16th Japanese Film Festival – Part 3

Well the festival has come to an end and overall, I was very impressed with this year’s movies. After a busy two weeks, I give you the short reviews for the final four movies I was lucky enough to see.

  1. Chronicle of my Mother


Based on the autobiographical novel by the late Japanese author Yasushi Inoue, this meandering but moving film tells the story of Kosaku, a successful author who was abandoned as a child by his mother to the care of his grandfather’s mistress. His ailing mother is descending into senility and the film charts her journey as well Kosaku’s filial devotion while being quite dictatorial with his own family, including the persistent grandchild Kotoko. It is she who is the catalyst for the son’s eventually understanding of his mother’s actions. While beautifully photographed, the story was happy to move along at its own pace which is slow to say the least. Nonetheless, it’s a lovely story and I am rating it


  1. Postcard


Just to prove that I do not know what I am talking about, I did not like this movie despite it winning a multitude of awards. Sadazo and Matsuyama are enlisted sailors on a cleaning crew in World War Two. Before being sent to the Philippines, Sadazo asks Matsuyama to return the postcard his wife sent him to her and let her know of his love for her. The movie then shifts to the wife, Tomoko, and her quite depressing tribulations in the countryside. I am not sure what it was that I did not like about this film but as soon as we moved to focus on Tomoko, I was getting depressed with her misfortunes and her passive acceptance of them. Suffice to say that Matsuyama returns the postcard, and after finding out that his own wife took off with his father, decides to stay with Tomoko and live a simple life in the hills. People with more talent than me award this film some great accolades so please check it out for yourself, but for me, I can only give it


  1. Bread of Happiness


After “Postcard”, I needed something uplifting and this film definitely fit the bill. Rie, the gorgeous Tomoyo Harada, and Sang, Yo Oizumi, have retired from bustling Tokyo to open a cafe in Lake Toya, Hokkaido to live a simpler and deeper life. Baking bread and brewing coffee with zen-like deliberation, these two messengers of compassion try to give their guests and customers some sense of peace while they are in their humble little cafe. The movie is basically broken up into three parts, each dealing with the different guests who frequent Cafe Mani. For those who believe that anything can be fixed with a sweetbread and strong coffee, you will love this movie. For those who can take it or leave it, but love a nice story of people caring for each other, please go and watch this movie. I left with a smile on my face and a warm, fuzzy feeling in my heart.


  1. A Terminal Trust


The penultimate film of the festival and the final one on my wish list, this movie was a constant, in your face film about euthanasia and its legal ramifications on the doctor involved. Reuniting the stars of “Shall We Dance?”, the film begins with Dr Orii (Tamiyo Kusakari) fronting up to the Prosecutors Office to answer questions before flashing back to her patient, Egi Shinzo (Koji Yakusho) who has chronic asthma. We see Dr Orii discover her lover betraying her as well as her becoming closer to Egi-san and finally coming to the point where she is willing to assist in his passing when there is no hope left.  The particular scene where that occurs is pretty harrowing and then the film shifts back to the prosecutor’s office where we see the Japanese justice system at its finest (firmly tongue on cheek). We were lucky enough to have a Q & A session with the Director, Masayuki Suo as well as his lead actress, Tamiyo Kusakuri after the film and they explained that the bullying behaviour we saw at the end by the Prosecutor is pretty standard in Japan. Unfortunately, there were only 5 questions allowed and despite having my hand up to ask a question, we ran out of time.



So that’s it, the end of the 16th Japanese Film Festival in Sydney. The films now make their way to Melbourne and the rest of the country. The highlights were probably “Bunny Drop” and “Crossroads” while the obvious disappointment was the continued technical difficulties surrounding “Dearest”. I should explain that despite “Bunny Drop” only scoring 7.5/10, it was such an enjoyable movie that it deserved to be listed as a highlight. To be honest, all the movies I saw were pretty good, even “Postcard” and “Key of Life” despite my reviews here.


16th Japanese Film Festival – Part 2

Well, friends. One of the problems when putting on a film festival (and I assume there would be many) must be the necessity of relying on the cinema for the delivery of your product. I left you in Part 1 of this article with me being unable to provide a review for “Dearest” because of technical difficulties. The JFF replied to my email advising me that they would be reshowing it again on Wednesday evening at 6pm.

Naturally, I got myself down there after leaving work early and joined the other people in the cinema before the doors closed. There were about 10 of us in there and we were all wondering why the staff would close the doors to the crowds that were still coming in. Here’s a tip for the new guys. If you see cinema staff talking quietly into walkie talkies while alternating between looking up at the projection room and then back to the screen, start to worry. Yes, as you’ve probably guessed by now, more technical difficulties. It seems the films were delivered in some special format that was incompatible with the machines in the theatre so an adaptor was needed. The connecting cable to this adaptor is what failed last Sunday and so a new cable was fitted prior to Wednesday night. You would think that this new cable was checked before calling your annoyed customers back to the theatre but it seems this simple act of common sense is beyond the ken of Event Cinemas on George St Sydney; yes I am looking at you guys!

Anyway, the Director of the Film Festival happened to be in the audience and was annoyed with the cinema staff’s incompetence as well as hugely apologetic to the audience. End result, we were given a refund as well as two free tickets to go with our free ticket given out on Sunday and we watched another movie instead:- “Key of Life”. “Dearest” is unlikely to come out to Australia with subtitles which is disappointing so I must score this as an epic FAIL by Event Cinemas. I doubt this multimillion dollar business would care however. Anyway, on to the review for “Key of Life”.

1.      Key of Life


Key of Life is a comedy in the bubbling loser genre and tells the story of Sakurai, a struggling actor who assumes the identity of Kondo who appears to be a ruthless and efficient hitman. The way in which they swap identities is quiet inventive and very Japanese. Despite it being a funny movie in parts, I could not really feel for any of the characters and ultimately, I left feeling very annoyed that I was not able to see the previously mentioned “Dearest”. I can only give the movie 6 1/2 out of 10.

16th Japanese Film Festival

Well it’s that time of year again, cinefiles! The 16th Japanese Film Festival in on again in Sydney and Melbourne and I hope that you have managed to catch some of the great films on offer this year. I have only managed to see two so far but with a week to go, you and I have plenty of opportunities to get down to your local moving pictures house and get your anime, J-Pop, tear jerker, J-crime, high school girly movie groove on and see some cracking stories brought to the big screen. Its not too late and the pricing is reasonable so here is the Sydney and Melbourne listings for you.



The below are not meant to be complete film reviews. I will leave that to another time but are merely a quick précis as well as my thoughts on the films

1.  Bunny Drop


Daikichi, a 27 year old bachelor, artfully played by Matsuyama Kenichi (Death Note) returns for his grandfather’s funeral to find that the old man had fathered a daughter, Rin, now six, and beautifully acted by Ashida Mana (Mother). The opening scenes, that include his arrival, the funeral and him deciding that he will look after the child after the more responsible adults make abundant excuses are heart-warming. A standard ‘biting off more than he can chew’ movie, it confirms from the get go why I would rather spend my money watching something that comes from somewhere other than Hollywood. Although the fantasy scenes which find Daikichi dancing with a women in a magazine left me cold, the scenes with Yukari, played by Karina (single word name), lent a more rendered and deeper nuance to the film, particularly in the second half. The school concert near the finale was beautifully done and confirmed Ashida Mana as a little gem.          7 ½/10

2.  Crossroads


Another cracking movie. Toru (Muira Tomokazu) has been an efficient, stoic and unemotional train driver for over forty years and when he is due for retirement in a month’s time, is looking forward to spending some time relaxing and travelling with his wife, Sawako, played with dignity by Yo Kimiko. She has other plans and wants to live her life now by working at a Palliative Care hospital and outpatients clinic. Showing us the undercurrents that swirl within that a marriage of that Japanese generation, we see a man who is finally relieved of the duty he took on himself many years ago and now wants to see the world with the love of his life, and a woman, who has been living a typical sacrificial life of a Japanese housewife and who now sees her chance to do more. Their love for each other is not strong enough a bulwark against his stubbornness and her determination and the movie concentrates on their lives apart as well as his gradual understanding. The two favourite scenes for me were his last day of duty, bringing tears to my eyes, and the quiet scene of him rediscovering his hobby from his youth. Impeccable film!       9/10

3.  Dearest


I am unable to review this movie as technical difficulties managed to stop it showing at the cinema. The Japanese Film Festival have announced that it will be shown again on Wednesday 21st November at 6.00pm. A review will follow at that time.

Rediscovering a Friend and Finding Yourself

This post is a little late because I have had a lot going on these last few weeks. But then, as this post will make clear, that’s a pattern that needs to be broken.

Those who know me will remember that I was once an officer in the Royal Australian Navy and was very proud to have served from 1994 through to mid 2001. I was what is now termed a Junior Warfare Officer but back then was the far more prosaic “Officer of the Watch”. There were many, many highlights which I will go into another time, and many great friends made, some of which I am still in contact with today and some who I lost contact with over time. This is pretty common within the Navy but equally it’s an organisation where you can bump into someone and just continue on with your friendship as if it was only a few weeks ago that you parted.

My wife and I were out for brunch at a cafe two weekends ago when I saw one of my old navy friends who I had not seen since we were in Pearl Harbor together in 1996. I could not believe it but he looked exactly the same. Still handsome and fit, damn him!! After a quick catch up, we both continued on with our breakfasts before my wife and I left, with the intention of catching up on his ship later that night for a Hawaiian Shirt theme party. (Sidenote: Having an Aloha Shirt in your wardrobe is almost compulsory for a Naval Officer. Fortunately, I happen to have four or five so was well covered for the evening. )

It turns out that other guys who I had lost contact with over time were also at this party and I felt like a right arsehole for losing touch with such great guys. Not deliberately, mind you. When you leave an organisation like the Navy, you need to quickly build a new life elsewhere and give 100% to your new career to catch up to your peers. I have managed to become a money market trader in one of Australia’s largest banks but my long lost friend has done even more. After returning to the military academy to get his degree, he decided to test himself to the fullest and became a Navy Clearance Diving Officer – seriously hard core. He then volunteers to go the Afghanistan to defuse bombs before returning home to seek new challenges like captaining an amphibious ship as well as other things. I am mightily impressed and glad that I can call him my friend.

The second part of the title of today’s post talks about finding yourself. I guess talking to my friend about his adventures since we last saw each other reminded me of the good times I had in the Navy and that I used to be a lot more than just a corporate drone, moving money here and there. It reminded me that life can pull you in different directions and that adventure can lie just over the next hill or around the next headland. But whatever way the wind blows you, it’s important to remember the things that brought you to where you are now – the people you met and respected along the way, the beliefs and values that were instilled in your way back when and that still guide you now, and most importantly, to hold on to those two things no matter where your course lies.

Thank you Chris for reminding me of that.

John Wayne and my Grandfather

I am a cinephile at heart and if I ever find myself with a free Sunday afternoon and a good movie on the television, it’s a done deal. I will even watch movies I have seen before just to enjoy them again. Recently we had The Bridge on the River Kwai  and this Sunday just gone had a classic film – Hatari!, the 1962 gem about a group of eclectic expatriates collecting big game animals for the world’s zoos in Ngorongoro crater in what was then Tanganyika. It stars my absolute favourite actor, John Wayne and the talented ensemble of Hardy Kruger, Red Buttons, Elsa Martinelli, Gerard Blain, Michele Giradon, Bruce Cabot and Valentin de Vargas as well as the beautiful animals. The lodge where it was filmed is still there, named Hatari Lodge naturally and I would love to stay there one day.


There is something very nostalgic about watching these old movies. You can recognise that they are not as politically aware or nuanced as we have come to see in today’s efforts but on the other hand, there is more time spent on telling a good story rather than special effects. I have been trying to figure out why I have such a strong reaction to these sorts of movies generally and more specifically why I cannot walk away if a classic John Wayne movie is on. I think it has to do with my grandfather.

My maternal grandfather was a giant of a man, metaphorically and literally. Standing well over 6’ even in old age, he had lived a full life; working in smallgoods in Newcastle, serving in a senior position in the Freemasons, riding speedway motorcycles, marrying my grandma and then retiring to living on the shores of Lake Macquarie on a huge property in a large white house with a colonnade that belonged on a plantation in the South rather than on a lake in Australia.

My childhood memories of him are composed mostly of him sitting in his orange chair in the kitchen, the sweeping view down the lawn to the lake’s edge behind him, while he watches one of these classic movies on his small white rotary dial television. The house contained many art deco and 1960’s antiques as well as a family bible that looked 200 years old. All these were removed from the house by my uncle when my grandfather passed away and never seen again. Nice guy!! But I digress.

Since my grandma passed away when I was very young, my pop had this big old house and property all to himself so took it upon himself to run a regular happy hour where the neighbours were welcome, in fact, expected to come over and help him polish off various bottles of alcoholic beverages, including his infamous choko wine. Yes, you read that correctly, homemade choko wine, but in some parts of the world, its better known by its industrial name, reactor vessel coolant liquid. That stuff was deadly and if not radioactive, was certifiably explosive as I can attest to. It’s probably why he switches to beer in his later years.

Apart from watching these old classics, another thing that solidifies my association of my pop with John Wayne and his era is the travelling my pop did. He visited Hong Kong, Singapore, Papua New Guinea and Las Vegas in his time and back then these places seemed exotic and a million miles away so you could only see them in the movies or in magazines. He did this travelling back when it was expensive and rare, and when I picture him in my mind, with his cane, cap and old style airline bag knocking back a cooling beer while watching the world go by, I cannot help but imagine him happy to be living life but missing his darling Margaret dearly.

He also loved a good western and when I would go exploring through his cupboards and wardrobes, as curious boys are want to do, I would come across thick dusty paperbacks with gunslingers on the covers. Surely John Wayne is the stereotypical cowboy? And my pop revered him and his type as much as me it seems.

Now that my grandfather has passed away and the mementos and knick-knacks of his travels have disappeared with my uncle, I am only left with my memories and the feelings I get when I sit down on a warm Sunday afternoon and settle in to watch the Duke in Technicolour lassoing a rhino in the Tanzanian savannah.