It has only been nearly three months into 2019 and we’re already observing a wave of new movie releases in Japan that captivate our imagination and tease our curiosity. From spine-chilling mystery thrillers that have a thing or two to teach us about life, to heartwarming (and heartbreaking) human dramas that could become a few of the greatest love stories we have ever seen on screen, here are six movies that have been or are scheduled to be released in Japan this year that Japan Film Festival magazine’s editors foresee will break records this year and will go down in history.
1. 12 Suicidal Teens (十二人の死にたい子どもたち)
Based on Tow Ubukata’s 2016 best selling novel of the same name, the story follows 12 teens as they gather at an abandoned hospital with the same mission: to die by group suicide. The rule is simple — they all die in the same manner, they do it quickly, and no one else but them knows about the plan. Things change quickly however when they discover a dead body at the hospital — a 13th person presumably none of them knew about. Their plan is now ruined, there is obviously someone who is breaking the rules and now their mission is changing turns: they must find out who the killer is before it’s too late. As the plot unveils, we are not only trapped in a real-time escape game, but we learn about each of the protagonists’ reasons of wanting to die and we begin to realize that the movie’s mission is far deeper than just looking for a murderer. Impossible to predict and absolutely thrilling, within a week of its release in Japan in late January, the movie earned 775,979,100 in box office revenue and was viewed by over 613,000 people — and counting.
Cast: Hana Sugisaki, Mackenyu Arata, Kanna Hashimoto, Yuina Kuroshima
Director: Yukihiko Tsutsumi
Official website: wwws.warnerbros.co.jp/shinitai12/
2. Snow Flower (雪の華)
A beautiful but heartbreaking modern-day love story inspired by singer Mika Nakashima’s bestselling 2003 song Yuki no Hana, this movie is a life lesson about what we can do to live to the fullest and love as if there’s no tomorrow. Because, sometimes, there really isn’t tomorrow.
Left with very little time to live, Miyuki struggles to complete the many things she is yet to experience in life. But among them, she dreams of two the most: to travel to Finland where her parents met, and to fall in love. A fated encounter brings her together with Yusuke, a young man who raises his siblings alone while dreaming of becoming a glass craftsman. Under strange circumstances, Miyuki offers him financial compensation for being her boyfriend for a month, which he accepts without anticipating where this exchange will take him. While Miyuki becomes frailer, Yusuke is increasingly captivated by her charm and passion for life and without knowing what’s to come, he realizes it’s too late to turn back time.
The on-screen passion between Yusuke and Miyuki, the breathtaking snow scenery and the repeatedly playing Yuki no Hana soundtrack have all contributed to making this movie one of 2019’s undeniable hits. Released at the beginning of February, in three days only the movie recorded ¥28.5 million in box office revenue, leaving over 230,000 sobbing fans across Japan.
Cast: Ayami Nakajo, Hiroomi Tosaka
Director: Kojiro Hashimoto
Official website: wwws.warnerbros.co.jp/yukinohana-movie/
3. Fortuna’s Eye (フォルトゥナの瞳 )
Whether it’s what drink to have, whether to walk a station instead of taking the train, or even the clothes we wear, every single day of our lives we make tens of thousands choices and decisions. Sometimes, however, these decisions can change our lives, and even more — cause our death.
Now a young adult, Shinichiro Kiyama has chosen to focus on work as a way to deal with the tragic passing of his parents when he was a child. He is perfect at what he does and has recently even fallen in love with a beautiful girl, Aoi, who returns his love. But Shinichiro has a secret: he can foretell people’s death. He sees it coming when parts of their bodies become transparent. He tries to save their lives by confronting death and cheating on it, but with every life he saves he becomes weaker, slowly nearing to his own end. Faced with more choices than he can handle, one day he sees Aoi’s hand turn transparent and he knows that the most difficult choice he is yet to face is about to haunt him. A constant thrill that will leave you standing throughout the film, this story is powerful, somewhat melancholic and 120 percent captivating.
Cast: Ryunosuke Kamiki, Kasumi Arimura, Daigo
Director: Takahiro Miki
Official website: fortuna-movie.com/
4. Dance with me (ダンスウィズミー)
When the director of Happy Flight, Swing Girls and Water Boys, Shinobu Yaguchi, decides he wants to pursue a certain theme, he walks an extra mile by sparing no effort, no creativity and certainly no limitation on good vibes. This time, he is determined to create a made-in-Japan musical and one thing we can guarantee you is that you won’t be able to resist humming and dancing along. The story follows our young and beautiful protagonist, a woman working at a large corporation who becomes hypnotized, as a result of which she cannot resist dancing to any music or musical sound she encounters in her daily life. Now, when this involves the ringtone of a phone and music at train stations and streets, things get slightly more complicated. Determined to set herself free from this spell, she begins a dancing journey to find the person who put her in this situation in the first place. One to cry from laughter, this is with no doubt one of the most positive and cheerful hits of the year!
Cast: Ayaka Miyoshi, Yu Yashiro
Director: Shinobu Yaguchi
Official website: wwws.warnerbros.co.jp/dancewithme/
5. Tenki no ko ~ Weathering with you (天気の子)
Makoto Shinkai’s first release since his mega-hit Your Name., Tenki no ko, is another promising title the world has very high expectations of. Veiled in mystery, however, very few details have been shared with the public to date, making it an even more exciting topic to follow.
From the little we can share, however, the story unveils around the life of two teenagers, Hotaka and Hina, who meet in Tokyo after Hotaka moves there from a remote island. Hina lives with her younger brother due to family circumstances and when she meets Hotaka, it is gradually revealed that she is blessed with a special power: this to change the weather by praying from her heart. For Hotaka, a boy who is constantly unhappy with his life, this is a ray of light; light that maybe even has the power to change his life. Set for domestic and international release this summer, Tenki no ko will undeniably be one of the — or the — major hits this year.
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Official website: www.tenkinoko.com/
6. His Lost Name, 夜明け
The debut title of director Nanako Hirose, a protégé of director Hirokazu Kore-eda with whom she worked as a crew member for “Like Father, Like Son” and assistant director on “Our Little Sister,” His Lost Name is a human drama revolving around two individuals who remain lingering in their past while desperately searching for a reason to regain their faith in life.
The movie follows Shinichi, a young man on the verge of suicide who meets Tetsuro, an elderly man who runs a carpentry business in a small countryside town. Tetsuro begins to take care of Shinichi as if he was his own son — a son he happens to have lost, and one who was also named Shinichi. The two gradually bond as a real father and son until they begin to realize that there is a big and dark secret they need to address to save each other. A spectacular debut work and a film that will leave you thinking and rethinking life, this is one title that will remain in your memory long after the year is over.
Cast: Yuya Yagira, Kaoru Kobayashi
Director: Nanako Hirose
Official website: yoake-movie.com/
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Text: Japanese Film Festival Editorial Team