Anime, Drama, Suspense, Comedy, Documentaries and Much More

Karleen Chinen

If you wait every year with bated breath to see the lineup of Japanese films in the Hawai‘i International Film Festival presented by Halekulani, you will not be disappointed with the selections in HIFF 39. The festival opens in Honolulu on Thursday, Nov. 7, and continues through Sunday, Nov. 17, primarily at the Regal Dole Cannery Theatres in Iwilei. HIFF then travels to Palace Theater in Hilo, Waimea Theater on Kaua‘i, and the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului with screenings set for Thursday, Nov. 21, through Sunday, Nov. 24.

This year’s “Spotlight on Japan” category features 19 films. To that, add seven Japanese-related films in other categories — Documentaries, European Showcase, Made in Hawai‘i, Mixed Plate and the Closing Night Film — and you’ve got a fabulous buffet of films from which to choose!

Anderson Le
Anderson Le

The 19 “Spotlight on Japan” films represent the crème de la crème — the very best — of films that came out of Japan in the past year. As the Herald does each year, we provide you with an edited synopses of the films and ask HIFF’s film guru, artistic director Anderson Le, to share his thoughts on the year’s offerings.

In addition to working with HIFF, Le is also a programmer for the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, presenting the latest works of Asian Pacific Islander cinema to audiences in Southern California. Additionally, he is a programming consultant for the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, and the Singapore International Film Festival.

The Herald asked Le to share his five favorite Japanese film picks from this year’s selections. They are “Tora-san,” “Kampai! Sake Sisters,” “Words Can’t Go There,” “37 Seconds” and “A Girl Missing.” Those five films, he said, “represent the spectrum of Japanese cinema we curate each year.”

“It is a mix of honoring the past (“Tora-san”), a snapshot at the diversity of Japanese culture and its preservation (the women sake brewers in “Kampai! Sake Sisters” and John ‘Kaizan’ Neptune in “Words Can’t Go There”), and the strength of contemporary cinema by screening critically lauded award-winners like ‘37 Seconds’ and ‘A Girl Missing.’”

He said the slate of Japanese films represents the “holistic approach” that HIFF strives for every year “because Japanese film has so many facets that it is always a challenge and a pleasure to showcase the diversity of perspectives.”

So get your calendars out and start planning your HIFF 39 viewing schedule. Tickets are $14 for the general public, $12 for seniors, military, students and children; and $10 for HIFF Ohana members. To see a complete list of films at HIFF 39, visit


“CAN’T STOP DANCING (DANCE WITH ME)” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 103 min.

Director: Shinobu Yaguchi

Yaguchi (“Waterboys,” “Wood Job!” and “Survival Family”) is back with one of the funniest and most original hits of 2019. Shizuka (Ayaka Miyoshi) is an overworked salarywoman who is dedicated to her job at a big Tökyö firm. One day, while at a fair with her niece, they stop in at a sideshow hypnotist. When her niece asks the hypnotist to make her a better singer, Shizuka, who dislikes musicals, accidentally falls under the spell. Suddenly, whenever she hears music, she can’t help but begin to sing and dance, effecting her work and personal life.

The only solution is to find the hypnotist and undo the spell. But the scheming hypnotist has vanished. With the help of an unlikely friend, Shizuka embarks on a comedic, music-filled road trip across Japan to find him.

Screenings: Nov. 8, 6 p.m. | Nov. 11, 3:30 p.m.

“FAREWELL SONG” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 115 min.

Director: Akihiko Shiota

Haru (Mugi Kadowaki) and Leo (Nana Komatsu) are longtime friends and bandmates in a folk duo called Haruleo. Haru expresses herself with music, while Leo is more impulsive, which Haru finds both inspiring and alluring.

After many years together, they embark on their final tour with their handsome manager, Shima (Ryo Narita). As the three venture out and emotions entangle them, Haru and Leo seem to come alive and express their true intentions only through song.

“Farewell Song” is the latest tale of young love from acclaimed writer-director Akihiko Shiota (“Don’t Look Back,” “Moonlight Whisperers,” “Harmful Insect”).

'Farewell Song.'
“Farewell Song.”

Screenings: Nov. 8, 6 p.m. | Nov. 10, 6 p.m. 

“TORA-SAN, MY UNCLE” | Japan | 1989 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 109 min.

Director: Yoji Yamada

Somewhat awkward but always lovable and kind-hearted Tora-san visits his sister and her family in Tökyö. His nephew, Mitsuo, is depressed because he failed his university entrance exam and also because Izumi, the love of his life, has transferred to a school in Kyüshü. Mitsuo leaves home to find her, but her uncle frowns on her riding around with a man from Tökyö, so Tora-san gets involved in the complex relationship. This film was released in 1989 and was recently digitally remastered.

Screening: Nov. 9, 12:30 p.m.

“TORA-SAN, WISH YOU WERE HERE” | North American Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 115 min.

Director: Yoji Yamada

This year marks 50 years since the debut of the “Tora-san” film series (48 episodes in all, released between 1969 and 1995), which starred the late Kiyoshi Atsumi as an ambling vagabond always unlucky in love or always in love, however you viewed his situation. Director Yoji Yamada, who just celebrated his 88th birthday, directed all but two episodes of the series.

Yamada recently directed the 49th film, which is a convergence of two fates. Digital technology enabled Yamada to tell a new story starring Japan’s most affable everyman. He artfully tells a story about Tora-san’s many supporting characters, how Tora-san affected their lives and what they are doing today.

Tora-san’s nephew Mitsuo, a middle-aged widower raising a teenaged daughter, is the main character in this new installment. When his first novel is published, he attends a book signing in Tökyö, where he meets his first love, Izumi (’80s J-idol Kumiko Goto), who he has not seen in 30 years. An immediate spark prompts them to visit old haunts and meet up with characters that were featured in episodes of the famed series. As their memories return, the spirit of Tora-san resonates and Mitsuo must decide what to do next. Even after his death, his uncle is there to guide him on the right path. HIFF is also screening a digitally remastered version of “Tora-san, My Uncle” (1989).

Screenings: Nov. 9, 3 p.m. | Nov. 10, 11:45 a.m.

“THREE NOBUNAGAS” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 106 min.

Director: Kei Watanabe

It is the late 16th century and powerful warlord Oda Nobunaga is trying to unify Japan. After his victory in the Battle of Okehazama in which he killed his rival, Imagawa, Nobunaga is defeated by the combined strength of the Azai and Asakura clans. As he and his troops retreat from the battle, Kanbara (Masahiro Takashima), a vassal loyal to Imagawa, seizes the opportunity to exact revenge for his master’s killing. But just when he thinks he has him, Kanbara and his men capture the “Three Nobunagas” (portrayed by Takahiro, Hayato Ichihara and Yoshinori Okada). But which of them is the real Nobunaga? “Three Nobunagas” is a hilarious whodunit of historical proportions by writer-director Kei Watanabe.

'Three Nobunagas.'
“Three Nobunagas.”

Screenings: Nov. 9, 4:45 p.m. | Nov. 13, 5:45 p.m.

“JUST ONLY LOVE” | North American Premiere | Japan | 2018 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 123 min.

Director: Rikiya Imaizumi

Imaizumi explores the dynamics of modern romance in Japan with “Just Only Love,” adapted from Mitsuyo Kakuta’s novel of the same name. Teruko (Yukino Kishii) is a disgruntled office worker who brightens up only when she gets a call from Mamoru (Ryo Narita), an artsy, but pretentious graphic designer. Although their relationship becomes increasingly one-sided, Teruko cannot resist helping Mamoru in any way she can. To him, however, she is just a girl who will do whatever he wants. Teruko begins to lose sight of her sense of self. After not hearing from him for a while, Mamoru invites Teruko to meet the object of his affection, Sumire, possibly turning the tables on Teruko’s unrequited love.

Screenings: Nov. 9, 8 p.m. | Nov. 13, 8:30 p.m.

“THE PRISONER OF SAKURA” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2018 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 112 min.

Director: Masaki Inoue

Sakurako Takamiya (Junko Abe), a young assistant director at a local TV station, wants to produce a program about the Russo-Japanese War. While researching, she uncovers the diary of Alexander Sorokin (Rodion Galyuchenko), a Russian lieutenant and prisoner of war who secretly planned to escape and join the communist revolutionary movement. Sorokin is tended to by a Japanese nurse named Yui, who is bitter because she lost her brother in the war. Yui also turns out to have been Sakurako’s great-grandmother (also played by Abe).

Yui and Sorokin fall in love, but are torn apart by family, culture, nationhood, politics and war. “The Prisoner of Sakura” was filmed in St. Petersburg, Russia, and in the historic POW camp in Matsuyama. It represents a major collaboration between Russian and Japanese filmmakers and an attempt at international understanding.

Screening: Nov. 10, 12:30 p.m.

“RIDE YOUR WAVE” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 95 min.

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Visionary director Masaaki Yuasa’s (“The Night is Short,” “Walk on Girl,” “Devilman Crybaby” and “Lu Over The Wall”) new and deeply emotional film is a tale of romance, grief and self-discovery. Hinako, a surf-loving college student, moves to a small seaside town. When a fire breaks out in her building, she is rescued by a handsome firefighter named Minato. The two fall in love. Then tragedy strikes: Minato drowns while attempting to save a water skier in peril. Hinako is so distraught that she can’t even look at the ocean, until, one day, she sings a song that reminds her of their time together. Minato suddenly appears in the water. From then on, she can summon him from any watery surface just by singing their song. But can they remain together forever? And why has Minato suddenly reappeared?

Screenings: Nov. 10, 3 p.m. | Nov. 13, 6:30 p.m. | Nov. 24, 3 p.m., Waimea Theater

“ANOTHER WORLD” | North American Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 120 min.

Director: Junji Sakamoto

Junji Sakamoto’s heartfelt drama explores friendship, family, tradition and growth through the stories of three childhood friends from rural Mie Prefecture. Two of them, Hiroshi (Goro Inagaki) and Mitsuhiko (Kiyohiko Shibukawa), remained in Mie and inherited their fathers’ businesses. Eisuke (Hiroki Kasegawa) left home to join the self-defense forces. His unexpected return one day reopens old bonds and wounds in their relationships, altering their view of their lives and town forever. As their own personal problems unravel, can they find solace, healing and, ultimately, friendship, with each other once again?

The cast, including Mayu Harada, Chizuru Ikewaki and Rairu Sugita, turns in masterful performances. Veteran filmmaker Sakamoto’s touching narrative about the lives we lead and the ones we left behind garnered the Audience Award at the 31st Tökyö International Film Festival.

Screenings: Nov. 10, 3:15 p.m. | Nov. 14, 4:30 p.m.

“TALKING THE PICTURES” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 127 min.

Director: Masayuki Suo

Shuntaro Someya (Ryo Narita, also in this year’s “Farewell Song” and “Just Only Love”) dreams of becoming a katsudo benshi (narrator of silent films) and captivating viewers with narrations that stir the heart. For now, though, he works with a group of thieves as a phony katsudo benshi. He decides to run away to Aoki-kan, a small town with a famous theater, where screenings are always empty after losing its staff and customers to a rival theater. Still, Shuntaro is excited about the prospect of finally becoming a real katsudo benshi. The theater, however, is full of over-the-top individuals. When Shuntaro is reunited with his childhood love (Yuina Kuroshima), he finds the courage to summon his voice and become a katsudo benshi star.

“Talking the Pictures” is a tribute to Japan’s silent film era at the turn of the 20th century. Acclaimed director Masayuki Suo (“Shall We Dance?”) takes us back to a simple and nostalgic time of romance, action and comedy.

Screenings: Nov. 10, 5:15 p.m. | Nov. 11, 8:30 p.m.

“THE WITNESS” | International Premiere | Japan, South Korea | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 128 min.

Director: Junichi Mori

Natsume Hamanaka is a rookie police officer with a promising future until a car crash kills her brother and takes her eyesight. Three years later, she manages to get around with her seeing-eye dog, Pal, but still cannot get over her devastation. One evening, she comes upon a car crash and hears the faint voice of a young woman inside the car, pleading for help before the car speeds away. After recounting the incident to the police, they conclude that she is an unreliable witness and psychologically unstable, so they drop the case. But Natsume believes the girl in the car was kidnapped. She teams up with a teenaged skateboarder who was involved in the accident and, together, they launch their own investigation.

Screenings: Nov. 10, 7:45 p.m. | Nov. 15, 6 p.m.

“THE HIKITA’S ARE EXPECTING!” | North American Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 102 min.

Director: Toru Hosokawa

At 49, Kunio (Yutaka Matsushige) is a successful writer, living happily with his much-younger wife, Sachi (Keiko Kitagawa). The couple decided long ago that they would not have children. But as all of Sachi’s friends enter motherhood, she has a sudden change of heart. Kunio agrees, but things don’t always go as planned! This film is based on the real-life story of Kunio Hikita, which Kobunsha published in 2012. Written and directed by rising filmmaker Toru Hosokawa, it competed in the Ninth Beijing International Film Festival.

Screenings: Nov. 12, 5:30 p.m. | Nov. 17, 2:15 p.m.

'The Hikita’s Are Expecting.'
“The Hikita’s Are Expecting.”

“OKINAWAN BLUE” | North American Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 96 min.

Director: Tsukasa Kishimoto

What does it mean to live on an island and to see people come and go? To watch them come for a quick visit or settle down for an extended period? Set on the picturesque island of Zamami, “Okinawan Blue” explores what island life means to its visitors and residents, weaving three stories together into a sweet and moving film. A woman visits the island where her grandmother was born and learns what it means to bring the future to life with her partner. A father who left his son on the island comes back, hoping to make amends. A man whose wife left him for another man has to deal with why he decided to remain on the island after all these years.

The three narratives are tied together loosely by characters who move in and out of the stories, especially the innkeeper of the Full Moon Hotel and her assistant, Yuhi, played by renowned Okinawan actor Shogen. “Okinawan Blue” captures the breathtaking beauty and uniqueness of the region and its people.

'Okinawan Blue.'
“Okinawan Blue.”

Screenings: Nov. 12, 6 p.m. | Nov. 16, 12:30 p.m. | Nov. 23, 5:30 p.m., Hilo Palace Theater

“37 SECONDS” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 115 min.

Director: Hikari

Yuma (Mei Kayama) is a budding and talented manga artist with cerebral palsy who works for her cousin (Minori Hagiwara), a YouTube star seeking to retain her persona, treating Yuma as a ghostwriter and hidden from the public. But Yuma wants to get out into the world, so she regularly sends her portfolio to other publishers. The editor of a small outlet specializing in adult manga entertainment shows interest in her work and is unfazed by Yuma’s disability. But, he says her work is naive and that she should get out and experience life, which Yuma strives to do under the watchful eye of her caring, but protective mother (Misuzu Kanno).

“37 Seconds” is Hikari’s (formerly Mitsuyo Miyazaki, director of HIFF’s 2011 Audience Award short, “Tsuyako”) first feature film. She gradually expands the scope of Yuma’s explorations until they take her further than she had anticipated.

Screenings: Nov. 14, 8 p.m. | Nov. 16, 2 p.m.

“MASQUERADE HOTEL” | U.S. Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 133 min.

Director: Masayuki Suzuki

When a string of murders hits Tökyö, the police scramble to find the killer. Their only clue is a coded message which, when deciphered, gives the coordinates to the next murder location: the luxurious Hotel Cortesia. Detective Kosuke Nitta (Takuya Kimura) must work undercover with unflappable hotelier Naomi Yamagishi (Masami Nagasawa) to find the murderer while keeping the hotel guests safe. In the process, they learn from each other. But the more clues they gather, the more confused they get. Will they find the killer before he or she strikes again? This mystery is based on Keigo Higashino’s bestselling novel.

Screenings: Nov. 14, 8:15 p.m. | Nov. 17, 4:15 p.m.

“THE FABLE” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 123 min.

Director: Kan Eguchi

Junichi Okada (“Sekigahara,” Samurai’s Promise”) stars as a mysterious and ruthless assassin. All that is known about him is that he has a reputation of being the deadliest man in Japan.

After a hit on a major crime boss, the Fable’s handler fears his cover may have been blown so he sends him to Ösaka with strict instructions to blend in with the people and lead a “regular” life for a year.

But can this assassin change his ways? And will he survive the day-to-day life of an average joe? This part-comedy, part-action thriller from Kan Eguchi is one of the year’s most entertaining films.

Screenings: Nov. 15, 6 p.m. | Nov. 16, 9 p.m.

“A GIRL MISSING” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 111 min.

Director: Koji Fukuda

Ichiko (Mariko Tsutsui) is a dedicated home health nurse caring for an aging painter in her final years. Ichiko becomes so close to the painter’s family that she often meets after-hours with her two granddaughters, Motoko (Mikako Ichikawa) and Saki (Miyu Ogawa), to help with their studies. Saki disappears one day, but reappears a week later, apparently unharmed. When her kidnapper is found, Ichiko becomes embroiled in a maelstrom of lies, manipulation and scandal that captivates the media and threatens to destroy her whole world. “A Girl Missing” is writer-director Koji Fukuda’s latest time-hopping drama, revealing the destructive side of “gotcha” journalism.

Screenings: Nov. 15, 8:45 p.m.| Nov. 17, 4:30 p.m.

“SIGNAL 100” | U.S. Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 88 min.

Director: Lisa Takeba

An evil teacher casts a hypnotic spell over 36 high school students, turning minor infractions into fatal suicide triggers. The students watch in horror as their classmates begin committing suicide before their eyes. The only clue to breaking the spell is learning what not to do. As the carnage mounts, panic and survival instincts take over in a bloodcurdling “death game.” Can the rapidly dwindling student body keep their sanity long enough to find a way to break the hypnotic spell, or will mad panic and futility turn them against each other?

Screenings: Nov. 15, 9 p.m. | Nov. 16, 9 p.m.

“THEY SAY NOTHING STAYS THE SAME” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 137 min.

Director: Joe Odagiri

Renowned Japanese actor Joe Odagiri makes his directorial debut (with help from cinematographer Christopher Doyle) in a poetic tale of connection, change and loss. Toichi (Akira Emoto) is an elderly boatman for a small mountain village who ferries villagers across the river every day to a larger town. He is content with his simple and meager life. But as plans for a walking bridge come to fruition, Toichi finds his way of life becoming imminently obsolete. One day, while grappling with the coming changes, he finds the body of a young girl (Ririka Kawashima) floating in the river and wonders if it is an omen of darker things to come.

Screenings: Nov. 16, 5 p.m. | Nov. 17, 1:15 p.m.


“PICTURE CHARACTER” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan, U.S., Germany, United Kingdom, Austria and Argentina| 2019 | English | 79 min.

Directors: Ian Cheney and Martha Shane

Thanks to mobile phone technology, emoji (Japanese for “picture character”) are now a way for people worldwide to communicate. Some people believe that emoji are on the verge of becoming their own language. But who is vetting and approving them? Directors Shane and Cheney take us to their beginnings in Japan, where we meet the emoji godfather himself, Shigetaka Kurita.

Screenings: Nov. 8, 5:30 p.m. | Nov. 11, 4 p.m.

“WORDS CAN’T GO THERE” | North American Premiere | Japan, U.S.| 2019 | English | 89 min.

Director: David Neptune

“Words Can’t Go There” is David Neptune’s story about his father, California-born surfer-turned-Japanese shakuhachi flute master John “Kaizan” Neptune. The film explores what it takes to cross cultural borders to become a master of a traditional art form. After having lived in Japan for over 40 years, John’s pursuit of that “perfect sound” led to his interest in crafting the flute and innovating its design to create sounds never before heard. Most people credit John with broadening the shakuhachi’s possibilities; others criticize him for his departure from tradition. But what sacrifices did he have to make along the way?

This inside story of a passionate artist told from his son’s perspective gives audiences an in-depth look at the family life of a musician and his unique perspective, which enabled him to become a leading professional in an art form mastered by few, even in Japan.

John Neptune will be in attendance on Monday, Nov. 11, and will do a short shakuhachi performance after the screening.

Screenings: Nov. 11, 6 p.m. | Nov. 15, 4:30 p.m.


“BENTO HARASSMENT” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan| 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 106 min.

Director: Renpei Tsukamoto

After her husband died, his always-positive wife Kaori (Ryoko Shinohara) worked extra hard to raise their two daughters. With her older daughter grown and on her own, she thinks her load will lighten somewhat. But, their rebellious teenage daughter, Futaba (Kyoko Yoshine), makes her job especially difficult, continually disrespecting Kaori and ignoring her instructions. So, Kaori comes up with the cutest, but most annoying way of getting back at Futaba: by making sweet chara-ben (character bento) lunches for her. Much to Futaba’s chagrin, they attract attention from her classmates, but Kaori isn’t giving up until her daughter finally reforms.

'Bento Harassment.'
“Bento Harassment.”

Screenings: Nov. 9, 2:30 p.m. | Nov. 11, 1:15 p.m.

“KAMPAI! SAKE SISTERS” | North American Premiere | Japan| 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 96 min.

Director: Mirai Konishi

For centuries, women have been banned from setting foot in sake breweries or even in having a hand in its production. Today, women are the ones driving the most exciting changes in Japan’s evolving sake industry. “Kampai! Sake Sisters” invites audiences into the passionate lives of three pioneering women who are making their mark on the highly competitive world of sake.

Miho Imada comes from a family of master brewers and is considered one of the world’s most renowned master brewers after producing an award-winning sake from the artisanal Imada Sake Brewery. Many emerging women brewers consider Miho a trailblazer who paved the way for them. Marie Chiba, the manager of a trendy sake bar in Tökyö, has developed a gift for pairing sake and food in fresh and unexpected ways. Rebekah Wilson-Lye, originally from New Zealand, developed a love for sake while teaching English in Japan. Her ability to detect more flavor and nuances than most sommeliers quickly earns her accolades.

The stories of these “sake sisters” offers comprehensive and intimate portraits of how women are taking ownership of the sake industry, adapting ancient traditions in a new era and breaking down gender barriers.

Screenings: Nov. 9, 6 p.m. | Nov. 13, 5 p.m. | Nov. 22, 6 p.m. (Waimea Theater)


“WEATHERING WITH YOU” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese w/ English subtitles | 111 min.

Director: Makoto Shinkai

In the summer of his freshman year in high school, Hodaka flees his remote island home for Tökyö, where he quickly finds himself pushed to his financial and personal limits. The weather is unusually gloomy and rainy every day, as if to forecast his future. He lives his days in isolation until he finally finds work as a writer for a mysterious occult magazine. One day, he meets Hina, a bright and strong-willed girl with the power to stop the rain and clear the sky. “Weathering With You” explores themes of young love bridged by fantastical and cosmic means.

Many are hailing anime director Makoto Shinkai as the new Hayao Miyazaki. “Weathering With You” is Shinkai’s highly anticipated follow-up to his animated hit, “Your Name,” the Closing Night Film for HIFF 2017.

'Weathering With You.'
“Weathering With You.”

Screening: Nov. 17, 7 p.m.


“TOKYO HULA” | World Premiere | Japan, U.S.| 2019 | English | 72 min.

Director: Lisette Marie Flanary

In Japan, an estimated 2 million people are dancing hula — that is more than Hawai‘i’s population. This explosive growth has created a multimillion-dollar industry based on culture as a commodity. But what motivates Japanese students and teachers to dance hula and how is it translated into a foreign culture? How do native Hawaiians participate in this cross-cultural exchange?

Many kumu hula (hula teachers) find it challenging to sustain schools in Hawai‘i. The same is true for many musical artists, cultural experts and performers, who often must work day jobs to pursue their passions in an island home that most consider paradise, but where the cost of living is insurmountable. Thus, many look to Japan for financial opportunities.

By juxtaposing these two themes, “Tokyo Hula” illuminates how hula has become both big business and an evolving global tradition that continues to flourish in Japan. It is the final film in a trilogy of award-winning documentaries about the global evolution of hula — “American Aloha: Hula Beyond Hawai‘i” (2003) and “Nä Kamalei: The Men of Hula” (2007) — both of which screened at HIFF.

Screenings: Nov. 11, 6:15 p.m. | Nov. 17, 6 p.m. | Nov. 21, 7 p.m., Maui Arts & Cultural Center | Nov. 24, 4:30 p.m., Hilo Palace Theater


“THE TRUTH” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan, France | 2019 | French w/ English subtitles | 89 min.

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

“The Truth” is filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda’s first film made outside of his native Japan. Still, he maintains his signature quiet, contemplative style and humanism that made him famous internationally in “The Shoplifters.” This character-driven study involves Fabienne Dangeville (Catherine Deneuve), one of the greats in French cinema, and her troubled relationship with her daughter Lumir (Juliette Binoche). When Lumir and her husband, Hank (Ethan Hawke), return to Paris with their young child, things come to a head with the publication of Fabienne’s memoir. Their reunion turns confrontational as truths are told, accounts are settled, and love and resentment are confessed.

Screenings: Nov. 15, 8:15 p.m. | Nov. 16, 1 p.m.


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