Special Guests

  Kirin Kiki
Mori, The Artist's Habitat, Still Walking
CUT ABOVE Award for Outstanding Performance in Film

Beloved actress Kirin Kiki began her film career working with established masters of Japanese cinema like Masahiro Shinoda (Ballad of Orin) and Seijun Suzuki (Pistol Opera). In the past decade, she has gained widespread acclaim for her endearing, often humorous maternal roles. She won the Japan Academy Prize twice, for Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad (2007) and Chronicle of My Mother (2012), as well as the Asia Pacific Screen Award for Naomi Kawase’s Sweet Bean (2015). Notably, Kiki has become a frequent collaborator of renowned auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda (After the Storm, Still Walking), whose Palme d’Or-winning Shoplifters (2018) marks her most recent starring role along with Shuichi Okita’s Mori, The Artist’s Habitat.

  Akio Fujimoto
Passage of Life

Born in Osaka, Japan, Fujimoto studied psychology before enrolling in the Visual Arts Academy, where he learned filmmaking. His first short, Psychedelic Family (2012), a semi-autobiographical drama, garnered stellar reviews. Passage of Life (2017) is his debut feature, and it won the Spirit of Asia Award and Best Asian Future Film Award at the 30th Tokyo International Film Festival. He is currently based in Yangon, Myanmar, where he is working and preparing his next project.

  Kazuo Hara
Sennan Asbestos Disaster

One of Japan’s foremost documentary filmmakers, Hara made a remarkable debut in 1972 with Goodbye CP after dropping out of university to work at a special education school. Focusing on outsiders and iconoclasts, he has generated international acclaim with landmark works such as Extreme Private Eros: Love Song 1974 (1974), The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987) and A Dedicated Life (1994). In 2005, Hara released his first fiction film, The Many Faces of Chika.

  Moët Hayami
KUSHINA, what will you be

Born in Shiga Prefecture, Hayami graduated from Ritsumeikan University’s visual department and Waseda University graduate school before beginning her filmmaking career through freelance work on independent films and commercials in multiple capacities, including production design, art direction and costume design. She was an assistant director on Takuro Nakamura’s West North West (JAPAN CUTS 2017). KUSHINA, what will you be is her first feature film as writer, director, art director, costume designer, and editor.

  Tomona Hirota
KUSHINA, what will you be, YEAH

Born in Tokyo, Hirota is an up-and-coming actress working in film, theatre and television. She appeared in Seijin Suzuki’s Princess Racoon (2004) and Koi Suru Madori (2007), directed by Akiko Ohku (Tremble All You Want, JAPAN CUTS 2018). She plays the memorable lead in Moët Hayami’s KUSHINA, what will you be and a supporting role in Yohei Suzuki’s YEAH (Experimental Spotlight).

  Eric Khoo
Ramen Shop

After graduating from the City Art Institute of Sydney, Khoo put Singapore on the film map with his first feature, Mee Pok Man (1995), which showed at more than 30 festivals worldwide. In 2008, his feature My Magic was nominated for the Cannes Palme d’Or. His first animated film, Tatsumi, made its North American premiere at MoMA in 2011. Khoo has also served as President of the Locarno Festival Jury and executive produced the 2016 Un Certain Regard title Apprentice.

  Kazuyuki Kitaki
Dream of Illumination

In 2012, Kitaki founded Magnetize, a company that produces and distributes films and offers management for actors and creators. Some key films he has been involved with through Magnetize are Our Family (2014) by Yuya Ishii, Rolling (2015) by Masanori Tominaga, Lost Serenade (2016) by Masato Ozawa and Ow (2014) by Yohei Suzuki, which screened in NYC as part of New Directors/New Films. His upcoming project is a Mongolian-French co-production, Under the Turquoise Sky.

  Sachiko Kobayashi
Sennan Asbestos Disaster

In 1971, after graduating from Niigata University, renowned filmmaker, screenwriter, and producer Kobayashi founded Shisso Productions with Kazuo Hara (Sennan Asbestos Disaster, The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On), whom she later married. Prior to Sennan Asbestos Disaster, Kobayashi collaborated with her husband on five films, including The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, which won the Caligari Film Award at Berlin International Film Festival and is widely considered one of the most important Japanese documentaries.

  Shunsuke Kubozuka

Born in Yokosuka, Japan, and a graduate of Keio University and Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in Los Angeles, Kubozuka got his breakout role in The Last Love Song on This Little Planet (2006), the live-action adaptation of the popular manga series by Shin Takahashi. He has since starred in numerous films and television shows, including contemporary master Takashi Miike’s crime thriller Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (2006) and The Total Number of 3000 Juvenile Delinquents (2012).

  Kaori Oda
Toward a Common Tenderness

Born in Osaka, Japan, Oda moved to Virginia to study film at Hollins University before directing her first short, Thus a Noise Speaks, which won the Audience Award at Nara International Film Festival. She then lived in Sarajevo for three years studying under renowned Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr. Her first feature, ARAGANE, premiered at Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival and screened at major festivals abroad such as Doclisboa and Mar del Plata IFF.

  Takumi Saitoh
blank 13, Ramen Shop

Born in Tokyo in 1981, Saitoh is a Japanese actor, model, and director. He is known for numerous television and film roles, including 13 Assassins (2010), Shin Godzilla (2016), The Kodai Family (2016) and Hirugao: Love Affairs in the Afternoon (2017), and remains a highly sought after and popular actor in Japan. A lifelong cinephile, Saitoh directed his first short film Sakurairo in 2012. blank 13 is his first feature length film as a director.

  Shinsuke Sato

Born in Hiroshima, Japan, director, animator, screenwriter, and video game designer Sato won the Grand Prix at the 1994 Pia International Film Festival for his 16mm short No Misbehavior in the Dorm while he was still in university. Since then, he has helmed box office hits like the two-part GANTZ (2010), I Am a Hero (2015) Death Note: Light Up the New World (2016), and Inuyashiki (2018), all based on popular manga series.

  Thunder Sawada
Dream of Illumination

After growing up in Aomori and graduating from college, Sawada held jobs working for a land shark, customer support, and freelance writing before beginning his career as a contemporary artist. In 2007, he received the Taro Okamoto Contemporary Art Award, and in 2012 completed his studies at the Graduate School of Film and New Media, Tokyo University of the Arts. He won the Isama Studio Film Festival Scenario Award in 2010 and 2015.

  Yohei Suzuki

Born in 1984 in Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan. Graduated from Tama Art University Faculty of Art and Communication Department of Moving Images and Performing Arts. His debut feature Ow (Maru) received the Best New Director Award at the Vancouver International Film Festival and screened at New Directors/New Films 2015, Viennale and International Film Festival Rotterdam. He is currently preparing his second feature ABOKKE.

  Yuya Takagawa
Dream of Illumination

Born in 1962 in Mie Prefecture. Takagawa is an actor, narrator and theatre director working in theatre, TV and film who began his acting career at Tatsuya Nakadai’s Mumeijuku acting school. He has appeared in films such as 13 Assassins (2010) by Takashi Miike and was recently in Rolling (2015) by Masanori Tominaga, Lost Serenade (2016) by Masato Ozawa and Alley Cat by Hideo Sasaki (JAPAN CUTS 2017), among others. He is the lead actor in Dream of Illumination.

  Hikaru Toda
Of Love & Law

Toda is an independent documentary filmmaker based in London and Osaka whose work focuses on marginalized communities. Her films have screened on BBC Storyville, NHK, and The Guardian and at major international film festivals like Hot Docs and Melbourne International Film Festival. Toda returned to Japan for the first time in over 22 years to make Of Love & Law, which is the first ever documentary to win Tokyo International Film Festival's Japanese Splash competition.

  Mizuki Toriya
How Can You Know Where to Go If You Do Not Know Where You Have Been

Born in Tokyo, Japan and raised in Singapore, Mizuki studied Film & Television at New York University. Her short film, How Can You Know Where to Go If You Do Not Know Where You Have Been won the Best Animation Short award at NYU’s Fusion Film Festival in 2018. Currently based in Tokyo, she also serves as Design Coordinator for Leadership and Action for Determined Youth (LADY), a leadership program for high school students in Japan.

  Yoko Yamanaka

Born in Nagano, Japan in 1997, Yamanaka began studying film at Nippon University, but soon became bored and dropped out after six months. Amiko is her first film, which she made within the first year of absence from university. After premiering at the 2017 Pia Film Festival and winning the Audience Award, Amiko was selected for the Berlin International Film Festival: Forum where 20-year-old Yamanaka was recognized as the youngest director ever included.

  Elisa Yanagi

Born in Kanagawa, Japan in 1990, actress and fashion model Yanagi has been professionally active in television dramas and advertisements from a young age. Her first film appearance was in Across a Gold Prairie (1999), directed by Isshin Inudo. She also appears in Nobuhiro Yamashita’s A Gentle Breeze in the Village (2007), Masanori Tominaga’s Rolling (2015) and the Hulu original drama Daisho (2016), among others.

  Keisuke Yoshida
Thicker Than Water

Since winning the Fantastic Off-Theater Competition Grand Prize at the 2006 Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival for Raw Summer, writer-director Yoshida has made a name for himself with genre-bending comedies. His Cafe Isobe premiered in the Narrative Feature Competition at the 2008 Hawaii International Film Festival, and his most recent film prior to Thicker Than Water, the comedy-thriller Himeanole (2016), was named the second-best Japanese film of the year by Taste of Cinema.

  Nao Yoshigai
Across the Water, Breathing House, Stories floating on the wind

Yoshigai first trained as a dancer before studying film at Tokyo University of the Arts, and her work is informed by an acute sense of physicality. Her experimental shorts have won awards at the Japan Media Arts Festival and the Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media’s Film Competition for Imaginary Film Music. In 2017, Ai Kadokawa Gallery presented the first solo exhibition of her work, centered around the theme of breath.

Calendar of Events

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