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Must-See J-Picks at HIFF 2011!

So as some of you may have noticed there are 22 feature-length Japanese films at HIFF 2011! With such a huge selection, and limited time you mast be asking yourself how can I ever decide what to watch!

Between the Spotlight on Japan section, and a slew of other Japanese films placed throughout the different film sections, there is truly something for everyone. There are the kid-friendly RYUJIN MABUYER, NINJA KIDS!!!, and A LETTER TO MOMO, family dramas KAASAN: MOM’S LIFE, CHRONICLE OF MY MOTHER, and WIFE OF GEGEGE NYOUBOU, and strange-wonderful-extreme fare such as MILOCRORZE: A LOVE STORY, SMUGGLER, and THE WARPED FOREST. This is not to mention all the anime…..phew!

So to help a little with your decision making, here is a list of five of my personal J-Favs at HIFF 2011….


My primary reason for making this making my list? Two words: Katsuhito Ishii. Director Ishii is a longtime favorite of mine, and of HIFF filmgoers. His film TASTE OF TEA (HIFF 2005) won the HIFF Audience Award and is one of my favorite Japanese films of all time. And SMUGGLER brings back some of the early pulp fiction punk style that put Ishii on the map with SHARKSKIN MAN PEACH HIP GIRL (HIFF 1998), offering a full-throttle, eye-popping ride through a world of yakuza, thieves, hustlers, and the just plain unlucky. Despite containing a bit of the old ultra-violence, the film’s manga-esque feel complete with characters that range from absurd to ridiculous, makes for a more light-hearted and hilarious, blood-splattered tale. And to top it all off, the film also features an all-star cast of some of Japan’s hottest young actors. 

Director: Katsuhito Ishii

Wednesday, October 19th / 9:30 PM / DOLE

Saturday, October 22nd / 5:45 PM / DOLE



I have a serious soft spot for any touching Japanese family drama, and this one has become one of my all time favs. Masato Harada paints a beautiful portrait of a family tackling one of life’s challenges, an aging parent. Set in 1960’s Japan, CHRONICLES OF MY MOTHER depicts not only the spirit of love, and loyalty in the face of difficulty, but also captures a unique time and place in Japanese history. This film will make you smile, laugh, and maybe even shed a tear. Koji Yakusho gives one of the best performances of his lifetime, and the character of his mother is portrayed with heart-wrenching beauty. Masato Harada has followed in the footsteps paved by the great Ozu, and the result is amazing. Great film, must-see, period.

Director: Masato Harada

Saturday, October 22nd / 9:00 PM / DOLE

Sunday, October 23rd / 12:00 PM / DOLE



My favorite anime of the festival! A LETTER TO MOMO is a truly delightful film, and is perfect for all ages. Okiura manages to weave together reality and fantasy in perfect harmony. And if the characters and storyline don’t catch your interest, maybe the old-school beautiful hand-drawn animation will. Seven years in the making, this is a true labor of love that has really paid off. This anime tackles some very tough topics, such as loss and grief, but will leave you feeling uplifted and inspired as you leave the theater. There are some very exciting action anime this year at the festival, but take a break from all the adventure, and check out A LETTER TO MOMO!

Director: Hiroyuki Okiura

Sunday, October 16th / 11:30 AM / DOLE

Monday, October 17th / 5:30 PM / DOLE



I must admit I am a huge fan of indie Japanese cinema, and when it includes indie Japanese rock, I’m in! But don’t be fooled, this isn’t your typical rock band biopic. By carefully splicing the story of one indie band with the stories of their many fans, this becomes a portrait the influence of music in the lives of its listeners, die-hard fans, and even second-hand passers-by. I still don’t know if the band featured in the film are a real-life indie group, but I want their album already! This is definitely the indie-upstart gem of the Japanese selection this year. Funny, dramatic, cute, and moving; this is the film to elevate your spirits and your senses at HIFF 2011!

Director: Yu Irie

Friday, October 21st / 9:30 PM / DOLE

Sunday, October 23rd / 5:45 PM / DOLE



OMG, I’ve been waiting for Shunichiro Miki to come out with a feature film ever since I was dazzled by FUNKY FOREST at HIFF 2005! So for those that know me well, they know that bizarre is right up my alley, and THE WARPED FOREST takes bizarre to a whole new level. If you loved FUNKY FOREST, and films such as SYMBOL (HIFF 2009), then this is the film you’ve been waiting for. This is one of those films where you just have to sit back and enjoy the ride. If you like linear plotlines, logic, and such, you may be a little disappointed here. But if you are feeling adventurous, looking for something truly hilarious, and have an active imagination THE WARPED FOREST is your must-see of the year!

Director: Shunichiro Miki

Saturday, October 15th / 9:45 PM / DOLE

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