a cultural connection and it is always interesting to see that the Japanese films attract the most diverse audiences during the entire film festival.”

Lambeth described 2015 as “a banner year” for Japanese cinema and said that HIFF wanted to honor that distinction during the festival’s 35th anniversary “by bringing some glamor to the Festival, straight from Japan.”

Among the Japanese “superstars” (as Lambeth described them) being honored this year are Ryoko Hirosue, whose latest film, “Hana’s Miso Soup,” a family drama, is being world premiered at HIFF. Hirosue, who Lambeth described as one of Japan’s most recognizable actresses, will receive the Career Achievement Award for her body of work in such award-winning and beloved films as “Papillon,” “Wasabi,” “Departures,” “Villon’s Wife” and “Key of Life.”

HIFF is also honoring Tadanobu Asano, often referred to as the “Johnny Depp of Japan,” with its Maverick Award. Asano has been featured in such seminal and cult classic films as “Sharkskin Man and Peach-Hip Girl,” “Ichi the Killer,” “Electric Dragon 80,000V” and “Bright Future,” many of which premiered at prestige film festivals such as Cannes, Berlin, Venice and Rotterdam. He has also made the crossover into the Hollywood scene with roles in films such as “Battleship,” “47 Ronin” and “Thor.”

Asano’s latest film, Cannes winner, “Journey to the Shore,” is being shown at HIFF35. It was directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa.

“HIFF is truly honored to host Ms. Hirosue, who deserves to be honored with the Career Achievement Award for her already-long career, which started when she was a child star, to her matriculation to more adult roles in films such as the Oscar-winning “Departures,” the absurd comedy “Key of Life” and the dark biopic “Villon’s Wife,” said Anderson Le, HIFF’s director of programming in a press release.

Le said Hirosue “captured the hearts of millions of fans with her exuberant and youthful energy as a young ingénue. Now she’s entered a new phase in her career, taking more serious and challenging roles, especially in her latest film “Hana’s Miso Soup,” about a cancer-stricken mother who writes a journal for her future child.”

Le said the presentation of the “Maverick Award” to Tadanobu Asano is a fitting tribute to “a true maverick actor, musician and style icon.” Le noted that Asano has acted in some of the most seminal, award-winning and cult favorite Japanese films in the last 20 years.

“When you think of Japanese cool, Tadanobu Asano immediately comes to mind,” says Le. “Working with such dynamic and world renowned directors like Katsuhito Ishii, Sogo Ishii, Takeshi Kitano, as well as Thailand’s Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-Hsien, is truly astounding. He has vacillated between underground punk rock films to the biggest Hollywood tentpoles like ‘Thor,’ and now finishing up a co-starring role in Martin Scorsese’s latest film ‘Silence,’ Mr. Asano is at the top of his game.”

The months and weeks leading up to the opening of the Hawaii International Film Festival are an intense period for Le. The Herald reached him by email and got a few of his thoughts on HIFF35.

We asked Le to share his “top five picks” from this year’s lineup of Japanese films.

He said he’s proud that HIFF is screening two films by director Masato Harada — his samurai period drama, “Kakekomi,” and the U.S. premiere of “The Emperor in August.”

Le is also excited about “Midori in Hawaii,” which was produced entirely on the Big Island of Hawai‘i with a non-Japanese crew working with a largely Japanese cast on a film in which 90 percent of the dialogue is in Japanese. The film is receiving its world premiere at HIFF35.

“It’s an eclectic family drama and the director, John Hill, was inspired to write and direct this story from his experiences teaching English in Japan,” said Le. “Midori in Hawai‘i” has also been nominated for the Halekulani Golden Orchid Award for Best Narrative Feature.

“The Boy and the Beast” made Le’s top five, as did “100 Yen Love,” which is Japan’s official entry into the Oscars in the Foreign Language Film category. Le described “100 Yen Love” as “unlike any Japanese film done in years.”

As the festival’s programmer, Le has watched Japan’s film industry grow and evolve over the years. “Japanese commercial films are mirroring Hollywood blockbusters, where the current trend is to remake manga, anime and J-drama series into feature films,” he said.

The fact that Japanese films are popular among local audiences — and not just Japanese audiences — isn’t a Hawai‘i phenomenon, however. According to Le, who attends film festival year-round and all over the world, Japanese films are popular beyond the shores of Hawai‘i.

“There are Japanese film festivals popping up in Los Angeles, Toronto (Canada), New York City, but also in places like Hamburg (Germany) and other places in Europe,” he said. “Japanese films and J-Pop culture is still very popular.”

The following is HIFF35’s selection of Japanese and Japanese American films. Sit back and enjoy . . .


“100 YEN LOVE” (“Hyaku En no Koi”) | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2014 | Japanese with English subtitles | 113 min.

Directed by Masaharu Take; written by Shin Adachi.

Ichiko is a thirtysomething-year-old slacker who still lives at home. Things change, however, when her sister returns home with her child in tow. The relationship between the sisters sours, leading Ichiko to move out and take a job at a 100-yen shop located near a boxing gym. Ichiko becomes smitten with a middle-aged boxer, who stirs a fire in her to take up boxing. “100 Yen Love” is a beautiful and heart-wrenching black comedy that slowly unravels and turns into an unexpected coming of age sports drama. The film was selected as Japan’s official entry in the Academy Awards’ Foreign Language Film category.

Screenings: Nov. 13, 6:15 p.m. | Nov. 16, 8 p.m.

Ichiban Nagaihi”)
| U.S. Premiere | Japan | Japanese w/English subtitles | 135 min.

Written and directed by Masato Harada

August 14, 1945: The Emperor of Japan has decided to accept the Potsdam Declaration and surrender to the Allied Forces. A cabinet is formed to plan out Japan’s transition, post-surrender. However, a coup d’état is underway as a group of young firebrand army officers insist on sabotaging the talks, taking over a radio station where Hirohito will announce the surrender. Based on actual events, this political thriller is masterfully directed by Masato Harada, whose previous films include “Kakekomi” and “Chronicle of my Mother.” Harada will be in attendance for the first screening of the film.

Screenings: Nov. 13, 8:30 p.m. | Nov. 21, 2:45 p.m.

“AN” (“An”) | Hawai‘i Premiere | France, Germany, Japan | 2015 | Japanese w/English subtitles | 113 min.

Written and directed by Naomi Kawase

Sentaro runs a small bakery that serves dorayaki, pancake pastries filled with an, a sweet red bean paste. When an elderly woman named Tokue offers to help in the kitchen, he reluctantly accepts. Tokue proves to possess magic in her hands when it comes to making an. Thanks to her secret recipe,


Sentaro’s little business begins to flourish. In time, both Sentaro and Tokue open their hearts and reveal old wounds. Cannes favorite Naomi Kawase captures the beauty and elegance of nature in this quiet story of an elderly woman who finds her purpose after living a life of isolation and solitude.

Screenings: Nov. 14, 12:45 p.m. | Nov. 21, 11 a.m.

“HANA’S MISO SOUP” (“Hana-chan no Misoshiru”) | World Premiere | Japan | 2015 | Japanese w/English subtitles | 118 min.

Written and directed by Tomoaki Akune

Chie, a young woman out of college, is diagnosed with cancer soon after becoming engaged. Undeterred, she gets married, understanding that the treatment will leave her unable to bear children. One day, a miracle happens: She learns she is pregnant. But, she learns also that her cancer may return if she keeps her baby. Chie decides to have her baby and endeavors to impart life lessons to her young daughter.

The Hawaii International Film Festival presents the world premiere of “Hana’s Miso Soup” and also welcomes actress Ryoko Hirosue, who will be presented the HIFF Career Achievement Award. Hirosue will also be present for the first screening of “Hana’s Miso Soup.”

Screenings: Nov. 14, 5:30 p.m. | Nov. 18, 5:30 p.m. | Nov. 20, 3 p.m. (Koko Marina)

“KAKEKOMI” (“Kakekomi Onna to Kakedashi Otoko”) | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2015 | Japanese w/English subtitles | 143 min.

Directed by Masato Harada; written by Masato Harada and Hisashi Inoue

In old Edo, women seeking a divorce or escaping a bad marriage would flee to Tokeiji Temple (also known as “divorce temple”) in Kamakura. Once through the temple gates, they became kakekomi and spend two years pursuing a monastic existence. Shinjiro, who is of quick mind and wit, is a “divorce arbitrator.” He helps these women untangle their lives with their jilted husbands so they can start life anew. However, Shinjiro loses his perspective when he falls in love with one of the kakekomi.

Director Masato Harada will attend the first screening of “Kakekomi.”

Screenings: Nov. 14, 8:15 p.m. | Nov. 17, 8 p.m.

“LA LA LA AT ROCK BOTTOM” (“Misono Unibaasu”) | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2015 | Japanese w/English subtitles | 103 min.

Directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita; written by Tomoe Kanno

After losing his memory, 17-year-old Kasumi takes in Shigeo, who is homeless. When Kasumi discovers Shigeo’s singing skills, she makes him her band’s lead singer — until his dark past clashes with his new life. This is the latest film from Ösaka-based director Nobuhiro Yamashita (director also of “Linda Linda Linda”), whose films often chronicle the lives of disaffected youth from Kansai. “La La La . . .” is a quirky romantic comedy filled with great music, zaniness, melancholy and love. It features rising star Fumi Nikaido and J-Pop star Subaru Shibutani of Kanjani Eight.

Screenings: Nov. 14, 8:45 p.m. | Nov. 17, 6:15 p.m.

“YOKO THE CHERRY BLOSSOM” (“Yookozakura”) | U.S. Premiere | Japan | 2015 | Japanese w/English subtitles | 115 min.

Written and directed by Gen Takahashi

The inspiring true story of Takaoka Masaaki, a rural Japanese man whose lifelong quest was to create an artificially pollinated hybrid cherry blossom. Driven by shame and guilt, Masaaki devotes 30 years to creating a cherry blossom that can bloom anywhere and in any climate so that the spirits of his students who perished in World War II will finally have a place to meet. Today, Masaaki’s cherry blossoms continue to bloom in over 20 countries around the world.

Screenings: Nov. 15, 1:45 p.m. | Nov. 22, 12:45 p.m.

“JOURNEY TO THE SHORE” (“Kishibe no Tabi”) | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/English subtitles |128 min.

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa; written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Takashi Ujita and Kazumi Yumoto

Mizuki’s husband drowned at sea three years ago. When he suddenly comes back home, she is not that surprised. Instead, Mizuki wonders what took him so long and agrees to let him take her on a journey. Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa delivers a supernatural romance deeply rooted in Japanese beliefs with gentle, yet enigmatic performances from Tadanobu Asano and Eri Fukatsu as husband and wife.

HIFF will present its Maverick Award to Asano for his groundbreaking work as an actor. He will also be in attendance for the first screening of the film.

Screenings: Nov. 15, 2:30 p.m. | Nov. 22, 2:15 p.m.

“CAPE NOSTALGIA” (“Fushigina Misaki no Monogatari”) |U.S. Premiere | Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/English subtitles |117 min.

Directed by Izuru Narushima; written by Teruo Abe, Masato Kato and Akio Morisawa

Etsuko (Sayuri Yoshinaga) runs a quaint little cafe at the tip of Cape Myogane with her devoted nephew, Koji (Hiroshi Abe). It is a nice, quiet life in a small corner of the world that remains timeless and undisturbed, a place where guests enjoy her coffee, musical selections and heartwarming conversations every day. However, Koji notices that his aunt sometimes gazes out to sea with a melancholic look, as if she is waiting for someone.

Screenings: Nov. 15, 5:30 p.m. | Nov. 17, 5:30 p.m. | Nov. 21, 12:15 p.m.

“OUR HUFF AND PUFF JOURNEY” (“Watakushitachi no Haahaa”) | International Premiere | Japan | 2015 | Japanese w/English subtitles | 91 min.

Written and directed by Daigo Matsui

Four high school friends who are huge fans of the band CreepHyp decide to go see their Tökyö concert. The only problem is they live nearly 1,000 km away. They decide to pedal their way to Tökyö, still wearing their school uniforms. They soon realize that they bit off more than they can chew, but are still determined to make it to Tökyö. Will our intrepid heroes make it to the concert in time?

Screenings: Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m. | Nov. 19, 3:30 p.m.

“THAT’S IT” (“Soredake”) | Hawai‘i Premiere |
Japan | 2015 | Japanese w/English subtitles | 110 min.

Directed by Gakuryu Ishii; written by Kiyotaka Inagaki

Inspired by the 1999 song, “Soredake,” performed by the Japanese rock band Bloodthirsty Butchers, “That’s It” marks the return to his punk roots for the O.G. Japanese cyberpunk director Gakuryu Ishii, formerly known as Sogo Ishii. The film stars Shota Sometani, Erina Mizuno and Go Ayano and focuses on a young hoodlum who tries to escape his miserable life by stealing gold. Instead, he accidentally ends up acquiring valuable information, thus infuriating a powerful underworld organization, resulting in an action extravaganza!

Screenings: Nov. 17, 8:45 p.m. | Nov. 22, 8:30 p.m.

“RYUZO AND HIS SEVEN HENCHMEN” (“Ryuzo to Shichinin no Kobuntachi”) | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2015 | Japanese w/English subtitles | 110 min.

Written and directed by Takeshi Kitano

Ryuzo, a retired yakuza, reminisces about the old days. When he becomes a victim of a major scam, he is disappointed in the state of the criminal underworld and enlists his old cronies to shake things up in the streets of Tökyö to bring honor back to the yakuza way. This hilarious gangster comedy comes from the comic genius mind of legendary director and star, Takeshi “Beat” Kitano.

Screenings: Nov. 18, 6 p.m. | Nov. 21, 3:45 p.m.

“CHIGASAKI STORY” (“Sanpaku Yokka Goji no Kane”) | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 88 min.

Written and directed by Takuya Misawa

Tomoharu works part-time at Chigasaki-kan, a Japanese hotel in Kanagawa with a 115-year history. The wedding of Risa, the inn owner’s daughter, is

“The Herbert Yanamura Story.”
“The Herbert Yanamura Story.”

scheduled to take place in three days. Her co-workers Karin and Maki arrive on the scene along with a number of other characters, setting in motion a series of emotional crisscrosses. Will everything work out as they should?

Screenings: Nov. 20, 8:30 p.m. | Nov. 21, 12:45 p.m. | Nov. 22, 1 p.m. (Koko Marina)

“ENISHI THE BRIDE OF IZUMO” | World Premiere | Japan | 2015 | Japanese w/English subtitles | 108 min.

Directed by Hiroshi Horiuchi; written by Hiroshi Horiuchi and Saki Kawarahata

Maki returns to her hometown of Izumo to arrange for the funeral of her grandmother Akie, who raised her since she was a child. While cleaning her grandmother’s house, Maki finds an incomplete marriage contract signed by Soichi, whom she realizes is her estranged father. With the help of a local fisherman, Maki learns about her family history and goes on a journey in bucolic Izumo, a spiritual place where Japanese people’s destinies are changed forever.

Screening: Nov. 21, 2:45 p.m.

“THE BOY AND THE BEAST” (“Bake Mono no Ko”) | U.S. Premiere | Japan | 2015 | Japanese w/English subtitles | 119 min.

Written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda

Director Mamoru Hosoda, creator of “Summer Wars” (HIFF 2009) and “Wolf Children,” (HIFF 2012) presents his newest anime masterpiece about Kyuta, a solitary boy who lives in Tökyö, and Kumatetsu, a supernatural creature isolated in an imaginary world. One day, Kyuta crosses the border into the imaginary world and makes friends with Kumatetsu, who becomes his friend and spiritual guide. The encounter opens the path to all sorts of adventures.

Screenings: Nov. 21, 5:30 p.m. | Nov. 22, 5 p.m.


“WONDERFUL WORLD END” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2014 | Japanese w/English subtitles | 84 min.

Written and directed by Daigo Matsui

Shiori’s Gothic Lolita garb attracts a lot of fans to her interactive video blog, which she hopes will lead to a modeling career. One day, she meets Ayumi, a timid 13-year-old who is a big fan. Shiori is wary of the attention, but likes being idolized and eventually allows the girl to get closer. Ayumi’s infatuation becomes difficult to disguise and their friendship takes an unforeseen turn after Ayumi runs away from home and begins to infiltrate Shiori’s life.

Screenings: Nov. 19, 5:45 p.m. | Nov. 22, 2 p.m.


“MADE IN JAPAN” (Documentary) | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan, United States | 2015 | English, Japanese w/English subtitles | 89 min.

Written and directed by Josh Bishop

This is the remarkable story of Tomi Fujiyama, the first female Japanese country music star. Tomi’s career culminates in a 1964 performance at The Grand Ole Opry, where she followed Johnny Cash and received the only standing ovation of the night. Forty years later, Tomi and her husband set out on a journey through Japan and across the United States to fulfill a dream of performing at The Opry one more time.

Screenings: Nov. 16, 6 p.m. | Nov. 22, 3:15 p.m.


“MIDORI IN HAWAII” | World Premiere | Japan, United States | 2015 | English, Japanese w/English subtitles | 84 min.

Written and directed by John Hill

Midori is a struggling wedding photographer living in Hawai‘i. When Seiko and Kyo-chan, Midori’s judgmental sister and brother in-law visit from Japan, Midori’s small world is thrown off-balance. As the sisters travel the Big Island together, old grudges and long-forgotten psychological scars begin to resurface. The tension builds until the true reason for Seiko’s visit is finally revealed, forcing Midori to choose between family responsibilities or continuing to pursue her dream.

This film is nominated for the Halekulani Golden Orchid Award for Best Narrative. Director John Hill will be in attendance for the first screening of the film.

Screenings: Nov. 14, 3:30 p.m. | Nov. 18, 6 p.m.


“CONTAINMENT” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan, United States | 2015 | English, Japanese w/ English subtitles | 82 min.

Directed by Peter Galison and Robb Moss

Can we contain some of the deadliest, longest-lasting substances ever produced? Part-observational essay filmed in weapons plants, Fukushima and deep underground — and part-graphic novel —“Containment” weaves between an uneasy present and an imaginative, troubled far future, exploring the idea that over millennia, nothing stays put.

Screenings: Nov. 13, 8 p.m. | Nov. 22, 4 p.m.

“LOST & FOUND” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Canada, Japan | 2015 | English, Japanese w/ English subtitles | 82 min.

Directed by John Choi and Nicolina Lanni

When the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit the Töhoku region of Japan on March 11, 2011, tons of debris were sucked into the Pacific Ocean and left floating towards the Pacific Northwest coast of North America. Less than a year later, beachcombers across the Pacific Northwest began finding items that had washed ashore from the tsunami. Some, determined to trace the items back to their original owners, packed their bags and headed to Japan to take them home to their rightful owners.

Screenings: Nov. 15, 1 p.m. | Nov. 18, 3:45 p.m. | Nov. 20, 1 p.m. (Koko Marina)

“KAMPAI: FOR THE LOVE OF SAKE” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | English, Japanese w/English subtitles | 95 min.

Directed by Mirai Konishi

A British sake brewer, an American journalist and the young president of a century-old sake brewery in Japan join together to explore the mysterious world of sake. The film illustrates how these unique individuals who are fascinated with this extraordinary beverage of Japanese origin meet the challenges of the modern sake industry while investigating the rich, complex and spectacular world of Japan’s national treasure.

Screenings: Nov. 16, 6 p.m. | Nov. 22, 7:45 p.m.


“JULIET JULIET” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2015 | Japanese w/English subtitles | 15 min.

Directed by Ken Ochiai; written by Ken Ochiai and Nir Studnitski

Verona Women’s High School is preparing for its annual musical, “Romeo and Juliet.” Two rivals from different departments, cooking and nursing, both want the coveted role of Juliet. But when a new male student transfers in, the rivalry becomes more than just fun and games. With love on the line, the two girls pull out all the stops as they fight to perform alongside their charming new classmate. Unexpectedly, a last-minute emergency forces the enemies to work together to save the school play.

Screening: Nov. 19, 8:30 p.m.


THE HERBERT YANAMURA STORY | World Premiere | United States | 2015 | English | 25 min.

Directed by Alexander Bocchieri and Stacey Hayashi

Herbert Yanamura is an American, born and raised in the coffee fields of Kona on the island of Hawai‘i. Despite his American upbringing, he is branded an “enemy alien” by the U.S. government after the 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor because of his ancestry and how he looks. Like many of his friends and peers, Yanamura volunteered for the U.S. Army in order to prove his loyalty, enlisting initially in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and later transferring to the Military Intelligence Service. Most of the MIS soldiers served in the Pacific theater, interrogating Japanese prisoners, deciphering maps and translating documents. Yanamura was later awarded a Bronze Star for using a loudspeaker to persuade some 1,500 civilians and 150 soldiers in the village of Maehira to surrender peacefully during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa, where there were 250,000 casualties. The battle is dramatically retold in the short film, “The Surrender Call,” which is also in this program. For decades, MIS veterans like Yanamura were barred from talking about their wartime service. In his own words, Yamamura shares the fascinating, unheralded history and hidden human element behind this major World War II battle.

Screenings: Nov. 16, 5:45 p.m. | Nov. 21, 11:45 (Koko Marina) | Nov. 22, 3 p.m. (Koko Marina)


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