This February, the ICA will be hosting Once Upon a Time in Japan, a new season that looks at the country’s past from the perspective of contemporary Japanese filmmakers, both more established artists and emerging ones, and traversing a number of different genres.
Likely to attract plenty of interest is the new feature from the prolific Takashi Miike (best known here for hyper-violent Ichi The Killer and his terrifying cautionary tale, Audition), Ninja Kids!!!, a more family-friendly story about a boy’s madcap antics after enrolling at a prestigious Ninja Academy. Similarly light is Zero Focus, a Hitchcock-inspired post-war murder mystery in which a young newlywed’s life is turned upside down when her husband leaves for a business trip and never returns. And, of course, animated film, a format that Japanese cinema has truly revolutionised, is well represented in Mai Mai Miracle. Former assistant to Hayao Miyazaki, Sunao Katabuchi, captures a delicate vision of 1950s southern Japan, where a nine-year-old girl discovers a new form of time travel created by her own imaginings of the past.
Of a more serious bent is United Red Army. Clocking in at three hours long, Koji Wakamatsu’s film details how the radical political group fell into extremism and, ultimately, collapsed from within. But, for the most part, the films on display sidestep politics, with opening film Rebirth taking an intimate look at identity and reinvention. Sweeping last year’s Japanese Academy Awards, former J-pop singer Hiromi Nagasaku stars as a young woman who, after being kidnapped as a child, struggles to come to terms with her past after being returned to her birth parents. It’s an intriguing line-up, and a welcome reminder that Japanese cinema is much more than just anime and little ghost girls.
Once Upon a Time in Japan runs from 1-7 February, and tickets can be purchased on the ICA website.