We’re not going to lie. We’ve been visiting and revisiting our Japan vacation photos circa precorona and we sometimes cope by wolfing down a bowl of kitsune udon while watching Japan 4K videos on YouTube.
While there’s nothing we want more than to slurp noodles swimming in a rich tonkotsu broth on a cold February night in Tokyo, we’ll have to find ingenious ways to fill that void in our hearts as the pandemic continues to rage and travel restrictions remain in place.
This February, we found one (or 20 ways) to tide us over for the month—and it’s free.
Japan Foundation’s Japanese Film Festival (JFF) Online 2022 is back on its second year, and it has all the trappings of a perfect trip to Japan: ramen, sumo wrestlers and samurai warriors, a theme park, a peek into the maid cafe and some anime.
A total of 20 films and docus will be streamed on JFF Plus: Online Festival’s website (watch.jff.jpf.go.jp) until Feb. 27. It’s a healthy mix of drama, period pieces and funny movies. There’s also a thriller, a classic Japanese film and two animated features that can inspire and entertain audiences from their homes.
“Scenic beauty across the seasons, visually stunning and vividly colorful Japanese food, the changing of society from traditional to modern and fantastic worlds which transcend space and time … our hope is that by experiencing these various worlds within Japan, viewers will feel refreshed, and whether this festival gives many people or even just one person the dream to one day visit Japan, then I will be very happy,” JFF producer Masafumi Konomi said in a message to the audience.
Here’s a guide to some of the exciting films at JFF:
1. ‘The God of Ramen’ (2013)—We highly advise bringing quality ramen while watching this docu about Kazuo Yamagishi and his famed ramen shop called Daishoken. Yamagishi’s ramen shop in Ikebukuro was open to diners and even apprentices who wanted to learn the perfect bowl of ramen. This 90-minute film, directed by Takashi Innami, spans 10 years and covers Yamagishi’s passion for ramen and his unwavering dedication to his wife.
2. ‘Ito’ (2021)—Curious about Japan’s maid cafes? “Ito” gives a little sneak peek of the uniquely Japanese experience while exploring the traditional shamisen (Japanese lute) music. One of Japan’s promising filmmakers, Satoko Yokohama, directed the coming-of-age film that was based on the novel of the same title. Interestingly, lead actor Ren Komai also comes from Aomori prefecture, where the movie’s protagonist lives.
3. ‘Rashomon’ (1950)—For those who have not seen this highly acclaimed whodunit, this may be your chance. JFF is making Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece free and accessible throughout the festival and it’s definitely on our must-watch (or rewatch) list.
4. ‘Under the Open Sky’ (2020)—Variety hailed Koji Yakusho’s portrayal of the flawed hero, Masao Mikami, as his best performance yet. In this 2020 drama, award-winning director Miwa Nishikawa takes her audience into a society that discriminates against someone who made mistakes in the past—even if that someone is struggling to live an honest life.
5. ‘ReLIFE’ (2017)—Arata, 27 and unemployed, is given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—to relive high school for one year so he can redo his current circumstances. Upon Arata’s (Taishi Nakagawa of “Boys Over Flowers” Season 2) return to high school, he unexpectedly forges a strong bond with his classmates and falls in love with a shy girl. “ReLIFE” is based on the Japanese romantic drama manga of the same title by Yayoiso.
6. ‘Her Love Boils Bathwater’ (2016)—A terminally ill single mother (played by Rie Miyazawa) is determined to fix her family’s problems before she kicks the bucket. The comedy/drama directed by Ryota Nakano offers another curious aspect of Japanese culture—the public bath house. “It’s a strange aspect of Japanese culture—getting into a big bath with strangers, who strike up conversations with each other,” Nakano told The Hollywood Reporter in a previous interview. The 2016 film garnered dozens of awards and was selected as Japan’s entry in the 90th Academy Awards.
7. ‘Happy Flight’ (2008)—JFF producer Konomi said that organizers hope that viewers will find a sense of relief and a positive outlook in the films of this year’s festival. That may be the reason why they picked the oldie but goodie funny film, “Happy Flight.” Here, pilots, cabin crew, ground staff, mechanics, bird patrol crew, controllers and dispatchers working on one single flight—Tokyo to Honolulu. With their collective effort, the flight takes off. But that doesn’t mean that the flight will be turbulence-free. Feel-good master Shinobu Yaguchi directed the film while Seiichi Tanabe leads the ensemble cast.
8. ‘Patema Inverted’ (2013)—What’s a Japanese film fest without an animated feature? “Patema Inverted” is one of the two anime in this year’s JFF. Writer/director Yasuhiro Yoshiura created two worlds with opposite gravitational forces. Patema falls into a hole of a base camp and almost drops into the sky, but she is saved by clinging to Age, a boy aboveground. Together, they travel between both worlds, their survival depending on each other’s support. The hour-and-a-half film was shown all over the world, from the 2013 Abu Dhabi FilmFestival, to the 2014 Göteborg International Film Festival and the 2014 New York International Children’s Film Festival.
JFF Online 2022 is streaming for free until Feb. 27. Visit watch.jff.jpf.go.jp.