Wedding High (2022) by Akiko Oku

As Haruka (Nagisa Sekimizu) and Akihito (Tomoya Nakamura) prepare for their wedding day, many of the guests are also working hard to ensure things go without a hitch. The young couple set about organizing their big day; inviting old friends, family and colleagues to join them. These include Shinji Souma (Akiyoshi Nakao), a film-maker who sees a chance in their wedding video to create a masterpiece of cinema; Akihito’s boss Toshihiko Zaitsu (Katsumi Takahashi), whose speech on behalf of the groom is an opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of his subordinates; Haruka’s boss Inoue (Sarutoki Minagawa), who will not allow himself to be outdone comedically in his own speech; friends who plan to perform; and Haruka’s ex-boyfriend Yuya (Takanori Iwata) who sets off to interrupt the ceremony with his own confession of love. Meanwhile, wedding planner Nakagoshi (Ryoko Shinohara) tries to keep things on schedule while keeping everyone happy.

“Wedding High”, written by comedian Bakarhythm (Hidetomo Masuno) and directed by Akiko Oku, is a raucous comedy set around a wedding reception. It plays out as an anthology of shorts with the characters overlapping one another at the event. In this way it keeps up a quick-fire of comedy as the various guests attempt to give their all to make it a special occasion. The use of flashbacks, voice-over, and showing events from different perspectives ensure that there is never a dull moment. The final thirty minutes of the film show almost an entirely separate story woven through the main action, and it is fun to see how things come together, tying up unexplained moments from earlier. The large cast, with a few exceptional comic performers, do a fantastic job, giving the sense of a real wedding with different personalities coming together, some more serious and some less so.

A feel-good comedy showing the stress and excitement surrounding a wedding reception. Anyone who has attended such an event will be familiar with elements such as the speeches, cake-cutting, changes of dress, and attempts to make sure that everyone feels involved and the film does a great job of showing this. The seriousness with whcih Zaitsu and Inoue take their speeches on behalf of the groom and bride are a particular highlight. Well worth a watch if you’re looking for something light-hearted with a great sense of community and fun.

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.

First Love (2021) by Yukihiko Tsutsumi

Forensic psychologist Yuki (Keiko Kitagawa) is interviewing a young murderer for a new book. The girl, Kanna (Kyoko Yoshine), has apparently murdered her father and told police that they will have to find out why she did it. As Yuki begins loooking into Kanna’s past, her relationship with her mother and father, and her mistreatment at the hands of several men, it awakens dark memories of her own. Yuki is also forced to confront lawyer Kasho (Tomoya Nakamura), the brother of her husband Gamon (Yosuke Kubozuka), with whom she shares a secret.

Based on a novel by Rio Shimamoto, Tsutsumi’s film is a detective thriller in which the details of the case are less important than the reasons behind this crime. Kanna’s depiction early on, with a bloody knife and her seemingly apathetic response to killing her father suggests a psychopathic personality, but we soon discover the various traumas that led her to this moment. Yuki appears to be heading in the other direction, with a composed front disguising past heartache and emotional stress. The confrontations between Yuki and Kanna, either side of Perspex in a prison interview room are a highlight of the film, with outstanding performances by both Keiko Kitagawa and Kyoko Yoshine. The supporting cast are also great in nuanced roles, in particular Hoshi Ishida as Yuji, a young man who had a relationship with Yuki when she was younger. The script can be quite on-the-nose, driving home its themes of how childhood trauma can affect people and the horrors of child abuse. This often comes across in large expository scenes where they make sure that you understand what is happening; it may have benefitted from a more subtle approach. The film doesn’t shy away from difficult issues, with paedophilia, child abuse and exploitation, self harm, and sexual abuse being a large part of the plot. These things are mentioned in a very matter-of-fact way, which is appropriate for the psychologist and detectives objective viewpoint and also makes them more terrifying by the apparent ubiquity and mundane nature of these actions. The best moments of the film come with these revelations, which are genuinely heart-breaking. However, the film sometimes struggle to keep up a sense of tension and balance. In particular it ties together the stories of Yuki and Kanna in a way that is not wholly satisfactory, drawing a parallel between their stories that never quite rang true. In terms of the tone also the piano and strings score often seems overly sentimental, lacking the darker tones suggested by the story and being at odds with what is happening on screen. The film does feature some exceptional cinematography, utilising the interview room at the prison to great effect with the reflections of Yuki and Kanna showing their connection.

“First Love” is a film about childhood trauma and how it affects development. Both Yuki and Kanna suffered difficult incidents involving their fathers and other men, with the constant threat of sexual violence causing severe emotional detachment and unease in society. The film portrays these things in a subtle yet powerful way, with Yuki’s father gazing at schoolgirls, or the disturbing drawing of a young Kanna beside two naked male figures. One of the most troubling elements of the film is Kanna’s relationship with Yuji, which the film perhaps had too little time to delve into. Helped by Hoshi Ishida’s performance, the courtroom scene towards the end of the film is a devastating depiction of a man who has failed in his duty of protection to this young girl, his shame and regret evident. “First Love” can be a difficult watch due to the subject matter, but the excellent cast and beautiful cinematography make it worthwhile. It has very little in the way of answers, but in terms of raising awareness of these issues it does a spectacular job.

Yarukya Knight (2015) by Katsutoshi Hirabayashi

Makoto Gosuke (Tomoya Nakamura) moves to a school ruled by the female students. The girls, fed up with their strict and perverse teacher, Arashi (Alexander Otsuka), have kicked him out and taken over the school. Misaki Shizuka (Nina Endo) is the leader of this new female-led revolutionary governing order. The male students meanwhile are kept in check, repeatedly punished for their sexual desires, stripped and tied up for their apparent impertinence. Gosuke falls in love with Misaki and urges the other boys to take a stand and take back the school. When cruel teacher Arashi returns, Makoto and Misaki must put their differences aside to fight together against their common enemy.

“Yarukya Knight” is based on a manga of the same name by Nonki Miyasu. Director Katsutoshi Hirabayashi uses an active camera and off-kilter angles to create an exciting visual style. Special effects are used sparingly but to great effect to further emphasise that the film should be seen as a live-action cartoon. In particular a scene of our protagonist being thrown so forcefully into a wall that he becomes lodged there. All members of the cast do a fantastic job with their characters and have great comedy timing and performances. Particularly Tomoya Nakamura, Nina Endo and Erisa Yanagi.

A simple teen comedy that treads familiar ground of male sexual desire and female attempts to avoid it. The dynamic between the groups works well as a catalyst for much of the humour. The jokes usually land well and the premise is amusing. The sexual politics that the film portrays are simplistic and rely on stereotypical views of teen life, but this plays to the film’s strength. It creates a host of likeable characters in a tongue-in-cheek teen comedy.