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Anna’s Must-See Japanese Films at HIFF 2012!

Love Japanese movies as much as I do? Overwhelmed with the 20 amazing Japanese film selections at this year’s festival? Don’t stress! If you don’t have time to see them all, check out my list of must-see gems and personal favorites!

You may have noticed that 7 of the 20 Japanese films this year are animated. Just to make things easier I will address these in a later blog post. For now, here are my top three from the narrative features, including the basics for each film, and why they mustn’t be missed!



Director: Kenji Uchida

  • Saturday, October 13 at 4:45PM
  • Wednesday, October 17 at 5:00PM
  • Friday, October 19 at 5:45PM

The Basics: Identity theft takes on a whole new meaning in Uchida’s brilliant tale, KEY OF LIFE. When down-and-out actor Sakurai decides to give up on life, he gets an unexpected opportunity to assume someone else’s. When he runs into a wealthy businessman at a bathhouse suffering from a major head trauma, he decides to steal his belongings and his identity. However, the drama that unfolds as both men walk a mile in each others’ shoes turns into an unpredictable and hilarious life lesson. And yes, there are yakuza as well.

Must-see Factor: KEY OF LIFE has been a darling of the international festival circuit playing to rave reviews across the globe from Shanghai to Toronto, if you see this film for no other reason, come to see what the buzz is all about!  In addition, up-and-coming director Kenji Uchida (A STRANGER OF MINE, AFTER SCHOOL) truly has a knack for all things screwball and hilarious. Fans of Japanese comedy will love this film, prepare to laugh out loud!


Director: Hadeki Takeuchi

  • Saturday, October 13 at 9:00PM
  • Monday, October 15 at 9:15PM

The Basics: Based on the popular manga of the same name, THERMAE ROMAE is a rollicking, romping, time traveling Roman bathhouse fantasy. Featuring a Japanese cast and set in ancient Rome, THERMAE ROMAE tells the tale of thermae architect Lucius (Hiroshi Abe), who is extremely disgruntled with the state of Roman thermae.  One day after losing his job, Lucius unwittingly discovers a time travel portal inside a bathhouse. Traveling through the portal, he arrives in present day Japan, and is stunned and amazed by what he sees. Bringing modern Japanese technology back to Rome he is hailed as a genius, but his wild ideas might prove to be too much for his ancient culture…

Must-see Factor: Yes, you read that correctly: time traveling Roman bathhouse fantasy! What more could you ask for? And though this sounds quite bizarre, director Takeuchi manages to pull off this pitch perfect plot combination with hilarious results. This is the number one box office Japanese hit of the year, breaking attendance records across Japan and receiving unprecedented critical acclaim. Come see what the fuss is all about! And if that’s not enough incentive, come to see hunk Hiroshi Abe in only his bathhouse attire ;)



Director: Shuichi Okita

  • Sunday, October 14 at 7:30PM
  • Tuesday, October 16 at 9:15PM

The Basics:Featuring Japanese leading man Kôji Yakusho in the starring role, THE WOODSMAN AND THE RAIN is a movie about, well making movies. When stalwart lumberjack Katsu (Yakusho) happens upon a zombie film production in the woods, he is not sure what to make of the situation. Yet as the days go by he begrudgingly becomes involved in both the film production and the life of its’ seemingly withdrawn director Koichi. As Katsu and Koichi develop an unlikely friendship, they both become transformed in the process.  While at the same time the film production soon becomes a small town affair.

Must-see Factor: If you see one Japanese film this Fall, this is the one! Starring Yakusho in one of the best performances of his career, THE WOODSMAN AND THE RAIN brings together the perfect balance of heartwarming drama, lighthearted comedy, and uplifting spirit. This film has solidified director Okita as an important and exciting new talent to watch. AND, Kôji Yakusho himself will be making a special guest appearance at the first screening!!

There are 2 comments .

Hi Rez

Awesome Pick. I really love Thermae Romae, went to a sneak peek about two weeks ago @Dole and Enjoyed it. Very Funny Movie. Love Hiroshi Abe and of course Ueto Aya who did an Excellent Job also the Leading Lady of the Film. Gonna see it again on both shows. Hope to see you all there.

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