Anime Supremacy! (2022) by Kohei Yoshino

A first-time anime director becomes involved in a ratings war with her hero while attempting to see her creative vision brought to fruition. Hitomi Saito (Riho Yoshioka) quits a solid career as a public servant to enter the highly competitive world of anime. Seven years later, in charge of her first project as director, she is keen to see her story realised, not least as her series will be going up against another from famed director Chiharu Oji (Tomoya Nakamura), whose work first inspired her to enter the industry. Hitomi must navigate issues with her staff as well as concerns from the network and her production manager Yukishiro (Tasuku Emoto), who wants the reserved Hitomi to do more promotion for the show. Meanwhile, Oji is also going through creative issues much to the frustration of his assistant Kayako (Machiko Ono).

“Anime Supremacy!” is a fun, drama based on a novel of the same name by Mizuki Tsujimura, that shows us behind-the-scenes at an anime production company; showing the high-paced, combative reality of creating what is one of the most popular forms of entertainment in Japan, and increasingly the world. We see the rush to deadlines, the vast amount of talent it takes to put an episode together, and the conversations between the creatives and the business-minded management. Riho Yoshioka gives a superb comedic performance as Hitomi, with her charmingly expressive characterisation also leaving room for moments of thoughtfulness and passion. Tomoya Nakamura and Machiko Ono also have great on-screen chemistry, with the troubled artist constantly at odds with his overworked assistant. There is a huge supporting cast here and some of them miss out on character development. This is particularly true with Kazuna (Karin Ono), whose side-story goes nowhere despite her being an engaging addition as a brilliant artist completely wrapped up in her own world. The direction is energetic, with occasional flashes of creativity, especially the animated additions showing the battle between the two shows as an ongoing race between the protagonists.

Fans of anime will no doubt enjoy the film as a look at the creative processes and some of the characters who bring to life these fantastical shows. While at times the film is confused in its messaging, attempting to juggle the stories of Hitomi, Chiharu, and to a lesser extent Kazuna, the characters are interesting and the central rivalry ensures we are invested in the ending. Hitomi is someone who has a singular vision and this single-mindedness leads her to neglecting or under-appreciating her colleagues. As she matures through the film we see her gradually begin to understand the value of teamwork and the efforts of others. There is also a strong theme running through about the struggle of artists to protect their work from the predations of corporate interests who want to sanitise everything for marketability. Interestingly both animators in the film choose a different path in the end and it is left to the audience to decide what is most important, success as defined by financial gain or popularity, or as defined by cleaving to your own ideals.

Adrift in Tokyo (2007) by Satoshi Miki

Two men embark on a stroll around the capital in this easy-going comedy drama. Fumiya (Joe Odagiri) is deep in debt, having spent 8 years as a student. The man sent to collect on these debts, Fukuhara (Tomokazu Miura), comes to him with a bizarre proposition: if Fumiya will accompany him on a walk around the city he will hand him enough money to clear his debts. Fumiya later discovers that Fukuhara has killed his wife and intends to hand himself in at a particular police station; but wishes to spend his final days taking in sights that he used to enjoy with his wife. The two of them set out, meeting quirky characters and philosophizing about their lives, before Fumiya is recruited into a fake family consisting of Fukuhara, his fake-wife Makiko (Kyoko Koizumi) and her neice Fufumi (Yuriko Yoshitaka).

“Adrift in Tokyo”, based on the novel by Yoshinaga Fujita and directed by Satoshi Miki, takes you along on a meandering journey, its languid pace sustained by the odd-couple dynamic of Fumiya and Fukuhara, both men searching for something intangible on their perambulations. The comedy is similarly understated with the occasional flash of surrealism, such as the 66-year old cosplayer, or the psychedelic rocker Fumiya ends up tailing through the streets. In its loosely strung-together series of quirky moments and ideas the film captures the sense of tramping through a city as diverse as Tokyo. “Adrift in Tokyo” very much adheres to the mantra that it is the journey rather than the destination that is important, never fully reconciling certain ideas and offering little in the way of closure.

Fumiya repeatedly refers to the fact that he was abandoned by his parents and seems to find a surrogate father in Fukuhara. Fukuhara also seems to lack a sense of identity, instead hiring himself out to play a character in a fake family. As the two wander around they come across different aspects of the city, questing for a sense of self amongst the overwhelming variety of Tokyo. The bizarre characters they meet, glimpsed only briefly, offer a window into the myriad lives that are carrying on around each individual. It is perhaps hard for people to discover who they are while feeling part of such a vast whole.

Mystic Shrine Maiden (2019) by Takeshi Sone

A local shrine maiden discovers a past tragedy in this whimsical drama. Toko (Miyu Yoshimoto) works as a maiden at the shrine in her small hometown, performing chores for the priest and making frequent visits to the residents who are always happy to see her. When she is told that the town festival will not take place due to some peculiar ancient prohibition, Toko takes it upon herself to prepare for the celebration herself. She later meets a young girl at the lake nearby, causing a panic in her father who tells her the lake is off-limits to those from the village. With a little help from a geeky visitor, Toko uncovers the mystery behind this unusual prohibition.

Director Takeshi Sone is better known for his gruesome horror tales, but with writer Motoki Nakamura creates something cheerful and uplifting in “Mystic Shrine Maiden”. The film touches on folklore and tradition, with darker elements, but for the most part things are kept upbeat. The opening musical number performed Miyu Yoshimoto, who plays the gleeful, eternally optimistic Toko, creates an atmopshere of joyful whimsy, with some fantastic camerawork. The direction is well-done, with a charming freshness that becomes both a strength and a weakness. What begins as a comedy becomes darker later on when we discover details of Toko and Mayumi’s past, and what happened to Toko’s mother; however many of these moments are brushed over without much time to delve into the tragedy. At a sprightly 70 minutes the film could have benefitted from a little more focus on the characters, who are largely left as charicaturish figures: a wannabee magician, a hopeless mime, a woman who likes playing hide-and-seek. All of these could have been fleshed out and tied into the central narrative. As it is the film remains an insubstatial and innocuous drama.

Toko is brought back to life through her mother’s sacrifice with survivors guilt leading her to uncover the mystery and rejoin her old friend. There is also a dark twist on the coming-of-age story which would see Toko passing on to adulthood following her discoveries, but her sees her passing over to the other side. These darker elements are woven into a story that on the surface appears as an enchanting exploration of youthful joie de vivre, with an unconventional subtext.

Lonely Glory (2022) by Keitaro Sakon

When she loses her job, a young woman moves back in with her siblings and attempts to sort out their lives for them. Haruka (Kokoro Morita) is a confident, forthright businesswoman, appointed as a leader at the counselling company she helped found. Due to her overbearing attitude, she is accused of workplace harrasment and asked to leave the firm by the CEO. When Haruka’s mother dies, her siblings are faced with difficult choices. Her eldest brother wants to continue running the small shop owned by their parents, while also pursuing a younger woman he wants to marry; her sister Miwako (Eriko Nakamura) is unhappy at having moved home after a divorce six years before, leaving behind a daughter; while Haruka’s younger brother, Takuji (Haya Nakazaki) is long-term unemployed. Haruka’s get-up-and-go attitude sees her clash with her siblings as she tries to force them to make tough decisions, pursue their romantic interests or start businesses of their own.

A fun take on the family drama, setting up a sibling rivalry and tension between the different world-views and characters of the four adult children. Writer-director Keitaro Sakon’s “Lonely Glory” tackles familiar problems among families, such as how to best carry on their parents legacy; dealing with relationship problems; lack of motivation; and different perspectives on how these issues should be addressed. Kokoro Morita gives a great central performance as Haruka, garnering sympathy in her attempts to help her family, while at the same time being brash and pushy, a black sheep in a family who would rather not disturb the status quo. There is a subtle tragedy in the background to the narrative, highlighted when the family give only cursory congratulations on learning it is Miwako’s birthday. It seems they are siblings who have little interest in each other’s lives, to the extent of not realising when one has a birthday. Keitaro Sakon’s direction captures the family dynamics in the way the characters seat themselves around their ramen shop; and the active camerawork helps bring us inside their lives.

Like a placid lake disrupted by a stone, Haruka’s return to the family fold sees their comfortable lives disturbed, with dramatic consequences. Haruka comes to have doubts about her businesslike approach to life, realising that she is overly demanding of others. She is constantly active and wanting to solve what she sees as problems, while the family are more bound by traditions of not rocking the boat. While Haruka’s actions largely lead to positive outcomes, we are left to wonder, along with Haruka, exactly what her own happiness would look like and why she has this restless energy to improve herself and those around her. This unique family story will resonate with people who have ever had a difference of opinion or approach with their siblings.

Bashing (2005) by Masahiro Kobayashi

Yuko (Fusako Urabe), a young woman in insecure employment as a hotel cleaner, is unceremoniously fired by her boss who tells her that the other workers don’t get along with her and the company has been receiving complaints. As she makes her way home Yuko is attacked outside the convenience store by a gang of young men. Everyone in the town seems to have it in for her. We come to learn the reason for her unpopularity: following a period of volunteering abroad in a war-torn country, Yuko was kidnapped and later released. Many people in her home country of Japan are unable to comprehend her actions, victim-blaming Yuko for going abroad and claiming that she has shamed them by being captured. Yuko’s father (Ryuzo Kato) also loses his long-held job when his superior tells him he has to let him go due to the negative press and ceaseless nuisance calls they are receiving about his daughter. As Yuko doggedly continues to live, even 6 months after her return, it seems that the society will never forgive her actions leading to tragedy in her own family.

The film begins with a card stating that the film is a work of fiction, not based on any real-world events. “Bashing” does however prove a stunning rebuke to narrow-mindedness and insularity that represent the worst elements of society. Given Yuko’s treatment at the hands of co-workers, employers, and even strangers, you would be forgiven for thinking she had committed some heinous crime rather than having been the victim of one. Her parents seem to be the only people who support her decision and are understandably relieved to have her home; however even they harbour feelings of unease that their daughter has chosen to step outside the acceptable norms of their society. The grim, overcast, small coastal town proves the perfect habitat for such people, who have little interest in the outside world. The bleak, washed-out, cinematography highlights the lack of colour or vibrancy Yuko is experiencing, comparing her situation to a past where she was volunteering in a foreign land. We see Yuko standing on the shore, the crashing waves of the sea representing the geographical and emotional distance of some people from the world outside their own narrow horizons.

“Bashing” is a simple film that packs an emotional punch. The tight handheld camera work keeps us with Yuko as she suffers the ignominy of living in a country that has rejected her. Despite offering a rather dire depiction of human society as insular, ignorant, mean-spirited, and close-minded, Yuko is a hopeful voice in this grim town. Turning her back on the conventional lives of her fellow citizens, she passionately reaffirms her commitment to following her own will. In a moving monologue to her mother (played by Nene Otsuka), Yuko sets out her manifesto, asserting her desire to travel abroad again as it was the one place she could find true happiness. Her simple declaration is a parting shot to the audience, asking us to question the values that shame victims and teach us to be fearful of the outside world.