Japan Cuts 2012 Guests

2012 JAPAN CUTS' Guest of Honor
Koji Yakusho (The Woodsman and the Rain)
Koji Yakusho, Japan's leading acting man, born January 1, 1956 in Isahaya City, Nagasaki Prefecture, became a highly acclaimed star in 1983 while playing the role of Oda Nobunaga in NHK's drama Tokugawa Ieyasu. Yet it was originally Maxim Gorky's The Lower Depths that stimulated Yakusho's theatrical "obsession." Yakusho's first big breakthrough came in 1978 when 60s actor and icon Tatsuya Nakadai selected him and three others out of 800 applicants to study at the Mumei-juku ("Studio for Unknown Performers"). In reference to his experience as a civil servant, Nakadai gave him the stage name "Yakusho," which means either "municipal office" or "acting versatility." In 1986, he played the nameless "Man in the White Suit," who gleefully transgresses all social norms in some of the most memorable scenes of Juzo Itami's Tampopo (1985). Yakusho's passionate acting earned him much praise, and in 1998 he received a special award from the Japan Minister of Education, Science, Sports and Culture extolling his phenomenal contribution to Japanese culture.

In the mid-1990s, Yakusho's rise to superstardom seemed irresistible. Masayuki Suo's Shall We Dance? (1996), an instant classic, spurred a Japan-wide fascination with dance. The following year, The Eel won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival and Yoshimitsu Morita's erotic drama A Lost Paradise was the second largest-grossing film at the Japanese box office. With the cult favorite Cure (1997), directed by celebrated auteur Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Yakusho went on to play a cop pushed to the edge of the abyss by his search for a string of seemingly unconnected murders. Several collaborations with Kurosawa followed, to international acclaim (License to Live, Charisma). His performance in Shohei Imamura's Warm Water Under the Red Bridge earned him the award for Best Actor at the Chicago International Film Festival in 2001.

After featuring in Rob Marshall's Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) and Alejandro Iñárritu's Babel (2006), Yakusho gained international recognition and a new wave of international admirers. In addition to acting, he made his debut behind the camera with Toad's Oil in 2009.

In June 2012, Yakusho received the Medal with Purple Ribbon from the Emperor of Japan for "outstanding achievement in the creative field." He is the Guest of Honor of this year's JAPAN CUTS. We will be paying tribute to his impressive body of work with a special focus on his acting career, premiering, among other things, his latest feature films The Woodsman and the Rain and Chronicle of My Mother as well as 2010 samurai hit 13 Assassins during the festival, and presenting him with the first JAPAN CUTS prize ever, the CUT ABOVE award for excellence in film.

 Masami Nagasawa (Love Strikes!)
More than any other country, actors in Japan are often associated with a single studio, so it makes a crazy kind of sense that one of Japan’s oldest and most respected studios is linked with the career of one of Japan’s youngest and most popular actresses. Nagasawa’s career kicked off in 2000 when she auditioned for the Toho Studios Cinderella Contest, beating out 35,153 contestants to take the top prize. Only 12 years old, she was the youngest winner in the contest’s history. Her first movie was the Shusuke Kaneko pyrokinesis film, Crossfire, but she really entered the public consciousness when she did a Nabisco ad, becoming widely known as “That Pretty Girl from the Nabisco Commercial.” Her first leading film role was as a girl who participates in a national robotics contest for high school students, Robokon, for which she won “Best Newcomer” at the Japanese Academy Awards.

Not long after, she started appearing in Toho’s flagship series, the Godzilla films. Not only did she play in Godzilla: Tokyo SOS she also sang “The Song of Mothra” on the movie’s soundtrack album, and she appeared in Ryuhei Kitamura’s epic kaiju hoedown, Godzilla: Final Wars. But it was the massively successful teen romance, Crying Out Love in the Center of the World, that cemented her position as a serious actress, and she has gone on afterwards to become a major star in both films and TV dramas. For three straight years (2005 – 2007) she was the cover girl of the Toho calendar, a public acknowledgement by Toho that she is one of its most valuable stars. Which isn’t surprsing, seeing that she was voted “Most Popular Actress” in 2006’s Oricon magazine poll, and was ranked 9th on a list of the Most Influential People in Japan (she is the only woman to appear on the list).

Toshi Fujiwara (No Man's Zone)
Toshi Fujiwara has taken it upon himself to display for the world the complex psychological devastation suffered by Fukushima and its inhabitants in his newest documentary No Man's Zone. His purpose is to provide viewers with the quintessential portrait of destruction by basing the substance of the film on first-hand accounts and panoramic images of the aftermath. Unlike many other grievous occurrences, the complications surrounding the Fukushima nuclear disasters have been quickly captured, and Fujiwara's ingenuity has ensured that generations to come will have access to experience the plight for themselves.

Although born in Yokohama, Fujiwara received much of his education and life experience in Tokyo, Paris and Los Angeles. He received a bachelor of arts degree from University of Southern California's school of Cinema-TV(1992-93), followed by both a Bachelor's and MA degrees from Waseda University (1995, 1999). He began writing film criticism in 1995, and by 2002 had directed his first feature-length documentary, Independence: Around the Film "Kedma" a Film by Amos Gitai

Over the years Fujiwara has dedicated himself to shooting shorts, documentaries and experimental films, all tending to defy social norms and perspectives. His favorite movies include Geatoruzu (Carl Theodore Dreier), Cheyenne (John Ford), M (Fritz Lang) and Trip to Italy (Roberto Rossellini). He also loves listening to Craft, Bob Dylan and Bach.

Yu Irie (Roadside Fugitive: SR 3)
Film director, screenwriter, independent film maker and hip-hop enthusiast Yu Irie will be introducing his newest feature film, Roadside Fugitive. Born in Yokohama on November 25, 1979, Irie grew up in Fukaya, Saitama Prefecture. As an 18-year-old, he spent his days and nights immersed in film. Once Irie turned 19, he enrolled into a local university's filmmaking program and began to direct and produce his first films. His affinity for American hip-hop has served as one of the greatest influences of his life and most of his recent work. It was rap star Eminem's 8 Mile (2002) which inspired Irie to pursue the few films that have been released since Irie's initial project of 8000 Miles (2009). Although his favorite rappers are comprised of mostly American artists such as Run DMC, Beastie Boys and Tupac, he does very much enjoy Japanese rap and wishes that his films will help to inspire a new generation of lyricists. His films Obsession and Seven Drives were his first prize winners, receiving high acclaim in the Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival's Off Theater Competition section two years in a row.

Kenji Kohashi (DON'T STOP!)
Born August 19, 1979, Kenji Kohashi has been in the limelight since he was eight years old. A life spent mostly in front of the camera led him to leave the realms of superstardom in 2007 in order to pursue the happiness inherent in the expansion of one's breadth of expertise. Thus, the versatility of Kohashi's vision arises from the multifaceted range of his life's experiences. Of course Kohashi has appeared on countless television, film and theatrical stages since his early youth, but after spending his last few years in America, the nature of his focus has shifted, and much of his time now is spent in DJ'ing, event production and directing. Today he may be spotted frequenting Tokyo's vintage clothing stores, traveling around the world and/or promoting his own fashion brand, "Soareak."

Nevertheless, the latent talents that were seen to have emerged after shooting a few fashion promotion videos have allowed Kohashi to discover a new passion for directing, and thus over the past year he has embarked on his newest project, DON'T STOP!

 Hisako Matsui (Leonie)

Born in Tokyo in 1946, Hisako Matsui graduated in drama from Waseda University and began her career as a writer and editor at several popular magazines. In 1979 she established an actors' agency, and a decade later she created her own production company, Essen Communications, for which she produced numerous TV dramas and documentaries. She made her directorial debut in 1998 with Yukie, which earned several prizes at festivals in Japan. In 2002, her film Oriume, which Matsui herself directed, wrote and produced, received high acclaim and was screened in over 1,300 locations and viewed by over one million people.

Matsui found inspiration in Leonie's life story seven years ago when she read Masayo Duus' The Life of Isamu Noguchi. Determined to share the tale of this extraordinary woman with the world, Matsui spent several years working through 14 drafts of the screenplay. The resulting film, shot on location all across Japan and the U.S., brought together an impressive, international ensemble of talented filmmakers.

Naoko Ogigami
Naoko Ogigami, born 1972 in Chiba, is the master brain behind feature films Glasses, Toilet and this year's Rent-a-Cat. In 1994 after graduating from Chiba University's Image Science program, Ogigami embarked for the U.S. to study at the University of Southern California's prestigious film program. While studying at USC she "worked as an assistant for TV commercials, promotional videos and films, and also created short films of her own."(Imdb) In 2000, Ogigami returned to Japan, and in 2003 launched her first feature film, Yoshino's Barber Shop.

Nevertheless, Ogigami gained recognition as a noteworthy director with Kamome Diner (2006), which she filmed in Helsinki. She followed a similar trend with Toilet (2010) by filming in Toronto, and says that she would love to shoot her next overseas film in Africa.

Ogigami finds that, "These days, things are much more global and the world is becoming borderless, so it's possible to see films from countries all over the world. As an independent Japanese filmmaker I wanted to participate in the making of a work like those in the 90s, where the director could be more freely original and creative and the rules were less defined." (TimeOutTokyo)

Toshiaki Toyoda (Monsters Club)
Toshiaki Toyoda is the kind of directorial talent who comes along rarely (Shinya Tsukamoto and Atom Egoyan come to mind as comparisons) and his refusal to water down his works or make concessions to mainstream tastes is frustrating, inspiring and very brave. Born in 1969 in Osaka, Toyoda burst onto the filmmaking scene in 1998 with Porno Star (U.S. title: Tokyo Rampage), a riveting and violent tale about a young, disturbed man who begins killing yakuza. Following up with the boxing documentary, Unchain, and the manga-inspired high school story Blue Spring (which launched the career of popular actor Ryuhei Matsuda, transforming him into a major star), he soon became a major film festival favorite with 2003′s 9 Souls and the 2005 masterpiece Hanging Garden, a movie that many felt was a superior predecessor to Kiyoshi Kurosawa's arthouse-friendly Tokyo Sonata. Toyoda seemed well on the path to become an internationally-recognized filmmaker, but following an August 2005 arrest for possession of stimulants, he was effectively blacklisted from the filmmaking scene for nearly four years. In a society like Japan, where drug use is universally condemned, that would be enough to end most careers, but he refused to hide in shame, owned up to his mistakes, and kept making movies. The Blood of Rebirth (NYAFF 2010) marked his triumphant return to the screen, shot in almost in total secrecy in only 10 days and clearly an artistic statement about losing his freedom. In his latest film, Monsters Club, he examines the place he finds himself: stuck between hating the graveyard we've made of our planet, but unable to survive alone. 

JAPAN CUTS is co-presented with the New York Asian Film Festival.

This series is funded by a grant from The Japan Foundation.

Additional support is provided by UNIQLO and Sapporo U.S.A., Inc.


Sony SRW-5800 HDCAM-SR Studio VTR is provided courtesy of Sony Electronics Inc.

Additional funding is provided by The Globus Family.

Transportation is generously supported by Japan Airlines, the exclusive Japanese Airlines sponsor of Film Programs at Japan Society.

Additional transportation is generously supported by United Airlines.

Hotel accommodations are provided by The Kitano New York.

Media sponsorship is provided by WNYC.

Japan Society's 2012-2013 Film Programs are generously supported by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Endowment Fund.

Additional season support is provided by The Globus Family, Kenneth A. Cowin, David S. Howe, Omar Al-Farisi, Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Catanzaro, Laurel Gonsalves, Dr. Tatsuji Namba, and Randall I. Stempler.

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