Featuring Over 20 Japanese Films for 2020 Online and On-Screen

Jodie Chiemi Ching

You probably won’t have to stand in any lines for this year’s Hawai‘i International Film Festival presented by Halekulani. HIFF goes nationwide from Thursday, Nov. 5, through Sunday, Nov. 29. This year’s hybrid format will include in-person and virtual screenings, making the festival — for the first time ever — accessible to audiences across the U.S. The festival will present over 200 films from 25 countries with over 16 falling in the “Spotlight on Japan” category. Adding to that, with Japanese-related films in other categories — Documentaries, Made in Hawai‘i and Shorts Programs — HIFF 40 offers much to Japanese American cinema buffs.

In a press release, HIFF Executive Director Beckie Stochetti says, “This has been an enormously difficult year for nonprofits, artists and arts organizations, and creative entrepreneurs in Hawai‘i. … I could not be more proud and excited to announce our Festival lineup. For our 40th anniversary, the HIFF lineup is a statement on the perseverance and resilience of Hawai‘i’s community and entrepreneurial spirit.

“In an unexpected Festival year, we are proud to have pivoted our theater experience into a top-tier streaming experience, maintaining all of our education programs and our free virtual-reality program, and even increasing our industry panels and Q&As. And we are thrilled to extend our Festival offerings online to audiences and cinema enthusiasts across the nation, and offer even greater audience reach for our local ‘Made in Hawai‘i’ program films and Pacific Island creative content. Our Made in Hawai‘i program has more films this year, than in the entire four-year history of the program, and we are eager to bring Hawai‘i to you in this year of restricted travel.”

This year, HIFF will also feature the world premiere of student-created works for the third edition of the annual HIFF Daniel K. Inouye Institute Student Film Initiative. Partnering with the Daniel K. Inouye Institute, in the 2020 edition of the HIFF DKII Future Filmmakers Student Initiative, students explored themes of leadership and civic action by creating letters to the “Future President of the United States.” These short films will be available to view for free and on-demand from Nov. 5-29 at hiff.org.

Finalists are eligible to win cash, camera equipment and an opportunity to attend a private virtual event with Philippa Soo. Soo is known for originating the role of “Eliza Hamilton” in the critically acclaimed musical “Hamilton” for which she received a 2016 Tony Award Nomination for Best Actress in a Musical. The Chinese and European American performer will share wisdom gained from her experience and talk about where she sees herself in the future.

This year, several movies were directed by Japanese and nikkei women, including scripted features “Georama Boy, Panorama Girl” (Natsuki Seta), “Mrs. Noisy” (Chihiro Amano) and “Under the Open Sky” (Miwa Nishikawa), as well as the documentaries “Finding Dohi” (Amber McClure) and “Kipuka — New Beginnings” (Ai Iwane).

Established in 1981, HIFF is a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of cultural exchange and media in the Pacific Rim. HIFF is a premier international film event that has won the praise of international filmmakers, scholars, educators, governments, programmers and film-industry leaders across the globe. HIFF’s programming has two particular mandates: to be a festival of rec-ord for emerging films from Asia, the Pacific and North America, and to present the top festival films annually from around the world. Additionally, HIFF Industry and HIFF VR present content and panels in the fields of film, music, virtual reality and new-media entertainment.

HOW TO PURCHASE TICKETS AND PASSES

Access to purchase individual tickets will be available from Thursday, Nov. 5, at hiff.org.

There are three types of HIFF 40 passes available for purchase now at goelevent.com/HawaiiFilmFest/Pass/Sale :

Limited Access – $80 per pass allows you access to 85% of HIFF’s virtual programs. Premium films not included with this pass can be purchased at a discounted price.
All Access – $130 per pass allows you access to ALL virtual programs on HIFF’s streaming service.
Supporter – $450 per pass allows you access to ALL virtual programs on HIFF’s streaming service and in-person and drive-in events. “Supporters” will also receive a personalized printed pass and a HIFF 40 keepsake bag.”

SPOTLIGHT ON JAPAN

“#HANDBALLSTRIVE” | North American Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese with English subtitles | 108 min.

Director: Daigo Matsui

Masao Kiyota is a high-school student living in Japan’s southern Kumamoto Prefecture. Lacking passion for anything in life, he spends his days like so many youngsters: on his smartphone along with his childhood friend, Okamoto. One day, they upload a photo taken three years previously when they were both part of their school’s handball team. To their surprise, the post goes a little viral. Encouraged, they add the hashtag: “#HandballStrive” and are swarmed with “likes” from around the country. Amidst the sudden social-media attention, Masao and Okamoto decide to resuscitate a nearly defunct men’s handball team.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

(Photos courtesy of HIFF)

“AINU MOSIR” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2020 | Japanese with English subtitles | 84 min.

Director: Takeshi Fukunaga

A coming-of-age tale about Kanto, a 14-year-old boy and descendant of Japan’s Indigenous Ainu people, who struggles to come to terms with the recent loss of his father. One day, he learns about the small hole in the cliff in a nearby forest that Ainu people had considered a path to the other side of the world, where dead people live. Kanto decides to visit the hole, hoping to see his deceased father.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access

“ANY CRYBABIES AROUND?” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2020 | Japanese with English subtitles | 106 min.

Director: Takuma Sato

A naked, drunk man shows up on national live television in the middle of a sacred festival, Namahage, where men dressed in ogre-like costumes visit homes to scare kids so they don’t do bad things in the next year. Young father Tasuku, the naked man, is ostracized for shaming the village and its traditions, and flees to Tökyö by himself. After two years, he comes back to his hometown to make up with his ex-wife and their little daughter, but he finds that reality bites.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

“AWAKE” | International Premiere | Japan | 2020 | Japanese with English subtitles | 119 min.

Director: Atsuhiro Yamada

Eiichi and Riku are devoted to shogi (Japanese chess). Having grown up together, they both challenged and heightened one another’s playing skills. But as the years passed, Riku became impossible to defeat. In response, a disappointed Eiichi attends college where he learns the skills of Artificial Intelligence-programmed shogi. “Awake” documents the lives of two obsessed artists who find themselves in a battle between Eiichi’s computer shogi and Riku’s natural shogi skill.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

“A BELOVED WIFE” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese with English subtitles | 117 min.

Director: Shin Adachi

An unpopular screenwriter, Gota, and his wife, Chika, have been married for 10 years and share a daughter. Gota earns a paltry $5,000 a year, making him a pathetically poor family breadwinner. As such, he is constantly being berated and belittled by Chika. He yearns to restore normal sexual relations with his wife, but she rebuffs him, forcing him to suffer in frustrated silence. Director Shin Adachi’s autobiographical dark comedy is about a hapless husband and father with reams of unsatisfied sexual desire but no money or work, and a heavily-drinking wife who makes sport in disparaging him.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

“DAUGHTERS” | North American Premiere | Japan | 2020 | Japanese with English subtitles | 104 min.

Director: Hajime Tsuda

Koharu and Ayano, both 27, share an apartment right around the corner from downtown Tökyö. They work hard, play hard and don’t need to think hard at all, as long as they’re having fun. Change arrives when Ayano suddenly becomes pregnant. She decides to give birth outside of marriage, and Koharu also makes up her mind to stay by Ayano’s side and support her. The pregnancy gradually transforms their pleasure-seeking lifestyle. Ayano has no choice but to evolve, while Koharu struggles to adapt.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

“FUKUSHIMA 50” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2020 | Japanese with English subtitles | 122 min.

Director: Setsuro Wakamatsu

March 11, 2011, 2:46 p.m. Japan’s Töhoku region. At a magnitude of 9.0, the strongest earthquake in Japan’s history struck, triggering a huge tsunami and carnage to the effect of more than 19,000 people dead. It mercilessly swallowed the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture. The nuclear reactors were unable to be cooled, because of a crippling station blackout, causing hydrogen explosions in building after building. But if the power plant were to be abandoned, Japan’s destruction would have been assured.

Facing such a life-or-death situation, workers known as the “Fukushima 50,” including shift supervisor Izaki and plant manager Yoshida, remained on the site of the nuclear power plant on the brink. As the world held its breath and watched, they fought for their hometown and their families.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | Limited Access

“GEORAMA BOY, PANORAMA GIRL” | International Premiere | Japan | 2020 | Japanese with English subtitles | 105 min.

Director: Natsuki Seta

Haruko Shibuya (Anna Yamada) is a high-school student with an ordinary life. She happens to meet Kenichi Kanagawa (Jin Suzuki), falling in love with him at first sight. Kenichi, however, has just dropped out of high school, though he had been known as a studious student. Kenichi also meets Mayumi (Misato Morita), who seems like a femme fatale, and falls in love with her.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access

“HOKUSAI” | International Premiere | Japan | 2020 | Japanese with English subtitles | 129 min.

Director: Hajime Nakasone

As a young man, Hokusai Katsushika (Yuya Yagira) is an unpopular painter. He is conflicted over his work, but he decides to keep painting. Decades later, as an old man, Hokusai (Min Tanaka) still has a passion for painting and strives to improve his work.

Screening: Monday, Nov. 9, 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., Consolidated Ward | Tuesday, Nov. 17, 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., Consolidated ‘Ōlino

“MIDNIGHT SWAN” | North American Premiere | Japan | 2020 | Japanese with English subtitles | 124 min.

Director: Eiji Uchida

Nagisa (Tsuyoshi Kusanagi) is transgender. She grew up in Hiroshima as a man, but now lives in Shinjuku, Tōkyō, as a woman. Due to an incident, she begins to live with middle-school student Ichika (Misaki Hattori), a distant relative. Ichika has been neglected by her mother Saori (Asami Mizukawa). From living in solitude by herself, to now living with Ichika, Nagisa develops maternal instincts for the first time.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

“MRS. NOISY” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese with English subtitles | 107 min.

Director: Chihiro Amano

Novelist Maki Yoshioka (Yukiko Shinohara) has been stuck in a slump. One day, she gets into a disagreement with her neighbor Miwako Wakata (Yoko Ootaka) over a single futon. Maki gets harassed by Miwako increasingly as the days go on. She decides to write about “Mrs. Noisy” Miwako in a novel, but this turns out to produce unexpected consequences, when the small quarrel becomes a media sensation.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

“THE REAL THING” (Series Version) | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese with English subtitles | 240 min. (10-episode series, 24 min. per episode)

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Tsuji is a good man who tends to have casual relations with women in his workplace, because he feels bored with his uneventful life. One day, he saves the life of a mysterious woman, Ukiyo, who was about to die in a traffic crossing. Ukiyo is beautiful, but her troublesome nature causes lots of problems for other people, including Tsuji. Though he notices this about Ukiyo (whose name references the transitory or “Floating” world of Edo-era erotic art), he unwittingly gets involved with her and starts to develop a dangerous relationship with underworld figures. At the risk of losing his usual boring lifestyle, he is willing to save Ukiyo, but that leads him to an even worse situation.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

“TOUGE: THE LAST SAMURAI” | World Premiere | Japan | 2020 | Japanese with English subtitles | 114 min.

Director: Takashi Koizumi

A beautiful samurai film from Takashi Koizumi (assistant director to Akira Kurosawa in “Ran,” “Dreams” and “Rhapsody in August”) about a Tokugawa-era samurai who led his country to fight against the new regime with honor and dignity. The film may provide some answers to the questions, “What is a Samurai?” and “What can we learn from them?” in today’s modern era. In order to present the texture of late Edo/early Meiji period, the film was mostly shot in 35mm.

Screening: Friday, Nov. 6, 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Consolidated Ward | Monday, Nov. 16, 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., Consolidated Ōlino

“UNDER THE OPEN SKY” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2020 | Japanese with English subtitles | 126 min.

Director: Miwa Nishikawa

Japanese superstar Koji Yakusho stars as Mikami, a middle-aged ex-yakuza who has spent most of his adult life in prison. Released after serving a 13-year sentence for murder, Mikami hopes to find his long-lost mother, from whom he was separated as a child. He applies for a TV show and meets a young TV director Tsunoda (Taiga Nakano). Meanwhile, he also struggles to get a proper job and fit into society. His impulsive, adamant nature and ingrained beliefs cause friction in his relationship with Tsunoda and others who want to help him.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

“VOICES IN THE WIND” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2020 | Japanese with English subtitles | 139 min.

Director: Nobuhiro Suwa

In the town of Otsuchi on the northeast coast of Japan, there is a white telephone booth to which over 30,000 people from all over the country have traveled in order to “speak to” the loved ones they lost to the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake on a disconnected rotary phone. Taking inspiration from this “Wind Telephone” phenomenon, “Voices in the Wind” chronicles the journey of 17-year-old Haru (Serena Motola in a breakout role) — deeply grieving the loss of her brother and parents who were swept away in a tsunami on that tragic day — as she hitchhikes from her aunt’s house in Hiroshima through Tökyö and Fukushima on her way back to her hometown of Otsuchi. A tender and quietly devastating road-trip drama that finds Hiroshima-born director Nobuhiro Suwa returning to his home country to make a film for the first time in 18 years.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

“WOTAKOI: LOVE IS HARD FOR OTAKU” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Japan | 2019 | Japanese with English subtitles | 122 min.

Director: Yuichi Fukada

Narumi Momose (Mitsuki Takahata) is a 26-year-old office lady. When Narumi begins work at a new company, she meets her old childhood friend Hirotaka Nifuji (Kento Yamazaki). Though handsome and good at his job, Hirotaka is an otaku (a fanboy or fangirl obsessed with specific pop-culture content). Herself a fan of boys’ love manga, Narumi has hidden this secret from others — until she reveals her shönen ai interest to Hirotaka. After work, Narumi and Hirotaka talk about their otaku interests, leading Hirotaka to ask Narumi if they can date, saying it would be nice to be an otaku couple. They begin their relationship as boyfriend and girlfriend but face many hardships and difficulties.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

DOCUMENTARY

“SUMODO: THE SUCCESSORS OF SAMURAI” | International Premiere | Japan | 2020 | Japanese with English subtitles | 104 min.

Director: Eiji Sakata

The ancient and very secretive world of Japanese sumō wrestling is uncovered for the very first time!  The filmmakers emphasize the arduous journey in attaining one of the sport’s higher ranks, featuring the lives of two aspiring sumo wrestlers as they face many challenges. Director Eiji Sakata brings out their humanity, revealing these stellar athletes in their intense training and regimen, including all their fears, hopes and sometimes even joy. One source of joy is the always doting, but perhaps more resilient and diminutive, wives who support their hulking life partners.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

MADE IN HAWAI’I FEATURE

“STORY GAME” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Hawai‘i | 2020 | English, Japanese with English subtitles | 97 min.

Director: Jason Lau

On a camping trip in Hawai‘i, three students of the fine arts make a bet: who can tell the best supernatural story? But not just any ghost story. According to the rules of their “Story Game,” each tale must incorporate three items: a metaphysical piece, a character with green eyes and a location in Japan. Around the campfire, these three young campers try to outwit each other with ghostly tales. However, things take an eerie turn, as each competitor plays to win the “Story Game.”

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

Screening: Sunday, Nov. 15, 5 p.m. and 8 p.m., Consolidated ‘Ōlino

SHORTS PROGRAMS

“ATOMIC CAFÉ: THE NOISIEST CORNER IN J-TOWN” | Hawai‘i Premiere | United States | 2020 | English | 10 min.

Director: Akira Boch and Tad Nakamura

In the late 1970s, when Los Angeles’s punk rock scene was exploding, an unlikely family-owned restaurant in Little Tokyo, started by Japanese Americans returning from America’s World War II concentration camps, became one of its most popular hang-outs. That’s when sansei “Atomic Nancy” with her “take-no-prisoners” punk make-up and demeanor took the café over from her parents and cranked up the jukebox. Infamous for its eclectic clientele — from Japanese American locals and kids from East LA, to yakuza and the biggest rock stars of the day — the Atomic Café became an important part of U.S. punk rock history.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

“FINDING DOHI” | Hawai‘i | 2020 | English, Japanese with English subtitles | 25 min.

Director: Amber McClure

“Finding Dohi” follows the journey of a Japanese American woman, sansei Daphne Dohi, who wants to solve her family’s mystery of the letters written in Japanese which her mother had received decades earlier. Daphne’s story is documented by her daughter, Amber McClure, a yonsei filmmaker and genealogist from Kaua‘i. Over the years, Daphne investigates details about her Grandfather Dohi, who immigrated to the Hawaiian islands from a rural Japanese village in 1891. As the film traces Daphne’s journey from Hawai‘i to Japan, it reminds us that some family bonds cannot be broken no matter the time or distance.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

“KIPUKA — NEW BEGINNINGS” | World Premiere | Hawai‘i | 2020 | English, Japanese with English subtitles | 20 min.

Director: Ai Iwane

“KIPUKA — New Beginnings,” a documentary filmed entirely in Hawai‘i, is about five abandoned Japanese cemeteries in the islands and their grave keepers who share memories of immigrant communities. The story begins with the cemetery of Sentaro Ishii in Kipahulu, Maui, a quiet site where the first immigrant from Japan was buried. Through scenes of other Japanese gravesites, this film explores the Japanese view of life and death, tracing the awareness of human entities surviving amidst repeated loss and elimination.

Documenting one cemetery’s miraculous survival of a lava flow in Pāhoa, as well as a burial ground in a sugar-cane field (found at the time of the Hawai‘i Commercial & Sugar Company’s closure), the film earns its title of “KIPUKA” (kīpuka), the Hawaiian term for an oasis of vegetation surrounded by lava flow, a place where the seeds of new life spread. The images are connected with panoramic photos, as the director/photographer Ai Iwane also captured the sites with a 1930s classic rotating panoramic camera called the Kodak Cirkut.

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

“VR WORKPLACE” | Hawai‘i Premiere | Hawai‘i | 2019 | Japanese with English subtitles | 30 min.

Director: Yuki Takashima

Set in the near future, the game “VR Workplace,” where persons can virtually experience the ideal work environment, is gaining attraction. However, a bug within the game emerges in the form of a character named “Manager Iwaki.”

Available online: Nov. 5-29 | U.S.A.

Included passes: Supporter | All Access | Limited Access

Visit hiff.org for more information. HIFF’s key presenting sponsor is Halekulani Corporation, and major sponsors are Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, Hawaiian Airlines, Middle Management and Consolidated Theaters.

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