Reviews // Toronto Japanese Film Festival

Fueled: The Man They Called “Pirate”

The Toronto Japanese Film Festival is in full swing, bringing over 20 films in a variety of genres to audiences in the city. Evan Arppe checked out a trio of films on offer at the festival this year:

Her Love Boils Bathwater

A heart-wrenching melodrama, Ryôta Nakano’s Her Love Boils Bathwater is a beautiful piece of filmmaking about a steadfast matriarch desperate to keep her fractured family together despite a shocking cancer diagnosis. Rie Miyazawa delivers a powerhouse performance in the lead role as Futaba, a mother diagnosed with pancreatic cancer who’s wayward husband Kazuhiro (Joe Odagiri) returns after a yearlong absence with a new daughter in tow. Already looking after her bullied teenage daughter Azumi (Hana Sugisaki), Futaba takes in the new child as her own and sets to work rebuilding the family bathhouse. A story of perseverance (or gaman in Japan), the film is by no means an easy watch – especially since so much of the screen time is spent making us love Futaba all the while knowing of her terminal illness – but rewards the patient viewer with enough twists and turns to make all the tears worth it. It’s a rare film that can craft a character as real and complex as the fearsome Futaba, who faces problems head on, has no patience for weakness, and yet teaches all around her the power of kindness. For this reason alone Her Love Boils Bathwater is worth experiencing…just make sure you bring the tissues.

Fueled: The Man They Called “Pirate”

Fueled: The Man They Called “Pirate”

Takashi Yamazaki’s Fueled: The Man They Called “Pirate” tells the story of an enterprising Japanese business man named Tetsuzo Kunioka, who steers his oil company through the turbulent years of World War II, making it one of Japan’s only nationally owned oil importers. Based on real life businessman Sazō Idemitsu – founder of the company Idemitsu Kosan – Kunioka is a tireless worker who begins his career delivering cheap fuel to fishing boats, earning a reputation as a “pirate” by the greedy bosses of Japan’s big oil companies. Through wit and savvy Kunioka expands his company, constantly overcoming the seemingly impossible obstructions set by his competitors. It’s a feel good story told on a broad scale, and the production design is to be admired, however the film suffers under it’s two-dimensional characters. Kunioka and his compatriots are portrayed as virtuous embodiments of Japanese work ethic and honour, while his competitors are snarling capitalists motivated only by greed and spite. Though the story of Japan’s industrial rise from the ashes of World War II is a fascinating subject, there is a certain tone-deafness in making a flag-waving film about the glory of fossil fuels in this day and age. The scope and ambition are something to be praised, but this gas guzzler largely backfires.

In This Corner of the World

Suzu is an innocent young girl growing up in the Japanese countryside who spends her days drawing and working for her grandmother’s seaweed business. However adult life descends upon her quickly in Sunao Katabuchi’s beautifully animated In This Corner of the World. Suzu is proposed to by a navy clerk and moves to Kure, an important Japanese sea port just down the road from Hiroshima City. The realities of World War II and the Pacific theatre quickly begin to take their toll, as Suzu and the other housewives struggle with food rationing and daily bombings. At times funny, tragic, and heartwarming, Katabuchi’s film captures the myriad experiences of a young girl who’s life is turned upside down by the cruelty of war, and who struggles to maintain her sense of humour and wonder amidst suffering and loss. Captivating watercolour backdrops and historically accurate depictions of Kure and the battleships that were moored there make this film a delight to behold. The high-jinx and misadventures of Suzu are delivered with aching humanity and love, especially when juxtaposed with the shocking scenes of loss in the latter half of the film. A stirring look at the beauty of life even amidst the ugliest creations of man, In This Corner of the World is a film not to be missed.

The Toronto Japanese Film Festival takes place at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre (6 Garamond Court in Toronto) and runs from June 8 – 22. Tune into The Watchlist on June 16th for a special ninja demonstration and more from the Toronto Japanese Film Festival.